What Did We Do?

Dennis and Jenny Hacker's Year in Africa

Zambia

November 29, 2017 | 'Beests and Bats. For truth in publishing: Please note, because of the flightiness of some of the species, some photos are from Wikipedia.

Zambia

Lusaka

For this trip, we were able to leave for the airport at a reasonable time…7:00 AM. Our trip to Lukasa was uneventful. We were picked up at the airport by a representative of the Radisson Blu hotel. My images of the Blu is of a rather elegant and somewhat posh place. This was okay, but not great.

We were late checking in because of a big delay getting out of the airport. Seems the President of Zambia was at the Air Force base nextdoor, and all roads were shut down for security. Once we arrived at the Blu, we asked for a quiet room. The one we were given was sure quiet until 8:00 PM. As it was Friday, the casino next to the hotel was having a raucous evening. Even with double paned windows and our sound apps on both phones going at full blast, we could hear the music and backbeat 🤨.

The airport is being renovated by the Chinese company, Jiangxi. The Chinese have done many roads and infrastructure facilities. It is something to see how China is literally taking over all of Africa.

Dinner was interesting. We got a drink at the bar and then went into the dining room for dinner. I keep forgetting about “Africa-time.” There were maybe 20 people in the dining room and a staff of probably 7, but we had to wait and wait for someone to get a menu for us and to take our order. Then wait and wait for our salad. Finally, wait and wait for our entree, which we shared. Then wait and wait for someone to come so we could ask for our bill. We were tired and wanted to rest. Dinner took forever. Welcome to Africa.

The next morning, we were taken back to the airport to get a charter flight to go to Liuwa (Lee-you-wah). On the way to the airport, we counted 35 bore hole drilling companies on the airport route. Never have we seen anything like this number. Turns out that Zambia has oil reserves and is in need of potable water. I guess it must be very lucrative.

Travel to Liuwa

We were in a 12-seater plane from a company called: ProFlight with another couple: Ryker and Linda.

A great 2.5-hour flight. It was raining the whole way. This is the first time we’ve encountered rain whilst in Africa on safari. At the airport, we met our guide, “Innocent”.  He’d be our guide for the time we’d be at the King Lewanike Lodge. I immediately asked if he was indeed. He said: “Time will tell”. As there are some predators in the Liuwa park, we had a guide (AKA gunner) with us. He was Kwalela (Qua-Lay-la).

Linda and Ryker’s guide, Robbie, introduced himself to us as well.

As the Liuwa area is at the edge of the Kalahari Desert and the roads were all sand, the drive to King Lewanike Lodge was another 2.5 hours.

It was raining still so we were given ponchos and the sides of the Toyota Land Cruiser were rolled down to keep us dry. At one point, we had to cross the river which was interesting as the drivers and guides had to pull the ropes that moved the barge and loaded vehicles across the river.  People rode across the river in boats as well as on the barge.

Fortunately the rain abated and we shed our ponchos and had Innocent and Kwalela rolled up the plastic sides. It was becoming like a sauna in the vehicle. The area is, for the most part, flat, with a few low hills. Farmers raise cattle, goats, maize, casaba and rice.

Predators are Cheetahs, Lions and Hyenas. Thus, the need for gunners whenever we go out.

The King Lewanike Lodge opened 6 months ago and it is really a class act. Spacious rooms and great facility. The staff at the lodge were quite friendly.

Afternoon

After checking into our room, Jenny rested and I went on an afternoon game drive. We saw Wildebeest

Oribi antelope

Wooly-necked Stork

Spur-wing Goose

Blacksmith Lapwing

Snowy Egret

Tawny Eagle

Bateleur Eagle

Grasshopper

Wattled Cranes

Yellow-billed Kite

Red-necked Francolin or Spurfowl

Cape Dove

Southern Crowned Cranes

Juvenile Bateleur Eagle, pair of African Fish Eagles (national bird of Zambia)

Plains Zebras at a waterhole

Saddle-billed Stork

African Skimmer

The skimmer is the one with the orange beak just off the water.

