Friday, September 4, 2009

The best camp in Zambia?

A Crowned Crane on the Busanga Plains - there were large flocks of them to be seen

August 7, 2009

On our last morning at Lufupa we went fishing in the Kafue River with Robert, but did not have much luck. We really had only two strikes of any note, and did not land either fish. So that will have to remain an unwritten paragraph, something we will return to when we next find ourselves in this part of the world.

Bert trying his luck with fishing in the Kafue River.

At 1010A we took off from the Lufupa Airstrip, buzzing the camp before turning north towards the Busanga Plains. Flying quite low over the plains, we saw quite a bit of wildlife from the air, as well as a large fish trap built in the style of a beaver dam, with a central outlet where the fish gets trapped in a cage. I also saw a flat, layered construction which turned out to be the racks on which the fish are dried. This kind of activity is allowed in the Kafue National Park with the right permit.

An aerial view of the Lufupa Camp area with the muddy Lufupa River directly in front, joining up with the much larger and greener Kafue River in the background.

A weir in the Lufupa Channel; towards the end of the wet season fish are trapped in cages which are installed behind an opening in the center of these obstacles.

We reached our next camp, Shumba, after a short but exciting helicopter flight of about 6 minutes, across a portion of the floodplain, landing right in front of the very striking main building. The imposing main lodge and dining area at Shumba has a massive central bar, a large boma area with fire-place, overlooking the Busanga floodplain, and an innovative open-sided design which clearly works very well as we were there when the wind was blowing hard, yet there was hardly a whisper of it to be felt in the dining area.

The entrance to our room at Shumba

Part of the interior of our huge room at Shumba Camp

Lots of room and a massive double bed at Shumba Camp

Yet another view of the interior of the room

The view over the Busanga Plains from our room at Shumba

Part of the boardwalk which winds through Shumba Camp

Part of the lounge area at Shumba with the bar in the background

Looking out from the lounge area towards the fireplace & boma area

The plunge pool at Shumba

The lounge and dining room complex at Shumba

Another view of the deck at Shumba

The dining room and lounge as seen from the boardwalk.

Both meals on this day were exemplary, the brunch consisting of corn cakes with a delicious filling, possibly avocado, sautéed mushrooms, a selection of sautéed peppers and a seed bread, finished off with a green salad. Dinner consisted of a broccoli curry, carrots and zucchini. Dessert was a fruit fondue. The starter was leek soup. The food was of 5-star quality.

Welcome back to camp!

The afternoon game drive was on the quiet side but we enjoyed it thoroughly with dozens of bird species, many hundreds of puku and lechwe, some buffalo, roan, a serval and genet on the way back.

Some Zebra on the edge of the floodplain

A closer look at one of these handsome mammals

There were a couple of solitary buffalo on the floodplain as well

They probably feel relatively safe here in the open terrain

This hippo had what looked like a coat of swamp vegetation on its back

A young puku

There were plenty of yellowbilled stork to be seen as well

These birds were mostly in full breeding plumage, exhibiting an almost pinkish sheen

Constantly foraging in the marshy areas

As many puku as there were in the Shumba area, there were even more Lechwe

These handsome animals, which we tend to associate with Botswana's Okavango Delta, are perfectly adapted to this watery environment. At the first sign of danger, they head into the water.

A typical scene on the Busanga Plains

Sunset over the Busanga Plains

The combination of dust and smoke create an almost golden sun effect

Just a few minutes later, the light fading fast

August 8, 2009

Early morning light at Shumba - wake-up time is usually around 0600, earlier at some of the other camps, especially later in the season in Sept & October.

Breakfast on the deck at Shumba

There were several choices every morning from 'porridge' (oats) to cereals, muesli, toast, muffins, fresh fruit, tea, coffee, juice etc.

On this day we went on a full day game drive to Musanza, a small Explorations Camp on the banks of the Lufupa River, about half way to Lufupa Tenetd Camp. I took us the better part of 5 hours to reach Musanza, as we took our time meandering along various circular routes & sidetracks, in search of game which proved to be very elusive this morning. It was likely due to a cold front that had blown into the area that very morning, causing everyone and everything to hunker down. Even so, we had some good sightings of puku, lechwe, wildebeest, zebra and a first for the trip and also a life mammal for both of us: Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest. It was rather far off and definitely in the BVD category: Better View Desired. We also saw some excellent birds along the way, including a life bird for yours truly namely Ross’ Turaco. At the time, it was just a glimpse, also BVD.

