November 2009

01 November

I got up especially early today to clear a few urgent e-mails and as I have a couple of hours before the staff arrive and we get busy again I thought I’d do a bit of catching up!!

We have 23 American guests arriving shortly –  Emeritus Professor Archie Mossman, his wife Sue, and their colleagues and friends from California. Chris, who did his MSc Natural Resources with Archie at The University of California at Humboldt, has not seen him for many years, and we are really looking forward to their visit. They are arriving tomorrow afternoon and we had to build four new huts. We have also been very busy with guests every day, so still have a lot to do. We are finishing off one hut today – the plumbing, the plastering with local mud onto our home made bricks. We made three new huts out of anthill brick. The rooms are much smaller, but have the same grass bathrooms as do the other huts. They are very simple, plain rooms, but at least it is a safe place to sleep. We have half completed a reed roof shelter outside the dining room, to protect from the very hot sun and have furnished it with an 8 seater metal lounge suite out there. Our current  lounge only accommodates 12 guests at the most.

I think the metal lounge suite will be a good idea-as the ants cannot eat them. As you probably know, termites are an ongoing problem. It is a pity because I do much prefer wooden things.

Anyway, enough of work and the difficulties. Let me tell you much more interesting things like the bush and the wonderful happenings. At this time of year, which is so beautiful, the whole golden, dry area waits with bated breath for the rains which keep promising to come. We experience thundery blustery afternoons with lots of wind, and a few drops, which only lay the dust. we watch the baby impala, gambolling on grass thin legs, so precious and so fragile, their mothers grazing nearby, ears lilly-like, pricked, listening for all the danger. The trees have blossoms, their new leaves bursting with bright greens. The river is very low and sluggish and the hippos are lying in shallow splendour, pretending to be rocks. The huge crocodiles cruise with sinister slowness through the still waters. A very proud couple of egyptian geese spend a lot of time in front of the camp proudly showing off their tiny fluff ball chicks, who swim with the same vigour as their parents. They are the prettiest little things. I hope they don’t get eaten by anything.

We listen to the squirrels alarm calls as they see some hidden danger while the paradise flycatcher, flying with long tail streaming in coppery splendour, calls it’s happy call. I haven’t found it’s nest yet as the place they usually have a nest is in a tree the Elephants have re-arranged, so the usual spot is now near the ground. The dry dry leaves on the ground give away any creature walking about. The monkeys came whispering through the camp yesterday afternoon, lightly jumping from branch to branch and making the leaves on the ground whisper as they crept towards the sour plum tree.

02 November

I had such a nice experience during the night. You know how you sometimes feel a presence in the room? Not a menacing one, just a little presence? Well, I had been eating an apple before I fell asleep, and left a very frugal core on my bedside table. I had left a Solar night light on, so I looked at my lamp with the idea of switching it on to torch mode, when I saw the daintiest little long tailed mouse having a delicate meal on my apple core. Such tiny little teeth marks where she ate, and the shiniest, blackest eyes twinkling in the light, with the softest, silkiest, furriest little ears pricked up and quivering as she listened for all sounds. She is the dearest little creature in the pink of health as she is so shiny, the long tail hanging in a ladylike fashion over the book I am reading, and possible only about 1.5 feet (yup – feet!) from my nose.

I feel we had become quite acquainted when she finally shimmied up the electric cable and disappeared into the roof. It is the night for tiny things as well as something BIG. Our little Betsy Bat (the leaf nosed bat that hangs all day in our roof like a little pom-pom) flew about for a long time enjoying the insects that had been attracted to the light when the bushbuck called their alarm (which really has the amazing ability to create alarm) and ran through the camp barking, I knew that a soft footed predator must be padding around, on silent, leaf crisped paws, when lo and behold, a leopard coughed nearby. I must have fallen asleep shortly thereafter because it is now a glorious dawn and the sun a true palette of all the reds and oranges and pinks in the world.,

