Southern Ground Hornbill
16th May 2013 - 0 comments
These large carnivorous birds are something of a speciality in the Luangwa, given that they are very scarce in other areas of Southern Africa. Here, they occur in good numbers although they are certainly not common. I found a pair stalking across an open plain yesterday and decided to try some portrait photos.

Leopard Compilation
13th May 2013 - 1 comment
I've been going through a lot of old images that are stored on my system but have never seen the light of day, and came across these images which were taken over the last few months and show the growing up of a young leopard cub. She's been wonderful to watch and I have many more memories than I have images to back them up.

Here she prowls down a track towards me in the gloaming light.

And another where she used a dead tree as a lookout for potential prey.

Earlier in the year, when there were still a lot of flies around, she would regularly sit on exposed branches to enjoy the cool breeze.

And most recently, I found her resting on an old broken bridge, in one of her favourite hunting gullies.

08th May 2013 - 0 comments
I was out in the last light of evening yesterday and caught this image of an elephant cow feeding in the Leadwood forests. The sun was being masked by a cloud and gave this beautiful, moody effect.

Golden Roller
03rd May 2013 - 0 comments
In the last light of evening, this Lilac-breasted Roller held its ground on a nearby mopane trunk, before turning its gaze to the ground to check for one last hunting opportunity before dusk.

Wild Dogs hunt Impala
01st May 2013 - 0 comments
Wild Dogs are well known for their highly efficient hunting methods. Rather than relying on stealth and ambush (as do the cats) they employ the chaos and confusion method with astonishing success. It's estimated that around 90% of Wild Dog hunts end in a meal for the predator, compared to around 5-10% for cats.

I'd seen several Wild Dog hunts in the past, but the one I watched on Sunday evening was perhaps the most spectacular in its ruthless efficiency.

As the heat seeped out of the afternoon and the sun dropped lower towards the horizon, the 5 dogs awoke and began a short session of ritualised greetings - licking at the mouth of other dogs and rearing up to meet companions in an exaggerated boxing display.

After a couple of minutes of this, the dogs began to move out towards a herd of around 80 impala who were feeding nearby. They sat in the shade of some thickets, and observed the impala who were completely unaware of their presence.

Without warning, one of the adult males set off in the direction of the impala herd, scattering them in all directions.

As the other dogs followed behind, one impala headed towards me and gave an amazing display of pronking as an honest show of strength and agility to the hunters.

Within seconds, most of the impala were standing still again, so confused by the 5 predators in amongst them, that they didn't know which way to run.

Shortly after there came the unmistakable sound of a distressed impala, and the remaining 4 dogs turned towards the noise. One adult dog had caught an antelope by its hind quarters and was not going to let go. The other dogs arrived and the bleating stopped very soon after. From first attack by the adult dog to a silenced impala - less than 1 minute.

The feeding frenzy that followed was pretty brief too, lasting around 10 minutes. After this time, there were only bones and skin remaining, all the valuable meat safely protected from scavengers inside the dogs' bellies. Being at the bottom of the hierarchy of predators means that you have to employ other methods to protect what you kill, and gulping it down is certainly effective. (Dogs will 'beg' food from others who have fed more recently, asking the adult to regurgitate largely undigested lumps of meat, which are then eaten by the youngsters.)

With full bellies and in failing light, the dogs settled down for the night.

Photographing into the light......
30th April 2013 - 0 comments not normally recommended, but it can produce some nice effects.

29th April 2013 - 0 comments
When fleeing from predators (and sometimes even just for fun) antelope make giant exaggerated leaps to put distance between themselves and the hunter, and to display how fit and healthy they are. We call this behaviour "stotting", and it's well known across African species and some from elsewhere, such as sheep and deer.

This impala's bouncing leaps were so graceful and balletic, that at one point, he closed his eyes and appears to have got lost in the moment....! He quickly recovered though as the sounds of frightened antelope reminded him that a pack of 5 Wild Dogs were causing chaos among the females and youngsters nearby.

27th April 2013 - 0 comments
As the rains come to an end, and the grass dies off in the back-country, elephant herds which have been living in the grasslands begin to move towards the riverine strip. The increased access to water and fresher vegetation draws them from the protein-rich dambos to the riverbanks where they will spend the majority of the coming months.

It's a great time to photograph them as they file slowly across the open plains, adult females leading with calves and juveniles following behind. Small groups of bulls are sometimes seen following these herds, perhaps sensing an early oestrus female or taking advantage of the matriarch's lead.

I spent Saturday focusing on elephants, not something that I often do and was rewarded with some great sightings.

