Saturday, November 21, 2015

South Luangwa - Day Two PM

I have to say that having an entire safari lodge to myself is both a treat and a bit unnerving. All these staff are here just for me; it seems like a lot of trouble. But this is the low season, and I got an amazing deal because of it. So I'm going with it.

I forgot to mention that this morning's drive found me contending with a familiar nemesis - tsetse flies. These creatures care not about thick clothing or insect repellent or any such thing - they bite me mercilessly, early and often. I think I came out okay, though - I felt them bit numerous times, but I only have three raised bites on my foot and leg. Hydrocortisone and zyrtec are helping keep them from becoming welts.

Anyway, we started out for a drive just before four, and Elias asked me what I would like to see. So I told him the two things I've never seen which I still really want to see are a kill and a honey badger. But I told him I knew that luck had much to do with seeing both and that I would have a great time no matter what. But I tell you what, he did his darndest to try to get me to see both tonight! And while we came up short (by inches, with the kill), there's still five more glorious nights to try.

We headed first to the river bank to see the wild dogs. Apparently they had killed another impala that morning while drinking water, so they were very full and content to lounge in mud and water and rejuvenate. The pups played, the adults splashed around with their tails, and everybody was in high spirits. 

After that we moved on, encountering a small herd of elephants with a tiny baby at a water hole. The baby, under a year old because it still easily fit under its mom, had to kneel and stretch its little trunk to reach the water. Then it would straighten back up and finally curl its trunk into its mouth to drink. Such a sweet thing to watch. 

We found some baobabs with significant elephant damage and saw a bachelor herd of waterbuck and several female kudus, the latter hiding behind bushes. The impala, puku, and warthogs were out in full force. And I don't think I've mentioned yet, but the guinea fowl are everywhere! In East Africa they weren't a rare sighting, but they weren't everywhere either. Here they're absolutely everywhere. And since they're one of my favorite birds, I love this! But, sadly, they never hold still for photos. 

After driving a bit farther we found several cars at the tree where we'd earlier seen One Eyed Leopard, and, sure enough, there he was. He had just climbed down from his perch and was walking towards either food or water, but without much urgency. A few times he lay down in the brush by our cars, content to let us photograph him and murmur at his beauty. Finally he tired of the attention and settled into some brush farther away. We headed onwards, in search of a leopard that had been sighted a few km away. I didn't know we were getting close, but I looked down on the river bank and saw the leopard walking. And while it was out in the open and not hidden at all, I was proud for spotting it first and correctly saying it was a leopard (it was a bit far out). This somewhat makes up for years of seeing leopards where there weren't any and getting excited only to realize it was a tree branch or stump.

This leopard, a female we hadn't yet met, was intent on getting a drink, and she continued on to the water. We found a bank a bit away and stopped for sundowners, keeping close watch on her position in case she decided to give chase. There was another vehicle stopped a little closer to her, so I decided they'd be better prey. 

Just as we were starting to pack up, a flock of guinea fowl started sounding their alarm, and we watched, laughing, as these guinea fowl literally chased the leopard away from the river and back up the bank to trees and brush. They didn't give up until she was well and truly gone, refusing to yield ground the few times she stopped and lay down. Little bullies!

The sun had set by now, so we were off. We had several very good glimpses of a male pennant-winged nightjar, a peculiar-looking nocturnal bird with elaborate feather streamers coming off both wings. Very interesting to watch it fly - it looked like multiple birds hanging together. 

We drove by a herd of elephants munching leaves and branches in thick brush, giving them a wide berth in case they felt threatened. The DLTs were all congregating now, and we headed towards them in hopes of seeing something hunting. Four hyenas emerged from their culvert sleep spot and started loping towards the fields as well. When we arrived at an open area we saw a couple vehicles spotlighting a lone hyena munching an impala carcass, possibly stolen from the dogs earlier in the day based on what little remained. Several vehicles were looking at the tree where we'd earlier seen One Eyed Leopard, so we headed there. Sure enough, there was a leopard in the grass, but it wasn't One Eye. It was Limping Mother Leopard, the cat from the previous night. And now we could easily see her limp, which doesn't seem to impede her terribly, since she's in great shape and has mothered at least one successful litter of cubs.

