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A Safari All Over Zambia - September 2013

South Luangwa Bangweulu Kasanka Kafue

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#1 Safaridude

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 04:44 PM

Zambia gets left out.  It’s definitely not east Africa, and it’s not exactly southern Africa, or for that matter central Africa.  It has a reputation of not being a suitable “fist-timer” destination, despite having the sweetest people on the continent, a stable, democratic government (a succession of peaceful transfers of power… beat that, the rest of you in Africa!), and prime wilderness.  And for a good 6-7 month stretch every year, Zambia is left off the itinerary of most tourists because the country is literally under water.  But during the short “tourist months”, when the dry season’s haze on the open plain shrouds the moving wild shapes in the distant treeline just as Africa’s bloodiest sun is about to set, you know Zambia’s spell has been cast.  A Zambian safari can match any “in your face” lion, leopard or elephant sighting on the continent, but it also always delivers subtle and fleeting ones (and you know what they say… the very best moments in life are often fleeting).  So, naturally, I am back in Zambia for the fourth time, smitten, under its spell, and in search of the fleeting as well as the “in your face”.

 

Itinerary (September 2013):

 

Kaingo Camp, South Luangwa National Park – 2 nights

Mwamba Bush Camp, South Luangwa National Park – 3 nights

Shoebill Island Camp, Bangweulu Wetlands – 2 nights

Wasa Lodge, Kasanka National Park – 1 night

Luwombwa Lodge, Kasanka National Park – 1 night

Shumba Camp, Busanga Plains, Kafue National Park – 3 nights

Nanzhila Plains Camp, Nanzhila Plains, Kafue National Park – 4 nights     

 

 

South Luangwa National Park – Life is good

 

Take some of the greatest game parks and reserves of Africa.  Take Serengeti for example:  Michael Grzimek’s and Myles Turner’s association with Serengeti fades with each wildebeest calving season.  What is written today of Paul Kruger and his connection to Kruger National Park?  Frederick Selous hunted everywhere in Africa, not just the Selous.  It is far from certain that he spent significantly more time in his eponymous reserve than anywhere else.

 

Not so, “the Valley”.  The late Norman Carr and his band of self-described social outcasts, who founded park conservation as well as a certain safari subculture, are still firmly tethered to the Luangwa Valley.  This inseparable bond has been continually romanticized and immortalized in writings such as Vic Guhrs’ poignant The Trouble with Africa, Simon Barnes’ deliciously mischievous Rogue Lion Safaris, Mike Coppinger and Jumbo Williams’ comprehensive Luangwa, Zambia’s Treasure, Craig Doria’s freeform Following the Dust, not to mention Norman Carr’s own Kakuli, as well as numerous guidebooks and news articles written by others.

 

So, as I cross the bridge into South Luangwa National Park for the first time, it is as if I already know it.  There are ghosts here.  That lagoon over there could be where Arthur, unarmed, tried to rescue a drugged (darted), drowning lion by trying to lift the beast out of the water with a bear hug.  That’s Luwi River over there… that must be where Rice Time (born Maqaba Tembo), the famous problem animal control officer and “the scariest guy in the Valley” lead walking safaris, screaming and telling off the charging lions, “f--- off!”  The ridge over there could be where Jake and Craig while on anti-poaching duty accidentally set their mate’s hair on fire by mishandling cheap tequila.  Kapani is that direction… where Norman Carr once put his hard-earned cash in a hideaway safe, only to later find the safe submerged in mud and the bills inside turned into worthless crumbs.

 

What has changed since the “back in the day” days is the amount of traffic in the Mfuwe Lodge area.  The lodge now sports 40+ beds and is closely flanked by other properties.  Supposedly, a night drive in this part of Luangwa is like attending a Hollywood premier (Kakuli must be turning in his grave).  To escape the madding crowd now, a long two-hour drive to Shenton Safaris’ Kaingo Camp and its sister bush camp Mwamba is desired. 

 

Kaingo overlooks a particularly perfect bend of the Luangwa River.  A separate “sleepy” deck built out over the river, where lunch is taken in private if you wish, accompanies each chalet.  There, you are invariably serenaded by both bass and soprano singers (hippos and fish eagles).  I am guided by Sylvester Mbaama, just one of the many incredible, enthusiastic guides employed by Shenton Safaris.  “Sly” would guide me at Kaingo as well as Mwamba.

