Wednesday, December 16, 2015

South Luangwa - Day Four

Today was a rainy day without much other redemption. I know the park and its animals and people needed the rain, but it did put a bit of a damper on my vacation, even if I knew it was coming. I think what did it was that I was expecting a thunderstorm with a few hours of rain, so when I woke up at 5:30 to find it had rained all night and was still pouring I was a bit disheartened. I told the morning guard when he knocked that I would not safari this morning and that I'd have breakfast at 9:30. I'm sure all were relieved not to have to do anything early in this weather. I didn't sleep soundly after that but dozed on and off until 9:00.

I had a cooked breakfast today and lingered over a few cups of tea before retiring to the library to curl up in a comfy chair and read. I did this until the rain started to let up around 11:30 and then took a short nap before lunch. I stayed at the main lodge until it was time to go on our drive and enjoyed the downtime and the much cooler air.

The drive didn't result in great sightings of anything except impala, and it sadly broke my streak of having seen a leopard on every drive. We did see more giraffes today than all previous days, and at much closer range. We stuck mainly to the main roads to avoid flooding and getting stuck in the mud, which definitely limited our viewing, especially since the animals had dispersed to the now full waterholes and streams around the park. Still, I didn't want to get stuck so didn't push this. 

Birds were out en masse, eating insects and frogs and other delicacies from the puddles and streams. We saw lots of ibis, a few storks, plenty of guinea fowl, plovers, hornbills, and much more. We even saw two juvenile Bateleur eagles roosting in a tree! 

Once the sun went down we strayed a bit from the main roads on hard-packed sand roads and tried to find some hunting cats, but to no avail. Our two big sightings were a crocodile crossing the road, having left the river for a waterhole to spend the rainy season in, and a civet (like a raccoon) foraging. He didn't pose for pictures, though. The crocodile slightly indulged me even as it lumbered away from the lights.

Upon return to the lodge I discovered that they'd set up a table on my chalet's porch for my dinner. It was lovely! I dined by candlelight, listening to the birds and frogs and baboons and watching the impalas walk by and munch on new grass. There's a perfect tree for a leopard right next to my porch, and every morning I wake up and open the curtains hoping to find one there. And then I started thinking about what I would do if a leopard came up right now. I had several ideas, most of them involving wielding the candles as weapons and rushing to the door. Sadly (?) these solutions were not needed. And now I need to shower and get to sleep before another hopefully action-packed day tomorrow.

Juvenile Bateleur eagles

Crested hornbill

Shy elephant reaching for branches

A little blurry, but it's not often you see a croc crossing the road at night a long distance from the nearest water source.
I wonder what got that chunk of its tail...

Saturday, December 12, 2015

South Luangwa Day Three - PM

Rain was the theme for this afternoon. Ever since the ten day forecast online showed the days I'd be on safari I was stalking it for rain updates. November is the beginning of the short rain season, but they often begin later in the month. I had wanted to come here in October, but the rates were almost double   what they were for November, so I decided I'd risk a little rain. In some parks the first rain means a complete dispersal of game and tougher viewings because there are more water holes and the grass starts to grow. My internet research told me that the first few rains in November would be fairly short and shouldn't interfere too much with wildlife sightings. So even when the Tuesday afternoon/Wednesday morning rain predictions grew to higher percentages, I decided not to worry. Too much.

When I woke up from my post-lunch nap (a hard life, I know), there were clouds in the distance, but it was still pretty clear by the lodge. I couldn't see the lions from this morning while I was having tea on the veranda, but we decided to go look for them anyway. And, sure enough, they were there. I was wrong earlier - it was a mother and two growing cubs, but one was male and one female. And at the moment they were being backed away from their resting spot by an angry elephant who wanted them gone in the worst way. The female cub (probably a few years old) had already retreated, but mom and son stood their ground for a moment before giving up and finding a new spot to rest. Mom wore a radio collar and is said to be an excellent huntress. The cubs, however, are still learning. This was proven to be true when the female cub took off across the field heading for some antelope and using the gully as cover. Her plan was reasonably sound except that the angry elephant and two of its friends were now in the gully and caused quite a ruckus when they saw her trying to hunt. They were loud enough to chase off all the antelope, and the cub sulked in a mud hole in the gully. Mom and son had stood at the sound of the elephants but now lay back down, Mom almost seeming to sigh and shake her head. We left them be and headed off.

The next two hours were very quiet as we explored some less traversed areas of the parks, seeing lots of evidence of animals but few actual animals aside from impala, puku, and baboons and monkeys. We spotted a few shy bushbuck and one female Sharpe's grysbok, a tiny little antelope. There was evidence of both lions and buffalo having been there, but it was quiet now. We continued to explore the thickets before heading to the river bank for sundowners, kept company by baboons, impala, puku, and hippos and crocs in the water. 

We had stayed sunny and dry thus far, but the rain cloud on the horizon was drawing nearer, and the thunder and lightning were closer and more frequent. We pressed on anyway, seeing the dogs a bit down the river bank. We drew closer to them and watched as the puppies played and jumped and howled and then rushed to see some of the adults as they returned, possibly with food to regurgitate. A few of the adults looked at the nearby puku, but it was almost dark now, and they don't see well at night. We left them and pressed on.

It took longer to really get dark tonight than it has the past two nights, and the DLTs seemed to take longer to settle down into the fields. We saw another vehicle stopped and saw, as we pulled alongside, the male leopard from earlier enjoying his impala. It was still under the same tree. This time he let us watch him eat for a few minutes, spotlights and all, before retreating away from the light. We left him in peace, as did the other vehicle, and headed on. Soon after Elias said the rains were close and we should head back. It was 7:00 so not too much earlier than normal, and I was pleased that the rains held off for as long as they did. But they came with a vengeance once we reached the main road. We all hurriedly put on our rainjackets, and I bundled my camera and binoculars in their bag under my jacket. We drove quickly, and the rain was that stinging type that hurt your face. I covered my face with my hood and held on tight. Luckily we were only a few minutes away from the lodge, but it was enough for me to be soaked from the knees down. Not too bad, all things considered. I was met with a dry towel instead of the usual cold one, which I accepted gratefully. I decided to go back to my room and change before dinner. 

