July 2007

02 July

Just thought I’d tell you about last night… It is nearly full moon, and very very cold. As I was walking up to our hut, slowly, I was listening to the puku rustling their way through the long grass and seeing the occasional glint of moonlight on their horns and the slightly dull, moonlit back of a Hippo near the water’s edge. Then slowly, like a spider web magically appearing, came a great, slow moving elephant, lit by the moon. A silver giant, walking from the river bank, surreal in the silver night shadows. He stopped, ate a few pieces of thick Dambo grass. then slowly moved towards our hut where he stopped, and just contemplated the scenery. The scenery was quite beautiful in a cold, silvery sort of way. We just watched him, wondering, as we got colder and colder, just how long he would stand, but luckily he moved gently, slowly away towards the campsite. With ears moving, he disappeared from view, which was actually only a few metres away, as we could hear by the gentle rustle of branches which he was pulling down, but like magic, he was completely invisible!

A leopard coughed in the nearby tree line, and we heard a francolin’s harsh call as it was disturbed by some wandering night predator. Maybe a genet? Puku and impala alarm calls sounded. The night life has taken over with menacing shadows for the herbivores. Fortunately we had a cosy bed to jump into. It is lovely to snuggle under the warm blankets and listen to the rustle of tiny mouse footsteps in the rafters and the little barred owl sounding quite hysterical instead of it’s usual seductive ‘prruoop’…’prrruuoop’…

Early the morning I watched the almost full moon sinking over the pale silver Kafue River. What a sight! The moon looking like a giant pale apricot ball, with fragile lace like trees silhouetted against the silvery sky. Surreal, very cold and very beautiful. Lions were roaring in the background. An elephant in the camp with giant tusks glinting silver in the moonlight and soft footfalls as he meandered through the dried leaves. There was the occasional crack of a branch as he pulled one down.

04 July

It is really cold here at the moment. The night before last was 8 degrees! There is a huge fire raging over the Mushingashi. The roaring is quite ominous and I worry about the pangolin’s, chameleons and tortoises which we hardly ever see up here. We will probably see a lot of game this side  as they cross the river to escape the flames. Of course there is a huge wind which has come up, so it is really a raging inferno. The river is almost obscured by smoke. Hopefully the wind will die down, and it will burn itself out soon.

We are walking every day and yesterday saw a beautiful male lion lying watching the group whilst they walked past. Today I took them to the “Flying camp’ for brunch. We went down in the River Lion (my boat!), and saw a buffalo grazing in the reeds, a couple of elephant on the banks, and beautiful aerobic displays from a pair of Bateleur eagles.

Along one of the beautifully intricate lace-like root systems which are now being exposed by the dropping water levels of the river lay a magnificent male leopard, watching us. His stare as hard and gold as metal, he watched us for a while and then slowly got up, stood and looked at us  as we tried to get the River Lion into a better position. Then he slowly, magnificently, walked up the bank into the golden grass, the gold and black spots and white tipped tail fast blending into the landscape. Before he left he looked over his shoulder at us again. The drama of his colouring makes one wonder how he could vanish so fast. He was a very big male, with the richest colours, like velvet and cream – a real treat!

We saw a flock of red-billed teal, which were very pretty, sitting all huddled up against the cold, with two skimmers lying amongst them. Groups of hippo were lying in rotund pink splendour, hardly moving as we went slowly past. The babies looking like little pigs, lying snub-nosed and inquisitive next to their fat mamas.

Great groups of spurwing geese in dramatic red and black, were lying on the sandy banks of the little islands. Two beautiful white egrets were fishing, hunched over their fishing patches with great concentration in startlingly white dress. An open-billed stork was standing in the shallows, looking for a fresh water mussels

