|Us and our road block|
Ten days after spending New Year ’s Eve at Mikumi and opening our 2017 shooting with Super Sub on the road, we were back at Mikumi. It was the first long weekend of the year and last one before the April holiday season so we were back looking for shooting opportunities. The rains were late and except for the odd spot of green, the landscape was still waiting for the rains in January. Metres from the gate there was a fresh buffalo carcass by the side of the road and the hope was the lions were in the vicinity.
|The Lions had missed this Buffalo carcass|
There was an upgrade to the front office at the gate with a new grill and glass barrier. Rather impersonal but much like all the other parks board offices. Doesn’t really make anything easier but they did have news of a lion sighting from this morning from the Vasada loop which is an area we seldom see much, so it was case of heading out there and work out what was going on.
|Always nice to find the Lions early|
As we arrived in the area a male lion sat up to cross the road right in front of us to where 2 females were resting under a tree. Another perfect start to a trip and it was the heat of the day so the lions were unlikely to move. We decided to have our packed lunch with the Lions before heading out to check out the park.
On the plains on Vasada drive showed signs of new growth from the scattered showers adding some green but way drier than expected. We came across a flock of Caspian Plovers which was an unusual sighting but not a lifer. The road to Hippo pools had a large puddle of water on which the tyres started to sink so we turned back to go around.
|Juvenile Saddle Billed Stork|
Pratincole dam had plenty of water after a long time and the road around the water hole was totally flooded so there had been good rains in spots. The other sign was the large numbers of White Storks about but in selected areas; presumably where it had rained and this area had heaps. Both Jacana pool and Hippo Pools had very little water confirming the rains were scattered.
|Black Backed Jackal|
The camp site was empty which meant we got the prized spot under the tree overlooking the pan away from the rest and we were happy to grab it. Given it was a long weekend we decided to put up a beach shelter as a sign the site was taken in our absence as we were totally mobile which meant there was no sign of our presence unless we were in camp. Soon the first fellow campers arrived and set up camp in the large camp ground behind us.
|Nice to see a Griffon Vulture|
Next move was to check out the plains in the top section of the park and just as we crossed the river a lone lioness appeared, crossed the road and disappeared just as fast. We of course assumed she was part of the pride who were somewhere around so we decided to keep driving and come around later when it was cooler. There was activity on the plains with the usual plains game. A couple of Black backed Jackals caught our attention as did the explosion of Ground Hornbills that were all over the place. Still can’t work out why the Hornbills walk around with stacks of food in their beak instead of eating it but it’s amusing to see beaks full of frogs and other critters.
A large tower of Giraffes were walking around close to the road on Lion avenue and the sun was good offering an opportunity to spend some time checking out shooting options. It was time to check out the lioness again and with no sign of any further lion activity, we retired to the Jacana Pool bund for sundowners. Back at the camp site the evening was quiet with a few more campers joining the original couple from the afternoon.
|A Tower of Giraffes|
Next morning we headed straight to the Vasada area hoping to catch the Lions. There was no sign of anything around so we kept heading to Millennium dam which was surprisingly bone dry with very little activity about. It was one of those rare occasions where we had coffee at the picnic site with nothing to keep us company except for a few birds!
After a non-eventful morning we decide to check out the opposite side of the main highway, an area that connects to the Selous game reserve and amazingly over all these years we seldom visited. There are very few reports of any activity in this area except for reports of clouds of tsetse files which has been good enough to keep us away but it was it was time to check it out for the first time. We have had the odd report of the lions being sighted in this part of the park but besides the tsetse flies, it is also thickly wooded which limits visibility unlike the main game driving areas which are open plains.
|A herd of Zeb on the other side of the road|
First stop on the opposite side of the road was the camp site which we couldn’t get to due to a fallen tree but little surprise that it was hardly used due to the tsetse files around. We also knew why there weren’t many elephants in the main area of the park as they were all hanging around the forest on this side of the road. We spotted the two huge tuskers that are a highlight on the Mikumi plains hanging around with a breeding herd.
|European migrants are here - White Stork|
The main road in this part of the park is the road heading to the Vuma Hills lodge which was our next target. It’s a long climb to the lodge with spectacular view of the plains below but very little signs of game and the thick forest offered very little visibility unless something was walking along the road. The lodge itself is located on a beautiful opening offering inhibited views of the plains below. Didn’t really appeal to us except that it would be a great spot for sundowners or coffee at sunrise.
