February 2007

13 February

Arrived at the airstrip late morning and got out to check the state of the road from the airstrip. “Mr R” thought we could chance going off to the right of the road but I did have my doubts. Needless to say we sank right down! So we decided to walk to camp leaving the car and cupboard at the airstrip!!

The walk was lovely (good to stretch our legs again), but with so much water, walking was quite difficult in places. Everything is really beautiful with shades of green that challenge words. The grass is gold tipped and there are so many Puku and Impala in the horn high grass. It is a strange sight to see black horn tips moving about as one is hardly able to see the bodies, except for a cinnamon shadow or movement. Sometimes one sees them standing in an open patch, so fat and shiny.

There is lots of birdsong with birds everywhere, and some noisy, but beautiful Woodland Hoopoe flew past scolding. We walked past Warthog Wallow which is full to the brim. The water is still and pink coloured which explains where the warthogs get their pink tones from in the dry season.  … but wait-a-sec, just protruding from the tiny pool are two eyes and round ears.  I don’t believe it!  There is a huge hippo totally submerged in the wallow pool with just his head and ears showing. I suggested that we move smartly to the tree line. The hippo watched us most carefully, put his ears back, but chose to think we were not important. Apart from invisibly moving his body as his head followed us, he totally ignored us. Thankfully as the road is VERY close to the little pool, and very muddy which would have made a run for the trees difficult.

There are fresh signs of elephant along the road. A new tree knocked down, some massive droppings, fresh leaves scattered near the Anthill we go around. However there are no sightings.

On the plains near the camp the going is tough as we are so bogged down by the water and mud. Mr R kept losing his shoe as it got stuck in the mud. We had to take on a long detour to get to camp, and I suddenly fell into a huge hole-made by an Elephants footprint, There was mud in my wellies, up to my shoulders and in my bag (rather smelly black mud too). I couldn’t help laughing. Anyway, the staff came to welcome us and we had tea in record time.

The camp is a revelation of colours from green to gold and more. The water is about ten metres from the Dining room and there were a pair of Egyptian Geese swimming in the water right near where we usually have the campfire. In the background, hidden in the long green grasses, which were waving in the water was about thirty White faced Whistling Ducks and a matriarchal Spurwing Goose who was watching over them all.

The Fish Eagle is moored about thirty metres from River House and the Banana Boat even closer. The water is right near Hippo House, and it’s deep and a muddy grey. There are some hippos in it, puffing and snorting. A giant kingfisher is balanced on a low dead branch and an African Finfoot can be seen on the other bank, almost obscured by reeds.

15 February

The bush is so stunning at the moment and the river the highest it has been since I have been here, fast flowing and beautiful. There is a lion roaring upstream and it is a lovely, grey day, with bursts of sunlight and the odd drop of rain. The lion must be walking because it is so cool. It is now 9.30 am-so it’s a little late for him to be roaring. The trumpeter hornbills are making such comfortable noises in the tree above the Dining room, obviously having a long and involved conversation. It is a lovely sound to listen to (sort of cosy) almost as if they are all enjoying toast and crumpets together. I can actually see one as I write. He looks very satisfied and fat with his great casque, and rather beady eye. Two impala rams are butting heads just near the dining room.  I can’t imagine how those fragile horns don’t snap off with the sounds they are making, or that they are not knocked unconscious. It really sounds as if they hit to hurt.

The little tree frog is back at his post on top of the picture of the Lion in the dining room. The only way you can notice him is by the panting movement of his tiny throat.

The Big Bwana is in Lusaka, giving a talk on Lions at a local restaurant for the Wildlife Society tonight- I am thankfully in the bush and happy to back. The staff and I are busy pulling a hut down that has partly fallen over due to the heavy rains. The river is nearly up to the dining room and everything is quite simply stunning. A lion roared nearby all night and I had an adventure yesterday!!

