Just the usual images taken through the month.
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 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.
So after the mega floods of March we were glad to welcome April. While the rains reduced they were by no means gone. We had long periods of glorious sunshine and then a good few days of heavy cloud cover and rains. The long periods of cloud brought nice cool temperatures but didn’t do our solar power generation, pumped water and hot water geysers any favours! But as we kept telling ourselves (especially in March): “its just weather”. So yes, April showers and no packing away the ponchos just yet. Fortunately the rain seemed to fall around and not on some of the big American groups that we hosted.
We were delighted to see that goliath herons were back in the same nesting site as last year with another giant chick. Interestingly later in the month a second nest and a second chick appeared not 30m from the original.
The birding action continued with a very special sighting. JohnD enroute back from a game drive was boating guests down the river when he came across a pair of crowned eagles in a tree on Mantobo island! Phenomenal. I have always been fascinated by these birds since coming across a young one up close and personal in the Ghanaian rainforest. Of course John immediately took up back up river to find them but they were long gone.
The next sighting was another unusual one. A group of American guests were fully into morning Tai-Chi and so there was morning sessions on the deck. The one guest was actually a martial arts instructor and managed to persuade some of the guides and staff to also join in (and Lynda!).
The large numbers of Americans in camp meant that there was lots of singing and drumming… and it wasn’t all one sided either. While our staff are very very used to this (and highly skilled) we were very impressed by one guest standing up and doing a drum solo on his last night!
Our second 6m swamp cruiser boat has been doing sterling service already. Its one of those assets where now we wonder how on earth we ever managed without it… having space on boats for 22 guests but in an 16 bed lodge means that we can really personalise activities and provide total flexibility – which is something that we really pride ourselves on and work hard at doing. Our small fleet at rest on a sundowner island:
We have often mentioned Mike’s (mechanic) skills and how versatile he is. This month he went from rebuilding a starter motor in a morning to then sewing new umbrellas for the deck from canvas… All on a hand cranked chinese sewing machine.
All done on this!
We started having a regular visitor to the boat jetty (now that it was finally not under water). Fortunately it was about 8″ long and not a 3m monster!
The last of our big groups for the month was one of the absolute best ever. All friends travelling together and hailing from Spicewood Texas, they were an absolute blast to deal with from start to finish. Including the specially written song.
Sadly the group missed out on lions, and then murphy’s law dictated that on the way back from dropping them at the airstrip JohnD came across some luggage trailer lions:
Easter was a fantastic weekend – despite one of the last death throes of the rains!
Then the month of April kept the best for last! Repeat guests Johan and Antonia were driving out to spend labour day weekend at the lodge and came across what will almost certainly be the sighting of the year! A caracal kitten. Incredible. I personally have never seen a caracal in the Kafue, JohnD tells me he has seen one in his career here! 29th of April.
We celebrated with dinner on the deck that night and then dinner at poacher’s rock the following night!
So 2017. Thanks to a wind in the pacific our main area got flooded! Joking apart, the end of 2016 and early part of 2017 were forecast to be “La Nina” (Spanish for little girl) conditions. These are conditions that follow the more known “El Nino” (little boy) conditions. How does that flood the bar? Well, La Nina conditions are stronger than usual easterly trade winds in the pacific. These winds move warmer water to the west (shallower water near the west coast of South America is warmer) allowing the warmer water to be replaced with cooler water. A couple of degrees change in temperature of a large area of the pacific then has a huge effect on the global atmospheric circulation (which you may as well just call weather!). This basically means you then have different than normal distribution of thermal energy to the earths surface. La Nina conditions means higher than normal rainfall patterns in Southern Africa and that was for sure this year. El Nino is the exact opposite in cause and effect.
So it rained and rained and rained… Now lets be honest, Zambia needs a decent raining season to fill up the dams and provide relief what what has been 3 fairly dry rainy seasons. The river just kept rising up though. Now normally this is not that big a deal – the Luansanza and Shishamba rivers often rise over the bridges and make access impossible, but generally it is over in 24hrs and they have subsided below the bridges. Not this time! We were left with no choice but to boat guests down from Chunga all the way to the lodge. Its either that or four hours around the GMA/ITT road and I know which I would prefer.
Once in camp the guests had the unique experience of seeing the waters slowly rise through the deck, over the deck and eventually into the main thatched area and up to the bar.
Interesting times indeed. We made a plan and used the Finfoot house deck for lunch and then for dinner we used the guides nkuta – fortunately last year we built a new one and the special curved cooler box storage area could do duty as a bar. It actually looked really good we thought.
Fortunately the waters stopped just below the guest tents. Although most of the tents we had to place mukwa planks on breeze blocks to allow guests to keep their feet dry.
