August 2007

02 August

Firstly, we went to the “Flying Camp’ with our guests in the River Lion. There were so many birds…. fish eagles, bateleurs, african skimmers, african finfoot, and darters, drying their wings, looking like witches with their wings spread out. The big baobab has fruits on it (although the others don’t yet). A fish eagle was sitting on one of the branches.

As we arrived at the camp, there was a small herd of buffalo grazing behind the tents,  making that strange grunting noise every now and again, which always warns one that buffalo are around! What a welcome! We sat on an anthill and watched them. They did not notice us.

The sun sank into orange splendour over the river and after dinner we went to bed. The night sounds were dominated by nearby hyena cackling and laughing in that frantic way they have which sounds like dervishes.

The next morning we collected some other guests by boat and on the way down saw elephants grazing on the bank. Big, slow moving creatures, with their ears gently moving. The weather is splendid, slowly warming up during the day and with a slight chill in the evenings, and cold nights. All the leaves are falling in golden masses. Our sausage tree at the office is almost bare and we are surrounded by a sea of golden leaves, which rustle and whisper as the wind blows.

Anyway, we were sitting in the ‘lapa’ at the ‘Flying Camp’ when I heard a sound and looking out saw about thirty five buffalo grazing, heads down, shiny horns catching the early suns rays. They were oblivious of us or the camp, and just kept coming. I think one of us must have made a movement, because within seconds they were all looking at our structure with that pugnacious nose-in-air look, and watching alertly. We watched each other for a short while, and then one of the cows snorted and turned around and started walking away. The others sort of looked at us, then at her, and decided to follow suite, although a large bull with huge, huge horns, heavy dusty grey black body, his tail twitching, stood sideways on and watched us for quite a few seconds longer whilst the others moved off.

A beautiful, but uneventful boat ride back to main camp, with the river mirror imaging all the wonderful root patterns and colours and leaves falling and floating. The ‘walkers’ arrived, having had a fantastic 13 km walk during which they saw a number of different species of antelope- liechtenstein hartebeeste, oribi, impala, puku, waterbuck, sharpes Grysbok and a huge herd of maybe 600 Buffalo (which they sat on an anthill and watched). Everyone had a good sleep that night, only disturbed by our friendly elephant, who spent the night in camp, relaxing and eating leaves, and rumbling his tummy for all the guests to enjoy. Some got up and saw him as the moon is still bright, and he was quite visible as he walked past the rooms.

Then the real cherry on the cake for me. I am still so thrilled and excited about it! Yesterday afternoon I heard impala alarm calls at about three o’clock and thinking it strange was just gearing up to go and look when Lackson (our chef in training) came rushing to call me to see the Lions. I rushed out and there, walking in the afternoon bright sun were three lions. They were  walking in front of Dambo and Hippo Rooms just over the dip. What an amazing sight! We ducked down and watched and then I told Lackson to wake the guests while I crept to Francolin house to wake Chris. By this time the lions had walked down to the water’s edge on the Mushingashi. Evans (WPO) and I crept through the grass, walking at a crouch, and we watched them drinking. We got the others to follow us, but I think the someone must have made a noise or something, as the lions were disturbed, got up and went up the bank and started walking along the river. We had lovely views of them as they walked, golden backs swaying in the golden grass, golden manes mingling with golden grass heads. For a flash of total contrast a scarlet chested sunbird flew past and landed on a branch. Such scarlet brilliance in such a tiny bird! What a wonderful golden afternoon. You must realise that the grass is golden, the sky has a molten, golden look about it and the lions were various shades of gold.  What a wonderful, wonderful afternoon.

I must tell you these lions have caught my imagination. There is a most noble creature, very big and high at the shoulder with a small golden, golden yellow mane. Another, who is neater, stockier and not so tall, but with a much bigger mane which is starting to go dark brown. The third is a really small lion, not much bigger than a small puku. Who and what (male or female?) is this little creature who always pads behind the two big chaps. They are a real team, moving together, making sure the other is following by checking over their shoulders. This is the first time we have seen them so clearly and well, but not the first time we have seen them all together. Chris has seen the little group on walks, and I have seen them once or twice, not well, but well enough to be able to see the three together. I once saw the big noble one on his own. It is interesting because when I saw him on his own he was also walking in broad, bright daylight, although it was still morning. I am gong to name them, and watch them. I have a feeling they are nomads living around our camp as it is the very edge of a big pride’s territory. I wonder if they are siblings, or nomadic youngsters who have been thrown out from different, nearby prides? Maybe there are new pride males now in the main pride? Perhaps these three are nervous as they do not always roar. Who knows?  I am excited about watching and seeing what happens with them. I do hope they will stay around for us to ‘keep in contact.