The Cruiser has been going a treat (as we had a lot of work done on it recently), but on the way back from Mumbwa, having dropped off the chap whom I brought up to give us a quote on repairing the pontoons on the Fish Eagle (there and back in one day!) I switched to the back tank and the car just simply refused to go after a few jerks and jumps. We thought that maybe there was water in the tank, so cleaned out filters etc. Anyway, to cut a long story short-finally -with the help of locals, who thankfully appeared like magic out of the bushes, we transferred the back tank fuel to the front tank, as we had discovered that the back tank switch does not work. We got to the camp area at about 9.30pm. As there is just to much water, we cannot drive up to the camp and we couldn’t walk back in the dark because there are too many hippos and elephants. We did not feel like sleeping in the car, so we parked on the airstrip and one of my staff called a local boatman and asked if he could boat us down to our camp. Imagine going at speed in a Banana Boat in the dark blue night with starlit reflections on the water, in the sky and all around, on a wide and fast flowing river, hearing a lion roaring on the bank nearby as we left and when we landed, was an experience I will never forget. We disembarked about ten metres from the dining area, so you can imagine how high the river is. (It is usually 50 metres from the waters edge, as you will remember!!!)

16 February

Hippo rush

…and a quite startling show of hippo power. There was a great splashing noise from the Mushungashi river behind Francolin House, and then a thundering, drumming sound as this massive hippo came lumbering up from the Mushungashi, past the office, with his head down and really moving fast – closely followed by an even bigger, brawnier hippo, following equally fast, fat jouncing as he ran. They passed so close to me you can’t imagine, and so fast that I didn’t even have time to move from my chair. Simple Simon, (for it was indeed he), disappeared down the path to Sunset House and aggressor stopped, looking around in a confused way, standing nearby, puffing and panting and snorting. Then with a wild and fierce look around he eventually moved off slowly, and gave a great tail flapping territorial marking just as he passed the dining room (a real thumbs up to you type of display). I do not like him. He is too arrogant and bumptious, and after all, this is Simple Simon’s home, and has been for ages!

19 February

Jackal Gloaming

The staff had all gone off and I was just sitting watching a simply amazing sunset which was giving a veritable blossoming of all colours, from flaming orange to softest pinky mauve. There was that sort of gloaming, silvery look over the grass, as along trotted a Side Striped Jackal in front of River House He was backlit by the sunset, white tipped tail glowing pinkly, and such a wonderful sighting only a few metres from me. I was able to observe the shiny nose, twitchy whiskers and well groomed coat. He was just nose to the ground trotting along, obviously busy on some scented errand and totally unaware of me. How nice to be sharing our camp with such an elegant fellow. He meandered past as the late bathing birds were making a big fuss, (whether because of him, or something I could not see, I don’t know) and as a lion roared softly some distance away. There was a  bushbuck alarm call up the Mushingashi. I  wonder if it is the lionesses who were around the camp the night before who was disturbing him?

Another little tree frog has joined the tree frogs in the dining room, and is at a new post on top of the picture of the Aardvaak. He is difficult to spot except by the panting movement of his tiny throat.

Three elephants came into the camp during the evening and night before. They were so very well behaved and did not re-arrange any trees this time for which I was truly grateful.

21 February

As much as I enjoy the company of the Little Sparrow Hawk, (and he is a delightful companion, getting so tame that he hardly blinks an eye when I come slowly into the room), sadly, he is going to have to be asked to leave this spot. (Maybe I should leave him a note, couched in the politest of terms, of course). He is frightening away all the small birds, and when he is sitting in the ‘lounge’ area, there is not a small bird to be seen. As soon as he flies up into the big albizia tree behind the kitchen they all flutter around chirping and chattering with relief. Then back he swoops and they immediately start their panic chatter, all in a huddle, just as they do when there is a snake about before disappearing. I’m wondering if he is a young bird, as he swoops in a businesslike way to the ground, (I think a poor Lizard has met his demise), but he rustles the ground and bits of sticks and leaves, with his thin yellow legs and tiny taloned feet, puts his beak down and ferrets around, but does not seem to find anything to eat. Finally he flies back to his perch on the back of the chair or low branch. I hope he is not starving himself as so far I have not seen him catch anything at all. A few tell tale small feathers lying near the bird bath may mean I was absent when he did catch something.

