Sorry I have been quiet again for the first quarter of the year. It has been a crazy few months and I am only just getting the time to sit back and think about the past 5-6 months. Back in November I was in a state of shock as I was actually able to enjoy leading my first African photo safari in nearly 2 years.
Wildlife Worldwide were finally able to run our unique South Luangwa Photo Safari and it was a pleasure to be at the helm for two separate trips. Our first trip was based at one of my regular haunts – Flatdogs Camp – where I had the pleasure of my good friend and guide Bwalya looking after us. We had an exceptional week with Bwalya, although the leopard didn’t quite play ball, and were treated to some excellent encounters with the African wild dogs and countless lions.
The second week was based at the delightful Mfuwe Lodge and we had some exquisite sightings of leopard and the wild dogs once more. The rains had started to fall intermittently, but it really didn’t disturb our game drives and huge thanks must go to our excellent guides .
One of the great things about South Luangwa is that you never really know what to expect and from one week to the next, you will likely see something completely different. Here is just a taster of what we saw …
If you would like to join me in Zambia's South Luangwa with Wildlife Worldwide, there are still some spaces available. I will be joined by fellow photographer Sean Weekly, and I will be back for more in 2023.
It was my final week in Zambia, with my third group from Wildlife Worldwide arriving. It was another fantastic week and we were treated to some remarkable sightings. It was a week of lions, leopards, buffalos, elephants and new-born impala.
We were blown away by some incredible game drives, with mating lions, a complete leopard hunt and lions gorging on numerous buffalo carcasses. Once again, I am going to leave you with the images to do the talking. Enjoy!
The first days were all about the big cats, but there was so much more on offer throughout the week ...
As the week progressed it seemed that we had a bit of a leopard fiesta, the sightings increased in the last couple of days and provided some excellent photography opportunities.
It was my third week in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park and I was well and truly in the groove. Being in the African bush is where I feel most at home, it has a hold over me like nowhere else. It was now I really felt in tune with my surroundings and really in sync with the wildlife of this remarkable national park.
It was my second tour of the season leading for Wildlife Worldwide and it was another delightful group of people. Our local guide was Bwalya, who's love of photography and wildlife was immediately apparent.
This week turned out to be the week of leopards and lions. We were blessed with numerous encounters and sightings and rewarded with some fantastic photography opportunities. Once again, rather than going in to too much detail, I will simply let the pictures do the talking.
As you can see from all of the images, my group and I were blessed with some amazing sightings. In fact, for me South Luangwa offers such incredible variety and world-class photography opportunities. These are only a taster of what we were able to enjoy, but I hope it inspires you to join me in 2021 (there are still a few places remaining). You can book your place here.
My second week in Zambia was the first with my Wildlife Worldwide guests and our expert local guide was Jonathan (one of the excellent guiding team at Flatdogs Camp). We had an unbelievable week with numerous leopard sightings, but it was the lions who really stole the show. I had a fantastic group and we were lucky enough to enjoy an all-day game drive with over 30 lions seen, a leopard, countless elephant and some fantastic birds too.
Rather than waffle on, I will just share some of the highlights. Enjoy!
There are still a few places available in 2021 if you would like to join me in South Luangwa, you can find out more here.
Back in November 2020 I was privileged enough to lead three back-to-back photographic safaris in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. I used to work in the Luangwa Valley, back before I worked in the UK in the wildlife travel business, so I am very familiar with the wildlife and it is like home from home for me. The week before my first guests arrived, I went to a national park I hadn’t previously heard of – Luambe National Park. In fact, a friend of mine (and my old boss) now runs the only accommodation in the park and offered to show me around.
So here is a little taster of my first week back in the Zambian bush, the place where I probably feel most at home. As well as Luambe, I went for a few game drives in the Mfuwe sector of South Luangwa National Park – so believe me when I tell you that the wildlife sightings were world class.
I hope you enjoy an image-based round up of week one …
The African wild dogs (or painted wolves) were taken in Luambe National Park whilst staying at the truly stunning Luambe Camp. I can't recommend this remote and beautiful camp highly enough, so please do visit the website to find out more.
P.S. The next few posts show even more variety and a whole host of cats ...
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.
After an extremely comfortable night in the luxury of the lodge, we awoke bright and early to head out onto Lake Naivasha. We left a little later than planned and eventually we got out in the boats. Our primary target would be the African Fish Eagles and the other birdlife that frequents this incredibly picturesque spot!