Grey Heron

Marabou Stork

Sand lily’s

Sugar ants swarming, Termites swarming, Red-necked Falcon

White Pelicans (>100)

Hottentot Teal

Gerbil

Bullfrogs engorging on the flying termites

Savannah Hares

and Striped Polecats (these guys look just like skunks in the US. Have same protective mechanism I’m told. Thankfully, we didn’t find out). We also heard lions calling.

I didn’t mention that this is the time of the second largest Wildebeest migration in all of Africa. Only the Great Migration is larger. Tens of thousands of Wildebeests and associated Zebras migrate to this national park to calf and for the grasses which begin to grow as the rainy season begins.

IF we hadn’t seen the Great Migration, this would have been unbelievable. As it was, it was just amazing!

We saw many termite mounds around the Liuwa National Park area. They were almost black and no larger than 18” high.

They are present only in areas which don’t flood during the rainy season. There was clearly a demarcation of where the mounds were and weren’t.

The area from where the Yellow-billed Kite eating a frog whilst perched on a termite mound to the far off termite mounds is the area which floods during the rainy season.

Dinner, as was all the meals, was fantastic. The only problem was that because of the rain, ALL the bugs in Liuwa were out and swarming around any light. Bugs everywhere. Now I’m not afraid of insects, but when there are hundreds around you whilst you’re eating, well, I get a little off-put. After dinner, Innocent told us that reveille was at 5:30 and we’d be out by 6:00.

Day 2

On day 2, we saw: another Tawny Eagle, Denham’s Bustard

more Southern Crowned Cranes, Spotted Hyena

Male Wildebeests challenging each other

more Wattled Cranes

Side-striped Jackal

Lappet-face Vulture

White-backed Vultures, Banded Mongooses, a mother and 2 baby Black Rumped Button Quail, Sooty Chat, Red-billed Quelea, more Oribi, Black-shouldered Kite,

Long-toed Lapwing

Great White Egret

Spur-winged Goose, Plain Zebras, 2 Hyneas in mud around water hole who came up to check out our vehicle.

Interested in us.

Closer

And right up to the front grill!

During the day, we saw a group of men from the village within the park who were going fishing. This is a multi-day “bonding” experience for the younger men. They fish during the day and at night sit around a fire talking about what it means to be a man and what their duties will be when they marry.

About the same time, women from the village took laundry to the river to wash. It is a similar experience for the younger women. They discuss the responsibilities of being a wife and mother.

We saw Black-winged Stilt

a murmuration of Collared Pratincoles

There were hundreds if not thousands of Pratincoles in this murmuration.

Anchetta Cobra eating a frog

Yellow-bill Kite eating a frog

White Bellied Northern Bustard

Banded Mongooses, Long-tailed Widow Bird

This is a drab colored bird EXCEPT during breeding season when the males grow a long tail and become black with red throats.

Temminick’s Courser

 

Fullerborne’s Longclaw (a very rare sighting)

Black-faced Vervet Monkeys

African Grey Hornbill

Secretary Bird

a flock of Ruff, Juvenile Marabou Stork

African Jacana

Square-tail Nightjar, Duiker

and lastly, as we were arriving at camp after dark, Angolan Genets (a mother and two or three babies!)

What a day of viewing!

Day 3

Morning

Today we viewed a Montagu’s Harrier, a troop of White-faced Vervet Monkeys, Steppe Buzzard, another Denham’s Bustard, more Lappet-faced Vultures, a Coppery-tailed Coucal

a Little Bee-Eater, a young Anchetta Cobra

a Long Toe Lapwing and a Rosy Throated or Rose Breasted Longclaw (another rare sighting)

.

We came upon a few local tribesmen who live in the national park. They are of the Lohzi tribe, related to the Xhlosi tribe in RSA. As the one gentleman greeted us he was clapping. We found was a sign of respect. I didn’t hear clicking when he spoke to Innocent as we would have with Xhlosi.

Later in the morning we came upon several Lappet-faced Vultures, White-back Vultures, White-headed Vultures and Hooded Vultures at the carcass of a baby wildebeest. We watched fascinated as the Lappet-faced, by far the biggest vultures, would engorge themselves and keep the others out.

Then, they would step back and the others would jump in and begin a feeding frenzy a la piranhas .

More and more vultures were arriving all the time.

