All posts by africawildsafaris

Safari Stories: Ground Hornbills

It takes cooperation to raise young and keep them safe in the bush

Members of a Southern Ground Hornbill family group take on different roles in order to raise chicks. Family members also must cooperate to defend territory or risk young members being kidnapped by rival hornbill groups.

We often see Southern Ground Hornbills when we traverse their territory in Kruger National Park. We also hear their distinct calls during mating season in May.

Ground Hornbills are Cooperative Breeders with all members taking on responsibilities

Ground Hornbill groups typically consist of a single adult female, several adult males, and immature birds.  Each group also has an alpha male who is usually considered the one who mates with the female. Once the eggs are laid, the female has the sole responsibility of incubating them in the nest for around 40 days, during which time the rest of the group will bring her food from the outside world.  Once the incubation period is over, she leaves the nest to join the rest of the groups and begins to play her part in feeding the chick. 

Studies have shown that the ages, sex, and rank determine the roles of each individual in the group.  The contributions of the parent birds will depend on the number of helpers they have. Typically, there are two variations: additive care and compensative care.  Additive describes each bird in the group doing an equal part in feeding the chick.

Ground Hornbills foraging and finding some nice insects to eat

With compensation care, some adult birds, usually the parents, neglect their feeding duties and rely on other members of the group to feed the chicks.  This happens in cases of larger groups where there are more birds to do the feeding.

Ground Hornbills in Kruger
A juvenile is getting lessons on how to forage for insects

Juveniles are do not participate in territory patrols for fear they will be kidnapped by rival hornbill clans.

Territory defense is vital to the survival of ground hornbills. Each group is dependent on its nesting site and food source and the birds must be ready to fend off any intruders.  Their deep booming calls which travel a great distance and are a signature sound of the bush, broadcast who they are and where they territory lies. 

Patrolling and defending these territories ( up to 100 sq.KM) requires an immense amount of effort and energy.  You would assume an important job such as this would be performed by all members, but it has been observed that younger individuals within groups do not take part in territorial defense.  It is the responsibility of just the adult birds.   The reason why is not understood, however the recent observation of kidnapping of juveniles by opposing groups has suggested that there is a risk of losing young members of the group in a territorial altercation.

Ground hornbills
Hopefully this group is foraging close to home base and not on patrol on the edge of their territory: the juvenile in the group could be at risk of kidnapping by rivals.

Breeding is difficult (and getting harder) for ground hornbills and kidnapping a healthy juvenile is a cheap way to grow the clan and perhaps replace chicks lost to failed breeding or rearing.

Favorite Moments from my September 2019 Safaris

Guided safaris to South Africa
Hyenas can hunt and catch their own food, but they also steal as a means to an easy meal

My favorite part about leading safaris in South Africa is the pleasure, awe, and delight in the eyes and faces of my guests when they they have wildlife encounters the exceed all expectations. Some guests are not expecting how close we can get to the animals and the behaviors we get to experience first hand.

My favorite moments while on safari are not the perfect photos, but the times when we get to be special observers into the lives of wildlife or see something completely unexpected.

Leopards Being Awesome & Humorous

photographing leopards in Sabi Sands
A male leopard on patrol after dark in Sabi Sands

We spend 3 nights in the wildlife rich Sabi Sands Reserve. The rivers and trees make this a favorite habitat for leopards. The rangers and guides have some to know many of the resident and itinerate leopards in the area and can recognize and tell histories of many of the cats.

Photograph leopards on safari in Sabi Sands
Leopards are very comfortable climbing and sleeping in trees , as this female demonstrates
Leopards in Sabi Sands
A leopard naps in the comfort and safety of it favorite tree

While on an evening game drive we see leopards traveling within their territory on patrol to mark or defend it or moving into good hunting areas. Watching the big males walk with strength in the steps and alert eyes is very exciting: will they run across an other male trespassing or stalk vulnerable prey animals in the dark?

Leopard safari in Sabi Sands
A leopard naps but stays alert to any unusual sounds

Leopards have favorite trees they use to eat in peace from those who would steal their kill or to secret it away for later when they have eaten their fill. As with all cats, they are experts at getting comfortable for long naps. Looking directly into the eyes of these top predators is something you do not forget and it challenges us to capture this feeling in our photographs.