We next headed down the slope and headed on the only other main game drive circuit on this side of the park. It’s a beautiful drive crossing a few streams along the way and well forested and of course plenty of tsetse flies. There was game around but not in the numbers on the plains and very little sign of big herds or predators. Crossing a mud bog I noticed the clutch was sticking a bit which was strange given it was a brand new clutch and pressure plate. Turned out the clutch totally seized, but thankfully only after we got back home and was required to be replaced again.
We were done with checking out this area and the verdict was it was a good move not to check out this area all these years as the game was thin and would be scattered and hard to see. We were back in the camp site for lunch and relaxed under the trees which was a nice change to the usual drill of having lunch on the go. It was also an opportunity to check out the birds and the going’s on around the camp site.
|Black Headed Heron with a snake|
We set out for the evening heading towards where the lions were reported from the previous day. Close to Pratincole dam, the big herd of Buffalo was out relaxing in mud wallows close to the road. We had caught a glimpse of two lionesses in the area in the morning and decided to leave the buffalo for now and check out the Vasada area hoping to catch the lions from yesterday. Approaching the area, a passing car informed us that the Lions were about this morning but more importantly, there was a leopard on a tree most of the day but had just left! This was insane as we were in this area first thing in the morning and spent the rest of the day across the main highway while the cats were out in this area. The price you pay for self-driving as the tour operators connected on the radio would have been informed of the sightings. Yet we would rather do it our way and take our chances rather be driven around to the calls of a radio.
|Buffalo wallowing and chewing the cud|
Our luck only got worse after we decided to leave the area of the cats and check out the buffalo, only to find the huge herd had got up and moved away from the road. Given there were a couple of lionesses in the area we decided to check out the herd from difference angles to see if the lionesses were around but given the day sort of day we were having it was no surprise that nothing showed up.
We got back the camp side and much to our horror, out camp site was occupied by a tour operator! There were tents everywhere and our little beach shelter had been thrown to the side and our basin used to thaw their chicken. Rather disgusting manners in the bush which required a few heated words with the tour operator (Watu tours – how poor is that?) but not surprised at the clueless reaction from the tour operator. Rather than fighting with people in the bush, we decide to move to a another free spot, which begs the question why they didn’t take the free spot to start with, but as I said, little point arguing with a clueless tour operator.
|Warthog and mates|
Next morning we were back to where the lions and leopard was sighted the previous day by others. Our luck was only marginally improving with this morning’s coffee being had with a herd of wildebeest, it was certainly an improvement on the previous morning’s coffee with no one! After checking out what we thought was the tree the leopard was last seen and no sign of the Lions we decided to head to Millennium dam area.
|Hard to see, even harder to shoot - Common Button-quail|
As we pulled on to the main road, a vehicle well behind us was flashing the headlights purposefully. At first we ignored it but given there was no one else around, we decided this could be for us and decided to wait for the flasher to pull up alongside. Turns out it was the Tan-Swiss game drive vehicle looking for leads on predators. We had made friends with these regulars in the park and had often exchanged info on sightings. But this time the guy wanted to exchange numbers and call each other if there were predator sightings.
|Collared Pratincole is now a certain sighting in Mikumi,|
After informing him there was nothing in the Vasada area we continued to Millennium Dam area. The moment we reached there the phone rang with the Tan Swiss guy claiming the leopard was up the tree! WTF is going on, we were just there and did we somehow missed it or is this Leopard playing games with us as we missed it yesterday as well. Regardless we were in Paris-Dakar mode tearing down the road heading towards Vasada. Another call to tell us to get there soon as the Leopard was moving between branches and looking like it wants to move. Ok ok we are coming and there is only that fast one can drive in the bush.
|A clear shot of a Leopard at long last in Mikumi|
Getting in to the area, we had vague directions to follow but being an open area, we could see the car stopped under a tree, a tree we had passed only a few minutes ago. This could only mean we either drove past a Leopard in a tree or it went up just after we passed. Either way, we were pleased to find a leopard in this park and ever grateful to our now new set of eyes on the bush on speed dial! The guy calls us again to inform us that he is leaving to check out a lion sighting in the area! What is going on? Are we just blind that we are missing all these sightings or is the bush playing games with us?
