It’s Monday 21st March 2011 and the story carries on

…and the story carries on, with Kathie and David Richardson continuing their adventure, now to Kasanka and Liuwa Plain in Zambia’s Western Province. One wildlife phenomenon really stands out as an extraordinary event: over a million bats foraging the Kasanka fruit trees. Over to Kathie and David:

Bats flying at KasankaKatie and David observing bats flying

Our next stop was Kasanka National Park, located about an hour’s flight by small plane to the north-west of Nkwali, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The main draw at Kasanka is the millions of straw-coloured fruit bats that migrate there every November and December to feast on the fruits of local trees.

bats on the treebats on the tree

During the day, the bats, which weigh about a kilo each and are somewhat dog-like in appearance, with long noses, big eyes, even bigger ears and sharp teeth, roost in a relatively small area of Mushitu Forest. Their bodies are packed together so tightly on the trunks and branches of the trees that it is not uncommon for the branches to break under their combined weight. (We were told that their biomass is equivalent to that of 10,000 elephants!!) As dusk approaches, there is increasing restlessness in the colony, with lots of upside-down squirming bodies on the branches and more and more bats taking to the air for brief periods of time. The bat chatter becomes louder and more incessant. Finally, at precisely 6:10 p.m. (slightly earlier if it’s overcast) they all take to the skies at once for a night-time of feeding. Well, as you can imagine, when the sky turns black with millions of twittering bats in every direction, it’s really quite a show of sight and sound!

Beautiful emperor moth at Kasanka

There are several “hides” in the forest for bat watching, all of which put the viewer above the forest canopy for an unobstructed view of the action. Some are made of tree trunks lashed together, but the preferred one, erected to provide a steady platform for filming a recent BBC documentary, is constructed of metal scaffolding. All are somewhat rickety and 10 metres or more off the ground with only the most basic of safety features, so it does take a fair amount of courage to climb up to the top and set up one’s camera gear for the anticipated action. Anyone wanting a taste of the action at Kasanka might enjoy watching the video from our visit that David has posted on YouTube

Black Lechwe at Bangweuluflying over the vast Zambezi flood plain

After 3 days at Kasanka, with a side trip by air to Bangweulu Swamp where we saw massive herds of Black Lechwe but, unfortunately, not the elusive Shoebill, we returned to Lusaka. The following morning, we were on our way again, this time heading a couple of hours west by chartered plane over the vast Zambezi flood plain to the remote Liuwa Plain near the Angolan border. We were met at the Kalabo airport by Robin and the rest of the Liuwa team and from there drove back to camp, where we spent an idyllic 5 days. The trip began with the crossing by “pontoon” ferry of a tributary of the Zambezi – 2 vehicles, guides, guests, local people as well as a few animals all crammed on board, and the whole thing then powered from one side to the other entirely by the brute force of several strong men pulling on a long rope. Needless to say, there were lots of photo ops there!!

Pontoon crossing at KalaboRise from ashes

The plain is amazing for its vast open areas, its abundance of wildlife and the almost complete absence of other visitors. The annual rains had just begun when we arrived but already the pans were filling with water and becoming encircled by vibrant green grasses and intense yellow flowers. Bright pink lilies dotted the almost treeless landscape as far as the eye could see. The skies were magnificent too, brilliant blue with spectacular cloud formations, often signalling a storm somewhere in the distance.

Blue wildebeestLiuwa Plain

LionsHyenas

We saw huge herds of blue wildebeest and plenty of zebra too on a daily basis. Many were grazing contentedly, while others frisked and galloped about, apparently just for the fun of it. In addition, we had regular encounters with roving bands of hyena, the area’s main predator, as well as with large packs of wild dogs, often at quite close range and lasting an hour or two. (David’s posted a video featuring the wild dogs of Liuwa on YouTube). No matter what they were up to, they were always fascinating to watch and we were never in a hurry to move on. And, of course, we saw Lady Liuwa, the last surviving lioness in the area, as well as her two lovely black-maned male companions, brothers who were recently introduced from Kafue, in hopes that Lady would produce offspring. Alas, Lady’s not become a mother yet.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaterLong-tailed Whydah

Liuwa is home to a wide variety of birdlife too. My particular favourite was the colourful little Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, although the ballet-like swoops of the Long-tailed Whydah and the synchronized flight manoeuvres of huge flocks of pratincoles are also etched indelibly in my memory.

Robin and Jason at Liuwa PlainEmmanuel and Alfred

But it was Robin and the rest of the Liuwa team that made the experience there so very special. Both Robin and Jason are the most excellent guides one could ever ask for – so very knowledgeable and, even more important, so willing to share that knowledge, sensitive, patient and both with a good sense of humour too. Hostess Michelle made sure the camp ran smoothly and that guests never wanted for anything. The surprise bush breakfast on what began as a rainy morning and the final evening braai out on the plain under a canopy of stars both remain in our memories as highlights of our time at Liuwa.

JamesDavid Rogers

Thanks to all at RPS and also to David Rogers for making this trip truly memorable – as Jo promised, it was “very very top” from start to finish!
Wild dogcranium lilly

There are no words left to say…. just a big thank you Katie, David and David Rogers for sharing this superb story and pictures with us.

Enjoy your week,

Rita

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