Jambo and good morning from a warm and sunny Arusha! I’ve just completed guiding my most recent safari with 2 couples from California and Oregon, USA. We enjoyed 7 nights together in the bush with 5 nights in the Serengeti National Park at Lake Masek Tented Lodge along with 2 nights in the Ngorongoro Crater at the spectacular Ngorongoro Manor Lodge.
The game viewing is currently exceptional in the Serengeti with the huge herds of migratory wildebeest, zebra and gazelle dispersed all through the southern and eastern plains from the Kusini plains to the plains around Lake Masek and Lake Ndutu, south to Matiti and all the way east to Gol Kopjes and beyond. Game viewing for the resident animals including elephant, giraffe, hippo and many other species remains good. Game viewing for the big carnivores especially for lions, cheetahs and hyenas is superb! Many of the herbivore species are currently giving birth including the hundreds of thousands of wildebeest.
Below are some pictures taken from the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. Enjoy!
The Serengeti is arguably the finest national park in Africa and offers a cornucopia of wildlife viewing. Just about every large animal in East Africa can be regularly seen in the Ecosystem. Truly extraordinary wildlife sightings are frequently reported by many of our returning guests and even our most experienced guides with 100 plus safaris under their belts can still be heard oohing and awing over some rare animal or behavior.
In fact, one of our veteran guides was explaining in delight about watching a pride of lions attack a young buffalo when the tables suddenly turned and the lions became the hunted as the entire buffalo herd parried in defense. This got me reminiscing about my personal favorite bush experiences and what other returning guests commonly report back as their own highlights while on safari in the Serengeti. Accordingly, here we have the Top 10 Serengeti list in my opinion (What are your top highlights or favorite memories?):
#1 – Watching the antics of the Sametu Lion Pride at the Sametu Kopjes, East Serengeti. This unusually large lion pride was made famous by the booked entitled ‘Lions Share’ and was featured a few years back in the National Geographic movie called ‘Super Pride’. A coalition of 4 extraordinary large male lions, known as the “Greek Gods” (Zeus, Ares, Apollo and Demeter), led this pride for several years. Seeing the pride all together at the epicenter of their territory right at the Sametu Marsh with all the cubs, adult females and resident males in attendance is tough to beat!
Just game driving to the very remote Sametu Kopjes is an adventure in itself. What an amazing home for the Serengeti’s most famous lion pride! There were some great pictures posted a while back of the Sametu pride lounging on their favorite kopje (scroll down towards the bottom of the linked to trip report).
#2 – Witnessing the Great Migration. This is simply the pinnacle of wildlife viewing in Africa and no pictures, videos or even words can do justice though shock and awe comes to mind. Wild Travel Magazine ranked it #1 in all of Africa. The Great Migration is a continuous cycle of movements by the dominant migratory herbivores in the Serengeti (wildebeest, zebra, eland and gazelle).
There is no beginning or end to the migration though there are quite a few noteworthy moments that reoccur every year including the following:
- Grumeti River Crossing in the Western Serengeti during May/June
- Mara River Crossing in the Northern Serengeti from July to October and in some years as early as June and as late as November
- Wildebeest Calving in the South Serengeti during January/February though zebra and gazelle do not have a pronounced birth spike like the wildebeest and their birthing period is spread from December to April
- Northward Migration and Wildebeest Rut in the Central Serengeti during April/May (this is called the Moru Crush when the migration exits the plains through the narrow valley at Moru Kopjes)
- Southward Migration in the Central Serengeti during November/December…this return to the plains is an exciting time
- The End of the Green Season (my personal favorite time) in March/April when the great herds typically come together (after calving) on the southern and eastern plains (usually near Naabi Hill) and reach their highest densities
#3 – Witnessing the ultimate speed contest on the open Southern Serengeti Plains. Cheetahs live their lives in pursuit of the migratory Thomson’s gazelles. Watching the world’s fastest land animal sprinting across the plains in pursuit of the fleet footed Thomson’s Gazelle is truly exhilarating. Due to enhanced visibility on the flat, short grass plains of the Serengeti, there is a higher then normal chance of seeing cheetahs in action. The tricky part is keeping a cheetah running at top speed centered in your binoculars or trying to snap off a picture!
#4 – Watching Giraffes in the Lobo River Valley of the North Serengeti. Lobo Valley is one of the most beautiful scenic spots in the entire park and is home to good numbers of giraffes (the national emblem of Tanzania). It’s a quintessential African Safari experience watching these polite giants as they delicately browse acacia trees. Stewart White was one of the first explorers to discover the Lobo River Valley. In 1913 Stewart wrote: “Never have I seen anything like that game. It covered every hill, standing in the openings, strolling in and out among groves, feeding on the bottom lands, single, or in little groups. It did not matter in what direction I looked, there it was; as abundant one place as another.”
