The Great Migration 2015 Update!

It’s been a tough year for the migrating herds so far this year. Those hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle who had marched down from Kenya and Tanzania’s northern Serengeti towards the end of last year found that the short rains of November had been poor and whilst some expected rain fell in December and January, by February things were really drying up.

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If that wasn’t enough February is probably the most important month in the wildebeest calendar as the ‘synchronised’ calving takes place and around 250,0000 calves are born in a four week period. Along with the gnus, it’s peak time for zebra foals and gazelle fawns, not to mention lion and cheetah cubs and hyena and jackal pups.

It’s supposed to be a time of plenty when the herds can wander around the nutrient-rich short grass plains, following the rainstorms for the best grazing and water.   Not moving far gives the mothers the best chance to produce the most milk and for the young calves to gather their strength before the main migration north in May and June. But not this year as 2 million large animals quickly ate all the grazing available in the vicinity of the Ndutu woodlands and then were forced to move north in search of new pasture.

Large scale movement of the herds at this time is dangerous for the calves for two reasons: they are not yet strong enough move such distances and still thrive and the very fact of moving means that more young are likely to be separated from their mothers. In March we tracked the big herds to north of Seronera,, way beyond where they should have been, and even after this long trek, the grazing there was worse than the plains they had left to the south. There were some truly miserable looking calves!

And it wasn’t just the grazers, 3 five month old lion cubs among the rocks of the Gol Kopjes were also hungry and forlorn. They’d been born at the right time of the year, in what should have been the right place but the once lively plans were now empty of the great herds and it’s always the cubs that suffer first.

Fortunately the ‘long rains’ started in the second week of April, only slightly late and the herds immediately smelt the rain and moved south and are now back on the short grass plains. The calves will be happy, as will the lion cubs, but undoubtedly in years like this, the survival rate will be lower than the average – it’s al part of nature’s way of maintaining a balance.

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In spite of some struggling calves, the game viewing was as good as ever, a pack of 25 wild dog in Tarangire a particular treat and whilst most of the wildebeest may have been further north, the sight of tens of thousands of gazelle in the early morning light at Ndutu made for a stirring sight each morning, and the cheetah and the leopard were as photogenic as ever and these young cheetah eventually managed to dig out the hare that they’d chased into a burrow.

Elephant viewing in Tarangire was excellent and the rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater very helpful, whilst Masai dancing at sunset in a remote rocky kopje will always make the hair stand up on the back of your neck —there is never a bad safari in Tanzania!

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Join me to see the second part of Tanzania’s great migration, the river crossings, in September of this year, get in touch soon for further details – just 4 places left!

Andrew

Contact us at  info@journeyintoafrica.com for help in planning your perfect safari.  Bespoke safaris arranged for from 1 to 14 people – the options, and opportunities, are endless!

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The Masai Mara

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Third on the list of my Top Ten African safari destinations, the Masai Mara is one of the most famous wildlife areas in Africa: famed for it’s variety of species, for its migrating herds crossing the crocodile-infested waters of the Mara River and immortablised by the BBC’s Big Cat Diary which was filned in the Mara.

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Where: Located in southern Kenya,  on the border of Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, 4 -5 hours drive or a short flight from Nairobi.

Why: Year-round resident game in lovely open scenery making for easy game viewing.  Good numbers of lion, cheetah and leopard, many of whom are very relaxed around safari vehiciles making for great game viewing.  When the huge herds of wildebeest and zebra are in the Mara the viewing can be truly outstanding!  Elephant, rhino, hippo and crocs complete an impressive list of megafauna!

When: Year round but at its best when the big herds are around normally from July through to the end of September.

Where: The Mara is a relatively small area compared to some of the larger parks, and can get very busy particularly during the holiday season of July to August.   The smaller select camps along the rivers will give a feeling of exclusivity but some of the concession areas just outside the reserve allow more personal game veiwing experiences.

How long: You need at least two nights and preferably three in the Mara, and can combine two differenet camps in different areas for a more complete visit.

What to do: Game drives are the main option in the Mara, but walking and horse riding safaris are possibilities in the areas just outside the reserve.  Masai cultural visits are also possible.

My view:   The Mara is a terrific reserve with great game viewing and easily accessible from Nairobi with numerous flights.  Some people, particularly experienced safari-goers, may find the number of vehicles a bit much and it can be hard to get exclusive game viewing in the main reserve.  If this may worry you, the harder to get to northern Serengeti may be the better option, but for those with limited time, the Mara is a great choice.

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For more information on the Masai Mara and Kenya’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Tarangire National Park!

 

The Ngorongoro Crater

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This is the second of my Top Ten African safari destinations, and one which seems to divide opinion these days!  Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is frequently cited as the one place you’d go to if you had just one day to spend on safari in Africa; in many ways this is true: the Crater has phenomenal scenery, fascinating geology and you are virtually guaranteed to see perhaps four of the ‘Big Five’ along with great herds of wildebeest and zebra, good jackal and hyena, hippo and great birdlife in a single day at virtually any time of the year.