To crown a lovely few days. On the way home last evening after a drive we saw…. yup….wait for it… a serval! Such a pretty creature. She was watching some small rodent in thick grass so her ears pricked up in different directions, and the neat head would turn and watch intently some movement which we couldn’t see. It was totally unfazed by us or our light. The dark stripes down the back are much more prominent than I realised, and the spots are very dramatic. It really is a most beautiful creature. I have seen it several times, pouncing in the grass in the distance, but never as well as we saw it last night. It was a fantastic sighting!

06 August

Hippo Morning!

After our guests left yesterday we decided to relax, as we have had a busy time.  I opted to sit and observe hippos for my day’s relaxation in order to know them all over again. Some of my old favourites, like Fearless Earless, seems to have vanished.  It’s amazing how much goes on down at the Mushingashi river mouth. There is that row of green waterberry trees, and the sandy beach in front of them, and this is where the hippos slowly come up to in order to rest for most of the day.

One hippo comes out,  stands for a while, turns to face the water, then just stands, head down, doing nothing. A young one comes up, stands, then goes back into the water. The rest of the group of hippos sit, looking like rocks in the water, with snail like eyes protruding, and watch….watch….watch. Another comes out and stands, and then another, There are three now, just standing. One faces the water, two facing the bank. Suddenly all three are galvanized back into the water. Hmmm, I wonder what startled them? I watch the bank carefully with my binoculars, seeing the ballet swoops of the white throated bee eaters. The fish eagle, sitting like a king in the top of the trees. watching over everything, and two hadedas are walking companionably together, their wonderful metallic green wings flash. I hear the alarm call of a bushbuck and I am starting to anticipate seeing a leopard or lion, but there is nothing.

The hippos slowly start to come out again. One by one, heads down, looking really quite mournful, until the beach is full of great big pinky grey hippos, all looking quite sad,  but standing around as if they are waiting for the music to start. The tiny babies have come out, but are not visible amongst the great bodies. Some are much lighter in colour than others. There is one simply huge hippo which is almost as black as night and another very large one who has a nasty mouth injury. She is very pale and I say “she” as I now see a small baby with her. The babies are the cutest things. Looking like little shiny warthogs, they are so small. This little thing, with its almost tick like skin keeps opening its tiny mouth which is a bright, baby pink inside. It yawns a lot, or is pretending to be a big hippo and is being aggressive. Can you imagine anything that tiny being aggressive?

Slowly, one by one, they start to lie down, like a big cushion plumping down. Funny short legs are either folded neatly underneath the fat bodies or sticking out like pigs trotters. There is such looks of contentment on the great faces, as they snuggle down, close their eyes and then sleep.  (On this day they didn’t move till 4.30pm). Once settled, with great delight, and much chattering, down come the flocks of ox peckers and dot the sleeping hippos with streaks of white. They  search and peck at all wounds. One hippo had some circular wounds and this was a big treat for the ox peckers. I think they were a bit rough, as he would wince every now and again, and they would fly up, but be back within seconds, digging into the wounds with their sharp beaks.

There is a family of five water dikkops that run down to the water’s edge like little clockwork birds. One seems to stand guard, whilst another washes himself with such enjoyment, ducking and shaking and splashing, then he comes up and the other takes over. They all stand around until all have washed, then clockwork-trot back, past the hippos great big sleeping mouths.  Two wattled plovers are anxiously trotting around, watching and calling to each other.

It was a soporific sight, which made me feel sleepy. I fell asleep and woke with a start. There were puku alarm calls from the river bank. An old female puku (she was quite skinny, with a wound on her ear) with her youngish baby was standing in front of the ‘Dining’ at the water’s edge and staring at our outside toilet. Behind them two large tusked elephants were walking sedately over the river. It was a good time to get a wake up call and a lovely, peaceful sight.

Again I thought I was in for a lion or leopard sighting. After just checking that I could get behind the sofa if I needed to, suddenly, silent as a mouse, a most enormous elephant appeared at the corner of the “Dining”. Crumbs!! I did not know quite what to do for a moment, so lay on the couch, breathing almost stopped. I didn’t dare move as he would have seen me. Such an amazing sight, eyelashes long, and wiry, big white, shiny tusk, hairy, wrinkled grey skin which was still damp from crossing the river. All these impressions flashed through my mind and also  what would I do if he decided he knew I was there?

He stood for ages, trunk waving occasionally, otherwise quite still,  then turned around and went between the outside toilet and the outdoor sitting area, crossed in front of me and went slowly down to River House where he stood for ages. From there down to the area where the boats are and stayed there for a long time. I found I was shaking. it really had been a very close encounter- so I followed him to see what he was going to do.

19 August

We are experiencing amazing game viewing on our walks at the moment – really tremendously exciting stuff. Just one example was a most exciting morning yesterday. I was taking two Italian guests for a walk and Chris was on another walk with other clients. I followed a lion walking along a path,  roaring as he walked. He finally crossed the Mushingashi river and we sat and contemplated what to do, when Chris and his group appeared from over the river, looking very puffed with themselves, I might add. We met up and they had seen lions!

