Friday, March 30, 2012

Day 14 - Tanzania - Third day on safari

Day three on safari and not a lot of sleep last night. I was awakened several times by the sounds of hyena's laughing outside my tent. It really is an eerie noise they make. It's now time to get out and shoot some early morning shots in the Serengeti and I meet Ben by the truck at 6:15am. They sky is starting to lighten up towards the east but the sun has still not made it up just yet. As we are driving out I can tell Ben is not thrilled about being out so early and missing out on breakfast. They don't start serving breakfast till 7am.
We are driving out of the camp and more or less headed toward the west then suddenly the road turns toward the south. As we turn I look out to the left, east, and I'm amazed to see the perfect photo lining up before my very eyes. "Tafadhali simama!" I yell to Ben. Another of the few Swahili phrases I've learned the last couple of days, it means "Please stop!". The sun has just risen above the horizon and it's coming up with a few of the iconic Serengeti trees, Umbrella Acacias, in the foreground. I HAVE to get this shot so I get the camera out the roof top as fast as possible and fire off these few shots here.

There's several more shots in the sequence but I varied the exposure throughout and these are the three best. It all happens so fast and just two minutes later the sun has cleared the trees and is already too bright to look at, much less photograph. It's the shot you simply can't get sleeping in till 7 and leaving at 8 in the morning and in a blink of the eye it's already gone.
These shots are taken between 6:52 and 6:54am and about 15 minutes later while shooting towards the west I get this shot. You can tell the light has already drastically changed but it's still a beautiful shot.

A few minutes later and we are near a few trees when I spot a couple monkeys playing around. They seem very camera shy but I manage to get a few shots including the second one below where I swear the little guy is sticking his tongue out at me.  I believe these are Vervet Monkeys but I can't be sure. Hopefully someone can confirm this fact.

Next stop, more lions. We are driving along and come upon this family just hanging out beside the road. I'm not exactly sure of the makeup of this bunch but it appears to be two mothers, two older cubs that are maybe two years old and three young cubs that appear to be a year old or younger. I'm really no expert on gauging lion ages so I could be far off but you get the idea.
At a quick glance they almost appear to blend into their surroundings.

We slowly pull up to the area and I'm able to get several wonderful shots of these cubs.

This little girl was quite the ham for the camera. Unusual because most of the smaller cubs we ran across on this trip were a bit camera shy.

Then the mother had to get up and see that everything was ok.

Notice she's wearing a tracking collar. The only animal I saw while on safari that had on a tracking collar.

A couple of great head shots of the other female.

And the cub once again giving me a great over-the-shoulder stare.

One of the other cubs kept her distance but I still managed to snap off a couple decent shots.

By now it was time to head back to camp for lunch and a short break before our afternoon game drive. On the way back to camp we ran into a large group of Cape Buffalo so we had to stop for more pictures.

And this big guy insisted on keeping a close eye on me.

After leaving this watering hole with the buffalo, Ben tells me there's another watering hole nearby that usually has hippos. Want to go? Sure, why not.

We never were able to get very close to the hippos and from what I've been told that's probably just as well. They are very dangerous animals I've heard.

Along the banks of this hippo pond we see this monitor lizard and I grab a couple quick shots before it scurries away.

We head back to camp but before getting there I see a small group of Grant's Gazelles along the side of the road. Sure I've already photographed quite a few of them but these are under some trees and I can tell the lighting is much better so Ben pulls over to allow me to snap off a few more shots.

This little girl must not want her photograph taken so she sticks her tongue out at me.

A Young male pops his head up in the bunch.

Finally we are back at camp for lunch and I'm talking to the couple from Denmark telling them about the awesome sunrise this morning. They are excited to see the pictures so I grab the camera and we sit together while I scroll through all of the images on the camera's LCD.
As lunch is being served one of the camp employees lets us know he witnessed a female lion very near the camp make a kill just a short time ago. He tells our drivers of the location and we all agree to head that way after lunch.
Ben and I are the first to leave camp, another advantage I guess of not having to wait on others, and just minutes from the camp we spot a lion walking parallel to the road about 50 yards from us.

She almost appears to be lost, walking around in a large circle as we stop and Ben turns the engine off.

She's making a very low sounding guttural noise and Ben tells me she is calling for the rest of the pride or her own cubs.

It's truly amazing to be witnessing this but there's no sign of a kill anywhere in sight. Ben tells me not to worry, she'll lead us to it if it's nearby.

Ben tells me to keep an eye out because the other lions will be coming soon. Almost on cue, like it was written into a script or something I spot two small cubs sneaking up on the area in the high brush.

They eventually catch up to mom and she turns around and heads back in the opposite direction we saw her walking first.
As is typical, the younger cubs are very aware of us while the mom just ignores us.

They are getting a bit far away now so Ben starts the truck back up and turns around to follow them. Park rules do not allow the trucks to go "off-road" so we are limited to our possible shots. Fortunately the mom is making a straight line that tracks right along our road and she eventually brings her two cubs to a nearby tree. Laying underneath the tree I notice a grayish mound that turns out to be a small warthog. It's lunch time!

This is nature in the wild, survival of the fittest and today the lions are triumphant over the warthogs.

At first I'm a bit surprised by the cubs reaction to their meal. I really expected them to just pounce on it and tear into it. Instead they take turns sniffing it and sit down nearby in the shade. Maybe it's because we are so close, only 50-75 feet away, and they are bothered by our presence or maybe it's because they are just not too hungry. Whatever the case may be, they take their time before finally starting to scratch and paw at the meal.

