It’s February 2002 and …

 

It’s Monday 4th and the river, she’s a’coming

Another week has sailed by and it is now time for me to suck my pencil and come up with some scintillating repartee once again.

I apologise. For fear of most readers confirming their suspicions that beneath the author’s facade, there is in fact a frustrated meteorologist trying to sneak out, our friends the river and the rainfall continue both to influence and to impact on our daily routine.

High water Jan 2001January recorded it’s highest rainfall on one month since February 1997 with 304mm falling at Nkwali and the river has responded with a vengeance . It has shot up to within 10 inches of breaking it’s banks – higher than it’s high point last year and as I write, little sign of easing up. The sheer size of some of the detritus flowing past beggars belief – whole trees rolling past like prairie tumbleweeds in a Western.

It was against this backdrop that it was decided to play it safe and move the majority of our vehicles to the safer (and higher) ground at Mfuwe Airport yesterday. Thus, we spent a very relaxing Sunday ferrying 13 Land Cruisers to the airport where they will stay until such time as it is prudent to return them.

Cruiser on the moveRobin ever prepared, had previously discussed this option with the Airport Manager last October. Having said that, these things cannot necessarily be rushed and the arrangements still needed to be finalised. Security at airports in Zambia is taken very seriously indeed and amidst many furrowed brows, a mini conference was thus held on site with ourselves, the Airport Authorities, Zambia Police and even the Airport Fire Brigade in attendance!!! Questions of liability were addressed, provisions for fire extinguishers made, letters of comfort hastily drafted (in quadruplicate mind you), the RPS watchmen assigned to the vehicles duly introduced, interrogated and vetted and the whole exercise from first vehicle out to last back yesterday evening lasted a 9 hours! This country never ceases to educate!

In November and December, a considerable amount of time was spent upgrading Nkwali’s access road and rebuilding “Robin’s bridge” – the last main bridge you cross coming into Nkwali. I am thankful for this time and effort. It is through this lagoon that the Luangwa truncates the main water course when it reaches a certain height thus making a large island around Nkwali. The bridge was subsequently been re-named “Kevin’s Folly” owing to it’s sheer magnitude and quantities of aggregate and cement employed. It is however a most robust structure and the water is now only ankle deep to cross whereas last year, the waters would have been up to the bonnet and thus impassable.

We made the most of a break in the weather to make another short birding trip on Saturday morning and this time saw our attention focused more on so many LBJ’s rather than on the larger and more easily identifiable species. Unusual sightings amongst the many shrikes, prinias, Apalis’ and Cisticolas was the uncommon Moustached Warbler and an enormous flock of maybe 1,500 European Storks circling a few kilometres away. Young ImpalaIt was felt that maybe they had been forced down by bad weather the day before and were catching thermals to gain altitude before continuing their journey South. Within 10 minutes, they had reset their gyros, got their bearings and tally-ho’ed.

Another striking feature was the conditioning of all the Impalas at present. The ample and rich vegetation on offer has led to them being in magnificent condition, with full bellies, superb muscle definition and healthy glossy coats. Many of the males are very anxious now already jockeying for position amongst each other and there is much evidence of sparring injuries inflicted.

Have a great week, now what did I do with those snorkels?……

Matthew

It’s Monday 11th and all’s quiet on the home front

Despite Sara and I subjecting ourselves to intensive pool training this past week in “how to carry out our day to day activities whilst both underwater and breathing through a bit of garden hose”, I am somewhat relieved to say at least for the time being, it has been unnecessary!

The mighty Luangwa peaked last Wednesday, a full foot higher than last year’s high mark and even Nkwali’s new bridge became impassable with the waters there nearly 70 metres wide, air intake deep and flowing fast. Since, however, we have thankfully had a few dry days and the waters have dropped to more comfortable levels.

Owing to the fact that we were either unable or otherwise reluctant to leave the confines of Nkwali this week, there is sadly very little to report.

We did however receive rather interesting news during the week in the form of the Zambia Ornithological Societie’s January 2002 newsletter.

