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Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa Sept 2017: A Different View


janzin
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@janzin - thank you for this excellent report. Really enjoying it - even if I'm sorry to hear that it didn't all meet your expectations. It's highly informative though to have some balanced reports alongside all the superlative ones. 

 

Those last few photos of the glowing Puku and the Elephants in the golden lake are fantastic. 

Edited by lmSA84
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@janzin  Just lovely photos and so glad you got to see the dogs again...they are a compelling species aren't they? There is just something about them that causes the heart to beat faster, no matter how many times you see them.

@ZaminOz  It is frustrating for me to hear such blitheness in suggesting we just get a private guide. For many of us, a trip to Africa, a soul soothing and rejuvenating experience for me personally, also comes at a cost. I scrimp and save, live simply, figure out what to cut out, how to manage the credit card due dates.....adding roughly $3-4K to an already really expensive trip to have a private guide is just not an option. I cope with what may not be ideal situations, but also expect that my expenditure is equally respected. I have loved the photos but also value the lesson in learning how to ask some important questions before booking a place....thank you @janzin for that lesson....it would not have crossed my mind before. which is another reason to love this site....I learn something new with every report :)

 

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2 hours ago, lmonmm said:

 

@ZaminOz  It is frustrating for me to hear such blitheness in suggesting we just get a private guide. For many of us, a trip to Africa, a soul soothing and rejuvenating experience for me personally, also comes at a cost. I scrimp and save, live simply, figure out what to cut out, how to manage the credit card due dates.....adding roughly $3-4K to an already really expensive trip to have a private guide is just not an option. I cope with what may not be ideal situations, but also expect that my expenditure is equally respected. 

Trust me @lmonmm no blitheness intended.

Every time that I have been on a safari over the last several years I have HAD to pay for a private guide / vehicle. Not because we particularly wanted one, but because we always take our son (now 11 years old) on our holidays with us. It is the views of guests at safari camps (such as many who post here and other places) that drive such policies. We are forced to pay the extra for a private guide / vehicle not because of anything to do with my son but because other guests don't want to share with us ... irrespective of the fact that my son is more well behaved, patient, respectful, knowledgeable about wildlife and environment and interested in his surroundings, than the majority of adults that I have seen on game drives in the bush (and yes having grown up in the Zambian bush and been on many safaris both before and after becoming a father - I know what I am talking about).

So forgive me if my sympathy meter is pointing to low when I have read so many comments in this forum and others (and even been told to my face) that children should not be welcomed, or even allowed, in safari camps... unless of course their parents shell out for a private guide / vehicle!

I assure you the expense of a private guide / vehicle is not an "option" that we have ever wanted either because we are not wealthy at all, but to us, leaving our son behind is not an option either, so we accept the way these things work and we pay. And by the by I find it frustrating seeing the blitheness in which other guests at camps that we have stayed at have ended up with a free private guide / vehicle of their own because they have the regular camp vehicle & guide to themselves (at my expense no less!) because we are on our mandatory private guide / vehicle for their convenience!!!

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15 hours ago, janzin said:

 

 I absolutely agree...but its not always affordable for everyone--myself included. More to the point, I would think that a camp or group of camps that markets themselves as being for serious safari-goers and deeply immersive in the experience would have more reasonable start and end times. It seems, at least in these camps, they are now moving away from that model and more towards a more general market of folks that don't want that early wake-up...that's fine, but they should make that more transparent. Its something I will now think to ask about when researching camps.

?? Not sure that I would agree with this? Where do you see such claims from Bushcamp Company, or RPS? I would never have thought that they (intentionally) claimed to target such a narrow, exclusive clientele only.

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16 minutes ago, ZaminOz said:

?? Not sure that I would agree with this? Where do you see such claims from Bushcamp Company, or RPS? I would never have thought that they (intentionally) claimed to target such a narrow, exclusive clientele only.

 

Perhaps I mis-spoke; they might not directly market it in that way but its the impression I had from their stated focus on walking, and from other reports and various tour agencies' materials.

 

Anyway, I did not want this trip report to turn into a debate about these issues, perhaps if folks want to start another thread about it under Safari Planning, that would be a more appropriate place. I only wanted to present my experiences.

