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Galago

Three Rivers Safari: Luambe, Kafue, Vic Falls

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Tom Kellie

~ @Galago

 

Thank you for posting the mopane woodland images. Such a lovely scene.

 

I like the bush dinner photo, including the cranes. So nice...

 

Tom K.

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Kitsafari

but in the occasional breaks in the wall of sound I hear a Thick-tailed Bush Baby shouting close by, a hyena in the distance and a Water Thick-knee, again close to the tent, making its ‘flat battery’ descant call. A hippo charges through the bush behind our tent, the crunching leaves sounding like a whole herd was passing through.”

i closed my eyes and your words have transported me back to the luangwa river. I remembered  how those hippos were sharing jokes and laughing at us inthose waters. Occasionally one would burst put in guffaw. 

 

i too noticed how pink that nose and upper lip is of that lioness on the far right in that group of 5. Infact i think she seems fairer and whiter than the very tawny one beside her. Itll be interesting to find out if its because she is younger.

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Galago

@Tom Kellie Thank you very much.

 

@Kitsafari Your description of hippos in the Luangwa is exactly as I remember them from previous trips. However, this was an entirely different level of noise and something I've never experienced before. It was a bit like a Phil Spector produced Wall of Sound, but without any good tunes.... :wacko: Or perhaps they were just Marillion fans.....

 

@ForWildlifeand @Kitsafari I've had a look back through my photos of the lions but there aren't any that offer much more information. We were told that they were three sub-adult females along with a sub-adult male and, of course, the newly collared older female. Stupidly I never asked how old they might be. However, looking at 'Pink Nose' more closely along with the other young females, I think they are probably very similar in age but she just has more pink. She has a lot of white fur, so it could be that she's the fair-skinned blonde of the group? What do you think?

 

Here are a couple more pics. I'm sorry they're not very good but the light was fading rapidly and, with all that grey sand, it resulted in rubbishy photos.

 

In this one Pink Nose is lying down behind the snoozing female in a somewhat inelegant pose.

 

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And in this one you can see that her nose/ mouth is very pink, perhaps the pinkest I've ever seen, which makes me wonder if it's more related to her individual colouring rather than her being any younger than the other sub-adults.

 

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We didn't see them again, but we did come across the Brothers which will be in the next installment.

Edited by Galago

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AfricIan

And what's wrong with Marillion?  Although when I saw them "back in the day", I though the best bit was Stravinsky's Firebird as pre curtain-up intro :wacko:

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Galago

@Africlan  OK perhaps I should change it to Metallica then :D

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Galago

An early morning drive through the mopane stands to a more open, sandy area where a Slender mongoose displays an impressive 0-60 leaving just a trail of dust behind. It’s just us with Lameck and Bernard this morning as our two fellow guests are moving on. By 6.30 we’re walking through a broad grazing plain and alongside the river bed we inspect a large pile of impala droppings, a midden. This is the source of much information for impala, such as which female is in heat, if the male is a strong buck and so on. A civet midden is all nuts and seeds, reflecting the food supplies currently on offer. The civet uses it to mark its territory. I love the myth that a civet makes a plug of grass to hold in the faeces until it can get back to its midden. If it's true, how on earth does Mr Civet get the butt plug in? :D It's a sunny, peaceful scene. Mixed groups of puku and impala are grazing alongside Helmeted Guinea-fowl and there are a few early foals who've arrived ahead of the rains.

 

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Mexican Poppy grows in the dry river bed and there are plenty of sausages hanging from the Kigelia trees.

 

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We walk along a very bumpy, dry gully with tall false ebony trees (diospyrus mespiliformis) on either side. This is classic leopard habitat, but there’s no leopard to be seen this morning, although with armed scout Bernard I feel very safe indeed. He's one of the best scouts I've encountered and, because he worked with the anti-poaching patrols in the days when there was no camp operating in Luambe, he knows the park the back of his hand.

 

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We make a circle back to the vehicle and drive further along the edge of the river bank. Just as we hit a bend, a male lion crosses, followed by two other males. This is the coalition known as the Three Brothers. They cross the track in front of us and lie down, almost out of sight, in the long, lion coloured grass. They’ll probably lie there all day until it’s a bit cooler and then go down to the river to drink.

