Tag Archives: photo safari

2019 Year in Review

2019 was a busy year packed full of wonderful wildlife encounters shared with my guests on many wildlife photography tours.

Each of my locations is special and rich in wildlife, so to rank the trips and encounters is difficult. Given that they were all exceptional trips year after year, I present them in order of what was special it me this year.

Many of these trips will be featured on my 2020 Calendar of Trips but some will have to wait until future years before I can share them again: there is just not enough time to do it all! Please enjoy this review.

Striped Marlin at Magdalena Bay

Magdalena Bay in Baja Mexico has a sardine run each November which attracts Striped Marlin, seal ions, sharks, and even whales to the area. We jumped in this frenzy of action and photographed the action. This was a special experience because of the shear numbers of marlin, easy to find bait balls, the comical sea lions, and the whole spectacle. We also combined this with diving at some of the other wonderful natural spaces in Baja for an underwater safari.

Nov 2020 Baja Safari

Sardine Run at Magdalena Bay Baja
Seals and striped marlin manage and prey on a bait ball of sardines

Polar Bears in Churchill, Canada

The polar bears in Churchill are always abundant and a pleasure to photograph, but this year there seemed to be even more than usual. This year there was snow cover and several pairs of mothers and cubs to delight us. We also had a little bit of Northern Lights .

2020 Polar Bears

Polar Bear photo Tour Churchill
A male polar bear scratches and stretches to the amusement of the photographers

African Autumn in South Africa

There is so much wildlife seen on our safaris: we have had increasing frequency of wild dog encounters, rhinos, very good elephant herds, lion prides with cubs, and so many more exceptional sightings. Each year I think it is the best and then the next year tops it! I picked this leopard to represent a year of many beautiful predators displaying behavior in front of our lenses. This was a quiet moment where we could imagine ourselves as the leopard and live out part of his day.

2020 & 2021 South African Safaris

South African photo safari
A male leopard takes a high vantage point for a morning break

Tiger Sharks & Hammerheads in Bahamas

I visited Tiger Beach twice in 2019: March and October. We are always happy to see the same individuals back each year plus a few new ones. New this year was as 2nd resident Great Hammerhead. I was a great day to be able to capture both species in photo – we see it underwater, but to get them all in one frame is not easy.

2020 Tiger Sharks & Hammerheads

Tiger Beach dive trip Bahamas
Multiple female tiger sharks and a great hammerhead circle our group then pass right over my head

Whale Sharks & Giant Mantas in Mexico

It is not fair to rank the Whale Shark Aggregation low on my favorites list because year after year it consistently gives us many many whale sharks, mantas in clear warm water. I am privileged to a part of this for 10 years now. My favorite is when a whale shark goes into “bottle feed” position. I have even had 360 videos as I swim around the shark who is in vertical position.

2020 Whale Sharks & Mantas

whale shark trips Isla Mujeres
When there is a concentrated food patch, a whale shark will feed in a vertical position to suck in the most food.

African Spring in South Africa

The seasons in South Africa give a different color scheme to the photos. In spring the colors are soft yellows and browns as the grass has not yet come alive. Every plant and animal is waiting for the first rains of season. This time of year can give us more predator action as they prey on animals weakened by lack of grass to eat. We had so many great encounters – I chose this hippo because his grunt always makes we laugh. 2020 & 2021 Safaris

African photo safari
A male hippo strikes an impressive territorial display for our photographers

Sailfish in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

For many years I have visited and photographed the sardine run on the eastern side of Mexico at Isla Mujeres. The clear warm water makes for some great video and photography action. Now that I have experienced the billfish on both the east (Isla / Cancun) and west (Magdalena Bay) I can compare the two. The sailfish are very graceful and their flashing colors and sails waving up and down is very dramatic. In 2020 I will only be visiting Baja for billfish

Sailfish sardine run Mexico
Sailfish work together to keep the bait ball tight and at the surface before one by one attacking the bait ball.

