89 posts in this topic

@Alexander33 your photos of the family grooming in the clearing are stunning! Many other wonderful photos too, but I was really taken by those :) 

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Hurrah!  we saw Charles in 2005 so it is good to know he is still going strong! @Alexander33

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13 hours ago, jeremie said:

Really enjoy your TR and your pictures. You have really good portraits. 

Can't wait to see Nyungwe's pictures and experience too!

 

How far were the golden monkeys? Would you say that 400 mm lens is allright for them??

 

@jeremie

 

Thanks so much.  

 

As to the Golden Monkeys, it really depends. In our case, we were lucky, and they came down from the tops of the bamboo and trees, sometimes to the ground, and we were able to get close.  For the monkeys, I was shooting with a Nikon D750 and the 200-500mm lens, and my best photos were actually at the shorter end, sometimes right at 200mm even. 

 

However, I've heard from others where the monkeys did not venture down during their trek. On our visit, during the times when the monkeys were high up, I was shooting at 500mm, but even then, these photos weren't that great. 

 

In sum, I think that getting as close as you can is the key to satisfactory photos of the monkeys, with focal length only a secondary consideration (although you don't want to be too short).  With that in mind, then, yes, I think 400mm is plenty. If I recall correctly, you have an 80-400 (which was the other lens we were using, albeit with a cropped-sensor D7200), and I think you'd definitely be in good shape with that. 

 

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@Alexander33 Enchanting report. We also trekked Charles and his lovely family, plus the Hirwa group. Gorilla trekking reports always leave me a little misty-eyed, such a special experience. 

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20 hours ago, Towlersonsafari said:

Hurrah!  we saw Charles in 2005 so it is good to know he is still going strong! @Alexander33

 

7 hours ago, ld1 said:

@Alexander33 Enchanting report. We also trekked Charles and his lovely family, plus the Hirwa group. Gorilla trekking reports always leave me a little misty-eyed, such a special experience. 

 

Okay, I think we may be close enough to creating a Charles Fan Club here. I'm in.....

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@Alexander33Interacting with Gorillas is possibly one of the most sought after experiences most wildlife watchers would love to experience but the reality is that few of us will, more so considering the huge cost now they have doubled the permit price. Although I guess I could if I really wanted to for me the sacrifice in not doing other things with the same amount of money is not worth it. I don't have a problem that some can afford it though and I'm all in favour of whatever means is necessary to keep the gorillas safe and visitor numbers at an acceptable level.

So for me your report is as close as I'll get to meeting the Gorillas in person.

When you described the first day, added the photos of the assembled groups, the musical sideshows, my reaction was "No, not for me, can't do that!" despite you saying it somehow felt OK.

Then you later described your meeting with the female Gorilla.

I was part of you when you described the emotions you went through. I have been there, done that not with Gorillas maybe, but with other creatures that have been on my "most wanted" list.

It's reassuring to know that you can get that buzz, those indescribable emotions, from seeing all sorts of wildlife some which others have probably never even thought about.

It's a totally amazing buzz and I don't think I have ever experienced it when reading a trip report or watching a TV documentary until now.

Thank you so much for writing it so beautifully and sharing those photographs. Pure magic.

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@Dave Williams permits were $500 when we went in 2012. Fear not though I hear the DRC permits are still $400 and I am sure I read somewhere @Zim Girl is off there soon, so hopefully not so out of reach as Rwanda is now. I certainly couldn't afford the cost in Rwanda now but if it contributes to conservation it's hard to argue I suppose. It really was worth the effort and money to see the Gorillas though. A special couple of days indeed. 

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This is an absolutely phenomenal trip report!! Thank you so much for posting it. Gorillas are one of my dreams too but it's looking less and less likely for me, so I am happy to live vicariously through your photos :) The gorillas are just amazing and you have captured some very intriguing expressions.

 

Also, interesting note about your friends associating Rwanda with the genocide. Mine would offer a similar negative reaction but automatically think "poverty" (and thus danger).

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@Sangeeta, @Towlersonsafari, @ld1, @monalisa, and everyone else, thank you for the “likes” and supportive comments.

 

@Dave Williams

 

I am touched by your generous remarks. 

