Towards the end of 2016, I was involved in an accident that left me badly injured and with a 5 week hospital visit. I received first-class medical care – for which I am most grateful – but I was nervous about my first safari season after the accident. As it turned out, the relics of the injury were an inconvenience rather than an impediment, and 2017 has been an epic year! So, here it is – my 2017 in Review.

A hippo in the algal bloom following the end of the rains in South Luangwa NP, Zambia
Zambia enjoyed excellent rains in the 2016-17 season, with the final storms still troubling the skyline in late April. Some operators who were building camps in May were drenched by the occasional late downpour! The algal bloom in the lagoons was thicker than I’ve seen in my 10 Luangwa years, and gave a beautiful “green glass” effect for the two days that it lasted.

A large leopard scouts the area for prey in the South Luangwa National Park.
My family made their annual visit in May, and we enjoyed an unforgettable series of wild dog encounters. But it was the evening we spent with this very large leopard that will stick most firmly in our minds. After sleeping in the bottom of a dry gully, he rose, stretched and climbed to the lip of the channel. From there he scouted for prey, licked himself clean and emanated majestic power.

A stunning sunrise in the South Luangwa NP.
I was very pleased to welcome back Mike White for his second visit to Luangwa. We always have a great time in search of magic light, and July 2017 gave us lots of it. This morning’s sunrise through the trees, accentuated by the dust of passing elephants was particularly memorable.

A baboon glances over its shoulder at the photographer in South Luangwa.
Mike wanted to work on creating animalscapes during his trip. We enjoyed many hours trying to predict upcoming situations, line up the trees and landscape, and then biting our nails while we waited to see if our subjects would walk/climb/saunter/sleep just where we needed them to! Lots of fun, including this beautiful scene with a young baboon on a termite mound.

Elephant crossing the diminishing Luangwa channel in Nsefu Sector of South Luangwa.
I have spent an increasing amount of time in the Luangwa’s Nsefu Sector. This area hosts incredible game sightings and a fraction of the visitors of the main park, but is also blessed with the most varied and beautiful scenery in the Luangwa. The National Park flanks the river on both sides here, so the elephant activity in the river is spectacular.

A wedding line up in South Africas Gansbaai area.
We took a mid-season break to attend a cousin’s wedding in South Africa. I took some photos for them based around the English-garden-style scenery of the venue in Gansbaai, near Hermanus.

A leopard rests on a large twisted vine in South Luangwa National Park.
In late July, I hosted my first group from Chile; Miguel, Sebastian, Rosita and Maria-Luisa enjoyed 5 nights in Luangwa before continuing their safari to Uganda for gorilla trekking. While transferring between our two camps in Luangwa, we found this large male leopard resting on a beautifully twisted vine – the textures of his coat against the gnarled bark of the vine was wonderful.

A large herd of buffalo in South Luangwa.
A second trip with repeat-guest Sharon Verkuilen from the USA took us back to the Nsefu Sector, which revealed many of its finest treats,…

Two of a trio of lions resident in Luambe National Park.
…and then on to Luambe National Park. Luambe is a recovering park, long neglected and depleted by poachers. But it is making an astonishing recovery; within just a couple of years under a new management team, the park is thriving, and offers visitors a chance to see the Luangwa as it used to be years ago. Our trip gave us sightings of hyaena, lion, leopard (on two occasions) and large numbers of elephants, hippos and plains game. The birding was also excellent on the vast inland plains. I will be returning there in 2018 and I’m looking forward to seeing the next phase in the re-emergence of Luambe National Park.

A heavily back-lit baboon in Nsefu Sector.
In mid-August, I was back in the Nsefu Sector where we had the first rain of the season…or was it the last rain of the previous season?! This was a little surprising, but fortunately it was merely a shower and made no difference to game densities. In fact, what it did was clear the air, and give us crisp morning light the following day. We spent time with a troop of baboons who played and fed along a steep backlit bluff.

A herd of zebras watches us warily before coming to drink.
The Nsefu Sector’s hot springs have become one of my favourite spots for unusual game viewing. This year we have found serval, honey badger, mating lions and wild dogs there, and the scenery always generates interesting opportunities. Added to this, it is a water-source in an otherwise parched landscape so is a mecca for game of all sizes.

Crowned cranes land among dead mopane trees in South Luangwas famous Nsefu Salt pans area.
The hot springs also host large numbers of Crowned Cranes who visit the flooded grassland each day in search of food. As they approach, they call “ohh-wahn – ohh-wahn” before alighting softly in the halophytic sedges. One large group arranged themselves perfectly and gave me this gorgeous scene.

