Mana Pools, a plain flooded with memories. Up early at 5h30 before the furnace has been lit and before the contrast gets too harsh. Cameras in hand and pumped with expectation we were on the vehicle and off to see what mother nature would reveal to us that day.
“We wait, starving for moments of high magic to inspire us, but life is full of common enchantment waiting for our alchemist’s eyes to notice.”
― Jacob Nordby
We were travelling west on an open vehicle in Mana Pools when we came upon this large adult male lion lying just next to the left hand side of the sand road. He was alert but relaxed and impassively looking around into the surrounding bush for about fifteen minutes before getting up and walking over to his coalition partner.
When you look at this huge predator, who is predominately a night operator, you can’t help wondering what happened in this part of the bush last night.
“Not in numbers, but in unity that our great strength lies.”
This male lion walked up to his comrade, but there was no head rubbing this time. There was something in the look that caused the walking lion to move right past the one lying down. Again, I wonder what happened the previous night?
Not a 250 kilogram predator, but a 25 kilogram one, in fact a pack of them. This pack of wild dogs were resting in the shade and it was only around 08h00 in the morning. Six of the pups were in the foreground.
In the forest adjacent to Chisasiko pool, we found these two bull elephants. It was early morning and the we were facing directly into the sun. The refraction causes the light to turn blue giving the forest an enchanted feeling.
The light in the forest in the early morning is mesmerising and seems other worldly.
“So, I said, when does the enchantment start? We were sitting side by side, facing the mountains. “It started when the earth was born.” Her eyes were closed. Her face was golden in the setting sun. “It never stops. It is, always. It’s just here.”
~ Jerry Spinelli
Anyone who has seen and experienced this mood in the forest will recognise it immediately, not only from a visual point of view, but from an emotive one too. This place gets under your skin.
We did not get to see any of the big four bulls which have all been collared, so did not see the likes of Boswell or Fred standing on their back legs to reach the higher parts of these Ana trees. When you look at this bull stretching his trunk up to pick small side shoots you realise just how remarkable it is for a wild six tonne bull elephant to get up onto his back legs and reach straight up to access the higher branches. Nature will surprise and amaze you every time you venture into her world.
“Like water, we are truest to our nature in repose.”
At the westerly end of Chisasiko pool is a shallow section with a lot of water hyacinth, this bull elephant was quietly feeding on the succulents accompanied by cattle egrets which were feasting on the insects the bull had stirred up. A serene scene with giant trees watching over it.
Further east along the pool was a Grey Heron fishing off the back of a very accommodating hippo.
This was a huge baobab on a higher terrace above Chine pool which is inland and slightly east of Long pool. The pool had all but dried up in October. Chine pool marks the inland limit of the floodplain. This baobab is hollow and the space is big enough to climb inside. Beyond this baobab the bush turns into a woodland full of mopanis and leadwoods, and further inland into ‘jesse’ bush which is correctly labelled as mixed-species layered dry forest. This is deciduous and has a thicket-like understorey. It has a rich variety of both tree and shrub species, for example Pterocarpus, Xeroderris, Commiphora, Berchemia, Combretum and Acacia among many others. This so-called dry forest, is a tangled area of flora which is thick and difficult to walk through.
Much of Mana’s wildlife can be found in the jesse during the early dry season. You can often see species such as Nyala and crested guineafowl, which you won’t see elsewhere in Mana; and there is a real sense of wilderness when you get away from the often-congested game-viewing tracks on the Mana floodplain. A word of caution, though: Mana’s special dispensation that enables you to walk unaccompanied by a guide doesn’t apply in the jesse bush – with good reason. It’s very dense, visibility is extremely limited, and there can be a lot of wildlife around, notably elephant, buffalo and lion”.(wildzambezi.com/…/mana-pools-road-network-expanded)
“We heard your booming call at dawn, but only found your later in the morn. Disturbed, you walk away. Endangered, you escape on the wing. Broad aspect wings lift you high but you are still distinctive to the eye.”
On our way back into the Trichilea area near Mwinilunga camp, we disturbed a family of Southern Ground Hornbills which flew toward the river, and then turned back.
These are large birds and look dramatic when they fly with their distinctive white primaries, and red facial and neck skin is distinctive. Their booming call can be heard at around 4h30 in the morning.
We took a drive up to Sapi pool, otherwise known as Lungfish pool. It was hot that afternoon. We stayed in the shade but the place was seething with mosquitoes. Two long suffering hippos were occupying the drying pool. It was full of mud and hyacinth. This pool is away from the floodplain so must exist as a depression in the ground with a clay base to retain the water.
