The Ngorongoro Crater is a special place and although we only had one and a half days there this Fall, it treated us well. The weather was cool and crisp in the mornings and sunny and warm midday.
We were off to a great start by coming upon a male lion and his cub almost immediately after descending the access road. Very difficult to photograph well since they were staying in the long grass. We saw a black rhino mother and her calf in the distance but they tend to avoid coming too close to the roads. Photographing them at such long distances is tough because, even though you have them in focus, you tend to get atmospheric refraction which gives you something like a “mirage” look.
At our picnic spot by the water, a bull elephant gave us a rare show by partially submerging himself and then swimming past the resident pod of hippo as he made his way to the soft grasses on the bank: More ›
Tarangire National Park in October never disappoints and we had some of the best sightings of our safari here. Our weather was very sunny but we had a small rain shower on two of the three days which led to dramatic skies for photography.
With the dry season in full effect, the animals congregated by the Tarangire river – the main source of water in the park. Tarangire is known for elephants and we saw large family groups bathing by the river. We even had a mother and child right outside our rooms at lunch time. One day we drove down past the Silale Swamp with beautiful views to the east. We caught this line of elephants heading towards a pool for a bath: More ›
In my last post I talked about what photo gear I brought to Italy for one month and the reasons behind those plans. So how did reality compare to expectations? Which gear earned another trip and what won’t make the cut next time? The good news is that the planning paid off and most things worked very well. There were a couple exceptions though and an uncertainty that might seem familiar/tiresome to some Fuji fans. Let’s take a look. More ›
When I lead one of my photo safaris to Tanzania, I’m used to taking a lot of heavy gear. By the time I put more than one DSLR in my bag along with several big lenses, it’s common to take over 30 pounds of it. Because of this, I’m always on the lookout for ways to reduce baggage size and weight.
I’ve been following the development of Fujifilm’s X system because of its reputation for being small and light but with high image quality. When I had the chance to travel again to France a few weeks ago, I knew it would be a perfect opportunity to leave the big gear behind and try using the Fuji system for street photography.
People frequently think that Africa is a swelteringly hot place. It is after all at the equator. While it’s true that the midday sun can be quite hot, people are surprised when I tell them to pack a warm jacket for the mornings. This morning’s sunrise over the Serengeti was made dramatic by a thick layer of fog covering the ground and it was very chilly. As we drove up to the Maasai Kopjes for a change of scenery, it was a great time to photograph landscapes showing the trees and the fog to the horizon.
Once we arrived at the Maasai Kopjes, we found one of the highlights of the trip for me. We came across a serval in the tall grass. They are shy cats and I’ve never had the treat of seeing one before. It only stuck around for half a minute and, luckily, I was able to fire off a few frames before it walked away into the grass where we could no longer see it.
Later, our final evening game drive was mellow. We saw rhino from a distance and tried to track them as close as we could but rhino movements are unpredictable and they never came close enough to photograph.
Today was another day of cats. We awoke to another gorgeous sunrise across the Serengeti plains. We started with two lions in a tree, watching nearby zebra (we heard later they came down and chased the herd but came up short). We then came upon four lions who were resting after killing a buffalo by the river. Later that day, we finally saw a cheetah resting under a tree with a freshly killed Thomson’s Gazelle. We stayed with her for an hour and a half, hoping for great photos of the inevitable confrontation when other predators try to take her kill but, after sunset, we had to depart for our camp. When we drove by the same site the next morning, there was no sign the gazelle was ever there.
Each day I make a plan with my guides. Sometimes that works out and sometimes not. You can’t predict wildlife. Today I wanted to look for leopards. Although we left camp in the early morning to an incredible sunrise, we had a slow start but by the time we got back to camp for lunch, I had had one of my best leopard sightings. It started when we spotted two playing together. We thought they were a mating pair but soon realized it was a mother with an almost full-grown male cub. We tracked them for a while until they came to a tree and both climbed up to rest on the branches. One of them climbed all the way to the canopy and soon we saw why: they had been keeping a Thomson’s gazelle there.