We were contently checking out the leopard sighting waiting for the cat to change spots to get some shots out when the phone rings to confirm that our man is at the lion sighting. What’s more it’s the full pride with two males. We said thanks but we were content to sit with the leopard waiting for it to make a move. The guys says, its close by and the whole pride is out on short grass and we should check it out. After a brief pros and cons exercise, it was Paris-Dakar mode again tearing down deeper in to the Vasada area to check out the pride.
The directions were taking us to a bland part of the park where we seldom see anything even in the form of plains game. It’s basically a route we use to when we run out of all options and have some time to spend on birding. It’s the back road which connects Vasada to Millennium dam and right at the very end where the road takes a sharp right, the whole pride was out in the open in short grass.
|Choccy and the Pride|
They were all there, Milky, Shorty with the rest of pride including Scruffer and Choccy. It was time to theorize the movements of habits of lions in Mikumi once again. This is a common conversation in the car when we come up on lions in Mikumi in a desperate search for sense in which lions belongs where and who is part of which pride. What this was confirmation of was that Scruffer was still part of the pride which appeared to have new males in the form of Choccy and another male. It was an awesome sighting and was great to see such a big pride in Mikumi and what’s more offering great shooting opportunities.
|Super-sub as always playful|
Shorty seemed to be interested in hunting and had locked in on a Wildebeest miles in the plains. She left eyes peeled on the target and soon one by one most of the others also got and walked towards the target. Each time the Wildebeest raised its head from eating to look around all the Lions stopped motionless and started to move when the Wildebeest began to eat. All the lionesses seemed to be in place to us but apparently they were not close enough before the wildebeest got wind of the lions. The hunt was over but nice to watch the set up and noticeably the two males didn’t move.
|Milks and Scruffer - the old firm still together.|
We were back heading to the Leopard which we had left to check out the Lions. Our luck had finally turned the corner since we were flagged down by the Tan-Swiss guy and were grateful for good friends in the bush. We spent the rest of the day with the Leopard! We weren’t going to leave a leopard on a tree by the side of the road in Mikumi (except for a pride of 10 lions…) and we didn’t. It was a sub-adult Leopard who seemed content in the tree and moved around a couple of times to give us decent shooting opportunities. As expected, other vehicles came and went and we stuck on only driving a few meters down the road for a toilet break.
|Choccy has been elusive but was posing today|
Late afternoon as the rain clouds were threatening to break the leopard was showing signs of wanting to get off the tree. Then as the rain started, the leopard left off the tree and ran in to the plains. The rain was heavy and just as we were thinking about the road, a car came along and it was obvious the road was going to be a mess. The black cotton soil had come to life with the rain and this guy just couldn’t get a tyre off the road to make a turn. His antics prompted us to move out and besides the leopard was long gone and was never going to reappear thanks to the chaos round its tree with the car trying to make a turn in wet black cotton soil.
|Keeping a keen eye on the Veld|
After strolling around and dodging the rain the best we could, it was time to retire to the camp for our last evening after one of best days in Mikumi thanks to the first clear shots of a leopard and great sighting of the full pride. Back at the camp site we were surprised to note that Watu Tours, who stole our campsite the previous night, has left! All that trouble including stealing a campsite for just one night. We were happy to have our spot back and a quiet evening without the over landers.
|Couldn't get enough of this beauty of Leopard|
Next morning was off looking for the big cats in the Vasada area! No surprises there wasn’t nothing in sight and we checked the trees for the leopard and the veld for the lions and were heading back only to find a lioness sleeping across the road! Once again we had only passed this area a few minutes ago and now there were 3 lionesses including one sleeping across the road. Finally it was an opportunity to have our morning coffee with something worthwhile and what’s more there was no other cars around. It was noticeable how seemingly from nowhere these lions had shown up just like they had all done the previous morning. Just goes to highlight how you can take nothing for granted in the bush and a classic example of why you should keep checking out an area when you know something is around.
We sent a message to our Tan-Swiss fried to give him the heads up on the lion sighting. He was full of thanks and was only just leaving the lodge for the morning drive. We had to back out, as the Lioness on the road refused to move, to head to the camp site for brunch before packing up and leaving. We met the Tan-Swiss guy on the way and he was thankful as were we for his assistance the day before. After brunch and packing up we were off heading to Dar after yet another successful trip to Mikumi.
|We had to turn around as she wasn't moving.|
(Photo credit for us and the lion: Alex Tait)