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TonyQ

Excellent sighting and you did really well to get such good photos and video 

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offshorebirder

One thing I would like to point out about @inyathi's excellent video - you can clearly see that the anomalures have gray tails  with a long dark tip.  Beecroft's Anomalures would have gray tails with whitish tips.

 

Here is a photo and a couple of video clips of the Lord Derby's Anomalures.   I took the  extender off and used a 400mm f/4 IS II and a Canon 5dmkIV on a tripod.  Experienced the usual frustrations of trying to shoot video with a DSLR and telephoto lens.
 

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Adult just after emerging from the tree cavity:

 

 

 

 

Anomalures  interacting:
 

 

 

One of my most treasured experiences of the safari was seeing each of the anomalures glide for dozens of meters to another tree before scampering off into the forest.  

 

It started pouring rain soon after we entered the dining room and the power went out as well - part of the  load-shedding of over  half the day in most areas.  But the staff had candles going  and the generator kicked in in no time.  It was a fine dinner, nice company, and we were still buzzing from the anomalure  encounter.  

 

We tried some damp birding the next morning  before pressing  on for Kasanka National Park.   There is nice miombo woodland habitat around Forest Inn and I could see a lot of potential.

 

 

 

 

Edited by offshorebirder

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BRACQUENE

@offshorebirder @inyathi

 

Looking forward to that Kasanka NP report as it is one of my many ( to many? ) dream destinations .

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Kitsafari

very cool sighting of the anomalure!

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Anomalure

@offshorebirder @inyathi Congrats on the Anomalure sighting--particularly pleased to see others excited about these elusive, little-known species given my avatar... And you got great photos too (better than anything I have). As a side note, these Zambian animals appear to have much paler pelage than the animals I've seen in CAR and Gabon. The dorsal coloration of those was a dark grayish brown.

 

While I've seen anomalures roosting in tree holes too, another effective way to look for them is night walks. However, you need to use a thermal scope or red light as they are very light-shy and tend to bolt as soon as you point a flashlight beam near them. With a thermal imager, I found 4 species of anomalurids in Lope NP (Beecroft's, Lord Derby's, and the marvelous Long-eared Flying Mice and Cameroon Scaly-tail).

 

I'm also quite intrigued by the habitat of your sighting. I know of very few sightings from miombo and other moist savanna woodland, though the range maps include a broad swathe of it from S Tanzania through Zambia and DRC to Angola. I suspect it's mostly due to lack of surveys, as I can't imagine many people have checked hundreds of tree holes or thermal-scoped at night in the miombo. Did anyone else you met in Zambia mention sightings?

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offshorebirder

Thanks for the congrats and advice  @Anomalure.   

 

Yes, at one point these light grayish Zambian Lord Derby's had me wondering about Beecroft's but the dark tail tip and dark moustachial stripe  put any suspicions  along those lines to rest.  Also the  range maps in Stuart's SA Mammals  app shows them nowhere  near Forest  Inn or much in the way of miombo forest in Zambia - just Congolose rainforest fragments up near the  DRC / Angola border.

 

Nobody  else in Zambia we met mentioned Lord Derby's Anomalure sightings except in the context of Forest  Inn.   From what I've read their presence in a given area is totally dependent on having the right tree species (bark) to eat.    I did see on the Forest Inn website that they have a nest box project to help the anomalure population.

 

But I imagine both Lord Derby's and Beecroft's might be possible up in the Mwinilunga district in the rich forest habitats at the Source of the Zambezi, Jimbe Drainage, Nchila, etc.

 

Thanks for the info about the usefulness of a thermal imager.  I noted in @kittykat23uk's  Borneo report that Tomer used one to good effect:    

 

http://www.safaritalk.net/topic/20550-sleepless-in-borneo-2019/?do=findComment&comment=294805

 

 

** @Anomalure - any advice you have about a thermal imager that gives good "bang for the buck"   would be most appreciated.

 

 

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inyathi

@Anomalure

 

It’s interesting that almost all of the information on Lord Derby’s anomalure in the Mammals of Africa is from Gabon, when I went there back in 08, certainly when I stayed at the WCS camp at Langoue, you weren’t allowed to walk around after dark because of the danger of encountering forest elephants. I wasn’t really offered the opportunity to go out at night anywhere else either, but I didn’t ask if it was possible I just assumed it wasn’t, but then I didn’t have a thermal scope, so I might have still seen a few nocturnal animals, but not too many if I had been able to go out at night. I guess the situation is slightly different now.

What’s great about these anomalures at Forest Inn is that the tree is right next to the reception, so someone was bound to go past at the right time to see them and thus discover that they were there, I don’t recall coming across anyone who mentioned having seen them anywhere, but then I would assume that so few people are out at the right time and in the right place to see one, so even people living in the right parts of Zambia don’t see anomalures unless they make a point of looking for them.

 

It’s interesting that almost all of the other photos and videos that I have looked at most of which I presume were taken at Sangha,  show animals that are very black on the side of the face, far more so than in Kingdon’s illustration which shows more black than in the animals we saw. The forehead of the animal in my photo doesn’t seem as pale either, but that may be an illusion because the rest of the face is not black. I guess than they must be quite variable across their range, what I can be sure of is that they look like nothing like the photograph on Forest Inn’s website, since it is actually a shot of a northern flying squirrel from North America not an anomalure.  I didn’t think it looked like an anomalure and then I Googled the photographer and found his website where he describes how he took the flying squirrel photos.

 

It's taken me a bit longer than intended to prepare my next post, but it will I hope appear shortly. 

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inyathi

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The timing of this trip as explained in the introduction was dictated by two things wanting to see the Pitta and the great Kasanka bat migration, the latter event is one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles, it is the world’s largest mammal migration and there’s only a short window during which you can see it. From around the end of October beginning of November, straw coloured fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) start to arrive in Kasanka from the Congo come to take advantage of the abundance of fruit at this time of year, by late November there are somewhere between 5 and 10 million bats in Kasanka, until around mid-December when they return to the Congo. Remarkably the bats come from different areas of the Congo, since it has been determined from collared bats that they go to different places in the Congo and may have in some cases migrated as much as 2,000 kms, which would mean that they have come from somewhere in the far north of the Congo. While it was the bats that brought us to Kasanka, the park has plenty more to offer besides.

