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.

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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!

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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.

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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...

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View pictures of the lions from Little Governors' Camp.

Day 11: Little Governors' Camp

September 12th...
In the morning we went out in search of a leopard and cheetah and couldn’t find either, so went down to the river crossing to see if we could get lucky there. At the river there were probably about 20 or 30 bloated wildebeest carcasses littering the river bank, and every now and again you would see one floating downstream. On the bank of the river, there were about 15,000 wildebeest trying to gather the courage to cross. Every now and again a wildebeest would come down to the river, get a drink and maybe even walk in a few feet, then they would see the floating carcasses and change their minds. Once one wildebeest goes, they all go and when one wildebeest would go down to the river, the others would follow suit, but as soon as the leader changed his mind, the rest would go up the bank as well. We sat there for about three hours and saw two small crossings from the other side of about a dozen or so wildebeest, but nothing spectacular, so we went back for lunch.

Elephants filmed from our tent at Little Governors' Camp

After lunch, I came out of my tent to charge the laptop and wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. I looked up noticed the guard had a pretty concerned look on his face. About 50 feet down the path just past the dinner tent was a huge bull elephant. I looked into the marsh in front of our tent and noticed another dozen or so elephants right in front of our tent. We were asked to go back into our tents and stay there and of course we obliged.

bat eared fox
Our afternoon game drive was a bit slow at first. We were looking for cheetah and leopard and struck out. On the way back though, we saw eland antelope. Elands are the largest of the African antelope and very shy. They don't hav a dainty frame like most antelope. Their frame is more like a large cow or bull, but taller. From there on the way back we stopped because Gaye noticed an aardwolf. They are nocturnal and very shy, so that was a nice sight even if it was pretty far away. When Solomon went to start the land rover up again, he looked down to see two bat eared foxes. Bat eared foxes and aardwolves are both nocturnal, so a sighting of them is pretty rare. On the way back we also noticed a termite mound with black backed jackals living in it and out of the mound emerged tiny little baby jackals. They were really cute but it was too late to stay so we will come back to them again when we get a chance.

664 images today. 6295 pictures to go...

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View pictures of the lions from Little Governors' Camp.

Day 10: Little Governors' Camp

September 11th...
The Masai Mara is 5100 feet above sea level. Each year the migration seems to be getting a little larger. This year the wildebeest count is 2.5 to 3 million wildebeest. From what I had read back home, the count was 1.5 wildebeest, so the population of the migration is really growing.
One of three of the youngest cubs
of the Marsh pride
There are three main prides of lions around Governor’s camps. They are the marsh pride, the paradise pride and the ridge pride. The marsh pride is only about a 7 minute drive from camp and they are the only pride with cubs, so we spent the entire first game drive photographing them. It's neat because the BBC is filming for their upcoming documentary 'The Truth about Lions'. It was great photographing the marsh pride with them. 

After lunch we went back to see them, but they were sleeping, so we decided to roam around elsewhere. Solomon noticed a thomson’s gazelle giving birth, so we stayed there for about an hour and a half. We watched her give birth, then clean up her baby. Unfortunately for her the baboons were on their way toward her so she had to leave the baby in hopes that she wouldn’t attract any attention. The baby was just behind a termite mound so she was hidden from them. A thomsons’ gazelle would be a nice light snack for a troop of baboons, so it was a bit nerve wracking for all of us for a while,  but instinctively, about 30 minutes later, the baby took its first wobbly steps and struggled to make it over to taller grass where it would be safe. From there we went back to check on the lions. There was overcast and it had gotten a little bit cooler, so the cubs awoke from their sleep and started to play. At the end of the day, my picture count was 3930.

6959 pictures to go...

Marsh pride lion cubs playing

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View pictures of the lions from Little Governors' Camp.

