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Gregor

Two weeks in SLNP - tales of leopards

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madaboutcheetah

@@Gregor - Just catching up with the updates to your TR - so glad I did, as your images are stunning and makes the case for Luangwa ........ Thank You!!!

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Wild Dogger

I think, I have to go back to SLNP!

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pault

I was trying to save enough time to comment on this report properly, as it really deserves it and there are a lot of interesting things here (and some wonderful photos too). However, I am not sure that i will have time, but I agree with the comments that you are making a great case for visiting South Luangwa. :mellow:

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Gregor

Day 12, 18th November

 

This day the lodge needed the car we had had all our other days to some other turist. They planned to make a full day drive, and therefore needed our car which was the only car the lodge had with sunroof.

I and my mother had previously talked about that it was strange that so many cars from this lodge and other lodges didn´t have a sunroof. I would say it was 50/50 of the cars we saw in the park, and 1/4 from our lodge. The days where hot, clear skys with temperatures close to 40 degrees celsius (in the shadow). We loved it, drank a lot of water and was very comfortable under the sunroof. Before the trip we had read about this kind of temperatures, and was actually a bit scared how we would cope. But It was absolutely no problems. But those turist who had cars without sunroof looked more or less cooked, and I would say suffered. We tried to talk about this with both Friday and Peter, but they both basically rejected it, with the argument that many prefer to go without roof and get a more open feeling, and earlier in the season it is not as hot as now. Anyway, since we thought it was very hot without roof we decided to shorten the game drives with one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, that is coming back one hour earlier and leaving one hour later after lunch. This was wise I think.

 

This day was our slowest, basically we didn´t see anything really interesting. I took a couple of pictures of birds, that´s it.

 

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A white-fronted bee-eater

 

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Juvenile fish-eagle

Edited by Gregor

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egilio

I don't like the sunroofs. It obscures the view of overflying birds, you got the poles supporting the roof getting in the way of a camera every now and then. I prefer no roof and no hat either (same bird reason), but sometimes I just need a hat if it gets too hot.

From my experience in Luangwa I think Peter and Friday were right to say that most people prefer no sunroof. Most companies don't have sunroofs, but one company with most cars have all their cars fitted with one so about half the cars have. I know some companies will put one on if guest request it, but it rarely happens. Having said that, it does happen mostly in the rains, and during the hot time you were there. I hope they offered you more cold drinks!

 

The bird in the last picture is a juvenile fish eagle.

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Kitsafari

Thank you. He sad they did follow the lion pride, but I didn´t get more details than that. The area they stay in is quite remote from the Mfuwe area, so there is no turists around. And the few camps in the area is closed except the one they had for them self. Before I left I saw the three films they made before from SLNP, Countdown to the rains. It was in a way an inspiration. But I didn´t really like it. I like it more when they follow a certain group of animals during a longer period (like big cat diary), then just showing a large number of different clips from an area in a short time period.

 

Hi Gregor I wonder if you're referring to Tafika camp north of Nsefu? When I was there at end September there was a film crew staying there and they were doing a documentary on the sausage tree. But I don't know if the crew were from BBC

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Gregor

Hi Kitsafari

 

I don´t know the name of the camp, but I think this is a different production. Because this was a big production, several crews, lots of support people, lost of equipment, a field of solar-panels and they even had a PA-system over the camp to synchronize different channels etc.

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Gregor

Day 13, 19th November

 

This day they should fix something on our "usual" car, so we got an other. We left of first thing in the morning as usual. First stop was just outside Mfuwe lodge at their pond. We were just about to look at some bird or something. When friday tried to start the car it was completely dead. Luckily we were still very close to our lodge (maybe 10 minutes slow driving), and Friday called for a new car. So we sat there and enjoyed the morning and looked around. This was to be a lucky incident. My experience is that sit and watch at a "good" place is much better than drive around. If you sit there, chances is pretty good that soon something interesting will happen. If you drive around it is seldom you get to the right place in just right time, often you get their just a bit after something have happen. Anyway, As we sat there two hippos suddenly started fighting with each other. I guess it was two male competing for the smaller female hippo. Just out of the blue, a sudden and intense eruption of action :)

 

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Just relaxing..