A Busy Watering Hole at Kruger National Park

elephants in Kruger Park
Juvenile elephants play while the adults drink and bathe

Kruger is a huge park and has a high degree of biodiversity . September is still dry season so watering holes are popular spots for all wildlife. Mid morning we stopped at a spot overlooking a large watering hole. Zebra, waterbuck, and impala were at the shores or drinking as we scanned the water for hippos. We spotted saddle billed storks, vultures drinking, and watched a large kudu male and his harem visit for a drink. Then at the far left a family of elephants approached with the matriarch marching in the lead with ears flared in a display of determination and domination. Behind her were juveniles, other females, and a few very young ones. They lined up at the water’s edge to drink and we could observe that the littlest ones were so young they could not yet drink using their trunk but rather had to kneel down to drink by mouth. The adults soon ventured into the water to bathe and apply mud while the young ones broke out into wrestling and tumbling in the water. As they were leaving, just to show who is in charge, the elephants mock charged some zebra to scare them away.

photography safari workshop in Kruger
elephants chase zebras away from the watering hole

This was a prime example of the magic of Kruger Park where sometimes you just sit at a nice spot and see the wildlife come to you and play out their daily dramas.

photo safari in Kruger
A female waterbuck comes down to the water to drink

Lions, Hyenas, and Cheetahs

Photo safari in South Africa
Young hyenas at the den

Seeing predators in action or at rest is always exciting and shows us how predators and prey both play their role in the environment. We can learn so much by watching them in action and at rest. Everything we note about them informs our photographs and makes the memories of these encounters more vivid.

photograph cheetahs on safari
Two cheetah brothers survey their hunting grounds in the morning light
Big cat photo safari
Our vehicles can get really close to lions without disturbing them
photograph lions on safari
Lions approach a watering hole following the dominant female
Big cats on South Africa safari
As with any cat, lions know how to get comfortable for their frequent naps; this time on an old termite mound

Being Surprised by what we didn’t expect to see

Kori Bustard and bird photography in Africa
Kori Bustard: one of the largest birds in the savanna

With nature, anything is possible and you never know what you will see. This seems to have become more a rule since many of the fences between Kruger Park and the private reserves have been taking away.

Hippo with mouth open
A male hippo making a territorial display
vulture at carcas
A white backed vulture joins storks and other vultures at a carass
white rhino with ox pecker
An oxpecker sits on the head of a white rhino picking off parasites

We are always excited to see white and black rhinos still in the wild and not confined to small, guarded properties as in so many places.

see rhinos on south africa safari
White Rhinos in an alert stance

There are also common species that present to us in such a way as to make us see them differently and make a nice image.

photo safari in South Africa
Usually calm zebra suddenly break into a gallop and bring a sense of excitement to a wide angle image.

After so many years I am still amazed, thrilled, and humbled by the wildlife we encounter in our area of South Africa. It is so exciting to see my guests be surprised by their first safari adventure.

Join one of my small group guided safaris make your own wildlife memories and images.

See a list of my next safaris

Crocodiles in Chinchorro Trip Report 2019

Photographing American Crocodiles at Banco Chinchorro, Quintana Roo, Mexico (Cancun area) 2019

With Reef diving at Chinchorro

Crocodiles in Chinchorro Mexico

This was my 3rd trip to Banco Chinchorro for crocodiles, but for all my guests this was their first encounter so close to reptile predators.

This is a place few people have been to and a chance to see and photograph pristine Caribbean reefs and also get close to the rare and endangered American Crocodile.

Crocodiles in Mexico

Summary:

Crocodiles in Mexico

Chinchorro Atoll (Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve) is the best place in the world to get close to American crocodiles. It is located south of Cancun, Mexico and near the Belize border. The Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve is the largest stand – alone reef in the Northern hemisphere and one of the healthiest. Currently only 1,928 hectares of the 144k hectares are zoned for diving and fewer than one thousand divers get to see these remote and unspoiled dive sites per year. It teems with fish and other sea life, and contains more than 100 shipwrecks as well as the largest population of American crocodiles found in the Americas.

crocodile Chinchorro

The weather was very nice and calm for our visit.  We  started at the beautiful beachside resort in Xcalak for some amazing dives. The reefs are healthy and colorful with many fish.  Again this year we found ourselves diving with  manatees who were not afraid to approach us.

fish huts chinchorro

We made the crossing to Chinchorro on our 3rd day in Xcalak. The water was smooth on the way out.  At the fish huts we found that the water would change from a tea green hue to a clear blue color depending on the tide level.

American Crocodile
Photographing Crocodiles in Mexico

This is a safe encounter with guides who have done years of experimentation and careful planning to make this safe. Our outfitter and guides in Xcalak: XTC Dive Center,  were the first operator to organize croc encounters in Chinchorro and they remain the only dive operator with an official concession. They are committed to sustainable tourism and conservation. This year they were training a new guide to work with the guests and crocodiles.

