Tanzania 13-Day Wild Serengeti Africa Wildlife Photography Adventure - September 8th, 2013 | Sojourn Series, Aperture Academy

Tanzania 13-Day Wildlife in the African Serengeti Photography Adventure - September 8th, 2013

DAY 1:

A safe (and on time) flight arrival for all our guests delivered all in good spirits. Some folks recognized fellow Aperture travellers in Amsterdam by the oversized camera bags... and the good natured ribbing began from there. An evening drop off to our comfortable hotel for a good night's sleep, after a long flight halfway across the world, was warmly received.

DAY 2 & 3:

After a morning orientation with introductions all around, we jumped into our waiting all terrain vehicles and began the first leg of our safari. First stop, Tarangiri National Park, home of magnificent and other-worldly Baobob trees and fantastic populations of elephants. Upon arrival, we were immediately greeted by both the Baobobs and a huge herd of elephants. It certainly didn't take long to start the image acquisitions.

Tarangire is a dry, hot and arid ecosystem. It is very unique and different from the other parks we visit and it is for this reason we make a stop here and take advantage of its special landscapes and animal assemblages. Shooting here can be a challenge due to its brush habitat but the if lucky, one can walk away with some unique images. We kept a look out for the elusive leopard but he remained elusive for the time being. We did however see quite a few lions. On one sighting, we came upon two lions munching on a young elephant. Something of a rarity, for sure.

DAY 4:

On the early morning game drive, we had our second major lion sighting; a pride of around six lions sitting on a mound. They were a bit on the sleepy side but a large group of banded mongoose added a little spark of excitement while we waited for more action.

The lions did what lions often do and remained on the lazy side, so we bid farewell and slowly made our departure en route to Ngorongoro Crater. Before arriving at the crater, we had a wonderful stop at Gibbs Farm for lunch. Farm fresh vegetables and a mouth watering assortment of meats, salads, casseroles and freshly made baked items were presented for lunch. Yum Yum Yum is all I can say. Since we had a little free time at the farm following our scrumptious lunch, folks meandered about enjoying tours of the gardens or simply relaxing in the comfy chairs.

Afternoon brought us to a Masaai Village to practice our portraiture skills. Golden sunset light and an amazing variety and wealth of subjects provided some truly beautiful portraits and village life scenes. With evening light fast approaching, we arrived at our next private tented camp on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. Another wonderful meal and an evening starwatching around a warm and toasty campfire among friends topped off another excellent day.

DAY 5:

We went into the crater at first light. Waking from our toasty beds and departing early, coupled with the fact that our camp is strategically located just outside the entrance gate, allowed us the luxury of being among the first on the crater floor. The crater can be a busy place, but for the time being we had the place virtually to ourselves, as the early sun burned off the morning mist and fog. Since the crater floor is a relatively compact area, it did not take too long to locate our first assemblages of animals.

From the top of the crater rim, the animal groupings appeared to be tiny little ant like creatures but as we descended, those ant like creatures revealed themselves to be wildebeest, zebra, hartebeest, hyenas, lions, hippos, and myriad other species. One of our first up close meetings consisted of a mother jackal with three pups who showed absolutely no fear of our small convoy. With a distance of no more than 20 feet, her family provided us with a wealth of cute and cuddly images.

We had allocated the entire day at the crater and except for a short lunch break, we spent nearly every moment observing and photographing a wide range of species and behaviors. Some notable highlights included photographing four different prides of lions including two particularly amorous individuals who generously decided to go about their activities on a lovely rock outcropping overlooking the Crater floor and then later at a spot within easy shooting distance from the road.

Another thrilling highlight, although somewhat difficult to photograph due to the distance, was watching a group of hyenas and jackals stalk an enormous group of pink flamingos at the crater lake's edge. There must have been nearly 20,000 flamingos feeding on the lake's edge and the predators took advantage of the momentary chaos as they rushed a section of the group. Two flamingos fell victim and the next five minutes were spent as the hyenas proceeded to steal the felled victim from each other. It was very fascinating to watch, much more fun than watching it on the Discovery Channel.

The thrills continued even after we returned to our camp. After our usual evening of fine dining and flowing wine, a few of us sat around the evening campfire chatting and relaxing and enjoying the night sky. Sleep finally came calling so the last of us made our way back to our individual tents. One in that last bunch, let's call him Dan, walking with his Masai guide suddenly came to a stop. The Masai had seen something in the bush despite the near black out conditions. In the fringe of vegetation, just across from Dan's tent was a lioness. As Dan describes it, it was a moment when multiple parts of his body puckered. Ahh, the joys of sleeping out in the bush.

