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Tanzania Take Three - Time for an Intervention


Zubbie15
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offshorebirder

What a wonderful encounter the leopard gave you @Zubbie15.    And you got some very nice photos in the bargain.

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Thanks @Biko and @offshorebirder for the kind words!  We'd actually come across this leopard again, and while the experience was different I think the photos are better... but that's still to come, even if we're getting toward the end of the report.

 

The next day, we made the strategic decision to head out early, and to go pretty much directly to the river.  The hope was that the rains from the previous afternoon had drawn the wildebeest to the river, and that there might be some good crossing activity.  So we got to the river, despite the ~25 minute drive, just as it was getting light out, having left just as the sky was starting to get light.  We'd further decided that we'd not bring a lunchbox with us, and just bring a breakfast box, to allow for a little down time during the middle of the day.   In fact, we quickly found a group of wildebeest heading toward the river - the photo below was taken at 6:46, with stragglers catching up along the opposite side of the river.

 

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So, let's put up the day's map next (with a little addition).  

 

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Presumably the big red arrow is pretty apparent.  There are crossing points on both sides of that red arrow; unfortunately, the red arrow indicates a gully where a couple of vehicles got caught in mud, so the guides decided going around was the only option.  So, of course the wildebeest kept going back and forth between the two crossings, and we (and the other vehicles, maybe it reached 15-20 ultimately) kept going back and forth. And back and forth. And back and forth. This went on for hours, and as you can imagine as time went on people got "lazy," and chose a particular side rather than keep convoying back and forth.  This was compounded by the fact that there were several false starts, where the wildebeest would go down right to the edge of the water before turning back.  Well, you can imagine what happened - we obviously ended up on the wrong side, so when it became clear the group was crossing we had to head to the other side.  We then, of course, didn't have a great view, as we were one of the last groups to arrive - in fact, I didn't take a single photo myself.  Looking at the metadata, my wife ended up only taking photos for 2 minutes, before the crossing stopped.  Even so, I think she got a couple of good shots.

 

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These photos were taken around 1:10 PM, so almost 6 and a half hours after we arrived in the area.  It was a little frustrating to have been on the wrong side of the gully after putting in so much time!

 

At that point, we realized that we were going to be too late to get back to camp for hot lunch - luckily Kuria Hills packed a massive breakfast, so we were able to have two breakfasts and not be overly hungry. So after eating, we spent the rest of the afternoon scanning along the river, hoping for something else to happen but it was very quiet.  We did stop briefly to watch a herd that had massed by the river toward the end of the day (the right/east-most photo pin in the map), but we were far from camp and left before they did anything.  

 

So overall it was one of those days where the animals just didn't cooperate with us.  We hoped the next day, our last full day, would be better, although storms on the other side of the river (as shown below) made us worry that the wildebeest would head away from the river.  Hopefully that wasn't the case...

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We were up early the next day, with a plan to head back to the river but definite plans to be back for a midday break to allow for us to pack and because my wife wanted to enjoy the camp a little.

 

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The map above shows our day, we were clearly quite focused.  I think it probably gives away whether we were lucky in our pursuit of crossings - we actually managed to see 5 different crossings that morning (the upper right pins), while having a nice sighting in the afternoon (the pin on the bottom right).

 

Our day started out with a nice, if brief, sighting of this hyena.  It was headed on a mission though, and not in the direction we were going, so we continued along.  

 

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We got to the river, and almost right away found a herd that was ready to cross (this first picture was taken at 7:07).

 

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We got there just as they were ready to go, which was fortuitous timing.  I'd had in my mind that I wanted to try to show some motion with the crossings, and this was the best opportunity as the light was at its lowest.  This ended up being my favorite version, I think the one animal standing still on the left helps the composition.

 

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There really were a large number of animals ready to cross, they clearly had gathered during the night.

 

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We ended up in a pretty good location, and could see some of the animals coming up from the river on our side.

 

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But the new rules in place, which kept the jeeps from getting too close to the edge, did make some photographs a challenge as the animals would get lost behind the near bank.

 

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It was almost certainly a better situation for the wildebeest, but made wider angle photos not really work.  

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With so many animals, the crossing continued for a long time.  I'll just post a bunch more photos here.  

 

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The crossing lasted 17 minutes, until these last stragglers made their way to our side. 

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@Zubbie15

 

I have never witnessed the crossing but your pictures give a ideal impression of what to expect !

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campsafari2015

I particularly enjoy the photos of #129! Beautiful :D 

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michael-ibk

Very impressive, really like the B&W renditions.

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campsafari2015
36 minutes ago, Antee said:

I recognize so much in what you say that most people are not at all interested in the smaller felines. 

