Tanzania Travel Write Up

For the three weeks from 8/26/2004 through 9/19/2004, we went to Tanzania. This is a large country and takes a while to see any appreciable portion of the great locations there. This was also our last major trip using film. We exposed 157 rolls of 36 exposure during our time on the ground there.

This was our longest trip to Africa to date and had some very interesting sightings. I may add one or two more photos later, possibly a rock hyrax and the twin vervet monkey babies. If you have specific interest in either of these, feel free to request them. I missed them on my first scanner pass. If you have enjoyed my photos thus far, please check these out and let me know what you think. Thanks.

We began our trip at the Ngorongoro crater, previously thought to be the largest caldera on the planet. It has since been determined to be outclassed many times over by a caldera so large no one realized it was one for a very long time, Yellowstone National Park. Back to Tanzania though. The Ngorongoro crater is a beautiful spot with incredible wildlife. However, I would probably not go back. The crater, in our experience, has the highest density of safari vehicles we have ever encountered. So, we saw incredible wildlife, but usually with many other vehicles around, making this less of a true safari experience in our opinion. It is definitely worth getting there once for 2 or 3 days though.

On the road into the crater, we saw this chameleon crossing the road. I have no idea how our guide spotted such a small creature. We were glad to see him/her and doubly glad not to flatten him/her.

Chameleon Crossing the Road

Once inside the crater, we had our personal best view of cheetahs ever. We got into the crater very early and had this sighting either to ourselves or nearly so, I can’t remember. We certainly were not surrounded by the usual crowd level. This family was just waking up. The largest is the mother, though the others are so close in size that it’s hard to tell that they are still sub-adults. The mother is licking one of the two sisters lying together. The young male is in the background. We had never had a really good view of cheetahs before, though we had seen them on other trips. This time, we could hear them purr.

Cheetah Family

The young male stopped right next to our vehicle as they were leaving, allowing us a very close look and this head shot.

Cheetah Head Shot

The cheetahs were playing around a bit farther off. This chase was not part of a hunt, but gave us quite a view of a cheetah sprinting. What an impressive sight!

Cheetah Running

We also saw black rhinos for the first time in the crater, but at a distance of a quarter mile or so, the photos are not worth posting. I also just realized that I am so wildlife centric that I didn’t even bother to scan a photo of the crater itself. If anyone has a strong interest in the scenery, feel free to request an update. It mostly looks like cliffs in the distance. It can only really be appreciated by looking all around to see that the encircle you. Even then, the crater is so large that all of the walls can be miles away.

After the crater, we headed up to the north of the Serengeti. I do not recall whether we stopped on the way up or the way back to view Oldupai Gorge. This is the correct spelling. A German butterfly researcher initially got it wrong and spelled it Olduvai, a name that has suck with it, but is not the actual name.

I remember remarking at Oldupai that this was the real Ground Zero. This was Ground Zero of the human catastrophe that later spread across six continents causing one of the planet’s six mass extinctions. Already it is greater than the extinction event 65.3 million years ago that took out the non-avian dinosaurs. Some say it is already greater than the P/T boundary 250 million years ago, the prior record holder, though I believe that is still in dispute. As we gather more information and continue to kill off species, it may well become widely accepted.

There were superb starlings over most of our trip. However, they were quite approachable in a parking lot entering the Serengeti. The starling photo looks a lot better than this scanned image came out. It is not nearly this stark and the colors are a lot better in the original. Oh well, flatbed scanners only do so well.

Superb Starling

The agama lizard male is a particularly beautiful and colorful lizard. The female is fairly nondescript.

Agami Lizard

Inside the park, the wildlife is, of course, phenomenal. This was a beautiful view of a giraffe, very common animals in this area. We waited until s/he finished drinking before driving through the river. Giraffes have a very difficult time getting down to the water and getting back up from it. Note the splayed legs. They must rock back and forth splaying a bit more with each step. To get up, they must reverse the process.

Giraffe Drinking

Hippos are also quite numerous. The babies are adorable. As an aside, hippos kill more humans than any other wild animal in Africa. Canoing the rivers of Africa can be quite dangerous. If you come around a bend and end up in a pod of hippos, things will not go well. And, with them being mostly submerged, you may not see them very far in advance. I’ve heard conflicting reports from different guides. Some say a hippo can bite a croc in half. Others merely acknowledge that hippos do kill crocs. The crocs may be attempting to take the baby hippos.

Hippos with Baby

This was our first view of very young lion cubs, probably around 3 months. We stayed with the for quite a while. One young cub came up from where the kill must have been hidden with quite a bit of blood on his/her face. There was also one that was climbing around in a bush and got mildly stuck in the branches, but the photos of that don’t really show what is going on.

