African Safari Photography Adventure
The text, photos and video are from our annual adventure to Kenya. The daily updates were originally sent out to friends and family of our guests to help keep them up to speed with our travels. Most places in Kenya do not have great Internet connections and at most camps one email could take 15 minutes or more to send. With such slow Internet connections, it was easier for me to create a single email for loved ones back home than to have all our guests try to do individual emails themselves. In my original emails, we didn’t have any photos or video. Dan added the visuals upon returning to Montana. Hope you enjoy, and if you have an interest we plan to do it all again in 2011. There are still a few openings. We would love to have you along.
Dan and I are in Kenya for our 4th annual Kenya photography trip. There are many of you that have family traveling with us, so we thought we would share with you our experiences day by day
Most guests arrived today in Nairobi, Kenya, and were greeted by our tour operators upon arrival. Below are images of our hotel in Nairobi, the Norfolk. It is a historical hotel over 100 years old and truly beautiful. The hallways are filled with archival images of the earlier days of the hotel, the first explorers, the swamps with crocodiles, and the savannah full of wild game.
We spend one day in Nairobi to recover from jet lag and see a few sites in the city. Today we visited the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – a place that takes care of orphaned young elephants. Below is a short clip Dan took during our visit
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
This afternoon we visited the Giraffe Center and had some close encounters with giraffes at eye level. We were able to feed the giraffes by hand and even get a big sloppy kiss!
We depart on two private 13-seater charter planes to Amboseli; upon arrival our guides greet us. The lodge consists of small private bungalows with porches that have views of Mt. Kilimanjaro and elephants. In the late afternoon the baboons and vervet monkeys come to check out the new arriving guests. They are curious creatures. There were also ostriches near the fence that surround the lodge.
Amboseli is known for elephants – herds of them! We had a great afternoon game viewing of elephant herds (as many as 80!) that would pass right by our safari vehicles. There were massive males with tusks standing right near our vehicle and also little ones walking along side their moms. We also encountered some zebra, gazelles, wildebeest and hyena.
This evening after the game drive we met in the outside lodge for a beverage of choice and listened to some live music, Maasai on guitar singing, some sat by the outside fire pits. Dinner at 8 pm. You will not go hungry in Kenya! Four course meals nightly – the Maasai staff came out after dinner to sing “Jambo and Happy Birthday” to Ellie. Cake for all!
Last April through December there was a terrible drought in this area, however, the rains came a few weeks ago and the savannah has turned green. There are skeletons of the many animals that died during the drought. The rains created many new watering holes near the lodge that became home to lots of birds, more than I have ever seen in Kenya. The elephants love to go into the mud and water to roll and cool down. Weather is very warm, dry and hot so midday we relax at the lodge with a Tuskar beer by the pool. Life is rough
Early morning you awake to the sounds of elephants sounding off and hippos grunting. We have a quick coffee and cookie and take off around 6:30am for our morning game drive. Within ten minutes of leaving the lodge we encounter a lion pride! Two lionesses with eight young cubs; the males are far in the distance. They cross the road in front of our vehicles and go lay down in the shade. Nearby sightings of hyena hauling an old animal carcass in front of our vehicle, jackal, hippos with tiny young. We have a picnic breakfast in the field. On our return to the lodge we come across herds of elephants wallowing in the mud. More ostrich viewing…
After lunch and a swim in the pool it is nap or massage time As I write this a vervet monkey comes up to my room window to quickly scope out what goodies I may have; you have to watch these black-faced bandits! They will raid your room! I have decided to stay in this afternoon and not go on a game drive – I plan on photographing these little napster monkeys, baboons and bird life around the lodge.
More blog to come! Sorry no images due to Internet restrictions.
Further updates about our safari! Hope you are enjoying them ~ The Internet here is slow as molasses! Would love to send pictures but will have to wait…
(Day 4: Forgot to mention there were great picture opportunities for some of the vehicles of hippos with three little baby hippos. Who would have thought a baby hippo could be so cute?
This morning’s game drive started out with a beautiful sunrise and sightings of the large lion pride with young cubs, the same pride we saw the previous morning only ten minutes from our lodge. The family of cats were relaxed; laying down the cubs little bellies looked overly full. Just down the trail we came across a hyena family with at least 8-9 cubs. An adult was resting its head outside the den keeping an eye on the little ones. Two cubs were sharing a bone from their last feeding. They were tugging and playing with the remains seeing who would get the last nibble.
After our boxed breakfast at Observation Hill, we traveled to a Maasai Village, the same one we visit yearly. We photographed the Maasai singing a welcome song, the young men jumping and the ladies chanting. We concluded with a Maasai prayer together.
