Under cover of a blanket of thick mist the morning broke. As if you were fine-tuning the focus on your binoculars to bring the landscape into focus, so the mist slowly melted to reveal figures that transformed into lechwe, puku and trees that appeared to dangle by their canopies above the mist that dropped from the sky like folded silk in a heap on the ground. Paradoxically, directly above, in a perfectly blue sky, hung a sliver of waning moon that shone brilliantly pearl-white. Out of the thickness of the silky mist echoed the yelps of side-striped jackal and the grunts of hippo still tucked into their watery cradles – a truly lazy bunch of several pods, snorting and puffing blasts of water-laden steam from their large nostrils. The scene was set, awaiting the drama to unfold.
Not every morning is like this; sometimes during our short stay we would wake up and there would be no misty magic, just the expanse of plain in front of camp that gently came to life as the sun peeked its massive spherical body from behind the eastern treeline. Busanga sunrises are always spectacular though, mist or no mist, and the reason is the atmospherics at this time of the year. That means photographically you need to be leaping up out of the cot before dawn to be ready, with your camera poised on the main deck area, to catch the transformation from night to day – a birthing process of new beginnings, possibilities, adventure and discoveries. No-one can help photographing the sunrise at Shumba Camp in the Busanga Plains of northern Kafue National Park in Zambia, whether mentally or digitally.
Just as spectacular as the sunrises are the sunsets – again this is due to the atmospherics at this time of the year. For a great analogy of colour and spectacle, have a look at the locally-located rosy-throated longclaw, a magnificent little bird that, even though he is a small insect-eating, fairly plain brownish, black-winged bird from behind or on top, when you flip him around you are smacked with the most remarkable deep pinkish rose-coloured throat. Notice I refer to ‘him’ because this magnificence, like all beautiful colours in the bird kingdom, is reserved for the males. Principally to impress the females – which I am sure it does. This thick, dark rose-colour fades in intensity as it slips down from his throat onto his chest before disappearing all the way to his lower belly – much like a sip of delicate yet intense, cool rosé wine. For me, this little guy is the mirror-image of the sunsets here, where the intense sphere of blood-rose sun disappears down into the western skyline, leaving a pinkish-tinted glow in its path.
For most of us, the mornings are heralded by a carefully selected ringtone on our phones, a tune that is meant to gently coerce us out of bed and make us feel excited to face another commute or another deadline, or both. Just as each day is totally different for each and every one of us, despite the mundanity of the treadmill, at this time of year, the Busanga Plains surprises and delights with magical wonders heralded by spectacular sunrises and sealed with dramatic sunsets.
Written by Marian Myers
Photographed by Mike Myers