Sunday, February 26, 2017

Our African Safari - Day Six (Lions, elephants, cheetahs, hippo, flamingos, and even a beautiful leopard siting!)

As you may recall, we ended Day 5 of our safari watching a lion kill a wildebeest, which not something that you see everyday in Tanzania. It is a matter of being at the right place at the right time. But amazingly, we started off our sixth day and almost saw a second kill.

It was just after sunrise when we spotted this lioness hanging out in the grass.

Within minutes of us arriving, she hopped up and starting stalking some nearby zebras.

Here, you can see her crouching down and walking slowly. (Photographer's note: I was using the Canon 5D Mark IV with the Canon 200-400mm lens and had my ISO cranked up to 2500 for these photos. It was still early in the morning and there was not a ton of light outside. Even with this high ISO, I only had a shutter speed of 1/800, which is barely fast enough to capture fast moving action.)

Then she got down low and waited to for her opportunity. but as you can see from this photo, the nearest zebra could smell the lion and was ready to make a run for it.

And in a split second, the lioness jumped up and started the chase, but the closest zebra was ready to run!

Actually - the whole herd of zebras took off.

It was interesting to see that the lion failed to catch one of the zebra. I just assumed that the lions could catch whatever they wanted. But she did fail, and turned back towards us almost as if to say "I hope you did not get that in photos".

Once that excitement was over, we continued our morning safari and came across these pretty birds... (Photographer's note: Fifteen minutes had passed since we photographed the lion chasing the zebra and the sun had risen. I now lowered my ISO to 1250 to achieve the same shutter speed of 1/800 sec.)

...but not before running into our lioness once again. This time she had hopped up on a nearby tree to see if she could spot more potential prey.

And then we saw some more elephants. (Photographer's note: Now is was an hour later and late enough in the morning to have bright light. I was now back down to ISO 160.)

Here is one of the other vehicles in our group, watching from the other side of the elephant. Even though the vehicles hold 8 people, we only put 3 (and occasionally 4) per car so that everyone has lots of room to move around, and to have your camera gear accessible.

The elephant came very close to us, which allowed me to zoom in really tight (560mm) and get a shot of the elephant with these flowers in it's mouth.

A short time later we saw this family of cheetahs, and the cubs were having their morning breakfast, which turned out to be a small gazelle.

We looked out in the distance and saw the mother cheetah who had killed another gazelle for her and the cubs.

She came closer with the baby gazelle and then dropped it short of the feeding cubs.

She then walked over to the cubs to determine if they were ready for more food.

She then walked back to pick up the baby gazelle to bring over to the cubs.

At which point, they all took turns eating.

(I know that some of these photos are graphic, but it really is the circle of life and a natural occurrence in the wild.)

Two of the cubs grabbed the new food source and went to the side to eat...

...while mom and the remaining cubs finished off the first gazelle.

OK - for those of you who are squeamish, that is the end of that. The rest of day six was more animal viewing, but no kills.

As you saw from previous days, we all loved the baby elephants!

I like this photo straight on to the elephant, with one of our other vehicles in the background.

Ohhh!! A really little baby elephant!

Look how small the baby is compared to the full grown elephants.

And then I was VERY excited to see our second leopard of the trip, up close and in plain view.

Look at how beautiful this animal is! This is one of my favorite photos from the safari.

Here is a tighter crop of the previous image.

We drove down by Lake Masek and I saw this bird and it's reflection in the water.

At first I thought there were big rocks in the lake, but as we drove closer I saw that there were a small group of hippos lounging in the water. And yes, another spotting of a baby.

Out in the distance were a bunch of flamingos. Sarah, one of our guests, loves flamingos, so we had to try and get closer to them.

We got relatively close to the birds. I waited for them to move into a position where I could capture photos of them and their reflections.

It was the first day where we thought we might get some rain. The clouds were thick, but no rain fell. I saw these god's rays coming from within the clouds and took this chance to teach our guests about exposure compensation, and how to accentuate the rays.

I looked along the shoreline of the lake and saw so many wildebeest skulls.

I asked Sam, my friend and driver, why there were so many skulls in one place. He said that it was common for the wildebeests to get stuck in the mud and die in the lake. They are not the smartest animals on the planet.

It was the end of our 6th day on safari and we started to make our way back to our camp. I saw this scene with the big puffy clouds behind the acacia trees and thought it would make a nice scenic photo.

And then we arrived back at the Lake Masek Tent Camp. These are tents, but on raised platforms, as you can see here.

The inside is gorgeous.

And they had these amazing outside showers!!! I took numerous showers out here, both at sunrise and sunset, and it was incredible. This is now my favorite place to stay in Tanzania!

I hope you enjoyed the recap of Day 6. Stay tuned for even more. :)

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If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.
Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Our African Safari - Day Five (An EPIC day on safari wth Cheetahs, Lions mating, watching a kill and so much more!)

This is going to be hard to believe, but this blog post has more photos than I have ever put in one post. And ALL of these photos were taken in one day!

It was our fifth day on safari and it started out pretty nicely, with none of us knowing what amazing things we would witness in the hours that followed.

We drove out from our camp and had to wait for a giraffe crossing. That is not something you see everyday in California.

About 20 minutes into our morning safari, our guides spotted a cheetah in the brush. We drove off road to try and get a good shot of it, but it was pretty elusive. I have to admit, I was a little bummed that we could not get a good clean photo of this amazing cat.

And then...

...we came across this mother cheetah with a bunch of cubs.

Since we were in Ndutu and could drive off the roads, we were able to pull up within 20 feet of these amazing creatures.

We sat there for a long time and just watched the young cubs interacting.

These two were playing non-stop.

Talk about photo opportunities!

I really like this shot.

I should mention that all these photos were taken with the Canon 5D Mark IV with the Canon 200-400mm lens attached. If you have read the other blog posts from this trip, you may recall that I was primarily using the Canon 1DX Mark II for all my long lens shooting. Well...due to the dusty environment and switching lenses at the wrong time, I got some major dust on the sensor of the 1DX Mark II and could not get it clean. We tried numerous sensor cleaners and nothing would get a large piece of dust off the middle of the sensor. At that point, I made the decision to switch to the 5D Mark IV as my primary camera and use the 1DX Mark II as my second camera. As it turns out, this actually worked to my advantage, since the 5D Mark IV has more megapixels than the bigger camera.

I will be doing a blog all about sensor cleaning, since this is so important!

OK...back to the images and stories...

With these next three photos, the one young cheetah stood up and was checking us out. And it was awesome, because it's face was in perfect morning light!

I was very excited to get this shot of the young cheetah.

Mom just looked on as the cubs continued to play with each other.

Even my wife, Annette, who has never held an L series lens was going crazy taking photos. (And I should mention that she came home with 13,000 photos!)

After seeing the cheetahs, everyone on our photo tour said that nothing could top that for the day. But then...

...we found this pride of lions with some adolescent cubs.

A little cleaning time.

And we saw this gorgeous male.

Here is a wide shot of what we were looking at.

We all sat (or stood) in our vehicles and waited to see if anything interesting would happen.

After a short while, the male got up...

...and proceeded to mate with the female.

The whole process lasted no more than 30 seconds and then the male lion gave the lioness a kiss and moved on.

He then walked around and came back.

I was happy when he gave us a big yawn!

And then a couple of minutes later, he went back and repeated the process with the lioness.

The lion actually let out a big sneeze, and as you can tell, it needed a Kleenex.

And so...we drove away from the lions and once again thought that we had seen the highlight of the day. It couldn't get any more dynamic than this could it?

We drove down towards a water hole and saw a large herd of zebras who were running around and sparring.

 It was really interesting to see them kick each other and show dominance.

We drive along for another minute or so and saw this huge grouping of zebras and wildebeest. When we arrived, they were not in the water. I asked Sam, our driver, to stop at this location to see if we could get a reflection shot of the zebras drinking from the water. But then they all come down and disturbed the calm reflective water. That shot was not going to happen.

But, I was able to zoom in and try to isolate a group of zebras in one shot.

So there we were, watching the large group of zebras and wildebeest...

...when we spotted these two lioness in the shade of a nearby tree. One of our other vehicles drove over to them to get a better look. Our guides were radioing back and forth to each other, thinking that the lioness might be on the hunt.

Obviously, the other animals sensed the same thing and started moving away from the water.

But then the younger lioness took off.

At this point, it was mass hysteria as all the zebras and wildebeest ran for their lives!

The lioness had found the most vulnerable wildebeest.

And so the fight was on. (And yes, that is an elephant skull that you see to their left.)

The wildebeest tried to fight off the lioness.

Then the wildebeest tried to make a run for it.

We sat with our cameras pointed at the two animals, in awe of what we were seeing!

The lioness grabbed the wildebeest from underneath...

...and then grabbed the face with it's teeth.

At this point, the fate of the wildebeest was inevitable.

The young lioness then sat with it's mouth over the mouth and nose of the wildebeest to smother it.

This must have lasted for at least 10 minutes, with no help from the other lioness.

You can see that, in this photo, the eyes of the wildebeest have gone cold and there is no life left in the animal.

After the long suffocation, the lioness put the head down and looked up for approval.

Then, surprisingly, the lioness went and laid down for a rest with it's mother, in the nearby grass. Our guides explained to us that the mother was teaching the younger lioness how to hunt, which is why she did not help out.

After a while, the mother lioness came over to congratulate the young female on her accomplishment.

It was so amazing to see this mother and cub in a hug, after everything that we had just witnessed. And yes folks, this is the circle of life!

Last year, we did not see an actual kill. Many of you might wonder what it is like to witness this event. I can tell you this... As difficult as it is to see one animal kill another, it is a spectacular event to witness, and even a couple of the women on the trip who thought they would be sickened by this, found it equally fascinating,

We waited for at least another 30 minutes to see if they would come back and eat the wildebeest, but they were obviously not hungry at the time. We did return to the spot the next morning to see if the carcass was there, but it was not. We were told that a male lion had dragged it into the grass before eating it.

So then it was back to the zebras, and me trying to get some cool photos of these animals all in a line.

The zebras would take turns drinking from the water hole, running up and down a hillside. I saw this one zebra running the opposite direction from the others, and thought it would make a good motion pan shot.

I continued the motion panning and got this artistic photo of the zebra running along the banks of the water.

The last shot of the day was of a tortoise at the edge of the water. Funny that after such an action packed day, we ended the day photographing a really slow moving animal.

All in all, it was an amazing day on safari, and one that none of us will ever forget!

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post.
If you are interested in purchasing ANY equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. It does not change the cost to you in any way, but it helps me keep this blog up and running.

Check out my upcoming photo tours to amazing places around the world.