Camera Equipment

My primary lens for the underwater images was the 15mm 2.8 fisheye.  I also had with me my 17 – 40mm lens which I used primarily for topside images, but used on at least one session underwater.  My lens choices had to be balanced against limited space/weight and what I need and prefer for the whale sharks. 

Lenses Used

15mm 2.8 Fisheye

17 – 40mm 

Crocodiles in Chinchorro

We photographed in the afternoon light so I set my camera to ISO200.
On brighter days I reduced ISO to 125 and 160

Reef Diving in Xcalak

The shallow water, mid day sun, and shooting upward toward the surface presented the challenge of not over exposing or getting scatter.

re2f diving in Xcalak

Each morning we dive and while taking in the pristine reefs and marine life, we hunt lionfish. There is a duo purpose in this; to help eliminate the invasive lionfish population and to get food to attract the crocs.

harvesting invasive lionfish to feed to the crocs

The fisherman’s’ hunts have no wifi, cell phone, mobile services, no running water, only marine toilets, and 2 or more hours from shore. Guests and I slept in hammocks in the huts and delicious food was prepared and cooked by our boat captains with the aide of a small generator and ice storage chests (all food must be transferred out with us). Since there are fishermen in the other huts, we also  had the chance to buy fresh catch from passing fishermen to make a special, though rustic feast.

Chinchorro Mexico

When the crocs come in as per their daily schedule, we would go in pairs into the water with our guide and the junior guide to watch over our safety and to manipulate the bait.  They are really good at reading the crocs and they are able to get the croc into different poses so we get a variety of good images.

Photographing Crocodiles

It was a great trip and everyone came away with some great images. It was certainly a great time being relaxed and unplugged out in the remote marine environment.  We returned to Xcalak for another day of diving and a return to Cancun.  Some of the guests joined me for the Whale Shark Aggregation on Isla Mujeres.

photographing crocodiles in Mexico

After our Crocodile encounter, we transferred back up to Cancun and Isla Mujeres to swim with the whale sharks for 4 days

The Whale Sharks were Extra Special this year and loads of Manta Rays!

sunset at Chinchorro Atoll

We spent 4 days on the water and 5 nights on Isla Mujeres for the Whale Shark Aggregation.  Always a fun place with great food, we had nonstop whale shark encounters to keep us busy on our 4 days on the water.  We also had great manta sightings .  The water was clear and blue and the weather was very nice with mostly flat water throughout my 3 weeks in

Find out more about the whale shark portion of the trip: Whale Sharks 

and my Trip Log

Whale Sharks 2019 Trip Report

The annual aggregation of hundreds of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) off the coast of Isla Mujeres, a tiny little island near Cancun, Mexico has been a must – do event among underwater photographers and marine wildlife lovers. I have been sharing this great event with guests and underwater photography for over 10  years now and still find it a thrill and a grand opportunity for close up wildlife encounters. This year was another great year with numerous whale sharks and some giant mantas.

See Trip Details

swim with whale sharks

I had two group trips this year: one in July and one in mid August. Both groups were treated to many encounters, good weather and water conditions. I want to thank all of this year’s guests for being such great participants: it was a joy to host you.

whale shark season Isla Mujeres

My first group was a family of wonderfully fun, positive, and active people. It was a first visit for most of them and it was exciting to see them experience the magic for the first time.

My 2nd Whale Shark  trip was combined with Crocodiles in Xcalak.  We enjoyed  superb diving on pristine reefs in their marine reserve and 2 nights in the remote fishing hut at the Chichorro Atoll with 3 days of in water encounters with the crocodiles. The group then transferred back up to Cancun and Isla Mujeres for the whale sharks. 

Isla mujeres Playa Media Luna
Our Hotel with pool and beach, easy walk to all the shops and restaurants

Many of these guests had joined my whale shark trip in the past: they came back because they love the atmosphere, relaxing days on the boat, the fresh ceviche, all the great food and sites on Isla Mujeres. The first time guests were excited to see so many whale sharks in one place and without the burden of scuba gear.

swim with whale sharks Mexico

I schedule our trips at the peak of the season. In both July and August the weather was great with smooth water, great visibility and hundreds of whale sharks which were easy to find each day. For both our first and second week of guests, the water was clear and flat. Not even one day of bad weather or cloudy water! Very special.

