Tag Archives: Photography

Maasai Mara 2019: Day 1 of 7

We have recently returned from our second trip to the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, where we undertook an intense week-long wildlife photographic safari in June of 2019.

This is the first article in a series of articles, in which I will provide a day-by-day account of our sightings, images and experiences during this trip.

After two long flights to Kenya, we rested at our hotel in Nairobi during the day of our arrival, and in the evening, we met for the first time since 2015 our go-to photographic safari leader, Mario Moreno of South Cape Images, to discuss the exciting adventure ahead over a nice dinner of steak and an Argentinian malbec.

This was the beginning of our third trip to Africa, our second trip to Kenya, our fourth wildlife photographic safari, and our third wildlife photographic safari with Mario.

We were heading back to the Mara North Conservancy, nearly four years to the date on which we first visited the Mara.  It was very familiar, but it was also very new in some ways, as the trip would reveal over the next seven days.

After landing at Mara North Airstrip, we were met by our guide Francis of Elephant Pepper Camp, who was also our guide during our first trip.  It was great to see him again, and he had prepared brunch for us, which was soon followed by the commencement of our first game drive.

On that first game drive to camp, which can take 20 minutes or three hours, it did not take long before it became apparent that this was not going to be a short drive.  Nature, not us, is the shot caller, and nature had something it wanted to say.

Soon after boarding our private 4WD, a short distance south-west of the airstrip, we encountered cheetahs.  Not even ten to fifteen minutes into our first game drive, we had already encountered one of Africa‘s spectacular species of big cat, and not just one cheetah, but four: a mother with three cubs.

The mother cheetah is known as Amani, and she has three sub-adult cubs of around 12 months of age.

Here is an image I captured of one of Amani‘s cubs:

Amani's Cub

Amani’s Cub

While sub-adult cheetahs quickly grow to the size of an adult cheetah, the distinctive feature which identifies a cub (either very young, or sub-adult) is the mantle — the wild tuft of hair along the back of the head and neck.

The mantle serves two purposes: it assists in camouflage, and makes the cub resemble a honey badger, a species of animal most wildlife would happily avoid.

We spent most of this game drive with Amani and her cubs, but also encountered vultures nearby, and spotted a few baboons, a wildebeest, a topi, and some helmeted guineafowl (affectionately known as Maasai chickens) on the way to camp.

After a fantastic first drive with the cheetahs, we arrived at Elephant Pepper Camp, an outstanding luxurious eco-lodge in the Mara North Conservancy.  It is nestled amongst a distinctive ‘X’ cluster of elephant pepper trees, just south of the C13 road between Mara Rianta and Lemek.

It was great to be back at the camp.  Since we were last there four years ago, its operation has been taken over by Elewana, and the camp is now run by Tom and Alison, who we got to know during the week.

We met Tom and Alison, and went through the formality of the briefing given to guests upon arrival.  Much of the camp was the same as it was when we were last there, but there have been some good changes and enhancements, too, such as AC power in all tents, and wireless Internet access throughout the entire camp.

Shortly afterwards, we sat down to lunch.  As it was the first week of the season, the camp had only just opened, and we were the first guests.  We had the camp to ourselves for the first two days and nights before other guests began to arrive on the third day.

Lunch at Elephant Pepper Camp was superb as always, and we were joined by either Tom or Alison, who attend all lunches and dinners with the guests.

Already we had a great story to relate, having spotted Amani and her cubs early into the trip.

After lunch, I set about my highly disciplined ritual of transferring the images and videos from the flash cards to my laptop and backing them up to an eternal hard disk.  It is very important to ensure that there are at least two, or preferably three, copies of one’s images and videos.

Fuelled by the obligatory glass or two (or three, perhaps) of Amarula, which was my habit at Elephant Pepper Camp last time (and a habit into which I easily and happily fell again this time), soon enough it was time to head back out into the plains to see what the afternoon and evening would bring.

Shortly into the afternoon game drive, we encountered two magnificent elephant bulls on the open plains north-west of camp, not far south of where we had first seen Amani and her cubs earlier in the day.

We had a brief look at the first elephant bull, before heading towards a second elephant bull not far away.

Mario is a big fan of capturing almost symmetrical, frontal images of approaching elephants, so Francis positioned the vehicle such that the elephant was heading straight towards us.  He kept walking, and we snapped away furiously as his imposing presence dominated our viewfinders.

Here is one of the images I captured:

Mighty Elephant Bull

Mighty Elephant Bull

Once he got close to our vehicle, he veered left and walked in front of us at a distance of only one or two metres.

This big tusker is a magnificent, healthy elephant who has the Mara plains at his disposal.

Less than ten minutes after I captured my final image of this elephant, we encountered Amani and her cubs for the second time!

They were in the same location where we had first encountered them four hours earlier.  As cheetahs can travel considerable distances in a short period of time, it was nice to find them again so soon.

My guess is that they spent the entire time resting.  There is no telling whether they hunted or not, but they had not recently eaten, so any attempts at hunting would have been unfortunately unsuccessful.