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@janzin ... you are right. please accept my apologies for hijacking your trip report.

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2 minutes ago, ZaminOz said:

@janzin ... you are right. please accept my apologies for hijacking your trip report.

 

Accepted :)  The whole issue of private vehicles and children on safari is certainly worthy of discussion...just would take this too far afield.

 

Anyway, where was I.... I am actually trying to get this report done quickly as we leave on another trip (India) next week! Just one more day at Tena Tena, and then a bit about Victoria Falls.

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For our last day at Tena Tena...and in South Luangwa...we planned to go to the area of the salt pans. We were surprised that we'd seen no Zebra in the Nsefu area, but Jacob told us that they are usually found up in the same area where we might find the endemic subspecies of Wildebeest, the Cookson's Wildebeest.  There was also, apparently, a marshy area that attracts the Crowned Cranes. He told us if you get there at just the right time, you can see hundreds of them flying in from the fields where they roost.

 

We wondered whether we would need a full day to do this excursion, but Jacob said we could definitely do it in a morning; and as it turned out, we learned would have to share our vehicle again for the last afternoon drive due to some complicated juggling of guests and guides.  We were fine with that at this point, having had such good drives the last few outings.

 

We did leave a bit earlier than usual. One of the first nice sightings was this backlit Yellow Baboon. Yes, I know the frame says Olive Baboon...I was corrected on this earlier in the report :) but its complicated to change it on my website, I will do it when I have time!

 

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The drive to the salt pan area takes quite awhile.. and as we wanted to get there while the light was still good, we really didn't stop. We did pause a moment as I couldn't resist this perfectly posing Grey Heron--the near twin of our Great Blue Heron here in the US.

 

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We arrived at the marshy area...which I actually learned was not quite all the way to the salt pans. In fact, we never really got to the pans as everything we wanted to see was in the general area of the marsh. The landscape was very different here, with bare, apparently dead trees sprouting from this wetland.

 

The marsh was quite small but held an enormous number of Blacksmith Lapwings. They were everywhere...and yet I got not one decent photo...! However there were also:

 

African Open-billed Storks

 

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Saddle-billed Storks

 

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and of course, the cranes!

 

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We spent quite some time trying to get flight shots of the cranes. But they always seemed to be flying away, and we never were able to get them coming in. Jacob invited us to get down out of the vehicle and approach the marsh a little more closely. There was one other vehicle there, from Zikomo, with two photographers that we'd seen a few times in various other parts of the park. We all got down to shoot the cranes...but i don't think any of us had much success. This was my best effort:

 

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After awhile, the light was getting high and we moved on to look for the Zebras and Wildebeest. Jacob knew exactly where to find them, just about 10 minutes further up the road from the wetland. The habitat changed completely once again, to the usual scrub of this section.

 

It wasn't long before we found a few of the Crawshay's Zebra

 

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And the Cookson's Wildebeest. This is a subspecies of Blue Wildebeest, only found in the Luangwa Valley, and a slightly browner color, with stronger striped markings. Honestly they didn't look that different to me ;)

 

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From here, Jacob suggested we go up another road that headed to the salt pans. He said it was a very good area for other birds. He did warn, however, that the tse-tse's could be bad there. Well, you know how I was feeling about tse-tse's, but I said let's give it a try and if its bad, we'll turn back.

 

Heading up the road we did indeed find some new trip birds. Believe it or not I don't think we saw Grey-go-away birds earlier in the trip.

 

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We also had a Namaqua Dove...which were definitely not in the other areas of the park. Unfortunately, I was not quick enough for a photo.

 

And lest you think that there weren't any Lilac-breasted Rollers...well of course there were, but not really as ubiquitous as in other parks! Here, we stopped for a bit to try and get some flight shots, unsuccessfully. However one did perch nicely for me. One can never get enough of these birds.

 

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However, Jacob was right about the tse-tses...it wasn't long before I realized that they were biting...my ankles again...the last thing I wanted! So we turned around and high-tailed it out of there. It was really just this one little stretch.

