Tuesday, January 12, 2016

South Luangwa - Final Day

I just finished my last official game drive in South Luangwa (not counting the quicker drive to the airport in Mfuwe later on). It was a beautiful morning, but there just wasn't much game about other than the common animals - and seemingly fewer of them than we've been seeing.

Highlights were elephants again going crazy for the wild mango fruits, a water monitor lizard eating, and a silly young elephant who wasn't paying attention to where he was running and didn't see our vehicle until the last minute. He visibly jumped, turned tail, and ran away to find his mom, trumpeting all the way.

I'm almost packed, just need to take a final shower after lunch and change clothes, and my iPhone and iPad are charging for the final leg of the journey home. I've absolutely loved it here, but I am excited to see my cats and sleep in my own bed. I think this was the perfect amount of time away, as I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. I had a tough few months prior to this and so really needed to disengage. And this has certainly been what I needed; I stuck to my vow not to check work emails at all. I may start peeking in airports on the way back, but that will be mostly to triage.

Zambia is a lovely country with warm, friendly people and amazing natural beauty. I think I could happily serve in Lusaka. It's a small city with not a ton to do, but it has my favorite South African brands and has decent weather and is close to lots of great safari destinations. I asked a lot of questions of the other family about life in Lusaka, and they were very positive. I'm always scoping out future posts!

South Luangwa has been wonderful for its leopards and the night drives - that combination is unique, and I'd love to come back. We explored some areas of the park on this morning's drive that I hadn't previously seen, and these were gorgeous as well. I love the Sanctuary brand, but I also scoped out some other options that are much more affordable on a non-super-splurge trip. 

Anyway, I'll sign off now and head up for my final lunch at Chichele.

Baboon and baby

Scavenging wild mangos

Crested crane


Another land monitor


Very contentedly caked in mud

Shy bushbuck 
Feeling us out


Monday, January 11, 2016

South Luangwa - Day Seven

Today was another gorgeous day in the bush, my last full day. We started out at the usual time and soon found a whole group of baby banded mongoose in a tree stump. No adults were in sight, so it must have been the nursery! Buoyed by this adorable sighting we enjoyed the elephants, giraffes (including two neck fighting), and zebras we encountered. There were a few hyena on patrol and lots of vultures eating the final pieces of the dead elephant, but not much else was stirring. We gave the leopard area our best attempt but came up short. The impala was still in the tree, untouched since we'd seen it the night before. Kudu and waterbuck and plenty of impala and puku were out, as usual. We headed to where we'd seen the two male lions a few days back but soon got word they had moved on, so we turned back. We were almost back to the lodge when we heard the mother lion and her two cubs were nearby, so we went to find them. They were there, lying about, but it wasn't a terribly exciting time for them, so we let them be after a few minutes.

After a delightful lunch and a lovely siesta, it was time for my final afternoon/evening drive. As I got into the vehicle the lodge manager told me he'd managed to get me on a later flight out of Mfuwe tomorrow so I could spent a leisurely morning at the lodge and not have to spend eight hours at Lusaka airport. Success!

We set off in search of the lions and the wild dog, whose tracks had been spotted for the first time in days. We came up short on both counts but very much enjoyed the drive and the usual animals. The red billed queleas were in fine form again tonight. These remarkable seed-eaters band together in swarms of very large numbers, into the millions I've heard. These were likely a few thousand strong, and they moved in a seemingly coordinated wave, up in the air, down to the ground, up, down, around. It's a truly beautiful thing to watch.

Near the leopard area we found a hyena lying on its side, flicking its tail. Elias wondered if it was waiting for a leopard nearby to leave its kill so it could scavenge. But a thorough search produced nothing. So we headed to the nearby riverbank for sundowners. The drinks were just being poured when we started hearing the telltale calls of the impala and puku warning their herds that a leopard was nearby. We decided to pack it in and search out the cat especially since the family hadn't seen one yet. So, drinks in our hands, we piled back in and set back out. 

The antelope were definitely on guard, but we couldn't find anything anywhere, even following their gazes. We were just about to give up when we all saw her at once, perched on a too-small-for-her branch in a tree next to the road. She had been on foot and jumped up when the antelope got wind of her (literally) and was now weighing her options. She had both back legs splayed over the branch on either side and was quite chilled out. She tolerated our oohs and ahhs and cameras and even preened a bit. This was the same cub who'd had the impala and aardvark the day before. Just as another vehicle approached she popped up on her branch, balancing like a professional, and then slowly climbed down. I think I caught this on video. She walked back into the thick grass, and we let her be. 

The family jumped in another vehicle to head back, and I buckled down for the final night drive. The bugs were still bothersome tonight but nothing like yesterday. We did our rounds in the area finally returning to where we'd seen the cub earlier, and then we spotted her. Except that we soon realized it was actually her mother, Limping Mother leopard. The cub had disappeared. LML likes vehicles, and she took us on a short walk, marking a few trees with her scent, playfully batting a downed tree with her front paws, and staying entirely within view. We watched for a while but she didn't seem keen to hunt, so we went to find other night creatures.

