This is breeding season for many birds in the Luangwa valley. In some species, the males have the most astonishing change in plumage at this time of year. The Southern Red Bishop (Euplectes orix) is a nondescript brown most of the year, and the poor female remains drab all year long. But look at him now:
These small birds (14cm long) hop around in the longest new grasses, often near water:
and weave delicate basket-like nests:
It amuses me that brilliant scarlet birds often seem to be named after similarly robed clerics or soldiers: Red Bishop, Northern Cardinal, Military Macaw.
(This is the first of a series of Zambian posts, all from a glorious rainy season safari to Robin Pope Safaris’ camps Nkwali and Nsefu in the South Luangwa Valley. My guides were Fred, Bertram and Kiki, all hugely knowledgable)
More accurately, the headline should say “On the banks of the cool Luangwa..”, which is hippo heaven right now, when the river is swollen with the rains. At night they climb onto the banks and graze in the lush grass, and at dawn they return to the river and wallow all day. This one, probably pregnant, was too greedy, and was still out and about in daylight.
Most of the hippos slide happily down quite steep mudbanks:
But this one had qualms:
She walked along, desperate for a way back to the safety of the water, especially with my boat hovering threateningly offshore:
But it was too big an ask. Finally, she found a gully where another hippo had preceded her, and wedged herself in:
For a moment we thought she was stuck, but she squeezed through, and headed for safety:
with a final tidal wave:
PS: For those of you who had deprived childhoods and don’t recognize the Flanders and Swann quote in the title, listen to this and all will become clear: