June 2007

02 June

Charlotte went off to bed early yesterday evening. I followed later, led by our nightwatchman, bearing a torch. We had not proceeded far, when he stopped abruptly…..’what’s wrong?’…..lion…he appeared rather shattered. Without looking I told him to come back, but not run. He was rigid with surprise. We retreated about 80 metres into the nearest chalet. He said it was a very big male lion with an enormous head, and the lion had crouched down when it saw us. You may recall that our house is 350 yards away from the main camp and I could not get there! A novel excuse – “I couldn’t get home, a lion was in the way!”

I had the pleasure of meeting an elephant shrew last night. He is such a charming fellow. He came bustling out of a bed of dry leaves, every few steps his back foot would push sharply backwards, which made a crackly sound in the dry leaves. He would stop, look at me with very bright shiny eyes, and then take a few steps, whiffly nose checking some good smells in the earth. Take another few steps and sit and clean his face with the utmost dedication. A few more steps, with the funny ‘quick-step’ every so often. He probably had a flea or something on his toe. We became quite well acquainted, as he did not seem to object to my following him. He went along a pathway through some bushes which was only fit for an elephant shrew and came out the other side, quite unruffled and carried on looking for tasty tit bits in the soil. That nose is amazing and he is such a pretty creature. Very neat and spic and span, and very aware of self-grooming on a minute to minute basis. We enjoyed each other’s company until he went out of sight behind the kitchen.

03 June

I had such a perfect day. It started last night listening to the truly sublime music of Mozart opera, the Magic Flute, on earphones (which I loathe), but it was better listening to it on them. Chris was right-despite my protestations. It is uplifting music.

Early this morning a lion roared right outside my window, and I jumped up to see if I could see him. There was beautiful moonlight and a pre-dawn glow. It was cold. As I watched a small creature ran along the path which I thought the lion would take. It was small and black and scampered away. Shortly afterwards another one scampered along as if they were heralding the lion’s approach. I think they were mongoose. They reminded me of the minions surrounding Monostratos in the Magic Flute. Suddenly a big powerful lion walk past our “shallet” about four metres from where I was standing! He stopped and looked at me, then walked slowly, swaggeringly away. He was a powerful animal, not as tall as the one we saw the other day, but with a bigger mane. I tried to get Chris up, but he just missed him as he went behind some trees.

Later we got into the Banana Boat and ‘rode the rainbow’ down to the Flying Camp. (‘Riding the rainbow’ is thus called because you can see the most wonderful rainbows in the spray that comes up from the bows – an amazing experience “riding in rainbows!!). The day was so clear displaying wonderful crystal colours, the river blue, everything mirror imaged as there was no wind, roots, trees, cinnamon coloured puku, fat, pink cushioned hippos lying on the banks. A bateleur eagle flew over, perfectly formed acrobat of the skies, colours bright and dramatic as darters surfaced, heads glistening with water. A pied kingfisher dropped like a stone. For a heart stopping moment I thought he would not get out of the water. A fish eagle soared effortlessly in the sky, higher and higher, his evocative call wending its way into the heavens.

We arrived a our Flying Camp and found that Tyto Alba screech owl has really taken up residence in our shelter. A few pellets, rather reminiscent of a tiny fat mouse in shape, were left on the floor as a general welcome for us. Some of his beautiful feathers we lying on the ground, soft, with wonderful colours of white, grey, orange. We started our ‘firebreak’ and had a few moments of concern when we thought it might run away, but it was all managed perfectly by our staff with their big green branches. So this year our Flying Camp should be safe. Last year the Game Scouts started a fire which swept through our camp, literally burning everything, including all the furniture, to the ground.

We had a cup of tea and made some peanut butter sandwiches, enjoying the remoteness, and utter peace of the area, as we listened to the fire burning itself out, crackling and smoking. As soon as we felt it was safe, we headed back towards our main camp, again realising how perfect the whole ambience of the bush is. As we proceeded we saw shiny scythe horns in thick grass. I was a group of buffalo  watching us with their noses in the air, a typical buffalo pose. We stopped ‘the rainbow’ and watched them, until they went out of sight in the thick golden grass, then saw six more up stream, standing under an Acacia tree, on the plain. We also saw a magnificent elephant, standing tall on the bank, trunk tentatively sniffing the air, great ears flapping slowly. He was silhouetted against the midday sky, truly, a giant of an elephant.

