At the end of the dry season, the heat in Mana Pools National Park just seems to build up and up. A natural crescendo, until eventually the rains come and bring a little relief. In early November though, the rains had still not arrived and day time temperatures were regularly hitting 44 degrees Celsius.
Driving through the park on this particular morning, it felt like you were in the firing line of an industrial hairdryer, a stifling, warm breeze filling the air and making it feel a little uncomfortable. We were back in search of the wild dogs once more. Having spent the previous afternoon on the river, it seemed like we had to catch up with the dogs and find out what they were up to.
However, no matter how hard we tried, we were unable to find the dogs on this particular morning. Instead we found a very sociable, and approachable, flock of long-tailed starlings. When a group of wildlife photographers are together, any slightly different subject just means you have something new to focus on. Later on we managed to find the small pride of lions, two adult females and a young male and spent a bit of time watching and photographing them before heading back to camp for lunch.
The majority of the group decided to go out on the river once more this afternoon, all but one, who wanted to head out after the dogs once more. In order to keep the group size manageable for the canoe safari, I headed out with the one client and our guide Daryl. Well there is no other way to describe the afternoon with the dogs, other than that it was pretty magical. It was only going to be a shorter game drive/walk as we had arranged a BBQ on the banks of the Zambezi up stream of our camp.
We found the dogs resting in the same drying river gulley we had left them a few days earlier. As there was only three of us, we slowly made our way towards the pack, taking our time and keeping the noise to a minimum. The whole pack were so incredibly relaxed and we were able to get extremely close. This encounter was right up there with my very best anywhere in the world, probably only coming second to coming face-to-face with the gorillas.
I am not really going to say much more, other than that it was a real privilege. The following pictures and footage can do all the talking for me.
If you would like to join me in October 2019, we still have a few spaces remaining. You can find out more and book your place by visiting the Wildlife Worldwide website.
t was the half-way point on Wildlife Worldwide’s inaugural Mana Pools: Wild Dogs & Elephants Photography tour, but today would prove to be a little different. As with any day in Mana Pools National Park, we arose bright and early, ready to search for the painted wolves once more.
This morning it took as a while to find the dogs, they had moved deep into the scrub, away from the alluvial plains of the Zambezi and we found them resting near a dry pan. The habitat here reminded me of some the southern areas of South Luangwa, it was very different from the open forest of the valley floor. The pack were busy doing what they do best after a night’s rest, playing. The young adults and the pups were running around at full pelt, leaping over fallen trees, just enjoying themselves. It is always an honour when wild animals allow you to approach to on foot and we were spoiled on this particular morning.
About an hour after we had climbed out of the vehicles, the alpha pair decided it was time to move on in a determined manner. This usually only means one thing, they are looking for breakfast. The speed at which the dogs can move is incredible. African wild dogs are athletes of the highest pedigree and in order to keep up with them, we had to jump in the vehicles once more.
They were heading back down onto the flood plain and when we caught up with them they were half heartedly chasing a warthog. Then, in a bizarre moment, a small herd of impala approached the dogs and a more determined hunt began. This time, when we had caught up with the pack, they had brought down a pregnant impala. The following images highlight what happened next …
The pack seemingly target pregnant female impala at the end of the dry season and on this particular morning they pulled down an individual with an unborn youngster. Of course, sights like this are hard to see, but it is nature and to witness this behaviour is actually an honour. You can see two of the pups above playing with the foetus.
Once the dogs had finished with the kill, the hyenas quickly moved in ...
After watching the hyenas fight over the impala remains, we followed the wild dogs down to long pool. We left them to it and decided to spend a little time photographing a pod of hippos.
The afternoon was a different proposition altogether. My group had gone out looking for the painted wolves on every single drive, so we decided that this afternoon we would head out on a canoe safari down the mighty Zambezi.
If you haven't ever been on a canoe safari ... well you must! Here is a little taster for you. The proximity you can have with the elephants when on a canoe is truly remarkable. The video footage below was taken on my phone ...
Be sure to join me later this year in Mana Pools for incredible encounters with African wild dogs and elephants. Please visit the Wildlife Worldwide website for more information.
With the start of our trip to Mana Pools being so successful, particularly with the African wild dogs, the pressure was off and the whole group could just enjoy themselves. There is nothing better for me as a leader than knowing your group are happy after their first couple of days on safari.