This large bull was left behind after a few of the breeding herds had moved past me.

I moved round to meet them in an open area of Leadwood forest as the sun was dropping low in the sky.

After sunset, the glow of the green trees created a beautiful effect.

As they fed on the short shrubs under the ancient Leadwoods, one of the youngsters noticed my presence and fell in line behind the female, with a couple of bulls behind.

In another area, I found a family that had spread out to feed across open grassland. As I approached this young calf, who's only been alive a couple of months, realised that he was separated from Mum, and scuttled across in front of me to catch up!

And as the light fell, I switched to black and white to enjoy the unmistakable shape and texture of these giants of the bush.

25th April 2013 - 0 comments
They're not the most inspiring of our antelope, and they've got a bad rep for being a bit smelly (German sausage-like if you can get the wind right), but there's more to Waterbuck than meets the eye. Dominant bulls employ the services of younger bulls as Generals, defending (on their behalf) areas of their range which are further from the core territory. This arrangement of shared territorial behaviour leads to very interesting interactions between males within their patch - how do you show dominance over all other males, but submission to your senior....?

These females had been feeding in the open grasslands and were returning to their overnight resting site, the escorting male following close behind.

Long Stretch
21st April 2013 - 0 comments
It must be tough to be a young elephant bull watching as your larger companions effortlessly reach into the branches of Tamarind, Winterthorn and Acacia trees. We watched this pair of bulls as they gently made their way from the grasslands back towards the river in the evening, stopping regularly to feed on the abundant vegetation available at the end of the rains.

As the sun dropped lower in the sky, the bulls started to head for a line of Ebony trees in the distance and the sun caught their wrinkly hides.

A morning with Giraffes
13th April 2013 - 1 comment
It's been a while since I updated my blog, but it doesn't mean it's been quiet in the National Park. We spent a lovely morning watching a small herd of giraffes in an open dambo recently. The youngsters were quietly sitting on the ground, legs folded underneath, but the older males remained standing - perhaps their old joints make it harder to get up and down!

As males get older, specialised skin cells deposit more bone on the 'horns' and down the front of the head, adding weight to their skull. If a male needs to fight for mating rights, he'll use his head as a club, so any extra weight is beneficial.

After a while, a younger bull appeared in the distance and began to approach the group. We were interested to see what might happen between the newcomer and the resident males, but before we could find out, we realised that a yearling leopard cub that we had been watching earlier was still in the area, and had begun to stalk the giraffe!

I had only a fixed length lens so couldn't squeeze in all the action at some points, but the following pictures tell the story!

The leopard wasn't really hunting the giraffe, as prey such as a giraffe is clearly much too large, but she was certainly practicing stalking her larger friend, and at one point, we thought she would jump on the giraffe's back! The whole performance (stalk, chase, retreat) was repeated several times before the young cat became bored and wandered off, leaving us to consider the astonishing markings on the flank of one of the old males.

The Classic Leopard
06th April 2013 - 0 comments
In failing light, we found this beautiful leopard cub resting in a tree last night. She was escaping the flies and enjoying the cool breeze of evening. After some time, she came down and began hunting a couple of Spur Winged Geese which had landed at the side of a nearby lagoon.

Bateleur Eagle
01st April 2013 - 0 comments
Bateleur eagles are one of the most readily recognisable of all our raptors, identifiable at a glance by their rocking, unstable flight. Having a very short tail makes them highly maneuverable, but reduces their stability in the air, leading to a flight pattern that appears similar to a tight-rope walker on a wire.

Adults have striking black and white plumage, with a red face and legs. Juveniles, as with many large raptors, take a number of years to achieve the good looks of the adults. This youngster was flying towards me in beautiful morning light, and showing off his agility.

Alice does it again
29th March 2013 - 0 comments
We don't have names for many of the animals here (in fact it's only one leopard and a few lions). But Alice is probably the most well known of all of them. She's an adult female leopard who's marked out an area of territory just across the river from camp. We see her at least once a week, and often daily. Recently, she's been very visible with her two year-old cubs.

I was guiding on Monday and we came across the family feeding on an impala carcass high in the branches of a Mahogany tree. I was driving and trying to keep the vehicle positioned well, so didn't take many photos, but here's Alice and her 13-month old son.

Some days...
27th March 2013 - 0 comments's all just a bit too much for a young baboon.

One of the best reference books on baboon behaviour was written by a well-known animal scientist called Shirley Strum. After years living with Olive baboons in Kenya, she compiled her findings into a very readable book called "Almost Human". It's a wonderful account of her life as one of the troop.

