Photo Safari: Luangwa Classic | Flatdogs & Lion Camp | 21 - 27 Jul 2014

22nd July 2014
Day 1

I've just finished the first day (1 night drive and 1 morning drive) with my guests from Holland, Wil and Marlies. Very sadly their 2 friends were not able to join them at the last minute so we are only a team of 3 heading into the bush each day.

I say sadly because Henk and Kitty have missed some spectacular sightings already. Here's what we've been enjoying in the last 24 hours.

The obligatory beautiful sunset along the river.



Our first view of a leopard was a case of peek-a-boo.



But it was soon followed by several other sightings, and a cunning hyaena who pursued the cats to steal whatever it could from them.







OVERNIGHT AT FLATDOGS CAMP

This morning, we spent a while tracking down a leopardess with her cubs, and eventually had a nice sighting as they crossed the road. Not a photo opportunity, but even photographers don't complain about leopard cubs!

Then, when it was already going well, I saw some impalas running through the thickets. Antelope don't run from many predators (preferring to keep an eye on them) with the exception of.....WILD DOGS!!!

Rounding a corner, is there a better sight for any guide anywhere??!



For the next 40 minutes we followed as they played, rolled in the grass, chased impala and watched elephants as they crossed the river. The elephants chased the dogs in the end, and it was certainly high drama.







Here they are watching the elephants....









Following all this, we found 8 lions eating a zebra in a bush so no photos from that, but still a great sighting, and we ended up with a Fish Eagle and a Yellow-billed Stork!







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Day 2

So here's day 2's efforts - not as dramatic as day 1, but that was always going to be hard to beat!

We found a Little Bee-eater near the park gate who sat patiently while we faffed with our cameras!



We spent a long time with a herd of giraffe who fed in a dambo near the river. Perfect light helped our efforts.











And after dark, we worked on getting a good exposure in the spotlight and were happy with the results on this Large Spotted Genet and Giant Eagle Owl.





OVERNIGHT AT FLATDOGS CAMP

The following morning, we found elephants crossing the river so waited until the sun began to rise to colour the water behind them.



We briefly bothered a different Giant Eagle Owl who was resting in a Tamarind tree.



Out on the plains of Wamilombe, we found a small flock of Blue-eared Starlings who glowed irridescently in the morning light.



And best of all, was kept til last. A Martial Eagle feeding on a Guinea Fowl. Over an hour, we were able to approach very close at it perched on the low branch.












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Day 3

Following our successes with the Martial Eagle, we wondered what the bush would throw at us that evening. The answer was.....not so much! We visited with a small group of lions who were lying around at the edge of a lagoon and not doing much, but we did spend some time working out how to get the sharpest images of a Roller.



And then we headed back to camp, knowing that we needed to pack for Lion Camp the following day. But on the way, there was a Civet posing, so we snapped a few shots.




OVERNIGHT AT FLATDOGS CAMP

The following morning, we left early and drove quickly for around 20 minutes with the aim of getting to some areas before the sun was up. As the glow came over the horizon, we were ready to shoot some low-level, backlit Waterbuck photos. Animals with fluffy coats are best for this as the hair makes a halo around them, outlining the shape.







Arriving in one of the big lagoon systems, we moved slowly hoping to pick up some predators moving around in the cold morning, but had no luck. No-one was moving, so we worked with some Giraffes and tried some animal-scapes.



From there, we headed to Lion Camp, enjoying the scenery along the way.

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Day 4

Leaving Lion Camp at 3 in the afternoon, we almost immediately heard Pukus whistling their distinctive call, so we scouted around and soon found a large (and fat!) male leopard who had been resting in the sand at the base of a mud cliff. He wasn't too pleased to see us and moved away, pausing to give us a little stare as he crossed the road.



We gave him a little time to settle and then followed his tracks to a nearby bush. He eyed us suspiciously but then fell asleep.



It was only when I started the engine to move off that we got a snarl of annoyance. We left him at that stage.



We went in search of the Hollywood pride, but were delayed by some elephants who were feeding near the road.





We found the Hollywoods, but they were elbow-deep in a young buffalo that they had killed the previous night. We watched but the branches (and the gore) made it hard to take photos. We settled for some shots of this little guy when he came out to rest on a termite mound.




OVERNIGHT AT LION CAMP

The next morning, knowing the the pride would need to drink, we checked on the nearby lagoons, and quickly found all 17 at Tsetse lagoon, just behind Lion Camp. When we arrived it was still dark, but we waited for the light and then enjoyed around 2 hours with them as they rested, played and went to drink at the lagoon.

















There was plenty of play, and some of it pretty rough!





After complaining bitterly about the presence of 17 lions, even the Guinea Fowl settled down in the end and dust bathed and fed in the sand.





Later the lions, settled too, with hectic play developing into quiet contemplation as the temperature rose.





The youngest cub is still suckling but the mother didn't let that interrupt her attempts to pose for us.



Thinking that the morning was over, we crossed the plain to line up some sightings for the afternoon (animals don't move much in the heat of the day so you can return later and often find them again). But I heard a baboon bark so we quickly followed the noise and found a leopard crossing the open plain.....but wait, what's that moving with her...? A cub? No two cubs!!





Being caught out on the plain at 0900 in the morning was not what the leopard has in mind, so she rushed into a thicket. But we were able to get an angle where we could see her and we enjoyed her and the cubs as they played, suckled and rested.

The light was awful but you rarely get to see little leopard cubs at all, and their secretive nature means that they don't like to loll around in the sunshine!