 

On the way back, we took the river road again, and picked up these sunbathing hippos. They looked a little sunburnt to me--but they are smiling!

 

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And a reflective African Fish Eagle.

 

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And a great new bird for the trip...Lizard Buzzard.

 

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No predators at all this morning, but there was still a chance on tonight's final evening safari. Could we get one last lion or leopard before heading to the Falls?

Edited by janzin
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Towlersonsafari

The baboon photo is particularly beautiful @janzin

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I think a few things contributed to not having seen cubs. One is just lack of luck. You only saw a few prides, ZCP monitors about 15 prides in SL, and there are cubs for sure. The other things is that prides fluctuate. The Nsefu pride which used to reside around Nsefu camp, stork colony area (and sometimes crossed to the other side of the river), now uses areas further towards the Hot Spring. When I was there this pride had 7 adult females, and had several years where cubs were born each year, but which vanished each rainy season. Until they had a few litters one year which survived. Some of those original females are now dead from old age and such a thing can often lead to sub-groups and eventual pride splits. I do think that the lion hunting closure might have contributed to you not seeing as many cubs, but in a different way mentioned here before. In the years there was no lion hunting (2 years) many more cubs were born and quite a lot of those survived. So relatively many females still have depended older cubs and sub-adults and aren't ready yet for a next litter, thus there might be relatively few young cubs around at the moment (although there are, just not in the areas you were. There are young cubs in Big pride, Luwi pride, Chamilandu pride for example).

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10 minutes ago, egilio said:

The Nsefu pride which used to reside around Nsefu camp, stork colony area (and sometimes crossed to the other side of the river), now uses areas further towards the Hot Spring. When I was there this pride had 7 adult females

 

@Egil Nsefu pride still has at least 7 females (I saw them together in Oct' 2017 & was told there are 15) and they still reside around the area you mentioned above. There was another pride, the Hot Springs pride? I only saw a few members (in fact within 400 metres of the spring) but other guests saw eleven together.

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There is a Hot Springs pride too indeed (often only appearing in the Hot Springs area late in the year) and there was a Saltpan pride, which were 2 females who had split off from the Hot Springs pride. I saw them meeting one day near the spring. Very odd. The 2 saltpan females had left their 2 cubs and walked towards the spring, we followed them. Near the spring they encountered most of the Hot Springs pride (can't remember how many, but around 10 of them). They all laid down about 25m from each other, watching each other. I didn't notice any aggression, no growling, no tail sweeps, just watching each other. After 10 minutes the 2 saltpan females got back up and moved back to their cubs. The Nsefu pride in the past never used to get to the delta or spring, but I've been told that now they sometimes do.

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@janzin What a big pleasure to look at these wonderful pictures!!!!!!!

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Thanks @egilio for this information. It seems that our guide was less well-informed about the area than I thought. As I said, he was on loan from their camp on the other side of the river and perhaps he just wasn't that up-do-date on the pride movements in the Nsefu area. Essentially he told us there was no pride in the area at the moment--but didn't give us nearly as much information as you just have!

 

The most lions we ever saw together was four.  And we didn't get as far at the Hot Springs area (which I think is the same area as what they call the salt pans, yes?) If we'd know there was a pride in that area we might have tried to get that far.

 

Also--when I referred to seeing no cubs--I didn't just mean lions. We saw no jackal pups (no jackals at all, actually, in the Nsefu area); no hyena pups, no dog pups, no leopard cubs... It just was a bit disappointing compared to the abundance of cubs we'd seen on other safaris (the Mara being the most recent in our minds.)

