Its Monday and birds, dogs, leopards, and more birds!

I hope that you are all marvellously well and have had a lovely weekend. Here in the Luangwa well we are foot pressed down hard on the accelerator keeping ourselves very busy but whilst we carry on with the maintenance lets hand you over to Steve Middlehurst who was with us over Christmas: “We were…

I hope that you are all marvellously well and have had a lovely weekend. Here in the Luangwa well we are foot pressed down hard on the accelerator keeping ourselves very busy but whilst we carry on with the maintenance lets hand you over to Steve Middlehurst who was with us over Christmas:

“We were privileged to spend Christmas with Robin Pope Safaris in South Luangwa, Zambia. Our daughter Becky had been there with RPS last Easter and her tales of leopards, lions and hyaenas proved too great a temptation so there we were for five nights.

And we were not to be disappointed, on our first drive with the guide extraordinaire Jonna Banda we saw a leopard in daylight; a close and lengthy encounter culminating in a very special moment when she called her cub, and he descended a tree to join her just in front of us.

Over the next four days the mammal sightings were memorable; intimate experiences with many peoples’ bucket list animals including watching wild dogs hunt, lions on a kill, hyaenas feasting on a stolen leopard kill and spotting honey badgers on a night drive.

But some time ago we realised that if we go out looking for birds instead of chasing elusive mammals a whole lot of good things happen. We are never disappointed, in a place like South Luangwa with more than 450 species in the park there are always going to be birds to find, and many are beautiful or rare or engaging in other ways. It keeps us sharp, we are scanning and listening to the bush at the detail level, so we attune more fully to its sights and sounds. The mammals are still there, and we are more rather than less likely to spot a leopard if we are scanning the trees for birds, and we get to practice a technically and artistically demanding form of photography that we find very rewarding.

We are photographers rather than birders, but we became so engaged with the hunt that we ended up logging everything we saw. Jonna, of course, has extensive knowledge of the birds in the park and his ability to spot and identify them from afar by sight or sound was invaluable. He also gets just as excited as us when we see something unusual like a pennant-winged nightjar in our headlamps or a violet-backed starling hiding amongst Meve’s starlings. In just 4 ½ days in the park we recorded, what we thought was an incredible, 100 species and managed to photograph at least 70 of them.

We had some special sights to enjoy; over 200 black storks in flight right above us; dozens of yellow billed storks in large mixed flocks with western cattle egrets, marabou storks, African spoonbills, ruffs, black-winged stilts and even the occasional great white pelican.

Juvenile southern carmine bee-eaters left behind when their parents departed after the breeding season; seven little bee-eaters huddled together on a branch at night; marabou storks and hooded vultures standing amongst the resting wild dog pack perhaps waiting for them to hunt; and a woodland kingfisher in the very process of exiting its nest hole.

Some of the birds we saw are critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable and it is reassuring to see them in a safe, well managed environment allowing them to thrive even if they are threatened elsewhere. In this context we were excited to see a beautiful grey crowned crane, a bateleur, Lilian’s lovebirds and an African woolly-necked stork. Less lovely but equally threatened are the hooded and white backed vultures which we saw on several occasions.

The emerald season was probably not as advanced as might have been expected but there had been enough rain to generate a sense of new beginnings, a fresh season full of promise painting the bush in every shade of green, causing the river to rise, flooding the lagoons, and filling the plains with new life.

Once we recognised the foliage and vivid green backdrops as our friend not our enemy, we settled into photographing the fast-rejuvenating bush and its inhabitants that were changing their behaviour even in the short time we were there. For example, the first two days saw no rain and thirty-plus elephants including many babies and young ones were frequent visitors to the large waterhole in front of the house where they indulged in communal mud baths; but after heavy overnight rain many other muddy wallows became available to the breeding herds, and the waterhole was only frequented by the occasional bull elephant.

Having visited many parks in the dry season and quite a few in the emerald season we have come to realise, in a park like South Luangwa where there is a mixture of forest and plains enhanced by one of the few intact river systems in Africa, that the emerald season offers something quite unique to photographers, birders and anyone who just loves being in one of the largest untamed wilderness areas in Africa.

The vibrant colours and lush foliage amplify that sense of untamed wilderness, the wildlife is well fed and healthy getting on with breeding, nesting, and birthing, there are baby antelopes and elephants all around and many of the migrant birds are in situ. And the sheer beauty of the landscape at this time of year should not be underestimated.

I won’t say it’s quieter because the bush is full of life and at its most vibrant and noisy but there are certainly less of us tourists about. We can’t wait to get back when the rains come again to see our new friends at RPS and to once more experience what is fast becoming recognised as one of the greatest parks in Africa.”

Wow amazing thanks so much for sharing with us and we look forward to having you back to stay!

After such a wonderful story there is very left for me to say except have the most fantastic week with plenty of smiles and laughter, and don’t forget to look after one another.