This was a one-man safari with Joe, a long-standing client and friend from Lusaka. A birder, Joe was keen to push his world list to the 1000 mark. Our main targets in Lochinvar included the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, African Quailfinch Three-banded Courser and, above all, to have a good relaxed weekend in the bush.
Lochinvar is one of two Parks which capture a small piece of the Kafue Flats. The other is Blue Lagoon. Combined, they cover less than 1000 square kilometres of the 6500 sq km Flats. Nevertheless they form important hubs, north and south of the Kafue River, for the conservation of large waterbird, crane and raptor populations as well as the endemic Kafue Lechwe and a variety of other fauna. Lochinvar’s Chunga Lagoon provides the most reliable sightings of the Lesser Flamingo, Black-tailed Godwit and Caspian Tern in the country, and its floodplains support important aggregations of the Wattled and Grey Crowned Cranes.
On entering the Park, we took a looping bush-drive to Gwisho Hot Springs. It’s a bit unfortunate that a Geo-thermal plant has recently been established here. It proved to be a distant rumble at worst, however, and we were able to enjoy a spectacular evening with hundreds of Yellow-throated Sand-grouse whirring in from the bush for a hot beverage before whirring out again to roost. One of the joys of camping in Lochinvar is that you can bed down where you want (the draw-back is no facilities, but of course we were prepared), and we set up camp at this beautiful spring.
As the sun dipped over the bizarre African Chestnut trees which grow thickly among the rocks lining the spring, we set off for a brief nocturnal exploration. We had not traveled more than a kilometre before we picked up a sea of bovine eyes in the spotlight: a herd of buffalo. We slowly moved in among them over some rough ground, then stopped and turned off the lights.
“Would you like to be mobbed?” I inquired of Joe. Joe expressed a mixture of positive and negative emotions in a spiel which ended with “what have I got to lose?”
I took this for a yes. Summoning all my strength, I began to produce a noise which, as closely as possible, mimics a mortally distressed buffalo. It cannot be described.
The herd had moved over a low bank and were milling amongst some reeds. We had driven to within a few metres of the bank. I kept up my efforts until the mortal distress had become real and invaded my larynx and diaphragm, then sat rasping for a few moments summoning back the power of speech.
“Are you ready?” I asked Joe. He again asked what he had to lose, which I again took for a yes. We switched on the lights.
The bank in front and curving to the left was thickly lined with mute, staring buffalo. We stared back. Eventually they became disturbed by the light and started to disperse, but with a repeat of the performance they returned. It was only by admonishing ourselves that as birders we had no business consorting with quadrupeds, that we persuaded ourselves to let them finally off the hook.
I would like to be able to say that we conducted ourselves better for the remainder of the drive and came away with a hard-won list of nocturnal birds, but it was not to be. Our route led through a grove of leafless Mopane trees. In their skeletal spotlit shapes Joe, a published photographer (he has been published in the Lapwing Safaris Newsletter), saw artistic possibilities. Another shameful episode ensued in which laser pointers, which could have been used to share Three-banded Courser sightings, were instead played into the branches of Mopane trees to achieve strange light effects. An hour which could have been employed discussing the wing-spots of various nightjars was spent in photographing these effects from all angles with different camera settings.
The night held further lurking temptations. The flash of a huge, orange eye in a tree-top betrayed a greater bushbaby which presented only enough of its person to keep us guessing and changing angles for a better view. Eventually Joe achieved a recognizable bushbaby shot… and it was bed-time.
The morning was of the kind which covers over a multitude of sins and we began the day determined to get as wide a sample of the Park’s birds as possible. Cut-throat Finch, Secretary Bird and Wahlberg’s Eagle appeared before we had finished breakfast. A leisurely trek north brought in the coveted Quailfinch, Purple Roller, Whitebrowed Coucal, African Skimmer, Red-necked Falcon, Caspian Tern, Magpie Shrike and a host of others from the plains, woodland, scrub and wetlands. Sunset was spent on the vast floodplains in the northeast, in the company of an estimated 2000 Spur-winged Geese along with lesser numbers of Pelicans, Cranes of both types, Red-billed Teals, Stilts, Lapwings and more.
The program for the final day was a meandering transfer out of the Park. We adhered faithfully to this until we were about 4 km from the exit, when suddenly Joe’s car developed a fault. I am sworn to secrecy on the details of this, owing to a certain sensitivity on the part of the vehicle’s owner, but, with the aid of a large log we were able to make it roadworthy again and so cover the final 4 km within the Park, and the remaining 200km to Lusaka without further incident.
“Not just the usual expertise, good food and good company I have come to expect from you, but you were calm and creative in the face of vehicular adversity. I would probably have been in real trouble on my own. Thank you.”