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About mtanenbaum

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    California USA
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    photography, animals, culture, scenery, meeting locals

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  1. Could any of the birders out there help me ID these birds from my recent trip? Thanks in advance. I was especially taken by the tiny hawk in the fourth image--it was about the size of a sparrow. We saw that one outside of Bwindi in Uganda.
  2. Thanks for sharing, AmyBatt. I want to check out all these photographers. That Arnfinn shot is incredible! Do any of the Safaritalkers know anything about the tented camp at the Mara he is involved in, Oltepesi Tented Safari Camp? It seems really reasonably priced...I'm wondering how they can be so much cheaper than the competitors and cater to serious photographers. It seems the camps that claim to cater to the more serious photographers usually are MORE expensive, not less...
  3. Thanks for sharing your extraordinary images and also some of the things that went wrong and also right on your safari. Its a good reminder that we should make our expectations known in advance. I was so lucky on my recent trip to the Mara to have a vehicle all to myself without paying extra for it since the camp was about half empty. It does really spoil you! And we stayed out from about 6:30 am to 12:30 PM, with a bush breakfast sometime in the middle of the drive. The food wasn't hot since it went with us in the morning but I decided room temperature pancakes and hard boiled eggs was definitely preferable over a hot breakfast for the extra time on game drive! If we had come back for a hot breakfast, you have much more time in camp and less time out on game drives...not a good trade-off! I'm especially jealous of your wonderful bird photos--it's often so hard to get them on game drives since they seem to fly away as soon as you get close enough for a picture! The bee-eaters are especially gorgeous!
  4. Yes, Amybatt, I think I picked this camera off your recommendation (LOL!) I spent a long time reading about different cameras before going with that. Here's a few more shots to share: We had a great elephant sighting in the rain, but the sun was out, so we got to enjoy a rainbow on top of the elephants. But were the elephants maybe a bit TOO close to our vehicle??? Is this an elephant hug? And a few more lion shots--these were pretty big cubs...but I loved the way they were posing with mom. We had a lot of cheetah sightings--we didn't see the hunt, but the cheetah was having breakfast on a baby gazelle. We had only one good leopard sighting in the five days--the leopards in this area appear very shy (on my first trip to Africa I didn't realize how lucky I was to see leopards every day! that was in Botswana...) But this one was hiding in the bushes, and finally decided to turn so we could get a nice view.
  5. Thanks, I bought a new camera for the trip, a bridge camera from's the RX 10 III (they just came out with a IV but it was even more expensive so I got the III). It has a 24-600 equivalent lens. I was pleased with the results, although I had trouble working the manual focus on it. I need to practice more with that. Here's a few more of my favorite shots from the trip: Gazelle giving birth...we saw the whole process, since the guide saw just a tiny bit of one of the legs popping out (which you can see in this first photo) and then we settled down to watch the wonder of childbirth! The whole process didn't last very long. Mom seemed very nervous, constantly looking around for predators--both jackals and hyenas were not far away. It was surprising to see how after the birth, the mother rejoined the herd, and left the baby in the grass, where is was well camouflaged as long as it didn't move... We also saw many zebra foals. I hadn't realized their stripes are brown when they are small!
  6. Thanks so much for sharing. Beautiful photos and great to read your descriptions as well!
  7. I was at Offbeat the 2nd week of January. It was an add-on to my 2 weeks in Uganda (separate trip report!) . Here's a few more pictures below....We actually did not go into the National Park at all. The staff seemed to think there was no point at this time of year--no river crossing going on (we did go down to the Mara river, the part that's in the conservancy). We did all our game drives on the reserve--there were hardly any vehicles, and of course they can go off-road, which you can't in the park, so I was good with that decision. I think I have developed an addiction to Africa--as soon as I come back I'm planning more trips! But I'm also thinking of doing grizzly bears in much to see. They told me at Offbeat they have a lot of repeat customers--I'd love to go back but there are so many places to visit it makes it very hard to decide. I just wish it wasn't such a long trip for us from California all the way to Africa. Here's a hippo lying in a small pool, filled with lots of hippo waste (yuck!) Another picture from the hippo carcass--it appeared to be a very large male, so the guide thought it had probably died of natural causes. What animal would go after a gigantic hippo?? Even the lions would be scared off, I would think! We were the only ones at the sighting and it was so quiet you could hear the hyenas cracking the bones of the hippo. They kept chasing off the vultures but they kept coming... The vultures are so ugly but also's one in a tree. It is gigantic. You can see here how green the Mara was... (golf course with lions....)