# 5 – Dodging elephants in the Lower Grumeti Woodlands of the Western Serengeti. The Western Corridor is home to some of the Serengeti’s largest concentrations of elephants. Some of these elephants are notorious for exhibiting fake or demonstration charges where they rapidly approach the vehicle with ears spread, head held high and are often accompanied by an unfurling of their trunk with a loud trumpeting similar to a party noisemaker. Signs of uncertainty immediately before the charge including displacement activities like exaggerated feeding behavior (breaking off branches, etc.), swinging of the feet or swaying are usually indications for demonstration charge rather then a real charge. However, such mock charges can still be quite dramatic and the first time you witness one, you will undoubtedly remember it!
# 6 – Scouting for Cats in the Gol Kopjes, East Serengeti. The Gol Kopjes complex (called the world’s largest Japanese rock garden) extends roughly 100 square miles and covers dozens of kopjes or granite outcroppings. Hundreds of game loops bisect the constellation of kopjes and photographic opportunities abound (perhaps the best in the park). Exploring this beautiful area while checking each outcropping for lion or cheetah is always a memorable experience. One never knows what surprises may lurk on each kopje!
# 7 – Peering down at Hippos at Retina Hippo Pool, Central Serengeti. One can climb to within just a few feet of these enormous creatures. The riverbank here is about 10-feet above the pool and it is possible to climb to only a few feet away from the approximately 200 hippos that inhabit the pool. Great photography opportunities abound here as the large groups of hippos huddle together, spouting and grunting in the water.
# 8 – Tracking Rhinos at Moru Kopjes, Central Serengeti. Coming across one of these critically endangered creatures, especially in the beautiful Moru area, is a real safari treat. Moru is an excellent place to lose yourself in the magic of the Serengeti and is home to the remaining population of black rhinos in the Serengeti. Last year, there were several black rhinos reintroduced to the North Serengeti (they were flown from South Africa) and we are just now having more regularly sightings. However, nothing beats coming across one of the original rhinos in the Moru Kopjes!
#9 – Exploring one of the more remote and off the beaten path areas. The Serengeti Ecosystem (roughly the size of Massachusetts) is so enormous that there are still plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten path and explore area where few tourists have ever traveled. Named after one of our guides, one of my favorite hidden spots (pictured below) is a place called ‘Reggie’s Kopjes’ in the East Serengeti, which is located roughly 1/2 way in the middle of a giant plain that stretches perhaps 30 miles between Naabi and Lemuta Hills. There are no roads here but rather just mile upon mile of pristine wilderness. You can climb up one of the kopjes here (just make sure there are no lions) and look east towards Lemuta Hill and Nasera Rock for arguably the finest view in the Serengeti. And, I guaranty you won’t see a single other soul. When the migration thunders through this area, this place would surely be tough to top.
#10 – Spotting Leopards along the Seronera River, Central Serengeti. The banks along the Seronera River, along with the nearby Songore River,are the best areas in Africa to find leopards. Elegance personified, leopards are notorious for being especially graceful and enigmatic. Maybe it is their stunning beauty, or perhaps their incredible power, that captures the imagination of all visitors who travel here. A study in the Serengeti found that there were 7 resident adult leopards in a 72 square mile study area in Seronera. This equates to about one leopard per ten square miles, and when cubs and a smaller proportion of nomadic leopard are factored in, Seronera boasts one of the highest concentrations of leopards in all of Africa. Click here for an excellent leopard article entitled ‘The Prince of Stealth‘.
I seem to have run out of slots and failed to mention one of the most exciting thrills anyone can receive while on safari, which is coming across one of the Serengeti’s rare and unusual inhabitants like the pangolin, bushbaby, rock python, wild dog, caracal, oryx, serval cat or bat-eared fox. Check out this posting entitled The Bizarre, Quirky, Rare and Deadly to see some of the more unusual animals that live in the Serengeti.
What are your top highlights or favorite memories from your Serengeti Safari?
A VERY common subject I field questions about is PHOTOGRAPHY. I am far from a professional photographer, but I am a fairly passionate photography enthusiast! So I’m happy to share some tips and suggestions based on my own personal “trial and error” experiences photographing wildlife in Tanzania.
“WHAT TYPE OF CAMERA SHOULD I BRING?”
There is no right or wrong answer here, but personally I use an SLR camera with interchangeable lenses, specifically a Canon 7D camera body, and most of my images were taken with Canon’s 100-400mm white lens. I find this to be a really nice all around lens. Easy to carry around and handle, while offering a reasonable range and speed. The flexibility of the zoom is great… I use both ends of the zoom range 100 to 400 and everything in between. (And the higher quality L glass seems to make a difference as the images come out much more clearly compared to my Tamron 200-500mm.)
I still bring a wider angle lens, such as my Canon 28-135 mm lens) for those landscape shots, migration shots and when the animals are REALLY close. But I find the 100-400mm lens meets my needs the majority of the time, which is great because I don’t have to change lenses that often!
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on camera equipment, you may consider “renting” some camera equipment. A camera equipment and lens rental company we have used many times in the past that offers great service, a wide selection, professional expertise and competitive prices is “Lens Pro to Go”.
