9 Day Photo Safaris in 2020 – Best of Limpopo & Sabi
|May 15 – 23||Sept 1 – 9|
|May 28 – June 5||Sept 15 – 23|
|Sept 29 – Oct 7|
9 Day Photo Safaris in 2020 – Best of Limpopo & Sabi
|May 15 – 23||Sept 1 – 9|
|May 28 – June 5||Sept 15 – 23|
|Sept 29 – Oct 7|
The Sabi Sands Reserve is famous for its resident leopars. Our guests were treated to a 4 leopard afternoon game drive.
An older female leopard called – Ingrid Dam – was watching her cub (unnamed) eating an Impala kill up in a tree, it was having a difficult time eating in the tree because of the position of the kill. The Impala kill and the young cub fell out of the tree. We knew and the leopards knew there were hyenas nearby wanting to steal this meal should the opportunity arise. Was the mother going to come down and take the kill back up the tree for her cub? We watched and waited. Though the cub seemed to be asking for help, mother decided on tough love and stayed in the tree watching as the cub learned to drag the impala kill back up the tree. It was a hard and physically challenging lesson to learn, but the cub had succeeded for the first time to save his meal from those who would steal it away. The effort involved with dragging a kill up a tree is the leopard’s way of out maneuvering scavengers.
We were on a game drive on a private reserve near Kruger enjoying some great lions, a buffalo herd, and a leopard up a tree when we had a radio call from another safari vehicle about a great sighting. We hurried over to find it was a newborn elephant calf. At first we could not see the little one since the calf was hidden among the large legs of the mother, her sisters, and the herds older children. They were all vocalizing and moving in small, strange movements as if dancing or chanting. The mother was throwing dust on herself and the calf. Soon the crowd parted and we could see the newborn. Cute, wrinkly, and very unsteady on the feet, it was obvious the calf had only been standing for mere minutes. We were very close and felt very privileged that the herd let us be this close and share their joy at the new arrival. The calf tottered and fell a few times and we worried until the little one struggled to stand again.
The next week, we had wonderful continuity when we spotted the herd again. It was wonderful to see the infant prospering, healthy, and nursing.
It was our last game drive on the last day of safari and getting to be the time to turn around and head back to the lodge. It was a great drive, but about to get even better. We spotted several female lions concentrating on a medium sized herd of buffalo.
It appeared the plan was to slowly move into positions around the herd to separate certain buffalo. The lions separately made their way around the buffalo herd. Suddenly something goes wrong – one of the lions must have blundered – and the buffalo started to run. Wait a minute; they are not running away, they are charging the lions! One of them was running for their life straight toward us.
It is hard for lions to give up when things do not go to plan. Some of the pride continued to run with the stampeding buffalo to see if there could still be a chance to salvage the hunt. It was not to be.
Still, it took a long time before the lionesses could let this one go – they continued to watch the buffalo herd move out of reach.
As I look through my images, my memory goes back to watching the events unfold in front of me. They are much more than the best image: it is the dozen images before and after that one great image that make up the safari stories that I will tell my friends and family. While images help to make the story real; nothing compares to having been there and witnessing it live.
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My two May 2017 safaris were filled with special wildlife encounters, good weather, good company with some really terrific guests. I have presented below what I felt were themes present in each safari that made it special.
Learn about my Photo Safaris in South Africa on my website: http://www.AfricaWildSafaris.net
I was delighted to have families and friends traveling together among my photo safari guests. They were fun and engaging and quickly fell under the spell of the South African bushveld thrilling at the huge expanse of stars at night, and the way South Africa and the wildlife had a relaxing and healing effect. Everyone enjoyed the tree houses and the fun and uniquely African touches like outside showers featured at the lodges.
Our guests are always very interested in learning about wildlife conservation and our rangers, guides, and hosts tell them the real story behind poaching in our area, wildlife rehabilitation, national parks, and how wildlife reserves operate. We want our guests to understand the animals they see and their role in a healthy environment. Also, it is necessary to understand the challenges faced by wildlife in South Africa. Our guests were so moved by a lion and rhino poaching presentation that we invited the founders of Flying for Rhinos to detail the work they do to help anti-poaching efforts. They returned with plans to have fundraisers to help this organization. They also were delighted to see several wild white rhinos in Kruger and were able to photograph a very rare encounter with a black rhino.
Our guests were surprised how close we can get to the animals: My longest lens is a 400mm, but I use my 70 – 200mm or 100 – 400mm for most images. Our drivers know their reserves very well and can track prides of lions, rhino, and herds of buffalo day to day. When we find the animals we can get close up and detailed images of elephants, big cats, and giraffes.
