Monday, February 21, 2011

Swahili Words Learned on Safari...

I almost forgot. Part of the fun of visiting other countries is learning about their customs and trying to pick up a word or two. I always try my best to at least verse myself with "please, thank you, hello and good bye". I figure that is the least that I can do.

Solomon from Little Governors' Camp was our guide for five days. He was fantastic! One of the things that Solomon did was teach us a word or two in Swahili each day. I figured I should record some of these words. Otherwise I will never remember.
Pole pole= Slowly, slowly- A nice term to know if you think you may see interesting wildlife and want your guide to slow down.
Pole= Sorry- What Solomon says when he accidentally hits a big bump :)
Kwaheri= bye bye
Keribu= your welcome
Sawa sawa= it's okay
twende= lets' go- When are satisfied with our sighting and are ready to move on.
haraka= quick quick
sante= thank you
sana= very much
sante sana= thank you very much
jambo= welcome greeting (hi)
lala= sleep 
la la salama= sleep well
yetu= ours
wageni= visitors
mageni= one visitor

Friday, January 21, 2011

Four Months Post Africa...

Four months after we returned home from Africa and I am finally finishing up with the pictures. As soon as we returned home, I started printing and framing pictures for our Christmas exhibit. It took months to set up, but was worth it as it was really well received. I had animals Mostly consisting of North America on one wall and animals from Africa on the other.

My next delightful surprise was winning the Governors' Camp's 2010 photo contest with this shot.

I just finished updating my pictures from our African adventure to the websites. If you are curious, you can find the galleries here:

We also have one website dedicated just to animals from South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.

Sadly, I am mostly done with the pictures from our Kenya and Tanzania safari. Our next African Safari will be  South Africa and Kenya in 2012. My next safari will be polar bears in March of 2011. I am looking forward to blogging about the polar bears It is an interesting experience at 45 below with no running water and three    roommates who I haven't met before. And yet, if it will be anything like last year's polar bear experience, it will be incredible.
Our main website can be found here: Harvey Wildlife Photography

My next big project with these pictures now is to create greeting cards. Another huge undertaking, but one that is really rewarding. That should pretty much take me the next few months to finish. I'll have to post pictures of Harvey Wildlife Photography greeting cards on one of these blogs. In the meantime, I have a few of them here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Equipment Used, Tips and Tricks on Safari

I made a couple mistakes with my equipment this trip, but thankfully those mistakes were bringing too much rather than too little. Thankfully, I didn't really go through any part of the trip thinking "If only I remembered..." I hate that feeling.

Camera Bodies:
Mark III 1ds
5D Mark II
canon powershot for videos and snapshots.

70-200 IS f2.8
100-400 IS f4
24-70 f2 IS
1.4 teleconverter

Other gear of course included lens cleaning gadgets, two, one terabyte hard drives and other miscelanous gizmos that I can't think of right now. One such gizmo that came in handy was a small tripod with magnetic feet. I set up my little point and shoot on video mode, stuck it to the frame of the vehicle and pressed record. This enabled me to video the birth of a thomsons gazelle as I photographed the event with my DSLR. It worked perfectly! I also set it up to video 15,000 wildebeest cross the mara river, but they never did cross until after we left the Mara. Too bad too because the plan was good. Watching the wildebeest for hours was excruciating. One would go down to the river, his buddies would follow him. He'd get a drink, look at all the dead bodies, then chicken out and run back up the bank and all of his buddies would follow him. Any time one wildebeest got an idea in its head, others would follow, but most of the time, they would chicken out at the last minute. Sometimes they would even walk into the river a few feet, then run back like a kid who miscalculated how cold the water is. In the end we saw two small river crossings of a dozen or so animals, but nothing dramatic.