In fact if you are keen on your birds then this is the place to go. Lake Naivasha and the surrounding area is home to over 350 species of bird and quite a variety of mammals too. Amazing to think, as there is also a thriving flower growing industry around the lake too!
So we headed out, making our way through the acres of Water Hyacinth, and almost instantly came across some Hippo. It wasn't long before the different species of Cormorant came into view, as well as several types of Egret. We had to wait a little while for the Fish Eagles but eventually we were treated to the silent and extremely elegant sight of them plucking a fish from the water's surface. Admittedly these fish had been thrown by our helmsmen and the eagles never truly cooperated, always deciding to catch the fish facing away from us. None the less this is an amazing sighting and well worth the effort involved. This is actually the second time I have been to lake Naivasha and I am sure it is not the last time I will pay a visit.
What an amazing morning it was out on the boat, there was never a dull moment and always plenty of photographic opportunities. It really was a fantastic couple of hours, the bird photography here (as you can probably see) really is top notch and I think if we got out on the water a little earlier, we could have captured some amazing Fish Eagle photographs too. This was such a contrast to the Maasai Mara, with a very different focus, and it really was a great way to break up the journey between the two National Parks.
Before we left Sopa Lodge, we had a great Colobus Monkey photography session. The Colobus Monkeys decided to pose nicely for us in the trees, right by the lodge entrance and we of course were happy to photograph them! After a short spell with some of the specatular Superb Starlings and the monkeys too, it was time to head off and make our way to the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Kenya's stunning Amboseli NP.
This might have been around the time that I had a little incident. Whilst focusing on the monkeys and not really paying all that attention to my surroundings, I might have fallen down a small drainage ditch. In the process I managed to fall over in a rather comical manner, ensuring at all times that the camera was safe and sound above my head. I did however manage to rip my toenail off and had to spend the next 10 minutes bandaging myself up. All is well now though, for any of those concerned ;)
Again, thanks must go to Wild Eye for organising another fantastic day. The photographic opportunities, as ever, were absolutely superb and our photographic tour leaders Gerry and Andrew were great. Some great driving by Joseph ensured that we made it safely to Amboseli, after an interesting drive around Nairobi and out to the East then onwards, back down towards the Tanzanian border.
I would also like to dedicate this to an old school friend, David Griffiths, who sadly passed away last week. He was planning on running the London Marathon next month. If any of you could donate a small amount of money and help him reach his total that would be amazing:
So, the 5th day of the tour, and our last opportunity to get some shots in the Mara. We went for one last morning drive before heading off towards Amboseli NP. If you didn't know, Amboseli like the Maasai Mara is on the border with Tanzania and it has quite a spectacular backdrop: Mt. Kilimanjaro (the world's tallest free standing mountain). Firstly though we would be staying the night at Lake Naivasha, enjoying the tranquility of this beautiful setting, and hopefully getting some good shots of the wildlife too.
One thing that had managed to elude us over the past few days was a big handsome male Lion, we made sure we ordered one for the last drive, instructing our fantastic Wild Eye guide Joseph to deliver. Of course we offered to buy him a Tuskers if he succeeded! So, we left the camp on the Mara River for one last time, knowing we would meet the staff the next day in Amboseli. We were heading towards the Mara proper as a pair of Jackal crossed the road in front of us. We of course got a few mandatory snaps before moving on.
As we rounded one of the gentle hills I noticed a light shape in the grass, only a couple of hundred yards ahead and you could tell it was a big cat. Luckily for us, the cat was laying right by the road, we quickly realised it was the same Cheetah as from the night before (it had some sort of skin condition, mites perhaps, and it had rather scruffy ears). The light was superb (changing every couple of minutes) and the cat performed perfectly, sitting and posing before moving off and then laying back down again. "Purrrfect!!!" (And yes, before you ask, Cheetahs do actually purr.)
Sorry to interrupt with some text, but I would love for you all to pay close attention to the image above! I am going to nerd it up a bit here and I am sure some of you are already well aware of this fact anyway. Cheetah are from a different family of cats to those of the Lion and the Leopard, which are both part of the Panthera family. The Cheetah, unlike the Lion and the Leopard, can not fully retract its claws and as you can see in this photo, the claws are well and truly on display! Fascinating huh? (Back to the pictures now I promise!)
