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Trip Report : Mala Mala Main, Sable and Rattrays Jan 2010

Trip Report : Mala Mala Main, Sable and Rattrays Jan 2010

Feb 5th, 2010, 03:56 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 294
Trip Report : Mala Mala Main, Sable and Rattrays Jan 2010

Well we're back from a very wet trip to SA - the summer weather finally caught up with us and our good luck definitely ran out this year.

Trip started on 1/21 - both of us were crazy at work and were quite pleased when United changed their flight schedule and we wouldn't be leaving until 7pm, thinking we could work until about 1pm, then leave home around 3pm and have time to spare. Both of us were so crazy the time flew and while we left on time, we didn't manage to pack everything we should have.

Drive to SFO was a breeze and barring an unfortunate incident at check in, we were soon in the 1st class lounge (FF miles) enjoyibg sushi, beer and "Too Big to Fail" - a riveting read. I know global warming says I shouldn't take hard back books on a plane, but a warming scientist had come out and said we might actually be going into a coolong trend, so I thought I'd better do my bit to raise the temperature , of course I've probably had that effect on some of you!

Flight was uneventful, slept for a good period of the journey and arrived at LHR relatively refreshed. Rather than do the transfer bit, we had deliberately only sent our bags as far as LHR, so that we could pick them up and then check them with VS for the JNB leg of the trip. This meant they had the correct priority because we needed a speedy exit in JNB. Also when travelling at the front of the plane it's actually much easier to exit the terminal and check in, than use the transfer line - usually a very long line, with no regard for your ticket type unless you're flying BA.

Once at the VS club house, weboth had showers and changed, while I also enjoyed the spa pool and had a wet shave. Enjoyed a few drinks and a bite to eat - the curry taster is particularly good!

The flight left at 6pm and was pretty uneventful, we even landed early at 6:30am. Customs and immigartion were a breeze compared to last year's hour long wait and we were met by our ground liaison to head over to Fed Air. Once at Fed Air, I was able to get DW on the first MM flight with our friends, but there was only 1 spare seat, so I had to sit it out from 8am until 12:15pm. But they have free food and drink, a comfortable spot to sit and read, and best of all, quite a few different birds hanging around, most of which I would not see in the lowveld.

The flight was a rapid 55 minutes, and I was met by Bruce Hedges at the MM airstrip and whisked into camp. Our ranger for the third year running was Gordon, who met me and took me down to Sable for lunch. The camp was the quitest I've ever seen it, so all Main Camp residents were transferred to Sable for 2 days, so that a deep clean could be done, free from interfering with guests. I like Sable well enough, but it has neither the character of Main Camp or the luxuriousness of Rattrays.

The weather started well, but by day 3, we were having to wear rain gear a lot during drives and got very wet on a couple of occasions. The rain basically stayed with us for the best part of 6 days. We didn't miss any game drives, but we did cut a few short. It seems there was a cyclone in the Indian Ocean, which creates a totally grey sky with lots of rain - similar to 2000! Fortunately that scenario didn't repeat it itself, but it was a bit miserable. Of course the conditions were poor for photography and when it's raining you really don't want to get your camera out.

I don't know if we brought it on ourselves, but we had received golf rain gear for Christmas - it was a boon, the trousers and jacket rolled up into a very small pouch, were breathable and when combined with the hooded MM rain jacket, kept me completely dry and not soaked in sweat either - a good purchase for wet season safari's.

Game viewing was okay. A combination of poor weather, long grass and Lion pride dynamics really gave us one of our worst trips. However we did see some very cool sightings, here are the highlights.

5 Male Leopards and 1 female with cubs - a most unusual breakdown by sex.
For Kaye and Tom the Leopards were - Gowrie, Emsagwen, "The Bike", Son of Kikilezi 08 and Son of Dudley; then the Kikilezi female and 1 of 3 cubs suckling.
Lions - 2 members of Eyrefield Pride mating with Mlowathi males.
1 Styx Pride female separated from Pride.
Styx Pride - 3 adults, 4 sub adults.
Elephants - as the week progressed we saw bigger and bigger herds, with some great interactions.
Rhino - quite a few spotted, including some youngsters.
Buffalo - individual dagga boys.
Impala - some very large herds 100+, one evening the entire airstrip was covered in Impala, must have been 400+
Nyala - some very relaxed around Main Camp
Kudu - some very nice sightings
Jackal - both kinds, including relaxed youngsters (Black backed) at Clarendon.

Best sightings

Styx Pride female chasing Gowrie male up a tree.
Rock Python (est 4M) eating an Impala - happened in water so we didn't see much, but fascinating.
Mating Lions, including some very lacklustre performances by the female.
Roaring Lions - the Mlowathi males performed a couple of times, though not with a lot of effort. But it's always nice to hear Lion's roaring in the morning on the way to tea, when none of the rangers have!

One morning we had stopped to don rain gear, when Gordon heard Hyena's eating. So we drove off road and found 2 adult and 1 sub adult Hyena scrapping over an Impala under a small acacia thicket. It took us at least a minute to realize there was a Leopard in the acacia about 8 feet above the Hyena (Son of Kikilezi 08). As we watched the feeding, one Hyena who wasn't get a look in, kept looking north of our position. Then she tried to get some food and was driven off by the other adult right at our vehicle - in fact in my urgency to get clear I inadvertently hit the record button and stopped recording (I'm still bitter about that). Then the sub Hyena took a little run at the vehicle (I envisaged a Hyena in my lap - not a happy prospect) Gordon gave a low pitched Hey and the Hyena stopped dead - unlike my pounding heart! Then she decided to vent her frustration on the Leopard and jumped up to try and catch his tail! Then we realized why the one Hyena kept looking north, the Son of the Dudley Female Leopard appeared on scene and began growling and hissing at both Hyena's and the other Leopard. The Hyena's kept out of his way and started dragging the carcass away, while the two Leopards went at it in the tree. They then came down and continued their spat - amazing.

