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


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You are too kind @linjudy- really.  The birds in flight images in this topic may show good feather detail, but most are soft in focus or otherwise flawed.


As far as advice - I like using the setting with four focal points, rather than just one in the center.  Both Canon and Nikon have this feature but Nikon seems much better on autofocus these days, including birds in flight.   Sometimes I also try and prefocus on something about the same distance as the bird, to reduce time and focus wandering.   And aim for a very high shutter speed - 1/2000 or more if possible, certainly over 1/1000 at a minimum.  When doing BIF I also use spot-metering to try and get the right exposure of the bird's plumage against whatever background.   


I hope these amateur tips help - I can't claim to be any kind of expert photographer. 

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Two more videos from July 24 - the first is the Lufupa River, just past where we had the Pel's Fishing-Owl encounter. 





The second is the male lion approaching the outskirts of Musekese Camp.   Sorry for the partial finger over the iPhone lens (kicking self).


The Lion started out well back from where shown - I was shooting a DSLR with 500 mm lens and he kept walking at us, got too close for any camera, and was walking right past, so I hurriedly pulled out my iPhone since he was too darned close.   Nice problem to have I suppose.





Edited by offshorebirder
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23 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

Sorry for the partial finger over the iPhone lens (kicking self).

If I had a £ for every time my finger has photobombed an otherwise good photo, I would have my own private reserve!! :lol: :lol:


There's something very tranquil about the river video. Didn't quite appreciate the scale of it until seeing your photos and videos (having only looked at maps)-  so thank you!


Edited by Toxic
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I have so many photos to process, I am only going through a few for each day to flesh out this trip report.   Otherwise it would take weeks for me to complete the TR...


July 25 was another chilly, windy day.   The wind is rarely one's friend in the field - it makes both birds and mammals nervous and often they are less approachable as a result.    Kyle and I planned one more morning game drive; Hans was going to join Robin Pope's party for a bush walk.  Then after lunch, Kyle and I would do a game drive transfer to Ntemwa-Busanga Camp with Ason driving.   Hans had a few more days at Musekese before heading to Tusk and Mane in Lower Zambezi NP - several people we encountered were combining Tusk and Mane and Musekese.


On our game drive, we went through some nice miombo forest on our way to an isolated pan where we hoped to find Sable or Roan coming to drink.  On the way, we saw a family of Bush Pigs - they were shy but we got decent views and documentary photos.



There was a solitary old hippo in the pan - it was grumpy and warned us off with a mouth gape.




There was also a Hammerkop foraging in the shallows at the edge of the pan.



After birding around the pan and having a break for coffee and biscuits, we continued through some nice grassland areas with scattered trees.  We enjoyed multiple impala herds, Lelwel's Hartebeest, Oribi, and plentiful Puku.   












Birding was also good.







We headed back to camp a little before lunch to pack and do a little charging of items.  On the way we saw Robin's vehicle leaving and waved goodbye to them - such nice safari companions.   A new group had arrived in camp and was in the main area - three agents from the USA, a gentleman and two ladies.   The gentleman showed me an incredible photo sequence he had just shot in South Luangwa National Park - of a Nile Crocodile and a Spotted Hyena snapping at each other and disputing a carcass.   At first the croc seemed to win, but then the hyena bit it on the snout / end of the upper jaw.   This startled the croc and it left the prize to the hyena.  


Lunch was very nice; afterwards we said goodbye to the Musekese owners and staff.  I can't wait to return!  


Then we caught a boat ride to where a vehicle was parked near the airstrip across the Kafue River and started our game drive to Ntemwa.  Tsetse flies were in evidence for the first 1/4 to 1/3 of the drive but they were not bad or a real bother.  



Next time I want to allocate more of the day to the game drive transfer between the two camps.   We could not spend as much time as we wanted with a couple of really good bird parties.  In one of them, we heard a Spotted Creeper (a major target of mine) but were unable to see it.  


Brown-backed Honeybird.  ID tip:  Honeybirds have thin, pointed bills and Honeyguides have thicker, blunt bills.



After some good stops for birding, Ason spotted a leopard in some thick miombo forest just north of Moshi Junction, where the first sign to Treetops indicates a turn off the main road.  It was a female and we could see she had a very full belly.  Ason expertly handled the vehicle so we could keep track of her as she was on the move.  Then she paused in some heavy cover, before turning and going back the way she came.   









And then we saw a cub!    Before long we saw a second!   One cub was more shy than the other and stuck close to its mother.   They were not small cubs - several months old but not yet a year.   