Equipment not used:
I brought a flash (which I never took out of the case) and a wimberly head and tripod and tripod clamp (the kind that clamps the wimberly head to the vehicle). I never used the tripod, tripod clamp or wimberly head once during the whole trip. It was just a boat anchor that I drug around 40,000 kilometers. On our trip to South Africa two years ago, I only used the tripod once. Next time I definitely won't be bringing tripods. I also never took the 70-200 2.8 IS out of the bag once. I love this lens, but anything the70-200 can do, the 100-400 can do as well. Although the 70-200 is a better lens, it just doesn't have the reach that is required for a safari and for the few shots where it would have been appropriate, it wasn't worth changing lenses for and risking dust on the sensor. Also, the wide angle covers up to 70mm and the 100-400 of course starts at 100, so really that lens was somewhat redundant on this trip. I also never used the 1.4 teleconverter, but that wasn't too surprising. I don't like the quality that I get when I use a teleconverter and once again the few times that I could have used it, I wouldn't have wanted to risk dust in the sensor.

Juvenile lion running to greet his
Mother in the Masai Mara

Safari Season
We went on safari this time during the high season. It was their winter in September. Tanzania was bone dry. I kept on wondering when a massive fire would erupt as I would see the odd touist with his or her hand dangling out the window with a lit cigarette in hand. There wasn't anything even remotely green other than the acacia trees in Tarangire. At the Ngorongo Crater, it was much drier. I didn't think that was even possible! Our strategy was that we would catch more animals around watering holes. All animals need water and at Tarangire we were successful one day. We photographed hundreds of zebras as they game to the Tarangire river to drink. At the Ngorongoro Crater, it was dustier and for the most part, it was so dry that the pictures there weren't very nice. Everything was just too brown and dusty. That being said, although we didn't use ours, bring bandanas, tie them around your neck and any time you pass another vehicle, put it up around your mouth and nose or you will be eating dirt for two days like we were. Every time a vehicle passes you during the dry season, the dust that kicks up is pretty substantial.

Young boys from the Marsh Pride
 in the Masai Mara

Camera systems:
Due to the amount of dust that I had anticipated, I put a 24 to 70 wide angle lens on the canon 5D Mark II, a 100-400 lens on the Mark III 1Ds and a 600mm lens on the 7D. The 7D is the only DSLR camera that I have that has a crop sensor and it takes eight frames per second, so it was my bread and butter. It especially came in handy in areas where we were up to 100 meters from any signigicant action in the Ngorongoro Crater. My strategy here was to have three camera bodies on the go, each with a different lens attached to it, so I didn't have to change lenses. The last thing you want to do in that environment is change a lens. Your sensor will get full of filth and you will spend the evening at a camp with no electricity trying to clean your sensor with a loupe sensor cleaner and a flashlight. Three cameras on the go really was the perfect solution. I didn't change lenses once, so I didn't have one dust issue either.

This is going to sound funny, but if you go on safari in September, bring layers. Start with a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt and a water/wind shell fleece on top. It gets quite chilly at night and into the early morning and it is easier to strip the layers off, than try to photograph animals in the perfect early morning golden light when you are shivering. We noticed that the early mornings in Tarangire, the crater and the Masai Mara can be quite chilly. Add to that a light breeze and driving in an open vehicle and it can get downright nippy even for a Canadian! The coldest areas were down in the Ngorogoro Crater in the early morning and the Masai Mara was a little nippy as well. Not to fret though because during the day the temperature went up to 25 to 32 degrees Celcius.

Zebras at a sulpher creek in the
Masai Mara

A good, small back pack is necessary to bring with you on your game drives. Keep your lip chap, sunscreen and bug repellant in a ziplock bag in your back pack. As you get warmer throughout the day, you have a clean place to put your fleece and sweaters etc. so you can keep them clean and keep the landrover free from crap you may otherwise trip over or slip on when you see something interesting and are struggling to get your cameras appropriately set up to catch the experience.

Good camera bags can really help you out here. I really like think tank bags. The bag that I use has a cord with a combination lock, so you can lock your bag to something. In addition, the bag itself has a combination lock on the zippers as well. If I am in the airport and have a long layover and have traveled for 20 or 30 hours already, sometimes I have a difficult time not nodding off. I take the cable out, wrap it around the handle of my 600 mm lens case and lock it to the chair that I am sitting on. That way if I happen to nod off for a minute or two, I'm not concerned about being relieved of all of my camera gear. I haven't seen too many petty theives carrying around industrial bolt cutters, so until they do, I think my system is pretty sound. When I am out on safari, I have a great system for my valuables as well. The 600 mm lens case is built like a shell that seems to be meant to withstand being run over by a tank. I put any money and passports that we are traveling with in the 600mm case. I lock the case, then lock the key to the case in the locked camera bag. I then use the cord from the camera bag to wrap around the handle of the 600mm case and lock everything to the bed or something else in the room that is unmovable. If someone really wanted our passports and money, I suppose they could get them if they came into our bush camp with bolt cutters and a small stick of dynamite, but I think the chance of someone trying to discreetly get into our gear would still be pretty minimal. So far so good. I am pretty confident that I have a good system here.