At least one day with each group the  crew were able to find schools of mantas. Most times there were no whale sharks in the area, just the mantas, but one of the encounters had the mantas right with the whale sharks. This was a wonderful chance to get a manta and whale shark together in a single image.  

Isla Mujeres has many shops full of hand crafts

Like most days, we had this encounter to ourselves with no other boats near us. The mantas did their ballet of loops and plunges before moving off out of our range. It was time to return to shore so we came home very happy and content.

swim with giant manta ray cancun mexico

Photo gear

Canon 5D MKIIII

15mm fisheye lens

17 – 40mm Lens

Other camas

Go Pro in underwater housing with short grip handle

iPhone or Panasonic for topside and island photos

whale shark trip isla mujeres mexico
Whale Shark feeding in the vertical position

I use a Canon 5D MKIIII in an Nexus housing for my underwater work. It is full frame and I like the quality video capabilities. Due to the size of the whale sharks I am using a Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye lens. I visited the crocodiles before the whale sharks, so I also had a 17 – 40mm lens, but I prefer working the results of the fisheye for whale sharks.

I looked at my shooting data in Lightroom from my 10 years of whale shark images and most  fall into the below settings ranges.

Typical Settings Using full Manual Mode
ISO 500 typically but ranging between 400 –  640
Aperture F8 – F9
Shutter Speed 1/200 sec
Snorkel with whale sharks

 I like to photograph the feeding motion of the mouth from a 3/4 profile angle. The idea here is to capture the turbulence of the water as it flows into the mouth. The whale sharks have a natural behavior where they hang vertical in the water and feed on the krill at the surface. We call this “botilla – bottle feeding”.  It makes for a great portrait aspect ratio photo and the action usually lasts several minutes; so the photographer does not need to swim to keep up, rather move around the WS to get different sides.

How this Trip Works

The whale sharks arrive in large numbers every summer to feed on the abundant supply of plankton and bonito eggs. For me it was an incredible experience to be in the warm blue water with these beautiful and graceful creatures. On several peak days hundred whale sharks would congregate in the space of a couple soccer fields. I have photographed whale sharks in locations around the world (Honduras, Mozambique, Western Australia), but never had the experience of being in the water with such a large aggregation and the large individuals who seemed unfazed by my presence.

whale shark workshop in Cancun

Our boats leave from Isla Mujeres, just a short walk or golf cart ride from our beachfront hotel. The 10 passenger boats are comfortable for our groups of 6 or 7 and they are fast, provide shade and storage, and smooth while cruising. Our boat captain and crew were excellent at finding whale sharks each day, sometimes just a short 40 minute boat ride. Sandwiches and snacks are on the boat with us so we are set to spend most of the day at sea. Regulations require we depart the whale sharks between  2pm – 3pm, but this gives us plenty of time to enjoy our swimming. After long day on the water we would head back to Isla Mujeres but not before eating some ceviche freshly prepared while we were busy with the whale sharks. Once back at the hotel, we have a relaxing time in the hotel pool , a cleanup and download , and a delicious dinner out in town at one of many great restauants.

One afternoon we took the golf carts to the opposite end of the island where they have a zipline, a scenic park, and iguanas. There are many shops to pick up snacks and drinks. Each night we had a delicious meal at restaurants ranging from Mexican tacos to pizza, Mediterranean, and Cuban. After our 4 days on the whale shark boat, some of the guests returned to Cancun and did scuba dives in the Mayan cenotes and toured some of the ruins.

Another Magical Season Wraps Up

Swimming in this aggregation in the Gulf of Mexico was not like other times I have encountered whale sharks in other waters: we would hold in an area where there were 4 -5 visible then wait until they passed close and get in the water with them. They did not seem too agitated by our presence or the splash of our fins.  This is an event that delivers a great guest experience and images year after year.  If you love being in the water and have not experienced this, you must do it.  I have many guests who return year after year for the awesome whale sharks, but also for the fun of Isla Mujeres, great food, and friendly people and guests. 

I will be returning next year:  Check my website for dates and available spaces.

