The flights here were SO easy! I was asleep before we took off and I woke up when the plane started it’s descent into Schipol!! From there to Kilimanjaro was a book and 2 movies awaWe got a nice ride from the airport in the Roy Safaris luxury bus where I was able to share expectations with people and find their interests. I am going to have fun with these guys! All my safari stuff was waiting at the African Tulip. The big lens, clothes, Wimburly, plug…Life is good. I’m off to bed.
Day 1 Tarangire We all met for breakfast at 7:00, loaded up and went for groceries at the Shop Rite. Fanta Passion is IN!!! The Balloon Camp at Tarangire is FABULOUSE!! It’s got lovely permanent tents with the really nice bathrooms and a bed in the middle surrounded by desk, couch, bench, armoire…the wind across the ridge line is so relaxing. The afternoon was a great training session to get used to vehicles, the tracks, the drivers, etc. We had some good luck with fighting zebras, white-bellied and barefaced go away birds… bunches of them! My bed felt GREAT!
Day 2 Tarangire Out at 6 AM for a wonderful morning of safari! Everyone did well with the action, starting with 2 big brother lions on the move through golden grass. Our vehicles looked balletic the way they worked back and forth in from of the lions. Then it was a drive along the big green swamp. There were open-billed storks in the marsh like I’ve never seen! They flew back and forth from the green to a set of dead trees where they were roosting. Every time a new bird flew to the trees there was a squabble over who was going to have which perch. Wow, wow, wow! We had fun!! Flying, fighting, preening, and sharpening beaks on the tree branches… it was quite a show. Then it was bush birds on endless, beautiful, low perches. Then we heard of a leopard with a kill in a tree. As we started driving in that direction the news came that he had gone down….at which point a vehicle came screaming around a corner, the driver waiving at Salva saying “Cheetah” as he whizzed by. 2 big cheetahs were hunting reedbuck on the edge of the marsh. When they went to the bush Niko radioed about the 150 elephants making a trek along the marsh! We got there to see the endless parade drinking, playing, and dusting until they turned and made their way into the depths of the green reeds. This afternoon was for the birds. There were Lilac-breasted rollers, hornbills, flying kori bustards, Egyptian geese, (and 1000 buffalo) but best of all was the saddle-billed stork fishing in the middle of a jade green pool. At the evening camp fire we were giddy! “I didn’t know it would be like this!!” Was said more than once.
Day 3 Tarangire Today started with a bang.. We had a real breakfast, packed up and had an all morning game drive and off to the Crater Serena for late lunch. We were nailing EVERYTHING on the drive…vultures on yesterday’s buffalo kill. There was a white-headed vulture (which you know I love), a grey-headed kingfisher, tawny eagle, martial eagle, all on perfect perches. When we got to the Serengeti’s Nabi Hill Gate for check in. All Hell broke loose when the last van came in late because they ha d been photographing a serval cat just down the road. I hopped in a van with Val and Dan Streiffert but I didn’t bring my lens. I thought it would be cool just to see it. How good could it be anyway? When we got there we found that he was a big Tom Cat of a serval with beautiful markings. Dan was shooting his short lens to get the whole body so he let me use his big lens…it’s a Canon setup so I had NO idea how it worked. This cat was just walking up and down along the road hunting for mice. I figured the camera out in time to get off some good shots. We went back and changed to people who hadn’t seen the serval yet. We had a chance with Elena and Dennis and me with my Nikon to do it again. He was even better and I knew how to shoot it this time. Everyone got great shots!
