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Trip Report:

The Northern Serengeti
Tarangire National Parks
Photo Safari


Spectacular! In one word, spectacular describes this trip. Two years ago, at the end of our autumn Kenya photo safaris, we scouted the northern Serengeti in hopes of doing a photo tour here. Although it was late in the season for the gnu migration, the areas we visited had such promise that we scheduled a trip – this one, in October 2014. We didn’t expect to see a good gnu river crossing, since this event is erratic, and the gnu herds may have come and gone by October, but we were lucky.


We had two, and the second one ranked as one of the most spectacular we ever had. Thousands of gnus streaming in from a low, and close, vantage point; in fact, one of our vehicles was at the absolute  best spot – with thousands practically surrounding the vehicle as the gnus stormed up the river bank.
We had great luck with Leopard, and we almost had one of my ‘dream observations,’ a lion fight. We came close, and the details are in the report. Except for our stay at our last location, Tarangire National Park, we stayed at our outfitter’s private camps – wonderful, luxury tents with great food, and we were there alone. A wonderful contrast from a noisy lodge.

Our guides were great, and I’ve had most of them before, with one new guide, who was terrific. I consider them the best guides in Africa. Although the safari ended in Tarangire, where the entire group spent two days, we had another two days at a separate, wonderful lodge where we had our extension. Two years ago, we found a location where we could photograph bats, and this year I brought along all of the necessary gear to do so. For two nights we did some incredible flash photography, where our ‘keeper’ rate was about 500 images a night. Out of that, I’m sure, perhaps only 25% will be razor sharp, a mere 125 images or so, of absolutely unique shots of bats in flight! It was a great way to end the trip.

I’m writing this as we start our first of two Kenya Photo Safaris, and we’ve just finished our 76th – 80th Rwanda Mountain Gorilla trek (the record!). Internet is slow, so I’m limited in our posting of shots – but I hope the ones I’ve added here will do this trip justice.

It was so good, that we immediately booked another one for next year, in October 2015. If you’re interested, contact our office immediately – several of this year’s participants are planning on returning, so space will be limited. At any rate, here’s the report:

Day 1. Nine of the ten of us arrived a day early, giving us a full day in Arusha. At 6AM we met our guides who would drive all of our luggage to the camp and meet us at the airstrip, and after a breakfast everyone returned to bed, sleeping to 1PM. Tom arrived that evening, and with everyone having their luggage (most shipped out), we were ready for our first day afield.

Day 2. We flew from the small airstrip in Arusha north, passing the frequently active volcano, Lengai, whose crater top was, unfortunately, wreathed in a thick layer of clouds. As we entered the Serengeti the skies cleared, revealing a surprisingly green landscape – the sign of frequent and unseasonal rains, and we dropped lower in elevation game tracks that were filled with water. We later learned that the drive in for the guides was difficult, as a heavy rain lasting 45 minutes occurred in the late afternoon.

Our camp was fairly close to the airstrip and our initial plan was to game drive to the river to check on the herds and then return to camp to unpack and get organized. We changed that plan quickly as the guides were afraid of a repeat of yesterday’s storms, which would cut short an afternoon drive. Instead, we decided to stay out until the rains threatened, and have our picnic lunch along the river.
Our route followed the Mara River just south of many of the locations we game drive in Kenya. The radio towers at Mara Serena were visible, and later, where we found the most promising herd of gnus that we hoped would cross, we were within sight of the Mara River bridge.
gnuEarly on we had a distant river crossing, with a hundred or so gnus fumbling through a very rocky stretch of river, but afterwards the gnus just teased us, or they illustrated why they are often considered stupid. A large herd had gathered along the opposite bank’s shoreline, appearing to be ready to cross at any moment. Instead they milled about, changing directions several times and sometimes almost coming to the water’s edge. Meanwhile, on our side of the river, small herds in single file would occasionally gallop past, rushing almost to the river before slowing, turning, and eventually heading back uphill to higher ground.
We were hoping to be at camp at 5PM so that we could unpack and get organized in the light, but the gnus seemed so close that we lingered. At 5 we started towards our tented camp, but one of our guides spied another cluster of gnus further down river and we raced west to investigate. They started crossing, and we drove in, gnugetting a fairly good show of some spectacular leaps as gnus crashed into the water. Although gnu carcasses had floated down river nearly every half hour, and multiple carcasses varying from very fresh to quite decayed littered the river rocks and shoreline, the Nile Crocodiles made three kills. One, quite close to our shoreline, had a half-grown gnu slowly pulled below the surface, with the antelope’s head sticking up, struggling to stay above water but losing the battle and disappearing. I never even saw the croc. Another was working a gnu on the opposite bank, which I missed entirely.
The crossing slowed to a gradual halt, then a few dozen moved downstream and again entered the water. Right behind them the enormous head of a male Crocodile followed, and we photographed the catch as the croc neared, lunged, and in a splash pulled the gnu under. That was it – no struggle, no big bite, just a grab and the adult gnu disappeared.
sWhen that crossing finished we headed for camp, arriving around 6:15 just at sunset, to a beautiful, spacious camp we’d never visited before. En route we saw two Cheetahs (seen earlier in the day as well) and a den of Bat-eared Foxes.

Day 3. Upper Mara
We had a cooked breakfast at 5:30AM, consisting of bacon, eggs, crepes, hot oatmeal, and toast, and loaded in the dark at 6AM for a morning game drive. The sun hadn’t risen over the eastern hills when we spotted a Cheetah that had just climbed atop a mini-kopje cwhere it groomed and surveyed its surroundings, finally standing to scan for game – providing wonderful silhouettes against the colored clouds of sunrise. The cheetah dropped from the rocks and appeared to be hunting – she had a tucked, empty belly – and we followed. A Thompson’s Gazelle ram appeared and walked towards the cheetah, and the cat laid down, watching. As it neared the cheetah began a stalk, bothering a Spur-winged Plover that dive-bombed the bird but that activity did not alert the gazelle. The cat closed to what appeared to be less than 100 yards when the gazelle spotted it, just as the cat froze mid-stride. They had a stare-off as the antelope decided if there was a threat, before snorting and running off a short distance. The cheetah stood, then flopped to its side, hunt over. We followed the cat for a short time but without game in sight, and the cat lying along a distance lugga, we moved on.