 

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The drive back to camp is uneventful and the OH plans to go into the local village with Tom, the owner’s son, who is going to sort out some supplies. We have breakfast, the same breakfast that's been served every day with no variation, and suddenly I feel ill with stomach cramps. Once back at the tent I go to bed and skip lunch. OH goes off to the village and I sleep until I feel ok again.

 

Tea time and the chitenge is full of people. It turns out that Michael, the owner, has turned up with guests, friends of his from Germany. We were told two would be coming, which sounded right as there's now one free tent, but I find six there! As there are 4 existing guests besides us in camp that means there are now 12 guests plus Michael and his son. When I turn up for the afternoon drive it seems that 5 of the friends will be coming along plus Michael’s partner who will be the night drive spotter ‘because she likes spotting’. If the OH hadn’t gone into the village that would have meant 8 guests plus a guide in the vehicle. I decide against the drive and make it clear that I’m very upset because I booked a camp that took 8 guests, not 13.

Edited by Galago

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Tom Kellie
21 minutes ago, Galago said:

Just as we hit a bend, a male lion crosses, followed by two other males. This is the coalition known as the Three Brothers. They cross the track in front of us and lie down, almost out of sight, in the long, lion coloured grass.

 

 

 

Tea time and the chitenge is full of people. It turns out that Michael, the owner, has turned up with guests, friends of his from Germany. We were told two would be coming, which sounded right as there's now one free tent, but I find six there! As there are 4 existing guests besides us in camp that means there are now 12 guests plus Michael and his son. When I turn up for the afternoon drive it seems that 5 of the friends will be coming along plus Michael’s partner who will be the night drive spotter ‘because she likes spotting’. If the OH hadn’t gone into the village that would have meant 8 guests plus a guide in the vehicle. I decide against the drive and make it clear that I’m very upset because I booked a camp that took 8 guests, not 13.

 

~ @Galago

 

Walking with lions. I've never experienced that.

 

I love the images you posted of the lions crossing near you.

 

As to the overflowing camp, that's distressing. 

 

Such inconsideration by the owner would jolt me, too.

 

I'm sorry that it happened to you.

 

Tom K.

 

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Galago

Next morning and there now six of us in the vehicle, the OH and I plus four of the owner’s friends. Clearly yesterday’s wobbler has helped!

It’s beautifully clear as we drive along the river, through the post-apocalyptic landscape and onto the open grasslands. We stop for coffee at the Carmine colony again and a Wahlberg’s Eagle drifts by. (I know I'm posting a lot of pics of the Carmines - and there will be more - but they are so gorgeous, I can't resist!)

 

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An ele appears on the opposite bank, slipping and sliding down the steep sides to the river, then another one follows and then there are 4 eles: a matriarch, two younger females and a calf around 18months old. They move slowly across the shallow river, stopping now and then to drink and keeping the little one between them.

 

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Then a young bull appears on the bank, slithers down and comes sloshing across, sending Cattle Egrets up into the air. He suddenly realises that he’s being left behind and he sets off at a trot, tail raised, to catch up with his family. All five of them cross the last stretch of water together and climb up the bank downriver from us. They have no idea that we are here.

 

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We drive off and I catch the top of a head move in tall grass. I expected a lion but then it runs and I know immediately from the way it moves that this is a leopard. Just a quick flash and it’s gone but I’m feeling really pleased because we’ve seen one and, in this park, that’s not easy. Also, it’s the OH’s first leopard sighting.

Back at camp it’s a light breakfast for me after yesterday’s disaster, just an apple and a piece of toast. After that I go for a birding wander around camp. It’s getting on for 10am so it’s a bit late and hot for birds but I work on the ‘wait silently and they will come to you’ principle. I feel quite pleased that I identify a Green-backed Cameroptera, a very small bird with a very long name. It used to be a Bleating Warbler, named after its call which sounds like a young goat, but renaming being what it is, it ended up with this mouthful of a moniker. A bird is calling and I watch for ages until, eventually, it appears on a branch and I photograph it. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the Greenbuls, but not sure which one. When I get back and check it turns out to be one of the ‘does what it says on the tin’ names, a Yellow-bellied Greenbul. No green on it but it has a bright yellow belly. I wait and watch near some scrub and leaf litter and, oh joy, it’s a Red-throated Twinspot! And I even manage a slightly blurry photograph but, as there are some better ones coming later, I'll not post it.