When I asked everyone what they wanted to focus on for the next few days, half the group said they would like to try their luck with the southern carmine bee-eater colony, while the other half wanted to keep following the dogs. I kept with the wild dog group to keep numbers nicely balanced and we had a brilliant time with the dogs.
It took a little time to find the dogs this morning as they had moved some distance overnight. Nick Murray (our guide and the BBC’s Dynasties series guide) and I used our combined tracking skills to eventually find the dogs much further to the east. The pack had come across a small herd of zebra and decided that this was a good lesson for the pups. Zebra are not typical prey for these painted wolves, they focus their efforts on impala, but that is all part of the learning curve for young dogs.
We watched them play with the zebra for 10 minutes or so before they went off at high speed after a herd of impala. Even in the vehicle we couldn’t keep up, such was their speed. When we eventually caught up with them, they had found a warthog and were desperately trying to catch it. However, every time they got close the warthog, which was a very healthy large male, he backed himself into a drainage culvert.
Eventually the pack gave up and just went about the daily routine of getting ready for their siesta. This is a great time to photograph the dogs as the sun is often still low in the sky, meaning you get some lovely rich light. At the same time, a large bull elephant appeared and started to browse the high branches of a fruiting sausage tree. We were truly blessed with some excellent photography. We also came across a small pride of lion just a hundred yards or so from where we had a breakfast stop on the banks of the Zambezi.
After a little while, all the dogs eventually crossed a drying pool and ended up resting in a shady dry gully, where the sandy soil was still moist with small pools of water. We found the dogs in the same spot in the afternoon before they suddenly got up, crossed one of the small pools and sprinted across the open plain towards the higher ground of the park.
Above the floodplain the vegetation is radically different and we lost the dogs in the thick undergrowth. It was only the noise of the dogs on a kill that meant we were able to locate them in a dense thicket. The photography opportunities here were limited, but the proximity to the pack and their kill was incredible.
It all got rather exciting as the light started to fade. As we were watching the pack finish off the last scraps of the impala carcass, a small herd of elephants arrived on the scene. Within moments the elephants had the scent of the wild dogs and charged – the only issue was that we were between the two and we had to make a very speedy retreat and move back towards the vehicles. Our guides were absolutely excellent, keeping the group out of harms way without any hesitation or panic. Clear, calm and incisive commands kept us all safe with some heightened adrenaline levels.
If you ask me where I feel most at home, there is only one answer and that’s ‘Africa’. So, why Africa I hear you ask? Well, quite simply, it is home to some of the world’s finest wildlife, wonderful people and stunning landscapes.
Well recently I went to Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, while leading for Wildlife Worldwide, and I can honestly say that my life has changed forever. That is the second time I have said that after a trip to Africa in the last year and I stick by it. Mana Pools has become synonymous with the African wild dog (or painted wolf) as per the BBC’s fantastic Dynasties series. In fact, I spent 8 days in the park following the star of the show Blacktip and her pack.
It is possible to go on walking safaris in Mana Pools, which is just like many other parks (particularly in Zambia), but here the wildlife can be very approachable and the wild dogs are especially habituated to people on foot. On top of that there are few elephants that are particularly special and allow a wonderfully close approach.
Anyway, I won’t rattle on too much more. Here are the highlights from the first couple of days …
The first encounter with the dogs was definitely one of the most frantic. Just as I approached the dogs with my group, the whole pack got up and started to try their luck hunting a herd of impala. All hell broke loose and we somehow ended up right in the middle of it. At one point we were surrounded by around 10 dogs as they tried to panic the impala into a mistake.
The next morning we found the dogs in almost the same spot as where we left them, and they allowed even closer approaches. When you struggle to fit your subject in the frame it is always a good day ...
After a fantastic morning in Mana Pools the evening proved to be even better. We found the pack fairly close to where we left them, they were enjoying an afternoon siesta. Not long after we arrived, the dogs started to wake and start their bond renewal routine. African wild dogs are one of the world's most social species and the level of their communication skills are far beyond our understanding. We watched the whole pack greet one another and play in wondrous orange light.
Mana Pools is one of those places that gets under your skin and I hope that this overview of my time there inspires you to go for yourself. Join me in 2019 and discover the next chapter of Tait's & Blacktip's Dynasty - Mana Pools: Wild Dogs & Elephants Photography.
