Trip Report: Big Cats & Tuskers, February 2013

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry Leave a Comment

Masai Mara.  Amboseli.  Kenya.

The words alone conjure up images of rolling grasslands and African adventure.  Of wildlife, landscapes and the Africa of days gone by.

From 8 to 16 February 2013 Andrew Aveley joined me in hosting a group of photographers on a photo safari that would take us from the large skies and open grasslands of the Masai Mara to iconic scenes where Kilimanjaro overlooks the amazing Amboseli National Park.

Before we get stuck into a day by day account of this amazing trip, check out this teaser video Andrew put together.

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To say that this trip offered some mind blowing photographic opportunities would be an understatement.

It was however about more that that.

It was about sharing amazing African experiences.

It was about enjoying the company of like-minded people who are not only passionate about photography, but about nature.

About sharing.

It was about being the only people in the Wild Eye Mara camp and knowing that the staff and entire operation is there to ensure one thing – a magical experience.

The goal on all Wild Eye photo safaris is for our guests to not only get fantastic images but also to learn something along the way and have a fantastic nature experience.

While compiling this trip report I asked all the guests to share a few of their images, so before I take you on a day by day journey of our safari here is a quick look at some of the images and comments from the guests that joined us on this amazing journey.

Guest Images and Feedback

Images from Bret

[gdl_gallery title=”BCT-Bret” width=”75″ height=”75″ ]

“A week of excitement, friendship, guidance, wildlife sightings galore and photographic opportunities that will be hard to beat. Wild Eye pulled off a trip of a lifetime without any hiccups and superb organisation. A trip of a lifetime that I hope to repeat with Wild Eye in the future.”

Check out some more of Bret’s images here.

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Images from Joey

[gdl_gallery title=”BCT-Joey” width=”75″ height=”75″ ]

“Thank you Wild Eye for what was a fabulous wildlife photographic safari and a wonderful experience of Africa. My thanks to Gerry, Isaac and Andrew as well. I have learned more about photography and the Maasai people than I expected. The result of good camp choices i saw far more wildlife than hoped for. The camps, their staff and the food were all first class.Our group was wonderful, nice and easy and we had lots of fun. Looking forward to my next Wild Eye experience.”

Check out some more of Joey’s images here.

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Images from Mariana and Juan

[gdl_gallery title=”BCT-Mariana” width=”75″ height=”75″ ]

“Thank you to the Wild Eye team for an unbelievable trip to the Mara and Amboseli.  If we ever plan to do another trip to Kenya it will definitely be with Wild Eye.”

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Images from Mehmet

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“Any of Wild Eye’s customers can ask for my experiences by e-mail but there is only one thing to say; WONDERFULL EXPERIENCE!”

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Images from Pierre-Henri and Arthur

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“We’ve shared with both of you many great human and photographic experiences. With the help of a great management and local team, each points of the organisation were painless for us.  The Mara Triangle is a fantastic area that we’ve really enjoyed and the campsite was a really immersion in the reserve!  Too be continued!”

Check out some more of Pierre-Henri’s images here.

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Images from Richard

[gdl_gallery title=”BCT-Richard” width=”75″ height=”75″ ]

“Thank you Wild Eye, Gerry and Andrew for one of the most unforgettable photographic experiences. The sightings were tremendous, the staff friendly and attentive and the memories firmly etched in my mind. Thank you. I will definitely be back!!”

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So, after checking out some of those great images allow me to take you through a quick day by day account of this amazing photographic adventure.  At the end of each day I have included a link to the daily video blogs I was posting from the trip so to get an even better picture of our adventures. Feel free to check them out as well.

Big Cats & Tuskers: Day 1

Andrew and the guests arrived at the Wild Eye Mara Camp just after 14h00 and the excitement was immediately tangible.

A quick lunch, camp introduction and safari briefing set the tone for what promised to be an amazing photographic adventure.  After lunch at around 16h00,the option was to either relax at camp or hit the Mara for a short game drive in order to stretch those photographic muscles.

As you can imagine it was unanimous.

Our Big Cats & Tuskers photo safari was officially underway!

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

The first afternoon was great in that it gave everybody a great introduction of what kind of landscapes and scenes they can expect in the Mara.

From a photographic point of view that was great, as it gave people the chance to start seeing and visualising some of the shots that they wanted to get during the next few days in the Mara.

Our first afternoon did not produce any big cats but we had some great sightings of general game and a small clan if hyenas as they soaked up the late afternoon sun.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Returning to camp we enjoyed an amazing dinner and then, something which is a standard on these trips, a lot of time in the media tent downloading images, charing batteries and chatting about the amazing photographic opportunitityes we have had and that are still out there waiting for us.

