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africawild

Odzala, great gorilla experience and adventure safari in Congo!

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africawild

Last summer we where fortunate to visit Africa again and we had another fantastic safari,but this time a very different one from our previous trips to the continent.

 

Seen gorillas was a pending subject for us and in the last few years we have been thinking about mixing an East Africa safari with mountain gorillas. But i was also attracted with the chance to take a trip to a completely new and different destination and we decided that visiting the jungle could be an ideal way to see the gorillas and also change our "more standard " safari trips.

 

This is not the most developed country in the tourism business and we had some manor changes before and during the trip but , thanks to the fantastic people of Congo Brazzaville and the good work of Congo Conservation Company who manages the Odzala discovery camps , our trip went perfect.

 

We spent one day in Brazzaville and visited a few interesting spots like the National museum,Sainte Anne basilica , the Poto Poto market and the Congo rapids

 

Congo Car wash!

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Local people loves this place

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Congo rapids in dry season

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Reaching Odzala is not an easy task an involves a very very long drive , 14 hours from Brazzaville to Ngaga camp in the Ndzehe concession were the habituated gorilla program research is, but the reward is so good that you forget soon about the long drive , plus the drive itself is amusing as most drives in Africa are for me.

 

A few images taken from the car during the drive;

 

 

 

Our overload car . We did not loose anything during the 14 hours drive!!

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We crossed a few wide beautiful rivers!

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People in the road as usual in Africa

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Logging ??

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The road from Brazzaville to Etoumbi was full of villages big and small and we learned that the road acts like a market as everybody sells and buys supplies to take to the big city from the rest of the country and sell them there, in this country life really revolves around roads!

 

 

Typical congolese house

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Our driver stopped to buy things several times!

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From Makoua to Etoumbi the road is empty. Nature is trying to recover space to civilization !

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In Etoumbi there is no bridge to cross the Likouala river!

 

Crossing for humans!

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And for vehicles!

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Another 4 hours driving in dirt roads!

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More small villages!

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Jungle road!

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And to finish the drive a very bumpy but beautiful track inside the concession!

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The journey had been long an exhausted but finally we where in the JUNGLE!

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And an incredible experience was expecting us the next few days!!!

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I will not do a daily report of the trip, instead i will cover every camp in one post( they are situated in 3 different areas ).

 

 

Next Ngaga, a Western Lowland Gorilla experience not to be missed!!!

 

Paco


 

 

 

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SafariChick

@@africawild ah, how wonderful Paco - I was just talking to someone about Odzala and the idea of visiting so I'm very excited to see your report, which looks like it will be wonderful! What a journey to get there - thanks for documenting that part!

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lmSA84

@@africawild - I'm really looking forward to this report - I always enjoyed the road less travelled. That photo of the sitting children is heart warming.

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Sangeeta

Your photos are superb as always, Paco. Very excited to be reading about this report as well, esp as they'll come illustrated with the most wonderful images.

 

Like others, I too am developing a real love for road travel in Africa, where the journey is an intrinsic part of the destination. Looking forward to the rest.

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michael-ibk

Fantastic intro, really enjoyed the "on the road" stuff.

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Africalover

Great stuff- looking forward to an interesting and adventures trip report.

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Anomalure

Absolutely fantastic! Love the traveling scenes...

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Treepol

@@africawild wow - what an interesting trip, I'm looking forward to hearing more about this one. The photo of the wide river sums up my mental image of the Congo.

 

Some years ago I read Blood River by Tim Butcher and it seems that the infrastructure is much as he described.

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africawild

Thank you all for the nice comments.

 

Ngaga is a small camp located right outside Odzala National park in the Ndzehi forest. Six rooms and a comunal area constructed with natural materials over raised decks , very well integrated in their surroundings, with nice views of the rainforest and the canopy.

 

 

Our room in the rainforest

 

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Deck at night

 

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Everything about the camp was perfect,the accommodation, the service,the food,the guides ,very nice!!!

 

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There are several activities in Ngaga like forest walks,night walks , talking with researchers ,village visits but of course ,the most important and the reason you go there is gorilla tracking.

We had the chance to do all the activities since we had 4 full days to spend here ,and had the chance to take 3 gorilla treks.

 

Our first gorilla trek was going to be also our first encounter with wild gorillas so we where very excited about it.

 

The night of our arrival we had the chance to chat with the head of the researchers team , Dra Magda Bermejo , a primatologist that has been working in the area for 15 years , and the first one to be able to habituate western lowland gorillas. The team is based in Ngaga camp so it is fantastic to be able to know first hand about their work, their problems, challenges and plans. I thinks this is a valuable extra aspect here in Odzala.

 

Among many things about the program , she explained that they have 2 completely habituated groups ( Jupiter and Neptuno) that we where going to visit and they are working in the habituation of another 2 more groups.

