Too many hippos, not enough water.
28th October 2011 - 0 comments
The valley's lagoons are all dry, the seasonal sand rivers stopped carrying water long ago, and the Luangwa's huge hippo population has all taken up residence in the shallow trickle of the main river. It's hot, there's not a lot of space and disagreements between males are almost inevitable. When two males find themselves jammed together, one would normally defer to the other with a lowered head and by turning away. So long as only one male makes a claim for dominance, all is calm in the herd.

But when a new male moves in, and attempts to challenge the existing male for the breeding rights to his females, it's clear that the resident won't give up without a fight. I watched this happen today. It started with a series of exaggerated yawns, lasting 5 or 6 seconds that displays the male's size and impressive canines.

Following this, the two males faced up to each other and alternately raised and lowered their heads out of the water. Just as one raises his head out of the water, and you think that the eye contact will bring on a proper fight, the other ducks under and avoids the confrontation. And so it goes on. Neither really wants to fight; it's risky, costly in terms of energy and unpredictable. A protracted fight would leave both exhausted and unable to protect their herd. And at a time when there is little grass to replenish energy supplies, one or both my perish from the effort.

But it didn't look like they were going to resolve it any other way, so the stand off continued. Eventually, the resident began a series of short charges, where he displayed his strength and sent a small spray of water towards his opponent. Not deterred, the intruder simply turned aside and waited.

These little encounters increased in intensity and frequency until the intruder was forced to meet the resident's moves.

After a few rounds of this, the intruder began to go onto the offensive. Perhaps aware that the resident male had expended valuable energy during his previous displays, the intruding male began lunging towards the other with his mouth wide open, slamming it shut at the last moment and forcing huge amounts of water out to the side. For the resident, this constituted war.

But the resident was bigger and stronger than the intruder had anticipated, and it only took a few minutes before the larger male was pursuing the smaller newcomer through the herd and out of the water. He left with a large gash on his side from the male's canine, and I left with a wet shirt from where the hippos had splashed me as they rushed past the hide.

White Crowned Plover vs Dikkops
26th October 2011 - 0 comments
Yesterday, I went again to watch the hippos in the river. I reached the bottom of the steps into the hide, and heard a deep throaty hissing sound coming from my right. I've heard that sound before, and it's not something you want to hear in an enclosed space. I raised my hand to cover my eyes, and turned slowly, expecting to come face to face with a Cobra.
Relieved that I wasn't sharing the hide with a large snake, I started to hunt around to find the source of the noise. Turned out to be a much louder noise than I had expected, but coming from further away across a small lagoon. Two Water Dikkops (Thick-knees) were facing off against a White Crowned Plover on a sand bar about 15m away.

While I watched, the two Dikkops opened their wings and advanced on the Plover, apparently wishing to chase him from the area. Initially, the plover tried to retaliate, but the combined efforts of the two Dikkops were always pushing him back.

But whatever it was that caused the incident was obviously worth fighting for, as the Plover came back for another attempt. But the Dikkops had clearly had enough by this stage, and one of them lowered his head and charged, mammal-like, at the Plover, causing it to cartwheel backwards over the top.

It's unusual to see fighting between species, since territorial behaviour is usually only towards others of the same kind. In this case, I think that the two were competing for nesting sites, since they both choose to use scrapes on sand bars in which to lay their eggs. In this case, the larger Dikkops managed to drive off the Plover and claim the site.

Golden Elephants
25th October 2011 - 0 comments
Sitting in a vehicle overlooking the river as the sun goes down is a truly Africa experience. Especially when a small family of elephants comes to complete the scene.

Bee-eaters taking a dip
24th October 2011 - 0 comments
Today, I spent a few hours watching hippos from a hide on the river bank. While the hippos were wallowing, and not doing all that much, I focussed on the White-fronted bee-eaters who were nesting in the river bank. They were flying regular sorties out over the river to catch insects which they returned to the nest to feed their chick. But occasionally, they would fly down low over the water and dive in headfirst to soak their body feathers. While keeping them cool, the main purpose of this behaviour is to carry water back to the chick who is not yet able to fly or leave the nest. The birds were very careful to submerge just enough to soak their feathers but never too much so that they couldn't lift off again.