It appeared that the Lappet-faced got pissed and literally jumped on the backs of the smaller birds who would scatter a few feet. The Lappet-faced would feast again. Sometimes, the smaller birds would start crowding in and the Lappet’s would start running them off. As they tried to drive them away, the smaller birds would circle behind them and again start feeding.

The scene was like a lion trying to drive away 20 jackals from a kill, it would never work out. It was a fascinating scene. In any event, in 10 minutes, the carcass was only skin and bone and all the larger vultures left.

Only the Hooded Vulture remained as this species eats bones and none of the others do.

It was about 11:00 AM and we suddenly saw a porcupine-Africa’s largest rodent. A rare siting as they are nocturnal animals. Why this one was out that late is anyone’s guess. It was far away and I couldn’t get a photo.

As we started back for lunch, Innocent sited a Cheetah!!!

What a beauty she is. She has a GPS collar on and that allows researchers to follow her movements, albeit well after she’s done her thing. Weekly results are all they can receive. For that reason, researchers are out daily patrolling for predators of all kinds. Innocent told us this Cheetah is pregnant and due to whelp about the middle of December. As best he knew, she hadn’t eaten in at least a day or two. We sat and watched her as she sat under a tree on a small mound. Photo opportunity!

Afternoon

After lunch and a rest, we went out again and watched the Cheetah as she hunted. First, she went after two Oribis. They spotted her and bolted. A Side-striped Jackal drove her away from some other Oribis. She was spotted by a wildebeest herd as she approached so she departed. Several male Wildebeests followed her giving alarm calls to warn other animals. Finally they withdrew. She started moving to her overnight resting spot without eating. We appreciated how hard predators have to work to survive. Cheetahs only get prey about once every 7-10 tries. Then, other predators such as lions, hyenas and even vultures show up and steal the kill over half the successful kills. It’s a hard life for everyone in the wild.

On our way, back to the Lodge, we saw another Genet cat. Were we lucky!

Day 4

Morning

It’s my birthday! First we saw a beautiful moth.

Departing for the morning game drive, I said I’d like to see the Cheetah, which Jenny named “Carol”, get a kill, or see the birth of a Wildebeest. I got neither. Thunderstorms were all around the area, but we did find Carol this morning. You know, it’s easy to spot animals on a large savannah as there are quite a lot present. BUT, just try to find one particular animal in 1,400 square miles (3,660 square kilometers). It’s really hard. Innocent found her and we began following her at a respectable distance so as to not alert her prey. She tried to get a Wildebeest calf but was boxed out by whom we suspected to be the calf’s mother. Innocent was using Jenny’s camera and got a great video of the chase. Initially, we thought that Carol was run into by the Wildebeest. But, after slowing the video down, we could make out that the calf turned left and the mother turned right toward Carol. Carol quickly put on her brakes and the chase was over.

Carol then went after Oribis. A Cheetah needs to be within 50 meters to have a chance for killing. They spotted her when she was about 100 meters away. They spooked and ran off. She continued hunting but then drank from a pool and then rested.

She’s pregnant, has to eat to support her baby in utero and is slower than normal with a “bun in the oven.” We decided to let her rest and we went off to find other animals to see. (Update: Carol had her babies in the last week. She’s still hiding them and they don’t know how many babies she had.)

After leaving Carol, we spied a Marsh Owl and Saw Spider lilies,

Hammerkop, Saddlebill Stork, White-back Vulture, and Tawny Eagle.

Afternoon

Just before the afternoon game drive, the staff brought out a birthday cake for me and sang “Happy Birthday”. Everyone got some of my cake. Very tasty.

At the outset of the afternoon game-drive we saw LIONS!!! The government is trying to re-introduce Lions in Zambia. There are about 10 lions in the park. An adult female (mother), two sub-adult male littermates and a female cub a few months old were right outside the Lodge area. They were dozing. Another photo op!

I never knew that lion cubs are spotted!

After seeing the Lions, we had heard that Robbie, Ryker and Linda had seen two male Cheetahs out in the savannah, but they had lost them in the undergrowth. We joined their search for a while to no avail. Whilst they continued the search, we went off and found a large flock of African Spoonbills

and a flock of Pratincoles.