See details and Contact Me through my website

More Links to my Whale Sharks Blog Posts

   Great things about Isla Mujeres

Whale Shark   Photography Guide

  What you need to know about Whale Shark Trips in Cancun, Mexico

Our Photo Safari Dates for 2020 & 2021

Leopard mother

9 Day Photo Safaris in 2020  – Best of Limpopo & Sabi

May 15 – 23 – Sold Out Sept 15 – 23
May 28 – June 5 Sept 29 – Oct 7
May Safaris: $5,200 pp  (USD)
September: $5,300 pp (USD)
Inclusive of Accommodations, Transfers, Activities, Food. See more detail on our website
Safaris in 2021
April 30 – May 8 Aug 20 – 28 – Sold Out
May 12 – 20 Sept 1 – 9
May 26 – June 3 – Sold Out Sept 14 – 22
May Safaris: $5,400 pp  (USD)
September: $5,500 pp (USD)
Inclusive of Accommodations, Transfers, Activities, Food. See more detail on our website
Gregory Sweeney hosts affordable 9 day photographic safaris on private reserves in the game rich area of Limpopo, South Africa.  During the safari we stay at our own tree house lodge as well as in the famous Sabi Sands reserve. We visit Kruger National Park and many private reserves seeking all of the great wildlife. Small groups of 6 -8make this an exclusive and personal experience.
For more information  and price  visit my safari website http://www.AfricaWildSafaris.net
Other safari posts

Tiger Shark Dive Trip Report March 2019

Tiger Beach, Bahamas earns its reputation for clear water, white sands, and 6 species sharks. After over a decade of leading shark trips it still fills me with awe and wonder and still gives me thrills like it was my first time.  An international collection of divers was onboard from Denmark, Germany, Japan, USA, and Canada. For the Japanese guests lead by my good friend and co-leader Takaji Ochi, it was their first experience at Tiger Beach. The 5 -7 tiger sharks and the hammerheads, including one shark new to the area were a highlight.

hammerhead Shark
Patches the Hammerhead

Our trip started under threat of changing weather, but a smart decision by the Captain to leave a few hours early had us avoiding rough weather and a windy crossing. After clearing customs at west end and half way to Tiger beach we encountered a pod of dolphins.  This was an unexpected encounter for this season.  The captain asked if any guests wanted to jump in with them, so several guests jumped in with snorkel gear.  Dolphins enjoy curiosities in their water and interacted with us for a while. 

Join my next Tiger Beach Trip: See the schedule at http://www.TigerSharkDive.com

dolphin pod
Dolphins swim to the surface. Thank you to Koji Tanaka for the image
scuba dive with sharks
Multiple tiger sharks and divers at Tiger Beach
Tiger Sharks
Tiger Sharks

The numbers of large, mature, and often pregnant sharks at Tiger Beach is evidence that the protection measures by the Bahamian government are working and that the sharks are living natural life spans and thriving. Our tourism and the revenue it brings to the Bahamas is their reward for continuing to look after the sharks.  With out Bahamian conservation efforts I believe there would not be many, if any, sharks at Tiger Beach today.

Photography at Tiger Beach

Tiger Shark over the eel Grass
A large tiger shark circles over the eel grass

My Equipment

Primary Camera

  • Canon 5D MKIV
  • Nauticam Housing
  • Inon Z 330 Strobes
  • EF 16 – 35mm f/2.8L II USM

2nd Camera

  • Canon 5D MKIII
  • EF 15mm f/2.8 fisheye
  • Nexus Anthis housing
  • 2 Inon Z 240 strobes
caribbean reef shark
Caribbean reef shark

GoPro

I have this mounted ontop of my camera but also place it on a weighted base on the sand near the bait crates and just let it run.  I get crazy close ups and swim overs.  Sometimes it gets knocked around by the sharks.

drone image of boat and sunset
The Dolphin Dream at sunset

Mavic Pro Drone

I fly this over the boat on clear days and while the guests are doing “lemon snaps” with sharks on the surface at the stern.  (It is tricky to land a drone on a moving boat so I do not recommend this unless you are experienced with landing in challenging situations or hand catching)

Experimenting with Strobes

In the past I have found that my Inon Z 240 strobes were not always able to reach far enough to expose the passing shark.  This year I brought my Inon Z 330 to see if the extra reach was an improvement.  There was a noticeable difference with the Z 330 strobes. 

hammerhead shark close up
The new resident hammerhead shark. Very large and feisty

Positioning for Photography and Using Sharks’ Behavior

Before diving, our captain and crew detail the shark attraction and diving procedures. 

Underwater, divers find that the Tiger sharks  swim slowly and all into a pattern circling the chum crates.  They approach from down current then circle wide and back around to the crates. Our photographers can position themselves along the shark’s path for head on shots or overhead passes.    Staying on the bottom and with minimal movement is the safest way to observe the sharks at close distance. 