We headed to the Wogakulya Kopjes, one of my favorite locations in the Serengeti, with scattered rocks and almost countless kopjes of varying sizes dotting the rolling hills. The views from these kopjes are spectacular, encompassing the Isira Escarpment that borders the Mara Triangle and continues northern, as the western boundary to the Masai Mara Reserve. Although we were less than 20 miles from Mara Serena Lodge and the Triangle, the habitat here is completely different, and spectacularly beautiful. Mary, Don, and Judy did a number of IR shots, incorporating trees, rocks, and clouds, while I polarized my traditional color shots.
hEveryone had a great and very diverse day. Our van stopped for some Rock Hyrax sitting on a crevice in the middle of a huge rock face in one of the kopjes. While we watched, three young Hyrax appeared, joining their mother briefly, then running off, hopping onto a thin limbed tree and holding on, somehow, with their rounded, elephant-like toes. The young were extremely animated, hopping over another and across rocks and logs, reminding me very much of the fast, frantic movement of North American pikas.
Several vehicles had Klipspringers, small antelope that dwell on rocks and cliffs and distinctive for balancing on the very tip of their ktiny hooves. With an extremely small surface area, these antelope can find a foothold where other antelope, and many predators, could not. Mary’s vehicle had frame-fillers, while my vehicle had a mother and kid, who nursed vigorously, pounding its head into the udders and belly of the female.
We had not seen a lion yet, which seemed unusual, but towards the end of the morning we had a total of 15, with 11 Lionesses and subadults sprawled out in a perfect panorama across the top of a lionkopje. Eventually all but two left the rocks and sought shade beneath a fig tree and brush on another set of rocks, but the shooting was good, either a clear background or, from one of our positions, a sweeping view of the Mara Triangle and the distinctive, flat-topped volcanic buttes that dot that section of the plains.
PM. We left at 3PM and headed towards the northern edge of the Serengeti, close to the boundary markers that divide Kenya’s Mara Triangle from Tanzania. En route we had a very good Brown Snake Eagle that tempted us repeatedly, appearing ready to fly off, but even after we drove off its silhouette remained anchored in the lionupper branches of a tree. A pair of Crowned Cranes cooperated, grazing along the roadside.
In the Triangle area we found a post-honeymoon Lion pair. We were waiting for a mating but the lions had already had the post-nup kill, a gnu, and had no further interest in mating. The male nosed around once, and must have licked urine because he did two series of flehmen, drawing back his lips in a snarl-like grimace.

busOur best shots of the pair was when the male stood and the odd buttes, pre-kopje formations, rose in the background.
Tom and Carolyn’s vehicle had a good encounter with Black-backed Jackals, half-grown young and a parent, with the young fairly curious and coming up close. My vehicle ended the day with a pair of White-bellied Bustards that we filmed calling. All of us looked frantically for some foreground tree for a crisp orange sunset sky but nothing worked out and we drove into camp in the gloom of dusk.

Day 4. Upper Mara
Our last full day at the River Camp. We loaded at 5:50AM and were on the road by 6, heading at speed to reach the Wogakulya Kopjes as soon as possible, hopefully to find either lions or leopards. We reached the kopjes at sunrise, and the rocks shown beautifully in klipthe low, gold light but I couldn’t find a foreground or rock formation that did the light justice, and we continued as the sun climbed. The light was still golden when we found our first Klipspringers of the morning, with one resting atop a tall, smooth boulder, the perfect refuge from lions that might have a hard time reaching the antelope at night. The klipspringer rose and presented a wonderful portrait, framed entirely by blue sky.

hSoon after we spied Rock Hyraxes, and as we moved in for a better angle we discovered a group of 14 in a long, tight row climbing a near vertical rock face. A few others tight-roped on slender branches to pluck leaves, and three young hyraxes ran about, sometimes hopping onto the back of an adult. This hyrax shooting will be hard to beat.
While we were shooting we heard the distant roars of Lions, and we headed east to another set of kopjes and the lions. Our guide lspotted a distant silhouette of a lioness, and shortly after we had the 11 lions, one lioness and 10 juveniles, scattered around the rocks. A Spotted Eagle Owl perched on the top of a small tree, giving us a few shots before the owl flew down to cover. The lions soon moved, giving a great landscape shot with one overlooking the landscape, while the others piled onto a large, moray eel-looking boulder or the trees nearby.
We headed towards the river, stopping en route for the mother Cheetah and her cub we had previously. The two had killed an Impala, and consumed a surprisingly large amount of the animal. When we approached, Black-backed Jackals and Vultures circled the pair, with more vultures drifting in. We were surprised to find the cheetahs in the open with their kill and not beneath a bush, and there were plenty nearby.
rhinA mother Black Rhinoceros and her half-grown baby were next, in the open on the top of a ridge. The female had a long, very pointed horn, probably the most wickedly sharp of any rhino I’ve seen, while the baby was, apparently, born without ears. I thought hyenas may have taken the ears when the baby was young, as hyenas are a major concern in the Ngorongoro Crater as a predator of baby rhinos. Our guides said that they’ve seen this baby since birth, and it was born without ears, and Mary did not see an opening for one ear, although the other side of the head did have an ear hole.
We continued on to the Mara River where the Gnu herds were gathering. For the next two hours we waited, sitting in our vehicles in the shade of an acacia tree overlooking the river valley below us. At one point a V shaped phalanx of gnus, thick and concentrated and moving in an impressive sea of animals, descended the hills on the opposite bank where they joined the other, smaller herds to form a tight mass of animals. As usual, the gnus milled up and down the river, but fortunately stayed somewhat concentrated in the area directly below us.
Finally, the herd started their crossing, and our four vehicles raced downhill, with other camps’ vehicles zooming down. One of our vehicles got what appeared to be the absolute prime position, a great opening just large enough for one vehicle, and as my vehicle jockeyed about for a spot we were hemmed in by other vehicles, forcing us to try shooting over Don and Judy’s heads, in the great spot. Our driver said to wait, and somehow got us clear of the traffic, and we headed downriver where we hoped to exit the ‘rover to shoot upriver. Somehow he found another good opening and while Tom and Bill shot from the car, I got out and slid down a hippo chute to photograph from a lower position. The herd shifted and moved down to our location. The gnus were passing me on the gnu
right, then shifted and did so on the left, and at one point I wondered if my hippo chute would be next! Mary’s vehicle was upriver and blocked, but she went to the bank and balanced her 500mm on her new knee for her shots. Unfortunately a clueless tourist wearing a bright pink shirt simply walked up to the bank, then descended towards the river to get closer, and spooked that part of the crossing.
The crossing lasted about 20 minutes when something spooked the herd and the gnus stopped, turned, and in a cloud of dust ran off. The gnus had stopped several times, with much of the herd running away from the river but some would stay, and the migration would begin again in a new spot. When it was over, I think everyone was filled with adrenaline – I was quivering like I’d just been in a fight and it took me 20 minutes to get back to ‘normal.’
hBy now it was 1:45 and we headed back to camp for a late lunch, stopping along the way for a couple close Oribi antelope and a two different shoots with Ground Hornbills, the second involving an adult plucking carrion beetles from an old gnu carcass. Don and Judy had another great sighting as well, an Elephant Shrew, sitting in a crevice close to the hyraxes they were photographing. In all the years, I’ve never seen one – so that was pretty exceptional.
snakBack at camp the staff located a Boomslang snake, a rear-fanged species that feeds upon chameleons. Rear-fanged snakes are usually only mildly venomous, but the Boomslang, although quite docile, is deadly, causing hemorrhaging where a body bleeds out, from everywhere, and death in less than a day. The snake posed no threat, and for me, the shooting was a real highlight.
PM. We waited until 4:30PM to head out, which gave us about an hour after lunch to download or rest. We stayed near camp, working heronon birds – Striated Herons, Black-headed herons, eagles – and landscapes. Mary had an incredible spot, seeing the pink, glowing ear of an African Hare. She and Tom waited it out, until the hare relaxed, raised its ears, and stood, for some great shots. Two leopards use the area but they remained hidden. My guide did notice some grass moving, and drove into very high grass where we found a shy young male Lion – an incredible sighting on our guide’s part.
We ended the evening with an extremely colorful sunset, and as evening advanced a Serval was seen. The cat was shy and hunkered down when we approached, eventually losing its nerve and racing away. The light at that point was so low my AF simply didn’t work. We reached camp at nearly 7PM.