Game drives were definitely not on the menu, the car park in the National Park was completely under water. In fact our game drive vehicles were marooned on the only bit of high ground. JohnD, Kaley and myself took a boat through the car park and halfway down the track to the spinal road – totally surreal experience.
Almost as surreal was taking a boat up the river, up the Luansanza and over the bridge. To give you an idea here is two pictures, one with the river at its peak and then one last November when we were clearing and burning the storm debris that builds up at the bridge.
When it came to departure time for the ‘flood group’ we elected to drive the guests around – there was not too much enthusiasm for punching upstream into the heavy current and up the Chunga rapids! We then had about a weeks dry weather and the main area dried out and we were finally able to get a vehicle out of the car park. Fortunately we did that day as German guests then had a fantastic sighting of a huge Pangolin as we were heading down to the Kaindabaila hills.
The very welcome week of dry came to an end though with more rains. Just as we were gearing up for the arrival of some big groups. This led to some very sleepless nights – these group numbers were such that driving them around was just not an option. The river started to rise again and it was a real deja vu moment. Fortunately the bridges stayed clear and we were able to get our groups in an out.
While the river is still really high (most rocks and islands are still totally submerged, as is our jetty) it is finally receding fast. No doubt that the rainy season is over now and we are all breathing a sigh of relief. We were really chuffed to still be getting good guest feedback even at the peak of the flood. But we are really glad that not every camp opening is like this one was!
Great stay despite the unseasonal “High Tide”. Everyone did their utmost to keep the show on the road and our walking trips through the velt learning about the “smaller things” like butterflies, snakes, scorpions, spiders and trees was FANTASTIC. The knowledge of the guides was outstanding and the friendliness of the owners – staff was magic.
although the river Kafue had risen and the camp was flooded, the staff were very good and looked after you very well in the circumstances.
there was other activities to do like walking,canoeing, fishing etc. all told a different but enjoyable experience.
We got away lightly. A lot of other camps were badly affected. Its a bit of a distant memory now and with a good clean up things are totally back to normal and everything is lush and green. Getting a bit chilly in the mornings too. Roll on winter!
October news kicks off with the fact that Kaingu was featured in the October issue of Sawubona - South African Airways inflight magazine! Fantastic. A really great piece (mostly about the river here) that included a description of the journalist witnessing a croc take a puku while on a canoeing trip with Kaley. They also used all the imagery for the article from Anthony Grote. So great news for us and Anthony.
October is also the month when historically we get the best elephants in river/on rocks/in camp activity and this month has been no exception. 'one tusk' has been providing great viewing, leading a small group of bulls from island to island.
The best sighting though was saved for repeat guests Audrey and Rick. This was their third visit here and we were treated to multiple sightings of elephants crossing and standing on rocks!
Of course the activities have not been only confined to the river. We also got raided by an elite gardening squad.
The skimmers nested and then got raided by a harrier-hawk. Poor old Israel was heartbroken as he witnessed the raid and even an egg being carried off. Last year a crocodile got the one chick. No wonder they are rare and endangered birds. The good news was that a subsequent witnessed raid was driven off and fingers are crossed for another chick this year.
Kaley managed to find a cheetah. There is nothing particularly amazing about that as cheetah sights this year have been fantastic. But what was really amazing was that we subsequently learned from researchers that the last time this cat was seen was in Busanga in the far North. Incredible.
October is traditionally also one of (if not the) our busiest months. This means we have been doing uncountable rapids dinners. And taking uncountable pictures of them...
Another thing that is supposed to happen in October is the first rains falling on Independence Day (the 24th). Amazingly they did!
Independence day cake - by Lizzie (cake) and Julia (flag)!
So apart from our ‘back of house’ news we also wanted to share our regular pictorial news of what was happening in and around Kaingu lodge for the month of August 2016.
We had our usual annual share of firefighting, both in the GMA and in the National Park. This (sadly) has become such an annual routine now and it is intense work. This year (in terms of being out there) was not as bad as last year, but we still clocked up 8 days continuous firefighting. We are lucky that this year we invested in decent beaters and more backpack firefighting pumps. We were able to at least stop fires from the North and from the South from marching up the park between the spinal road and the river and our early burning saved most of the ‘pools loop’ area. But the amount of late season fires is just too much. The GMA was also bad, again we were at least able to stop our walking areas from burning.
This was day 7 of non-stop burning. The “macpoly” backpacks really mean the difference between being able to control a fire or not. Especially late fires in winds where beaters just cannot get close enough.
Contrast the blackened landscape above with this area near the lodge where early burning was done:
But then to balance the bad with the good. We hosted staff and Trustees from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on a two night fact finding mission to the Kafue. On top of the rock we had a big group discussion where fires were a hot (sorry) topic. Some of the good news was that it looks like next year TNC will be investing massively in fire management in the Kafue. Great news. Post discussion beers, pictures and Mpamba sunset:
A day or too later we were treated to a lunchtime visitor. I know we keep saying it, but the regular sightings of elephants crossing from island to island and from Park to GMA is just so amazing.