 

The thing I love about trip reports is that they help broaden our perspectives and introduce us to new experiences.  Even if they focus on a destination I may never reach or an activity in which I may never be able partake, whether due to money, time, logistics, physical ability, or any number of other obstacles, they, at the very least, help me to narrow down my priorities and sharpen the list of places that, feasibly, I do have a chance of going to someday.

 

If I have been able to repay, in some small way, even a fraction of the benefits I’ve received from the reports posted by others, then my efforts here will have been worth it.

 


Gorilla Trek #3 is coming up, but it may be the weekend before I can put it all together.  Thanks for hanging in there and following along.

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The troop dynamics are fascinating and you got some good insights, and of courses photos to match.  Quite a drama playing out that will continue after the visitors take their leave.  Awesome stuff!

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Posted (edited)

This is a timely article from the September 2017 issue of National Geographic about Rwanda's gorillas, their challenges and the legacy of Dian Fossey:

 

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/09/gorillas-dian-fossey-saved-rwanda/

 

One particularly relevant passage that touches upon my earlier comments speculating about potential silverback competition in the Umubano group is this:

 

"DNA sequencing is also telling researchers about gorilla paternity. 'From these studies we’ve learned that the dominant silverback is the father of most babies in a group but not all,' Eckardt says. The number two and three silverbacks are also passing on their genes. This raises more interesting questions: How do nondominant silverbacks decide whether to stay in a group or to try to seduce females into establishing a new group? What factors are linked with reproductive success? How do you stay number one? 'There is a lot of competition out there,' Eckardt notes.

 

A new National Geographic miniseries about Dian Fossey's role in saving Rwanda's gorillas is supposed to be broadcast this coming December.  Here is the trailer:

 

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/videos/dian-fossey-secrets-in-the-mist-trailer/

 

 

Thanks to @AKR1, who originally posted the link to the article in the African Wildlife forum.

 

Edited by Alexander33
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Wow, you have really outdone yourself with this report @Alexander33.    I don't know which is better, the fantastic photos or the tremendous narrative that goes with them.  Both are magical if you ask me and I can't wait to read more.  Your report will go a long way to help convince my wife to take this trip some day.   The journey to see them seems a lot easier than we have been led to believe.  

 

I am curious about what sort of instructions you received about how to behave around the gorillas.  I assume no sudden movements, no flash photography, but what about eye contact?  

 

Alan

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That group shot in #48 looked professionally posed.  Quick clicking got it for you.

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Wow, you got some great shots @Alexander33 !

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On 9/15/2017 at 5:39 PM, Atdahl said:

The journey to see them seems a lot easier than we have been led to believe.  

 

I am curious about what sort of instructions you received about how to behave around the gorillas.  I assume no sudden movements, no flash photography, but what about eye contact?  

 

 

@Atdahl

 

Thanks for the kind comments.

 

Well, the journey is not quite over at this point, so you might want to reserve judgment, but, overall, yes, our treks definitely were manageable, although certainly not a cakewalk.  I’ll address this issue in a little more detail after I finish this segment of my report.

 

You are correct: no sudden movements and no use of flash.  We were not advised to avoid eye contact per se, but the guides did tell us that if the silverback appeared to become agitated, to squat down and look down in a submissive fashion.  More on that is coming up in just a minute, too……

 

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@Atravelynn

 

Well, that younger silverback helped thngs out with his timely arrival, so, as far as I'm concerned, all credit goes to him.....

 

 

@Tulips

 

Thanks very much. I'm anxious to hear how things went for you, but I'll try to be patient, as I know you're only just back.

 

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Posted (edited)

Although it was possible to take a few excursions from the lodge (hiking around some lakes nearby, for example), we were content to take it easy after finishing lunch.  We’d shower, have coffee on the patio overlooking the grounds, and look through our photos, recounting our morning's trek, before swapping out our camera equipment and strolling through the lodge to enjoy the gardens and look for birds. 

 

We saw four species of sunbirds.  From most common to least, they were: Northern Double-collared Sunbird; Variable Sunbird; Bronze Sunbird; and Scarlet-chested Sunbird.