Zebra or Elephant is more important for many safari goers. Why care about a Serval no one have heard of? : 

In India you get many weird stare at you if you stop for a Jungle cat... I mean, it can be a Tiger somewhere :) 

I have so much appreciation and awe for the small felines. It just amazes me that they're out there, scraping out a good living with things like lions and leopards, elephants and buffaloes, around. Hard for me to believe they can thrive!

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On 6/26/2020 at 11:38 AM, BRACQUENE said:

@Zubbie15

 

I have never witnessed the crossing but your pictures give a ideal impression of what to expect !

 

Thanks @BRACQUENE - many more wildebeest pictures to come. Hopefully not too many for everyone's tastes... :)

 

On 6/26/2020 at 11:38 AM, campsafari2015 said:

I particularly enjoy the photos of #129! Beautiful :D 

 

Thanks!

 

On 6/26/2020 at 1:14 PM, michael-ibk said:

Very impressive, really like the B&W renditions.

 

Thanks @michael-ibk, I felt the shapes of the wildebeest, especially their horns, really lent themselves to B&W.

 

On 6/26/2020 at 1:31 PM, Antee said:

I recognize so much in what you say that most people are not at all interested in the smaller felines. 

Zebra or Elephant is more important for many safari goers. Why care about a Serval no one have heard of? : 

In India you get many weird stare at you if you stop for a Jungle cat... I mean, it can be a Tiger somewhere :) 

 

We asked about jungle cat in India, let's say our guides were quite surprised. There are obviously a lot of people who go on safari just to tick the boxes - see an elephant, see a giraffe, see a (probably sleeping) lion, and they're satisfied.  Obviously you're even more interested in small felines than most (;)), but still I am amazed at what a lot of people don't appreciate on safari. 

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Hmmm, I found a group of pictures my wife took of that last crossing that somehow I missed, so one more batch from that crossing (we always travel with 3 cameras, and as usual I screwed up the time on one of them.  I've recently learned that Lightroom can fix time issues, but didn't know that before, so things got a little jumbled). 

 

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I like the S-curve on this one.

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At crossings, if there's any chance for a jumping wildebeest my wife focuses on that.  So even if they were a bit far, she was on this group for quite a while.

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11 hours ago, Zubbie15 said:

many more wildebeest pictures to come. Hopefully not too many for everyone's tastes..

 

Definitely not too many and whether they come in "bunches" or "batches' each photo tells it's own story and is fascinating.

What a great sighting beautifully captured by you both.

Might add that your photo of the storm on the other side of the river with the wildebeest looking like ants also really appeals to me. Have returned to it a few times now.

 

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So a minor confession, I think the previous photos may have been a combination of 2 crossings.  In the map you can see two pins quite close together, toward the east - I remember two crossings happening essentially one after the other, but writing this 9 months later means I'm pretty dependent on the timestamps of the photos to separate them out.  The second one was probably the set with the jumping animals. Oh well, not a big deal.  

 

With that crossing finished, we moved along, and quickly found another small group of animals, maybe a dozen, that crossed.  We hadn't even reached the parking spot before they were finished.  Continuing along, we found a much larger group that seemed like they were considering crossing.  So we, parked, took out our boxed breakfasts, and had a nice meal while the wildebeest contemplated what they should do.  It wasn't too long after we finished eating that they decided to go, starting at 9:52.

 

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There was a big rock in the middle of the river, at first the wildebeest would go around it...

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But eventually some decided to use it as a midway rest area.  

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It was a challenge for them to get back into the river at times, with all the other animals in the water underneath them. 

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Ultimately, they put on quite a show of chaos, even if they finished crossing within 5 minutes. 

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21 hours ago, Zubbie15 said:

(we always travel with 3 cameras, and as usual I screwed up the time on one of them.  I've recently learned that Lightroom can fix time issues, but didn't know that before, so things got a little jumbled). 

@Zubbie15 Absolutely fantastic photos. Curious, what combination of cameras and lens did you use on this safari?

 

Our first trip to the Kogatende area was in 2009, at that time there were only a handful of camps, two of the days we didn't see another vehicle in July, my how times have changed. We are seriously considering a fast trip to northern Tanzania as soon as it is conceivably possible with the hopes of seeing the Serengeti with considerably fewer people.

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Thanks @Paul B, I can imagine things have changed a lot.  I know Tanzania was hoping to double tourist numbers of the past few years, which will obviously make the parks busier.  Hopefully they can develop a strategy to spread these people out amongst the other national parks, not just the northern circuit.

