Its Monday and safari adventures with Robin and Jo

Well, hello there! I hope that you are well and sitting comfortably for this week’s update from Robin and Jo Pope. No need for me to keep you any longer, let me get straight to it and pass you over:

“Just before Christmas, Robin and I, with our negative Covid certificates in hand, packed up our Landcruiser and drove to the Nyika Plateau in Northern Malawi. We crossed the border just hours before all land borders into Malawi were unexpectedly closed to non-citizens. We were lucky to get in! Nyika really is one of our soul places and we are always thrilled to visit.

Early January we returned to Zambia, and at Chipata, swung down the road to Mfuwe, South Luangwa. Our tenants were away for a couple of months and so we took the opportunity to renovate our house. We had planned to spend a week setting up the contractor before returning to Lusaka. The week became two months. Since leaving the South Luangwa in early 2010 we have visited a few times every year. I am still involved in Project Luangwa, we have our house to up keep and of course we love returning to the bush. But these visits are usually no longer than a week. So, it was glorious to spend a couple of months and really “feel” the place again.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a “working holiday”. Once we got started on the house, we dived into the detail and sanded, painted and fixed. It had been a decade since the house had really received the TLC at this level. We became so involved in the renovation, we spent less time in the park than I had hoped. But it did not matter. Our house is situated behind Nkwali and the richness of the bush in this area is amazing. The light, clouds, storms, flowers, butterflies, trees and of course the birds and wildlife were deeply rich and ever present.

The regular elephants were daily visitors, with the breeding herds being followed by excited males. Although elephants can breed throughout the year, it was the peak mating season. We had a herd of impalas always within view. The resident banded mongoose family passed by every morning and evening, chattering away. The African goshawk who patrolled the area kept a beady on the young and one day swooped down and grabbed one. What a commotion as the mongoose family ran around looking for their lost babe. It was hard to watch. A pair of Heuglin’s Robins (although one of the many bird name changes – now white browed robin chat) would wake us up just before dawn and serenaded us as we enjoyed yet another spectacular sunset from the deck. It was wonderful to be living in such abundant nature again.

Some days were hot and humid making it hard to keep the physical work going. This was especially true just before a storm rolled in. Late afternoon storms created spectacular sunsets but the occasional night storms would prevent sleep, with lightening flashing bright and thunder crashing overhead, sometimes for hours. With the heat of the valley the weather is certainly more dramatic than on the central plateau where Lusaka is situated. We really love these dramatic storms and skies.

During our weekly mornings in the park we put our focus on birding and our species count averaged 80. In the third week of February we spotted a male jacana with two tiny chicks. The jacana is polyandrous, meaning that one female mates with multiple males and the male alone cares for the chicks. They are famous for tucking the chicks under their wings but neither of us had ever seen this. You can imagine our delight when we witnessed this unusual behavior. On our second visit to the small lagoon to check on the chicks, we noticed another male that was looking after four beautiful eggs. This was only ten minutes from the Park gate, so we would check whenever we went to Mfuwe “town”, hoping to see the hatched chicks. We noticed that the bird was rarely on the eggs and research tells me when the ambient temperature is high, the male adult spends little time on the eggs. As the temperature drops, he spends more time and it is actually a precise process. Clever guy! Jacanas incubate for 25 days and we had to sadly leave before they hatched. I only hope there are now four new chicks exploring the lagoon, because on the last two visits we failed to spot the two original chicks we had been watching. We were hoping the lurking monitor lizard had not caught up with them.

The rain increased early March and the river rose. We heard news that it was raining very heavily in the north and the river rose yet again. With the water so high, and our tenant returning we packed and left. It was a wrench as we had so enjoyed our two nature-rich months. However, we are now back in our wonderful home outside Lusaka, planning new adventures for road trips around Zambia this year.”

Brilliant, thanks so much Jo! It’s always lovely to hear from you. One thing is for sure, you and Robin are certainly being missed, but I am sure it won’t be too long before you are back. I don’t think that I really need to say much more except for a quick update on water levels which have sunk back down to acceptable levels, so no life jackets required. Other than that, well I hope that you have the most wonderful week with plenty of smiles and laughter and don’t forget to look after one another.

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