03 November

I was sitting in the lounge at lunch time, just watching the world go by during a slightly thundery noon time. About thirteen male puku were grazing in front while the Egyptian geese, with their three totally adorable babies in tow, were swimming in the mirror-still waters. I saw a large crocodile swimming towards the Mushingashi mouth. The hippos were pretending to be rocks just near the mouth. And then I noticed another large croc floating towards the same area. Suddenly there were several crocs, all floating in the same direction, to the same area. It was actually rather scary as it reminded me of warships gathering. There is something extremely sinister in the movement of crocodiles. So I decided to go and investigate the awful smell coming from  near the Mushingashi Crossing. I found a dead hippo. It was quite bloated and lying just near the bank, There were about three crocs on the bank, who slunk into the water without a splash as I approached. None were eating the carcass It is in the shade, under the waterberry trees, so no vultures or lions can see it (although by the smell II would imagine all predators should be here from miles around.

04 November

The dead hippo still lies, bloated and untouched and there is another, very much alive,  hippo lying in the water near to the dead hippo. He just moved away a bit as I approached,  then came back again as we moved off. John Kayambo thinks it is one of a pair of hippos who are always together. I wonder if this is the case? Whether he is sad, or protective of the dead hippo? It seems strange that he is lying so near the dead hippo and the awful smell. I have just gone back and he is again lying near the dead hippo. I wonder what the real story is? Anyway, I did get a couple of good shots of the live hippo but a bit too close for comfort. I hope some predator will come soon and finish off this carcass as it is sad to see a dead hippo and so much wasted food for the vultures/, crocs and lions. Nothing can see it, or get to it, as it lies just in the water, in heavy shade.

Logs From Dr. Joe ZamboniI, Arcata, California (04th Nov ) – I arrived in the camp last night at 10 o’clock, after a long journey, over 22 hours in the air and more hours connecting with flights. We were delayed in Lusaka as there was so much luggage and donation stuff that the van picking us up couldn’t hold us and the luggage, so we had to go pick up a trailer, load that with bags, then go pick up some others of our party at a hotel in Lusaka. We were supposed to get an early start for the bush, but with so many stops, people all had to go at different times.

We were really late entering the bush. We drove the last 30 miles on rutted dirt roads in the dark, past herds of puku, impala, an elephant, and a hippo. We were greeted in camp by Chris and Charlotte and all the helpers to unload us. Dinner was waiting for us, but first we had to sit by a little ‘shuar’ (an Amazon tribe) fire, 3 sticks burning merrily, looking out at the Kafue river, just 50 meters away. Listened to hippos grunting and thrashing in the river, and crocs splashing. 2 days ago there was a big hippo bull fight right near camp, one bull died about 100 yards from the river, 4 huge crocs have now dragged the hippo carcass to the river and are devouring it. the river is loaded with enormous crocs, we haven’t seen them, but Chris and Charlotte described them in detail. NO SWIMMING!!!! Charlotte drove to camp yesterday and saw a huge black-maned male lion just outside camp.

After relaxing at the fire and listening to the night sounds, we all sat down for a delicious dinner of kudu and beef stew over rice, then custard dessert over bread pudding, all cooked by Charlotte. Really good , after airline food. On the layover in Munich I had to buy some goulash over potatoes, really great, but it cost $26!!! I should have waited for some fairly good pasta and pollo served on the South Africa Airline. Landed in Johannesburg in the rain. A few hours there, met Archie and Sue there plus Jon and Linda and their son. Then we took off for Lusaka. 44 degrees Celsius. Hot and dry, but bearable. I thought 44 would be a lot worse, then the delays with trailering, and frequent stops.