Day Nine: Travel to Nairobi, then on to Little Governors' Camp

September 10th...
We are over our allowable weight limit for baggage due to our photography equipment, so the airline attendant in charge of checking the weight of the bags sternly tells us that we are over our limit. “That will be $3 per kilogram over or $60. He then takes us aside so we can fill out our customs paperwork and tells us that we can buy him lunch and lunch is $20. I thought that was kind of funny. We gladly paid him the twenty bucks. Thankfully, the flights from Arusha to Nairobi and Nairobi to Little Governors’ camp are both in larger planes that are pressurized, so my nausea stays to a minimum. What a relief! We get into Little Governors’ camp where our guide Solomon is waiting for us. I specifically asked for him as a guide and right from the get go he was awesome! We had more fun, more conversation and learned more from Solomon in a short fifteen minute game drive into camp than we had learned from our previous Guide from Thomson’s in four days!
Boat ride across the Mara river to Little Governors' camp

I got a kick out of the look on Gaye’s face as we got closer to the camp. You get out of the land rover, then walk down these steps to the Mara river. At the bottom of the stairs is a man in a boat. There is a rope that goes across the river, so he just has to pull us across. As you are going across, you can see the hippos just upstream and downstream from our crossing. The first day she looked a little nervous, but we have to cross the river four times per day, so it gets comfortable quite quickly and just adds to the charm of the camp. Pictures to come soon...

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View pictures of the lions from Little Governors' Camp.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day Eight: Ngorongoro Crater, Masai Village Visit, travel to Arusha and Rivertrees Country Inn.

Vervet Monkey
Today we saw lots of lions again. We saw lions on a wildebeest kill, a small group of vervet monkeys, then a small herd of elephants in the forest. We got tired of driving around the barren wasteland,
so when I noticed the monkeys in the forest, I opted to watch and photograph them for an hour or so.

On the way out of Ngorongoro conservation area we stopped at a Masai village and were taken on a tour by the chief’s son. It started with a welcome dance and they insisted that we both dance with them. His father has 20 wives. The chief's son explained that when you have one wife, you have one problem. When you have twenty wives: 20 problems:) The chief's son was quite impressive. He was educated in Arusha and spoke very elequently.

Maasai Village Visit

After experiencing what we would call a more "civilized" society, he preferred living the Masai lifestyle. It was a pretty interesting tour as we were led into a hut and showed how they lived and cooked and slept. The structure of the hut is made with acacia tree branches. Each hut has a small main area that is used for cooking and a bedroom for the parents and a bedroom for the children. The roof of the hut is made with long grasses and the walls and the roof are cemented together with cow dung. The huts are quite sturdy and last for about 20 years. Each hut takes about 14 days to build.

The picture count for today is 739. 10,889 pictures to go...

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View pictures of elephants from Tarangire National Park.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Day Seven: Ngorongoro Crater

To this point, I was looking forward to this as the highlight of the trip next to Little Governors’ Camp in Masai Mara. This is the reason that we came to Tanzania. Our camp is lush and green and beautiful. We get down the escarpment to the crater floor to discover a vast brown, dusty barren land. There are impressive herds of zebra and wildebeest, but you can’t drive off the roads, just like in other areas of Tanzania. It is understandable considering the amount of tourists here.

Affectionate Zebras

The problem is that unless the animals are right beside the road, your photo opportunities are quite limited. Our highlight of the day was watching a cheetah stalk and chase a thomson’s gazelle. She missed, but I did get a few pretty good shots of her. We also saw about 20 lions today and 20 or 30 hyenas. Early in the morning, we saw three lionesses and four lion cubs in the long grass devouring a wildebeest kill. The hyenas and jackals were standing by waiting for them to finish so they could clean up the scraps. The rest of the day we basically drove around dusty roads looking at the odd animal here and there way off in the distance. My lens and crop sensor camera reaches 960mm. The largest lens I saw anyone else with was a 400mm lens. I was having issues trying to get decent pictures today as most of the game was too far away. Gaye was bored stiff in about the first two and half hours. I think this place is highly over rated and will definitely not be back (after our three hour visit tomorrow morning of course). Even the alkaline lake with the flamingos is at least 150 meters away from the road. The roads in this park are not designed with easy access viewing! Oh well, I still managed to take 835 pictures. That would be a good hour and a half in pictures if the wildlife viewing was good. The good news is our peace de le resistance is coming. I saved the very best for last. Five days at Little Governors’ Camp is my dream safari.

11,628 pictures to go...

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View pictures of elephants from Tarangire National Park.

Day Six: Southern Tarangire and travel to Ngorongoro Crater

Today we drove the Southern portion of Tarangire. The terrain was completely different than the northern end. It was much prettier, although had fewer animals. I took about 300 pictures until noon when we had lunch and headed for our Ngorongoro Nyumba.