We had an amazing night drive last night with our lovely Swedish couple. We left after dinner, so the cold had well and truly set in. We were warmly wrapped up, so off we went. The moon was full and bright and we saw so much.. A very large hyena, obviously hunting, was running with that strange loping movement towards the vehicle. We watched it for a while, then it lay down, big ears directed at some invisible sound. It seemed restless, stood up, went around in a circle, then came towards us again. As a sighting it was marvelous. We could see every detail –  spots, shaggy coat, sloping shoulders, bright big eyes. When we drove on, it passed behind us, intent on some nefarious business. We then went on to see lots more night life including an african wild cat, curled up in a cosy nook of a broken tree. I just wanted to get out a stroke it,  so beautiful with its lovely colouring, and big green eyes. A civet, marking his territory, tail up and rubbing against a bush, then slowly, with a black eyed look, moving away into an anthill, dramatic spots lit by the spotlight. A small spotted genet was eating something greedily. It hardly looked up as the light picked him out of the little bushes. A scurrying side striped jackal, nose to the ground as he trotted along with its white tipped tail gleaming. We saw bush babies  leaping from tree to tree, both the lesser and the big chap. A spotted eagle owl was sitting, observing our passage with cold, unblinking stare.

We switched off and sat and listened for a while. The cold night closed around us, and we just sat and absorbed the stillness, the moon, the stars, the far off hippo sounds and a distant lion roar. The rustle of a slight wind in the dried leaves and something walking through the long grass. We swiveled the spotlight and there was a very fat hippo, just walking roundly along, fat bottom jouncing, eyes glowing orange in the spotlight. We switched off and sat and listened to him scrunching and walking away and them came home to a warm cup of tea and a cosy bed.

Lovely night-lovely sightings….lucky us!!

This morning is such a glorious winter morning.

As I walked down to the main camp this morning everything was so peaceful, after yesterday, which was blustery, windy, with that awful big fire tearing through the bush. The sky is blue, blue, the lions are roaring full volume very close by (I am always a tad apprehensive in case they are in the main camp as they sound so close), and the roars reverberate in this crystal cold early morning. A saddlebill stork has flown over me as I stood and watched, and what a beautiful sight. Slow wing beats, then glides, slow wing beats, then glides, she (I am assuming it is a she as there are two baby saddlebill’s downstream) is obviously looking for a nice place to find snacks for her very greedy, demanding youngsters.

The francolins are fluffed up and pecking busily at their mealie-meal. There are lots of fluttering firefinches around them, also busily pecking, so fat and comfortable looking with their tiny, stubby beaks going ninety to the dozen. The lions’ roaring is closer and closer, (obviously a family gathering), all roaring and making the low ‘mow’ sounds between the roars. They are walking on the side where the sun rises, so it is difficult to see against the wonderful golden light. Everything is goldenly backlit by the rays – grasses, trees, puku, impala. It is difficult to identify properly, but they are so close by.

06 July

It is really freezing here in the Kafue, and there is that cold dawn mist everywhere. My fingers are so cold I have to keep going to the kitchen fire to warm them up (and my butt too!!!) As I write to you there is a female bushbuck walking quite close by the office, with the dearest little baby following her. They are so pretty, with their dainty white spots, and big, enquiring ears. She really is quite tame. I just hope the wretched leopard doesn’t get her, as he did with our resident male bushbuck, a week or so ago. The male had been in camp for years!

The lions are very active at the moment around the camp, and Steven, our foreman, saw tracks on the road of a lioness with some very small cubs, which is exciting news. Ellen, the tiniest baby hippo I have ever seen has arrived on the bank in front of the “Dining”. I thought at first it was a warthog because it was so small. It is quite a cheeky little thing, opening it’s minute mouth at another youngster, and standing licking it’s mothers face. A kudu is barking over the Mushingashi and a lion is roaring up near Spring number 3. Another lovely dawn but so cold!!!

07 July

It is so cold here-you have no idea, and I am ever grateful for my warm clothes as these mornings are bitter. Very beautiful, but really, really cold! One of my delights is coming down from our house in the early morning. The cold winter sun has not reached any of the shadows, so everything is dark and icy. Seeing who has been through the camp during the night is such fun as the paths are a new story every morning. Sometimes puku have walked along. Other times the dramatic pug marks of a big lion, or tiny, tiny little mouse footprints, as they have scampered along. The francolins leave very distinct footprints as they walk bossily towards the mealie meal and then run like blazes if they see me coming. A hippo walks along the one path every night, leaving his big prints and scattered dung. The civet is also a ‘regular’ and I have just looked up a new foot print, a water mongoose, which I have seen before but not looked up until today.