Our main wildlife photography website and our main  Harvey wildlife photography blog.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hotel and Safari Reviews...

The Fairview Hotel in Nairobi is an affordable, clean, perfect and safe hotel for starting or finishing your safari. The hotel grounds are beautifully manicured. Actually, they are exceptional! We were amazed at the amount of time that must have been devoted to not only developing the grounds and water features, but maintining them. When I am in African cities or any large city that I'm not familiar with, I love staying at hotels that have secure fenced grounds. It makes me feel safe and at home and Fairview is just that. We only stayed there one night, so I'm sure we didn't get a good perspective on all that it has to offer, but from what we saw, we enjoyed. The dinner menu is good and reasonably priced and we had a good comfortable sleep. A "continental breakfast" is included in your stay. In North America that usually means you can make your own toast and have a bowl of cereal with a glass of orange juice. At the Fairview hotel, their idea of a continental breakfast is bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, eggs benedict, a variety of cereals and a chef ready to create your perfect omlette. This along with a variety of juices, tea or coffee. It was the perfect place to start our safari.
Fairview hotel water feature at night

Giraffe Manor was a fantastic way to start our safari. They picked us up from the Fairview Hotel, then gave us the overview on how to feed the giraffes and the background of the manor. Included in our stay were three meals a day plus drinks and an afternoon snack. Included also were excursions anywhere in the Langata region.

Lynne at Giraffe Manor
They took us to the David Sheldrick Elephant SanctuaryKazuri Bead factory and of course the Giraffe Centre which is about 100 meters from the Manor. All were very interesting visits. At the Manor, guests had dinner together in their formal dining room. The dining room doesn't have any lights, so dinner served by candlelight was a nice touch. The highlight of the thee days that we stayed there were definitely the giraffes. The Giraffe Manor is located on 140 acres and is home to nine giraffes. Each giraffe has his or her own personality and by the end of our visit we could tell them apart. I'm not saying I was right 100% of the time, but most of the time I could figure them out. Jock Jr. is the mature male. He is a little bit lighter in colour than most of the others and of course he is a male. Lynne is very personable and usually the first to come for treats. Patrick and Helen are the two babies. I think they are about a year and a half old or so. Patrick is a little darker and a little smaller than Helen is. Kelly is Patrick's mother (Jock Jr. is his father) Kelly is the same colouration as Jock Jr except of course she is a lady. We didn't see much of  Laura and to be honest, I think I would confuse her with Lynne if they were together. Daisey II has a large discolouration or scar of some sort on her side and we didn't see much of her either. Okay, actually I don't remember how Arlene is different either. We met Lynne and Arlene the first morning that we were there...And I am missing giraffe number 9. Help me out if anyone knows who I am missing or how you can tell Lynne from Arlene and Laura.

This all sounds quite corny I know, but the giraffes are so friendly and personable that you can't help but be taken by them. Some are more skittish or shy than others. Some are more gentle than others, then there is Kelly who you have to be careful of as she has a little bit of a grumpy streak in her. It was an amazing experience. The rothschild giraffes are beautiful. Even Gaye who could care less about the giraffes when she first got there had to admit that visiting Giraffe Manor and feeding the giraffes was one of the highlights of our whole trip to Africa and we went to two countries, three national parks, two safari companies and stayed at numerous hotels. We saw hundreds of thousands of animals during the great migration, watched lions, cheetahs and elephants playing. We saw all kinds of interesting things and yet, one of her top three highlights was feeding the rothschilds giraffes at giraffe manor.