Baby elephant on a misson
Nogorongoro is a three hour drive. With our pit stops and souvenir stop, we ended getting in at around 5:30p.m. Driving up to the crater rim, the flora changes from barren and brown to green and lush and quite stunning. As we drove into camp, we were suddenly surrounded by these huge flat topped acacia trees. They look just like the setting from the movie Jurassic Park.

12,463 pictures to go...

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View pictures of elephants from Tarangire National Park.

Day Five: Tarangire National Park

Watering Hole

The vehicles in Tanzania are perfect for safari photography. The tops pop up so you can stand up in the vehicle, but are still shaded from the sun. It is quite ingenious.
Today was a great day for photography. We saw herds of zebra and waited for them at the river. We photographed literally hundreds of them as they passed through to drink. So far that was definitely the highlight of the safari. Tarangire is famous for their elephants. We saw hundreds of elephants, hundreds of Masai giraffe, hundreds of zebra, hundreds of baboons and basically a large diversity of animals.

When we got home from our safari today there were two huge elephant bulls in camp eating the trees about two tents down from ours. We were too dirty and too hungry to feel intimidated and after photographing hundreds of elephants in large herds today oddly enough we didn't really care. We had our showers and watched them as we waited for supper. You know you are on safari in Tanzania or Kenya when you go to sleep at night with animals like these outside your tent.

While we're on safari, safari comes to us
The picture count for today is 3517. Tomorrow we photograph in Tarangire in the morning, then at noon we leave for Ngorongoro Conservation area. Ngorongoro is ten miles wide, by twelve miles long. It is toted for being the most populated area for wildlife viewing on earth with 25000 to 30,000 animals.

12, 763 pictures to go...

Day Four: Giraffe Manor, then travel day to Arusha, then on to Tarangire National Park

With my food poisoning, yesterday was kind of a blur and a write off. After we got home from the elephant sanctuary I pretty much slept from about 1p.m. to 7p.m., then got up for dinner which they served to us in our room, then I went back to bed.
This morning, feeling about 75%, I had a good breakfast, then we left for the airport. I still had a really bad headache and was feeling somewhat queezy. I was eyeing up a muffin, but we had lots of time, so we decided to have lunch…Big mistake! I was reintroduced to that very lunch on the flight to Kilamanjaro. That was not pleasant. They had given us bags with a small sandwich and juice and fruit. About ten minutes from landing, I grabbed both my bag and Gaye’s, emptied them out on her lap, then proceeded to fill them both…quite discretely, I might add. So there I am holding these f’ing bags, sick as a dog. Then we had to wait to get out of the damn plane. I was asking the attendants where the nearest garbage was, but they didn’t really see the urgency and I didn’t want to bring attention to what I was carrying. Well, the weight and liquid of the contents was just too much for those paper bags and they gave way. The attendants quickly understood the urgency of the matter and helped me out. Green as a spruce tree I made my way with Gaye to pick up our visa’s and through customs. Thankfully our next flight was only a 15 minute flight or I think I would have lost any other reserves that I could have possibly had left. From there our guide from Thomson Safaris met us. I slept for the next 90 minutes on the way to Tarangire National Park.

Tanzanian Synchronized Zebra Team
 We had about an hour long safari ride to the camp. 45 minutes of which we were able to take pictures before it got dark. We saw troops of baboons, herds of impala, a herd of over 20 masai giraffe (which is odd as giraffe are not usually in groups), several herds of buffalo and the odd water buck here and there. Not a bad game drive for 45 minutes. The picture count for today is 619. 16,280 pictures to go. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really on my game, so I don’t know that there are any stellar pictures in the bunch, but all in all not bad for 45 minutes I suppose.
Tomorrow we get up early. I have some serious catching up to do! I am going to ask to visit the watering holes of Tarangire. It is dry as a bone out here, so I think the animals will be in huge numbers at the river and swamps. Tomorrow I am shooting for 2500 images to get back on track. 16,280 pictures to go...

