14th April 1999 - 25th April 1999.
My second trip to Zimbabwe, with Natural History film producer Dan Freeman and wildlife cameraman Tony Allen for an ITV film called
Nzou: The Elephant who thinks she's a Buffalo, made by Green Umbrella Productions in Bristol.
From Harare Airport it was just over an hours drive south to our filming location at Imire Safari Ranch west of Marondera. Although we had filmed most of the story of Nzou and the buffaloes the previous September, that was the dry season, now it was the end of the wet season and everywhere looked greener, with a lot more water in the lakes and rivers.
We had been waiting for the two pregnant female buffalo to give birth, this they did away from the herd in a reedbed out of sight, so judging how old the calves were was tricky. They had been glimpsed, so were almost old enough to be brought into the herd and accepted by Nzou, this was the last part of the story and what we had come to film. New species for me will be in bold.
Our first full day at Imire and our first task was to get re-acquainted with Nzou and the Buffalo herd, as it was dangerous for most people to get close to her unless she recognised them, luckily she wasn't bothered at our presence, obviously remembering us from 6 months ago and being with Murambiwa helped.
Dan and Tony set up filming the herd feeding, I visited the nearby woodland to do some recording, while we were there I saw 2 Wattled Plovers, Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Long-tailed Shrikes, Common Bulbuls, African Turtle Doves, a Gabor Goshawk, a Black Crake, Grey Go-away-birds, Fan-tailed or Zitting Cisticolas, Grey-rumped Swallows, African Stonechats, a Cape Bunting, Pied Kingfishers, Scimitarbills, Southern Black Flycatchers, Lilac-breasted Rollers and hearing an African Sedge Warbler in the reedbed by the stream.
The African Long-tailed Shrikes moved around in family groups, with more than one singing at any one time, a pair often duet.
At lunchtime we went to the hill overlooking this part of the ranch, where there is food and cold drinks and the tourists can feed Nzou, here she becomes a completely different Elephant, it is the only place that that she will allow close approach.
There I saw Laughing Doves, Variable Sunbirds, Vervet Monkeys, African Yellow-throated Sparrows and Tawny-flanked Prinias.
In the afternoon we went to the northern part of the ranch, seeing African White-backed Vultures, Impala, Zebra, Wildebeest, Tsessebes the southern counterpart of Topi, Crowned Plovers, Grey Hornbills, Striped Kingfishers, a Red-backed Shrike, Heuglin's Robins or White-browed Robin-Chats, Yellow-rumped Widowbirds and family groups of Arrow-marked Babblers.
Photos: Nzou at the lunch site.
A pre-breakfast stroll around the garden at the lodge, Dan and I had a two bedroomed cabin at the furthest end of the compound, Tony's was nearer the main building.
The garden had lots of trees, a pond and many flowering plants and bushes, and was full of birds. From now on I only recorded species that were new for the trip or of significance.
Common in the garden were Kurrichane Thrushes which were certainly the most vocal with a great variety of songs.
Also around the garden there were Yellow White-eyes, Bar-throated Apalis, Lesser Striped Swallows, Yellow-eyed Canaries, Blue-breasted Cordon-bleus and Red-billed Queleas.
After breakfast we went in search of the two female buffaloes, with their calves, to see if they had rejoined the herd, but they hadn't.
They were still in the reedbed, this is abnormal behaviour for Cape Buffalo, they usually bring calves into the herd shortly after birth, but with this herd nothing is normal. Nzou has killed several calves not recognising them as part of the herd, so the female buffaloes have learned to keep their calves away until they have taken on their mothers odour, this is done by constant grooming over a period of time.
So, we stayed with the herd for most of the day, firstly as they fed out on the grassland, then at the stream/small river where the buffalo could cool off and Nzou enjoy a mud wallow and spraying mud and water over herself.
Then it was up the hill for lunch, where the buffalo rested under the trees and Nzou performed for the tourists.
The afternoon was spent with the herd, back feeding, and later being led to the boma for the night.
View over southern part of ranch from lunchtime hill.
Rocky top of lunchtime hill, where the herd rested at midday.
Dan and Tony at lunchtime hill.
During the day I saw Fork-tailed Drongos, Swainson's Francolins, Cattle Egrets, Tropical Boubous, Wire-tailed Swallows, Black-headed Orioles, Rattling Cisticolas, Greater Blue-eared Starlings, Miombo Double-collared Sunbirds, Crested Barbets, Orange-breasted Waxbills, Rufous-naped Larks, Cinnamon-breasted Rock Buntings, Meyer's or Brown Parrots, Black-headed Heron, Palm Swifts and a Slender Mongoose.