 

Northern Double-collared Sunbird

 

59bf15b7ba07a_NorthernDouble-collaredSunbirdIIJPG.thumb.jpg.9b1f34de495cdc2d46e7fd2cc66aafb3.jpg

 

 

59bf16535d299_NorthernDouble-collaredSunbirdIJPG.thumb.jpg.4b46d0a26cda190f421f7958204fbf92.jpg

 

 

Variable Sunbird

 

59bf1701b63e0_VariableSunbirdIJPG.thumb.jpg.dc581b3f71eedc621d29bb10ec472619.jpg

 

 

59bf1adf70211_VariableSunbirdIIJPG.thumb.jpg.73c8b267bcb07ba2f7f714b3013ac921.jpg

 

 

Bronze Sunbird

 

59bf176cceecf_BronzeSunbirdIJPG.thumb.jpg.787716292f1d23c1ec50e9a9bb76e7ae.jpg

 

 

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

 

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While the sunbirds were prying nectar from the flowers, Speckled Mousebirds were eating the flowers altogether.

 

 

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The frisky little White-tailed Blue Flycatcher would perform for us each evening as dusk settled in.

 

 

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Black-crowned Waxbills, African Citrils and African Stonechats were regular visitors as well.

 

Black-crowned Waxbill

 

59bf1dd32bdd5_Black-crownedWaxbillIJPG.thumb.jpg.612e9fae7c783940860fa471db94813f.jpg

 

 

African Citril

 

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59bf2037edbd6_AfricanCitrilIIJPG.thumb.jpg.9f38c5a05b9a1c0321a09f9051481f59.jpg

 

 

African Stonechat

 

59bf20cfb15f7_AfricanStonechatIJPG.thumb.jpg.52983b23638397b0995b247562d6eef0.jpg

 

 

 

One afternoon, a pair of Cinnamon-chested Bee Eaters briefly appeared.  Unfortunately, they were at quite a distance from where I was standing.  This image is heavily cropped.

 

59bf21082548f_Cinnamon-chestedBeeEaterIJPG.thumb.jpg.9a4f650def668825a771042b0f114258.jpg

 

 

And now, I need some help identifying these weavers.  Baglafecht weavers were a common occurrence, but I wasn’t inspired by any of my photos of them, so I omitted them.  These, which I do kind of like, don’t look like the Baglafecht (no black mask).  Holub’s Golden Weaver?? 

 

59bf224070341_HolubsGoldenWeaverIIJPG.thumb.jpg.31757e5c861d94ae8d8f77feab8cb3df.jpg

 

 

59bf22a2a23b6_HolubsGoldenWeaverJPG.thumb.jpg.14e94f2afdb547e17a55a9f32d521cf3.jpg

 

 

 

I think most, if not all, of the birds we saw were quite common, but, as this was our first trip to eastern Africa, they were all new to us.  If I’ve misidentified anything, please let me know.

 

 

 

Edited by Alexander33
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And, then, course, there was the ultimate bird photo that I didn’t get.  We had just packed up the camera gear following our hour with gorillas on our second trek when a flash of movement caught my eye.  There, perched on a thin, moss-covered branch, was a mature male African paradise flycatcher with a long streaming tail, completely unobstructed, with only the green, misty forest of the mountain valley in the far background. 

 

I have yet to manage a decent shot of this spectacular bird, and there it was, right in front of me, one for the ages.  Even if the cameras hadn’t been packed away, we didn’t have the right equipment anyway.  But why is it that we always ruminate so on the ones that got away?  A delightful torment….

 

By 6:00 PM, we were out of light and it was time for wine, which we had in our cabin before a roaring fire.  Dinner began at 7:00, and dessert was usually enough to cap us off for the evening. 

 

With the embers dying down in the fireplace, we settled in and looked forward to our last full day at Gorilla Mountain View Lodge – and what I call our “bonus” gorilla trek.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Gorilla Trek # 3: Ntambara Group

 

The morning began as the previous two had, but I got the impression that the Ntambara Group, the gorilla family to which we were assigned, was not one that was featured as regularly as some others.  Visitors trekking to see some of the better-known families – Hirwa, Sabinyo, Amahoro, as well as the groups we had visited the previous two days – gather at designated spots at the park headquarters that are marked with a permanent sign with the name of the family group emblazoned on it.

 

However, we – an Austrian couple and their adult son, plus another American couple – were simply ushered to a convenient place on the lawn for our debriefing.  The good thing about the Ntambara group is that they had a very young (3 to 4 months old) baby, something I had specifically requested.