What a great start to a day it was then, you couldn't ask for a better opportunity to practise your big cat portrait photography. Also interesting to see that these majestic animals don't have it all their own way, a skin condition might not seem like a life threatening condition, but if you are at not at your peak in such a competitive environment then it could be your downfall. I really hope that this Cheetah carries on feeding successfully for many more years to come.
After this fantastic sighting we made our way to the bridge, where we would leave the Mara Triangle one last time before heading through the Maasai Mara NP and onwards to Lake Naivasha. As we signed out, at the offices, there were ample photography opportunities. Most people opted to photograph the Mara River and the extraordinarily coloured Agama Lizards but I set my sights on some small rodents.
Just as we were readying ourselves for the drive to Lake Naivasha, we got some news that a large male Lion had been seen not far from us, back in the Mara Triangle. We turned around and headed to the spot to see if we would strike lucky and see the cat. We arrived full of excitment to find no sign of the large male but we did find the local Park Guard. A few other vehicles arrived ahead of us. The guard directed them across the valley to where there were some lions in the grass (no male though). As we approached the guard's vehicle, we had invited him to breakfast the day before, he hinted that the large male might be in the bushes next to us and indeed it was.
As the other vehicles made their way across the shallow valley we primed ourselves, ready for the lone male to make his move. We didn't have to wait long as after only a few minutes, he was up and moving across the hillside. We of course snapped away happily, enjoying the moment we had ordered earlier on in the morning.
We decided to leave the big male in peace and quiet, and thought we would go and pay a quick visit to the Lionesses across the valley, before finally heading off and making our way out of the Mara. However, once again, we got to see something miraculous. A lone Wildebeest was wondering straight towards the lions, and suddenly one of them went into stalking mode.
It was amazing to watch and before we knew it the Lioness sprinted off, chasing the Wildebeest down into the valley below us. Not making for the best photographic opportunities but it was all very exciting. The Wildebeest got away and then we were lucky enough to experience one of the Lions greeting her cubs and walking with them through the long grass. It was a lovely intimate moment and one that I very much enjoyed.
We decided that it really was time to head off after this chance sighting. We eventually made our way out of the Maasai Mara NP and onto the road Northwards towards the Maasai town of Narok and onwards again to Lake Naivasha. We arrived at the extremely comfortable Sopa Lodge (admittedly after a pretty long and bumpy drive) and were treated to our first sightings of the wonderful Black & White Colobus Monkeys.
To sum it all up then, another day full of fantastic photographic opportunities and some truly amazing wildlife sightings. We really couldn't have got the shots we did without the patience of Joseph, our guide. He listened to every thing we said, always getting us exactly where we wanted to be at just the right time. So once again a massive thank you to Joseph for putting up with us picky and demanding photographers. Thanks again to the Wild Eye photography experts, Gerry and Andrew for their guidance and thanks to fellow tour participant Richard for his continued good humour!
So after an amazing third day in Kenya, filled with fantastic sightings, I really wasn't sure how day 4 could get any better. But don't be alarmed, the 4th day was certainly one to remember! Perhaps the photography opportunities weren't quite of the same standard as the day before (primarily due to some harsh or unhelpful lighting) but once again that is all part of the challenge of a trip like this.
I love simple monochrome photography, it is something that has always appealed to me and I like to try my hand at it when I can. Harsh lighting often works really well for this type of photography, providing strong shadows and bright highlights. The hardest thing I always find is getting the composition just right.
Anyway today was one of those days where the colour often disappeared from the images, and so I shot a lot of monochrome photos. The morning was quite quiet on the big cat front, a couple of young Lion early on and some Elephants too, including a good sized bull. Don't get me wrong these are all wonderful sightings, and I love every minute in the field but it did not quite have the same wow factor as the day before.
We were heading for the northern part of the Mara Triangle for what was meant to be a breathtaking breakfast spot and on the way there wasn't all that much about in the endless sea of grass. We stopped to photograph another Lioness in a truly vast, open landscape which was short but sweet.
Then we arrived at our breakfast stop, quite late on in the morning and goodness me, it was one phenomenal view, absolutely astounding! The panoramic shot I took just doesn't and it never could do it justice but I hope it at least gives you an idea of how spectacular this landscape actually is.