Grizzle Bears in BC, Canada

In summer 2019 I was able to go on a scouting trip to photograph grizzles from a boat. We had great encounters with mothers & cubs, a territorial male, a huge male bear, and serene moments with bears feeding on grass. This was a very special trip and staying on a boat in this remote area.

I am working on offering this special experience as a future trip.

Grizzle bear photo tour Canada
A mother bear and a cub are anxious about the presence of a male bear nearby.

Namibia Road Trip, Southern Africa

I completed an overland tour of Namibia after my September Safaris. This country is very different to where I hold my safaris: less wildlife but unique and awe inspiring views everywhere. It was a chance to work on my wide angle and landscape photography.

Namibia desert
Sand patterns on a dune

American Crocodiles of Chinchorro, Mexico

For the 3rd year I traveled to the remote Chinchorro Atoll and stayed in a rustic fishing hut in order to have close encounters with American Crocodiles. Thanks to the expert crew we were all able to do this safely. We spent our “down time” diving on the pristine reefs and eliminating the invasive lion fish.

crocodile photography mexico
A crocodile in shallow water approaches us at the remote Chinchorro Atoll Nature Preserve

Thank you to all the great people who made 2019 special for my guests and myself. I look forward to a great and exciting 2020

About Gregory Sweeney

About my South Africa Safaris

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

Safari Story: Which Vulture Eats Last?

 

One vulture is smaller and not trying to feed
One vulture is smaller and not trying to feed

 

We were on a morning game drive when we came upon vultures who had nearly finished a predator’s abandoned impala meal.  One vulture stood apart from the rest and did not nudge into the crowd.  He was a bit smaller than the others, but this is not why he eats last.  He can wait because he knows there will be flesh left for him after the others leave.

Vultures have a specific job to do  but to do it right takes specialization.  Species of vulture have evolved to specialize in the many jobs needed to process down a carcass.  Each vulture species has a different set of tools for different jobs.

The Hooded Vulture is the smallest vulture we see on safari.  Its is the only one that can pick the meat out between the ribs and other small crevices.  Other vultures with bigger beaks can not reach this meat so the Hooded Vulture eats last.

Hooded Vulture
Hooded Vulture

The Cape Vulture is the most common vulture in South Africa.   They have a big strong beak and can feed on any carcass that has been chewed on by a predator.  If they are lucky enough to find a freshly dead carcass they might be out of luck.  Many hides are too tough for the birds to tear. They have no choice but to wait for one of two things:  the carcass splits open from natural process or someone else opens it for them be it predator, scavenger, or another species of vulture

vultures-4
Cape Vulture

The Lappet Faced Vulture is very large and has the strongest  beak that can rip open the tough hides of hippos and similar.  Vultures standing around not eating are waiting for the Lappet so they can all enjoy the meal.

vultures-3
Lappet Faced Vulture

 

vultures-5

 

Which is the Best Season to Visit South Africa on Safari? May vs September

Which is the Best Season to Visit South Africa on Safari?

Since we host safaris in both April/May and September/October   we get asked frequently which is the best choice for a photo and wildlife safari .  The short answer is that they are both great times to visit South Africa and see wildlife.  Given this, there are differences which I will point out.  (please note:  This information is specific to the Kruger region of South Africa and does not at all describe conditions in other African countries) 

Learn about our Safaris at AfricaWildSafaris.net

Weather

Dry season starts in May and ends in October so both the April/May and September/Oct safari sessions are going to be dry and most often with no rain at all.

May begins the South African autumn while September is a warm and dry spring month that grows to summer temperatures by early October.  The seasonal “rains” start in mid October

Daytime temperatures are very comfortable for both safaris with guests wearing tshirts and shorts. There may even be a few hot days.

Night time temperatures are very warm and mild in September/Oct. Low and overnight temperatures are more variable in the April/May/June season as cold fronts are possible.

