Those of you that have been following my blog for a while will understand just what Zambia means to me. Many years ago I was privileged enough to work in South Luangwa National Park and it stole a piece of my heart.
With that in mind, it was an absolute delight to venture back to one of my favourite haunts and lead another dedicated photography tour for Wildlife Worldwide on their South Luangwa Photo Safari. The trip was incredibly successful and we were able to capture some truly remarkable moments. Rather than rabbit on too much, I will just jump straight to the images. Starting with some birds ...
As you can see, South Luangwa is an exceptional destination to photograph birds. However, the birdlife wasn't the primary focus for most of our group. The majority of people that join me on safari here are after the park's iconic mammals such as leopard, lion, elephant and African wild dog. There is of course a wide array of species that call the park home, including plenty of herbivores.
And now for the species you really wanted to see ...
We were treated to some incredible encounters with African wild dogs throughout the safari. The afternoons were particularly fruitful as the dogs were choosing to rest on the sandy banks along the Luangwa River. As well as intimate portraits, we were able to capture some wonderful environmental scenes.
For many, the main reason for coming to South Luangwa National Park is for leopard. For many years now, the park has gained a reputation as one of the best places in Africa to see leopard and we have were fortunate to have numerous encounters with a couple of different individuals. However, it was one evening where we heard baboon alarm calls that we were treated to a truly exceptional encounter.
As you can see, we positioned the vehicle in such a way to maximise the photography opportunities for the clients, all the while ensuring that the leopard wasn't disturbed by our presence. Working closely with my guide, and good friend Bwalya, we ascertained that she was likely to visit the drying lagoon for a drink and parked just along the pathway she was most likely to take. Our plan came to fruition and she walked within only a couple of metres from the vehicle, looking past us before continuing down towards the water.
It isn't often that everything comes together perfectly, but when it does you are left with a sense of pure joy. It was an encounter that will live long in the memory and I can't wait to head back to Zambia again later this year leading for Wildlife Worldwide.
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.
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!