Posts Tagged ‘safari’

Africa Revisited: Photographic safari to Kenya – 2011

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 posted by Bruce 10:31 PM

Photographing Africa’s ‘Big Five’ and other amazing creatures of nature in Kenya’s Siana Springs Conservancy, Masai Mara National Reserve and Nairobi National Park

‘In memory of George Ndungu, my driver and guide who passed

away from malaria shortly after this safari’

It is said: “a visit to Africa sometimes becomes an addiction”. I got snagged on my very first trip in 2010! Kenya’s remarkable wildlife and natural ecosystems are unforgettable and hence, one can become hooked. I now have the so-called ‘African bug’. On my first safari to Kenya’s vast protected areas, it was an exciting event for me and a dream come true. I decided then that I would return at least once a year to photograph what is undeniably one of the top wildlife photography places on the planet.

 

Leopard cub in dry streambed (donga) in the Masai Mara National Reserve

During the early part of 2011, I arranged a safari with the same company used in 2010. They are Transworld Safaris Kenya based in Nairobi. Sati Lota, the Tours Manager, was very helpful in planning the trip scheduled for mid-August. A group of five Thai photographers would join me on this trip. All the required fees, air tickets, visa to Kenya and other essentials were taken care of three months before departure to the Dark Continent.

 

Mother leopard yawning in the shade in the Masai Mara 

When August 16th finally rolled around, the team and I met at Suvarnabhumi Airport and boarded Kenya Airways just after noon. The flight was eight and half hours long and we arrived around 7pm. We quickly zipped through immigration and customs and were met by Patrick Njoroge and George Ndungu, the two drivers used from 2010. They had proven to be expert tour guides and Sati was kind enough to arrange for them plus two 4X4 Toyota Land Cruisers for our safari. After getting stuck several times in a van last year on wet greasy roads, I insisted on four-wheeled vehicles this time around. It proved to be the right choice as it did rain quite a few times making the roads tough in places.

African elephant in the Masai Mara

We were whisked away to the Ole Sereni Hotel not far from the airport and put up for the night. It is absolutely dangerous to drive around Kenya’s back roads during darkness so we rested up for the long 6-hour drive the next morning to the Masai Mara National Reserve in the Southwest near the border with Tanzania.

African Cape buffalo in the Masai Mara

The next morning after breakfast, we were on our way out of hectic Nairobi and stopped at a supermarket to buy foodstuffs and some green peas to fill our beanbags. This is very important for a steady support while photographing wildlife from the Land Cruisers’ windows and open top. After that, it was on the road again up to the rim of the Great Rift Valley and down to the massive valley floor. The main town is Narok and it is a trucker’s waystop, and a very busy place.

White rhino in Nairobi National Park

Off again and as we got nearer to the Masai Mara, the dirt track became rough. The skies were cloudy and the temperature was pleasant but the dusty pot-holed road began to wear us down quickly. We stopped at a trinket shop that gave us some relief to stretch and relax. After a quick cup of coffee, we were on the road again. As we got closer, a herd of zebra jumped across the front of the truck and I quickly pulled out my medium camera and fired off a few shots. As the light was harsh, it was just a practice run getting warmed up for the safari, and testing my new Nikon D7000 camera and 70-300mm VR lens that also has great video capability. I wanted to record motion and behavior this time around to be used in wildlife presentations I do from time to time.

Old male lion in the Masai Mara

We finally arrived at our first hotel, the Siana Springs Tented Camp in the Siana Springs Conservancy, a protected area next to the Masai Mara. This place was pleasant and the rare African bushbuck thrives here coming out on to the hotel grounds to munch of the fresh grass. Lunch was being served so we ate and then moved into our tents that were very comfortable. That afternoon, everyone jumped into the land cruisers and we were off for our first game drive. Later that night we had a wonderful dinner as the temperature dropped to about 12 degrees Centigrade, and we all slept like logs after the long haul from Nairobi. It was absolutely marvelous and we were impressed with the food, professional service and management run by Richard Siele, a Kenyan national.

African bushbuck in Siana Springs Hotel grounds

As we moved into the park, gazelles and zebras were grazing on the lush grass with an ostrich here and there. Close to the end of the day, we bumped into a herd of Kenyan giraffes (also know as the Masai giraffe) in beautiful afternoon light. I now have three species of giraffe including the reticulated and the rare Rothschild giraffes photographed the previous year. We also managed to catch some black-back jackals out hunting for prey. It was a great start and we all agreed to do another game drive the following morning.

