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Epic Zambia safari - Lower Zambezi National Park and Kafue National Park


offshorebirder

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offshorebirder

I am back in Lusaka after what multiple guides described as an 'epic' safari.   Kyle Branch of Tusk and Mane accompanied me throughout as a private guide - he said he has had clients that come on safaris 2-3 times per year for years who have not enjoyed some of the sightings we had.  I guess my wildlife karma was in order.

 

The guides and staff at Tusk and Mane's Kutali Camp in  Lower Zambezi NP and Jeffery and McKeith's Musekese + Ntemwa-Busanga camps in Kafue NP really outdid themselves.  It was very cold - abnormally so.  There was very heavy frost the next-to-last morning in Busanga.

 

We had 15 individual lions, 12 individual leopards, 1 cheetah in Busanga, lion hunt+kill start to finish (video obtained), cheetah hunt+kill from start to finish, mating leopards with the female's subadult offspring watching, Pel's Fishing-Owl on the Lufupa River, 20+ African Finfoot (great photos), Bronze-winged Courser at close range, 5-6 Half-collared Kingfishers (great photos), Honey Badger in Lower Zambezi NP, Blue Duiker, S. African Porcupine, Bush Pigs, long looks at African Wild Cat, male lion walking in the open at Musekese - growled at us when he saw us on the dining deck watching him, Leopard killed 2 Impala in camp at Tusk and Mane, very wild leopard and her 2 cubs on the drive from Musekese to Ntemwa (got photos of their faces for the Zambia Carnivore Project), thousands of Red Lechwe at Busanga plus Roan and Sable Herds, and a whole lot more.  We had 35 mammal species total and 13 antelope species.

 

I love Lower Zam NP and the Musekese area + Busanga Plains as well.   Busanga Plains really lived up to the hype.

 

Internet speeds are slow at the moment in my hotel but I will try and post a few reduced-size images.

 

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My flight home is tomorrow - not sure if I will be able to post another installment before I get home.

 

 

 

 

Edited by offshorebirder
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I am back in Lusaka after what multiple guides described as an 'epic' safari.   Kyle Branch of Tusk and Mane accompanied me throughout as a private guide - he said he has had clients that come on safa

Thanks for sharing those nuggets of information @Caracal and @Soukous  - everyone please feel free to chime in with similar input.   They help improve the trip report in my opinion - one of Safaritalk

Thanks for the kind words @Bush dog, @Tom Kellie, @Dave Williams, @JayRon, @Caracal, @ForWildlife, @michael-ibk, @Towlersonsafari, @Kitsafari and @BRACQUENE.  I had promised @Caracal that I would at l

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Bush dog

You were indeed blessed by the gods.  The only problem I see is that you will surely be dissapointed with your next safaris.  Well what can I say?  Great start perhaps?

Safe way back homme.

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Tom Kellie

~ @offshorebirder:

 

That Podica senegalens image is a showstopper.

 

What a magnificent safari! I'm so pleased for you.

 

Thank you for making time to upload these images.

 

           Tom K.

 

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Dave Williams

Must have been good if you couldn't wait to post! Finfoot and Pel's are way up on my list to photograph properly having seen them but only got poor record shots really. Wild Cat would be nice, so too would Porcupine. Sable...on my wish list too. It's never ending but bring on your report and make me green with envy!!!!

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JayRon

Sounds indeed like an epic safari ;), looking foward to the next chapter ....

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Caracal

Yes great photo indeed of the African Finfoot @offshorebirderand sounds like an amazing safari.

There is going to be much to enjoy in following this TR and I'm particularly keen to learn more about the Blue Duiker sighting.

Safe homeward travels.

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ForWildlife

Sounds epic! Looking forward to some great stories and photos!

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michael-ibk

Glad to hear you had a (very) successful trip, looking forward to the report.:)

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Towlersonsafari

Woo hoo! @offshorebirder

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Kitsafari

time flies when you have an epic safari. great shot of my nemesis, the finfoot. and pel's - what's there to be jealous of??

