I had the afternoon free to visit South Luangwa National Park today. The Zambian Wildlife Authority guards on the gate were glad to see me again and we had a long chat about what has flown under the bridge since we last met. But the Luangwa River is extremely full flowing under the bridge into the park. It is almost overflowing. This has been the first “proper” rainy season for ten years, with precipitation every couple of days.
The rain makes the grass and leaves grow, so it is more difficult to see game and birds. But it is so incredibly beautiful that it is known as the “emerald” season. The main laterite roads are passable, but dirt tracks are treacherous. I don’t want to get stuck in the mud in the first week I am here. There were ominous rain clouds in the distance and it seemed likely that there would be a shower before the end of the day.
The roads do provide a dry way for some animals. Zebras prefer not to risk walking through swampy grassland for fear of crocodiles, so they trot along the road. Mating lions like to avoid soggy bottoms, and don’t care if the tourists are gawping at them. Actually, there are very few tourists. I only saw three other vehicles seeing animals in the park.
First stop was fifty metres from the bridge, where a pair of hippos were grazing just down the bank of the road at the edge of the bush. They are often shy, but these two were just stuffing themselves with lush grass. The flow is so rapid in the Luangwa river that the hippos and crocs prefer to stay in lagoons. A kilometre further along the main road, the lagoon at Mfuwe Lodge was a carpet of green water hyacinths. I could just see the nostrils and eyes of another hippo as I was watching a Jacana (lily trotter).
I spotted an African Grey Hornbill in a tree at the side of the road. There were the usual zebras, elephants, baboons, warthogs, waterbucks, impala and puku, but no giraffes. I heard a male woodland kingfisher perched on a dead branch, singing gloriously with his mate perching just below him. He was probably boasting about his new match to another male across the forest who was returning his call.
Although long-tailed starlings are very common, they are exceptionally beautiful with their iridescent plumage. I saw my first lilac-breasted roller, no doubt the first of many and an open-billed stork. The yellow-billed storks are ubiquitous at present. The white feathers on their backs develop a rosy tinge at this time of year.
Because of poor roads, I could not reach the oxbow lake, Luangwa Wafwa, which is one of my favourite places. I turned around and headed for Wa Milombe via Zebra Drive. I saw a group of pied kingfishers diving repeatedly at a roadside pool, as well as lots of antelope. Wa Milombe savannah plane is now a lake surrounded by swamp. To drive back to the main road, I had to negotiate a river crossing. I could see a young crocodile waiting in anticipation but it was raining heavily by now and I didn’t want to get my camera wet taking a decent photograph. This one will have to do.