Sometimes we are too close for some of our lenses and have to back off, but we can also get some really great images that isolate different parts of the animal’s anatomy
We highlight the relationships and interactions between species. When we see buffalo we will also see oxpeckers cleaning parasites off of the buffalo.
We were thrilled to witness an unusual coalition of 5 adult male lions who live, defend territory, and share female pride members. It was a bit intimidating to be so close to these large and intimidating beasts.
We were lucky enough to encounter several prides of lions with cubs. Most had cubs in a range of ages. We enjoyed watching and photographing the cubs playing and interacting with their parents. There were some great moments of a mother’s care and love for her cubs.
Young giraffes stayed close to their mothers and baby elephants were kept safely in among the herd by the older females.
Birds are very prevalent now that the weather has returned to normal and provided abundant food for them. We always see the spectacular lilac breasted roller. It lights on branches near the dirt roads so we can get images of this colorful bird with shorter lenses.
We also sighted the large predatory birds; Kori Bustard and secretary bird.
Hornbills are charismatic to photograph and we found the less common red billed hornbill and the even more rare grey hornbill.
We get great close up portraits of animals, but it is the wide shots that can translate the beauty and mood of South Africa: the sunsetting behind a giraffe as she eats and wildebeest feeding in the early morning fog.
Beauty is also in the small details like dew on a spiderweb.
It was a fantastically successful two safari groups with every guest returning with good images of a huge variety of species: more high quality sightings than they expected . I want to thank all of the guests who made these trips so much fun with good conversation, nights on the deck watching nocturnal animals, great questions, and most of all continuing friendships and forming new friendships. I sincerely hope they can all return again in the future.
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Though there is no hiding the stress of the long drought on the animals and plant life of the bushveld, we had excellent wildlife sightings. The predators thrive during these conditions with so many herbivores loosing condition to lack of food. There was hope in the first good early rains. We enjoyed the cooler than average temperatures and watched the drama of nature unfold. These are some of ours guests and my own favorite moments from our recent 3 safari groups.
I use a Canon 5D MKIII and most of my images are shot using a 70 - 200mm lenses, sometimes with a 1.4 teleconverter. I also use a 300mm lens for the long shots in Kruger - this also with a teleconverter. I use a monopod as stabilization as this method works in all vehicles, is light, and versatile. I have now upgraded to the Canon 5D 4 and look forward to its first trip to Africa in April 2017
Martial eagle has made a kill
Most of our large raptor sightings are of the bird of prey scouting from the top of a tree or involved in a crowd of birds on a scavenged carcass. The eagle was able to take down a steenbok. The bird plummeted with enough force to knock the weakened antelope to the ground then held it in a choke hold.
Our trackers knew where to look for this male and we found him early in our game drive. He is a very robust male who has obviously had success hunting lately. We had a wonderful time seeing the daily life of this predator.
Leopards love warthogs and this one spent some time checking likely dens while listening and watching for some to return for the night.
It is possible this leopard has a recent kill stashed up a tree (his stomach does look a bit big) and thus he is only surveying territory tonight and hunting only what is easy to get.
See more of my Safari Reports from 2016
Most times we see hyenas at the kills made by lions, or harassing a cheetah. We had a chance to see a more sympathetic side of hyenas at a den sight with multiple pups.
The den had several cute puppies and the dominant female (mother) was very attentive and affectionate to them. The usual subadult den assistants were also there keeping the bold puppies close.
Seeing and photographing lions is always a thrill. We have seen many different lion kills and pride groupings this year. Observing the social dynamics of the group at feeding times is very revealing. The physical demands of eating a carcass is surprising as is the effort put into guarding the meal from vultures and scavengers even after all the lions are so full they can hardly move. We can get very close and see every detail for different positions.
It is always an educational experience for first time guests and repeat visitors like myself. We visited an orphaned baby rhino, the raptors recovering from poisoning, and other permanent and temporary species.
Often we don’t have to leave the lodge to have great wildlife encounters: it is all around us. The night skies are magnificent in the near total darkness and the sounds are exotic.
One hot afternoon our guests were relaxing in the pool when giraffes came to eat buds off their favorite trees.
Our safaris are full of wildlife which will thrill photographers and those without fancy cameras. We also believe that all the wildlife needs to be presented within a context of current conservation efforts, successes, and challenges. We celebrate and appreciate each species of bird, insect, plant, and animal for its role in the whole ecosystem of our corner of South Africa.