Mother and cub - look closely


The full belly was obviously from food, since the mother would not be pregnant again with cubs of that age.  Ason and Kyle said she had collected the cubs and was now either taking them to the kill, or to a water source.  





This is the only photo I managed that shows all three leopards but the quality is obviously not the greatest.




We followed them long enough to be sure of getting decent photos of the mother's face and hopefully at least one of the cubs, then we left them in peace.   What an exciting encounter.


We really had to get moving at that point, since we had spent a good bit of time with bird parties and the leopards.   We were further delayed when we came to a couple of bull elephants blocking the road as they fed on a tree and took a dust bath.  Eventually we could pass and we hurried along without stopping to admire multiple game herds.  We did stop for me to photograph a young male Bushbuck in fading light.  


Bull elephants greeting each other (listen to the rumble at the 0:06 mark)





Arriving in Ntemwa-Busanga camp, we were greeted by Wilton and Gilly as well as some camp staff.   Two guests were in camp and described some exciting encounters that day and the previous afternoon.  The guests were named Elsa and Leise - they were a mother and daughter from Germany.  We gathered that Elsa's husband was a German diplomat and Leise was visiting from Brussels where she worked for the European Union.  They were very nice and I enjoyed their company.  


It was COLD and windy over dinner - the cold front from South Africa was showing no signs of abating.  


Edited by offshorebirder
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2 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

There was a solitary old hippo in the pan - it was grumpy and warned us off with a mouth gape.



Love this shot - would not want to get on the wrong side of him!!

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I forgot to include this photo of Kyle doing a track tutorial - it was a Galago track.   He was pointing to the lone impression off to the side of the rest of the track.  Turns out that is from the thumb of a Galago.



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Drat - forgot the photos of the young male Bushbuck.  





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Really enjoying following this @offshorebirder- your dialogue, great photos and the videos.

Great guiding of Ason to spot the leopard in that miombo thicket and then to see cubs as well. - how good was that?!

Glad you posted the bushbuck photos - beautiful.

Your video of the drive through the miombo woodland reminded me of many drives I've experienced through miombo in other parts of Kafue. Thanks for taking me back there.

Am thinking your hartebeest is Lichtensteins.

Looking forward to next instalment.


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@offshorebirderthanks for posting this TR. Congrats on your first porcupine and honey badger sightings and the Schalow's Turaco and Pel's Fishing Owl photos. These 2 birds have so far eluded me. What an impressive number of finfoot and leopards.

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13 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

It was COLD and windy over dinner - the cold front from South Africa was showing no signs of abating.  


Fascinating that those conditions in Ntemwa were identical to those we experienced in september 2019 ; splendid pictures of the male bushbuck by the way !

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Thanks for the kind words @Toxic, @Caracal, @Treepol and @BRACQUENE.


@Caracal - thank you for the Hartebeest correction.   Yes, it was amazing guiding by Ason to spot AND follow the non-habituated leopard and her cubs so well without unduly disturbing them.


@Treepol - the Schalow's Turacos in Zambia seem much easier to see well than in East Africa.  That has been my experience anyway - have had good looks in multiple locations on both of my Zam safaris and only poor looks on 1 safari in Kenya.



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Thoroughly enjoyed this! Great photographs of African Finfoot and flurry of leopards.

Makes me think of changing my plans for South Luangwa for Kafue.



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Really enjoying this report. I had to cancel plans to go to Musekese this year, your report is making me even keener to go next year. Waiting impatiently for your next post!

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@offshorebirderThank you so much for your fabulous trip report and amazing photos. I'll be spending 10 nights in Kafue in October. I'll be staying for four nights in Musekese, three in Nanzihla Plains, and three in Chisa Busanga,a new camp. I'll also be going to Liuwa Plains and staying for 4 nights in King Lewanika Camp. I'm also going to Grootbos in South Africa for 5 nights and Mashatsu in Botswana for 5. 

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3 hours ago, optig said:

Thank you so much for your fabulous trip report and amazing photos. I'll be spending 10 nights in Kafue in October. I'll be staying for four nights in Musekese, three in Nanzihla Plains, and three in Chisa Busanga,a new camp. I'll also be going to Liuwa Plains and staying for 4 nights in King Lewanika Camp. I'm also going to Grootbos in South Africa for 5 nights and Mashatsu in Botswana for 5. 


Wow - what an itinerary!

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Ack - I forgot to mention the Blue Duiker we saw on the transfer/game drive.   It was after the leopard family and not long after the bull elephants blocking the road.  


We were driving through a forested area where the road runs quite close to the (Lufupa?) river and going slowly due to poor road conditions.  Suddenly a small, dark gray-brown antelope dashed across the road from right to left.   Kyle and Ason called "Blue Duiker!"   as I simultaneously said "Suni".    Well, it looked like a Suni to my less experienced eyes.  