Link: Day 1 Video Blog

Big Cats & Tuskers: Day 2

After a quick cup of coffee we left our camp and less than 5 minutes later this was our first sighting.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Our first big cat!

The lone lioness was walking through the long grass eyeing out a buffalo in the distance.  Knowing she had no chance on her own everybody got a few images, always trying different things, and then made our way deeper into the Mara Triangle not knowing that there were a lot of big cats waiting for us.

And little cats as well.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

This sighting made for unbelievable images all round.

This was not due to the fact that we had great visuals of the large pride of lions but rather the amount of interaction between the youngsters and their mom.

I have seen some of the images that the guests got from this sighting and they are spectacular!

By understanding the basics of photography and then worrying about telling the story, rather than trying to copy someone else, Andrew and I were blown away by the amount of different images that our group was able to get.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

We spent the rest of the morning with the pride and then made our way back to camp which took about 10 minutes.

Breakfast and another media tent session followed.  During these sessions we would share images, discuss Lightroom and just enjoy the amazing setting right on the banks of the Mara River.  I mean, where else in the world can you catalogue and process your images, have a gin and tonic and see hippos in the Mara River?  All at the same time?

After lunch it was time to head out again.

A massive African storm was building as we found this.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

The female leopard had a kill up in the tree and she was a regular feature during our next couple of days.

From a sighting point of view this was magical as the lone tree were our subject was relaxing had a great Mara backdrop.  The light was fantastic but as luck would have it, the rain came down which resulted in not only a miserable looking leopard but a few shots we had set up for not happening.

That being said, quite a few of guests pulled off some amazing images before we left the scene.  Check out these two images that Bret was able to get as the rain came down.

Bret Charman Photography

Bret Charman Photography

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The day was however not over just yet as we returned to the pride of lions from earlier that morning to get a few more images before returning to camp.

As we drove back the camp the Mara showed us another amazing sky.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Only in Africa.

Link:  Day 2 Video Blog

Big Cats & Tuskers: Day 3

The only big cats we were still missing was that definitive Masai Mara species – the cheetah.

As always the Mara Triangle produced the goods and after another quick photo session with our female leopard in her tree, we found this.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

We spent the next three hours with the young male cheetah which ultimately resulted in amazing photographic opportunities.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

After following the sleek cat around and quite a bit of waiting we witnessed a scene that, according to many of the people, was the their highlight of the trip.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

In wildlife photography, patience most definitely pays off and after watching the kill from start to finish the images lived up to what most people were hoping for.  Amazing scene and an incredible moment during our trip.

Today’s goal was to spend the whole day out in the field, something you can very easily do in the Mara.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

During our lunch break under a lone Mara tree we stretched our legs, compared images and took the opportunity to work through some photography techniques and tips.

Here Andrew shares some insight into the menu systems and workings of the Canon 5D Mark III, of which there were quite a few on the trip.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

A lot of our time was spent along the Mara river where a lot of the animals congregate.

The scenes were very different when compared to migration season, and the river was very low, but we were still able to get some amazing sightings and photo opps.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

After our day in the greater Mara reserve we started heading back to camp, stopping in at a lot of stunning spots on the way checking for any photographic moments that could add to the already amazing portfolio of images everybody was putting together.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

By now everybody was well into their photographic stride and the entire group had added each other on Facebook which, in today’s world, meant that they enjoyed each other’s company.

Another fantastic day out in the field in Africa.

Link:  Day 3 Video Blog

Big Cats & Tuskers: Day 4

Our last full day in the Mara started with more amazing sightings.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Even though our focus in the Mara was big cats, of which we had more than we could have wished for, there were always other grab shots in between which is always great when telling the complete visual story of a trip.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

This morning’s breakfast was, as always happens on a Wild Eye Mara safari, to take place at one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the Mara.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Even though I have done this a couple of times it is always something that I look forward to.  It really is a special experience.

As we left our breakfast spot, we bumped into a truly special sighting which was a first for many of the people on the safari.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

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This lioness had made herself comfortable at the top of of a tree.  As you can imagine the excitement was incredible and the shutters starting clicking furiously as the large cat moved around and finally down from the tree.

As she moved off we saw that the reason she came down from here tree was a lone warthog off in the distance.  In the end the heat got the better of her and she laid down in the shade of another tree but not before providing us with the opportunity of getting some fantastic, typical Mara images.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

On our way back to camp the light was fading fast but as if trying to show off, the Mara presented us with more amazing sightings.

