Bangweulu is situated in the Luapula Province of Zambia, which is one of the world’s greatest wetland systems. The words mean “where the water meets the sky”
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The Bangweulu Swamps, surrounding Lake Bangweulu extend from the north-west clockwise around to the south. The main part covers an area of roughly 120 km by 75 km.
Lake Bangweulu is approximately 75km long and 40km wide. It expands when it floods and by the end of May it reaches its maximum. The lake is fed by numerous rivers of which the Chambeshi (the source of the Congo River) is the largest, and then drained by the Luapula River.
There are huge wetlands to the south, and south-east of the lake, which are more than double the size of the lake, consisting of seasonal floodplains, islands, reed beds and shallow lagoons.
A trip to this remote and under developed wilderness from April to December is a must.
This vast area of swamps holds an amazing richness of aquatic birdlife.
With a birding list of over 390 species, it abounds with common swamp passerines and wetland birds of all types of ducks, geese, storks, ibises, rallids jacana, spoonbills, herons, egrets, kingfishers, ibises, ranes, pelicans, and often flamingos. As flood waters begin to recede after the end of the rains, large numbers breed in huge colonies.
Black egret, Spur-winged Geese, Yellow–billed Egret, White-backed Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, Hottentot Teal, Common Pratincole, Long–toed Lapwing, Ruff, Whiskered Tern and African Skimmer, are all here in large concentrations at various times of the year. This is certainly a very important wetland whether for breeding or passage migrants stopping over.
Bird specialties include Shoebill, numerous Wattled Crane (>1000 est.), African Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Saddle-billed Stork, Pink-backed and Great white Pelican. Possible sightings of the near endemic Slaty Egret, (which can occasionally be numerous). It is also thought to be one of Africa’s strongholds for Common(Eurasian) Bittern, Long–toed Lapwing, with Spur-winged Lapwing being a vagrant
Other possibilities in the dry season are African and Painted Snipe, Swamp Flycatcher, White- cheeked Bee- Eater, White-rumped Babbler, Anchieta’s Tchagra, Fülleborn’s and Rosy- Breasted Longclaw, Dusky Lark, Greater and Lesser Swamp Warblers, African Yellow Warbler, Little Rush Warbler, “Katanga” Masked Weaver, Cuckoo Weaver, Chirping, Desert, GreaterBlack- backed and Silent -cloud Cisticola and Locust Finches. In the woodlands Sharp-tailed Starling mingle with Ross’s and Schalow’s Turaco, and the Ground Hornbill.
On the floodplain Denham’s Bustard is common, and during passage periods they are found along side large numbers of Abdim’s and White Storks. These all mingle with the vast herds of Black Lechwe, feasting on the food generated by such large quantities of fertilizer. A wide variety of raptors are present.
In particular, vultures are numerous and during the rains the three Palearctic harriers are all regular with Montagu’s being the most numerous (Leonard .2005)
Approximately 115,000 animals live in this area, mainly the endemic Black Lechwe – an attractive darker sub-species; these are in tens of thousands on the open grass plains. They breed using “Lek’s” in the rutting season on the verdant green retreating floodplain and then the females retire deeper into the reed-beds to have their young in safety, leaving large bachelor herds of males.
Other wildlife, you can hope to see are the rare Sitatunga, which live in the swamps, Tsessebe, Reedbuck, Oribi, Duiker, various mongoose, Monitor Lizards, Porcupine, and Spot-necked Otter.
There are a few Elephant that pass through, Cape Buffalo in large numbers at times (>1000’s) and the Plains Zebra.
Predators include mainly Crocodile, Spotted Hyena, Serval and Side-striped Jackal.
In June and July the waters recede, these grasslands attract huge numbers of these antelope, great for game viewing, but the nights are cold. Over the next months the area gets increasingly dryer and the wildlife recedes into the heart of the wetlands, far from the camps following the grazing. This drying up makes it very difficult to locate the shoebill, which retreat deep into the swamps to areas inaccessible by boat.
Historically, the lake was known as ‘Lake Bemba’ from the name of the dominant tribe – the Bemba.
David Livingstone was the first European to see Lake Bangweulu as he searched for the source of the Nile. He died in 1873 in Chief Chitambo’s village in the southern flood plain. His heart was buried there and is now marked as one of the Livingstone Memorials. His embalmed body was carried back overseas by his two faithful servants, Sussi & Chuma where it now lies in Westminster Abby.