But this wealth of treasures has brought its drawbacks:  too many vehicles on too restricted a road network and a, necessarily, much higher level of stringent park regulations has made the Crater a less satisfying safari destination than in the past for experienced safari travellers.   I well remember camping on the floor of the Crater in the 1980’s and had some of my most dramatic wildlife experiences in camp there, but now I recommend just one day on the Crater floor and leaving as early as possible to stay ahead of most other visitors.   Even now, the Crater leaves an inspiring impression on virtually all who go there.

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Where: Located in northern Tanzania, between the city of Arusha and the Serengeti National Park.

Why:  Some of the highest concentrations of lion, hyena and jackal in Africa, easily seen during the day, with great herds of wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and gazelle.  The backdrop of the 2000 ft Crater wall make a stunning backdrop to every picture and the scenery is surprisingly varied with lakes, marshes, woods and plains.  The wildlife is very habituated to vehicles which makes this the place for wildlife portraits.

The Crater is also the best place in Tanzania for seeing the endangered black rhino and the Conservation Area as a whole is home to the Masai people; having time to get just off the main road around the Crater rim will lead you to some wonderfully pristine Masai communities and countryside.

When: Most of the wildlife in the Crater does not migrate so game viewing is pretty consistent throughout the year.  Heavy rainfall during the ‘long rains’ of April and early May can make access to certain areas of the Crater more difficult, but you’re less likely to run into more visitors then, a definite advantage!

Where: The Crater is small enough that a full day of perhaps 6 to 8 hours game driving will allow you to see virtually all of the Crater floor.   If you have time for a second day, you can visit one of the less seen regions of the Conservation Area:: the beautiful extinct volcanoes of Olmoti or Embagai and take a hike with an armed ranger.  Further, longer hikes with Masai and donkeys are also possible for the more adventurous.

How long: You need a two night stay with one game drive on the Crater floor, and a third night if you want a longer hike in the surrounding areas.  Good safari accommodation is more of a problem at the Crater and most times I use the rather large and impersonal lodges which have a great view and access to the Crater floor.  My view is that you need to be close enough to the Crater to get down there early – it makes a big difference to the wildife experience, so I avoid the small lodges around the town of Karatu which have become more popular.

What to do: Game drives are the only option on the Crater floor with escorted hikes in the surrounding areas of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and visits to Masai villages and schools.  Just south of the Conservation Area is the Lake Eyasi region where hunting with the Hadza hunter-gatherers is possible.

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For more information on the Ngorongoro Crater and Tanzania’s other safari destinations visit: www.journeyintoafrica.com Or contact us on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

Next on the Top Ten – Kenya’s Masai Mara!

The Top Ten Wildlife Areas of East & Southern Africa!

Actually they’re my ‘Top Ten’ as like all choices it’s all subjective and highly personal, however after nearly 30 years of taking groups on safari in East and Southern Africa I know what works and which areas make for a great safari destination!

Of course, there’s far more to it than simply the destination: you have to be there at the right time of the year, in the right part of the park and doing your safari in the right way, but if you end up visiting a combination of any of my Top Ten, you’ll have a wildlife experience to savour!

Over the next month or so, every few days I’ll be posting a new blog with the next entry on my list, with information on why the area is such a great safari destination, when and where to go, how long you might want to stay and what to do there.

Starting tomorrow with the jewel in Botswana’s crown –  The Okavango Delta!

Talk tomorrow – and to make sure you don’t miss any of the ten, click on the Follow button at the bottom of this Blog which will alert you when a new blog is posted.

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For further details on African photographic safaris or on any of the areas mentioned in this blog visit:

www.journeyintoafrica.com

Or contact Andrew on : info@journeyintoafrica.com

What to take on safari?

Pack lightly!  That’s the best bit of advice you can get!   Most safari camps and lodges can launder clothes any place you’re staying at least 2 nights, but even if not, East and southern Africa is usually a dry heat and you’ll soon get used to a bit of dust!

Many safaris have a flight by light aircraft where the weight limit is 15 to 20 kgs in total, including hand luggage.  Check beforehand and remember that safaris are very informal – there’s no need to dress for dinner and you really can re-wear clothing  – no one else will mind!  Neutral, khaki-coloured clothing is the norm and whilst not critical unless you’re on a walking safari, it all adds to the feeling of being ‘on safari’.  Those light aircraft flights don’t take hard suitcases so use soft-sided duffle-type luggage and leave your valuables at home.

You’ll want loose fitting light clothing to wear in the evenings and the amount of warm clothes will depend on where you’re going and when: staying at a camp 9000 feet up in the Ngorongoro Highlands is cold at any time of year after dark, and in the winter of southern Africa, from June to August, the temperature can be freezing, literally, when the  sun goes down. Warm hats, gloves and windproof jackets are essential at that time of the year.