Unfortunately no chance for a photo but we got fairly good looks, albeit brief ones.  

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July 26 was a chilly morning but hot coffee and warm porridge helped .  Our plan was to do an all-day game drive around Busanga Plains and take a packed lunch.   The other guests did the same - everyone was hard core today.  Gilly was guiding the ladies in one vehicle,  In ours, Ason drove and Kyle and Wilton spotted.  Another fantastic guide-to-guest ratio.   



Gilly had seen and heard Bronze-winged Coursers along a track near camp two nights previously, so we spent a little time looking - but did not find them.  Moving on towards the plains, we passed herds of Wildebeest, Zebras and scattered pairs and trios of Oribi.  We also saw some Sable but they were in a wooded area and not in the open yet.


One of the young Wildebeest was feeling frisky and kept capering and running back and forth.  





One of the Oribi had been resting, then she slowly rose and began grazing.






As we neared the airstrip, Ason and Kyle both said "Cheetah!" at the same time.   It was a collared individual and at first she was trying to sneak up on a pair of Oribi.  

Here is a wide area habitat shot to give some idea of the surroundings.




The Oribi spotted her, however, so she backtracked behind a tree-covered termite mound where she waited for things to calm down.   Eventually she started moving towards a small group of Warthog that included a subadult.  Then she went into stalking mode and our excitement level rose quickly.  A cheetah on the boil!





Due to the distance and the already-emerging heat shimmer, I did not bother trying to photograph or video the chase.   Instead I enjoyed it through my binoculars, which showed the action pretty well.   At first, the Cheetah trotted towards the young warthog, which did not seem alarmed.  It did not seem to think the cheetah was after it until the cheetah got closer and began running.   Then the warthog ran as fast as it could and the cheetah accelerated dramatically.  It was amazing to watch the cheetah at full stretch - I had only seen a Cheetah kill once, of a young impala, and it was not at full speed.  


The cheetah caught the young warthog and they went down out of sight in the tall grass.   We could tell the cheetah had it by the throat and could see the warthog's legs kicking.  One of the adult warthogs began trotting towards the scuffle - we worried the adult might break up the cheetah's kill.   But it did not continue approaching and the cheetah finished off its prey.  Then a nearby group of Wildebeest began advancing in a line, mobbing the predator.  In response, the cheetah carried its prey towards a tree-covered termite mound.   Then it began eating its prey in the shade.  What a sighting!






We decided not to approach the cheetah by off-roading and to come back later to see if we could refind it.  


As we passed the airstrip, we ran into the manager and a guide from Mukambi Plains Camp dropping off guests.  Ason and the guide huddled to share notes and Kyle introduced me to Brendan the manager, who was happy and surprised to see him up in Busanga.  Turns out Brendan is a cousin of Phil Jeffery - small world.  We talked about conditions and what birds and noteworthy mammals Brendan and his guides had been seeing recently.  I can't describe how happy it felt to be roaming Busanga Plains with such fine naturalists.    As we bid them goodbye, Brendan told me "you're in very good hands".   I thanked him and replied that I had been suspecting as much for a while.  


As we drove past a wooded area, I spotted a large cat dashing from the grasslands into the woods.  Pointing, I stammered "Lion - Leopard - not sure" as it dashed into cover.  Kyle and Wilton never got on it but Ason saw it and said it was a leopard.  Ason and Kyle said Leopards are hard to get good looks at in Busanga Plains compared to places like Musekese.


Then we came upon a herd of Sable at the edge of thick woods as they gave way to a more open grassy area.  




Before long, the grasslands became wetter, the grass shorter and we started seeing more Puku and our first Lechwe.  Then we came upon a sickly young lion.  



When we passed by again later, the little lion had moved on - we hoped it was with its pride and that its health would improve.   


Soon there was wildlife everywhere amid scattered small pools of water - mostly Red Lechwe and Puku, but also Cape Buffalo, Hippo, Nile Crocodile, and birds galore.  Wading birds included ridiculous numbers of Openbill Storks and smaller numbers of Wattled Cranes, Grey-crowned Cranes, Saddle-billed Storks, Yellow-billed Storks, Cattle Egrets, and more.  We also saw Red-capped Larks, Fullerborn's Longclaw, multiple groups of Southern Ground-Hornbills, Marsh Harrier, and more.  


We kept encountering hippos and crocs that were out of water with only a tiny bit of water nearby - nowhere near enough to submerge.  I guess they did not need it, as cool as the weather had been.






