What We Have to Offer that is so Unique
Why October thru December? The Three Best Photographic Locations
Who is this Safari for? What you can expect
Our Itinerary What's Included
My Objective Our Role as Leaders, and Your Role
About Your Leaders
My wife, Mary Ann, and I have been leading Photo Safaris to Kenya for over twenty years, and to many other locations in Africa during that time span. We were the first to institute using radios for vehicle-to-vehicle communication, the first to restrict vehicles to just three photographers per vehicle, and the first to fine-tune an itinerary that is copied by most photo safari. More importantly, WE KNOW AFRICA, we know how to photograph it, what to look for, and how to get the best a situation has to offer, both for ourselves and, most importantly, for the participants that travel with us.
If you look at any of the Trip Reports listed above, you'll get a great idea about our safaris, perhaps even more than what is in this brochure. I cannot stress enough how important experience is when leading a photo safari. We know what to look for, what to listen for, and what to expect, and this translates into imagery that is not simply a matter of luck -- though luck plays an important role, and one can make one's own luck. The topics addressed below should answer virtually all of your questions, and I hope you'll take the time to read them.
And, although this is addressed later on in this brochure, I'd like to stress again here that our trips are not for everyone. They are not 'tourist safaris' where the goal is to simply have you check off the different animals. We invest quality time with our subjects, and although we might spend hours with some subjects, when the potential warrants it, our participants still end up seeing everything, but seeing many things with absolute quality. The Trip Reports cited will prove those points.
I do not believe anyone can offer you a better safari. We know Africa, we know how to make a safari run smoothly, and we know the wildlife. If you are interested in obtaining quality photographs, in seeing wildlife in-depth, in watching behavior, and witnessing truly once-in-a-lifetime wildlife opportunities, then our safaris are for you.
October through early December is one of the slower seasons for tourism in Kenya, except for our safaris and other canny photographers who follow our lead. It is still a most spectacular time of year to visit Kenya, for during this time the wildebeest migration may be 'in', and the short rainy season usually develops sometime during this period, giving us great cloudscapes and skies for some of our shooting.
If the migration arrives, the bountiful supply of food often stimulates the predators into initiating a mating. Not being far-sighted, lions revel in the abundance of food present at the time, even though the herd may be gone by the time any young are born. Typically, the months following the migration is the time of lion babies, even though this season can be one of extreme stress, as the huge herds of easy game are gone.
Traditionally, in the 'old days,' the wildebeest migration arrived in the Masai Mara in July, and remained only until September. Whether it is global warming and a disruption in the normal rain cycle or factors we cannot understand or predict, mow-a-days the migration can occur at any time, and over the last several years virtually every one of our safaris has experienced at least one river crossing. One should certainly not base their taking a trip on the 'migration' alone, for a river crossing, while dramatic and exciting, may not yield the types of photography one might expect from seeing nature films. Crocodile kills are indeed rare, as the crocs feed most heavily when the first herds cross the Mara River. Later in the season kills are sporadic. Of course, other predators often lurk in the riverside vegetation to make kills, and it's possible to see, and film, both leopards and lions taking down wildebeest as they make a crossing.
One thinks of the migration in terms of these river crossings, but the migration phenomenon encompasses the entire spectacle - herds grazing across the plains in huge scattered groups, moving in long lines that may extend for miles, and, of course, crossing the rivers too. Herds do not have to cross a dangerous river to enter into the Masai Mara from Tanzania, and many come up and return south without ever having done so. So the migration is just one aspect of the trip.
Our autumn trips usually coincide with the short rainy season - either in the middle of it, or catching either the front or back end. Why travel to Kenya if it's raining? Well, for one, the rains are short - typically they occur in the late afternoon, and they are scattered. It's entirely possible to do a game drive and have rain clouds visible at all four compass points, and yet be rainless. Rains are usually short, too, and rarely compromise a game drive.
However, rains generate action! The skies in the afternoon are often magnificent, as thunderheads build up into dramatic skyscapes. Landscape images are far more interesting with a great sky. Rain induces bird nesting activity, and weavers, social weavers, and hornbills actively nest when mud or new grasses are available.
Typically, mornings begin cloud free and brilliant, with clouds building during the day. This provides photographers with the opportunity to shoot subjects in two lighting conditions - in bright light in the AM, and, perhaps, overcast conditions in the afternoon. As one would expect, along the equator the heat builds up through the day and, on a cloudless day, it can get rather warm by late afternoon. Clouds cool things off, so nocturnal animals, like leopards, are much more likely to be active on a cool day than on a hot, sunny afternoon. Another perk for this season!
We'll be visiting three locations on this safari. Samburu, in the arid, semi-desert area of north central Kenya, Lake Nakuru, mid-way on our journey from one reserve to the other, and the Masai Mara along Kenya's southwestern border.
Samburu at this time of year should be filled with bird life. The short rains should have some influence on the landscape and with luck the vegetation will be morphing from dry season brown to verdant short-rain green. Bird activity can be one of your trip highlights here! Of course, the usual wildlife - elephants, the herd animals and ungulates, and the predators will be in their normal numbers, but the bird life can be outstanding.