 

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Kasanka is one of Zambia’s smallest parks, but it has a good variety of habitats from open dambos and papyrus swamps, to miombo woodland and evergreen mushitu forest, making it a fantastic park for birding and it has a very healthy population of sitatunga, it is claimed to be the best park to see these antelopes. We hoped that the birding would prove to be as good as suggested, that we would see sitatungas well as they would be a new species for Nate and Roger, and that we would find other interesting mammals like some of the local monkey subspecies and with luck a chequered sengi or two (sengis were formerly known as elephant-shrews).     

 

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Kasanka National Park is essentially managed by the Kasanka Trust, a not for profit charitable trust based in Zambia, the UK and the Netherlands, the following from the website Zambia Tourism gives a brief summary of the history of the Trust and their involvement with the park.

 

KASANKA NATIONAL PARK

 

Quote

David Lloyd, a British expatriate, who had lived in Zambia for many years, visited the Park in 1985 and heard the crack of gunshots. He concluded that if there was still poaching there must still be animals there and set out to save the Park from total depletion. He teamed up with a local farmer, sought funding and along with much of their own resources applied for official permission to rehabilitate the Park. They built tourist camps, roads and bridges and set up the Kasanka Trust to raise funds for this community based project. Slowly it began to earn a little money from tourists to help cover costs. Three years later the National Parks and Wildlife Services Department were sufficiently impressed to sign a 10 year agreement with the Trust allowing full management of the Park in conjunction with National Parks & Wildlife Services and to develop it for tourism in partnership with the local community.

 

The Kasanka Trust was established in 1987 and allowed to take over the management of Kasanka in 1990, they operate the two tourist lodges in the park Wasa Lodge on Lake Wasa and Luwombwa Lodge on the Lumwombwa River.

 

Kasanka Trust  

 

They manage the park in partnership with the DNPW

 

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The plan was to view the bats in the early morning and evening of our first day in Kasanka and then bird/game drive in between, then the following day weather and road conditions permitting drive to Bangweulu Wetlands spend most of the day there, then on our final morning we might view the bats again before searching for more birds and other wildlife and then depart late morning for Mutinondo Wilderness. We were essentially playing it by ear with regard to the proposed Bangweulu trip since we had no idea when we originally suggested doing this what the weather might be like or what state the road might be in, and therefore weather it would be possible to get there at all. Bangweulu Wetlands which I shall say more about in due course, is managed jointly by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the conservation organisation African Parks, Kyle was in contact with someone from African Parks to get up to date information on the road conditions and find out if our daytrip to Bangweulu was possible. We would decide the night before what we planned to do.

At the beginning of October just a month an a half before departure, I had received an email stating that the room I was due to be staying in chalet 5 at Wasa Lodge was in such a poor state that they had had to scrap it and redo it and had opted to put up a Meru tent for the entire bat season, with ensuite bathroom, flushing loo, etc, and that for the inconvenience this would cause, they would offer me free drinks during my stay. I’d always rather be in a tent, so I thought this was a good result, I shall return to the subject  of my tent later.

 

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Broad-bordered acrea

 

Our journey from the entrance gate to the Wasa Lodge was delayed somewhat, because we stopped for some excellent birding in the miombo woodland along the way. Miombo birding has quite a lot in common with rainforest birding, you can go for long time not seeing a single bird and then suddenly a feeding party arrives and there are birds everywhere and then almost as soon as they have arrived, they’ve disappeared again.

 

I didn't get many bird photos, I'm sure @offshorebirder will be able to put in a few, I will put in one photo of a Meyer's parrot that I took on the way to Wasa Lodge otherwise this post will be focused on bats.

 

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Meyer's parrot

 

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Sunset at Wasa Lodge

The Kasanka bat experience

 

To observe the bats if you are staying at Wasa Lodge you arrange with your lodge guide to book a hide for dawn or dusk, I say hide because that’s what they are called, but really they are just elevated viewing platforms, that allow you to be pretty much on a level with the bats when they are flying around. There is obviously only a limited amount of space on the platforms, so once booked you will have exclusive use of that hide for dawn or dusk, the bats are concentrated in the Fibwe Forest the largest patch of Mushitu forest in the park and this is some 30 minutes’ drive away from Wasa Lodge, thus in order to get there in time to be up on your viewing platform as it get’s light necessitates an early start. So yet again, we had to wake up at 03:30, assemble at the main building for coffee and a muffin and then depart, clearly by this stage in the trip the early starts were taking a toll, because as we drove off through the dark towards Fibwe, we spotlighted for animals along the way, whilst stopped to look at something I reached down for my binoculars and discovered that they weren’t there, realisation dawned that I had left them on the bedside table in my tent. I’d laid out my clothes and other bits and pieces for the day on the spare bed, but for some reason when I had taken my binoculars off I’d put them on the bedside table and not with my other gear and then completely failed to notice, that I hadn’t picked them up until it was too late, I had no option but to carry on for the morning without them. On this drive through the dark we did see an African civet but I didn't get a worthwhile photo and we got a glimpse of a sengi, but I really didn't see it well enough to identify.   

 

Our mornings bat viewing would be from a new hide, this was essentially just a rectangular wooden platform with a wooden bench on top of a quite low scaffolding tower accessed via a ladder, when we arrived it was still relatively dark. Once we were up on the platform as soon as it started to get just light enough to see the sky in front of us just filled with bats, the sight and sound was just extraordinary. This scene is really better illustrated than described, in the low light photographing the bats is quite a challenge and it’s not easy to do justice to what you are seeing, some of the bats which are after all quite large, do come fairly close, but I found getting good in focus shots of individual bats was a little difficult. Really the only the way to give a good impression of what the watching the bats is really like, is by shooting video, as you capture the incredible sound of all the bats as well.