Here is an image I captured of Amani resting on a mound and surveying her territory for potential predators or prey:

Resting and Surveying

Resting and Surveying

We spent a around an hour with the cheetahs, during which time I had the opportunity to capture a clean image of Amani as she rested on a mound in the afternoon, soaking in the sun’s rays.

Amani

Amani

Eventually we decided to move on, heading west-north-west towards the Mara River, and soon encountered a banded mongoose.

After a few quick shots, we continued on, and spotted two male waterbuck and a small group of females in the open, just south of the Mara River.

Having photographed only female waterbuck in South Africa, we briefly stopped, where I was fortunate to see this impressive male standing out in the open, staring straight at me:

Male Waterbuck

Male Waterbuck

While many people visit Africa to see and photograph the big cats, there are many species of antelope to be seen and photographed, and these animals are just as important in the ecosystem as the predators, with their own stories to tell.

I am quite partial to a good antelope image, and as these animals are quite skittish and like the cover of thickets, capturing a pleasing image of such an animal is not always easy.

In this case, I was fortunate that the male waterbuck was out in the open, clear of distracting foliage, and that he was staring straight down the barrel of the lens.

The resulting image is pleasing to me, as it places this waterbuck in his environment, and his impressive stature stands out.

Late in the afternoon, we slowly began making our way in a south-easterly direction back to camp.  Less than ten minutes later, we experienced our first lion sighting of the trip, and again, it was during the first day of this trip.

We encountered some members of a familiar pride: the Cheli Pride.

The Cheli Pride is a dominant pride of lions which inhabits the area near camp in the Mara North Conservancy.

We had seen lions from the Cheli Pride four years earlier, when it was quite a large pride, consisting of 27 members or thereabouts.

Things have changed somewhat, with the pride being apparently smaller, and quite a lot of disruption having taken place.  The pride still exists, but rather than being one large pride as it was four years ago, there appear to be various off-shoots from the main pride.

On this drive, we encountered a female who was resting out in the open during the late afternoon.

Cheli Pride Lioness at Rest

Cheli Pride Lioness at Rest

Very close to where she was resting, a large male lion was taking shelter in a thicket.

While I did photograph the male, the busy setting was not great for photography, and even though nightfall had not yet arrived, it did not look like these lions were going to become active, so we moved a little further south-east towards camp, and encountered another female and a very young cub in a thicket.  The cub looked to be around six to eight weeks of age, and was the youngest lion cub we had seen in the wild.

Some 40 minutes later, we were further south toward camp, when we encountered a young hyena sleeping on a mound.  After spending a few minutes there, and determining that the sky was unfortunately not ideal for any landscape photography, we headed back to camp for dinner, drinks and a debrief before bedding down for the night, as an early start the next morning awaited us.

Saturday, 1st June, 2019 had been a fantastic first day in the Mara, with not one but two sightings of the same family of cheetahs, an impressive big-tusker elephant bull, a great photographic opportunity with a male waterbuck, and our first encounter with the Cheli Pride lions, including a tiny cub.

It was fantastic to be back in Mara, a familiar place with new stories to tell.  This trip had taken some time to materialise, but finally we had returned to a place we love to be — one with many more great sightings ahead of us.

Stay tuned for our adventures on day two.

Back in Kenya at Long Last

After 30 hours of exhausting travelling and very little sleep, we are back in Kenya at long last, for our second Maasai Mara safari.

After our flight from Doha to Nairobi, during which we had the pleasure of viewing Mount Kenya from the air, we are resting at the hotel before Mario joins us later for dinner and a good catch-up, followed by what will hopefully be a solid night’s sleep before we fly to Mara North Conservancy tomorrow morning.

This trip has been on the agenda for a few years, and finally we are here.  Tomorrow, an intense week of wildlife photography and experiences begins.

 

Presenting a Wildlife Photography Talk

We recently had some good friends over for dinner and a good catch-up.

They are both passionate and very capable photographers, and I met them when I was involved with the camera club scene some years back.

Last year they started their own club, and during the course of the night I mentioned that I would be happy to appear some time as a guest speaker to deliver a presentation and talk about wildlife photography and our trips to South Africa and Kenya.

Sure enough, today an invitation arrived via email, inviting me to deliver a talk and audio-visual presentation at the club next week.

I was delighted to be asked, and I am very much looking foward to this.  I gave a couple of talks when I was still a member of my old club, and while I loved presenting, I also found a lot of enjoyment in listening to the guest speakers we had there.

With two major African wildlife photography trips and the experience, knowledge, images and video footage I have gained, I have a wealth of material to cover.

My plan is to present a slideshow of my stand-out images (including videos), discuss our adventures and experiences, relate what it was like to experience Africa and its wildlife not only as a photographer, but as a person; tell some of the stories behind the images, discuss techniques, tips and equipment (including some show-and-tell); and also reveal some behind-the-scenes material.  I may even delve into post-processing if there is sufficient time.