Sharks species of Tiger Beach

Tiger Shark Dive Chum
A crew member Dave Finch gives a fish to a large Tiger Shark

Tiger Sharks

Tiger sharks are the stars of the show. Most are very large and mature females. We enjoy seeing the same sharks year after year and some have been given names so we can refer to them.  They glide in a slow pattern among us and the bait crates, received a few bits of fish from the crew. Most are not shy but there seems to be a ranking order with smaller individuals pushed out. 

Hammerheads

            For several seasons we have had a frequent hammerhead shark visitor to our dives at Tiger Beach.  Shy at first, this hammerhead has progressed from shy in the periphery to standing up to the larger tigers in the commotion around the bait crates.  Now “Patches” is a regular known to all the shark dive crews.

Now there is a new Hammer in town!

           A new hammerhead shark has made her debut at Tiger Beach. Just like Patches this hammerhead was spotted in the distance but too shy to come to the divers, crates, and tigers. Now this huge female, “Cleopatra” mixes in the crowd and asserts herself like a matriarch. I even had the chance to photograph the two hammerheads and a tiger shark all in the same frame.  It seems hammerheads are now ranging to Tiger Beach and not just off the shallows of Bimini. This is very welcome.

            Bull Sharks

            We have had a few bull sharks joining the mix in the last few years.  This year there were a few hanging around on the dives. While nice to see and well behaved, due to their aggressive tactics, we do not let them get any of the bait for fear that if they do they will morph from manageable visitors to a dangerously unpredictable menace.

Drome image of Dive boat
Drone image of our boat taken while attracting lemon sharks to the surface

Lemon Sharks

           Lemon sharks have a permanent toothy grin and can sneek up on you.  They have great character to their faces and are easy to get close to for photography.

Lemon Shark
lemon sharks assemble for a session of “lemon snaps” by our guests

Taking Lemon Snaps

            We like to attract some lemon sharks to the surface at the back of the boat for a chance to take over/under split images of the sharks at the surface.  Using a pole or other safe method (no hands!) we get surface level, shallow depth, or from above images of the lemons thrashing about at the bait.

Caribbean Reef Sharks

            The CR sharks are very graceful and beautiful sharks that join in around the bait crates with the tigers, but also can be found circling under the boat and among schools of jacks.  This shark, like its name is also found hovering over the small reefs found at Tiger Beach. This shark has no problem coming close to divers and will pass over to right near to you.

Caribbean reef shark over the eel grass
Tiger shark dive boat

Night Dive

            Most evenings everyone relaxes over a great meal and recharges after a long day of diving. We had a night of calm weather and low current so some of us took the opportunity to go for a night dive.  We encountered a few bull sharks and quite a few lemon sharks.

Photographing the sunset
sunset
Sunset over the Atlantic

I want to give special thanks to Captain Scott Smith and his crew for getting us in the middle of the action with the sharks and for the fantastic  meals.

Check out my future Tiger Shark Dive Trips at http://www.TigerSharkDive.com

Shark diving trip
Our guests
Dolphin Dream Tiger Shark Dive Boat
The Dolphin Dream Docked at West End , Bahamas while clearing customs

Baja, Mexico Safari

November 9 – 17 2019

A Striped Marlin Hunting Frenzy with Shark Diving, and Mobula Rays by Night

Limited to 5 guests

The adventure starts in Cabo Pulmo National Park where protected marine habitat and pristine coral draws an enormous amount of tropical fish, seals, turtles, and more. Large schools of jacks are an awesome sight as the formation pulses and morphs before us. We do dives specifically for bull sharks who lurk and patrol on the scattered remains of ship wrecks.

After 2 days of diving, we transfer to La Paz where we do a dive unique to La Paz: a night dive with Mobula Rays. Plankton are drawn like a magnet to our lights and schools of rays come swooping in to dive down to feed in the sand. It is non-stop swirling action at night.

stripped marlin and sardines

On to Port San Carlos where Magdalena Bay is host to the largest stripped marlin migration in the world. We will be on our own boat from 7am to 4pm looking for sea birds who will point us to the epic hunting action going on underwater. The marlins hunt the sardines as do the sharks and seals. Under the surface will be a frenzy of action as marlin hunt in cooperation containing and maneuvering the bait balls. One by one they attack the sardines and take their meal. To conclude the trip we transfer back to La Paz for our return travels.

bull sharks at Cabo Pulmo

Itinerary

  • Nov 9 – Guess arrive Cabo transfer to Cabo Pulmo
  • Nov 10 – Shark dive, 2nd Dive
  • Nov 11 – Shark dive, 2nd Dive, Transfer to La Paz, night Mobula Dive
  • Nov 12 – Depart midday for Part San Carlos
  • Nov 13 – 16 – Stripped Marlin & Sardines (4 days)
  • Nov 17 – Transfer to La Paz Airport, Guests depart

