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Zakouma – A belated report from March 2019


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Sorry this TR has been so long coming but a combination of one-finger left-handed typing after having my knackered right shoulder replaced (a legacy of too many years as a cricket quick(ish) bowler in my younger days) and the arrival of our new family member has somewhat restricted my time in front of the PC!IMG_0203.JPG.d1b1ea2e9023e90951a1a7221686fb1f.JPG


Anyway, the fascinating reports from @inyathi@Kitsafari, @johnweir, @michael-ibk, @pault, @gatoratlarge, & @SafariChick had pushed a visit to Zakouma higher & higher up  our list of “must go” places so after discussions with @Doug Macdonald, @Sangeeta and @Tony Busanga, March 17th saw us in N'Djamena for a week at Tinga camp. @Botswanadreams has already reported on her time there the week before us but hopefully there will be enough differences to keep you all amused!

The original plan was that we would arrive in N’Djamena on Sunday via Addis Ababa, stop the night & fly out to Zakouma on Monday morning but following the Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crash, the airline had made some changes to our departing flight which meant we couldn’t get back from Zakouma in time for the departure to Addis. The revised plan was that we would transfer straight to Zakouma on arrival in N’Djamena and stop overnight in N’Djamena on our return leg, leaving for Addis the next day however an apologetic phone call from Tony the day before we left informed us that there was a problem with the light aircraft scheduled to take us to Zakouma on the Sunday & we’d have to spend both first & last nights in Chad in N’Djamena – TIA!

There were to be 6 “guests” in our group, Vicky & myself plus Lennart from Sweden & M from London who had booked through Tony and Tushar & Anshuman from India who had booked through Sangeeta. Anyway, after a comfortable flight out to Addis on one of Ethiopians excellent A350’s, we whiled away the couple of hours before the flight to N’Djamena trying to spot any of our fellow travellers – we quickly found Lennart but M eluded us until after immigration at N’Djamena and as Tushar & Anshuman had come out earlier, we didn’t see them until breakfast next morning.  

The N’Djamena Hilton is fine for an overnight stop (so long as you don’t expect the service to be quick!) with very pleasant gardens to wander round and for those with a bit more time, a very nice pool complex:








One of the locals enjoying the late afternoon sun



The “warm wall”



Common (aka red-headed rock or rainbow) Agama



Across the Chari Rive





Rather disappointingly (& I’ll return to this later), our flight to Zakouma was pushed back until 1pm but eventually we were on our way for the 2hr flight courtesy  of Auric Air – a Tanzanian operator! I’d not come across them before but the Cessna Caravan was relatively new and our pilot friendly and professional – I’d be happy to fly with them again.


Outskirts of N'Djamena



There wasn’t much to see early on



but there were a few hills later on



and things got a bit more interesting (& greener) approaching the park.


After a smooth flight we approached the Zakouma airstrip




but our landing was delayed as one of the residents decided it was time for a stroll across the airstrip



It was a short delay though and we were soon down


where Doug was waiting to meet us and introduce use to Steve Gao who was to be our driver/guide/market negotiator us for the duration of our visit and after a quick toilet break & lens swap our bags were despatched to Tinga as we headed off on a game drive.


More to come soon.

Edited by AfricIan
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the Hilton Hotel photos, the approaching landscape of the park - reminders that bring back such warm memories of one of my most favourite places - zakouma. 

can't wait to hear more!

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Your wish is my command @Kitsafari:



Welcome to Parc National de Zakouma


Our first stop was at a large waterhole near the airstrip:





I think this is an Immature Bateleur but if I get any of my ID’s wrong, especially birds, I’m happy to be corrected!



Little (green) Bee-eater



and our first Kordofan giraffes






Hartebeest - it's the Lelwel (aka Jackson's) hartebeest in Chad



Tawny Eagle



Yellow-billed Kite



Vulture - I think it's a Ruppel's but the colouration looks a bit dark


Upto now it had been a pretty standard game drive - interesting & productive, especially seeing Kordofan giraffe but as we turned a corner:


What a stunning welcome to Zakouma!