Thomson Safaris is a very reputable safari company based out of the states. They put together itineraries for safaris only in Tanzania and all of their safari guides are born and raised in Tanzania. We had them custom design a safari for us. We spent two days in Tarangire National Park and two days at the Ngornongoro Crater. While we were there we stayed in somewhat luxurious, environmentally friendly tentts. The food was great, the staff were very good, the widlife was extremely abundant. Our guide was as friendly as he had to be, he was courteous, professional and knowledgable, but perhaps the worst guide that we have had in the past ten years. We were supposed to be on a custom safari. We were supposed to be focusing on the big cats and babies. On our third safari day we finally saw lion cubs. He stopped for five minutes, then moved on. We traveled 20,000 kilometeres to photograph cats and babies and when we finally see them we only get five minutes?! I was choked. I had discussed with my agent at Thomson about the chance of stopping off at Lake Manyara on the way to Ngorongoro Crater. It wasn't on the official itinerary, so he completely dismissed it. It was only Gaye and I on the safari and it was supposed to be a custom safari. There was nothing custom about this safari in Tanzania. For that reason, I doubt that I will ever use Thomson Safaris again. Thomson is a very reputable company. Six months before our safari we got a check list in the mail to help us organize ourselves to get ready in regards to visas, packing, shopping for supplies, etc. That was awesome! I have never experienced any other company with that level of dedication to making their clients feel at ease before a safari . Three weeks before we left, we received hats and a safari guide in the mail that was quite helpful and we thought was very impressive from a customer service perspective. The places we stayed at were great, the food was great, the follow up after safari was also impressive as there was a catalogue in the mail with a discount voucher for a future trip with Thomson safaris. They did all of these wonderful things and yet they assigned us a terribly impersonable guide who would point out interesting sights, but had no interest in any kind of conversation and would only answer a direct question, but would not offer any conversation. We tried to converse with him for four days, but only got short answers each time. After day two we were ready for our trip to be over and just couldn't wait to be rid of this guide who we felt hated us from the get go. The other Thomson safari guides would have dinner with their guests and discuss the events of the day. The guests would ask their guide about the interesting things that he may have seen in his guiding career. The guide meanwhile would enquire about the safari experiences that his guests have had in the past in other parts of the world. These dinner conversations with people in different parts of the world and different nature experiences is like the icing on the cake after a great day on safari.

Maasai Village
We on the other hand were always at a table alone listening to other guides and their clients. It is too bad that Thomson dropped the ball here because they did everything else right. Unfortunately sometimes the devil is in the details and even if you proactively do great things for your customer, sometimes you can fall short on one small area that ruins everything.The highlight of our safari trip was the one time our guide was flexible. He took us to a Maasai Village. We really enjoyed it.

Rivertrees Country Inn Thomson Safari booked this quaint little cottage for us. Arusha is a really busy intimidating African city. Rivertrees is a beatifully manicured, safe, quiet oasis in amoungst the craziness. The food is great, the grounds are beautiful. Even their well behaved resident dog; Santanna was welcoming. I would recommend starting or finishing any safari with Rivertrees Country Inn. My only regret is that we just had one night there.

Little Governors' Camp is located in the masai mara overlooking a marsh. It is a quaint luxury camp with 17 tents and impeccable customer service. The food is great, the wildlife viewing is spectacular and staff to a person will all bend over backwards to help you feel more comfortable.

Elephants outside our tent

Due to tripadvisor comments, we requested Solomon to be our guide and we were glad that we did. We had more fun in the short 15 minute game drive from the airstrip to the camp, than we had in four days with our guide from Thomson Safaris. A safari guide can make or break your safari. We were delighted to have Solomon guide us. He was fantastic! Solomon made our experience really unique. On the first day, he taught us a couple of commonly used swahili words used on safari. On each day after that, he taught us a couple more. It might sound corny, but by the end of our safari, we were having fun with ten swahili words. Solomon didn't only find wildlife, he explained the behaviours of animals and why they were doing certain things and what he anticipated that they would do next. His enthusiastic, positive attitude really set the atmosphere for the trip. It is more fun when you are on safari when you get the impression that the safari guide is having fun too. In reading other comments on trip advisor, it sounds like other guides at the Governors' camps are equally as enthusiastic and fun to be around. That's okay though, when we go back to Little Governors' in 2012, we are still going to request that Solomon be our guide.