I’d been dreaming of grape arbors, and mellow red wine but was woken by what sounded like old men chattering softly in the distance. I sat up and listened. It was the gentle tummy rumblings of an elephant. He was very close by  and just moved fractionally. I could hear the leaves rustle right outside the bathroom as he moved that great body, so quietly, sounding more like a mouse. Speaking of which, one also pattered past my head on the rafter above the bed. She always looks so startled and indignant when I shine my torch on her, as she scuttles back from leaving her tiny teeth marks in our cake of Imperial Leather soap.

She really is the prettiest little creature, shiny, neat, and and with the brightest black eyes and twitchy whiskers. I really like sharing the house with her. Mr Leatherwings (our resident bat) is also feeling the cold, and stays huddled and swinging gently from his roosting spot till much later in the evening now.

I went to look for the elephant on my way down. He was standing near our hot water drum, just snoozing by the looks of things, not moving. His great, wrinkled grey body, ridiculously small tail with it’s tuft of black hair and still ears, trunk hanging, tusks shining white. He is probably waiting for the sun to warm him up. That is what I sometimes do in this cold – just stand in a patch of sunlight until I warm up. What a lovely start to the day.

8 July

I have just spent the most delightful early morning sharing a tree with a variety of birds. A flock of white helmet shrike which are such pretty birds with their yellow eyes, fat little bodies all fluffed up against the cold. They are flying from tree to tree as a group, and I now know how they eat. They catch little creepy things along the bark. It must be most delicious as they seem to really enjoy the snacks. A pair of schalows turacos arrived, landing on a dead branch. They bring the tree to life, looking like living green leaves, fluttering and chattering as they run, almost mouse-like up and down the branches. Their crests are flamboyant, their red eyes so dramatic. They were so close  I could almost touch them. As I moved they flew off in ruby splendour. Then a flock of happy, shrieking meyers parrots arrived. I watched them, jewel like colours lit by the early morning sun, as they fluttered and chatted and lifted their wings, before landing on an area of dry soil. On closer inspection the soil had loads of dried grass seeds all over. A flock of immaculate grey guineafowl wandered by, also chattering, running, standing… a moving mass of grey when all together… really beautiful grey, with those lovely pearl spots and blue heads…. and amazing shapes when they stand alone. There were flocks of happy little blue waxbills and two scarlet chested sunbirds chittering at each other with their blood red chests almost metallic in the suns rays as they sucked necter from some obscure plant on an anthill.

It was a joyous sharing of a fluttering, chattering tree party, full of colour and movement and such fun.

11 July

After falling asleep listening to a leopard grunting all around the camp, I woke up at about three o’clock this morning to the sound of bushbuck and impala alarm calls all around the hut. I was feeling like death, really ill, so got up and took a pain killer, as outside the noises of alarm were getting more and more frantic. By 4.30 there was total silence, but I was feeling much worse. Chris kindly got up and found me some Malaria Cure pills as by now I was very nauseous as well. Anyway, I had to get up, as we had some very nice guests in camp, and they were going on a “Flying Camp” expedition today. This requires a lot of organising, as we take all the food down, and have to get the Fly Camp ready in time for their arrival after an 8 km walk. Most people are quite tired and hungry after that.

On my walk down to the main camp early this morning, (I was really feeling cold and miserable), I saw that the leopard had actually killed a young impala male, which had great claw and teeth marks around his throat and neck. The leopard had actually started eating the hind quarters, but not much though, as I suspect the staff going down to make early morning tea must have disturbed him. I felt so sorry for the impala. It had been blind in one eye, and had been caught in a small pathway. The blind eye must have been towards a small bush where the leopard must have been waiting. Poor thing. I felt really sad. I know everything has to eat, but seeing the beautiful dead impala makes one feel a sense of loss. His horns were still straight, but he had managed to survive quite a long time with his disability. He must have been blind for a long time as the eye was not damaged, just white. Sorry, little impala.

I was going down to the “Flying Camp” in the boat, with the young daughter of one of our guests, who felt that she was not up to the long walk, so I could not get out of the trip. We finally set off, the weather still chilly, and slowly went downstream, seeing a great many very large, and some smaller crocodiles basking on the banks. The hippos were getting ready to sunbathe. There are lots of tiny babies around at the moment, so cute standing next to their fat mothers and aunts with their tiny snub noses, looking ready to bolt at the slightest movement from the adults. Some puku were grazing and we saw a beautiful bushbuck with her tiny little fawn.. An old buffalo bull with magnificently curved, shiny horns was standing on the water’s edge, either about to drink, or just finished.