It is too long a drive to travel from Samburu to the Mara in a single day. We'll be overnighting at Lake Nakuru, arriving in time for a late lunch. After lunch we'll do an afternoon game drive, and another all-morning game drive where we'll concentrate on the incredible flamingos.
Once in the Mara we will spend several days at Keekorok Lodge, Mara Serena, and at Mara Intrepids, traveling to each new camp as part of our morning game drives. By basing ourselves at several different locations in the Mara, we will enjoy the maximum amount of time at all three of the hottest areas for lion and hyena activity, as well as plenty of time in prime areas for cheetahs, leopards, elephants, antelope and the resident ungulates. Unlike any other safari, you will see all three main parts of the Mara and experience the magic that each area provides to photographers and naturalists alike.
Of course, while our trips are timed to coincide with the short rainy season, the rains, like anything in nature, are never guaranteed. Regardless, however, the fall and the lack of crowds makes this season our absolute favorite for photographing in Kenya.
To sum up, our focus of this trip will include the following:
Bird life in Samburu - the second nesting should be in full swing. All the mammals we normally encounter throughout the fall should be present as well, but the bird life may be especially good.
in Samburu - The elephant action in Samburu can be outstanding.
Several endemic mammals are found nowhere else (in our itenerary),
including the upright-standing gerenuk, the tiny dik-dik, the
unicorn-like oryx, and the reticulated giraffe. We'll have one
of our best chances of photographing a leopard here.
Bird life in Nakuru - although we'll only be spending a short period of time here, we'll have
ample opportunity for photographing thousands of flamingos (only one year in 15 have the flamingos failed to appear), as well as fish eagles, African white pelicans, and other birds.
Predatory Action in the Mara - If the wildebeest are in, it's quite likely we'll have at least one opportunity to photograph lions feeding at a kill. If we're patient, and our groups usually are, we'll have a great chance of seeing a cheetah hunt and kill.
Baby Predators in the Mara - We usually get lion cubs and cheetah cubs. Our two favorite leopards - one in Samburu and one here, and both females are due to have new cubs. Let's hope.
The Usual Stars - of course, we'll also be photographing all the mammals we normally encounter, which include leopards, cheetahs, elephants, hyenas, the hoofed animals, and the birds in Nakuru, the Mara, and Samburu.
There is no place in the world like Kenya. A country about
the size of Texas it preserves some of the greatest wildlife concentrations
in the world. Just as importantly, however, Kenya is probably
the best African country for affordable game viewing and wildlife
photography. Kenya is a comfortable, safe country, where the wildlife
is accustomed to people and to a close approach by vehicles.
Many safaris attempt to see too much in a very limited period of time. Consider this: If you've ever driven through Texas you know how large a state it is. Could you imagine trying to cover that state, photographically, in just 14 days afield? It couldn't be done, unless you limited yourself to just a few key representative locales.
The same holds true for Kenya. It's impossible to do a quality shoot where five to seven different parks are visited on a two or three week trip. Doing so would limit you to only a day or two per park, and most of your time would be spent in traveling. WE WON'T BE DOING THAT! Instead, we'll concentrate our time at the two best national parks and reserves for photography, which represents two very diverse regions. Doing so we'll have the luxury of time, being able to spend a number of days at each location, and of seeking out specific subjects, rather than simply contenting ourselves with what luck may provide.
Samburu Game Reserve's semi-desert habitat hosts unique species to the country, including reticulated giraffe, distinguished by a net-like pattern; gerenuk, giraffe-like antelope that feed while standing on their hind legs; Grevy's zebra, with thin stripes and a white belly; Beisa oryx, huge antelopes with long, straight horns that may have originated the unicorn legend; and a variety of birds. Samburu affords the best chances at filming pale-chanting goshawks, hornbills, vulturine guineafowl, yellow-throated spurfowl, and dozens of other species. Samburu is also an excellent location for leopard: we don't always get them there (5 of 6 safaris we lead usually do) but the leopards we get are usually excellent for filming (my Feb. '90 Natural History Magazine cover was taken at Samburu and Mary's BBC winning leopard in '98).
Lake Nakuru supports one of the largest populations of lesser flamingos in the world, and in good years there are, quite literally, millions of birds along the shorelines. Nakuru is also quite good for leopard, and African wild dogs have recently made an appearance in the park. Nakuru offers other great subjects that you are quite likely to film very well, including African buffalo, DeFassa waterbuck, impala, warthog, reedbuck, Rothschild giraffe, and olive baboon.
If our trip ended after Samburu and Nakuru you'd have had a fantastic experience. However, the Masai Mara Game Reserve is the 'dessert,' and is viewed by many as the premier wildlife photography location in Africa. This great game location will be our last stop on our photographic adventure.
The Masai Mara is considered part of the famous Serengeti ecosystem, but differs in offering a variety of habitats. Within a morning's game drive one can film short grass high country, tall grass prairie, riverine forests and thickets, and acacia thorn scrubland. Elephants, hippos, Masai giraffe, common zebra, gnu, impala, Thompson's and Grant's gazelles, topi, hartebeest, hyrax, black-backed jackal, spotted hyena, cheetah, leopard, and lion are permanent, and fairly common, residents within the park. There's also several less common species of antelope, including reedbuck, bushbuck, steinbuck, oribi, and duiker, that we normally encounter.
