Photo Safari Report: Peter Sandyford | Nsefu Sector | 12 - 18 September 2017

24th September 2017

I occasionally lead private safaris for individual photographers in South Luangwa. This gives them time to practice their skills and enjoy one-to-one photographic tuition. Peter came to me via Africa Geographic Travel who run a wide range of specialist safaris throughout the region. But AGT seem to have a soft spot for South Luangwa, with its stunning scenery and excellent game, as they keep sending great bookings to me!

I had a fantastic week with Peter, beginning with a visit to a stunning Carmine bee-eater colony, taking in two elephant river crossings, one of my best ever male leopard sightings and a lion kill of a large buffalo on the final morning. I hope you enjoy reading about our trip!

Southern Carmine bee-eaters launch from the river bank in a flurry of red.
This season in Nsefu we are enjoying one of the best carmine colonies that I've seen in 10 years. It stretches along 250m of river bank, with multiple access points for viewing, and must contain around 5000 birds. When a scavenging kite flies over, as happened here, the sound and explosion of red is something special.

4 elephants cross the river in from the Nsefu Sector to the main part of South Luangwa NP.
At my favourite elephant river crossing, we watched as numerous groups of elephants crossed in the morning light. This group - stretched out evenly - provided the best photo opportunity.

An African Fish Eagle watches intently for fish in the muddy water of a drying lagoon below.
Peter was particularly keen to get shots of a Fish Eagle in flight. Finding one eyeing up a small lagoon which was 'boiling' with the movement of fish, we were sure we'd see a catch. Even though we waited nearly an hour, he never moved!! Such is wildlife sometimes!

Impalas peek out from behind mature Lilac Trees in the Baka Baka area of Nsefu Sector, South Luangwa.
I am always looking for new takes on the more common species and these imapalas peeking out between the trunks of mature forest was a good chance to show impalas in a new way.

Giant Eagle owl in the night at Zikomo Safaris.
A Giant Eagle Owl observes the area in the early evening, before taking flight to start a night of hunting for small rodents, genets, guinea-fowl and occasionally Hadada Ibis!

A honey badger flees from our vehicle with his recently-caught fish!
Leaving camp early one morning, we spotted a Honey Badger in the distance. Cutting a corner to catch up with him, we could see why he was moving away from us; he had recently caught a cat-fish and was trying to get to the safety of a large bush before someone took his prize!

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Hit by a shaft of warm light, with shady bushes behind, gives trouble for the camera's meter. But under-exposing - to keep the background dark - gave us stunning images of this shy normally shy Bushbuck.

After a couple of excellent mornings with good game in a mix of interesting situations, we decided to explore the central area of the Nsefu Sector, where there's a beautiful hot-spring which draws game from all around. Any trip there is beautiful, and occasionally it provides some extra surprises.

A small herd of elephants crosses Mtanda Plain in Nsefu Sector, Zambia.
The journey to the hot springs takes about 45 minutes across the beautiful Mtanda Plains. We were lucky to see zebras, wildebeest, 600 buffalo and lots of Crowned Cranes on the way there. But we also spotted this elephant herd who were moving in the distance between these dead trees, and we waited for the right composition to materialise.

A pair of mating lions in South Luangwa National Park.
As we approached the spring, a pair of lions sat up from the tall grass. Looking at their arrangement, and the lack of other lions around, we quickly worked out that they were a mating pair. Sure enough, not long after, the male initiated mating.

Giraffes spar against a background of mahogany woodland and veronia bushes.

Early the following morning, we enjoyed one of the best periods of the week. Soon after leaving camp, we found a pair of leopards finishing off an impala carcass that they'd killed the day before. They were quite shy so they moved off quickly, giving us a good sighting but not much chance for photos.