Mom sits nearby watching her kids learn how to dissect a warthog.....

As one of the cubs is more interested in keeping an eye on me.

Eventually one of the cubs decides it's time and starts the process of opening up the hog.

It doesn't take long before she's inside.

Mom decides to check in on the work and have a taste herself.

Mom puts those large teeth to work.

Eventually the other folks from camp find us and I snap off a couple shots of them parked nearby. Here's the couple from Denmark enjoying the show and oblivious to the fact that I'm taking their photo.

While the German couple is a bit more aware.

A friend recently asked if I shot much video while I was there. Unfortunately I did not. most of the clips I did shoot were more like this one to show just how close we are as witnesses to such an exciting event. You'll notice the camera pan around to show the cubs eating but you are able to get a sense of just how close we really are to this event. Clicking on the image below should start the video.

Back to the main attraction, the two cubs are finishing off the meal while mom keeps watch on us nearby.

A little more detail on the damage done in a few short minutes. I did warn you that some of the images were a bit graphic.

Finally they are done and retreat to the safety of the tree trunk to keep an eye on us.

This little one all stuffed and ready for a nap.

I'm still hoping to see elephants. Everyone I've spoken to has seen elephants besides me so I tell Ben that should be our goal for the rest of the afternoon. Of course we are in the wild here and nothing is promised. Some will see them, some will not. The couple from Denmark ran across twelve earlier this morning. They tell me they were so close to the trucks they were actually a little nervous.
So Ben and I continue on what appears to be random roads when off in the distance we see several vehicles clustered together and parked. Once again that can only mean one thing. Something worth watching so we head in that direction. As we near the area I'm not seeing anything. Of course I'm looking on the ground. Ben tells me to look up in the tree that is about 200 yards away from our location. He tells me to hurry or I'm going to miss the shot. There are two female lions in the tree but they are slowing heading for the ground. I raise up the camera, focus, check exposure and fire off a sequence of shots just as the lower lion starts to move.

The view I'm looking at through the viewfinder is just amazing and I can tell that one of these shots is going to be my new "favorite" of the safari as long as everything is OK with them. I raised the camera and started shooting so fast I'm concerned for a moment that something is not right, focus, exposure, ISO setting. It's all happening so fast I have no time to check until the event is over and the lions are on the ground.

And it's all over. Either I got the shots or I didn't. A quick review on the camera tells me I just may have the best sequence of the entire safari right there.
I'm content to just call it a day at this point thinking it can't possibly get any better then this, even if we don't see any elephants.
As it turns out the day is not over just yet. The lions that just dropped out of the tree are making their way towards the road. There's a puddle of water along the road and they are thirsty. So of course we have to shoot that. As it happens, there were three lions, not two and they are all thirsty.

Just as we are about to pull away from the location I find out what the female above is so interested in. As it happens, it's not us. There are three male lions laying in the grass not more than 50 feet from us. We had our backs to them the entire time we were shooting the lions in the tree. Kind of makes you wonder, what if........

At first I only see this one and fire off these shots thinking that's as good as it's going to get. But then he decides to sit up and give us all a show.

They really are majestic though a bit scraggly looking animals.

Who you callin' "Scraggly"?

Then the second one pops his head up.

And he somehow knows I'm from Vegas so he gives me his best "Elvis" imitation. Thank ya, Thank ya very much.

There's nine vehicles now parked in this one location watching this spectacle unfold around us.

And this big male is tired of the show. He let's us know he's tired too with a huge yawn. I really think it's mainly meant to show off the teeth. He means business.

Time to head out but not before grabbing these last shots of one of the male lions looking off into the distance.

So I'm feeling totally happy with the results of the day at this point starting with the beautiful sunrise image  and ending with these amazing shots of the lions in the tree and the rare shots of these male lions So I let Ben know that I'm OK with heading back to camp. It's actually a tiring day standing up in the truck while being driven around. I'm constantly holding the big camera lens steady and trying not to get slammed against the edge of the sunroof as we bounce along these dirt roads. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be covered with bruises around my ribs from the beating I've received today but it was so worth it. As it turns out it's already 5:40pm and we need to head back anyway. We are supposed to be back at camp well before dark and we've got at least a thirty minute drive to go.

On the way back to camp we run across my first elephant and I'm able to grab a few shots quickly before we must head back.

I really love how the late afternoon light looks compared to the mid day shots. I highly recommend people shooting early morning or late afternoon. Avoid the mid day light outdoors if you can.

On the other side of the road off in the distance I can see movement on a fallen tree but can't make it out till I look through the big lens. It's another female lion, just keeping an eye out on her territory.

That turns out to be my final shot of the day and I'm very happy with the results. Now it's time to get back to camp and have dinner. During dinner I'm talking to the two couples from Denmark and Germany and I tell them about the captures today. Then the subject turns to the noises we all heard in camp last night. At this point it's around 7:30pm, dark outside and you can't see much more then about 20 feet in front of the mess tent. The guy from Denmark says, "Hey, check this out." as he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a very bright LED flashlight. He points it out into the darkness and I immediately get a chill on the back of my neck. There are six hyenas out there watching us, waiting for us to finish dinner. I have to ask myself, "What if?" Our server tells us there's nothing to worry about. They will not come near us while we are all here. He tells us they wait for us to clear out then walk through the mess tent to look for scraps. That's why the place is spotless. Cleanliness is very important here. We don't want to give them any reason to stick around longer then they have to.
Time to turn in now and make sure that tent is zipped all the way up.

Tomorrow, day four, and we wrap things up here in the Serengeti and head back to the Ngorongoro Crater.