Friday, November 23, 2012

Serengeti Lamai

The most commonly associated aspect of the serious visitor to the Masai Mara is the vehicle traffic. Unless you know where specifically to go to or go out of season you will encounter vehicle traffic in the Masai Mara like no other wildlife place in Africa.
What may people don’t realise though, is just south of the border lies the Serengeti. Also just south of the border, the Mara River turns to an east-west direction before flowing into Lake Victoria. The wildebeest come up from the south before entering into the Mara and it is here where some of the largest crossings take place. Tanzanian parks have designated this part of the Serengeti a Low impact area- with only a handful of camps allowed in the area. Thus it was with two intrepid clients that myself through C4 Images and Safaris planned a weeklong trip into the Lamai area to witness and photograph the migration. 6 days later and a few hundreds and thousands of animals later, we were satiated.
The Lamai is a remote wilderness just south of the Mara. I could see all the landmarks and at times the vehicles too. But we were removed in our own little world of animal sightings and photography. It was bliss beyond belief.
Of course with the migration came the predators and we watched cheetahs hunting and killing and lions a mating and fighting. It showcased just how good a wilderness concept can be when my clients proclaimed, “This is exactly how we envisioned Africa” after lions mated on an open plain with no one else in sight… Lamai was and is a very special place in one of the most productive ecosystems in Africa. Long may it remain as such.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Photo Hides Workshop Report

Words and images by Mike Dexter.

November on Mashatu is traditionally a green time of year. The first rains of the season would have fallen, blanketing the land with short grass and yellow flowers. Images of elephants in a green meadow-like landscape are iconic of this time of year. The scent of rain on dusty roads drifts on the breeze which brings with it the call of a distant Diderick Cuckoo.

November 2012 however, is anything but traditional as the clients on the recent photohides workshop were to find out. The rains are late, the ground is bare, and cracked baked earth lines the thirsty waterholes. Mashatu was revealing the colours of a raw, uncensored and unforgiving Africa. The animals have had a hard year and wait, in parched anticipation, for the clouds to burst and give them some respite.

The first thoughts after crossing the great sandy Limpopo (nothing green or greasy about it) at the Pont Drift border post are of what this harsh environment is going to offer to photograph. The question is slowly answered, piece by piece, as the open landcruiser makes its way along the dirt road to the Mashatu tented camp. At first it’s the contrast of the fresh green leaves on the mopane trees against the dark soil that catches the eye. Then you notice the clouds of dust kicked up by impala herds and the unobstructed views, from hoof to ear, of numerous giraffe as they feed on the Sheppard trees. An eland bull slowly climbs a distant hillside, his dark grey coat evident against the red rock.

On our first afternoon drive we were blessed with the sighting of what must be one of the most obliging leopards I have ever encountered. It was a young male, sleeping blissfully in the fork of an enormous Mashatu tree. We were the only vehicle at the sighting and, as the shadows were growing long, decided we’d stick around. As is so often the case in wildlife photography our patience paid off and he gave us an amazing show of yawning, stretching and a graceful elegant pose in perfect light. After half an hour of constant shutter firing he descended the tree and walked by a mere meter from the vehicle (I’m sure he knew something about minimum focus distance and was out to taunt us). We followed him as he stalked through through the riverine vegetation. The dry conditions working in our favour as the lack of undergrowth meant many opportunities for unobstructed shots. What a welcome!

That night we had an impressive thunderstorm and I couldn’t help thinking, as I lay in bed, about the young male out in the dark and rain and what he was doing now.

Another sighting which stands out amongst the rest was of 2 lionesses and 5 cubs. 2 of the cubs are 2 months old, the other 3 are slightly older. We came across them in what was clearly play time. The cubs were chasing, biting, pouncing and stalking; all skills which will need to be honed for success in later life but at this age they appear as no more than clumsy, hilarious antics. After a while the lionesses decided it was time to head for cover and they moved off down the river bed, the cubs reluctantly followed.

Other memorable encounters are of 6 cheetahs on the move and a special moment at a hyena den where a fearless and curious pup sniffed my hand.

This workshop was more than a photographic safari, it was an exploration of an arid land and the discovery of the inhabitants that call it home and have adapted to survive where many others would perish. It was also a journey and a lesson; that Africa has many faces, some prettier than others, but all of which are rich in drama and beauty and deserve to be photographed.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Svalbard Client feedback

Below is a collection of images and feedback by C4 clients, Peter Farmer and Maggie Manson, who was on the Svalbard Photo Tour in September with us. There is only one cabin left for our 2013 Svalbard tour, to read more about it or book your place see here.
"Even before our flight landed in Longyearbyen close to midnight, we were treated to a spectacular sunset over Spitzbergen. This set the scene for a truly magical 10 days on board the MS Stockholm as we cruised north and east around the Svalbard archipelago and then up to 82 degrees north to find the pack-ice. This C4 tour has to rate as one of the very best we have enjoyed and they have all been excellent. The Swedish captain and crew of the ship were wonderful, as was the delicious food, produced with imagination and flair. Even after 10 days at sea in one of the remotest destinations on earth, the two girls were still producing fresh salads and wonderfully tempting dishes. The trip was also greatly enhanced by our guides – Shem with his enthusiasm for this new destination and his tips for wildlife and landscape photography and our polar guide, Ronald Visser, who shared his extensive local knowledge and expertly took charge of our numerous zodiac excursions.
The scenery and light were constantly changing and often astoundingly beautiful. We visited fjords, glaciers, remote research settlements, tiny islands and the pack-ice. We photographed fulmars, terns, kittiwakes, ivory and glaucous gulls, seals, walrus, reindeer, arctic fox and polar bears, as well as plants, landscapes and icebergs galore. We ventured out on the zodiac whenever conditions would allow, sometimes landing for short hikes. Every day was different and there was never a shortage of subjects to focus our cameras on.
The most magical 24 hours was spent in the pack-ice, where we were visited on three occasions by polar bears. The first to arrive were a mother and cub at around 3.30am in the most perfect light. They were followed by an adult female and just before lunch another mother and cub with bloody faces who had been feeding on a seal. Each of them came very close to the ship and provided a multitude of photographic opportunities. Later that day a storm blew up from the south pushing us closer to the North Pole before we eventually escaped from the pack- ice. Then it was time to slowly retrace our “steps” and set sail back towards Longyearbyen, dipping in and out of fjords on the way and taking our total bear count to 18. One of the final delights was a close encounter with an arctic fox in its beautiful winter coat. When can we go back?"