Around Sapi pool it is noticeable how many dead leadwood trees there are. When I asked Kevin, our guide, what had happened to caused all of the leadwoods to die, he said there were two schools of thought. One was that when Kariba was formed there was substantially less flooding so the water table lowered quicker than the trees could growth their roots. The other possible reason was that as the flood plain began drying, the subsequent less frequent floods caused concentrations of salts to rise in the soil, poisoning the roots of these magnificent trees. While Kariba dam wall is a masterpiece of civil engineering, its hydrological and biological effects are still being felt today, almost 60 years later. Leadwoods have such hard wood that these trees are likely to be still standing in a 100 years time, providing humans leave them alone.
“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
On our way back from Sapi pool, the morning was very hazy even by mid-morning. Kevin pointed out this flowering Leadwood ( I think?) and interestingly all the White-browed sparrow-weavers built their nests on the west side of the tree. This is likely for air-conditioning reasons, but if you are wandering through the bush when it is so hazy and you cannot see the sun or any landmarks then you can pick up the direction from these nests.
In the late afternoon down at main pool where there is back-lighting, this is our preferred time and place to photograph hippo .
Photographing hippo entails getting close to the water’s edge and getting down as close to the water level as possible. Long pool is seething with crocodiles so you need someone to watch the water’s edge to make sure that in your distraction and enthusiasm a “flat dog” does not try to interrupt your photography!
“It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit.”
~ Antoine Rivarol
Just before the sun sets, the colour of the light turns orange and that is when you need obliging hippos to snort their nasal spray into the air.
The hippos submerge themselves for a minute or so then surface for breath. The larger ones often blow the water out of their nostrils much like a whale.
A panorama taken along “Zebra drive” looking across a section of long pool towards the Zambezi river and the Zambian escarpment in the distance. By October this section of the floodplain had all but dried up. This is the outer reach of the Mana flood plain.
The plan was to photograph hippos in main pool in the late afternoon so that we got back-lighting. It was very hot and one was facing the sun. Even at 17h30, one gets “cooked”. There were plenty of animals on the far bank of main pool, varying from impala, kudu and baboons and a plethora of birdlife.
“I believe everyone should have a broad picture of how the universe operates and our place in it. It is a basic human desire. And it also puts our worries in perspective.”
~ Stephen Hawking
As you can see Main pool is a large, I estimate a kilometre long. Don’t be beguiled by this beautiful setting, in the water lie many hippos and crocodiles and although you cannot see them, they are waiting in the shadows along the bank for unwary prey.
One morning we wandered east to Mana river. The small water course had all but dried up. In the early morning before it really heats up the sand is cool and soothing. We found three, apparently well fed, lionesses relaxing in the river bed. This particular lioness was not happy with us.
After a short while she relaxed sensing that we meant her no harm. With a flick of her tail her whole demeanor changed.
Feeling rather exposed this lioness got up after a few minutes and walked over to another lioness to lie in the cool sand shaded by a tree.
A third lioness backed off and walked away to get away from our glare.
A Bradfield’s Hornbill searching for insects in the leaf litter. This character was not fazed by us or the two large male lions lying nearby in the shade of a grove of trees.
Back at Chisasiko pool, this Grey Heron was hunting for fish in among the hippos and crocodiles. These herons and Yellow-billed storks were wandering through the shallows along the edge of the pool despite the numerous crocodiles in and out of the pool.
“Never write about a place until you’re away from it, because that gives you perspective”
On our last day, around mid-morning up at the west end of Chisasiko pool, we found this male leopard relaxing in the cool shade.
After watching him for about half an hour he decided to get up and melt back into the treed background.
Another perspective of Chisasiko pool. We found the leopard just around the far right hand corner of the pool up at the water hyacinth end.
“So often in life a new chapter awaits. You ride off into the sunset and discover it’s the sunrise.”
Early one morning when we were looking for wild dogs, we stopped to watch a few people in the forest walking some distance behind the wild dogs. We were about to get off the vehicle when someone on the left side of the vehicle quietly mentioned that there were two hyaena lying on the side of the road in the cool sand about ten metres from the vehicle.
Eventually they got up to walk off to see what was causing all the movement in the forest.
Further into the forest we got off the vehicle and walked to a safe point to photograph a passing herd of buffalo. Needless to say the buffalo have acute senses and picked up on us very quickly. This small group of a much larger herd stopped to assess what we were up to, then soon relaxed and wandered on.
In the forest, the colours were exquisite offering a palette of yellows, oranges, browns and greens with a haze of blue in the background.
While we were walking deeper in the forest following a large bull elephant, directly behind us was a buffalo bull which was following us just to make sure that we were no threat to his herd which was out of the right side of the image.
On our last day, it was very hazy and this was the scene looking over a section of the floodplain farthest from the Zambezi river. One is more likely to see zebra in this area.
I put this eclectic mix of images of Mana Pools in this post is show you the variety of scenes one is more likely to encounter away from the river.
“Nature is our source. The trees are our lungs. The air is our breath. The waters are our circulation and the earth is our body. All of us resonate with deep, all-knowing wisdom, an ancient familiarity, as we reconnect with our source.”
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.