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


offshorebirder

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offshorebirder
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I forgot to mention that Kyle had to depart a day early for an important business meeting.  He offered profuse apologies, but I told him not to worry about it - that I knew he would not ask unless it was very important.  Besides, I felt myself lucky to have spirited Kyle away during the high season in the first place.


So the morning of July 27, Ason and Kyle were driving Elsa and Liese to Musekese and I would be in the capable hands of Gilly.  Wilton had some things to attend to in camp that morning.  I wanted to have an encounter with Busanga's famous large male lions and get some good Lechwe photos, so Gilly and I rose early and departed early, in order to be up north while the light was good and (we  hoped) before the lions passed out.

 

Kyle and Ason and I shook hands (throwing caution to the wind) and said how much we'd enjoyed our adventures together.  I wished the ladies good luck in relocating the leopard family.  I told them I thought that if anyone could do it, Ason and Kyle could.


In the vehicle it was very cold with the wind chill!   There was a heavy frost on the ground and I was surprised not to see ice on puddles.  I was kicking myself for not bringing sufficient warm clothes, despite being well warned ahead of time.  I thought an insulated jacket and lightweight long underwear would be sufficient, but they were not!   I needed a windproof hat, gloves, wool socks and preferably a hooded jacket in addition to what I brought.  The blankets in the vehicle helped, but only so much.  
I mention all this not to complain, but to warn people planning to visit Busanga Plains in July and August.

 

Just before sunrise we saw an African Civet but it was distant, so no good photos.  Then we saw Wildebeest, Zebra, Oribi and a lone Sable bull.  

 

Sable_bull_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_19x12.jpg.309fb53c2c233b2a6d06c26bf90c906d.jpg

 

A couple of Vultures were loafing around waiting for things to warm up - a Hooded Vulture and a White-backed Vulture.  This Hooded Vulture photo shows how they got their name - from the fringe of feathers on their head and neck that resemble a hood.

 

Hooded_Vulture_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_16x12b.jpg.c2fa7ce6e73735979afaa7f260804b66.jpg

 

 

Then we came upon a cute scene.  A mother Kittlitz's Plover and two just-hatched chicks were in the road.  The chicks were stumbling around and pecking at something - perhaps feeding on cold-stunned insects or caterpillars in the grass.  Before long, they were begging to nestle underneath their mother - not surprising given the cold.  

 

Kittlitzs_Plover_chick2_7-27-2021.jpg.63672eebc9ce4bc41e5296d40e9cbd5a.jpg

 

Kittlitzs_Plover_chick2b_7-27-2021.jpg.0c1ba50abd5a75f7994dbfbdbd8e2fae.jpg

 

Kittlitzs_Plover_mother_chicks_7-27-2021_cropb.jpg.07404e3a43ca0db8201c2e880fbc63db.jpg

 


We carefully backed up and went off-road to go around the plover family.  Not long afterwards we came across a Fülleborn's Longclaw.

 

Fulleborns_Longclaw_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_cropb.jpg.a1248b9fe583d63d9b0f3c5660126478.jpg

 

 

The wind picked up again not long after sunrise, which was not helpful.  The guides had said that the Lechwe were extra skittish during our stay because of the wind and also because it was still early in the season in Busanga Plains and there was much less vehicle traffic than usual.  So the thinking was that the Lechwe were less used to vehicles than normal.  

Nevertheless, Gilly did well getting us close to multiple male Lechwe in good light for some nice photo opportunities.   I am sure many of you have noticed that the birds and animals that pose for photos are often scruffy, disheveled or otherwise unglamorous.  This Red Lechwe had a wound of some kind on the side of its belly - perhaps some kind of puncture wound.   Luckily I was able to partially obscure it with a copyright watermark.

 

Red_Lechwe_right_profile1_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_cropb.jpg.adfcc2fb68122374095a3ea463cc3c43.jpg

 

Red_Lechwe_headon1_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_cropb.jpg.7e5c0a395329d2ad0910c4ff384255ca.jpg

 

 

This would have been a good photo except for the Wattled Crane that photobombed me.

 

Red_Lechwe_WC_photobomb_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_crop.jpg.5d202632e3cc944a6a7c4a17093c3eac.jpg


We saw some impressively large aggregations of water birds but I was not able to do them justice with a camera.  Here is a fraction of a very large flock of Openbill Storks (and one African Darter).   

