Newsletter of E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer and www.EJPhoto.com
All contents ©2005 E.J. Peiker
Greetings All and welcome to this special edition of the Quack Newsletter! I have just completed the journey of a life time – a photo safari of the Ngorongoro Highlands, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti in Tanzania on the eastern Seaboard of the African Continent. Tanzania is located just below the equator on the Indian Ocean. The Photo Safari was under the leadership of fellow photographer and Africa specialist Andy Biggs (www.andybiggs.com). As promised in the Summer Quack Newsletter, what follows is a diary of the trip and a few photographs to remember it by.
Day 1 (Friday, July 1, 2005) – Travel from Phoenix to Amsterdam
After a restless night before such a big trip I got in my last workout, some breakfast, and received a call from Andy, our tour leader to insure everything was on track. My ride arrived on time and we were off to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. The Northwest Airlines flight left on time and arrived in Minneapolis on time which gave me time to take care of some last email as I was unsure when I would be able to connect again. About 45 minutes before the flight I went to the gate and was surprised not to see an airplane there – the first stress point in the trip since my connection in Amsterdam was a relatively short one hour and fifteen minutes. Northwest rolled a plane from the hanger got us boarded and we left only 20 minutes late. We took off out of Minneapolis and our route took us over Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, England and into Amsterdam. It never got dark due to our far north route at the height of summer. .
Day 2 (Saturday, July 2, 2005) – Amsterdam to Arusha/Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
We made up time on the way and actually arrived early into Amsterdam on Saturday morning. An hour and a half later I was on my way to Tanzania; my first trip to Africa. The routing for the flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro Airport took us out of The Netherlands over Germany, Austria, Italy and over the Mediterranean Sea. We made entry into the African continent by over flying the full length of Libya (something that a US airline could not do) and then by flying over the Sudan, and Kenya. The flight arrived about 45 minutes early on Saturday evening. The time difference between the west coast of the US and Tanzania is 10 hours. We were met by our guides for the trip from Thomson’s Safari – 5 highly knowledgeable Tanzanian gentlemen named Kileo, Samson, Simon, Leonard, and Kumbi. We loaded up the five highly modified Land Rovers that would be our home for the next 11 days and took a 45 minute ride to our lodge for the first night before heading out on safari – the Serena Mountain Lodge near Arusha. The photographers all met each other in the Lodge’s lounge, discovered that it had wireless internet, picked up our email and some had a few drinks and then got a much needed night of sleep.
Day 3 (Sunday, July 3, 2005) – Arusha to Ngorongoro Highlands
Sunday morning started with breakfast and then our safari briefing followed by the first leg of our overland journey – the ride to the Ngorongoro Highlands. This took us over the Maasai step along the Great African Rift – an area where the two primary tectonic plates that make up Africa meet. Along the way we saw various species of birds, a pair of Maasai Giraffes in the distance and Baboons scouring the sides of the roads. In the Ngorongoro Highlands, we stopped at Gibbs Farm where we would be spending this evening. Gibbs Farm is a working coffee plantation in north central Tanzania. In the afternoon the group of photographers that include individuals from the US, Canada, New Zealand, China, Thailand, and Switzerland went on a hike in the Ngorongoro Preserve. Here we photographed a large waterfall, and viewed Syka Monkeys jumping from treetop to treetop. Unfortunately, photographs of the monkeys jumping were obscured by branches. After a short break we settled into a group dinner and turned in early in anticipation of our first big game drive the next day.
Day 4 (Monday, July 4, 2005) – Ngorongoro Highlands to Ngorongoro Crater
The safari got going in earnest on this day – we started the morning early with some bird photography in the Gibbs Farm compound and soon set out for the Ngorongoro Crater. This crater is a 25KM wide collapsed caldera that is incredibly rich in wildlife. The east rim is lush and green due to upslope condensation of from Indian Ocean moisture. It dries out quickly as you go west into the crater and becomes arid. Our first safari game drive commenced at the west end of the crater and we were soon awed by the abundance of wildlife. Zebras were everywhere. Other mammal species that we saw and photographed included Thompson’s Gazelle, Grant’s Gazelle, Gnu, African Elephant, Cheetah, Lion, Cape Buffalo, Golden Jackal, Black-backed Jackal, Warthog, Hippopotamus, and Spotted Hyena. Numerous bird species were also photographed including Little Bee-eater, Kori Bustard, Crowned Crane, and Ostrich. Numerous other birds were observed. I got a good laugh when I went into a bathroom on the preserve and a whole family of Vervet Monkeys came running out – of course, they also needed to be photographed. We also found a male lion that was resting after a Cape Buffalo kill and a single Cheetah resting in the grasses on this day. Our lodging on the crater rim was first rate.