kDay 5. Upper Mara to Buffalo Camp
We left ten minutes past our scheduled 6AM departure and drove surprisingly slowly towards the W Kopjes. Today was an all-day transit to our next camp, where we planned to be by 5PM and, I think, the guides were pacing the day to accomplish this, which was a stupid strategy. We reached the kopjes when the light was full with each vehicle going a separate course as we searched for leopard and lion. I was with the guide who had the Elephant Shrew yesterday, and we drove back to that location with hopes of seeing the shrew. It was there, almost in the exact same spot as the previous day. The shrew was deep in a crevice, far too dark for any photo, but as we swaited the shrew eventually emerged, ducking in and out but at one point having all but the top of its ears in the sunlight. We waited nearly an hour for a better view, when we were joined by the others who had not seen the shrew either. Mary’s vehicle was the last to leave and observed the shrew rolling dung balls, presumably hyrax dung, across the ledge. The shrew also fully emerged from the ledge for some great shots.
We continued through the kopjes, heading towards the Mara River servcrossings. Our vehicle was first and we waited for the others to join us while we looked down on a now vacant plain. The huge herds of yesterday were gone. After a tea/coffee break we continued eastward, pausing occasionally to photograph but having nothing truly exceptional, except for a Serval Mary spotted and allowed better shots than our previous cat. We arrived at camp at 5PM, with everyone very tired after a long day.

sDay 6. Buffalo Camp/Lobo Area
We left at 6AM with a picnic breakfast heading back into the park to another large concentrations of kopjes, some of the biggest in the park. Soon after leaving camp, on a side road, we photographed a Yellow-billed Stork as it fished, swinging its submerged open bill back and forth while one foot stirred the mud, hoping to flush out a fish, tadpole, or arthropod. The light was wonderful and the reflections were great, and for most of us this was the morning’s highlight.
Surprisingly, we found another Elephant Shrew! This one my guide had seen before, several times, as long ago as five years, in exactly the same spot. Either the shrew is exceptionally long-lived for a small mammal or the microhabitat is perfect for shrews, and the location is inherited. I don’t know.

leopWe received a radio call that two leopards had been spotted on rocks close to the game track and we sped off, but by the time we arrived the cats had disappeared into a kopje complex. Mary made an incredible spot, using binocs and scanning, discovering one of the cats about 800 yds away with its chest and head visible. There was no photo and we soon moved on for a late breakfast.
Afterwards my guide spied another Leopard, resting in the shade beneath a tree. We were about 100 yards off but the cat eventually got up and ran off. We followed, hoping for a better view, but the few glimpses we had the leopard was running, apparently shy. We drove off to leave the cat in peace. We arrived back in camp after 1PM for a late lunch.
PM. We left at 4:30PM for an afternoon/night game drive. We had two vehicles, with five apiece, with Mary with Neil, the lodge manager, and me with Marcos, a Maasai guide. I didn’t bother shooting any photos, except for a buffalo skull reflected in a pond, during the day light portion, and instead contented myself identifying birds. At dusk the guides pulled out a table and drinks for a Sundowner, and afterwards a night game drive. We’d just begun that drive when I realized my new, high powered flashlight was missing, so we backtracked and after a five minute search on foot, in the dark, with flashlights, Marcos found the light.
lionSoon afterwards we found a golden maned lion and a lioness that were, I presume, in the beginning stages of their honeymoon. The lioness got up and very determinedly solicited the male, ending up sitting in front of him ‘in the position,’ but the male simply stood a moment and then walked passed her. All of us howled our disappointment. Next, we discovered a Lioness with two three or four month old cubs. While we followed them the lioness stalked and chased an impala doe but missed. Nonetheless, we saw first-hand how easy it is for a lion to walk quite close to prey after dark. The cats definitely have the advantage.
bWe also had Lesser Bushbabies, that astounded us with their twelve foot long bounds as they hopped, like a Verreaux’s lemur or a kangaroo, across open grassland to leap and scramble up another tree. We had a chance to photo two different White-tailed Mongooses, and our guide spotted a Zorilla, which is quite rare, but none of us, the participants, saw this skunk-like mustelid. We arrived at 9PM, about an hour later than planned, and at 10, as we finished dinner, we learned that we’d be packing that night for a switch to our next camp, Sametu. We had hoped to have 3 nights there but because of camp scheduling we only had two, but one of our guides called the home office and tried to make the switch. Unfortunately the boss was out, and as he went to bed we were scheduled for another night here. At 10, the office called and said the switch was OK, and so, nearing 11PM, we’re packing for a 6AM departure.