At Island No 3 there was an interesting sight… There were a number of elephants in the water. It looked as if they were fighting. There was lots of splashing and shrieking going on. Then I saw another, very large elephant on the island, watching the whole spectacle. The biggest of the elephants in the water rushed over to the island.  I was not sure what was going on, but decided discretion was the better part of valour, as the speed with which she crossed the water was amazing. We circled around and watched them for a good twenty minutes, by when they had all crossed the river onto the island. We decided we would get past as quickly as we could. There were seven elephant all together, but three of them were quite small. One had no tail and it appeared to have been taken off at the ‘root’ for want of a better word. I do wonder what happened to him? It’s the first time I have seen these youngster around. I can’t think what all the fuss had been about, with the splashing, shrieking, and trunk waving.

Anyway, we had a lovely time at the “Flying Camp” and came back by boat, again seeing all the elephants. The big ones were now on the bank and the youngsters on the island. On the way back we saw a great big kudu bull on the bank, and another lovely bushbuck with her tiny fawn rushing up the bank. The pied kingfishers and the darters were having great success with their fishing, we saw several with various sized fish in their beaks.

17 July

A perfect dawn. Every colour of peach, from the darkest to the palest, and a rising sun to catch one’s breath. It is a truly crimson globe, with rays of gold stretching as far as the eye could see, touching leaves, branches, grasses, changing the world for a brief moment. The moment is rudely disturbed by our grumpy hippo, Grimpy, who came and stood outside our door and scrunched the remains of a fallen sausage from the sausage tree while making his usual greedy, slobbering sounds. He very noisily and splashily territorially marked (poohed really) all over the bush near the path, then pushed off towards the river. Thanks Grimpy for those loud, early sounds which quite blanked out the more melodic sounds of the birds!!

I heard a lot of rustling from outside the bathroom, almost as if something heavy was walking quietly through the dried golden leaves, so I got up to have a look. It took a while to see what it was. There were five red necked francolins, scratching and scrabbling amongst the leaves. The reason it took a moment to identify the source of the noise was because they and the leaves are all the same colour, and it was only after watching for a while that one could distinguish the lovely fat shapes as the leaves moved, fluttering about with the red legs scratching busily. Another rustling sound, and our pretty little bushbuck daintily stepped out of her Anthill Hideaway with the tiny baby following. I am so glad they escaped the leopard prowling around the night before.

The hippos all started their daily hahahaing as they got to the water. The resident bachelor herd of impala are rustling their way through the long grass to the campsite, horns catching the dawn light. They are so sedate this morning. The little yellow bellied sunbird is in the vicinity. I wonder if she will make her nest in our bathroom again this year? I hope so. She fascinates me, so chirpy and colourful, catching invisible snacks from the leaves outside my window as she flashes her jewel colours. And so, another day is on the go!

27 July

… and here is a bit of bush news to celebrate with…  On the drive back we had a wonderful sighting of six wild dogs on the road in. We stopped and watched them for ages. They really are very attractive animals. They played together and a couple stood up and mock-boxed each other. The others then joined in and chased one another. We really enjoyed it! A little further, in the headlights we saw a magnificent sable bull – most majestic and impressive.  We have just downloaded our e-mails while a lion roars nearby.

I always think all is right with the world after an arrival like that!

The silence when one is in camp is the first thing that strikes you. The only sounds are of the animals and birds. This morning I got up and walked slowly down from my hut to Main Camp, savoring the amazing stillness and quiet. The path was full of tales. The water mongoose had gone down from the campsite towards main camp, as had the civet. A very large hippo had walked through camp on ‘his’ path. There is a small winter flowering cassia near the one path, and though small, it is filled with the long slender golden seeds. Three black eyed bulbul’s were having such a feas t- a real ecstasy of enjoyment. One was totally upside down as he made a glutton of himself. They flew to a nearby tree as I passed, watching with anxious chattering  just in case I decided to eat their treats! They are such joyful little birds with their twinkling black eyes and wonderful songs. Around the corner there are my favourite fat francolins, all hunched up against the still chill early morning, pecking the ground with great enthusiasm. The dust is flying as they unearth some snacky scraps.