After a very busy summer leading trips all over, exhibiting at Birdfair with Wildlife Worldwide and prepping for the next few months, it was time to take a bit of me time. Of course, when you are a wildlife photographer, that means going in search of some incredible wildlife – so my girlfriend and I headed off to Uganda for a trip of a lifetime.
Uganda is best known for its primates and that was the major draw for us too, particularly the mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the south west of the country. We had booked to stay at Buhoma lodge and I can honestly say that it was one of the very best places I have ever stayed. The lodge itself is situated in the rainforest so don’t expect super luxury, but it is spotlessly clean and the service is superb.
On the morning of our trek we headed down to the registration office, accompanied by Ivan (from Buhoma) who sorted everything out for us and listened to the briefing. We had to drive around the mountain to start our trek and were to be going in search of the Habinyanja group, with Makara the silverback as the head of the family. Our trek started off in the tea plantations of the surrounding villages before we reached the boundary of the forest.
What happened next was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I have been very privileged to see some pretty special things.
The gorilla group was only around 150 yards inside the forest but this involved a very steep descent into a river gully and back up the other side. This was not particularly demanding and took less than an hour to negotiate, a lot less than we were anticipating, but that is the luck of the draw sometimes.
The first gorilla we saw was an adult female who was fast asleep, she was no more than 5 metres away and didn’t even open her eyes as we stumbled through the thick vegetation. I genuinely couldn’t believe what was in front of my eyes. It was completely surreal to be so close to such a remarkable, wild animal. Some 30 metres further down the slope was the silverback and his family were strewn across the vegetation between us. The next hour of my life flew by and a lot of the time I didn’t even take any photos, I was just mesmerised by the majesty of the moment.
I really focused my efforts on the youngsters of the group who provided some of the most wonderful moments and at times were less than 30 centimetres away from us. The following images really don’t do it justice, but I hope it at least gives you an idea of what we were treated to.
I will just finish by saying that if you have not yet had the opportunity to visit Uganda (or Rwanda), then I really can't recommend it enough. It is one of the most incredible things you can do in life, a genuinely life-changing experience beyond anything you can ever imagine ... book your place now!
I just wanted to share a single image today as I thought it was a pretty special place. Earlier this month I visited Angola (where my sister lives) and went on an adventure to some of the country's most spectacular locations. One of these was Kalandula Falls, and it was without a doubt one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have ever been.
Below is a panoramic of the falls taken from a beautiful hotel run by a charming couple - Pousada de Calandula. I really think Angola is one of Africa's most stunning countries (from what I have seen) and it has so much potential to become a world class travel destination.
I am no landscape photographer, but I do hope you like the photo below ...
Having spent the night in the ice, all was clear on the Polar Bear front but we weren't to be put off. Today we were going to head through the ice and see if we could find some more bears. After breakfast we were to have a lecture about how to sex Polar Bears, as the lecture was coming to an end a call went out over the loud speaker ... a Polar Bear was on the horizon.
We made our way towards the bear and this bear seemed more relaxed in our presence but as we approached a group of Harp Seal swam around the ship's bow. It was amazing to get closer to this bear and see it behave as if we weren't even there ...
After 45 minutes or so we decided to leave the bear in peace as we didn't want to break the ice and destroy its potential hunting habitat. We set off through one of the many clear channels in the ice and headed east along the coast of northern Spitsbergen. As we made our way through the ice we disturbed the water and were therefor accompanied by Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Glaucous Gulls. I went to the stern of the ship and photographed these birds as they performed their aerobatics.
As we kept on heading through the ice to the remote island of Moffen we noticed a large lump on the ice, it was a Walrus ... our first of the trip! As we got closer, much to our dismay, the Walrus slipped off into the icy water and out of sight. We were all a little disappointed but then to our delight we noticed a multiple of lumps, yet more Walruses.
It was a bachelor group of Walrus, sitting on a small ice floe and creating quite a mess in the process. The ice was less than pristine but the Walruses certainly seemed content as the captain swung the ship to try and make sure everyone on board got a great view.
So with Walrus finally ticked off and some close relatively close encounters from the lowest point on the ship we headed off towards one of the fjords where we hoped to land the following morning. The target ... yet more Walruses but this time at a well known haul-out point.
Just a very quick one, I have been looking back through some of my Kenya images and found this photo of a spotted Hyena clan feeding on a Wildebeest. Nothing really out of the ordinary there but I remembered it being almost dark when I took the photo so I looked at the details.