 

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Straw-coloured fruit bats

 

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A view of the landscape looking the other way

 

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Descending from the bat hide

 

I thought I might as well include our evening bat experience at this point as well, rather than move on to describe the rest of our time in Kasanka now. It was suggested that in the afternoon we should go out and eventually end up at the BBC Hide to watch the bats as they leave for their night time’s feeding. Nate at this point, was suffering from a cold an inevitable consequence of his travel nightmare getting to Zambia, so had opted to stay and bird at Wasa Lodge rather than come out to see the bats. It was therefore just myself, Kyle, Roger and guide, in 2010 the BBC Natural History Unit sent a camera crew out to Kasanka to film the bats and the BBC Hide was constructed for them to use. Unlike the new hide we’d visited in the morning which is free standing, the BBC hide is in a tree, you have to first of all climb a somewhat rickety looking almost vertical wooden ladder constructed from tree branches which takes you to the first platform and then a metal ladder takes you up to the top. It is not unlike some of the canopy towers I’ve climbed up in various rainforests, I’m sure the wooden ladder is actually very sturdy, but I rather doubt it would meet health and safety standards in the UK, that’s not to say it’s actually dangerous, it’s really just a comment on what it looks like.  Not being great with heights and carrying two cameras, binoculars, monopod etc, I found going up a bit of a challenge and likewise coming down, but I wasn’t concerned it really it was just a case of taking it slowly. If I hadn’t had my cameras, I would have found it perfectly easy, we got up and down without any trouble and the view of the bats flying of into the sunset was truly spectacular.

 

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It seems that I didn't take any shots of the BBC hide before I went up and when I got back down it would have been too dark, so I don't have any photos of the BBC hide.

 

The following day we were headed to Bangweulu, but for the day after Kyle had planned or so he thought, that we would return to the BBC hide on our final morning for another dawn bat experience. During our time at Wasa Lodge there were two groups of film makers there, one British and one South African if I recall rightly and we discovered on our final night, that one of these groups had also booked the BBC hide for the next morning, clearly there had been a mix up since hides are not supposed to be shared. In any case the platform at the top of the BBC hide is fairly small there was no way that we could share it with them and their camera gear. Kyle told them that the mix up was clearly not their fault and that we would not fight them for the hide, they should stick to their plans and we would do something else, but at the same time made it very clear to Wasa that as far as he was concerned he had booked the BBC Hide for us, he was extremely displeased about this mix up. We honestly didn’t mind that much as we had certainly seen plenty of bats.

 

Some of the other sights and experiences from our time in Kasanka, will follow in subsequent posts.

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BRACQUENE

@inyathi @offshorebirder

 

As I said before I was waiting for this part of your fascinating report and how rewarding it is proving to be : only problem I might have , if I will go , would be that partly wooden partly metal ladder as I am certainly not a man of heights myself especially carrying my photoequipment and binoculars ; but the view must be absolutely stunning !

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offshorebirder

Have no fear @BRACQUENE - you can get good views and photos of the bat spectacle from the ground. 

 

In fact, we got better "totality" views of the "river of bats" from the  ground on our final morning when we were not even visiting the  hides / towers.

 

I imagine the guides and staff have well-honed bat-viewing plans they can execute for people who do not want to risk the towers.  Any agent should be able to verify this before finalizing your plans I should think.

 

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BRACQUENE

@offshorebirder

 

Well thank you for taking away the "little" fear I would have , because on safari " adrenaline " is keeping me focused all the time !

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Towlersonsafari

Wonderful videos of the bats!. Can you both comment on the accommodation,food etc @offshorebirder and @inyathi please? Very interested in how the trip to the swamps went as well

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inyathi

@Towlersonsafari 

I will certainly comment on all of that in due course.

 

@BRACQUENE As @offshorebirder has pointed out you cab view the bats from the ground, there are what are referred to as public viewing sites, these are spots from where you very good views of the bats from the ground and are open to any visitors unlike the ‘hides’ that are only open to lodge guests. Obviously, the view from the ground is rather different, than from the hides, I suppose the concern I didn’t mention with regard to the BBC hide, is just that the rungs of the wooden ladder could be wet, so possibly your foot could slip, at least this thought occurred to me, but it didn’t happen. What for me was perhaps the difficult part was simply getting off the platform and back onto the ladder, but once I’d found the first rung and had my foot on it, I was fine. If you do have a lot of camera gear that you need to take up, you can always get your Wasa guide to carry something or if you are with a private guide like Kyle he might offer to take something, obviously if there’s a whole group of you with the same issue, then it would be more of a problem, but I’m sure the guide from Wasa would go up and down if asked, after all they must climb up to the hides all of the time, so they wouldn’t have an issue.  

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offshorebirder
Posted (edited)

It  was a relief to pull off the tarmac and onto the dirt entrance  road of Kasanka National Park.  

 

Dambo beside Mulaushi Stream

 

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On the drive to Wasa Lodge, we made slow progress due to a couple of nice bird  parties we encountered.  The first bird party had several special birds.  In rapid succession Kyle spotted several Black-necked Eremomelas, two Yellow-bellied Hyliotas, Green-capped Eremomelas and a couple of Rufous-bellied Tits.   Kyle got excited by all these miombo specials greeting us on the entrance drive - and so did Roger, Rob and I.  

 

Black-necked Eremomelas:

 

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Yellow-bellied Hyliota

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Rufous-bellied Tit

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Then at Wasa Lodge's deck we saw our first Sitatunga, as well as Bushbuck, some nice waterbirds, and hippos before enjoying a nice sunset and a superb dinner.  Kyle knew three of the guides and the chef and they swapped stories of how the recent safari season had been for them.

 

Sitatunga buck across Lake Wasa
 

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Lake Wasa sunset

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The next day, our full day at Kasanka was outstanding.  I wish we had planned for another full day there in addition to the Bengweulu day trip.  The  bats were great as advertised and the birding was also great - the birding really lived up to the big billing.  

 

As  we assembled for coffee, I saw we had a truck with two rows of  bench seats that looked  pretty good.  The front row was occupied by Kyle and Lewis, the guide supplied by Wasa Lodge. The back row held Roger, Rob, and me.  A young driver and a ZAWA scout rode in the cab.  It was not as crowded  as it sounds and I did not feel hampered in my photography while in the vehicle.  Sometimes we sat, sometimes we  stood.  

