March is a month of uncertainties. Is the rainy season coming to an end? Will the river flood its banks? Will the National Park’s roads survive, or will they succumb entirely to the mud and water? Does that clear blue sky mean that a period of dry is coming?

The only thing that is certain in March is that I will – erroneously – say something like “ah, that feels like a cooler morning; the dry season must be on its way”. This will cue 4 days of uninterrupted rain, rivers bursting their banks and filling the lagoons to their highest point yet.

The Luangwa River flooding out into the surrounding floodplains and lagoons.
The Luangwa River flooding out into the surrounding floodplains and lagoons.

In theory, March is the last month of persistent rain in the Luangwa, and April should be considerably drier with extended spells of dry weather. Whether the rain stops or not, the park looks magic: there is long, rich grass everywhere, and while this does somewhat restict visibility, it’s amazing who pops out from among the lush growth!

A young lion emerges from long grass in the South Luangwa, Zambia.

Without doubt, the birding is outstanding; after the initial madness surrounding mating, nest-siting and territories, birds settle down to the important work of rearing the youngsters. We have large numbers of seasonal visitors, such as Woodland Kingfishers and Honey Buzzards, but our resident species are also more visible; weavers are in their full regalia, and even drab Honeyguides are busy planting eggs in the nest of brood hosts!

A Woodland Kingfisher in pre-dawn light in South Luangwa.
Woodland kingfishers are abundant, noisy and very noticeable!

A perched Honey Buzzard in South Luangwa National Park.
Honey Buzzards are uncommon visitors to the Luangwa, potentially at any time of the year, but generally seen in the rains. They are readily identified by the small, parrot-like face, and spotted breast markings.

A Village weaver attends to a new nest in the South Luangwa.
A spotted-backed or village weaver attends to a newly made nest in a bush overhanging a lagoon.

A lesser honeyguide feeds from a bee hive in South Luangwa.
Lesser Honeyguides are not commonly seen, though they are plentiful in Luangwa, so it was a treat to see this one feeding from a bee-hive hanging off a rain-tree branch.

Occasionally we spot a speciality, and this half-collared kingfisher became only the 4th or 5th to be seen on the valley floor when we found and photographed it in March 2011. It was a dry year and we suspected that it travelled down a seasonal channel from its normal habitat of rocky streams on the escarpment.

A rare Half-collared Kingfisher in South Luangwa.

But we regularly see the big game too, with good sightings of predators and wonderful encounters with elephants as they fill their faces with rich grass. Elephants have a relaxed and gentle quality to their activities which surely comes with full stomachs and the lifting of dry-season stresses.

A beautiful elephant scene in South Luangwa.
A beautiful scene of an elephant family pausing and greeting each other before moving off into the bush.

A lioness peers through long grass in South Luangwa.
Lions are still regularly seen in the rainy season. This female was trying to conceal herself as she stalked a warthog in long shrubs.

A pair of mating leopards resting in a large tree in South Luangwa.
This stunning scene is “classic Luangwa rainy season” with rich grass and subtle greens….and Luangwa’s ever-present leopards!

A leopard surveys her area in regal style in South Luangwa.
But of course, we do get closer to leopards than the photo above, often enjoying wonderful scenes such as this!

The scenery also makes for stunning backdrops to the more common game species in the park. Zebras feeding contentedly in the grass plains barely glance at us as we pass, and furtive mongooses pause for a second and scent our presence before dashing off.

A small group of zebra survey us in South Luangwa.
With soft side light in late evening, zebras look at their very best when the rains have replenished their food stocks.

An impala views us through a tunnel of bushes in South Luangwa.
A natural tunnel frames this impala nicely.

A slender mongoose in South Luangwa.
A slender mongoose eyes us for a second from a fallen Mopane tree before running for cover.

A Pels fishing owl sits above a swollen stream in South Luangwa.
With water everywhere, Pel’s fishing owls move from place to place following the water flows, so can be found right across the park.

March is not traditionally a prime time in the Luangwa – people prefer to avoid the mud and rain of the late rainy-season – but it offers unusual and special sightings. In recent years, wild dogs have been seen daily during the rains, so Luangwa-experts might want to consider a visit to see the park in its summer clothing.

A stunning rains sunset in South Luangwa.
The rainy season cloud formations are truly special.