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 accessible 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 subjects in these premier big-mammal and birding 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 parking lot can provide species such as Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, Crowned Hawk-Eagle, and Red-fronted Parrot.
Day 3: Aberdares to Lake Nakuru. 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 Usnia lichen draped from the trees, and herds of buffalos juxtaposed against jagged peaks or verdant forest. In the late afternoon, we arrive at another of Kenya’s gems, the impressive Nakuru NP, which is usually painted pink by millions of flamingos, giving every photo a haze of cerise.
Day 4: 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 an awesome photographic backdrop.
Day 5: Nakuru to Lake Naivasha. This morning we head towards Lake Naivasha, a stunning Rift Valley Lake full of birds and mammals. A leisurely boat trip on the lake in the afternoon will provide plenty of photographic opportunities of mammals and birds at very close quarters. 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. Hippopotamus lounge in the languid waters, Pied Kingfishers, herons, and storks frequent every secluded bay, and flotillas of pelicans pass by loafing crocodiles. Before we know it our several hours on the water will be over.
Day 6: Naivasha (Kenya) to western Tanzania. Today is a long travel day. We leave the Rift Valley and head west, past the Masai Mara area and then into the Lake Victoria region of western Tanzania.
Days 7-8: Serengeti National Park. We shall venture onto 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, Silverbird, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Usambiro Barbet, and hosts of bee-eaters, bushshrikes, starlings, woodpeckers, turacos, bustards, kingfishers and rollers.
Days 9-10: Ndutu. Ndutu is part of the same ecosystem as the Serengeti, but is under a different management scheme, which allows more flexibility in photographing big cats. 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. There is also beautiful mature Acacia woodland, 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 enthusiasm.
Day 11: Ndutu to Ngorongoro Crater. After a final morning at Ndutu, we begin the journey to the Ngorongo Crater, probably the most famous wildlife site in the world, and one of our undoubted trip highlights. As we climb up the crater, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for flowering Leonotis; if we find a patch, we might experience 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 12: Ngorongoro Crater. Some 12 miles wide, and with vertical 2000-foot 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.
Day 13: Ngorongoro Crater to Tarangire NP. Leaving in the morning, we make for the shores of the 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. After arriving in Tarangire, we may have time to 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 14: Tarangire to Arusha. We have a morning to explore the unique landscapes of Tarangire, which are quite different from anything else on this trip, and quite photogenic. This is an excellent park for African elephant, lion, and a whole range of other mammals. And the birding is wonderful, with many tame subjects that can be approached in our safari vehicle. In the afternoon, we return to Arusha.
Day 15: Departure. The tour ends this morning with a transfer to Kilimanjaro International Airport, near Arusha.
Mountain Gorilla Extension (4 days)
An extension to Rwanda’s Volcans NP, where Dianne Fossey conducted much of her research on Mountain Gorillas, will allow us to capture 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.
PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: The majority of our photography will be from the vehicle. Secondarily, we’ll be seeking out subjects on short walks around our lodges. Mammals and birds are the main targets. There are also good opportunities for landscape photography, and some chances for macro work on foot around the lodges.
GEAR: Zoom lenses work well on safari. Some subjects will be extremely close, and most will be at moderate range, while some will be far. Another strategy is to use one body with a big lens, and another with a fairly wide zoom. In general we’ll be shooting with lots of light, and night drives aren’t generally allowed, so a flash is not extremely important. Tripods will be of limited utility, since we’ll be shooting mainly from the vehicle, and generally with lots of light. On the other hand, bean bags and other such ways of stabilizing lenses inside of a vehicle will be very useful.