Category Archives: Recent Trips

Recent Trip Report – Botswana Photo Safari 2014

2014 Botswana Photo Safari was a Success!

Just home from my 12th Botswana photo safari tour and it was spectacular! If you look through my past “recent trips” reports you’ll see that I often write how amazing this trip is and how quite often it turns out to be one of “the best trips” I’ve ever taken. Well…..here I go again!
2014 Botswana Photo Safari
Images by Roy Toft Photo Safaris

This was possibly the best wildlife photo trip I’ve ever led!!

This year started upon landing in the Okavango Delta and having our guides from Chitabe Camp ask us whether we would like to go directly to the lodge or go photograph a mother Cheetah with 3 cubs!!! Tough call (ha)…30 minutes later we were watching and photographing our first exciting subjects. Without exaggeration, every game drive, morning and evening, followed this theme of something extraordinary to watch and photograph.

Coalition of 4 male lions - Botswana Photo SafariCoalition of 4 male lions – Botswana Photo Safari Tour 2014 — © Roy Toft

Our first four days was spent with these Cheetahs, for evening and morning, as well as multiple groups of lions, including a coalition of 4 male lions and another of 3 male lions!. We spent two full days with a pregnant Leopard who stalked and killed a female Impala right in front of us. We also had a terrific family group of lions that put on a real show for us playing and chasing each other through the water at sunset. Thank you Chitabe!

With our hard drives already full of great images, we headed to our next Okavango camp…Vumbura. This beautiful camp is located right on a magnificent flood plain and very quickly we found that we didn’t need to go far from the camp to be in prime wildlife photography heaven. African Wild Hunting Dogs were next on the photography schedule with our group spending a total of 5 drives (morning and evening) following a pack of these complex, interesting canids. On our 3rd day we even witnessed the pack of 18 dogs take a full grown Tsessebe in a small pond 10 yards in front of us! This is something I have never seen in all my dozen years following and watching Wild Dogs. It wasn’t ALL about the dogs however as we spend some very good quality time with great lions, including a coalition of two big males. One of my favorite images of the entire trip is one of these big male lions as he crossed a large swampy region in search of his brother. It is often the most difficult type of image to capture — one in which the subject and background give someone the entire “sense” of a place or environment. This image was my “Okavango image.” Some other notable moments on my 2014 Botswana Photo Tour included a Southern Ground Hornbill with a young Puff Adder, and a scenic Lechwe observed from a helicopter…so fun!

An adult and juvenile Wild Hunting Dogs - Botswana Photo Safari 2014. Photo by Roy Toft

Our last camp was Kings Pool in the northern Linyanti region. I primarily go here for their large herds of Elephants as well as their good numbers of Wild Hunting Dogs. Our first evening drive was along the Linyanti River where we witnessed a group of 40-50 Elephants make a dramatic river crossing from Namibia to Botswana! This was exactly why we were here…perfect timing Ele’s! We then found a nice pack of 15 Wild Dogs and spent two full days following them through the brush as they attempted to make a kill. Following Wild Dogs as they spread out through the environment and scare-up game is probably one of the most exciting wildlife viewing around. Along with all these predators and charismatic mega fauna, we also spent quality time watching and photographing: dragonflies, Bee eaters, Giraffes, Zebra, Vultures, Eagles, Kudu, Storks, Egrets, Cranes, Rollers, Frogs, snakes, lizards…on and on!

In only 11 months I get to do this again!! Join me on my next Botswana Photo Safari Tour!

~ Roy

Roy Toft with his dogs at home in Ramona, California.

Recent Trip Report — 2014 India Photo Tour Safari

Destination: India — Feb. 2014


2014 India Photo Tour Safari – Images by Roy Toft Photo Safaris

Seventeen years is way too long to stay away from an amazing country like India! My first experience with India was under the mentor-ship of Michael “Nick” Nichols of National Geographic Magazine as we embarked on a two year project focused on Tigers. We concentrated our efforts in Bandhavgarh National Park and logged nearly 1000hrs on the backs of Indian Elephants as we searched for our elusive stripped subject. Needless to say, the chance to work with the great Nick Nichols and spend so much quality time in the Indian Jungle, was one of the best times of my life. Look for the cover article, “Sita: Life of a Wild Tigress,” which came out Dec. 1997 NG magazine.