More Vultures - White-backed & Ruppel's.  Unbeknown to me at the time, they are waiting for the Quelea to arrive






Yellow-billed Stork



Crowned Cranes


Then, as the sun was setting:








The Red-billed Quelea "murmuration" is an unforgettable experience - you don't just see it, you hear & feel it as well.  Nothing I’d read prepared me for what unfolded in front of us as waves and waves of Quelea flew-in and swoop down to drink whilst the more agile predator birds pick off their dinners. Even the less agile predators like the vultures don’t miss out as the huge concentration of Quelea means collisions are inevitable leaving easy pickings for the “heavy mob”.







What a stunning start to our time in Zakouma but it wasn’t over yet as our drive back to camp yielded a couple of Gennet, Honey Badger and a Hyena with what looks like a Pattas monkey for dinner.



Although it was dark, our first sight of Tinga “Camp” was quite encouraging, with a comfortable central “boma” and the rooms in blocks of 4 a short distance away. Each “room” consists of a large round room with double(or twin) bed, overhead fan and a small table plus an adjoining shower/wash/toilet – There is “mains” power from ~4-10am & again from ~4-11pm for charging batteries etc and constant availability of running water for the shower/wash/toilet, there is no running hot water in the rooms but given that the temperature during the day was over 40C & didn’t drop that far overnight then “cold” water is absolutely fine, even for Vicky who’s ideal shower temperature can fill a room with steam in seconds :D.


So, after a very welcome “Gala” beer and nice 3 course dinner it was off to bed looking forward to see what Day 2 might bring

Edited by AfricIan
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The murmuration has me hooked.  Love the new family member.

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I´ve been looking forward to this! Great start, makes me want to return quite badly. I think your juv. Bateleur is a Long-Crested Eagle, you Tawny a juvenile Bateleur and your YB-Kite a Tawny. :-)

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@AfricIan Great to see another Zakouma report, you've got off to a good start, I'm interested to see a bit of the Hilton as it wasn't there when I last visited, and the view of the Chari River, as the Kempinski (now called something else) where I stayed, isn't on the river, as well as making for a more interesting view, the river obviously provides a few more birds, than the garden where I was did.


Midway through typing the following, I went away to do something else for a short while and allowed @michael-ibk to jump in ahead of me :) but basically what I've said is in complete agreement.


On the subject of birds


On 8/21/2019 at 6:12 PM, AfricIan said:

I think this is an Immature Bateleur but if I get any of my ID’s wrong I’m happy to be corrected!


I will take you at your word and offer some corrections when I can, or at least suggestions.


The eagle is not an immature Bateleur, perhaps the most obvious diagnostic feature with an immature Bateleur, that distinguishes it from all other similar looking eagles, is that Bateleurs have very short tails, the wings would also be entirely brown, I'm pretty sure this is a Long-crested Eagle, the crest is not visible because of the angle, but the dark brown colour, the white on the wings and the barred tail are all a match for Long-crested.


The bee-eater should strictly speaking now be called the African Green Bee-eater, recently the little green bee-eater was split into three, African, Arabian and Asian, as is the way with these things I don't think everyone agrees yet, so calling it little green or just green is still fine.


If you want to know what an immature bateleur looks like, then that's what your next bird, that you've labelled Tawny Eagle is, the tail of a Bateleur is so short that when perched, the wing tips always extend beyond the tail, the main giveaway with your bird is the shape of the head, they are essentially a snake eagle and have a characteristic large squarish head typical of snake eagles..


The next bird labelled Yellow-billed Kite, is I would suggest a Tawny Eagle.


The vulture is as you've said Ruppell's, the very obvious pale bill shows it can't be a White-backed, as they have dark bills.    


With the group of vultures perched in the tree, you can see that some of them do have dark bills, so there, you certainly have both species as you said, the group on the ground are all Rupell's, I looked at largest version of your photo on Flickr and can't see a dark bill, just for interest, there are some White-faced Whistling Ducks in front of them and a Black-winged Stilt, there is also a dove, but I haven't identified it beyond that.


