Wood Owl
18th November 2012 - 0 comments
Night drives often throw up something a bit unusual. Wood Owls are not rare, and in fact, you'll hear them almost anywhere if you listen for them, but they don't often sit still for very long! We found this one in an Ebony grove with lots of mature trees, a perfect habitat for a pair of owls. Although we only saw one, we could hear its mate calling nearby.

Leopard Cub
16th November 2012 - 0 comments
I wrote a while back about a female leopard who was rearing two cubs near to camp. The family haven't been seen for quite a while and we've been wondering about their progress. We knew that the male cub was showing much more signs of independence than the female, so we were expecting that we might find him on his own somewhere, but even he didn't show up.

The other night, I spotted some very bright eyes in the spotlight and we drove around to have a look. Out of the bush popped the female cub, who has grown considerably in the last 6 weeks, and is now approaching the size of her mother. She didn't seem to be very comfortable though, coughing and sneezing regularly and eating large quantities of grass. She didn't roll or groom herself as we've so often seen her doing, so we watched her for a while and then left her in peace.

Even the way she looked at us as she appeared from the bush was not how I expected; she's usually very relaxed but this time she looked more wary.

We'll keep and eye out for her and check on her progress.

African Hawk Eagle
13th November 2012 - 0 comments
Hawk Eagles are one of my favourites - they're a beautiful, intelligent bird which use highly developed co-operative techniques to catch their prey. Together with their mate, they hunt ground birds, such as Guinea Fowl and Francolin, which make up the majority of their prey.

We watched as a pair of African Hawk Eagles worked together to catch a Guinea Fowl. The female flew round in front of the birds, in an intentionally slow and visible stoop, which caused immediate panic on the ground. Amongst the confusion, the male streaked in from behind and pinned a Guinea fowl to the ground. It was all over in an instant.

The pair began to feed on their kill, but our presence made them nervous and they carried the carcass away to a nearby fallen tree. While the female fed, the male stood guard over her and posed for some photos.

The rains have arrived...
10th November 2012 - 0 comments
...but I haven't been out with my camera much! I only managed to take a couple of photos of this Fork-tailed Drongo on her (very exposed) nest in a bush by the road. Since the time I took this photo, the bush has grown many more leaves....just as well since many of the cuckoos have arrived and they would certainly target such an unprotected nest!

06th November 2012 - 0 comments
We are lucky to have regular sightings of these beautiful cats. During the last few days of the dry season, when water is in really short supply, a bit of time spent at a popular lagoon will usually result in a visit from one of the locals! This big male is well-known to us and usually announces his presence with a throaty call which carries for several kilometers.

Pennant-Winged Nightjar
02nd November 2012 - 2 comments
Nightjars are a group of birds which feed on insects during the hours of darkness. In the Luangwa, we have several species most of which are mottled brown to provide camouflage during the day. Male Pennant-winged Nightjars grow extra long primary feathers during their breeding season as a way of attracting a mate. I have yet to catch an image of one of these ghostly kite-like birds in flight, but I found one sitting on the road the other night.

Wild Dog Behaviour
28th October 2012 - 0 comments
I had a very interesting encounter with a pack of 18 Wild Dogs recently. By this time of year, this pack's activities are often centred around a salt spring in the back country away from the river. Whenever dogs can find a water source in a marginal area away from areas of high prey density, they choose to live and hunt around there to avoid confrontations with lions. Death by lions is the single largest cause of mortality among Wild Dogs in this area and particularly when the pack is supporting pups as this one is.

When we found them, they were actively squabbling over the remains of a very freshly killed impala which I judged had been caught less than 30 minutes before. The dogs had followed their usual practice of dismembering the carcass and rapidly consuming all of it to protect it from larger predators and scavengers such as hyaenas. There was also a Tawny Eagle nearby who was hoping to clean up any scraps that the dogs left behind. After lying down for a while, the pups became restless and began to tumble around with their siblings.

