MIKE & MARGARET GRAHAM VISIT THREE GAME PARKS IN ZAMBIAPosted on the 21st June 2011
The first fright of the journey was Kulula cancelling our flight on the afternoon of 5th June but fortunately they re-scheduled us on a ComAir flight with just a 30 minute delay.
Day 1 – June 5th
After an overnight stay near OR Tambo Airport, we set out mid-morning for Lusaka where we arrived just after lunch. Edmund Farmer, who had been the CEO for the Kasanka Trust until recently, then flew us up to Kasanka National Park in his Sky Trails Cessna Hawk.
A 2 hour flight against head winds saw us at Wasa Camp Airstrip just before 4.00pm. A short drive brought us to Wasa Camp on the edge of Lake Wasa. Kasanka NP covers 39,000 hectares and contains both Globally threatened and Biome-restricted species. The area contains Miombo woodland, evergreen and riparian forest.
The camp is very basic with several Rondawels only and a dining room overlooking the lake. Only 1 small electric light to see by is provided in the Rondawel. Food is cooked on a 24/7 wood-burning stove that, by the looks of it, David Livingstone had left behind!! The Rondawel was comfortable though and you order hot water for the shower, which is placed in a large dustbin on the roof, and you pull the chain for delivery. It works well. Food was well prepared the staff were very pleasant.
I had a wander around the lake before dark and dinner with the camp manager and an armed scout. The second bird observed was a Lesser Jacana and the fourth and fifth were lifers – Black-backed Barbet and Purple-backed Sunbird. Marsh Harrier is very prolific here. We heard Lady Ross’s and Schalouw’s Turacos calling but we never got a sighting all the time we were there. The park is privately run through a Trust and independent funding comes through tourism and donations. There are no wild animals there. Species for the afternoon - 16
Day 2 – June 6th
After a nice early breakfast overlooking Lake Wasa, we headed out for the morning. First stop was the Fibwe Hide, 18 metres above ground in a mululu tree and accessed by a wooden ladder. We are looking for Sitatunga, a very shy antelope that lives in the papyrus reeds. We find one but only see the horns as they feed deep in the swamp. Birding is good with sightings of Miombo Starling (lifer), Grey-rumped Swallow, Croaking Cisticola, Lizard Buzzard (lifer), Pale-billed Hornbill (lifer), Bronze Mannikin, Rufous-bellied Heron, Square-tailed Drongo and a host of water/swamp residents. Bohm’s Bee-eater (lifer) is resident here. Our morning outing takes us along the river and marshes and birds are plentiful including storks, eagles, vultures and kingfishers. Stonechat seems to prefer sitting on reeds near water than to fence posts neat stony fields. A Shoebill has been sighted at the swamps, the first ever. We fail to locate it but since we left 3 have been sighted including a pair.
During the afternoon siesta I wander the camp to see what is around. Bearded Scrub-Robin and Stierling’s Wren Warbler were nice sightings. Greater Honeyguide and Variable Sunbird are within the camp. There is a resident Wood Owl (lifer) near the kitchen which I see in the evening. Species for the day - 60.
Day 3 – June 7th
A nice cooked breakfast to start the day and we head for the Luombwa River through Miombo Forest. A couple of Maribou Stork and Wattled Cranes start the day and we see and hear Arnot’s Chat (lifer) in the Woodland along with our first Woodpecker, an Olive. A small feeding party is busy in a clearing where we stop for coffee. Black-throated Canary, Bully Canary, Black-eared Seedeater, Golden-breasted Bunting and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, all eagerly watched by a Shikra. The campsite at Luombwa is famous for the Purple-throated Cuckooshrike (lifer). The male is black with a purple throat and the female has olive upperparts with a yellow belly. Quite a contrast. We go upstream in the boat in search of Half-collared Kingfisher (lifer). No luck, so we head downstream where we find several along with Malachite Kingfisher, Reed Cormorant, Green-backed Heron and Hamerkop. We return to the campsite for lunch and then make a slow return to Wasa Camp. Nice view of Black-crowned Tchagra and White Helmet-Shrike. Webby (the guide) and I walk across a flood plain whilst the safari vehicle goes on to meet us at the other side. Long-tailed Neddicky or Tabora Cisticola (lifer) and Copper Sunbird are our only birds. We continue on along the swamp and river. Some Fulvous Ducks, Hottentots, Red-billed Teals and Black Crake plus the usual host of all 4 white Egrets. Hartlaub’s Babbler in the thickets along with Yellow-breasted Apalis and Black-throated Wattle-eye. Lappet-faced Vulture soars overhead. A pleasant day with some good birds in a great variety of habitats.
