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MIKE & MARGARET AT SOUTH LUANGA BUSH CAMPS

Posted on the 8th October 2012

ZAMBIA – SOUTH LUANGWA BUSH CAMPS

Our trip was for 9 days and covered 3 Bush Camps within the South Luangwa National Park. We were there 16 months ago as part of the quest for the Shoebill but in different locations.

Day 1

After a overnight stay near ORT Airport in Johannesburg, we headed North-East, firstly with SAA to Lusaka and then Proflight to Mfuwe, arriving at Mfuwe around 4.30pm for our road transfer/game drive to Chamilandu Bush Camp, some 3 hours away.

It was hot, 38C, when we arrived but in didn’t seem to worry the 4 Southern Ground Hornbills that graced the edge of the runway as we arrived.

The journey to the camp was interrupted for 15 minutes by a violent thunderstorm and the rainy season hasn’t started yet.

A few birds en route – Pied Wagtail, Black and White-rumped Swift, Spotted Dikkop and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl. Dinner was waiting as we arrived and we were the only 2 staying that night. The camp holds just 6 people and overlooks the S Luangwa River.

                                  Southern Carmine Bee-eater
White-fronted Bee-eater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2

After an early rise at 5.30am and a quick breakfast, Gilbert, our guide for the 3 days took us out whilst it remained cool (like around 28C). The first day is always a ‘high numbers day’ as everything is a first sighting. Being close to the river and with waterholes as well, water birds are always pretty prolific. Spoonbills, Yellow-billed Storks, Openbill, Wood, Marsh and Common Sandpipers, Pied, Brown-hooded and Giant Kingfishers all abound. There are Little, White-fronted and Carmine Bee-eaters, White-crowned Lapwing. It was nice to see African Skimmer working the water holes, Grey-crowned Crane in good numbers, Sand Martins along the river banks and Summer migrants Yellow-billed Kites.

We were fortunate to be able to get close access to their largest Carmine Bee-eater breeding colony by walking across the dry river beds to where just the river separated us from their nest site, some 50 metres away. There are in excess of a 1000 pairs here, busy digging their burrows. The river holds a further 3 sites albeit smaller and not with access.

The thickets and Mopane bush/Riverine forest hold some good birds also – Red-throated Twinspot, Puffback, White and Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Yellow-fronted Canary, Meyer’s Parrot and Western-banded Snake-Eagle.

The camp has a small water hole with a hide and here I was fortunate to get a lifer – Grey Tit-Flycatcher. I thought it was Ashy but on close examination of the photo the white outer tail feathers and white tail tips was the giveaway.

Night birds include Water Dikkop, Square-tailed Nightjar, Scops Owl

                               Square-tailed Nightjar
 Red-throated Twinspot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3

Water birds continued to add to the numbers with Darter, Collared Pratincole, Greenshank, Hamerkop, Saddle-billed Stork. All the Doves are here and with some careful spotting you can see Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike, Lillian’s Lovebird, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Brown and Black-crowned Tchagra, Collared Palm-Thrush, Green-winged Pytillia and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.

Camps are not fenced but are always worth a walk, keeping a keen eye open for elephants and lion. Long-billed Crombec, African, Red-billed and Jamieson’s Firefinch, Yellow White-eye, Black-throated Wattle-eye and Yellow-throated Petronia.

The Chamilandu area is good for game and there is a pride of 9 lions there. Elephant abound and the river is full of hippos and large crocodiles. There are large herds of Impala and Puku and good numbers of Bushbuck and Kudu.

The camp accommodation and food were superb and we were well looked after by Georgie and her staff.

