Have you ever travelled to a place where you just feel right at home? A place where you feel your soul is happy?
Well that’s how I felt from the very first time a visited the Busanga Plains region of the Kafue National park back in 2011 and I had tried to convey some of this in my introduction to the busanga plains post this time last year.
Leaving Lusaka and heading west by road the guests asked me what it was about the plains that I loved so much and so I explained to them how I felt that this eco-system and region seemed to have a life of its own, a pulse if you will. The seasonal floodwaters rise and fall and mimicking the beat of a heart which supports and sustains an incredible diversity of wildlife and birdlife.
Our first afternoon’s activity after arriving at Mukambi safari lodge saw us enjoying a relaxing boat cruise along the Kafue River which, like its smaller tributary the Lufupa River (which drains the water from the Busanga plains), sustains life in the Kafue National Park throughout the dry season.
A relaxing cruise was punctuated by some great birding, a herd of elephants coming down to drink and a typically African sunset.
Day two would see us heading north through more than 150km’s of pristine miombo woodland as we headed up to the Busanga Plains – the focus of this safari. En-route we saw Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, Roan antelope, elephants, puku and lechwe which made the time seem to pass pretty quickly.
It wasn’t until we reached the camp, surrounded by hundreds of red lechwe and puku, that the guests realized the potential that lay within the plains. Our first afternoon drive yielded two magnificent male cheetah relaxing at the base of a termite mound in golden light and was followed by a fleeting glimpse of a serval which had tried its utmost to remain unnoticed in the short grasses before bolting away from us.
Our safari was off to the perfect start!
Day two out on the plains started with a cup of coffee and breakfast out on the deck in-front of the seasonal camp, overlooking the plains dominated by lechwe. Scanning the plains with binoculars I picked up the unmistakable figure of a big male lion just north of camp.
Needless to say breakfast came to an abrupt end as we headed out to catch up with him.
We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful specimen as this lean male was covered in the dark mud, signifying that he had made his way through the now shallow swamps in search of the rest of his pride.
We watched as he moved across the plains and off into the rising sun before continuing on our drive.
We sat quietly watching as he quenched his thirst at one of the deep channels which sprawl across the plains.
Unfortunately his head was hidden as he drank but we anticipated the moment when he would stop and look around and opted to pull back and include a bit more of this unique environment.
Almost on queue he gave us “the money shot”.
We spent the rest of the afternoon watching one of the young cubs wrestle with some dried twigs before trying out his hunting skills with some of the other pride members.
Even at this early stage it was clear to me that the guests understood now why I was so enamoured by the Busanga Plains.
Day 3 began with smoke filled skies as smoke from fires in the region had blown across the plains, seemingly shrowding them in a blanket of mist. This made for some eerie photography aided by a sighting of a leopard not far from camp.
As the smoke cleared and the crisp morning light washed across a small channel, we sat and watched as saddle billed storks searched for small fish trapped in the shallow pools of water.
A group of puku approached the channel for a drink and we immediately anticipated the chance of them leaping across to the other side and dialled in some setting which ensured that we didn’t miss out on the photographic opportunity.
Our afternoon drive was dedicated to heading up north to the papyrus marshes for a change of scenery and boy was it worth it. Massive herds of lechwe bathed in golden light amongst the tall grasses and papyrus provided the perfect opportunity to get out of the vehicle and try some new angles and natural framing.
The papyrus marshes are also one of the best places in the plains to see the shy and illusive Sitatunga antelope. During the winter months these antelope will often make their way to the of the papyrus thickets to get some sun and warm up but during the hotter summer months remain inside the cool, waterlogged papyrus thickets.
One of the the characteristic features of the Busanga Plains is the dense matts of floating grass which, even during the peak of the dry season, cover the floodplains and hide a number of channels and even hippo. A seemingly empty and open grassland is actually a floating mass of grass which is criss-crossed by numerous hippo paths.
Our third day on the plains drew to a close with marsh owls flying above us and another spectacular sunset.
Our fourth morning out on the plains began with more of the same smoke filled skies from nearby fires making for some incredibly moody, mist-like scenes across the plains.
We opted to check out one of the few remaining pools of water out on the plans in the hope of photographing some action between hippos as they jostle for space in amongst the muddy water and weren’t disappointed – even if we were temporarily distracted by Four Fig island and presence of an african Jacana.
It was great being one of only a handful of vehicles in an area of more than 750 square kilometers. Stretching our legs and sitting at the waters edge was a great way to spend the morning.
From here we headed on in search of the Roan antelope herd that had been frequenting the southern section of the plains where we spent some time photographing them before returning back to camp.
On the drive up to the plains one of the guests mentioned that she wold LOVE to hear a lion roar and capture a backlight image of a lion. With that in mind we headed out to one of the acacia islands where a pregnant lioness had been seen earlier in the day.
