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A great male Lion from Trip 2
An incredible Leopard and cub from Trip 1

Trip Report:

Serengeti 2018
Trip One and Two

We did two back-to-back trips to Tanzania this year, timed to coincide with the gnu migration and birthing. The two trips were quite different, but both were incredibly productive. For example, on one trip we had 16 Cheetahs and over 130 Lions, and on the other 32 Cheetahs and over 130 Lions. The shooting was great, and Tanzania has become my favorite East Africa shooting location. Read on ... and join us when we do these trips again in 2020!


Day 1 – Everyone arrived a day or two before our departure to the Serengeti. At 7AM this morning our drivers met us at the hotel to collect our luggage and camera gear, which they then transported to our first camp at Sametu, a drive of 7 hours for them. We had breakfast, and worked on office-busy work for the  remainder of the day, meeting for dinner and a brief orientation about the next day’s activities.

Day 2 – Arusha to Serengeti

We left the hotel at 7:30AM for our 9:30AM flight to Seronera, the  heart of the Serengeti. We flew over Lake Natron  and just south of O Donyo Lengai, the active volcano that is presently dormant. Ngorongoro Crater was out of view to our south.  The airport at Seronera has been vastly improved and was quite busy. After organizing our cameras and beanbags we headed out, and  had traveled less than five minutes when we had a Leopard in an acacia tree lining the Seronera River. The cat was far enough away that the shots were ‘habitat’ shots, but it was a great way to start. We were teased, once, thinking the cat was going to  climb down, but the Leopard simply reversed positions and settled in, all four legs hanging limply below the branch.
We continued on, stopping here and  there for incidentals, and had lunch at a hilltop picnic area. As we approached, an attendant was washing off the cement tables and cement benches – something we’d probably never see happen in Kenya. At lunch we were joined by Rufous-tailed Weavers, Starlings, and Finches, and, in the  distance, four Lions that walked across the  green savannah, flopping down and disappearing from view.
In all we saw over 200 Elephants, pre- and post-lunch, and various game. At 4:45PM Mary’s vehicle circled a kopje where a Leopard had been reported visiting. Mary’s vehicle stopped, and Mary HEARD the Leopard calling. A minute or so later she located the mother Leopard, who was soon joined by a 3 month old cub bounding through the grass. All of our vehicles soon assembled here.


After a short wait the Leopard rose and walked through the tall grass to a short acacia tree, which to our surprise she climbed. A few minutes later her cub climbed the tree, too, providing us with some great shots before she dropped back down to the ground and walked to a boulder where she disappeared from view. We could  hear her, though, or her cub, growling and squalling and as this was our first evening and we needed to get to camp (theoretically) we gave the cat a half hour before we’d be forced to abandon her and continue. 25 minutes later she appeared, walked across rocks, and, after disappearing for a minute or so, popping up on a large rock, bowl-shaped, where she settled. Her cub joined her and the shooting was spectacular. All three of our vehicles were in different positions so we captured multiple angles before she dropped back down and doubled-back to where we originally saw her.  She paused again on open rocks for more photo opportunities with her cub, then reversed herself again, walking parallel to the kopje before finally crossing the road in front of us.
lWe continued following her, as she passed by another kopje. Our little group of three vehicles morphed to about a dozen, including a friend of mine with his group. To our horror, two of his drivers – I cannot call them guides – raced off-road to get to a presumed better position for photographing the Leopards, speeding recklessly and passing within (Mary estimates) 30 feet of the Leopard and her cub. They never saw the Leopards, and it would have been so easy for one of those vehicles to have killed either, or both, Leopards. Our guides were aghast, too, as they could see the clients inside bouncing around, and they worried about injury. A short time later Mary met up with our friend and told him what the two drivers did, and we hope that he thoroughly reprimanded them for their behavior. Our safari could have been ruined right then, heart-sick, if that cub had been killed by a stupid and uncaring driver.
We did get ahead of the Leopard who, from quite a distance away, walked almost  directly to my vehicle, veering at the  last moment to casually cross the track. The cub veered further away, and when my driver-guide asked if we should back up to get him (the cub was a male) I said no, let’s let him pass. With that the two Leopards walked into the grasses and, now nearly 6:30, we headed to camp

Day 3.

We had a cooked breakfast at 5:30AM and departed camp around 6, still in complete darkness. A semi-transparent band of clouds lined rim of the eastern horizon, and the sun rose through this  like a dull orange ball. Cresting the clouds the light turned brilliant, but unfortunately this entire spectacle occurred over open grasslands with nothing to include for a  photo.
cMy guide spotted a Cheetah from an incredible distance and as we followed what turned out to be a pair of males, Mary spotted Lions in the distance, with active Hyenas in the background. We drove there, leaving the Cheetahs as they moved far off-track, to find  two beautiful blond-maned adult males, a Lioness, and 3 cubs about 5 months  old. They were no longer eating and, while we watched, they flopped on their sides to sleep, with the cubs joining their  mother  to nurse.
I was using my 18X IS binoculars and with them, another distant cheetah. Through my binocs I could see dust kicking up in front of the cheetah, sitting upright on a termite mound, and then I saw dark shapes, resembling a warthog at this distance. A warthog family wouldn’t behave like that so close to a visible Cheetah – it had to be cubs! We headed in that direction and found a family of four, the three cubs nearly full-grown and all were hungry. We followed them for a while until they appeared to be settled for the duration on a termite mound. Spectacular shooting.
We headed back to the Lions, who were now walking through the  grasses to the  same acacia stand where we’d first seen the two male Cheetahs. Mother and cubs were heading our way and we photographed them until we saw that the one male lLion was still defending the carcass (a zebra) from a dozen Hyenas. We headed there, but the action was over, the male walked off. Meanwhile, after the Lioness and cubs had taken a long walk and a long drink (all of us were there) the Lioness returned up the hill and to the kill, charging from nearly 150 yards away and driving off the Hyenas.  I was videoing the kill at the time and in the film clip I can see one of the Hyenas spotting the Lioness and slinking away, while three other hyenas continued to feed. My guide excitedly told  me  the Lioness was charging, and I left the Hyenas and acquired the Lioness in her charge in slow  motion – great video! Mary was shooting stills and captured the same scene – great double coverage.
lThe cubs, meanwhile, followed one of the males, greeting him submissively as he passed by. The cubs followed the male back to the flats where the waterhole was, and settled there. Meanwhile, the Lioness had claimed the carcass and proceeded to drag it about 400 yards to the acacias. There she called her cubs, who remained 100 yards away in the grass. I was with the cubs and I could hear the Lioness, -- she was giving an almost roaring-like grunt, quite unlike the ‘unnhh, unnhh’ contact call. The cubs didn’t respond, and we waited to see who would blink – would the cubs finally run to her or would she leave the kill and the shade of the acacias and go to the cubs. The cubs won, and  the Lioness started walking down the  hill towards the cubs, who, seeing her, ran up the track to meet her. I had predicted that she’d give the cubs a swat for not listening to her and coming at her call, but instead she just turned when they arrived, and she led them back to the kill where all settled in the shade. We left them there and started for home – 6 Cheetahs, and 7 Lions later!
PM. Clouds built throughout the afternoon break and as we headed out skies to the west and north were blanketed by walls of rain. Shortly out of camp we had a large herd of Elephant that fed close to the game track, eventually filing passed us. Wattled starlings kept pace with the Elephants, and I assume they were feeding on whatever insects the Elephants displaced.
We were told of a male Leopard, fairly far to the west near the Seronera River and we headed there – first checking our kopjes for yesterday’s Leopard without success. When we arrived the Leopard was out of his tree and in leopard-high grass, and he was hunting a Bushbuck. He was unsuccessful and we assumed he’d continue on but instead he turned back, and returned to the tree where he had spent much of  the day. It began raining as we photographed, and the light was low, but we did have a good, clean and close view.
This same Leopard, less than a month ago, had killed a younger male Leopard. Arnold, one of our driver-guides, saw ‘our’ Leopard in another tree close by, feeding on the remaining portion of the  cat. As we headed back to camp the rain increased, and we had to close up the roof hatches.