 

safe journey home and we await for your next post. 

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BRACQUENE

@offshorebirder

 

Welcome back Nathan and what an adventure you had !!  I am so busy with my own safari report ( also a private one to remember ) and my last month working before retirement , that I only saw this now but you will have my full attention as you continue your TR  :)

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offshorebirder
Posted (edited)

Thanks for the kind words @Bush dog, @Tom Kellie, @Dave Williams, @JayRon, @Caracal, @ForWildlife, @michael-ibk, @Towlersonsafari, @Kitsafari and @BRACQUENE.  I had promised @Caracal that I would at least start this trip report from Lusaka, hence the quick beginning.

 

The genesis for this safari was a conversation on our 2019 Zambia trip that @inyathi, Roger Smith, and I had with Kyle Branch about a potential return to Zambia.  We asked when would be a good time of year to come, knowing our focus on both birds and mammals.  Kyle repied that May would be a good time to visit, because things are still green and birds active, yet the rains are over and the climate is nice.  And good viewing of game and predators.  We also considered that May leads to June, when Musekese Camp and others open.   Musekese seemed like a great place for birds and mammals we wanted, with possibilities for rare and exciting river birds.  And we still wanted to get up to the Mwinilunga area, to look for Congolese birds in Mushitus (thick riverine forest)  and rainforest remnants.  We also considered southern Kafue National Park - somewhere like Nanzhila Plains - with its mopane and miombo forests and plains.  We missed Black-cheeked Lovebirds and good looks at several dry-country birds last trip and we also still want to see Miombo Pied Barbet and the good mammal possibilities there.  

 

The problem was that Covid altered any nascent plan we had.  We all decided to confer once we got our Covid vaccine jabs and travel was safe+possible.  I got mine in early April and immediately reached out to the guys, as well as Kyle and Roy Glasspool my agent at Bedrock Africa.  Long story short, Rob could not come due to the UK's draconian quarantine requirements upon return and Roger could not make it for multiple reasons.   But I decided to press ahead on my own.  Part due to my desperation to get back on safari, and part to support the people and wildlife who depend on income from the safari business.

 

Lodging and guiding options in the Mwinulunga area are in a state of flux right now so I decided that will need to wait until next trip.  Not long into our planning process, Roy said that Tyrone McKeith advised coming in late July, since the super-abundant rains that had just finished had water levels unusually high.  So it was going to take longer than normal for things to get dried out and to their normal June-early July state.   Also, due to Covid's effects - Kyle and Luke at Tusk and Mane decided to delay their opening unil July, rather than the original June plan for 2021.   But T&M gave me green season rates in the high season to make up for the narrowing of options without May and June.  What tipped the balance towards my final itinerary - from one that might have included Nanzhila Plains Camp - was that J&M and T&M also teamed up to give me a deal on 11 nights at their 3 camps - starting with 4 nights at Tusk and Mane, then 4 nights at Musekese and ending with 3 nights at Ntemwa-Busanga.  J&M were also very kind in offering me a private vehicle, decided on a day-to-day basis at each of their camps at a significant discount.  All the operators are really taking extra special care of guests nowadays with all the Covid carnage.  Another deciding factor was that I could get a cool game-drive vehicle transfer from Musekese to Ntemwa, rather than chartering another flight (by myself) to Nanzhila Plains.

 

A lot of the operators used the quiet time in 2020 to upgrade infrastructure, which creates important work for the staff to do. The camps have all had upgrades to their tents (some major).   All of them did work on things like roads, river crossings, firebreaks and other physical infrastructure.  And back-of-house infrastructure was also improved.

 

July is looking very busy indeed for J&M and T&M, with August and September looking slower at present.  Maybe things will loosen up for key countries and some late bookings will come in.  

 

Before getting down to the narrative with photos and videos, I will describe each camp and show some photos.  

