Today l signed up for a guided walk about wild mushrooms . The walk was conducted by Cathy Sharp , who is a mycologist living in Zimbabwe and has been studying mushrooms all her life . I was looking forward to this as there is seldom access to these type of people and l have always wanted to learn more about mushrooms and their identification .
I was one of about 20 people from all walks of life , and ages , so very diverse group . We walked a short distance through the miombo forests of Harare’s Mukuvisi Woodlands . It is raining this time of the year and the grass is tall and all the plants are green , it is a very humid environment and leaf litter is plentiful on the ground , therefore perfect conditions exist for mushrooms to grow . I probably encountered 25 species in all . Some of them apparently edible , some known to be poisonous , l personally don’t eat wild mushrooms .
Here are some pictures of some of the mushrooms we encountered , there were many others l have yet to identify . The identifications are based on a small booklet that Cathy produced as well as information from the walk .
( The booklet is called : A Pocket Guide to Mushrooms in Zimbabwe ).
Therefore the identifications are open to discussion .
I was very fortunate to get another opportunity to explore the north-western corner of Zambia in November this year .
The trip was planned so as to experience this region in rainy season ( total rainfall is 1500 mm per annum ) and experience the influx of birds , insects and abundance of plant life .
We spent 2 days driving up through from Lusaka , entering the Kafue National Park , which was an exciting first for me and then exiting the north of the park we overnighted at a self catering lodge on the border of the West Lunga National Park , an amazingly wild , pristine park .We could only see into the area from across the …… river .
TRIP REPORT :
2 November 2013 to 13 November 2013
2 NOVEMBER 2013 :
Our trip started from Lusaka , the capital of Zambia , departing at 9h30 in the morning and traveling through Mumbwa , arriving outside the Kafue National Park at about 12h30 , our destination being Mukomba Camp , which is a very rustic self catering facility . We had two vehicles and a trailer .we entered the park through the Nalusanga Gate on the eastern side of the park .
The travelers consisted of myself , Rory McDougall and Doris , the others being Mark , his son, Ben and Ernest ( the maintenance person ) .So six of us in all .
This was a very peaceful setting outside the Kafue Park , but ion the river , so we looked across into the park . We heard lions not very far away when we were there and Rory was lucky enough to drive past a pride that was lying next to the road when they were driving into the camp, late evening . While waiting for Rory to arrive we saw a large bull elephant come down to the river to drink , and browse , he had much larger tusks than l expected fro this area and it was a pleasure to watch him from about thirty metres away browsing in a very relaxed way .
There was an abundance of bird life there , here is a list of some of the birds we saw in the area :(H- heard only )
This morning we were on a mission to get to the West Lunga National Park boundary , where we planned to sleep at another self-catering facility called Kabompo River Lodge , situated outside the West Lunga National Park , with a great view of the Kabompo River flowing lazily by at that time of the year .
Waking up next to the Kafue River was a treat , great sunrise and crocodiles patrolling the shores looking for opportunities to feed , very active bird life also .
By 7h30 we had departed on our long journey through the Kafue National Park going north . The area is dominated by vast miombo woodlands . We crossed the “Hook Bridge ” over the Kafue River and then signed in at the gate going north through the park from the main road . It had been raining before we arrived and the road was muddy but passable ( fortunately it hadn’t been raining more or it would have been much more difficult to get through the park ) .
We continued north towards the Lufupa area and crossed the Moshi bridge ,which is a collection of planks , some bolted to the main steel frame and most not . Interesting crossing which was actually quite adventurous .
PHOTO OF MOSHI BRIDGE
We then exited the park through the most northerly Kabanga Gate after about 6 hours on the road . The road after this was very hard going , very uneven , we took one hour to cover 20 km . This is where one of the springs from the trailer broke .
Next town along the way that we stopped in was Kasempa , where we were able to get fuel . This was a relief as we didn’t know what the fuel situation was going to be as we became more remote .
Finally arrive at Kabompo River Lodge at about 18h00 ( we left at seven clock the same morning ) . This is a self catering facility that was only geared for sleep over , no kitchen , dining room area was available . Fortunately we were self-sufficient , so this wasn’t a problem .
There wasn’t much opportunity to look around here as it was more of a pit stop on our main journey to Cassins Camp along the West Lunga River.
We heard a wood owl calling from the trees around the lodge , and l had a very brief sighting of a male pennant-winged nightjar .
We had a cooked breakfast and left Kabompo River Lodge by 8h30 . At this stage we were 717km from Lusaka where our journey started .