Our safaris are educational, fun, exciting, surprising, and fulfilling – and some say life-changing.
I hosted 2 wonderful photo safari groups in May 2016 . We had fun and adventure among some really great wildlife sightings. My guests returned with many great action, predator, and close up shots. One guest told me he had over 3,000 photos to sort through.
After each series of safaris, I reflect back on the moments that made the most vivid memories while I sort through my photos. Each moment spent out in the wild spaces of South Africa is special, but I have selected a few to share that stood out for me.
I had had a great and active morning in Kruger, but things were slower in the early afternoon. This coucal brightened things up by landing on a branch near my vehicle and stayed in a perfect pose. I was even able to move the truck to get shot from different angles and sun exposure. This species of cuckoo does not deposit eggs in another species’ nests.
We were lucky enough to find these cubs and their mother on a morning game drive with perfect weather and again on other drives. They played with each other and often their mother would join in the fun.
Every so often they would sit to rest and survey their surroundings as young predators in training.
Then the fun would erupt again for another round of pouncing and wrestling
White rhino are usually pretty stoic when we encounter them: they keep at eating or close ranks to stand in an alert defensive position. This group of 3 males and one young (probably) male were agitated and active when we found them. The 3 older rhinos were engaged in some intense battling with their horns with one male defending his dominance in the herd. The youngster was quite stressed by the whole affair and ran around in panic.
This is a very large and active den site for spotted hyena. On this visit there were several adult females around and some adolescent and older pups. Out of the den came 2 very young pups. These are the youngest I have ever seen. The female in charge (not sure if it was the mother) kept them close to the den by picking them up in her powerful jaws using a gentle touch.
This was one of several very good sightings we had through the two May safaris. This time the females were resting nearby and the male was there too. The buffalo meal was mostly consumed, the previous night, but this male lion was still hungry and working with the carcass to get all the meat he could. It is hard work for the lions to pull the meat apart and they frequently take a rest in the shade.
It must be stressful to try to feed, train, and defend two active cubs. This is why it was so delightful to be there to see the mother leopard play with her cubs. No of them took any notice of our vehicle and cameras and just stalked and mock attacked each other in the open and right in front of us.
As the rainy season water drys up and becomes mud, these spots become a favorite place to visit and photograph. When elephants come by it is a funny mud flinging spectacle with bodies rolling and splashing. One elephant pushed his younger sister in the mud. Rubbing follows the mud bath. At this water hole the favorite rubbing tree had become very short and elephants had to contort to funny positions to use it – such as this youngster doing a face plant in order to get a rub.
Parts of Kruger National Park open up into wide vistas where you can see far into the distance. This herd of wildebeest was on the move and created a nice sight line and vanishing point for my photo.
I enjoy the end of our afternoon game drives when we return to the lodge after dark using spot lights. This time we found a bush baby. I am still hoping to see a pangolin or aardvark by night. We also find chameleons , small cats, and hear the night calls of birds and herd animals.
This kill was in a great spot for feeding at night, but as the morning wore on it was getting hot out in the open defending the remains of the meal. The female lion – who was covered head to toe in blood and guts – tried to drag the carcass to a shady spot. It was a bit too heavy for her and the other lions just watched from the shade.
This was the start of one of our all time best days in Kruger. A hyena chased after a leopard cub while the mother fought to defend it and this black-backed jackal stood at the ready to take advantage no matter who won. The jackal was probably following either the hyena or leopard to wait for chances of stealing a meal. We also saw elephant, lion, and rhino all before the welcome center.
We also had beautiful and interesting skies that day. Sometimes you forget to take some wide shots to illustrate the vastness of the park.
Safari Story: An Afternoon at the Elephant Mud Bath
New Tree House Complete at Tree House Safari Lodge
Our guests have just returned home and I have spent some time sorting through all of the wonderful photos taken over the past 10 days. As I sort through I am reminded of all the great moment so now is the best time to do this blog post of my favorite memories and photos
Since big cats spend loads of time resting and stationary, it gives us a chance to observe them and watch familiar behaviors. Our rangers are knowledgeable and I often learn something new. On observing how a lion sits with its paws in front and upturned, the ranger commented that they will lick their paw pads then hold them in this position as a way to cool off. Yawning and dosing off to sleep needs no explanation to those familiar with any type of cat.
If there was an over all theme to this safari, it would have to be cheetahs. We observed and photographed cheetahs on most of our game drives. Often they were pairs of males who live as a coalition cooperating in hunting and keeping themselves safe from rivals, lions, hyenas, and leopards. We were fortunate to see two cheetah on a fresh kill and we could see how one will eat quickly while the other watches for danger. Other sightings were cheetahs roaming and marking their territory.