                                           Blue Waxbill
African Scops-Owl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4

After our early morning drive and Brunch we transferred to Bilimungwe Camp. Set in forest with each tented room having it’s own water hole it was very tranquil. The room is huge with a wonderful waterfall outside shower. The trip between the camps produced Go-away Bird, Green Woodhoopoe, Scimitarbill, Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-Shrike and after 4 days the compulsory Blacksmith Plover!! Bilimungwe is close to both the S Luangwa River and the Kapamba River. The Kapamba River is capable of being crossed in 3 locations at this time of the year, so our morning drive took us across the river. Three-banded and White-fronted Plover enjoyed an early morning feed and once across we picked up on Greater Blue-eared Starling, White-browed Coucal, Rattling Cisticola and the first sighting of a Summer Migrant, a Lesser Kestrel. All the usual Vultures are present here in S Luangwa. Bilimungwe Camp is also unfenced so during a walk here you must be aware of elephants especially as they come to the 4 water holes, generally via the camp. The thickets were productive with Red-headed Weaver (male in full breeding plumage), Cut-throat Finch, Red-throated Twinspot, Blue Waxbill, Tropical Boubou, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and White-browed Robin-Chat.

The water holes are favourite for Warthogs, Elephants, Yellow Baboons, Giraffe and all sorts of buck plus Red-billed Quelea and Bee-eaters.

                                               Young Bateleur
Melanistic Gabar Goshawk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 5

Early start and Chinspot Batis calling at the camp. We get nice close-up shots of Southern Black Flycatcher. More woodpeckers with Bennett’s and Bearded. We drop in at Kapamba Bush Camp (no guests there) and check out the accommodation for a future visit. This camp overlooks a small vlei and grassland area renowned for visits of lions. They have even been found in the camp kitchen!!!! African Jacana, Common Moorhen, Great White Egret and Senegal Lapwing.

As a nice surprise for our guide Fannuel we see a Melanistic Gabar Goshawk, only his second sighting in a decade and my second in 4 months.

Day 6

To-day, after our early morning drive and Brunch, we transferred to Chindeni Bush Camp, a trip of only some 25 minutes. Like the others before it Chindeni was tranquil and is set on a slope overlooking an ox-bow lagoon. The route there took us via the airstrip where, like all airstrips, Coursers are to be found and we managed a pair of Temminck’s. Spectacled and Village Weaver, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Martial Eagle and Wattled Starling helped our tally. The Ox-bow lake is home to Fish Eagle, Sacred Ibis, Knob-billed Duck, Goliath, Black-headed, Squacco, Green-backed and Grey Heron and Painted Snipe. A rare visitor here was a Purple Heron. The camp surrounds are home to Black-headed Oriole, Scops Owl, White-browed Robin-Chat and Paradise Flycatcher.

                                Bearded Woodpecker
Pel's Fishing-Owl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 7

Our last day at Chindeni, where early rise was even earlier at 0515 gave us just a few more birds to add to the list. White Helmet Shrike, Senegal Coucal and the first sightings in the park of European Bee-eaters.

Day 8

We were due to stay 3 nights at Chindeni but didn’t realise it was 4 hours from the airport, so we swapped the last night for a stay at Mfuwe Lodge as this is only a 40 minutes drive. The 3 hours up to Mfuwe only revealed 1 new specie, the first Barn Swallow sighting at the park. Last sighting was Pel’s Fishing Owl at Mfuwe Lodge – a resident there at the lagoon.

Game sightings at South Luangwa are excellent. We saw 16 lions (prides of 9 and 7) and 5 leopards. There are many Crawshay’s Zebra, Thornicroft’s Giraffe, Large Spotted Genet, Civet and for those with really good eyes – Flap-necked Chameleon and Bushbaby.

Lilac-breasted Roller

 

White-fronted Bee-eater with prey

 

 

 

 

 

 

I expected to see more birds although our list of 155 was pretty good bearing in mind the temperature and limited birding time early and late. Some species were sadly lacking – not 1 lark and only 1 Pipit and 2 Cisticolas. Raptors too were few and far between with Bateleur and Vultures the most prevalent. The IBA list, from where I did my homework, lists birds that the guides have never seen in 20 years, so no chance for me in a week or so.

All in all this was a great trip. Birding during the rainy season should be excellent but the Bush Camps close end of November to April as the river swells and land floods making access impossible. S Luangwa is well worth a visit, even if operating from the Mfuwe end.

Next trip looks like Kenya in May 2013, but not booked yet, Malawi (Nyika and Liwonde Parks for 2 weeks) already set for October 2013. Still want to see the Gorillas in either Congo, Rwanda or Uganda. Saving hard!!! 

 

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