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.
My new African photo safari in March 2014 is now ready for sign ups and there is a discount if you sign up before September 1st! It’s an 11-day, 10-night safari that hits the best locations in Tanzania’s northern circuit:
I’m frequently asked if I really see as much wildlife on safari as my pictures show. The surprising answer is, you’ll see more than I have pictures of! Although I have to warn people that it’s not like the Discovery Channel (although I did see a cheetah hunt on my March 2012 safari), it’s true that there is more wildlife than you can shake a camera stick at. There are supposedly 500+ species of birds in the Serengeti alone. I kept a species list from my November 2012 safari and thought I’d publish that here for people to see the variety and breadth they may see on one of my safaris:
My new photo safari in October 2013 is now ready for sign ups (and there is a discount if you sign up before May 1st)! It’s a 10-night safari that hits the best locations in Tanzania’s northern circuit:
We start with 3 nights at a camp within Tarangire National Park. Tarangire does not have the name recognition that the Serengeti does but that just means fewer crowds. It is one of my favorite locations and I always come away with great images. It is full of beautiful landscapes and at this time of year is full of wildlife.
We then spend 3 nights at the Ngorongoro Crater – an ancient caldera considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Crater is teeming with herd animals, birds, and of course, predators! On my last trip, we saw a pride of lions feasting on a freshly killed buffalo, sparring with jackals who wanted a piece of the prize.
After the amazing photographic opportunity of visiting a Maasai boma, we finish the trip with 3 nights in the legendary Serengeti. Our camp is in the midst of the kopjes – granite outcroppings that provide shade and views of the plains to the local cats.