This morning we had a chance to observe and hear the birds in the area of the Lodge , here is a list of some of the species we saw or heard .:
White-Backed Night Heron
African Paradise Flycatcher
Black -backed Puffback
Brown hooded Kingfisher
Purple banded Sunbird
Yellow-fronted Tinker Bird
Black collared Barbet
Dark- Capped Bulbul
This trip included many different forms of miombo woodland , tall trees , shorter woodland and about 140 km from our Kabompo overnight spot was the beginning of the Cryptosepalum Forest ( Dominated by Cryptosepalum exfoliatum trees with a dense understory of mosses and creepers )
We stopped in the forest for a bite and a chance to see Perrin’s Bush Shrike , which we heard calling , but were unable to spot it . We did see trilling cisticola . The Bar-winged Weaver and Margret’s Batis could not be found .The mopane bees in this area made the stop very uncomfortable and we eventually moved on after the sheer numbers became unbearable ( these are stingless bees that go for moisture wherever they can find it ) .
After leaving our picnic spot we carried on through to Mwinilunga Town , reaching there at about 10h15 .
The termite mounds we have been seeing are huge , l am not familiar with the species that builds them , but have heard they are one of the Macrotermes sp. , which are the fungus growing termites .
PHOTO OF A MASSIVE TERMITE MOUND COMMON IN THIS AREA OF ZAMBIA ( compare with the house in the background )
We wake up at Cassins Camp on the banks of the West Lunga River . What a pleasure to begin the day with a cacophony of bird songs , and the feeling that we are the only ones in the area . Cassins Camp is in the Nkwaji Conservation Area , it is part of a private wildlife estate that is 15 000 hectares in extent . An area dominated by miombo woodlands , but also having Mushitu Forest and open dambo areas thus allowing for a tremendous amount of diversity of species whether plant , bird or mammal .
The variety of bird calls is too much for me to assimilate and l just enjoy the scenery with the tall riverine trees and the mist . Dew covers the ground with a white carpet . Rory tells me l can hear the bamboo warbler calling ( which he describes as a person sewing away on an old style sewing machine ) , as well as the Rosss turaco , Trilling cisticola . l recognize the call of the Narinas Trogon coming from the woodlands behind camp. We eagerly grab our cameras and bird calls and track it down , within minutes it is circling us and we get a chance to see and photograph this jewel of a bird . I spent quite a long time photographing various species of butterflies that are constantly patrolling the shoreline of the river .
Today is spent checking the small boat and 3 seater canadian style canoe that belongs to the camp .
One of the primary goals of the trip is to establish whether the West Lunga River can be safely explored from a canoe . This turned out to be much more enjoyable than l had anticipated . The water at this time of the year is quite low , so l imagine the current would be a lot stronger in the rainy season (from October to April ) . This area has an average per annum rainfall of at least 1374 mm (54 inches ).We also drove to an area downstream where the game scouts had mentioned a possible exit site for the canoes . It is not easy to exit at random as the trees and bank are mostly very high .
By ten o clock in the evening l am in bed , after a very satisfying day exploring the area . The loud calling of various frog species to send me off to sleep . The diversity of frogs is incredible , with 56 species having being identified from Hillwood Estate , which is the sister property to Nkwaji and about 90 minutes drive northwest of our position .
This morning we woke up to the usual misty scenery and the West Lunga River gently flowing past . A cup of tea with friends and the ever present bird chorus starts a great day . This morning we get the canoe and safety boat ready for an expedition upstream . We leave after breakfast , slowly dragging the canoe behind the boat . On the way up we see a green snake crossing the river, which disappears before we can identify it and further up a large water monitor lizard rushes across the river . There are hippos and crocodiles in the river somewhere. We never know what to expect around the next corner . The West Lunga flows into the Kabompo River which itself carries on into the Zambezi River .
Being on the river here is simply stunning .
We spot a pair of Cassins Grey Flycatchers in a very localised area and closer inspection reveals a nest , which has two eggs in it , on a log overhanging the water .This is about one kilometre upstream from camp .Im looking forward to canoeing past it on th way down so l can get a closer look at the nest and maybe a photo of the eggs .
Many of the trees in this area have large ferns on them and many different species of orchid are to be found without much effort .
The canoe trip back to camp was very leisurely and took about 2 magical hours .