Back to camp life! After dinner, we were to go to our huts, but we were delayed in leaving the dinner area by a big bull elephant roaming thru camp, and a hippo. Charlotte and I went quietly creeping through the bush trying to locate him but didn’t, but the men said he was still in camp. The main camp and the sleeping huts are really spread out, with bush and trees throughout the camp, and you can’t see far. Then we heard a bird calling, that Charlotte said was warning of a predator in camp, so we went back to the dinner area and waited until 2 in the morning to then go to our huts. I shared the room with a nice couple from New Mexico. I slept solid and got up at 6am, Charlotte got up about then, had been up in the night to face an elephant about 10 feet away. 2 nights ago Chris had a bull grazing 1 meter from his head, just on the other side of his reed mat wall. So there is loads of life here. Puku were grazing near camp this morning. I haven’t seen the bull elephant. Chris jokes you can tell the bulls by the dull look on their faces. Today is a day to catch up on unpacking, resting, I feel that I am already over the lethargy of jet lag. I slept well on the planes, with little time on reading or sudoku, as recommended in the jet lag printout, I am soaking up the intense morning sunlight, supposed to help with jet lag hangover. As I slept so well last night and on the plane, I really feel my circadian rhythm is back in sync. with the sun.

Chris and Charlotte still look the same. Chris is gray, Charlotte is still beautiful. They really love it here, live here year round. From our camp the park boundary goes another 80 miles north, 120 miles south, and is about 140 miles wide east to west. Absolutely no roads on the other side of the river in one direction, so this is really a wilderness. Beyond the park boundary is more unroaded wilderness. Really vast area. They are ecstatic to be able to live in this paradise.

Finally we got to our rooms after mr. Bull ambled off. Beds all draped with mosquito nets, very few bugs. Huts are thatch, with reed matt wall. Lions and elephants could come right thru them if they wanted. For the most part, you can’t see another hut from your hut. It’s really spread out throughout the bush. Really private.

After resting this morning, we will all divide up for different activities. Some will go in the boat. Some go birding. I signed up for a long game walk. I love it. Only 3 people signed up for it. Most are for birds and boating.

Tomorrow Chris said he may send me down river with an armed African to the remote FLY Camp. There he wants me to photograph buffalo, which come to the river by the hundreds. He wants to put the photos on his website. Has none of buffalo herds so far. I will really be back in the bush, so no e-mails for a while. I will stay there for a few days, but will have an armed man with me. Chris says elephants and buffalo are common there, elephant trails worn into the earth over hundreds of years. Chris and Charlotte always leave camp armed. Charl carries a massive cannon, Chris says she is quite a sho!. Anyway this place is amazing.

I have to get off as other people are waiting, they are getting up now, tea and crumpets for breakfast, then a mid day snack. then another great dinner ala Charl. I thought I was thru with Africa, but this 3 weeks will go all too fast. love it here. What a wild Africa experience. I will stay safe, but I really like the element of danger and risk here. Even the staff creep around cautiously in the night. We always have to have one of them take us to our room. Camp rules!!!!    – Dr. Joe ZamboniI, Arcata, California  –

17 November

Dr. Joe ZamboniI, continues…  Went for a walk from McBrides Camp over the river west of the camp, this morning. I have now been in Africa for almost 2 weeks, and have one more week here before starting back to my home in California. When I first arrived here at McBride’s Camp on the Kafue River in Zambia, the dry season was coming to an end; the rains were not expected to start for another 3 weeks. This year, however, they came a few weeks early, thus turning the parched brown savannahs to a beautiful emerald green that gets more intense with each passing day.

The greening of the grass has dispersed the concentrations of game away from the river, and into the vast wilderness away from the river. Despite this dispersion of game, there is still so much to see. There are large herds of puku and impala visible from camp, morning and evening. Yesterday I watched bushbuck browsing in front of my house, after spending my morning stalking 3 male lions on foot with Chris McBride. I wake up to the sounds of hippos and birds in the morning and go to sleep with the calls of hyenas and hippos at night. The night sounds have been a mixture of lions roaring, leopards calling, and hippos grunting. What a symphony Africa is!

Each day here brings new surprises. No day here has been routine; today was no exception. I crossed the river this morning with 2 excellent game guides. After climbing the opposite bank, we set off into the bush. In less than an hour of walking, we surprised 3 African wild dogs at very close range.