With temperatures reaching 40 degrees celcius the lions of the plains will regularly disappear into the cool, shaded long grass which surrounds the fringes of the acacia islands, revealing themselves once the sun has sunk below the horizon.
Killing time whilst the sun slowly drew nearer to the edge of the horizon we stopped for sundowners near the island where she had been seen earlier that day and it wasn’t long before she made an appearance.
With the other vehicle from camp in the sighting the stage was se and after briefly calling out some camera settings to the guests we had our shot in the bag!
As if that was not enough, the lioness began to roar, calling for the other members of the pride who, based on the alarm calls of the vervet monkeys in the distance, were no too far away. It was a sighting and a moment that I am certain these guess will never forget.
Our final morning out on the plains provided us with some new photographic opportunities as we spotted a large herd of elephants moving back from the floodplains towards Kapinga island. With very little exposure to humans and vehicles for most of the year the elephants in this part of the world are pretty shy so we decided to hang back and photograph them from a distance as they crossed the large open area in-between the small islands of vegetation.
Just before our coffee stop we were given another opportunity to photograph Puku leaping across a small channel and, after already having had an opportunity to capture this scene earlier in the week, I was impressed with the fact that the guess not only got the shot, but anticipated the movement of the puku.
We had seen some much in our time on the plains but two species had managed to elude us this far.
A long drive along the tree-line of the plains in the afternoon yielded neither of these animals but we were treated to a couple of other different sightings.
The first was of a traditional fish trap which, in November, will be repaired by the local fisherman in preparation for he next season’s floods. The wooden poles are setup across a stretch of the Lufupa River (which drains the Busanga Plains) and is used to limit the movement of fish through the system. During the months of of May and June as the flood waters begin to receed, the fisherman return to these traps and fit them with funnel like baskets used to trap the fish as they move through the openings in the fortress of logs.
We also came across a shallow pool of water where a variety of herons, egrets, storks and even pelicans were making the most of the trapped fish on offer.
The day drew to a close as we watched the sun set behind a pair of roosting pelicans.
It was on our way back to camp that we saw what was a personal highlight of the trip for me. A penant-winged nightjar. I had caught a brief glimpse of one on the plains last year but this one was right out in the open, in full breeding plumage and was gracefully flying through the air, its delicate white extensions on the wings seemed to leave a trail as it flew in a figure of eight fashion close to the ground before settling down again.
I leaned over for my camera initially but very quickly realised that this was one of those special moments where there was nothing more for me to do apart from take it all in.
The game drive came to an end with another serval sighting not too far from camp.
Later that evening we re-lived the weeks experiences beneath a canopy of stars on the deck in-front of the lodge and realised how much we had seen over the last 5 nights on the Busanga Plains, but our safari was not yet over.
Our final day saw us head back south to Mukambi Safari Lodge where we spent the afternoon relaxing and catching up on some image editing before heading out on another afternoon boat cruise.
This was the ideal relaxing end to a safari and the sightings couldn’t have been better as we started the cruise off with a leopard relaxing in the shade of a large tree alongside the banks of the Kafue River.
Another little gem of a sighting on our final afternoon boat cruise was seeing two different African Finfoot, a shy and secretive bird which retreats deep into the river banks when approached. To see one out in the open as we did was very special!
Over and above all of these incredibly special sightings, the experience of being on the plains itself is something quite different in terms of an African safari.
There are just 4 camps on the plains which meant that more often than not we were the only vehicle in a sighting or an entire area. Apart from adding to the sense of space, this also means that there is almost no radio contact and banter to interfere with the sounds of the bush. The only time our guide would be on the radio was to confirm with the camp which of the guests wanted showers when we returned.
I’ve said it before but every sighting up here is special in its own way and the overall experience is one which will almost certainly see you leaving a piece of your heart out on the plains. Don’t take my word for it though, here’s what one of our guests has to say:
“There is so much that is magical about Africa…diverse in its landscapes and animal population.There is the luxury and easiness that some prefer, and there is the “Out of Africa” experience I crave. All that I lacked on this incredible experience was Robert Redford waiting to wash my hair!
From an arid, dusty flood plain and “floating grass” to the plush twenty foot “walls” of papyrus, Busanga Plains offered it all. Roads as bumpy as they get, bridges you wonder if safari truck will actually make it across. This is an experience no one should pass up. If you want to improve your photography, or learn something about yourself and your photography…Andrew is the guy that can help you do that.”
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Visit the Busanga Plains in 2016
We are in the process of finalising details around our 2016 Kafue & Busanga Plains Photographic Safari which will be limited to just 4 guests. To be the first to receive the details, follow the link below and we will add you to the list of interested parties!Send me Details!