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.
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.
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.