Then we got the message that Robbie had again found the Cheetahs. We took our time but finally arrived at the area of the siting. Robbie’s vehicle had left and we really didn’t know where they were. As Innocent slowly drove over the savannah, the Cheetahs literally jumped up right in front of us!

Unlike Carol, these two males were quite shy. They really didn’t like our vehicle. After a period of following and photographing them, they went into rather thick undergrowth.

On our way back, we found the male lion had joined his pride. What a magnificent male.

Almost to the Lodge, we saw some “campfires” in the tree-line to the east. Innocent said that it was probably villagers camping out and since the lions were right near them, we’d better tell them to get away. Driving up, we found the staff had arranged a barbecue for our last evenings meal.

They “got us” again. A total surprise.

Returning to our tent later, we found a Flat wall spider on our tent wall. I tried to catch it to take it outside, but it jumped down and scurried under a tent flap. It was about 4″ in diameter with legs.

Travel Day

We left for the airport the following morning. Along the way we found Fireball Lilies, three Hyenas, more Spider Lilies, Mobola Plum, a Dreamia plant, Black-Chested Eagle with snake and a Juvenile Fish Eagle.

Jenny and I were the only passengers in a 12-seat plane to Lusaka (2.5 hours). We were then to fly to Kasanka in a 6-seater plane with another couple (Michael and Liane from Germany) who were going to Wasa Lodge as well. As the time for take-off approached, the pilot said some weather was coming in and he’d check it out. He walked outside and looked at the clouds. (I guess he has weather radar eyes.) He came in and said that the weather wouldn’t arrive at the airport but would go north of it and we were good to go.

Initially we hoped the plane in the background was our flight. Nooooo!

We went out to the aircraft and were immediately apprehensive. The plane was tiny and literally 50 years old!

The pilot removed one seat so we could get all our gear in. It was tight but we boarded with much grunting and groaning. Did I mention it was tight? Unfortunately, Liane gets airsick and she was stuck in the rear of the plane. The pilot successfully maneuvered the plane around the storms and we got to Kasanka in one piece two and a half hours later. Unfortunately, the approach to landing was rather radical and one of us became queasy. After getting to the lodge, chamomile tea really helped calm the stomach.

Wasa Lodge

During orientation, Ruston, our guide, told us our daily schedule. Reveille was at 3:30 AM! Coffee in the Main Lodge at 3:45. Out the door for the morning bat viewing at 4:00! Back to the lodge by 7:30 for breakfast. Lunch at about 11:30. Biscuits and coffee or tea at 3:30 and off for the evening viewing at about 4:00 PM. Back at 7:30 for dinner and then it all starts again the next day. The thought of 3:30 reveille was daunting. Jen and I actually awakened at 3:00 so we could be ready to go at 3:45. We saw several millipedes around the Camp.

Termites-there are two types in the Kasanka area. There are the small termites who make small mounds and eat grass.

Then there are the large termites which make huge mounds and eat wood.

Both types were present around the Kasanka National Park area. This area is pretty much flat except for the large termite mounds. The small termite mounds look like grave stones. It is rather interesting.

The evening game drive was just around the Lodge. We learned that the migrating bats eat “musuku” in the native tongue or loquats.

Tse Tse flies are during the day but don’t carry disease. These are just like “horse flies” in the states and their bites are painful. We saw Puku (local Antelope)

a raft of Hippopotamuses in the lake in front of the Lodge, Common Duiker, White-tailed mongoose, Yellow-bill Kite

Kinda Baboon

Sitatunga

Bushbuck, Honey Buzzard, Southern or Black-backed Puffback, and Black-faced Vervet Monkeys.

Bat Day 1

Morning

Oh, my God! We got to bed at about 10:00. Five hours sleep is really rough. Bleary eyed, we made it to the main lodge building for tea. Since my heart surgery, I’ve been decaffeinated. Out the door at 4:00 and off to the BBC blind. The blind is named for the BBC camera crews that come to video the bats. They paid for the privilege and that allowed the blind to be raised another 5 meters to 15 meters. The BBC is here now, filming to get predators getting the bats. They will be here a month to get a total of 5 minutes video to show on the BBC network. I was blown away thinking about this time ratio and thinking about how many man hours were needed for a one-hour documentary.