 

Sightings began early with an elephant shrew on the "night drive" to the bat hide before sunrise.  Kyle said it was a Chequered Giant Sengi.  I had no idea which species, let alone that it was a sengi versus other small rodent.  -- But I am sure Kyle and Lewis (our guide from  Wasa Lodge) were correct.    Not long  afterwards we saw an African Civet that lingered for some distant photos.  

 

African Civet

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The bats were incredible and vast in scale.  No way to do the spectacle justice  with a camera.   I have no idea how they decided which trees to favor for roosting.  But when they did, they festooned the trees like Christmas tree ornaments.

 

 

 

 

 

Just after leaving the bat hide, around 6:30am we got into a nice bunch of birds.  Black Coucals sat on top of bushes, Broad-billed Rollers sat up and vocalized and Coppery-tailed Coucals flew past.

 

Coppery-tailed  Coucal

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Multiple species of cisticolas flitted around and sat atop bushes singing and proclaiming their territories

 

Croaking Cisticola 

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We also enjoyed Ross's Turacos, a Eurasian Hobby, Black-backed Barbet, Little Swifts, and Woolly-necked Storks among other goodies.

 

Around 7:00am under somewhat cloudy skies we reached a swamp that had several Sitatungas grazing in a clearing of low-cropped grass.   They drifted in and out of the clearing from the cover of tall surrounding reeds.  Are the proper terms of male and female Sitatungas Buck and Doe?  Here are a few Sitatunga photos - most of mine were disappointingly soft on focus.  

 

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Then after the  Sitatunga encounter we had a nice sit with a female Sitatunga grazing contentedly by the road beside a small bridge.  

 

Then two male Puku fighting it out:

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Sightings along the way included Malbrouk's Vervets, White-fronted Bee-eater, African Moustached Warbler, Marsh Tchagra, and some critically endangered Wattled Cranes with a fledgling.  The cranes were feeding in a flooded dambo.

 

Wattled Cranes

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We had one of the best experiences of the safari in a riverine forest beside the Kasanka River and adjacent dambo, in an area near pontoon camp.  When we arrived at the parking  area, Lewis and the ZAWA scout (I never got his name) went into the woods along a trail upstream towards Pontoon Camp.  They were going  to make sure it was safe and keep an eye out for roosting  Pel's Fishing Owl.  

 

Kyle checked and we followed down to where the road crosses the Kasanka River at a concrete bridge / dam.  There was a nice Gambian Sun Squirrel along the way.
 

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Lewis and the scout returned with no Pel's found and not much seen.  Kyle suggested going downstream, off-trail through some thick riverine forest, trying for a bird party and keeping an eye out for Pel's.  So we walked, at times burrowing, in the thick riverine forest beside the Kasanka River looking for Pel's Fishing-Owl and other treats.  
 

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Kyle found a fantastic bird  party with multiple Böhm's bee-eaters, Purple-throated Cuckoo-Shrikes, an Olive Woodpecker, Narina Trogon, Black Wattle-eyes, Dark-backed Weaver, as well as African Oriole, Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes and other more common (but  still thrilling) species.

 

Böhm's Bee-eater

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Purple-throated Cuckoo-Shrike

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Olive Woodpecker

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We did not find a Pel's Fishing Owl but we were still thrilled at our haul.  Back in the vehicle, we drove to some extensive and lush miombo woods for a bush walk.  After a slow time and few birds or other critters, we had a close encouter with some elephants.  We were a good distance away from the vehicle when an elephant we had vaguely been aware of at long distance across the road suddenly loomed close in thick woods right beside us.  We backed up slowly and walked up a huge termite mound for safety and to look things over.   But rather than possibly letting us enjoy a walk-by, the scout conspicuously cocked his AK-47 type rifle and made a loud click-clack.   This caused the elephant to flee, poor thing.  It seemed more a first reflex rather than last resort on the part of the scout.  We agreed with Kyle that the encounter had been botched.  We all felt guilty about not speaking up sooner during that misplayed hand but it developed so quickly.

 

Elephant at close range while on foot

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I will not bore people with too much detail but Green-headed Sunbird near our packed lunch spot was another highlight.  Eventually we made it to Luwombwa Lodge and the delapidated pontoon river crossing, where we saw some nice birds and these fish (I forget which species Kyle said):

 

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Around 1pm we started angling towards Wasa Lodge due to some serious looking storm squalls moving in our direction.   We stopped to look at Kasanka's Cape Buffalo herd.  

 

And in a drying patch of road along a dambo, we had to linger as long as a pair of Locust Finches showed themselves!   The Locust Finches in-the-open sighting was one of our best that day, despite the dark clouds and poor light.

 

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We barely made it back to Wasa before the storm and rains caught us.  We had been about to pass cameras and other electronics inside the cab to keep them dry when we arrived.

 

The storm was chilly and I decided against going  back out that afternoon and evening with bad weather all around.  I stayed at Wasa Lodge, sharing my spotting scope and tripod and chatting with a sharp young guide named Simon.  Simon knew all about birds and especially Kinda Baboons since he had worked for some Kinda researchers for a year and a half.  While we were birding, Simon told me about two Senegal Lapwings raising  chicks as well as a herd of Sable Antelope near the airstrip at the edge of Chikufwe Plain.   The highlights of our birding session were a pair of Lesser Jacanas and a Eurasian Hobby that kept chasing a Pied Kingfisher.  Dinner  was nice again and I hustled to bed.

 

Next post I will cover our day trip to Bangweulu Wetlands, as well as our final morning in Kasanka which provided a spectacular bird encounter and nice primates as well.

 


- -  Now a little about accommodations and food:

 

The accommodations were rustic but adequate and clean.   Charging stations were located in the main lodge.  There were three double wall sockets: by reception, in a corner of the barroom, and in a corner of the dining room on a little charging table.   The main lodge building where reception, dining, the bar and kitchen were located was better quality than the chalets / bomas that were  guests' quarters but that is not unexpected.  

 

The beds in our "chalets" were satisfactory, well separated and had mosquito nets.  The bathroom was clean though poorly lit, and the shower adequate.  The hot water system consisted of a "monkey boiler" / "rocket boiler" whose fire needed to be lit 45 minutes before you wanted a hot shower.  There seemed to be enough water for two people to shower in succession.  They seemed quite capable of firing the things up even in the rain, which is fortunate.

