Kevin Noyce and his wife (Hampshire, UK), are no strangers to Africa. With nearly 34 visits to east and southern Africa in 21 years, they consider themselves lucky. Thrilled to be able to make it back in July 2022 for their fourth visit to South Luangwa National Park, a surprising and unexpected propensity of owls awaited…

Images and words by Kevin Noyce, Hampshire, UK

Owls South Luangwa

All images by Kevin Noyce, Hampshire, UK.

While many who visit this beautiful valley come with the hope of seeing its amazing population of leopards, lions and wild dogs, bird lovers might want to visit South Luangwa during its green season (November to May) when hundreds of bird species, including the many colourful migrating visitors,  are attracted by the river and abundance of food and come to inhabit the area.

It is quite a long journey from Europe to South Luangwa National Park but well worth the time spent travelling (mainly by air although it is possible to travel by road from Lusaka to South Luangwa).  With a specific interest in wildlife photography, we stayed at Track and Trail River Camp and booked Peter Geraerdts, owner and professional photographer, as our specialist guide.  Track and Trail River Camp sits just outside the park. It offers amazing value with luxurious en-suite accommodation as well as a campsite with BBQ stands and electricity, as well as ample ablution facilities. All visitors can use the bar/restaurant, bush gym and elevated pool with incredible views over the Luangwa River.  Excellent food with warm and friendly service makes Track and Trail River Camp a great option for those looking for an all-inclusive, luxury safari at an affordable price as well as for those just seeking a place to stay.  

But what was particularly special and unexpected was the propensity of owls. In our previous visits (both here and to other areas in Africa) we had only managed a couple of fleeting sightings on night drives. However, with our guide Peter Geraerdts, owner and professional photographer of Track and Trail River Camp, we had an amazing number of sightings of five of the species that can be found in the area – Verreaux’s Giant Eagle Owl, Pels Fishing Owl, African Wood Owl, Scops Owl and the Pearl-Spotted Owlet.  

Each evening, after our sundowner, as the last remnants of the golden sun disappeared over the horizon we could hear the territorial call of an African scops owl (Otus senegalensis) piercing the night air.  On four separate occasions, Peter was able to locate individuals with the help of Andrew, our spotter, enabling fantastic photo opportunities using the spotlight (as seen below).

African scops owl (Otus senegalensis) by Kevin Noyce.

Verreaux’s eagle owls (Bubo lacteus) were also seen in abundance – both at night and during the day – roosting in trees.  By searching the trees after dark, we spotted one still devouring its meal of a Helmeted Guineafowl.

Verreaux’s eagle-owl (Bubo lacteus) by Kevin Noyce.

During one-afternoon game drive we entered an open area and suddenly Peter spotted my personal favourite, a Pearl-spotted owlet (Glaucidium perlatum), perched on a dead tree.  We slowly approached in the Landcruiser taking shots every few metres and, with patience, we were able to get within 5 metres enabling the close-up shot seen below.

Pearl-spotted owlet by Kevin Noyce.

On another afternoon we were sitting by the river bank watching a bull elephant attempt to descend the steep bank and heard the calls of a Pel’s fishing owl (Scotopelia peli). Again, Peter and Andrew managed to locate the owl and whilst we were sitting watching it, we heard the call of a second owl and were thrilled to see a juvenile land in a nearby tree clearly responding to the calls from its mother.

Pel’s fishing owl (Scotopelia peli) by Kevin Noyce.

We also spotted an African wood owl (Strix woodfordii) during one night drive and, in fact, this owl is regularly heard and seen at Track and Trail River Camp calling from the trees around the property both at night and just before dawn.

African wood owl (Strix woodfordii) by Kevin Noyce.

Not all guides and spotters have the same success rate but with Peter and Track and Trail River Camp we were treated to some really special moments not only seeing the owls (both by spotlight and in the daytime) but also watching their interaction with each other and other birds.  In addition, with Peter’s expert photographic tuition, we were able to take some amazing photographs of these very special, majestic birds.  

A safari in South Luangwa will give you the opportunity to see all that you would hope for from an African safari – with Track and Trail River Camp you will have the chance of seeing all this and these wonderfully secretive birds. So if I did have time for only one last safari…it would be South Luangwa National Park, Track and Trail River Camp with Peter as my guide – I have found nowhere better.