Thompson’s gazelle in Siana Springs Conservancy

At 6.30am after breakfast, we were off into the conservancy once again hoping to bump into lion or leopard but they remained elusive. After an hour of driving around, we found a large group of baboons out hunting in the crisp morning light. And then a male solitary giraffe was nibbling the treetops as the sun peaked over the hills. I got some amazing photos and video. Shortly after that, a small family group of elephants was spotted so we moved in closer. The huge gray beasts paid no attention to our vehicles. The beauty of this place; there were no other safari companies doing game drives here. We had the whole place to ourselves unlike what we were about to see the next few days in the Masai Mara.

Ostrich in Siana Springs

We left Siana Springs for a hotel near the main gate of the Masai Mara National Reserve. It was decided to go straight into the park for a quick look. After several kilometers, we saw a group of safari vans parked in a semi-circle around a tree so down we went. Three cheetahs (a mother and two cubs) were sleeping at the base of the tree. I was able to get some frame filling shots of the three-some. After some time, the group decided to check-in to the Sentrim Mara Tented Camp, which was very much different from our previous accommodations. The surrounding area was dry like a desert unlike Siana Springs which was green and crisp.

Masai giraffe also known as Kenyan giraffe in Siana Springs

Over the next five days, our daily excursions into the reserve where we met with some terrific African wildlife scenes. We saw lion, cheetah, hyena and a jackal on several kills, a few solitary male lions, buffalo, herds of elephant, the shy Eland (the largest of the African antelope) plus baboon, ground hornbill, vulture, secretary bird and of course the massive herds of wildebeest, zebra and antelope.

Cheethas on a kill in the Masai Mara

Our departure date came and we left the reserve, but this time with a bit of disappointment. At one cheetah kill, there were almost 50 vehicles on the road all locked-in a traffic jam. Most operators now have short-wave radio and keep in touch with each other. When something of great interest like lion, leopard or cheetah is seen, the vans and 4X4s’ coming rushing to get a glimpse of the spectacle as sightings are normally short. It has now become quite hectic in many places, especially the immense river crossings on the Mara River during August-September, the peak season.

Lions on a kill in the Masai Mara

Our next stop was back in the capital where we entered Nairobi National Park for a half-day safari. This park is right next to the airport and our hotel, and has some interesting creatures including lion, leopard, black and white rhino, plus many other classic African animals except the elephant. We got white rhino just inside the gate to make-up the ‘Big Five’ for all of us. We also got an old lazy male lion in the shade, and some African spoonbills, some of Africa’s rarest birds. The park provided a great time and loads of photographic images at the tail-end of the safari.

Hyena and jackal on a kill in the Masai Mara

At the end of the day, we headed back to the hotel. The next day we did a little shopping and then boarded the flight home to Thailand in the evening. Looking back, it was once again a great opportunity to observe and record Kenya’s superb wildlife and habitats.

Cheetha resting on the Masai Mara plain

I have already made arrangements to do another safari next year but at new locations in southern Kenya, which will include the famous Amboseli, Tsavo and Simba Hills national parks not far from the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. I will spend about two weeks chasing after Kenya’s impressive wildlife and truly look forward to this adventure. I now have the African bug!

 

Safari group from Thailand in August 2011 on the Masai Mara

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Additional photos from the 2011 Safari

Red Hartebeest in the Masai Mara

Lion female stretching in the Masai Mara

Playful lion cub in the Masai Mara

Elan bull in the Masai Mara

Zebras in the Masai Mara

African spoonbills in Nairobi National Park

Little bee-eater in Nairobi National Park

African lilac roller in the Masai Mara

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The ‘Big Five’ in five days – Part Three

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 posted by Bruce 1:23 PM

Additional photographs acquired on my first African Safari in 2010

Mother lion and cubs in Sweetwaters Game Reserve

Mount Kenya taken from Sweetwaters early in the morning

Nile crocodile by the river in Samburu National Reserve

Zebras grazing in Sweetwaters grassland

Wildebeest and zebra crossing the Mara River during migration

White rhinos in Lake Nakuru

Another white rhino in Lake Nakuru

Waterbuck female in Lake Nakuru

Topi antelope showing affection in Masai Mara

Reticulated giraffe in Sweetwaters

Impala buck at night in Sweetwaters tented camp

African hare at night in Sweetwaters tented camp

Female lion on the Masai Mara

Griffon vulture in Sweetwaters

Grevy’s stallion in Samburu

Giraffes at a waterhole in Sweetwaters

Cheetah male resting in the Masai Mara

Cape Buffalo bulls sparing in Lake Nakuru

Buffalo bulls sparing

Cape buffalo and oxpecker in the Masai Mara

Black-backed jackal pair in Sweetwaters

An elephant in Samburu

The same elephant

And the elephant’s rear end

Great cormorant in Lake Nakuru

Kudu cow in Samburu

Gamma lizard in Lake Nakuru with a ‘regenerated tail’