We heard hyaenas giggling nearby and decided to follow...which lead us to a coalition of 3 male lions who were feeding on a hippo! Whether they killed it is up for discussion, but it was quite smelly already so we suspect it died of natural causes some days previously. There were a lot of hyaenas nearby, but they dared not approach closely while the large males were there. We sat and watched knowing that, at some stage, the bloated lions would move off and the scavengers would get their chance. The video below shows some of the action; initially, the lions were feeding, taking turns to protect the carcass. Two moved off, and the third then followed, giving the hyaenas a chance to move in. But not for long!

A sub-adult lion stands guard over his hippo carcass, warning vultures and hyaenas to stay away.
Taking turns to guard the carcass, the well-fed lions were reluctant to relinquish the stinking hippo, despite its rotten state!

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While waiting for the lions to move on, nearby hyaenas scent-marked and then sniffed a grass stalk, tails held erect to indicate social interaction.

Wondering how the morning could possibly develop further from that, we decided to follow some baboon calls that we'd been largely ignoring! The baboons were shouting "wa-hoo", their leopard alarm call, but I contained my expectations since the calls had been going on for some time and the leopard had likely moved on. Fortunately, we found him and he was just getting to a large open area.

A stunning male leopard walks through golden grassland in South Luangwa.
Crossing the grassland, in the best morning light, it was a privilege to spend time in the presence of a very large male leopard such as this one.

A leopard walks towards the camera in South Luangwa.
At one stage, I positioned the vehicle below a bluff so that he would walk right towards us.....

A large male leopard rests in a mahogany tree in South Luangwa.
.....and he finally obliged us by hopping into a tree.

After the drama of the morning, we decided to stay close to the lion sighting in the afternoon, in case the three large males came to drink at the river. On leaving camp, we found that they'd already moved the water's edge and were sitting on the wet sand, being observed by 30 giraffes on the other side! Their position cast the smell of lion all across the elephants' normal crossing point, so the elephants moved upstream to a spot where we could get down to their level and watch as they splashed through the water towards us.

Elephants bathe and cool off in the water of the Luangwa River, Zambia.
Stopping mid-stream, this group of large bulls took 45 minutes to bathe before moving on and climbing up the bank!

A puku in soft afternoon light, framed by a Sausage tree.

Returning to where the lions were waiting on the river-bank we found a large herd of buffalo heading to drink at the same spot as the lions! Hoping that a hunt might take place, we hung back, unable to get to a position where we could see without spooking the herd. Primarily our presence in the bush must be non-invasive and we have to take care not to influence the outcome of survival situation, in either direction. But the buffalo got wind of something and turned back, heading instead to another lagoon nearby.

Buffalos scent the air to assess us as a threat in South Luangwa.
Scenting the air to decide if we are a threat, these buffalos decided to drink elsewhere, avoiding a possible meeting with the lions!

However, we knew that the lions would be hungry, after 36 hours without a meal. So we planned to follow the lions and the herd the next morning. At 04.15, I awoke to the sound of male lions calling loudly. Being sub-adults, these lions had not been calling much, so I suspected that their call was one of victory, having just made a kill. Indeed, on leaving camp in the morning, we came across the 3 of them starting to break into the large bulk of a female buffalo that they had killed just 500m from the camp!

Young male lions feed on the carcass of a buffalo they have killed the previous night.
The youngest of the 3 continued re-enacting the killing of the buffalo even though she was long dead.....

Young male lions feed on the carcass of a buffalo they have killed the previous night.

Young male lions feed on the carcass of a buffalo they have killed the previous night.
....while the largest male got down to the serious business of eating!

With hundreds of photos taken of the feeding frenzy that morning, we headed back to camp to prepare to leave for the airport. It was a fantastic final morning....and a reminder that however well the week is going, you can't be sure what is coming tomorrow!


Peter and I had a great week in Nsefu Sector, and I thoroughly enjoyed his company. I hope you have enjoyed sharing our trip through reading this report. Thanks for taking the time to follow my blog. If you would like to share a safari with me in the Luangwa, you can contact me or Africa Geographic Travel

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