rollDay 7. Buffalo Camp to Sametu Camp
We loaded our luggage and cameras and were on the road by 6:15AM, intending to do an express drive to the Lobo area where I assumed we’d thoroughly investigate the kopjes, as planned. The guides sometimes have different agendas, and at the turn that would lead us to yesterday’s shy leopard we left the kopjes to follow that lugga. Our guide pointed out a Hammerkop nest to Judy, and we approached it we closed in on a Gray Kestrel that was incredibly tolerant, allowing frame-filling shots. The bird never left and when we finished, all of our vehicles moved in for shots. In doing so, yesterday’s Leopard reappeared, and three of the four vehicles got shots. I was further down the road by then and, hearing it was the same shy leopard, we passed on the shots.


The morning was fairly uneventful and long, as we drove from the north to the central Serengeti, which does give a wonderful opportunity to appreciate how huge this park really is. We had a birdmating pair of Lions, quite new on their honeymoon as they mated three times in the forty minutes we observed. Don, Judy, and I spent a lot of time doing landscape IR shots, and so missed the Hippo pool where the rest had gathered, and had great shots of hippos spraying crap, fighting, and yawning. A fighting pair of Impala and a great Gray-headed Kingfisher rounded out the morning.
We ate lunch at the Seronera visitor center and picnic area. I retraced the interpretive route and gathered these facts:
5% of the cheetah cubs born each year survive one year.
40% of lion cubs survive their first year.
40% of gnu calves die in the first 4 months, and 50% are dead after the first year.
8,000 calves are born per day during the peak three weeks of the gnu birthing season.
Gnus migrate about 1,000km, in their clockwise route.
Female Hyenas may do 3X that amount as they travel for food and return to the den to nurse. This journey may take 2-3 days and pass through several other hyena territories. Provided they avoid other den sites they are allowed to pass.
Over 1 million gnus, and about 400 thousand zebras and Thompson gazelles also migrate.
Gnus are so successful because they 1. Birth virtually simultaneously, overwhelming potential predators with easy food for a brief period. 2. Migrating, they create a feast or famine situation for predators, and when they’re gone, predators – who do not migrate and follow the herds – starve.
The soil of the southern Serengeti is most nutritious, with a layer of ash covering the true top soil. This compacts to form an impenetrable hard pan, with only the top breaking up enough for grasses to grow. Trees do not puncture the hard pan, and hence their scarcity.
kopjeThe kopjes are among Earth’s oldest rocks. They are remnants of magma domes that pushed up through sedimentary layers, volcano wannabes, but did not reach the surface. Over time the surrounding rock and soil eroded, exposing the round kopje rocks.
After lunch we looked for Leopard, and saw one of a pair about ¼ mile away, hidden in a tree with only its leg visible. We didn’t bother waiting for it to move, as it was too far away for anything worthwhile. We arrived in camp at 5:30, with gnus, topis, and zebras strung out across the horizon right in front of our tents.

lionDay 8. Sametu Kopjes
We left at 6AM after a good 5:30AM cooked breakfast, leaving camp with the horizon showing the first orange and purple hues. We passed several Spotted Hyenas – one group of four, one bloody, another juvenile attempting to nurse; and another group of 11, the most we’ve seen so far.
Closer to the kopjes Judy and Don’s vehicle found two young male Lions, probably four years old. My guide spotted a fully mature male walking away from that area and we followed, shooting backlighted shots as it walked, then turned facing the other lions to roar. We were assuming it was calling to his brothers but we were wrong.


The two young males were nomads, and were now following the male who was retreating deeper into his territory. The adult male belonged to the Sametu pride, with two other adult males, but he was alone and outnumbered. He’d  roar, both facing the intruders and towards the center of the territory, and again we thought he was just beckoning the other males to join him. We stayed back to catch the young males approaching, and as we did they began to trot, trying to catch lthe male. He kept going, then stopped and flopped on his side, as if he was now in a comfortable zone. The other males advanced – about 200 yards off, when the pride male got up and with an entirely different posture – head raised high and his full mane erect and aimed forward, presenting a large and very confident profile. The intruders stopped, and now both laid down, with one flopping over.


The pride male had liondone so, too, just moments before, as if demonstrating his nonchalance and his confidence. Perhaps the intruders were attempting to do likewise, but when the male rose and advanced, the two retreated, looking over their shoulders as they walked away. The pride male turned and walked deeper into his territory.
We continued on to the kopjes where we found the three Lionesses we had in February. One was collared, the female who in Feb had carried her cubs directly towards our cameras. She still had two cubs, and both were now about 8.5 months old. The other lionesses had 5 cubs, now about 9+ months, and we think there were 6 in Feb. They were on the same rocks we had them on in Feb., but when a Park Ranger vehicle arrived the lions went into a panic. The rangers were standing in the back of an open pickup truck and the cats reacted, running and looking back at the threat. I wondered if the nomads had arrived, but it was the rangers.

The lions ran across the grasses, eventually reaching the marsh where they gathered to drink. They settled in the heart of the marsh, where they were somewhat disturbed when multiple tourists got out of their vehicle to watch the extraction of a Leopard Safari vehicle from a limestone sinkhole. Our guides pulled them out with a wench, which surprised me as I thought it was hopelessly stuck. The hole was about four feet deep and filled with water, although I don’t know to what depth. As the vehicle pulled free, one of the guides helping almost fell into the pool. If it were deep, and he couldn’t swim, he’d have died before anyone could get a rope or cable for a rescue. Fortunately he rolled and just missed dropping into the hole.
The lions moved off, trotting single file to one of the smaller kopjes where they eventually settled beneath a fig tree crowning the top. From there they could overlook the now empty plains – the only game we’d seen were three warthogs that had visited the marsh and a Reedbuck that flushed when the lions entered the marsh. Herds are in the area so perhaps later they’ll have luck. We’ll check in the PM.