I was astounded, this image was taken using an ISO of 12800!!!!! I am not joking when I say that image has less noise than my old 7D at an ISO of 1600. Absolutely amazing! Anyway though it was worth sharing with you all!
So this was to be our last day out in the vehicles, going in search of game and trying to get some unique wildlife images. We hadn't yet come across a "Big Tusker", of course we had seen some Elephants with big tusks but none that really made your jaw drop. That was one thing we were hoping for a we left for our all day drive out into the park, anything else we saw would just be a bonus. A few of us also wanted to head back to the vast dry expanse of Lake Amboseli and get some more images of this spectacular landscape.
As we entered the park, there was a group of bull Elephants strutting their stuff and pushing one another about. Kicking up all the dust in the warm morning light made for some exciting scenes, even if they were a little tricky to photograph. The dust was just as bad when it was kicked up by the vehicles, meaning visibility on the roads at times was interesting.
As well as the grumpy Elephants and the very fine dust that seemed to coat everything, there were some beautiful Grant's Gazelle posing nicely in the warm light.
After the dusty start to the day we headed towards the open plains, to try and get some shots of the Elephant herds as they crossed to get to the remaining water. We timed it just right, as family groups appeared out of the woodland and placing our vehicles in the right places, we got some lovely family shots. The really big tuskers were still keeping a low profile but some of the individuals still had sizeable tusks and posed nicely for us in the morning light.
I really could watch Elephants all day, especially when they are in their family groups and you can see the relationships and their interactions. You quickly realise that Elephants and Man have very similar social structures, and the way they interact is really rather fascinating. Each Elephant has its own distinct appearance and a very distinct personality.
We spent a little time watching and photographing some excitable Zebra as they careered around the dusty edge of the woodland. Lots of the stallions were really aggressive towards one another with kicks and repeated biting common place. Unfortunately for me, most of these were jsut too far away to successfully photograph.
We then headed to a lone hill right by the edge of Lake Amboseli, there was still a little water here and there providing a lifeline to a few stranded Hippopotamus. We came here for our lunch and to enjoy the epic landscape of the beautiful National Park. We came across a big bull Buffalo who was completely caked in mud, and he posed nicely for us before we moved to the base of the hill. The next challenge was climbing the hill with the large cool boxes and keeping the camera in hand.
I am mighty glad I took the camera too as there were some incredibly tame small birds, who posed perfectly all around. They would literally come with inly a few centimetres, desperate to pick up any scraps of bread, meaning the were more or less the perfect subjects (from a selfish photography point of view).
After our pleasant packed lunch at the top of the hill, with the spectacular views (as seen in the panormaic above), it was time to head back out into this vast, open landscape. A few of us wanted to head back to the dry expanse of Lake Amboseli and others wanted to search for the, so far, elusive big tuskers.
It was the "Three Musketeers" together again as Andrew, Richard and I headed off to the lake to get some film footage and yet more photographs. We cam across quite an amazing sight as we saw a huge family of Ostrich, how the parents managed to raise as many chicks as they did is really quite remarkable.
We went onto the dried out lake and got the shots we wanted, the sandy soil providing great contrast to that of the deep blue sky. I also photographed Andrew & Richard doing their thing as they documented this spectacular place (I'll send you the high-res shots of you guys!) and then we headed off to join the others in the swampy plains.
We had heard that our other vehicles had come across a big tusker, at last! Admittedly, we had seen it at a distance earlier on in the day but we could not get close enough for any photography. We made our way to the spot where our group was with the Elephant and when we got there we realised we had struck gold. This Elephant didn't have big tusks at all ... it had a magnificent pair of tusks, they were enormous!
We later found out this Elephant is known as Tim and is over 40 years old, what a great giant he was and what a privilege it was to be able to spend the hour or so we did watching and photograping him. He was actually quite difficult to photograph due to his huge size but it was one of those sightings that I will never forget.
Many of you, I am sure, will have heard of Nick Brandt and his absolutely stunning photography. Well I have long been an admirer and one day I hope to produce a portfolio as awe inspiring as his. His photography is an art form, he really knows how to use every tool in the photography arsenal and boy does he blow people away with the results he achieves.