 

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Then it’s time to update the checklists, edit my photos and have a pre-lunch G&T. There’s a Rain Tree frog on a nearby tree, the same species that I found in our bathroom the other day. It changes from dark to light to match its surroundings.

 

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Again there are eles crossing the river, this time two lovely big bulls. A fraction of the local hippo population is snoozing there, many sporting Oxpeckers on heads, ears and backs. The density of crocodiles on the far bank is remarkable.

 

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Back in the tent we find a large beetle type critter, 5 cms long, between the mesh and the outer canvas. We photograph it for identification and find out that it’s a Corn Cricket whose defence mechanism is to squirt acid, so just as well we left well alone!

 

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The OH decides to stay in camp and I go off on the drive. We drive from the river out to the plains where eles are making their way through the long grass towards the village to feed on the first mangoes of the season. Another case of human/ animal conflict that causes such problems. A couple of Oribi are running like the clappers away from us. Everything looks amazing in the golden light.

 

Wooden Pear fruit and Scrambled Egg tree (Cassia abbreviata) which is used for so many purposes from a quinine like drug made from the bark to an abortifacient made from the flowers.

 

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A Red-necked Spurfowl is shouting the odds, a Brown-headed Snake-eagle is staring intently and a young male puku is ridiculously handsome. Some Cookson's Wildebeest are in the distance, as always out of range for a decent shot and then, of course, there's another glorious sunset.

 

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The night drive throws up a Square-tailed Nightjar sounding like a small motorbike and an elegant Double-banded Courser frozen in the spotlight. The Owner’s friend doing the spotlighting is, to put it mildly, an amateur spotter and Lameck occasionally takes the light from her to search or to pick up something he’s spotted. I also have to ask her to move it away from diurnal critters getting dazzled by the light. What a contrast to Bernard, the DNPW scout and arch-spotter! We see White-tailed mongoose and Lesser Bushbabies leaping extraordinary distances between trees.

 

I'd been hoping to chat to the owner, Michael, about the conservation projects at Luambe but back at camp we're put at a separate table outside of the chitenge, despite not having requested it. The other four guests, parents and two children, are also out there at a separate table. This arrangement enables the owner and his pals to take over the main dining table and chat away in German. Talk about pushing the paying guests out!

 

Edited by Galago

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Galago

@Tom Kellie We were actually back in the vehicle when we saw the Three Brothers, probably just as well because they were quite close. And, yes, it was distressing, even more so because it was the OH's very first bush camp. It gets worse, as you'll see in the subsequent installment!

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TonyQ

It looks like a very interesting area. The carmine beeeaters are indeed beautiful and very well photographed. Indeed yout photos are excellent throughout, as is your writing.

It is very disappointing that the food is poor, and even more so that the owner of the camp appears to be running it for his own benefit rather than that of the paying visitors.

It sounds like very good guides and rangers, and poor management. 

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Galago

The other four guests, the family, are leaving this morning so the owner’s pals get into the other vehicle, leaving us in splendid isolation with Lameck and Bernard. Hurrah!

 

Almost immediately we see a family group of eles feeding on tamarind fruits, then we drive through the magnificent mopane woodland with the rising sun shining through the brand new leaves.

 

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And then it’s ‘Carmine Coffee’ at a different breeding site. This is a real ‘David Attenborough, eat your heart out’ moment. We sit on fold out chairs opposite a cliff dotted with Carmine nesting holes, cups of coffee in hand. The sun is coming up behind us sending a golden glow over the cliff face colony, the light still soft enough to take decent photos. They are busy at the nests having just arrived a couple of weeks before. Bernard recounts how the local fishermen would throw a net over the cliff to catch the Carmines for food. He has worked as a scout in the park for years and they all know him so he simply pointed out that, not only is it illegal to kill anything, he will know who’s done it because there are only a few fishermen. They have stopped. Also a ‘hippo highway’ through the nesting colony used by hippos when they come out of the river at night to graze has been blocked to prevent disturbance. The hippos can easily find another route out of the river. It’s a bit odd though because there’s a white plastic bag flapping from the rough barrier made of small branches. This is to scare off the hippos but it doesn’t do much for my photos.