The marsh also attracted enormous flocks of Yellow-throated and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, that flew in to the surrounding grasses in groups of 6 to 20, landing thirty to 100 yards from the shore. The birds further out flew in closer in short hops, while the birds that were close walked in, forming a wall of birds by the shoreline where they took as many as six sips before flying off. A Harrier flew passed and the entire collection of grouse, several hundred, exploded into the air, circling in smaller flocks until the harrier flew out of sight.
Don, Judy, and Bill also had a mating pair of lions and a female with large cubs, while my vehicle had a very cooperative Black-shouldered Kite and an extremely tolerant Steenbuck along the road as we drove back to camp for lunch.
PM. We left at 4PM and the afternoon was still very hot, and very dry. We had traveled less than a half mile when the resident Serval was seen. Everyone got some shots although this sometimes-tame cat was somewhat shy, finally burrowing into some tall grasses where it waited us out.
Mary’s vehicle continued to the Sametu kopjes to check on the lions, which were still on the rock and still fast asleep. She radioed to not bother coming.
Larry and I had a great afternoon. I spotted a Large Gray Mongoose that was resting beneath a tree close to the game track. When we backed up it ran off, but we followed and at one point as it slunk along, head low to the ground, I got a nice series of shots. Next, some Bat-eared Foxes, which were at a hole and finally moved off. Our guide spotted a Black-backed Jackal and I noticed it was eating something, or so we thought. As we drove closer we saw that the jackal had been worrying a dying adult Thompson’s Gazelle. We waited, hoping it would return but the jackal was a bit shy. When we drove off the jackal and his mate returned to the antelope, now on its feet and struggling to fight off the jackals. We raced back but in the minute that took the gazelle was dead, held by a throat hold.
leopIt was nearly 6 but I asked our guide to circle a few of the Maasai kopjes. As we did so we noticed a parked vehicle at the base of a distant kopje, and driving to investigate we spotted a female Leopard sprawled on a rock in the evening sun. She was spectacular, and everyone raced in, getting to the cat before she slipped off the rock and ran into the grasses where she had spotted a Reedbuck.
Mary’s guide thought he saw another leopard which Mary confirmed as a cat, but in driving closer saw that it was a Cheetah (their second for the afternoon).
The light was low, post sunset, and unfortunately the cat’s silhouette was below the horizon but by adding flash, and exposing for the sky, I managed a pretty decent image.
We drove home in the dark, arriving in camp around 7:15PM, very happy with a very good afternoon.

Day 9. We left at 6 with the coolest, or cold, morning we’ve had yet. The sky had a vague haze, probably from the dust in the air, and through the day distant points in the Serengeti were indeed masked by haze. At the end of the game drive all of us, and our gear, was coated in dust. The short rainy season should arrive soon, for here the land is parched, with dust devils swirling and huge, billowing clouds of white dust following every vehicle.
It was a three cat morning for most, with several lions, two Leopards, and a mother Cheetah and cub. We started our day at the Maasai kopjes where we looked for the leopard from last evening, but we were unsuccessful. The cat had either returned to the kopje and buried herself in a bush, or she had moved on.
dThe lugga that runs through that area has a few large ponds and at one of these a group of five ram Reedbuck grazed. Further on, Black-winged Stilts, African Sandpipers, and Ruffs, another sandpiper, lounged along the banks. We stopped for the stilts, which were then joined by a pair of Red-billed Teal, who swam closer to us than I’d ever had before.
One of our guides spotted a Cheetah with a frisky four month old cub. We had to watch from a distance for a long time, but ceventually we got close and everyone, I believe, at one time or another got some nice shots. When we approached the cats the cub had been sleeping and almost hidden, but as we turned to leave it awoke, and joined its mother on the termite mound, presenting great shots.
We got a radio call that a Leopard was seen in the trees at Seronera and we raced there, with three of the vehicles arriving in time to catch the leopard as it jumped up into a tree. There it was partially hidden, and distant, so we headed to an overlook picnic area where we had tea and coffee, and just bs-ed for a half hour or so, time that was well-spent for when we returned to the Leopard we only had a few minute wait before it jumped down from the tree and moved through the grasses, presenting a few fairly distant views. The cat moved towards a distant group of trees where another male Leopard was lying, but our cat climbed another tree where it seemed to settle and where we left it. We drove straight to camp from there, a 35 minute drive non-stop, arriving at camp at 1:15PM.
PM. We left at 4. Mary and Jan both sat out the afternoon, really needing some rest (Mary is now 10 weeks after surgery and Jan is triumphing over all sorts of ailments – tough woman). The afternoon was very slow as we checked the Maasia and Boma Kopjes for the leopard but without success. Around 5 we were back l
at the Reedbuck Marsh where we had the cheetahs earlier in the day. Now the marsh was filled with Lions, several 3.5-4 year olds and 2-3 lionesses, for 14 in all. They lounged around, drinking or sitting, quite nicely, on termite mounds. I did a flash/sunset shot lthat was textbook from our Advanced Course where I used a sea turtle nesting on a beach as my example. I now have a real one to use. Around 6:25 the lions took off, with a lioness leading and heading towards a group of buffalo. A lone male buffalo led a group of seven, far out ahead of the other six. The buffalo passed quite close to the lead lioness, who flattened and let him pass.
I thought that’d be the end of it but as he moved off, the second lioness trotted in, low to the ground, to approach the buffalo from the rear. As she got close the bull spotted her and spun and charged, and she dodged and ran a short distance. He headed back towards the other bulls and the lioness came in from behind, but he turned and charged again and she ran. On the third or fourth attempt all of the other lions joined in, chasing the bull as he raced towards the herd. The other bulls waited, not running off as the lions approached. One of the lionesses almost grabbed the bull, stretching out a forepaw, but never made a jump. The bull reached the herd, where there was confused milling about until they sorted themselves and galloped off across the plains, sending up a dust storm that would do justice to a truck. One lioness bounded in pursuit, senselessly, since she’d have no chance alone, or with the bulls now bunched into a herd. She stopped, and they ran off, and we headed towards home, arriving at 7:05.