  

It was not a big problem but for full disclosure - the chalets were dark with poor air circulation.  There were screens on the two windows in the main room and the one window in the bathroom, which was nice.  But the windows were small and recessed, did not line up and did not produce good  airflow behind the mosquito-netted beds.   This would not matter in the cool dry season but in the humid rainy season, the poor air circulation and lack of ceiling fans or electric fans was a minor annoyance.   

 

Sometimes the smoke from the fire under the hot water apparatus drew in through open bathroom window in back of the  chalet.  A couple of times we had to close our windows to avoid smoke in the room, which made things even more humid.  

 

The food at supper was good (great the first night), coffee and muffin early breakfasts were good, sit-down breakfast was OK.  They insisted on bringing me bacon and sausages and meat for all breakfasts even though I said I did not want any.  My requests for no mayonnaise or sauce on the packed-lunch sandwich resulted in no chicken on it the first day and no chicken or chutney the second day.  Packed lunches were disappointing but they often are.  That's Africa, Baby  (TAB).

 

* Kasanka National Park is well worth a visit for birding, Sitatungas, decent primates, and especially during  bat season - any annoyances in terms of accommodations or food are relatively minor.  I will say that we were lucky to have a top-notch private guide with us.  The guide quality (especially with birds) seems to vary at Wasa Lodge.

 

 

Edited by offshorebirder

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BRACQUENE

@offshorebirder @inyathi  

 

Fabulous birding and those Sitatunga , lucky you, are one of the few Antilope species in Zambia I have not seen yet !

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TonyQ

An excellent selection of birds, and the bats are amazing 

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inyathi
Posted (edited)

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Woolly-necked stork flying over the bat hide

 

I knew that Kasanka is claimed to be the best national park to see sitatungas, but my understanding was that in order to see them, you need to climb up into a hide in a tree, that gives you a view down into the swamp and this is how you spot them. This is certainly how I saw sitatungas in Siawa Swamp National Park in Kenya, I’ve also seen them from a tower in Akagera National Park in Rwanda, and in fact from a viewing platform in Gabon at Langoue Bai. In Gabon and the Congo Basin sitatungas are very common and I had seen them on game drives in Loango National Park there, so I did wonder if Kasanka would prove to be as good or better. I don’t know if it was just luck, but Kasanka certainly confirmed that it is the best place to see sitatungas, Nate's photos illustrate what great sightings we had, I’ve certainly never seen so many as close as this before. Here are few more photos of them.

 

These animals are actually Selous or Zambezi sitatungas (Tragelaphus spekei selousi) some of the females are rather darker or certainly less bright than in the other races and the white markings on them are not very distinct.

 

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Just for comparison here's a shot of a western sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei gratus) taken at Langoue Bai in Gabon, you can see that the white markings are more distinct 

 

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This Gabon shot was taken using a 500 mm lens and 1.4 x converter, so effectively 700 mm and has been cropped, so while you may get very good views of sitatungas at various bais in the Congo Basin, they're likely to be a pretty long way away. Loango National Park in Gabon is perhaps the one place, where you do have a chance to see them up close as we did in Kasanka. Certainly if you do want to see sitatungas then Kasanka is going to be the most reliable place, outside of the Congo Basin. You can see Zambezi sitatunga in the Okavango and I have, but it was just a glimpse of one from a boat as it disappeared into the swamp, this seems to be fairly typical of sitatunga sighting in the Okavango. The East African sitatunga (Tragelpahus spekei spekei) has the most visible white markings.

 

What I think was certainly lucky with the sitatungas, was that the hide that people normally see them from known as the Fibwe Hide, was closed I think because it needs renovating, so seeing them from there wasn't an option, if we hadn't seen them so well on our game drive, we would have had to settle for the more distant views we got of them on the other side of Lake Wasa from Wasa Lodge. It was perhaps something of a relief that the Fibwe Hide was closed, as you have to climb a rickety looking wooden ladder to get up to it, I presume that it is the ladder that needs work doing to it.

 

 

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Orchid Aerangis coriacea

 

 

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Gambian Sun squirrel

 

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Birding by  the Kasanka River

 

 

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Dark-backed weaver 

 

A walk in the miombo

 

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Miombo woodland

 

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Costus spectabilis

 

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Speke's hinge-backed tortoise

 

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Air commodore

 

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The situation with the elephants was unfortunate, the scouts/rangers or Wildlife Protection Officers (WPOs) as they are known in Zambia, had already if I recall rightly tried to get the driver who had gone further along the road ahead of us, to try and keep the elephants way from us, although what he was really supposed to do I’m not quite sure. When it came apparent that we were walking into some elephant bulls, myself, Nate and Roger took our queue from Kyle and retreated onto a termite mound, knowing that if Kyle was happy then we were safe, he after all now lives most of his life in Lower Zambezi National Park which is stuffed with elephants and knows how to be around them and we knew that. The unfortunate thing, which I know from previous experience walking in Tanzania, is that the rangers that have to accompany you on walks, don’t really know how to behave properly if you encounter dangerous animals, as you almost inevitably will at some point, simply because they haven’t received any training on how to approach animals. Professional guides are trained in how to safely conduct walking safaris or at least have a lifetime’s experience of walking in the bush, rangers don’t have this training or experience, taking walking safaris is not after all part of their day job so to speak. They don’t know. how to be around big dangerous animals and they are also invariable armed with an AK47, not the weapon of choice for stopping large dangerous mammals, other than the two-legged kind.  Besides seeing that you aren’t breaking the rules, their job is to keep you all safe, their reaction to encountering a dangerous animal is not to find a safe way for everyone to observe it, but to want to scare it away, thinking that that is the best way to keep you and themselves safe. That means, they will often as our WPOs did in this case, scare away the animal/s quite unnecessarily, their imperative was just to keep us safe, they thought the elephants were much too close, (they weren’t), so one of them rattled the bolt on his AK to scare them off. This is why guides I’ve walked with in Tanzania, try to make sure that when they are walking in a particular park, they’re always assigned the same TANAPA rangers, who they have given some training, and they also try and see to it that the rangers are more appropriately armed, with a rifle or sometimes a shotgun. Then when walking they know that the rangers shouldn’t accidentally turn an entirely safe situation into a dangerous one, by doing the completely the wrong thing, after all attempting to scare an animal may have the opposite effect and provoke a charge and that they won’t always scare animals away unnecessarily, ensuring that the clients never see anything, other than animals running away.       