This is a list of the birds seen and heard on from the boat and canoe trip :
Grey-winged Robin-chat (H)
European Bee eater
Red Faced Cisticola (H)
Yellow-throated Leaf -Love
Tawny -flanked Prinia
Large Golden Weaver
Flappet Lark (H)
Blue-cheeked Bee eater
Black-crowned Tchagra (H)
Croaking Cisticola (H)
Cassins Grey Flycatcher (Nest and Eggs )
Yellow-fronted Tinker bird
West African Thrush (H)
Red Chested Cuckoo (H)
Lizard buzzard (H)
7 November 2013
This m0rning we are going to see the source of the great Zambezi River , this has a special attraction for me as l have been living and working on the Zambezi most of my adult life and to see where it all begins is awesome . I have been here before a few years ago when l first came up with Rory to survey his camp site ,it has a mystical feeling about it as it flows through the narrow stream in the forest . This is a place that has to be experienced at some time in your life .
The Chitunta Plains are a unique area which is renowned as a place to find Grimwoods Longclaw , Black and Rufous Swallow (at the right time of the year ) and Angola Lark that perch on the termite mounds that pock mark the open plains . Here are some pictures showing the open grasslands and the abundant termite mounds ( Cubitermes species )
From 27 December 2012 to 8 January 2013 A friend and l travelled to Ethiopia for 13 days .
We booked the trip with A&K , who provided a private guide throughout the trip . The entire trip was 12 days duration , the last day being a return flight to Harare and Milan as we parted company .
I had heard many times from various people who had travelled to and lived in Ethiopia that it is a must see , must do experience and was intrigued to find out more . The opportunity came up in December and E and myself decided to go for it and have a completely unique experience .
DAY 1: 27 December 2012
We arrive at 7 o clock in the morning at Ethiopia’s Bole International Airport , landing in the capital which is Addis Ababa having flown in from Milan , on Ethiopian Airlines .
Addis Ababa is the fourth highest capital city in the world and lies at around 7726 feet above mean sea level ( 2355 metres ) .
Upon arrival we were met by a representative from Kibran Tours and driven to the Sheraton Hotel . After settling in at the hotel we were taken on a tour of Addis Ababa . This included visits to :
From Gonder we took a pontoon boat across Lake Tana to Bahir Dar , stopping along the way to look at some monasteries on the islands in the lake . Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile , as well as being the largest Lake in Ethiopia covering an area of 2156 Km .
Places visited include :
Lake Tana :
– Many birds
– Ura Kidane Mihret
– Azua Mariam
Source of the Blue Nile River
Overnight : Town of Bahir Dar , at Kuriftu Resort , which is on the shore of Lake Tana
Drive from Gondar to Simien Mountains National Park , which is a distance of approximately 125 Km and can take up to 4 hours .
The Simien Mountains National Park is 190 km square and achieved world heritage status in 1978
Some of the species we saw here are :
Overnight : Siemien Lodge (3260 metres , highest lodge in Africa )
DAY 5 : 31 December 2012
Great day in Simien Mountains National Park .
The scenery is stunning , the air a bit thin and the experience quite unique .
Today we were driven from Simien Lodge to a campsite further inside the park , called Chenek . This is a place where there are regular sightings of Walia Ibex . We saw them first across a valley at about 500 metres , but then were rewarded with a much closer look later on at another location , there was one below us moving in the open.
One of my favourite birds to see when out walking in the bush is a rather conspicuous little black bird called the fork-tailed drongo .
The plumage is entirely black and the eye is the colour of red wine , closer inspection reveals a deeply forked tail , which is actually a result of the outer rectrices ( tail feathers ) being curved at the end . They are usually solitary and have small territories that they defend against any intruders with quite an aggressive display. This involves buzzing around the intruder and shouting at it vigorously . Even the largest of the eagles or a human passerby is not immune to this behaviour . Will also scold snakes and owls and even monitor lizards or mongooses , drawing attention to a potential predator in the area , which quite often attracts other bird species to come along and join in the mobbing behaviour . A gathering of birds of different species making a lot of noise is sure to indicate a snake , owl or some other kind of predator being scolded by the birds .
Drongos are mostly insectivorous ,but will catch small birds , kill chicks in nests and have been seen plunge diving like kingfishers to catch small fish . They will feed on nectar if it is available .They have a small hook on the end of the bill which enables them to hold their prey firmly . Sensory bristles ( called rictal bristles ) are found around the mouth and nostrils, this gives them an advantage in catching prey . Drongos will typically hawk insect prey , this is done from a perch . As an insect is spotted they will fly out and catch it and then return to the same spot to devour it . The drongos often lead bird parties( mixed –species foraging flocks ) , which involves a mixture of different bird species feeding together for increased advantage, both in terms of food availability and also for increased vigilance from predators . Often seen catching insects that are disturbed by mammals as they forage through the bush . There are records in the Kalahari of the drongo mimicking the call of the pearl -spotted owlet when foraging around suricate troops . This causes the troop to scatter for cover leaving their food behind . The drongo then kleptoparasitises the leftovers . Other species of drongos have been observed making false alarm calls that scatter the other members of the bird party they have joined and results in better access to particular food sources for themselves .