They seemed not to know about humans, as they jumped up and barked at us, then trotted off a short distance and laid down again to scrutinize us. We walked on and came upon a grysbuck, a miniature antelope that seemed no larger than a rabbit. A short time later we admired 3 roan antelope. An oribi buck and doe , within good camera range, were our next sighting. A small herd of Cape buffalo bedded in the shade, 3 hartebeest, more oribi and roan antelope, several bushbuck and a reedbuck, and a beautiful black arum lily [Amorphophallus abyssinicus] completed our 4 to 5 hour walking safari. To add frosting to an already full day, a leopard roared deep in the bush on our walk back to the river and camp.

I am certain that if we were to walk this same route tomorrow, we would see a totally different variety of animals.

I really had no great intentions of returning to Africa after this trip, but after this wonderful and rewarding stay at McBrides’ Camp I have every intention of returning. –    Dr Joe Zamboni

19 November

The bush is looking really beautiful. After the first rains the whole area is covered in short, emerald green grass. So you have these vast expanses of short grass, looking like parklands as far as the eye can see, and the game is so easy to see at this time. We are seeing so many exciting animals, Its like a Christmas surprise package every day. Yesterday, for example, on a game drive Chris and his guests saw some beautiful Sable – a real treat.

Today, quite early, we set off on a walk on the opposite bank. As we got through the Dambo we saw two buffalo bulls slowly grazing their way towards us, so we sat and watched them. They were coming towards us so we retreated to an anthill and watched them coming. Eventually they changed direction and started heading straight toward our anthill, so John Kayambo (our Game Scout) asked everyone to retreat (a bit prematurely, I thought), but I got some really good close up photos of the nearest bull  who had a damaged eye. Then, a sudden movement and the buffalo, as one sniffed the air and rushed off in the direction they had come from. We carried on through some fairly thick bush and saw a beautiful raptor sitting on a dead branch. He had well streaked breast and yellow legs and still needs to be identified. Some snortling, rootling bushpigs came around an anthill, a lovely sight with the morning light catching their bristly backs. Our group then decided to split up, and I, with my tracker Nicholas went towards the river, and the others went upstream.

We stopped on a grassy slope of a big anthill and had a glass of water while watching a troupe of monkeys racing across an open plain and a warthog bustling about his business. I tried to “call” it with a whistle click which I have been told attracts them, and lo and behold, he came towards us. That was magic as he was obviously nervous, but also curious. Took some lovely photo of him. We watched a herd of kudu consisting of a majestic bull with a massive sweep of curled horns and his calm harem of six graceful ladies. They ran off after seeing us. We also saw a group of male waterbuck, whom we watched for ages and two jewel bright schalows turaco’s flew into the trees nearby, unashamedly flashing their emeralds and rubies.

Walking through thick bush we were aware of the smells.  Elephant,  recent signs of leaves fresh on the ground, but no great grey shadows.. We saw a big herd of impala, which promptly  rushed off with a drumming of dainty hooves. A plum coloured starling, breathtaking metallic cerise colours. Then we spied a scythe like horn behind some thick bushes.. more buffalo, some lying down, chewing the cud, others standing around, tails flicking. It is amazing how many buffalo materialised once we’d seen the first horn shape. Vultures were landing so we marked he spot with our eyes, and took our guests back to the boat to return to camp. Nicholas and I returned to the tree line and crept round an anthill to see three rather startled and surprised lichtensteins hartebeeste watching us. It did not take them long to realise they were not impressed with us and with a flash of white backsides they dashed off- a special sight!!

On the way we crossed a white sandy anthill, and saw leopard tracks. Then we noticed a vulture flying up so we crept quietly up to where they had been. There were a couple of white backed vultures on the ground. We watched for a while and they flew up. As we crept closer I smelt a dead carcass, and then we saw some bones. It was a female puku which had been killed and eaten. Only a rather pathetic skull was lying in the open. We wrongly assumed that the leopard had killed it, though we should have thought a bit more as there really was nothing left of the puku. As we slowly walked away we disturbed four lions, who must have been watching us for quite a while, but they rushed off as we got closer to them, making their angry growling sounds. They must have been about 40 metres from us before they lost their nerve and bolted!