Day 4.

The  overcast skies remained, although this resulted in a wonderful fireball sunrise. We tried our best to get some  type of foreground while  the sun was still low, settling on a small kopje that was barely adequate. We continued to and passed where we had our lions and cheetahs yesterday, ending up at the big isolated kopje rock in the Semutu kopjes where a Leopard and cub were supposed to have been seen. Later, one of our other guides said it was reported in the Gol kopjes – quite a distance away. We looked there, too, unusuccessfully.
oIt was cold and raw and windy, and we headed into the Gol kopjes were we had a sit-down coffee break, before continuing, slowly, back towards camp. A large herd of Zebra at a water hole was stunning, with dust obscuring the animals at times and a leaded gray sky in the background. Other highlights included a frame-filling Spotted Eagle-Owl, and Topi and Hartebeests on termite mounds. We reached camp by 1PM, the sky still cloud-covered.
PM. We left at 4PM, heading west towards the male Leopard’s territory. Along the way Mary had a Lioness asleep on a rock and I had another that was standing in the tall grass, then walked within feet of our vehicle and crossed the track. We circled for another shot and had a nice sequence as the Lioness walked towards us, then paused, and finally slopped down, rolling onto her back and completely disappearing from view – and we were only feet away. She was pregnant and near term, and perhaps was heading towards the  area where she would give birth.
We did not succeed in finding the Leopard but we were almost hit by another safari vehicle, who sped up from behind us and didn’t yield as our vehicle merged into what was now a single lane. You could hear the scream of brakes and tires skidding on the dirt road, but luckily the driver stopped in time. He was probably hoping to get passed us to avoid our dust … and almost wrecked two vehicles by doing so.
The afternoon was otherwise fairly slow but very peaceful, and Mary’s vehicle spent a lot of time with birds. The afternoon highlight was the mother Egyptian Mongoose with her half-grown pup beneath her, in the open, and close. Ray got the  shot while Mary coached, although the Mary and Bill did get the mother alone a bit later.


Day 5.

We packed and headed towards Woodland Camp at Naabi Hill, our destination for the next three nights. We were sad to leave as Jonas and  the staff are our favorites. Heading first towards Seronera Roman, my driver/guide today, spotted a Lioness on a distant hill. When we arrived we discovered eight, on a high, isolated hill that gave us eye-level shots with the sky as the background. A few times these very hungry lions – two females and six cubs – stood for portraits, but most of the time they scanned an empty and vast grassland for prey.


We continued on to Seronera for the guides to gas up, and had three more Lionesses and five cubs – by themselves in the tall grass. Later, as we drove through 16 KM road, Leopard Valley, we had a Leopard and a 2-3 month old cub in a sausage tree. They were distant and very poor for photography – I only did a couple snapshots of the mother.
As we neared Naabi Hill we found another group of Lions, 13 in total, all females or 3.5 year old males or less. They were  in the middle  of the grasses but while we watched all headed towards the road and the only small bush where there  was any shade. We photographed the army of lions as they approached, and settled right beside the road. In total, we had 37 lions this morning.
kPM. The afternoon was hot and dry and we left at 4:30, with Aardwolf are hoped-for subject. We headed towards Gol Kopjes where Arnold, one of our guide, had seen some a few weeks ago, in the same area where two years ago we had found a den. It was only 5PM and still hot, with a sun still two hours from setting, when Arnold spotted an Aardwolf. It was far off track and we worried that we might frighten it, and decided we’d try later in the day. We hadn’t traveled far when Bill spotted another one! This one was closer and we drove in, taking turns moving in closer so as to not spook the animal. After everyone had a round with decent shots we drove off, leaving the Aardwolf undisturbed.
kWe continued, checking out various kopjes. Mary’s vehicle headed southeast, and from a vantage point could see tens of thousands of animals – gnus, zebras, and Thompson’s Gazelles, promising a good day tomorrow. They passed a newborn Thompson Gazelle that flattened down protectively as they passed by, and we saw several young – prime Cheetah food, with one mother running along and a baby following, looking like a pursuing jackal.
We headed back towards the Aardwolf area by 6:15. I spotted one far off, but we had no success with it, while Pokea’s vehicle drove on, finding an Aardwolf close to the road. We photographed this one, which surprised us all when the Thompson’s Gazelle females it was foraging by decided to chase the Aardwolf, pursuing it for several hundred yards. Unfortunately, as it passed quite close to Mary’s vehicle no one got the shot – wrong lens, turned off video, missed focus! Nonetheless, everyone got some great shots of this rare animal, and with that we headed back to camp, arriving at sunset.