African painted stork in Lake Nakuru

Painted storks in Lake Nakuru

Red-billed hornbill in Samburu

Female leopard in Samburu

Tail-end of a male leopard on the last day of the safari in Samburu

A Kenyan ranger at a truck-stop near Samburu

“They mean business and shoot to kill any poachers who enter the park”

Marabou storks in Lamu Island, East coast of Kenya

Northern Carmine bee-eaters in Lamu Island, a World Heritage Site

And that closes out this safari which was an amazing wildlife photographic adventure for me. I hope that everyone has enjoyed these images. In the works is my safari to Kenya once again in August of 2011, and I will post this very soon. Please comment and your feedback is always welcome.

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The ‘Big Five’ in five days – Part Two

Sunday, August 14, 2011 posted by Bruce 7:01 PM

Africa’s great wildlife adventure – continued

Sunrise over Mount Kenya at ‘Sweetwaters’ Wildlife Reserve

The safari so far had been hectic and we had taken loads of photographs. On day seven, our next destination was a private reserve not far from Mount Kenya in the central provinces. The weather was crisp and chilly when we arrived at ‘Sweetwaters Game Reserve’. As we were checking into the lodge, a small herd of reticulated giraffe visited the waterhole next to the hotel. We left our bags and departed for our first game drive and saw more giraffe plus wart hog and zebra.

African fish eagle grabbing a fish – this was a setup where the locals call the eagles in and as they swoop down, the photographer is suppose to catch them in mid-flight. It was not easy and I burned a lot of card space but got one shot. Not easy!

This lodge is a tented camp and the services are amazing. In each bed, a hot water bottle is placed under the covers by the staff in the evening as the temperatures can sometimes drop dramatically during the night close to freezing. Mount Kenya is snow-capped year-round and the weather is always very pleasant here. The mountain is a beautiful sight when the cloud cover clears.

That night at dinner, a small herd of white rhino arrived followed by a family unit of elephant. Just about everyone left their dinner to photograph the huge herbivores. That night, I photographed a male impala that jumped the electric fence to nibble on the soft grass inside the hotel grounds.

Lion pride on the savanna

The next morning, I was up at the crack of dawn setting up my camera with a wide-angle lens to shoot the sunrise with the Mount Kenya range in the background. At 6:30am after a quick cup of coffee, we departed for the morning drive. We bumped into a mother lion and two small cubs. The female had a collar with a radio transmitter and was being monitored by the park’s research staff.

We left after lunch for the last leg of the safari. Our destination was several hundred kilometers to the east and Samburu National Reserve was entirely different from the three previous locations. It was lowland desert; hot, dusty and dry but still loaded with wildlife. The Samburu Game Lodge was very comfortable and located at the banks of the Eweso Nyiro River.

As we entered the park, a herd of giraffe crossed in front of us followed by a large herd of elephant that went down to the river for a refreshing drink and cooling bath. The African giants then sprayed dust over their backs to ward off insects.

Leopard mother and cub in Samburu National Reserve

Over the next two days, we managed to get leopard once again. This time it was a mother and cub feeding on a little male dik-dik, Africa’s smallest antelope. We also photographed Grevy’s zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, gemsbok and gerenuk plus the dik-dik. Elephant were everywhere and easily approached.

When the rains came earlier this year, the river overflowed its banks and washed out the only bridge in the park. We were not able to visit the other side where the lions and buffalo live. There were many crocodiles in this river and two would come up at night into a closed pen next to the bar in the lodge.

On our departure, we saw a large group of vehicles surrounding a tree and decided to investigate. It was on the way out. Up in a tree, a male leopard was sleeping off a previous kill.

African elephant herd in Samburu

It was strange how we bumped into a leopard on the first day and on our day out. The leopard is considered to be the toughest to see and photograph while on safari but we were lucky. The ‘spirits of the wild’ had smiled on us.

The long ride back to Nairobi took about 6 hours and we finally arrived at the hotel tired, dusty and hungry. The next morning we flew to Lamu, a World Heritage Site on the northeast coastline for some rest and sightseeing. This old town was a port during the slave-trading days and its rustic appeal off the beaten track was interesting.