Notes: Arrive on the 9th to San Jose Del Cabo Airport (SJD), Depart on the 17th from La Paz Airport (LAO) This trip combines Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in open water conditions

grouper
stripped marlin

Price

(US)$ 3,700 per person Single Room

Includes:

9 nights accommodation in Single Room (discount for sharing),

All Transfers between Cabo airport, Cabo Pulmo, La Paz, Port San Carlos, back to La Paz airport,

2 days of 2 tank diving in Cabo Pulmo, 1 night dive with mobula ray in la Paz

4 full days on boat for stripped marlin

Cabo Pulmo wreck
sea lions attack a baitball

This will be a real marine experience; be in the action with fast and elusive predators

email me at info@gregorysweeney.com to reserve your space!

The Story of Africa Wild Safaris

There is a story behind every great endeavor

Here is Our Story

We built a safari lodge in order to offer personal, authentic, wildlife filled safaris for those who love being around wildlife either with or without a camera

Lion on a termite mound
Resting like a typical cat, this lion surveys her surroundings from a mound

The story of Africa Wild Safaris started in 2005 when we took our first  safari in the Kruger area of South Africa.  It was not an ordinary safari: the host and guide was a friend who owned a small safari lodge.  From the first day of safari, as a photographers , we were hooked and passionate about the conservation of this area. We were already hosting specialty travel adventures for underwater photographs. It was easy to see that  a safari was a good match to what our underwater photographers liked: a wildlife filled experience that was an authentic and unique travel experience. Adding safaris seemed a natural fit. 

When we added the safaris, the goal was to replicate the feeling of that first safari; the surprise, wonder, learning, and most importantly the feeling of being hosted by friends.  The proximity to Kruger National Park and numerous private reserves ensured that quality of wildlife encounters and number of activities would never be a problem.

After just two years, in order to make a unique safari trip for our guests, we went all in and built our own lodge so we could give our guests the ultimate personal safari experience. 

Now we have our own small safari lodge right next door to those friends who first introduced us to the magic.

A safari lodge was the perfect match for us: I am a photographer, wildlife biologist with ranger experience and an accomplished builder. Karen is our business manager  and adds advanced photo and video processing skills.  In the beginning the lodge was just a beautiful piece of property but it has continued to grow each year into a mature lodge with 4 tree houses. 

The lodge and safaris have grown up together over the years. We have selected the best educational, conservation minded, and wildlife filled activities in the area.  Seeing big cats is important to guests so the safaris evolved to  also include a stay in the famous Sabi Sands Wildlife Reserve; the best location to see leopards. 

elephant and game drive vehicle
getting close to elephants

We have remained committed to the same area and work with the same guides, owners, and national parks since we  started. Together with our private nature reserve neighbors, we work to restore the habitat surrounding the lodge according to national standards. The goal is to drop fences and become part of the Greater Kruger Area: private lands which expand the park area for wildlife migration.

tree house bathroom
The ensuite bathroom with tub and outside shower with a view

We  split our time between living the USA and South Africa and still offer a full schedule of underwater photography, bear,  and safari trips.  We continue our commitment to showing guests what we feel is the best places in South Africa and the Kruger area.

Favorite Safari Images from September 2018

Images from my September 2018 Safaris

Animal Portraits & Action Captures

Each safari brings a wealth of wildlife encounters for my guests.  I feel like I have come to know some of these animals through multiple sightings from year to year.

Safari images taken in South Africa can be very intimate since we are often able to get very close to the wildlife.  Between our proximity and our medium range lenses, it is possible to get eye to eye portraits of our subjects displaying all the details of their faces and sometimes even reading their story in their eyes.

In contrast we are often witness to fast moving moments in the animals life played out right in front of our cameras and safari vehicle.

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I thought it would be nice to precent couplets of images contrasting these two common image styles. Each was taken while in the Greater Kruger Park private reserves, Kruger Park, and the Sabi Sands Reserve.

The lenses used were my

Canon EF 24 – 105 F 4 IS  and my EF 100 – 400mm F4.5 – 5.6L IS II

Lions

Lion on a termite mound

Resting like a typical cat, this lion surveys her surroundings from a mound

young lions spar with each other

Elephant

new born elephant
The family moves away from the newborn elephant giving us a clear shot

elephants at wateringhole
One of the funniest elephant incidents I have ever seen: an older elephant refuses to let the young one drink the fresh water.