Day 6. Gol Kopjes

bWe left at 6:30, intending to search for the Aardwolf, and just minutes outside of camp, and a hundred yards or so from another camp here at Naabi Hill, we had six Lions beside the game track. Sunrise – which would never occur today – was still 15 minutes away and with no game in sight we moved on. We did not find the Aardwolf but the light was so low and murky that we didn’t search hard, deciding to continue towards the herds and some of the cats.
At one of the small waterholes adjacent to a kopje we had a large herd of Zebra, and perhaps because of the coolness (it was actually quite cold) the zebras were active and we had several fights – some just wrestling matches to establish a hierarchy, but one that was fairly serious, with the two combatants rearing up on their hind legs and biting. I did slow motion video and with that could see that several times one Zebra had his leg hooked over the other’s back – a detail not noticed in real time. When the fights stopped we headed to the waterhole where we almost had Zebras fighting in the water, but had a lot of movement and action, including two small flocks of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse that flew in to drink.
We had a very welcomed coffee break at another kopje, then continued in the direction where we had the Lions on some kopjes a few days ago. We found them, and they had killed a gnu, which was now barely a few bones. The Lions were on the rocks, asleep or grooming, and we didn’t spend much time with them.
We had two Cheetahs, one  of which passed close to Mary’s vehicle, and I spotted a pair of Barn Owls, the first our guides have seen since we were last here, two years ago. Their ‘old’ roost, we  discovered yesterday, was now abandoned, and I wonder if this is a new pair, or they simply moved. The  roost was well used, w ith white wash on a rock that initially attracted my attention. My guide also spotted another Spotted Eagle Owl, and Arnold’s vehicle, with Ray and Sue, saw a Thompson’s Gazelle give birth. We arrived back at camp at 1PM.
PM. We left at 4:30, hoping to work on the Aardwolves but one of our guides, driving just a bit off-track, was cornered by a Ranger patrol and, after that, we just headed out for the Lions. We saw three different aardwolves, but all were too away for photography. Our Lion pride from this morning was still present, but still asleep. With the patrol in the  area we made sure we were out of Gol before 6:30, with Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelles, Eagle-Owls and Barn Owls, and some beautiful kopje scenic some of our highlights.


Day 7. Hidden Valley and the Ndutu forest and marshes

We left at 6, getting to the forest edge by 7:40 where my vehicle framed a pair  of Secretarybirds against a brilliant sunrise. Soon afterward we saw a Spotted Hyena racing along, which we followed, and who led us to a fresh Gnu kill with Hyenas, Black-backed Jackals, and four species of Vultures in attendance. After photographing that kill, which was dismembered and basically vanished in 30 minutes, we had an extremely tolerant Tawny Eagle on a perch that did not mind our moving about.

We continued to Hidden Valley, which was virtually empty, but as we drove  to the first, empty large shallow lake Gnus and Zebras began to arrive. We had been photographing four Lions, a Lioness  and three full-grown cubs – sexually mature, too, or  nearly so – who were playing with a stick and wrestling. In all, somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 Gnus and Zebras arrived, and we were in the thick of them. The Lions tried two different times to make kills. On the  first, a done-deal, with a Zebra running right to them, the young lions charged prematurely, and the Zebra easily ran away. The  second time was closer, with Gnus and Zebras walking along  the shoreline or wading through the shallows, but the mature Lioness still missed. After that one, we had lunch, and after waiting a while to see if any more hunts would develop we moved on towards Ndutu.

There, in nearly dried up swamps, thousands of Gnus and Zebras were still milling about. Mary and Carolyn’s vehicles found three Lionesses sleeping beneath a tree. While they watched, Zebras appeared, and one of the Lionesses used the two vehicles as cover as she stalked, then charged the Zebras. She missed, too.
We waited, hoping more Zebras would appear, but none did  and we continued on, finishing the day with good Bat-eared Fox, a pair of Cheetah males, and a lone Golden Jackal.


Day 8. Naabi Hill to Lake Masik

We broke camp for our next destination, leaving at 6AM and heading to the plains. We had clear skies, and we stopped to shoot Gnus kicking up dust in long lines against the early morning light. Later, we had the Bat-eared Foxes again at the den, and then moved out onto the plains. There we found a natural Zebra death, lattended to by four species of Vultures. I set up the RRS video head for smooth pans as the birds flew in, in Slow Motion. We searched for Cheetahs unsuccessfully, and finished the morning with a young male Lion we assume has recently taken over a pride. He mated with 2 or 3 of the females around him, with a fourth watching from a distance. We do not think they were in heat. Instead, we suspect this male was now sufficiently accepted that the females were mating with him, keeping him in their lpride territory. If he is alone, however, the chances that he’ll keep the pride are slim. Single males generally do not hold on to a pride territory for more than a year.

PM. Beautiful Tortillas acacia forest with Giraffe and Elephant and new Weaver nests. We had Lions and birds, and ended with a pair of Black-colored Mongooses, I assume were Slender Mongooses. I had glimpsed a black shape darting over a log, and Superb Starlings and Slate-colored Bulbuls were in the bushes nearby. For a moment I thought that I might have simply seen a bird, but we waited and the pair of Mongooses reappeared, apparently after birds or their nests, but appearing to being playing, too.