There was nice cloud cover that was great for people pictures and kept the harsh sun from burning us during the visit. We learned about the village culture, went into a dung hut, visited the school children in class and checked out the new well tourist dollars help pay for along with our tour operator. The well water comes from springs from Mt. Kilimanjaro. The only issue of concern with it is the elephants during the night were desperate for water and actually damaged the pump. All was fixed, however, a concrete wall is needed to protect it from the elephants. Right now they put a bright Maasai cloth over it and it detours the big game from damaging it. Many of the game fear the Maasai so the cloth is a good distraction for now.
With the drought in 2009 the well was a lifesaver to the area for the people but they still lost more than 75% of their livestock due to no grasses to feed them. This was the first time the Maasai have seen all the big game dying around them.
We purchased some items for gifts to support the village people; it is hard to imagine how little they have. All our guests donated bags and bags of school supplies and clothing they brought from home. All will be used and they were very thankful. No other group gives as much as our group and we’re told by our guides we will be the talk of the village for a long time! The chief remembered us from two years ago (the last time we visited).
We returned to our lodge for lunch and a little nap. At 3:30 we went out for our late day game drive. We saw some great cloud formations; a few highlights of this drive were the elephants (they are everywhere!). Lilac-breasted rollers, crowned cranes and near the end of the drive a lioness was right next to a couple of the vehicles with a small almost newborn cub. The cub was very active and enjoyed playing. We will post the video of it on our website on our Kenya 2011 trip page.
Tonight after a Tuskar beer and dinner it was time to retreat to our rooms. Days are long but exciting and fulfilling. There are soooo many animals and birds to see; everyday is different, the mystery of what we will encounter around every corner.
Today we slept in a little and had a hot breakfast at the lodge. We packed up our bags and departed to our next destination, the Masai Mara Game Reserve. Our charter flight departed at 9:00am, a 55-minute flight to the Mara. The charters are so nice. We load our own luggage on the planes and away we go!
Upon arrival we were greeted by the Mara Intrepid staff. The gravel airstrip is right next to Mara Intrepids. Sometimes you have to circle before landing to clear the zebra off the runway Our poor guides had to drive the vehicles from Amboseli to the Mara to meet us later this evening. The trip is about eight hours on washboard dirt roads, not fun. Some tour operators do this drive with their guests, we prefer to fly thank you very much!
We were greeted with wet hand towels to refresh and fancy juice cocktails. The Mara Intrepids is a permanent tent camp situated in the Masai Mara National Reserve. The tents are luxurious with 4-post beds, teak floors, modern bathrooms with hot running water and flush toilets. Each tent overlooks a riverbank often visited by hippos during the night. Baboons run along the river’s edge regularly. The area is highly vocal and alive with birds and animal sounds. A monitor lizard was also spotted.
The food at all the lodges we visit are above expectations and step up a level each year we visit. Each lunch and dinner includes homemade soups and salads, a variety of main courses and incredible deserts and fresh fruit. Let me tell you we are not starving in Africa!
After lunch you can hear the thunder in the distance, rain is coming. A quick heavy shower cools the air and ends just before our afternoon safari drive. Could not have planned it any better! It has been hot, the rain was a nice way to cool down. The Mara has been getting late rains this year and is very green right now. Usually there are mild rains in November/December and heavy rains in March/April/May. It seems everyone’s weather worldwide is a little out of sync these days, but we are happy things are lush and the animals have lots of green grasses to eat.
Today’s late day game drive will be with the lodge vehicles since our vehicles/guides will not arrive until later this evening. Hot coffee, tea and hot chocolate with cookies are set up before we head out.
OK, let’s just say the start to our adventure in the Mara was unbelievable! Lions, lions lions!!! Males with big manes, females and too many cubs to count! Some were feeding on a cape buffalo, cubs were chowing down and crawling in and out of the carcass, playing and leaping off it, cubs were all different ages including almost newborns. A few giraffe were spotted and there was a pair of jackals scent marking. Down falls the rain. made it back to the lodge from our game drive in the nick of time. The sound of rain hitting the tent roof is serene. It reminds you of your younger days camping, however no leaks in these tents~
After a Tuskar or dawa we sit down for dinner. Have you ever heard of a bush baby? These little nocturnal critters scope out the guests nightly to see if anyone would part with a dinner roll. A pair visited, a black and a gray one, both extremely fuzzy like a koala with long tails and big eyes.
Long day, truly eventful. The Mara is overflowing with life!