African Goshawk
12th October 2011 - 0 comments
As I drove out of camp yesterday, I caught sight of the very distinctive tear-drop breast plumage of a juvenile African Goshawk in a thick bush at the side of the road. It was behaving strangely by remaining in the bush even when I was nearby, and I couldn't work out what was the problem. As I reversed, it did fly off but only to another branch and without breaking cover.
I went back to camp to get my binos and camera since I thought that it might be injured, and returned to find it back in its original location, feeding on a squirrel. Only then did I notice the Snake Eagle in a nearby tree which would certainly mob a juvenile Goshawk and steal its kill. This explained its clandestine behaviour. All the better for me as it sat still long enough for a photo.

Shy Oxpecker
09th October 2011 - 0 comments
One of those days
28th September 2011 - 0 comments
Every day is different when you go out in the bush. Seasons change, animals' behaviour patterns change, and if they didn't I think the bush would lose most of its appeal. Even so, there are days when everything just falls into place, and at every turn (or so it seems) there is something wonderful to see.

Waterbuck are often overlooked, and sometimes they don't get the attention they should; this big male was in no hurry to leave the track that I was using, so we watched each other for a while until he moved on. Just across the track, he caught up with one of his females and mated with her. We'll look out for his youngters!!

A few minutes later, I rounded a bend in the track and almost gasped in surprise as I caught sight of this female leopard in the tree above me. She was no more than 8 metres from me and I had to sit still for nearly 10 minutes and not lift my head, or pick up my binos until she settled down and was comfortable with my presence. Of course she heard my vehicle coming, and decided to stay where she was, but I think the distance between us was less than even she had expected. After a while, she relaxed completely and dozed while I rolled the vehicle forward down the hill to get to a better position for a photo.

The river is so low now, that it's possible to drive through in some places. While I was crossing, I stopped to photograph a White-fronted Bee eater which was using an exposed log as a look out post from which to launch hunting sorties out over the water. Bees and other insects are, of course, drawn to water so these are rich hunting grounds for aerial feeders.

On the other side of the river, hippos lounging in the shallows were being attended to by the ever-present Red-billed Oxpeckers. Feeding on ticks and other skin parasites, they get a good meal and do the hippos a service.

What a difference a few months makes.....
21st September 2011 - 0 comments
March vs September in the Luangwa...

Stormy Skies
18th September 2011 - 0 comments
We saw the first build up of storm clouds today, suggesting that we are heading towards the rainy season a little earlier than usual this year. We always have several false starts, where the clouds mass on the horizon, and the wind begins to blow, and then it all comes to nothing.

This evening the steel-grey clouds mixed with the golden light of the setting sun to give a fantastic mauve effect. This Great White Egret chose to fly down the river at just the right moment.

Photoshoots: Robin and Rachel's Wedding
18th August 2011 - 0 comments

Usually my blog is about wildlife, but I thought I would include a couple of photos that I took of a wedding yesterday, since the ceremony was in the bush, and there was plenty of wildlife around....!!

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14th August 2011 - 0 comments
During 2010, a new male lion appeared in the area, and ousted the existing pride male, an old boy named Slit (from a nasty injury that left him with a slit in his nostril). The new male was named Shaka, after Shaka the Zulu Chief who usurped his predecessor and was famed for his brutality.
In fact, Shaka has been mating with the pride females almost continually since then, and hasn't had much time to show off his brutality. Today, however, I saw him limping across a dambo before resting in the evening sun to show off his fast-growing mane. His limp could be the result of a conflict with another male, who challenged his right to the females in the pride. Or, of course, it might just have occurred while hunting over the very rough ground that is left behind as lagoons dry up.

Night drive
10th August 2011 - 0 comments
This genet provided the perfect pose, showing exactly why they are such efficient hunters. Just at home in the trees as on the ground, they emerge from the shadows in a flash and turn roosting birds, eggs, grasshoppers and small rodents into dinner.

African Hawk Eagle
05th July 2011 - 0 comments
Coming back from the park this morning, I stopped on the bridge to talk to the ZAWA scouts at the gate. All the while that I was standing there, I could hear Guinea Fowl calling frantically from the area near our access road.
I rushed down there, knowing that the extended calls from the ground dwelling Guinea Fowl signalled a bird of prey - which seem to be their biggest fear - rather than any other predator. Looking around in the trees nearby, I eventually found this female African Hawk Eagle sitting in a sausage tree.

