africapurohit

Niyam's African Adventure (August 2013)

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Posted (edited)

Introduction

After many months of planning and testing the patience of Lenny at Africa Travel Resource, I finally decided that Niyam’s first adventure into Africa would take place in Tanzania. The final itinerary was:

 

· 3 nights in Mkomazi National Park at Babu’s Camp

· 5 nights in the southern part of Tarangire National Park at Oliver’s Camp

· 7 nights in Katavi National Park at Foxes Katavi Wildlife Camp

· 10 nights in the northern part of Serengeti National Park at Alex Walker’s Serian Serengeti North Camp

· A final afternoon drive in Arusha National Park

 

This was quite an ambitious plan with a 6-year old in tow and although it was my third visit to Tanzania, every stop on the itinerary presented a new location for me to explore too.

 

My main priority was to ensure that Niyam remained in the best possible health. He had all of the recommended vaccines, a malaria prophylactic and a few other supplements (like chewable multivitamins and acidophilus). I also packed enough medicinal supplies to open my own clinic. Fortunately, he remained in perfect health throughout (apart from the 5-hour flight from Katavi to Serengeti), so I was spared the wrath of his mother.

 

Between us we had a hand baggage allowance of 20kg which was sufficient for the seven cameras and two pairs of binoculars I was carrying but it meant I had to carry it all myself. The flight out was from London Heathrow to Kilimanjaro, via Nairobi with Kenya Airways. The 8-hour overnight flight to Nairobi landed at the scheduled local time of 6:30am – luckily Niyam slept for six of those hours.

 

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Niyam's first animal sighting was at Heathrow Airport

The scheduled 8:30am connecting flight to Kilimanjaro was delayed by an hour but this didn’t affect our onward plans. During this flight, Niyam was the first passenger to say, “there’s Kilimanjaro” and he was correct resulting in every passenger turning to their left to view this icon through the windows. I was surprised he recognised it!

 

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Kilimanjaro bursting through the clouds

Fortunately for us, we passed through Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International airport a few days before a fire caused major disruption. During our trip we learnt that Kenya Airways had their services back up and running within a day of the fire, so I was not concerned about the return journey.
On arrival at Kilimanjaro airport, an official was checking that everyone had proof of Yellow Fever vaccination. It was the first time I had experienced this. Outside we met Frank, our Asilia guide, who would be with us for the Mkomazi and Tarangire parts of the safari. Frank had been guiding with Asilia for 9 years, including a lengthy residency stint at Sayari Camp, but had never been to Mkomazi before. Actually, apart from Alex Walker at Serian Camp, I never met another person during this trip that had been to Mkomazi! The journey from Kilimanjaro Airport to the Zange gate (the main but not only gate to the National Park) was about two and a half hours (142 km) travelling via Moshi, Lembeni and Same. Within a few minutes of entering the park, Frank was absolutely fascinated and said it was unlike any place he had seen in Tanzania. Our first sighting was a giraffe followed by a lesser kudu bull. I was so excited just to be on an African dirt track again, that I didn’t bother unpacking the camera! Little did I know that I had just passed up my best opportunity to photograph a lesser kudu for the rest of the trip!
Edited by Game Warden
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Babu's Camp

 

Babu's Camp is the only permanent camp for tourists inside the borders of Mkomazi National Park, covering over 3200 square kilometers. There are also special and public campsites. This picturesque camp has only five tents and although simple, it was very comfortable. During our stay, they were running with a total of six staff but were very efficient.

 

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Well spaced tents with a fantastic view from our tent

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Spacious and comfortable interior

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Outdoor shower and toilet with hot water on demand

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The dining tent positioned between two baobab trees

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Mkomazi National Park

Mkomazi National Park is very arid and water sources are few and far between. It shares a border with Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park forming an important ecosystem. The Usambara and Pare Eastern Arc Mountain ranges surround Mkomazi and their slopes always seem to catch your view, no matter where you look. There is an eerie beauty to Mkomazi that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Tanzania’s more famous National Parks.

 

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The mountain ranges create their own weather systems and it was mainly overcast low-level clouds with the odd sprinkling of rain for the duration of our stay. The temperature was pleasant throughout the day with no cold mornings or nights. Photographically, the light was very challenging and there was no “golden light” in the mornings or evenings. The advantages were very little dust, some great cloud formations including the appearance of mist hanging from the sky and no need for sun-block!