 

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My chalet's private deck at Kaingo

 

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Sylvester ("Sly") Mbaama
 

While Luangwa is endowed with a wide variety of flora, there is an underlying general pattern/progression:  cathedral mopane woodlands are found furthest away from the river, bordered on one side by a belt of leadwood growing on fossilized tributaries; then a unique suburban parkland-like ebony (jackalberry) grove, with elephants currently unable to resist the falling fruit, signals that you are now close to the river; and finally, a sausage tree-dominant riverine belt is where impalas, pukus and bushbucks are presently concentrated.  The sausage tree deserves special attention, as it may be one of the most fascinating and ecologically important trees in Africa.  Before it is able to bear the sausage-like fruit containing the seeds necessary for propagation, the tree must drop its flowers – by the hundreds.  During the dry season, just when the browse is becoming meager, the sausage tree flowers, pollinated by bats and insects overnight, drop by the bucketful each morning, providing tasty and nutritious nectar for a variety of animals.  Every morning, it is a frantic race under the trees:  impalas, pukus, bushbucks, kudus and baboons jealously gobble up the flowers.  One deviously crafty impala ram lets out a false alarm call, scattering the other animals away from the tree, and then leisurely mops up all the flowers himself.  Perhaps I am witnessing impalas evolving in intelligence before my eyes?

 

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Ebony grove

 

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Gobblig up sausage flowers

 

I come to Luangwa at an interesting time.  2013 has been one of the driest in memory.  Virtually all of the oxbow lagoons have dried up, leaving the main Luangwa River as basically the only source of drinking water for the Valley’s animals.   This of course equates to stressful times for the prey animals but a boon for the predators.  And what predator action!  Within 10 minutes of starting the first afternoon drive, the Mwamba-Kaingo lion pride is found on a fresh buffalo kill, and this pride would be found on every subsequent game drive.  The Mwamba-Kaingo pride is part of some unusual lion social dynamics unfolding in the Valley.  This pride of 16 and the adjacent Mwamba-Kapanda pride of nine are both ruled by the same two males.  Conventional lion behavior described in various ecology books does not apply here.  Earlier this year, the females of the former pride went on a rampage and killed six cubs of the latter pride.  The two males apparently took no issue with this gruesome affair.

 

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Mwamba-Kaingo Pride on a buffalo kill

 

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The two males

 

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Still going strong at night

 

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The aftermath

 

A post-sundowner drive back to camp finds an unknown female leopard in an open combretum patch.  The leopard stalks a herd of completely unaware impalas and takes down a fully-grown male.  Strangely, none of the other impalas sound their alarm, and the kill occurs in silence – except for the expiring impala’s heavy panting magnified by the thin night air.  As the leopard tightens her asphyxiating grip on his neck, the impala’s gasping becomes faster and louder at first.  Then, with the legs visibly weakening and trembling, everything begins to slow; the impala crumbles to the ground, and a few seconds later it’s over.  This previous unknown leopard seems untrusting of the vehicle, and Sly decides it best to let her be.

 

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Kill sequence

 

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Shenton Safaris is known for its various photographic hides, and we visit the hippo hide and the carmine bee-eater hide while at Kaingo (the Mwamba hide would be visited later).  While the hippo hide provides an excellent close-up, water level view of the often-comic giants, it is overshadowed by the brilliant carmine bee-eater hide.  Each late August, thousands of carmine bee-eaters migrate into the Valley to nest on the sides of riverbank walls, forming giant colonies.  A floating metal boat has been turned into a hide near one of the colonies and is reached via a light wooden boat.  Having arrived at the hide at sun-up, Sly and I wait patiently for over an hour for the bee-eaters to come.  Just when we thought they would never turn up, they do – in full force and at once, like a World War II bombing squad.  A deafening noise accompanies the utterly chaotic jostling and nesting.  I am not sure I have ever seen so many calories being burned.  As is the case with a wildebeest river crossing, the essence of a carmine bee-eater colony is impossible to adequately capture on camera.  And I will go out on a limb here:  I find the carmine bee-eater action nearly as compelling as a wildebeest crossing.  The bee-eater hide is not to be missed.