As it was Sunday, the staff all went off to their lunch and rest, Chris off to his rest and I went to the “Dining” where, lying in the sun, in a row, like miniature crocodiles were three little lizards. They did not move, just lay blinking in the sun…warm as toast. I fell under the sun spell too, and lay, resting until I fell asleep. I was woken by the raucous, rather frantic francolin calls. I jumped up, and saw them all flying every which way, but could not see what had disturbed them. I just hope my little ‘loner baby’ francolin is fine.

I made myself a cup of tea over the fire, and enjoyed the solitude and the squirrels- Chris and I are going to watch the rest of the Magic Flute tonight on our little portable DVD player which was kindly bought for us by our friend Ted Coffin. Now, as the sun sets, colours again quite amazing, from the softest, palest pinks to mauves and gold’s, a lion starts roaring very near by. We are going to sit around the fire and listen to some more sublime music as the bats swoop and twitter and the spotted eagle owl “dwhoodwoos” deeply from the Mushingashi and the night falls softly around us.

We are so lucky to experience this place, and we hope to share it more and more. It is unique.

11 June

I’m sitting in the winter dawn, morning light and listening to lions roaring just near our Lookout Anthill. It is such a dramatic sound on these crisp mornings and it seems to echo and resound with such power, so close by. The colors are glorious, all the ranges of pinks and gold’s you can imagine, but so different from the evening colors. The little francolin family are pecking the mealie meal, chuckling to themselves with their harsh cackles and the hippos are snoozing (snooze buttons on!) in the water in front of “Dining” making their very soporific early morning sounds.

The bush is still exerting her magic. Can you imagine my delight when walking up to our cottage I saw two bushbuck females outside the front door. I started walking really slowly, watching them out of the corner of my eye. They are such perfect buck, the spots making them appear delicate and fragile, and those big dark eyes and alert ears. One stopped grazing to look at me, curious, not afraid, then continued to chew something on the ground. I wasn’t close enough to see what it was. The other one moved slightly away, tail half raised, then stopped and relaxed again. I stood behind a palm tree and watched them both, they knew I was there, but did not seem to mind me watching them, a perfect interlude, in lovely afternoon light with everything tinged with sunlit gold’s.

The lions are such a treat. They seem to have moved into Camp for a while, roaring and padding through camp, almost nightly. Last night two walked through the camp, right past the “Dining” (Nightwatch retreated to relative safety behind the metal kitchen door!) and then they walked past the kitchen! The pug marks along the paths is a really thrilling sight in the morning.

Did you hear!! We have been having wonderful sightings of cheetah, right near the camp. I know a cheetah was seen on the plains at Spring No 3, but these, all six of them, were seen really near our camp. I saw two of them whilst on foot! Cheetah exert a strange fascination… those great tear drop markings under their eyes, long, lithe bodies, high shouldered, effortless walk, and the way they always look as if they are gazing into the distant unknown. Beautiful creatures!

We have had sightings of wild dogs too. I don’t like their killing methods but am starting to see them as characters. The way they stand up on their hind legs and look at you, great ears tilted towards you. They are so affectionate with each other, chatting, and licking, and growling and rolling over, for all the world like a domestic dog at times.

The bird bath on the ground is surrounded by a whole flock of blue grey guinea fowl. Bobbing and scratching and restlessly moving, chukking and churring, and scratching and scuttling and scratching and churring, constant movement. They really are the most restless, restless creatures, disturbing the little firefinches who are sitting in fat little huddles, pecking minute particles of the mealie meal up. Even the chattering squirrel jumping from one branch to the next disturbs the guinea fowl, who rush about hysterically, darting every which way. You’d think a leopard had pounced in their midst, not a harmless little squirrel running up and down the tree trunks.

12 June

Its a grey, grey day. Pale grey sky, steel deep, grey river, green grey trees and grasses. Too still and too calm. No wind. The hippos have stayed in the water today, lying like great grey boulders right in front of the “Dining”. The bank is also grey, and there are about eight spurwing geese lying in various stages of grooming disarray, some with wings stretched, others ruffling feathers, a few with heads under their wings, resting. There is a lion moaning sound nearby. It is nearly 12 noon, so the lion must calling a chum. They are all around the camp at the moment, much to Chris and my delight. A female Bushbuck is standing in front of the “Dining” licking at some earth-there must be a mineral nutrient there that she likes or needs..

