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Musekese 3 + Lower Zambesi


AfricIan
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As the title implies, this was our 3rd visit to Zambia and was, once again, arranged through the good folk at Busanga Safaris. I’m still going through photos and it might take me a while to get moving but suffice it to say we had a great time in 3 great camps.  There were:
Spots 
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Feathers (some were even still attached to their original owners) 

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The usual, the less common and the unexpected, plus a fascinating and very informative visit to the Musekese Conservation “HQ” and Anti-Poaching Unit.


Firstly though, I’d offer my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of WPO Happy Kasonde, one of the DNPW officers that Musekese Conservation supported who tragically lost his life recently whilst escorting an educational trip in the Kafue NP.  According to Musekese Conservation, “Happy was an experienced escort scout who had accompanied countless safaris, providing safety, guidance and sharing a wealth of local knowledge but on this occasion the group encountered an elephant with a calf and in protecting its young the elephant charged and Happy gave his life to protect the others.”  


So sad and a reminder that we should never take our visits into the bush for granted.

 

Part 1
This was our much delayed 2021 trip with “the children” again – we’d offered them a “one-off, never to be repeated, free holiday” back in 2017 but relented for 2021, primarily because Covid had restricted our travels so much and we’d not seen much of them during the UK’s various lockdowns.
This plan, of course, also got Covid’d on its original September’21 date but Busanga Safaris rescheduled us to an early June trip which meant we’d be in camp for Vicky’s (significant!!) birthday – I can’t think of a better way to celebrate!


It was a relatively short trip, costs mount up quickly when you’re paying for 4 so:
Musekese in the Kafue for 5 nights
Tusk & Mane in the Lower Zambezi for 4 nights, 2 at Chula Island Camp & 2 at Kutali Camp
Back to Lusaka & fly out the same evening.


Whilst most of the photos are mine, due acknowledgement must be given to Vicky & to son Rob who managed some great images armed only with his iPhone & clip-on telephoto.


 We left the UK on June 3rd, London Heathrow to Lusaka via Doha, our first experience of the reputed “best airline in the world” Qatar Airlines. They didn’t get off to a great start however as I couldn’t logon to “manage my booking” on their website or through the phone app until less than a week before we were due to leave.  Online check-in worked well enough though but “arrangements” at the departure gate were pretty shambolic with no segregation of passengers, no boarding by zones, no social distancing & no mask wearing, nor did they enforce their own mask wearing policy on the flight. 
 

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Our “big grey whale” A380 flight to Doha was over 2hrs late leaving, boarding not helped by everyone having to go down the single air-bridge, meaning our 2 ½hr connection time in Doha had dwindled to next to nothing especially as we arrived into Gates A & were departing  Gate E19 – anyone who’s been through Doha knows that Hamad International Airport is BIG and that gates D & E are in a different terminal to Gates A, B, C.  We saw the much heralded Al Mourjan Business Lounge as we sprinted past!! 


Fortunately we made the connection, panic over and we arrived at the shiny new Kenneth Kaunda International Airport pretty much on-time.  Although equipped with air-bridges, we didn’t see any of them being used & we were still bussed from aircraft to terminal but once in the terminal building things were much smoother than previous visits:
There were no issues with Covid regs.  We were all fully vaccinated so Qatar only required us to do an online declaration before check-in (which did work even when I couldn’t log-on) which they checked at Heathrow. Then for Zambia, a simple health declaration was handed out on the plane before arrival, a temperature check as you go into arrivals then show your vaccination certificate(s) - on phone or paper and hand your form in.  Immigration (visa on arrival, $25) was also very quick & easy then a walk round to the old (now domestic) terminal building and we were soon on Classic Zambia’s baby Cessna for the 1 1/4hr hop to Kafue – you can see the flight we arrived on just heading out on its way to Harare. 

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The prevailing wind saw us take-off to the east before turning back past the airport where the old blue terminal building sits by the side of the new – as you can see, at 10am on a Saturday morning it’s not very busy!!

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Despite the quite heavy cloud cover (portent of things to come sad) it was a great flight and approaching the Lupufa airstrip, our pilot AJ took us over Musekese - nicely tucked into the trees in the lower right corner of the photo.

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before a short drive down to the “harbour”, boat ride down & across the Kafue and “game drive” into camp.

 

The locals didn’t seem overly excited to see us

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but we had an enthusiastic welcome from Diane, Roy and the rest of the Musekese team before our first look at the latest iteration of “tent” – These are huge, with an open frontage overlooking the dambo.