This bird is the only known host of the African cuckoo which is an intra-African migrant ( migrate within Africa moving north or south of the equator according to temperature and food availability ) and their distribution is very closely correlated in Southern Africa ( this is called sympatry ). The cuckoos are all brood parasites which means that they lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and the host female will incubate the egg and raise up the chick as her own .
Drongos are monogamous in their breeding habits and usually lay three eggs between August and January .
The African cuckoo has to mimic the pattern of the hosts eggs as close as possible in order for the single intruder egg not to be rejected by the host bird. The drongo is what is known as a discriminator , which means that she makes sure the eggs all match in the nest( some host species do not notice if the brood parasites eggs match and are called non-discriminators ) The female cuckoo may lay up to 25 eggs per season in different nests , usually one per nest, but she has to become a matcher in order for the eggs to be accepted . This is complicated by the fact that the drongo lays polymorphic eggs , each female having a different pattern . The drongo has up to six different egg patterns that it lays in order to confuse and outsmart the cuckoo . If a strange egg is detected amongst the clutch this will be removed from the clutch by the host .Statistically up to 50% of African cuckoo eggs are rejected by the host drongo . The cuckoos nesting peak is October and November , this corresponds to a time when there are hairy caterpillars around for them to eat and it correlates with the breeding period of the drongo .
The Fork tailed drongo is certainly one of the most interesting and charismatic birds in the bush , even though they have only black colouration which is caused by melanin pigments , their characters surely makes up for any lack of colour on their bodies . In Australia a person might be called a drongo which means they are an ‘idiot ‘
Be careful not to confuse the Fork Tailed Drongo with a similar looking bird , the Black Flycatcher . The flycatcher has only a slight indentation in the tail compared to distinct fork in the drongo’s tail . Drongo has a red-brown eye which shows when it catches the light , while the flycatcher has a dark brown eye . One of the ways to separate them them is whether the bird is bold and noisy , which will be the drongo or relatively quiet and unobtrusive ,which is more likely to be the flycatcher .
When you are out walking in the African bush , you might be forgiven for mistaking that dry grass coloured stick for a piece of dead plant . Approach it closer and the prayer like attitude of its huge raptorial forelegs begins to unfold , you have probably come across a praying mantis .
Order Mantodea is Greek for Soothsayer , comes from an attitude of prayer that they are mostly found in when observed in the field . This attitude masks a deadly predator . The praying mantis The praying mantis is an amazing creature , they use camouflage to hide away and patiently wait for an insect to come within range , they then grab their hapless victim with a lightening quick jab of their raptorial , spiked forelegs and then administer the coup de grace with ( sideswiping crunching )the chewing mouthparts .
At night their camouflage becomes irrelevant and it has been discovered that they have a cyclopean ear on the thorax , this enables them to pick up the echo location activity of bats and enables the mantis to avoid them quite drastically by simply falling out of the sky when they detect the bats sonar emissions.
The best way to observe the micro fauna on a walking safari is to turn your binoculars upside down , which transforms them into a microscope , magnifying the subject many times .looking at a praying mantis in this way transforms them into creatures from the movie “Men in Black ” .
A magnified view shows them to have a smallish , charactersitically triangular head , which uniquely among the insects they can swivel one hundred and eighty degrees . This allows them to turn their heads and zone in on potential prey . They have huge compound eyes that are multi- faceted and are extremely adept at detecting the slightest movement while they are in ambush mode , they could easily be mistaken for a dry grass stalk or a stick or leaf on a plant at this stage .
The male praying mantis is extremely wary of the female mantis as they have been known to engage in sexual cannabalism on occcaison . This does not happen always and a slick male can escape his partner. Some mantis species have a system of nerve ganglions that are spread through the head and thorax , if the mating female does happen to capture the male while they are mating , she might well start to feast on him while they are copulating . This sinister predatory action usually begins with the female eating the males head first , and will eat him in totality as they progress in procreation . This is the ultimate sacrifice on the part of the male to perpetuate the species . It is thought that he provides a very necessary supplement to her diet when she starts to lay her eggs, which can number up to 60 depending on species . These eggs are enclosed in a frothy mass , called an ootheca , which of course requires a lot of energy on her part .The ootheca is deposited in the darkness on a grass stalk or a small branch and is quite vulnerable to the elements .