Lionesses and Cubs

Lion Cub

Mahale in Tanzania is a very similar habitat to Gombe where Jane Goodall spent most of her time studying Chimpanzees. The chimps at Mahale are also being studied and have been for over 40 years, mostly by Japanese researchers. There is also a quite luxurious place to stay on the beach of Lake Tanganyika. A short walk into the hills and you can see chimps exhibiting much of the behavior you’ve come to expect. We did not see nut cracking, which may not be one of the behaviors of the Mahale chimps. We did see ant-fishing, as shown in the second of these three photos. We also saw two male chimps deep French kissing, as evidenced by one male putting his finger into the mouth of the other to get him to open his mouth. If anyone was harboring any lingering doubt thinking that humans invented homosexuality, I assure you we did not.

Female Chimp

Chimp Ant Fishing

Chimp Thinker

The last two places we went were Ruaha and Selous. I am not sure exactly where the break between the two is in these photos. The photo below was a female elephant mock charging at us. Later, due to a misunderstanding between our driver and us, we would pressure our driver into doing something very very stupid and driving away from the elephant. We thought we would stop bothering her. However, this show of fear caused her to go into a full charge rather than a mock charge. Luckily a Land Rover can outrun an elephant … barely.

Charging Elephant

Sometimes, the long lens becomes useless. When large animals get very close, a telephoto lens is no help. This is a very good argument for having two camera bodies and keeping a long lens on one and a wide angle on the other. My wife caught this photo of me with the long lens remaining useless for a change.

Elephant Close Up

The smallest antelopes we saw were dik diks. They are generally fairly shy, and being small, a difficult subject for which to get a really good photograph. I love those enormous eyes. Both sexes have the same short horns.

Dikdiks

Saddle Billed Storks are among the most beautiful wading birds I’ve seen. This photo does not really show the yellow saddle on the bridge of the beak that gives them their name.

Saddle Billed Stork

The rare crocodile unicorn, or horned crocodile, can sometimes be seen. Oh, OK, the croc does not have a horn. Or, more accurately, s/he does have a horn, but it recently belonged to an impala (I think).

Crocodile Horn

There are many baobabs. However, I just liked the way this enormous one looked all alone out there.

Baobab

At the dining area in the evenings at Selous (pronounced sel-00), there were one or two bushbabies that were particularly unconcerned by the lights and people. This one came close enough for a head shot. I preferred to show the very obvious primate hands though on this pro-simian. Neither monkey nor ape, bushbabies are in a group that is ancestral to both monkeys and apes and also contains lemurs.

Bushbaby Full Body

We had been to dog country in Africa twice before and been eluded by the dogs both times. We spent 5 days in Ruaha and 6 in Selous, both being good locations for dogs, specifically to try to finally find the dogs. We had passed on some good sightings of other animals intent on finding the dogs. One conversation, after our guide got off the radio went something like this. Guide: ‘They have a sighting of lions from another vehicle. Do you want to go?’ Us: ‘What are they doing?’ Guide: ‘They’re mating!’ Us: ‘We’ve seen lots of mating lions, let’s keep looking for the dogs.’

On our last full day in Selous, we were driving along and my wife yelled, ‘DOG! DOG! DOG!!’ We had finally found them. The sighting was good, though far too brief, maybe a minute or two at most, probably less. They were playful, occasionally pausing to socialize and roll around a bit in the road. Mostly though, they were just passing through. And they run very fast.

The African wild dog (a.k.a. cape hunting dog, painted wolf) is the only animal that vultures will follow on the hunt. Lions are successful on the hunt about 12-15% of the time. The dogs are successful about 85% of the time. They can run all day. I think I heard literally 24 hours if necessary. Most hunts are obviously shorter. When impala see lions on the horizon, they wait, evaluate, determine the appropriate response, give alarm calls, etc. Sometimes when they see dogs, they don’t even sound the alarm. They just start running.

African Wild Dog 2

African Wild Dog Running

This was a wonderful end to an incredible trip. So, from our limited experience, if you want to see the dogs, you must donate some of your flesh to the tse-tse fund for wildlife habitat preservation. Tse-tses are not repelled by any insect repellent. Avon skin so soft worked as well as anything, possibly better than DEET. Anyway, tse-tses pass sleeping sickness to cattle, stopping or dramatically reducing human habitation in areas thick with tse-tses such as Ruaha and Selous.

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10 Responses to Tanzania Travel Write Up

  1. bobbo says:

    Great round of photos.

    My critique ((and ONLY because you asked)) – – too many of your single subject shots have the subject in the dead middle of the photo. Not “artistic.” Follow the “Rule of Threes” and imagine a tic-tac-toe pattern in your picture frame. Put the subject on one of the intersecting points and it will magically be more interesting.