 

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A sudden attack..

 

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Ouch.. That hippo gets a cut over his left eye at this moment.

 

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Chase is on..

 

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Well, this was intense. I´m actually not sure if possession of the female changed or not.

 

After this we got our usual car back and we cold continue. It was a good break-down :)

 

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Later in the day, an impala cruising around in the dry landscape. A hippo in the background, of some reason up and walking midday. After a while we saw a lot vultures circling close by. They were going down to land by a carcass of a buffalo who died from exhaustion a couple of days before. I could get some good "landing" pictures.

 

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This was it, this day. Two more days to go.

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Marks

Wow, great hippo sequence! The churning water in the fifth picture is so kinetic.

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pault

Good breakdown! Agree that sit and wait can be good, but you have to move to the right place first.

 

I am surprised nobody has created vehicles with half a sunroof, so the back is shady but the front is free and open. Parasols are another neglected idea. :P

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Gregor

Day 14, 20th November

 

This was to be a rather slow day. One of the things we did was to visit a carmine bee-eater colony. These are fantastic colorful and beautiful birds.

 

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A white-fronted bee-eater

 

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A ground hornbill

 

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Zebras crossing a open area, that is almost desert like.

 

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A carmine bee-eater

 

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Gregor

Day 15, 21st November

 

After a couple of days without predator sightings, the first thing we do is to bumb into the big resident pride in the Mfuwe area. No one had seen them since 11th november (post #23), they probably had been in the area the whole time, just somewhere not accessible by cars. We bumped in to them crossing the road by Mfuwe lodge (same place where we saw the hippos fight, post #58). We followed them and could sit and watch them for a couple of hours before a second car found us :) Nothing exciting happened though.

 

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After they disappeared into the bush, we decided to go south. And there we found a very interesting situation. In one three we had both a lion and a leopard. The leopard was very high up in the tree out on small branches. The lion kind of in the center of the tree. After a while the lion jumped down. It joined two other lions and went to rest, maybe 50 meters away.

 

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Lousy picture, I know, but it is for the story.

 

The leopard climbed down a bit and looked like it could relax, and have control over the lions.

 

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We sat there and tried to tell the leopard to sit put. But no..

 

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It jumped down. Limping quite badly, and trying not to use it´s left front leg. So now we where getting worried. And sure enough, the lions picked it up and came charging. And the chase was on. From a photographic point of view unfortunately in opposite direction from us. Leopard and lion ran away very fast. Friday was quite cool anyway. He sad leopard are fast, and the lions will probably not catch it if they can´t squeeze it between them. We went after and luckily found the leopard up in a other three maybe 100 meters away, with the lions guarding under it. We watched the situation, but decided to go for lunch and come back and check it out later.

 

_DSC7248.jpg

 

Before going out in the afternoon this was a very nice way to spend the resting hours. Relaxing, checking out recent pictures and take a swim :) My mum here looking att pictures in the camera. On the left side there is a view over the riverbed, and in the background there is the very nice chalet we stayed in.

 

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In the afternoon the situation between the leopard and the three lions was the same. We did what I like to do the most being ut on safari. We placed our car in a good position and waited and watched the situation unfold.

The leopard seemed to have learned it´s lesson, and this time stayed in the tree. A bit further away (maybe 200 meter) there was an open area, and a large group of puku appeared. The lions started to loose there interest for the leopard and started moving closer to the puku group. We had a perfect spot. The lions approaching us, clear view of the tree with the leopard, and the puku group to our left/in front of us.

 

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Friday told us that this lion group was a breakaway group from the big pride we watched earlier this morning, and it consisted of two lionesses and one sub-adult female. By the way I love this, the tension when lions are preparing for a hunt and sneaking up on their pray. The sub-adult lost her patience after a while and sneaked closer.

 

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She took a a bow around the puku group to test them or trying to stir something up.

 

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They were not that impressed or scared and in full control. She came back to the grown lionesses looking at them, kind of asking, should´t we try it?