Not a correction, but I suppose you should really label the Crowned Cranes, Black Crowned Cranes just for the benefit of anyone who might not be aware that there are two different species, seeing flights of Black Crowned Cranes is one of the great sights of Zakouma and part of the park's appeal if you've only ever seen the Grey Crowned.


What you've shown us so far brings back happy memories of my visits, although as seeing Patas Monkeys was one of the reasons I really wanted to go to Zakouma, I'm quite glad I didn't see a hyena carrying a dead one. 


I'm looking forward to reading and seeing more.  

Edited by inyathi
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Great  TR so far @AfricIan.   Honey Badger right off the bat - lucky you.


Thanks for this, it moves Zakouma up a few notches on my bucket list.


I was going to suggest a dark morph Common Buzzard for the raptor in post #3, but @inyathi has a point.   I think it is better for Long-crested Eagle due to the underwings having 3 distinct rows of dark lines across the white primaries.   In a Common Buzzard's underwing, it is 4-5 less distinct dark lines across the white primaries.  


Your bird's barred undertail is also darker - like a Long-crested Eagle, not "mostly white with thin and thick dark bands" of a Common Buzzard.


Edited by offshorebirder
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So excited to follow along with your trip report, a little late is better than never. 


Your new family member is precious, we have a liver and white springer too!

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21 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

I was going to suggest a dark morph Common Buzzard for the raptor in post #3, but @inyathi has a point.   I think it is better for Long-crested Eagle due to the underwings having 3 distinct rows of dark lines across the white primaries.   In a Common Buzzard's underwing, it is 4-5 less distinct dark lines across the white primaries.  


Your bird's barred undertail is also darker - like a Long-crested Eagle, not "mostly white with thin and thick dark bands" of a Common Buzzard.



Another feature telling you that it's not a buzzard, but an eagle, are the number of 'fingers' seen in the primaries, which are too many for a buzzard.


Love the report! One day I hope to visit Zakouma.

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Many thanks @inyathi, @michael-ibk, @offshorebirder & @ForWildlife for your feedback and corrections, I know my bird identifications are generally pretty dire so I welcome all ID's and information on where I went wrong on my original thoughts - please keep them coming, I'm sure there will be more!.  This also shows the perils of waiting 5 months before writing the TR - In my defence, I'm quite please I did remember some of what Doug said at the time and as in the old Morecambe & Wise sketch "I got all the right birds (mainly), just not in the right order" - Inyathi might appreciate the reference, if not here is a YouTube clip.

Thanks also @Atravelynn & @refox3488 - Tilly is now 5 months old and a very "leggy" springer that does everything at 100mph!

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Thanks for following along, a pre-dawn start revealed Tinga’s only real shortcoming - breakfasts are pretty mediocre, you’d think that in a country that has a lot of French influence could do much better than corn-flakes, a few bits of watermelon and some stale bread finger-rolls!  I know we weren’t there for culinary masterpieces but that same mediocre offering all week was a bit depressing to say the least.


A quick look at the map of the park allowed us to get our bearings



Tinga camp is pretty much in the middle of the "eastern section". There is no permanent water in the "western section" so not much wildlife during the dry season


We were soon loaded up & on our way, very quickly spotting some of the very different coloured buffalo that have made Zakouma their home



Their ears are quite dinky as well





Closer to the river, a baboon was taking an early morning drink




as a Fish Eagle looked on




a few more buffalo




and a few more




and more




All the dust makes a nice Sepia image




Whilst back at the river:


Marsh Sandpiper



Pink-backed Pelican - though they look more orange than pink!



Spur-winged Geese






African Sacred Ibis



Abyssinian Roller





No flies on me -  Oh yes there are!






She was a definite “fly magnet” as they didn’t seem to be a problem for us humans









Red-throated Bee-eater



Long-crested Eagle (the same one as yesterday afternoon?)