The Little Sparrow hawk is becoming a pest, not to me, but to all my fellows in the camp. I am sitting working in the dining room. Lizards are darting to and fro around the floor, little red fire finches are scattered around pecking up tiny morsels, blue waxbills are chattering at the bird bath. Suddenly I am aware of silence and no movements around. There sits the Little Sparrow Hawk, watching me, one leg tucked up with a look of rather amused disdain on his face. What am I going to do? Clapping my hands does not seem to deter him for long, and today he had the audacity to swoop up to a nearby dining chair and perch on the back of it. I could touch him if I wanted to. I enjoy his company, but can do without his interference of all the other little creature’s habits.

The famous bunch of bananas is now nothing more than a stick with a few black ends sticking out. The yellow bellied bulbuls and black eyed bulbuls have had such fun and feasting. Every time I go near the kitchen they all look at me, stop chirping and pecking the now very miserable looking bananas and fly off. Not very far away, I hasten to add. They watch me, hoping I will hurry up in the kitchen, and as I walk out they are back, barely giving me time to get outside the door. The tiny, dainty little red fire finches obviously have a nest in the kitchen, which I haven’t found yet, but they all fly to the window as soon as I walk in, looking at me in an accusatory sort of way. Fluttering and twittering they fly to a branch outside the kitchen window and watch me. As soon as I move out, they all flitter, flutter back again. They are the prettiest little birds.

It really is such a joy sharing the camp with all the little (and big) creatures that live here. This afternoon, whilst the staff were all having lunch one of the ‘lounge lizards’ came out from underneath his sofa. He is minus his tail, poor chap. I wonder what caused him to lose it? He came right up to my toe and opened his mouth, (I did think for a moment he was going to bite me and tensed up for a nip), but he turned his head on one side, looked at me with his unblinking eye, almost with a smile, and then walked over my foot, while opening his mouth every now and again.

As I walked toward the office I stopped suddenly, for there was the tiniest, most fragile baby bushbuck, beautifully dappled like it’s mother whom I had seen earlier, standing near the bird bath. Its big, expressive ears twitching and moving and shiny black eyes watchful, but not afraid. She slowly made her way towards the dining room where I had been sitting (oh for a camera at these special moments). The grey louries have been muttering and bathing, splashing about in the water. It’s the first time I’ve seen them actually having a proper wash. Sadly, I have not seen or heard our breathtakingly colourful schalow’s turacos since I’ve been back.

The hippos are having such fun now the water has receded a bit. They are right in front of the camp, (which is still under water, though it’s not as high as it has been) splashing, snorting, yawning, ducking,  showing their great tusks, diving and making great waves. It must be such fun to play in such a nebulous environment. There are now five egyptian geese, (three which are obviously younger than the two big ones) in front, and they fly over the water every now and again. I am not sure what causes them to do it. They make their raucous calls as they take off. Mother spurwing still presides over her +-30 white faced whistling ducks. A lonely knob billed female, who I haven’t seen before stands watching.

25 February

It’s a peaceful Sunday morning, and the staff are as slow as me this morning. There was another torrential storm in the night and it is a grey, overcast day with the odd drizzle every now and again. The ground really is very wet. There are some kudu barking in that rather loud, frightening way they have,  close by just over the Mushungashi, near the bank. Judging by the sounds, and having seen a leopard / kudu hunt, it sounds as if that is what is happening.  can’t see anything though, because the bush is too thick. The squirrels are digging up their nuts that they buried yesterday. They didn’t leave it for long, did they? They really are too sweet for words, so neat, and tidy and busy. Although they are not as nervous as our original squirrel, Starfish, they do sometimes starfish themselves against a bole of a tree if suddenly alarmed. This ‘batch’ for want of a better word (there are three of them), are much tamer.