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and lunch.


Next instalment: Out & about in the Kafue
 

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offshorebirder

I am really looking forward to this trip report @AfricIan

 

It is nice that Classic Zambia has its own aircraft now - makes for one stop shopping as well as more flexibility than booking "rigidly" with the likes of Proflight.      But that little Skytrails plane in the background of the airport photo brings back some good memories for me.

 

 

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Part 2: Out & about in the Kafue


Thanks all for following & @offshorebirder for your comments.  I probably should have mentioned, for those that don’t already know, that “Classic Zambia” is the “umbrella” company set up to bring Jeffery & McKeith Safaris (based in the Kafue), Tusk and Mane Safaris (based in the Lower Zambezi) and Reel Nature Ltd (mobile safari and film crew fixing/support) together, allowing them to reduce costs, time and effort in the logistics and ‘behind-the-scenes’ operations.  It also gave them the size to warrant having their own aircraft to move their clients about, something that wouldn’t be cost effective on their own. 


Neither  Phil nor Tyrone were in camp when we arrived so Gilbert (Gilly) drew the short straw of looking after us.  Our first afternoons drive was pretty uneventful – Puku are nice animals but I tend not to get too excited about them however we did see a nice African Stonechat & Crowned Hornbill
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We could hear lions calling throughout dinner though so when Gilly asked if we wanted to go & look for them we jumped at the chance and found them quite quickly.

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These were a new pair of males to the area and look to have displaced “Tripod” the old pride male, who hadn’t been seen since the pair had arrived.


The next morning we were out in the Land Cruiser again and Gilly spotted something moving in the long grass between us and a small group of 3 puku that were browsing in a gully
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which turned out to be the “spots” “featured” at the start of the report :)

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The leopard was tracking the puku as they browsed from left to right along the gully & it looked like it was targeting the youngster but wasn’t able to get close enough before the gully widened & the leopard would have had to “do some paddling” to get to them so it appeared to “give up in disgust” & vanished into the long grass.

 

Above us an African Fish Eagle & Brown Hooded Kingfisher 

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before the sight of a Lappet-faced Vulture at low level gave us (false :() hope of predator activity. 

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Puku continued to be everywhere though and some were doing their best to make sure there would be more in the months ahead.

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Back in camp the resident Bushbuck made a lunchtime appearance, as had Phil who had driven over from Lusaka with the game viewer that was going to be used up on the Busanga Plains at Ntemwa-Busanga. He was keen to know what we’d seen that morning and looked a little puzzled when I told him we’d sat & watched 3 puku for an hour & a half! I did relent though and told him that a leopard had also been watching the puku. :D

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Lunch was accompanied by a couple of ele’s browsing in the dambo

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Whilst back at on our veranda, Bohm’s & White-fronted Bee-eaters entertained.

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Next: Part 3, Afternoon on the water

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michael-ibk

Ah, the greatest camp in Africa - not jealous at all. 🙂 Looking forward to more! 

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offshorebirder
On 7/24/2022 at 4:38 PM, AfricIan said:

He was keen to know what we’d seen that morning and looked a little puzzled when I told him we’d sat & watched 3 puku for an hour & a half! I did relent though and told him that a leopard had also been watching the puku.

 

I laughed out loud at your pulling Mr. Phil's leg  :D

 

Gilly is an excellent guide and a really good spotter who knows his birds and is a master at approaching game in a vehicle without disturbing them.

 

 

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@AfricIanWe were at Musekese four years ago.  It is great to know that Tripod lived so long.

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21 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

Ah, the greatest camp in Africa - not jealous at all. 🙂 Looking forward to more!

Your Jealousy's easily resolved Michael, just book another visit ;)

 

15 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

I laughed out loud at your pulling Mr. Phil's leg  :D

Yes, I knew Phil had a good sense of humour so I'd be safe winding him up a bit.  We'd been spoilt on both previous trips when we had Phil to ourselves but we weren't short changed at all by having Gilly as our guide.

 

14 hours ago, marg said:

We were at Musekese four years ago.  It is great to know that Tripod lived so long.