Black-crowned Night-Heron



Malachite Kingfisher



More of the pride









Waterbuck (or is it a Mudbuck?) - its the Defassa Waterbuck in Chad, + a baboon & Black-headed Heron for good measure!






Another angle for the Abyssinian Roller



Another Red-throated Bee-eater


And as even the Bee-eaters were struggling with the midday heat:



We headed back to camp for a well deserved Gala and some lunch.


Edited by AfricIan
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A great start - lovely photos and a fine selection of wildlife already.

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Great to see your report. I'd been hoping you'd write one! As @Kitsafari says, it takes me back! But it also whets my appetite because I'm going back next March, staying at Tinga, guided by Doug, accompanied by Tony. Hurrah!


I loved the 'warm wall' and the two-headed giraffe. I didn't know that the vultures get pickings from quelea traffic accidents. Fascinating! And you got some really nice shots of the ubelievable clouds of those little birds. Nice picture of the reddish buffalo - and the first time I've come across 'buffalo' and 'dinky' in the same sentence :lol:  Looking forward to seeing more of your trip.

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The immense and abundant plains and waterholes are a nice contrast with the intensity of the red throated bee eater.  Love the reddish buffalo.

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@AfricIan I got just a bit of internet and saw your start. Thanks for this with greatings from Nubra Valley Ladakh.

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@Galago Hi Annie, yes I'd seen you were heading back next year.  I'm sure you'll have a great time with Tony "in charge".  Whilst I wouldn't normally associate Buffalo with Dinky those ears are just great :D.


Thanks also  @Atravelynn & @Botswanadreams,  Christa, I hope your enjoying your trip, I look forward to hearing all about it


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Thanks for following along everyone, for our afternoon/evening drive we started out by heading past the waterhole near camp where we found 4 of the “resident bulls”.  Its no secret that the elephant population of Zakouma has been decimated in recent years, to such an extent that the bulk of them have banded together into a very nervous Mega-herd that tend to stay tucked away in the forested areas.  There are a few groups of bulls that hang around the park headquarters and Tinga where, presumably, the pretty much constant human presence has started to restore their battered confidence.  These 4 seemed comfortable enough with our presence as they had a drink a wash and a dust.












The only way a Marabou Stork can get photographed is to photo-bomb the ele!






Buffons (or Western) Kob


As we headed back to the river


Birdlife as far as the eye can see: Pelican, Marabou & Yellow-billed Stork, Egrets, Black-headed Heron, Hamerkop, Spoonbill plus “others”. The Buffalo, Baboon & Giraffe are a mere sideshow!





Then as dusk fell, the Pelican start heading off to roost









The night stalkers come out!



Unfortunately by the time we got round to her side of the water she’d gone so it was back to camp for us.  Zakouma is certainly delivering for us

Edited by AfricIan
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Thanks @Atravelynn & everyone for following.


Breakfasts don’t take long so we were soon heading out and our first sighting of the morning was the “local” Side-striped Jackal





It's not often a mongoose stays still long enough to photograph - I think this is a White-tailed Mongoose (cunningly disguised by not having a white tail!)






and a Warthog kicks up the dust



Buffalo & Giraffe





Yellow-billed Kite


Before we found the “Fat Family”:




It’s clear what they had for dinner and were “well podged”, to the extent that one of the lioness’s had fallen asleep with her head in the carcass.  You don't normally do that unless you've had ~10 pints :D



Perhaps I can use this tail to keep the flies away?



Just chillin



Been fighting?






Ostrich "Harem"


Later in the morning we headed over to the camp managers house where the small groups of bull elephants tend to hang around.  There is a small “waterhole” with a “hide” just in front. The “hide” reminded me a lot of those WWII films showing Japanese POW camp punishment pits so as Doug was lifting the steel access trapdoor I wasn’t looking forward to being cooked alive! To my surprise it was quite cool down there and allowed us to get some great low-level pictures






and I even put the Nikon down in favour of the iPhone for a while













Make sure you’ve got the sound turned right up for this video clip

Elephant drinking


Whilst we were in the “hide” the elephants seemed quite relaxed but as we emerged one of them was non too comfortable with our presence so we beat a tactical retreat & head back to camp.