My “new morning” view of the great, slow flowing Kafue River, dotted about with the hippos, doing their rock impersonation. A great white egret is startlingly white against the waters edge. Two raucous hadeda’s flying, complainingly across the river and a lion roars up the Mushingashi. The sausage tree flowers are coming out, wonderful maroon velvet petals, which is enjoyed by everything from the squirrels to the bats to the bushbuck to the ants. Apart from the sound of bees droning around the office, and the peck-peck-peck of a woodpecker on a nearby leadwood and the harsh cackle of the giant kingfisher, there is nothing to disturb this wonderful peace. Of course the early morning light this time of the year is beautiful, suffused with golden glows and misty hues. A scarlet breasted sunbird has just come to a sausage tree flower…twittering excitedly! It is wonderful to watch as it hovers and sips, flutters away, and then comes back to hover and sip again – such a stunning little bird. The scarlet is quite breathtaking with its metallic glitter.

29 July

I had the best morning this morning – a lovely start to the day! I was washing my face in freezing  cold water with tiny teeth etched soap (courtesy of our little long tailed mouse (who cannot resist Imperial Leather soap), when I noticed our resident yellow bellied bulbul sitting on a branch behind me, chattering and looking at me sideways. He was waiting for me to see if I would leave the mirror uncovered so that he could come and admire himself and/or fight with the image of another bird. I moved aside and watched. Down he swooped, sat on the tap and proceeded to chatter and scold, nineteen to the dozen. He then flew to the wire at the window and watched me again, head on one side, trying to convey some message which I was not getting! So I switched the shower on, which was just what he wanted! I had such pleasure watching him flutter like a little sunbird and drink the drops from the shower rose itself. He must have done this about five times, when his friend, or perhaps his wife, joined him, and also fluttered up and drank from the shower. I had such fun watching them, and they were so close (about one metre from where I was standing). I would like to leave a little bird bath in my bathroom for them, but after finding a drowned lizard in the last one I am a bit hesitant. I must try to find something shallow enough to let other little creatures get out if they fall in.

30 July

Another lovely evening. The moon is almost full and is practically dazzling the stars out of sight with its brightness. It is cold and crisp and we sat around the fire with our guests and enjoyed the night sounds. The rasping cough of a nearby leopard, one lonely hyena whoop, the little barred owlet calling to his chum (who answered), the eerie call of the water dikkop as it flew, moth like across the clearing and quite visible in the bright night, a lion up the Mushingashi, the disturbed fuss from guinea fowl down river. I wonder what has made them make such a noise? Possibly a prowling jackal?

We went off to bed and had just snuggled down and were getting warm when we heard an awful cry, and then some more panic stricken sounds. It was quite definitely some animal being killed right near our hut. I hate this about the bush. I know everything has to eat but suffering is something I cannot bear. although the sounds died down very quickly. I was pretty sure it had been a lion kill, as the leopard kill is usually so silent and quick. Poor little creature. I am sorry and we will probably find the remains in the morning and be able to track and see what actually happened. The night was interspersed with lion roars, some very close by, others away in the distance. There was a kudu alarm bark up the Mushingashi somewhere. One dozes and sleeps and listens but the lion calls are close enough and loud enough to wake me.

Its a lovely cold early morning. I have come down early to send off a few e-mails before we go on a walk. The path tells me that a blue duiker visited us last night. Although I have seen the tracks on many occasions I have not seen one in this part of our camp since we’ve been here. They are such special little creatures. I used to watch a pair when we lived upstream, and had the great pleasure of seeing them with their tiny baby which was not much bigger than a little rabbit. They are so shiny and neat, with their sharp little faces and big, dark eyes. I hope to see one down here but should probably approach with more caution. Puku have walked along in neat single file, doves have left their latticed, lace like tracks along the sandy bits and the tiny rail tracks of some small beetle. Then…low and behold… a great lion pug mark. Yup! The lion had also walked through the camp. His tracks were the freshest – on top of the hippo and francolin. How exciting, but now I am almost convinced that what was killed last night must have been a lion kill.

The sun is rising sending rays of gold everywhere. The cardinal woodpecker is tap tap tapping at the leadwood nearby. I can see him very clearly, his red head knocking at a great rate. Anyway, we are off for a walk now, so I’ll keep in touch and let you know what I see.

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