The very endangered black rhino has made its last stand in the Mara here. We've had luck on many of our trips finding rhinos with calves, and we'll hope to do so again this year. Additionally, serval (a small spotted cat) are most easily found here, and in the scattered acacia trees leopards hang their carcasses out of reach of the many lions. Consequently, it's easiest to find tree-climbing leopards here.
The Mara, however, is diverse, and it is impossible to do the Park justice by basing out of only one lodge. To cover the park thoroughly we'll be based out of three different lodges. In the extreme south we'll stay at Keekorok, covering the area from the Talek and Sekanani gates southward to the border of Tanzania and the Serengeti National Park. We'll stay at Mara Serena Lodge, covering the Mara Triangle and southwestern corner; and in the northern section we'll stay at Mara Intrepids, covering the area from the Musiara Marsh to the Talek River including Rhino Ridge and Paradise Plains.
Located in the heart of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, Keekorok is the oldest lodge in the park. You get the sense of staying in one of the vintage hunting lodges while sipping your cocktail before dinner. The very endangered black rhino has made its last stand in the Mara here and we have a great chance of photographing one amidst the croton bush thickets. In the absence of Maasai persecution, the lions and hyenas are active during the day.
Mara Serena is probably the most beautiful lodge in
the Mara, overlooking the Paradise Plains and a large stretch
of the Mara River. From the lodge one can usually see a variety
of the plain's game, and the lodge may be the premiere location
for filming bush hyrax in all of Kenya. These small, marmot-sized
mammals are tame, beg for food, bite - if you try petting them
or feeding them, and even hops on to your lap (not recommended!).
Additionally, serval (a small spotted cat) is most easily found
here. The prime crossing points for wildebeest are within a short
drive of the lodge, and we've often been delayed for lunch when
a herd suddenly gathered along the river to cross.
Mara Intrepids, located along the Talek River just south of Rhino Ridge, has become our favorite camp of choice. The five-mile stretch of river just north of the lodge is abundant with leopard. There is a pride of lion just out of camp that are dominated by three of the most beautiful black-maned lions that we have ever seen. Princess, the famous cheetah from the BBC Big Cat Diary Series, makes her home in this area. This is the cheetah that loves to jump up on vehicles to lie for a spell or to use the higher vantage point in which to hunt from. The camp is surrounded by an electrical fence, which helps to keep out the wild neighbors. But there is nothing like lying in your tent at night and listening to the roar of a lion or the whoop of a hyena or the rumble of a fight between the two predators. That is the true Africa!
safari is really for anyone who is serious, either about wildlife
and nature photography, or about in-depth, intense, and patient
animal viewing. The two, for a photographer, are the same, for
patience, time, and luck are required in order to obtain great
wildlife images. Please read the following section carefully.
While almost everyone who travels with us are like-minded, there
are, on occasion, one or two people who are not. This is not a
safari for tourists. This is a safari for photographers - serious
amateurs or photo enthusiasts or pros, and for those who really
want to do a safari right.
Actually, it probably really doesn't matter to us if you bring a camera or not, or if you do not have long telephoto lenses or professional gear along. That is, provided you are patient, willing to wait, and, above all, considerate to those photographers who do have gear that requires a rock-steady van when they're about to shoot. Patience, to a wildlife photographer, is NOT a relative term. Patience may not be a five-minute wait. It may mean waiting an hour before a cheetah and her cubs decide to move from a croton thicket, or before a den full of hyena cubs wake up and begin to play. We have literally waited for four or five hours for a wildebeest river crossing, and in 1999 all four of our vans stayed, parked in one position, all day -- from 7AM to 4PM -- to watch Zawadi (the famous Mara leopard) and her two cubs (her first) play, nurse, and walk about us. Photographers, avid naturalists, artists, and others who are serious about wildlife have no problem with this. You might.
We want to make this clear. Great shots often require patience. If you simply want to see animals, click off a few pictures, and move on to another subject, then our safari is not for you. You might worry that 'spending time' waiting is wasteful, and that your time would be better spent roaming and looking for new subjects. Let me assure you that in the course of a two-week trip you will indeed see everything, but some subjects, that require waiting, will reward you with extraordinary images for your patience. In other words, you'll see everything the normal tourist sees (or the impatient photographer), but you'll also see, with quality, other subjects, events, or activities that most simply do not see because they do not have the patience to wait. We do.
For example, even our extremely experienced Kenya safari driver/guides have seen things with us that they have never seen before - and these are guides who, collectively, have over forty years driving experience. This has included such experiences as a zebra stallion killing a foal; a zebra giving birth; lions killing a bull buffalo; elephants, en masse, wrestling in the river; a leopard killing a wildebeest, or a warthog; ostriches hatching from eggs; lions pulling a warthog from its den; and much, much more. Why? I asked our drives this, and they said, 'because your groups stay and watch. Most groups do not, and only spend enough time to make some pictures.' They miss these unique events, and so, obviously, had the drivers.
