Just the usual images taken through the month.
So we left you last month with a promise to have more updates about Elephayo’s woven muchinga products. Some background. We have always been admirers of traditional building techniques and have tried to incorporate as much ‘home grown’ building techniques and designs as we can. The lodge overall uses a lot of traditional construction. Local ‘bush poles’ and thatching. It simply works, is a renewable resource and has many advantages. We are regular users of mud bricks as well. Simple, cheap and plentiful. So long as you build well and keep them dry then you don’t even need to fire them in a kiln. They are fantastic insulators of both thermal and sound energy. Anyway we digress…
Large woven structures are often used around rural Zambia as grain stores, chicken coops and other agricultural purposes. Muchinga as a tough and flexible plant and incredibly strong. For a long time we have been thinking about treehouses, sleep out platforms and baskets. In conversation with Bo (at his house while admiring his grain store) it turned out that Elephayo is a highly skilled maker of such things. So we went to work drawing, designing, testing and creating. The results we feel speak for themselves.
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. 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:
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 to come in Septembers news about this.
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.
This is an activity which we love and which increasingly we get asked about and are doing. The Zambezi is the most known canoeing river in Zambia and rightly famous for multi day canoe trails (and short ones of course) and indeed the canoe safari is quite a unique Zambian/Zimbabwean activity that has been known and done by safari cognoscenti over many years now. The Kafue is a much lesser known river and to be honest most of the river is not what I would call a dream destination for canoeists. Much of it is long, slow open water and the extremely dense riverine forest vegetation does mean that animal sightings are generally not as good as the Zambezi. However certain sections of the river really lend themselves to a very unique canoeing experience. In certain sections of the river the fragmented channels and rocky areas totally lend themselves to being explored by canoe. Fortunately we are on one such section and indeed arguably the best section!
For us canoeing is a re-connection activity. Similar to walking in that there is no propulsion noise or smells, you are conveying yourself and you are part of the landscape. You are no longer a spectator, you are now participating. That is one side of it, another side is the tranquility. Gliding inches above submerged boulders and skimming alongside grassy bankings with nothing but birdcalls and the tinkling of water and the swishing of your paddle.
There are channels and routes here that can only be navigated by canoe and this also allows you to feel that you are charting territory that few people (and certainly only a handful of tourists) have ever seen. Another hugely attractive thing about canoeing is that the pace and type can be completely varied. If a guest wants to go south through rapids and channels and get that ‘lost’ feeling in the wilds with a side serving of adrenaline then no problem: we can do that.
On the other hand if they want to just leave the lodge mid-afternoon and lazily drift down from Mweengwa even with a beer in hand as the sun goes down then, again, no problem. We can do that.
Increasingly we are now doing overnight trips where the guests and guides sleep over on an island, either under the stars or in a dome tent, again the choice is yours. Of course (apart from the paddling) the guests don’t have to do any heavy lifting, and even then to be honest if you are in the front of the canoe with say Kaley behind you then you are not exactly having to really work! We go with a boat and set up tents, beds, mosquito nets, directors chairs and deliver the evening meal and a box of booze and the guests evening attire! Its amazingly civilised but wild at the same time.
In short our canoeing is Kaingu in a nutshell – no set departures, no set rules and almost infinitely flexible – a proper safari and not mass market and the norms that entail with big numbers and big business formulaic lodges. We leave you there with a taste of our canoe trails with some images and at the bottom a short video we put together:
Over the last few years we have been observing a rather interesting phenomena where groups of Meyer’s parrots gather at a mud pool in the national park opposite the lodge. This rather unique spectacle is something that is a bit of a mystery – even to the guys at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. We have witnessed groupings of over one hundred birds gather at sunrise and come down and partake in eating the mud (geophagy). At first when we witnessed it we thought it was the vegetation in the mud pool, but later on once the pool had completely dried out and the vegetation was gone we realised that it was the actual mud that was being consumed.
Anyway once we realised that this was quite a special event we quickly threw together a rough and ready temporary hide. We also got in touch with the guys in the University of Capetown. The phenomena is widely known about with parrots doing a similar thing in the Amazon. In this case it is because the soil contains sodium (i.e. salt).
Another theory advanced is that the clay soil allows the birds to ingest fruits containing alkaloids that would otherwise be toxic to the parrots. To be really honest we quite like the element of mystery about the whole thing. And the fact that serious bird researchers are even not 100% sure about the reasons. We are just delighted that a rather unusual spectacle takes place every morning without fail when we have guests to share it with!
Once the sun has risen and the parrots have fed then they all disperse (in the direction of all points of the compass). Even here at the lodge we see them flying over and know exactly what they have been doing 30 seconds previously.
For keen birders and casual enthusiasts alike it is quite a sight. I suppose the next step would be to send soil samples down to the guys in Cape Town and see if that solves the riddle. But in other ways we are not that keen to solve the riddle. Its quite nice that there are still some mysteries out there in Kafue National Park.
We kick off our slightly belated May news with an update on the heron chick. Well, it turned out that there were two chicks on two separate nests! Within 50m of each other. Herons like to nest communally and it seems that Goliath herons are no exception! anyway, it looks like the first chick didn’t make it, but the second one fledged and we now see it flying around!
While hanging around trying to work out which chick is which and where we always get good sights of trumpeter hornbills flying over the channel just before sunset.
