Tag Archives: birds.

A weekend in Choma

Standard
A weekend in Choma

Choma is a small, friendly town located about 4 hours south of Lusaka, on the main bus line to Livingstone.  I thought it would make a fun weekend excursion and I was not disappointed.   This is still the rainy season and most places are under-occupied and have special rates for residents.  I did a bit of googling and discovered the Masuku Lodge, about 20 km off the main road.  It is located inside the Nkanga River Conservation Areas and is one of the area’s top places for bird-watching.  Over 400 species of bird have been sighted here, including Chaplin’s barbet, Zambia’s only endemic bird.

I got to Lusaka’s main bus station in plenty of time to get my ticket.  Unlike the first time, when I was there as a new traveler in Zambia, I had a better idea of what to expect and felt more comfortable looking around.  There is a central, covered area which functions as a market.  The various bus lines have their ticket booths around the edges.  Buying a bus ticket can be an adventure in and of itself.  On some of the bigger bus lines (like Mazhandu, the one I used) you can call ahead one day before to reserve a ticket.  But on most of the buses, you need to show up in person on the day.   (Buying a ticket online is unheard of here.  Most people who take the bus don’t have regular access to a computer.)

2014-02-28 13.02.48 2014-02-28 13.03.06 2014-02-28 13.02.20 2014-02-28 13.02.11

What is curious is how ticket sales are handled.  As I walked around the market, representatives from the different bus lines would approach me.  (Note that “madam” is pronounced here with the accent on the second syllable.  “meh-DAM.”)”Madam!  Madam!  You would like a ticket to Kpari Mposhi?”  “Madam, where are you going?  We have bus to Livingstone!”   “Madam, you would like to go to Ndola today?  Very nice bus!”

It was as if they assumed that I had packed my bag and gone to the bus station on a whim with no plan and no idea of where I wanted to go!  The place was bustling with chaotic activity.  In addition to the market stalls, there were folks walking around holding merchandise for sale – watches, stockings, hats, clothespins, snacks, radios…almost anything you could think of.  Some were more aggressive than others – I watched as the clothespin seller shoved his wares literally under the nose of several seated women who were dozing off as they waited for their bus.  Most simply shook their heads at him, but one woman glared at him until he backed away.

(This picture shows the stairs used to attached over-size luggage to the top of a bus…not all have compartments underneath!)
2014-02-28 13.07.54

Finally, our bus arrived, everyone found their (assigned) seat and we drove off.  There was the inevitable gospel music playing and this time we had a real live preacher on board, who read scripture and walked up and down the aisle talking and praying for the first 30 minutes of the journey.  I was very glad for my Bose noise-canceling headphones!

mazhandu-family-bus-services-coach-4

The bus ride took about 5 hours, with a couple of stops and a bathroom/food break.  When I alighted in Choma, Dorie from Mazuku Lodge was waiting for me.  She was a small, bubbly woman with great stories to tell, having lived in Zambia her entire life.  We drove down a well-graded dirt road, and then a less-well-graded one and then one that looked almost like a foot path.  We passed through several gates and then suddenly, there was the lodge, warm and bright against the night-time rain.  Dorie’s partner Rory came out to meet us with an umbrella and handed me a glass of wine as we entered the living room.  I felt very welcomed.

IMG_0004 IMG_0005 IMG_0002

The lodge and surrounding areas had been carved out of the bush.  There are six little chalets, roundavels with ensuite baths and a large main building which a beautiful dining room and large living area, complete with a fireplace and WiFi and even a TV with plenty of DVDs, should you want them.  Each chalet has a porch and there was a big garden area for sitting outside the main house.  The hot water for the chalets is heated by a large brick stove with pipes to the rooms. The lodge looks over the lake formed by the Ross Hot Springs Dam on the Nkanga River and there are birds of all kinds to be seen and heard.

IMG_0003 IMG_0028IMG_0009 IMG_0008 IMG_0006IMG_0005 IMG_0050 IMG_0012

I was served a delicious dinner with a first course of butternut squash soup and then roast chicken, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, carrots and string beans, and home-baked bread.  Dessert was fresh carrot cake with warm custard.  Rory (who is the birder of the couple) was able to give me some ideas of where to walk and what I might see.  He was leaving the next morning to do a month-long training and exam course for the guides that are so incredibly informative in the national parks.  I was the only guest at the lodge for the weekend and it was a perfect retreat.

There were miles of dirt road trails to explore.  Because of the tall grass, not much game was evident (or should I say, visible!  It is possible I walked with feet of a zebra or impala and just didn’t see it!) but I saw plenty of fresh footprints. The countryside was green and fresh and the bird song was everywhere.  It was lovely to just be able to walk for miles in the Zambian air.

IMG_0011 IMG_0017 IMG_0018 IMG_0019 IMG_0022 IMG_0023 IMG_0024 IMG_0032 IMG_0042 IMG_0033

I saw some interesting insects…some kind of worms, a pill bug, some army ants (marching in formation) and also many beautiful wildflowers.