She carefully documents the ever-changing behaviour of individuals towards one another, trying to keep anthropomorphism to a minimum, but occasionally, she has to concede that they are astonishingly close to us.

Boat Trip
26th March 2013 - 0 comments
When the river's very high, as it has been over the last couple of weeks, we can get out in the boat and enjoy a beautiful, water-level view of the Luangwa. As we floated downstream, we passed pods of hippos on all sides and watched abundant bird-life making the most of the plentiful prey during the summer months.

A Village (or Spotted-backed) Weaver was busy building his nest on a branch overhanging a lagoon.

A young Black-headed heron sat tight on a fallen tree as we passed.

And a majestic Fish Eagle posed on top of a Sausage Tree.

Sometime you wonder who is watching who.

Cattle Egrets are found in large numbers in the flooded grassland. They mingle with the large herbivores, hoping to snap up insects and frogs which are disturbed by their larger friends.

As the sun dropped, and the light turned golden, we found this Woodland Kingfisher on an exposed perch.

This Tawny Eagle kept a close eye on us as we passed.

And when we were slowing down and about to arrive at camp, I spotted this Little Bee Eater on a Combretum bush by the edge of the river.

It's not all cheerful in the bush
24th March 2013 - 0 comments
See UPDATE below.

I was out driving yesterday and came across a group of zebras feeding in the long grasses just by the road. One male was separate from the rest of the herd and revealed, as he turned towards us, a dreadful wound on his hindquarters.

The bright, fresh, red flesh stood out dramatically against an otherwise green environment, and we could immediately see how distressed the animal was. He was trying to feed but the ever-attendant Oxpeckers were pecking at the wound and causing him obvious pain.

We drove a little closer to try to see what might have caused such an injury. The only two likely explanations are that he was wounded by a lion, or injured in a fight with another male. If a lion had jumped on his back, it could easily have caused such damage, but since the wound was still quite fresh, we would expect to see small injuries on the left hindquarters from the lion's claws. There didn't appear to be any injury on the left side, which probably rules out predators as an explanation, but I find it hard to believe that another male zebra, even with the canine teeth which they have for fighting, could have done that.

We will watch to see how it heals, and hope that it doesn't get infected in this hot, wet weather. Some people think that the action of Oxpeckers might aid the healing process, as they feed on maggots and rotten flesh, while others think that they prevent a wound from scabbing over. Perhaps this will be a chance to watch and understand which might be true. In the meantime, he's fighting off the oxpeckers with swishes of his tail, and lunges with his teeth.


I found him again on safari this morning with guests Brian from Bolton and Jacques & Paulette from Belgium. While he's not completely better, and he's still limping quite a bit, he's certainly better than he was. The infection seems to have cleared up and the flies have given up swarming around him. Perhaps the new stripes will even match the old ones!

Something a bit different.....
19th March 2013 - 0 comments
A while ago I did a photo workshop for Chipembele Wildlife Education Centre to support their "Luangwa through the eyes of the kids of Mfuwe" project. Children are lent a camera for a couple of days, and encouraged to photograph whatever appeals to them. It's interesting to see what they choose to shoot. You can read more about this project on Chipembele's excellent website.

While the kids were doing their thing, I took some people photos, an activity which I love but rarely have a chance to do.

An elephant pile up....
15th March 2013 - 0 comments
This lovely small family of elephants appeared in the road ahead of us as we were driving slowly along. They seemed agitated to be exposed on the road, so bunched together as a tight group. After a short time, they relaxed and began to show us a full range of greetings and tactile communication.

Here, a youngster places his trunk behind an adult female's ear, and she raises her trunk to place it in his mouth in return. The trunk is a highly sensitive elephant accessory and they use it in all forms of communication, from aural through to 'seismic' vibrations which they pick with the last 30cms of the trunk and the toes on the front feet.

Lesser Honeyguide
13th March 2013 - 0 comments
It's an easy sound to miss, but if you stop and listen carefully, you'll always hear the "tink...tink...tink...tink" of a Lesser Honeyguide calling from a favourite tree-top perch. Fairly drab to look at, the Honeyguides are a group of birds which are famous for leading certain animals, including man, to beehives, where the predator breaks open the nest to take the honey, and the bird benefits by feeding on wax, honey and larvae after the main predator has moved on.

I found this Lesser Honeyguide feeding on an exposed bee-hive hanging from a tree branch. There were no bees in sight, but the reverse side of the nest was full of honey, so they must have only moved on very recently, perhaps because of a couple of nights of very heavy rain that we've had this week.