The beautiful clear skies of May makes for amazing star gazing from the deck.
For one reason or another May became the month for family safari groups. Now this always is fun, but there is a lot of work that goes into all the childrens activities…. from animal bread making, seed jewellery, bows and arrows through to the lollipop trees while on the walk to Mpamba. Lollipop trees need careful tending.
Meanwhile the ever talented Mr Yandilla (Mike) spent a bit of time converting some scrap metal into a bush gym. Here is unique bench press set up using an old mitsubishi cylinder head (cut in half!).
And then Benny demonstrating the Toyota brake disk based weights!
While gearing up for children the monkeys took quick advantage of the hammocks being set up to also get in some leisure time. Instead of lifting weights though they rather get stuck into some gymnastics.
Completely unrelated, but the full moon allowed a chance to snap a 05:30 picture of our small fleet of aliboats under the moonlight.
And turning around 180 degrees the lodge looked absolutely stunning at this terrible time. Now I am actually a bit of a morning person so quite relish the quiet time in the mornings before everything kicks off.
Then to roads. Before we started on opening up our loops we started some repairs to the spinal road – manual pothole filling with 10 guys. It took us a week to complete from Kaingu up to Shishamba, but the team did an outstanding job and it has smoothed out the ride nicely. As always with these jobs Bo was in charge.
Then to the generallisimo. AKA Franco. Our local crafts supplier (the main one anyway). His monthly visit.. Bowls and mortars this time.
And then more family related fun. May was the month for our annual fathers and kids fishing group. This firm fixture is something completely different – basically the lodge gets taken over by a group of friends that come every year with their children (no mums allowed). As you can imagine it is total chaos:
We start with JohnD doing a load test on the zipline (which for the rest of the year is my winch cable and snatch block!):
Lentil salad in the rather appropriate form of a fish:
Main area Karaoke (which we have to do so that we allow the Dad’s to give their elbows a good workout around the fire). Great fun (if you like Justin Bieber):
Victor (who has organised this trip for the last four years) giving some top tips:
Surrogate mum Julia gets asked to brush hair…. Dad’s are known to be very poor at hair brushing.
Victor always organises a pig or a lamb on a spit. Six bags of charcoal!!!!!!!!! A LOT of beer (Victor and Antun have to sit in the sun and watch Willard turn the lamb). Its thirsty work. The lamb was absolutely stunning… 6 hours of cooking, 5L of olive oil and en entire box of lemons for the basting.
Funky lunchtime salads!
The last night we always go en-masse up to Mpamba rock. Lots of drinks, lots of pork belly and lots of laughter!
And then we get back to the lodge for the final dinner and then the prize giving ceremony. All in all it was another great weekend and we are already booked up with the guys for next year.
“Drones” – love them or hate them, they are here to stay and are allowing people to get stills and video that formerly was possible only with chartering a helicopter at $$$$s of dollars. Even then you cannot fly a helicopter in places you can fly a small quadcopter. They come in all shapes and size, from huge rigs that can carry large professional quality video and stills cameras through to ones that can fit in your pocket. The technology is changing so so fast. A friend of our has lent us a quadcopter – a DJI Phantom Vision 2+.
This is not our loaner drone! This is a $3500 dollar one… better not crash in the river then.
Now in the drone world this is 3 year old technology, so therefore getting long in the tooth! DJI are a chinese company that are dominating the market with mid and high end units. The small ‘copter has a built in camera roughly similar to a gopro type action camera, but it is able to take still photographs in .RAW format to allow more latitude for processing. The camera sensor is pretty similar to what you find in your smart phone. So small. That means low light stuff is going to yield poor results. But in decent light it is capable of capturing some amazing views. The .RAW images I found need fairly heavy handed processing to make them pop, so a lot of saturated and dramatic (almost HDR) tones are on the agenda here. Anyway we have a whole bunch of shots and video planned and fingers crossed I don’t crash it as I did last year!
So here are some views of the area where our lodge is located. We hope you like this different view of this stunning part of Africa!
This is just south of the lodge, our ‘Chief’s campsite’ enjoys this location. The ablution building is just visible in the bottom left hand corner of the image.
The rapids just below the lodge – the site of many dinners under the stars as well as canoeing set pieces!
Looking from the rapids North. The lodge is on the right hand river bank in the center of the frame, but it is so well hidden in the trees that it is basically invisible.
Here the quadcopter is basically hovering over the lodge and looking west. The myriad of channels and islands around the lodge can really be seen from up here (up here is 150m above ground level).
Again looking North from the lodge area. The massive island of Mantobo can be seen and the length of river visisble is basically the route that guests arrive in by boat – the car park in the National Park is beyond the two smaller islands clearly visible in the main channel.
looking East from ‘Chief’s campsite`. As far as the eye can see stretches Namwala GMA and nothing but bush!
Straight-down shot above the rapids. The dinner location is just visible in the open area between the trees at the very bottom of the frame.
A beautiful misty morning with the mists just starting to break up as the sun rises. The camera point of view is right above the main area of the lodge looking south towards the rapids.
Looking south west over the top of Mpamba rock – site of literally thousands of scenic and spectacular sunset sundowners.
The dambo next to Mpamba rock. Straight down point of view.
Straight down point of view of the lodge lurking in the morning mists.