 

Tusk and Mane  https://tuskandmane.com/  is owned by two young safari guides who nevertheless have extensive experience guiding and managing safari camps in Zambia and southern Africa.  Kyle Branch and Luke Evans are two of the very up-and-coming "young guns" on the Zambia safari scene.  I knew from my last safari how good Kyle was as a guide on both mammals and birds: 

 

https://www.safaritalk.net/topic/20513-zambia-an-off-the-beaten-track-adventure-in-search-of-special-birds-and-mammals/

 

I was fortunate Kyle happily agreed to guide me during their high season, with a full camp during part of my trip.  The saving grace was that Kyle and Luke have hired a guide whom they used to work with at Sausage Tree Camp in Lower Zambezi, who came to them (if I am getting it right) after a gig at Shenton's camps in South Luangwa.  Shane Hodgson is a guide from Zimbabwe and is one super-sharp safari guide!   And I do not say this sort of thing lightly.  With Shane and Luke covering, along with Josh and a couple of other local guides (who back in the day did their training with Kyle and Rory McDougal of Bedrock Africa), Tusk and Mane would be able to do without Kyle for the 7 nights in Kafue NP.  Josh is one heck of a boatman and spotter who spotted a female lion and a Honey Badger for us on the last morning.

 

In my personal opinion, their total flexibility and superior guiding make T&M the go-to choice for Lower Zambezi NP.

 

Tusk and Mane operates two camps on the Zambezi River - Chula Island camp on Chula Island and Kutali camp on Kulefu Island.  These are very nice fly camps collectively referred to as "Tusk and Mane".  Guests staying the recommended 4-5 night minimum usually shift between camps after 2-3 days.   They were also going to open a camp on the mainland at a spring emerging from the escarpment, but Covid put those plans on hold till April 2022 I think I recall Kyle saying.   The plan has in mind that one could stay at one camp or shuttle between two camps on a 3-4 day visit, or visit all three on a 5-6+ day visit.

 

This year due to Covid reductions in visitors, they are currently operating Kutali Camp - that is what my trip report will cover.  It is set in a mature Winterthorn forest - the canopy provides nice shade for the tents with great potential for scenic wide-angle photos.  Some big bull elephants come in to eat pods during the dry season, though they were near the edge of the forest and not quite in camp yet during my stay.  

 

Both these forested "islands" where the camps are located are only separated from the mainland by a seasonal channel that is so narrow and shallow most of the year that animals can cross over at will.

 

I think after 2021 Tusk and Mane will reopen Tafara Springs Camp - a camp at a spring in the Rufunsa Valley at the foot of the escarpment.

 

All the camps were serving breakfast by the edge of the camp fire - we were happy for the warmth.  Everyone from Lusaka to Lower Zambezi to Kafue said this was the coldest they ever remember Zambia in July.  

 

Main area at Kutali Camp (All I seem to have is a predawn night photo)

 

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A view (from the boat launch) of the main area and campfire + breakfast area - set at the edge of the Winterthorn forest on a bluff on the Zambezi River where the bluff falls away to a lower floodplain.  

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View of the floodplain (stretching back to the left) and the Zambezi riverfront from the campfire + breakfast area (Shane is sitting and I am standing).  Tents number one and number two are in the background.  Between the breakfast area and tent #2 is where a "machine" of a female leopard killed an Impala each of the first two mornings I was in camp, and a third one the day after we left.

 

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The tents at Tusk and Mane had these neat velcro covers for the intersection where the 3 door zippers meet.  To help keep bugs or little critters from finding a way in. 

 

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Front view of a tent at Kutali (mine was tent 6 - all the way on the end farthest from the main area.  

 

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Attached ensuite bathroom.

 

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Blufftop view out the front of the tent - of the Zambezi River and a couple of side channels coming in from the floodplain.

 

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I will post again soon with camp info and photos from Musekese and Ntemwa.   The Ntema tent improvements were really cool  - they now have rooms with thatch walls and high thatched roofs, with two front windows with flexible reed window blinds that lower to create a hide for watching or photographing the wildlife that strolls though camp.   And ensuite bathrooms of course - with raised deck flooring.