Interior of one of the tents - used for the Kafue Rivers and Plains Explorations trip - at the Musanza camp site

Checking out some crocodiles on the opposite bank of the Lufupa River

The lounge and dining room tent at Musanza

Looking out towards the Lufupa River, from the lounge area

The camp site was built in an ideal spot along the river

Another view of the Lufupa River at Musanza

The Musanza site turned out to a real jewel: the perfect location right on the bank of the Lufupa River, with just 4 tents hidden amongst some thick patches of vegetation and a few really nice trees. At the very comfortable common area we enjoyed our picnic lunch of sorts, which had come all the way from Shumba in the vehicle with us, together with a cook. So we enjoyed a great lunch of pasta with a pesto sauce, some sausages, spinach salad, fresh fruit, seed bread, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. Birding around the camp we spotted a few super birds including Olive Woodpecker and Redthroated twinspot.

The Lufupa River bank at Musanza campsite

More Crowned Cranes

Testing the wind...

On the way back we were treated to the sighting of the day, and of the trip so far, a female leopard and cub on a fresh kill. When we first saw them, both were lying at the base of a large termite mound which was overgrown with bushy vegetation. At first the cub ran off, but after about 15 minutes or so, responding to repeated entreaties from its mother, it returned. After exchanging a bit of mutual affection, the cub scampered off to gambol around the dead Puku, while the female leopard got down to another feeding session, attacking the carcass quite vigorously. There was no mistaking the power in those sleek limbs. After more than an hour, we reluctantly parted ways with the two gorgeous animals and set off back to camp. A very clear view of the Ross Turaco en route really made my day. What a bird, there’s every reason to describe it as bizarre, being mostly purple with a yellow bill and crazy red crest. We also had a pretty good look at a Bushpig, yet another new mammal for our trip list.

The female leopard which we found with a cub on a kill, not very far from the Musanza campsite

The leopard feeding on the puku carcass

It proved to be devilishly difficult to get a clear photograph of either of the leopards

There always seemed to be a twig or blade of grass in the way

Especially when I was trying to photograph the baby leopard

It was just a few months old but already acting just like a leopard, skulking around the undergrowth

A final look at the elegant cat before we had to depart back to camp

One of our guide Isaac's favorite spots on the Busanga Plains

Driving around the Busanga Plains can be a rather jarring event; hippos leave deep foot imprints in the mud towards the end of the wet season.

Dinner this evening was again 5-star all the way: a starter of vegetarian spring roll on a bed of fresh arugula; the main course being basmati rice with a lentil dhal. Vegan heaven.

Some vegetarian dinner choices at Shumba

All the camps serve fresh fruit salads of some kind or another, the presentation is just not always quite as elegant as at Shumba

August 9, 2009

A chilly morning at Shumba: we were all bundled up in as many layers as we had, for the morning game drive with Isaac. But before that we enjoyed a light breakfast consisting of oats with soy milk, toast, crumpets with syrup, fresh fruit salad, cold meat platter, muesli, corn flakes and rice crispies. Not to mention juice, tea, coffee etc.

Sunrise at Shumba

Bert trying to get a good photograph of the sun rising over the plains

Mornings in the Kafue were very chilly, the fire was a popular gathering spot

Kathleen checking out the floodplains from one of the 'Go Devil' boats which Wilderness Safaris use to get around the shallow water on the Busanga Plains.

Isaac was intending to take us on a short boat trip from the hippo pools, but our plans changed somewhat when we received word by radio of a large herd of buffalo, south of Shumba. Off we went bumping along the roads, littered with hippo footprints in the now mostly dry mud. Soon enough we came upon this sizable herd of more than 300 buffalo, with some impressive males, and lots of youngsters as well. They were eating voraciously on the green grass on the edge of the marsh, and some of them went splashing through the water. We had a good long look, took some photographs and then left them in piece, to return to the hippo pools.

We found this large herd of buffalo just south of Shumba

Another view of the buffalo herd

Even lions are wary of taking on adult buffalo and it is easy to see why

A Pinkthroated Longclaw, one of the special birds of the area

A blackwinged pratincole - there were many of these rather unobtrusive birds in the area

Our 45 minute boating trip was fun and we got some excellent close up looks at hippo, who were very interested in our presence, especially when we ‘anchored’ in clear sight of them, enjoying our tea break while they were giving us the evil eye, not at all impressed with the new neighbors. We also marveled at the large numbers of open-billed stork in the area, many of which took to the sky when our rather noisy boat passed them by.

A hippo giving us the treatment at the hippo pools near Shumba

I never realized hippos had tongues that big

We passed by hundreds of Openbilled Storks in the wetlands adjacent to the hippo pools

Soon enough we found ourselves right in the middle of huge flocks of Openbill Storks taking to the air

More Openbill Storks in flight

A couple of Openbill Storks seemingly flying in tandem

An Openbill Stork doing a black egret impression

Later that morning we had to finalize our packing and reluctantly said goodbye to Ingrid and Rob, the managers at Shumba. They are running this camp like a Swiss watch, it is really spotless!

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