Ground Hornbills up the Mushungashi, are making their mournful duet calls.

26 February

Last night was a real lion / sound night. With all the moisture in the air, and the river between us, the magnificent roars from a lion over the river echoed and echoed. He was obviously opposite our hut, so the sounds were extra loud, which made sleeping difficult. The sounds reverberated and seemed to intensify in volume. It was just one male roaring,  up and down the opposite river bank, but there were no answering roars from this side, besides a faint, far off roar up the Mushungashi river. I thought it may be an east banker lion coming to let the west banker lion know who was who, but it didn’t happen.  West banker finally moved upstream, probably disappointed at the lack of response from this side. He was walking fast as the sounds were quite far away by the time I heard the last roar. Coming down to the main camp at 6.30 this morning I heard at least three lions roaring across the Kafue, in the direction of the Flying Camp, but quite far away. I disturbed the resident bachelor herd of Impala quite by accident, as they were all around Sunset House. We each got a big fright and as they rushed past me at speed, I just stood still.

I love sharing my house with a mouse. I was reading in bed last night and heard a faint rustling sound. So shining my torch in the general direction, was enchanted to see a really tiny mouse perched on the end of a nail which was stuck into a support rafter to hang clothes on. His tail was hanging down and his little face was rather dazzled by the light as he blinked and twitched before retiring behind a rafter. Another little chap crept along, not quite so brave and disappearing as soon as the light shone on him.

I had a fitful night, because of the loud lion roars, and was woken again by a sharp clicky sound. Again, trusty torch was shone in the general direction, and there was a small owlet, (a barred owl I think), sitting on the rod across the curtained bedroom door. Seemingly undisturbed by the light, he put his head on one side and looked at me with big golden eyes. I moved in bed to get a better view, but he flew away as silent as a floating feather. I am sure he must be after these enchanting little mice-who are nowhere to be seen, thank goodness. I have all the blinds up, so the house is pretty open to the elements and creatures, which I love.

26 February

Team Work

I have just been watching some amazing team work. Two of the tiniest little dung beetles I’ve ever seen, soft olive greeny brown, with really long spindly black back legs (must be babies though they seem to know what they are doing), pushing a single ball of Impala poo. The ball is twice the size of them and they are struggling through unfavorable terrain, bumpy, with twigs and blades of grass obstacles. One of them fell over onto his back while the slightly bigger one continued pushing the ball. It is an amazing thing to see the one little beetle always upside down, I presume pulling the ‘ball’, while the other is upright, I imagine pushing the ‘ball’. Then they swapped places, and the bigger one is now upside down, in front and on they both trundle with their bundle. It is a fascinating sight in miniature. Looking for them again I cannot find them as they must have been moving faster than I realized.

Lying on the path, upside down,  was a lizard. His pale blue/white belly was rather startling against the wet soil. I picked him up, thinking he may have fallen from a tree and been stunned. His tail was still quite active, but the rest of him passive. I laid him on a table and had a good look. His eyes closed slowly as if he was very tired, so I touched him, and his tail swished and swirled again, but, his eyes remained half closed. I couldn’t think what could be wrong with him, but then I saw two tiny puncture marks on his back. I made him as comfortable as I could and left him for the night. This morning, when I went to check on him, he was no-where to be seen. He has either recovered or some night creature has eaten him.

27 February

Any of you who have been here will remember our carved wooden buffalo who stands in the sitting room.  I was just about to dust and oil him this morning when I saw the most perfect little golden web, strung from his ear to his horn, and the tiniest little spider sitting perfectly in the middle. It was such a fragile piece of perfection. I hadn’t the heart to disturb it, so buff’ remains undusted. A veritable tub full of the tiniest little frogs I have ever seen jumped out of the undergrowth as I walked along the path. I caught one and looked at it. Another perfect little creature. Why is everything so tiny in the rainy season?