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There are very few side-striped jackals in the Luangwa valley (and no black-backed in Zambia). It seems the jackals were knocked down in the 90's around the same time the wild dog population crashed. That might very well have had to do with disease. Wild dogs have a higher breeding potential (bigger litters) and disperse over larger distances so made a return much quicker, the jackals are still very rare. Every year there are a few sightings and for several years there was a pair living around the airstrip of Mfuwe airport. Few hyaena dens are known in South Luangwa, and even fewer accessible by car (I only know of one last year, and none should be visited on foot). Wild dogs typically den June-August in the Luangwa valley and then start moving around more and more with their pups, september could be a bit early. In the main game area there were 4 or 5 packs I think with pups. Not sure if the pack you saw in the south had pups at that time, the pack you saw in Nsefu has quite recently been formed and didn't breed this year. They're in a not so ideal place for wild dogs, if they can they seem to seek out areas with lower lion densities. When it was just the Hot Springs pack in Nsefu they never showed up near the river, now there are 3 packs using the Nsefu area and this new pack, and also the Hot Springs pack are seen quite regularly near the river. There were a number of leopards in the Nsefu area this year I think with cubs. As for the guide, I know he usually guides from Luangwa House. He's been a guide in South Luangwa for a long time and knows the park really well, but indeed he spends most of his time further south and is more familiar with the prides and packs down there. A max of 4 lions together is a bit odd as most prides are bigger than that, but prides are not always together. The Hot Spring can be a long drive, especially from Tena, and a very hot drive as through the salt pan there is no shade. You would also cross a road which is used by people to get from Mfuwe to villages north of the Nsefu. There are a few nice places to visit, but the spring itself is unimpressive and the wildlife there can be bleak when things have heated up. Having said that, it's a bit of a miss or hit place, sightings can be very good too.

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Thanks again for the great info @egilio  Wish I'd known some of this beforehand! Interesting about the jackals. I suppose then the jackal we saw at Lower Zambezi was also Side-striped, and not Black-backed. Just looking now at a mammal list for Lower Zambezi and Black-backed isn't listed. Its probable that our guide from Amanzi told us at the time, but that's what I get for not taking notes.  I'll need to fix that.

 

Manda thought there were pups in that southern pack, but they were still denning. They had just moved the den literally a few days before we arrived, which was why he wasn't sure where they would be. But unfortunately we only got that very quick experience with them.

 

I think we got almost to the hot springs area when we saw the Cranes and the Wildebeest...isn't is just a bit further? I know we traveled through that long stretch with no shade, and about 20 minutes further up the road from the Crane marsh. That was the local road as we did see local folks traveling there. But we did opt to turn around as it was already getting extremely hot and the flies were getting bad.

Edited by janzin
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Time for our farewell drive in South Luangwa. We were back with the Yorkshire folks, which was nice, and we just took it rather easy and stayed in the area between Tena Tena and Nsefu.

 

There were leaping impala... (this is a composite of the same impala running. Click for full size.)

 

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And a beautiful sunset with our sundowners.

 

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When the spot light came out, we found the usual critters...

 

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We were really hoping for one last leopard to say farewell....but no luck. However, we did find a pair of extremely muddy lions. They looked really unhappy to be so dirty.  Cats hate to be filthy! I suppose that they chased something into the mud.

 

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And so that was our farewell from Tena Tena....the next morning we had a 9 a.m. flight to Lusaka in order to get our flight to Victoria Falls.  But we did make one last stop. I had asked Jen if it was possible to stop at Tribal Textiles...they open at 7 a.m. No problem, but it was a bit of a rush! We pretty much high-tailed it out of the park and then through the bordering Game Management area to get to Mfuwe.

 

We arrived at Tribal Textiles but only had about 1/2 an hour to shop. I wish we'd had more time so that we could have toured the workshop.

 

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The shop itself is a warren of several rooms and we were frantically trying to make decisions about what we wanted :) We'd see something and then forget which room we saw it in!  If we'd had more time, I probably would have bought more ;) and taken more photos.

 

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But the sales people were very efficient and we managed to buy two pillow covers (a Wild Dog and a Leopard!), some placemats, napkins, and a table runner in about 10 minutes.  I really wanted a duvet cover but we just didn't have the time to ponder it and figure out how to pack it.

 

We got to the Mfuwe airport just in time (and there was actually a small Tribal Textile shop in the waiting area, but I didn't see anything I wanted there.) So off we headed to a few last adventures in Victoria Falls.

Edited by janzin
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1 hour ago, janzin said:

Thanks again for the great info @egilio  Wish I'd known some of this beforehand! Interesting about the jackals. I suppose then the jackal we saw at Lower Zambezi was also Side-striped, and not Black-backed. Just looking now at a mammal list for Lower Zambezi and Black-backed isn't listed. Its probable that our guide from Amanzi told us at the time, but that's what I get for not taking notes.  I'll need to fix that.