 Openbill_Storks_bigflock_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_25x16.jpg.475f033345d2af9263151f470e8bfb0f.jpg

 

Saddle-billed Stork

Saddle-billed_Stork_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021-16x19b.jpg.3d2cf8f8981a9ef7aa8e078ad8bd0679.jpg


Wattled Crane

Wattled_Crane2_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_22x20b.jpg.cdf66b3d3c4782cafd7414dfd4c9070c.jpg


Collared Pratincole

Collared_Pratincole_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_20x12b.jpg.fca5831c7fdc806ed817c43455723600.jpg


White-faced Whistling-Ducks

WF_Whistling-Ducks_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_cropb.jpg.eede46c45f2db0047a1271b2f5792feb.jpg

 


As things became wetter, Lechwe became the predominant game as Puku numbers declined.

 

Lechwe_sparring_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_27x12b.jpg.dc33fb460b6b1447fb71f3711ce97c93.jpg


We saw some interesting behavior by an African Jacana - it followed a lechwe closely as it walked through standing water, alert for any prey that the lechwe flushed.  The Jacana seemed dangerously close to the lechwe's hooves at certain points but I presume it knew what it was doing.

 

Jacana_follow_Lechwe_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_22x12b.jpg.d0b4467213ba01d5ea27ebb6ad6fcf81.jpg


Here is a closeup of the jacana

 

Jacana_follow_Lechwe_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_closeup-b.jpg.9f41ebb3e74858d4ef6156ffe2bb353e.jpg


Then a guide named Isaac from Shumba Camp let Gilly know that three of the "Five Brothers" coalition of male lions were nearby.  We hurried there and got some photos not long before the lions went prone and started sleeping.   They were very large lions!

 

Lion_male0_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_34x23b.jpg.32d61fd4d1c34d3b52a7adb3e3cd240e.jpg

 

Lion_male2_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_24x16b.jpg.64eae0ff92321c4a46b20569b7d17d71.jpg

 

Lion_male1_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_21x16b.jpg.7275d16a0403c4c55616b85b94ff6bb2.jpg


Apparently this coalition of young male lions is becoming quite the force in the area.   

 

Sorry if I am approaching Lechwe Overload but here are a few more shots.

Red_Lechwe_G1_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_21x16b.jpg.c169fa36790add46a6fabe2824357c97.jpg

 

 

Red_Lechwe_G2_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_19x16b.jpg.b7210c28bcf0db6527c8185b2d797d72.jpg

 

At this point it was getting late and we started back for camp for a late lunch.   We saw this Roan Antelope bull on the way - sorry for the soft focus but at that point the heat shimmer was ripping despite the wind and cold temperatures.

 

Roan_Antelope_bull_BusangaPlains_7-27-2021_18x14b.jpg.44b928223104d688308eace654f1cd43.jpg

 

I got really chilled on the way back, after having been cold all morning.  When we got to camp, the three agents I had met at the end of my stay at Musekese were finishing lunch.  They were heading for another camp and had stopped in to check out the tents and main area on their way.   They congratulated me on the Cheetah sighting and kill - in return I wished them luck during their time in Busanga, after which they were heading for Tusk and Mane.  

 

I was feeling very tired after lunch and by the time for the afternoon game drive came, I was starting to worry I had come down with a cold or even you-know-what.  I was bone tired and had a burning sensation in my nasal membranes.  Even if I were not sick, I knew if I went out again that afternoon that there was a good chance I would not be able to do a final game drive the next morning.  So I chose to stay in my tent and rest, coming out for a quick supper and sitting away from Gilly and Wilton and conversing at a distance.   

 

The good news is I felt much better the next morning - very nearly normal.   We were all very relieved that it turned out to be prolonged cold exposure and dehydration.   The next morning was my last on this safari and I got the best looks and photos yet of one of my major targets.
 

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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michael-ibk

A great trip Nate, Zambia delivered in spades for you. Terrific Finfoot shots, the guys must have sedated one for you, all the ones I saw retreated immediately once they were made. And Pel‘s - really jealous about that one. A very nostalgic evening read for me, first Mana via @BRACQUENE, then Musekese and Ntemwa - thanks so mich for sharing your adventures.

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offshorebirder
On 8/29/2021 at 2:44 PM, michael-ibk said:

the guys must have sedated one for you

 

LMFAO.    Thank you very much for the kind words @michael-ibk.    I am still chuckling.