 

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Action from the Hippo Hide

 

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The carmine bee-eater hide

 

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Carmine bee-eater sequence

 

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ZAWA scout Peter

 

Onto Mwamba now…  If Kaingo is of generous but not superfluous luxury in the bush, Mwamba Bush Camp is of bare essential luxury in the bush.  Mwamba is a place where you can wash away civilization’s silt by stargazing through the see-through ceiling of your thatched hut at night.  If there is indeed some “greater truth” out there, it would most certainly be found while stargazing at Mwamba.  Translation:  perfection.

 

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See-through ceiling at Mwamba

 

Predator action at Mwamba is also immediate.  We begin our first afternoon game drive with a few guinea fowls running ahead of the vehicle, and Sly begins to explain that there is a female leopard around who has learned to hunt guinea fowls by ambushing them on the road.  Since I am fussing with my camera settings, Sly’s words barely register (“Yeah, ok.  Something about leopard and guinea fowl…”).  Merely seconds later, just in front of our vehicle, a large, spotted cat explodes eight feet in the air, her front paws extended and claws bared, barely missing a guinea fowl in flight.  She lands softly and silently, and she glances at us (sheepishly?) as if she is embarrassed to have missed her prey in public.  We soon lose her in the thickets but find her again (betrayed by her tail) in an ambush position next to the road, exactly at her previous ambush location.  We back the vehicle up to give the theatre some room and wait.  Lo and behold, a few minutes later, five guinea fowls (these pea-brains will never learn!) stroll down the road toward her.  Tension begins to mount in the vehicle:  Sly draws his camcorder ready; I reach for my smaller zoom lens for what could be a “career shot”; my right eye is firmly affixed to the camera’s viewfinder; and with my left eye, I can see a rivulet of perspiration coming down the side of Sly’s face.  The lead fowl gets to within 20 feet of the her, then 15 feet and then 10 feet, but inexplicably, the leopard does not make her move.  The lead fowl detects the leopard’s presence at the last minute and flies off, effectively calling off the ambush.  Sly and I exhale in disappointment.  No harm, no fowl.

 

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Sheepish (?)

 

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Ambush position (note her tail - bottom right)

 

That evening, the spotlight picks up the Mwamba-Kapanda pride hunting zebra.  While negotiating the black cotton soil in our vehicle, the kill is heard, not seen.  The noise of the kill is quickly replaced by the noise of several lions growling and jockeying for position at the kill.  At least now we have a straight line of black cotton soil to our destination.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, a spotted cat runs toward the kill!  It is a leopard, not a lion.  Why the heck is a leopard running toward several lions just about to feast on a zebra?  Sly recognizes this leopard as Elliott, the one-eyed leopard.  Perhaps due to his handicap, Elliott tends to steal kills from other predators, including those of his own mother (the guinea fowl-hunting leopard is believed to be Elliott’s mother).  Sly speculates that Elliott may have thought the zebra kill may have been that of a lesser predator.  At any rate, Elliott soon comes to his senses, makes a U-turn, and disappears into the night.

 

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Zebra eating sequence

 

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Elliott the one-eyed leopard

 

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Lioness sequence

 

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Benson Siyawareva joins me on my second day at Mwamba and for the rest of the trip.  I realize having Benson in addition to Sly (or any of Shenton’s excellent guides) is complete overkill (reminiscent of the Monty Python episode in which heavy artilleries are brought in to hunt a mosquito).  But by now Benson and I have become great friends, and I cannot fathom being without his company on safari.  What more can one say about Benson?  To suggest that he is one of the best safari guides in Africa is to actually miss the point.  He is exactly that but so much more.  I could go on and on, but let me just say I am privileged that he considers me a friend.

 

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Sly and Benson goofing at the Mwamba bar

 

That Mwamba Camp has a waterhole hide within its complex means Benson and I would be antisocial to those others at camp during the day.  You can literally spend all day at the hide watching the procession of animals and birds.  Other than the usual ungulate suspects and elephants, Lilian’s lovebirds offer up a rare close-up photo opportunity.  One small crocodile remains in this shrinking waterhole and makes several flailing attempts at impalas it seems at regular intervals, but at some point we need to eat lunch, go on our afternoon game activity, and otherwise get on with life.  The Mwamba hide is a dangerous place – literally for the animals, and figuratively for the photographer.