 

Edited by offshorebirder
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Tom Kellie

~ @offshorebirder: Thank you for the illustrated introduction to your accommodations.

 

It's helpful to see such images along with the description, in order to better grasp the nature of the in camp experience.

 

It sounds as though you enjoyed a superb experience thanks to your fine guides.

 

        Tom K.

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Caracal
1 hour ago, offshorebirder said:

I had promised @Caracal that I would at least start this trip report from Lusaka, hence the quick beginning.

And what a great start @offshorebirder- like @BRACQUENEsaid you have my full attention too. I know I'm going to enjoy it all.

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Toxic

Thanks for sharing @offshorebirder- great photos and excited to see what comes next.  

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offshorebirder
Posted (edited)

 

Musekese Camp in the northern half of Kafue National Park was my next stop - it has often been mentioned on Safaritalk and needs little introduction after @michael-ibk's  and @Zim Girl's excellent trip report:   https://www.safaritalk.net/topic/21322-the-lords-of-luangwa-and-the-kings-of-kafue/page/7/?tab=comments#comment-320549

 

And @BRACQUENE also covered Musekese in his excellent treatise on the camps of Kafue NP.

 

The tents were upgraded seriously in 2020 and now include plumbing connected to their borehole - one can safely drink water from the tap in your room!   And they have those quick-acting gas heaters mounted on the hot water pipe; one can take sinfully long showers at any desired temperature, run hot or warm water for shaving or face washing in the basin, etc.

 

I was in Leadwood Tent, which is the last tent out, at the far end from the main area and dining deck.  Ty and Kyle told me this used to be where Musekese's guide tent was located.  Now there are two guide tents behind tent #1 near the solar farm.

 

Musekese's current location is their second - the 'old camp' was on the other side of the lagoon where a game drive trail still runs.

 

A view of the 'bedroom' area of the tent

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A view of the entry foyer and closet + writing desk, with the bathroom beyond.

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View of the "front porch" of Leadwood Tent:

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The bathroom with laundry hamper.   All the camps had a maximum turnaround time on laundry of 24 hours and often got the clean + folded clothes back late in the same day.

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An after-lunch view of game in Eden Lagoon from inside Leadwood tent.   The iphone photo through the screen is poor but there were Puku, Waterbuck, and Impala.

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Two of Musekese's game drive vehicles.

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A view of Musekese's breakfast area by the campfire.   In the photo, Phil Jeffery is preparing coffee and Robin Pope (yes, THE Robin Pope) is having some porridge.   Robin and his wife Jo were in camp during my stay, along with Robin's relative Jeremy and his wife - whose name I am ashamed I cannot recall at the moment.   Robin and Jo are very nice and laid-back; super-knowledgeable yet unassuming and not prone to acting like the safari celebrities they are.   

Musekese_campefire_breakfast_area.jpg.a27b9e110b53d422e0d87b60a050b0df.jpg

Edited by offshorebirder
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offshorebirder
Posted (edited)

Ntemwa-Busanga Camp, or Ntemwa as everyone calls it, is located on the southern end of the Busanga Plains area.   It is at the edge of a forested area near the Lufupa River, with nearby grasslands and pans.  Ntemwa was perfectly located for my purposes - closer to the Roan and Sable herds I was after, yet a bit farther from the Lechwe herds plus Lion prides that many people come to Busanga to see.

 

The main area consists of a raised platform under a roof - it is very comfortable and has charging stations, a bar, dining table, sofas and chairs, and a table + chairs overlooking a great view of a grassy area between camp and the river.

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During our stay, we ate lunch at the dining table in the main area, breakfast by the campfire, and dinner at a table set up beside a metal 'fireplace' with  Musekese Conservation logo etched into it in a neat pattern.

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Ntemwa game drive vehicle - setting up for tea while we waited for my flight at the airstrip.   