Panari Hotel was nice enough to allow us to keep our souvenirs for five days while we were on safari. We booked a day room with them for a mere $210 US. They are located between the Wilson airport and Nairobi international airport. We were supposed to get in at about 4:30pm and our flight to Istanbul was at 2:30a.m. so we needed a room for a few hours that was close to the airport.

Unfortunately for us, the shower head was broken. We had better shower facilities in the middle of the bush in Tanzania. It is a good thing that we were really tired and weren't staying overnight because I don't think the floor was as hard as the bed was. That was the most uncomfortable bed in a hotel that I have ever stayed in. We checked in at around 8p.m. because of our delayed flight, but a short rest a meal and a shower was still appreciated even if it was completely overpriced. Insult to injury, Panari was the first hotel that I have ever spent $210 at that didn't include free internet service. If you need a hotel to stay at that is close to the airport, try a different hotel. This one is terrible!

Check out our main wildlife photography website and our main wildlife photography blog.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Day 14: Little Governors' Camp

September 15th...
Our last morning at Little Governors’ Camp. Our game plan this morning was just to take some pictures of the sunrise and then hang out with the marsh pride as they are so close to camp and easy to find. By the time we got there, they were awake, the light was perfect and they played for us for most of our game drive. It was really relaxing watching them. As a bonus, Jonathon Scott and his film crew from BBC were there to film the marsh pride as well. I heard about Governors’ Camp by watching Big Cat Diary and followed the lives of the marsh pride and the three cheetah brothers on the show, so it was neat watching them in action as they filmed their new documentary 'Truth about Lions'.

Marsh pride cubs playing
This afternoon we head back for home at 3:30. We will booked a day room at a hotel near the airport, then we leave at 2:30a.m. tomorrow. It will be a long journey, but we only have a couple short lay overs, so all in all it shouldn't be too bad. We should be home tomorow night in our own bed by about 9:30. It has really been a wonderful experience in Africa, but now as much as I hate to leave Little Governors', I am really looking forward to getting back to work.

Better late than never...
...A few hours later... This afternoon we had quite the issues trying to leave the airstrip. The first three planes came in and none of them had our names on their boarding sheets so we had to wait an hour or so, then the rain clouds came in. It hadn't rained during the day for two weeks and these clouds were black so I started putting up the roof and sides of the safari landrover when a pilot decided to position a plane in front of us to ready for take off. I had my back to the plane and none of the others took off from the dirt, they all took off from the paved runway. When he gunned the engines, I got a dustbath like I was being sandblasted. It blew my hat off and almost knocked me over. Insult to injury, a few minutes later the rains came in so hard that our plane had to be delayed for another hour as the weather was just too horrible for landing and take off.

Waiting for our flight out to Nairobi as a storm was approaching. The storm
arrived first and it delayed our plane for an hour. It rained so hard
we were expecting to see animals being ushered onto an arc two by two

The rest of the traveling went really well. We left Nairobi International Airport at about 2:50a.m., flew into Istanbul via Turkish Airlines, then flew from Istanbul to Toronto via Turkish Airlines again. The second flight was an amazing plane. Probably the best I have ever been on! I will have to try to fly with them again the next time I cross the ocean because our ten hour and forty minute flight was really comfortable. The food and the staff were great. From there we had an hour layover in Toronto and we got home by around 10p.m. Our travel time door to door was about 30 hours on the way to Africa and 31 hours on the way back with very minimal layovers. All in all traveling both ways this time was great.

I almost forgot to mention that on my last morning on safari I took 1630 pictures. That puts me at 20,130 pictures taken on safari. Now begins the long journey of sifting through the good and the bad. Hopefully the odds will be in my favor and my images will sell well, but time will tell.