After a while, we left them to it, and returned to camp.

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Day 5

In the afternoon, we decided to go back to look for the cubs just as the light was dropping, hoping they were still around. We wondered if the mother might have moved them, knowing that her secret hide out was compromised.

On the way, we found a Great White Egret and an Openbill stork together, which made a nice photo, even if it was hard for the camera's meter!





Arriving back at the thickets where we'd left the cubs, we quickly found the 3 of them in a different bush.

They played and posed and climbed in the low branches. Again, they were in the shade, but somehow that didn't seem to matter to us!!























We left as another vehicle arrived and we didn't want to put any stress on the mother.

Taking advantage of the last of the light, we enjoyed these puku in nice colours.



OVERNIGHT AT LION CAMP

This morning, we fully intended to ignore the predators (since they've been fairly dominant this week!) but whistling pukus were too tempting and we tracked down a mating pair of leopards. No photos as they were moving through the grass, but sometimes it's good to forget the cameras and just watch.

We heard the lions were hunting so we went to have a look, but instead found the cubs, playing as before in the morning light. We stayed for a bit and took some photos, but then left to seek other opportunities.













We found a small group of elephants and tried to get some herd shots as they moved across the plain, but they spread out and we failed in our mission. We took some nice low-level photos of them singly though.





Last night drive tonight and then our final morning tomorrow. No doubt the bush has some surprises for us. More to come!!

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Day 6

At last - sorry for the delay - the final day of our photo safari. Did it live up to the preceding days? Was it the grand finale or a quiet anti-climax......?

We started the final afternoon with plans to make the best of the light. Passing by where we'd seen buffalo tracks in the morning, we searched for both the big herd and the lions, in case they had killed a buffalo during the day. They hadn't - or not that we could see - so we moved on. From there followed the quietest hour of safari that we'd had all week. The light was nice, the environment perfect, but there was no one around. Not even the small antelope that are often to be found loitering on every corner. We drove out to the river, but even the hippos were having a quiet Saturday afternoon, showing only nostrils and eyes above the surface. Such is the way with safari sometimes.

Eventually, we found a large herd of impalas in the bush. Knowing that they would move across the open area to their sleeping grounds, we parked in such a way to split the herd, and took panning movement shots as the trailing animals ran past to catch the rest of the group. The light was nice so it didn't matter if we were shooting into the light or away from it.







As the light dropped, with no other sounds to follow up on, we set off in search of the lions, who would surely be moving around by that time.

We didn't find lions, but we did find a small posse of buffalo bulls. There was clearly a lead bull who was very quick to show some aggression, snorting and raising his head in our direction. Even when the others wandered off, he kept his beady eyes on us and stood solidy in defiance.







No sooner had we set off, we found this female leopard in a gully! There were no calls to alert us to her presence (all the impalas had moved off) so we enjoyed her in the last glow of evening, parking just down the side of a bank so that we would have her at eye level as she approached. She meandered around and then lay down in a gully.











We tried to predict her movements and positioned ourselves to catch her scent-marking a tree, and then moving across the open plain in pursuit of the impalas that we had been with previously.







As the light failed, we left her to hunt and headed back to camp. When you can enjoy sightings like that in the daylight, it seems unnecessary to stay out after dark!

OVERNIGHT AT LION CAMP

The following morning, we decided to ignore predators completely and head out early onto the plains and enjoy the sunrise with zebras, elephants, waterbuck or whatever we might find out there. It was zebras, and a lot of them!

In the early light, when the sun is extremely low, the exposure is hard because you need to balance the silhouetted zebra with the bright sun. Sometimes all you can get is the shape.







As the sun rises out of the shot, that is the prime time for backlighting. Zebras have lovely fluffy manes which pick up the light nicely.











My guests would never have shot into the light in this way before, preferring side- or front-lighting for their photos. So we learned something new that morning. It's not easy, and there is some luck but with a grip on exposure concepts, it's possible to get some nice images. One of the hardest parts is to get your camera to focus correctly on a very low-contrast zebra which is back-lit. The best technique is to choose the ears or mane where the light is shining through as the AF system will pick up on the contrast there.

Having spent an hour with the zebras, the light was nice for some more traditional shots. A hyaena approached us across the plain, so we drove down into a gully and waited for her to come over the top.





The light began to get bright but we just had time to position ourselves for a pair of elephant bulls walking across the open area. They separated before we could photo them both together, but we did manage some compositions with a nice Leadwood tree in the background.



The last subject for the morning was a very regal Waterbuck. The light was getting harsh so we composed in mononchrome in our heads and tried to imagine the tones that would result. It's interesting to note that the scrubby bush in the background is much more evident in B&W than in colour. 'Seeing' in B&W is a hard technique to learn, but rewarding if you want to shoot this type of image.





As we drove towards the river for a tea-break, we heard monkeys, so scouted around and found our final leopard of the week - 6 different individuals at Flatdogs, and 9 different individuals at Lion Camp. Is that a record!? Possibly not, but not likely to be beaten anytime soon!



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What a week! If you like what you read and see, consider joining me on safari next year when I have 3 set-departure trips planned. I am also able to put together bespoke trips if the dates/itineraries don't suit you. Have a look at my SAFARIS page (on the menu bar at the top) and get in touch.





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Comments

Photo comment By Gilly: Grrrrr!
Photo comment By Flavia: What a great day! Looking forward for next days photo!
Photo comment By Roger Fry: Great photos Ed. If your guest had to go home tomorrow, they've already seen more than some people see after years of safaris...Wild Dogs!!

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