Fast forward 17 years later. Our plan for this scouting trip was to see as many of the “Tiger Reserves” as possible and evaluate the best possible natural history tour for photographers wanting to experience India’s unique and diverse wildlife. Many of the best spots for seeing Tigers and other wildlife are in the central part of the country — Madhya Pradesh. Let me devote a paragraph to each of our 5 different locations:

Bandahvgarh Tiger Reserve

The park was just as beautiful as what I remembered from nearly 2 decades before. Because of the popularity of this Tiger “hotspot” the politics of driving through the park has changed quite a bit. roy-toft-photo-safari-india-tigerCurrently, each vehicle is assigned a daily route to drive while in the park. This reduces the cluster of vehicles in one certain area and keeps the disruption of traffic toward the wildlife at a minimum. One of our 2 vehicles had a nice Tiger sighting on the first morning drive! Little did we know how lucky we were as Tiger sighting got tougher as the trip progressed. Our third morning in the park gave us our best Tiger sighting of the entire trip with a 2 year old female. This amazing cat gave us exceptional opportunities to photograph her at close range and with varying backgrounds. It also wasn’t a fleeting encounter, as we spent 20-30 minutes hammering the shutter as the stripped vision moved through the Sal forest — even stopping to drink from a small creek!!! Life was good!!! Thank you Tiger gods! Other exceptional photo ops included the huge Gaur, Langurs, Peacocks, and other iconic Indian species.

Kanha Tiger Reserve

A 5hr drive brought us to our next location — Kanha. We had an unexpected surprise when we arrived at our lodge just before sunset. With a cool beverage in hand, our attention was focused on a tall tree silhouetted in the early evening twilight…80 meters away. Precisely on time, a medium sized shape started crawling up the tree trunk. Upon reaching the top branch, we watched as the animal leaped off the tree and glided over our heads on skin-stretched wings — a huge gliding tree squirrel defied gravity and amazed us all on it’s 120 meter glide through the forest!!!! A very nice welcoming, I’d say, to our second wildlife park. We had a wonderful 4 days exploring Kanha’s grasslands and mixed habitat. Our stripped obsession only gave us a couple brief glimpses as we stayed busy photographing the Endangered Hard Ground Barasinga, displaying Peacocks, wild boar, monkeys, and other wildlife.
roy-toft-india-photo-safaris

Pench

Our next location gave us a couple surprises; the first one was our lodge. We were lucky to be some of the first visitors to this freshly opened Wildlife Lodge, situated 5 minutes drive from the West Gate of Pench Tiger Reserve. Our new lodge had luxury African style tents and a huge magnificent Banyan Tree as the lodge centerpiece. The other nice surprise at Pench was the lack of visitors and vehicles within the park. Sadly, no Tiger sightings but plenty of the “normal” subjects which we continued to photograph.

Satpura

Another 4hr drive took us to our 4th destination — Satpura Tiger Reserve. Within 30 minutes of arrival at our lodge (Forsyth Lodge), we were laying flat on a stomachs photographing a Checkered Keel-back snake. Our guide David found the snake just minutes after we asked “where are all the reptiles?” Although there are Tigers that are possible to see at Satpura, our main subject we were looking for was the Sloth Bear. The hilly, rocky terrain at this park support a large population of these interesting termite eating bears! It didn’t take us long to see our first black furry moving rock (at least at a distance). As we got closer, the long pale snout and the huge clawed feet of these animals became visible. roy-toft-sloth-bears-with-cubsWe also had the chance to see a couple different female bears with cubs. The interesting thing about Sloth Bears is that when the babies are small, they ride on the back of their mothers!!! This was something I had always wanted to see…and we did!