    Same rule for the horizon. Very boring to have it in the middle of the picture. Follow the rule of three when you can, or even better, try to eliminate the sky entirely absent some interesting clouds, birds etc. Such bright areas are called “hot spots” and they draw the eye to a blank area of the pic, thereby reducing enterest. That happened in your mid-shot of the chimp under his armpit. I hope you have some extreme closeups in your unpublished photos? All an issue of composition.

    Note your only horizon picture of the Tree? Nice rule of three for the sky and the sky is very interesting so you have a bonus==but the tree is in the middle.

    Note the penultimate pic? The jackal is looking to the right. You want to frame the subject on the left side of the pic–again eye will tend to look right and be directed out of your photo.

    My browser is a bit “light” right now so I can’t fairly say, but most beginner photos are over exposed. Many photos benefit by lowering the stop x1 or 2. On auto cameras sometimes that can be a permanent setting, or you have to manual override when the right picture presents itself–or batch process when you get home==I’m still thinking analogue.

    On second thought, I think you should go back and take those picture again.

  2. Misanthropic Scott says:

    bobbo,

    Thanks for the detailed critique. I like full frame subjects when I can get them. That’s my version of artistic. And, with any full frame image, the rule of thirds does not apply. I think you may be a tad too rigid in your rule of thirds. It’s really supposed to be more of a guideline of thirds than a hard fast rule. So, if you eliminate the full-frame images, yes, I still have too many centered ones. I would disagree on the middle chimp though. S/he is as far to the right as is possible without cropping part of the body.

    As for exposure, they all look fine to me with the exception of the starling that didn’t scan well. And, my monitor is calibrated by a Spyder II, so is as objectively “correct” as it is possible to be.

    I would also say that you have given me some very good reason to avoid any opportunity to ever judge a photo competition. I knew that they received zillions of photos and must narrow them down dramatically. I never considered the effect this might have on the judges. In the preliminary rounds, it is clear that the vast majority of photos must be eliminated quickly. Anything that is wrong, that doesn’t follow hard fast rules, like the guideline of thirds must be instantly thrown on the trash heap.

    What this may have done, and I don’t know you well enough to be sure so merely suggest a little introspection to see if I have a point, is cause you to look at every photo this way. This may be detracting significantly from your ability to just look at the image and say “what an incredibly beautiful and huge tree” or “wow, you really got to see tool use in primates” or even to notice that the last photos are African wild dogs, not jackals, making the photo subject both far more rare and more difficult to photograph at all, let alone well. Or at least difficult for those of us not on assignment from National Geographic with backing from Nikon or Canonc for all the equipment I might ever want. In short, I’m not Frans Lanting. 😦

    I’m not suggesting that your critique is wrong, merely that you may have lost the ability to just look at the subject and enjoy. If I’m correct, that would be very sad indeed. If I’m not, nevermind.

    Seriously though, thank you very much for the input.

  3. bobbo says:

    Correct – Portrait photography does not follow the rule of thirds.

    Yes, the middle chimp is well positioned. He is on the right of the photo and looking left. Some judges might call it perfect, while others would say he is looking down and therefore could be placed higher. Myself?—Well, looking at the picture, there is nothing of interest to see at the top of the picture, so yes, the top could be cropped just a little bit without harm. I prefer seeing “the edge” of most subjects so the right side of the pic is correct.

    Travelogue shots always given more leeway than artiistic single shots.

    Every judge/person has their own standards and favorite/disfavored subjects and styles. Rules aren’t rigid, just guidelines which is what “critique” is all about. Idea being to know the rules and when and why to violate them. But when you have taken, seen, judged 1000’s of photos, the rule of thirds is a valid “general” rule, as are all the others. And yes, the more you know about a subject, the more crictical you are. I might say you would enjoy more discussions about global warming if you knew less?

    I did enjoy your pics and was envious of your experience in taking them. I tried to capture that in the first and last lines I wrote. Critique is a more rigorous exercise not going to my personal enjoyment. It was criticism you wanted?

    Only about 5-6 “rules”, the main one being–take alot and have fun? Lets see if I can list a few for the blogosphere:
    1. Rule of Thirds
    2. No Bright Spots
    3. Minimize Sky Unless Interesting
    4. Have foreground, middleground, background.
    5. Have the eye follow a natural line into the pic.
    6. Diagonals whenever possible
    7. High Noon sun is harsh.

    So, I could go on abit, but they get more specific and arguable.

    Too bad we can’t do wine tasting by correspondence? Coffee, tea, cheese, mushrooms, olive oil and beer as well? My mother who taught me how to take a picture is fond of saying “Your taste is in your mouth.”