So after spending an hour or so at what has to be one of the best spots on Earth to sit and eat your breakfast, we primed our big lenses once again for the journey back along the Mara River to our campsite.
As we descended the escarpment down into the valley we came across a couple of giraffe making their way between the scattered Acacia trees. It was then that one started to walk over a rise in the rolling landscape, providing an eye level view of a giraffe's head. It again provided something a little different with the heat of the Kenyan sun beating down.
As we got further down towards the plains proper, one of our vehicles stopped and we soon noticed that there was a Lioness up a tree. Now this is not something you see everyday in the Mara, the tree climbing Lions of Queen Elizabeth NP in Uganda are well known, but here it is a rare sighting. Actually I was pretty excited and really rather chuffed with it all. Being the picky photographer I am, the lighting wasn't great, but none the less it was one heck of a sighting and it really made it a top morning. It seems every morning in the Mara stands out, and it does!!! It is just one of those places which can provide you with the most memorable of sightings.
So after another exciting and productive morning it was time to head back to camp and relax. That actually meant it was time to go back to camp and get on the laptop, sort through the vast quantities images from the past few days and have a cold drink. We would be going out again in the afternoon but this time it would be only for a short drive close by to the camp.
So, refreshed and with the camera again at the ready, it was time to head out on our last evening drive in the Mara. By this time, the long hot day had turned rather stormy, there were big dark clouds looming overhead, threatening to release a deluge of water, which they eventually did (leading me to almost fall flat on my face as I arrived in camp).
The light levels were rather low but we found some subjects to photograph early on. The one that stands out most was a Secretary Bird. This amazing looking bird is perfectly adapted for the plains of the Rift Valley and they are instantly recognisable. It was amazing to watch this bird try and take flight, it certainly isn't an easy process as you can see further below.
There were still a few Wildebeest around at this time of year, not in the vast numbers you find during the migration, and we soon found a herd thundering around the plains. This provided a great opportunity to try and get some panning shots ... we also kept the vehicle moving, enabling us to really get a sense of the speed and power that these strong antelope possess.
Then to our amazement the herd of Wildebeest startled a Cheetah that had been laying in the grass, it was very nearly trampled! By the time we caught up, the cat was resting again, with the Wildebeest and some Thompson's Gazelle providing a backdrop.
Thanks again must go to the Wild Eye team for keeping everything running so smoothly on yet another busy day. The wildlife sightings were, once again, superb and the company was excellent too. A great guide again in Joseph, always putting us where wanted to be and two Canon buddies in Wild Eye Ambassador Andrew Aveley and tour participant Richard Sparks providing plenty of entertainment and banter.
The 3rd day in the Mara promised to be a good day, after the success we had the day before, it was going to have to be pretty epic. And the morning started off absolutely perfectly, we found our Leopard friend up the tree, looking rather relaxed and pretty sedate. We did find some other subjects to photograph, including Grey Crowned Cranes and a Jackal but the Leopard stole the show somewhat!
After taking far too many photographs of our lovely Leopard we heard about a Cheetah only a few hundred yards away. As we hadn't yet seen a Cheetah we decided it was worth a chance and we left the Leopard to enjoy its rest. However when we got there we were rather disappointed, there were quite a few vehicles around the Cheetah and after only a few moments it moved off. Without getting a single decent shot we were a little frustrated.
We then heard about another Cheetah sighting further down the road, sat atop of a rock and we rushed off to see whether we could get some shots. What happened over the next 3 hours was truly phenomenal. It was probably one of my top photographic and top wildlife encounters at the same time. It was truly exhilerating!
After 15-20 minutes of excellent portrait photography the Cheetah decided it was time to move on. She jumped down off of the rock and headed straight towards a herd of Thompson's Gazelle. They spotted her very early on and she quickly gave up going to ground. We stayed with her for the next couple of hours, watching and waiting!
It was then, after the gazelle came too close, that the Cheetah made its move. Within only a matter of moments it was off, running at full speed after a young male Thompson's Gazelle. Unfortunately for us it was over the hill in a split second. We quickly made ready and we headed off to see whether or not it was successful. It was successful and its quarry was still alive. Seeing this side of nature is at times very hard, but at the same time you cannot help but be enthralled and I for one feel extraordinarily privileged to have been able to say I saw such an intense spectacle.