Day 4 Serengeti Seronera This morning was a leopard hunt. The three week old cubs from last February are now big 8 month old cats. We found all three in different trees by the Seronera River. The mother was in a tree where they had stored yesterday’s kill. As we watched one of the cubs in a thorny acacia the mother brought the Thompson’s gazelle kill out onto a low branch of the fig tree right next to the road for some of the most spectacular leopard shots ever! She gave us everything you could hope for before calling to the cubs and leaving the scene for some peace and quiet. The cubs came down from their trees and made their way to the kill as we photographed every move. I looked up and realized we had been shooting for an hour and there were only GPS vehicles there! My heart went pitter pat….It could have been the leopards, though. The cubs gave us an amazing show as they took turns eating on different branches making for a wide variety of scenes to shoot. Everyone was one cloud nine for breakfast. “What’s up for the afternoon”? Well, the afternoon was an explore with a plan to see what the leopards were up to around 6:00. There were dik-dik, Egyptian geese with just-hatched chicks and herds of elephant drinking at the river. When we arrived at the leopard tree at 6:00 everything else was forgotten. All 3 leopards were on the same, perfect branch of my Now-Favorite-Fig-Tree-In-The-World! I’ve never seen anything like it! They were done eating the gazelle kill so they were grooming each other and then tossed the horns of the gazelle out of the tree. In came the hyenas to clean up. Some of these photos will be legendary!
Day 5 Maasai Kopis Up and out early to see the prides of lions at the Maasai Kopis. It was the first morning that we had a sunrise with golden light so it was nice to find a pride of 20 lions just before daybreak. They were all on a little hill with a scratching post tree. As the sun came up each lion took a turn at sharpening their claws before heading into a new day. Their grass of their home range had been burned last week so the ground was jet black. The golden lions looked amazing with that background. As we drove to the kopis 2 cheetah were on the hunt and black shouldered kites hovered in scores around the rock outcroppings. More lions; this time 10 of them going from here to there in the golden grass. 2 more cheetahs were lounging in a place we couldn’t get to so we had our picnic lunch in the shade of an acacia grove. By the time we finished the cheetahs had moved to a small hill where we had great shots of comfortable lounging, grooming and some perfect yawns, all in glowing back light! We finished the morning with saddle-bill stork portraits. PM was just hunting and hoping to end up at the leopards in the evening. We had a little of everything…elephants, fighting hippos, birds and more. As the light started getting better, we made our way to the Seronera Valley for the leopards. The light was SO beautiful we did drive by shootings of every acacia tree we went past. When we got to the leopards home territory we discovered exactly how lucky we had been yesterday. The mother and daughter were in a tree 300 yards away while the boy was easily 200 yards away. Nothing to be done but enjoy the sunset, drive home, and rest up for tomorrow.
Day 6 Seronera to the Mara River. We started out at the big hippo pool which was the hippo mud pool. They were just wallowing in it with very little action. We pulled the plug and started the long trek to the Mara River and our Luxury Mobile Tented Camp. We stopped in a small village for water and sodas and hit the Serengeti entry gate at 1:00. Our camp is WAY off the beaten path! The road winds through a beautiful landscape of rock kopis, valleys and plains. There are 9 tents and we own this place! Mine is #9…way in the back close to the woodlands. The saying “It’s all fun and games till you’re eaten by a lion” keeps going through my mind. Super nice tents, great food and attentive staff. We headed out at 4:00 with the plan to scout the river. I would have to enter the afternoon game drive as one of the most memorable of my life. The Mara River turned out to be 2 minutes from camp!!!!!!!!! Not only that; there were about 15,000 wildebeest on the other side waiting for us to get into position so they could cross. We waited no more than 5 minutes for the first wildebeest to start the action! I couldn’t believe it. They were spilling down 3 cliff faces to the single entry point before they crossed.
They gathered together in the water before exiting making exquisite patterns. I shot as much variety as I could think of, but I believe there was quite a bit of panic involved in the whole process! I have no idea how long it lasted, but everyone was in Heaven. On the way home we only had 3 cheetah and wildebeest running on a ridge against the setting sun!