Kaziranga NP-Assam

Our last destination was an airplane flight away to the north-east part of India — Assam. The park here is called Kaziranga and is best known for its large population of Greater One-horned Rhinos. india-one-horned-rhinoWe had four days here and enjoyed our mist covered morning riding elephant-back into the reserve to view and photograph this living dinosaur — the One horned Rhino! The Rhino population numbers are over 2,000 strong here, where the rangers and anti-poaching patrols work extremely hard to safeguard their wildlife from illegal poaching. Each morning, we saw an average of 10-15 different Rhinos from our Elephant-back perches. The Rhinos were completely habituated to the elephants and tourists who came everyday to view them.

So that’s our India photo tour in a nutshell! I plan on leading a similar India photo tour safari to this fascinating country in February 2016. Be sure to get on the Toft Photo pre-trip waiting list for 2016 Tigers of India Photo Tour!

Recent Trip Report – Madagascar 2013

Lemurs…Chameleons…Geckos who blend into their surrounding and others who look like neon signs; unique birds, like Couas, and Vangas, found nowhere else on the planet; towering Baobab trees overlooking endless fields of green rice fields…

This is Madagascar

and it has intrigued me ever since my first visit 20 years ago

I made my third pilgrimage to the “great red island” last month with some photo buddies and spent three weeks exploring some new habitats and areas of this fascinating country. Let me start by talking about a place that wasn’t new to me… Perenet, home of the Indri. Located just three hours by car outside the capital city of Antananarivo (Tana), Perenet is the place to see, hear, and experience the largest of all the Lemurs… the Indri.

Indri lemur - Madagascar

I first visited this forest reserve 20 years ago and couldn’t wait to experience the wondrous whale like calls of the Indri once again. Starting at first light, we spent two days hiking and following a family group of these lemurs as they moved through the dense canopy of their forest home. Working through small windows in the vegetation, capturing images of these 3 1/2 foot tall panda-like lemurs as they moved and feed high above us was anything but easy. This is one of those subjects however, who is “experienced” not just photographed! After an hour of hiking the steep trails in the misty forest looking for our subject, the normally silent forest comes alive with the eery calls of the Indri. The closest comparison to describe this call is the melodic singing of humpbacked whales. The feeling one gets upon hearing this call is not unlike what one’s feeling sitting near a mist covered lake in the far north when a Common Loon makes his presence known. Special! Wild!

On my two previous trips to Madagascar, I spend all of my time in two specific locations working on magazine articles; one of my goals on this trip was seeing new habitats and new areas. Getting to remote areas in this country is not quick… or easy! All flights originate from the capital city so one must keep going back to “Tana” before continuing on to the next adventure. Driving is another adventure as roads are in very poor condition and distances of 50 km can take several hours to navigate. The spiny forests of the south were another destination I couldn’t wait to experience. Berenty Reserve is located in the farthest tip of southern Madagascar and transitions from a Triangle Palm mixed forest to the characteristic thorns and succulents found in the southern spiny forest. Euphorbs, Aloes, Pachypodiums, Baobabs, and several varieties of Alluaudia (madagascar ocotillo) make up the unique flora of this region. Target lemur species we saw and photographed included the Ring-tailed, Verreaux’s Sifaka, Collared Brown and the nocturnal White-footed Sportive Lemur.

Sifaka - Madagascar

We had a total of three days to explore Berenty and spent a considerable amount of that time sitting along the dirt roads waiting for Sifakas to make their dance-like commute across the open paths. There always seemed to be something to see and photograph at Berenty… we could have spent another week there easily!

One of the added treats for me was seeing some of the plants I have in my succulent garden back home in San Diego, California. Familiar plants like Aloe vaombe, Kalanchoe beharensis, and Pachypodium lamerei living in their native environment… very cool.

