Feathered Friends of Kafue

The Kafue National Park is made up of 22,400 square kilometers of pristine African bush. This park is enticing for it's incredible diversity of wildlife and varied collection of habitats.

On the big game front lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo are all prominent. Further to this, the Kafue boasts the highest population of wild dog in Africa and the greatest diversity of antelope in the world including the much revered roan and sable antelopes. This park also hosts Zambia’s biggest population of cheetah.

The diversity of habitat makes Kafue one of the best locations in Africa for birding. The local riverbanks, wetlands, woodlands and savannahs boast an impressive nearly 500 of Zambia's 733 recorded bird species. This month we want to focus on our feathered friends as we’ve had some great sightings and the binoculars have been getting a real work out! From mighty Bateleur Eagles to miniature Malachite Kingfishers the skies and bush have been awash with a myriad of birdlife. Thanks to our guests and guides behind the cameras!

One particularly special sighting this month was impressive not only for the species it relates to, but also for the fact that our guests had specifically requested a sighting of this bird before commencing their walking safari. Our guide Lexon had laughed and said it was unlikely due to the rarity of the bird but that he would try his best. What a result then to find out on the walkers return that Lexon had managed to locate not one but two Chaplin’s Barbets! These birds are endemic to Kafue and are generally found in pairs in savannah areas where there are fig trees. A rare spot! Our guests were all too enthralled to take any photos so I have borrowed one off Peter W Hills.

From both the tranquil private decks in camp and out on the river on our electric boat, numerous different types of kingfishers have been spotted including this pair of Pied. The females and males can be differentiated by the black bands across their chests, the female having one and the male two. The Malachite’s are also out in force and this chap kindly posed on a branch for us. We can tell he is a juvenile as his beak has not yet reached the striking shade of red we would expect from an adult. Malachite Kingfishers start their lives with black beaks, which gradually change colour over time until they become a vibrant red at around 2 years of age.

Zambia’s national bird the Fish Eagle has been a regular sighting and their distinctive cry is often heard in the mornings from the main deck at camp. Another species often detected by its very high-pitched calls is the Western Banded Snake Eagle. On top of snakes it also feeds on other small birds such as Francolins and Boubous as well as lizards. White Tailed Swallows have been flitting nearby to the riverbanks, unlike their European cousins this species does not migrate, and down on the waters edge we’ve seen plenty of Egyptian Geese but also strangely a pair in a tree, not quite so common!

This month we have also witnessed some interesting hunting habits. The African Harrier Hawk, previously known as Gymnogene (any excuse to publish and sell a new edition of a birding book!), often sits on dry stumps to hunt. Their legs have the uncanny ability to bend both backwards and forwards and because of this they can reach deep into stumps or crevices and extract creatures that would otherwise be inaccessible. The Fiscal Shrike, nicknamed Jackie Hangman or Butcher Bird, also has a captivating hunting habit. If they catch prey such as grasshoppers they spear it onto a nearby thorn and then return to it later when they wish to feed. Brutal!

Many visitors to Zambia are often thrilled by the striking colours of the Lilac Breasted Roller, they certainly stand out against the browns and greens of the bush. These colourful beauties are a regular sighting, and found anywhere there are trees, as they lay their eggs in tree holes. To hunt they cruise in the sky and when they spot something of note, as their name suggests, they ‘roll’ downwards to strike.

Out in the bush amongst many others but worthy of mention we have seen enormous Lappet Faced Vultures who boast a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres, Spotted Flycatchers dashing from high perches after insects, Southern Black Tits feasting on wasps, elegant Crowned Cranes, wandering Francolins, and tiny yet vividly coloured Little Bee Eaters. Did you know that before eating bees, Bee-Eaters remove their stings by repeatedly hitting their prey on a hard surface?

A flock of Ground Hornbills has been sighted on a few occasions not far from camp. These amazing birds with their bright red throats mate for life, however the female only lays 2 eggs once every 4 years and only the alpha male and female of the flock are permitted to breed at any time. No wonder they are rather rare!

In general the breeding season for birds starts towards the end of August and into September so technically the last month has been a ‘lazy’ birding period. With the amount of different species that have been seen this seems unfathomable! However, I will stop there for fear of taking up too much of your time – or this newsletter becoming and essay. If you are keen on birds – or even if like me you are just starting to understand the intrigue – come and stay with us at Ila Safari Lodge and put one of our guides to the test!

I should probably mention that you may very well also see a couple of lions, a marauding leopard, the wandering buffalo herd, trumpeting elephants on the riverbank….etc etc etc

Warm wishes from Kafue,
The Ila Team