The mother came down and gave a half-hearted attempt to hunt some gazelles but then went walking north. After tracking her for another 20 minutes, she surprised us by heading back to the tree with another male cub. We followed them back and, after walking right under our vehicle windows, soon we had three leopards in the tree with great light on them. We stayed for another 30 minutes, trying different compositions and capturing different poses, then it was back to the camp for a well-earned lunch.
This morning, we had a cloudy and foggy start to our final game drive in the Crater – that’s a great thing because it means interesting skies and dramatic clouds. We saw large herds of buffalo and zebra and the mating lions again. We then drove through the Lerai Forest which always has the potential for close-up elephant sightings and, if we’re really lucky, some black rhino. The Yellow-Barked Acacia trees showed a lot of signs that elephants had been eating there recently. We did see four rhinos who had come to drink at the pools in the forest but were too far away from us to photograph.
In late morning, we left the Crater and drove into the Serengeti. On the way to our camp in the Moru Kopjes, we saw several lion, elephants, and reedbuck. After settling in with a welcome hot shower in my tent, I joined the group around the fire to trades stories and have a glass of wine. The lions outside of camp called loudly to each other while we sat around the fire and, after dinner, I fell asleep to sounds of lions calling and zebras barking.
Today was our only full day in the Crater and we made the most of it. The Crater is actually the collapsed caldera of a large, ancient volcano and it is 10 miles across, forming what is essentially a giant bowl of wildlife. We descended into the Crater at 6am to get the golden light – it’s always nice to be the first car in.
We started off with yet another pair of mating lions! Normally we’re luckily to see one pair the entire trip but love must be in the air this week. We drove on and saw herds of wildebeest and buffalo and then we came to the main event for the day.
As we drove down the road, we came upon a recent buffalo kill with a lion resting next to it. Surrounding the kill and the lion were about 6 jackals and over 25 hyena but instead of trying to take the kill from the lion, the hyena were keeping a healthy distance and lying down. After scanning the area, we realized why: there were 3 other male lions hidden in the long grass nearby. A group of hyenas can overwhelm one lion but four is a different thing.
We stayed and watched as each of the lions took turns, having their fill and then wandering off. When the fourth lion started walking away, the fun began. The hyenas approached all at once and the last lion jumped back at them, warning them off of his kill.
But each time he would walk away a little further and the hyenas eventually swarmed the buffalo. At one point, the last lion came back with one of the others and chased everyone away. By now, more hyenas from across the crater has joined and the howling of 40 hyenas at once is an overwhelming sound. This loud and violent dance went on for 20 minutes but the lions knew they couldn’t win and eventually left for good.
We ate lunch at our usual lunch spot near a small lake with hippos and watched a large bull elephant drinking on the other side. We finished the day in a mellow way by driving up to Kiliman cha Meza, Table Hill, where there isn’t much wildlife but the views across the Crater in the late afternoon light are stunning.
Tomorrow, we start with a morning game drive in the Crater again but then leave the Crater before noon for the drive out to our camp in the Serengeti. Access to the Internet is tenuous there so I’ll post more updates when I return to Arusha next Thursday. Until then, safari njema!
Today, we rose early to check out of our lodge and head to the Ngorongoro Crater. We took our time getting to the park gate and we weren’t disappointed with the fantastic light on the baobab and flat-topped acacia trees.
From a distance, we saw a herd of zebra and wildebeest at the top of a hill, heading down to the river for a drink. They were kicking up a cloud of dust as they ran downhill which was illuminated from behind with sunlight. We raced down the road to get closer and stayed for half an hour, trying to capture the amazing scene, feeling lucky that the herd was large enough to give us the time to try different compositions.
After leaving the park gate, we drove further across the Maasai Steppe and up the Rift Valley escarpment, feeling the air get much cooler as we climbed higher. In the late afternoon, we arrived at our lodging on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater and settled in.
Before going to bed, I heard some noise outside my window. I turned out the lights and went to the window to see what might be there. I looked down and 3 feet from me was a zebra, peacefully munching away on the grass.