 

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Fantastic start. I hope Niyam soon forgot all about Peppa Pig... You really are blazing a trail for future Safaritalkers visiting Mkomazi National Park.

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BTW did you meet up with Bruce and Alex respectively?

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Posted (edited)

@@Game Warden I'm surprised you recognised Peppa :) . Alex was at the Serengeti North Serian Camp for the duration of our stay so we had some good conversations. Katavi Wildlife Camp was being run by Nick Greaves, who also runs the training for all guides across the Foxes camps during the off-season. Another interesting candidate for an ST interview: http://www.nickgreaves.info/background.html . Both Alex and Nick have said they will visit ST and have asked me to email them when my trip report is up.

 

At Oliver's Camp, I also had some interesting conversations with one of Asilia's Head guides named Lewis. He's from Zimbabwe and guided for Wilderness Safaris across Zimbabwe and Namibia - he was aware of ST and yourself.

Edited by africapurohit
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Wonderful start. AP. Apart from the great itinerary covering some rarely visited places, your biggest triumph was successfully doing this with a 6 year old solo. That's simply amazing and obviously a lot of the credit goes to your son himself for faring so well on an extended first safari. I would be willing to bet he is the first 6 year old (locals not included) to complete such an ambitious itinerary. Congratulations to both of you and kudos to your wife for allowing you to do this.

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Mkomazi wow! I thought it was closed to the public which kind of ties in with a few of your comments.

 

Suppose we could wait but did you happen to meet Tony Fitzjohn?

 

Thanks for sharing.

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@@africapurohit

Wonderful start to your trip report :)

 

But did I read that you were carrying seven cameras?? ... I can't comprehend needing 7 cameras? What is the rationale behind such a collection on safari?

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Great start! Can't wait to re-read this and the additions on a bigger screen. Those images look lovely!!

 

On the cameras I am going to take a shot at guessing - 1 for Niyam, 2 5D Mk iii for stills and 4 video cameras secured to different sides/angles. :D all very necessary ( as long as you are sharing the results on ST)

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Niyam is really lucky, I guess few kids that age have a dad willing to share such a fantastic adventure. And I´m glad all turned out well for you and he never got ill, I can imagine that you must have been quite nervous about his well-being.

 

I have been looking forward to you trip report since reading your planning topic. And rightly so, a fantastic start! Never even heard of Mkomazi, really like your pictures - as always.

 

So I suggest you just skip work for the next few weeks and get on writing. :)

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@@africapurohit

Wonderful start to your trip report :)

 

But did I read that you were carrying seven cameras?? ... I can't comprehend needing 7 cameras? What is the rationale behind such a collection on safari?

 

Count the days in a week, silly!

 

 

Enjoying the start to the report and am very impressed you got this done so soon! Excellent.

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We went to Mkomazi in 2011 and I thought it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever been. Disappointment was that there was very little or no wildlife, but the birds were good. We did get the opportunity to go to Tony Fitzjohn's, but did not get to meet him. They had just received some rhinos, but we did see those either! Babu's Camp was shambolic when we were there which was a shame as could be fantastic, ie no tonic, no ice, no lighting from tent to mess tent, tent torch not working etc.

Look forward to hearing about Tarangire and Oliver's. Still one of my favourite camps in Tanzania and they have done a big make over.

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Posted (edited)

@@Super LEEDS I didn't travel to the Kisima area of Mkomazi where Tony is based. The wild dog and rhino projects are not really open to the public, although still possible to visit if lucky but equally, you could be turned away at the gate and have a wasted trip. Considering I only had 2 full days in Mkomazi, I prioritised general game viewing and exploration.

 

@@ZaminOz the seven cameras were:

  • 5D Mark iii with 16-35mm f2.8L II
  • 5D Mark iii with 70-200mm f2.8L II IS
  • 7D with 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS
  • Samsung NX1000 (for Niyam, who didn't start using it until we got to Serengeti)

  • 2 x video cameras (one was written-off in Tarangire, it was insured though - more on that later)

  • 1 Little Acorn Trail Camera

 

@@Anita this was first safari where video was literally put on hold, so I could focus on still photography. I just didn't have enough pairs of hands - but as my boys get older......

