salt pan

Part 2

After a short week at home we headed off on a long road trip to Zimbabwe in early December. Our journey took us up through eastern Botswana and into Zimbabwe at Plumtree and onto Bulawayo. We were apprehensive about the border crossing stories we'd heard and reports of many unpleasant road blocks but were happily relieved to find that our fears were unfounded. We may have been lucky, and our non-local vehicle registration an advantage, but thankfully we encountered only polite, friendly and helpful officials on our route.

We had a couple of nights in Bulawayo at the delightful Banff Lodge to break the journey and catch up with old friends before heading off to Hwange National Park. A shopping stop at the roadside Gwaai pottery site led to some spousal negotiation as to how much space there really was in the car!


Purchases loaded (only 4, not all those pictured above!), we continued on to the stunning Somalisa Camp in the park for a short one night stay before flying to Kariba for African Bush Camps' week long guide training workshop. The rains had turned the park emerald green since our mid-November visit and the waterholes were rapidly filling up.

The next morning we took the first charter flight with some of the Somalisa staff to Bumi Hills Safari Lodge on Lake Kariba, the site for the training course. The Bumi vistas across the lake really are second to none and looking out over this view for the next seven days would not be a hardship!

bumi hills

During the day all their guides from camps in Zimbabwe and Botswana together with senior management and other lecturers arrived at the lodge. In the late afternoon we took a drive down to the shoreline to watch the elephants coming down to the lake to drink and bathe. A full week of lectures on a wide range of topics ranging from animal communication to archaeology and the history of Lake Kariba combined with regular field outings with the guides kept us very busy. While Derek took guides out on birding drives, others did walks, were assessed on their rifle handling abilities and marksmanship and bush lore. All in all, a highly successful week. Then the rains arrived in earnest, soaking some of us on one of our final drives.

bumi ele bumi birds
Bumi shoreline
Bateleur pair with juvenile

Sarah left with a few participants travelling to Harare to visit her family and attend a wedding while Derek returned to Somalisa to do some sound recording and photography while taking their guides out on all activities to help further with bird identification and general animal behaviour. Needless to say, with all of the rains, the elephants no longer needed to visit the waterhole in front of the lodge, but we found many of them feeding happily in the woodland close to the camp.

hwange ele

With all of the termite alates erupting each day, it was a birding paradise with dozens of different species, large and small making good use of this high protein diet. Interesting sightings included a Bradfield's Hornbill feeding the female incarcerated in the nest and two Magpie Shrikes locked in combat!

bee eater falcons stork
Carmine Bee-eater
Amur Falcons
White Stork
shrikes hornbill
Magpie Shrikes
Bradfield's Hornbill

One morning a cheetah with five well-grown cubs was located fairly close to camp – two days later they were at a different site but minus one cub. One of the cubs was calling its missing sibling constantly and happily this recording of the bird-like high-pitched chirps made by this species ensued; but unhappily the missing cub was not seen again.


frogs Foam-nest frogs were creating their meringue-like nests on every available branch overlooking a pool of water. Several males may join a female who releases a secretion from her oviduct that they all beat up into a froth with their hind legs, with the prime male fertilizing the eggs as they are laid. The other attendant males may contribute to fertilization.

The nest hardens protecting the tadpoles from drying out and four to six days later they wriggle to the bottom of the nest where the foam softens and drop into the water.

It wasn't all birds and frogs - the rains also brought out all of the flowers and much time was spent identifying a wide variety of brightly coloured flowers. On one outing the camp set up a welcome tea, coffee (and cake!) stop in the bush and close by was a spectacular red flame lily, Zimbabwe’s national flower.

guides tea guides
listening to sounds
tea stop
flower ID
flame lily
Flame Lily

All too soon the Hwange week was over for Derek and he drove up to Victoria Falls to meet Sarah who was flying in from Harare on Air Zimbabwe. Two days in the buzzing town allowed the chance to try out two excellent new B&B facilities on the edge of town (Batonka & Bayete guesthouses), catch up with old friends and enjoy lunch at Wild Horizon's Lookout Café built right on the edge of the gorge over the Zambezi River with the Victoria Falls bridge a short distance away. The view takes in some of the high wire adventure activities - we were with the group sensibly drinking ice cold wine and watching those more energetic and foolhardy wiz across the gorge with the river way below. vic falls

Our journey home took us back through eastern Botswana, driving from Kasane at the junction of the Chobe and Zambezi rivers down to Nata, about halfway to the Botswana/South African border. Situated on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pan, a massive salt pan, we were able to spend time in the very wet Sua Pan section to look for birds and other creatures. The sky was filled with beautiful dark brooding storm clouds and dodging intermittent rain we had an amazing time there (only getting stuck in the mud once!) and saw many waders - some in huge numbers, pelicans, yet another Northern Black Korhaan every hundred meters or so - constantly calling and displaying; small herds of wildebeest and a family of inquisitive Yellow Mongoose who popped their heads out of the grass to watch us. Despite the weather were still able to photograph several species including a much wanted Montagu’s Harrier.

harrier Korhaan
Montagu's Harrier
Northern Black Korhaan

Sua Pan
Sua Pan, Makgadikgadi

Then backtracking a short distance, we spent Christmas at Elephant Sands, a rather rustic camp known for the elephants that come to drink at the camp waterhole during the dry season. The rains kept the elephants away, but like at Somalisa, we did find some in the surrounding woodland together with a few interesting birds.

We were delighted to find that the Limpopo River was still dry (it filled a few days later) so we were able to cross over the low-level causeway at the Platjan border post in the Tuli Wilderness area, cutting down on driving distance and time by missing the busy Martin's Drift border post, and were back home just in time to celebrate New Year with friends on the now very lush and green estate.

After a wonderful time away we are now very much back in the office and wish everyone a happy and peaceful 2017!

Burchell's Sandgrouse
green line
Kuyimba Trading

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