The light on this photo was so nice that I made two images from the one photo. The cropped in version shows the intense eyes and stare of the cheetah surveying his surroundings for food or danger. The full image has the cheetah in context with the texture of the grass, the camouflage of his fur, and the wide open spaces where cheetahs hunt.
Photographing individual animals creates a different image compared to a whole herd or mixed herd. A herd creates a negative space that shapes the image as a whole, but within the herd are details and motions of individuals that give interest. In Kruger we see larger herds of Zebra and elephant than on private reserves.
This time of year where water is more scare, the mud baths are coveted by all species. Many of these holes are started by elephants digging for water, which then grow larger and catch rain. The rhinos love to coat themselves in mud then rub parasites such as ticks off their skin. A good coat of mud also keeps off the flies.
Two of my favorite baby African animals are the giraffe and rhino.
The baby giraffe, too short to reach any leaves follows its mother tries to imitate her. They are shy but soon will develop the curiosity of the adult giraffes.
This safari with photographed baby white rhinos of several different ages. This older baby and his mom approached a mother and baby pair where the baby was much younger. The two young rhinos greeted each other with a nose rub, but one of the mothers became protective and drove the other pair away.
While drama is all around you in Africa in the rugged landscapes and predators, there are some small, quiet, and subtle beautiful things. The sunsets are the best in the world here fueled by the dust in the air causing the sun to flame up into a huge orange fireball. Some of the birds are very colorful such as this Lilac Breasted Roller. The harmonious colors of a waterbuck in his environment framed by his symmetrical face are another example of subtle beauty found all around us here.
Sometimes great moments happen on safari without leaving the lodge. During breakfast, these hungry giraffes came to nibble the leaf buds.
We had so many nice photographic encounters with this group. Everyone was pleased with their photo collections and each returns with some great memories and new friendships.
Other safari reports from past years:
First Day of Safari : http://www.gregorysweeney.photography/?p=3499
Best Time of Year for a South Africa Safari: http://www.gregorysweeney.photography/?p=4056
Safari Report May 2015 : http://www.gregorysweeney.photography/?p=4171
Favorite Moments from September 2014 : http://www.gregorysweeney.photography/?p=3869
We had the perfect example of a meal in the wilds of South Africa.
The Lions made the kill, but as we watched them gorge themselves, we also took note of the other characters gathering for the party.
First to arrive: female lions who probably made the kill
All photos were shot with my Canon 5D MKIII with a 300mm lens in the Sabi Sands Reserve
I received the best news and highest compliment from our guest Linda this morning. She told me that everything has exceeded her expectations: the tree houses, the food, and the wildlife – and it is only their third day!
We started off their adventure at our lodge with game drives on a very scenic reserve. Right away we show ostrich and white rhino. Among the small herd of rhino was a baby rhino with his mother. As many are aware, rhino are under great threat from the rhino horn poaching industry and these rhino have been dehorned as a deterrent. This reserve has foiled a few poaching attempts in the past.
Home to not just the white rhino, we came upon the resident black rhino. These guys are a bit more aggressive and gave us some seriously challenging stares.
We returned to the lodge for a big breakfast and had the mid day to relax, nap, and enjoy the pool and scenery. After an afternoon tea we returned to the same reserve again for more rhinos (cant get enough of that baby rhino!). This time we found an ostrich with chicks in tow and many of the antelope species endemic to our area. We had a beautiful example of a male kudu and nyala. We enjoyed wine as we watched the sun go down then returned in the dark spotting with the torchlight. We encountered some of the small nightime critters such as the civet and a white tailed mongoose. Another wonderful dinner under the stars and we were ready to turn in.
Today we are half way through a day in Kruger. October gets pretty hot so we will continue to watch the action at the watering holes where we have already seen giraffe and elephant. You never know what will show up!
While on our morning game drive, our guide had the suggestion , since we were near by, to swing past a den area known to be used from time to time by hyena. Sometimes we forget about the hyena as an interesting and fierce predator. It often acts as a scavenger, but it can hunt and kill on its own and it has a fascinating pack social structure . We approached the den and could see immediately that it was active. There was one pup exploring around the den. We watched it wander around looking like it wanted to play with a stick. Then we noticed a small head peaking out of the den: a second pup probably curious at the new noises. We watched them play together for a while.