13 June

Last evening Chris and I went for a stroll. Chris had seen a beautiful lioness lying in the road nearby, during a morning drive, so we decided to go to “look-out Anthill” and see what we could see. The game were all along the edge of the Mushingashi – a lovely herd of Impala. But the plain from Spring Number 2 to the Anthill was completely empty so we assumed the lions must be around. We sat on our comfy benches in the secluded ‘room at the top’, and enjoyed scanning the golden area. Blades of high grass waved and swayed to the body weight of small birds A burchells coucal swept up and flew in bright cinnamon colours in front of us. Fat chirps from the green pigeons as they ate the fruit above us. (Such a satisfied sound they make). Little sparrow hawk flew over, frightening some ring necked doves into panic flight. Meyers parrots flew over with their joyful shriek, heading for bed-roosts.

We walked towards Spring number 2 so that I could show Chris where I thought we should burn a small bit. We scanned the tree line again, several times, when I saw a movement. It  was difficult to decide what it was. I watched carefully… Yes! A lioness head, triangular shape, was watching us intently. I could not see amongst all the gold-grass and leaves what her body was doing, Was she lying down or standing? Damn, the grass is so thick. But no, the eyes were watching us, and then a black tipped ear flicked. It was quite clear. As she moved to the left, behind a low growing palm tree, she vanished. Unfortunately Chris did not see her, but it was difficult with all the colours and grasses mixed together. The shape of her head was very clear, and the eyes, slitty and watching, a dramatic, but brief sighting. We decided to walk home, away from her, so she would see we were not bothering her.

We walked home through a lovely hazy winter evening, slowly, and the sky was pale and colours fragile, the puku barely moved as we passed.

14 June

There was a rustling outside my window this morning early, so I braved the cold and got up to have a look, imagining, by the quietness of the sounds, to see a mongoose or francolin. But filing past my window in single, very neat file, and oh so quietly, were a group of bachelor impala. Treading quietly, lifting each foot up, occasionally treading on a crisp brown leaf, spiky horned heads nodding in unison, almost whispering past, so close I could have stroked each one. What a lovely start to a cold day.

This is the coldest morning we have had so far, in what has been a really mild start to winter, but this morning is really, really cold. All the birds are sitting, hunched up, feathers fluffed, at the top of the trees, catching the first suns rays. They all look like ripe plums. The impala are standing in patches of sun, their fur standing out, so they look quite ruffled. The hippo also look frozen in the water. There is not a breath of wind, so the water is still as glass, and not even a ripple from the hippo. The trees on the opposite bank of the Kafue are reflected in the river in splendid cold colours. I am going to join the search for a warm, sunlit patch, as my hands are starting to freeze up, and will continue when I have thawed out a bit!!

The bank in front of “Dining” has a large group of spurwing geese standing, looking quite frozen and still. Twice a small group have flown away, gone in a circle and flown back, to land with dramatic black and white wing flourish- I should think they are doing this to get their circulation going and warm up!

17 June

We are having a lovely time at the moment, as the lion pride seem to have moved to our camp. This is interesting as the big pride males disappeared a while ago and we did not hear a peep from lions for ages. We were quite sad not having them around, but suddenly we have a couple of new young males moving around our camp and roaring. It  looks as if they are going to take over the pride, and hopefully remain in the vicinity. It is so nice to hear the lions roaring around the camp,  but last night was quite spectacular!!

I am just back from seeing Chris off to bed. Its a lovely warm Sunday afternoon, and the camp is alive with butterflies. Small fluttering white ones with yellow tipped wings, or black veins, great dark brown and blue ones, which sit on branches slowly opening and closing their wings. It is literally like walking through fluttering stars, there are-so many of them. Chris has retreated to bed because he was up all night, and thereby hangs a tale…..