Baobab tree in Madagascar

Continuing with the plant theme… another notable destination we visited was Baobab alley in the south western town of Morondava. These huge trees were really something to see! We had great fun photographing the Baobabs after the sun went down and played with long exposures, light painting and composition well into the night. Along with the Baobabs, the dry forest in this area gave us many wildlife opportunities, including Giant Jumping rats, Chameleons, Spiny tailed Iguanas, and possibly the most exciting animal in all of Madagascar… the Fossa!

Fossa - Madagascar

This animal, who looks and moves like a low slung mountain lion, is the top predator on the island and commonly hunts lemurs. A quick back story relating to Fossa…

  In 2000, I was given an assignment by Discover Magazine to photograph a story on the elusive Fossa. I spent two weeks in the dry forests of Ankarafantsika with Fossa researcher Dr. Luke Dollar. It was a great adventure, but the only Fossa we saw in all that time was one that Luke captured to remove its telemetric collar!

So… you can imagine my excitement when we saw and photographed two different Fossa on this current trip and even saw an attempted lemur hunt by one of the animals!
 
My plan is to not wait another 10 years before I return to Madagascar. I will combine the best places we visited on this trip to Madagascar and make a photo tour itinerary for September 2015. Let us know if you would like to be included on the short list for this “new” photo safari.
 
Regards,
 
Roy Toft
Roy Toft

Recent Trip Report – Jaguars of the Pantanal 2013

Pantanal, Brazil — Toft Photo Safaris July/Aug 2013

Our timing was perfect this year for our Jaguars of the Pantanal Photo Tour as a cold front had just moved through the area when my group arrived. These cold fronts drop the temperature by 30 to 40 degrees F….which makes for some cold morning boat rides as well as diminished animal activity. We had a wonderful first two days of photography on the Pixian River filling our hard drives with images of Toco Toucans, Caiman, 4 species of Kingfisher, many Herons and Egrets, nesting Jabiru Storks, hawks, capybara….and more.


Recent Trip 2013 Brazil – Images by Roy Toft Photo Safaris

Then we were off to our River based hotel to start looking for our #1 photo priority…the mighty Jaguar! It didn’t take us long……24 minutes after starting our first afternoon boat ride we met a beautiful 2-year-old male Jaguar known as Jorge — or George — setting a personal record for me!!!! This first sighting set the tone for our next 5 days on the river as we continued to see different Jaguars everyday. Jaguar with Capybara kill - Toft Photo Safaris Jaguars of the Pantanal Photo TourWe finished our river portion with 7 different Jaguars and 14 different sessions watching and photographing this impressive cat. I estimate that we spent around 25 hours watching and photographing Jaguars on this year’s trip…which is about normal.

What was really good this year was the different settings and lighting we had the Jaguars in as well as the varied behavior that we were able to witness and photograph.

The three Jaguar highlights for me on Jaguars of the Pantanal photo tour were:

  1. A female Jaguar carrying a capybara kill along the river and finally swimming the river. The cat was known to have a 1-year-old cub, which was the likely benefactor of this juicy capybara.
  2. After watching a beautiful female Jaguar (known as Ruth) sleep on the river bank for 2 hours, she proceeded to get up and start walking down the river’s edge right at sunset. The light was fantastic! Ruth proceeded to walk, jump over bushes, enter the water, swim across a water lily engulfed stream! Pure magic!!!
  3. While waiting for one Jaguar to come out of the bushes, we were told of another Jaguar spotted not 5 minutes away and proceeded to check this new female out. As we were repositioning the boat, we heard from another boat driver that this female had just pounced on a caiman! We arrived as she was dragging her reptilian meal out of the river…..Wow! Just WOW! If you would have told me 6 years ago that this was possible to see and photograph…I would have called you crazy!!! I’m still so amazing that it is possible to see and photograph this amazing cat at such close distances in the daytime. I think I will be amazed for years to come….can’t wait to go back!