Day 10. Sametu to Ngorongoro Crater – Lion’s Paw
We left at 6 for a full day of shooting and travel, packed for our next destination on the rim of the Crater. Minutes after leaving the camp we had a Serval, but the cat was skittish and burrowed into the tall grasses, where we left it. Soon after we had a family of jBlack-backed Jackals, with the nearly full-grown young incredibly tame and curious. Mary’s vehicle was already shooting when I arrived, and the jackals had surrounded her vehicle. One of the adults came in with food and the five young mobbed her, leaping all about and nipping at her muzzle to stimulate regurgitation. She obliged, and the images show junks of food passing through the air. hAfter feeding, the young played, racing about, standing upright and pawing at each other, wonderful stuff.
We had a radio call that a Honey Badger was seen, and foolishly we left ‘a bird in the hand’ to chase after the badger. By the time we arrived it had slipped into a burrow, and the views were distant and grassy, so there wasn’t much to see. Next, a great male Lion that was walking with purposed down the game track. We kept ahead of the lion as it walked to us, backlighted, passing just feet from our vehicle and completely unconcerned. Good shooting.
We continued on towards the lone rock that is distinctive for cSametu, where we found two male Cheetahs hunting. Again, we positioned ourselves in front of the cheetahs, at some distance, but the cat we targeted walked close and on by. When it left the tracks and headed out into the high grasses we left it.
We passed through the Barafu Kopjes,  and at the Gol pond where we’ve had lions in the past, and five lions were lying in the far corner. We didn’t bother with them, instead, a large herd of Common Zebras were coming to the pool to drink, and a few times they sort-of stampeded, splashing mud and water nicely.


We continued to the Gol Kopjes, where a male Lion sat in the sphinx pose against a blue sky. I saw a Lioness slither to the ground where it joined a few others, as the whole group ran off into the plains. Two other males followed the lionesses, and a lone, small cub was in another kopje, giving us a brief glimpse before it scrambled for cover. I thought, wrongly I think, that the three blond males had just taken over the pride and the lionesses were running off from them. I waited to see if the male would see the cub and kill it, but the cub never reappeared and we drove off …
To photograph Maasai cows surrounding the kopjes, deep in the
park. One of our guides drove into the grasses so Mary could photograph the cows (I did too) and Park Rangers, ignoring the cows, gave the guide a hassle about being off track! Mary laid into them, asking why they weren’t doing something about the cows. They didn’t reply.

We had lunch at Naabi Hill, then drove straight to a very dry Ngorongoro Crater, reaching the rim in less than 1.5 hours. Inside, we had great Warthog, and a Hippo that wandered about, close, until it found a water-filled lugga where it finally disappeared. A dark morph of an Auger Buzzard, and a pair of very close Little Bee-eaters rounded out the afternoon, until we found several Lionesses in two groups with many cubs. Before we left the crater we found their fathers, the four male Lions that took over this pride just days after we left the crater in February.
We reached camp at 5:20, crusty and crinkly with masses of dust coating ourselves and all our gear.

Day 11. Ngorongoro to Tarengire National Park
We had an early breakfast and we were descending into the crater by 6:05, having had to wait for a guard to open the locked gate. The eastern edge of the crater wall was shrouded in clouds which cascaded down the slopes like a slow moving waterfall. It was beautiful, and the cloud bank lasted the entire morning, giving us an opportunity to incorporate the volcano slopes and the crown of l

clouds, punctuated by wispy tendrils that rolled further down the slope before the warmer air stopped their descent, into landscape photos that included Black Rhino, Common Zebras, and Lions.
We headed directly to the area where we had the Lions yesterday afternoon, and soon spotted three Lionesses and three cubs walking up one of the observation hills. We followed – both the cats and our vehicles on the same track – and the lions came to rest overlooking the crater. Backgrounds for the cats were spectacular.
Mary’s vehicle headed downhill first, and came upon the Lionesses with cubs, nine cubs, all about 8 weeks old. When she arrived all of the cats were lying in the open beside the track, and her radio message said it all, ‘it’s the motherlode.’ My vehicle arrived last, as the cats got up and began walking back towards the lugga, to the basic area, and distance, we had them yesterday. They paralleled the road for a short time for other shots, but the best was missed, and too short for those who had it.
hSpotted Hyenas were patrolling the edge of a large Buffalo herd and we suspected they were hunting, but finding no weakness they eventually lost interest. A short time later we came upon the same black morph of the Auger Buzzard, in the same location but perched even closer. The bird was so tame that it flew towards us to grab at a lizard, but when it returned to its perch only straw was within its grasp.
We had our Black Rhino soon after, crossing the road in front of us and, as it walked away, providing the scenic shots of the rolling fog in the background. Continuing to the marsh picnic area Common Zebras advanced in a line towards the road, giving us still more chances for moody, atmospheric shots that captured the crater wall, and the essence of the crater.
cWe started leaving the crater close to 10, but a male Lion walking along the pathetic remnant of the stream that defines one of the pride territories stopped us. Again, there were some, but not great, shots with the lions and the clouds. The guides told me that there are 120 or more lions in the pride, and either four, or ten, prides (depending on what guide you spoke to). Since the crater is only 10-12 miles across, having an area of about 150 miles (pi x radius squared), at the best, four prides occupy a little less than 40 sq mi each, and at the worse, with ten prides, 14 sq mi. Either way, even with only 4 prides, that’s a territory of 8x5 miles, or any combination, which points to the abundance of game to support this number of lions, and hyenas.
hComing in to the crater yesterday you’d never guess that there would be this abundance – the crater floor looked barren and was certainly parched dry, but this morning we saw large herds of buffalo, and scattered large herds of zebra and some gnus, so the game is here.
As we drove out of the crater we stopped several times to shoot the rolling clouds from nearly their altitude, cloud level, before we rounded a curve and entered the dry forest where we lost the scene. On top, as we headed east we drove into the clouds, a thick fog that masked the landscape, giving just some brief glimpses of bromeliad-laded trees silhouetted in a deeper gray from the surrounding fog.
We reached Tarengire  by 2 for a late lunch. Rock Hyrax, Red-headed Agama Lizards, a Klipspringer, and waterbuck were on the pathways or nearby around our rooms. Although a huge change from camp life, it isn’t a bad stop to end the safari.
PM. We left at 4 in a still very hot afternoon. The drive was fairly slow, but the park is beautiful, with enormous Baobob Trees, the upside down tree because it looks like a tree upturned, with the roots sticking upwards to the sky. Several of the thick boled trees had huge caverns inside, the work of elephants, that gauge into the soft bark, eventually hollowing out the tree trunk.
We had 12 Lions, most of which were feeding on a fairly fresh Zebra kill, probably from the late morning or very early afternoon. A large, and surprisingly well-maned male Lion was under a tree a short distance away, where a partially consumed Gnu lay, possibly from a dual kill. We didn’t shoot much on the lions.
oWe continued along dried stream beds looking for leopards but without success. Just after sunset Carolyn spotted a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl that we drove right beneath, but missed. The bird cooperated nicely and was the best shooting of the afternoon, although a White-bellied Go-away Bird was also a good subject.