That said, we try not to be tyrants about this. We realize everyone has their own patience and frustration level, and perhaps their own desire to shoot particular subjects. One of the values of traveling with us is we can guide you, by stating our belief whether we feel something is worth waiting for, or not. Our rule is this: If you don't wish to stay, you can leave, provided everyone in your vehicle agrees on this, or if at least three in total from all of the vehicles agree to leave, whereupon we'll rearrange seating to allow those people to return to camp or continue on their way. We have, on many occasions, put three or four people into a van to head back to camp for lunch while the die-hards stayed behind, waiting for the cheetah to make its kill or for the wildebeest to cross the Mara river. In most instances, the cheetah killed, and the wildebeest crossed, right after the other van left!
To be honest, I think photographers would get the most out of this trip. Non-photographers might feel frustrated in not being able to produce images that others can; but that thought alone may be motivation for you to buy a telephoto lens and camera before doing the trip. I'd recommend doing so. Artists can benefit from our type of safari as well. If we're waiting for cheetahs to hunt, or for lions to resume mating, there's usually time to do field sketches or character studies. However, if you are an artist, don't be upset if your vehicle moves while you're still drawing! This is, FIRST AND FOREMOST, a photography trip, and the photographers have the final say.
However, the trip is exclusive in a number of special ways. We were the first to offer safaris that are limited to only three photographers per nine-passenger landrover. Our safaris are unique in some important ways, too. We do not assign people to one 'rover for the entire trip. Instead, we rotate everyone through our four vehicles so that everyone has a chance to shoot with each other (avoiding trip-damaging cliques) and to shoot with both Mary and me.
Our rotation system gives everyone equal time with Mary and with me, and as we 'captain' our respective vans you can be assured that we'll do our best to put you in the best shooting situation as we read the light, determine animal behavior, or just simply look after you for the shots you're seeking but have not yet achieved. Make no mistake: Mary and I are here to work. I joke that when you're with me you'll get the best photos, and Mary says the same thing. The point is, we're not going through the motions here. We're out to make the best photographs we can, and you'll get those same images when you're with us. That's not to say that when you're not with us you won't do well -- this isn't a zoo, and you might see something we don't, but what we are saying is we're always trying to make the best images for our clients and for ourselves.
Consider this, too. Mary and I have seen dozens of cheetah kills, and scores of wildebeest river crossings. In truth, we probably have our best river crossing shots already in file. But YOU DON'T, and we realize this, and that's why we urge you to be patient, to wait, and to see the wonderful things that we have, in fact, already seen. But we also know that each kill is different, each river crossing is different, and that any event in nature has the absolute potential of unfolding into the greatest spectacle we've ever seen. So, remember, when you are in our care, we are looking out for you, we're trying to get you the best shots possible, and we are willing to put in the time for these events to occur. You should be, too.
Are you willing to eat a modest picnic breakfast afield rather than return to camp for a big cooked breakfast? If you answer this question with a Yes, then this trip will be for you and you'll fit in with the type of gung-ho photographer we attract. Are you willing to eat the leftovers from breakfast, or your 'emergency' Granola bars, for lunch instead of returning to camp to eat a cooked lunch if the shooting requires this? On an average we generally miss ONE lunch because of a hunting cheetah. On an average 3 of 4 vehicles stay and wait. 1 out of 4 vehicles generally leaves, sometimes composed of impatient folks scattered through the four vehicles.
Regarding breakfasts, we always eat a picnic breakfast in Samburu and the Masai Mara. It doesn't make sense to return from the field while the light is still great just to eat. Instead, whenever we have a lull in activity, we park our vans and grab breakfast then. As stated above, normally we do not stay out all day, although if something is very good, or promising, we will. That means that sometimes we'll miss lunch (or we'll come in for a very late lunch), and for that reason we advise people to pack candy or granola bars for a quick snack. We usually do return for lunch, however, since at high noon the light is high and extremely contrasty and almost all animal activity ceases in the hottest hours. However, if you're concerned about eating the meals you paid for, and of sleeping in when you wish, then I don't think our trips will be for you. With us, photography comes first. Especially with the heat of Samburu, we're usually in by 11:30AM, although on cloudy days, or when there was extraordinary action, we've come in closer to 1PM.
Our ten person safari with three per nine passenger vehicle is radically different from the typical 15-20 person safari crammed with five to nine passengers to a van or a tour 'limited' to twenty or more people. For that reason this safari is naturally more expensive, but in reality it's not that much more. Please, just ask yourself what your objective is: Is it to see Kenya and to take snapshots, or to be on a special photo safari designed to provide the best shooting opportunities possible. If your answer is the latter, then this safari is for you.
you've been to Kenya before you know the answer to that! If not,
you can expect the best, most exciting wildlife photography possible
on this planet. I liken Kenya to doing a shoot combining the best
of three great US destinations -- Denali, Yellowstone, and the
Everglades, for there are large mammals, birds, and scenics, all
possible in one locale the size of Texas, and we'll be concentrating
on one very small portion of that area.
