So after my first afternoon in the Amazon I was already and raring to go for my next outing and to see the rainforest proper. It was arranged that I would be heading for the canopy walkway the next morning and so I packed my camera bag ready to go. The main issue being that I didn’t know what I might need, so I took everything … all 16 kg of it! So as you can imagine it was pretty heavy, and with daytime temperatures in the 30s and humidity levels usually well over 95% it was going to be a hard day.
I woke up the next morning, heaved the bag onto my back and headed off into the forest with our English speaking guide, Oscar. We stopped every now and then to see things of interest and then we stopped close by to a particular tree and Oscar set up the scope. He spent a bit of time focusing the scope onto a small hole about 60-70 feet up a huge tree. There in the hole were three Night Monkeys, these small primates always return to the same hole to rest during the day so he knew exactly where they would be. After a pretty crappy photo (due to it being very early in the morning and way up a tree) we moved on to the canopy walkway. Wow, wow and wow! What and amazing experience to be above the forest at such a height, seeing the birds and the mammals and just the trees in all their glory.
There we saw bird species of which all were new to me, things ranging from tiny flycatchers to the Black Vulture soaring above us. We saw three species of monkey; Red Howler Monkey, Black-mantled Tamarin and Red Titi Monkey. So anyway, enough blabbering, here are the pictures from that morning and some from the afternoon.
After a long hard morning, but definitely one to remember, we had a lovely relaxing lunch and some noisy visitors in the form of Speckled Chacalacas right outside my room as you can see above. The afternoon activity was a photographic boat ride around the black lake, the primary focus was meant to be the prehistoric looking Hotazin. This ancient species of bird has remained unchanged for thousands of years and are extremely successful. However on this occasion all the wildlife seemed a little shy and refused to show themselves particularly well. This is when as a photographer you have to try and be a little more imaginative. The herons in the foliage I particularly like for their more artisitc approach of "Animals in their Environment".
The lake and the lodge both made good photographic subjects too. The lodge looked particularly beautiful at night with its warm lighting glowing among the dark forest. The tree frog species you can see, right at the end of the selection of images, came and found us. Whilst sat at the bar in the evening he appeared on the icecream freezer, seemingly enjoying the cold metal and escaping the constant heat even if only for a short while.
So my first full day in the Amazon was certainly educational, introducing me to a variety of main species you can encounter, it wasn't a particulaly good day for close views of mammals but the wealth of bird life was obvious to see. The only down side from a personal point of view was that I wasn't really provided with any great photographic opportunities but you have to take what you can get. The rainforest isn't a forgiving place and you have to work really hard to get good images. Perhaps if this was a pure photographic tour it would have been a very different matter. But full credit must go
Part 3 has a new favourite mammal and a splash more colour ... so keep reading!
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!
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:
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.