36It’s Monday 1st June 2009 and the Shoebill Safari

Last week we said that we would hand this weeks edition across to Kiki for the account of his successful trip around the country on the hunt for shoebill. Shoebill are a very rare bird and they can only be found in one place in Zambia -Bangweulu Swamps (in the north). They are also found in Uganda and southern Sudan. Over to Kiki.


The safari is based around the shoebill, however, guests enjoyed five days at Nkwali before everyone headed north. Whilst at Nkwali many exciting walks and drives took place. The game was certainly performing and guests were lucky enough to follow a leopard whilst on a walking safari. We all knew about the leopard as we heard the unmistakeable sound of the baboons barking – a sure warning sign. So, listening to the bush and looking for the signs the leopard was tracked down – and it was definitely on the hunt for the baboons. The next morning the baboons were heard again and more tracking resulted in a dead baboon being discovered – freshly killed by the leopard. This time the leopard was not sighted, but later that day when the site was re-visited there were two leopards feeding on the carcass.

Luwi pride of Lions

The lions were also on show – a large pride was spotted near the Wafwa Lagoon whilst on a morning drive. There were 14 lions in the pride – who were doing what lions do best – sleeping! On another occasion the wild dog were spotted.

yellow billed storkyello billed stork

On our fourth day we set out for a marathon trip to see the stork colony in the Nsefu sector. As it is so early in the season the roads are still not what you may hope them to be, so a very bumpy three hours later, everyone had a chance to stretch their legs as we had to walk to get to the colony. Our patience was rewarded, as Daudi had managed to get a boat into place so that we could get nearer to the storks. After the storks we all settled down for a delicious picnic in the Nsefu sector before we headed back on the bumpy road back home! The road was so bumpy one guest, Richard, was heard to ask Braston whether he was on the right road – they thought that they were lost!

shoebillwhite fronted bee eater

So after these successful days we moved onto our main mission – to see the shoebill. Two charter flights later we were in Bangweulu Swamps – it should be mentioned here that I am not a very good flyer – especially in small planes! I made sure I took the first flight so I had time to recover before the second flight came in. Two nights were spent here and on day two we finally saw the bird. It required using banana boats for three to four hours to get to the point and then we had to wade through the water when we first spotted the shoebill. After everyone had their fill of photoagraphing the bird we returned in the banana boats for another three to four hours to camp. A long mission but very much worth it for a shoebill sighting.

banana boat on Zambezi riverbuffalo


Of course, Bangwuelu is not only good for the shoebill but is also a birders paradise. So we saw many other birds which made the seven hours or so in a banana boat more pleasurable! In the afternoon we decided to do a drive to go and see the herds of black lechwe. These small antelope are endemic to this area and it was therefore a good opportunity to see them whilst we were here. Not only did we see the lechwe’s but we saw buffalo, zebra, side-striped jackals and wattled cranes.

landrover stuck in mud at shoebill

This drive should have been a breeze after the morning on the banana boats, but as you can see from the picture this is not really the case! We managed to get ourselves monumentally stuck in the swamps – so we went for a walk whilst David Phiri had the fun of sorting out the car!

Our next stop was Kasanka, which is a 20-30 minute flight from Bangweulu Swamps. This is the place where later in the year – November and December you get a huge concentration of fruit bats – easily a couple of million in one place. Of course birding was fabulous here as well and we were lucky to be led by a local guide called Frank – an “extra good guide” in Kiki’s words. We spent two days here – one of which was spent by having a picnic to Luamba where we took the boats in turns for birding. One group was lucky and even spotted a narina trogon. My second ever sighting of this bird. The other group saw the finfoot – which I was not happy about! I have neve seen one so there was a touch of jealousy on my part!

martial eagle

Our last stop was Lower Zambezi where we stayed at Chongwe River House with Beej and Clem. It was a wonderful way to spend the last few days of the safari before heading back home. Whilst we were here we did more walks, drives and boating safaris and on one of these trips out we saw a martial eagle kill an abdimin stork – a truly fabulous sight to finish an amazing safari. On our second day we had beautiful sundowners in the Zambezi – cooling our blood by standing in the water and having a cold glass of pimms.

sundowners on zambezi river

A wonderful two weeks with many fabulous sights I am now back home at Nkwali where the season is in full swing – maybe I will be lucky enough to see the finfoot next year!

All the best


crown cranes

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