DAY 6:

After a leisurely breakfast, we departed the crater rim for a half day drive to the central Serengeti. Along the way, we made a stop at the Oldupi Gorge for a visit to the museum. Despite its small size, the museum is an extremely interesting break spot. It highlights many of the groundbreaking paleo-archeological discoveries the Leakey family made in this world famous dig site. Some of the earliest hominid fossils have been found in the surrounding hills and valleys with some hominid fossil prints dating back 3.6 million years.

After some dry and dusty road tripping, we finally arrived to the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania's flagship of wildlife parks and one of the best parks in Africa to find big cats. It certainly did not take long for the park to live up to its reputation. Within the first hour of our drive to our next tented camp , we all saw the three big species, lions, cheetah, and leopard. It was quite the introduction and left us all excited for the next day.

DAY 7:

After a night in our tents listening to the sounds of lions in the distance, Our first full day in the Serengeti brought us a bounty of big cats. The early morning started with a band of four brother lions on a kill surrounded by a growing group of hyenas. The lions had killed and were in the process of consuming a young cape buffalo. As each one got their fill of meat and moved away to sleep away their full stomachs, the hyena group inched slowly closer. At one point, there was only one lone lion knawing away when it looked as though the hyenas would overtake him and take over the kill. The hyena excitement drew the attention of the other sleeping lions and they rushed in to their brother's rescue. The hyenas withdrew their attack and after some time, we went in search of other great photo material.

A short drive down the road brought us to a nice leopard up in a tree. The vehicles positioned for some really great images with some fortunate members in our group getting the opportunity to shoot the leopard as he she was walking on the ground toward the safari vehicles.

Unbelievably, we rounded off the morning with a great few moments as a lone cheetah crossed our path in search of prey. He didn't stay around long but did stay long enough to get a few strong images.

After the rush of the morning's photo ops, the afternoon game drive seemed a bit on the sleepy side. Of course, we saw a wide variety of animals including an absolutely huge grouping of about 100 hippos but the day's heat seemed to put the animals in a sleepy state of being. Not to worry, we had many more days to savor the Serengeti.

DAY 8:

An epic morning of more cats. This time we spent the morning observing a total of 4 leopards. We rose early and drove directly to the area where we had seen leopard the previous day. It paid off as we encountered not one but three leopards in the various surrounding trees. They were related and had made a kill in the night and had dragged the carcass up into the tree. As a result of this, numerous hyenas were also in the area hoping for some scraps to fall. Throughout the morning, we would wait for quick glimpses and photo ops for which we were richly rewarded. After a few hours, we drove off to explore other areas and within 30 minutes came upon another leopard in a tree which also provided some great photo opportunities.

Afternoon provided a lone male lion, as well as a brief return to our leopard in the tree who had decided to make this particular branch his sleeping spot for the day. Some of the vehicles explored some of the surrounding kopjes and took advantage of the late afternoon light to photograph a large group of elephant that were feeding in the marshy habitat of a natural spring. Al and all, another fantastic day in the Serengeti.

DAY 9:

In transit to our next camp. A leisurely breakfast and then we hopped into our safari vehicles and departed our central Serengeti camp making our way to the our next stop located in the north Serengeti. We noticed a marked change in the topography and geology. The northern Serengeti is a lovely region of the park. Rock outcrops known as Kopjes are plentiful providing a grand backdrop for any subject matter we came across.

After a quick lunch at camp, we headed out into the field to see what we could find. Afternoon drives can sometimes be a bit more quiet as critters often bed down for an afternoon siesta. We did find a good size pride of lions on one of the rock outcrops but they were a bit on the sleepy side. We stayed awhile with them but them went off to explore our new surroundings. A sizable difference in the number of grazing animals was evident. Wildebeest were plentiful but now we were also seeing large numbers of giraffe, klipspringer, impala, topi and gazelle. It appeared that the big cat supermarket was fully stocked.

DAY 10:

Eager to find some big cats, we went off in search of lions and leopards and lions and leopards we found. After a relatively brief search we came across a grouping of five lions on a kopje. We worked them for a good hour before they wandered off seeking some solace from the increasing temps. We also spotted a leopard in a tree but he was a bit shrouded in the leaves but we knew where to look when we began our afternoon drive.