 

There aren't very many elephants in Kasaanka, but the population is apparently recovering, interestingly these elephants are some of the last of what one might call Katanga elephants, Katanga being the neighbouring province of the DRC, that is to say that is to say that although they are regular savanna elephants, genetically they are Congolese savanna elephants, part of a once substantial population that would have roamed southern DRC and

this part of Zambia, inevitably due to poaching very few remain, so it's important that the Kasanka population is protected and able to recover.    

 

Sadly Kasanka has due to bushmeat poaching, lost some of the large game that it should have, some of the large antelopes are extinct or pretty rare, I think greater kudu and roan have gone, but there are still a few sable and apparently Lichtenstein's hartebeest, but we saw neither, we did hope to try and find the sable, but I think they were too far away, we did though see a small herd of buffaloes so at least a few of these animals remain.

 

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Since @offshorebirder mentioned that we narrowly avoided being caught in a rainstorm, I thought now would be the moment say a bit about Wasa Lodge and my tent.

 

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Approaching storm 

 

As mentioned earlier I had been informed by email not long before our departure, that Wasa Lodge had had to put up a Meru Tent for the bat season, because Chalet 5 that I should have been in was out of action and so being a single guest I would be in the tent. Great I thought I’d rather be in a tent than a room anyway. I was a little surprised when I first saw the tent to see that it was on a large concrete platform, this is quite normal, it just didn’t look to me like they had only just put it up, some weeks ago, but maybe it was new. Although, it did seem perhaps slightly strange if the tent was only intended to be temporary and taken down when the chalet was repaired. I could see during my stay that chalet 5 which was on a little rise just a short distance away from my tent was little more than an empty shell with no windows, and building work going on inside, I could here voices and sawing wood, I didn’t go and take a closer look, but I wondered quite how it had been allowed to get into such a bad state that they were virtually having to completely rebuild it or so it seemed.

 

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This was my tent, you can just see Chalet 5 through the trees on beyond

 

In my tent I had a large king-sized bed at the end of this bed was a gap and then a smaller bed against the “wall”, which was quite handy for putting stuff on and then various hangers and bedside tables and out the front on the veranda a table and a sort of sofa and another smaller chair. When I first went into the tent and walked through into the ensuite bathroom, I saw that there was a large bucket shower one side and then a basin and a flushing loo the other, when I looked at the loo I thought where’s the loo paper, and then thought hang on I think I saw some in the tent. Sure, enough the loo roll was in the tent, and the reason it was in the tent and not beside the loo, is because the bathroom was what I would call a dry season bathroom, that is to say it had no roof, it was completely open to the stars. This was frankly a very strange arrangement, bearing in mind that the bat season is their high season and this is the start of their rainy season, so rain as we discovered is pretty much to be expected. Thus, if you wanted to use the loo when it was raining short of taking an umbrella with you, you would get very wet, and you needed to keep the lid shut if you didn’t want water all over the seat after it had rained. The only other issue was that the tent zips didn’t work that well, so that when going to the bathroom you couldn’t open or close the zip with one hand, you had to use both and therefore put down whatever you were carrying, but this is to be expected with any tent that’s a few years old. Always with a tent you have to learn to open and close the zip with the lights off, so that you don't get a load of bugs fly in before you've zipped up, this can be a challenge.

 

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The main building, the open part is the dining room

 

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Whatever faults my tent may have had, the view from out in front of Lake Wasa was wonderful.

 

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Bar/sitting room

 

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Dining room

 

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We had arrived back quite late, so by the time we had lunch the other guests had had theirs and left, this was very fortunate because when the rain came down, the main part of the dining room got extremely wet, because it is completely open at the front, to provide a great view of Lake Wasa, we fortunately weren’t in this part of the dinning room, our long rectangular table and the serving tables were in an adjoining section that had a wall rather than an open front, I took the two dining room shots above from the end of our table, the rain coming into the main part of the dining room wasn’t able to reach us, we were just far enough back from the open front of the building. There was water coming across the floor towards us but it never quite made it into our part of the room, because of this rain the staff had had to move all of the tables back away from the open front to try and keep them dry. It seemed to me more than a little odd that they had designed the front of the dining room to be entirely open, but then had not provided any means at all to close it up, to keep the rain out in the event of big storm such as we experienced, so I imagine that every time it rains they must have to move the wooden tables to get them under cover. I wondered what would have happened if the rain had come an hour or two earlier when the other guests were wanting to have lunch, I can only assume they would have had to rearrange the furniture in the next door bar/sitting room and put the dining tables in there or try and cram more tables into our part of the dining room.

 

When we planned this trip, I had said that I would like if possible, to visit Bangweulu Wetlands to see the black lechwe antelope and Nate agreed that this was a good idea and we should try to do this, if we could. This reserve which is actually a Game Management Area, is managed by African Parks in partnership with DNPW. Besides the lechwe Bangweulu is best known for having shoebills and most people who visit really want to see these birds, but this was not going to be a good time of year to see them, I knew that seeing them would be unlikely, but then I’ve had the very good fortune to have seen them several times in Uganda and even once in Rwanda, so I didn’t mind missing them and while Nate had not seen shoebills before he wasn’t bothered about not seeing them on this trip. We had therefore said to Roy that we were after the lechwe and otherwise any other mammals we might find and whatever wetland birds would be around, but we didn’t care about shoebills. However, close to departure Roy contacted us to say that he had had an update from African Parks on the shoebills, saying that there none on any nests and none currently being monitored by AP, but they were still willing to take us out to look for them, if we wanted, so had we changed our minds or were we still happy not to bother to look for them? It seemed to me that what they were saying was, we can take you too look for them, you’re pretty unlikely to find one, but you never know you might get lucky, my interpretation was that if we said yes, it would likely prove to be a pointless wild goose chase, in that we likely wouldn’t find a shoebill and would just end up wasting precious time that could be better spent with the lechwe. Also, the day-trip was going to be long enough and adding in a wild shoebill chase would just make it even longer and get us back to Wasa Lodge very late, so we said no, we don’t want to look for shoebills.