Day 7 Mara River A real sit down breakfast at 6 and out to the cheetahs at 6:40. They were fantastic at first light! Peachy! From there we thought we would scout the area and found a heard of 3,000 wildebeest ready to go. This time we had to wait ten minutes for them to cross. I don’t even remember…oh yeah, the main design feature was the dramatic river rocks they swam in front of. Next up were young lions walking among the rocks, Klipspringers looking at the lions, lots of birds, and a leopard on a high rock. I hope we can photograph him…he’s BIG. At 10:30 I thought we should check the river again. We were just in time to se the start of 5,000 wildebeest crossing!!! What is the deal?!?!?
This one had a single thread from one side of the river to the other. The real action was the jumping! Animal after animal flew into the air and splashed in the water before joining the line….Whew…Lunch This afternoon we spent most of our time in the biggest kopi I’ve been to. So big we could drive around inside it. The lions and the leopard in were still hidden in rocks and trees so we were content to shoot fantastic portraits of klipspringer, oribi antelope, gazelle and reed buck for the rest of the afternoon.
Day 8 Mara River I’m with Dennis and Connie the last 2 days, BTW. We went FAR this morning looking for lions. There were a couple in the huge planes area south of Mara’s Keekorok but no big males. As we drove along the river I saw some wildebeest with that “vibe” and I told Othmani there was a crossing somewhere. We looked at the river and there they were…all of them swimming to the near bank! We got lined up in time to get the last few hundred as the crossing ended. Crossing Number 4!!! For the rest of the morning we did a nice job with tommys, zebras, topi, and even eland! I have a few new wide angle shots of animals in the planes from the lower window that I like. It’s not my usual style so that’s maybe why I like it.
PM game drive to Cheetah Valley. It’s all golden grass with ridges lined with acacia trees and it could be the prettiest place I’ve ever photographed! There are wildebeest everywhere and 3 cheetah brothers! When we got there they had just finished rest time and were stretching, yawning and drinking from a small stream. That’s when they went hunting. They just walked through the herds like it was no big deal at all as the wildebeest shifted positions keeping an eye on the 3 cats. We moved out of the herds and kept them between us and the approaching cheetahs. Just when we got into position they all charged at once into the main herd. They were chasing wildebeest back and forth right in front of us. It was an exciting as anything I’ve ever seen. It was a huge challenge picking the spots between the wildebeest to photograph the flying cats. I feel like we just nailed it. Dennis got a shot of one of the cheetahs on a wildebeest’s back. Othmani said that was his favorite part of the trip…the action!
Day 9 Mara River We started with a LOVELY pride of lions in the predawn light. One huge male, 3 females and 2 month old cubs were finishing a kill from last night. Cubs eating and playing are cute any time. The adults were beautifully fit and glowed in the early light. Next we went to Cheetah Valley. Since they didn’t catch anything last night we thought we could see more chasing. We found a kill, but no cheetahs. It would have been difficult to top yesterday evening’s action, anyway. Instead we worked on topi, giraffe, wildebeest, and even a hyena; all in spectacular light in the golden grass. As we were about to leave we found the 3 cheetahs walking to a tree to mark and spend the hot hours under. We all pulled up in time to shoot the marking… The PM game drive was the great Rhino Hunt of 2013. We drove way east through some really rocky areas. We found the rhino after getting lost a couple times and he was in thickets so dark it was tough to even see him. Back at the camp we had a Swahili dinner, packed up our stuff and got ready for tomorrow’s drive and return to Seronera!
Day 10 Mara River to Seronera. Our morning pack up and game drive got us on the road to Seronera. It was sad to say goodbye to the camp staff. They were wonderful. It was a 3 hour ride back home to the Seronera where we checked in and rested up for the afternoon game drive. An afternoon drive in Central Serengeti is tough to beat! Golden light on the kopjes and storm clouds behind…with a few lions throne in! Then it was leopard time. The girl cub was alone in a tree a kilometer from the mom and son. It took a while for Othmanni to get us to the right spot because he didn’t trust me. He couldn’t see it so he wouldn’t stop. We got in position for when they came down and went to the girl’s tree where the kill was. First it was back light as the mother ran full speed straight for us. As she crossed the road I knew where she was going to take a breather. She stopped right outside our window as the mostest, goldenest, light poured all around her. It was a dream come true. She called to her son. He came out to join her and together they walked into the tall grass. Next stop was a fallen log but they never faced us. We raced ahead and I told Othman to stop where there were no vans. I knew he didn’t get it but he said “I trust you Toddi”. There was a dead tree in perfect light 15 feet from the car. They emerged from the tall grass and climbed it right in front of us. What an end to the day!