Again and again we found ourselves in places with 360-degree panoramas of game.  Here is one such place (apology for the iphone video quality) - the little hill obscures a section of game behind it.  





At a couple of stops we estimated thousands of Red Lechwe in view at once.  We saw lechwe leaping and splashing through the water and across little channels several times, but I was either late with the camera or the shots came out blurry.  Oh well, tomorrow was another day.


We spent some time searching for two male lions where the guide from Mukambi had seen them earlier - sadly they had gone to ground somewhere and ended up eluding us.  We explored some gorgeous habitat in the process, though.  I love wet grasslands and we explored some nice drying-out specimens.  They consisted of dense tall grass and were peppered with large termite mounds that supported several trees each.  Despite the tall grass, there were small herds of Puku, Zebra and Buffalo distributed throughout the area.  It occurred to me that it made quite the setup for lions.  But I also imagine that after several weeks the grass would be much more eaten and beaten down and things would be more open.


Later we had a flat tire not long after lunch but it did not delay us more than a few minutes.


After lunch we decided to work our way back towards the cheetah to see if we could get closer looks.  We also planned to look for Roan and Sable between there and camp once the afternoon light improved.  


We had just passed some fishermen on foot walking away from a newly-set fire (don't get me started), when we had another flat!   And the vehicle did not have a second spare.  Ason got on the radio to Gilly to see where they were - but they were a good distance from us.  So Ason and Wilton set off on foot for nearby Kasonso Camp to borrow a tire.   Kyle and I had fun birding on foot to pass the time - a few dozen Collared Pratincoles had been attracted to the line of advancing flames - catching insects fleeing the fire.   




Kyle and I also walked around in the grass and flushed some nice birds including Fulleborn's Longclaw, a flock of Quailfinch and a flock of Locust Finch.   The Locust Finches circled and stayed airborn for a while; I tried for some flight photos without much success.  Even with spot-metering and cranking up the exposure a few notches, they mostly came out as dark little blobs.  Kyle said he had never seen a really good photo of Locust Finch in flight - only mediocre ones.


Locust Finch



Before long, Ason and Wilton came riding up with a driver in a Kasonso vehicle.   We were borrowing a spare tire until the guys fixed Ntemwa's that night and we would return it the next day.  They quickly changed the tire and after I thanked the guy from Kasonso profusely (and slipped him a tip), we were on our way.   Less than an hour had passed since the flat and it was 3pm so we were in great shape time-wise.


Soon we came to a herd of Sable at the edge of the open grasslands and a grassy area with scattered trees.   




They did not seem inclined to move, and all started presenting "butt shots" so we decided to continue looking for roan and the cheetah.  


We found three of our targets within minutes of each other.  As we were approaching the last known cheetah location, to the right was a nice Common Reedbuck resting on the slope of a termite mound.  It was an alluring photo subject.  To the left, a small herd of Roan out in the grasslands beckoned.   The Roan won out, and we hoped the Reedbuck would stick around until we were finished with the roan and the cheetah.













The reedbuck eluded us on the way back to camp but we had some nice birding as a consolation prize.  


Dinner was very good again - how do they do it out in the wilderness?  The German ladies had done well that day, particularly with lions.  


Edited by offshorebirder
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I'm envious of that Blue Duiker sighting despite its brevity @offshorebirder and then you follow it up the next day with cheetah on the hunt plus sable, roan etc.


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I finally found a bit of time to catch up with ST reports, and discovered you saw a heck of a lot in Kafue/zambezi! Pels! wow what a great sighting. 


i find it incredulous that a seasoned ST-er, like yourself, has yet to see wild dogs, but glad that you saw your first badger (love those tenacious little fellas) and porcupine.  

I'm enjoying your bird photos a lot. and am very jealous of the very confiding finfoot - i've yet to take a decent shot of them. 


Musekese is awesome. Phil and Ty are awesome. 

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Thoroughly enjoying this trip report in a year of postponed trips for me. Thank you for so much detail on the camps and guides. This will be a great resource when I get around to planning a trip to Zambia in detail — it’s one of those places I keep shortlisting, but then, somehow, it continues to be pushed out. Your report is an emphatic reminder to bite the bullet, obviously!


So many wonderful sightings, but I have to agree with you that your photos of the confiding Finfoot and the Half-collared Kingfishers truly are special. Congrats, also, on the Pel’s. 

Looking forward to more!

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7 hours ago, Alexander33 said:

Thank you for so much detail on the camps and guides. This will be a great resource when I get around to planning a trip to Zambia in detail

Would like to echo this - Zambia is on my shortlist so hearing about the camps and guides is incredibly valuable.  

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