So, my group and I decided to go and see the lions Chris had seen. We crossed the river bed which is now quite dry. We climbed up an anthill and saw an amazing sight. It was a lioness standing, ears cocked, looking at a small bush. I thought she may be hunting, so tried to see what she was looking at. Another lion, a male, was watching her. She squatted, urinated, and then started walking towards us, crumbs, really close! But you must picture the scene…. quite long golden grass waving slightly in the breeze, really beautiful trees in the background, and this golden lioness walking towards us, undulating with the grass movements. She put her tail up and started running towards us! Gulp! Then the male started chasing her. I saw another male behind the shrub. The lioness passed us about 10 metres away, then stopped and looked back at the male. In the meantime the male, which had a biggish golden mane, had stopped for a second and was now walking in a very purposeful manner right towards us! The guests were taking so many shots that all I could hear was the click of cameras! The male walked right past us, my goodness, what an amazing sight. He looked at us, then walked a little to one side, and then continued after the lioness. The other male now showed himself. It was a big male, with no mane at all. He did the phlemmen thing where the lioness had urinated, then started towards us. I think one of our movements, or camera click, must have startled him as he moved slightly away, and walked about twenty metres away from us after the lioness, also into the thick riverine bush!

We were so thrilled and amazed. It was a sight never to forget, and the experience of being so close to wild lions which were unaware of our presence. We crept down the anthill and started walking away. Suddenly a thunderous roar reverberated around us. We decided that discretion was the better part of valour and returned to the camp on cloud nine.

20 August

I think we have to call this the golden month as everything is constantly tinged with gold  –  .even the lions.

The Kafue is warming up beautifully although the evenings are still lovely and cool. The days are soft and warm, with leaves and wind and bees blowing in amongst the trees. I have never seen or heard so many swarms of bees moving about the bush as I have in the last few days. Our local game scout Mr Mulako says it may be because of all the fires or that the poachers near the edge of the park are taking all the honey. Whatever the reason, there are lots of swarms. It is such a beautiful time of the year too. Everything so gold, even the days seem golden, the leaves, the seeds, and the river wavelets are tipped with gold.

The best thing for me is coming down to the main camp in the mornings, very early, before anyone else. There is this amazing rising sun, every shade of orange, burning gold and crimson. The sky is arrayed with streaks of gold and the whole area is bathed in a wonderful golden haze. This morning there were two female puku near the path, which looked at me and continued to graze. It was lovely that they were not disturbed by me walking past at a slow dawdle. I had disturbed the francolin scratching around our hut as I came through the door, and they flew off with much protestation. I do love their total indignation when you walk past, be it ever so slowly, trying your best not to disturb them. They really do make such a noise that they disturb everything for metres aroun.

The lace work designs and patterns of all the tracks on the paths before the human footprints arrive and obliterate them all…

I must tell you all about the most wonderful evening walk with our two Italian guests. We saw our three beautiful lions sitting watching us from about 100 metres away. It was really a wonderful sight, with the blazing crimson African sun setting, looking like a massive ball sinking into the night blackened trees yet highlighting these three majestic beasts, who watched us with golden eyes. The one with the bigger mane lay down with a heavy ‘whup’ sound and just lifted his head as we walked past (or crept past I should say) then lay down again, obviously quite undisturbed by our presence. It really was fantastic. Chris saw eland and wilderbeeste on his amazing walk to the “Flying Camp”.

We were so thrilled and amazed…a sight never to be forgotten…- being so close to wild Lions who were unaware of our presence….we crept down the Anthill and started walking away- then a thunderous roar reverberated around us- we decided discretion was the better part of valour- and came home on cloud nine!!

On a game drive the other night we were just rounding the corner near the Mushingashi crossing when our golden maned lion stepped into view. Wow, so close. Hhe blinked slightly then proceeded to walk towards us. Then his “chum” with no mane came into the light. They were walking towards the camp. Musango thought they were going to drink, but I thought they were hunting, so we went back to camp to warn Chris who was sitting in the office writing his book. We passed the two lions on the way. They were totally unfazed by us or the lights. Our ‘nightwatch’ came to greet us, so I told him to retreat and call Chris as the lions were coming. Tthe guests stayed on the vehicle and the lions continued to walk towards the camp. We quickly told Chris, who had a good look at the lions from behind the vehicle, before retreating to the office. I will never forget the wonderful sight of these two lions walking towards Francolin house, noses up, ears cocked, purposeful strides, one mane blowing slightly, the other looking sleek without a mane. They were walking right through the camp. We watched till we couldn’t see them any more through the trees near the ‘Dining’, and then proceeded on our drive, leaving Chris and ‘nightwatch’ in the kitchen.

During our drive where we saw the elusive chocolate brown water mongoose, the african wildcat (such a beautiful creature as he prowls around looking for his mouse), a jackal, silver tipped tail visible as he trotted along, the sounds of a hyena,  which we could not see and a lesser spotted genet sinuously winding himself up an anthill, green eyes glittering.

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