Anyway, Amboseli NP is one of the places where he managed to take some of his stunning images and I really wanted to capture an image in his style. They need to be in monochrome to start with and they just have a certain tonal quality to them. Now I am not saying that the image below is in the same league, merely this was a photograph that was inspired by the great man himself. And you know what, it isn't often I say this but I am dead chuffed with it!
After a long hot day, out in what has to be one of Africa's most picturesque National Parks, it was time to head back to our camp for the last time. It is always a sad time knowing that the end is nearly upon you, but you can reflect back on the last few days and remember all the magnificent sightings we were privileged enough to enjoy.
There were a couple more photography feasts to come though, and one was a traditonal dance by the local Maasai warriors as well as some of the women too! I honestly can't describe what an amazing experience it is to witness an authentic performance like this. Just to top it off the setting sun provided the perfect back drop for some silhouetted shots. It really was a completely surreal evening and again (sorry for keeping on saying this) but it was a photography session I will never forget.
Some of my fellow tour participants joined in towards the end but alas, with my injured toe I was unable to get involved. Oh well, at least I got to take some of, what I think are, the best images from this fantastic trip!
A massive thank you to all the Wild Eye staff (including Andrew and Gerry), as well as all the Maasai involved in the evening. Thanks must go to all the guides for their continued patience and skill in driving the Land Cruisers, as usual the vehicles were always driven with absolute precision and they did everything they could for us.
Another great day in the wilds of Africa with the Wild Eye team and there is still one more blog entry to come. Don't worry though, unlike this Leviathan the final post will be short but sweet!
Today was going to be our first day in the spectacular Amboseli NP, and as soon as we had woken up the spectacular Mt Kilimanjaro towered above us. I honestly can't describe just how amazing this location was, photographs really cannot do it justice and I can only recommend you go there and see it for yourself.
So after waking up in this truly spectacular landscape, it was time to head out into Amboseli for the first time. The park entrance was incredibly tidy and extremely formal, especially when compared to that of the Maasai Mara.
Amboseli is famed for its Elephant population and it wasn't long before we sighted our first herd. It was immediately clear this herd was much larger than those we had seen in the Mara and the warm, morning light was perfect for some photography. There was a really cheeky youngster who was showing off for us and we were happy to take some nice portraits.
We also had the opportunity to photograph a few different species of bird as we moved from different groups of the extened herd of Elephants.
We moved on towards the plains of Amboseli heading towards Lake Amboseli. This lake remains dry for much of the year but the surrounding landscape provides grazing for the Elephants and a large number of other plains game. There are big cats here too but they not seen as easily as they are in the Mara. We weren't really here for the big cats though, the Elephants were our real focus for the day.
After lunch we decided to head towards Lake Amboseli and see if we could get some Elephants walking across the dusty expanse, with the big skies providing a dramatic backdrop. Gerry set us a mini photographic challenge, to go out with an aim to capture a small portfolio of images, each image fitting into its own category. Things didn't all go to plan with this though, we got a little distracted about half way through the drive as we travelled across the, now dry, Lake Amboseli.
We did come across a large herd of Elephants heading towards the swampy ground, and that was when I made a fundamental error, I ran out of memory card space. I missed countless shots and I only had myself to blame!!!
Anyway, we headed onwards towards the lake and came across a posing Yellow Baboon as well as a beautiful Brown-hooded Kingfisher. These certainly fulfilled the Portrait category of the challenge set by Gerry.
It was then that we headed out across the plains towards the dry and parched landscape of what was once Lake Amboseli. It is hard to describe this landscape, it seems more like a desert than anything else and there were plenty of mirages. It is easy to see why people confuse these for water!
Not much wildlife, but my word the photographic opportunities presented were entirely different ...
When we got out into the lake proper, we decided it was time to stop and take some pictures of this epic landscape. With drinks in hand and the warmth of the afternoon sun we had a fantastic time. I cannot describe how amazing this place and I only hope the following photos show you that you have to go there for yourself!
So after our finishing our drinks and our fun in the sun we suddenly realised it was getting pretty late, we had 25 minutes to get back to the gate and leave the park. Amboseli is much stricter than the Mara and it was essential we got out on time to keep in the park guards' good books. We were treated to an amazing sunset as we headed back to camp, trying to photograph it on the move was not quite so easy though!
I will be adding a video of this exciting journey back to camp at a later time. Thanks again to Gerry and Andrew for their excellent guidance and thanks to all the guides and participants for making the day so enjoyable.