Hopefully the other photographers at the club will gain something from my presentation, and be inspired to travel to Africa where a world of amazing and potentially life-changing experiences awaits them.

Photographic Mojo MIA

I have come to the realisation that my photographic mojo is missing in action.

During the past six to eight months, I have not spent a lot of time in the field.

The notable exception was our huge African trip last October, where wildlife photography — quite a deviation from my usual subject matter — was a massive part of that, and I came away with some extremely pleasing images and life-changing, unforgettable experiences.

Upon our return, I went on on seascaping session with a friend, who has got more into seascaping.  I was not pleased with my images from that morning, and consequently never published them.  I have not shot a seascape since.

For quite a few years, seascape imagery was my bread and butter, as it were.  I would be out almost weekly or fortnightly, chasing pre-dawn images by the ocean.

We have recently returned from Israel, where I shot architectural interiors and the odd landscape.  I landed some images I have wanted.

However, since returning, I have not been motivated to shoot at all.

Being on six weeks’ leave, I have had plenty of time and opportunity, but I have elected not to bother heading out.

Right now my headspace is not so much pre-occupied with other matters; it is just not in gear for photography at all.  Maybe next week I will head out for a dusk/twilight cityscape shoot, but it is telling that I have not bothered to shoot at all.  Usually on my annual leave, I like to get out there at times when the schedules of daily life are not obstacles; but no, not this time.

Let us hope my mojo returns.  Right now, it is missing in action.

I have had these periods of downtime quite a few times now, and I recognise that I simply have to weather the storm, and wait until I get the itch again.  The most difficult part is not knowing when that desire will return.  It is not gone; it is just on holiday for an unspecified period.

Africa Trip Developments

Since I first announced our upcoming trip to Africa, we have been busy planning and preparing.

We have finalised a private photographic safari in the Timbavati region of Kruger Park, South Africa, with excellent landscape/wildlife photographer Mario Moreno.  Check out his work.  It is going to be a truly awesome safari, with up-close access to amazing animals, and even the chance of seeing and photographing the rare white lion.

The safari will consist of Mario, a ranger and us, all in a private vehicle with no tourists or self-drive safariers with which to contend.

While the safari will undoubtedly be the highlight of the trip, we have also decided to do something a little different in Cape Town: we are going diving with white pointer (aka great white) sharks.  I have never seen a white pointer in the wild, and to be submerged in a cage while these huge sharks swim around us will also be an incredible experience.

Unfortunately I do not have an underwater camera housing (they are seriously expensive), so the only shark photos I am likely to take will be from the boat deck.

Everything has come together nicely, and the countdown to the trip of a lifetime is truly on.

We Are off to Israel too!

It has been barely two days since I announced our trip to Africa in the coming months, but tonight we have also booked a separate trip to Israel in January.

It has been twelve years since I have been overseas, and in two days we have booked two trips, both to take place three months apart.  When it rains, it pours!

From a photographic perspective, high on the agenda will be a visit to Jerusalem and interior church photography.  I look forward to seeing what kinds of images I will capture in this very different place.

Fun times!

It is official: We are off to Africa

It is official: we are off to Africa in a few months.

This unexpected trip has been on the agenda for a while now, as a friend is getting married in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and we were invited to the wedding.

Naturally it is a fantastic opportunity to see and photograph wildlife and landscapes in Africa.

We have just booked all of our flights today, and in the past few weeks we have connected with an excellent photographer I discovered on 500px, who runs photographic safaris in Africa.

He is putting together a custom four-day, private photographic safari in Kruger Park, just for us.  Kruger is the African answer to Australia‘s own Kakadu National Park: it is the place to go for the quintessential experience, including the ‘Big Five‘, consisting of lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalo.  There will probably be plenty of giraffes and zebras wandering around, too.

Of course, Africa has a lot more to offer, but for logistical reasons we are limited to a very rapid two-week trip, so we are trying to make the most of the time we have there, and will remain only in South Africa.

Upon arriving in Johannesburg, we depart the next day for the photographic safari for several days, before returning and then departing for a few days in and around Cape Town.  We will then fly to Durban and drive to the game reserve where the wedding is to be held, and where we will be staying for four days or so for social activities, the wedding itself and game drives.

After our stay in KwaZulu-Natal, we will drive back to Durban, fly back to Johannesburg, and then depart South Africa for home on the same day.

It is going to be a mammoth trip condensed into a very short timeframe.

It is one of those rare trips I would not have otherwise considered, and we are excited about the trip and the experiences we will have.

Most people have seen lions, elephants and other African animals in zoos, but to have these majestic creatures within very close proximity to us, in their natural habitat, will be an experience that I will not fully comprehend and appreciate until I am actually there, living it.

I am looking forward to capturing some very pleasing images of the wildlife and landscapes of South Africa.

We still have a fair bit of planning to do, but things are coming together nicely.

The resulting images will be quite a departure from my usual seascape and portraiture fare.