We decided to leave her to it so she could feed undisturbed and not draw attention to her. We would come back later and see how she was doing. We headed off across the Mara River and into the Maasai Mara NP for a spot of lunch and we explored some of the big open landscapes that this has to offer. We came across some Lion lazing in the shade, a rather grumpy bull Elephant and plenty of Topi. We then headed back to camp, checking up on the Cheetah which had eaten a whole leg and was starting on another.
What a wonderful day it was then, big cat sightings galore and some truly epic landscapes. Animal behaviour at its absolute best and a great day out with our guide Joseph as well as Wild Eye ambassador Andrew Aveley and Richard Sparks.
After a lovely night catching up on some much needed sleep, it was time to spend our first full day in the Mara. Awoken bright and early with an enthusiastic "Jambo!" (actually it was still dark), the camera gear was already waiting to go and after a spot of Tea (in my case, everyone else had coffee) I was ready too!
We climbed aboard the Land Cruiser, our guide Jimmy was ready and raring to go. It wasn't long in fact before my French counterparts gave Jimmy a rather appropriate nickname. For the rest of the trip Jimmy was to be called "Jimmy Loeb", after the French World Rally Champion: Sebastien Loeb. Jimmy is a top quality guide and his driving skills are second to none, and at times pretty nippy, always getting you to the right spot at the right time.
So anyway, after only 30 seconds of driving outside of camp, we saw some Impala all alert and looking the same way. A moment later we spotted a lone Lioness making its way across the open grassland, the light was warm but not very bright, it was time to push the new Canon EOS 5D mkIII and see just how well it performed at a higher ISO. An ISO of 2500 was just right and the image showed almost no signs of noise, what a great start to the morning. We only stayed a short while before heading off to find some other species to photograph. We noticed, in the distance, a herd of Wildebeest running in all directions and we quickly realised a lone Hyena was trying its best to hunt. As we arrived on the scene the Hyena went to ground, seemingly worn out by its morning exhertions.
After this little foray we heard that there were some Lion not far from where we were, so off we went with our trigger fingers hovering over the shutter release button. It was Canon all round in our Landcruiser with two 60D's and my 5D mkIII plus my 7D, a 70-200mm f2.8, two 100-400mm's and my 300 f/2.8. We had all angles covered as we arrived to find a young male and a young lioness stood in the open.
We again moved on quite quickly as we knew the rest of the pride, including some young cubs, were just over the brow of the hill. We got there to find two large females relaxing with two sets of cubs. What a wonderful sight it was and I took far too many photos as always.
So after a lovely morning with the Lion and the excitement of the Hyena chasing the Wildebeest it was time to head back to camp for a well deserved rest! On our way back we stopped at the Mara river, as you can see below, and came across some Giraffe making their way across the rolling plains.
After a busy morning with some great sightings we thought it would be difficult to beat. And to start with it seemed as if this might be the case. The gloomy clouds were coming in (not always a bad thing for dramatic photos) and after 45 minutes we hadn't seen very much at all, even with "Jimmy Loeb" once again at the wheel. Then we heard that the Leopard was in the tree where the kill had been found the day before.
Before we knew it Jimmy's rally skills were put to the test as we raced back before the cat disappeared. After only 10 minutes, we arrived to find the cat was still up the tree but it was no prime photography opportunity. Well unless you like lots of branches in the way, being photographers we are always particularly fussy but you can't help but watch Leopards and we did just that!
After working in Zambia's South Luangwa NP, I have spent quite a bit of time with Leopard and once we had got our record shots I asked Jimmy if we could move back from the other vehicles. The way the tree sloped and the postioning of the lower branches I thought we might strike it lucky if it decided to come down. Then just to make sure we got the shots, an almighty rain storm came in and the Leopard decided it was time to find some better shelter. Our positioning was spot on, thanks must go to Jimmy for really listening to where we wanted to be and helping us get the shots. This is the key difference on a photography tour to a normal safari and one that you really appreciate, this is where Wild Eye really excelled.
After all that excitement, and a complete soaking, we went off to find the Lion family that we saw earlier on in the day. We quickly found them and after a bit of water was removed from the front of my lens, it was time to get some nice Lion portraits in the soft light. Then it was time to head back to camp, dry off and spend another evening in the great company of my fellow tour participants.