We will prepare you photographically. I've written a shooting guide to Kenya that you can use as a handbook or reference when considering composition and exposure for most of your shooting subjects. Prior to the trip we'll provide you with our own recommendations on the gear to bring and, on safari, we'll provide thorough briefings on the subjects we expect to film and how to do so. We have a video as well, that describes the camps, the food, the shooting arrangements with the vehicles, and also provides important information on the natural history of most of the subjects you'll see, as well as our photographic tips for these subjects. You can order the video directly from our office.
Finally, in the field you'll be with either Mary or myself on an average of two out of every three game drives. As I mentioned earlier, we'll do our best to get you the best shots possible, and we'll be able to provide you with our suggestions on composition and exposure and, perhaps most importantly, on what we expect to happen and where we should be. Knowing animal behavior is a real plus, if not a key to successful wildlife shooting, and our experience, and that of our fantastic Kenyan driver/guides, will insure we have the best chance at obtaining great images.
Hopefully, too, you can expect great images of:
Leopards are elusive, solitary creatures. Surprisingly common,
they are difficult to see, well-camouflaged, shy, and retiring.
They are the trophy of any safari, and the hardest cat to film.
I've never missed with leopard, in FIFTY trips, but I'm always
worried, and we work hard to get this cat!
The Cheetah: Spotted, elegant, and surprisingly tame, this cat of the open grasslands is the easiest to film, once encountered. We'll spend approximately half the trip in the best locale in Kenya (the Masai Mara) for cheetahs, and we'll have an excellent chance of filming this, the fastest land animal in the world. Filming it hunting, however, will require luck and patience, although we should have the opportunity to do exactly that. Hunting cheetahs require patience, and this is the day we often miss lunch.
The Lion: The king of beasts appears to be anything but as it sleeps beneath an acacia. Stare into a male's eyes, or watch one snarl, or half-rise as if to charge, and you'll quickly understand how and why the lion got its title. Lions are easy to see, and in the Mara they can be surprisingly common. Photographing lions in action, however, is quite different from the sleepy views most tourists see. We'll be out early to catch any dawn hunts, and staying with a pride if hunting activity looks promising.
Rhinos: The only chance for this endangered species is in the Mara, and at two of our lodges we'll be in prime rhino country. We're usually very successful!
Elephants: Both Samburu and the Masai Mara have very healthy elephant populations. Depending upon the rains, elephants may put on a great show in Samburu, or be absent. In the Mara, elephants are common and easy to find; and make for wonderful, animated subjects.
Lesser Predators and the Herbivores: Typically, we also have great luck with hyenas, black-backed jackals, side-striped jackals, serval cats, and bat-eared foxes. We usually photograph three different primates - olive baboons, vervet monkeys, and colobus monkeys, and virtually all the herbivores - elephants, buffalo, zebras, antelope, hippos, warthog, etc. We typically have luck with some of the less common species, too, like greater kudu, steinbok, oribi, and klipspringer, but these, among the antelopes, are the real trophies and are not a 'given.'
have a wide variety of animals and birds available at our three
destinations. With radios in each of the vehicles our groups can
game drive independently, but can meet whenever a great subject
is seen. Unlike many other tours our vehicles often game drive
separately, fanning out to cover the largest area possible. In
this way, when one of our vehicles spots a leopard, or cheetah,
or baby elephant, or similarly great subject, everyone has the
opportunity to photograph that subject, too.
We are also the only safari operators who rotate our participants in a fair basis throughout all the vehicles so that you see and work with all the driver/guides, the other participants, and with Mary and I. Our rotation -- done for both morning and afternoon game drives -- insures that you see Mary and I an equal number of times (we feel that you will get your best shots when you are with us, an ego thing, sure, but we know what we're doing!), an equal number of times with the various driver/guides, and as diverse a rotation as can be accomplished in being with the other participants on the trip. In this way our groups become tightly knit into one big happy family, and, if there is a possible 'lemon' in our midst, no one is stuck or assigned to that group for the entire trip!
As this itinerary is planned nearly a year in advance, there's always the possibility of slight changes -- in day rooms, flight times, etc. However, the actual field time is almost never affected by last-minute airline or hotel changes.
Day 1, Arrive in Nairobi in the late evening or early hours of Day 2. Overnight: Nairobi Serena Hotel, Nairobi.
Day 2, We'll depart around 9:30AM for our drive to Samburu Game Reserve, arriving in time for a very short (non-photographic) game drive as we drive to our lodge. Overnight: Samburu Intrepids.
Day 3-5, Samburu Game Reserve. Over the next three days we'll concentrate upon the wildlife, birds, and scenery that characterize one of Kenya's prettiest parks. Along the river we'll seek elephants coming to drink and play, crocodiles lying in wait for prey, and monkeys using the riverine forest for shelter. Samburu may offer us leopard (it usually does), our best close-up opportunities for bird photography, and unusual endemic mammals, including oryx, gerenuk, dik-dik, reticulated giraffe, and Grevy's zebra. By the end of our third day we should have everything captured on film, ready to press on to our next destination. Overnights, Samburu Intrepids.