 

Pre-trip, I had also made a lot more effort and investment in still photography for the first time, so it became my priority.

 

Anyway, I found this still photography lark much easier than video :D

Edited by africapurohit
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Babu’s camp does not have resident guides, so there is no local knowledge to tap into. Chances of meeting another safari vehicle are so remote, that Katavi felt busy by comparison. During our stay we clocked around 20 hours of gamedrives and saw only one other safari vehicle. You have to be prepared to work for your sightings and I was actually standing for those 20 hours and helping the guide as a spotter – for which we were rewarded. This was my first safari where I could actually “see”. I had Lasik Laser Eye Surgery in 2010, so my “new eyes” were getting their first safari spin and it was one of the best investments I’ve ever made!

 

The mammals here were not habituated to vehicles and almost displayed a sense of mistrust and fear as our vehicle approached them. Previous hunting, poaching and simply a lack of visitors all play a part – but we were fortunate to get within 30 metres of any mammal apart from the brave and curious dik diks that seemed to be abundant. Developing more gamedrive tracks and loops will help the cause. The birdlife, on the other hand, seemed more relaxed.

 

More photos to be added later when I have access to them.........

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Wonderful start to what is going to be a really interesting trip report - can't wait to see more!

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Kirk's Dikdiks



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Long-tailed Fiscals



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Male White-bellied Bustards



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Male and female Von der Decken's Hornbills



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Lilac-breasted Roller and immature White-browed Coucal



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White-bellied Go-away-bird


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Posted (edited)

Mkomazi is famous for animals like lesser kudu, fringe-eared oryx and gerenuk and all of the major mammalian predators can be found here, including wild dogs – but finding these animals is a real challenge. There were no wildebeest and we had only one impala sighting in three days! Surprisingly, the most abundant antelope species were Coke’s hartebeest and eland – they were seen daily, including some large herds. Common animals seen wandering the plains in small groups included zebra and ostrich but photographing their backsides became a common theme! The giraffe were slightly more trusting.

 

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Giraffe, eland and zebra but there were no tracks to explore the expansive wilderness on the horizon

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Rare sightings of impala and Grant's gazelle

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Cautious Coke's hartebeest with a more reddish appearance

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Fleeing animals

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Eland in defensive formation

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The animal at the top of my photographic wish list in Mkomazi was vulturine guineafowl, as I knew it would be almost impossible to see this bird anywhere else in Tanzania. Mkomazi is a place where the animals are scarce, every sighting is special no matter what the creature and is regarded a place for only the safari enthusiast – so what will a 6-year old make of it as his first stop on a safari? Surprisingly, Niyam took it in his stride and enjoyed every sighting, especially the birdlife. He wanted to check every bird in the Helm Birds of East Africa field guide (iPad version of course) and this fledgling twitcher continued to grow as the safari progressed. Even after seeing the large herds and the big cats, he retained this special interest in the birds, much to the surprise of the guides and camp managers. When he came home and started telling his mum all the different bird species he had seen, her response to me was “what have you created?” - mum is not a keen birder!

Edited by africapurohit
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Being forced into doing animals in habitat photos isn't all bad. Three in a row that I really like, including the multiple bums shot. And it certainly does look like an interesting place for birds.

 

Is the Vulterine Guineafowl mention a cliffhanger? Were you disappointed or are you posting a beautiful set of photos as I type? That would be a bird that any young twitcher would be happy to see - and a strangley familiar one if he watches the Simpsons!

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Posted (edited)

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Niyam's first bush breakfast with enough food to feed him for a week!

Within 20 minutes of our first morning drive, we were greeted with the sight (or blur) of five lesser kudus bounding across the track in front of us - running from thick bush, back into this bush. We witnessed this kudu blurring on two further occasions during our stay. But unlike the Ruaha lesser kudu, who run across the track and then turn around to look at you, the Mkomazi lesser kudu just keep running - making photographic opportunities extremely rare. Around 20 lesser kudus over three days is an excellent sighting rate by Tanzanian standards.

 

Although we did strike gold (or cobalt?) with the vulturine guineafowl but it wasn't easy. After locating a skittish flock, we had to anticipate their next moves in order to try and get close. Frank estimated the path they would take, got there first and switched off the engine. Thankfully, his ploy worked and the flock approached us in a relaxed manner.