Roy Toft Jaguars of the Pantanal Photo Tour 2013

Some other highlights for me on this year’s Jaguars of the Pantanal photo tour was the chance to photograph a Caiman Lizard. My friend James Adams captured one of these powerful lizards by our lodge and allowed me to photograph it when released. What an exciting little photo session! This thing was very aggressive and being on my belly with a wide-angle was a rush! Another high point was our 10 foot Yellow Anaconda. Roy Toft and 10 foot yellow Anaconda snakeThese beautiful snakes are hard to find and two of my friends on this trip were hoping to get a chance to see and hold one….that we accomplished!

The absolute best part of this trip was our group of intrepid photographers! Eight of the ten participants were familiar faces…past clients turned honored friends. To experience a wilderness like the Pantanal with such great company is a true privilege and something I’ll never take for granted! Before the trip was over, two of this year’s guests/friends put their names on my list for the 2014 Jaguars of the Pantanal trip……that is when you know the trip was a success!

Is it July 2014 yet???? Can’t wait to get back to the Pantanal!

Who’s coming with me on our 2014 Jaguars of the Pantanal Photo Tour??

I want to share just a couple of wonderful reviews from our Jaguar tour… I love my clients!

This was my first photo tour with Roy Toft. I had a great time and have a lot of excellent photographs. While this was listed as a “photo tour” vs a “workshop”, I received a lot of valuable information from Roy. Roy Toft was always willing to put down his camera, assist in camera issues as well as photography issues, answered questions and made great suggestions to improve on the participants photographic experience. From total newbie to experienced photographer, we all went home happy and had fantastic images. I will travel with Roy again.
Dr. Marg Wood

Thanks Roy for another great photo safari. The trip could not have been better and I will cherish the photos from this trip until the day I leave this earth. You under-promised (we may not see jaguar) and over-delivered (7 different Jags). I will never forget the adrenal rush of photographing the Jaguar killing and dragging the Caiman into the forest. Or the last morning when Gino turned the boat around a corner and we were 30 feet from the large male, Mick Jaguar, staring back into the morning sun. The transportation, accommodations and guides were perfect. I will begin saving up for our next adventure.
Tom Thomson

Botswana Photo Tours & Wildlife Safari led by Roy Toft

Recent Trip Report – 2013 Botswana Photo Tours

Another Toft Photo Botswana Photo Tour under my belt (10th)
and oh what a trip it was!


View a Portfolio of 2013 Botswana Tour Images – © 2013 Roy Toft Photo Safaris

Several things were different for this year’s Toft Photo Wildlife Safaris & Botswana Photo Tours. For 2013 we teamed up with Piper & Heath, a local African travel company based in San Diego, CA. Chris Liebenberg, the owner of Piper & Heath, grew-up in Namibia and was just the right fit to arrange and handle the myriad of logistical gymnastics needed to pull off our seamless African photo adventure. Wildlife Photo Safari - Roy Toft Botswana Photo ToursThis year’s Toft Photo Safaris 2013 Botswana photo tours had brand new itineraries. We visited several new Wilderness Safari camps, which added a whole new level of excitement for a seasoned Botswana traveler like myself. The three camps on our planned route this year were Kings Pool in Linyanti, which is located in the northern part of Botswana; Duba Plains Island, which is located in the heart of the Okavango Delta; and Chitabe Camp, also in the Delta but further to the east. At the end of the main Botswana photo tour, some of our participants continued on for a three night photo tours extension to the Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa.

As is typical for this time of year, the vegetation at all our locations was lush green, which made for wonderfully scenic backgrounds. Big blue skies with fluffy white clouds was the norm with only 10 minutes of sprinkled rain. Normally, we can expect a bit more weather in the late afternoons, but it seems this year is going to be a very dry one for Botswana. At our first camp, Kings Pool, we spent a lot of time observing and photographing large breeding herds of Elephants. The Linyanti area seems to have the largest number of these breeding herds, which gives us plenty of exciting experiences and outstanding photo opportunities. During our several game drives we were fortunate to observe and photograph a very nice Wild Hunting Dogs - Botswana Wildlife Photo Tour Safaripride of Lions with a couple of small cubs. Our first Leopard was seen on the second day at Kings Pool and on our last day, on our way to the bush airport (in route to Duba Plains Island, our next camp) we saw a pack of 21 Wild Hunting Dogs!

