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How fast are bee-eaters?

So how fast is a bee-eater? As anyone that monitors our facebook page knows, I am quite fond of bee-eaters and taking pictures of them. For me it is the combination of amazing flying ability, beautiful colouration, social structure and obvious intelligence. From a photographic perspective they are also a real challenge to try to capture. Great fun.

So while thinking about them one evening we started to wonder just how fast they are… They are incredibly acrobatic birds, hawking insects on the wing sometimes milimeters from the water. Apparently they can spot a wasp 100m away. From watching them I can easily believe that. Now I have no idea how to really convey or measure their speed, so this is just a few random ideas jotted down to try to convey just how rapid the example of their action that was captured in the six animated frames above .

Fortunately a camera shutter can move extremely quickly. Stopping motion with a fast bird like this I was using 1/3200ths of a second shutter speed. This is 0.0003125 seconds! Now while that is extremely fast, the action of the shutter, the mirror action of the camera, the autofocus calculations and drive signals to the lens, the processing of the image and writing it to memory going means that the number of these (very short) exposures that can be made in a second is (relatively) not that many. This camera can shoot 10 exposures (frames) per second. That is pretty quick as cameras go. Remember that when you go to the movies you are quite probably watching the movie at 24fps. So the six frames showed here lasted (in terms of actual exposure time) cumulatively for only 1.8 milliseconds. The camera’s ability to keep doing that meant that the actual shooting time for the burst of six shots was a relatively long 600 milliseconds (0.6 secs).

This is the sort of speed of reaction you need if you are going to intercept, dog fight and then eat large, fast insects. Clearly bee-eaters operate in a world with completely different time standards to the one we do. Small animals, insects, even children see the world with a faster frame rate than us adult humans do. Adult humans generally are limited to about 60fps. Birds on the the other hand are able to process their visual world at 90-100 frames per second.

Interestingly this amazing processing speed, ability to see the world in slow motion and reflexes to match seems to result in a confidence in their speed and ability which can be seen. Watching them one day I saw several different large raptors flying over the colony. While the guinea fowl and spur-fowl on the islands were all alarming and diving into cover the bee-eaters just continued hawking and perching. To me it seemed that probably they are so confident in their flying skills and speed that a large, relatively slow moving raptor poses almost no threat at all.  They are truly fascinating birds.

 

November Newsletter

We have written a lot previously about why in many ways November is our favourite safari month, so I will not repeat all that!

November saw the start of (the sporadic) rains, but remarkably little has fallen to date. Looks like the predictions of low rains this year may well be correct. Anyway, we wrote loads last month, this month we are just going to do our usual and claim that a picture tells a thousand words. Except they don’t always! So we have added a few short descriptions…

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The onset of the rains brings some interest to the sky (finally). For many many months there is hardly a cloud. I never thought I would say it, but constant blue skies actually gets a bit boring!

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With the rains being so sporadic and the river still dropping we talked last month about contemplating dynamite! Well, instead we have Bo, Mike, Handson and some cables and hilt jacks. We actually managed to move the large and troublesome rock in the “funnel” between the car park and the lodge. Quite a heroic (according to Gil & Mike) feat that Mike and myself are very proud of! With little rain though, November saw the river hardly rising at all. Normally by the end of November we are seeing a fairly steady rise.

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A French photography group share our sentiments about November…. We were delighted to host a very charming group led by Eric Le Go. Professional photographer (and East African lodge owner) Tony Crocetta was also along to give tips and tuition. I had some serious gear envy when Eric broke out his top of the line drone, Sony A7RII, Nikon 600mm F4 and D4s, etc etc. Wow. I was dreading capsizing the boat and sending $30K worth of gear to the bottom of the Kafue!