As we walked to my room (there's always an escort at night in case animals are nearby), the walkways were getting very wet and water was pooling. Killian, the manager, asked if I might want to dine in my room, and I gratefully agreed. I took a shower and changed into pajamas and then enjoyed a lovely dinner in my chalet, watching the lightning and listening to the thunder outside. And now it's only 8:15, and I'm ready for bed! I might get a full eight hours tonight; I told them not to wake me early if it was still raining, so we'll see what the morning brings. The positive thing is that the rain is supposed to taper off in the morning, and that's the last of rain on the forecast for the week. So here's to cooler temps and happier animals!

Elephant/lion standoff on pause for a moment.

And there it goes again. 

Very relaxed young man.

I love this photo with the tongue!

Notice Mom's tracking collar.

The young female, an independent spirit.

Getting ready to explore.

Warily checking his sister's adventures.

Hiding from elephants in the gully.

Chasing out the sister.

No eating antelope on her watch!

See how close the lions are to the lodge?

The main building is on the left, my building is the one on the very right.

This building has two rooms; mine is on the right, obscured by the tree.

Sharpe's grysbok!

The grysbok again.

It's hard to tell, but the dogs are on the riverbed hunting here.

Red-billed quelea

Leopard again!

He's back for his antelope.

He was much more tolerant of visitors at night.

Blurry head, but that tongue!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

South Luangwa - Day Three AM

Five thirty am came quickly today, though I slept very soundly. After a quick cold breakfast I was in the car, and we set out by 6:10 for our morning drive. It is much cooler today and appears to have rained somewhere. Rain is forecast for the evening today so we'll see. There were clouds this morning, but the sun finally came through. But right up until about 9:30 am it was quite cool with a lovely breeze.

We saw animals in fits and spurts this morning, as sometimes happens. You'll drive for twenty minutes without seeing anything so much as a turtle dove, and then all of a sudden there are several herds of antelope and a bunch of predators! We first saw a lone hyena heading away from the dead elephant; she stopped to wallow in a mud hole and let us take her picture before continuing on. We skirted the river bank where we'd seen the leopard yesterday, but she either wasn't there or was well hidden. We continued farther afield and turned into an open field with some fresh green grass where puku and impala were munching with great enthusiasm. It looked like it might have gotten some rain last night here. And then we heard the impala warning calls and looked over to see several vehicles clustered around a tree. We headed closer and saw the lions - seven of them. Six females, including some younger ones, and a young male just starting to grow a mane. They were watchful of the game around them but perfectly content to lie in the shade and be admired. Apparently this is a pride of nine, but one female and another young male were missing. 

After a few minutes we headed over to the herd of elephants clustered under wild mango tree, being fed by the yellow baboons. The elephant love these fruits but can't reach the high branches where the fruits are, so they wait for the baboons to shake them loose and fall to the ground. It was a group of four males (including a young one just growing tusks) and one female. They were a bit aggressive to each other while competing for the fruit. I love watching symbiotic relationships in action. We took another pass at the lions who hadn't moved much and then headed off. 

We hit another dry spell as we drove through some new (to me) territories, but Elias used the time to have me identify scat and footprints and look at weaver bird nests. I definitely need to brush up on my scat/track identification, though I got the hyena scat right. (It's white due to the bones they ingest.) We also saw the first buffalo of my trip, two retired generals hiding in the bush.

Elias got a phone call that there was a leopard with a kill near the lodge, and since it was already 9:00 we decided to check it out. We saw a hyena emerge from its culvert den and a few warthogs, but there was little else on the way. 

When we reached the area where the leopard had been the first thing we saw was a herd of buffalo. It was a big herd, roughly 200 of them, and they were grazing and crossing a gully in front of us. We watched them for a bit and set out to find the leopard. We saw him from a distance, but he was skittish and ran away as soon as we got close. We caught a couple glimpses of him in retreat but didn't get great views. He did leave his disemboweled impala for us to admire, though. So if you're squeamish maybe don't look at all the photos below.

We were pretty close to the lodge and headed back, unexpectedly passing the wild dogs in their secluded day spot. They were dozing in the shade, and even the pups weren't playing right now. The sun was starting to get hot. So we finished our trip back to the lodge. The staff who greeted us excitedly told us about the lions they had been watching from the lodge, so we headed to the veranda and got out our binoculars. And sure enough, there were three lions in the distance. It looked to me like three lionesses, but the staff told me it was a mother lioness and two adolescent cubs, a male and female. They were visible with the naked eye but not with great clarity. They settled under a shady tree for a nap, and I headed back to my room to freshen up before lunch. 

So the totals for predators: lots of hyenas (I haven't been counting); fourteen lions (the four males, the seven from this morning, and the three in the distance); 20 wild dogs, spotted on three consecutive drives; four leopards (two males, two females, with two good sightings each of one of the males and females). Not bad for four game drives!

Hyena smiling in the morning sun

Zebra and hiding baby!

Matabele ants - they eat termites! The line of them was incredibly long.

Muddy hippo

Big crocs!


Pretty young male and several females

Elephants and baboons eating wild mangos

Bamboo in the mango tree

South Luangwa is known for its hippo density!


Hippo fight


Leopard! Right in the center of the photo, walking away.

Leopard-killed impala
The dogs!

Sleepy puppy.