She also said that from the beginning they work with local trackers ( they have 5 ) and one of them was going to track the Jupiter group with us next day together with our guide.

 

So we had a call at 5 a.m. next day , breakfast at 5,30 and start the tracking at 6 a.m walking right from camp ( this was going to be the program for the 3 days as is always)

 

Tracking the gorillas is not an easy task here, vegetation covers about everything!

 

The tracker opening a small trail!!

 

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The tracking may take between one to a few hours depending how lucky you are.The gorillas move around a lot looking for fruits and roots and the trackers follow them everyday ( even if there are not tourist ) to get to know the area where they sleep so next morning you start walking towards that area.

 

There is a network of trails maintained clean of vegetation that is used to move around and then the local tracker will start to check signs and tracks and listen to the sounds that will lead him to the gorillas.

 

First morning we where very lucky because only half and hour from camp we bumped into the gorillas that were walking one of this open trails.Our first encounter was with a young silverback , an unforgettable experience for us!!

 

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He was followed by other members of the group

 

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But they soon disappear and it was not until 40 minutes later that the tracker did found signs of them again. He and the guide then started to open a small trail with machetes through the marantacea vegetation that covers the area. And then we found them , most of them were up in the trees eating small fruits and seeds.

 

Breakfast time

 

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The adult silverback in the tree , Jupiter.

 

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Most of them were high in the trees so the condition for photos was not ideal with a very bright background.

 

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Some young ones came to play a bit closer

 

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And then after one hour and a lot of eating

 

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some of them started to come down. When i saw this female using her hands and fingers to hold the brach i realize how similar they are to us!!

 

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Overall it was an amazing first gorilla experience for us , something we will never ever forget.

 

During afternoons you have the chance to do forest walks in search of other primates,small mammals, birds , insects and plants.

This sure is a place to look for the small things and pay attention to details.

 

 

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Our second gorilla trek was going to involve a bit more walking,it took as one and a half hours to find the Saturno group , this time they where looking for roots so most of them were on the ground.

 

Here is the silverback with an intense look!

 

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Taking care of a fresh root!

 

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Mother with a very small baby

 

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This young one was the only one up in the trees , he approach us to investigate an we had fun watching him hanging and balancing in the branches

 

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This one gave us a not so friendly look?

 

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Suddenly they all started to move , we tried to follow them a bit longer but we only where able to see a couple of young ones in very high branches.

 

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It was funny that , while we were watching them some fruits started to fall right beside us and we realize that this monkey was the culprit,he was literally throwing them against us!!

 

 

Putty-nosed monkey

 

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The second gorilla trek was over and after lunch an a good rest in the room we took another forest walk again looking for small things

 

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Our goal for the last gorilla trek was again the Jupiter group and also about one hour walking from camp the tracker found them,again looking for fruits up in the trees.

It was amazing that we counted in one huge tree 12 gorillas ,including 2 silverbacks and we where able to see all of them coming down to the ground,incredible.

 

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Here is Jupiter himself first cover by the vegetation and later coming down the tree!

 

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Mother with baby also coming down

 

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When i saw this young silverback balancing in one hand and coming down , it reminded me to King kong!!

 

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This young male had a problem in his face skin, but the guide said he was doing better every day !!

 

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One last female with baby coming down

 

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Sadly our gorilla adventure was over but our experience had been fantastic and we still had quite a trip ahead of us in Odzala.

 

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That night before dinner we had the chance again to meet with Magda and German ( the researchers ) and it was fantastic. They asked about our experience and then they explained how the program is doing at the moment , they did show us amazing photos and videos from camera traps they had set all over the concession.

The concentration of gorillas in the area is incredible, with cameras and samples they had counted 24 different groups in this small 30 km2 area.

As the concession is so small, many of them adventure outside the protected area and they are working together with other organizations in order to get a 50 km protected corridor from Mbomo to the Cameroon border.

Apart of continuing in this concession they are planning to start taking expeditions into the national park to study a bit about the gorilla population inside Odzala!

 

 

 

That night i went out of the room and took some pictures of the always amazing African night sky !!

 

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Next i will cover the transfer from Ngaga to Mboko and the village visit.

 

Paco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Zim Girl

@@africawild

 

Wow, this is an amazing report. Your pictures of the 2 gorilla groups are really special, and I love all the pictures from the road.

I am especially interested as we were choosing between Odzala and Kahuzi-Biega in DRC for next year. In the end we went for Kahuzi-Biega combined with Virunga, so your TR will let me see what I missed

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Alexander33

@@africawild

 

What a fascinating adventure. Your gorilla photos are fantastic, especially given the conditions. And your macro shots are lovely.

 

Can't wait for more!

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pault

<_<:):o:lol::D :D :D :D :D :D

 

 

 

 

I have been patiently waiting.