I don’t usually think of hyenas as cute, but these two had all the appeal of any young and fuzzy animal. It seemed strange for them to be all alone and running amok, but we soon learned that the “babysitter” was near by and ready to intervene if the pups got too out of control. The dominant female who is the only hyena allowed to breed, will appoint a juvenile subadult to watch over the den while the mother hunts , This guardian did her duty that morning and made sure the pups did not stray into trouble.
Our safari guests often ask me for a recommendation on how to support long lens in safari vehicles. The options out there range from simple to complicated and from cheap to outrageously expensive Over the years I have tested many methods, some worked and other didn’t. I like multitasking products that are simple, effective, and easy to travel with -inexpensive doesn’t hurt either. A few basic support items in my travel bag can be used singly or in combination to support my camera while allowing for necessary tracking.
Safari vehicles are usually custom made and no two are likely to be constructed the same. On the typical safari you will be in many different vehicles and one system may not work for all of them: the more complicated the system the more likely it will not work in all vehicles. Most support systems are bean bag supports, tripod or monopod with heads allowing pivot and movement, or a combination of tripod/monopod rigs and various clamps to secure it to a spot in the vehicle.
Bean bags – These come in many shapes and sizes with some made for specific lenses and vehicle situations. When empty, they are easy to travel with. Upon arrival at your destination, stop by a local grocery store buy a bag of rice or beans, put the fill into a zipper plastic bag then into the bean bag, and you are ready to go. In a pinch you can use sand. When you are finished shooting, donate the beans or rice to a local family. Also Birdseed works quite well and the birds get a happy meal after your travels.
I like bean bags because they provide a significant amount of vibration isolation compared to a hard mount and can be used in multiple situations not just safari vehicles. Beanbags work best in pop-top vans (the photographer is standing in this type) or open-roof vehicles that would be found in Kenya and Tanzania. For the standard open safari vehicle they do not work so well due to the lack of doors, window frames, or other resting point. Usually you will get just a pipe-type arm rest or seatback to attach to; nothing to obscure the view of the animal, but not enough surface for a beanbag to function.
Tripods – Usually a photographer’s best friend, they unfortunately do not work so well in safari vehicles. They are difficult to set up and keep secure among the vehicle seats and passengers. Tripods are not recommended in vehicles because they take up precious space.
Monopods – A good monopod will be lightweight, compact, and easy to travel with. I have found them indispensable when shooting wildlife from a safari vehicle. They carry the majority of the weight of long lens to save your arms and provide stabilization. Combined with a ball head the monopod can be very versatile in capturing images on safari allowing you to swivel and adjust. The single leg pivot point makes it easy to turn and shoot out the opposite side of the vehicle with minimal body shifting and rearrangement of equipment. It is comfortable and safe to hold the camera on the monopod while the vehicle is in motion. I found that monopods work very well in the game drive vehicles in Botswana and South Africa.
If there is a down side to monopods it is that they are not secured to the vehicle. Really Right Stuff (www.reallyrightstuff.com) has designed a clamp system specifically to clamp the monopods to a support in the vehicle. I have not tested out yet and am not sure about loosing all the mobility advantages of a monopod by clamping it to the vehicle.
I have been experimenting with my own camera / lens mount system for safari vehicles. My goal was to create one with a secure mounting system that was affordable, stable on a vehicle, and all its components could be multitaskers used in other photography settings. I sourced out 3 components from different manufactures then MacGyvered then together. The combined system came to about $155 USD before shipping costs.
My system starts with The Impact Super Clamp. This is a lightweight, inexpensive clamp that is easily attached to a strobe unit or ballhead. It can then be attached onto a pipe, table, stand, game drive vehicle seat back, or anything stationary. This thing is so handy; it is a must for your camera bag arsenal. At $20 it is a solid product that outperforms more expensive versions.
It can clamp onto an object ½ in to 21/8 in diameter and has a weight capacity of 33lb (15kg)
The second component is a Mini Gimbal Mount Sidekick for Large Telephoto Lenses that I procured on Ebay from India for $110.00 USD.
To attach the super clamp and the Mini Gimbal Mount together I used a Manfrotto 208HEX Head Mounting Plate with Hex Stud – 3/8″ Thread
I still like to have the freedom of the camera on the monopod but the clamp rig will give me a more stable option. With this system I can have the clamp set up on the safari vehicle ready to go then quickly switch from a monopod rig to the full support clamped rig for a longer distance and stationary subject such as a lion on a kill. So far I have had good success with the Frankenstein clamp rig and it works in most safari vehicles. Unless you know your safari vehicles well it is best to choose support systems that are simple and offer options. My best advice is still a nice ball mount attached to a good monopod.