They ship equipment via UPS anywhere inside the continental US, and make returning the gear super-easy with prepaid shipping labels so all you have to do is drop it off at a UPS pickup. You can find them at the following link or by calling 877-578-4777:
“DO YOU HAVE ANY GENERAL PHOTOGRAPHY ADVICE OR TIPS?”
That’s a question I get a lot too! The internet is full of many outstanding articles about photographing wildlife, and you might consider purchasing a book on the subject, like this one by Uwe Skrzypczak, “Wildlife Photography – On Safari with Your DSLR: Equipment, Techniques, Workflow”, which features advice specific to photographing wildlife in the Serengeti (thank you for the great recommendation Teddi!)
But in the meantime, here are a few very basic tips I’ve picked up through trial and error along the way!:
Tip #1) Take advantage of the special light at sunrise and sunset! Even an image of an ordinary subject can take on magical qualities when exposed to this beautiful light.
Tip #2) When shooting landscapes, or any photo where you can see the horizon in the background, try to make sure the horizon is “level”. A level shot provides perspective that is pleasing to the eye. A crooked horizon in the backdrop of an otherwise amazing photograph can be distracting and might not look “quite right”.
Tip #3) When an animal is close to the vehicle, I always like to try to shoot some photographs from the window as it gets you more of an “eye level” perspective with the animal, which can sometimes result in a more compelling image rather than just looking “down” on them from the open roof hatch of the vehicle.
Tip #4) As you are framing the subject in the view finder, you can use the “Rule of Thirds” to add some artistic flair, dimension and complexity to the overall composition of some of your photographs. It works like this: as you frame the photograph in your viewfinder, picture imaginary lines dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. You place important elements of your composition where these lines intersect, or rather positioning the main point of interest slightly “off center” in an aesthetically pleasing way. If you aren’t already familiar with this concept, you can find an excellent explanation of this rule of design here:
Tip #5) If your camera has a rapid- fire shooting option, take advantage of it for action shots! It’s much easier to use this setting than to try to capture the perfect frame yourself with a single shot while the cheetah is running past you chasing the gazelle or while the wildebeest herds are crossing the Mara river. With the advent of digital photography, it’s easy to take a serious of multiple shots now and then delete unwanted photos later!
Tip #6) A very compelling portrait of an animal can be even more compelling if you can catch the light in their eyes. This is especially true of the big cats. The angle of light in the early morning or late evenings are at an especially effective angle to help you avoid shooting the shadows in the animal’s face and rather light up those big expressive eyes! Thanks to my friend Sharon who taught me to be especially aware of this tip early on in my career!
Tip #7: Beanbags can be a useful tool to steady one’s camera when shooting photographs from the vehicle, or a rolled up sweatshirt or travel pillow can work surprisingly well. I don’t personally mess with a tripod as they can be rather cumbersome to travel with, and I find their usefulness is typically limited to landscape shots where one has time to set up the tripod safely outside the vehicle. However, there are some clever folks out there who have come up with solutions for movable tripods that one can use in the vehicle, such as this clever idea submitted by one of our returning guests:
Tip #8: I always charge my extra batteries and other devices in the lodges or camps at night. Having them charge during dinner up till bedtime seems to be the ideal time, since generators will be going full force at most camps, and that window of time seems to be more than sufficient to charge most devices.
Be sure to bring at least one 3 rectangular pin UK plug adapter is required to use electrical appliances including video cameras and digital cameras (of course the electrical equipment itself must be rated for dual voltage 120/240, as most video and digital cameras are these days). The plug adapter is placed onto your appliance plug so that it will fit into the 3 rectangular pin electrical sockets. Tanzania electrical sockets are identical to those found in the United Kingdom. You can find these adapters easily at Radio Shack or any number of travel stores.
You can also bring a multiple outlet device (a.k.a. 3-way splitter) to plug into your adapter, allowing you to charge more than one battery at a time.
It’s a good idea to travel with an extra camera battery too, just in case. I never leave home without at least one extra!
Tip #9: If you are a serious photographer, you might consider traveling with two camera bodies.
First of all, there’s the benefit of redundancy. Malfunctions can happen. Will your trip be ruined if your camera breaks or stops working properly? If so, you should strongly consider bringing along an extra camera body.
Secondly, if you have a second camera body, you can leave a telephoto or zoom lens on one of them (for distant wildlife), and leave the wider angle lens on the second one (for landscapes and close subjects). This will minimize the amount of times you will have to change lenses in the field, rather than trying to change lenses when there is action happening (things happen fast in the bush!) And the less you have to change lenses in the field, the less your camera will be opened up and vunerable to dust, etc.
Of course, for many people it can be cost prohibitive to purchase 2 nice camera bodies, but you can always rent one at Lens Pro to Go.
Tip #10) Remember, when shooting photographs of wildlife, patience is key! Spend some time with your subject if possible. Allow them time to relax in your presence so you’ll be able to observe their natural behaviors. And then be ready to capture the moment when they pounce, play, run, jump, look at you just right or simply step into the best light. It may not happen right away, but the waiting and stalking for the perfect image is all part of the fun!