It tells of a recent birding trip to Choma about 220 kms north east of Livingstone and Lochinvar National Park where a group of avid birders set about trying to break the record for the number of species recorded in a single 24 hour period.

Evidently, Zambia previously held the world record in 1974 (273 species) and while they fell short of the current record of more than 400 species set in Kenya a few years ago, they were rewarded with the quite extraordinary total of 302 species sighted all within the 24 hour period!

On that note, we trust you will have a good week.

Cheers
Matthew

It’s Monday 18th and holiday reflections

After one month away from the Valley my return has found things pretty much the same…except the bright green bush is now much thicker than before. The river level is about the same as when I left..so I was beginning to wonder if Matthew had made up some tall stories about near-flooding levels of two weeks ago?? Perhaps he had a wee case of bushmadness in the past few quiet weeks?? Unfortunately on my return he was quick to point out the new water marks along the river bank so I had no choice but to believe him!!

Oh yes..the other change that was quite obvious on my return was the RPS vehicle fleet parked neatly in rows beyond the Mfuwe International Airport carpark…it looked to me like the airport had suddenly introduced car rental facilities with 4WD vehicles suitable for Valley road conditions!!

I had a wonderful, relaxing holiday. It all started with a short visit to Durban where I joined Simon and Shanie at Simon’s parents wonderful home. Anne and Graham made me feel very welcome and it was a delight to throw myself into the Indian Ocean once again!! Then on to Cape Town for two weeks of urban therapy and relaxation. The entire Cape region is now firmly a favourite of mine – so much to do in such a spectacular location. Definitely one of the more beautiful locations in the world.

Feeling rather relaxed after Cape Town I then set off for the other end of Africa to start a ‘Nile Safari’ in Egypt!! Following in Robin and Jo’s footsteps last year I longed to see the ancient temples, the tombs and of course the great pyramids of Egypt. To be standing before monuments and incredibly detailed drawings carved into stone that were between four and five thousand years old was truly awesome! Cruising down the Nile on a beautiful ‘floating hotel’ certainly assisted my enjoyment of the entire experience!! It was my first venture to the northern tip of Africa – a good look at Cairo before heading to Luxor and Aswan. Some of the highlights were certainly the Valley of the Queens, Karnak Temple, the light show at Philae Temple in Aswan, King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings and an unforgettable donkey ride which left me feeling rather stiff and sore! After the tour I took a train to Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast – a very beautiful ancient city with a grand history.

A major highlight of my holiday was a stop over in Nairobi to visit Jane and Matt. They have a lovely new home and are thoroughly enjoying their lives in Kenya. It was so great to see them with the bonus of having Possum in residence too. A lot of catching up over one or two ales took place of course!

Back in camp, Matthew and Sara appeared very pleased to have another soul back in camp! There was much to catch up on and so far I’ve been dining at their lovely home at one far end of Nkwali. We continue to say it every year, but it is such a special time in camp during these closed months. Very peaceful and beautiful. Standing in front of my house, on my return, I noticed across the river that there were a small group of elies feeding to the right and about six giraffe standing on the riverbank to the left – a lovely welcome home sight!

It has not rained much in the past week however. So we decided to take one open-roofed gameviewing vehicle out yesterday for an afternoon of catching up with locals. Of course, this was the moment that the rain decided to come teeming down! Several hours later the three of us drove home, like drowned rats, in the rain. Along the way we encountered two rather large elephants (one after the other) walking along the road. We had to wait a while for them to reluctantly more off the road and into the thick bush before we could pass. In the soaking rain the wait seemed to last forever!! Nothing a hot shower didn’t fix.

JeffreyMy computer became ill not long ago and is visiting the computer doctor in Lusaka at present. I am now acquainting myself with the short-term replacement…a rather dodgy laptop!! Many of the keys on the keypad don’t work properly – specifically the ‘s’, ‘a’, ‘w’, ‘c’, ‘x’ and the number 2 keys! Therefore, when one is rather busy one is less likely to pick up the spelling errors. You might find a few too many s’s, a’s or x’s in our emails for instance! Please bear with me and if any of you have received an email from Sara last week please don’t think that she has not learned how to sssspell properly!!