Elephant family group by the Eweso Nyiro River in Samburu

These events are etched in memory and I know I have caught the African bug. I am leaving on another photographic safari to Kenya to catch the ‘Great Migration’ and when I return, will post a new story.

Such is the life of people hooked on photographing anything wild. It is the ultimate hobby or profession, and if you get a camera and start shooting Mother Nature’s creatures, do be prepared; it can be become an addiction.

A note to all who follow my website: I’m leaving for Africa in a few hours and ran out of time to finish this post. When I get back, I will add some additional photos of this amazing safari.

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The ‘Big Five’ in five days – Part One

Monday, November 15, 2010 posted by Bruce 8:21 PM

Africa’s great wildlife adventure

A photographic team from Thailand goes on safari to Kenya

Leopard in Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya

When I was young, the dream to go to Africa was always on my mind. I collected many books and magazines on the subject and learned about the ‘Dark Continent’ with all its amazing wild animals. But it has always been just a dream until this year.

Male lion portrait in Maasai Mara

Once in while, the chance of a lifetime comes along and the opportunity to visit Kenya, Africa to photograph wildlife became a reality. This place is certainly the ‘Holy Grail’ for photographers and naturalists, and is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world.

Female elephant in the Maasai Mara

The Masai Mara plains in the southwest section of the country adjoining the Great Serengeti Plains in Tanzania, plus a few other protected areas in Kenya are the ultimate safari experience. The Kenyan people are proud of their heritage.

Cape buffalo and oxpecker in Maasai Mara

White rhinoceros in Lake Nakuru National Park

Buffalo and oxpeckers

Elephant herd on the savanna

The planning and scheduling for the safari was arranged through the Thai Embassy in Nairobi who recommended ‘Transworld Safaris’ as one of the best operators in Kenya. The company certainly lived up to their commitment as a very professionally well-run operation with excellent staff and services.

Lion cubs – part of a large pride

On September 5th of this year, nine people from different walks of life met-up at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok late at night for the eight-hour flight to Nairobi. A group of Thai nationals and myself made up the rest of the group. One thing in common with all of us was the desire to see and photograph wildlife.

Lion cub playing with its mother

We left Thailand on Kenya Airways just after midnight. The airline allowed 40 kilograms of baggage that permitted lot’s of heavy photographic gear. With a couple of tripods, camera-traps, clothes and other stuff, my bags were close to the limit.

Cheetah on a termite mound in the Maasai Mara

The next morning we arrived in Nairobi at 5am and quickly went through immigration and customs. Transworld Safaris manager Sati Lota and two very capable and friendly drivers, Patrick Njoroge and George Ndungu, plus two safari vans were waiting for us at the airport. We were quickly on the road for the five-hour trip to Maasai Mara National Reserve and the first lodge in the bush.

Black-backed jackal in the Maasai Mara

A quick stop at a supermarket was made to buy some foodstuffs and a load of green peas for the ‘bean bags’ needed for camera and lens support on top of the van while photographing wildlife. In Kenya, it is absolutely forbidden to exit the vehicle anywhere while out on safari.

Wildebeest on the run in the savanna

The traffic out of Nairobi was a bit hectic but we eventually arrived at the half waypoint above the ‘Great Rift Valley’ for a quick cup of coffee, and to enjoy the view and buy a few trinkets from the tourist shop. The road then got tougher as we crossed the valley into the Maasai Mara reserve. As we got closer, we began to see antelopes and zebras.

Wildebeest crossing the Mara River

We arrived at the Mara Simba Lodge just after noon and checked in. After depositing our bags in the room, it was straight to the buffet lunch set-up overlooking the Talek River. As we got there, a pod of hippos showed up for a sunbathing session on a sandbar. Egyptian geese were also by the river.

Hippos by the Talek River in the Maasai Mara

As I had my medium camera and lens with me, I made quick work of the situation. The hippo’s size filled the frame and I got some flying shots of the geese. After a quick bite, I took a stroll near an electric fence surrounding the lodge and bumped into a pack of banded mongoose. Three species in less than an hour of arriving; things were certainly looking up.

Hippo pod in the river

At 3.30pm, we had some tea and readied ourselves for our first afternoon ‘game drive’ as they are called. As we left the lodge, we began to see wildlife right away. After a short while, we bumped into a pride of mature female lions and their cubs enjoying the late afternoon sun, and setting out on a hunt. It was exciting to say the least.