 

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Between us and the nesting colony is a small channel of water. It looks as though it’s very shallow but Bernard points out a few ripples and says, ‘There’s a hippo’. Sure enough, a hippo surfaces and, once again, I realise how limited my knowledge of the bush is and how inept I am at reading the signs. A butter yellow and black butterfly lands at my feet. I've no idea what it is, so if anyone knows, please shout. In the small areas of water remaining there’s a Kittlitz’s Plover, Spur-winged Geese and Knob-billed Ducks. The latter are now called Comb Ducks but, the point is, the males in breeding plumage have this enormous protuberance on their bills and, corny as it is, it’s more fun to say ‘The males have the knobs’ rather than ‘The males have combs’.

 

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We have a ‘Kudu morning’ and groups of elegant females stare at us through a misty woodland. They are one of the most beautiful antelopes with white lines over their backs that look as if someone has drizzled white ceramic paint over them, white face paint stripes and enormous ears that are rosy pink inside.

 

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We stop to look at a Brown Snake Eagle on the top of a tree and I spot some large birds in a shady tangle of vines and I know immediately that they are Turacos. These are Purple-crested Turacos with the most stunning vermillion red under their wings as they fly. Added to a head that looks squashed, a punky crest and white eyeliner, they really are an extraordinary sight. Unfortunately they are also rather shy birds and they skedaddle into cover before I can get the camera on them. A couple of warthogs rush across the path, radio aerial tails held aloft, and an red insect that looks as though it's been enamelled, lands on the vehicle. Anyone have any idea about what it could be?

 

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It’s our final game drive and Lameck is clearly pushing out all the stops to make it a good one. I know he feels bad about the way we’ve been treated but he’s unable to do anything about it. It’s very quiet, all the antelope are feeding peacefully, so clearly there are no predators around. He drives through various habitats trying to maximise our opportunities, but it’s quiet, although I do see a Klaas’s Cuckoo, just arrived on migration. Then, as we drive through some beautiful riverine woodland, Bernard spots a Pel’s Fishing Owl, sitting high in one of the ebony trees. It flies away but we follow and see that broad, marmalade coloured face staring down at us and then its massive 5 foot wingspan as it flies off again. Lameck and Bernard look pleased, and probably relieved, that they’ve found us a real goody.

Back at camp we have breakfast, pack and set off by 11 am, heading for Mfuwe. Ten minutes beyond the park gate we find a large tree across the track. Lameck tells us that villagers had chopped it down to get the honey from a bees’ nest! We drive around it.

 

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Our flight to Lusaka leaves early, then we’re off to Pioneer once more, this time with another guest, a marketing agent for Time & Tide, the company that have taken over Norman Carr Safaris. She has us in fits of laughter recounting things her clients have said, my favourite being a complaint about a trip to Tanzania, ‘Why haven’t they cleared out the insects from the country?’ Our evening is a tasty veg curry then early to bed for a pre-dawn start. Late booking meant we weren’t able to get a flight to Kafue and we’re going by road, a journey of five hours or so.

 

Edited by Galago

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Galago

@TonyQ Thank you very much. Yes, it is a great park because, although it's relatively small, the habitats are varied, the scenery is beautiful and, of course, it's isolated and there is only the one camp (two in the next season).

 

A few STers have said they are interested in going to Luambe, so it might be helpful if I summarise my feelings about it here. As @TonyQsays, good guides, poor management.

The set up is that Mario Voss was keen to establish a camp there focused on conservation work. He found a backer, Michael, who is a zoologist (I believe) and is happy for any profit to go into conservation. It was this idea that attracted me to the place. I met Mario as our vehicles passed between Mfuwe and camp and I was looking forward to chatting with him and learning about his work there when he returned to camp in a few days. However, we didn't see him again because he stayed in Mfuwe - his accommodation was used for the owner's pals, as was our guide's who had to move in with the other guide. 

 

Management of the camp was by the senior guide, Ernest. There was no other management as far as I could tell and this was, in my experience, a little unusual. 

Clearly there are problems that can be resolved easily, ie. training for the chefs, better control of food supplies, not making people eat the same breakfast and lunch day after day. I understand the schedule will be changed next season so that there's not this weird 9am cooked breakfast which means you don't really want lunch but you can't last until dinner around 8pm. Dinners were rarely hosted.

