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 ...
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.
Here is one more Leopard picture from my recent trip to Kenya. This was taken in really low light so I am happy that the image is sharp, even if it is a little noisy.
This Leopard ran down the tree only moments after we had arrived on the scene. It was perfect timing, although the framing is not spot on I am rather happy with the way the image turned out.
These Flamingos were on a small lake close to Lake Naivasha - we arrived in the warm afternoon sun to find thousands of these colourful birds resting on the lake shore. It was such an amazing sight and a fantastic place to spend an afternoon photographing. The two birds, to the left, started to groom simultaneously and I could not turn down such a great pose.
Another Leopard image here. I have seen plenty of Leopard in Zambia, but to see three in the mara in 5 days really was a treat. This one had just killed the Grant's Gazelle between it legs, the snarl was aimed towards a vehicle with some rather noisy occupants (much to everyone's annoyance).
Lastly, a picture of an Olive Baboon. This was an amazing moment for me, this large male was only 8 feet away from the end of my lens. To start with a I was photographing the large family group, that was crossing the road ahead, when this large male started to approach my long lens (my new 300mm f/2.8). I pulled the lens into the vehicle expecting that the Baboon might be a little aggressive, I have had close encounters with these animals and I have a lot of respect for them.
Then he stopped, eye level with me, and started to stare. I pushed the lens out of the vehicle again and started to photograph. I was only able to fit his eyes in the frame, when aother vehicle stopped just behind us. As they stopped and for only a split second he turned to look at them, with the Sun lighting up his face I managed to get the one shot off before he turned back to look at me. The intamacy was a real privilege and something I will not forget in a hurry, the detail of his fur and his skin is exquisite. I have never successfully photographed a Baboon as they seem to get very aggressive when you point the lens towards them, so for me, this is the shot of the trip.
Here are a few of my big cat photographs that I never really gave a second chance and so I thought that now they deserved to see the light of day and be seen by others. These were all taken whilst I was working for Kafunta River Lodge in Zambia.
This morning was our last game drive in Pench, as this afternoon we would be heading to Kanha National Park. We were all allocated the same vehicles as the day before, to ensure that we all got a fair chance to see whatever came our way. We were allocated a different route this morning and within minutes we were seeing something unusual. We stumbled across a pair of Indian Rollers mating, they carried on for well over 30 seconds much to Indrajit's surprise.
After another half an hour we witnessed another amazing bit of bird behaviour. This time we watched two male peacocks fighting with one another as they flew up in the air in the most amazing display. Unfortunately the light levels were very low and it was nearly impossible to photograph but it was certainly a spectacular sight and one I shall not forget in a hurry. We moved on again, to where we saw the tiger the evening before but with no luck we photographed a cheeky Rhesus Macaque.
We then went for breakfast at the central spot to hear, from a park guard, that there was a tiger at a lake we had already driven past. He also told us one of our group had seen a leopard on the road we would need to take. Off we went in a hurry, with a half eaten breakfast, in search of both tiger and leopard. We quickly reached the spot where the leopard had been seen with two vehicles waiting. Within seconds of our arrival a tiny female leopard burst out of her cover, across the road and into the thick bush on the other side. What luck and what timing! With that sighting over, keeping quiet about the tiger, we headed off in search of our foe. When we reached the lake, where she had been seen, we were extremely disappointed to find local men creating a fire break. She was probably still in the area but with people around she was not likely to show herself.
We had a pleasant lunch back at Tuli Tiger Corridor before we climbed aboard our cars for our journey to our next destination, Kanha. We passed through some lovely countryside (plenty of wheat fields) before reaching the forested area outside of Kanha. We followed the boundary of the park, along a dirt road, for over an hour before rejoining the main road that would lead to our lodge. Half a mile before the lodge, we were going round a steep corner as we heard some frantic beeping from behind. I turned to see a a motorbike, out of control, go off of the road and down into a ditch at high speed. One man (who I believe was the passenger) went flying over the handlebars and hit the ground hard, whilst the second man (the driver) slammed into the bank of the ditch and looked like he was seriously injured. Our drivers did not stop but took us straight to the lodge, everybody was shocked at the event and we wanted to help.
On a lighter note the lodge was absolutely beautiful, set in the forest with lovely accomodation and very friendly staff. The highlight of the evening was watching a giant flying squirrel glide across the night sky.