Green Safaris talk about the Green Season

Are you thinking about heading off on a safari to Southern Africa in 2016? The chances are, irrespective of where you’re heading, you have been advised to travel in the classic ‘safari season’ between June and October. You’ve been told that this is the prime game viewing season, animals will be jostling for space around water holes, vegetation will have died back and temperatures will be comfortable.

There is certainly truth in all this but what about the other 7 months of the year and the so called ‘green season’? What happens then?

Before I wax lyrical about the green season let’s start with a couple of simple facts: yes we do get rain, and yes game viewing is more challenging due to the thriving vegetation. If you are thinking about a first time foray to Africa and have a ‘ticklist’ of animals you MUST see perhaps the green season is not the time to venture into terra incognita.

However, if you have explored some of this continent before, are looking for something a bit different or are looking for a safari bargain then the green season has many upsides. Here at Ila Safari Lodge, in the Kafue National Park, we will be open year round excluding the month of February. We open this May so whilst we cannot host you this green season, after reading the rest of this newsletter you might want to put a green season safari on your 2017 bucket list!

Let me debunk some myths surrounding the green season or at least try and get a bit closer to the truth. Let’s start with the game, or supposed lack of over this period, and the state of the parks themselves.

Do the animals all head off on their extended summer holidays between November and May?!

Or perhaps they feel that during the quieter green season for the envisaged audience numbers it’s just not worth getting out of bed?!

And the parks… Do they all flash flood and morph into inaccessible and treacherous swamplands?!

Not quite…

The animals do indeed disperse after the rains in line with additional water sources becoming available. If a brand new bar in town opened wouldn’t you abandon your local where the on tap beer was beginning to taste a bit musty and give somewhere else a try?

In the dry season many watering holes and water sources dry up and the places where this life saving liquid remains is where the wildlife gathers. So to be more categoric, in the dry season the animals daily movements are more PREDICTABLE than in the green season but this is not to say there are any less animals about.

Onto the rains…

This is not a European winter. We don’t have week on week of driving rain interspersed with light drizzle and the occasional fleck of sunshine to momentarily rescue us all from Seasonal Affective Disorder! What we do get is a reasonably predictable storm pattern and afternoon showers on some days between roughly November and April.

When we do experience a storm it’s all brooding skies, thunder and lightning, the whip of the wind and generally a short-lived downpour. A bit of drama in the day to keep us all on our toes; we watch the weather build and shatter then feel the heat of the day ebb away as a first raindrop hits.

After the dusty October days when the ground is screaming for moisture and the earth is cracking, the first rains are a welcome respite. There is also nothing quite like the smell of the bush after a downpour. And as soon as they hit… BOOM… new shoots burst forth, trees and flowers bud and the parks are besieged by grassy rolling carpets. The landscape explodes into a lush, technicolour, bright multi green daydream!

The antelopes and plains game think all their Christmases have come at once. Food is plentiful, as are hiding places in the long grass and behind flourishing shrubs from those pesky predators. Many animals – from impalas to elephants - respond to this wonderland in kind by breeding like crazy – what better environment could they imagine to bring up their young in. A new cycle of life starts and this only makes the predators more persistent.

The resident birds remain but are joined at this time of year by their travelling migrant relations passing through such as Tropical Bulbuls, Ross’s Turacos , Green Pigeons and European and Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eaters. Many birds also display their beautiful breeding plumage at this time of year. If birds are your thing, this is the best time to visit. If, like me, you are interested but not among the birding elite, then the sheer number of species about is still very impressive.

The predators do have to work a bit harder, their fast food is no longer driven by thirst to the vicinity of the local waterhole AKA lion canteen. To a certain extent the people who choose to visit Africa in the green season have many similarities to the predators. We just have to work a bit harder to get our fill of sightings. Well, let’s be fair, it’s not us really working at it, it’s our guides who shoulder the burden. However, they have years of experience. They know where the hotspots and most productive game viewing areas are in all seasons.

So when you do track down your sighting in the green season what you CAN expect is to not have to share it with too many, or indeed any, other vehicles. You can also expect your photography of all things great and small to colour pop right off the screen. Let’s face it, a brown lion on a brown dusty background is never going to compete with this sandy coloured beauty of a beast posing on a full frame of emerald green. Dust free skies and shifting light patterns only add to the backdrop.

As I sit here now typing this I am sneaking glances over the dambo. It’s all ‘fifty shades of green’ and the temperature is a balmy 27 degrees. There is a bushbuck attempting half heartedly to hide in the tall grass a short distance away, a large herd of impala are picking their way along the treeline, a pair of Yellow Mantled Bishops are darting in and out of the vegetation catching the edge of my vision, butterflies flit through the tall grass and far in the distance a lone elephant is ambling across the plain. Down in the river it sounds like the hippos are having a good old grunting debate. Last night I listened to a leopard’s nearby cough as it roamed through camp and later in the night to the whooping sound of chatting hyenas on the prowl. Never a dull moment! So here’s my advice, live a little, come and experience the shades, sights, sounds and stirrings of the green season.