He certainly had "a good innings" and he'd just "not been seen" since the new pair arrived.  He's almost certainly too old to re-challenge the new pair but may have "just moved out of the way"

 

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Thanks for following everyone, onwards:

 

Part 3, Afternoon on the water

 

One of the beauties of Musekese are afternoons on the Kafue river and whilst we were far too early for African Skimmers – “skimmer island” still being underwater, there is always plenty to see before relaxing with a G&T/White Wine Spritzer/Cold Mosi  watching the sun go down.
Heading downstream, we came across this Giant Kingfisher “knocking seven bells” out of his catch but unless he was hoping to use brute force to break it into smaller portions, I feel his “eyes were bigger than his tummy”

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A key target for a Kafue boat trip is always the African Finfoot

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but Gilly got more excited when we spotted this Coot (Red-knobbed?) 

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and I can’t remember what this little fella was

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then, Pied Kingfisher, White-breasted Cormorant, Green-backed Heron, Squacco Heron, African Darters and finally, a Copper-tailed Coucal was chattering away in the reeds as we watched the sun go down:

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The drive back to camp brought us a White-tailed Mongoose

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Gennet

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and “Mr Spot”

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That pretty much sums up the pattern of our days in Musekese, we tended to game-drive in the mornings and boat in the afternoons so I’m not going to “day-by-day” account for the rest of the days.  Unfortunately, despite our best efforts we never got sight of the dogs or of the lions but there is still much more before we head down to Lower Zambezi.

 

Next: Part 4, more Musekese 
 

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offshorebirder
8 hours ago, AfricIan said:

We'd been spoilt on both previous trips when we had Phil to ourselves

 

Color me jealous!

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 7/24/2022 at 10:38 PM, AfricIan said:

These were a new pair of males to the area and look to have displaced “Tripod” the old pride male, who hadn’t been seen since the pair had arrived.

The lion dynamics are looking interesting right now. Changing of the guard. Pity Tripod hasn't been seen. Understandable on his part but a shame he won't be seen much more.

Reading about a new male leopard recently there could also be changes afoot there or at least some challenges for Bazooka!

 

Thank you for the photos of the new 'tents', looking forward to finally seeing them next month.

This TR has already brought back so many great memories of the Kafue and I am looking forward to reading the rest and how things were in the Lower Zambezi.

 

So pleased your return trip to Zambia happened and being in the bush for a signifcant birthday is a great way to spend it!

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Thanks @CaroleE& everyone else who have been following. Apologies for the interruption in posting but I’ve had a hard disk failure on my PC :(which has taken me a while to diagnose & rectify. Fortunately my backups have worked :) & the next instalment will appear in the next day or so. 

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Good to read this Ian, and looking forward to more.  We're off to Musekese and Ntemwa mid-September, so counting the days, and this is like a nice aperitif!

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I'm back!!!!

 

Part 4, more Musekese 

 

Back round the campfire, talk naturally turned to “What do you really want to see” and of course “Honey Badger” & “Pangolin” were mentioned.  Phil said he had a photo on his phone that had been taken on one of the Musekese Conservation camera traps in the past few days.  Without elaborating, he then passed the phone round everyone in turn.  I was expecting some oohs or aahs but nobody said anything and after looking at the photo, simply passed it on. When I got the phone I realised why the silences – it was a photo of a Honey Badger with a baby Pangolin dangling from its mouth!!

 
As I said previously, we never got sight of the dogs or of the lions again, despite many hours of searching (sorry @wilddog@Galago, we couldn’t deliver your message to them in person :D) but there was still lots to see on land & water, in the air and in the dark.


One of our mornings was set aside for a drive over to visit the HQ of Musekese Conservation, about 1 1/2hrs away.  This is also the base for the Musekese supported Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) so after looking at the work of the Musekese Conservation “research” team, have a look at their 2021 report here https://www.musekeseconservation.com/, we were shown round the APU including their “control centre” where they can “see the location” and are in constant radio contact with the teams of scouts that are out on patrol in the park.  Fully solar powered, there is accommodation for up to 4 teams of scouts that work the park on a 3 week rotational patrol in association with the DNPW, Zambian Carnivore Program (ZCP) and Panthera.
It’s well worth braving the Tsetse (not too bad on the way there in the cool early morning, a bit grim on the way back :() to see this very impressive facility first hand and get a much better understanding of everything Phil & Tyrone have been doing in this regard over many years.