Day 9. Ndutu Plains

mWe had a 5:30AM breakfast and headed through the tortillas acacia forest, with a cloudless but still colorful sky framing the top of these flat-topped trees. As we drove west I kept looking back,  hoping to find an isolated tree silhouette against the color but the lay of the land and the height of the shrubs made that impossible.
We continued onto the plains, where we stopped for a scenic of an ancient tree amidst the vastness of the  open grasslands, and where, in the distance, we saw a Cheetah. After the scenic shots we went for the Cheetah, which had laid down and disappeared in the tall grasses. We did find it, and after getting shots from several different angles we headed out, towards a distant line of Gnus. Our other two vehicles were just fcoming up on the Cheetah when it appeared to be heading towards another line of Gnus. Surprisingly, just 30 yards or so away, an orphan Gnu calf stood up, and two seconds  later the Cheetah made its catch. We  headed back, and stayed with the Cheetah about a half hour, during which the cat had not yet killed the calf. I was wondering if it would release it to do a play chase – a remote possibility when that could attract hyenas, but it did not. When it moved into very high grass we moved on.
All of our vehicles found Gnus about to give birth. We had followed one  female for at least a half hour, losing her several times in the herd but finally locating her when she was settled down for good. Although quite far away we could see the birth fairly well, and time what came next.
After 4 minutes the baby was attempting to stand.
At 5 minutes it succeeded in standing, although it would still totter and fall over.
At 6 minutes it was standing, with very unsteady hind legs, and walking.
At 8 minutes it was walking and doing little crow-hops, with its back legs still a bit awkward-looking.
At 9 minutes it was moving with the herd, still unsteady on its feet but keeping up.
Afterwards, we parked for a coffee break and I filmed several Dung Beetles rolling balls of dung. While doing so, another baby Gnu popped up out of the grass and approached me. It circled us and came very close, and believing we saw its mother in the distance we quickly packed back into the vehicles and tried leading the calf – that was fixated on the vehicles – towards the adult Gnu.
Meanwhile, the 9 Lions we’d seen earlier had made a kill, and we headed in that direction. Eventually the orphan Gnu followed, running right to the Lions. One Lioness chased the calf, and caught it, but immediately let it go – we think so that the half-grown cubs could practice hunting, but the Gnu calf ran off and escaped. It headed towards other adult Gnus, but the  likelihood is the baby will be lost – death by  Lions may have been a more merciful fate for an orphan newborn.
We headed towards home, passing another Gnu calf that definitely looked sick. Another orphan appeared, and chasing after two adults the baby was head-butted and knocked down several times. Nearby, two Hyenas watched, but  they were a mating couple and we watched as the male mounted the female two times before actually trying a real copulation. This happened twice, with the second round beginning as the male literally jumped upon the female. Because of the weird female genitalia mating is difficult, and the male ended up almost standing upright as he shifted, his butt either resting on thnnne ground or nearly so, as the mating commenced. After the second mating the two separated and walked off in different directions.
As we headed home I found a Masked Weaver nest nearly complete, with the male hanging below the onion-shaped nest, fluttering his wings to attract a female. He  flew off, returning with another strand of grass which he weaved in, and flew off a final time, not returning in the five minute wait we gave it. We returned to camp at 12:50, our faces so covered with dirt that we were nearly black, the dirtiest we’ve ever been on a game drive. Winds kicked up the dust, and our vehicles did, too, and often the acacia woods were shrouded in a gray-white cloud that resembled fog.
ePM. We left at 4:30 intending to do the shoreline of Lake Masik. Ray was under-the-weather and stayed in, and Sue and I were one of the two-person vehicles. It was spectacular. Shortly after starting I noticed a Masai Giraffe walking down the hillside towards a narrow inlet. I suspected it would drink, and it did, along with as many as 7 giraffes at one time and perhaps 15 in total. The light was perfect and the shooting grand.
Along the lakeshore we followed or preceded a small herd of Elephants, and I videoed them against the slanting light of late afternoon. Later, at a waterhole, hundreds of Wattled Starlings gathered to drink, and I framed us against the low light of a setting sun for wonderful backlighting, where the birds bathing flashes water in the air like raindrops. It was a fun and very productive afternoon.

Day 10. Ndutu Area to Ngorongoro Crater

gWe packed for our next departure and were on the road by 6, heading towards the forests and lakes – Ndutu and Masik. Right before sunrise we found a mating pair of Lions and as the sun rose the two were bathed in golden light. And they mated then. Since we hadn’t seen them before I assumed they were just starting, and I was therefor surprised when, after mating, the female walked off. The male followed, and when she stopped it was obvious that he was soliciting her, and not the  reverse, which is the norm. They mated again, with the female  truly looking apathetic, and Karen said she could have been chewing gum and blowing bubbles during the entire mating. The two disappeared in the brush and we moved on to another, bigger male Lion that, we later discovered, the  Lioness had her sights on. We didn’t see it but were told that the Lioness attempted  to cross the dry lake bed to reach  the bigger Lion, but her original suitor prevented her. There was some type of fight or altercation, ending up with the female remaining on the original side of the  lake bed with the first male.
We had continued, as Cheetahs were reported. When we arrived a female Cheetah and a nearly full-grown cub were hunting, with Vervet Monkeys in the trees screaming their alarm barks. The Cheetah had a second cub, which we didn’t originally see, who on his own captured one of the three baby Gnus (all with their mothers). I suspect he charged in so fast that the Gnus ran, thinking  Leopard, as a Gnu mother could easily defend her calf from a single Cheetah, especially an inexperienced one. The mother Cheetah yelped her contact call, trying to locate the missing cub, who did eventually respond and they shared the carcass.
We drove on into the plains, and my vehicle arrived just as another Cheetah pair tackled another baby Gnu. This one was an orphan, and the Cheetahs didn’t make a move until  they were  sure (or so it seemed) that the adult Gnus nearby were not its mother. When they moved off, rejecting the calf, the Cheetahs charged. Two o f our vehicles were there to see the whole distant show,  and my vehicle, arriving late, saw the take-down. We drove up to photograph the aftermath, as the two Cheetahs began eating the Gnu calf before they had killed it. At least 5 minutes, and probably 10, transpired before the Gnu calf died, seemingly half-eaten at the point.
The wind was the worse yet,  and as it was now  almost 11AM  we decided to head to the  Ngorongoro Crater.  Passing by the two lakes and skirting one of them we were frequently enveloped in dust. From a distant  the dust rose to the sky like thunderheads, and at times the distant lake shore was completely hidden by the swirling dust,  as were any vehicles ahead of us. Camps and lodges located along the lake had to be barely habitable, as dust just poured through the forest, and surely would do so through the mess fronts of any tents.
We reached Ngorongoro Crater by 2:40, entering the bottom by 3 for a 2.5 hour game drive (everyone must be out by 6). We had 14 Lions, 1 Black Rhino, and plenty of Zebras and Gnus. Although there were a lot of baby Gnus many of the females were without calves,  and so we hope that tomorrow we’ll photograph a birth with this very vehicle-tolerant herd of Gnus.