 

We began our trek from the same point as yesterday, across farmland with only a gentle slope. 

 

59bf2505cc1dd_FarmlandI.thumb.JPG.04da2a37ccf1ba88fbd54f94fc85aa29.JPG

 

 

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Unlike yesterday, when we crossed the wall demarcating the park boundary, our guide announced that the trackers still had not found the gorillas.  Uh-oh.  

 

Our trekking had turned into tracking, and we started walking. Up.  And up.  Across a creek.  Around a narrow bend.  The farmland that we had traversed was now far below, obscured by patchy, low clouds. 

 

59bf25977e348_TheTrailI.thumb.JPG.b91b5a3bdda25b56f6c18e7af18f989f.JPG

 

 

 

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After more than an hour, the altitude was starting to get to us.  J. and I were huffing.  The wife of the American couple now had two porters, one on each side, each holding an arm, who were basically dragging her up the mountain.  She was not having fun.

 

We took a long rest at the trail leading to Dian Fossey’s grave. 

 

59bf26321a398_TheTrailIIIFosseySign.thumb.JPG.854b4cf867f9d78e3b8299d7e8f5963e.JPG

 

 

 

A group of hikers who were planning to camp out and spend the night at the top of Mount Bisate (my idea of not having fun) briefly paused before continuing their ascent.  Armed soldiers accompanied them. 

 

 

59bf2652cd005_TheTrailVSoldier.thumb.JPG.4aafe862225f09df2f9e9339ed097f98.JPG

 

 

That was odd.  Our guide explained that buffaloes live in the forest and pose a danger.  He sounded a little evasive, so I didn’t pursue the subject, my next intended question being, “Why do you need a machine gun for a buffalo?” 

 

I later read that rebel groups who helped carry out the genocide had, in its wake, retreated to and still live in the Virunga Mountains bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Ah.

 

Although this trek was turning out to be much more strenuous than our previous two, J. and I were nevertheless holding our own.  In fact, I was actually glad to have the opportunity to see more of the forest and the landscape.  Our other gorilla families had been so close to the park boundary that we really hadn’t gotten a good look at the forest until now.  And I must say, having hiked through tropical rainforests in Costa Rica, cloud forests in Peru, and temperate rain forests in coastal Brazil, the Afromontane forests of the Virungas are the most hauntingly beautiful I’ve ever seen.


 

59bf261517793_TheTrailVI.thumb.JPG.e046bbac1852297c3ee3e9cd0094b39c.JPG

 

 

 

Edited by Alexander33
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Posted (edited)

As we rested, our guide received a radio call.  The gorillas had been found, and they were only about a 10-minute hike away.  As it turned out, they were in a relatively open area, but the vegetation, although low, was thick, and the mountainside at this point was very steep.

 

 

Ntambara Female

 

59bf28cf31881_NtambaraFemaleIJPG.thumb.jpg.e27397be574cbec0a2451a44b18263b2.jpg

 

 

59bf2940b1ed2_NtambaraFemaleVJPG.thumb.jpg.997e58179cd16965101da259eebc4b5e.jpg

 

 

As others in our group followed the trackers to find the mother and baby, I stayed with our guide and the silverback, who was feasting on wild celery nearby.  

 

The crunching, munching sounds he made as he chewed the fibrous stalks of the celery were accompanied by grunts of absolute pleasure.  

 

“Ummm. Mmmm.  UmmmMmmmUmmmUmmm.”  Have you ever had a delicious meal that you just waxed rhapsodic over with your mouth still full?  That’s what he sounded like.  Unforgettable!

 

 

59bf29d2429bd_NtambaraSilverbackVJPG.thumb.jpg.3be3f3f80b9527b7196450fd4f57f476.jpg

 

 

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The rest of our group called me over.  Behind some bushes was the mother and baby.

 

 

59bf2b6256b39_NtambaraMotherandBabyIJPG.thumb.jpg.09905740b2b651209cddc0f3a34b773d.jpg

 

 

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The look on the mother’s face conveyed a palpable sense of absolute tenderness and love for her baby.

 

59bf2f23739c1_NtambaraMotherandBabyIVJPG.thumb.jpg.275dadbc62f6fddb49a44f88b41b3ab3.jpg

 

 

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The love is obviously mutual.

