I’ve been in contact with Mike White since February when he saw an advert of mine in Amateur Photographer magazine. He booked a private week-long safari with me using Zikomo Safaris on the edge of the Nsefu Sector. (For 2017, there will be a scheduled safari in the Nsefu Sector appearing on my safaris page very soon).

With sunrise quite late in the winter months, we were very keen to get out early in the mornings so we left camp around 05.30 every day, and loved watching the bush change from darkness through the pink stage to the golden light post sunrise. The sightings in this area of the park are very good and we enjoyed the significant benefit that there are very few other vehicles around. In fact, many of our 4 or 5 hour safaris went without passing another vehicle!

Our first morning started with a bang! While watching hippos along the river, and photographing bee-eaters in the morning light, I spotted some antelope looking slightly twitchy – scanning with my binoculars I found 7 lions resting in the sand by the river’s edge!

Despite having empty bellies the lions simply crossed the road and lay down in the grass. One stopped to scratch this tree but we quickly moved on planning to return in the evening when they woke up.

Moving on, we found the front edge of a herd of buffalo coming to one of the large lagoons to drink. We counted and estimated 200+! But when we moved on a bit, we spotted the rest of the herd spread out into the distance – we revised the estimate to more like 800+! It’s really impressive to see such large quantities of big game on the move.

As commonly occurs, it’s the bulls who form a defensive phalanx to protect the herd. Our wind was not blowing onto them so they were content to stand and watch us, occasionally scenting the air.

Moving from Lunga lagoon to mwana Lunga lagoon, we spotted elephants approaching for a drink. The light was perfect from the angle we were watching, so we settled down under a tree and enjoyed the show!

The environment in the Luangwa – and particularly Nsefu – is simply a stunning backdrop to images at this time of year.
Returning to camp, we found an opportunity for backlighting in this small dambo – the light was harsh by this late stage in the morning, but the result was quite effective.

Returning to the lions in the afternoon, we could only count 6 of the 7. After a little while with them, we moved slightly and were finally able to see the last of the 7 – who had climbed a tree! This is usually the preserve of their spotty cousins, but lions will also practice this, either for fun or to escape flies during a hot day.

Just as the evening light caught her flanks, we snapped a few photos. Her descent, when it eventually came, was clumsy and not as nimble as a leopard’s would have been!

One of the Mike’s main reasons for booking a private safari with me was to have the safari to himself and do whatever he pleased with the time. As it turned out, he had a very good eye for the kinds of sightings that would develop into good photographic opportunities which was great. One such occasion was a large herd of buffalo who were heading towards a gully. We waited a long time, occasionally retreating to allow the herd to approach, before getting the shots we wanted – the herd running at full speed through the trench.

It was a long time coming, but at last we got the image that we wanted! On the other hand we had lots of opportunities to compose the image with our cameras so that when the buffalo appeared, we’d be ready!
Perhaps the most unusual sighting of the week was a mass of vultures feeding on a Spotted Hyaena! Of course, when scavengers die, they too are scavenged upon, but it was the first time I had seen such a thing, and there was something creepy about it!

Mike and I were both keen to record some of the beautiful scenery of the Nsefu Sector, so whenever possible, I offered opportunities to do so. I introduced Mike to long-lens landscapes – the idea of taking shots of scenes far away with a long telephoto lens. This makes a very interesting perspective and it’s not always possible to get to a far-off scene before the particular moment has passed.

This long-lens landscape was particularly pleasing with such stunning lighting and colours making a simple scene look beautiful.

Nsefu Sector is also well known for its Ebony Groves and we spent a fair bit of time shooting landscapes in this habitat, especially when the light was too bright for other sightings but was still diffused in the groves.

Mike spends a lot of time pursuing landscape photography in the UK and had a great eye for a beautiful photo. We wandered around in the groves (an advantage that I can offer as a guide qualified to lead walking safaris) and took some lovely shots.

Later that afternoon, we took a short walk to watch a hippo who was resting in the narrow gully of a drying lagoon. He was not concerned about us at all and just lifted his head to check us out when we approached.

A large bull hippo at close quarters is a sight to be admired and respected!

A group of large bull elephants near Zikomo Camp gave us some lovely opportunities for close-ups and abstracts – this has been on Mike’s wish-list so we were very happy to be able to spend around 30 minutes with them.

As is often the case, leopards were also on Mike’s wish-list although he had a very sensible approach to that, preferring to see whether one showed up, rather than pursue them relentlessly. Of course, being a safari in the Luangwa, we had several sightings, most under the cover of darkness, and culminating in a great viewing of a female pursuing a juvenile across a dambo – the younger animal then returned to her tree and defended a kill from the pursuer, making an unholy racket as she made her claim.

Having been repelled by the smaller leopard in the tree, she lay down behind a log and licked her wounds!

The final morning was the grande finale! We found a gorgeous lioness in early morning light, and heard her calling to the rest of her pride. After some tracking and scouting around, we found the rest of the pride resting nearby, and were treated to a great view of one of the two pride males!

On the last afternoon, we planned to move quietly around the local area, enjoying the views and taking in the scenery. It was hard to imagine what more there was to see, so I was very pleased to spot a group of elephants lining up to pass a beautiful fig tree, and I rushed to get the vehicle in the right spot!

The soft side-light crossing the dambo and the beautiful overhanging fig tree made a great composition.

But of course, as we enjoyed sundowners with a stunning sunset – to follow in another blog post – we heard puku whistling and we quickly located a leopard. The Nsefu area could not allow Mike to leave without showing him his 9th separate sighting!

This gorgeous juvenile male approached very close to our vehicle, apparently interested in what we were! We had plenty of time to adjust settings and discuss options for photos and exposures while he basked in the spotlight!

I have been running safaris in the Nsefu Sector for the last 3 seasons, and am finding it more and more rewarding for photography. I will be running safaris there in 2017, so please contact me if you would like to visit one of the finest safari destinations anywhere – and enjoy it with very few others around.

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