Day 11. Ngorongoro Crater

We headed down at 6AM, hitting the crater floor and our first subject, two bull eElephants, just as the sun cleared the slope and bathed the valley in golden light. In the sharp, low light of dawn the contours and shadows of the Elephants stood out boldly, and the two were close enough to the road for vertical frame-filling shots. Cattle Egrets flew in and out, landing on the Elephants’ backs and quarreling, as the Elephants plucked trunk-fulls of vegetation.
Our mission today was to photograph Gnus giving birth, and Mary, ahead of me, radioed that they had a Gnu with the baby’s hooves protecting out. We headed in that direction, fast, when I spotted another female close to the road in the same condition. We stopped, and the Gnu crossed the road into a back-lighted scene, where she stopped and laid down. She was about to birth, and finally stood and spun, with the baby dropping head-first onto the plains, amidst a cascade of birth fluid and blood. Many females still were calf-less and we stayed in the area, cruising back and forth. At one point, while we did a quick bathroom break to the west and Mary’s vehicle was in the east, between us and unseen another Gnu gave birth right beside the road. We arrived with the calf still wet and wobbly, missing the birth by about 6 minutes.
In all we had three fairly good births, with the next two occurring with the females birthing while lying down, the calves slipping smoothly into the world. The first six minutes are the most fun to watch, as the calves struggle to gain their feet on wobbly legs, first mastering the forelegs while the hindlimbs are still tucked under, reminding me of the posture of a slinking, submissive dog. I did slow-motion video as calves stood and fell headfirst in rolling flips, or flopped on their rear ends, and canted sideways and tumbled, but eventually they made it to their feet. One baby, still seemingly unsteady, suddenly mastered its legs and balance when a small herd of males stampeded passed in panic, and its mother joined in the  run. Amazingly, the baby – compelled by the immediacy of an instinctive need to flee --  began to run before it even learned to walk.
We had several lions, and one Lioness walked along through the herd, her behavior eindicating she was seeking babies lying huddled on the ground. Interestingly, ALL of the gnus with calves left the area in what I called a discrete retreat, trotting slowly with their calves easily able to keep pace. Instead of a full-blown gallop or chaotic race, where calves could be separated and lost, this retreat was orderly. I had to wonder if the gnus were compelled by instinct to move at this pace when danger wasn’t immediate. Afterwards, the plains that were filled with mothers and pregnant females was vacant, but still loaded with male Gnus and with Zebras that turned and faced the Lioness as she walked by. Finding no babies she eventually did a U-turn and returned to the slopes.
Other highlights included Hyenas with black, young pups; a dusty, intense clash of two male Gnus in a fight fairly close to the road, a pride of Lions with their cubs climbing trees, a cooperative Warthog, Golden Jackals, and a lot of birds.
We left the Crater at 5:30, after following a Lioness that had walked right behind Bill and Sue’s vehicle as she began a hunt, but with any potential prey far out in the roadless plains and our park-enforced curfew nearing, we left her for home. That evening we reviewed the various trip highlights and favorite photos, which included the Leopard and cubs, the Lioness dragging the zebra, Lion cubs drinking, the Giraffes drinking, the Aardwolves, and many, many more.

zTrip two

Day 1, February 16, 2018. Arusha to Ngorongoro Crater

Everyone arrived in a day or two prior to our departure for the main safari, with some visiting Arusha National Park while others rested. For  Mary and I, we sadly said goodbye to our first group and hello to the new, as some returned from the Arusha NP visit. Today we left at 8AM for the drive to the Crater, stopping at a great curio/art shop en route where the carvings and art work far surpassed anything we’d seen in Kenya. We arrived at our camp, Lion’s Paw, by 1:30, had lunch, and headed down to the Crater floor at 2:30PM.
It was a good scouting afternoon, as we located where the birthing herds of  Gnus should be tomorrow, as well as photographing several species. Mary spotted a Serval – the first we’ve seen in Tanzania this year, but it was far off. My driver/guide spotted it but I did not, and I had him count the number of trees along the ridge as a reference point. Still, I couldn’t find it,  only to discover later that tree number 4 for me, starting at the far left of several scattered trees, was tree number 1 for him, and so on! It was quite frustrating.
Crown Cranes in large flocks, a huge male Lion that walked beside our vehicles, a Golden Jackal feeding upon an Abdim’s Stork it captured, the Serval, and distant bull Elephants were some of the afternoon highlights.


Day 2, February 17, 2018. Ngorongoro Crater

We had a full day in the crater, leaving at 6AM and returning around 5:45PM. Shortly after entering the crater we had a Lioness sitting upright, and before we had a chance to setup the Lioness stalked towards a Gnu, right at our vehicle, gpresenting an incredible view that we were too slow in capturing! The Lioness then lingered beside our vehicle, assessing her chances for the hunt before finally giving up and walking across the grasslands, where we left her.
We headed towards the herds, where my vehicle kept watch on one female with a balloon (birth fluid) and hooves, while Arnold, the guide, had another that was reported ‘very close to the road’ which we then raced to, discovering ‘close’ was about 80 yards off (reported as 20-30). I explained to my guide the importance of accuracy, in that we could have left a better opportunity in the belief that the report was accurate. This is frustrating.
The gnu birth was a more exciting one, with the female rising and spinning to dislodge the baby, before lying down again and finally giving birth. The baby was trying to stand for the first time when two Hyenas passed close by, and we worried that the Hyenas would spot it. They did not. But a third Hyena, trailing behind, was confronted by another Gnu and thus directed off course from following the first two, and in so doing spotted the baby Gnu. The Hyena rushed in, and  the mother Gnu charged, trying to drive it off, perhaps head-butting or hooking the Hyena but doing no damage. Next, the Hyena rushed in and caught the  baby, and soon the other two Hyenas joined in. I was doing Slow Motion video and on that we can see that the Hyena almost immediately tore off an ear before all three mauled the baby, who still struggled to rise. It didn’t last long.

We did more vigils  on other Gnus, missing a few more births. Mary came on one a few minutes late, with the baby’s umbilical cord dripping blood or fluid. The mother took the cord in its mouth, licking or sucking and pulling tight, and the fluid stopped. No one had seen this before.
kPat, Sherry, and Breen had a Grant’s Gazelle chasing after a Black-backed Jackal that was hunting lambs, and the female drove it off. My vehicle had a great pond sequence with Gnus and calves walking across the  still water and towards us, and Mary’s had 14 lions, including near-two year old cubs standing upright and boxing.
In the afternoon we headed to the hippo pool where we had Hippos rolling and tail-wagging in filthy water, and black baby Hyenas at the den. As we left the crater a Black-shouldered Kite cooperated quite close to the road, concluding the day.

