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 am really proud to work and lead trips for Wildlife Worldwide, one of the UK’s largest specialists in wildlife travel. What I particularly enjoy is that the office is set within an old barn in the charming village of Bishop’s Sutton, what’s more is we have a resident pair of barn owls.
Earlier on in the summer I spent a bit of time trying to photograph the owls. They are really easy to spot, but not so easy to photograph, particularly as there are quite a few buildings around. Anyway, here is a little taster of what I have been privileged enough to watch after finishing work in the evenings.
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 ...
That's right folks, I have been to Skomer once more and it still isn't enough. It is never enough!!!
My third and final visit of the year was leading Wildlife Worldwide's second Skomer's Perfect Puffins tour in 2018. It as a roaring success and I was joined by acclaimed photographer and film maker Ben Cherry - check out his awesome work here.
Now then, normally a visit to Skomer Island coincides with gale force winds, lashing rain or perhaps ice blasts. Well this trip was a little different - it was quite literally like being on an island in the Mediterranean summer. To be succinct, it was sublime.
To top it all off, we had a great group of people and some fabulous wildlife and epic light. You really cannot ask for more than that. So on to the pictures...
When it comes to photographing puffins, it nearly always starts with a classic portrait. It is just good to get yourself warmed up, then you can start to be a little more creative and try a few different types of shots.
For me, having already accumulated thousands of images of puffin, I now try to capture something different and this trip was no exception. What was incredible though, was watching the sun rise over the Pembrokeshire peninsula and setting over the Irish Sea, without there being a single moment it disappeared behind a cloud. So we enjoyed wall to wall sunshine from 4.45 all the way through to 22.00. Remarkable!
It also wasn't just about puffins. When you have guillemots, razorbills and a friendly seal there are near endless photographic opportunities.
After a the magic of being able to photograph the puffins in some wonderful light, our final excursion was out to Grassholm island in search of one of the world's largest northern gannet colonies. Here is just a little taster of what this remarkable place looks like...
It has been a crazy few months for me – I have been leading trips left, right and centre. No moaning from me though as it has been absolute delight to take so many fantastic people all over Europe, showing them some of the most incredible wildlife and hopefully helping them get some great images too!
The next instalment in this summer’s schedule was a trip to one of my favourite spots, right on the Finland’s eastern border with Russia. It is here I lead Wildlife Worldwide’s Boreal Predators Photography tour, which gives my clients a chance to photograph European brown bear, grey wolf and the feisty wolverine.
All I can really say about this year’s tour was wow, wow and well… WOW!
We were treated to a remarkable number of sightings of all three species and the photography opportunities were mesmerising. Even with a faulty camera I was able to capture some awesome images, my clients images really blew me away so it was a hugely successful trip.
And now to the photos, all I will say is that I hope you enjoy them…
It must be said that every night in the hides was productive and they allowed the entire group to capture a wonderful array of images. What I have included here are just a small taster. I have only included on wolverine as I was always in a hide that didn't have the prime views.
It is very important to me that my clients are the ones who get the best images, after all it is their holiday and I want them to get the most out of the experience.
On the last night of the trip the whole group were treated to some breathtaking sightings and unrivalled photography opportunities.
The images above (I think at least) perfectly demonstrate why Finland is such a superb destination for a photography holiday. The light is absolutely brilliant, the wildlife is stunning and the photography is very hard to beat.
So if you fancy joining me in 2019 for another foray into the boreal forests of Finland, be sure to visit Wildlife Worldwide's website for more information.
Yes that’s right everyone, I have been back to Skomer once again. This time I was leading Wildlife Worldwide’s Skomer's Perfect Puffins trip – a short three day break on this stunning island and our timing could not have been better. It is the height of the breeding season on Skomer for pretty much everything that calls the island home and my clients were spoiled for choice.
We arrived on the island and found one of the resident short-eared owls resting right by the old farm, our base for the next two nights. We immediately got out the camera gear and started taking a few pictures of the owl, which had decided to rest only 20 yards from the path and was surrounded by the stunning floral display of red campion.
If only I had known that the owls would be so cooperative, that way we could have spent all our time at the farm and ignored everything else. Of course I am only joking! Now to some photos, just to whet your appetite…
For most people it is the large colony of puffins that draws them on to the island, but once they arrive they realise there is so much more on offer. We were particularly lucky as we had a whole day on the island to ourselves as the day boats were cancelled – it was heavenly. The island’s carpet of red campion was accompanied by an infusion of bluebells and led to a stunning patchwork display of colour. You really can’t ask for me when you have such a beautiful scene all to yourselves. As well as the owls there were a very obliging pair of whitethroat around the farm and of course the breeding swallows that seem to breed here every year.
Of course, I managed to get a few puffin photos too…
As you can see from the images above, we were blessed with some amazingly cooperative wildlife and the scenery was absolutely stunning.
Having the owls put on a display like this is particularly rare and the whole group made the most of it, but the puffins still seem to be the main draw for most. If you would like to join me on Skomer Island, then you will need to contact Wildlife Worldwide here.
Just to warn you... There is a huge amount of interest in the trip and with limited spaces there is a long waitlist.
My first photography tour of 2018 was to the beautiful country of Slovenia. In the middle of May, I took 8 clients with me to the Dinaric Alps, where everyone was hoping to photograph brown bear. This was Wildlife Worldwide's Brown Bear Photography tour.
Now I need to make something clear from the start, Slovenia is one of Europe's hidden gems. It is a country filled with history, stunning landscapes and fabulous wildlife. To top it all off, the food is fantastic.
Slovenia's Dinaric Alps, in the southern reaches of the country, are home to between 700 and 800 bear, one of Europe's most important populations. This karst landscape, filled with caves, disappearing rivers and lakes, also supports and array of other species including Ural owl, beech marten and even wolf.
This trip was focused on the bears and the Ural owl, with of course the stunning mountains, wild flower meadows and charming villages as a wonderful backdrop. Over the course of the next 6 days we were treated to some superb encounters and all of the clients managed to capture some excellent images.
After a great first night in the hides we went in search of the Ural owls and were blessed with some great encounters. Slovenia is home to the highest density of breeding Ural owl in Europe, so with a bit pf persistence, you can often come away with some good photography.
The karst limestone landscape is famed for its caves and Slovenia is no different. If you read my last blog post on Slovenia (from last year), you will have seen that I visited Križna jama - a beautiful cave filled with water. We journey a few kilometres underground and explore the remarkable caverns and their unique rock formations.
Of course, for most people it is all about the bears and that was this unique trip is all about. So all of the group spent the majority of their afternoons in the hides, waiting for the bears to show themselves.
As you can see from all of the images above, Slovenia offers something very different from other bear watching destinations and it really is quite magical.
If you would like to join me on this amazing trip in 2019 then please head over to Wildlife Worldwide and find out more.