Leopard

Male Leopard
Grumpy leopard sits guard below the tree holding his kill

leopard with kill
A young female leopard brings a rabbit kill to her cubs

Cheetah

Cheetah
The watchful glance of a cheetah mother (with a damaged eye)

Cheetahs
Cheetah cubs and their mother wrestle

Jackal

(ok, not an action shot exactly, but a neat contrast between adult and cub)

Adult Jackal

jackal cub
A black backed jackal cub calls to an adult

Rhino

White Rhino
A white rhino stares us down at close range – luckily they are more calm than black rhino

Black Rhino Aggression
A black rhino gives us a warning display giving us the clear message that he is tired of our vehicle in his view.

Wild Dog

Wild Dog
A Wild Dog stops moving long enough to get a detailed frontal shot

Wild Dogs
Wild Dogs play both for fun and to establish rank in the pack

Love the feeling I get on safari as if I am part of these animals’ daily life. A precious few hours spent in their world indeed!

I hope you enjoyed my selections and pairings and found inspiration in them.

Polar Bears Photo Expedition to Churchill

Trip Report:  Polar Bears in Churchill , Canada 2018

Polar Bear

Every October and November, polar bears congregate in the Churchill area to await the return of the sea ice and access to their preferred prey: the ringed seal.  This year our trip to Churchill was in late October.  The weather was starting to get snowy, but the ice had not yet formed. Numerous bears were known to be in the area.

Churchill, Manitoba

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This year’s trip featured very nice weather under partly cloudy skies and snow.  The ice has started to form, but is not solid enough yet for the bears to move out.  The bears were gathered and very much anticipating the next few weeks when the ice will be fully formed for their trip out to seal hunting territory.

Rock formations Churchill

 

In my Camera Bag:

I keep my photography kit streamlined for easy travel and utility in the field

Canon 5D MK IV

Canon 5D MK III

Canon 100 – 400 F4.5 – 5.6L IS II

Canon 400mm F4 +1.4x teleconverter

24 – 105mm lens for murals etc around town.

 

We traveled by way of Winnipeg and a flight up to Churchill.  Our group stayed inside the Churchill Wildlife Management Area at the Northern Studies Centre, a research facility that houses the scientists and their research. Each year the Centre welcomes a few visitors such as our group.  While at the Centre we were introduced to the ecofriendly facility, learned of the current research, and had a thorough orientation to polar bears in this region. It is a comfortable facility with meeting rooms, media rooms, a workout room, and we enjoyed the observation deck and night observatory dome. At times we had wildlife sightings from the windows of the Centre: a fox visited daily, a hare, birds, and a bear came close.

Tundra Buggy for polar Bears Polar Bear looks at the Tundra Buggy

Our first day was spent on a specialized bear tundra vehicle in the Wildlife Management Area – a nature preserve.  The vehicle was comfortable and had window we could photograph through as well has the big open back deck for unobstructed photographs.

 

Polar Bear in Churchill These vehicles are the only way to get into the Park area as the terrain is too rough for standard vehicles.

We had many bear sightings  from the bear vehicle.

Our 2nd day out was in a private van which takes us around the town area and bordering wildlife area. When out with our wildlife guide we are able to get out of the vehicle (when safe) and use our tripods to photograph the bears or arctic wildlife.

Churchill mural Photographing polar bears Cross Fox Polar Bear

We had several opportunities to see bears up close and were able to place the van in such a way to get great images from outside the vehicle.

bear traps
Bear Traps to remove nuisance bears away from town

Eskimo museum Churchill mural

Learning about conservation in this Arctic Region is a primary goal of these visits. We learned about the impact of humans on the polar bears and the steps they take to keep bears from becoming a nuisance around human areas like the dump and in town. We were enlightened about the bear jail and how they trap and release the bears.

Polar Bear Female Polar Bear Polar Bear

On our last day we were back with our private van and guide.

We had a chance to see a polar bear trying some hunting on a ice covered pond.

Wildlife such as  snowy owls, ptarmigans, and a fox were harder to find on this trip perhaps due to weather changing on our last day.

Our day ended in town at a restaurant and then straight onto the airport and our flight back to Winnipeg.

It was a great trip full of great chances to photograph polar bears and wildlife.  We are grateful for the opportunity to stay at the Northern Studies Centre for a quality yet affordable trip packed with wildlife and photography.

 

Get information about our next Polar Bears in Churchill Trip