Our 12-day African safari began on the eastern edge of Mana Pools National Park in northern Zimbabwe. From our bush camps at Ruckomechi and neighbouring Little Ruckomechi, we enjoyed exploring a range of habitats teeming with wonderful wildlife. Elephants were among the first to greet us, as they roamed freely amongst the tents. We kept a watchful eye and careful distance, in awe of the giant pachyderms. What a welcome treat!
Our camps overlooked the mighty Zambezi river towards Zambia’s Rift Valley escarpment, providing excellent opportunity for relaxing afternoon boat rides. We drifted slowly up to wallowing pods of hippos, basking crocodiles, and African Skimmers loafing on exposed narrow sand strips.
In steeply-eroded river banks, White-fronted and Southern Carmine Bee-eaters excavated their tunnel nests. The location helps keep predators at bay, but not all of them! On two consecutive afternoons we watched a Nile Water Monitor dig into the tunnels with its long sharp claws, and come out with a youngster, much to the chagrin of the parents.
We watched elephants trek through tall grasses of river islands, and cross channels to reach the opposite bank. We cheered when one struggling baby elephant finally made it across. One evening we were moored on a riverbank enjoying sundowners, when an inquisitive elephant approached to within feet of Jane who was seated at the front of the boat. It was a heart-stopping moment to be face-to-face with such a huge animal – so close we could count the eyelashes – but we had nowhere to go. Such an unforgettable experience is what Wild Africa and the true sense of wilderness is about. Excitement and wonder, always around the corner.
Game drives through open savanna and riverine woodland showcased the dramatic landscape along this section of the Zambezi. Birds were plentiful with a fine mix of waders and sandpipers in floodplains – Saddle-billed, Yellow-billed and Openbill Stork, Long-toed Lapwing, Goliath and Squacco Herons along with Common Waterbuck. An African Fish Eagle flying by us was a majestic sight. Raptors included – Bateleur, Common Kestrel and Red-necked Falcon, the latter sighted in palms as was our only sighting of Collared Palm Thrush.
Winding our way through diverse habitats we encountered Broad-billed Roller, Tropical Boubou, Eastern Nicator, Meave’s Starling, Long-billed Crombec, Blue Waxbill, Jameson’s Firefinch, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Greater Honeyguide, Grey Go-away-bird, Golden-breasted Bunting, Red-backed Shrike, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Grey-rumped Swallow, the striking Purple-crested Turaco, as well as both Senegal and White-browed Coucal.
Four species of hornbill were present: Southern Red-billed, Crown, Trumpeter and a family of three Southern Ground-Hornbill scouring the grasses. The most excitement was caused by a small flock Lillian’s Lovebirds, a species only found in the Zambezi valley, that we were able to track through acacia scrub on foot.
Natal Spurfowl rummaged around in front of our tent with Black-throated Wattle-eye, Ashy Flycatcher, Arrow-marked Babblers, White-bellied Sunbird, Green Wood-Hoopoes, Black-headed Oriole, Chin-spot Batis, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Black-backed Puffback, Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Meyer’s Parrot seen in the camps.
Predators remained hidden during the daytime, except for a sighting of six sleeping Lions. Their prey seemed plentiful – small herds of Impala, Greater Kudu, Chacma Baboons and a large gathering of Buffalo.
Big cats were active at night; on one evening game drive we followed a male Leopard as he walked inside an expansive thicket. We positioned ourselves near an opening and he eventually came out and lay down close to our vehicle, eying distant ungulates. We could hardly believe how relaxed he was, or our luck in seeing him. Suddenly, he got up and vanished back into the thicket. In his place walked a male Lion! In the African plains, cats are constantly competing with each other for prey, and the smaller one is not likely to tangle with the King of the Jungle!
all photos © adrian binns / WildsideNatureTours.com