Eventually the adults became bored with the kids' behaviour and escorted them down to a nearby pool where they drank and then began to play in the water.

One of the adult dogs kept watch carefully throughout the time when the pups were playing in the pool, making sure that there weren't any lions or hyaenas sneaking up on them.

Once the pups had cooled off and had a drink, they rolled around in the dry grass and continued playing. Interestingly, they began to mob one of the adults, biting gently at her lips and ears, and begging for food. (When the female is back at a den with pups, dogs which have made a kill gulp down their food, barely chewing it on the way, and then carry it back to the den in their stomachs. The female and pups then beg for chunks of regurgitated meat.) Even though these pups have now left the den and are with the main pack, they've clearly not forgotten how to beg food from the adults!

They mobbed her endlessly until she eventually relented and deposited a large lump of saliva-covered meat on the grass. The pups descended on it, shredding it immediately and leaving no trace seconds later. It was a happy scene as the pups fed together.

We left them resting under a big Sausage tree, waiting for the heat of the day to subside so that they could hunt again.
Furtive hyaena
20th October 2012 - 0 comments
We recently found this hyaena while out on a morning safari. It was a hot morning even though it was still early (it's always hot in October!) so he was lying in the shade. When we approached, he got up and posed for a while before skulking off as if he had done something wrong!

Silent Kudu
06th October 2012 - 0 comments
I was watching a hyaena early in the morning yesterday, and when I lowered my binos, I found that a group of Kudu had emerged silently from the Leadwood trees nearby. When I turned to look at them, most fled, but one female remained for a few seconds before following the rest.

Raptor Morning
05th October 2012 - 0 comments
Some days, you can vainly scour the skies in search of Vultures and other large birds of prey, and other days it's as if there's a raptor in every tree.

Yesterday, I was out with some guests and there wasn't much going on on the ground, so we started to look up and into the trees. On an open area of dead mopane woodland, we found this Yellow-billed Kite and nearby a Tawny Eagle which has been nesting in a Baobab tree for the past few years.

Elegant Lioness
03rd October 2012 - 0 comments
The light was very poor when we found a pride of lions on the sand yesterday. I switched to black and white on my camera, and tried to capture the mood of the lionesses; calm contemplation, and the contented feeling of being top of the food-chain!

Little Bee-eater
01st October 2012 - 0 comments
Out in the park yesterday, I saw a pair of Little Bee-eaters sitting on a low bush. They didn't move away initially which made me think that they might be nesting nearby. One of the pair flew off as we got closer, but sure enough, it dropped down to a little hole right next to the road that I had never noticed before. It wasn't carrying anything, but the presence of an egg-shell outside the nest-hole made me think that the pair were rearing a chick inside.

The other adult sat obligingly on the twig to allow us to take photos.

In flight
30th September 2012 - 2 comments
I've been trying for the last 4 years (off and on, not full-time, of course!) to get a photo of a Lilac-Breasted Roller in flight. I've always managed to get good shots of them sitting in bushes with nice backgrounds, but then they fly off when I'm not ready, or they fly out of the back of the bush!

Luckily, I was recently with some guests who wanted to try and capture the same thing! They were happy to sit and wait while the Roller decided what it wanted to do, and then try to capture it on camera as it set off. So we found our candidate:

And we waited, and waited, and waited.

But finally, it took off and flew a few hundred yards to another low bush nearby. We all consulted our camera screens and decided that we'd done pretty well this time!

The roller even sat still long enough to give us a second chance. And perhaps this one was even better!

Rollers are an insect, arthropod and frog-eating family of birds, of which we have 5 species in the Luangwa.
Leopard in Tree
29th September 2012 - 0 comments
'A leopard in a tree' is probably highest on visitors' wish lists when you ask them what they most want to see! While it's never a guarantee, Luangwa leopards are often very obliging in this respect.