Banded mongoose by the Talek River

About 5.30pm, we saw a large group of safari vehicles surrounding a tree out in the savannah and George our driver said it was probably a leopard. We quickly motored to the spot and found the mystical cat sleeping up in the tree. George was very skilled at getting us into a good position.

Egyptian goose taking-off from the Talek River

I managed to get some very close facial shots of the big cat (lead photo). I was using a Nikon D3s and a 400mm f2.8 lens but the catch-lights in the eyes of my leopard were provided by a Canon flash used by my companion next to me. Strange how things work out sometimes but I was elated to say the least.

Leopard coming down from the tree

If you get a leopard, it is said you will get the ‘Big Five’ and that is exactly what we were able to accomplish over the next five days. We also managed to get some very good African buffalo and elephant shots the first day.

Leopard posing for my camera

On day-two, a mature male lion was sleeping off a heavy meal on a grassy knoll. When we arrived, there were about ten-safari cars gathered in a semi-circle around the lazy lion. After a while, most people became impatient and departed for other areas but I insisted we stay put and be patient.

Sleepy male lion in the Maasai Mara

About 6pm, the old boy got up and gave us the classic lion yawn flashing his big teeth. Now that really got the blood flowing and I snapped a long series of close-up shots of the magnificent cat.

The classic African shot – a male lion yawning

On day three we moved to the Mara Serena Lodge in the western section of the reserve. We had ringside seats at two different animal crossings where wildebeest and zebra were struggling in mass to get across the Mara River back into the Serengeti Plains.

Black-maned lion hunting wildebeest

A large pride of lions including a ‘black maned male’ were hunting the ungulates as they came to the river. While the pride attacked, it was pantomime as the antelopes struggled to get away from the lions to the safety of the big herd.

Nile crocodile alongside a wildebeest carcass

Amazingly, the crocs seemed full and we did not see any attacks but did find some very lazy reptiles sunbathing near some wildebeest carcasses. It is certainly an amazing wildlife spectacle and many animals do not make the other side drowning or being taken by the crocs. The vultures were everywhere taking in their fill. A black-backed jackal was scavenging on a wildebeest carcass and posing for us.

Zebra and wildebeest at a river crossing

On the forth day, giraffe, topi, impala, cheetah, hyena, buffalo, vulture provided lots of photographic action. We finally ran out of time and had to return to the hotel. On the way back, we bumped into a female ground hornbill in the beautiful evening glow of the setting sun.

African ground hornbill in the Maasai Mara

After four days of game-driving the Maasai Mara, we headed to our next location. Lake Nakuru National Park further north where the flamingos, and the rare Rothschild giraffe plus white and black rhino live. It was a tough five hours on the road but we arrived at the Savora Lion Hill Lodge just in time for lunch and a bit of a rest.

White rhino mother and calves in Lake Nakuru

At exactly 4pm, we left the lodge and motored close to the lake where the flamingos are. On the way, we bumped into a white rhino mother and calf munching on the lush grass. A herd of bachelor buffalo bulls was also grazing close to the waters’ edge.

Flamingos thrive in the thousands at Lake Nakuru

Greater and lesser flamingos are here in the thousands and it was absolutely a photographer’s delight. The ‘big five’ in five days was in the bag so to speak after the rhino shots.

Group photo at Lake Nakuru with the flamingos in the background

After two days around Lake Nakuru, we were on the road again, this time to a higher elevation. On the way, we stopped off at the famous Thompson Falls for a rest, coffee and some scenic picture taking. The falls were in full flow and the weather was cool at 2,360 meters above sea level.

The famous Thompson Falls at 2,360 meters

Additional photographs obtained while in the Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru

Zebra abstract on the savanna – Maasai Mara

A warthog in mid-day – Maasai Mara

Vultures playing ‘king of the hill’ – Maasai Mara

Secretary bird on the savanna – Maasai Mara

A lone hyena in a dry stream bed – Maasai Mara

Topi on a termite mound – Maasai Mara

Zebras on the savanna – Maasai Mara

Wildebeest after crossing the Mara River – Maasai Mara

Wildebeest on the savanna – Maasai Mara

no images were found

Impala and baboon – Maasai Mara

Griffon vulture – Maasai Mara

Hamerkop building a nest by the Talek River – Maasai Mara

Baboon eating a guineafowl chick – Lake Nakuru

Saddle-billed stork and flamingos – Lake Nakuru

Cape buffalo bull – Lake Nakuru

The very rare Rothschild giraffe – Lake Nakuru

An impala male – Lake Nakuru

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