On the Land, one can watch ele’s for ages,

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"One tusk"

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especially when they are washing their “afternoon tea”

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Plus Kudu, Hartebeest, Zebra, Waterbuck:

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A tangle of horns! 
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Hippo were ever present, browsing in the dambo
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Whilst a Grey Heron played “Hippo Hopscotch”

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I promised “feathers still attached to their owners”:


Hadada Ibis
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Black-shouldered Kite (apologies for the very "iffy" quality of the photos :()
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White-faced Whistling Duck
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Senegal Coucal
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Barred Owlet
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Bulbul
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Tawney Eagle
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Saddle-billed Stork

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Whilst On the Water, one of the most unusual sightings I’ve had.  We’d not long departed the harbour when we noticed something in the water ahead, a bit closer & we realised it was a snake, a fully grown, 1m+ Puff-adder!  Now I know snakes can swim but what possessed this Puff-adder to think “I quite fancy a 100m swim across the river this afternoon”?  Definitely another reason not to go swimming in the Kafue as it’s “wiggle-stroke” was an awful lot faster than I could manage as it headed to the bank!

 

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The Fish-eagle was wise to just sit & watch

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Finfoot & Water Thick-knee

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The PodMeister!

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And the rain came down :(

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Next: Evenings

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Our Evenings continued to be very productive.

 

Sunset at "The Harbour"
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A patrolling Serval

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We almost mowed down a porcupine
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And another sighting of “Mr Spot”

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A special desert to celebrate a special day
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Our 5 days at Musakese had “vanished in a flash” and once again, we’d had a great time but after a leisurely breakfast, it was round to the harbour, across the river & upto the airfield to meet our “Taxi to Lower Zambezi” and a brief chance to say hello to Tyrone & meet Kyle as they arrived from Lusaka.

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Next, Part 5: Lower Zambezi

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Love the swimming Puff-adder - kind of fascinating and giving me the shivers at the same time! Nice shots of the Serval, Ian.

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the swmmimg puff adder and that serval.  just fabulous 

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Towlersonsafari

really enjoying  the report @AfricIanwe once saw a swimming puff adder from a boat- a lot of folk rushed to see what it was then after realising  rushed to the other side!

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2 hours ago, Towlersonsafari said:

a lot of folk rushed to see what it was then after realising  rushed to the other side

Not so easy on Musekese’s little boat but I must admit to relaxing a bit more once it headed to the bank!

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@AfricIanThat was quite some puff adder sighting! Very wise to not go swimming in the Kafue river.

Pure pangolin meeting that honey badger.

Did you use Classic Zambia's new plane? It is great they now have this addition - great way to get to/from the different parks.

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Thanks for following everyone & @Galago, @wilddog, @Towlersonsafari & @CaroleEfor your comments. That Puff-adder wasn’t on my sightings wishlist but is definitely one we’ll remember.

On 8/11/2022 at 11:34 PM, CaroleE said:

Did you use Classic Zambia's new plane?

 
We did have Classic Zambia’s little Cessna and before getting onto Lower Zambezi, now seems an appropriate time for a little diversion:


Although it was a nice day, in the Kafue at any rate, when we left Musekese, our pilot Vernon was concerned that the weather over the escarpment into the Zambezi valley wasn’t going to let us get through to Jeki and although he would try, if the cloud level was too low then we might have to turn back to Lusaka :(
Our flight took us down the Kafue and over the Lochinvar & Blue Lagoon National Parks

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But shortly after, Vernon tapped me on my shoulder, pointed to the black clouds meeting the ground up ahead and shook his head as he turned back to the north :(:(


Back at KKIA we were met by the good folk at “Corporate Air” and taken to their “office” before heading over to Wild Dogs Lodge to await “A Plan”.  No sooner had we settled down with a drink than Sophia came back over with Tony McKeith ( @Tony Busanga) on the phone – Quote from Tony: It never rains in Lusaka in June (as the spots darkened the ground :wacko:) to tell us that they were 95% convinced they “Had a Plan” to get us to Jeki later that afternoon but for the moment to enjoy the lodge & get some lunch!  Even before our lunch had been cooked, Tony was back with a WhatsApp Voice Message (other communication platforms are available!!) to say that as soon as we’d finished lunch we’d be taken back to the airport and down to Jeki.  Needless to say we didn’t get any chance to look round Wild Dogs Lodge at all but from what we did see it looks a nice place to spend a night at the start or end of a trip.


I understand that the Classic Zambia Cessna is certified for Visual Flight Rules (VFR) which precluded us flying through the clouds over the escarpment so our flight down to Jeki was in a very spacious twin-engined Piper aircraft which was certified for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and although the clouds over the escarpment were still quite low there was a clear run through & soon the Zambezi & Jeki airstrip came into view where Given, our guide for our time at Chula was waiting to take us to camp.