Day 12. Tarangire
Mary stayed in, feeling poorly since last evening with a GI aliment, but also the schedule has been punishing and she probably has a low resistance right now from post-surgery. She was our token human sacrifice to the god’s of safaris. We had four cat species.
We left around 6AM with a cooler and picnic basket for a field breakfast, which we did not have until 9:30AM. That meal was the biggest breakfast we’ve ever seen on safari – about 50 sausages, huge plate of bacon, multiple hard boiled eggs, juices, coffee, yogurt. Lunch, at 1:30, seemed superfluous.
The morning drive started slow, and as Phil said, it seemed like all the animals had vanished. We stopped for a sunrise silhouette of bthe Baobob trees, then continued on to the marsh/swamp and into leopard country. We found a Rock Python coiled high in an acacia tree, where we’ve seen them in the past. The guides think they seek the trees to avoid being stomped on by elephants. I don’t have an explanation. Like the others we’ve seen this one was tightly coiled and easily missed, and we could not see the head.
Tom and Phil both had a great African Hoopoe shoot, while Judy, Don, and I, and Carolyn and Larry, watched a Serval hunting in the marsh. It ignored us, but we were quite distant and the shots we made were affected by the shimmer of heat waves. The Serval caught a large mouse, after the cat did a high, arching leap that encompassed about four or five body lengths.
After breakfast the guides spotted a lone Lionesses walking through the marsh grasses, and soon after a pair of male Cheetahs, full-bellied, lying beneath a tree. Earlier we’d photographed a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl that was feeding upon the intestinal lining of a herbivore. The owl allowed us to get close but with a messy black beak it wasn’t an attractive subject. We think it was scavenging from the cheetah kill – something I’d not seen before with this owl. I’ve seen Great Gray Owls in MN at roadkills, however, so … protein is protein, take it when one can.
eWhen we had first passed by the marsh the area was vacant, except of a distant herd of buffalo. By 11AM the open water was lined by herds of Gnu and Zebras, and dotted randomly by small herds of Elephants. A seemingly barren Park was transformed – there were animals out there!
Another driver told our guides that a Leopard was ahead, one that one of our guides has seen several times and that is extremely tolerant of vehicles. Last year it had two cubs it raised successfully. lThe Leopard was still in the tree when we arrived, and groomed for a short time before stretching out, where it slept, rarely opening its eyes to give us shots. We left it there, planning to return this afternoon. We arrived at the lodge after 1PM, for a 1:30 unnecessary lunch.
PM. We left at 4PM for a direct drive to the Leopard. She was still in the tree, but she had climbed higher into the branches and was mostly obscured by leaves and twigs. Our vehicles positioned ourselves to be ready, and we waited. It was 5:30 before she awoke and yawned, and 5:50 when she got up, but when she did she accommodated us nicely, turning on her branch and walking down the limb to come to rest facing us. She presented excellent views, and now we waited for her to climb down from the tree, in perfect view for us. She didn’t, and instead went back to sleep. And by 6PM she was finished, and remained so until we left at 6:35, to race back to camp in the dark for a 7PM curfew.
The shots were quite good, and only greed, for the shots of her climbing down, could have made it better. It was a perfect ending for a really perfect safari, although tomorrow starts a two day extension to another section of Tarengeri, where we’ll photograph bats in the evening.

fDay 11. Extension.
We packed and left for our last destination, where we’ll be photographing bats in the evening. Mary and I shared a hatch, since we had 4 and 3 for the two vehicles, and although it was tight it worked, and was fun. After shooting a sunrise, we were called back for a great session with a Bat-eared Fox. When we approached, the fox was in the middle of the road, quite close to the other vehicle. We circled around for the light and enjoyed frame filling shots of the fox, first as it groomed itself in the road, then in a more natural setting near its den.

This was a bird-of-prey day, with great shots of Tawny Eagle, Batelur Eagle, Martial Eagle immature, and African Fish Eagle. Don and Judy and Tom’s vehicle was there when a Saddle-billed Stork captured a small bird, maybe a shorebird , which we’ve never seen before. When the stork caught the bird, the Fish Eagles swooped in, trying to steal the catch but were unsuccessful.
At what we call Malachite Kingfisher bridge, we did indeed see that kingfisher, but not for photos. However, we had great luck with two Nile Monitor lizards, one probably close to six feet in length. Periodically one of the lizards would swim, folding its forelegs and hindlegs tight to its body and propelling itself only by its vertically flattened tail. After swimming, this huge lizard’s skin revealed its wonderful, vivid color pattern, banded yellow-green against a gray-blue-gray background.
At the same bridge we did well with Common Waterbuck, Wattled jJacana, African Sandpiper, and Bohor’s Reedbuck.
At 2 we started for the lodge, a somewhat remote location where Mary and I would set up for bats for the evening shoot. The lodge is located outside the park in a wildlife management area, controlled by its own gate, where we were hassled by little man in a uniform, exerting his power. Working this out took 20 minutes, but we arrived precisely at 3PM, on schedule, and giving me enough time to devise a frame, attach the flashes and Range IR, and set up for the evening’s shoot.
It took just a little under 2 hours to get the setup completed. Twice I had to rearrange poles – using local material for the frame – because I didn’t provide enough clearance for the several cameras. Eventually though the frame was built and the flashes attached, and as hoped, everything worked fine. Bats started flying around 7PM, and we shot until 9, going through 1,000 to 2,000 images during that time. It was a great deal of fun, and should yield some great results. We’ll know once we review the downloads.