Birding - I had set the ambitious target of 200 birds in 9 days. Our previous best had been 184 back in 2006 when we had 7 days, given the total bird list including accidentals at MM is about 300, and that my life list there is 235, I thought the target might be tough, but it would be fun trying.

We started out well, but not great with 65 on the first drive and had 109 after two drives, but then we went into overdrive and had 170 species after 5 drives. We even got permission to go to the settling ponds where we scored Painted Snipe and a just fledged Red-Chested Cuckoo with it's Bulbul parents.

I figured we had great karma when 3 Openbill Stork's flew up the river at tea - this bird shows up 3 or 4 times a year, and we'd never seen it. We continued to rack up birds and Nils had identified some spots where we might be able to call in some migrant warblers - he was right on both counts and we added Great Reed-Warbler and Olive Tree-Warbler, both lifers. Perhaps a birding highlight was seeing the amazing concentrations of birds around termite irruptions. To see this is amazing, watching eagles running along the ground grabbing termites as they leave the nest, then Yellow-billed Kites grabbing termites in mid-air with their talons, to hundreds of swallows and swifts in multiple near misses, we even saw Blue Waxbills and Yelloweyed Canaries getting in on the action.

Our friends decided the weather was spoiling their trip so they left on the 8th morning and we had breakfast then went out at 9 - it was of course raining at 5:30! We stayed out until almost 2pm, coming back to Rattrays for a late lunch. Gordon took us up Stwise, where we enjoyed amazing views over the property and scored more unusual birds, including a lifer Alpine Swift, and African Hawk-Eagles that we hadn't seen in about 4 years.

By now the weather was clearing and our last two days we enjoyed hot, sunny weather, which felt so good.

A word on Rattrays we enjoyed the last few days of chef Grant, who really has kicked up the food several notches at Rattrays, he has left for a new job, but his replacement continues the fine work - a positive change.

We had the 2:15 flight back to JNB so with no one in our room, we were able to stay in it until lunch, then we checked out.

The trip finished with a day room at the Sun, we enjoyed a bite fo dinner then caught VS602 at 9:45pm back to London.

Photos to follow.
napamatt_2 is offline  
Feb 5th, 2010, 05:49 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
No heavy books on the plane, good idea. Probably don't tote them around in the car either for days on end before they are due back at the library.

Glad the birds were there for you. So Bruce is back, at least I think he is back because I thought he left for a while. He was a great a ranger.

Sorry it was not your best trip, but on the bright side, you have lots to compare it with.
atravelynn is offline  
Feb 5th, 2010, 07:27 PM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 3,528
Hi Napamatt,

Welcome back!!!

Sorry about the weather ..... sounds pretty wet. But, you still saw quite a bit......

Glad to know that Gordon is still around. He guided us in Jan 2008.

HariS is offline  
Feb 5th, 2010, 07:56 PM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 5,215
Matt thanks for your report. Tough luck with the weather. I've never been on safari with heavy rain, not sure how I'd take to it. Glad the birding was decent. Looking forward to what photos you could get.

regards - tom
cary999 is offline  
Feb 6th, 2010, 02:31 AM
Join Date: Feb 2008
Posts: 29
Enjoyed the report. We are off for our third trip to Rattrays in March. Excuse me for using the Forum for a practical question but I am a bit concerned about your comment that you could not get on to the early Fed Air flight. Like you, we arrive at 6.30am and have booked 2 seats on the 9.15am flight. At over $600 each I would expect to get a seat.
I am glad to hear Gordon is still there. Last year we had Keenan as a ranger and he was fabulous, but like so many of the guys he has left. Can you recommend another ranger if Gordon is not available?
We have done the 'big five' but are particular keen to see the leopards (our favourite is the daughter of the Ngoboswan female who we saw as a tiny cub). We like the birds and the 'smaller' creatures. We are trying for the little five but so far only the leopard tortoise and a buffalo weaver nest!
barbroy is offline  
Feb 8th, 2010, 08:51 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 294

The Virgin flight is scheduled to land at 7am and Fed Air demands a three hour layover, we didn't want to cut it too fine in case there was a problem and miss our connection. I had been keeping an eye on the Virgin flights and one day it arrived at 8:30am which would be cutting it fine.

At Fed Air we enquired about spare seats and so my wife got the last one.

You will be fine, your plane lands at 6 and your Fed flight is 9:15 - no problem at all.

The bummer now is that BA didnt renew the contract for the arrivals lounge at the Sun, so they have converted the area into a conference room - that was a handy facility for getting a shower and breakfast.
napamatt_2 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2010, 08:42 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 298
great report, sounds like your weather was similar to ours (in November)! It is really disappointing to have so much rain, especially when you are trying to do photography, but sometimes there are great sightings in the rain. We had great feeding behaviors with so many frogs and a giant termite hatch after the rains.

I look forward to seeing some photos.
jczinn is offline  

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