 

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Well no, not this time, there is still something to learn.

 

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They settled down and relaxed. (With an eye on the leopard and the puku group)

 

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After this the sun went down, and when it was pitch black we had to leave them. Last picture of the trip was this chameleon we found on our way back to the lodge.

 

_DSC7420.jpg

 

This was a very nice trip. I certainly recommend visiting South Luangwa, and if anyone want a close to certain guarantee to see leopards, this must be the place.

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Gregor

Final thoughts

 

This was a great trip, and really nice that my mum tagged along. We had some good time together. At home it is different, it is family life, as I have two small children (2 and 4 years old).

My mother have once made a ordinary safari for 3 or 4 days in Masai Mara. This was of course different. That time she tells me she and my father marveled over seeing zebras, impala, wildebeest and maybe a lion or two resting under a bush. This trip was on an other level. :) Anyway, I got to say that we both appreciate the camp we stayed in, Track and Trail river camp. As told in the trip report, it is a very nice place. With very nice chalets, pool area and restaurant/bar. Our guide Friday was really good; nice, gentle and receptive. Of course, there is always something to improve. And for me I think it is the availability of cars with sunroof. But, people seems to have different views on that one, as discussed earlier in this thread.

 

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Nightdrives

 

Something I really looked forward to going to South Luangwa. But it was not to be my favorite. I don´t like driving in the dark, and looking left-right all the time following that spotlight. And when you find something it is very one-dimensional to photograph, and most of the time you get a weird reflections from the animals eyes. But this reflects my strong interest for photography and maybe less interest for just seeing new (nocturnal) animals. A very big advantage is that you can stay out all the time until the sun is down. In my previous trips to Kenya, there is a curfew some time before the sun is completely down. And many times we had to leave a situation, just as it was about to get really interesting. And then it was often a crazy race back to the lodge or gate to make the curfew. This is much better, and you can drive back without speeding. One experience that was nice though was to find a place and just sit and listen to the African night. I can recommend that.

 

Photo equipment

 

I brought to much this time. It worked out fine with the airlines, but just unnessesary to bring it all. I had three camera houses, one Nikon D4, one Nikon D3 and one Nikon D800. For my photography, primarily wildlife photography, the Nikon D4 is the right thing. The D800 is probably really nice for a landscape photographer with all it´s pixels, but for me It is not fast enough and above all have to small buffer, when it counts. When there is action for real, I found that the D4 (obviously) beats the older D3. The difference was evident when I was taking photos of the fast flying carmine bee-eaters. Much easier to get sharp pictures with the D4, the autofocus is quicker. When targets is running straight towards me, the D4 also handles it better. During this trip there where 3 or 4 times I did hit the buffer on the D3. Never happened on the D4. I have now sold the D800 and the D3, and for roughly the same amount of money bought a used D4 in good condition. My lenses I use is Nikon 600 mm F/4, Nikon 70-200 F/2,8 VRII and Nikon 24-70. My thought was the there is an advantage to have three houses to my three lenses. But even in this dry conditions, if you are reasonable careful changing lens, they don't attract to much dust inside the camera. I also use a swab (bought cheap on e-bay) to clean the sensors when I notice dust, and it works like a charm. For me my go to lens have been the 600mm, but more and more I try to include more habitat and now it is the 70-200. Sometimes I use a teleconverter, TC-1,4 II. This trip the numbers where: 600mm - 2700 pics, 20-700 - 4300 pics and 24-70 - 140 pics. A future plan is to buy the new Nikon 300 mm F/4 PF VR. With a TC it might even replace my need for the Nikon 600 mm, as I am not that much of a birder. But most of all I hope it will be perfect for hiking.

 

In one month I´m of to Tanzania and Ruaha. I will be back with a new trip report :)

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Geoff

Nice report. I thoroughly enjoyed the reading and viewing the pics.

 

Glad you posted some final thoughts. Some food for thought with what camera & lens combinations to take on my up coming trip.

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TonyQ

@@Gregor

A very enjoyable report with lots of great pictures. It is a great place for leopards - and I agree that one of the main advantages of the night drives is that you don't have to rush back.

