Kenya: Birding with a Camera® (BwC)
Kenya is famed for its wildlife, and it is full of incredible photographic opportunities and subjects. This trip is designed to be short and affordable, attainable for people whose vacation time or budget wouldn’t normally allow them to get to Africa. And this trip will be a wonderful introduction to the continent for any photographer. We range from the remarkable gem of Nairobi National Park down into the Great Rift Valley, then to the classic safari destination of the Masai Mara. 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!
20 - 28 August ($5990; single supplement: $900)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 9 Days
Starting City: Nairobi
Ending City: Nairobi
Physical Difficulty: Easy
Focus: Birding, Wildlife, Photography
Max group size: 6 + 1 Leader
Day 1: Arrival (Kenya)
We arrive in the Kenyan capitol, Nairobi.
Day 2: Nairobi to Nairobi National Park to Nakuru
We enter Nairobi NP as soon as the gates open, and spend a full morning exploring this gem of a park right on the outskirts of this huge city. Here we have a chance to sight a range of big mammals including most of the “big 5”. This park is especially good for lions and giraffes, sometimes even against the high-rises of downtown Nairobi! There is also the abundant and colorful birdlife typical of the African savannah. After lunch, we head down into the Great Rift Valley. In the late afternoon, we arrive at another of Kenya’s gems, the impressive Nakuru NP, which is often painted pink by millions of flamingos, giving every photo a haze of cerise.
Day 3: 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. There are also bountiful antelope, and good chances at lion and leopard. On the bird front, are 1000s of pelicans, storks, herons, flamingoes, and shorebirds. The adjacent woodlands hold their own set of species like barbets, woodpeckers, honeyguides, and starlings.
Day 4: Nakuru to Lake Naivasha
After a final morning in Nakuru, 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 5: Naivasha to Masai Mara
The boat trips on Naivasha are so good that we are going to do another one on this morning! There will be different light, a slightly different mix of species, and undoubtedly a lot of great new photo opportunities. In the late morning, we leave the Rift Valley and head west, reaching the Masai Mara area by evening.
Days 6-8: Masai Mara
The Mara, the northern portion of the magnificent Serengeti system, offers spectacular vistas over flat-topped acacia and grassy plains riddled with ungulates and other animals. We’ll spend three full days in the reserve looking for East Africa’s famous Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs, African Elephants, gazelles, and other wildlife. However, bird photography does not take a back seat, and we should be rewarded with views of many large raptors and vultures that gather at the kills, as well as storks, Kori Bustard, Southern Ground-Hornbill, and other species that suffer from disturbance outside these large protected areas. Other highlights may include Rufous-bellied Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, Temminck’s Courser, Sooty Chat, and Schalow’s Turaco. There is never a dull moment in the Mara. Often it’s a matter of choosing which amazing photo opportunity to take advantage of… elephants on one side of the vehicle, and a teed-up barbet on the other!
Day 9: Mara to Nairobi
After a couple hours of photography around our lodge, we’ll head towards Nairobi, where we’ll end the trip, undoubtedly laden down with myriad excellent images, and the memories to match!
PACE: Moderate. For all photography we will need to be up early, around 6 am, and stay out late, around 5 pm, in order to take advantage of the best light. Where possible we will use the middle of the day to rest up, or travel between localities. There will also be a few days that are full days in the field. Kenya is a decent sized country but the road infrastructure is good and getting from A to B does not take that long; there are fairly long drives of 4 to 6 hours on day 5 and day 9. There will be packed lunches on many days; but sitting with a packed lunch for a siesta under a tree is often a far more relaxing way to do things than spending a long time driving back to the lodge for lunch, only to head out again in two hours.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. There is little walking on this tour, and much of the photography will be car-based in protected areas, where large mammals lurk. We can do a little bit of walking at Lake Naivasha, where we can expect to walk about 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) a day.
CLIMATE: Very comfortable (usually 53°-81°F, 11°-27°C). Rain is possible, but if it does occur it will only likely be brief showers.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent (some of the lodges are truly superb), all have private en-suite bathrooms, and full-time hot water. Electricity is available everywhere 24 hours a day. Internet is fairly widespread, but not available everywhere.
WHEN TO GO: We often run our set-departure in June-July during the migration, when there is a better chance of wildebeest river crossings. It is dry though, and some of the birds are not in their best plumage, so if you wanted a custom tour that focused more on birds, the optimum period would be February – May; earlier in that window there are many migrants in Kenya adding to the number of possibilities.
PHOTO PHILOSOPHY: The majority of our photography will be from the vehicle, and from a boat at Lake Naivasha. Secondarily, we’ll be seeking out subjects on short walks around our lodges. Mammals and birds are the main targets. There are also some opportunities for landscape photography, and chances for macro work on foot around the lodges.
GEAR: Zoom lenses work well on safari. Many subjects will be extremely close or at moderate range, while some will be far. A good strategy is to use one body with a big lens (500-600 mm), and another with a fairly wide zoom (e.g. 100-400 or 70-300). In general night drives aren’t allowed, so a flash is not extremely important. Tripods will be of limited utility, since we’ll be shooting mainly from the vehicle, and normally with lots of light. On the other hand, bean bags and other such ways of stabilizing lenses inside of a vehicle, and on the roof of the vehicle, will be very useful.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are required of most nationalities, but since September 2015 most nationalities can get an online e-Visa (must be obtained at least 10 days prior to travel), including citizens of US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India and China, most European countries, and many others. Travel requirements are subject to change; it’s a good idea to double check six weeks before you travel, or check with our office if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 8; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to lunch on day 9; reasonable non-alcoholic drinks with meals; safe drinking water between meals; photography tour leader with audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the afternoon of day 9; one arrival airport transfer per person specifically on the arrival day (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from day 2 to mid-day of day 9 in a suitable vehicle; entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; one boat trip on Lake Naivasha; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of what you have seen and photographed (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips for luggage porters at hotels (if you require their services); flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.