iDay 12. Extension
Reviewing last night’s shoot – a complete success! Some, especially Nikon shooters, had some problems because for a reason NO ONE can figure out, Nikon’s cameras would not fire a continuous sequence burst. The Canon shooters simply put their electronic release on lock, so the shutter advanced after every frame, and never need resetting. Nikon cameras would shut off after a random number of shots, requiring those shooters to constantly check simply to see if the cameras were firing and recording an image. Nonetheless, everyone did get great shots, and everyone was anxious to fine-tune their compositions for the evening shoot.

We left at 5:30AM to reach the park entrance before light. Along the way we had the best view I’ve ever had of the living pogo stick, a pair of Lesser Galagos or Bushbabies. They were in a small acacia tree beside the road and had we anticipated this, we’d have had great shots. Their huge eyes dominated their faces. Neither Bushbaby lingered, and one at a time they leaped across the road to another tiny limb, easily spanning 12 feet or more with the bouncy jump. It was incredible to see a leap like that so close. As the sun brightened the eastern sky in gold, our guide spotted a Pearl Spotted Owlet silhouetted against the sky. We grabbed our cameras but the owl flew off before we could take a shot. Minutes after entering the park he spotted a Leopard, lying on a dead tree low to the ground, but I was facing in to the sun and I couldn’t even see the cat until it moved, which was almost immediately, and dropped to the ground and walked off. It was shy.

It rained twice yesterday, both long, hard rains, and the onset of gthe short rains triggered the Gnu migration, which would soon leave the park to wander through game management areas, hunting zones, and probably poaching zones, too. We photographed a lone line of Gnus as they ran by in the early morning light, backlighted, with their white beards glowing brightly.


Our guide spotted another Leopard, perhaps the same one as two days ago, for it was only a few hundred yards from the original location. He thought it was a different female, but I might be able to match spot patterns to check. This cat, like that other one, was fearless, and walked right to and passed our vehicles. Great shots.
We found only the second African Hoopoe nest I’ve ever seen. Like bthe first, this nest was built or dug directly into the ground. The first nest, in the Mara, was just a hole into the hard packed earth, but this one had a rim, much like a termite mound’s castle that is built when the rains arrive, to create a barrier for water to flow inside. The Hoopoe returned to the nest several times, carrying straw-colored worms – I suspect caterpillars, into the hole.

Bill, Tom, and Larry had great luck with the Rock Python, which was now almost completely in the open on a limb, and a gigantic Savanah Monitor Lizard stretched across a branch. They had a good series with a group of Dwarf Mongooses, but when we arrived they acted shy. Later, we had some luck with one.

We had two Servals, one of which leaped to catch a mouse, one lone and unhealthy-looking Lioness, and the two Cheetah brothers, the same as we had yesterday. Tsetse Flies were annoying, and because of the  comfort and luxury of the camp we’re at, everyone was happy to forego a full afternoon of game-driving in the heat, sun, and flies, and we returned to camp for a superb lunch. Several of us had steak – cooked to perfection and as good as any I’ve had anywhere. Certainly the best in Africa. I don’t rave about food, but the meals at this camp are the best, ever.
It rained in the afternoon, but not very heavily, although thunder boomed through much of the day. Three huge Crowned Hornbills visited a feeder at the lodge, and although I got some shots, we all blew it, not immediately running for our lenses for this bird – one we rarely see in the field. I took the time to photograph Yellow-bEpaulet Fruit Bats that were hanging from the roof over the lodge’s office, although to do so I had to lie flat on my back and handhold a 500mm. The bats were too close, and I needed my 25mm extension to achieve focus.
Everyone assembled around 6PM and we went to set up for the bats. This time, all of us were quite successful, although the Nikon users did have to check the cameras constantly, turning off the remote switch and turning it back on, to get the cameras to bkeep firing. We shot for about 2 hours, and from that I’ve kept almost 500 images – which I’ll later cull to the absolute best. Nonetheless, it was a great bat shoot, and probably the best bat photography I’ve been able to offer anywhere.

Day 13. Departure
irWe had a 7AM breakfast, packed the vehicles, and headed to Arusha. The drive was uneventful, traversing goat/sheep denuded landscapes, parched from the lack of rain and stripped clean by the huge herds of livestock. At Arusha we met our Tour Operators, a nice gesture of customer service, where one of the owners asked what more they could do for us – they have always followed through on my requests. We said a sad goodbye to Tom and Bill, who were flying home this evening. Larry, Don, Judy, Mary, and I are continuing to Nairobi, where, tomorrow, we’ll fly to Rwanda for our 76th-80th Mountain Gorilla trekes.

Regarding equipment, I used the new Canon 200-400mm zoom lens, which I've owned since July. This was my third outing with the lens and although I truly love it, I had a major problem with the lens mid-way through the trip. The rotating lens collar jammed, or stuck, for no reason, and did so with the lens foot basically upside down, so it was impossible to mount the lens on a tripod, unless I was prepared to operate all of my camera controls upside down and in the opposite position, right to left. Extremely frustrating!

We carried our gear to Rwanda in our Gura Gear Bataflae bags, which we used throughout our time in Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya. The bags are light weight and very water resistant, and extremely durable.

If you are interested in learning how to do this type of high speed flash work with bats, or other subjects, we are, in 2015, planning on running our Advanced Nature Photography Course which will be primarily concerned with Mastering Flash, remote or camera triggering devices like the Range IR, and macro photography. Contact our office if you are interested.

Refer to our BROCHURE to get an idea of next year's trip! The brochure is not updated for 2015 (remember, I'm in Africa), but the itinerary wil be similar. We are adding one extra day in the northern Serengeti and another day in the central area. At this point, Tarangire may be an added extension. Details will be available in early 2015, but this will at least get you started. Don't miss out!