In both seasons: After warm afternoons, the evening temperature stays comfortable for dining outside with the additions of just a light jacket or top.

Mornings before 9am will be the coldest periods. But the sun quickly warms everything. Days are almost always clear.

Average daytime or high temperatures in both seasons are 70 – 88’F (20 -30’C)

Overnight and morning temperatures in September will only get down to a low of 55’F (15 C’)  on the coldest days.  April tends to be the same

In May temperatures will get down to  the low 50’s F (10 – 13’C) during a cold spell , but more typically are around 55’F (15’C)

May 1st
May 1st

Oct 2nd
Oct 2nd

May 4th
May 4th

Sept 27th
Sept 27th

Guests on morning game drive , late September
Guests on morning game drive , late September

Animal Behavior

The wildlife in South Africa is present all year around as there is not much migration.  The variety of species is large in our area and stays consistent through the year. In Kruger there is some movement of wildlife herds toward water sources and any remaining grazing, the the habitat is such that food is readily available in most every habitat so large migration is not necessary.

The peak of dry season: September/October will find animals congregating around watering holes which makes for some varied and exciting encounters. You can almost park at a water source and have the animals come to you.  Wildlife is not active in the mid to late afternoon except at watering holes.

In April/May the food is still plentiful but grass is starting to die off but the wildlife is still active and easy to find since food is everywhere.  Animals and especially grazers are in good condition this time of year.

Some animals enter mating season in May such as impala. The large herds and politics of the activity makes for interesting wildlife observation.

Many animals have babies all through the year. Some herd animals do not give birth until the rains start in October/November.

May 7th
May 7th

Oct 7th
Oct 7th

Oct 2nd
Oct 2nd

May 11th
May 11th

Changes in Surroundings

April is when the rain and high summer temperatures cease so the grass begins to die down (or gets eaten down). The green color of the landscape begins to yellow and some trees show a bit of color as the leaves fall in late May.  As the grass falls flat in May it becomes easier to spot the wildlife.

Insects only thrive in moist weather so as soon as the rain stops in early April, they disappear. A cool night here and there also spells their demise. We have very little problems with bugs, flys, and mosquitos in both the April/May and Sept/Oct sessions.

When you arrive in September, the trees are bare or in bud and there is hardly any grass to speak of so it is very easy to see wildlife. Dust is more of a presence in this season.  Your photos will have more muted tones in the background since much of the landscape and foliage is straw colored.

may 19th
may 19th

Oct 4th
Oct 4th

May 9th
May 9th

April 20th
April 20th

Oct 11th
Oct 11th

Travel

If you plan to catch the whale season down in Cape Town, they are present from June – November.  This is the same season as the visiting great white sharks to the Simons Town Seal Island area.  A safari in May with an extension to Cape Town works in both seasons.

Lodges  and parks tend to be busier in the August – January season.

 

May 9th
May 9th

May 7th
May 7th

Really,  you can not go wrong with either season: it is what works best for your schedule. The wildlife will be great either way. We have repeat guests who have come in both seasons and do not favor one or the other : I enjoy them both equally.

Join us for a safari and found out for yourself.

 

Preparing for Your Safari

GS_1020191_141022I have many informational posts here on my blog to help guests prepare for their South African Photo Safari

Choosing the Right Safari

Which is the best season to visit South Africa on Safari?

Is a photo Safari for Me?

Preparing for your Safari

Communications while on Safari

Travel Insurance

Currency and Tipping

 

Packing

Safari Clothing: Dress for Success and Comfort

Equipment

My Favorite Lens for South Africa Photo Safari: Canon 70 – 200mm

Discussion of Safari Camera Support Systems

A Monopod: The right Camera Support for your Safari

Binoculars for on Safari

The Cinebags Lens Smuggler Bag

Using a UB Filter as Lens Protection

The Impact Super Clamp

The Better Beamer Flash Extender

GS_1010811_140921

See our Current Safari Schedule