For the afternoon drive, we bee-lined it back to a tree that had a report of a leopard. Sure enough, a big beautiful leopard had made a kill of a young impala and had hauled it up in the tree. For the next two hours, she gave all of us wonderful views and truly fantastic images. Evening sunlight filtered through the leaves throwing wonderful dappled light onto our leopard. It had been a full day of cats, especially of leopards which are typically hard to find and photograph but today had been the motherload of classic leopard imagery.

DAY 11 & 12:

The next two days have been a whirlwind of amazing photo opportunities. Virtually every fascinating animal of the Serengeti came across our paths including the extremely rare and endangered Black Rhino. Only a handful of these animals can be found inside the park and they are notoriously shy and elusive. One of our vehicles sighted the animal and provided coordinates as he was out in the open crossing a small grassy field. Within minutes, all our vehicles were together and we positioned ourselves for some cool images. The Rhino didn't stay long but we all managed to record this rare and beautiful animal.

Off course, the cat action remained off the hook. I would even venture to say, crazy awesome good. On virtually every game drive, we encountered leopards and lions. Additionally, In one particularly exciting moment, we encountered a lone cheetah just as he was attempting a kill on a gazelle. Unsuccessful, he continued his search for a meal as we tagged along cameras blazing. At one point, the cheetah was walking behind one of our vehicles when a rabbit was flushed from the bush immediate to him. In an instant, the cheetah covered 200 meters and we thought the rabbit was a goner for sure when a nearby bird shrieked a warning call and startled the cheetah, breaking up the pursuit. It all happened so fast but one of our participants came through with some fantastic images of the chase including one shot that clearly showed the cheetah had only missed catching the rabbit by fractions of an inch. Great stuff!!

A serval cat was also added to cat list of images. This small but beautiful cat is notoriously difficult to find and even harder to photograph due to their timid and shy nature but this particular individual provided some excellent moments and crystal clear images for the group as he went about hunting and capturing a fairly large catfish. The fish was nearly the size of the cat so he ate a small portion and buried the rest in the grass for a later snack.

Of course, the usual suspects like elephant, zebra, wildebeest, hippos, gazelles, impalas, Das Klipspringers, topi, hartebeest, giraffe, the ubiquitous dik dik and rock hyraxes along with a multitude of bird species were ever present and provided wonderful subject matter against a stunning African landscape backdrop.

Perhaps the creme de la creme of photographic moments for the trip came in the last hour of our last evening. We had just concluded another wonderful day and and were heading back to camp. Two of our vehicles who just happened to be in the right place at the right time had a most amazing last few moments when a leopard who had been dozing high up in a thickly leafed trees jumped down, strolled a few steps away and made a low calling sound. At that moment, two very small leopard cubs less than two months old appeared out of a crack in the rocks. The mother tenderly began licking them and relaxing with them a mere 20 feet away as our people began filling up their photo cards. The sound of blazing motor drives was interspersed with the sound of the cubs playing with each other. With the light falling and park closing time imminent, The moment was over after a few minutes as our vehicles carefully departed the scene. Needless to say, these photo moments don't happen often and can take months or years to successfully capture. The resulting images were astounding. Amazing job guys!!

DAY 13:

With a bit of melancholy in the air, we packed up all our belongings in preparation for our late morning bush flight back to Arusha. We made one final game drive with hopes of finding our mother leopard again. We found her dozing in a nearby tree but she had once again stashed away the cubs in a safe hiding place. Next time, right.

It had been a great two weeks of shooting. Image quality and quantity was nothing short of sublime. Some of our seasoned African travellers even remarked this had been some of their most productive shooting ever which is something we always strive for.

The remaining hours in Tanzania seem a blur as we flew back to Arusha for a brief rest, hot shower, and final meal before heading off to airport for our flights back home or to our next travel destination. It had been an exceptionally productive trip. Countless gallery quality images had been acquired and new friendships had been forged. Tanzania had been very good to us. I personally love exploring Africa and all her fascinating personalities. I can't wait to return and with some luck continue to share this amazing continent with both new and old friends.

On behalf of Scott, Stephen, and the rest of the Aperture staff, we say a warm Asanti Sana for your wonderful company and for sharing with us some amazing experiences and some incredible photo moments!

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