sausage tree

September - our Spring - is a lovely month to travel in southern Africa. Depending on the season the trees are flowering, birds singing and it's a joy to be out of the office! It was a very busy month for us with a 3-week safari that started in Zambia and ended in the stunning Matobo Hills outside Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.

Our first port of call was lunch at the lovely colonial gem of River Club 18km upstream from Livingstone and the Victoria Falls on the Zambian side of the Zambezi River. River Club has its own rich history with the original property dating back to just after the second World War. The Livingstone Museum is worth a visit for insight into the national and cultural heritage of Zambia. Activities here include sunset cruises on the river, fishing, game drives into Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park with the chance of seeing White Rhino (on foot), cultural village excursions and the many adventure opportunities at the Falls themselves.

River Club
River Club Boat Cruise
River Club - main complex
River Club - boat cruise

A mid-afternoon boat trip, downstream, took us to the magnificent newly-rebuilt African Bush Camps' Thorntree Lodge situated in Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park. We spent the night there - and this really is 5-star luxury all the way. The lodge is a beautiful eclectic mix of clean lines, recycled and repurposed wood, industrial style fittings and lovely muted, textured fabrics. Our hosts were attentive and entertaining and dinner was a delicious affair - with eye-catching dishes served on a multitude of interesting crockery.

Thorntree Lodge
Thorntree Lodge Thorntree Lodge
Thorntree Lodge - main complex
Thorntree Lodge - guest room
Thorntree Lodge

Early the following we took a short dawn boat trip on the Zambezi and were able to get our first ever photos of the elusive African Finfoot! Elephants feeding on the phragmites on the edge of the river, curious hippos and spectacular sausage trees in flower (taking the top spot in this newsletter) attracting a host of nectar feeding birds were the highlights on this outing. Other activities here are game drives into the national park, visits to Victoria Falls, rhino trekking on foot, cultural village visits, sunset river cruises, fishing, canoeing and visits to the Livingstone Museum.

finfoot elephant

Then our good friends, Rory & Dori McDougall collected us from Thorntree Lodge and took us to their warm and homely farm-style lodge set on a conservancy close to the town of Choma about 2.5 hours drive from Livingstone. Surrounded by miombo woodland, Masuku Lodge is a spectacular birding destination - and made us yearn for the extensive farm gardens and surrounding bush of past times in Zimbabwe. Their rambling garden is a haven for Arnott’s Chat with several groups including juveniles the most obvious species there. Some of the chats even flew into the house to collect insect food that had come in during the night. A photo and sound recording highlight for us was a Cabanis’s Bunting calling quietly from a tree next to the house.

masuku masuku
Masuku Lodge - farmhouse
Masuku Lodge - guest chalet

arnots chat
Arnott's Chat
bunting
Cabanis's Bunting

Chaplins Barbet This is the prime place to look for Chaplin’s Barbet, Zambia’s only endemic, and Rory took us on a drive to find the bird.

After driving through farmlands and waterways (birding along the way) we searched through several stands of figs (the birds preferred habitat) and finally hit the jackpot with a pair calling from the top of a tree.

All too soon our time was up and we headed back to Livingstone and across the border into Zimbabwe to meet a good friend and frequent fellow traveller. Our destination this time was Zambezi Sands River Camp situated in the Zambezi National Park about one hour’s drive from Victoria Falls. This beautiful camp is built on the banks of the Zambezi with spectacular views of the river from the main deck and all the tented rooms.

The camp is built on raised platforms that link the various rooms to the main lodge and accommodation is in luxurious Bedouin tents all with twin double beds, a lounge area, mini-bar, en suite bathroom, outdoor shower and private splash pool.

Zambezi Sands

zam sands zam sands
Zambezi Sands - guest tent
Zambezi Sands - guest tent

We were met on arrival by camp manager and professional guide John Laing who, lucky for us, was to be our guide for the three days we were in camp. Activities at the camp include game drives, boat trips on the river, fishing and canoeing as well as the opportunity to go into Victoria Falls to enjoy the many activities available there.

Our wish list included two main activities, a river outing to test a new sound system that includes a powerful hydrophone in an attempt to record underwater communication in hippos, and a chance to photograph and hopefully record the calls of Rock Pratincoles.

John immediately organised an early morning boat trip that would hopefully cater for both requirements. Getting photos of the pratincole proved to be easy (pictured here) as there were many pairs on the rocks in the river which is where they breed. The heavy wind, however, wrecked all plans for recording the calls of these unusual birds. Maybe another time!
pratincole

recording We soon located a pod of hippos and tried various methods to record some vocalisations. First we floated past the group but the current was so strong it took us away from the hippos too quickly. Then we parked up on the riverbank tied up to a tree, unfortunately the wind was howling and the boat was rubbing against the branches and the recorder happily picked up all of this but virtually no hippo sounds. At one stage the dominant bull indicated that he had enough of us (even though we were not that close) so we decided to leave them in peace and try for sounds another time.
hippo

So it was back to birdwatching and what a fabulous time we had! Great photo opportunities included Brown-throated Martins breeding in the riverbank, White-fronted Bee-eaters catching dragonflies and our first-ever photos of Brown Firefinch (maybe rather drab to the non-birder but with a very restricted distribution in Zimbabwe). In total we recorded 96 species while at the camp and by the end of our stay our mammal list stood at 15 species including elephant and Cape buffalo.

John is also a tree expert and we spent many happy hours looking at a variety of plants – perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea but we were delighted. The Long-pod Cassias were in full flower, providing a spectacular bright yellow break to the otherwise rather dry bush.
bee eater


Finally a second early morning boat trip to take more photos of the pratincoles and other waterbirds, and after a sumptuous breakfast we started our journey back to Victoria Falls to meet the rest of our group joining us on our Great Elephant Safari.


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Kuyimba Trading

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