Not the usual Rattling Cisticola song, the people at the lodge called it a 'winter song'.
Today the herd was taken to the lake which is the source of the river, where the buffalo fed in the long grass and Nzou just enjoyed the water. Around the lake I saw an African Darter, Blacksmith Plovers, Hammerkops and Black Crakes.
The rest of the day was much the same as previous days, I added Plum-coloured Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, African White-throated Robin, Black-shouldered Kite, Black-backed Puffback, Chinspot Batis, Namaqua Dove, and I heard a Willow Warbler.
Photos: Nzou in the lake.
Today I started off in the northern part of the ranch, seeing Red-faced Mousebird, Little Bee-eater, White-browed Scrub Robin, a group of Nayala, a Southern Black Tit, an African Hawk Eagle, a Shikra, a
Red Bishop and African Jacanas.
Also in this area are two large enclosures, one with a family of Lions with two adults and two cubs, the other with 4 Spotted Hyaenas. It was near feeding time when I got there and the hyaenas were running around near the fence getting very excited.
The male and female Lion were fed seperately and both subject to attention by the cubs, who were made to wait.
Later, I went back to join Dan and Tony who were still following Nzou and the buffalo, they were near the river and the two females with their calves had joined the herd. They kept to the edge of the herd and made sure they were between their calf and Nzou, who at this stage took no notice. Then, both females took their calves back into the reeds, a good first encounter.
While I was there I had my first views of 2 African Sedge Warblers, hearing several more.
This morning we had arranged to do an interview with Norman Travers, the ranch owner, his house was quite close to the lodge where a lot of the farm buildings were. We found him in his garden with a recent addition, a 2 year old Elephant calf, which was very active, giving its keeper a hard time keeping up with it.
Later, we found Nzou and the buffaloes, finding that the two females and their calves had now joined the herd.
We spent the rest of the day following them, I added Brubru, Long-billed Pipit, Boulder Chat and Yellow-throated Longclaw to the list.
Tony filming the herd.
Another day of following Nzou and the buffaloes around, in the morning mainly near the river, where I saw a Lizard Buzzard, Knob-billed Duck, Reed Cormorant, Gabor Goshawk, Helmeted Guineafowl and a Tinkling Cisticola (also called Lavaillent's in southern Africa).
Then up on the lunchtime hill, where I wandered off to do some recording, getting close to a pair of Lilac-breasted Rollers
In the trees by the cabin there were always Common Bulbuls, usually drown out by weavers, but I managed to record this sub-song today.
Then we continued following Nzou and the buffalo herd around, seeing a Levaillent's or Striped Cuckoo, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Yellow-fronted Canaries (here called Yellow-eyed), Grey-headed Sparrows, Vervet Monkeys and a Rock Monitor.
Photo: upper part of the river.
Another day following the herd, now the calves had joined the other buffaloes the only sequences left to film were Nzou accepting them. When feeding in the grassland, which were full of Rufous-naped and Flappet Larks, the buffaloes would often move out of sight of Nzou, then she would become agitated and start calling.
During the day I also saw a Grey Heron, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Southern Blue-eared Starlings and Grey-backed Camaropteras (here called Grey-backed Bleating Warblers).
Our main focus now was the interaction between Nzou and the two buffalo calves at the lunchtime hill, where after her duties with the tourists, Nzou stays with the resting herd, under the trees at the edge of the site.
Two new trip birds seen today, the Red-backed form of Black-and-white Mannikin and a Buffy Pipit, I also recorded a snatch of Boulder Chat song and a group of Greater Blue-eared Starlings.
On my early morning walk around the lodge garden there was an increase in activity from the African Masked and Village Weavers, also a new bird for me, a Yellow-bellied Eremomela and I also saw a Lanner. The rest of the day was much the same as yesterday.
Our last full day at Imire and with the filming finished I visited several places around the ranch, seeing Familar Chat, Black-headed Bush-Shrike or Black-crowned Tchagra, a feeding group of Mashona Hyliotas with a Streaky-headed Seedeater, a Spotted Creeper, Red-winged Starlings and 4 African Fish Eagles.
Photo: Habitat at Imire.
We left Imire and drove to Harare Airport, on the way seeing Red-billed Wood Hoopoe, Lizard Buzzard and Pied Crows.