After making our way through customs, and exchanging some some currency for the local Kwacha we found our ride--Alan the owner of the bed and breakfast we we were staying at along the Zambezi River, the Bushbuck River House. Alan and his wife Oriel were from the UK and had been guides in Africa for decades--in the last few years they opened Bushbuck and based off the reviews on Trip Advisor it seemed like THE place to stay in Livingstone. We had to wait for 4 other guests to get through customs, before heading to the old-school Land Rover, for the 20 minute drive up the highway to the lodge.
Along the way we stopped briefly to enjoy a GIRAFFE right along the road. While we were watching I looked up and a pair of MARABOU STORK were circling maybe 70-80’ above the car.. I didn’t have my telephoto lens on so was only able to snap a shot with the 55mm lens--enough to make out what the bird is at least.
A few minutes later and we were turning off the main road onto a dirt road headed towards the Zambezi. After a short and bumpy drive we pulled through the gate at the Bushbuck River House and were parked, welcomed and given a short tour of the house and property. Alan took us on a walk around the perimeter talking about the wildlife, warning us to watch out for Puff Adders, crocodiles, and hippos. He also pointed out the trees where Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls typically roost, then spoke briefly about a special bird that nests on the island just out from us--the Pel’s Fishing Owl.
This was my number one target bird for Africa, and it was potentially just a few hundred feet from where I stood--I couldn’t wait to go look for it. As Alan talked about the flora and fauna I noticed some WHITE-FRONTED BEE-EATERS flying out over the river above, and a pair of RED-EYED DOVES perched in the trees right above us. An AFRICAN DARTER sat in the river--the mighty Zambezi, which wasn’t overly mighty at the moment. Otherwise it was quiet on this hot and humid spring afternoon.
After the tour we settled into our room and then relaxed at the pool for a little before Sam decided to take a nap--queue my chance to stroll the property for birds. I walked a loop around the property--it was just too hot for anything to be overly active. I did find one really cool lizard though.
I ended up heading to the hide overlooking the river where I could sit in the shade and scan the water. There was a herd of ELEPHANTS moving between the island and the shore to the northwest, and a few local fisherman coming in from the river. Bird-wise there was a MARSH SANDPIPER foraging on the near shore, along with several COMMON SANDPIPER. Further out among the rock were a half dozen or so CROWNED LAPWING.
Eventually a few song birds move past through the trees. There were a both SCARLET-CHESTED and WHITE-BREASTED SUNBIRDS, as well as CHINSPOT BATIS, YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY, and BLUE CORDONBLEU. I spotted a small flock of tiny finches that looked to be VILLAGE INDIGOBIRDS. At least that's what I think they were!
After a while a BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE flew in and landed in a dead snag nearby. At the same time a CRESTED BARBET flew into the tree and set off rattling. Eventually the kite either got sick of the sound or just wanted to move and took off. As I watched the kite fly off I noticed a large raptor circling the trees on the opposite edge of the property--it was a BANDED SNAKE-EAGLE. When I finally got my camera on it, trees were obscuring the shot, and the bird circled out of view! This had been my luck with the Snake-Eagles on this trip. Looking back towards the river, a YELLOW-BELLIED GREENBUL came through stopping just long enough for a shot before it disappeared too.
I headed back to the lodge, where several BLACK-COLLARED BARBETS were making a raucous in the trees above. Sam was still resting and it was getting near sunset--and Alan was going to take me and two other guests onto the island to look for wildlife--and specifically the owl! I got my gear ready then headed back out to the yard where there were now 3 LITTLE BEE-EATERS flycatching from a small sapling in the middle of the grass. The lighting was excellent, but the others were waiting on me so I only snapped a few shots before we headed out.
Alan led us through the bush to the rivers edge and then across what during high water would be under 3-6’ of water, but now was merely a trickle on the far north edge of the river. We hopped across small pools, and stepped on rocks through the areas where water was still flowing--it was hard to imagine what it would be like in a few months. Once on the island we started seeing some wildlife--first flushing a STRIATED HERON, and then another. We then came across a BUSHBUCK--the namesake of the lodge, which stood broadside on a bank in perfect light before disappearing into the woods.
After the buck took off we headed towards the heart of the island, but not before spotting an AFRICAN OPENBILL on the shore facing the main channel of the river. I had seen just one of these in South Africa at a great distance on the Olifants River, and now one was less than 100’ away. It let us approach rather close, and unfortunately our path took us close enough that it flew as we walked by. One of the more interesting storks--with the opening between the two bills…
Alan told us where to look for the owls, and we started walking the perimeter of the island hoping to catch a glimpse. He mentioned that several times he would miss the birds only to have them fly as he got near--which actually allowed him to watch where they land and then get better looks at them. Just a few days before we arrived he had seen one, so we had high hopes. Making our way east along the north shore we didn’t find any owls. We worked around the east end and then slightly to the south--no owls. It was tough searching through the enormous trees.
After getting to a turn around point Alan told us there were trees along the north end where we still had a good chance to find them, so we headed that way. As we walked I was looking up and spotted a pair of turacos flying through the trees--I asked Alan if they were Purple-crested Turacos, to which he told me no, they would be SCHALOW’S TURACOS! Schalow’s was another target bird, that I had hoped to see--I put Knysna and it as an either/or, just hoping to see one species, and I already had the Knysna--so this would just be a bonus. I didn’t think I would get to see this species as I had tried to get information on seeing them before my visit, and everyone I talked to said it was just a matter of luck if you had one fly by at Victoria Falls. But here 20 miles up river, after a few minutes of searching I spotted them, high in the trees, hidden in the canopy. I snapped 3 shots before the birds flew--and got lucky enough to get one of the birds sort of visible.
I tried to to follow them, but any time I got within 100’ they took flight. I opted to leave them alone and get back to searching for the owls. It was a great find, so I was stoked regardless of how the owl search turned out. We made our way along the north edge, on the mud flats outside of the island looking back along a swampy area with a lot of overhangs over pools that were now disconnected from the river--perfect habitat for the owls. No owls were to be found tonight, but a bull HIPPOPOTAMUS in the river was making a fuss about where we were. We passed within about 40’ and he let us know he was unhappy about it. Splashing and barking, while opening his mouth all the way and hitting the water, he showed his long teeth, and let us know who was boss.
As we headed back towards where we could cross the river the sunset--it was incredible. The combination of the smoke, humidity and whatever other particulate was in the air made for a pink sky, with the sun so muted you could look right at it without any problems--it was a magenta and pink orb floating against gray as it neared the horizon.
It was getting pretty dark so I managed what I could before heading in myself. It had been a long day, but had a few awesome sightings. The day was capped with an excellent dinner prepared by the chef, a local who made incredible meals each night. Soon after dinner we were in bed, getting a great night sleep.
7 life birds this day / 315 total trip life birds / 337 total trip species
photos from Bushbuck River House, Zambia:
eBird Checklist for the afternoon and evening