Day 6, Samburu to Lake Nakuru. We'll have a cooked breakfast
before leaving Samburu, early, for our next destination, Lake
Nakuru. We'll arrive in time for a late lunch. After lunch we
will do a late afternoon game drive where we may film African
white pelicans, flamingos, and White Rhinos, the only location
where we will have this species. If the light is good, the shores
of Lake Nakuru in late afternoon can be magical for flying pelicans,
gulls, and flamingos. Leopards, and even tree-climbing lions,
can be seen in the yellow-barked acacia forests.
Overnight, Lion Hill Lodge.
Day 7, Lake Nakuru to the lower Masai Mara. After an early breakfast we'll do a morning game drive where we'll work on white rhinos, lesser flamingos, and whatever other species we encounter. Nakuru hosts black rhinos, too, and we sometimes get both on a single game drive. Additionally, there are several species of plains game we'll also see in the Mara, including Thompson gazelle, warthog, Defassa waterbuck, and common zebra. Nakuru has an endangered subspecies of giraffe, the Rothschild giraffe, and we're fairly likely to see and photograph this species. We'll leave the park in late morning and head to our final shooting destination, the Masai Mara. En route we'll stop for lunch before continuing to the southern end of the Masai Mara arriving right before sunset. The Mara is Maasai country, but inside the park boundaries the villages, and vegetation-destroying cattle and goats, are excluded. Consequently the grass grows high, and lions, which fear Maasai and avoid them, are more common and active during the daylight hours. We'll be staying at one of the most centrally located lodges, and one of the oldest and most famous, Keekorok Lodge where we'll be in exceptional game country as soon as we leave the gate. Literally, within sight of the lodge we've photographed Black Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Cheetah, Lion, and many species of antelope. Overnight, Keekorok Lodge.
Day 8-9, Lower Mara. From our base in the southern Mara we'll concentrate on the wildlife unique to the area. There are a number of black rhinos in this section of the Masai Mara and we'll have a good chance of filming one here. Elephants are common, as are Masai giraffe, hartebeest, and topis. Lions are common, and we'll have our best chances at filming lions in action, be that mating, hunting, feeding, and hopefully even making a kill. Hyenas are common, too, and with the absence of easy prey these scavenger/hunters should be quite active during the day. Always on the alert for an easy meal, hyenas are more likely to be filmed at a carcass during the day in the southern Mara than anywhere else in Kenya. Overnights, Keekorok.
Day 10, Lower Mara to the Mara Triangle. We'll leave our southern base and do a morning game drive to our second great destination in the Masai Mara, Mara Serena Lodge. And I mean great! Mara Serena is probably the most beautiful lodge in all of Kenya, and the gardens have great songbirds and an exceptionally tame population of bush hyrax. But we're not there for the lodge's beauty! During the fall migration, Mara Serena is located almost directly above one of the premier river-crossing areas for wildebeest and zebras. We won't have crossings at this time of year but the area can be extremely productive for lion, cheetah, serval, and black rhino, as well as giant Nile crocodiles, hippos, and elephants. One more word, though, about the lodge. It is beautiful, and the food is outstanding. There are more lights in your room than probably are in your bedroom at home, so Serena lends itself wonderfully for catching up on battery charging, doing laptop stuff, etc. It's a great place at a great location. Overnight, Mara Serena Lodge.
Day 11, Mara Triangle. We'll continue to game drive around the Serena area, working on lions, cheetahs, servals, and everything else. From Serena, we'll have the only opportunity available to game drive through the southwestern corner, often called the Mara Triangle, where, someday, I'm sure African hunting dogs will return. Overnight, Mara Serena.
Day 12, Mara Triangle to Upper Mara. We'll leave Serena for our morning game drive, visiting the extreme northwestern section of the Mara Triangle (also known as the Trans Mara Conservation Area). A very tame black rhino calls this her home, and the area is a great spot for virtually all of the Mara's species, although one, the side-striped jackal, is most commonly seen in this area. At the conclusion of our morning game drive we'll leave the Park, cross the Mara River and cross through what is now Maasai country and what was once great game viewing country outside the park. We'll re-enter the Park near the Musiara Gate and continue to our final, EXTREMELY PRODUCTIVE, destination. That's the upper middle section of the Mara where we'll base out of Mara Intrepids Camp. After a late lunch and a short break, we'll do our first afternoon game drive in an area that has become our favorite part of the park. Overnight, Mara Intrepids Camp.
Day 13-14, Upper Mara. Quite simply, I love the Mara Intrepids area. Although all of the Mara is rich, and we've had great game just outside the gates of Keekorak and Serena, the Mara Intrepids area is truly exceptional. Leopards are particularly common here, and within a 15-minute drive we're within the territory of a very habituated female leopard. There's a great lion pride here as well, with 3 males that must rank among the most spectacular in the entire Mara. Intrepids is situated along the Talek River, and many of our game drives follow the serpentine route of the often-dry river. Because of the frequency of game drives along the river wildlife is exceptionally tame, and we've had some of our best bird of prey photography along this river including good opportunities for African fish eagles, Bateleur eagles, and kites. Intrepids' wonderful assortment of spectacular game is a fitting ending to our safari - offering the potential of some truly exciting photography. Overnights, Intrepids.