Watching a leopard hunt takes patience, Elias cautioned, but he was game if I was. And I was. So we watched (or listened, since we turned off the lights) as she stalked three puku. Two other vehicles watched as well but gave up after a few minutes. We persevered. The male puku had by now run off, so it was just LML and the two females. She looked to be giving up, since they knew she was there and were already nervous, but then she started charging ahead again. The puku shifted positions, and so did we. And that's when LML decided to use us again. We were parked facing the puku, and she lay in the shadow off the right side, just a few feet from where I sat. I'd like to say I could feel her pent-up energy as she readied herself to pounce, but I was just too giddy. And then she struck. We had the lights off, so we were going by sound. But we could hear the puku go in two different directions and turned on the light just in time to see her slow down in defeat, having missed by mere inches. She stalked away towards a group of impala, and we followed her, and while she made a few half-hearted attempts to go for them, she was too far and too much in the open.

I learned a lot from watching/listening to this. I was fascinated by the pukus and impalas who didn't run or retreat until the final pounce. I was amazed at how quiet the big cat was, even when running. I found that my eyes adjusted to find her in the dark but not the impalas/puku as well. She appeared as a lighter blob against the night. And she once again showed her love for safari vehicles as a hunting tool. Which may be the edge she needs to help her with a limp in order to be a successful hunter.

By now it was time to head back, though we scoped out a few areas where honey badgers are known to reside on our way. None were there tonight. But we'll keep trying. We arrived back to the lodge to a hearty welcome from the staff, and I checked email quickly before heading to the lawn to dine under the stars by candlelight. I finished reading Daphne Sheldrick's memoir about conservation efforts and raising orphaned animals, especially elephants, in Kenya, which was a fitting end to the day. And now I'm cosy in my chalet ready to doze off and start again early tomorrow. 

The dogs hanging out near the river

Sweet little pup

Wild dogs lounging in the mud

See all the dogs?

Pups, only a few months old

Elephants on parade

Male waterbuck and impala

One Eyed Leopard again!


Such amazing coloring

The next several photos are of the adorable elephant baby trying to drink

I love this one, with him kneeling and stretching

Tree, eaten by elephants

Leopard on the river bank

Sundowner spot

Retreating from the guinea fowl

Hyena and impala

Hyenas eat most of the bones too; there's not much left when they're done

Limping Mother Leopard on the prowl

We spent quite a bit of time with her, but she was not a lucky hunter while we were there. So close, though.


Kate said...

How do you usually choose where you are going to go on safari? We've been eight or so times now, but we usually just decide "hey, we're going to South Afica/Zimbabwe/Botswana,mlet's see what we can dig up for places to go". Some of the places you've been would never have occurred to us (like Zambia).

Do you go by deals? By word of mouth?

Sadie said...

I do a little of all of the above. For example, I wanted to go on safari this fall but wasn't prepared to pay migration prices in Kenya or Tanzania. So I started with my favorite brand (Sanctuary) and looked at all of their lodges for the best deals. South Luangwa was a place I'd wanted to go, and it was one of the few places Sanctuary had a great deal and no single supplement. The flights were pretty pricey, though, so I might have been better off paying for a cheaper airfare destination and paying a bit more for accommodation. South Luangwa was high on my list because of leopards, and it didn't disappoint. Next time I might be in the mood for more cheetahs so may go back to Kenya/Tanzania. One of my favorite parks, but with fewer accommodation options, is Etosha in Namibia. If you are interested in Kenya, Uganda, or Tanzania, I am happy to give you my travel agent's info - he did all of the trips I did while posted in Uganda. I actually asked him if he could do this Zambia trip, but he is pretty specialized. I did a lot of camping safaris when I was in college/grad school, so now I prefer the higher end options. It's my favorite splurge vacation!

Kate said...

We can trade! We have a great guy for Southern Africa, but he doesn't do East Africa, and we've been thinking of spreading our wings a bit...

Sadie said...

Sorry for the delay in responding! Mohit at is awesome, and he only works with reputable vendors/lodging. I had awesome experiences with him - he did all of my Uganda/Kenya/Tanzania travel arrangements over two years.