May: The month when the valley comes alive with activity as everybody gears up for the busy season that officially starts on July 1st.
At Wildlife Camp, by the time this letter reaches cyber space, most of the work would have been finished. The bush-camp is standing and looking better than ever. It opened on Monday the 30th and will be up and running for the next 5 months. We were fortunate that the rainy season did not take away a big chunk from the river bank and we can use the same great location as before.
Patsy represented Wildlife Camp at this year’s Indaba, Africa’s largest travel trade show. Thank you to everybody who met with her down in South Africa.
The next big thing.
Over the years man has discovered various ways to keep himself occupied during his holidays and over weekends. Some years ago, going to shopping malls was the popular thing to do. Then came jogging and suddenly everybody wanted to finish a marathon at least once in their lives. Motorcycling, golfing, collecting buttons, catching your own trout, making your own sushi… Now, sitting here in the Luangwa Valley, I think I have identified the next big “thing”: Birding.
According to Wildlife Camp guide Phillimon, the number of guests interested in birds have risen dramatically over the last 5 years. More people get onto our safari vehicles with a “birds of Southern Africa” (which is better for South Luangwa than the Central African bird guides) and a good pair of binoculars than ever before.
The reason for this might be that birds and their behaviour are more dynamic than that of mammals. They pose a bigger challenge. Birds migrate, they change colours, they sing, they dance, they fly and they build houses.
Take the Hamerkop (Scopus Umbretta) for example. These birds, with their squeaky whistling cry are often found wading in shallow water or standing about near to a lagoon or the river and is no bigger than a medium sized chicken. But between two of them they can build a nest that weighs up to 40kg’s using anything they can find. It is not uncommon for these birds to find pieces of old clothes, rubber or plastic lying around in the village to use as building material. An article even describes a bicycle rim sticking out of a nest. Other birds, such as Egyptian Geese, often nest on top of the Hamperkop nests, something which the Hamerkop tolerates because it adds extra eyes to be on the lookout for danger. Hamerkops will maintain and use the same nest throughout their lives unless they get evicted by snakes or owls.
Making a birdie.
Unlike a leopard that never changes its spots, some birds change their colours. Male masked-weavers (Ploceus Velatus) turn from brown to yellow in their breeding season. Great White Egrets (Casmerodius Albus) normally have yellow beaks, as on the photo, that will turn black when breeding.
And then off course there are the juveniles…
Juvenile mammals generally look like down-scaled versions of the adults. But in birds this is often not the case. Young fish-eagles (Haliaeetus Vocifer) do not look like adult fish eagles and juveniles Bateleur Eagles (Terathopius Ecaudatus) do not resemble adults in any way imaginable.
And just when you think that you know what you are talking about when it comes to your new hobby, birding, you’ll find out that birds like the Fork-Tailed Drongo (Dicrurus Adsimilis) imitates the calls of other birds. And that is why birding is such an excellent hobby – getting a birdie or an eagle or an albatros in golf is one thing. Getting to know a birdie or an eagle or an albatros in the bush is a different challenge all together.
South Luangwa is a birder’s paradise and we have several specials on the menu for birders. Specialities here include the Pal’s fishing owl (Scotopelia Peli), which shrill cry can often be heard here at Wildlife Camp as soon as the sun disappears behind the Muchinga-escarpment.
The White Crowned Plover (Xiphidiopterus albiceps) is also a regular sight here at Wildlife Camp as they bomb the baboons trying to protect their eggs. And please do not ask me why the White-Crowned Plover has bigger wattles than the Wattled Plover.
Western-Banded Snake Eagles (Circaetus Cinerascens) are seen regularly and make sure to look into the reed-beds to find the beautiful Fire-Crowned Bishop (Euplectes Hordeaceus).
If you are lucky enough to see a Steppe Eagle (Aquila Nipalensis) in the months between October and February, think for a moment that the bird you are witnessing came all the way from areas as far as the southern parts of Russia to be in Southern Africa at that moment in time.
The good thing about birds is that you do not necessarily have to know its name and social behaviour to enjoy it. Birds like the bee-eaters are colourful on purpose – to attract bees and other insects – and humans in general are suckers for anything colourful. Explaining behaviour can also be up to your own imagination. People in the Luangwa Valley believe that vultures are vivid dreamers – how else would they know where to find a carcass to feed on the next day?
And if you are a bit scared after all this to take up your binoculars and become a birder, do not forget that the Luangwa Valley also offers elephant, buffalo, Thornicroft’s giraffe, hippo, kudu, lion, impala, puku, porcupine, bushbuck, warthog, a variety of mongooses, heyna, four-toed elephant shrew, squirrel, leopard, genet, civet, honey badger, baboon, monkey and the list goes on and on and on.
Moment of the Month.
Before I continue with this one, I’d like to say upfront that we do not find snakes around each corner of the camp and the ones that we do encounter are 99.9% of the time neither dangerous nor aggressive. And I think it is important to also look at the smaller things in the bush (like birds for example) when it comes to putting together a highlight package of our safaris.
This stripe-bellied sand snake caught this frog behind the office and it was an experience watching it work the amphibian meticulously into its mouth. These snakes will usually get out of your way as soon as they feel you approaching but this one, probably a little hungry, decided not to give up his frog and flee. It gave us all a good show and a rare lesson in endurance – it took more than 5 minutes for the frog to dissapear.
And that is it for me and for May from everybody at Wildlife Camp.
Greetings from the Luangwa Valley, Zambia.