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pault

14 hours :blink:

Okay, I know - it's worth it.

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jeremie

The last pictures are really noce, I really love the morning lights. Great experience and trip report.

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offshorebirder

What a richly detailed trip report @@africawild.

And the photos are outstanding. I know how much effort goes into producing trip reports like this - getting the photos posted alone is time-consuming.

I also appreciate the description and photos of the land journey and village life.

Muchas gracias por este excelente regalo Paco!

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africawild

For our last afternoon in Ngaga we choose to visit a local village, is always nice to know a bit about how the people in the area make a living!!

 

We drove the 3 km bumpy Ngaga road and turned west in the big dirt road towards Cameroon which is only 50 km away!

 

Forgot to show this classic Ngaga sign!

 

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In this road to Ombo, the small village we were going , we had the chance to see one big and strong bee-eater that of course we had never seen before!

 

Blacked-headed bee-eater

 

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Ombo is a very small village locate about 40 minutes drive from Ngaga camp. Several members of this village are employed at the camp on a daily bases and ,twice a year, they also contract several other member of the village to cut the vegetation of the 3 km road to the camp and keep it open.

We learned that NGaga buys some fruits and vegetable to the village and also rafia leafs when they have to do maintenance of the roofs in camp.

 

The visit consist basically of a half and hour talk with the men of the village.The elders will explain about their way of leaving, they also will sign and play local instruments and you are open to ask all the question you want. In the mean time women and children remain seated expectantly a few meters away , below a central deck that seems to be a meeting area.

Nothing special was prepared in advance so the experience seemed quite authentic plus some of the traditions of local tribes we learned about were really interesting.

 

I did not want to take too many pictures,i felt the experience was more about listen what they had to say , but i did take some at the end of the visit!

 

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The next morning we had the transfer to Mboko camp.The manager of the camp took us on the 2 hour drive after breakfast. We stopped at Mbomo village which is the biggest village in the area ( about 2000 people i think? ) and there we visited a school run by The Sabine Plattner African Charities, an organization that works supporting education and conservation projects. Kids were on holidays but we had the chance to talk with some of the teacher who explained a bit about their programs.

 

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Right at Mbomo is the park entrance and also the base for African Parks who started to manage Odzala back in 2010 together with the Congo government.Here we stopped to pick up a ranger that was going to be with us during our six days stay inside the national park.

 

We drove about one more hour along very nice terrain with patches of rain forest ,open savanna and rolling hills , really beautiful landscape. We saw several buffalo, bushbucks , some birds , mongoose and when we arrived in camp there was a forest elephant to welcome us to Odzala.

 

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The very beautiful Mboko camp was going to be our base for the next 3 days in Odzala!!

 

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Paco

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optig

I really would like to combine Brazzaville,Congo, Zakouma in Chad,and of course my ultimate dream destination which is Sanga,Lodge in Dzsanga-Sangha Special Reserve in the CAR. It isn't cheap by any means but then again a safari in Botswana in high season is even more expensive,as are some of the most upmarket lodges in Tanzania now. I can get trip insurance because I just bought yearly traveler's insurance from UAP which is far cheaper than buying insurance from an American or British insurance company. The real problem is that I simply can't visit a country like the Central African Republic which is torn by civil war,and for so many years has been occupied by peacekeepers from the UN and African Union. I'll simply have to wait a bit until it's somewhat more stable. it's not like I have any shortage of other locations to visit.

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africawild

Before continuing with the next area ( Mboko , inside Odzala National Park ) i would like to mention some final notes of Ngaga Camp and the gorilla trek !!

 

 

 

The location of the camp is perfect,right in the middle of the biggest concentration of western lowland gorillas you can imagine ! It is fantastic to be able to start tracking right from camp.

 

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The area around camp is very beautiful also, relaxing in the middle hours is really a cure of the soul!!

 

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Even while downloading your files nice things can happen !!

 

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As i already said the camp is very well manage and everything during our stay was perfect.

 

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The gorilla treks are fabulous from start to finish. You may need to take a long walk but the walks are easy since the area don´t have steep terrain and the trails are well maintain.

I am very sure you would see the groups 99 percent of the time , the trackers are amazing finding them.

The experience is pretty much private since only 4 guest are allow in every trek.

The fact that you can talk and interact with the head of the researchers is also a plus for me,they are very nice people doing great things not only for the conservation of the gorillas but for the local people also ( it was amazing to hear how,during the last ebola outbreak in Congo , when they lost so many gorillas,the people in the villages started to get sick and many started to die but they decided to stay to help, trying to advice the local people how they should behave to minimize the risks)

 

 

As for the photographic subject, i have found photography conditions with the gorillas very challenging !!

 

First,as we found them so early in the morning, the light inside the rainforest was very low so we had to shoot always with very high ISO.

