Whats Happening at KaingU Safari Lodge in Zambia

Stay updated with news and information from KaingU Safari Lodge situated in the Namwala Game Management Area (GMA) on a spectacular and remote stretch of the Kafue River in Zambia.

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.

August News & sightings

August.  The month that bridges winter and summer.  We often say that at some point in August it is like a switch has been thrown and suddenly temperatures rise.  Well this indeed was the case this year, but even at the end of the month and moving into September we still have cold crisp mornings and hot water bottles at night.  But we are nudging 30 degrees C in the afternoons now.  Thanks to the really heavy rains in early this year there is still a lot of water in the bush.  Although the Kafue is dropping fast and is at fairly normal levels for this time of year it is clear that seasonal pools and streams are still holding water when most years by now they would be dry.  In short this is good news for inhabitants of the park!  When we describe August as a bridge month this seems also to apply to birdlife, particularly on the river.  In the course of August we suddenly started seeing black-winged stilts, spoonbills, grey-headed gulls to name but a few.  The parrot hide got some use too.  Anyway enough chattering on.  As usual we try to tell the story of the month through images:

Airfield leopard spotted while the guides were waiting for a big fly-in group.  

Driving back to the lodge the same group were treated to lions.  Nothing unusual in that, but I loved the fact that JohnD got the shot with Kaley’s vehicle in the background – despite the fact that it was almost dark! 

The bee-eater hide with an added perching pole for clearer bee-eater shots.  Sadly the next day there was a bee-eater disaster.  An elephant slid down the banking, right through the colony and took out half the nests.  Poor Israel was devastated and he told Julia “I don’t know how to tell Gil”.  Anway the survivors are doing fine and a new colony has been established on the opposite bank downstream. 

Bathing bateleur!  Out on the boat with visiting family we were treated to a couple of sights of birds in relatively unusual positions.  Firstly the Bateleur and then: 

This rather geometric cormorant! We then headed down to the Lake Itezhi Tezhi with the family for a few nights.  We had a great time with fellow lodge owner Andrea from Konkamoya and we were treated to great hospitality and great sights and views.  As we share a lot of guests to and from Andrea we told ourselves that this was getting to know our products…  but that is just dressing up what was just a really relaxing stay in another part of the Kafue! 

Oribi on a fantastic drive along the Nkala river.  We also really enjoyed all the sights and wildlife along the lakeshore.  

The little rocket ship that is the malachite kingfisher in action.

Lake shore buffalo. There are huge herds down there. We only caught up with smaller bachelor herds, but still great to see them.

Distant bushfire by the lake.  On the way down we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of proper early burning and how systematic it seems to have been done – proper patches and not just random swathes of hundreds of kilometers.  Hopefully all the work done by TNC on fire management is paying off.  

Nightime porcupine.  Konkamoya is quite famous for night drives.  Sadly we didn’t see the famous Aardvarks, but this spotlit porcupine was a good second prize! 

We leave our little excursion to the lake with a beautiful sundowner spot and head back up to Kaingu!  We took the river road back to the lodge through the GMA and it is always an interesting drive.  It is the area where all our staff live and we get a small glimpse into what is still very traditional, rural Zambian life.  

Ila cattle herding. Cattle are hugely important for the Ila people. It is said that before the creation of lake Itezhi Tezhi, and the gradual loss of the kafue flats that the Ila were the richest pastoralists in Africa.

Back at Kaingu and on the pools loop we caught this great sighting of a slender mongoose. Which we normally see shooting away. This one showed real curiosity and kept peeking over the termite mound at us.

As the temperatures hot up and the river levels drop we get treated to more elephant activity. Island hoping Kaingu style. Always great to see. This bull was quite skittish and had been kicking up dust when he saw the boat.

The parrot hide has been in action too. Again with the rainfall amounts that we have had, the pool is holding water a lot longer than normally. Hopefully this means that the parrot activity continues as well.

Black-winged stilts. A fairly uncommon visitor here and it was fantastic to see them with young ones as well. At the same time Israel caught a sighting of spoonbills, but sadly no photographs.

All this talk of hides…. I never thought I would use an extreme wide angle fisheye lens in a bird hide. But I did. This is the bee-eater hide, situated on a narrow island opposite the colony.

Self explanatory really. We are always talking about walking out to the rapids so we thought we would try and give you a taste…

Then for a different view from the rapids. We had two young Icelandic guests who were absolutely charming. In fact they were so charming that they persuaded me to place the small rubber boat at the rapids dinner site so that after dinner we could get across to the bottom of the rapids in the pitch dark to capture some star photographs…

So we wrap up the month with some mystery infrastructure ‘items’.  Made by the talented Elephayo in the traditional form of woven tonga grain storage baskets.  More ton that to come in Septembers news.

July Newsletter

We start off July by saying farewell to Alfonso our Spanish intern.  He was a great person to have in camp and became a real team member over the month that he was here.  His passion for the bush, his politeness and impeccable english was wonderful.  We do hope to see him back in a year or so!

 The days were getting a tiny bit longer but certainly not warmer!  Everyone says that a long and heavy rain season means cold weather in winter and they were spot on.  Some unusual (for us in the dry season) cloud cover made things colder but added some contrast to the beautiful early mornings and evenings.

I was putting together a personal project of timelapse sequences so ended up spending a lot of weird moments out on the river, on rocks and all over the place trying to capture sunsets, sunrises, stars and mists.  It was intense but fun.

The colder weather brings these amazing mists that we are always going on about.  To be honest we (and all our guests without exception) just cannot get enough of them

One morning in particular was unforgetable.  After the guests had left for an early morning game drive it just got thicker and thicker.  It was amazing.   Benny actually came into the office to tell me to grab my camera.  Naturally I did.

It was a very memorable morning indeed.

But the real news for July was the sightings.  It was like everything went into overdrive.  Unbelievable.  What was really heartening was that a lot of the most spectacular sightings took place on the loops in the National Park that we have spent the last few years developing.  This is heartening as it shows that the presence there is having a positive effect and that we were right to put these loops where we did.  We were treated to four cheetah who hung around the loops for almost two weeks and were completely relaxed.  Incredible.  What was great was that all the guides (who are all kitted with decent cameras) were all getting fantastic images of these great sightings:

Sightings further north in the Shishamba area were also incredible.  The guides were regularly catching up with the Shishamba cubs:

The Luansanza bridge area also provided totally superb lion encounters with two mating couples hanging around the area for several days.  The cat sightings were just unbelievable at this point!

In between all the amazing sightings that were going on across the river in the National Park we then had another type of sighting.  I dark haired female from France.  In the form of a charming springer spaniel called Joy!  Our first ever international dog guest.  Strange but true.  So while her owner was game driving and boating Julia took Joy for walks.  I know that dogs are normally not found in remote safari camps, but she was actually very easy!

Then as the month marched to it’s end we started to position our hides.  The bee-eater hide we are very pleased with as the bee-eaters have this year made a much larger colony and in an absolutely perfect position for the hide.  Once built I spent a quiet hour or two testing it out and was very happy with it indeed!

Then at the very end of the month we had a delightful Swiss girl come out to do a canoe trail with us.  She had an absolutely great trip – including an island sleepout and a short bit of rapids running.  We were very pleased that she was happy for us to be snapping away getting some good marketing stuff as our canoe trails are getting more and more popular.  Hopefully these images give you an idea of why the trails are getting more popular.