As I alluded to earlier, breakfasts at Tinga are nothing to write home about but fortunately the other meals aren’t at all bad – OK they aren’t Jamie Sparks inspired culinary masterpieces but both lunch and dinner are 3 courses, usually a cold starter followed by a hot main then a simple desert.  It’s not going to gain Tinga any Michelin Stars but there weren’t any complaints from any of us.


Edited by AfricIan
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Those ele shots are fabulous! And it looks as though you had remarkably clear light too. When I was there the dust was building as it was always hazier than in your photos. Can't wait to get in that hide next year! 

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Thanks Annie & yes, the dust wasn't too bad right through until our last day when it was much more noticeable.

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Those hide shots are a dramatic angle!  There is truly a disappearing lion on that tail as a flyswatter shot.  You've shown the warthog in its best light, literally.


For the shots/views of animals-and-birds-from-left-to-right, for lack of a better word, how long did those outings last and was the abundance a constant throughout your visit?

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Lots of great shots, all the birds and beasts in the river are very special, very Zakouma and an elephant from a low angle is always good. Your mongoose is actually an Egyptian also called ichneumon (Herpestes ichneumon), not a white-tailed, the latter species while very common in Zakouma is entirely nocturnal, you'd never see a white-tailed during the day like that, there are three other species in the park, banded, marsh and slender, but it's neither of those, the Egyptian is a big mongoose, much bigger and heavier than a slender.

Edited by inyathi
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Thanks @Atravelynn, I'm not too sure what you mean with your question but I'll try to "cover all bases".  In general morning game drives setout shortly after 5am  & got back around midday then out again shortly after 3pm & back around 7:30-8pm. We did do one "all day", details coming up soon. The "most productive" water bird shots were taken in the last hour or so of daylight but the pans had extensive occupation at all times of every day. The river was a bit more hit-&-miss but although a site initially appeared a bit sparse by waiting it out we were always rewarded.


Thanks again for the correction @inyathi, I knew it wouldn't be long before I fouled up again!

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A further word on Tinga camp – other than meals & the tea/coffee that comes with them, Tinga charge for everything else including laundry (though this isn’t expensive) and all drinks including bottled water (again, not expensive but when the temperature is in the low 40’s (105-110F) you do drink a lot of water) so the costs do add up.  Doug had said that the ”tap” water was OK to drink and that he & the guests the previous week had been drinking it without any ill-effects.  Upto now Vicky & I had been sticking with the bottled water but as we were just about to jump into the Land Cruiser I noticed that I’d not closed my water bottle properly after filling it & the contents were now well distributed throughout my daybag! Fortunately there was nothing in there that wouldn’t dryout very quickly but I was stuck with an empty water bottle and there was nobody “behind the bar” to get me a new bottle of water so it was with a little trepidation I refilled from the tap. I’m happy to report that there were no adverse reactions!!


The first of our afternoon sightings were” new to me” variants of some quite common species:


Abyssinian (or Northern) ground Hornbill (This is a male, the female has a blue neck rather than the red of the male)



Red-fronted Gazelle. At first glance you’d think "Tommy" but the Red-fronted Gazelle is only found in the Sahel zone, a narrow cross-Africa band just south of the Sahara








Tiang.  A subspecies of antelope closely related to the Tsessebe and Topi



Nile Monitor Lizard (at least I think it a Nile & not a Savannah)






Now you see it, now you don’t!



Giraffe sundowners





and as the sun drops below the trees




it was time for another Red-Quelea murmuration





and a couple of video clips, the first taken on my D7100


Quelea murmuration video D7100


the second on the iPhone


Quelea murmuration iPhone


A great end to the day



Edited by AfricIan
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