The Duba Plains camp is in the center of the Okavango Delta. This area is well known for its Lions who hunt Cape Buffalo and its water saturated landscape. Immediately we started locating the three different groups of Lions found on the Island. We were drawn into the complex and amazing relationship these predators have with their main prey…the Cape Buffalo. After several days watching and following the Lions (with literally thousands of images being made at any one time) the drama climaxed with the Lions making a heart stopping attack that claimed an adult cow Buffalo. In our days with the Lions, we saw water crossings, spectacular reflections, early morning mist, sunrise with Lions, territorial fights at dawn between groups of Lions, Lions jumping over 15 foot stretches of river…let’s just say they gave us photographers everything we could ever ask for. Thank you Duba Lions! I must not leave the Duba Plains section without mentioning our other wonderful photo opportunities, such as the Bat Eared Fox in early morning butter light, frame filling Malachite Kingfishers, Wattled Cranes, Kudus at every turn, a Leopard with a vervet monkey in its mouth, running Lechwe, hundreds of Elephant..the list goes on and on.

Chitabe camp, in the eastern Okavango Delta, offered a wonderful diversity of habitat and wildlife. Our first morning game drive produced a wonderful female Leopard that gave us some really incredible photo opportunities (backlit in the morning…one of my favorite images from trip) as well as allowing us to hear her raspy serenade as she called for a male suitor. One of our vehicles also saw two more Leopards the same morning as seeing a male following a female! It is important to note that Leopards in Botswana are never easy to find…so this was a terrific start to our stay at Chitabe. Another huge find was a pack of Wild Hunting Dogs. Leopard with a kill - Botswana Photo ToursWe heard that two dogs had been seen taking down an adult male Impala and as we arrived on the scene, we saw a beautiful Leopard with the kill! Apparently the two dogs ate a bit before leaving to retrieve the rest of their pack…and that’s when the Leopard commandeered the Impala! I have never seen a Leopard on a fresh kill in open territory in my 15 years photographing Africa. Usually they already have their kill stashed in a bush or up a tree by the time you find them. The prize was short lived however as the pack of a dozen or more dogs came back in a short time to reclaim their meal. We followed the dogs the next morning as well as another hunting attempt later in the evening. The morning session with the dogs provided a wonderful photo op when they moved into shallow water and we were able to position our vehicles to get the pack with reflections…very nice! Other terrific sighting and photo ops at Chitabe included several sessions at “fish traps,” where hundreds of birds gather at a shrinking pond to feed on the fish, and a fun session of night photography capturing the amazing African starry sky.African starry night - Botswana Photo Tours

Chitable concluded the main Botswana photo tours safari but some of us continued on to the next tour on our itinerary, the Mala Mala photo tour extension in South Africa. The Mala Mala location is best known for its Leopards and Rhinos, which was proven very quickly to be a true. During the three days we saw 4 different Leopards and a dozen or so White Rhino! One morning was just spectacular. Our small photo tour came upon a group of five White Rhino and as we proceeded to photograph them, 30 minutes later we got the call that a female leopard had been seen not five minutes from our location. Needless to say – off we went. We found a beautiful, relaxed female Leopard on a rock ledge grooming herself. After 15 minutes with our Leopard and we get the call that a pack of Wild Dogs had been seen running through the bush about three miles from our location. Yes, we were off again at high speed! We found the Wild Dogs and I thought to myself…Ok, it is not even 8:30 in the morning yet and we had already spent time photographing endangered Rhinos, an amazingly beautiful and elusive Leopard, and now the second most endangered carnivore in Africa…Wild Hunting Dogs. This is too much!

The Botswana Wildlife Safari Photo Tours come through once again and two days after returning home, I am already planning and finalizing the dates for 2014’s Toft Photo Safari Botswana Photo Tours and wildlife adventure in this spectacular country!

Come join me in Botswana!

— Roy