 

And a belated thanks to @Toxic, @Alexander33, @Kitsafari and @Caracal for their kind and encouraging comments.

 

@Kitsafari- yes, Wild Dogs are turning into something  of a nemesis of mine.  I had not "tried hard" for them before this safari but I sure did this time.  To end any suspense that might be lingering - I missed them on this safari.   But I dare not complain, given what I did see - and there is always next time.   As we say, one needs a reason to come back, right?

 

Sorry for taking so long for the next installment - soon, y'all.

 

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RC88COR

@offshorebirderAwesome trip report! This is exactly the itinerary I have been planning in my mind for a while now - Tusk & Mane and Jeffrey & McKeith (Musekese Ntemwa) - both really impressive commited conservationists and guiding. Ideally, how many days would you recommend for each location? I am thinking of September, should be a warmer at that time. Thank you.

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offshorebirder

Thank you for following along @RC88COR.

 

I would recommend a minimum of 4 nights at Tusk and Mane and Musekese and a minimum of 3 nights at Ntemwa-Busanga.     But personally I am going to do 4 nights at Ntemwa next time and hopefully 5 nights at T&M and Musekese.

 

September would be a great time to visit them.  Maybe early Sept it won't be screaming hot yet?

 

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offshorebirder

The morning of July 28 I felt much better and was packed and ready to go at breakfast time.  Our plan was to do a game drive on the way to the airstrip for my 11am bush flight back to Lusaka.  After eating a quick breakfast, Wilton, Gilly and I set out on the final game drive of this safari.   Our targets were Sable and Roan antelope.

 

Wilton and Gilly in action.

Wilton_Gilly_BusangaPlains.jpg.08e57d48e4c67599dae39c8f7a557dd3.jpg

 

 


Not far out of camp we saw five Southern Ground-Hornbills - they took flight from their roost in a tree atop a termite mound.   In the dim light, the photos came out blurry unfortunately.  We had some good birding and gradually the light improved.   

 

White-headed Vulture

White-headed_Vulture_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_cropb.jpg.6f97daee3bf2373e33bd7c2c2b4e6797.jpg

 


Grey Go-Away Bird

Grey_Go-Away_Bird_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_cropb.jpg.e6714912a866fef7aaabd70d21af4286.jpg

 


Then we started seeing game - Lichtenstein's Hartebeest, Oribi, Zebra and Wildebeest.

 

I neglected to mention this sooner - but we saw several "stands" of the trees that grow underground, with only their leaves and the tips of branches above the ground.  Kyle told me their common name and scientific name early in our time at Ntemwa but I neglected to write them down and have since forgotten.   We saw Sable grazing on the leaves a couple of different times.
 

* Does anyone know their name?

 

underground_trees_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_34x16.jpg.763bab8d9386132fe3fd81a22e5929d0.jpg

 


In a nice grassland area, we had a close encounter with some Oribi and also had a Bull Sable go trotting past.

 

Male Oribi grazing

Male_Oribi_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_24x16b.jpg.06b92ca8e6a20a1081d0602af31d0bf6.jpg

 


It looks like this female Oribi is winking

 

female_Oribi_winking_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_20x16b.jpg.9d4517e36797ef6638dd3aa6104ad924.jpg

 

 

Two Oribi

Oribi_pair_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_21x12.jpg.119281a9a5d9a970b44f1450d1f97903.jpg

 

 

wide area view of the Oribi

Oribi_Busanga_Plains_7-28-2021.jpg.6f4429ce992ebb5db7ae3ab50089aefe.jpg

 

 

Sable bull trotting

 

Sable_bull_trotting_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_14x9b.jpg.a2522c59fc6f91f354188c19935cb660.jpg

 

 

 

Then we approached an area that Gilly said was good for Sable herds - apparently people refer to it as both Sable Pan and Roan Pan.   Since we saw a nice herd of Sable nearby, I will call it Sable Pan.  

 

Habitat near Sable Pan

Sable_habitat_Busanga_Plains_7-28-2021.jpg.662b199328c9e0fb0cf97b99a7d99892.jpg

 


There was one older bull, a couple of young bulls and several females and immatures - 21 total.  The most I could fit in one iPhone photo was 15.