That is it for Kenya and Tanzania for this year. People often are worried about us when we go to Africa. To be honest, I am more concerned for my safety while I am in Europe. We don't tend spend any time in the cities in Africa unless we are with a guide and we feel completely safe. The only thing I would warn you of is the Africa "Bug". Once you go once, you will find yourself bitten by the bug like Sandra and her husband have. They have gone to Africa many times and they keep on going back. Check out pictures from her wildlife safari experiences on her blog. From looking at her blog, you can tell that she is passionate about animals and wildlife conservation. It is quite evident that she of course loves the Masai Mara.

Check out our main wildlife photography website and our main wildlife photography blog.
View pictures of the lions from Little Governors' Camp.

Day 13: Little Governors' Camp

September 14...

baby jackals playing

This morning we went out to see if we could find the cheetahs when we happened across a mother jackal and five babies. They were really fun to watch as they played and ran around. Unfortunately, they were between us and the rising sun, so I likely won’t be able to salvage many of those pictures, but a few should turn out well. From there we did find the cheetahs, but they were on a rocky ridge that wasn’t land rover friendly, so we left them alone. It was a quiet morning as we drove around the Mara. As with all of the game drives we noticed the landscape dotted with wildebeest for as far as we could see. Gaye noticed a thomsons’ gazelle had just given birth so we watched her clean her baby up and headed back to camp for lunch.

Lioness take down

In the  afternoon our game plan was to check out the river crossing, then visit the marsh pride. There was nothing going on at the crossing as the wildebeest were just mooing and walking around in circles.By the time we got back the light was good so we photographed the marsh pride playing for an hour or so. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the light again, so I doubt that many of them will turn out very well, but it was really fun to watch them all the same.

2892 images today. 1500 images to go...

Check out our main wildlife photography website and our main wildlife photography blog.
View pictures of the lions from Little Governors' Camp.

Check out our main wildlife photography website and our main wildlife photography blog.
View pictures of the lions from Little Governors' Camp.

Day 12: Little Governors' Camp

September 13...
This morning after taking a couple of sunrise shots, we bolted to the leopard area and sure enough there were about six or eight land rovers there already. There was a leopard walking through the brush. He was small, but a beautiful cat. We all tried getting good positioning to take pictures of him, but I doubt that anyone did get any good shots. There was just too much brush. Solomon managed to position the vehicle well for us a couple of times, but despite checking my light and speed before we got there, I still didn’t fair well. I blew it and just couldn’t get my act together quickly enough for good shots.

After watching the leopard we went down to a creek crossing where we stumbled upon literally thousands of wildebeest and zebra. They spotted the horizon and all seemed to be coming down to get a drink which made for some great photography opportunities. We took hundreds of pictures, then stopped for breakfast.

After breakfast we went in search of cheetahs. A good guide looks for the outline of a cat in the distance. Solomon stopped and got out his binoculars and scanned the horizon. “Yes, there are cats over there” he said. I asked how he knew and he replied “six landrovers. Any more than two land rovers is the sighting of a cat.”
Two of the three cheetah brothers
I had to laugh. He is a pretty funny guy. Sure enough, by the time that we got over to the sighting the three cheetah brothers were relaxing under an acacia tree. What a great sighting. Hopefully we will see them again in better light on the afternoon game drive.

This afternoon we quickly checked out a small, young adult pride of four females and five males. I’m not sure they can really be called a pride as they are related and will be broken up to go their separate ways soon. From there we went to check out the cheetah brothers. By this time, the word had gotten out and 22 land rovers were lined up waiting for them to wake up. We waited for about an hour and a half, a couple hundred meters away, hoping that they would wake up and come towards us to find a meal. Eventually we gave up and just as we got there, the brothers were starting to wake up. The three of them played for about half an hour on and off. That was fantastic photography. I’m not sure that I got anything worthwhile yet, but it was fun all the same. Finally the cheetahs decided that it was time to hunt. They walked by us in the landrover (much to Gaye’s dismay after our last cheetah experience from 2008). From there they stood together scanning the herds of wildebeest. It was already 6:15p.m. and we had to be back at camp by 6:30. The light was almost gone anyway, so off we went. With the vast herds of wildebeest out there, I’m sure they will make a kill tonight and will be fat and happy tomorrow.

1903 images today. 4,392 pictures to go...

Check out our main wildlife photography website and our main wildlife photography blog.
View pictures of the lions from Little Governors' Camp.