Of course, after this anything was an anticlimax but we saw wonderful birds…. a female black cuckoo, plum coloured starlings, puff back shrike, fork tailed drongos, white headed vultures, yellow billed kite, blue waxbills. Also another vast herd of Impala, several puku lying down, totally relaxed, one with his head stretched out almost looked dead, but I have often seen them in this position. Anyway, another wonderful day in Africa!!

21 November

On an early morning walk yesterday we had a theatre show. We had walked for a while through the hushed, slightly damp bush on the opposite bank when we heard the impala males chasing each other with hooves thudding , guttural grunts and white tails up when suddenly the noise stopped. As a collective group the impala started making their alarm calls, whispery yet dramatic ‘phahs’. We crept up to an anthill and had a wonderful view of a proud (and very big) leopard walking with total unconcern, tail flicking, head up and his thrilling territorial grunt, surrounded by a +- 50 mixed impala herd, who stood on either side of him, bronzed in the early morning light, and the whole area green green. For a moment in time everything was highlit with magnificence, solid gold leopard, bronzed impala, emerald surround, ruby red lillies dotted about. It was a truly magnificent sighting which left us all feeling breathless and privileged.

The rains continue and we have resigned ourselves to early rains. We will just see what we see, which at the moment! is quite a lot, especially buffalo

22 November

I got up very early this morning. It is a grey dawn time. We are having wonderful skies with every known shade of greys and whites and in the most fantastical soft shapes and curls and textures, all cotton woolly, but dramatic and exciting. The stretch in front of the camp is brilliant green and the river silvered by the grey skies. This morning there is the tiniest, teeniest little hippo, grazing all by him / herself along the water’s edge. I have moved my chair to the front so that I can watch it. It is too sweet for words. But one wonders if such a little thing should be alone. I hope the big fat Mama hippo is watching from the sidelines. They are so vulnerable at that little stage from the sinister, slinky big crocs that float along the waters edge (ugh) and of course lions, who stalk around in silent, golden splendour. I don’t think little hippos know about such beastly things.

Our two resident Egyptian geese have now only one tiny baby left. They started off with three little fluffballs trailing behind them. Now only one little wake follows the parents.  I wonder what takes the babies? They are so pretty, it makes me sad that only one is surviving.

I did see a very prolific family of Egyptian geese at the Lumbeya Stream whilst looking for the elusive Lumbeya Lions. That family of geese have six babies, who are now teenagers….and look very healthy.

Logs From Dr. Joe ZamboniI (22nd Nov) – Yesterday, after morning tea and biscuits, we loaded into the panga (banana boat) to cross the Kafue. Our plan was for us to walk together for the first hour, then Charlotte and the Dutch couple would loop back to the river and meet the panga to take them downriver for one hour to the fly camp. John Kyombo and I would hike cross country through the bush to meet them at the fly camp.