 

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Impalas from the Mwamba Hide

 

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Lilian's lovebirds

 

West of Mwamba Camp is a large black cotton soil area called the Lion Plain.  A few Crawshay’s zebras and even fewer Cookson’s wildebeests, two endemics of the Valley, graze what little is left.  A big herd of 300 buffalos are on the edge of the plain and heading toward the river to drink.  East of camp is an area called Fish Eagle, one of the most attractive lookout points on the Luangwa River.  Herds of impalas and pukus gather under the sausage trees lining the river, elephants and hippos abound, and a third pride of lions (the Hollywood Pride) laze in the thickets.  A picnic lunch for all the guests of Mwamba is organized at Fish Eagle one day.  A cool breeze kicks up as we, while gorging on delicious food, watch hundreds of animals and birds coming and going.  Patrick Njobvu, one of the senior guides at Shenton Safaris, declares, “life is good”.

 

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Cookson's wildebeest

 

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Buffalo

 

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Elephants on the riverbed

 

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Patrick (left) and Sly at Fish Eagle

 

So, life is good indeed at the moment in the Luangwa Valley (despite some looming “clouds on the horizon” for Zambia’s wildlife I will discuss later).  My first visit to the Valley is everything I’ve read about and dreamed of – and more.  And I will go out on another limb:  Shenton Safaris’ Kaingo and Mwamba camps just nose out Kwando Safaris’ camps in Botswana and the old Rekero Camp (before it was sold) in Kenya as the best on the continent in my book.  For those who want to be completely immersed in the wilds of Africa, Shenton’s camps in the Valley are “it”.


Edited by Safaridude, 17 November 2013 - 11:48 PM.


#2 africapurohit

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 04:56 PM

@Safaridude Wow what a start! No drip-feeding trip report here - more like opening the fridge and having all the contents fall out on top of you. Looking forward to more.....I'm still hungry  :D


Edited by africapurohit, 17 October 2013 - 04:57 PM.


#3 Safaridude

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 05:00 PM

More photos from South Luangwa...

 

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Dagga boy

 

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Impala

 

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Thornicroft giraffe

 

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Cat's whiskers

 

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Luwi Pride male

 

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ZAWA scout Peter

 

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A previously unknown male leopard south of Kaingo

 

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Tracker

 

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Sly

 

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Patrick Njobvu

 

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Calling it a day


Edited by Game Warden, 17 October 2013 - 11:51 PM.


#4 Tdgraves

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 05:05 PM

@Safaridude - sorry to contradict you, but Zambia was my first safari.....but I agree, it is an amazing place for many reasons

You have shamed me into starting my own TR - we were probably in the valley at a similar time, but your luck with the predators I'm afraid completely outdid ours - how amazing to see a leopard kill and then nearly another!

 

Great photos - I think the hide may have helped me - carmines are sooooo difficult to catch and being at eye level with hippos fighting is much better

I look forward to hearing about the rest of the trip, as I haven't been to any of the other places on your list........yet!!



#5 Paolo

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 05:19 PM

Great start of your much awaited report. You have got this gift of depicting and recreating a place with just a few descriptions....faboulous.

Judging from it, as well as @TonyQ ' s amazing experiences in the Nsefu Sector on the other side of the river, SLNP is rocking this year!

#6 Game Warden

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 05:52 PM

Oh my. As @Paolo states above, these 2 trip reports together are the only thing needed to sell SLNP...


"Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you." - African proverb.

 

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#7 Africalover

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 05:53 PM

Hi Safaridude

 

This tripreport is out of this world and the pics are wonderfull. Cant wait for more, please hurry up :-)

 

Michael



#8 Game Warden

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 06:08 PM

@Africalover (Off topic) Time to upload an avatar pic. Matt.


"Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you." - African proverb.

 

How to create your gallery album and upload images.

 

How to post images in the text.

Want to tag another member in a post? Use @ before their display name, eg @game warden


#9 AKR1

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 06:28 PM

K,
Have been looking looking forward to this. Amazing start to what is undoubtedly an incredible safari. Keep it coming!

#10 michael-ibk

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 06:58 PM

Safaridude trip report - and life is good.

Superb, can't wait for more.

#11 CapitanBurton

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 07:23 PM

Worderfull pictures, superb! as usual. Waiting for Bangwelu!



#12 TonyQ

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 07:29 PM

@Safaridude

Great start to your report + interesting to see the other side of the river - it looks like a great setup

You certainly had a very lively start to your trip.

Great leopard and lion pictures - and the Carmine bee-eater photos are excellent. I think having the hide makes a real difference - I found it almost impossible to get decent pictures.