Robin has spent the past week or two with Jo in South Africa. They both return to the Valley at the end of this week. We are really looking forward to seeing them back and to hear all of Jo’s stories in particular! I’m sure that she will like to share some of them in an upcoming newsletter!!

Have a great week and take care.

cheers
Jeffrey

It’s Monday 25th and aardvark activities

Well the population in the office has almost doubled this morning with Jo and Robin’s long-awaited-for return. It feels like the season is now well under way… and then you look outside and remember that it IS the rains and the camps IS deserted!! The Popes are in great form and have lots to tell.. I’m certain that Jo will take the reigns next week to share some of their experiences of late. In the meantime there is lots to tell this week… proof that the rainy season is a fantastic time to come to the Valley! There are exceptional (often surprising) gameviewing opportunities and outstanding birding… all of which is set in a landscape transformed into a paradise of lush green, of flowing rivers and sparkling full lagoons.
Lovely!!

This week a familiar sound has been the sad, mournful bellowing of a buffalo succumbing to a lion attack!! Matthew and Sara spent many hours awake in the dead of night last week listening to the whole sorry event… it sounded as though it was only metres away from their house but in fact was way off in the bush and not possible to find in daylight. If it wasn’t the sounds of the intermittent death call of the buffalo keeping them awake it was the baboons launching into a barking frenzy that ensured a sleepless night!!

During the day we were picturing the scene… lions everywhere, sleeping near the carcass, too full to move!! A few days later whilst enjoying lunch at the Nkwali bar the familiar sound could again be heard. This time it was across the river… I thought it was amazing that lion would be bothered to kill anything during the midday sun!! I guess the sight of a passing buffalo would be too good to refuse!

Matthew and Sara’s aardvark (well it isn’t actually THEIRS but it would have to be the same one they saw last month outside their house) has obviously been busy. One morning last week it was obvious that it had been snooping around for termites… it had been burrowing holes in termite mounds, leaving its tracks all over the place. You could even see where it had rested its back legs as it stuck its head into the termite mound. What a coup it would be to be able to say that it was seen again!! Simon would not be very happy I suspect!!

Some great friends of Sara and Matthew’s from Australia have come to stay this week… it is their first visit to Africa and so far they are having an awesome time. They spent the weekend driving around the Park with S & M and enjoyed some brilliant gameviewing. Yesterday they were out early for a full day of gameviewing, a long picnic lunch and a bit of nightspotting on the way home. They saw a serious quantity of zebra and lots of foals. One foal in particular looked as though it was only a few days old. They also saw a lot of elephant herds near Chichele and there were two little babies under one month old. Amazing to find large numbers of them together at this time of the year… there is so much for them to eat and drink that the elies scatter about at this time. The gameviewers also saw a beautiful group of six giraffe and a kudu! The birding was fantastic… no doubt fueling Matthew’s keen interest in showing off how many bird names he can reel off to anybody who cares to listen!! They did see a large number of birds of prey, in particular vultures. One such group of circling vultures led them to a large number of them on the ground with a fresh impala kill.

The picnickers then headed for Chichele Hill for lunch at the top of the ridge, under some shady trees and looking out over a rocky outcrop and the Valley below. Lots of eating, sleeping, sipping pims, enjoying the breeze and marvelling at the beautiful scenery before heading homeward in the late afternoon. A storm was developing in the distance, creating a stunning backdrop of dark cloud and sheets of lightening. On the way home they spotted some hyena running about the road and saw some fresh lion tracks. They could hear the lion calling but it was too difficult to see them.

So never a dull moment at this time of year on the gameviewing front… it will be much the same when Nkwali reopens for Easter in late March. The green season is definitely a time worth visiting!

Cannot finish without a river-level update!! It shot up by about half a metre the other day and is now quite high and fast flowing again. Not much rain around here but certainly a lot has fallen in the river catchment areas higher up. I am sure before the end of the day Robin will be seen in his boat inspecting the current state of the river!

Have a fantastic week!

Best regards
Jeffrey

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