Day 3, February 18, 2018.
Ngorongoro Crater to Naabi Hill

We broke camp to head to our second location, Naabi Hill, with a full morning game drive in the crater. We had planned on getting to the birthing herds of Gnus quickly, short of some type of distraction, which we had before the sun broke over the crater rim.
We found a Martial Eagle a short distance from the road, pinning an Abdim’s Stork to the ground. We stopped and started shooting, as the sun finally crested the ridge and our other two vehicles arrived. Incredibly, the Eagle, instead of flying off, carried the stork – dragging, actually – across the ground right to the roadside, and only a few feet from my vehicle – right at me! Before we moved to the opposite side of the road for a different view I had frame-filling headshots of the Eagle as it plucked the stork to access the meat. After nearly 1.5 hours we finally left the eagle and headed towards the herds.
En route we had six Bull Elephants, the large male tuskers that still make the Crater famous. The shooting was good, and two males actually made contact with each other, almost getting into a small sparring match. One of our other vehicles had one bull (all the rest had vanished) approach within just a few yards from the road.

Although our three vehicles came upon Gnus that had very recently given birth we did not get another birth. However, along one of the main roads we had incredible portraiture of  calves and moms and calves quite close to the road – head shots at times. At one point, for an unexplained reason, several males charged the herd and drove mothers and calves even closer, where we were for great shooting.
zOther highlights included, again inexplicably, a pup Golden Jackal trotting down one of the park roads following its mother for an easy quarter mile before continuing off into the grasslands; a Hyena carrying a half consumed Gnu calf – only the front half remained; lines of migrating Gnus streaming down from a hill; reflections of Lions at a waterhole, and several great Warthogs wallowing in a roadside mud pond.
We ate lunch at 1PM and afterwards headed up the Crater road, stopping several times for scenic shots before continuing for the bumpy road that led to the Serengeti and Naabi Hill, our camp for the next five nights.

Day 4, February 19, 2018. Gol Kopjes

We left at 6 for the Gol kopjes and soon after passing the Devil Tree, a weird acacia that forms an arch on the otherwise barren plains, we had an Aardwolf. My vehicle was third, and Mary’s and the second vehicle lined up behind each other, while somewhat inexplicably my driver circled wide and stopped some distance away. It was a gamble, of course, as the Aardwolf could have walked towards us but it didn’t. Instead it walked almost right by the other two vehicles, until someone slapped a beanbag onto the roof and spooked the animal. It ran off, and  we followed, but after following it for a short distance, and never closing the gap, we gave up.
We continued, finding two Lionesses on a kopje and a Cheetah, which was hungry but limping. Shortly afterward we had two splendid male Lions in the grass, and both eventually rose and walked to the kopje, straight to us for some great shots. The two joined the rest of the pride, a Lioness with two cubs.
We took a coffee break afterwards, at 9:30, and minutes later had another Cheetah, a male on a kopje. This one, too, was hungry, and we had several opportunities as it posed on two different kopjes before heading into high grass where it settled for the morning. It was  now nearly noon and we headed back to camp, arriving at 12:50.


Day 5. Hidden Valley and Ndutu

Left at 6, shot Secretarybird at dawn, then Hyenas feeding pups, Tawny Eagles, and great mating Lions at Hidden Valley. Herds moving into valley. At lunch, a developing sandstorm enveloped us, reaching to the sky.
At lunch, my esophagus issue created a real problem, and leaving the picnic area to clear my throat I ended up choking, and not able to breathe. I was too stubborn to stumble back to the others, and … here I am, I finally cleared my windpipe, but I really wondered if I’d get that done before passing out. I was behind  the vehicles and would have dropped unseen, and …
PM. We had a great afternoon but our time frame was so rushed, in the evening, that I can only summarize the subjects and shooting for the day. That includes: Cheetah before the forest, then male Lion with a Zebra kill, and three Lionesses with two Gnus, uneaten, and great BE Foxes.

gDay 6. February 21, 2018. Moru Kopjes

We left at 6, driving the main road towards Seronera and the cut-off for the Moru Kopjes. En route we had 2 Lionesses beside the road, and 12 more that eventually materialized. Mary watched as one Lioness chased another quite a distance, as if  it was an intruder, but later the two butted heads as friends. I continued, and had a great Giraffe against the golden morning sky. One of my van mates, I later discovered, wasn’t getting the color and instead was getting ‘blinkies.’ I asked how they were metering, and it was manual, which did not make sense to me. On further inquiry I learned that the person was metering the grass (normally a middle tone) that was multiple stops darker than the bright sky, which should have been metered. As I’ve said in our brochure for our Complete Nature Photo Course, I wish everyone who did a trip with us would take that course to have complete competency when necessary. Oh well, we made up for it with plenty of great shooting that followed.
As we approached the Moru Kopjes we discovered a male Lion and Lioness beside the road with a Zebra carcass. While we watched, and after our other three vehicles arrived, the Lion dragged the carcass to some trees, while the Lioness trailed behind, snatching tidbits as she could. We suspect that this was the end-phase of a honeymoon couple, and  the male tolerated her stealing because of it. Oddly, another male was beneath the tree where the male deposited the carcass, and then abandoned, and this male, too, tolerated the Lioness feeding.  I really expected a cuffing and fight, but both fed amiably.
zWe continued, getting nice Baboons on some kopjes, and later Giraffes and two Lionesses high up a tree, lounging for all the world like Leopards. We shot these from multiple angles. Later, as we headed for a coffee break, Dave spotted a male Lion right beside the road and instinctively pulled Mary away. She saw the cat in her peripheral vision and didn’t know what was happening and screamed, which scared Dave and the Lion, who retreated further into the  brush.
Before lunch we stopped at the Maasai paintings at one of the kopjes, where white-rumped swifts soared about somewhat eerily, and for lunch headed to the gong rocks. Afterwards we searched unsuccessfully for leopards, arriving at a Hippo Pool where we had a pod less than 40 feet away, virtually at eye-level. This was the best Hippo shooting I’ve ever done in Tanzania – and among the best shooting opportunities I’ve had anywhere in east Africa.
hWe headed for home, having to close the roof tops as thunderstorms and black veils of rain shrouded the landscape, giving true meaning to ‘scattered showers.’ A great day that concluded with our 30th and 31st Lions parading through camp while we had dinner – we had 29 up to that point for one day!

lDay 7. February 22, 2018. Ndutu Plains

We headed into the Ndutu forest and swamps, passing by the zebra kill from the male Lion from two days ago. The carcass was now reversed, and now stripped to bones, looking like something that has been there for weeks. We saw three lions, walking through the marsh grass but settling there, and disappearing.