 

I know it has been discussed elsewhere, but it is interesting that at least one of the leopards has been given a name (is that because the one-eyed leopard is special?)

In Nsefu, they didn't name them, even when as with our guide Braston, he obviously knew the individuals well.

 

It is wonderful seeing South Luangwa again with a different perspective. I am really looking forward to the next steps



#13 Paolo

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 07:51 PM

In Nsefu, they didn't name them, even when as with our guide Braston, he obviously knew the individuals well.


I recall a leopardess living around Nsefu named "Hazel", but it is possibly a one off.

#14 graceland

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 07:52 PM

WOW, what a great start to your travels and the pics== out of my mind over them!

 

I do think GW should start a complitation of Safaritalk TR's as there are so many astute and taleneted writers here on ST.  I imagine he could sell the book with a little help from his friends..."Diary of Safari Junkies", or something like that (@tonypark could figure that out!) and keep ST going on forever!

 

I'm glad I started with Ruaha, as I now have such a clearer idea of SNLP and surrounding areas. It seemed overwhelming to me at first.

 

Looking forward to much more Safaridude!



#15 marg

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 09:01 PM

This is great...back ground, game drives  and photos.  Our first stop on our first trip was to SLNP and we are talking about a return visit.  So, your timing and information is wonderful.  Please write again soon.



#16 Safaridude

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 09:11 PM

 

@Safaridude - sorry to contradict you, but Zambia was my first safari.....but I agree, it is an amazing place for many reasons

You have shamed me into starting my own TR - we were probably in the valley at a similar time, but your luck with the predators I'm afraid completely outdid ours - how amazing to see a leopard kill and then nearly another!

 

Great photos - I think the hide may have helped me - carmines are sooooo difficult to catch and being at eye level with hippos fighting is much better

I look forward to hearing about the rest of the trip, as I haven't been to any of the other places on your list........yet!!

 

Thank you @Tdgraves

 

When were you in the Valley and where?  I was there Sep 3 to Sep 8.  The bee-eater hide definitely helps, but they are so fast and furious the photography was a real challenge.  


Edited by Safaridude, 17 October 2013 - 09:11 PM.


#17 Safaridude

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 09:12 PM

Great start of your much awaited report. You have got this gift of depicting and recreating a place with just a few descriptions....faboulous.

Judging from it, as well as @TonyQ ' s amazing experiences in the Nsefu Sector on the other side of the river, SLNP is rocking this year!

 

Not so bad yourself!  @Paolo



#18 Safaridude

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 09:15 PM

@Safaridude

Great start to your report + interesting to see the other side of the river - it looks like a great setup

You certainly had a very lively start to your trip.

Great leopard and lion pictures - and the Carmine bee-eater photos are excellent. I think having the hide makes a real difference - I found it almost impossible to get decent pictures.

 

I know it has been discussed elsewhere, but it is interesting that at least one of the leopards has been given a name (is that because the one-eyed leopard is special?)

In Nsefu, they didn't name them, even when as with our guide Braston, he obviously knew the individuals well.

 

It is wonderful seeing South Luangwa again with a different perspective. I am really looking forward to the next steps

 

@TonyQ

 

Thank you.  The bee-eaters are nearly impossible to photograph, even from the hide.  Elliott's mother has been given a name, but I don't know what it is.  Whenever we were near the river, the Nsefu side (the other side) looked "greener"!  We did fine though on our side.



#19 twaffle

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 10:20 PM

Wonderful to wake up to this report. Loving both the photography and the writing.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#20 SafariChick

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 11:16 PM

@Safaridude Wow what a start! No drip-feeding trip report here - more like opening the fridge and having all the contents fall out on top of you. Looking forward to more.....I'm still hungry  :D

 

It's funny you put it that way @africapurohit because when Matt posted a  link to this report on twitter earlier and I only had time to glance at it briefly, I replied to him that I couldn't want til I had time to come home and devour it! Something about this report is like a delicious meal! @Safaridude I can't wait for more! And when you have a chance, I'd be interested too in some of the details such as how did you book the trip (through an agent? which one?) and some idea of the costs if you wouldn't mind sharing that? This report is making me VERY interested in visiting this area - I'll also have to go read @TonyQ ' s!







Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: South Luangwa, Bangweulu, Kasanka, Kafue


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