A 15-meter climb at 4:00 in the morning is daunting. Both of us are having knee trouble and this surely did not help. It isn’t steps were climbing. A ladder made of small logs and branches of trees are our entrance. It’s a hard climb. The bats this morning were amazing. We were watching the bats as they returned from a night of feeding. Some of the bats had arrived in the dark before we arrived. Bats can go as far as 100 km feeding in a single night. As we got there, more come in and settle with the others.

The branches are weighted down by tons of bats.

They’ll fly up again and re-settle. And yet again they’ll fly up and settle. At some point, they will enter the trees and begin to snooze. By about 6:00-6:30, the show’s over and we start back.

We had breakfast after returning and we snooze for a bit. Then it’s time for lunch. We have another snooze and then it’s 3:30 and time to get ready for the afternoon bat viewing. There were several species of Dragonflies around the Lodge.

Afternoon

We were off to the Fibwe blind this afternoon to see the bats lift off for night feeding. It’s in a different area of the park and not so high so the view is different. The difficulty with this blind is that there’s a turn under a huge branch about 3 meters from the top. very difficult to circumnavigate.

Along the way, we saw a Coke-tail Ant nest.

What a sight to watch the bats get airborne. It was a reversal of the morning as they lifted off and settled. Again, they lifted off and settled. It was like they were waiting for someone to make a decision. Finally they lifted off as night fell and off they went into the ether.

On the way back to the lodge, we saw a Elephant Shrew (Elephantulus brachyrhynchus)!

This is the third of the “Little Five” animals that we’ve seen. Now we’ve seen the Buffalo Weaver birds, Ant Lions, and now the Elephant Shrew. We have yet to see a Rhinoceros Beetle and Leopard Tortoise. After a short drive, we saw yet another Elephant Shrew. Wonderous!

Bat Day 2

Morning

We really deliberated about going out this morning. Another 3:00 reveille just felt like too much. But, after Ruston explained that we’d be in a different part of the forest and in a new blind, West 2, we relented and did the early morning again. We both agreed it was well worth it. The climb to the blind was only 10 meters this time. We were in a Mahogany tree.

On the return to the Lodge, we viewed a juvenile Martial Eagle, a Cephalopod

Slender Mongooses

Woodland Kingfisher

Dwarf Mongooses

Dwarf Mongoose (Helogale parvula).

African Jacana

Schalow’s Turaco

Bushbuck

and Copper-tail Coucal.

Afternoon

This afternoon, we saw some of the same things we had seen on previous drives to the bats. We were going to the Japanese blind. This was only about 3 meters high. Oh, my, the bats were circling as soon as we got there. Again, they were rising and circling and settling. Over and over. Finally, they took off to feed. They were flying directly over us!

Because bats hang upside down, they don’t pee all day. When they take off, they usually relieve themselves at that time. That could be why they rise, circle and settle prior to setting off. Have to empty the tanks. Anyway, if you get peed on when they are flying, that is considered a “Lucky Drop.” I was “Lucky” twice.

We didn’t see any animals on our way back to the Lodge as it was lightening all over the place. It did stay dry for us.

Arriving at the Lodge, we found action galore. There was a PhD researcher present who was working on her thesis about bats. They had strung “mist nets” around the lodge to see what they’s catch. Now, we never heard any bats at night but, they caught 22 bats of many species. These were insectivores. Tiny little critters about 4 cm in length and with a 15 cm wingspan. Tiny little teeth to eat the bugs. It was fascinating to see them sex and get statistics on the bats.

Ruston offered to take us out one more time on the last morning. We’d be back in time for out 8:00 AM flight out, but this time, we demurred. We needed to pack.

Heading Home

We were scheduled to fly out on the same plane in which we came. Michael, Liane, Jenny and I decided that we’d pay some extra to be able to fly in a little more room. A newer twin-engine plane was flown in for us. We left about 8:30 and got back in little over an hour.

In Lusaka, we were able to re-book our flights to Cape Town to earlier flights. We got home about 7:30 PM and not 9:30 PM. It was good to be back in civilization once more. We were done being batty🤣

FILED IN: Sighting Lists, Travel Notes, This and That

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