Day 5 (Tuesday, July 5, 2005) – Ngorongoro Crater
We got off to an early start on Tuesday morning by descending into Ngorongoro Crater for an all day game drive at sunrise. It was overcast and very cold but immediately upon entering the crater we spotted an Augur Buzzard near the side of the descent road and stopped to photograph it. While we were doing that, a pregnant lioness walked by which also gave us good photographic opportunities. Today was to be a great day for Lions as we saw and photographed many including entire prides. Many new bird species for me were also seen today including Gray Heron, Black-headed Heron, Yellow-billed Stork, Blacksmith Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, Eurasian Avocet, Sacred Ibis, and many more. At the Hippo Pool, birds and Hippos were abundant under the watchful eye of several Lions. All of the same animals that we photographed on day 4 were again photographed on day 5 and I concentrated on action shots and pan-blurs to convey motion. As we were making our way to our lunch area, we encountered a Cheetah chasing a Thompson’s Gazelle. The Cheetah was not successful in capturing it but it provided great photo opportunities. After lunch we drove a big circle around the crater where first we re-encountered our Cheetah followed by three White-backed vultures devouring the carcass of a Cape Buffalo while being watched by some Spotted Hyenas. As we continued our loop around the crater, we got our first shot at photographing Elephant. We completed the drive toward the end of the day after a brief glimpse at a Serval and a very short photo opportunity on a Lilac Breasted Roller.
Day 6 (Wednesday, July 6, 2005) – Ngorongoro Crater to Serengeti Park
At sunrise, the group embarked on the long journey from the Ngorongoro crater rim to our base camp in the Serengeti under dense fog conditions. The weather cleared up as soon as we descended from the crater rim into the vast African plain called the Serengeti Plain. Along the way we stopped first at Oldupai Gorge – an area where the oldest remnants of mankind have been found. Next we stopped at a Maasai village and photographed the people. I was invited to dance with them and did and then was permitted to enter one of the huts that the Maasai people live in followed by visiting their school. The village visit was on of the major highlights of the trip and an experience that I will remember vividly for the rest of my life. Upon entering the Serengeti we immediately spotted some lions and as the day wore on we photographed Hippos, Baboons, Elephants, and the Maasai Giraffe. We traveled for over 9 hours on this day and are were in the middle of the Serengeti Plain. Serengeti is a westernization of the Maasai word Siringit which means endless plain. The scale of this plane is staggering at over 14,000 square kilometers. In the evening we arrived at our campsite where we will stay the next 4 nights. The camp is extremely well done with 6 course meals served, a camera tent for battery charging, and tents that include a bathroom and shower extension.
Day 7 (Thursday, July 7, 2005) – Serengeti National Park
We got an early start today with the camp staff waking us up at 5:30, a breakfast at 6:00 and on the road for safari at 6:30. The day started with a nice sunrise shot followed by an encounter with an elephant heard. At one point the dominant male charged our vehicle but it was only a bluff charge to insure that we did not come closer to the heard. Highlights of the day included a lioness making a kill of a Thompson’s Gazelle and a Marshall Eagle taking a Guineafowl – the photos of that are quite graphic. Prior to going I was not looking forward to the kills but once you are there, you quickly realize that this is a vital part of the eco system and the life cycle of the animals that inhabit this area, and without them, this area would not exist. Once that becomes clear in the mind, the kills are much less problematic for most people. After lunch we visited some Maasai petroglyphs and were treated to more elephants, giraffes, and lions. There are numerous rock outcroppings in the Serengeti called Kopies. Kopies are formed by the exposure of the earth’s igneous rock as the sand is swept away by wind. I took several photographs of the different Kopies.