 

Sable_herd_Busanga_Plains_7-28-2021.jpg.8ef6f43d92d2ceb65fad7564b4a809cc.jpg

 

 

As we approached and when we were still fairly far away, the older bull stood up from where it had been resting and began looking nervous.   So we sat still and turned off the engine to wait for them to settle down.   Then Gilly cranked up and moved a little closer, then we paused and waited some more.   By repeating this sequence it allowed the Sable to get used to us and we were able to get close enough for decent photos.  

 

Sable_bull_Busanga_Plains_KafueNP_7-28-2021_20x16b.jpg.ba122419f0f90335a32aae1bc8934557.jpg

 

 

This young bull walked towards some resting Sable, shaking its head repeatedly.   I wonder if it was some kind of display?

 

Sable_bull_headshaking_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_23x16.jpg.92cfe522fba261598966506d6a301450.jpg

 

 

young_Bull_Sable_Antelope_facing_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_20x20b.jpg.fa2153b849d868f68eb2cd530a4ed0ce.jpg

 

 

young_Sable_Antelope_bull_portrait_BusangaPlains_7-28-2021_18x16b.jpg.292a19b8be53443e2a6892a383f3a2f6.jpg

 

 

We spent time enjoying the Sable and then went to look for Roan as our time was drawing to a close.  We saw a herd of Hartebeest, a couple of small Impala herds, Warthogs, Oribi, Wildebeest and Zebra.   By now the heat shimmer was ripping and it was time to head to the airstrip for some tea and biscuits while we waited for my bush flight.  

 

Terminal 1 at Busanga Airport.

 

Busanga_airstrip.jpg.7deb47dff62d4a5abdef43d213bf637d.jpg


Before long, the Skytrails plane arrived - it was piloted by Jonathan again.  He told us that he had flown into this airstrip the day before and had seen a large male Lion sleeping off the end of the runway during his pass to check the airstrip was clear.   


Here are a couple of aerial shots just after we took off.

 

Busanga_Plains_aerial_view0.jpg.ff84d82d913c12b2011f678a92beef93.jpg

 

 

Busanga_Plains_aerial_view1.jpg.061249d5c7f35093f8fc7ad526fbebb8.jpg

 

 

Here is a shot when we flew over the airstrip near Musekese - across the Kafue River and above the airstrip is Musekese's location.

 

IMG_2982.JPG.5cfd3aacef0db466f067c2bdea55c154.JPG

 

We landed in Lusaka without incident and Jonathan walked me into the terminal where we bid each other farewell.  We were a bit early so I waited under the shady awning out front for my hotel transfer driver.   

 

In the next post I will add some final thoughts and detail the Covid PCR testing process for the flights home.
 

Edited by offshorebirder
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ForWildlife

The dwarf trees are often referred to as Suffrutex, but technically that's the name of the growth form. I think, in western Zambia, Suffrutex is often Syzygium guineense, woodland waterberry, here's a thesis about the plant: http://www.biodiversity-plants.de/downloads/MasterThesis_Paulina_Zigelski_final.pdf

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offshorebirder
On 9/13/2021 at 5:10 AM, ForWildlife said:

woodland waterberry

 

Doesn't ring a bell - I don't think that is the  name Kyle mentioned.

 

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Caracal

I'm sure I was told that it's a type of combretum but I'll have to check my journals to see if I've made a note.

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ForWildlife
11 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

 

Doesn't ring a bell - I don't think that is the  name Kyle mentioned.

 

 

He probably called it suffrutex, but that's actually a growth form which multiple plant species can have.

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Caracal

Yes it is as @ForWildlife states a suffretex. 

I believe it's Combretum platypetalum which the late @Peter de Vere Mossdescribes as follows in his Visitor's Guide to Kafue National Park:-

 

Kafue powder puff  Combretum platypetalum

Normally an inconspicuous low shrub. This suffrutex (a group of woody plants that are normally highly resistant to fire) has a stout woody rootstock and underground stem, and is covered with brilliant crimson bloom in the middle of the dry season stimulated by the passage of fire. It is widespread as an indicator of repeated burning and is very common in large areas in the central and southern parts of the Park, such as Katinti.

 

 

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offshorebirder

Now that you mention it @Caracal the leaves did look like other Combretums I have known.

 

I don't think  Powder Puff is the  common name Kyle mentioned  but presumably there  is more than one?

 

I am kicking myself for losing the piece of paper where I wrote the common and scientific name.

 

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