Most people on safari bring a camera but for me the most important single item is your binoculars.  Unless you want to fight with your partner you need a pair each and  something like an 8 or 10 x 42 magnification is best.  You need a pair you’re comfortable holding for extended periods of time – they’re your eyes on safari!  So tiny, pocket-sized binos are not good, they have too small a field of view and are too small to hold comfortably, but similarly the huge ship-type binoculars are too big – there’s plenty of choice on the market at reasonable prices.

Hope that helps – enjoy your safari!

Andrew

Birding in the tea plantations of Rwanda

Birding in the tea plantations of Rwanda

For more information on safaris, including a recommended luggage list for safaris, see http://www.journeyintoafrica.com  or contact us on info@journeyintoafrica.com

The Big Five ( and the Little Five!)

The ‘ Big Five’ is an oft-used expression in safari circles, and has become the five animals most visitors most want to see.  Apart from the reality that a safari is not a zoo and there are far more important aspects to a real safari than simply ticking off species, the origin of the ‘Big Five’ has become somewhat obscured.

The Big Five were actually the five animsls considered the most dangerous to hunt:  lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.   If you see reserves claiming to have the big 5 including hippo or even cheetah, it’s simply because they’re missing one of the true species!

Further collections of 5’s seem to keep coming: the ‘quickest 5’, the most ‘colourful 5’ but these are all figments of a marketeer’s imagination.    The only other fairly long-standing and truly interesting 5 collection is possibly the ‘Little Five’.

The little 5 has it’s origins in it’s larger brother as the names of the occupants tell you:  antlion larvae, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, buffalo weaver and rhinoceros beetle.    In fact, there’s no doubt that seeing the ‘Little Five’ on safari is a much harder task than seeing the ‘Big Five’, so if you come back from safari having seen all 5, that really is something to boast about!

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Elephant shrew and his slightly larger ‘brother’!

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For more help on planning your personal, perfect safari, get in touch at:

andrew@journeyintoafrica.com

For more information on the major wildlife areas in East and Southern Africa see: www.journeyintoafrica.com

 

Wildlife on safari

I’ve just returned from a great two week safari in Botswana, finishing on the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls.  As always, it was a fantastic trip with different highlights for different people.

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Everyone has their favourites: cats are always near the top of any ‘wish list’ and often elephant and giraffe are right up there; African wild dogs, the ‘Painted Wolves’ of Africa, are regularly one of my highlights, even if not all my guests appreciate them quite as much!  Botswana also gives great opportunities for watching those magnificent antelopes: the greater kudu, the roan and the sable.

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On this safari we saw all the great wildlife sights on offer: lion mating, cheetah full-bellied after a hunt, a huge tom leopard treed by lion, wild dogs hunting at dusk, hippos fighting, elephants swimming…  The list went on, but for many the highlight?  Not the cats. or the ‘megafauna’ but two male sable antelope as they enacted a choreographed dance routine in front of us, circling each other, showing off their magnificent horns in perfect harmony as they tried to establish dominance.  Ten minutes of circling was followed by one minute of action as they locked horns.

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It was a fantastic sight – you just never know what you’re going to see on safari and that is undoubtedly one of its attractions!

Get in touch at andrew@journeyintoafrica.com to see these sights for yourself – a safari is truly a trip of a lifetime but beware, once you’ve been once, you’ll be coming back for more!

Call on ++44 1743 850043 or see www.journeyintoafrica.com

Birding in Africa

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If you watched the last Attenborough Africa program last week, (and the finale is tonight) amongst many other great scenes was the swallows crossing the vast Sahara, dependent on finding the one oasis to stock up on flies to continue their journey.

It’s truly astounding how many birds make just this passage each year, some crossing the vast expanse of sand to the west, others following the rockier, but just as dry, path down the Great Rift Valley to the east, but either way, they join the already amazing array of colourful and extravagantly wonderful birds that make up Africa’s birding list.                                                           .

At any time of the year birding in Africa is one of its real pleasures, I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world where so many different species of wonderfully varied and numerous species can be so easliy seen.  I once sat by a river in a national park in a rainforest in Borneo, after two hours of watching I’d seen one species, admittedly a very interesting gull-billed kingfisher, but sitting by a similar river in East Africa would have produced 10 or 20 times that number!

Even the most avowed ‘non-twitchers’ when sat in front of a marsh full of egrets, African spoonbills, storks, ducks, huge spurwing geese, with African fish eagles overhead, start ticking them off with the best of them!  It is truly one of the pleasures of being on safari.

And if you come when those migrants are down from the north, the cuckoos and the waders, the harriers and the storks, when the red-chested cuckoo calls all day and the soft prrrp of the scops owl calls all night, there is nowhere quite like it!

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Cormorants and pelicans in huge numbers!

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Abdim’s storks – an intra-Africa migrant, usually found with European white storks.

If you missed the show you can catch it on BBC iPlayer:
 
If you’re dreaming of your own African adventure, make sure you visit my website http://www.journeyintoafrica.com/
Or give me a call on 01743 850043