I was really hoping to see a honey badger, but it was not to be. But we did see both a civet and a porcupine in open enough areas that I got photos, and a genet popped up in front of us with a freshly-caught mouse in her mouth. But she quickly ran off to enjoy her dinner. We wound in and out of the areas off the main road but didn't see anything else before arriving back at the lodge. Another lovely dinner under a sky full of stars, and now it's time for my last early night and early rise of this trip. It has been idyllic!

So many baby mongooses!

Mother and babies - vervets

Giraffes neck fighting

Dead elephant, complete with vultures, many days after its natural demise.

Baby warthogs

Lions! Same group from a few days before.

Showing off his best side

Monitor lizard

Absolutely gorgeous leopard

The tongue cracks me up

Time to get down and hunt

Limping Mother



Sunday, January 10, 2016

South Luangwa - Day Six PM

This afternoon/evening's drive was absolutely lovely. But what I'm going to remember most are the bugs. The first rains bring a lot of new things - grass, waterholes, births, etc. But they also bring new bugs. Namely flying termites. Oh how I remember these things from Kidepo in Uganda after the first spring rains, but they were nowhere near as bad as tonight. It was a constant onslaught from these winged devils and their beetle friends. I had to keep my glasses tight to my face, my mouth and nose covered, and I was still constantly flicking them off of me. And don't even get me started on the ones who found ways up my pants and down my shirt. Shudder.

Let's back up. A lovely young family of four arrived at the lodge this afternoon, Lusaka dwellers who are frequent safari goers. Their two young girls were amazingly well behaved on the drive (you never know...), and they even correctly identified many animals (even the one still in diapers!). We spent the afternoon winding our way along the river, encountering lots of impala and puku and few giraffes and zebra. We drove unexpectedly in the path of a herd of eleven elephants heading to the river. They were presided over by a very pregnant matriarch and protected by a relatively mature bull with big tusks and a loud trumpet. There were two toddlers, babies between 1-2 years of age, one of them still nursing. They were a bit nervous, so we kept backing up, but after the bull did a mock charge and a trumpet he decided we were fine and moved on. 

We went a different way and met them at the river and watched them cross in an area where upon my arrival there had been no water but now the babies were up to their backs. They splashed and played a bit and made it to the other side with no casualties, much to the dismay of the crocs.

Now that the rains have come, the babies are coming too! We found a brand new impala, still wet from its birth, with mom licking him over and nudging him into the thicket as he tried out his legs. Several pukus not much older were also practicing their walking. It was lovely to see. 

There were several good vantage points for watching the Southern Carmine's bee eaters again, with swarms as large as this morning. Quite amazing. We stopped for sundowners, and then the family joined another vehicle to take them back to the lodge, while I continued on for a night drive.

Now that we knew where the leopards were it was easy to start our search. We were just starting our circuit around their favorite fields when we heard the baboons go crazy. So we followed the sounds to their source, and, sure enough, there was a leopard right there. It was the second of Limping Mother's cubs, a littermate of the one we'd seen earlier. She was a bit shy and kept to the thickets as she prowled. One baboon in particular was going absolutely nuts over her presence and was shouting and dropping branches and doing his level best to warn everything nearby. We shined the light on him and were treated to quite a show!

The leopard kept walking, crossing the road now and then to rub against trees and leave her scent, but she never really made a move to hunt anything. Maybe the baboons scared her off after all. We let her be and went to find her sister's kills. The impala was still in the tree, seemingly in the same state we had last seen it. I don't think she returned. We didn't find the aardvark but got sidetracked by a (live) porcupine who wanted desperately not to be seen.

A dozen or so hippos, including a few very young ones, were out grazing, and one of the babies seemed terrified by our presence, running in a zigzag and stumbling several times. His mom just watched. She seemed to be able to distinguish predator from vehicle, but the young one did not.

We saw several genets and another porcupine at a distance, as well as a mom and baby bush-tailed mongoose, but that was about it. Aside from a few hyenas, but they're becoming a bit old hat. Come to think of it, though, we saw one earlier who had a hurt leg, possibly broken. I'm not sure what will become of her. 

Back to the lodge we went, and I was so happy to be away from the bugs. But they were also evident in the lodge, though not quite so in-your-face. One of the staff found a small scorpion in the dirt by the main entrance and showed me. He said they're not poisonous but they do hurt when they sting. I had no intention of testing this out! And then it was time for dinner, a shower, and bed. Only one more full day left here.

Just born puku

Hyena with a bad leg

Elephants heading to the river 
More bee eaters in the air

Testing the waters

Halfway there!

Keeping baby in the middle 

Feeding frenzy once again!

Marking territory