Today’s game drive started with a beautiful sunrise, layers of clouds and colors filled the sky. We took some great images of a lone acacia tree silhouetted on the Mara with the sky on fire in the background. Within ten minutes we came across the lion prides from the night before, finishing up the remains of their kill. Most of the cape buffalo were gone, all but a skeleton remained. It is interesting to watch the hierarchy system of who feeds on the kill. First the male lions have their fill, later the mother and cubs following the young adults, vultures, hyena and jackals. The lion mothers and cubs after feeding all took a drink together at a small pond of water nearby which made for some great pictures. Mongoose were spotted and Felix our guide used his special call to have them come to the vehicle. To top off the morning a leopard was spotted near our lodge. She had an impala kill hanging from the treetop. She had just finished feeding on it and was resting on a horizontal branch, legs dangling. All our vehicles had great viewpoints to get some great close up images of her. She had two cubs that were also spotted in the area but we didn’t find them. Maybe this afternoon. The adventure continues!
This afternoon?s game drive was not far from our lodge. We spent the remainder of the day watching the female leopard in the tree. A strong wind came up that started to move her around in the tree. She finally decided to come down after calling the cubs. The cubs were about 8-months old. One cub climbed up the tree and moved the impala kill around in the tree and fed on it. The flies were starting to get bad around the vehicle so Felix grabbed a branch from a certain tree and brought it into the cab of the vehicle. The flies dispersed! The locals know all the tricks!
Before dinner I decided to send this diary out to you by Internet and check emails. The Internet is extremely slow so I wasn’t on it long but managed to see an email from Moses, the young teacher from the Maasai village we visited earlier in the trip. He wanted to thank our group for all the financial support we gave through items we brought, small donations to the school and the gifts we purchased from the village. From this money, $500 will be used for the school to buy 20 desks, 200 books and some uniforms. We will be able to see how the money is being used on our next trip over in January 2011. Pretty neat ~
The rain started after dinner ~ great way to sleep hearing the rain come down. A hot water bottle is placed nightly in our beds after dinner in case it gets too cool.
The morning started out like all other mornings with a wake-up knock on our tent by James, our room steward. He brings us cookies and a thermos of coffee and milk before our safari. It really is a nice touch ~
We decided to see if we could once again see the leopard in the tree nearby the lodge. The female and cubs were gone but a male was now in the tree feeding on the remains of the impala. This cat’s stomach was huge! As he fed, he was dropping bones and small pieces from the tree. Below was a collared female hyena with young that were scavenging the droppings. They would run off with the bones into the bush, we could hear them crunching the bones. We started driving around and came across a couple hippos out grazing, they were not happy we spotted them. Hippos don’t hide very well even when they are trying to! You can’t find a big enough bush! One started snorting at us and as we started to move away it looked like it was going to charge! Did you know hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa? Who would have thought?
We needed to cross the river waters with the vehicles to get to the other side. With all the rainy evenings the waters came up to the bottom of the doors. Hippos popped their heads out of the river as we crossed to see what was going on. Our guide mentioned that the 2009 summer wildebeest migration was very different with the drought. There was no water in the rivers they normally cross where the crocs try to eat them. This is the first time they saw wildebeest cross the river beds that were dry with no crocs. I am sure this was disappointing to those that came to try to photograph the crossing.
The rest of the day consisted of a hyena with really little cubs, oodles of them coming out of a ground den. They came out and were playing with a bone, running around, scrapping with one another. We saw a variety of new bird species, mongoose families, warthog families, impala, gazelles, a savannah of cape buffalo, male ostrich with his harem and how can I forget, we saw 4 out of the BIG 5 all in one morning!
Not only did we see 3 young lions, a leopard and an elephant but also 2 cheetahs! All we missed was the rhino! One cheetah was out in the distance but the other one was hanging out laying on the grass next to vehicles, rolling around on its back, stretching and yawning, full frame pictures with great, slightly overcast light.
Perfect morning! We have been so fortunate to see so much in such little time. It has been our best game viewing to date!
Our guide Henry told us we haven’t seen the “Little 5” yet. Have you heard of the Little 5? Here they are
- Rhinoceros Beetle
- Leopard Tortoise
- Elephant Shrew
- Lion Ant
- Buffalo Weaver
Today’s lunch had an Indian food theme, yesterday was Hawaiian. There is a huge variety of entrees, lots of salads and fresh fruit and wonderful desserts. The lodge is great – everyone is extremely friendly here. It has felt SO GOOD to not know what is going on in the rest of the world for awhile. This is one place you can escape from the daily grind.
This afternoon’s game drive was eventful. There was beautiful light right until sunset. We came across a female cheetah and her two almost fully grown cubs. For almost an hour and a half the cubs played and wrestled. Dan took video that will be posted on our website upon return home. We also photographed one of the Little 5, the leopard tortoise. At dinner, Dan and I celebrated our 8-year Anniversary with the group. Champagne was compliments of our tour operator and the staff sung the famous Jambo song and presented us with a cake. A nice evening had by all.