  8. I had a terrific first trip to Kenya with a 4 night, five day trip to Offbeat Mara. This camp is in the Mara North conservancy. I wasn't sure what to expect exactly with weather and sightings in January, but I was pleasantly surprised! With the changes in weather patterns, the Mara was green like a giant golf course (I was told it was supposed to be dry in January). We had several rainstorms during my stay which provided some beautiful lighting. My other trips to Africa were in the dry season, so I was thrilled to have the chance to photograph the animals with the lush green backgrounds. My main goal was to see lion cubs, and I saw lots of them, from all three prides that roam that conservancy. I still have not managed to see a successful hunt, but we saw two unsuccessful hunts--a cheetah going after a warthog baby, chased away by mom, and 2 young lions stalking warthogs unsuccessfully. Lots of babies around--impalas, zebras, kopi, gazelles, elephants, and of course the lions. We even saw a gazelle give birth, which was very exciting. I was very impressed with the guide I had throughout the stay there, Stanley; he was the equal of the best guides I had in Botswana and South Africa. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the trip... The first afternoon we had a great lion sighting--we followed a lioness while she retrieved her 3 cubs at the top of a cliff, where they were well hidden, and then joined her sister and her 3 cubs at the remains of a zebra kill. The lionesses were jealously guarding the kill, while the cubs were playing around in the carcass. The next day the carcass had disappeared, so some other animal had made off with it. It was fantastic to see the six cubs, nearly the same age, playing together! Other great sightings--a crowd of hyenas at a hippo carcass and a mother hyena peacefully nursing her pups...
  9. Thanks, Amy...I enjoyed Ngamba quite a bit and the other couple that was doing the overnight at the same time as us had already visited Kibale and seemed to be really enjoying the experience. Not really a petting zoo since they didn't let us touch the chimps or actually get too close to them! I think they are very concerned about visitor safety...If you are really into chimps I think it's definitely worthwhile since the keepers have many good stories about the individual animals! Also about Mahogany springs lodge, there are some trails there although we didn't wind up having time to explore them! Also, the little monkey is a L'Hoest Monkey--aren't they pretty? We saw a big group of them in Bwindi and also saw some on our Bigodi Swamp tour in Kibale. My little Uganda animal book says they prefer dense forest.
  10. I enjoyed your photos since I just came back from Uganda and seeing the gorillas there. Ours were much sleepier (except the babies) and weren't moving around too much or eating, just resting. I loved your golden monkey photos--the hike was too hard for me on the Uganda side (it sounds like it was much closer on the Rwanda side, so too bad I didn't do it on that side of things!) so I didn't get to see them in person. Thanks for sharing!
  11. Thanks so much for your great trip report! I didn't even know they had safaris in Benin! I have to stop reading trip reports as I keep adding countries to my lists of places to go...
  12. Day 9: we left for Lake Bunyonyi, the lake of little birds, where we stayed at the pleasant Bird Nest Resort. We had a boat trip around the lake, including a stop at the local market, which was very colorful. We also visited a local school on one of the islands which was not in session, but where we met one of the teachers. The school was so barren it was pretty shocking even in a poor country like Uganda. Day 10 and 11: We spent 2 nights at Mgahinga National Park, which I had selected in case I wanted to do a second gorilla trek at the last minute (they have only one habituated family but because it is much less popular than Bwindi they sometimes have permits available at the last minute) and also to see the golden monkeys, which can be seen only in that part of Uganda which is very close to the Rwanda and Congo (DRC) borders. The scenery in that part of the country is especially beautiful, with volcanic mountains and lots of greenery. We stayed at the Mount Gahinga Lodge which was excellent. The first afternoon we had been scheduled to do a visit to the Batwa village. This was my least favorite activity of the trip. I am leery of "poverty" tourism, and I felt this was a real example of it. We walked up the grassy slopes to their village, which is incredibly poor even by Ugandan standards. The children were all in rags and many looked sick, with runny noses, etc. We were shown their huts and then they performed a few songs and dances, as well as demonstrating how they make fire. Of course you are also expected to give a donation or tip, which doesn't seem like it could make even a small dent in their problems. Day 11 was our golden monkey trek. Unfortunately, this proved to be the most difficult physically for me since there were three separate very steep parts to the hike and after completing the first I realized I wouldn't be able to make it to the monkeys! My son did complete the hike with the other 2 tourists and the guides, and I headed back for a leisurely stroll through the scenic forest. We ended our Uganda trip with a night in Kigali, and then I flew to Kenya for a stay in Mara North, which I will put on a separate trip report! We did not see too much of Kigali, except the Genocide Museum, which we toured the morning we left. Uganda is a beautiful and scenic country with friendly people and lots to offer tourists. However, I felt the roads were so bad that put a real dent on the vacation. Each time we changed location meant a 3-6 hour drive on roads that were in terrible condition; the paved roads sometimes seemed worse than the dirt roads because of the constant potholes. Flying between locations was really not an option since there were only 2 of us and if they don't fill the other seats on the plane, they charge you for them, so that didn't seem viable, but if you're going with more than 2 people, I would recommend flying instead of driving between locations.