We were doing some e-mailing last night and Chris and “Nightwatch” went to the tree line in front of Sausage Tree office, to activate the SAT phone. Nightwatch saw some eyes he couldn’t identify, so, discretion being the better part of valour, Chris and he retreated back to the office, walking as quickly as they could. Suddenly there was a terrific racket, and the grass near River house erupted with panic stricken puku. We looked by rather feeble torchlight in the general direction, and there stood a male lion, about 15 metres from us and about two metres from where Chris had been standing. It was a beautiful specimen, high in the shoulder, didn’t see the mane all that well, but his eyes shone brightly at us. Chris hissed that we should retreat to the kitchen which does at least have a metal door. (The office is open sided) We did this very slowly, and then the grass erupted near the kitchen, as the puku all rushed down towards the Dambo, whistling in a very alarmed way.

I decided I was much too cold, and would head up to our hut, which as you know is about 500 metres from the main camp. So after collecting my flask, Nightwatch and I went -cautiously,  I must say. flashing our small torch beams every which way. When I got home, I gave Nightwatch Chris’s torch which he had left behind in the morning, and started preparing for bed. The next thing I heard some really loud shrieks, so rushed out, calling the other staff, who all came up to me (including Nightwatch who had rushed back from the Car Park) He had bumped into two lions, all the staff saw them. We decided there was no way any of us could walk back to main camp to rescue Chris who, at this stage was safely ensconced in the kitchen with the door firmly closed, waiting for Nightwatch to arrive back with his torch.

When he heard the shrieks he couldn’t do a thing as he didn’t have a torch. He just sat and waited, and waited, and waited, and got colder and colder, I should interject here that we are having the coldest spell yet, of what has been, to date, a very mild winter. At present it is really, really freezing in the mornings and at night. So, as it got later and later, he looked for something to wrap around him. There was nothing to be seen except some green shade cloth, and a camping mattress, in the storeroom. He decided to look for something to eat and found five hard boiled eggs and a coffee cake, which he spent the night eating. He had nothing to read, the computer was still in the office, he was frozen with cold and bored to tears, but the lions were walking through the camp, roaring, and chasing an unfortunate hippo, whose bellows added to the dramatic noises of the night! So he was well and truly stuck, and there he remained until this morning (which is why he has gone to bed for the rest of the day, with my sympathy).

This morning we tracked the lion spoor, and were able to verify our nightly adventure by some very big pug marks throughout the camp!

18 June

What a morning! The lions roared incessantly, all night, very close by-in and around the camp. I got up very early. It was freezing cold. I walked down to the main camp. The lion was roaring so close by, so I approached the main camp with extreme caution. I thought I would walk into him by the volume and velocity of the roar sounds, but it seems he was walking along the road to our “Lookout Anthill”. I rushed into the Office to get my binoculars, and watched him walking along. It was not a good view as he was walking into the rising sun, in long golden grass, and there was a haze over the Dambo, but his backlit, sunlit mane and swaggering walk were just discernable. All the impala and puku were making their alarm calls, so one could map his route by their sounds.

A trumpeter hornbill landed in the tree above me, wailing and making his eerie baby calls. I watched him through the binoculars. He put his head to one side and watched me with twinkly eyes, his great beaky casque looking quite top heavy, and he ruffled his feathers in a very rustly way, before flying to the next tree. He was the ‘forerunner’, as now there are about eight in the big albizia tree above the kitchen, all making their chatty, almost human clucking wails. I just saw a ross’s touraco fly into a nearby tree- I thought it was my favourite schalows touraco, but  on closer inspection, it was the dramatic red and yellow and brilliant blue ross’s. What a sight in the morning light. The blue is indescribable, and when the light shines on it, it is dazzling.

The camp is like a world of sound at the moment.  The lions at close range – their roar must have had the same frightening, exciting, mysterious effect on man since time began. The volume, power. Then there is a leopard grunting, deep, menacing, staccato sound very close by, on the banks of the Mushingashi River, a sound that sends thrills down one’s spine. The trumpeter hornbill’s are wailing and calling, the francolins are giving their harsh, disturbed calls, there is a hyena far away, lonely whooping and all sorts of little birds calling. The hippos are hahahaing, with grumpy huffing at each other. Occasionally there is a silent moment, true silence, before the next cacophony of sounds starts. The lions are still roaring, although the sun is well up, I suppose because it is soooo cold!! A bushbuck alarm call nearby gives one quite a start and has a powerful effect as it is scary and sharply loud.

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