Another huge storm is brewing. Each storm so different, so dramatic. The wind is so strong at the moment that if I stand in it, it quite takes my breath away. The river looks like the sea, but that happens every day as the wind whips it up into wavelets topped with white. The skies are all so different too with colours of every shade from dark grey to almost black, to pale silvery. The thing I don’t enjoy is the lightening,  always closely followed by thunder bolts and cracks of sound as the thunder tears and rampages overhead. Otherwise, I love it! Now it is pouring with rain. Great gusty waves of heavy rain, the sea from the sky.

We have a storm almost every day or night now. I noticed that the river is dropping slightly, which must mean that they have opened the gates at Ithezi Tehzi again. The earth is really saturated with water.  Even the branches are starting to droop lower and lower with their burden of moisture. I almost had to crawl through the main pathway into camp today.

And I have found the poor dead lizard lying near a big leaf. He looks asleep, eyes closed, and not stiff. I was hoping his tail would curl, or some other sign of life, but he is quite dead I’m sad to say. I do wonder what killed him as I can’t see any puncture marks today at all.

…and a first, a grey headed bush shrike came to the bird table today. What a neat and elegant fellow with such wonderful colouring, (yellow of the brightest hue with a grey head), and neat movements. He is not chatty like all of our bulbuls and just kept himself to himself.

28 February

We had quite a tense, long night. ‘West banker’ (conjures up an image of an affluent city banker) seems to have lost his chums because he is walking up and down the river on the West bank, roaring all night. He has been doing this for four night now. One night he went way upstream and I could hardly hear him, but was soon back. He walks downstream to about a quarter of a mile past our camp then upstream about three kilometers, judging by the sound, but answering roars came there none.

The jackal made a strange sound right near my hut, not his usual bark, but a sort of high pitched yapping. Then, after a short break started his normal bark. Maybe “Mr. Bustly” the porcupine was chasing him, as I distinctly heard the rustle of porcupine quills earlier. Then all the different alarm calls started. Puku whistle, impala snort, monkey chatter, bushbuck bark. It makes you realize how many animals are around my hut, doesn’t it? Then the softest of ‘wu”s. Was it a far off lion roar? Or was it just outside my hut? I sat up, as I couldn’t really tell which direction the sound was coming from. Then another soft ‘wu’. Hmmm it sounded right near the bathroom. The bushbuck barked again, very close by. I switched my torch off and listened. I think the lion was walking right near my hut, as the sounds were definitely very close by. I wonder why he doesn’t roar, to answer West Banker?

The little barred owls were having an answering party in their tree outside the front door. One would call, then the other answer, getting louder, rising to a crescendo, the slowing down again. I’m glad they are not in the house, as the mice are scampering up the rafters. They are responsible for the little teeth marks at the bottom of my tube of toothpaste. I woke up at about 4.30 am to hear a very sleepy red eyed dove calling. It is a funny sound to hear in the dark.

The ground under certain vines is covered with heart shaped seeds. They are so pretty, with lovely shades of reds and pinks and pale orange. Pity it isn’t Valentines. It is a romantic feeling walking on lots of scattered little red hearts. The birds seem to love them.  As you walk under the canopy they all fly away, sounding like an umbrella unfurling as they take off – groups of grey hornbills, grey louries (go-away birds) and green pigeons.

Another big black storm brewing.  do wish it would stop storming. It is dramatic and a bit tiring with great gusts of wind, trees blowing, leaves falling and blowing around, river whipped up into white waves. And this happens every day! So it is losing its novelty. The rain is interminable, torrential, heavy and soaking.

In my way home last night I was happy to see the bachelor herd of impala relaxing near Anthill House. I called Steven as I needed his ‘work book’ (he was at the river), and as he came up he discovered two big lion footprints in some mud nearby. I went to have a look. They were big, even making allowances for the mud. So it must have been a lion close by during the night. I wonder why he did not roar at all? I remember vaguely hearing lions roar far away, in the direction of the old mine. I wonder if it is Lord Spotleigh?

Leave a Reply