Species for the day – 36
Day 4 – June 8th
Our journey today was supposed to be by air but it was changed to road as Sky Trails had no aircraft available. Not a problem – 100km taking 4 hours the agent said. Little did he know it was 150km and 7 hours on a dirt road that was more pot-holes than surface, the last 60km being not far short of undriveable and coupled with the fact that Margaret and I were sitting outside the vehicle in the blazing sun. An experience we don’t want to repeat in a hurry. We started at 0745 and arrived at Chikuni, where the harbour for our water-taxi to Shoebill Island is, at 1540. We did get to hear/see birds on the way, like Anchieta’s, Scarlet-chested and Amethyst Sunbirds, plus Dark Chanting Goshawk, African Hawk-Eagle, Red-faced Cisticola and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah.
Bangweulu Swamp covers some 1.3 million hectares and is home to Globally threatened, Biome-restricted and Globally Important congregations.
The 40 minute Makoro trip to the island itself is fascinating. You venture from open water with lilies into thick/high reed and Papyrus beds where channels of only 4-5 metres wide have been cut. The area is a water-bird extravaganza. Around the harbour there are Egrets, Spoonbills, Open-billed Stork, Glossy and Sacred Ibis, Black-headed Gulls and Whiskered Terns with Yellow White-eyes, Yellow Wagtails (lifer), African Pipits and Capped Wheatears making up the numbers. The open water is awash with lily pads of white, yellow and lilac flowers. Local fisherman set long-lines for the Catfish. Purple Swamphen, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser and African Jacana grace the marsh and lilies. The “Katanga” Masked Weaver (lifer) is resident here, hopping around the lily pads collecting insects.
The White-cheeked (Blue-breasted) Bee-eater (lifer) is resident here. Reed Warblers (Lesser Swamp and Little Rush) call. White-faced and Fulvous Ducks are everywhere. The sky is filled with Red-winged Pratincoles, soaring like Swallows.
We are glad to see the camp and have a nice shower. If we thought Wasa Camp was basic then this is extremely basic. Absolutely NO electricity at all. Our accommodation has double-skinned walls made from bamboo and a thatched roof. A decent size and comfortable and with the same shower arrangement as Wasa Camp has. Here, like Wasa Camp, food is prepared on a 24/7 wood-burning stove but it is very good. At least there is a bar!!! This island must remain as it is with no intrusion from companies wishing to set up a lodge. It would be totally spoilt.
Before dinner a Barn Owl passes by and after dinner we chat with the other 5 guests and then retire around 2100. Spotted Eagle Owl is roosting about 20 metres from where we sleep and spends most of the night calling.
Species for the day – 35
Day 5 – June 9th
After breakfast we set off downstream in the Makoro with our 2 polers and Webby in search of the Shoebill. After about 30 minutes the front poler dives for cover, Shoebill to the left. We sneak up behind the grasses with the poler lying flat and still managing to move us forward. We get within 25 metres. There are some 200-300 birds estimated here and which only appear as the flood waters recede. They are large, nearly 2 metres tall and a wing-span of 2.5 metres and a bluish-grey colour. Now declared part of the Pelican Family and not a Stork. Food is Catfish or the occasional frog. We watch it for nearly an hour hoping to see the lunge for a catfish. We can hear fish splashing but the Shoebill decides to move on and takes to the sky. Quite some sight as this huge birds moves away.
We return to the camp, Operation Shoebill a success. But there is still plenty to see around the camp anyway. A short walk along the causeway to some marshy areas and there are Long-toed Plovers, Squacco Heron, African Rail and African Snipe. The camp holds Dark-capped Bulbul, a lone Fork-tailed Drongo (semi-leucistic and only 1 forked tail feather), Paradise Flycatcher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Greater Blue-eared and Wattled Starling, Collared Sunbird and Spectacled Weaver.
Later in the afternoon Webby and I go in search of Fulleborne’s Longclaw on a dried out grassy section of the Swamp. We see Pied and Cape Wagtail, Purple Heron, Black Egret and Chirping Cisticola. The grassland reveals only plenty of Red-shouldered Widows and Rosy-throated Longclaws. No Fulleborne’s. We do see Swamp Nightjar in the camp that night.
Species for the day - 19
|Fork-tailed Drongo with a difference|
Day 6 – 10th June
After breakfast we head off by Makoro to the boat harbour for a trip through the plains. We see Little Bittern and Great White Pelican on the way. The plains are host to 100,000 plus Black Lechwe. I have never seen numbers like this with probably 20,000 batchelors in one group alone. The plains are good for African and Plain-backed Pipits, Red-capped Lark, a few Kittlitz Plovers of which one reveals a nest (if you can call it that) with 1 large egg. At the end of the plains is woodland and we see Lilac-breasted Roller, White-browed Robin-Chat, Flappet Lark, Yellow-fronted Canary, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and Temminck’s Courser. This area is Termitaria, hundreds of old mounds.
Webby and I try a different location for Fulleborne’s Longclaw and still no joy, so we return to the previous afternoons spot where the Rosy-throated were and within 10 minutes we see what we are looking for. Mission accomplished.
Species for the day – 17
|Immature African Fish-Eagle|
Day 7 – 11th June
After early breakfast and a Kurrichane Thrush sighting we head for the harbour and our 0945 flight to Mfuwe and the South Luangwa National Park. The pilot of the Cessna Hawk gives us a couple of circuits of the plains and the swamps to give us an idea of size and to see the Black Lechwe herds from the air. The flight takes 75 minutes and we landed at a real airport with a tarmac runway. A 40 minute drive gets us to Mfuwe Lodge.