It is a gray, overcast morning, a great day for the long hike to the fly camp. The top of the far bank is a flat and narrow grassy area. The previous day we had just climbed this same bank when we sighted 2 cape buffalo bulls grazing toward us. (but that is another story} Today we cross this same grassy bank, but see no buffalo. We continue on into the scrub and small trees. There is not a lot of game to be seen, but it is still early in the morning. We soon hear a loud pounding of many hooves, accompanied by a din of grunts. We identify the grunts as those of the impala bucks in rut. (I have watched rutting impala bucks chase each other round and round, their pure white tail hairs flared out in display, grunting loudly throughout the chase). But the sound we are hearing now is a cacophony of sound. This low thunder coming from our right is not the sound of 2 bucks in the rutting chase. It sounds like a herd of impala bucks. We are heading through the scrub toward the din, the wind is in our favour. Suddenly the sounds of pounding hooves and wild grunting stops. It is replaced by the sneezing – blowing alarm calls of a heard of impala ahead of us. Nicholas whispers to me that there is something alarming the impala. Through the brush we can see a herd of impala facing away from us, all of them focused on something in the brush ahead of them. Some pace wildly, some stand in place on full alert. Others bolt away. We work our way through the brush to get a better view. We glass the brush on the other side of the impala. Finally Nicholas, an expert at spotting, sees a leopard moving through the scrub. We move to a clearer vantage point, and we are able to get glimpses of legs and spots moving, sometimes a upward curved tail above the brush. Finally there is a clearing in the brush, and through it walks a beautiful leopard. The morning light is perfect. It’s coat glistens as it moves. It’s spots glow in the sun. The impala are still blowing in alarm, still pacing, still focused on the leopard. The leopard makes no attempt to try to make a kill, as such an attempt would be futile with the herd on full alert. He walks parallel to the herd, then disappears into the brush. The impala are quieter now, but keep a close watch on their enemy until he has left the area. They gradually leave the clearing and head for safer ground.

Our group separates, Charlotte takes the Dutch couple back to the river and the boat. John and I continue alone toward Fly Camp. We pass through a patchwork of miombo (light forested areas) in the higher elevations, and dambo(the lower areas where the drainage is poor). Thousands of hooves of buffalo, eland, and the padded feet of hippos and elephants have squished this ground into a maze of deep holes and dried mud ridges. The elephant tracks are 16 inches deep in the now dried mud, and the squished up mud from the footprint is a few inches high, so what appears to be a flat green plain and a smooth forest floor can be a really rough walk.

In the miombo we find freshly dug earth, a hole about 18 inches deep, and fresh elephant tracks in the excavated earth. John explains that an elephant has been digging roots. We scan the forest for a nearby elephant, and continue on on full alert. John’s eyes keep probing the miombo around us. We encounter nothing.

Game seems to be scarce since we sighted the leopard. We finally see the river. We head upriver along the bank. I start to recognize clearings and trees from my stay at the fly camp a week ago. Hippos are grunting and blowing. Finally we arrive at the camp, the camp Charlotte calls the Life or Death Camp. Over a delicious lunch (how does Charlotte do this so deep in the bush?) we share our adventures from our separate journeys.

On the way upriver to the camp, the panga was charged by a big hippo. Nicholas was able to gun the motor and power past the bull as he charged full speed at their little boat. The Dutch couple said they don’t want to repeat that experience. Charlotte and Nicholas had also seen vultures after they left John and I. While checking on the vultures, Charlotte walked up on 4 lions. Fortunately the lions fled. They were as startled as was Charlotte.

After lunch, it was nap time for everyone. I slept in my old tent for a while, but it was so hot I started to get a head ache, so I got up and went exploring. Something dropped out of a tree ahead of me. I couldn’t see what it was at first, but finally made out a large 3 to 4 foot monitor lizard. As I got too close to him, he puffed up, distended his throat, and stood up on his 4 legs to make himself look more threatening and dangerous. I kept my distance, took some great pictures of him. Finally he ran off into the dense brush along the river.

As the sky was darkening for a storm, we loaded into the panga and started upstream to the main camp. John Kyombo was put up on the bow with his automatic rifle to protect us from the hippos. All the way up the river he would signal to Nicholas as to where the hippo herds were soaking. It was a safe jouney home, beautiful birds all along the way home. The sky was really storming up. but we got home dry, just a lite sprinkle at times. –  Dr. Joe ZamboniI,

27 November

Charlotte went up to the camp with a vet to try to find and dart a lion with a snare around it’s paw…..

Yesterday was an amazing day drive-in to camp. We saw lots of beautiful impala herds, so many all along the road. Then we had an amazing sight… a massive martial ragle flew up in front of the car. You have no idea of the size until you see it at such close quarters. Its wingspan seemed wider than the vehicle. He only just managed to get above us, He had been eating a tiny baby Impala which was lying on the verge nearly totally consumed except for the little, long legs. It was such a pathetic sight.