 

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Here are some views of the new tents - I suppose they would be called bandas in East Africa.    

 

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Note the two windows with chairs and flexible blinds that can be raised or lowered to make a hide out of the tent:

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Some views of the attached bathroom:

 

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I really liked Ntemwa-Busanga Camp - next time I am definitely staying more than 3 nights!

 

Edited by offshorebirder
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BRACQUENE

@offshorebirder

 

It is incredible how those two camps have changed since I was there in September 2019 not in the least Ntemwa ; I don’t even recognize the tents anymore who have been upgraded and as you rightly emphasize it is perfect for roan , sable and wildebeest herds near to the tree line ( tsetse included) but for those who want to see the lechwe and the local lion pride it is quite a distance 

Thanks for sharing Nate !

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Biko

@offshorebirderThanks for the extensive information about the camps, they look like great places to stay. I am looking forward to the rest of your TR.

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Soukous

It does indeed sound like an epic safari Nate. 

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Bush dog

Robin and Jo are indeed very nice and humble persons.  I met them a few times when they were still owning RPS.  As a keen birder, you must have been very happy to meet one of the best birds' specialist in Africa.

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offshorebirder

Thanks @Biko and @Soukous.

 

@Bush dog - you are so right.   Robin can do many bird calls without the aid of smart phones or other technology.  When we were birding around camp one day while waiting for lunch to be served, he pulled some nice birds out of a mixed flock by imitating the whistle of an Orange-breasted Bush Shrike.   Then we saw a Schalow's Turaco skulking mostly out of view in a thick bush.   Robin cupped his hands to his mouth and made the most amazing croaking imitation of the Turaco's call.   The Schalow's hopped right out on an open branch and gave me a good photo opportunity.  I was floored.

 

The birding is really good around camp at Musekese - one of their many attractions.

 

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Soukous

@offshorebirderI assume you went armed with your 'new' Nikon camera gear; were you happy with the way it behaved?

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offshorebirder

Absolutely @Soukous.   Though full confession:   somehow the D850 got set on crop mode for part of the safari - I was stupid not to realize it sooner.   But it was a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things.

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offshorebirder

A quick additional word about guiding - I was super-impressed by the guiding teams at Tusk and Mane, Musekese, and Ntemwa.   I mentioned the T&M team in a previous post - the guides working for Jeffery and McKeith were also fabulous.   Of course Phil and Ty are superb, but Ason, John D, and Gilbert (everyone calls him 'Gilly') are also outstanding. 

 

Ason had some incredible spottings of wildlife - one of the best was spotting a skulking female leopard on the drive from Musekese to Ntemwa.   It was in thick Miombo woodland just north of the Moshi junction (where the first sign points to Treetops).   We watched the female slinking north through the undergrowth - turned out she was going to collect her two cubs and bring them presumably to a kill - she had an extremely full belly.   Ason skillfully drove us slightly offroad then back on the road to follow them long enough for me to get photos of their faces for the Zambia Carnivore Project.   We ran into a couple of their researchers a little later and they were excited to hear of it - the leopards were unknown to them.   Kyle and I also enjoyed having Ason drive us on a full-day outing around Busanga Plains.   Ason and Kyle simultaneously spotted the female Cheetah near the Busanga airstrip that we later watched stalk and kill a young warthog.  

 

Gilbert was also outstanding.  In addition to being a supernatural spotter, he really knows how to handle a vehicle and approach wildlife without spooking or annoying it.  Gilly also knows his birds very well.

 

* During the Covid "off season"  Ason and Gilbert guided a BBC film crew shooting the Hyena installment of "Dynasties II" in Liuwa Plain National Park.   That tells you something about their caliber.  Ason has hair-raising stories to tell about changing a tire at 2am while surrounded by 18 Hyenas.  

 

Unfortunately I did not get to enjoy John D's guiding in the field, but it was enthralling listening to him tell stories.   

 

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