African Photo Megafari
Birds and big mammals galore!
East Africa is famed for its wildlife, and it is full of incredible photographic opportunities and subjects. This trip is a combo of Africa’s finest wildlife destinations in two of its most incredible countries, Kenya and Tanzania. From soda-encrusted, flamingo-littered Rift Valley lakes and the alpine Aberdares to the massive safari circuit of northern Tanzania, with its world famous destinations like Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater and ultimately, the Wildebeest-filled Serengeti ecosystem, this trip has it all. You will blow through many memory cards daily, and keeping up with managing your photos will be more of a hassle than finding suitable subject material in these premier big-mammal and birding watching destinations!
Day 1: Arrival (Kenya). We arrive in the Kenyan capitol, Nairobi.
Day 2: Nairobi to Aberdares. Heading for the country’s alpine zones, we will encounter our first impressive mammals, such as African buffalo and elephants, as well as predators including hyaenas, and with some luck, a leopard. Our journey into the Aberdares could also yield photogenic birds like Silvery-cheeked Hornbill and Hartlaub’s Turaco. The area is green and cool and the lodge’s waterhole provides an excellent opportunity to relax with our cameras and wait for the animals and birds to come to us. The waterhole attracts buffalo, elephant and waterbuck. This area abounds with birds, and simply walking to the car park can provide species such as Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, Crowned Hawk-Eagle, and Red-fronted Parrot.
Day 3: Aberdare Mountains. The Aberdares provide some striking scenery. This isolated volcanic range lies primarily above the tree line and is the highest accessible Lobelia-covered Afro-alpine area in Kenya. The combination of its interesting geological history and the beautiful plants that make this area home, have combined to give it a highly specialized birdlife. This includes the near-endemic Moorland and Jackson’s Francolins and Alpine Chat. Along with these are numerous brightly colored sunbirds, including the specialised Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird. The landscape is also highly photogenic, with drapes of Usnia lichen hanging from the trees, and herds of buffalos juxtaposed against jagged peaks or verdant forest.
Day 4: Abaderes to Lake Naivasha. This morning we head towards Lake Naivasha, a stunning Rift Valley Lake full of birds and mammals. Here we will wander amongst the many giraffes, waterbuck and gazelles that feed on the lake shores. There are few predators here and the tame animals offer phenomenal photographic opportunities.
Day 5: Naivasha to Nakuru. A leisurely boat trip on the lake this morning will provide plenty of photographic opportunities of mammals and birds at very close quarters. Hippopotamus lounge in the languid waters, while Pied Kingfishers, herons and storks frequent every secluded bay. Flotillas of Pelicans pass by loafing crocodiles, and before we know it our 3-4 hours on the water will be over. After lunch we make for another of Kenya’s gems, the impressive Nakuru NP, which is painted pink by millions of flamingos, and every photo has a haze of cerise.
Day 6: Nakuru NP. With a full day to explore Nakuru, we will focus on Rhinos. Both white and black rhinoceros occur here in good numbers, and one can often find these prehistoric beasts drinking with a haze of flamingos for a backdrop creating the most awesome photos.
Day 7: Nakuru (Kenya) to Nairobi to Tarangire (Tanzania). Today is a long travel day. We retreat down the Rift Valley and head south, past the mighty Kilimanjaro and then via Namanga and into the Tarangire area. If we have enough time we should get a few photos of the impressive wildlife around the lodge. The low baobab-clad plains and fever-tree groves support many birds including three Tanzanian endemics: Ashy Starling, Yellow-collared Lovebird, and Rufous-tailed Weaver.