 

My main camera was a Canon 5d Mk iv, with a 400mm f/2.8 lens.  Rarely, I added a teleconverter to that combo. My wife was use

ing a Canon 7d Mk II with the 100-400 Mk II.  And our backup/landscape camera was a Canon 6d with either a 70-200 f/4 or a 24-105 f/4.  Normally I only bring one of the wider lenses but was glad I brought both this trip; at one point I didn’t secure the 6d properly and it fell on the floor while the 24-105 was attached.  It still took ok pictures, but mounting/unmounting the lens was difficult.  I sent both off to Canon for repair on our return, the camera was fine but the lens was a write-off and I had to trade it in for a new one...

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So that crossing finished a little before 10AM, but we could see a group massed at the next crossing point, so we (and everyone else - there were quite a few cars, but not as bad as previous days) headed over there.  It wasn't long (first pictures, 10:21) before this group started to cross as well.

 

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The setting for this crossing was very different from the previous ones, which would have offered a nice contrast.  However, for some reason I still can't explain, all of our photos came out rather soft (two different cameras, two different lenses, two different photographers, so presumably not an equipment issue).   They'll probably look ok on smaller screens, but on my 24 inch monitor that I use for processing I definitely was a little disappointed. 

 

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It wasn't a huge crossing, but last ~12 minutes and left us satisfied with the action from our morning.   So after driving around a little, we decided it was time to head back to camp - the day had turned into one of the hotter ones of the trip, and we were looking forward to relaxing a little.

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After a nice break at camp, including partaking in the plunge pool that Kuria Hills has for each tent (a ridiculous luxury, honestly, but still nice to cool off) and the unfortunate start of packing our bags, we met up with Mussa for our final afternoon drive.  Mussa asked what we wanted to do, and we said we were pretty satisfied with the crossings from that morning, so unless he heard over the radio about a massive crossing that looked like it might happen we figured looking around the kopjes, and hopefully finding some type of cat, would be our preference.  So after a brief listen to the radio, which indicated that the river area was pretty quiet, we headed off to scan the kopjes.  I do have to say Mussa "cheated" a little here, as based on the GPS data we ended up back with the leopard we'd already seen twice (I didn't realize this at the time).  There were several vehicles already parked there, which seemed like a good sign, and after a bit of scanning we were able to see spots.

 

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Sleeping spots, unfortunately, but it was early (3:47 PM) so we figured we'd settle in and see if he decided to get up at some point.  There weren't too many vehicles at this sighting (~8), but we were bunched a bit together as apparently most of the track around the kopje was not official road (as per the rangers).  The guides might have known this, but to us tourists it all looked the same. Of course there was a ranger vehicle there, so the guides were behaving, but Mussa hoped the rangers would leave and we'd be able to spread out a little. 

 

After about half an hour, he did get up and stretch a little.

 

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But then it was back to sleep.   So we waited some more... eventually the rangers did leave, and while Mussa didn't want to flaunt the rules too much (apparently the rangers will head over a hill and then come back to see if guides have stopped paying attention to the rules), we decided to move to the junction where the unofficial road was.  This would hopefully allow us first choice of where to park if he came down on that side, which was also the sunset side of the kopje.  I had visions of a majestic shot in beautiful late afternoon light. I just want to note again that the official and unofficial tracks looked identical, we weren't going off-road in the sense of leaving an established track, and so we felt ok bending the rules a little.  

 

Finally, after at least 90 minutes of waiting, and several other vehicles giving up, he got up, came down the tree quickly, and headed to the side we were hoping.  As we planned, we were the first ones on the other side, and got the prime parking spot.  Only to find...

 

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Ugh! By the time we got there, we had his butt facing where we were, and was taking a drink from a puddle in the rock.  After a quick scratch, he headed back over the rock to the shadow side, dashing my hopes of getting the picture I had envisioned. 

Edited by Zubbie15
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Once he disappeared back over the rocks, we all headed back to the other side.  Of course, having had the choice spot on this side meant we were the last ones there, although by that point more people had left and we were down to about 5 jeeps, so it wasn't too bad.  It only took a couple of minutes before he decided to come down and check us out.

 

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Obviously not liking what he saw, he disappeared on us for almost 15 minutes. But then he appeared climbing up a rock, and posing really well for us while backlit by the light of the setting sun. 

 

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He put his head down briefly, but just to make us worried.

 

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Before getting back up, and checking us out again.

 

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He must have liked what he saw this time, as he decided to come down, and started to head our direction.

 

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He headed right past the jeeps, and then started to go off into the long grasses.  We thought this was a great end, but decided to give him a few more minutes of our time.  Unfortunately there weren't a lot of roads, so we were limited in where we could go, but he seemed to be checking out some of the smaller, more open kopjes on his way, and we hoped he'd get up on one.  After a couple of false starts, he did, and while the background wasn't the cleanest he really posed well for us.