South Luangwa NP covers some 900,000 hectares and holds both Globally threatened and Biome-restricted Species. Riparian Woodland, thickets and Baobabs are abundant. After a week of basic accommodation this is luxury. We get an upgrade to a 2 floor suite overlooking the waterhole with upper and lower balconies, 2 loos a bath and shower. Add a kitchen and you could live comfortably. The chef was trained at the Warwick School in Hermanus and the Catering Manager also came from Hermanus. Small world. After a light lunch we unpacked and were raring to go but would have to wait until 4.00pm after afternoon tea!!! The water-hole held Woolly-necked Storks, Black-headed and Green-backed Heron plus an assortment of Zebra, Yellow Baboons and Puku with 1 lone Bushbuck. The trees were busy with White Helmet-Shrike, Green Woodhoopoe, Green-backed Cameroptera, Variable Sunbird and Crowned Hornbill.
The game viewing is particularly good here. There are plenty of elephants with young (the elephants are smaller than normal), Thornycroft’s Giraffe (1 metre smaller than normal and with a different pattern) and Crawshay’s Zebra (no brown shadow-stripe and completely striped from top to toe). Our guide James is very knowledgeable on trees, birds and wildlife. We hope for lion (we see 3) and leopard too at some stage.
The afternoon drive and then on into the evening was good. Huge flocks of Red-billed Quelea, Village Indigobird (a lifer), Hornbills (Red-billed and Crowned) and Oxpeckers (Red and Yellow-billed). After sundowners by the River Luangwa watching the hippo pods we head into the darkness. Civets and Large Spotted Genet are plentiful. We see Bronze-winged Courser (a lifer), Pel’s and Giant Eagle Owl plus Fiery-necked and Mozambique Nightjars.
Species for the day – 18
Day 8 – 12th June
An 0530 call sees us at Continental Breakfast for 0600 and away out by 0630 for the morning drive. Pearl-spotted Owlet is our first new bird and down at the river we see Southern Crowned Crane, Brown-throated Martin, White-rumped Swift and White-fronted Bee-eaters. James spots an Impala carcass up a tree, freshly killed but no sign of the leopard. We see a good mixture of birds with African Harrier-Hawk, Blue Waxbill, Purple-crested Turaco, Lillian’s Lovebird (a lifer), Green-winged Pytillia and Red-billed and Brown Firefinch (a lifer). After a great “bush breakfast” we head back to the lodge. The afternoon drive, whilst quieter, did give me Western Banded Snake-Eagle (a lifer) and Barred Owlet. Still no sign of the leopard.
Species for the day – 16
Day 9 – 13th June
Margaret has had enough of bird watching and decides that a massage and facial overlooking the hippo pool is more to her liking. So James and I set out at 0630 for a BIRDS ONLY morning. Grey-headed Kingfisher is first up and then an exceptional view of Palm-nut Vulture sitting atop a dead tree facing the rising sun. We almost missed the pride of 5 female lions emerging from the grass and trekking down the road. However, we must try for the leopard again and do find it hiding in a gully near to its kill.
We watched a pair of crocodiles doing the “death-roll” with something they had caught in a lagoon but didn’t see what the prey was, probably an unsuspecting Impala. We headed for the old airstrip but picked up on Scarlet-chested and White-bellied Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestial Brownbul on the way. We thought we saw Eastern Nicator but we were not 100% and calling the bird produced no response.
The old airstrip was busy with birds but nothing we hadn’t seen before. The afternoon drive offered us Retz’s Helmet-Shrike (Red-billed) and Bennett’s Woodpecker (only our second Woodpecker).
Species for the day – 14
Day 10 – June 14th
Out at 0630 as usual and we see the first Squacco Heron at this location. James spots lion and cub tracks in the road so we follow and come across the same 5 lionesses we saw the previous day with 3 cubs (around 4 months old) devouring a Cape Buffalo, killed just a few hours before. There wasn’t much left of the meat and the animals were looking decidedly full in the stomach. We were the first to come across this sighting, so after about 30 minutes and some nice photos James called other guides to come to the spot. We left quietly. If we saw nothing else to-day it was a good day.
A few more birds to add to the daily count – Grey-headed Sparrow, Masked Weaver, Red-faced Mousebird and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark.
The evening drive proved lucrative with another leopard seen, this one marking territory. These guides are good, listen and learn from them. The bush and sounds tell a story!!!! South Luangwa NP offered up 117 species within the 4 night stay which, I think, was pretty good.
Species for the day – 5
The lifelist was less than expected but a lot of possibles at S Luangwa are in areas inaccessible by road. However, 12 for SA and 11 Endemic wasn’t to be sneezed at. A must visit for “real birders”. In total 236 species. Next trip – March 2012 to Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti to catch the Palearctic Migrants!!!