It’s Monday 22nd December 2008 and Robin’s Liuwa report

I asked Robin to write down some of his experiences at Liuwa Plains. Here they are – longer than usual but I did not want to edit it! The photos are thanks to David Marsh (and a couple there from Michelle – the lion is a repeat). If you did not read last week’s newsletter – you may want to firstyou may want to first – the journey to Kalabo and the start of the adventure.

So over to Robin…….

wildebeest on Liuwa Plainwildebeest on Liuwa Plain

Our journey with three heavily laden landcruisers, crossing the Zambezi River on the Lelui Pontoon was for all but two of our party of “Easterners” a new, and for all in our party, an exciting adventure. The flood plains were brilliantly green with fresh grass growth and patches of flowers. In some areas quite abundant flowers mixed with cattle herds and egrets.

The little town of Kalabo suddenly came into view, set on the edge of the Luanginga River. One of our party suggested this would be an ideal film set. The white washed buildings clustered along the road and river. The river is one of the tributaries of the Zambezi and forms the Southern and part of the Western boundary of the Liuwa Plain National Park. It is very blue and is alive with human activity. Long boats providing the transport for this town and for settlements further west towards the Angola border. Reed cormorants and pied kingfishers seemed to have very good fishing. Long dugout canoes poled on by as we waited our turn to cross the river on the second pontoon of our journey. This pontoon is rather like the pontoon at Nkwali and requires one to be fairly exact about the approach in order engage the ramps at the right angle. The wrong angle leaves one rather perilously at sea so to speak and without paddles in our vehicles you can imagine! (see photos from May Liuwa trip ).

night sky on Liuwa Plain

The residents and officials at Kalabo were most willing and helpful and would have sold us more of the huge bream however the annual fishing ban had started to protect the spawning season and tilapia were off the menu.

Our journey of approximately 45 kilometers from Kalabo to the camp at Matamanene in the middle of the Liuwa took us through a few villages, very well thatched “Barotse” style with their wonderful fine grass roofs and passed herds of long horned cattle. Western and Southern provinces are cattle country. The road or rather track is through sandveld, the sand very white and soft and reasonably solid after the early rains. We followed the tracks of the previous vehicle in a rather boat like fashion. Big storms loomed around us as we broke out onto the plains and what a wonderful late afternoon sight – soft brown grass to the horizon with gigantic thunderheads in the dispersing stage with anvil heads.

wildebeest calves in Liuwa Plainsred lechwe on Liuwa Plain

This will be one of my most memorable drives. The air was saturated as we drove across the plains through very light soft rain with little wind. Huge storms were around flashing like glow plugs with internal lightening .The skies darkening in the late evening. I must say that I was a bit bushed after so much adventure during the day and had my head down and was fixating on reaching camp for a beer when Michelle, my navigator and camp manger for this safari said “there are spiders webs in the sky “ .

oribi on Liuwa Plaintracking the eland with African Parks

I must have looked at her the way I felt – however looking up into the dark skies I saw magical pearl like necklaces, dangled open and suspended in the sky. I am sure not many people have had the good fortune to behold such a sight. They comprised one strand which must have been half a cm thick, almost half a metre long with the bottom end slightly enlarged and slightly bent to one side. They were suspended in the sky and did not appear to be descending. I caught one in my hand and the material was silky. Not wanting to stop due to the amount of water on the track and I pressed on when in fact should have stopped and taken a photograph. I shall continue kicking myself until the next time.

Later during a visit by the Park Manager and Coordinator we questioned him about this phenomena and he said they were spiderlings dispersing also known as ‘ballooning’. I was told that these dispersing spiderlings could be sucked up into great heights during storms and float amazing distances before alighting. This was obviously the critical moment – with humidity and temperature just perfect for release, rather like the nuptial flight of the termite with the first rains. We did not see another spiderling during the safari. (some information on the web about this but sadly no photo)

The camp, tented and positioned inside Burkia forest patch surrounded by the plains needed some brushing up and our very efficient and well trained team from the valley set to the following day to make it spick and span.

lone lioness on Liuwa Plains

At Nkwali we have a loving cat called Kattypuss (also known as KP). So named by one of our protecting watchmen who heard her being called Kitty and Puss and so decided to cover all options. She is allowed to sleep across my keyboard when I am working and she is spoilt by everyone. Here at Matamanene we were quickly introduced to the resident cat, Lady Liuwa, a very large example of the feline race which had also claimed Matamanene as her own. A lioness. She was well behaved and one could tell her to “stop and go away” and amazingly she would do so without getting personal about it. During the nights she would patrol the tents and often sleep or lie very close to them and purr “loudly”. Our staff just couldn’t believe this situation and they and one or two of our guests, did have a sleepless night or two to begin with. As their protector and leader of course I was always on the edge and would have preferred her NOT living with us quite so comfortably.

eagles nest on Liuwa PlainRobin Pope on Liuwa Plain

She appears to be the last remaining lion on the Liuwa and it would appear she has taken refuge in the forest patch to avoid the hyena which are undoubtedly the number one predator on the plains. African Parks (who run the park) have made it a priority to arrange a mate for her in 2009. She is a beauty and was able to do forays onto the plains to secure prey, mostly wildebeest calves and yearlings. She was the talk of our town and her progress around the forest or the camp could be determined by loud purring which made one want to laugh hysterically and climb under the bed in the same breath.

wattled crane on Liuwa Plainhyena pup on Liuwa Plain

The plains were like coming home for me. One could walk anywhere free of most worrisome creatures (no tsetse flies!) through fields of flowers and the soft grass. There was time and space to do almost anything – particularly photography. Large pans or luggas, filled with water, had all sorts of ducks and waders in them. (ed – Robin rather spontaneously stripped off and swam in one!) Wildebeest, wattled cranes and crowned cranes were in every view, mind-boggling larks and pipits on every little anthill. We looked into a tawny eagles nest by climbing on top of the sun roof and there inside an egg with shells of two terrapin. Hyenas with pups, red lechwe, secretary birds. Big views and long days.

Robin Pope in Liuwa Plainsdriving on the Liuwa Plain

We were fortunate to see the crescent moon with two planets formatting on each side of it one evening and a rather extraordinary collection of eight eastern green snakes within a radius of 5 meters of us in amongst the burkia woodland. These are deadly harmless but it did appear that the largest may have been a female with a number of suitors. It was decided by one of our group that we should search for the eland. We failed to find them in the morning but the one was collared and so the tracker arrived after lunch to help us. We drove for miles!

On our expeditions we were fortunate to see steenbok occasionally and oribi in abundance. A wild dog pack of ten was around but not seen and on our final drive to Kalabo two palmnut vultures in a raffia palm.

Pontoon, Kalabo, Pontoon, a little splashing some bumps and Mongu, only 1500 kms to Nkwali for Christmas.

Thanks Robin. That is the longest It’s Monday in history BUT it is the very Robin Pope on the Liuwa Plains so forgive us. Next week, Christmas will have come and gone. Have a wonderful time from all of us here at Robin Pope Safaris.

eland on Liuwa Plain


Liuwa Plains – more about our safaris in May, June and Nov, Dec 2009

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