 

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He then got down, and headed off in a direction we couldn't follow. It was probably for the best, since the light was almost gone, and we still had a ways to go to get to camp.  We arrived in the pitch black, with the camp manager coming out to tell us they were starting to get worried about us!  All-in-all, a pretty good last afternoon drive. 

Edited by Zubbie15
Couple of extra pics snuck in at end
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campsafari2015

I just love the last post. What amazing photos! You're really making me excited for our trip next year and staying at Kuria Hills. 

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@Zubbie15

 

It is the way you captured  the light on the leopard I admire so much ! 

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11 hours ago, BRACQUENE said:

@Zubbie15

 

It is the way you captured  the light on the leopard I admire so much ! 

+1. Excellent leopard portraiture with the golden light. 

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Thanks @campsafari2015, @BRACQUENE and @AKR1 for the comments, we honestly didn't have to do much put click away during most of that sighting.  

 

Well, maybe it's time to start wrapping this up.  We woke up on our last morning quite early, hoping to squeeze in a little something for our last morning.   While we ate breakfast, we were treated to a really nice moon-set as sky started to lighten up behind us.

 

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Despite not having too long for a drive, we still managed to cover a decent amount of ground, as we slowly made our way toward the airstrip.  

 

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Mussa asked if we had anything really particular we wanted to try for, and we pretty much said whatever we found would make us happy.  Although, we did say that we didn't really want to waste our last few hours waiting for a crossing, having been satisfied with what we saw the previous day.  

 

So off we headed after bidding goodbye to the camp, and quickly came across a small group of Topi with some fairly young babies.  I have yet to take a Topi (or Hartebeest) photo that I particularly love, and this seemed like it had potential. Unfortunately, with the packing and everything from the night before, I forgot to reset the camera settings that had been modified as the light dropped during the leopard sighting, so everything was horrible overexposed.  This was the only one I could even try to salvage.

 

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Leaving them, word must have come over the radio that a leopard had been spotted, as we made a pretty quick time to a specific kopje.  There were a few vehicles circling around, but no sign of a leopard.  We thought it had probably disappeared somewhere, as the resident klipspringers were fairly relaxed.

 

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It became pretty clear why the leopard may have left, as a few lions appeared, and set up to spend the day sleeping amongst the rocks.

 

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But they pretty much walked up, plopped themselves down somewhere, and went straight to sleep, so we figured we'd move on. 

 

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11 hours ago, Zubbie15 said:

We woke up on our last morning quite early, hoping to squeeze in a little something for our last morning. 

 

Great decision on that early start. Lovely Topi youngster and I'm beginning to think you've got those Klipspringers trained @Zubbie15 !

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Well, I think it's time to wrap this up.  I'll have a few final thoughts afterward, but this should be the last actual "blow-by-blow" post.  

 

Leaving the lions after they'd all bedded down, Mussa indicated that it was time to start heading toward the airstrip.  So we headed off in that direction, following a route that headed along near the river.  I'm not sure if this was pure luck, or if Mussa had been hearing things over the radio (probably a bit of both), we came across a small cluster of vehicles waiting for a small group of wildebeest to cross.  The safari gods took pity on us, and made up for a couple of days previous where we'd waited forever for a crossing, and not long after we arrived the wildebeest started going. 

 

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We'd seen a couple of instances before this where crocs had taken wildebeest, but not well - in this crossing, we saw a youngster struggling with the current and eventually begin to get pushed downstream.  Knowing that isolated wildebeest are much more appealing to the crocs, because they don't have to worry about getting stepped on, we knew this risked a bad outcome for the wildebeest, and it didn't take long for a croc to show up.  

 

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The wildebeest wasn't a match to the croc, and it was pretty quickly dragged under.  Poor thing...

 

And with that, the rest of the wildebeest spooked and stopped crossing.  We were theoretically cutting it close at this point, so we left and headed to the airstrip, where our flight showed up pretty soon after.   I should have taken more photos from the air, but wasn't really in the mood, so not much to share.

 

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I imagine your mood was somewhat sombre by the combination of thoughts of the unfortunate wildebeest  and the ending of your safari.

I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this report @Zubbie15 from your engaging narrative to the wonderful photos of wildlife and landscapes.

Also really appreciated the details with maps etc.

Many thanks.

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@Zubbie15

 

I am usually a bit sceptical about going on safari’s in the more “crowded” areas and NP of Africa as a whole and Northern Tanzania or southern Kenya in particular , but I can tell you that this great TR with a very lively description ( and unbelievable photography ) may  have changed that ! 

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