We continued onto the plains, finally getting a radio call from one of our former guides who had four Lionesses (the same four we had last trip, who were mating with what we presume was a new male), but the  cats were now alone, without that male. They were staked out at a waterhole with lines of Zebras and Gnus passing by, but far enough off that a hunt wasn’t imminent. Eventually we headed for a coffee break, and on our return Gnus were now on ‘our’ side, with several trying to cross a sticky mudflat that led directly to the Lions. Young Gnus led the advance, but they were having trouble moving through the mud and were turning, when one of the Lionesses charged and the entire herd escaped. With water and a stretch of formidable mud between the two the cat didn’t have a chance.

cWe waited a bit, but herds were now skirting the waterhole and we moved on, to four cheetahs that were reported.
When we arrived we found two in a narrow ditch, and as we positioned our vehicle for shots we cut in front of another vehicle whose occupants pointed to two other Cheetahs running towards us. We quickly backed off to clear the way and the view, and witnessed what, at first, seemed like a very confusing scene.
The two ‘new’ Cheetahs surrounded the first two, who were backed up against the gully bank and were chirping in annoyance. This continued for a few minutes, before the ‘new’ Cheetahs returned to the tree where they had been originally resting. Afterwards, one of the first two Cheetahs would peer over the gully edge, and, to me, looked like it was afraid and cautious, and watching the other, male, Cheetahs.
We switched position for another view and, after a bit, the Cheetahs in the gully tried slipping away. The males, at the tree, trotted after them, and the first two, which we now assumed was a mother and large, nearly full-grown male cub, ran back to the gully. There was a confrontation, with the mother eventually confronting and swatting one of the two males. Eventually both males backed off and returned to  the tree.
An hour or more passed, and the mother and cub tried sneaking off again, this time with the male Cheetahs’ view blocked, partially, by safari vehicles. Nevertheless the males saw the two attempting an escape and chased after them, and another quick spat occurred beneath the shrubby trees where they took refuge. This time, however, the males didn’t retreat, but settled under a small tree only about thirty feet from the mother and cub.
One of our vehicles left to make lunch, while Mary’s vehicle and mine remained, and waited – from 1 until 4PM, for something to happen. Finally, the  mother Cheetah (I was watching through 18X binocs and could see this clearly) intently stared at the males, assessing the situation, and then turning and beginning to slink off, heading into the gully again. The two males were facing away, and although not sleeping at the moment they were not alert. The cub then got up and began slinking off, following the mother. Unfortunately the males detected the change and charged after the two.


Mary shot stills and got a great fight, while I flipped on the video and found my exposure completely off, and on real-time, not slow motion. Frantically I tried to switch settings but I missed the entire thing, while John, who was with me, got a great sequence, as did Mary and Sherry in the other vehicle.
In this confrontation the cub reared and swatted/patted at one of his attackers, then falling back, to be slapped/swatted by a male. The mother charged and snarled and ran by, and afterwards, she lay in the gully, blocking access to the cub who settled on the grass behind her. The males, meanwhile, stretched out in the open, just yards from the mother, and having a full view of both mother and cub. At this point escape by the mother and cub was impossible, as the males saw them clearly. I figured that nothing more could occur until darkness, when, perhaps, lions or hyenas might disrupt this, or perhaps an orphan Gnu might trigger the males into hunting, and giving the mother and cub a chance to escape.
Although we didn’t arrive on the scene until 11, this confrontation began at 9AM or even earlier, since we didn’t receive a call until 9. Since the males were intent upon killing the cub, without being injured themselves, this confrontation may have started last night, and may have continued long into this night, too.
Meanwhile, our  other vehicle’s occupants had their lunch and did a game drive to the Gol Kopjes where they had Giraffe and Buffalo in a fairly uneventful game drive. We left the Cheetahs at 5:10, arriving in camp at 5:50, with my driver/guide, Arnold, spotting a fresh Reedbuck kill (from a Leopard) high in a tree only a short distance from camp.
pAs Mary and I prepared for dinner, with still some light in the sky, our room steward told me that a Rock Python was behind the guide and camp staff quarters. Everyone was now showering (I had been about to) and I went to check it out, finding an 8 foot Python coiled in the brush. I shot some stills and video, delighting the staff when the Python struck at me twice.

Day  8. February 23, 2018.
Naabi Hill through Gol Kopjes to Sametu

We packed up and headed towards our last camp. Using my powerful flashlight I located the Leopard, on the  ground and not at the Reedbuck kill. It was a poor view and not everyone could  see it, but it was our first Leopard for this trip.
Entering the Gol Kopjes area we had a clan of at least 32 Spotted Hyenas, or two clans, centered on a Zebra carcass that was  soon reduced to almost nothing. In the  distance my driver/guide spotted another Zebra, either giving birth or  dead, and it turned out to be a dead Zebra with no apparent cause. One Hyena came in and opened it up, tearing open the tough hide quickly, but the Hyena retreated when more of our vehicles arrived. After we left, the huge group of Hyena were dispersed between the two Zebra carcasses.

We moved on, finding, perhaps, the same limping Cheetah we had last trip. This one had a bit of  mange and was thin, and although another driver said he saw her with cubs yesterday we didn’t believe him. She was too thin, did not appear to be  nursing, and any cubs she might have had would be starved.
Later, we found a big, very fat male Cheetah beneath a bush, and towards the end of the drive we had the mother Cheetah with three large cubs we had last trip. All had bloodied fur and were round with a fresh meal.
Mary had two male Lions, and we had three other Lionesses on some kopje rocks, and the  same  Lioness with three cubs near Sametu we had last trip. We arrived in camp at 1, for a very hot drive and day.
tPM. We headed out at 4, clear skies and hot. We had two male lions beneath an acacia, but they were sleepy and offered little. We continued to 16Km route where we was waited for a Leopard and cub to appear. We waited about 45 minutes, but we were rewarded when the Leopard raced up a Sausage Tree with a Reedbuck carcass, and the cub climbed a neighboring Yellow-bark Acacia Tree, climbing nearly to the top, an easy 30-40 feet and quite a bit higher than we’d have expected, or would look for a cub. The cub was a male. We headed home  at 6:15, arriving at 6:55.