It just didn’t stop.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

As we wrapped up our last day in the Mara we started talking about the rest of the journey that lay ahead of us.

The Mara, however, was not quite finished yet…

Link:  Day 4 Video Blog

Big Cats & Tuskers: Day 5

It was time to leave the Mara and the idea was to take a nice, quiet drive to the gate but 10 minutes after leaving our Mara camp we found this.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

No there was just no way we were going to let a photographic opportunity like this pass us by so we spent some time with the same cheetah we saw kill a Thomson’s Gazelle earlier that week.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Amazing as the Mara was there was one thing we had not seen.  One thing that we would loved to have photographed.

Just as we left the gate, Sammy, one of our guides, got a call from one of the rangers which lead to us turning around and heading back towards the sighting that we were looking for.

The light was still good, he was still active and everybody got the shots they were looking for.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

It was the perfect end to the first leg of our Big Cats & Tuskers safari and as we hit the road north towards Lake Naivasha, I was thinking to myself ‘how can it get better than this?’ 

As I was about to find out, our African adventure was about to go to a whole new level!

Link: Day 5 Video Blog

Big Cats & Tuskers: Day 6

Lake Naivasha, a fresh water lake to the north west of Nairobi, was a late addition to this particular safari.

After the experience we had there it will without a doubt be included in all of our future Big Cats & Tuskers photo safaris.  It is, in a word, spectacular!

Our main photographic activity was scheduled for the morning – a boat ride on the lake to view and photograph the more than 400 species of birds that can be found in the area.

I was hoping that our one night stay at Naivasha would, at the very least, measure up to the rest of the trip.

It did a whole lot more than that and the moment we got into the boats, what looked like a water lily covered forest, I knew this was a winner.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Lake Naivasha is photographic heaven, but even without a camera this would have been a truly special and memorable experience.

Andrew Aveley

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

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We spent a good two hours on the water and in between the photographic opportunities, I could see most of the people just sit back and shake their heads at the incredible beauty of this place.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

When we got back to the lodge, we barely had time to grab a quick breakfast, shower and pack before hitting the road toward Amboseli.

But surely we could not leave before a quick, impromptu photo shoot with these charismatic little guys?

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Andrew Aveley

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The Colobus Monkey photo session wrapped up our incredible stay at Naivasha.  As we hit the road again I remember chatting to Joey and she asked ‘How can this get any better?’

I thought the exact same thing and tried to tell myself not to expect too much from the last leg of our trip as thus far it has been out of this world.

I was about to be pleasantly surprised.

Again.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

This was the scene as we approached the Wild Eye Amboseli camp and our first look at the mighty, mythical Kilimanjaro.

What open grasslands brings to the Masai Mara, the White Mountain does for Amboseli.  The mountain makes you feel like you have been there before, a long time ago, yet excites you about the drama it brings to the landscape.

As we stopped at the Wild Eye Mara Camp, which our staff moved from the Masai Mara the previous day, the scene was set for the last leg of what was turning into the trip of a lifetime.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Link: Day 6 Video Blog

Big Cats & Tuskers: Day 7

The view from our camp, which was set up on Maasai land and only 400 meters from a traditional Maasai village, without a doubt had one of the best views of the mountain and we took full advantage of this.

Most of our mornings in Amboseli started like this (or a whole lot earlier).

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

With Africa’s largest mountain right outside your tent, how can you not be behind your camera all the time?

After the morning’s mountain photography we headed back into the park, which was 4 minutes from our camp, to shift our photographic focus to the big tuskers of Amboseli.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

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Morning game drives in Amboseli is the perfect time to get your own iconic images of the world’s largest land mammal with Africa’s largest mountain in the background.  By being patient and working the main road next to the woodlands where the elephants spend the night, everybody got some awesome images of the spectacular scenes that you can find in Amboseli.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Once the elephants started moving to the marshes (a daily occurrence) we made our way there and waited for them to come towards us.

This made for some more amazing African photographic moments.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

After our first morning in Amboseli, we headed back to the camp to add a whole bunch of elephant images to our amazing collection of feline photos.

The plan for that afternoon was to head to the barren Lake Amboseli for a drink and some unique images of the unique ecosystem.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

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On this particular afternoon there wasn’t an animal in sight, but that did not stop us of from having a great amount of fun, having a drink or two and playing with different type of photography.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

As we drove back to camp the sun was setting on another absolutely amazing day in the life of the people on the 2013 Big Cats & Tuskers photo safari.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

After dinner some people spent more time in the media tent while Andrew spent some time around the fire playing around with some low light techniques and sharing his knowledge on how to create striking images that will compliment a wildlife and nature portfolio from a trip like this.