It's clear from her swollen crop, that she had already eaten (probably a whole Guinea fowl!) and wasn't about to feed again.

Kasanka & Bangweulu
29th June 2011 - 0 comments
A friend and I just enjoyed a fantastic trip up the Great North Road to Kasanka NP and Bangweulu Swamps. While both areas are famous for their birdlife, Kasanka is also home to the world's most visible popuation of the shy Sitatunga antelope, and the plains surrounding the Bangweulu swamps provide grazing for 100,000 Black Lechwe.

The birdlife at Kasanka is astonishing, and we didn't have to try too hard to see lots of new species, as well as large numbers of species that are much rarer down here on the Valley floor. Bohm's bee-eater was a new one, although they seemed to be restricted to a stand of Red Mahoganies along the Kasanka river.

We were also lucky to see the famous Shoebill, although in the distance. Much better sightings were to follow in Bangweulu.

Heading along the bumpy road that leads to the swamps, we came across Lake Waka Waka which is a little gem in an otherwise dry, barren patch of miombo woodland. The name means 'something shiny' in Bemba and it certainly lives up to that name.

Endlessly we followed the dry dirt track, wondering when it would end, until finally, we burst out onto the open plains of Chikuni and were met with an unbelieveable sight. As far as the eye can see, on all sides, Black Lechwe feed on the closely cropped grass. No wide angle lens can do justice to that view.

Out into the swamps on the first morning, we were lucky and got a tip from a fisherman that there was a Shoebill nearby. Approaching slowly over a couple of hours, we managed to get in very close and enjoy this bizzare sight.

Early morning mists on the swamps were particularly beautiful and especially on the day we left, when I just managed to get a shot of some Red Billed Teal landing on the water against the rising sun.

Do crocodiles eat water birds?
14th May 2011 - 1 comment
It's a question that I've been asked regularly by guests over the last couple of years, and I think a question that I asked before I became a guide. The answer is usually 'no' but there's rarely an explanation as to why not! Because of the feathers? Because some birds clean the mouths of crocodiles so the reptiles respect all birds?

I think crocodiles may take any water bird that comes too close, provided that it is the right size. In the northern area of the park recently, I saw this crocodile catch an Egyptian Goose and drag it under water. So that answers the question then.

06th April 2011 - 0 comments
Almost the first game drive that I took this year, we found a Serval in the long grass near the old airstrip. Not commonly seen in this area, they are more at home in open grassy plains, which aren't in abundance here. Their huge ears and fantastic sense of smell allow them to hunt rodents in the long grass, pouncing on them from several yards away. They're also famous for hunting Guinea Fowl, sometimes jumping high into the air to pull one down as the birds make a clumsy attempt to take to the air.

Still Raining
28th March 2011 - 0 comments
Even at the end of March, it's still raining heavily several days a week. I don't mind too much as the showers bring a freshness to the air which has disappeared after a couple of days of hot sunshine.
The leaden black skies look stunning as a backdrop to the fresh greenery all around. Birds are mating, insects are at their peak, and the park is lush and green.

This Grey Lourie was enjoying the morning sun after a wet night.

And this Citrus Swallowtail sat drying its wings long enough for me to compose a photo.

And then it rained again. Big, fat, heavy, wetting droplets which thud on the brim of your hat, and soak everything in a matter of seconds!

15th March 2011 - 0 comments
I came across this confident-looking male Waterbuck in the park a couple of days ago, and enjoyed the contrast of his dark coat against the red topped grass.

Moonlit night
15th March 2011 - 0 comments
I came across this photo when I was going through some old images. Not too sure why, but I quite like it!

The Wildebeest that thought it was a Zebra
21st January 2011 - 0 comments
This Cookson's Wildebeest has been hanging around this area recently, which is very unusual since we don't tend to find them this far south. What is even more strange is that he is on his own! They are herd creatures and rely on the protection on the eyes and ears of everyone in the herd for safety, so I suggest this animal simply got lost and couldn't find his herd. He joined a herd of Zebra down here and seems happy to feed with them on the short grassy plains.