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At just over 400km², Lochinvar is one of the smallest National Parks in Zambia. Forming a 13km by 32km rectangle, the shorter, northern boundary of the park stretches along the main channel of the Kafue River, approximately ¾ of its way across the broad floodplain known as the Kafue Flats. The northern third of the park is subject to flooding, and is dominated by Chunga lagoon. South of the floodplain are extensive areas of termitaria, leading to woodland in the southernmost part of the park. While the wooded areas (principally Acacia, Albizia and Combretum species) are interesting enough, it is the floodplain, and extensive mudflats of Chunga lagoon that are the main drawcard here.

Vast numbers of waders use Lochinvar both as a staging post on their migrations, and as an over-wintering ground in its own right. Recent years have seen flocks of Red-winged Pratincoles in the tens of thousands, and significant numbers of all Palearctic waders are seen regularly. Flocks of up to 2000 Black-tailed Godwits have been recorded in the recent past, as well as tens of thousands of Ruff, and thousands of Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints and Greenshank. The area is of particular importance to Caspian Plovers with flocks of 30-35000 present on occasion. A flock of over 1000 Wattled Cranes was recorded at Blue Lagoon a couple of years ago, and the rarity list for the area belies the paucity of birders resident in Zambia. Regular visitors include fair numbers of Caspian and Gull-billed Terns, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Great Snipe, Corn Crake, Spotted Crake and Slaty Egret, as well as more extreme rarities such as Pectoral Sandpiper and Franklin's Gull. Lochinvar is not just about rarities, however. Flocks of thousands of the more common species are regularly seen, over 58,000 Fulvous Duck being recorded on one day in 1994, and several thousand Openbills congregate here. Herons are particularly well represented, with large numbers of the commoner species resident, and Slaty Egrets and Madagascar Squacco Heron are recorded annually. Lochinvar regularly records a greater variety of waterbirds than any other single site in Africa.

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BIRDING

It is important to come properly equipped to a place like Lochinvar. The large distances, and the lack of suitable cover to hide behind means that a telescope is essential for wader viewing. Any birder who comes here armed only with binoculars is in for a disappointment.

1. One of the best areas to view the large numbers of waders is in the south-west corner, and along the western shore of Chunga lagoon. The mud-flats are quite extensive here, but beware of driving into soft mud. There is no-one around to help you out should you get stuck! A better tactic is to park at the edge of the dry sectors, and walk the remaining distance. This can be a substantial hike, as far as a kilometre sometimes, but is well worth it. Often the surface of the mud seems to be alive, there are so many birds present. Even dry mud can give the same illusion, with Kittlitz's Plovers in very large numbers, around the perimeter of the lagoon. This area is particularly productive during peak migration times, and in the northern winter, but substantial numbers of birds stay throughout the year. It is an area always worth a visit.

2. Driving to the western shore of the lagoon, as the Termitaria gives way to floodplain proper, you pass a large Acacia albida, a prominent landmark known as the Malindi tree. In this area large herds of Kafue Lechwe and Zebra often gather, and it is to this area that large groups of migratory storks often come. The grass here is extremely short, and is favoured by the flocks of thousands of Red-winged Pratincoles that are present throughout the year. The herds of Lechwe are usually accompanied by groups of Wattled Cranes, with the smaller Crowned Crane also present in some numbers.

3. The northern and eastern sectors of Chunga lagoon have a steeper shoreline, so are less suitable for waders. This area is much more suited to the many thousands of duck that congregate. Large rafts of many species gather offshore with up to 1000 Red-knobbed Coot being seen together. African Skimmers may be found in large flocks here, and this is where Gull-billed Tern are most often seen. The adjacent grassland hosts huge numbers of species such as Harlequin Quail and Kurrichane Buttonquail. Migrant Harriers are also a feature of the grassland in this sector during summer, with Pallid, Montagu's and European Marsh Harriers all present at the same time.

4. Close to the camp site are Gwisho Hot Springs. A naturally occurring spring seeping out of the ground forming a very marshy area adjacent to open grassland. This is a particularly good spot to walk around looking for Painted Snipe, Ethiopian Snipe and Great Snipe, the latter only present in summer. Red-chested Flufftails have been recorded here, as well as other Rallids such as Spotted Crake and Corn Crake in the grassland. White-rumped Babblers are common at the spring. A low hill, Sebanzi Hill, is just to the east of Gwisho, and is home to a population of African Broadbill. A second spring, Bwanda, is a couple of kilometres west of Gwisho, but is subject to disturbance.

5. About 7km from the old lodge is an area rich with fig trees, the particular habitat of Zambia's only true endemic, Chaplin's Barbet. Visitors without maps (available at the entry gate) may ask for directions at the lodge. Take the Fisheries road from the lodge. Continue past Drum Rocks and the fisheries themselves, crossing first a dry stream and then a crossroads (park boundary). Drive through an inhabited area until you reach Banakaila village, identified by the Dip tank. Fig trees are common in this area. Chaplin's Barbet (Lybius chaplini) is a medium-sized Barbet, predominately white with black wings, yellowish primaries and a red face.

Lochinvar is reached directly from Monze, on the Lusaka-Livingstone road. From the northern periphery of Monze turn on to a reasonable gravel road, drive 15km and turn right just after a school, 10km further on turn left, continue straight to the park. The route is signposted all the way. Four-wheel drive is not necessary in the dry season, though high clearance is important. The roads are not maintained during the rains, and much of the park is inaccessible at that time. Visitors planning trips between January and April should establish road conditions before they arrive. Facilities are basic, and visitors must come fully equipped for camping. Fuel and food are not available. A small camp-site, complete with clean water, toilet and shower is situated in the south of the park, near the two hot springs. The camp-site is usually manned, the attendant will provide firewood if required. The old farm-house is still standing, and used to function as a lodge, though no longer. Plans for redevelopment have yet to bear fruit. An entry fee is payable. Lochinvar is off the beaten track, and attracts few tourists, so visitors will usually have the place to themselves. No tour operators schedule trips to Lochinvar, though individually tailored tours can be arranged.

Afrizim Website Paul Bourdin



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