 

On the plus side, the housekeeping was tip top and I have nothing but praise for that side of the operation.

 

As you can see in my TR I did complain at the time. On return to the UK our TO wanted to know all about it and I wrote him a detailed report. He then sent this onto to Luambe Camp and got two responses, one from Mario and one from Michael, the owner. Mario's response took on board much of what I said, he was most apologetic but, of course, he had no control over the camp being taken over by the owner's pals. The owner's response was entirely different in tone, argumentative and unwilling to concede any of my points. He even argued that his pals were top specialists in the field (inferring that I should've been thrilled to have met them), which I found rather strange seeing as they didn't know the difference between a puku and an impala. The point is, we booked a camp for 8 guests with two guides and two vehicles. We did not get what we paid for and, in my view, we were treated as surplus to requirements.

 

Would I go back there? In a word, no. It's a lovely park and, if you avoid the time of year when the hippos are concentrated in front of camp, worth visiting. The new camp will be hippo free, although I understand that there will be just one vehicle and guide for the three tents, so no chance of booking a private vehicle. I'm sure the food situation will improve next season.

 

However, the way we were treated spoiled our time there and has left a bad taste. At least this was at the beginning because we were then able to enjoy very positive experiences at both Musekese and Waterberry.

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Kitsafari

Im sorry that the management and the treatment by the owner spoiled your stay. Your experience mirrors a tad the experience we had at Konkamoya in Kafue where we had samosas nearlyeveryday and our food was rationed - one samosa per person or something akin to that. Soemtimes i wonder when the camp is owner operated, do the owners feel they have a right to do what they like even if there are paying guests staying? Im sure not all such camps are like that. I hope your OH was not turned away fromsafaris be ause of this experience and im glad your next camp was musekese which, from what you say, was a wonderful stay. 

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Tom Kellie
5 hours ago, Galago said:

A couple of warthogs rush across the path, radio aerial tails held aloft, and an red insect that looks as though it's been enamelled, lands on the vehicle. Anyone have any idea about what it could be?

 

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~ @Galago

 

The insect above appears to be Reduviidae sp., i.e. an Assassin Bug.

 

The diagnostic feature for identification as Reduviidae sp. is the characteristic curved rostrum (proboscis).

 

It's a large family, found all over the globe, with this being one of the species.

 

I've seen a similar insect in a forest in Hong Kong, brilliant red with the curved rostrum.

 

This is one insect to handle with extra caution. The rostrum is capable of giving a painful stab into flesh.

 

Many Reduviidae sp. are venomous. Despite the name Assassin Bug, not all are predators. Among them are those which feast on plant juices.

 

Thank you for posting it in your trip report. It's a pleasure to see such a colorful African invertebrate!

 

Tom K.

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Galago

Oh that's brilliant @Tom Kellie, thank you so much. I suppose the bright red is a warning sign to would be predators. I looked up Reduviidae online and it's an enormous family.  I love the name Assassin Bug, it's all very Cold War sounding! 

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Tom Kellie
2 minutes ago, Galago said:

Oh that's brilliant @Tom Kellie, thank you so much. I suppose the bright red is a warning sign to would be predators. I looked up Reduviidae online and it's an enormous family.  I love the name Assassin Bug, it's all very Cold War sounding! 

 

~ @Galago

 

Isn't it?

 

Were one a small ladybird beetle, peacefully minding one's own business, any member of Reduviidae sp. would be sheer terror to encounter.

 

The best defense would be to take wing and skeedaddle to greener pastures. Assassin Bugs are typically clumsy fliers with slow reflexes.

 

That may be because they're ambush predators which crawl up towards prey, rather than flying in pursuit.

 

You must be right. The bright red is a clear warning. Those I encountered in Hong Kong were easily the most vibrantly hued invertebrate I saw there, apart from butterflies.

 

I was a fool, an utter novice. My hand was millimetres away from two of them. I later learned that I could have easily been injured had one decided to defend itself.

 

Your detailed image is excellent. Later today I'll send a copy of it to a few students who are interested in African beetles.

 

Tom K.

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lmonmm

I have to say I am really bumming about this Luambe portion. It's been on my "list" for a couple years. Now, I just don't know. I would have been devastated, especially because I tend to travel solo and I wouldn't even have had anyone to complain with. I loved what you showed us of the area and I personally would prefer the river site- would just make sure I didn't go when the hippos are their most gregarious and large in number :)  And I love the smallness of the camp and that's it's the only one. This really is a bummer. I do look forward to hearing about Musekese as that is even higher on my list :) 

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Treepol

@Galago I am really enjoying your Luambe TR - you can't have too many carmine bee-eater photos!

 

Shame to hear about the troubles at the camp in Luambe, I can hear how frustrating it was for you. Good for you for speaking up at the time and receiving an improvement in the  vehicle numbers next day. 

 

@Kitsafari sounds like you had a similar experience at Konkamoya to me!

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Tom Kellie
7 hours ago, Galago said:

 

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~ @Galago

 

Please pardon my stepping into your delightful trip report again.

 

The image above is so remarkable that I feel compelled to comment on it.

 

It appears to be a butterfly in most aspects, save one.

 

The feathery antennae! Moths typically have such antennae, while butterflies have more slender antennae.

 

There are brightly colored moth species in Zambia from the Saturniid family which resemble butterflies.

 

Assuming this is a butterfly species, it's unlike any I've seen.

 

Where is African entomologist @Zarek Cockar when he might know? (He's in Southeast Asia on an extended visit)

 

That you posted such a photo is especially appreciated. Excellent sighting!

 

Tom K.

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AfricIan

Wonderful report @Galago and great sightings, such a shame about the "organisation". I'm pretty sure I'd be as upset as you  are if I'd been put in that position.  It's a shame Michael (the owners) response wasn't more conciliatory - he should be aware that word of bad "customer service" spreads much faster and further than good.

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Galago

@Imonmm  I got the impression from Mario's response that the food will be improved. I suppose the influx of the owner's pals wasn't something that happens often, so that shouldn't be a problem either. As for the hippos..... who knows?! However, the good news is that Musekese was absolutely fabulous so, by the time I've written that part of the TR, it'll be even higher on your list!

 

@Treepol thank you and, yes you're right, can't have too many carmines!

 

@Tom Kellie Thank you for your insight. I'd not noticed the antennae and, having enlarged the photo, I can see just what you mean. I'm going to send the photo to our guide in Musekese, James, as his knowledge is very broad and he may well be able to help. I spent some time looking at websites today but couldn't find anything that came close. Anyway, for now I'll attach the only other pic I have of the moth. It's not as clear and I'm not sure it'll bring anything new, but it's worth a try. Thanks again for your help and please don't hesitate to pop in again!

 

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Towlersonsafari

Perhaps you have discovered a new species of acraea impersonating moth @Galago  to be named after you! as others have said, such a shame about the bad bits of luambe as it looks so beautiful

Edited by Towlersonsafari

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ForWildlife

Bummer about the management :(

 

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Galago

@Towlersonsafari I think you've nailed it! After a bit of searching some rather esoteric websites (not being a lepidopterist by a long shot) I've come up with Acraea acerata, aka Sweet potato butterfly, the caterpillar a pest on said crops. However, I also found out that it's found near riverine habitats and, according to a description in Uganda, it's the Small Yellow-banded Acraea. So it turns out to be a butterfly, a pest, and not something I can ID and add me moniker to - haha! :lol: It's very widespread from west Africa across to Ethiopia and down to Zambia and so, not surprisingly, its colouration and patterning changes quite a bit.

 

@Tom Kellie Would love to know what you think after my very amateur sleuth activities online. Do you think this fits?

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Galago

We’re up at 5 am but our driver, Ignatius, is late and then his car won’t start, so we don’t leave until 6.30, which means we get the worst of the traffic and it takes two hours just to get across the city. 

 

It’s a long straight road west with no opportunity to eat, so we have crisps and an apple for breakfast and then a pee by the roadside which isn’t easy as the road is so straight and you can see for what seems like miles (fastest pee ever on my part!). Four hours after leaving Pioneer we reach a sort-of-restaurant with loos. We look at the menu offering nice things like fresh fruit and vegetable juices, but it turns out that everything is ‘off’. 

