Carmine Bee-eater
17th November 2011 - 0 comments
I was photographing the Carmine Bee-eaters today, and one just kept coming closer and closer!

Road trip into the Miombo
16th November 2011 - 0 comments
Yesterday, I decided to explore a little bit of the interior of the park, the 40km wide strip away from the river. As you leave the valley floor, the temperature changes noticeably, and the surrounding vegetation changes even more. At this stage, you are beginning to enter the vast central African plain, which is mostly covered in Miombo woodland.

This miombo habitat is made up mostly of Brachystegia, Julbernadia and Isoberlina tree species, and supports a very different variety of life from the valley floor. In fact, as someone who is very familiar with the wildlife of this area, it's a bit of a shock (and a pleasure) to be thrown into an environment where I can't identify things at a glance!

The scenery is also stunning as you get into the foothills of the escarpment which marks the edge of the bottom of the Rift Valley.

I was in search of Sable, Roan, Eland and Hartebeest, all antelope species which can survive in the more marginal areas, and thrive doing so. Unfortunately, apart from a line of Sable tracks which I followed for about a kilometre (with no luck) I saw no sign of these big mammals. No worries, there were plenty of unrecognisable birds to keep me (and my bird book) busy.

The Red-headed Weaver is a charismatic mixed woodland dweller which builds messy nests in the mature trees.

I didn't recognise this little brown and white bird, except to know from its behaviour that it must be a flycatcher of some type. It took me a long while to get a photo because it kept flitting from branch to branch and the dappled light made it hard to follow. But lucky I perservered, because it is a Collared Flycatcher. So what? Well, after consulting the experts, it's only the second time that this species has been recorded in the Valley, and the first time so low down off the escarpment plateau! You never know what you are going to find in the bush.

To top it off, as I was coming down off the ridge, I found this Leopard Tortoise on the road. Initially nervous, he kept his head deep inside his shell, but soon worked out that I wasn't planning to eat him, so continued his journey.

The lowly Lilac-breasted Roller
12th November 2011 - 0 comments
Whether you love them, or hate their garish colours, guides across Southern Africa are indebted to the ubiquitous Lilac Breasted Roller. Surely more than any other bird, they have introduced countless guests to the rewarding variety and remarkable beauty of Africa's birds.

Will it or won't it.....?
09th November 2011 - 0 comments
Each evening this week, the storm clouds build, the humidity rockets.....and then it all comes to nothing. Although I must admit that I was quite glad of the false start today as I was caught out in it with nothing to protect me and all my kit. When will I learn that it's time to start taking my jacket with me...?

These impala looked very much at peace in the evening light as the pink-grey clouds massed to the north east.

Hippo Mayhem...
07th November 2011 - 0 comments
The view from the bridge makes it clear that hippos are one species that are not in short supply in the Luangwa. These huge lawnmowers will soon enjoy the spoils of fresh grass when the rains finally come.

Difficult light....
03rd November 2011 - 0 comments
The rains are coming! We had about 2cms last night (not all that much considering it rained all night!) but it's a promise that more is on the way.
Rains are a double-edged sword for photographers...the dramatic skies, leaden clouds and lightning strikes are great, as is the clear air that follows a big storm. But the dull grey clouds which stretch from horizon to horizon, and remain in place for days on end are less good! This flat light can make even the best subject hard to capture.
I went out after the rain today, but there was still a lot of cloud around. I didn't even take my camera out until the sun dropped low in the sky and showed through beneath the carpet of clouds. Just in time, I arrived alongside the river just as a ray of nice light hit these two Egyptian Geese.

MGM Hollywood
02nd November 2011 - 0 comments
Further north of here, there is a pride of lion which have featured in more documentaries than almost any others. Hardly suprisingly, someone named them the Hollywoods. So, what better to name the new coalition of 3 brothers who are at the top of the pride, than Metro, Goldwyn and Mayer?
Here's Metro resting in the shade after a long hot day, his dark mane beginning to show that he will soon be a really impressive specimen.

On my way back from watching Metro, I had a close up with an elephant and my long lens could only capture a small part of him.....

Oxpecker Choir....
30th October 2011 - 0 comments
Oxpeckers never get that much attention, but they are fascinating to watch. I spent a couple of hours on the river bank recently, watching them interact with their host hippos and with each other.

They move from host to host, cleaning the exposed skin and wounds and feeding on ticks and other parasites. When a hippo turns over in the water, they move quickly to the newly-exposed skin to enjoy the parasites that had previously been concealed. In this way, they often congregate in large numbers. It was the middle of the day by this stage, so many of the birds were 'gaping' to cool down, giving the impression of a choir singing!

Here, 2 (slightly larger) Yellow-billed Oxpeckers out-compete their Red-billed cousins for the cleaning rights to an open wound on this hippo's back.

Sometimes there are even fights between con-specifics!

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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Read More
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.