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AL9nZEVoK_mOPbbR8UcMd7a5QWyu3QU2ktfecfWJ


Next: Lower Zambezi – Chula Camp
 

Edited by AfricIan
Airport code correction
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Part 5: Lower Zambezi – Chula Camp

 

It was getting on in the afternoon as we headed towards camp but a Lappet-faced Vulture and a selection of ele’s said hello, along with a Goliath Heron.

 

AL9nZEUaP4ppCsgw0xWUeFis3Z6DsKlKRun0cixL

 

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Chula is on an “island”, separated from the “mainland” by a fordable crossing across one of the Zambezi channels but the initial transfer from Jeki is via a boat ride down the Zambezi.

 

Tent from the water

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Tents at Chula are more “old school” than Musekese, with minimal furniture and bucket shower in the “outdoor bathroom”.  The tents are spacious though, the beds comfortable, the toilets flush (apart from one morning when the hippos damaged the water pickup pipe – TIA :wacko:), hot water is supplied for your wake-up wash and the ”on-request” bucket shower worked well.  Allied to it’s location on the banks of the Zambezi and the “sound of the bush”, do you really need any more?

 

AL9nZEV2hxHObTmnHnUM4__-Z3VmLoEp8csZHkAX

 

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Next morning our plan was to drive up onto the “plains” where dogs had been seen a day or so earlier.  A group of Kudu seemed quite alert
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Then
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The pack had caught a Warthog but there wasn’t much left

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The α-female was looking very “tubby” and didn’t appear to participate in the feeding mêlée, instead asking for some of the meat to be regurgitated for her.  Given’s thinking was that she would soon “retire to the den” to give birth and that as the den would probably be up in the escarpment, the pack would be much more elusive. 

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We spent a very enjoyable morning watching them feeding, interacting & playing until, as the temperature rose, they settled down for their siesta.

 

Playing "King of the Castle"!

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Not sure these two should be doing this :wub:

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Siesta time

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A couple of iPhone videos (it's worth having the sound on for the first one)

https://photos.app.goo.gl/Ria8CSYN97ZEQ11t8

https://photos.app.goo.gl/VYqcV1S7PzJm5r4X8


Elsewhere, something had spooked the impala and we were treated to an impromptu long jump competition

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Whilst settled in the shade of the trees, a lion coalition rested up

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Brotherly Love

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Bad Hair Day

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Carmine Bee-eaters were still about and this Vervet got itself into a bit of a dilemma when its tree forked & a decision between right or left trunk had to be made.

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Not a bad morning :D:D:D

Edited by AfricIan
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What to do in the afternoon was quickly resolved – back to the dogs!


Passing a Waterbuck & the Egret Hotel

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The dogs hadn’t moved far & were still “chillin”

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But as Given had anticipated, as the sun began to drop they became more active & headed off “with purpose”, checking us out on the way before seemingly targeting a small group of Waterbuck and causing a bit of panic amongst the ele’s in the process

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https://photos.app.goo.gl/aWtLnES92GRTmPHx5

 

Next: A bit more Chula

Edited by AfricIan
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A bit more Chula

 

Thanks for following and firstly, an apology as last nights “finishing the day back on the plains with a couple of more relaxed ele’s” should actually be “starting the day back on the plains with a couple of more relaxed ele’s” which is where we headed to see if the dogs were still about.  

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The dogs were nowhere to be seen, which would have been a “bit of a bummer” for the folk in another vehicle who we overheard say to their guide “can we go to the camp now so we can get settled in before it gets dark” :wacko::wacko::wacko:

We then spent the morning exploring the various channels & woods:

 

Yellow-billed Stork

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The obligatory Trip Report LBR :D

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Southern Ground Hornbill

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Great Egret

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Egyptian Geese

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Pied Kingfisher

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Buffalo

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Goliath Heron

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Something had attracted the African Darter & Egret's attention

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Chance to practice my BiF techniques (sadly lacking :()

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Though I do quite like the reflection of the Egret in the water

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Then it was time for our last crossing of the channel before jumping in the boat and downstream to Kutali

 

https://photos.app.goo.gl/7mhfH38HNui1Ss2H6


Next: Part 6: Kutali Camp

Edited by AfricIan
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