  13. Day 6: we had a game drive in the morning (more Uganda kob and an elephant or two), a lovely lunch at a hotel overlooking the Kazinga Channel, and then the Kazinga boat trip, which has been described in other trip reports. It was very enjoyable with lots of wildlife to see along the channel, especially large groups of elephants, water buffalo, hippos, and of course many water birds. Day 7: We took off for Bwindi and the gorillas; we were supposed to do a game drive through the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth but decided to skip it; it was cool and cloudy so our chances of seeing the famous tree-climbing lions were very slim, since they tend to go up in the trees when it's hot. We stayed in Bwindi in Mahogany Lodge, which was my favorite of the Uganda hotels/lodges we stayed in. A spectacular setting, good food and service, and plenty of hot water. That afternoon we did a bird walk in Bwindi which I very much enjoyed. I am not a birder, but I enjoyed the slower pace and trying to find the birds in the dense forest. Our guide was very good although I was surprised that he called the birds with an app on his phone! (although he also could make the calls himself). Day 8: I was very excited for our gorilla trek; since I am not in the best shape we asked our driver to get us the closest group. We wound up trekking the Rushegura group, which is usually closest to the ranger station (although not always). It took about 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to them. We were lucky that most of it was on the main trail that runs through that part of the park, with only a small portion off-trail. Still, it was challenging for me and I had to stop frequently for water or to catch my breath! The rangers there were not in as much of a hurry as in Kibale, so this was less of a problem for me. Also, we had hired porters which was very helpful. We actually stopped for about 20 minutes or so while the rangers were waiting for the gorillas to come down closer to the park, which also worked well for me! I was glad to have the special quick-drying hiking clothing for this trek. Reaching the gorillas was very exciting, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed that they were not more active. They already had had their morning meal, and the adults were pretty much all lying down and resting during the hour we watched them. The three babies, however, were busy swinging in the trees and playing with each other, as well as practicing beating their chests! Photography was very challenging since it was a sunny day and we had a lot of patchy light in the forest. Still, I managed to get a few decent shots, mostly of the babies. I was surprised at how close we were allowed to get to the gorillas (carefully watched by the rangers of course). I never felt at all frightened or nervous since the gorillas seemed to be completely OK with our presence. On the way back we were fortunate to have some good monkey sightings.
  14. Day 5: We leave Kibale and head to Queen Elizabeth National Park through the highly scenic Toro lakes district, filled with volcanic lakes. We pick up a local guide to do a hike down to a lava pipe that is known as Mwitampungu, a place that kills eagles, since it can suck in birds in flight. The afternoon finds us in Queen Elizabeth National Park, with a complete change of landscape. QENP looks like the traditional African savannah, and you will find there the typical plains animals such as elephants, lions, baboons, Ugandan kob, impala, warthogs, etc. The density of the animals is not like what I saw later in my trip in Kenya, however. We stayed at Parkview Safari Lodge, which had a nice view of the park below. The service there, however, seemed sub-par for what was supposed to be a 4 star lodge, I think because two high-ranking Ugandan ministers happened to be there with their families at the same time. We were warned by our guide not to talk about politics since the lodge was crawling with secret service agents.
  15. Days 3 and 4: The drive from Entebbe to Kibale takes most of the day; we check in at Primates Lodge, which was a pleasant place to stay and very convenient to the ranger station for the chimp trekking. The CHEX experience turned out not to be exactly what I expected; they actually took us to see chimps that were already habituated, since the others are almost impossible to see, but this is not how the park service bills it. Also, they say you will see the chimps coming down from their nests but that's not the case (I met a primatologist from the Univ. of Texas there who has been studying the Kibale chimps for the past 2 years--he said you need to be out by 5:30 to see them come down from the trees, which makes sense). We were 2 groups of 8 for the habituation trek, which took off in different directions looking for the chimps. Unlike with the gorillas, no one goes out in the morning to locate the chimps, so it took us about 1 hour 45 minutes to find them. We found them in the fig trees feeding, a group of about 8 males, including the alpha male, and then they came down to groom each other and rest. The main different between CHEX and the regular chimp trek is that you can stay all day if you want. I don't think most people do; in our group, I was ready to head back around 1 and the rest of the group stayed an additional hour or so. We were not seeing a lot of different behaviors at that point so I was ready to go. The hiking is not too bad in Kibale but I was sorry I hadn't gotten a porter, not so much to carry my things but to help me over the uneven ground. If I could have gone at my own speed I would have been fine but the ranger was walking quite fast, and didn't slow up despite my asking him multiple times. They are in.a hurry to find the chimps in order to notify the other groups that come for the 1 hour viewing. Fortunately we didn't have a large crowd that day so I didn't experience what I had read about in Kibale with rude tourists jostling for photos; everyone was quite polite and there were no more than about 15 people at a time around the chimps. In the afternoon we visited a fun community tourism project, Eco Burrito, started by an American researcher, and serving Mexican food in the Ugandan forest! After that we did the Bigodi swamp walk, although because of the late hour we completed only about half of it. I very much enjoyed that since it was just my son, myself, and the guide, and we could go slowly and pause to see the different monkeys (we saw 4-5 varieties) that congregate around there. Also the fee for the swamp walk goes directly to the community and not to the park service (or as my son and I said, for the private airplane of the Ugandan president).

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