Leopards climb trees to escape the heat and the flies, and to stash their kill away from other predators such as hyaenas which would happily steal it from them. We found this female leopard up in a tree early in the morning.

In this case, she had no kill, and was using the tree as a lookout post for a bit of early morning hunting.

Eventually, she came down from her tree and set off in pursuit of some Puku.

However, the light was already bright and she never got anywhere near the antelope! So, after all that posing, and then a half hour of hunting, she settled down for a rest in another tree!

24th September 2012 - 0 comments
The famous Pel's Fishing Owl, which bird-enthusiasts put right at the top of their Africa lists, are found at most large lagoons during the Luangwa's dry season. What's more unusual is to see them during the daytime - I found this one at a local lagoon while on morning safari yesterday!

Indecisive Giraffes
21st September 2012 - 0 comments
I was out on safari the other day, and it was one of those mornings where there's not much going on....any activity from the night before has gone quiet and it all seems calm on the plains and in the thickets.

We found this group of giraffe milling around on the sand at the water's edge. It's a place where giraffes and elephants often cross the water since it's very shallow and there's little risk of crocodile attack.

However, just like everything else that morning, they didn't seem to be in a hurry, preferring to wander around on the sand, waiting for their moment. A few drank from the river and eventually we left them on the sand as the sun climbed higher and the temperature rose.

Fat Lions
17th September 2012 - 0 comments
At Christmas-time, people often over-eat and then lie on the sofa and vow never to eat so much again. So too in the natural world: Lions gorge themselves and then lie around in apparent discomfort while their gut system attempts to deal with the onslaught.

Yesterday, we found 3 lionesses lying on the sand at the edge of the river with enormously large stomachs. When one lioness got up to drink, we saw the extent of her gluttony....her belly was dragging on the ground when she crouched to lap at the muddy water.

After a while, she began to walk towards us and then collapsed against a sand bar to continue dozing.

Lions can consume a staggering 35kgs of meat in a sitting, which of course is far more than they need at any one time (this much meat would sustain a lion for 2-3 days when it would need to hunt again). But with scavengers such as hyaenas and vultures, plus the competition for food within the pride, the only safe place to keep your share is in your stomach!

So when you are feeling sorry for yourself after Christmas lunch 2012, spare a thought for lions across Africa who deal with that same feeling twice a week!
15th September 2012 - 0 comments
I find that Buffalo can be a difficult photographic subject. Lone bulls, or groups of two or 3 old kakuli are easier to capture, but they don't tell the story of the massive herds of several hundred which we often see during the dry season.

Capturing the endlessness of a herd of 900 buffalo as they come to drink at a lagoon is a challenge I'm still working on achieving. For now, here's a couple of photos of some individuals from a large herd that I saw yesterday.

This big bull was covered in Oxpeckers which all climbed on top of his back as we approached, ready to fly off if we came too close.

And this old bull stood nicely with a foreground of dry grasses.

Perfect light
08th September 2012 - 1 comment
If you ask any wildlife photographer what what would be his dream photographic opportunity, I reckon most would choose to have a leopard lying on a branch in the morning sunlight. After 3 and a half years here, I was lucky to enjoy exactly that yesterday.

The leopard climbed the tree and looked for a place to lie which was nice and flat. The branch was largely in the shade, but there was a small patch that was in direct golden sunlight and it was here that the leopard chose to lie. 10cms either way would have ruined the effect!

After a while, he turned, cat-stretched on the branch and then came down the trunk in a few short strides. I just had time to warn my guests to set high shutter speeds for his descent and we managed to catch a few of him heading down.

07th September 2012 - 1 comment
The Carmine Bee-eaters have arrived in huge numbers and are beginning to excavate holes in the river banks. Some have more work to do than others as some will take holes occupied previously by white-fronted Bee-eaters which have now finished nesting.

There is a fair amount of squabbling over nesting sites at this time, and sometimes you can catch the action if you are fast enough!!