More to come!
Early into the game drive we managed to “sink” our vehicle in mud and had to have another vehicle winch us out – quick and easy, no problem! Comes with the territory!
Great morning with lions – we came across 4 mid-size cats with nice light. We had a huge colorful balloon ride land near our vehicle and the lions – pretty interesting to see how the lions reacted, they were a little nervous. We later saw a mother with 3 little ones – one was actually quite a bit younger but more “rolly polly” than the others – was persistently crying and wandering. We think the female was only “babysitting” and mama was out somewhere and the cub was calling her…
Sometime this morning a monkey raided Jim’s tent – the “bandit” took off with a bottle of advil and cold medication and drops, only remains were wrappers littered the outside of the tent. He did leave the tent a mess….we won’t go into details!
This afternoon we came across a couple of cheetahs, probably siblings. They cleaned one another’s faces and later played and roamed around as we followed. There were some great opportunities for portrait shots. Seen also were hyenas and a close up encounter with a saddle-billed stork – these birds are not only big but have beautiful bright red and yellow beaks. There was one incident where two secretary birds were fighting in mid-air. We found a den with bat-earred foxes…these foxes have short little legs with big ears, cute but look a little “out of balance”:)
This morning Art went out on a balloon ride over the Mara following a champagne breakfast. There were some good action opportunities of topi butting each other with their horns along with little gazelles battling it out.
This afternoon we had good sightings of hyena at a den with babies. Dan said their vehicle also encountered the largest male leopard they have ever seen. It had one full belly and looked like it could be the size of a tiger! Big Kitty!
Tonight we were surprised by the Mara Intrepid staff with a bush dinner – after drinks in the lounge we proceeded to walk with a flashlight through the pathways out to a special area down near the river. There were tables all set up beautifully with candles lit and a pit fire nearby. There we had a private BBQ with chefs and all…very nice evening.
Today we left the Mara Intrepids and moved to another area of the Mara to Mara Serena Safari Lodge. We did a game drive to Serena that was about 50 km away. We had a great photo shoot with 11 lions, all were different ages including 2 big males. They were all walking together across an open area – our vehicles would move ahead, position ourselves – shoot until they went past us then reposition.
We stopped by the Mara River for our boxed breakfast and sat along the banks watching the hippos in the water below. One crocodile was sunning itself. We continued on with sightings of hyenas, ungulates of many varieties, elephants, bat-earred foxes, warthogs, little dik-dik, too much to mention.
We arrived at Serena – a very unique lodge filled with adobe style rooms that line a hillside, all colorful decorated with Maasai art. Many of us had views of the valley with either giraffe or elephants from our terrace windows. Rock hyrax were running around the walkways trying to eat all the plants, a few vervet monkeys could be seen. They have agama lizards at the lodge – they are about 10-inches long, half their body is bright blue and the other half bright red when they are heated up in the sun. I am not sure if it is a “mating” thing but they bob their little heads up and down, strange but pretty funny.
The afternoon game drive kept most out later than normal. The game viewing is more limited in this area with restrictions however there is still a lot to see. We came across a hippo pool along with visiting crocs. Giraffe and elephants…sightings of reedbuck and more topi…crowned cranes….some lion sightings but they were in the bush resting.
This morning many had the opportunity to see the black rhino, it is very endangered and the last on the list of the “big 5” to spot. The sighting was from a distance for most but black rhinos are the mean ones so distance is not so bad They are usually the ones that will charge a vehicle and often live in the forests versus large grassy plains like the white rhino. There was also a trio of young male cheetahs out hunting. Great lilac-breasted roller photo opportunities and gazelles with their babies.
This evening a rhino and its baby were spotted. More cheetah opportunities…
Great morning with the trio of cheetahs. We heard they just left mom only a couple days ago and were out looking for food.
Tonight is our last night at Serena…we take off by plane tomorrow around 10am after breakfast. A little gift shopping, R & R at the Norfolk, dinner at Carnivores and last but not least the airport for our return flights home. Some are staying a couple days later…Dan and I are stopping in Amsterdam for a night to break up the long flight…
It has been a great trip and overall experience. As all incredible places get discovered they will slowly change – nothing lasts forever…I hope if you ever get a chance to come to Kenya you decide to see it sooner than later. Between human encroachment, regulations and climate change, Kenya will be one of those places in the world that will change quickly and not for the good. It will always be a special place for Dan and myself and we plan on visiting as often as we can, it is a hard place to leave or forget