We also saw a herd of lichtenstein’s hartebeeste who watched Musango move a branch out of the road before flirtatiously flashing their white backsides and rushing off. There were lots of signs of elephants all along the road. On to Oribi Plain where the oribi showed themselves beautifully we saw a wonderful herd of Eland. They are so massive, yet so graceful. They were crossing the Mushingashi Plain when I stopped the car, but I did not get any worthwhile shots as they were going into the bush. There must have been about eight or nine, with one youngster in tow….a wonderful, wonderful sighting. Besides lots of shiny wet warthogs, who had all been rolling in the many muddy wallows, there were puku and impala by the dozen… no lions, despite keeping an eagle eye open all the time.

28 November

The lion darting story continued…..

We had a bit of excitement and anticlimax yesterday afternoon at camp. There were lots of puku and impala alarm calls, so John Kayombo and I had a look and saw a young male lion lying down watching us. He kept looking over his shoulder so we were pretty sure there must be others with him, so we could not get to Eric (name of vehicle) as it would have disturbed the lion. We went off in Jeeves (name of vehicle) sans some of Dr Matandiko’s equipment but enough to get us started. We crept away in Jeeves along the campsite road and switched off when we saw the young male clearly. There was huge excitement when we saw two other young males with manes, lying behind a palm tree. The group looked exactly right for our snared friend so we waited for ages. (the nicest snippet- a little yellow bellied sunbird came and chatted to herself in the window of Jeeves).

Then the young males stood up an we waited with bated breath to see a limping lion, but sadly, they were all fine and our hopes were dashed. They proceeded to walk straight towards us which allowed me to get some great ID shots. One looks really mean with yellow eyes, and a hauntingly mean stare, but in beautiful condition, and swaggering with all the nonchalance of superiority and strength. The puku and impala continued to stand at a safe distance muttering their displeasure with their alarm calls, as these three golden boys walked across the short emerald green plain, disturbing two very indignant wattled plovers and about five red necked francolin who were busy marching about in their bossy way.

I forgot to mention that we saw two magnificent male leopards the other night, at different places .One having a drink at the Mushingashi crossing,  totally unconcerned by us,  had his fill then stood up and wandered up towards the dambo behind camp, looking in perfect condition, and strolling with spotted splendour towards some unsuspecting puku dinner.

The other one was also having a drink at the Hot Springs. He was also totally unconcerned, lifted his head and listened for a while, had another drink before shaking his head and stretching, then walked away into the darkness, perfectly designed to disappear into the bush on silent paws.

We just have absolutely no idea where the young guys went and they are the shyest of our groups of lions, always tumbling into the nearest thicket or cover when they see us.

29 November

Well I am losing a bit of hope. We spent yesterday playing this simply ghastly “buffalo being killed” tape and succeeded in calling the “Honeymooner trio”- young, confident males ,some with goodish manes coming on, the same group as the day before yesterday. In my personal opinion the three young males we are looking for, one of whom has the snare around his foot are very timid. (I refer to them as the “Shy Ones” as they always hide when they see us, lying down in the grass, or behind trees) I think they are hiding and the more we attract the “Honeymoon Trio” (who are anything but shy) the more the Shy Ones hide. Have they gone into the Miombo? or where? The one with a snare cannot walk that fast-or far, I don’t think. Interestingly, we are not attracting any big males, or the lionesses.

Dr Mutandiko is very persistent and helpful, and is determined to find this poor lion, but I am running out of hope. Where to find him?  Dr M. is also quite interested in our theory that male lions may be being targeted by unscrupulous hunters. It appears that there is fairly stable lioness core group in this area, but the males change all the time. I showed Wigginson (Dr. M.) some of the male lion photos I’ve taken since I had a camera and he is intrigued that so many have vanished.