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The group inspired a bit of creative photography from our side

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And then talking of being creative we attended the Zambia Art & Design Show. This is one of the highlights of the Lusaka social scene – it is great. We shared the stand with Game Rangers International and promoted various products (and the lodge of course!). Julia’s seeds and beeds jewellery, local handcrafts and Polly from GRI brought a lot of baskets and bags from the Mukambi Women’s Group that they are supporting and helping. All in all it was a great few days and certainly worthwhile. We raised some money for the school, for GRI and were next to the most amazing bread stand. Awesome. Not to mention the chilli pickle stand, the honey stand, the other bread stand, the clothes………………..

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Just after we were doing this, Kaley (pictured above) was loading up one of the game drive vehicles and heading to Liuwa Plain National Park. Great stuff. Kaley’s first ever mobile safari (on land that is!). It went very, very well, although he reports that Liuwa is also very dry. It is great that Kaley got to see a a new (for him) park and we are looking forward to doing more of these next year.

And then of course we come to the sightings. A good month, in fact if I look at the sightings book the month was probably beaten only by October. So we leave you with some sightings, sunsets, skies and some flowers from walking around Mantobo island. Interestingly on the island we found some shards of pottery. I would love to know the story behind that. How old is it and what were the people doing on Mantobo? Interesting.

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Oh, and before we forget, we also finally got to meet Saysha our web designer. She flew up from Durban and stayed with us for almost a week. She went home inspired and already updating and tweaking the website. We hope you like the changes.

October News

So this month we are going to try and add a few more words than we have been doing recently… So lets start with the heat. This year has been hot – there was even an extreme weather warning issued by the Zambian Meteorology people. As the month wears on so do the expectations of rain. We had a few drops and even some rumbles of thunder, but the expected downpours never materialised on Independace Day. Traditionally it is often said that the rains come then. In fact the rain season for 2015/16 are being predicted to be low. This is less than ideal, already the last season was not great and the rolling blackouts (or “load shedding”) are a huge issue here in Zambia. We often are very, very grateful to be completely off-grid with our solar panels and pumps and so on.

With all that in mind, there is no surprise that this year the river is low. In fact it is so low that we are seeing new rocks that we have never seen before start showing their tops in the river. This makes boating a bit “interesting” shall we say. We are literally inching our way up certain areas. All good fun though, although I have had Mike strengthen our propellor guards! We do have to say though that the ‘funnel’ will be almost impassable with the larger boats if the river doesn’t stop dropping soon, so Rick is thinking about putting out an advert for anyone with underwater demolition skills… Anyway, despite these really low levels the surprising thing is that the pools on the ‘pools loop’ have held water right through the whole month. Which of course has meant good sightings.  In fact the sightings this month have gone up to volume 11 – spectacular stuff being seen almost daily.

I will get to sightings in a minute or so, so please bear with me… October saw us continuing our work with GRI at the community school, this time Jeni Jack and I went down with a couple of guests. We took a tiny generator, laptop and projector and Jeni backed up her lesson with pictures and video. This had the children absolutely enthralled. We are hoping that Novembers newsletter will see us posting a bit about a visit to the Elephant Orphanage Project with around 30 children. Stay tuned!

In between taking bets about when the first real rains will be, we also start to wonder when the Impalas will start giving birth. For those that are interested we pretty much reckon that it was the 10th of October this year.

The nesting skimmers did produce a chick! Sadly it was seen once by John and Kaley and then the next day when I went up to take a look there was a large croc coming off the island and no more chick. Bugger. Two years in a row now, with two nests and no offspring. To be honest when you see how they nest it is incredible that any ever survive with all the Harrier-hawks, monitor lizards and crocodiles around…

So more on sightings. Well the ripe fig trees around camp make for some great bird sightings well. But this month we have decided to create 3 slide shows to try and really give an impression of being here as a guest. With family out visiting we took the opportunity of doing a boat cruise or two and a couple of gamedrives. Julia was keeping score on the boat cruise – 32 bird species in two hours.

The first slide show is the general happenings in camp and associated with the camp. Everything from school visits to walks to violet-backed starlings eating figs:

The we move onto a montage of what we see from the boat.  These pictures are taken from two boat cruises.  The average guest does a minimum of two boat sessions usually and the birdlife is spectacular.  Recently we have also been seeing a fair few lions from the boat as well.