Day 11 Seronera to Crater The AM drive was nothing short of fantastic as we followed a pride of 15 lions as the hunted for gazelles, sharpened claws on convenient trees, and climbed all over fallen branches just for the fun of it. There were so many great moments in the early light! Then to the picnic site and off to Nabi Hill and beyond. On the main road to Nabi Hill Jane, one of the Aussies, shouted SERVAL CAT! I didn’t know what to do because I had never heard “serval cat” articulated in such a way. Salva stopped on a dime and reversed to find a serval hunting for moles. She pounced, caught a big one and started carrying it away. Out of nowhere came 2 jackals who promptly stole her kill and chased each other for bragging rights. Now that’s how it’s done!
Day 12 A morning in the Crater…WOW. I’m with Nicholas, Louise and Dan. First up…4 huge male lions down-steam on the meadows of the Mungi River. They were very shy and could be nomads just passing through. Some folks got GREAT serval cat. Val showed me a picture of it leaping on its prey. Fantastic! The hippo pool had lots of birds and a big male lion right where the bull elephant came out years ago. 2 male lions had made a wildebeest kill last night and were just finishing when we came up. We were joined by a pack of 100 hyenas that chased off the lions. Then the fun began! Fighting and grabbing legs, tail, spine, what have you, from the kill. Wild yipping and laughing. We followed the male lions to where the females were and they made the lion face right at us! I wanted to show Dan and Louise the lake shore with all the flamingos and gazelles on the shore in clear morning light. When we got there Nicholas spotted 2 big female lions just as a migration of 1000 wildebeest came around a bend in the lake shore. The lions went down and the herd came straight to them. The light was perfect and the backdrop of lakeshore and flamingos was made to order! The lions took off at full speed. I’ve never really seen full speed from lions before but this was AMAZING. Right into the wildebeest, just like the cheetahs in Serengeti. Wildebeest were flying everywhere and when the chase went into the lake splashing water and flying mud added to the mix.
Day 13 Crater A MUCH quieter morning in the Crater. All birds and zebras. I guess the basis for all game drives is find the cats and the action will follow. If there aren’t any cats, find the birds. It was all woodland birds and some spectacular crowned cranes. At one point there were 3 pairs of them touching beaks.
We ended the morning with zebra dust baths and went to the picnic area early so we could take advantage of the afternoon to rest. At the Sopa I went to the gardens to find a couple of chameleons for a macro shoot. I was the official chameleon handler and everyone got great shots of the tiny flappet chameleon. Thanks to Patrick Sparkman for this “Ninja Pose” chameleon shot.
It was our last night and I had everyone come down to the coffee bar for little pizzas and hot samosas. We all talked through some of the amazing life moments we were able to see and photograph on this summer safari to Tanzania. We had a riot and we ended up in the dining room for desert, as the staff sand and dancied in our honor. They actually had the A Team singers on duty and when they brought the cake I had them set it in front of John Cornish, my Aussie buddy. “But it really isn’t even my birthday!!”
Day 14 Last drive in the Crater. The Mungi Pride was on the move. These guys have all grown up and are expert buffalo killers. They looked like they were on the hunt but far from the road. We left them to it and looked for other stuff. There were lots of lions out but none in great photo situations. The lake was beautiful so we hung out there and photographed the flamingos and pied avocets. We left the Crater at 10:00 and begin the long trek home. At the African Tulip I got all the gear back from people, packed, got a couple of Fanta Passions, left a 32 gig card in James’ vehicle by accident and got to the airport for my flight to Amsterdam.
Tanzania River Crossings Gallery
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