 

Although we were all keen to go to Bangweulu, at the end of our bat day we were still debating the wisdom of doing the trip, as Kyle didn’t know for sure what state the road was in, how long it might take to get there or even if we would get there at all, however, he discussed it with the lead guide at Wasa, who was a good friend of his and knew the way (I forget his name) and then also with someone from AP to get an update on the road conditions. In the end we decided we should go for it, we would be taking our Wasa guide Lewis with us, since he lives in one of the villages in Bangweulu, we hoped his local knowledge would help. Although we had said that we wouldn’t look for shoebills, AP were still suggesting we could do this if we wanted, we decided to play it by ear and decide when we got there if there was any point in trying to look for shoebills, I was conscious that Roger would be keen to see one, so didn't want to veto it, if there might be some possibility of success, but I was pretty sure there wasn't. Of course, in order to get to the floodplains at the right time in the morning to photograph the lechwe would necessitate another very early 03:30 wake up, but I was confident that it would be worth it and another great adventure.

 

 

 

Edited by inyathi

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BRACQUENE

@inyathi@offshorebirder

 

Even if your report shows it is not  exactly the ideal place to stay during the beginning of the rain season , it remains for me an absolutely essential part of the Zambian wildlife       scene ! Fascinating and thanks for sharing !

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inyathi

@BRACQUENE Thanks.

 

One thing I forgot to mention in my bit about Wasa Lodge, is on the walk to my tent I noticed that there was a tsetse fly trap beside the road, I assumed this meant that there should be very few tsetse flies around Wasa, but that it might mean, that there must be a fair few tsetse flies in the rest of Kasanka, however, I don't know if it was due the season, but we hardly encountered any at all, just one or two I would think, in fact the entire safari was almost tsetse free, I don't recall encountering any anywhere else on the trip.

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BRACQUENE

@inyathi @offshorebirder

 

You should have seen my legs after coming back from an very dry Kafue last September as I had some allergic reaction to the bites  ; worst was the treeline on the Busanga Plains but  Nanzilha Plains was almost as bad ,  but that’s Africa !

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inyathi

@BRACQUENE Some of the worst tsetses I've encountered were in the miombo woodland in Kafue when driving to the Busanga Plains, but that was some years ago and I've been to plenty of other parts of Africa since and had flies just as bad or even worse, which at the time I wouldn't have imagined was possible. On that last Zambia safari, while staying at Lunga River Camp in Kafue, at the end of a game drive we would arrive back in camp and the guide would jump out and spray the whole car with Doom, before you'd even had a chance to get out, because of his love of chemical weapons I nicknamed him Saddam Hussein. This is why I was perhaps a little surprised not to encounter many tsetses this time.   

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BRACQUENE

@inyathi

 

At Nanzilha the  guides burnt elephant dung at the back of the vehicle when in tsetse fly areas. It worked rather well to keep the flies away !

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inyathi
Posted (edited)

Bangweulu Wetlands – where the water meets the sky.

 

It’s a long drive from Wasa Lodge to Bangweulu, we needed to leave at around 04:00 to ensure that we got there in good time. It is dirt road all of the way, but it wasn’t too bad perhaps because it doesn’t have loads of big trucks driving on it. The direct road that we took goes through the miombo woodland passes by Lake Waka-Waka which I marked on the map in post 48, we’d feared that if the weather had been very wet it might have rendered the road impassable in places, the African Park’s website describes this route as dry season only, and we were clearly at the end of the dry season, and had experienced a fairly major rain storm the day before at Wasa Lodge, but the information from the AP guys in Bangweulu was that we should be okay. Fortunately, this proved to be the case, this may have been because there was almost no one else on the road to churn it up, so it is clearly not that well used, although there are lots of little villages all along the route.

 

Remarkably, whilst driving through the woodland we happened to spot a dwarf bittern right beside the road, this was all the more remarkable for me, because these birds are really not that easy to see, yet I’d had almost exactly the same thing happen whilst driving through the rainforest of the Ankasa Conservation Area in Ghana, only on that occasion the bittern was sat right in the middle of the road, however, when I photographed it, it was right beside the road much as this one was. Although I took plenty of shots with my 100-400 mm I also for amusement took a wide-angle shot. 

 

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Although I did get some reasonable unobstructed shots of the dwarf bittern, here's one taken by Nate which is just that bit better than any of mine.

 

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Dwarf_Bittern_road-to-Bangweulu1_11-26-2019_13x12b by offshorebirder2, on Flickr

 

The drive was quite interesting and the miombo woodland was beautiful even if it wasn’t entirely pristine because of all the people living in it, fortunately it really didn’t rain much as this might have made driving difficult, so we were able to make good time as we didn’t stop much, so most of the photos I took were just shot through the windscreen as we were driving along.

 

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We did stop very briefly as we were crossing a small dambo, as well as a few birds it had lots of clumps of beautiful vlei lilies.

 

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Vlei lily (Crinum macowanii

 

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Dambo 

 

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We eventually reached the entrance gate into Bangweulu Wetlands just before 07:30, the trouble with taking photos on the move is that they aren't always that well focused.   

 

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Bangweulu Wetlands is not a national park, but a Game Management Area and is managed by African Parks in partnership with the DNPW, the distinction is important because it means that it still has large numbers of people living in it, which would not be allowed in a national park. This makes it a very important conservation area, because every conservation measure that African Parks introduce has to take into account the views and needs of the people, AP’s success so far in balancing the needs of the wildlife and the people, should make Bangweulu Wetlands a model of how people and wildlife can live together. After signing in, we still had a long drive to get to the floodplains around Chikuni where we hoped to find the black lechwe (Kobus leche smithemani) a subspecies of lechwe that is unique to Bangweulu.

 

Bangweulu Wetlands

 

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Family bike ride, Zambia

 

We reached our destination sometime at around 08:45, which was very good timing and earlier than I had thought we might get there, although still quite early it was already hot, as we drove out onto the floodplain the heat shimmer was producing mirages in the distance.