Day 8: Lake Manyara to Ngorongoro Crater. In the morning we make for the shores of famous Lake Manyara NP, where thousands of waterbirds and a pink haze of flamingos stretch across the horizon. A great combination of mammals and birds, including nesting colonies of Yellow-billed Stork and Great White Pelican make today another bumper day for photography. In the afternoon, we begin the journey to the phenomenal parks of northwestern Tanzania, our undoubted trip highlight. As we climb higher, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for flowering Leonotis; if we find a patch, we might be exposed to the coolest sunbird spectacle in Africa, with the impressive Golden-winged, coppery-colored Bronze, and iridescent purple Tacazee Sunbirds all competing for nectar from the same flowers. At the end of the day, we head for our picturesque lodge on the edge of the magical crater.
Day 9: Ngorongoro Crater. Some 20-km wide, and with vertical 600-m tall walls, descending into the crater is like finding Africa’s ‘garden of eden’, with almost every conceivable variety of wildlife packed into it. At a mere 2.5 million years old, geologically speaking, this volcano is a recent addition to East Africa’s landscape. We shall spend the whole day in the crater looking for mammals and birds. We are likely to encounter lions and perhaps cheetahs here if our luck holds. The pink-stained flamingo-infested Lake Magadi shall also impress.
Day 10-11: Ndutu. We will descend to the Serengeti plains through the Malanja depression. The plains harbor many species of the dry savannahs, and sandgrouse, bustards, and wheatears abound. Grant’s gazelles are scattered across the plains, while ostrich and giraffe walk swaying in the haze. Towards Ndutu we enter beautiful mature Acacia woodland with alkaline lakes and swamps. The lodge’s waterhole is a bird magnet with ever-present Fischer’s Lovebird, a variety of manikins, waxbills, and widowbirds, and the endemic Gray-breasted Spurfowl. The woodlands harbor Rufous Chatterer, Gray and Bearded Woodpeckers, Black-faced Babbler, and Red-throated Tit. The wildebeest will have recently calved in this area, and up to half a million females may be in attendance with their young, presenting a wildlife spectacle of awesome proportions, impossible to describe and enthralling to experience. The attendant predators include lions, cheetahs and hyenas, while vultures await each kill with renewed enthusiasm.
Days 12-13: Serengeti National Park. Continuing north, we will be based at Serengeti Serena Lodge. From here we shall venture throughout the vast Acacia-studded 15 000 km2 plains of the splendid Serengeti National Park, encountering teeming herds of wildebeest, zebra, gazelle, giraffe and their associated predators, the lions, leopards, hyenas and cheetahs. The birds, of course, are also abundant in this wilderness. Among the many we expect to see are the six species of vultures that gather for the frequent kills over the plains. We will search for the giant Black-and-White Casqued Hornbill, Black-headed Gonolek, Silverbird, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Usambiro Barbet, and hosts of bee-eaters, bushshrikes, starlings, woodpeckers, turacos, bustards, kingfishers and rollers that the area is justly famous for.
Day 14: Serengeti to Arusha. On our final full day, we return to Arusha. We shall stop for lunch at the picturesque Gibbs farm before continuing to Arusha, stopping for curio or gift buying or just to soak up the splendor of the red-cloaked Masai tribesmen.
Day 15: Departure. The tour ends this morning with a transfer to KIA airport.
Mountain Gorilla Extension (4 days)
An extension to Rwanda’s Volcans NP, where Dianne Fossey conducted much of her research on Mountain Gorillas, will add the enticing possibility of capturing images of these gentle giants. Less walking is required to reach the gorillas than in neighboring Uganda, making Rwanda a preferred location among nature photographers. The joy of finding gorillas will only be overcome by the amazement of watching and photographing them. Strict rules mean that we will not be able to spend more than an hour with them, and the time will fly by. Occasionally photography opportunities are limited by the gorillas’ behavior, so two full days will be spent in the park to ensure that we can make two visits to the group and enjoy two separate photo sessions with these photogenic beasts. This extension caps off a remarkable wildlife photography tour, which should yield numerous photographs of both beautiful birds and impressive beasts.
CLIMATE: Cool to warm, with some rain likely.
DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy. Moderately early starts are required, and there are a few long drives.
ACCOMMODATION: We will be based in good to excellent lodges throughout.