Then (finally) the Wild Dog Air plane took to the skies! Interminable delays meant that everyone was using a Proflight Islander, but now at least it’s up and running. It does look absolutely spectacular (inside and outside) and we are all pleasantly surprised at how many people have made use of the flights this year:
Then a few pictures just wandering around camp in the early evening:
Then we had our good friend and pro photographer Anthony Grote come and stay for three nights. He was back in the Kafue doing work for some lodges and contacted us that he would love to come and stay and while here put together a small Kaingu video. We jumped at the opportunity! I must say it is great to see that he has been able to add more lodges to his list in the Kafue. We can’t wait to see the finished video. As usual with Anthony we worked the schedule hard – Mpamba, river, poachers rock, shishamba, pools loop, parrots, river, rapid canoeing, more river, rapid dinners etc!
Of course while out working on trying to video things it also means a lot of time being ‘out there’. One afternoon drive that then turned into a night drive was spectacular. Including mating leopards…
Franco. If you have noticed we have talked a lot about him recently. Why? Well it is simple. He is a genuine success story in that he is a local guy that has used his skills and talent and hard work to (via Kaingu and our shop) make a huge difference to his family’s income. With 9 children to support you can imagine the pressure. We mentioned before that he is making good money from the curio shop on a weekly basis. This month we also directly contracted him to make some large driftwood fish for the deck of each tent. Excellent.
Then we end the month with what we might consider the perfect ending to a day! Out on the boat enjoying some peace and tranquility after watching African Skimmers do their thing. Looks like they are back and nesting on what we call “skimmer island”. The bee-eaters are also busy on the same island, so the hide is reconstructed and ready for use. Bring it on!
It was fascinating to watch 5 egrets all try and land at the top of the same tree. They continued wheeling around the tree for ages making for some great photo opportunities.
David and goliath
On the way up to do a staff transfer run Julia saw the rather unusual sighting of a goliath heron and a finfoot together.
One tusk in camp
We were visited in camp regularly over the course of the month by 'one tusk' who is the most regular elephant visitor here.
No GMA sightings this month, but no shortage of dogs in the National Park.
One tusk in the river
"One Tusk" again providing guest entertainment. In the river this time. The spectacle of elephants in a river is always amazing, what makes it more special here is if they then climb on top of rocks! We don't see it often, but when we do it is incredible!
Regular predator sightings. As temperatures hot up and the bush dries out sightings of lions, wild dogs. leopard get far more regular.
A massively cropped picture, but I was highly excited to see my first ever lesser Jacana (at Kaingu that is) and grab a picture of it. All while waiting for guests to arrive for an island sundowner.
The Kaingu Lodge logo is the pied kingfisher. Quite appropriate really as I don't think I have ever been on the river and not seen one. The pied kingfisher is apparently the only African kingfisher that is capable of a true hover. They have been clocked flying (not diving) at 50km/hr. Rapid little things!
Chalet improvements 1
We also rolled out some chalet improvements over the month of July. The first one is new luggage racks/wardrobe units. All work by Julia.
Chalet Improvements 2
We have replaced all the bedside rugs with new sisal rugs and every room now also has a Nguni cow skin rug too.
And then because we were taking pictures of chalets we couldn't help but take one of the view in the evening dusk.
Birdlife on the river
Its not just the mammal sightings that have started to really kick in. As the river levels continue to drop the bird numbers just keep on increasing almost daily. From the specials to the more everyday ones...
And once again the wonderful 'one tusk'. This time he was checking out the solar hot water and PV panels at Chalet 2.
American guests were celebrating a rather special event. Cake and decorations by Julia and Lizzy.
The most fantastic thing about July (for me anyway) is the morning mists on the river due to the cold temperatures. It is simply amazing and wll worth frozen fingers and an early start.
July mists 2
We can never get enough of these mists! Actually few guests elect very early morning cruises (for some reason it is usually an afternoon choice), but as you can see it is actually the best time.
Kill by the camp
A wild dog kill 1km from camp meant some great vulture sightings. Kaley and I went back after the guests had seen the dogs and spent an hour just watching the action.
River by night
Coming back after packing up an island sundowner.
I always associate our pools loop with golden evening light, golden grass and loads of hartebeest. The pools this year are really full with water and I am betting they will hold water right through to the rains. Should make for productive sightings the whole season.
We were taking guests upriver for a spot of canoeing and saw that our canoes had an admirer. Bear in mind our canoes are almost 4m long and are dwarfed by this massive crocodile. The biggest I have personally ever seen.
Kaingu rock art
And our final image from July is the rather interesting rock art that is found near the lodge. Fascinating. Most theories are that it is an ancient 'nsolo' game and that the place was probably a meeting point (market?).