IMG_0039 IMG_0031 IMG_0013

IMG_0014 IMG_0021 IMG_0016 IMG_0015 IMG_0025 IMG_0026 IMG_0043 IMG_0040IMG_0020

For some of my walks, I was accompanied by Jackal and Heidi, Dorie’s two affable black labs.

IMG_0045 IMG_0046

When I wasn’t walking, I spent my time sitting in the garden, reading or just – well – sitting! 

IMG_0035 IMG_0037IMG_0010

All too soon, it was Sunday afternoon – time to head back to Choma and get my bus back home.  The Choma “bus station” is next to a fast-food place and awash with street vendors.  I think at least five different people asked me if I wanted to buy bananas.  I declined – politely – each time.

IMG_0055 IMG_0054 IMG_0053 IMG_0052 IMG_0051

I plan to return to Masuku Lodge next August, during the dry season when game is more visible and also to take part in one of Rory’s “Bird Safaris.”  But I loved spending time there during the quiet season.  A wonderful, peaceful weekend…

IMG_0007

 

 

 

 

 

Come on a safari with me!

Standard

IMG_1814

IMG_1815
The last two days of my week in Kenya were spent at the fantastic Maasai Mara Game Reserve.  I was accompanied by  my new friend Salaton and I felt extremely privileged to have the tribal chief as my personal safari guide!  We were driven in a 4-wheel drive van with a pop-up top, so I could stand up and take pictures.

This was my first real safari and I didn’t quite know what to expect.  I was expecting to see animals, of course, but nothing really prepared me for the enormous space of the Mara, or of how up close and personal we were able to get to the animals.  Since they have learned that these funny-looking two-legged creatures in the noisy contraptions are neither prey nor predator, they mostly ignore us completely…going about their business and allowing us to gawk.

I was able to see more than 30 different animals; most closely enough to get a good look and a good picture.  ALL the pictures here were taken with my little point-and-shoot camera.

We saw giraffes before we even got into the boundaries of the reserve…and later saw more, even closer.

IMG_1900 IMG_1899 IMG_1806 IMG_1807

As I had hoped, we saw many elephants.  There were even a couple of babies…but the mother carefully herded them away as we approached.

IMG_1840 IMG_1841IMG_1913

 

We saw several kinds of vultures…some in trees and a bunch feeding on the carcass of a dead elephant.

IMG_1902 IMG_1890 IMG_1831 IMG_1834 IMG_1835

I got a good shot of a malibu stork, which is the bird I saw flying from a distance on my bird watch last month.

IMG_1865

There were other birds, too….a secretary bird and a pair of Egyptian ducks with their little babies, no bigger than feather-balls.

IMG_1869

We saw a lot of zebras and wildebeests.  This was the end of their big migration (they tend to migrate together) and at one point, we saw a HUGE herd of them walking slowing across the plain.  There were also gazelles, impala, antelope and eland.

IMG_1867 IMG_1857 IMG_1870 IMG_1864 IMG_1819IMG_1919 IMG_1816

 

We came upon a couple of water buffalo, which apparently is one of the more dangerous animals, as they have been known to charge a vehicle!  And we also saw some warthogs…and some adorable babies, trotting along after their parents.  (“The Kenyan express,” Salaton said.)  I was unable to get a picture of the babies, but did get a snapshot of one hog hiding under a bush.

IMG_1823IMG_1882

 

Of course, everyone wants to see the majestic lion.  We came upon four different male lions.  May I present: The King Of Beasts!

IMG_1852 IMG_1854 IMG_1884 IMG_1885

Meanwhile, the female lion had made a kill and was guarding it carefully.  There was a flock of vultures nearby, waiting for her to be finished.

IMG_1862 IMG_1863 IMG_1864

We were lucky enough to see a cheetah – although not close enough for a good picture, I was able to view it through my binoculars.  It was sitting under a tree, looking like a huge housecat as it licked its paws and yawned.

Later on, we came upon a pair of lions.  Salaton said it looked as though they might be getting ready to mate, and indeed, the male put on a great show to the female – approaching her several times with his hips swaying and making huffing sounds.  He even went so far as to urinate most spectacularly right in front of her nose (and I got a picture of him doing it!) However, she was unimpressed and merely moved away from him.  He sat down again to wait for another opportunity.

IMG_1903 IMG_1907 IMG_1906

Just before lunch, we found a watering hole with at least a dozen hippos!  They did not come out of the water (which was probably a good thing) but we could see their heads and ears and hear their snuffling sounds…almost like whales…as they surfaced to breathe.

IMG_1875 IMG_1874

 

More animals included a bushback (very rare to see; as they are quite shy…) a jackal, an ostrich (which is HUGE and looks like a mistake in design!), some mongoose and a couple of crocodiles, swimming near the hippos.

IMG_1896 IMG_1891 IMG_1890 IMG_1873 IMG_1850

We encountered some Maasai boys just as we were having our lunch and gave them all our bread-and-butter sandwiches.  I remembered to touch their heads and say “supa” to them – who knows what they thought of me, a mzungu woman with white hair, a big floppy hat and green sunglasses!  But they smiled and said “supa” back to me.