Day 15, Upper Mara to Nairobi to home. We'll have a cooked breakfast before boarding our Air Kenya flight to return to Nairobi. On your flight you'll be passing over some of the country we game drove across, providing a new perspective to your trip. You'll have the afternoon free to pack and rest, before enjoying your final, farewell dinner at the Carnivore Restaurant. The tour formally ends at the conclusion of this meal, with most participants taking that evening's flight home (most international departures are at night), with arrival in the US sometime on the following day after a change of planes in Europe. Day room, the Nairobi Serena Hotel.
photo safari prices for our Fall 2009 trips of $8,595
is based on land costs from Nairobi and includes all accommodations
(double occupancy), all meals except lunch in Nairobi, park entrance
fees, and ground transportation, including our exclusive three
photographers per van safari vehicles. A single rooming supplement
is available at an additional cost.
Surcharge for 11 or 12 Participants
Our safari price is based upon 13 photography participants, filling the vehicles with three photographers per vehicle. With 12 participants, one vehicle, during rotations, will have only 2 photographers on board (Mary and I will always have 2 photographers with us, for a total of 3 photographers per vehicle). With 11 photographers, two vehicles will have only 2 photographers on board on a given game drive. While there is a surcharge if the trip doesn't fill, there is a tremendous advantage for YOU, the participant, as there will only be two photographers in these vehicles. You'll still have the benefits of our expertise when you rotate into our vehicle, but on game drives that you're not with Mary or me you have a good chance of having almost a private vehicle!
Our lodging varies from permanent tented camps to normal tourist lodges. Tented camps are permanent structures, more like a hotel room under canvas, with flush toilet, running water, and shower inside each tent. Excellent cooks prepare food and most meals have a European/British influence. You won't be eating fresh killed zebra or eggs over a campfire! Drinks are not included, but they are inexpensive.
The price does not include the driver/guide's tip, which is usually about $225/person. That, by the way, is a very good tip, and I know that we provide our guides with one of the very best tips they receive each year. But consider this: Many safaris cram six to nine people in one van, and in tipping small amounts, end up nearly equaling our tip. Far more importantly, however, is the fact that our driver/guides are the best, experts at animal behavior and, from working with me for years, quite adept at putting us into the best spots for great pictures. I use the same guides each year and they know how I work and what's expected of them. They're good, and I like to reward them for their efforts.
We'll be offering two spots at a discounted price for a spouse to accompany the photographer. This is the deal. The spouse will be seated in the front seat, next to the driver, for all game-drives. This is a comfortable riding position, and will afford great game-watching views and opportunities for all but those times when game is on the right hand side behind the driver. Tne non-photo spouse is a non-photography position, and the driver/guides will not be positioning a vehicle to accommodate the non-photo spouse, but to work for the photographers. The non-photo spouse will need to sit still during shooting times, and will not be able or allowed to climb into the back with the photographers, regardless of viewing opportunities or lack thereof.
This offer is meant to provide couples an opportunity to travel together and to enjoy Kenya, but with the very real proviso that this does not impact upon the photography or opportunities for the 'shooters.' This is a photography trip and, spouses or not, will remain so. If interested, please inquire for the special discounted price. Further, the non-photographic spouse is a 'non-voter' in terms of whether a vehicle stays or goes, should it occur that some photographers wish to remain with a subject and others do not. In other words, if your spouse and you (the photographer) wish to leave, but the other two photographers (three photographers per van, remember) do not, it is two for, one against, and the vehicle remains.
With this in mind, we always suggest that spouses fill a photography spot even if they do not plan on shooting. Doing so allows that person more freedom of movement -- they can stand or sit, and they will have a better view of game. Non-photo spouses will be required to sign an agreement stating their knowledge of these facts, because a few spouses have, in the past, signed their non-photo spouses up without telling them any of these details, and the non-photo spouses were not happy with that arrangement!
Many non-photographic spouses have spent their time viewing game, sketching, or simply reading when the photographers were poised and waiting for activity. Some non-photo spouses elect to sit out afternoon game drives, and rarely even a morning game drive, and have spent their time walking the grounds or writing, or going on booked nature walks with lodge personnel.
should return with the best photographs of wildlife you've ever
taken. This doesn't come easily; it requires early starts, patience,
and a degree of luck. I believe any photographer traveling to
Kenya wants this, and that they're more interested in filming
game than they are in lounging at a pool or in having a leisurely
cooked breakfast during the best shooting time of the day!
Our field days (excepting travel) start before dawn so that we can greet the sunrise with our lenses. We'll have modest boxed picnic breakfasts on most field days, since this saves time and allows us to travel anywhere without having to worry about returning for a breakfast. Lunches and dinners are at camp, and, with the quantity of food available, I doubt if you'll miss the cooked breakfast. We may, however, occasionally miss lunch if a subject is so good that to leave it would be silly. That doesn't happen often, and if we decide to do so, we do it by group consensus. I'll tell you, when the vote comes up, when such a situation arises, people always look at me as if I'm crazy for even asking them if they wish to leave! Nonetheless, if at least three people (from x number of vans) wish to leave at any time, they are welcome to do so. We will not do so for only two, however. Our rule is three photographers per van, so three is the magic number.