Day 9. February 24, 2018. Sametu to Masai Kopjes

lA clear sky and a fireball sunrise belied the prospect of storms, but as the morning progressed the skies opened up, although rains are likely somewhere. Right at sunrise, I spotted the mother Cheetah and her three cubs walking far off track in the tall grasses. We continued, downhill, to align distant acacia trees with the rising sun, then returned, uphill, to follow parallel to the Cheetahs.
Eventually the cats and our game track veered together, and we were in position as the cats walked right to our vehicle. Meanwhile, Mary had two Lionesses and five cubs to themselves – Breen and John, but once the cats settled down she joined us. The Cheetahs remained on the track, walking along, playing with sticks or ljumping on each other, and at one point, after racing around in the grass, two young Cheetahs jumped on to the rear tires of Mary’s vehicle. The cat played, pooling at the tarp that covers the spare tire, remaining for several minutes. Earlier, another young Cheetah almost jumped on one of our other vehicle’s hoods.
Somehow, at some  time our four Cheetahs became FIVE, as another adult female Cheetah joined the others and walked along side. This behavior is quite odd – family groups rarely if ever mingle, and we suspect that the female was the daughter of this mother, and thus familiar. Eventually the fifth Cheetah wandered off into the grasses, followed briefly by one of the cubs, but soon all four Cheetahs continued to the west. With more vehicles joining us we returned to the Lions.
The Lions were still on the  road, but while we photographed all seven started walking west towards one  of  the smaller mound  of rocks forming one of the Sometu kopjes. We kept pace, getting somewhat ahead to photograph the pride as  it walked down the  track, until they settled on top of  the rocks where they posed nicely, and finally went to sleep.
We left them then and headed for a much-needed coffee break, and afterwards continued towards the luggas and streams that led to Seronera and passed through Masai Kopjes. There we found another Leopard, although it was well hidden in the brush and finally disappeared in a small gap where we assume it will spend the rest of the day. Our plan – be there at 5 when the Leopard (perhaps the female with cubs) becomes active once again.


PM. Thunderstorms loomed across the horizon, with only the far southeastern skies clear of dark, blue-gray storm clouds. We were heading west, just on the fringes of a black wall of rain where we hoped to encounter the Leopard before it began its evening hunt. Along the way we had to close the roof hatches as rain drops the size of large marbles smashed into puddles, creating craters that splashed into the air.
wWe arrived at 5, discovering that the Leopard had left its morning retreat and had now passed by and through two small stone kopjes. The Leopard was still somewhere in the brush and low rocks and we waited. Ten minutes or so passed when the cat slunk across the  road, making us believe that the cat was shy. She stopped, with her head just visible above the grasses, but as my vehicle approached she dropped from sight, again reaffirming that the Leopard was shy. We waited, and waited, and as this was  the second last evening game drive I worried that we were wasting the last game drives for our people. I suggested that we move on, but my guide procrastinated. Finally, we started driving off, and luckily, Dave, in another vehicle that was heading off, looked back and saw the Leopard! She approached the road and settled on a small rock outcrop where she slept, head-down.
After watching her for many minutes we risked approaching, to discover that she, like almost all of the cats in this high visitation area, was indeed extremely tolerant of vehicles. We ended the day to the leopard close enough for spectacular shots, as she yawned and snarled at the Helmeted Guineafowl that perched upon a branch above her, cackling its annoyance at the Leopard’s presence. We arrived back at camp at 7:15, just as dusk settled in.


Day 10. February 26, 2018.
Sametu area.

Hoping to find another Leopard reported to have cubs we  headed towards the Sametu Rocks and Zebra Rock. Pre-dawn, a few minutes before sunrise, we passed a Lion and Lioness walking down the track, the female leading, the male close behind. The Lioness was in the same location where we had her yesterday morning, when she, quite oddly, approached two of our vehicles and grunted a contact call several times. Seeing her today, I suspect that she was announcing that she was in heat, and ready to mate.
In less than thirty minutes the couple mating three times, with the female approaching the male each time, slinking around his head and finally dropping in a distinctive crouch that said she was ready, and the male obliged. After remaining near the road for all three matings the Lioness led the male off into the tall grass and far out of sight.
lMeanwhile, Mary’s vehicle was with the mother Cheetah and three cubs who were along the road and were once again playing. They had a good series before the mother spotted gazelles and began a hunt. We joined Mary then, but the hunt never materialized and we continued.
Soon after we found the two male Cheetahs but a vehicle filled with Chinese tourists drove fast and close, and spooked the Cheetahs. We left them to their harassment.
It was now nearly 10AM and we headed to an isolated set of kopjes where we hoped to have a coffee break. Instead, we found and photographed a true trophy male Lion, sitting alone on the plains. I positioned my vehicle so that we could include a rather distinct kopje in the background. After getting those shots the Lion rose and climbed atop one of the rocks, where we shot the male against a bright but uncluttered sky.
Arnold, one of our guides, spotted a Spotted Eagle Owl on another kopje and we l

attempted shots, but the owl was always partially blocked by twigs or branches. We left to check for a coffee spot, and the Lion arose, leaving its rock to saunter across the grasses to the owl’s rocks, where it scent-marked only a few feet from the owls before settling in brush.
Our late-morning break took place in a beautiful yellow-barked acacia tree grove. A Pearl-spotted Owlet flew to a limb high overhead and a Reedbuck grazed nearby. Afterwards we headed towards camp, arriving around noon.
Mary and I and several others stayed in this last afternoon to pack, and two vehicles, with two each, went out for a last game drive and a chance for the Leopard and baby that we had last trip, now reported to be in the same area. It did not appear.
That evening we reviewed trip highlights and favorite photos and experiences, and thanked the guides for a great safari and a marvelous work ethic. The trip was finished, and we now could only look forward to the flights tomorrow back to home.


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