Parasitic wasps are one of the major predators at this stage , and may incapacitate many of the eggs during their 30 days or so of metamorphosis . The small nymphs hatch out of a one way valve in the top of each cell and emerge a dark colour , quite often mimicking ants as a defence mechanism . They resemble the adults at this stage . These nymphs think nothing of cannibalizing their siblings in order to get a head start in life . They will undergo 5 or 6 moults before reaching adult hood , and usually live about 10- 12 months in the wild .
On a walking safari through the African bush, you might notice an old termite mound with many holes in it . These holes are quite often utilised by Africa’s smallest carnivore , the Dwarf mongoose ( Helogale parvula) . They weigh in at between 200 and 300 grams .
Active colonies will be indicated by little sausage shaped piles of dung strewn around the base of their refuge . If you were to quietly sit at a distance and wait for the sun to warm up the mound , you will be rewarded with the sight of some furry little heads popping out of these holes. This scrutiny from the safety of the mound might go on for quite some time before the alpha female , being the dominant member of the pack ,will slowly lure the other members of the pack out of their tunnels. They will play in the warm sun and scent mark one another as well as engage in social- grooming before setting off to forage , all of this behaviour is vital to maintain the social bonds of these group living ,diurnal ( day active ) ,mongooses .This is particularly relevant to male and female immigrants that join the pack from outside , as they slowly ingratiate themselves to the existing pack members and seek acceptance. Thus a fresh set of genes is introduced to the pack , and more helpers also benefit the young mongooses .
All mongooses in the pack will assist in babysitting, feeding and warming the young through their journey to adulthood .The mother , who along with the alpha male is the only breeding mongoose in this society is thus able to feed more and can therefore ensure that she lactates sufficiently for her babies survival . The alpha pair may have 2 or 3 litters in a season , they will not tolerate other pairs mating in the pack , and it is thought that they kill the offspring of other potential mothers . The alpha female will give birth to one to five babies after a gestation period of approximately 40 days . The other members of the pack are both related and unrelated to the alpha pair, but all of them will assist in feeding and caring for the babies. This altruistic behaviour ensures that the species is perpetuated, and the individuals give up their own breeding rights.The females are dominant over all males in the pack ,older animals also have higher ranking .
There may be between 2 and 32 mongooses in a pack , with 12 being the average .They are collectively called a ” business of mongooses ” .Pack size varies according to available refuge sites and local food resources .The entire pack will defend a territory of up to one square kilometre., and encounters between packs are aggressive and life threatening. Bigger packs will displace smaller packs from good refuge sites by sheer weight of numbers.
Their diet consists mostly of insects, but they will supplement this with spiders, scorpions, lizards, small snakes and birds as well as rodent’s .The adults forage for themselves and appointed babysitters look after the young.
Sentinel duty in a mongoose pack is mostly the responsibility of the subordinate males, and they will give very specific calls relating to the type of predator spotted, regarding their proximity, species etc.
In some areas the dwarf mongoose has been observed in a symbiotic relationship with various bird species, particularly the red billed hornbill and fork tailed drongo. These birds will catch insects that are disturbed by the movement of the mongooses during the course of their foraging activities. These animals have developed a mutual anti-predator relationship. It has been proven that the mongooses are far less vigilant during foraging excursions when they are in the presence of these birds. The birds will utter specific alarm calls if they detect any kind of threat , and this will be passed onto the entire mongoose troop instantaneously .The pack members will then flee for cover if it is close by or mob their attacker . The main threat that these mongooses recognize is aerial predators, such as smaller birds of prey, that will swoop in from the sky to catch any unsuspecting members of the pack . Under four months old the babies are particularly vulnerable to predation, but the adults could be taken also by raptors, snakes, storks and even monitor lizards. The new born mongooses are also small enough to be eaten by their hornbill guardians, but are not taken by them.
Cheek and anal gland secretions are used to mark objects around the nightly refuge site , they may do a handstand type balancing act to achieve this on taller objects.
having being on the Zambezi River for at least three quarters of my working life , l have been very priveleged to gain an insight into this area . The last 15 years or so have been closely associated with the great Zambezi River from Kariba town down to Kanyemba town on the Mozambique border , as well as Ruckomechi Camp on the western boundary of the Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe . Chiawa Camp has been my home for the last eight safari seasons , this is located across from the Mana Pools in the Lower Zambezi National Park , Zambia .
I would like to share what this area has to offer from the point of view of what l do here from week to week . I feel truly priveleged to have access to this awesome wildlife spectacle on a daily basis .
So please join me on a journey of discovery and insight into all aspects of a truly unique and breathtaking wilderness sanctuary .