We will stay with a subject as long as it's necessary to get great photos, provided the goal is realistic. Some animals require only a minute of work for a great snap-shot like opportunity that still provides a great image. Others require work, and we've stayed with hunting cheetahs, cheetahs with cubs, lions and leopards with kills or hunting, mating leopards, hunting wild dogs, or wildebeest bunching up at a river for a crossing, for hours (or for an entire day). Don't be afraid that by doing this you'll miss other shots. I've done enough of these (this will be my 20th year of doing Kenya safaris) that I know what's good, what's worth our time, and where our priorities should lie in giving you not only unique, wonderful images, but also full coverage of everything you wanted to film. You will amass a wonderful portfolio of all your Kenyan wildlife, but you won't be producing traditional boring tourist shots. We'll try to get you great images -- magic material! Although we won't be consciously amassing a species list, you'll undoubtedly see as many, if not even more, species of wildlife by doing it this way than you would by being a 'tourist,' since we'll be in the field longer, looking, watching, and filming.
Mary and I know Kenya, its wildlife, and how to photograph
it. I want everyone to obtain great photographs, and to enjoy
himself or herself while doing so. Great photography requires
patience, luck, and time, plus a degree of skill that my drivers/guides
and Mary and I can provide. You can trust us that everything we
do as your trip leaders will have those priorities - your photos
and well-being as an individual in our group -- in mind.
Don't expect me to compromise the group for you, whether that's for tardiness, forgetfulness, or otherwise. We won't. We're upfront about our time, field breakfasts, tenacity and seriousness, and we want our people to know this. If you join us, that's what you're getting into. I think some people join a group and expect it to conform to their individual demands. We won't do that. If you like to travel privately, or to 'run the show,' or to make selfish demands, we'd suggest you go alone.
Frankly, about 1 out of about every 30 people objects to our schedule. Although we're completely upfront with our objectives and those for our group, some people lack patience. Unfortunately, rather than sitting out a game drive if they're tired, or leaving and going for 'something else,' they stay, because we are staying, yet they resent doing so. We urge people to leave if they so choose, but our role, as guides, is to guide you, and to hang in there with us if we feel it is worth it. Honestly, if you're not serious about photographing or you know that you're not patient, please don't travel with us!
Foreign travel is exciting, but it can be exhausting for some. You very well may need to sit out a game drive and relax one day, and if you feel this way, please do so. We press fairly hard, but we do so because we know that many in the group have high-energy reserves, limited budgets, and inexhaustible enthusiasm, and these folks want as much out of the experience as they can get. We aim to deliver that. Rest if you need to, and wish those that don't the best of luck as they do the game drive you missed. By the way, if you feel you must miss a drive, skip the afternoon drive. Morning drives are usually, but not always, the most productive. By the way, we usually have one person/per safari miss one game drive to rest.
wife Mary Ann and I strive to provide the most comfortable and
thorough safari you will experience. Both Mary and I are photographers,
and I'd hope you've seen our credits. These included Audubon,
National Geographic, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Natural History,
Living Bird, Birder's World, Wildlife Conservation, and most
In 1994 Mary Ann won two first place awards in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, in Endangered Species and in Bird Behavior. In 1998 she had three highly commended images published in the BBC competition, ALL THREE from Kenya! She won first place in the Cemex/Nature's Best photo contest in the Humor Division for Professional Photographers. In 2003 she won first place in Mammal Behavior in the Agfa All Africa photo competition with a dust bathing bull elephant from Samburu. Mary has written a number of children's books, including Leopards, Grizzly Bears, Woodpeckers, Flying Squirrels, Sunflowers, Cobras, Jupiter, Boas, Garter Snakes, Pythons, Rattlesnakes, Ducks, Chickens, Horses, and Cows, and a coffee table book, Out of the Past, Amish Tradition and Faith.
I've written several how-to wildlife photography books -- A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife, The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual, The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, Designing Wildlife Photographs, Photographing on Safari, A Field Guide to Photographing in East Africa, and The New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography. In 1999 Todtri published African Wildlife, and in 1999 we produced our first instructional video, A Video Guide to Photographing on Safari with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald. The video has received rave reviews, and it is the definitive guide for preparing yourself for a safari. I've won several times for highly commended images in both the Cemex/Nature's Best and the Agfa all Africa photo competitions. In 2003 I won 2nd place in the World in Our Hands category in the BBC competition with an image from Africa.
Mary and I were featured in the book, the World's Best Wildlife Photographers, and we write regularly appearing columns in Outdoor Photographer magazine and in several web magazines. Our latest book, Digital Nature Photography, From Capture to Output, is a PDF file that covers EVERYTHING you need to know about digital nature photography, including workflow, file management, RAW conversion, and maximizing the digital image. It is available directly through our office..