Andrew Aveley

Andrew Aveley

Andrew Aveley

Link: Day 7 Video Blog

Big Cats & Tuskers: Day 8

Our morning started off with a group of us heading into the bush to capture the magical time when night makes way to the break of dawn.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

More simple than it seems, everybody got some amazing star images and walked away with more than just cool pictures.

They learned something as well.

As soon as we could see the mountain and the sky turned pink, it was time to meet for a hot cup of coffee and breakfast before we made our way back into Amboseli for another full day of photography.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

We had some amazing sightings, and personally it was great to see how people were thinking about their photography.

Instead of bashing away at the same images all the time, we were looking for different images, different compositions.  Seeing people try new things, based on what Andrew and I showed them, was and always will be a magnificent feeling and seeing someone get a shot they have been looking for is why we do what we do!

Day 8 - Report-7

Day 8 - Report-6

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

The morning produced some more fantastic images all round and it was time to head up to Observation Hill, a lookout point in the south of the park, for lunch and a nice cold beverage.

The view from the top of Observation Hill is spectacular – perfect for lunch – and shows the marshes and swamps that compliment the barren, dusty plains Amboseli is so well known for.

It is a photographer’s paradise.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

After lunch we started making our way through the reserve back to camp.

It was our last afternoon, and apart from starting to get all our things together, there was one more African moment waiting for us as the sun went down.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

As if in celebration of a marvelous week of wildlife & nature photography, ten of the Maasai from the local village performed a traditional dance which gave everybody the chance to photograph the colorful spectacle and get personally involved with one of Africa’s most famous tribes.

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Day 8 - Report-8

It was a very special evening which culminated in the guests joining the Maasai around the fire and enjoying meat prepared on the fire the traditional way.

The perfect, and very appropriate ending to an amazing eight days.

Link:  Day 8 Video Blog

Big Cats & Tuskers: Day 9

The Wild Eye Amboseli camp was situated on traditional Maasai land and this was only possible due to some of our own staff, also traditional Maasai, knowing people from the village and were able to arrange this special location.

On our last day at the camp our group had the privilege of visiting the Maasai village where they were given a glimpse of how these amazing people live.

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Our group were shown around the village, how they make fire, where they live and how the village functions on a day by day basis –  a glimpse into old Africa.

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Every adventure has to end at some point and it was time for us to go home.

It was time to pack our bags and say goodbye to our home in Amboseli.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

There was however one more thing to do before we made our way back to the airport to catch our flights back home.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

This is the group of guests who shared this amazing journey with Andrew and myself.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

This is the amazing group of staff that make Wild Eye’s trip in Kenya special, memorable and just plain perfect.

Put the above two groups together and you get…

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife & Nature Photography

Big Cats & Tuskers 2013 – an amazing African adventure!

To the Wild Eye staff:  You guys rock my world and I feel humbled to be able to work with you in creating amazing experiences for the Wild Eye guests.

To Andrew: Thanks for all your input and assistance on the trip Badger.  As you would say, a truly epic experience and glad to have been able to share it with you.

To Bret, Joey, Mehmet, Mariana, Juan, Pierre-Henri, Artur and Richard:  It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to have you on this photo safari.  I know you all had a fantastic time and trust that you found what you were looking for in order to take your own photography to the next level.  I look forward to one day sharing more African adventures and photographic opportunities with you.

So that’s it.

Time to close the book on our 2013 Big Cats & Tuskers photo safari.

The next edition of this memorable trip will take place in February 2014, with the details to be announced by the end of March, so make sure to keep an eye on the website and the Wild Eye Facebook page for more details.

Until our next adventure.

Gerry van der Walt

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Gerry’s Links:

Comments 0

  1. DEBALLON

    we are very Happy too see ours TWO sons (les français)
    Beautiful Trip and photos
    Thanks

    ERIC D et VERONIQUE D.

    1. Post
      Author
      Gerry

      Thanks for the comment! Was great to have Pierre-Henri and Arthur on the trip. They were great company and got some truly amazing images. Hope we get to spend some more time out in the field in future.

  2. Post
    Author
    Gerry

    Looking forward to it Beryl! 🙂 Will have the dates for November 2013 and February 2014 out in the next few weeks. Hope all is well in your side of the world.

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