It was a fantastic way to end my week in Kenya.

IMG_1877 IMG_1880

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bird watch…and cows!

Standard

IMG_1499

Sunday, I joined the Zambian Bird Society (http://www.birdwatchzambia.org) on their monthly bird-walk.  It took place at the Kalamazi Game Ranch, not far outside of Lusaka.  I borrowed a pair of binoculars for the occasion (and really need to get some of my own soon!)  I was also armed with a camera, a couple of bottles of water, a hiking pole and sunscreen.  I had neglected to bring my hat, but I made do with my trusty bandanna.

We met at the “Bird Watch Office” and caravanned towards the Game Ranch.  There were 7 of us…and no one was really a “regular,”, it seemed.  Once we turned off the tarred road, I realized that I should have jumped into one of the 4-wheel drive vehicles as my little Starlet was not meant for rutted dirt roads.  When we hit the turn to the ranch,  which was little more than a dirt path, I parked my car and grabbed a ride with a very nice American couple who had a sturdy 4 x 4.

IMG_1496

As we drove in, we passed several flocks of guinea fowl, which are very common and have been domesticated.  They apparently make good eating!

guinea-fowl

Birders can be an interesting bunch.  I was asked if I had brought my notebook – apparently it is common to record sightings and observations as you encounter different birds…or think you encounter them.   Everyone had a pair of serious binoculars and when a bird was sighted (or someone thought a bird was sighted) everyone would stand perfectly still, binoculars up and steady, looking to see if certain markings or beak colours could be discerned before confirming the sighting.

IMG_1492

 

Some people thought this bird was definitely a “lizard buzzard” but others were not so sure.  The light was not good enough to check to see if he had the requisite black stripes down his chest, as shown in the close up picture (not mine!)

IMG_1495

 

lizardbuzzard3_327w

We came across a whole bunch of nests made by a bird called a “weaver.”  They weave their nests onto reeds and thin branches.  There are several kinds of weavers, some that make neat, tidy nests like these and others who are sloppy and make ratty looking nests with loose ends and bits of sticks and grass sticking out. .

IMG_1493 IMG_1494

The game ranch is part of a farm that borders a large dam and the lake that has been created.  We walked around the lake to the mud flats, where we hoped to see some of the “waders.”  It was very pretty and there was a nice breeze coming off the water.

IMG_1497 IMG_1498 IMG_1500 IMG_1501

We were able to see several kinds of birds – ones that were positively identified were the pied kingfisher, the stilt, a common bulbul, a jacana (also called the “Jesus Christ bird” because it appears to walk on water!), a black-necked heron (which could possibly have been a grey heron) and a bee-eater.

The stilt is a very attractive bird – long red legs and black wings with a white body.  And the pied kingfisher is unique amongst kingfishers in that he hovers over the water before diving for his prey.  The bee-eater is a very pretty little bird – bright yellow body with a colorful head.  And the jacanas really do seem as if they are walking on the water – they have incredibly long toes which allow them to navigate on even the smallest leaves or twigs.

 (Please note: the close-up bird pictures are NOT mine!  I would have needed incredible luck and a much more expensive camera to take shots like these!  But they show what the birds look like!)

combcrestedjacanaDark-capped Bulbul WT09216 black_necked_stilt_small Bee-eater_Lit-Jy05Mahango-w

 

And then…someone told the cows it was time for morning tea.  One came down to see if it was ready.

IMG_1502

 

Then, using some unknown cow-communication, the rest of them slowly followed.

IMG_1503 IMG_1505 IMG_1506

 

These cows are quite unusual in that they have a hump between their shoulder blades, in some cases quite pronounced.  They are called “Zebus” or Brahman cattle and originated in Southern  Asia.   They are well adapted to tropical temperatures and used for dairy, beef, draught animals and also hides and leather.  Their dung is used for fuel and fertilizer.

IMG_1508 IMG_1507

 

Most of the cows moved placidly down to the water, but every once in a while, there would be feisty one who would seem more curious.

IMG_1504 IMG_1509

 

Behind the mud flats, there was a curious structure that I first took to be an old foundation of some sort.  Upon closer inspection, and some discussion, we discerned it to be a “cattle dip.”  The cattle would be driven into the shoot and into the deeper end, where they could be soaked with insecticide or cleaner…

IMG_1513

 

There was much interesting flora, as well.  Thorned acacia trees and various bushes and tall rush-like plants.

IMG_1511 IMG_1512 IMG_1515 IMG_1514 IMG_1516

 

And as we returned to our cars, we could clearly see a marabou stork wheeling about overhead.  This bird has a wing-span of almost 2 meters.  From a distance, it was beautiful, but it was considered to be one of the ugliest birds, with its short neck, featherless head and huge neck- pouch.

Marabou-Stork-pair

Right before leaving, I found a long-discarded impala horn on the ground…

IMG_1510

It was a fun morning…and next time, I plan to have a stronger pair of binoculars (and my hat!)