Then a game drive.  This was one drive.

Towards the end of the month we suddenly started running into cheetah! The first drive Israel and John found a collared male (Zambia Carnivore Project we assume) and then the following day John found a coalition of three feasting on a Puku.  Cheetah are a rare sighting here, the Kafue is one of the very few places in Zambia where they can be seen.

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The sunsets have also being getting better and better as the month wore on.  The few scattered clouds and the vegetation greening up make for spectacular sundowners on the rock.

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So now we have November to look forward to.  We have a few interesting bookings, from dedicated moth experts through to a large photography group.  I hope they bring camera covers!  The rains are going to break any moment….

 

 

 

September News

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Signs.  Nothing new, I just liked the picture.

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The skimmers that are back…  and started nesting!  That means everyone is now going to be subjected to 100s and 1000s of skimmer pictures.

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While “spraying and praying” the skimmers from the hide I noticed that repeat guests Paul and Cathy were with JohnD in absolutely spectacular light.  P&C – thanks so much for coming back and for being such great, appreciative and friendly people.  Twalumba!

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Early morning on the spinal road.  Weird road pictures again….

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The morning after – an area that burned (far too late in the season) had a strange beauty the next morning when we were up at 05:00 to look for further hot spots and embers to extinguish.

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And then an afternoon by the pools.

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Visiting the Kaingu school with the GRI community outreach project.

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An evening on the pools loop.  Living up to expectations.  When we explored this area on foot I cam face to face (and rather close) to a large male buffalo, so I always think of buffalo when driving the area.

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A very, very productive boat cruise!

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New roofs on most of the chalets!  7,000 bundles of grass, two months work for 5 thatchers from the village.

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All the older chalets (so four of them) now have proper doors now.

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I am not a huge fan of night drives, but this was a good ‘un.

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Young leopard.  On the way from the airfield to the lodge.  Middle of the day!  Captured by Nyambanza.  Kaingu intern and all round headache reducer.  Why does she reduce headaches?  Well, she makes things happen in a quiet and efficient way.

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Nyambanza. Thoughtful safari style.

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Lynda went canoeing twice.  Including the rapids!

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One in a thousand.  Literally.  It is seriously addictive.

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More of the highly scenic and beautiful natural pools.

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Bushbaby again.

August News

August. Kicked off with lot’s of excitement with good friends and repeat guests the De Scheppers bringing lots of family and two drones to film all the action while they were here.  They left us some great footage and had a great time:

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We were really impressed with the stability and the quality of the footage that Congo and Jurgen were able to capture:

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Of course some canoeing was done as well.  In fact quite a lot:

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The beginning of the month also saw the real start of the elephant island activity.  We had been seeing them a few times prior to this, but only now were guests really experiencing it.  Even from the deck while having morning coffee!

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Then we got serious with birds!  We constructed a small rough and ready hide opposite a bee-eater colony.  Of course the guys all are teasing me saying that it looks like a village shop that sells mobile phone top-ups.  It does:

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But its a case of function before fashion.  It works!  All the following images were captured from the hide:

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And a few more captured on the way to the hide (from the boat):

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Then we started the second hide project.  This one is a quite something.  There is a small natural pool near the river where JohnD had observed literally a couple of hundred of Parrots flocking every morning.  After checking, we were convinced that it is a daily phenomena whereby they flock together to eat mud before dispersing for their day’s foraging.  The reasons are (at least two theories) that the mud contains nutrients and/or the clay content helps them deal with alkaloids in fruits and seeds that would otherwise poison them.  Whatever the case it is an utterly spectacular sight.

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Parrots and Pigeons

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And then on a rare day off we saw the only positive from all the fire fighting that we have done this year… Exploring new places.  Running around the GMA putting out fires I ‘found’ another spectacular rock, so took Julia off one evening on our day off to see it.  If you look carefully in the photo you can see a bit of smoke…

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We leave you with a couple of images from the last game drive of the month, and we are hoping that this sighting of one a pair of skimmers becomes more regular.  We have been seeing them a lot, but no sign of any nesting as yet….