Check out our main wildlife photography website and our main wildlife photography blog.
View pictures of elephants from Tarangire National Park.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day Three: David Sheldrick Elelphant Sanctuary

The start to the morning today was really fun. I got up early to see a nice Australian couple off. They got here late last night and were leaving early this morning, so I got up at 6a.m. The giraffes weren't here yet, so I opened the windows of the dining room and put some giraffe pellets in a bucket and shook the bucket. There wasn't a giraffe in sight and the tree line is about 150 meters away. Within minutes, I could see 7 giraffes running toward the manor through the brush. It reminded me of the whiskas commercials when the guy shakes the bag of cat treats and the cat runs through the walls. :)


Well, that was more or less the highlight. Just after breakfast I started getting sick. I guess I caught some kind of bug because by the time we got to the Elephant Sanctuary this morning, I wasn't feeling too hot. We got there a little late yesterday. By the time we got there, there were probably 100 or so tourists wanting to see the elephants, so it was difficult to get clear pictures. Today we wanted to get there early. Gaye was nice enough to suggest that we go back to the hotel and forget about it. I asked Gaye to go ahead while I rested in the car for a few minutes seeing as we were early anyway. That didn't last very long before I was trying to discretely puke my guts out  between the car and the bush. I just happened to be wearing my work t-sirt that says on the back "I have a high threshold for your pain". Well, the African cab drivers were watching me hurl from hehind me. They weren't trying to be mean, but they couldn't help but laugh at me because of the shirt that I was wearing. I think they felt it was sweet justice or something. Anyway, we had our little laugh, I still managed to catch the elephant presentation, then we went back to the Manor and I slept most of the day. We missed out on the monkey forest, but that's alright I suppose. I need to get better before tomorrow because we are flying to Arusha on a small bush plane, then driving to Tarrangire and I certainly don't want to be sick for that or it will make for a very long day!
Last night we visited Sities as she went through her evening routine. The above video shows one of the stalls that the elephants sleep in at night. The keeper has a bunk and he sleeps with his elephant every night. Elephants are very social animals and as infants, they need that reassurance that a mother or father figure is with them at night. Most of these babies have either fallen down a well or they have watched as their mother was killed by poachers for her ivory. They can be quite traumatized and very sick when they get here, so the keepers do everything they can to ensure the comfort of the animals. These people are about as dedicated as I have ever seen. The keepers only get four days off per month to see their families. Otherwise, they are essentially taking care of their elephants 24/7.

Today was obviously a bismal photography day at only 268 images. On the bright side, I did manage to get a couple good shots in. 16,899 images to go.

That concludes the first leg of our trip. Tomorrow we fly to Arusha, then will drive out to Tarangire National Park and will stay there for a couple of days. From there will go to up to Lake Manyara National Park, then Ngorongoro Crater for a day and a bit. We will drive back to Kilimanjaro airport where hopefully we will pick up an internet signal for a few hours before flying out to Nairobi and then to the Masai Mara.

Check out our main wildlife photography website and our main wildlife photography blog.
View pictures of elephants from Tarangire National Park.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Day Two; Giraffe Manor, Kazuri Beads and David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary

Breakfast time at Giraffe Manor
This morning I got up early and went into the dining room to find seven giraffes with their heads in the dining room windows looking for food. The giraffe centre is only about a hundred and fifty meters away from the manor and between the guests at the Giraffe Manor and the guests at the Giraffe Centre, they get their fair share of treats. They get fed pellets that are a combination of corn meal and a little bit of honey. From six pm when it gets dark until the morning, there are no treats handed out, so the giraffes are very anxious to meet the guests at the Giraffe Manor and get their fill of treats to make up for all of those hours that they had to fend for themselves in the bush. It was really cool eating breakfast with 14 foot tall giraffes sticking their heads in the dining room window a directly behind and in front of us trying to get our attention.
It is interesting to note though that although these giraffes are friendly, the staff at the manor have strict safety rules regarding the giraffes and warthogs on the property. They are wild animals, so although we are allowed on the terrace outside, if either the giraffes or the warthogs come up on to the terrace, we have to scurry back into the manor. The giraffes defence in the wild is to kick and can kill an adult lion with one kick. They don't do well with stairs though, so as long as we are on the other side of a ledge that is about 18" high, we are safe from their kicks. Also, they can head butt, so we have to be leary of Kelly who likes to run after tourists. You always feed her from the front. In addition, if Patrick her son is beside her, you definitely don't get between the two of them, or she is likely to bash you with her head.
In the late morning we went to Kazuri Beads. This factory makes beads  and of course pottery from clay and ships their work all over the world. The employees are mostly single mothers on an assembly line. Their work is amazing. The factory is very important to these women as it is their livelihood in an area where work for women in this situation isn't as easy to come by as finding employment where we are from.