30 November

Well after a long and tiring night having a final look for our poor snared lion (and thankfully playing that ghastly tape of 5 minutes of distressing buffalo death bellows again for the last time), we had to be up at 4am to get Dr M. back to Chilanga for various mid-day meetings. We were vigilantly observant all the way out of camp, with all darting and camera equipment at the ready, just in case we saw ‘our’ lion on the way out. Alas, no such luck, although we did watch a beautiful sunrise which lit up the trees in a magical way and gold brushed all the bush and animals we saw, including a small herd of sable, a very large troupe of baboons, lots of skittish impala, a few warthogs and a beautiful trio of ground hornbills.

Lovely farewell to the bush before getting into the reality of daily life… Cell phone coverage, charcoal and ploughed fields, sms messages.

It was quite a strenuous day in unbelievable Lusaka traffic,  and our garage was out of fuel, yet again, so had to find a place that had fuel, before a turn around and back to Mumbwa and camp. Driving towards amazing cloudy skies of every shade of grey and shapes to make your mind whirl and twirl into fantastic cotton woolly dreams…. ….and into Mumbwa with shops all closed up for the night, the market area alive with braying music from the candlelit Taverns.

…. then nto the magic headlight lit night life of the dirt roads. Our first experience was a pair of wood owls and I wished with all my heart that my camera flash worked.. One of the owls flew into a nearby tree and the other was busily engaged in eating something, so I stopped the car and watched with my binoculars. The owl had a black mamba snake in it’s talons, the snake was resisting its imminent demise vigorously and the owl was bending down and ferociously biting pieces from the snake, who writhed and whipped his tail about in a fearsome manner. Then the owl seemed to tear strips from the snakes head. Still the body continued to writhe. We watched for ages, then the most amazing sight, the owl started to swallow the snake whole… like a long piece of spaghetti. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The snake looked too big to fit into the owl’s body. Lackson and I took it in turns to watch through the binocs, but the owl sat and slowly, with lots of convulsive, body jerking swallows continued to swallow the still wriggling and writhing snake. He looked very uncomfortable, and the final bit of tail just refused to stop moving. Our owl kept looking totally suprised and  uncomfortable until finally the last scrap disappeared. We breathed a sigh of relief, when, lo and behold, out came the very much alive snake tail plus about 6 inches of body. I assumed he was regurgitating the snake, but no. With a very annoyed look the owl started swallowing it again. This went on for several times.

Finally the owl stood still, looking again, very “fluffing up feathers” uncomfortable, Ir kept bending down and looking at it’s stomach. After a while it walked a few tottering steps, and then uttered such a strange, plaintive cry we got out of the car to hear the sound, which was indeed plaintive. I thought maybe the owl might die as it was a poisonous snake (we had glimpsed the coffin shaped head and death grin which is so distinctive of a black mamba) The owl continued this behaviour for some time and then with the same sad cry, flew into a nearby tree where we lost sight of him. I waited a while, in case he fell out of the tree (we had been here for more than 30 minutes by now), but-apart from the sad cries we could see nothing-and so we hoped he would survive and we headed home again, only to be bombarded with a constant ballet of both fiery necked, Mozambique and pennant winged nightjars. It was a veritable display, beautiful in the headlight, but annoying as I had to keep slowing down to avoid their swoops and swirls ending in death as they hit the bumper or windshield. I was heartily fed up with them by the time we got home.

A very neat, and tidy lackal, trotting on dainty feet, white tipped tail immaculate, ever searching for some tasty morsel as she trit-trotted along. It was a pretty sight. Another pair of owls, both with wings outstretched….. what were they doing? Out with the binocs. We were subjected to harsh golden stares… what were we doing disturbing their dance?  I see from the Roberts’ Bird book that these wood owls are usually in pairs, which explains why we kept seeing two at a time, but this pair were obviously displaying, and showing off their beautiful wings to each other. They raised their wings again, a couple of time before flying off with heavy wing beats and hanging yellowish feet.

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