Day 8 (Friday, July 8, 2005) – Serengeti National Park
Today we started the day with a hot air balloon ride along the length of the Seronera River. We got up at 4:30AM to go to the launch site and were airborne at sunrise. On the way there one of the Toyota Land Cruisers from the balloon company broke down so we squeezed 13 people into a single stretch Land Cruiser and still mad it on time. I ended up sitting on the floor of the vehicle for the ride. Unfortunately the winds were strong which made for a very short flight with only a few photographic opportunities but it was still a great experience as I had never flown in a balloon before. The highlight was giraffes and zebras from the air. After landing we had the traditional post ballooning champagne breakfast and then went back out on Safari. Lions, Elephants and Hippos were abundant today and we also got some great shots of Bee-eaters. A lot of landscape shots were taken today. As we were driving back to camp in the evening we ran across a Lion Pride with two juveniles and a very large family of Elephants with approximately 40 members including several babies.
Day 9 (Saturday, July 9, 2005) – Serengeti National Park
Today we decided to try to find the bulk of the Wildebeest migration as it moves from Tanzania and the Serengeti into the Maasai Mara in Kenya. We drove far but discovered that the bulk of the 1.5 million Gnu’s had already entered Kenya. We still found several very large herds though. This gave me an opportunity to do pan blur shots on these animals. Later in the day we ran across a watering hole with hundreds of zebras where again I tried pan blurs. I got some great close up shots of Kori Bustards today and the highlight of the day was a perched Bateleur Eagle at last light on the way back to camp. Up to this point we had not seen a Leopard despite our best efforts. Some of the group did see one in the distance but I did not. Tonight was our last night in the tent camp in the Serengeti.
Day 10 (Sunday, July 10, 2005) – Serengeti National Park
Sunday commenced with breakfast and then a ceremonious goodbye to the camp staff that really made our stay enjoyable. We then embarked for extreme west Serengeti and the Kirawira Luxury Camp Lodge – our last night was to be spent in the upscale permanent tented lodge located in the far western part of the Serengeti National Park. Along the way I finally got my first glimpse at a Leopard, it was only for two seconds and I did get a photo with this incredibly beautiful animal but it was distant and very small in the frame. After checking into Kirawira and a leisurely lunch we went on a final game drive where we had success with giraffes, walked across the Kirawira River on a suspension bridge, saw Nile Crocodiles and a spectacular sunset. I finally got the sunset picture that really gives me that African feel. Andy, our tour leader and I shared a room since his reservations got mishandled and Josh, Andy and I had fun looking at images and having a good time until midnight. We also had a little birthday party after dinner on this night as it was Andy’s 36th birthday.
Day 11 (Monday, July 11, 2005) – Serengeti National Park to Arusha
After a late night, the wakeup Jambo Jambo came way too early at 6:00AM. We had breakfast and departed for the airport. On our way to the dirt strip in the west Serengeti Plain, we had our last and probably our best run-in with lions. The two multi-engine rated pilots in the group (Thomas and I) sat up front with the pilots for our Twin otter flight back to Arusha. Prior to departing we ran our Land Rover’s down the dirt runway to clear the area of Wildebeests. We then held a small ceremony for our guides who became part of our safari family for the last 10 days. They would be parting from us at this point to drive the vehicles back to Arusha – a very long drive. Our flight took us over the northern part of the Serengeti and past Empakai crater. I was successful in getting the pilots to circle the crater for all to see prior to landing in Arusha. Once in Arusha, we were picked up by Thomson Safari and were escorted to a shopping area for souvenirs and then to a hotel where we would have day rooms to get ready for the long journey home. In the evening we were shuttled to the Kilimanjaro airport for our late evening departure.
Day 12 (Tuesday, July 12, 2005) – Arusha to Dar es Salaam to Amsterdam to Minneapolis to Phoenix
The route of flight from Tanzania to Amsterdam took us over Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany and The Netherlands. Fortunately I got some much needed sleep in anticipation of the 34 hour day due to the 10 hour time change. The trip from Amsterdam to Minneapolis was uneventful and we over flew England, Greenland and Canada. I was allowed to hang out with the pilots in the cockpit for about 15 minutes prior to departure including playing with some of the systems and a complete run down of the cockpit with the Flight Engineer. The flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix was uneventful. Every single flight, 8 in all on this trip were either on time or early at their destination and all luggage arrived and was intact.
© 2005 - E.J. Peiker, Nature Photographer.
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