Saturday, 14 September 2013


We arrived at Chongwe River Camp via light aircraft from Lusaka. It's an unfenced camp with tented accommodation on the confluence of the Zambezi and Chongwe rivers. It's a stunning location and very close to Lower Zambezi national park. Above and below are views across the Chongwe River from the camp.

Bird wise our stay here was dominated by the sight and sound of African Fish Eagles, who circled and called constantly around the camp every day. Quite appropriate since this is the national bird of Zambia. 

Being unfenced though means daily visits from some much larger creatures. Elephants were in or around the camp almost constantly. The one above parked itself by the loo near the bar and dining area. A bit of a shock if anybody had been in there! 

This huge specimen made a beeline for our tent pictured below. I took the shot of him and we retired to the 'safety' of our tent as he passed within inches of our door. Phew! On another occasion three Elephants close to the tent meant we couldn't get to lunch at the dining area a couple of hundred yards away. Eventually a camp guide appeared along with our next tent neighbours. Together we hid behind our tent as the Elephants passed by the front. During this time we were introduced to our neighbours who were none other than His Excellency the Indian High Commissioner for Zambia and his aide (I know, i'm such a name dropper)!

One touch of luxury here is a small swimming pool. But as ever, there's always someone 'hogging' the sunbed.

Given that the camp is alongside two rivers, boat safaris were always an option. The Zambezi is up to a mile wide here and marks the boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe. In the middle are some lush, green, reed fringed islands, ideal for birds like this Yellow-billed Stork above and what I believe is a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron below, and a Green-backed Heron below that. We also saw Gt. White Egrets here, lots of Cattle Egrets, Purple Herons, Black-winged Stilts, Pied Kingfishers, Giant Kingfishers, Goliath Herons, Water Thick-knee, African Darter, Black Crake, African Jacana  and the more familiar Little Egret, Ruff, Common Sandpiper, Grey Heron and Greenshank. 

Bee eaters are just stunning. This is the White-fronted version which were very common in and around the camp and along the Chongwe river.

Above is another common bird locally, it's a Southern Red-billed Hornbill. They always look like they are wearing lipstick to me. We also saw African Grey Hornbill and the spectacular Trumpeter Hornbill.

Even our guide got excited about the bird above. The picture is distant and doesn't do it justice. It's a Purple-crested Turaco. Not too common in the area apparently, I don't think our guide had seen one for a long time.
Lastly on the bird front is the Snake Eagle below. Another long distant pic of what I think was a Western-banded Snake Eagle.

Although we saw lots of lionesses in South Luangwa, we didn't see any male lions. We told our guide that they were very much on our wish list and the following evening he obliged with two fantastic young males sleeping in the late afternoon under the shade of a couple of trees.

This is just one of them, the other was tucked up out of the way of our eyes and camera. He was aware of our presence and opened a sleepy eye to check us out.

But as you can see he is just so relaxed and unworried by us. It would be a different story if we got off the Land rover though.

On our return drive back to camp later that evening we caught up with them again as they padded slowly and deliberately along the track, most definitely Kings of their jungle. This produced a heart stopping moment for me when the lion above approached our stationary, open topped vehicle and stopped two feet away from me. He looked up at the Land Rover and for one moment I thought he was going to jump up and over instead of going round us. I was mightily relieved when he carried on around the back of the vehicle. Later that night my sleep was broken by the roars of these two huge cats. There's not much that is more spine chilling than the roar of a lion in fairly close proximity when you are lying in a tent in the middle of the night.

This is a Baobab tree, one of hundreds that are scattered around the Zambian landscape. They are unmistakably Africa. This one is ancient. Carol wanted its picture so she and our guide Victor walked over towards it to give it some perspective. This one is known locally as the Cathedral Tree. As you can see it is big. Africa has a way of making you run out of suitable adjectives.

Our last stop was just outside Livingstone in the River Club lodge. It is in a spectacular location right on the bank of the Zambezi river and was the perfect place to wind down from all the excitement of the safari. It is also perfectly placed for a trip to Victoria Falls. Here's a couple more birds from the area. 

Above is an Open-billed Stork, we saw large flocks of these birds each day circling on the thermals over Zimbabwe.

Hadeda Ibis above. This is a noisy raucous bird, very similar to its cousin the Glossy Ibis.

This is one of my favourite birds of the trip. It's a Brown-hooded Kingfisher. What a beauty. Unlike our Kingfisher this one rarely eats fish.

As you can see parts of Victoria falls are a bit dry at the moment. It's the dry season after all. But I couldn't resist having a look over the edge of the drop, all 360 feet of it.


Greenie said...

Phil ,
Great final episode , with yet more stunning wildlife .
Altogether a most enjoyable set of posts .
Probably a good time to finish as I see the jokes are starting to creep in .
Re.last shot , was Carol tempted ?

Marc Heath said...

Superb report, very jealous of your sightings and shots, a dream holiday.

Alan Pavey said...

Brilliant stuff Phil, some stunning pics and a great read, some great close encounters, almost too close from the sound of it!!! :-)

alan woodcock said...

Hi,great trip,nice read.

Mike H said...

Hi Phil,

A great acccount, and photos from a great holiday no doubt. Rather jealous of some of you adventure but not sure about the thought of having a lion keep you awake or worse ?

Chris said...

I run a blog for Smestow Valley LNR. I have started a nature network to protect our patches and coordinate wildlife surveys. Please could you email me at and I can send you more information. Regards, Chris Millward.

Mike Attwood said...

Fantastic holiday Phil, wonderful pics.

Linda said...

Hi Phil, your photos are absolutely gorgeous! Greetings from Montreal, Canada. My grandparents on my father's side were born in Kent.

Marianne said...

More gorgeous photos and scary moments! Sounds like you really had the full experience, look forward to hearing more about it next time we go birding :)