  4. BubbaRay says:

    Ah yes, the “rules.” My main rule: take a zillion shots. If you’re any good at all, 1 in 10 will be great and 1 in 100 will be book material. If you’re not so great, take a zillion shots. Even a blind hog finds an occasional acorn.

    I’m amazed by the giraffe and lion pride photos — nice job!!

  5. Misanthropic Scott says:

    bobbo,

    Thanks again for the input. Diagonals? That’s a new one on me. Would you mind elaborating on that? What would be some examples of deliberate diagonals in photos? I’m assuming you do not mean the current style of holding the camera at deliberately odd angles, which actually bugs me a lot and distracts from the subject.

    BubbaRay,

    I’m a very technical and not very artistic person. It has taken me a long time and a lot of shooting to get as good as I have, and have still not reached the level of many avid amateurs, let alone reached pro quality. Mostly I just try to record what I’ve seen to the best of my ability.

    I have no trouble learning the technical intricacies of the camera, but have little idea of what will look good before I click the shutter. I have a friend who goes out with a little point and shoot. She looks out and says, ‘That’s really beautiful light’, frames the photo and clicks once. Really, just once, and gets a beautiful shot. For her, the technology is the hard part, the art is the easy part. For me it’s the other way around.

    As you can guess by the counts I listed at the top, the total was about 5775 photos. I put over 1400 in a pair of large albums because there were that many subjects I really wanted to remember. I don’t remember the count of the ones that I enlarged. Those would be the ones I’d consider among my personal best, whatever that means. It’s probably fewer than 100.

    So, I think I’m your blind hog. Thanks for the compliment.

    And, of course, the best part is just going there and seeing these things.

  6. bobbo says:

    Taking a zillion shots was the MAIN rule in the age of analogue. With megapixel cameras you can photoshop so much (pan and zoom for composition, filters for exposure) that fewer photos need to be taken. No more bracketing shots required.

    The giraffee picture is a wonderful subject and pose. It would be great to see it cropped so its in the upper right of the photo==thereby catching the foreground color and middle ground lake and getting rid of the blank sky. If you ever get around to making slide shows, having the first photo for location fade into the cropped photo for artistic effect would really show off Africa and your hobby.

    A picture either has a diagonal line that can be used or it does not. Typical example is a rail fence, sidewalk, street, row of flowers, brick pattern etc. When you can get those lines as a diagonal into the subject of the picture it adds another element of interest, The lion family pic had a potential diagonal if you had stood farther over to the left.–the diagonal being the composition of the family itself and not the dirt path leading to them.

    There are only a few simple guidelines that will make pictures more interesting. Any basic book will contain them as will “ahem” local chapters of the PSA. Some PSA groups have already gone pure Digital Camera==free to visit or some charge 5 bucks for a meeting. Other camera clubs too.

  7. ralphwiggum says:

    Bubba Ray’s daughter here.

    Lovely photos! It’s amazing to realize that there really are animals like that on this planet.

    Re: technical vs. artistry
    I wouldn’t worry too much at the artistry part. Art is subjective and something you enjoy for yourself, so as long as the photo brings you memories you needn’t worry about creating the so-called ‘perfect shot.’ These are beautiful and I think it’s so cool you had the opportunity to make the trip and take these photos.

    If you find yourself getting too bogged down in the technical side of things, I recommend getting a relatively inexpensive point-and-shoot digital camera – no chances to adjust shutter speeds or f/stops – and spend time just working on composition. Sometimes Photoshop User magazine has tutorials on composition (both in the mag and online). And there are some good books out there.

    I envy you b/c I have the “what looks good” capability, and can pull off some good composition, but I lack the technical capacity to capture what I want. I have to do a lot of photoshopping.

  8. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Hello BubbaRay’s doughter,

    I never find myself getting really bogged down in the technical, except for the fact that my camera expects me to be smarter than I am, and so remembers settings across shutdowns.

    I’d love to have the instinctive artistry. But, mostly, I’m just trying to capture memories of what I saw. I almost never use photoshop. I just adjust minor stuff like exposure, white balance, and horizon lines (though I didn’t even do that 7 years ago, as can be seen in the NZ photos). Sometimes I play with contrast if I remember seeing the animal clearly and the image barely shows him/her.

    If you ever want advice on the technical let me know. I may be able to help.

  9. BubbaRay says:

    BubbaRay’s wonderful daughter: “Art is subjective and something you enjoy for yourself, so as long as the photo brings you memories you needn’t worry about creating the so-called ‘perfect shot.’”

    Now bragging — Scott, the kid’s got it right! How about that, I actually did accomplish something in life 🙂

  10. Misanthropic Scott says:

    BubbaRay,

    Congratulations. Yes you did. I accomplished something different. My child will never say anything stupid, but won’t say anything brilliant either. You know, they say that if your parents didn’t have children, it’s very unlikely that you will.

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