A herd of zebras at Nsefu Salt Pans.
With great grazing, and perennial water, the Nsefu Sector’s zebras all congregate at the salt pans too – and everyone loves black and white stripes in golden grass!

A newly-married couple share a moment on safari in South Luangwa.
In August, I managed to squeeze in a day’s photography for a beautiful bush-wedding at a local lodge. It was a great day with fun people, starting with a short morning drive and then the ceremony in the afternoon. Nature gave us a superb sunset to top off the day.

Adult wild dogs regurgitate lumps of meat for the pups at the den in South Luangwa.
There are a couple of excellent conservation organisations in the Luangwa, and I often do photographic work for them. In late August, I joined the Zambian Carnivore Programme to photograph Wild Dogs. This was a great project and we were fortunate to enjoy sightings of two packs’ new pups!

Two bull elephants appear to cuddle in the Luangwa.
In a moment of magic, two bull elephants greet each other on the banks of the Luangwa with the uniquely-elephant “trunk in mouth” greeting!

An irritated leopard licks her lips after losing her kill to an opportunistic hyaena.
In late August, I started a safari with repeat-guest John Myers from the UK. We stayed at the excellent Kafunta River Lodge and from the first afternoon, the sightings were extraordinary. John is primarily a videographer so I was also shooting film for a change!

A tussle between two Carmine bee-eaters at the nesting colony in Luangwa.
John’s trip coincided with the start of the Carmine bee-eaters’ nesting season. This spectacle never fails to impress, and we spent a long time filming and photographing the action. I was very pleased to get one of my favourite ever “Carmine” photos of these two birds tussling over a nesting site.

Two marabou storks fight over a freshly-killed catfish.
In early September I guided a group from the USA. They were a lot of fun, and there was much laughter in the back of the vehicle! The safari was topped-off by an extraordinary scene where 50 marabou storks descended on a small pool and, in a mad frenzy, caught all the remaining fish in the muddy water! There were scraps over the rights to each fish and I was pleased to capture some of the fast-paced action! I am looking forward to meeting some of this group again when they return in 2018.

A leopard kills a crocodile in South Luangwa National Park.
Early September also saw that start of a 7 night safari with Nick & Caroline Gill from the UK. Our first evening gave us a sighting of a lifetime – a leopard which had just killed a crocodile and was starting to feed! This story made the UK National Press which gave great exposure for the Luangwa as a safari destination.

Elephants cross the Lunagwa River in Nsefu Sector.
The Gills’ safari also took us to the famous Nsefu Camp which has been hosting guests in the Nsefu Sector for more than 50 years. This camp has access to one of Luangwa’s very best elephant river crossing points, and the arrival of these two herds simultaneously was one of my favourite moments of 2017.

Elephant in the mature forest of the Nsefu Sector.

Leopard in golden afternoon light in Nsefu Sector.
In mid-September, my guests and I enjoyed a 12 night run of safari magic. From golden leopards in trees, to wonderful Carmine bee-eater colonies and lions killing buffalos, it was a two-week stretch that I won’t quickly forget. What follows are some of the highlights, or take in the full report on my blog!

Elephants cross the river in Luangwa.
A very moody early morning elephant crossing.

Lions kill a female buffalo in an extraordinary show of strength.
Three young male lions bring down a buffalo cow within sight of our safari camp!

Carmine bee-eaters explode from the bank in a riot of reds.
Carmine bee-eaters explode from the bank in a riot of reds.

And a leopard gives us an anatomy lesson.
And a leopard gives us an anatomy lesson.

With death comes new this case in the form of a brand new puku calf.
With death comes new life…in this case in the form of a brand new puku calf.

A White-fronted bee-eater against the purple flowers of a veronia bush.
I ended the season with a safari with friends and repeat-guests Roger & Vicky Fry who were joined by Eric & Jill from UK. We had a superb week of sightings in the early part of October, including great birding, one of Eric’s main interests…

…and some comedy behaviour from the local giraffe population!

A couple of Mfuwe Village kids give me some attitude in December 2017.
Before my final safari, I spent a bit of time working with a local charity who support special needs kids in the community. I had a great morning with these wonderful kids, including this little “girl with attitude”.

A large male lion walks towards the camera on a green season safari in South Luangwa.
My safari season ended yesterday with an encounter with Garlic (one of the coalition males from the central area of the South Luangwa) who walked right towards my vehicle, calling loudly as he came past! It was quite a finale!

Tomorrow I leave for the UK to spend Christmas with my family; it will be the first time that I am away from the Luangwa at Christmas-time in 9 years. Here’s to a new season in 2018, and I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous and healthy New Year.