A Fly-camping Safari in Kasanka National Park provides a bewitching brew of space, verdancy, abundance, deep silence and occasional melodrama that proves completely absorbing when you step into it. In August of 2011, I walked across the Park with two couples: Bart, Katje,Walter and Lieve from Belgium. The model, which I worked on with Cornelie Van der Feen from Kasanka, involved four days walking from the Park’s Eastern edge going West. We camped on the way, and equipment was conveyed between the sites by a vehicle which came and went while we were on the trail, so as not to disturb our tranquility!
Walking in Kasanka is safer, and hence more relaxed than walking the Big Game destinations, but don’t mistake it for a Sunday stroll: there is so much going on under leaves, behind trees and in the reeds that the quiet, searching approach is always rewarded. There is the possibility of a heart-stopping face-off with an elephant, but the true attraction of the place lies in the silence, the remoteness, the careful uncovering of sylvan secrets (if I may wax so poetic).
We traversed the park from the East to West. This trail starts from the tall woodlands and rock outcrops which flank the Mulembo River. The very picturesque Mambilima Falls on the Mulembo, is the perfect lunch stop. Racket-tailed Rollers gave a new meaning to “racket” with their piercing, yapping calls, and Souza’s Shrike also put in an appearance. But we weren’t focussing entirely on birds and we dipped into the lives of any plants, bugs and mammals that crossed our path or took our fancy. By the end of the first day’s walking we had emerged from the woodlands and onto the Mulembo floodplains where they open out to incorporate wide papyrus beds, open pools, and acres of fodder for the herds of puku, zebra, sable, sitatunga and occasionally roan. Our first night was spent under the trees overlooking a huge, bird-busy patch of payrus.
Our second day’s march took on a more ‘patchwork’ flavour, as we dipped in and out of woodland, wetland and plains habitats. The sunbirds were a stand-out feature of this leg. Purple-banded in the thicker bush, White-bellied in the scrub and the special one, the spectacular Anchieta’s Sunbird in woodland and scrub. We camped on the edge of an isolated wetland, with resident geese, puku and sitatunga.
From here we took the stretch, a bee-line through woodland, which would land us in the wildlife ‘hub’ of the Park. This central area includes the forests which support the bats on their annual migration (not there at the time of this walk, of course) and the lower Kasanka and Musola Streams. These relatively small waterways abound with hippos and crocs. They flood their banks annually, which makes for a broad extent of floodplain and wetlands. Swamp forest, such as the bats use, occurs on peaty waterlogged soils and provides a rich contrast to the open plains. Bushbuck, sitatunga and warthogs shared the stage with some locally unique birds, like Palmnut Vulture (apparently the only individual in the Park) and Osprey. Some wild chittering in a patch of thicket led us to an assortment of birds hectoring a very tired-looking, very large black mamba, about a meter above ground in the low bushes. We camped that night, at a spot overlooking the floodplains at the lower end of the Kasanka, where it runs into the Mulembo.
Luwombwa, the biggest river in the Park, runs through the western sector and was the destination of our final leg. We combined walking with driving, so as to avoid some patches where the tsetse flies are very dense. Most of this section is woodland, but near the end we passed onto the vast plains of Chikufwe. A herd of 22 sable were hugging the fringe of the plain, and there was a scattering of reedbuck and hartebeest.
To round off the safari, we took an evening canoe ride down the Luwombwa. The Pel’s fishing owl, which we frequently find, eluded us in this instance, but we saw a host of other birds such as the Red-throated Twinspot, Finfoot, Narina Trogon, Bohm’s Bee-eater, Black Sparrowhawk and Dark-backed Weaver. Blue Monkeys crashed through the tall mahoganies flanking the river, and twice we saw a flash of Sitatunga.
Thank you for a great experience. You’re a multi-talented guide. This was one of the hughlights of our trip in Zambia.
Bart and Katje
Leslie, you have the guiding skills which we expect from a good guide and that was wonderful. You had always an interesting story about nature. Thank you very much. We hope to meet again.
Walter and Lieve