 

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Within these mirages we could just make out long lines of small dark distorted blobs, although we were confident we'd found what we had come for, it was hard to tell what they were until we started to get a lot closer and could begin to see their proper forms emerge, soon they had transformed from distorted blobs into a multitude of antelopes, we could now see that there were herds of them everywhere.

 

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Black lechwe

 

I will now hand things back to @offshorebirder before returning to post more photos

Edited by inyathi

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offshorebirder
Posted (edited)

 

I am glad @inyathi posted some photos of the roads, forest and dambos on the  way to Bangweulu.  I neglected to take many photos on the drive and the ones I did came out poorly.

 

After our excellent day at Kasanka, at 3:45 the morning of November 27 we gathered with the head guide at Wasa (whose name escapes me unfortunately) to consult about road conditions leading to Bangweulu Wetlands.  The guide said he knew someone had successfully used the route past Lake Waka Waka the day before and it was not too bad.  So we decided to go for it and when we got to the Chikuni Research Post, we would inquire about current status of the Shoebill before finalizing our plans. 

 

The round-trip distance and time was daunting.  The head guide said that it takes almost five hours to drive from Wasa to Bangweulu, but "knowing how you drive Kyle, four hours".  We all had a good laugh, knowing exactly what he meant - safe with a brisk pace.

 

I had long wanted to visit Bangweulu Wetlands, which need no introduction here.  So an early rise was no problem.  When we reached the highway, we turned north but soon turned off to the east at Namilika Kawa onto a dirt road.  Proceeding for quite a while, we drove through miombo forests of varying quality.  We ran into a truck with African Parks staff  inside - they had just come from Chikuni and reported the roads were passable.  Hooray!

 

We drove on and on through miombo woodland and suddenly someone (Kyle I think) spotted a DWARF BITTERN perched on a log lying on the ground near the road!  Kyle deftly stopped beside the bird without much disturbance.  We kept quiet and tried to move slowly if at all.  The bittern stayed frozen, confident its camouflage would conceal it.  The bird was too close for my 400mm lens to focus on, so I slowly turned and dug another camera + lens from my bag in the pile of luggage  behind us.  It was a 100-400 mm zoom lens on a Canon 7DmkII - not the best low-light choice but all I could use under the circumstances.   The early hour and cloudy conditions did not help the photography efforts.

 

Eventually the bittern relaxed and just sat there roosting by the road.  

 

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Perhaps it was waiting for frogs, or small insect & mammal flood refugees following near-daily rains.  The tiny bittern held fast as we drove off and we were relieved not to have flushed it.   We did not see it on our return.  

 

Eventually we passed lake Waka Waka and then turned left (north) driving for many miles past scattered tiny villages, on causeways across dambos, and eventually reached the somewhat larger village of Chiundaponde.  We passed through Chiundaponde, bearing right and crossing the Moboshi River, then turned left (north) onto a much smaller track.  Within 100 yards or so, we came to an official looking Bangweulu Wetlands gate and scout outpost where Kyle checked in and asked after current road conditions in various areas.  The young female scout was very helpful and radioed ahead to the manager of the research camp that we would be interested in a brief chat.  

 

I think the gate was a little under two hours' drive from Lake Waka Waka, which was around an hour from Wasa Lodge.  After the gate we drove another hour or so and made a quick stop at the end of Lewis' driveway.   Several children (he said only three were his) ran to see him while cheering and shrieking.  Lewis was not scheduled  to return home for another six weeks and wanted to make a quick stop  to drop off some earnings with his wife.  How could we refuse?

 

Eventually we reached a road that led left towards Nsobe Campsite and then  the miombo woodlands ended and a vast grassy floodplain began.  We drove onward and enjoyed huge flocks of Abdim's Storks - scattered on the ground but even more soaring on thermals along with a few vultures. Then we saw some skittish Burchell's Zebras and then distant herds of Black Lechwe.  Despite the heat  shimmer it was very good viewing of hundreds of Lechwe.  They were not bunches in dense herds - sort of scattered linear groups.  We saw thousands of Lechwe all told during the day - difficult to say how many, since we backtracked and they moved around a lot.

 

Here are a few photos of a couple of males and then a herd shot

 

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We saw some large dense herds of Tessebe, with many youngsters but they did not allow anywhere near a close approach and we did not press things for fear of spooking them.   There were also some African Savanna Buffalo - on the range map of Buffalo the green dot in northern Zambia is the greater Bangweulu population.  

 

A Side-striped Jackal did not like the looks of us and ran quickly away but the Hooded Vulture and Lappet-Faced Vultures we saw did not seem to mind us.  

 

Then Lewis showed us how to drive along the edges of the wetter marsh and we had some very nice birding and picked up several species for our trip.   There were trenches and short earthworks everywhere we had to meander around.  We gathered from Lewis it was to corral fish when high waters were receding. 

 

After leaving the floodplain, on a finger of higher ground jutting out into the lowlands, the first village we reached was Ngungwa which immediately blended into  Muwele.  They were essentially linear, like communities on barrier islands are arranged.

 

 

Here  is a surreptitious iPhone video of the village:   

 

 


Not long after we left the Bangweulu gate, the skies opened and a ferocious rain started.  A stream formed in the road, which was lower than the surrounding woodlands.  The water was running downhill, back towards Bangweulu.  We were driving uphill on a submerged clay road, against the current but Kyle did admirably at the wheel.   

 

49327585962_5460cfb859_o.jpg

 

Even though it was a long drive, we had a grand time at Bangweulu Wetlands and I would like to visit again someday.  It would be nice to be there at first light and be able to have good light before the heat shimmer gets ripping.

 

We arrived back at Wasa and the film crew was still there, judging  by their drive arrays on the charging table in the corner of the inside dining area.  They were using 4-disk Areca arrays.


DriveArrays.jpg.c0f2acacd3a6c3e337dabd53b893bbe1.jpg

 

 

Edited by offshorebirder

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AKR1

Gentlemen, just wanted to say what an excellent report with lots of details, superb photography and great practical information. Thanks very much. 

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