Our adopted baby ellie: Sities
After Kazuri Beads we went to the David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary. At 11a.m. the elephants are called out from the field and given 4L bottles of milk. They quickly suck them back, then play in a slough of red muddy water for about 45 minutes as the guides give us some history about where the elephants have been rescued from and thier different personalities and roles in their new families etc. They are then sent off back into the field and the older juvenile orphans are called in for their feeding and playing time. They come running out like there is only one bottle of milk between the ten of them. These orphans are a little older and stronger. They grab the bottles from the keepers and can feed themselves. As teenagers, they don't realize their own strength and as two of them are playing, they knocked over a massive barrel of water and soaked a few tourists. We wanted to adopt a baby elephant, we were allowed to go back at 5p.m. to see them put her in her stall so her keeper could tuck her in. Each elephant is assigned a keeper. He sleeps in a bunk beside his elephant in her stall and only has four days off per month. Each elephant bonds with his/her keeper as they would with a parent. When we went to watch the little one go through her bedtime routine, she was sucking his fingers. When he got tired of having his fingers sucked on, she would suck on the bottom of his smock. That wasn't enough for her though, so eventually her little trunk would grab his arm and put his hand back in her mouth. Our little girl; Sities came to the sanctuary in January, 2010. She walked into the headquarters of a ranch by herself when she was about seven weeks old desperate for some company. They suspect that her mother was another victim of poachers.

Tomorrow we are heading back to the elephant sanctuary for another crack at photographs of the babies playing soccer and playing in the mud. That was pretty cute. From there we are going to a forest that has a lot of monkeys in it. Today we saw a troop of baboons with a few babies and at the bead place we saw a few vervet monkeys and some impalas on the side of the road. Other than that, all we have seen is a swack of cows and goats on the side of the roads. Although the giraffe manor is quite amazing and we love it here, I think we made a mistake by staying this extra day. I usually try to arrange the trips so that there is some educational or cultural component or both as we are getting over our jetlag, but this trip we didn't experience any jetlag and although the giraffes are really amazing, I am anxious to go to work and get the images that I came here for. People keep coming to the manor raving about their experiences in the Mara and their sights of 30,000 wildebeast bolting across the Mara river. The great migration is winding down and I should just be thankful that I am in such an amazing place, rather than worrying about missing the action, but that's okay, we'll get our shots in due time. They may not be of any crossings, but we'll get there.

One of the couples today described their experiences at a Masai village. In one of the stories, he describes how two Masai warriors suffocated a goat til death. They then stabbed the goat in the heart and then stuck the heart with a large reed that acted as a straw. They took turns sucking out the blood while the other two pushed on the limbs and body of the carcass forcing the blood up to the heart. Once the animal had no more blood left, the Massai men cut out the heart, kidneys and liver and ate them raw. From there they cut off the best pieces of meat off the animal for themselves then took the rest of the carcass to the village for the women and children. It can be difficult to watch as a different culture does things that are far beyond what our values represent, but it really isn't for us to judge. Each Massai warrior has several wives. The hierarchy goes man then cow, then children, then goats and women are about equal. Goats to purhase are about $30 U.S. That is their culture. The couple who visited the Massai villiage had the unique experience of visiting there for a longer stay. Most tourists only stay for an hour. They take a few photos, buy some over priced souvenirs and leave without really learning about the actual culture. This couple really in the end, inadvertently went outside their comfort zone as they wanted to learn more about the culture. The culture shock was pretty intense for the wife and the husband was feeling pretty relieved to be out of there as well!

1,652 images today, 17,167 images to my goal and 9 photo days left. Well, that includes two half days. We actually have ten days left, but there will be some traveling in there, so we'll see.

'Til tomorrow...
Giles, JJ, Patrick and Helen

Check out our main wildlife photography website and our main wildlife photography blog.
View pictures of elephants from Tarangire National Park.