 

Another hour on the road, the extreme straightness of makes Roman roads look like nothing in comparison, and we reach the boundary of Kafue National Park and after a few miles we turn onto a rough track. The driver texts his company who will then radio Musekese Camp so that they know to expect us in one to two hours. If we haven’t arrived after two hours they will come out to look for us because it’s a 50 kms journey, the driver has no radio contact and there’s no phone signal once we leave the main road. We’re in a normal people carrier plus this is the first time that Ignatius has done this drive. The track is severely pot-holed and bumpy as hell, not helped by the fact that Ignatius doesn’t know how to drive on this terrain and he hits it at 35 kmph. We are thrown about so badly we have to ask him to slow down before osteoporotic bones are broken.

 

It's 16 kms from camp when the back offside wheel starts making a racket. We have a flat! Normally that’s just a nuisance but when you’re in the middle of dense bush on a sandy track, it’s another matter entirely. We limp along slowly, the wheel thumping and groaning, and arrive at camp almost seven hours after leaving Pioneer. It’s a lovely welcome from the staff. 

 

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A G&T and a good chat with Kolo, the camp manager, and then lunch. Lovely food at last! We are in the last room, Fig. The view over the wide floodplain is stupendous with puku grazing and a whole variety of water birds including Wattled Crane, a wonderfully elegant, endangered bird. The rooms are spacious and pleasant with a large bathroom area, good storage space and a very comfy bed. Outside is a wooden deck with chairs. We can’t see any of the other rooms or the guides’ tents.

 

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The common areas are very spacious. The chitenge has two sets of sofa + armchairs, a library and a bar, and a long table used for setting out breakfast, all covered by a high, sloping roof. Outside is what I named ‘The Skullery’ with a whole range of skulls in the bush now lined up next to the chitenge. The baboon skull is quite creepy in its resemblance to the human variety. In front is a two-level deck, the first level shaded by trees and used for lunch and dinner, the second level with comfy chairs and a wide-angle view of the dry lagoon across to riverine woodland.

 

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We have a rest and then make our way along the sandy path to the main area for tea where we meet @ElaineAust from Australia and @stokeygirl from London. After tea we opt to go boating with them and James, our guide. It’s cool, calm and quite beautiful on the river. A Half-collared Kingfisher poses obligingly on an overhanging branch, its electric blue back flashing.  An African Jacana does its usual long-legged elegance. A Water Monitor, a metre and a half long, moves slowly along the water’s edge, it’s long, blue, forked tongue flicking continuously as it hunts. These lizards are fairly common and it’s easy to just dismiss them but, when you look closely, you see the lovely cream and dark grey markings, the odd, wide legged stance to lower its centre of gravity, the wrinkled skin and the bright eyes. Like crocodiles, this lizard looks as though it hasn’t changed in millions of years, a creature already perfectly evolved for its habitat.

 

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We spot African Finfoot, a weird one, plain brown but with a bright orange bill and matching long legs and feet which look more like plastic. I explain to the OH that this is a rare sighting, I’ve only ever seen it twice in 11 years, and to see one on a first river trip is exceptional. Then we see another, and another, until we total five sightings. @ElaineAustsuggests that, as this evening is Halloween, the birds have put on Finfoot costumes to freak out the visitors! A Three-banded Plover feeds on the sandy shore, a study in beige, white and black enlivened by matching red beak and eye ring. A Wood Sandpiper is also feeding having migrated from its breeding grounds in sub-Arctic wetlands. It has, in fact, flown further than we did to get here.

 

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We have sundowners in front of a small, muddy island where a python is coiled around the top branch of a skinny, bare tree. A dove flies too close and it lunges, but misses, and we decide that this is a Halloween Death and Sundowners trip, all very Agatha Christie. The sunset is so pink and mauve that any thoughts of murder-most-foul are dispelled, especially when an elephant comes to drink on the opposite bank, raising its pink tinged trunk like a greeting. 

 

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On the way back we return to another ‘memento mori’, this time a really unpleasant smell, like something has died and is decomposing. James tells us that it comes from the flowers of combretum and trichelia trees to attract pollinating moths and flies. The night drive is uneventful but we stop to watch lines of Matabele ants marching across the track, flanked by their ‘marshals’.

 

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Dinner is hosted by Phil, one of the co-owners of Musekese. It’s all very interesting and the company is pleasant. I lie awake for a while, listening to the sounds, relieved that it’s a hippo-free soundscape. A Square-tailed Nightjar calls in the night, like a moped crossed with a frog.

 

Edited by Galago

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