 

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Comparison: Helmeted guineafowl were more commonly sighted

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Beauty Contestant 1

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Beauty Contestant 2

Contestant 2 gets my vote!

 

That afternoon, we had our most surprising and unexpected sighting of our stay in Mkomazi National Park!

Edited by africapurohit
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Lovely, moody shots, AP. You did really, really well with all those cameras!!

 

Niyam looks like a very happy camper and you're a great dad to have given him such an amazing intro to Africa!

 

Beauty contestant 2 wins it for me too :D

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Wonderful TR so far @@africapurohit with some superb images. and yes, No 2 gets my vote!

 

Glad Niyam enjoyed it so much and all went well.

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Posted (edited)

I leave the beauty contest to others, but I love the landscape shots of Mikomazi park, especially the dreamy 16mm wide shot. BTW I had never heard of Mikomazi park before.

 

AP, any comments on the camera/lenses. Did you use the 7D/ 100-400 combo and how did you find the picture IQ compared to the full frame (obviously inferior but how materially so, upto say a 8X 10 shot). I love the 70-200 2.8II lenses and also have the 100-400L but not the 16-35. I have been using Canon's 10-22 on a 7D and its quite good (great value as the lens is L glass quality, as good as 28-105L, has superb IQ but also has a major shortcoming in that it cannot be used on a full frame body).

Edited by AKR1
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Posted (edited)

@@AKR1 to be honest, I was still finding my "photography feet" in Mkomazi. It was my first safari with all of this gear and I decided to switch to the back-button focussing/continuous AI servo combo once I got to Mkomazi - without really practising beforehand! I was also experimenting with ISO, shutter speeds and exposure compensation. Mkomazi was a harsh teacher but I do feel my photography improved as the trip progressed.

 

I was most familiar with 7D/100-400 combo (from trips to the zoo) and this was my main workhorse for this safari (around 90% of my photos) - it also gave me the reach I needed for many of the birds. For an 8x10 print it will serve you well.

 

Although when looking at the full-size shots on-screen, the 5D Mark III really is in another class (noise levels, focussing accuracy and overall image IQ) especially when combined with the 16-35 and 70-200, but both of these lenses are better. For a fairer comparison, I'll have to try out the 5D/100-400 combo when I get a chance to.

 

You may be surprised to hear this, but the first two shots in post #3 were taken with the 7D/100-400 combo at f/9 - the first at 100 mm, the second at 150 mm. The expansive spaces in Mkomazi let you get away with it!

 

Mkomazi only received National Park status in 2008, but has a very interesting history preceding this. Tony Fitzjohn's book "Born Wild" provides a good insight into its history and is what drew me to Mkomazi.

Edited by africapurohit
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Posted (edited)

That afternoon we had a shock sighting by Mkomazi standards. We were returning to camp and were less than 2 km away when I noticed some ears about 30 metres away in the long grass - I told Frank to stop and reverse. I zoomed in via the viewfinder of my 7D and said "there's a cheetah sitting there". Frank was straining through his binoculars and still couldn't see anything - it was almost impossible to see when sitting down and the light was already fading. Then the cheetah put its head up and Frank saw it, I then saw a second cheetah. But these were no ordinary cheetah - one of the first things Frank and I said to each other was that "these cats are huge!". They were the largest cheetahs I had ever seen, and I've seen quite a few throughout Africa. Both cats then got up and started to move away. As the light was poor and the distance between us was increasing, I put down the camera and admired them with my binoculars. If I wasn't standing up on spotting duty, we would have driven past and missed this sighting.

 

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We identified them as two males and their size is difficult to determine from the photos but if you think of a large male leopard - it gives you some idea. What really stood out was the sizes of their necks and shoulders. Very little is known about the predators in Mkomazi (apart from the wild dogs released in conjunction with the ongoing project) because there are no researchers or permanent guides here. Frank and I concluded that if their best chance of a meal was Coke's hartebeest with the odd Grant's gazelle, lesser kudu or small eland - the cheetahs here had to adapt. The next day, news of our sighting filtered down to the rangers at the Zange Gate and even they were excited and wanted to know more details. Generally, Mkomazi has some amazing open spaces and habitat where cheetahs could potentially thrive - I hope they do or maybe they are already thriving but we just don't have the information!

Edited by africapurohit
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