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Knowledge from Mr Brightson Mwanga Shambweka:

We have been doing a lot of staff biographies and profiles, and I asked our oldest staff member to write a bit about himself.  Here is it below (translation from Ila to English by Willard):

My name is Brightson Shambbweka.  My knowledge announcement is:

I can make some axes, hoes, knives and spears from the irons made by the white mens, and this experience is my father who left it to me.  The elder brother of my real father is Mr Samanga Kauwima, and myself I know how to carve canoes, small stools, axe and hoe handles, walking sticks and even the thing for pounding maize, groundnuts and other small items, all of these things are from the trees planted by God and for this I have been trained by the parents.

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And myself I am a man who can walk in the forest and know the bush very well, becuase some years ago I was used to hunt animals, for we were keeping dogs, guns and spears for hunting.  That’s why I got an experience of knowing many things like cat animals, snakes, trees and grass and rocks.  Sometimes you find a rock with a small crack and a small tree in it, so that when the tree gets bigger the root starts to push over the rock until the rock gets expand and that piece stays on top of the root.

 

And myself also I’m a man who can manage to know the place where a human being can make a village with his family and farming.  I’m a man who knows everything because I was understanding what the parents was telling me about their situation, so I got this experience of making such things of materials, and my father’s home was near the river line area, so that myself I can cross the river without canoe, beacuase I know the places which got some rocks from here up to the park.

 

Some years ago we were farming in the islands and doing some activities of fishing, with hooks, fishing baskets and small round spears with hooks.  Sometime we used to block a small tributary river which is passing over the rocks beside the island, going through into the big river.  So we were making a big basket and put it to the outlet line of the river and open a small gap for the fish to pass through to get in the basket.

 

My mother was used to make clay pots, clay calabash.  My father also was making some clay bowls and put a long medium stick, used for smoking tobacco and they were looking for a special place to find the special clay soil and me also I can make these things.

 

 

 

 

 

September Newsletter

Well, the heat is now officially on us!  As predicted the rock pools are getting use.  The daytime temperatures are mid to high 30s, but the evenings and early mornings have been around 17 degrees.  Of course we are lucky here as the lush riverine forest and the green grass keeps the temperatures down.  And there is always the rocks where one can cool off!

 

Game has been good. We have been seeing the Shishamba lions a lot, but also great other sightings.  The camera trap was put up at our car park in the Park and we realised that a leopard is regularly visiting the car park.

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But perhaps the most spectacular sighting was a small group of eight elephants that spent an entire afternoon crossing between islands opposite the lodge.  Everyone got great sightings from tent decks, main area and from boats.  It was a real highlight.

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The Rock Pratincoles have arrived and are all over the river (on the rocks), and the White Fronted Bee Eaters are also really numerous at the moment.  The river is really low – we are still able to get up beyond the Mweengwa rapids, and down past Mantobo island, but it needs care!

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We have had some fantastic guest feedback.  Chef Wina was compared to Gordon Ramsay – in fact the guest said Wina was even better.  I do have to say that I have never heard him swear though….

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Out of camp dinning has been amazing – the lawn like banks of some of the islands are at their most spectacular so we have been doing a lot of island breakfasts and sundowners.  Sundowners with freshly caught Bream in beer batter with a soya dipping sauce is now certainly on the menu!

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Keep following us on facebook for regular updates, and we are looking forward to doing October’s newsletter – featuring “Amazon Angler” filming a TV fishing show here at the lodge, home made rock pool swimming tubs and much more.

On that note, we leave September with the amazing smoked pike timbale!

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Allyson Donates to the School !

The Itumbi Community School; which was built through funding organised by lodge guests and with lodge involvement – received a nice bonus yesterday!  Allyson a guest and friend returned here with $1500 that she raised for the school.  This will go towards much needed text books which the school badly needs.  Alyson