 

3200 ISO and still not quite good to freeze the action

 

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Then many times they were up in the trees so the backlight was horrible and difficult to manage with a dark subject in front.

 

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Then there was the mask, my viewfinder was going to be mist up like every few seconds since my breathing was coming out from the top of the mask.

 

This is me with mask and all the equipment

 

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Then there were the flies, many of them that will cover your head and bother you while you are concentrated in finding the best shoot.Of course you can use a net but for me was impossible to use it with the cameras.

 

Nets were very useful for some !!

 

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In spite of all this issues with photography it was very rewarding to be able get some shots!!

 

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Macro photography was also very rewarding,it is well worth to take a good macro!!

 

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There was one thing that did not meet my expectations and it was birdwatching !! I may say that during our 4 days stay in camp i did not see more than 5 species. I know that with such dense vegetation is very difficult to locate the birds but I really expected more.

 

 

If you are planning to go see gorillas and would like to go of the beaten track you have to consider this place .

 

 

 

Let´s not turn our back on them!!

 

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No more gorillas, next Mboko and Lango

 

Paco

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SafariChick

@@africawild thanks so much for showing us all the conditions one has to deal with when undertaking this adventure! I think it looks fabulous. One question: I was not sure is there a time limit of one hour once you find the gorillas? You mentioned in one of the gorilla visits that you found a few but then they started moving and you did not find more of them for about forty minutes. So I was wondering, if there was a one-hour limit, did they not start it until you found the gorillas again considering how little time you'd spent with them and how long it took to find them again?

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africawild

Thank you SafariChick ,

 

Yes , there is a one hour time limit with the gorillas but they start to count once you find a group that is, let say, settle in place ? I have checked the timing on my files and it looks like this: ( this is photo time so maybe a few minutes before the first photo and after the last one!! )

 

In our first trek we bumped in to a small group in the middle of the open trail and 4 minutes later they disappear in the vegetation. After 37 minutes tracking we found them again eating fruits and we spent 72 minutes with them.

Second gorilla trek was different. We found them at 7:24 in the morning and spent with them 40 minutes until they suddenly started to move. We lost them for 14 minutes and when we found them we spent another 23 minutes with them.

Last trek was similar to the first one. We were walking in one of the more open trails when suddenly the tracker hurry us to back up ( some noise very close in the vegetation beside us !!) and seconds later a young silverback appears in front us ( 15 meters maybe ?? ) , he look at us for a few seconds and continue walking in the open trail for 2 minutes until he vanish in the thick vegetation. Very exciting but only 3 minutes!!.We walk 29 more minutes until we find all the group eating fruits up in some high trees and we then spent 62 minutes with them ( remember from first photo to last one )

 

So they implement the one hour rule ( i saw the guide looking at his watch several times while we were with the gorillas !! )

 

Paco

 

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madaboutcheetah

Hi Paco,

Amazing report and images - what lens did you carry for the gorilla images? Thanks a lot of taking the time to do this report

Regards

Hari

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africawild

Hi Hari and thanks !!

 

I had the 70-200 f/ 2´8 and the 200-500 f/5,6 ( new acquisition) , but i ended up using mostly the 200-500 because the distance to the gorillas was most of time a bit longer than i expected !!

 

Paco

Edited by africawild

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pault

200-500 most of the time? Very interesting and of courrse a pain since you don't have f/2.8 of f/4 option and probably need higher shutter speed for a stteady shot with the longer focal length. High ISO for sure! Would a 105-280 be any good (70-200 with teleconverter as the new Canon is still excellent with TC)?

 

Great updatres - very informative about the experience. Looks great, even though your group look so alien in the masks and nets. 13 hours seems like 10 already - really look forward to the new loaction as I really only have a very vague idea of what to expect.

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madaboutcheetah

Paco, Thanks for the information!

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africawild

200-500 most of the time? Very interesting and of courrse a pain since you don't have f/2.8 of f/4 option and probably need higher shutter speed for a stteady shot with the longer focal length. High ISO for sure! Would a 105-280 be any good (70-200 with teleconverter as the new Canon is still excellent with TC)?

 

Great updatres - very informative about the experience. Looks great, even though your group look so alien in the masks and nets. 13 hours seems like 10 already - really look forward to the new loaction as I really only have a very vague idea of what to expect.

 

 

Paul, i took most of the photos at ISO 1600 to 3200 , but very early in the morning some at 6400 or even 12800 !! The light below the rainforest canopy is not great .

 

 

Length of the lens: 2 examples so you can have an idea of the distance , both taken with the D500.

 

 

260mm uncropped

 

post-6771-0-77507700-1478193759_thumb.jpg

 

 

 

200mm uncropped

 

post-6771-0-03988100-1478193825_thumb.jpg

 

 

 

Most of the pictures i took were between 240 and 500mm, i will say 280 would be a bit too short in this case.

 

Paco

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