We were in SLNP in August/September (2013) and really enjoyed having a completely open vehicle. I am sure it is not as hot at this time of year as when you were there.

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egilio

Nice report! And looking forward to your next one!!!

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Marks

I like the wide shot of the lion and all the puku.

 

One experience that was nice though was to find a place and just sit and listen to the African night. I can recommend that.

 

 

This is a nice idea.

 

Enjoyed this thread a lot, thanks for sharing it with us.

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ZaminOz

@@Gregor

Great trip report.

I saw the same 3 lions in your post #62 in August but they were just outside Kuyenda Bushcamp. We had tracked them while on a walking Safari but not seen them. Then after lunch we saw them walking past camp to rest under some trees. That night they came into camp and left some tracks right outside our chicken wire mesh window... Probably attracted by my snoring!

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Super LEEDS

Great job!

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Atravelynn

I'm glad this resurfaced near the top. It is obvious where the title came from. You have such a variety of great leopard shots. I especially like the portrait, surrounded by blurred green leaves. What a pose! Those oxpecker pictures are really lovely too. Poor zebra in the mud, but a meal for a hungry predator. Lion and ele in one frame is good catch!

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Earthian

@@Gregor

just finished reading your TR. very well written and just put this place down in my bucket list.

Your action photographs are pure class. You have the eye. ( and the equipment to match it :rolleyes: )

Good to know first hand about the difference in performance between a D3 and D4. i use a D3s and most of the same lenses that you do. I do not have a great experience with a TC1.7 and attached to a 70-200 f2.8; i do think that sharpness is compromised. Maybe the TC1.4 (mark III?) is much better.

Would be interested in knowing the shot settings for the bee eater and the action pictures.

Look forward to more.

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Gregor

Hi, thank you all for your nice comments.

 

I am usually in manual mode with auto-iso, trying to choose between depth of field and shutter time. The bee-eaters is 1/2500 ss and f/6.3, the fighting hippos 1/1000 ss and f/4. All different dependent of light, object and expected action. I have a TC1.4-II, it works really good with 70-200 f/2.8. From what I have read (like Brad Hills reports http://www.naturalart.ca) there is no distinguishable difference between version II and II. Big difference though with the versions of the TC 2.0. The reports says that the TC-1.7 works really good with some lenses, but not so goo with the 70-200 f/2.8 (much better with 70-200 f/4).

Edited by Gregor

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Tom Kellie

@@Gregor

just finished reading your TR. very well written and just put this place down in my bucket list.

Your action photographs are pure class. You have the eye. ( and the equipment to match it :rolleyes: )

 

~ @Gregor:

 

I strongly concur with the eloquent words of @@Earthian above. His description is spot-on.

Your commentary alone is a joy to read, but the accompanying images? A master class in how to do it.

No trip report I've yet read has more motivated me to consider South Luangwa than yours.

Heartiest Appreciation!

Tom K.

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Atravelynn

Even though SL is known for leopards, I think you got an especially good show from them. And from the puku, he picked the puddle/pond right in front of you to jump in for a great leap-over and then splash shot!

 

Your giraffe and impala shot in #42 is looking very Etosha-like.

 

The sunrise and sunsets on Day 10 are both gorgeous shots with such different subjects. Did you want to join the bike riders? I have thought a little bike ride along the side of the road would be fun.

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CaroleE

@@Gregor

 

What a fantastic trip report with stunning photos. Thank you very much for sharing them with us.

I very much liked the sunset and the black and white with the fisherman shot. And I loved the carmine bee eaters in flight shots. Fantastic.Then I saw the leopards! Beautiful animal and beautiful photos. I am trying not to get too excited after reading this trip report: I am going to SLNP in November. Quite a wait yet but after reading and seeing your experiences I am looking forward to it even more.

And you then went to Tanzania and Ruaha. That was my initial choice for my next safari, then I got a call to say there was a trip to SLNP being organised and I jumped at the chance. Off to see if you have a Tanzania trip report...... :)

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