 

Manda thought there were pups in that southern pack, but they were still denning. They had just moved the den literally a few days before we arrived, which was why he wasn't sure where they would be. But unfortunately we only got that very quick experience with them.

 

I think we got almost to the hot springs area when we saw the Cranes and the Wildebeest...isn't is just a bit further? I know we traveled through that long stretch with no shade, and about 20 minutes further up the road from the Crane marsh. That was the local road as we did see local folks traveling there. But we did opt to turn around as it was already getting extremely hot and the flies were getting bad.

 Side-striped jackal in Lower Zambezi (and Kafue, Liuwa, Nsumbu) aren't uncommon. Black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox and aardwolf are largely absent from miombo areas and thus largely absent from Zambia. There seem to be some records of the latter two from the extreme south-west of Zambia, but none from black-backed jackals. Interestingly brown hyaenas have been spreading quite considerably in Zimbabwe (were very rare/absent in Save and now are numerous, were absent from Zambezi valley but are now found even in Mana Pools) and even Mozambique (recent capture of one near Gorongosa where the species had never been recorded before). I'm anticipating the first sighting of brown hyaena in Zambia within the next few years, and probably in Lower Zambezi (depending on how well they can swim, I have no idea about that).

 

You must have nearly gotten to the hot spring indeed, it is past the 'delta' the green area with the cranes, across the road, and then probably another 30-45 min. I never noticed any flies there, but I've grown to get used to them (in my first years bites would sometimes swell considerably for several days over quite big areas, now it just itches sometimes for a few minutes and there isn't any swelling).

 

Even though the safari might not have been completely up to your expectations, I really enjoyed reading your report.

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Towlersonsafari

We have even brought tribal textile stuff mail order its a lovely place with some really nice hangings etc really enjoying your report @janzn

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offshorebirder

Late keeping up with this thread @janzin.   The Pel's Fishing Owl is amazing - how in the heck did you get it that sharp at 1/15 sec?

 

I appreciate the detail with which you reported the annoyances (morning departure time, leaving dogs and leopard for brunch, etc).   As a result, I am less likely to visit Zambia and completely unlikely to visit certain camps. 

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Towlersonsafari said:

We have even brought tribal textile stuff mail order its a lovely place with some really nice hangings etc really enjoying your report @janzn

 

I've considered the mail order, but the shipping is quite high for the US (not unreasonable, but...still, it makes it pretty expensive!) But I love my pillows :)  They share the couch with my embroidered Shangaan pillows from South Africa.

IMG_4055.jpg.96f97c187b97dcd84b45c807705effc0.jpg

.

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12 minutes ago, offshorebirder said:

Late keeping up with this thread @janzin.   The Pel's Fishing Owl is amazing - how in the heck did you get it that sharp at 1/15 sec?

 

I appreciate the detail with which you reported the annoyances (morning departure time, leaving dogs and leopard for brunch, etc).   As a result, I am less likely to visit Zambia and completely unlikely to visit certain camps. 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Nate! For the Pels I used the railing of the porch as a platform...so it was actually pretty stable. I was using the Nikon 200-500VR for all these shots and the VR on that lens is pretty amazing too.

 

I wouldn't be completely dissuaded from going to Zambia...or even South Luangwa...but I'd recommend a camp like Kaingo which caters to photographers. And I'd go back to Lower Zambezi! But at the moment there are other places in Africa I'd return to first, before going back to South Luangwa.

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Some of us who have visited South Luangwa have not had these issues.  It was unfortunate for @janzin and i would certainly be unhappy and vocal.  The plus is that the photos are beautiful!

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offshorebirder

Thanks @janzin and @marg.    The moral of the story is to ask about all details that matter to you *before* booking.  But that might be difficult and annoying to your agent, having them pass along all the questions to various potential camps...

 

Hence the beauty of Safaritalk and its archives.

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@janzin Pour me a glass of red wine, I'm about ready to crash on your sofa :)

 

Matt

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