 

59bf2d10acb38_NtambaraMotherandBabyIIJPG.thumb.jpg.caffd6c2826e93e0aa4c8b677dac3df9.jpg

 

 

 

Edited by Alexander33
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I was absorbed in witnessing this unmistakable mother-child bond that we human beings also share, when the guide motioned to me. 

 

“The silverback is coming.”  

 

Apparently, the silverback had decided that there were juicier celery plants above us, and the he was working his way up the mountain.

 

 

59bf309368f8c_NtambaraSilverbackOntheMove.thumb.jpg.9ae790ebb001d43464885ad4f9da593a.jpg

 

 

Only one thing stood between him and his bounty. 

 

Me.

 

As I recall, I looked at this powerful, impressive creature as he made his way up the makeshift trail that the trackers had hacked with their machetes just minutes before, thrilled to be so close to such a magnificent animal, quickly snapping a photo before calmly stepping to the side and marveling at him as he ambled by.

 

As J. recalls, my eyes popped out of my head and I turned a pale shade of white before going slackjawed and just standing there, physically frozen, unable to move, before I finally jumped out of the way, slipping on the seeping juices of the just-cut vegetation and almost falling down and taking the husband of the American couple with me in the process, with the alarmed guide admonishing me:  “Don’t fall down!  You don’t want to scare him.”

 

Seriously?  “Don’t fall down”?  As if anyone who could avoid falling down would go ahead and just do it anyway.  Or, at least, that’s the reaction I would have had, if J. were really telling the truth and giving an accurate description of how things actually went…..

 

As I gathered my wits followed the trackers as they hacked a trail for us to follow the gorillas up the mountain, I turned to look out over the valley below and the mountain range beyond.

 

Photography at this point, as well as the topographical conditions in general, were quite challenging.  Although the path cut by the trackers helped, navigation was still difficult.  The slope was so steep that the trackers had to help manage our way up.  More forbidding was the trail itself, which was very slippery because of the freshly cut vegetation and the tangled roots and vines that literally were everywhere.  At times it was hard to just steady oneself. 

 

By now, the female and her baby were ensconced deep in the vegetation.

 

59bf31ebc6fda_NtambaraFemaleIVJPG.thumb.jpg.11b1ed22a2c7849286fae3506c64dfa9.jpg

 

 

 

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We could hear the silverback munching on his beloved celery, but we couldn’t see him.

 

A younger male had lagged behind and climbed a tree, rather far in the distance.

 

59bf32bd1b8a7_NtambaraJuvenileinTreeJPG.thumb.jpg.fcf41e2b6031bf15070c35e9b171da51.jpg

 

 

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At this point, we just lowered the cameras and enjoyed our remaining time with the gorillas and the misty mountains that comprise their only home in the world.  This trek may have presented more physical challenges than our previous two, but they were not insurmountable, and the sheer magic and magnitude of the experience was in force as much as ever.

 

 

 

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Until a little more than a hundred years ago (1902), these mountain gorillas were not even known.  With all the challenges they face today, pressured by the needs of a surging population against a backdrop of political eruptions that have shown themselves to be as forceful as the surrounding volcanoes, will they manage to last a hundred more? 

 

Although our stay in the Virungas was coming to an end, we were only midway through our visit to Rwanda.  While most of our fellow travelers at Gorilla Mountain View Lodge were moving on to Kenya or Tanzania, or were concluding their safaris there altogether, we would be continuing our journey deeper into Rwanda – to the enormous Lake Kivu, which forms a large part of the border between Rwanda and the DRC, and to the remote Nyungwe National Park.  Our time with the gorillas might have concluded, but, in many respects, the adventure was only beginning.

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Each and every photo is superb. The light looks challenging though.

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There have been some fantastic new additions since I last checked this TR. Especially the closeups of the baby. Such an adorable little thing. Love the hairdo!! 

 

Gosh your heart must have been pumping when the silverback came towards you. Not sure how you "don't fall down" but glad you all got through it! :lol:

 

Also, your birding pics are crazy.  They look like they're 3D! I don't know how you do it. Amazing.

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@Alexander33 - Great report and pictures.  What camera equipment did you use for the gorilla treks?

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