Category Archives: Recent Trips

Recent Trip Report: 2015 Botswana March & April

Botswana Photography Tours & Safaris – March and April 2015: (Two safaris included)



My recent Botswana photography tours were some of the best wildlife viewing/photography events of my 20 years visiting this amazing country! The combination of lodges/concessions provide the perfect mix of wildlife, habitat, and lodging.

Chitabe

Our first location is situated on the far south eastern edge of the famed Okavango Delta. With a large percentage of the concession having higher ground, which provides drier habitat for larger trees to grow, this is our “Leopard Spot”! In fact, our first day in Chitabe provided us with a large pack of Wild Hunting Dogs, Lions, and the elusive Leopard. And, all this was before lunch — needless to say, a very nice way to start out our Botswana photo tour and safaris trip!

Botswana photography tours and safari with Roy Toft

Back to Leopards — we had a multitude of different Leopards in our time here, including Leopards in trees, mating Leopards, mother with large cubs at a kill, and possibly my favorite sighting, a huge male leopard feeding on a Zebra. One rarely sees this combination of spots and stripes together because the large powerful Zebra rarely falls prey to the solitary Leopard. This was a case where the Zebra actually died while giving birth and the Leopard was purely in the right spot, and the right time. Other large cats kept us busy at Chitabe as well, including the resident pride of Lions and a single Cheetah.

Several of our drives were spent watching and following the always interesting Wild Hunting Dogs. These wide ranging endangered carnivores are to me some of the most exciting animals to watch on a hunt. After rising from their mid-day nap and performing their highly energetic social greetings, the entire pack trots off through the vegetation in search of anything small enough for them to take down. Their main prey tends to be Impala or young Kudu — Trying to stay one step ahead of the dogs on a hunt is what separates a great guide/driver from the ordinary! — Some of my most exciting experiences in Africa have been following these “painted wolves.” On one of our “dog” drives, the pack of 18 Wild Hunting Dogs wandered onto the bush airstrip where a small plane was parked. The dogs had obviously not seen that many parked airplanes by the way they cautiously approached this strange beast! At one point, one of the pups from last season (10 months old), crept up to the plane and pulled a red flag from the wing; puppies will always be puppies! Another Canid that we spent time with was the larger and more powerful Hyena. Often despised for their scavenging lifestyle, these capable hunters are also wonderful parents. We were fortunate to see the softer side of this carnivore when a mother with three pups trotted out from their den and proceed to nurse right in front of us! This was really special. I always love it when my clients get to see the “whole picture” when it comes to animals and wildlife. All animals have a purpose and a reason for being; why does our affection only go to the cute or majestic? Go Wild Dogs and Hyena!

Of course, we also spent a great deal of time with wonderful Elephants, Giraffe, Zebra, Warthogs, and a variety of Antelopes. Birds — what about birds? If people are not really “into” birds when they come on our Toft Photo Botswana photography tours and safaris, by the end of the trip they can easily point out the spectacular Lilac breasted Roller, Woodland Kingfisher, Saddle-billed Stork, Wattled Crane, African Fish Eagle, Ostrich, several Bee-eaters, and the list continues. It’s hard not to get excited for African birds! Snake lovers? I was able to play with a nice big Rock Python and this always makes me very happy!

Vumbura

This concession in situated in the heart of the Okavango Delta. The experience here at Vumbura is classic “Delta” with water covering a good chunk of the concession. You might be thinking that the water would hamper our game viewing, — ohhhhh — on the contrary! Our formidable “Land Rovers” turn into very capable “Water Rovers.” It is truly amazing what these vehicles can traverse. The scenery here is completely different than Chitabe, being dominated by large flood planes with grasses and islands of dry ground with larger trees. Here we see our first groups of the water adapted antelope, called Red Lechwa.
Lion Silhouette Sunset in Botswana
The large resident pride of Lions keep our shutters active throughout many of our outings. The antics of the ever playful youngsters provided hours of watching enjoyment. This pride of lions has two very impressive dominate males as their overlords. Also with this pride is a 4-5 year old male, who is determined to never leave and make a life for himself, much to the dismay of the two dominate males. When the two dominate males were with the pride, this younger male would be forced to keep his distance for fear of being attacked and possibly killed by the older males. But when the two males were off patrolling their large territory and separated from the pride, then the younger male was back with his mother, aunts, and young brothers and sisters — living the good life! These species dynamics and individual stories add so much color/texture to all of our photo safari experiences while in Africa. Our knowledgeable guides have been watching and following these cast of characters in this drama for years upon years. One of my favorite images from this entire trip came from this pride as one of the lions moved to the water to quench her thirst, just as the sun was setting! Yes — thank you photo gods!

Other notable sighting here include another large pack of Wild Hunting Dogs, Leopard, Elephants, Hippos, Zebras, Giraffe, and birds galore! Many of us also spent an amazing hour photographing this area from the air in a helicopter!

Kings Pool

This concession is located north of the Okavango Delta in the Linyanti. Another change in habitat with Mopane woodlands and Riparian (Riverfront) dominating. This is a great area for large herds of Elephants and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Images of Wild Dogs and Lions also filled our hard drives from our daily drives along the river and further afield. One morning a contact call, from a Wild Hunting Dog, was heard by our guide deep in the Mopane forest. When we went to investigate, we found a group of seven Hyena who had displaced a pack of 14 Dogs from their recent kill. The Hyena were just finishing the kill and the Dogs were trying to regroup as a pair of large male Lions came into the mix to see if they could get breakfast as well! This was very exciting! When the Lions arrived, all the Hyenas started to disperse and the Dogs looked on. Seeing three of Africa’s top predators together in one spot is something to behold!

Wild Hunting Dogs

We had another exciting predator interaction here which started off as a quick sighting of a lone Hyena running away from the trail into the Mopane. This made us think, “what is he running to/or from?” We made a plan to circle around and head into the Mopane and try and see what was causing the excitement. As we made our way through the thick Mopane woodland, we heard the alarm call of an Impala about 100 meters from our location. Changing direction and heading toward the alarm call, we roll up to the Impala and following his gaze, we see a lone leopard smelling the blood soaked ground just as a Hyena runs away with an entire Impala hanging from his mouth! Yes, this is the drama of Africa!

Do you want to hear more? Of course you do! So, we follow the Leopard as he trails the Hyena who has just stolen his fresh Impala kill. We lose sight of both the Hyena and Leopard as we navigate through the thick stunted trees of the Mopane. After 10 minute without a visual, we round a corner and see the Hyena and the Leopard pulling on both sides of the kill! The Leopard wins the brief interaction and runs off with the Impala to the closest tree and climbs it (Impala in mouth). Not 30 seconds after the Leopard has secured his prize in the 15 foot tall Mopane tree, we see three more Hyena come running into the area with salivating mouths and tails curled up with excitement! It just doesn’t get better than this! The Hyena actually try and climb the tree, without success, and decide to just camp at the base of the tree as the Leopard with prize sit patiently above. This was one of those moments where getting an “image” that conveyed this drama was impossible. It can’t always be about getting the image. We all have this drama captured in the best hard drive — our brain.

Toft Photo Safari guides for our Botswana photography safari tours 2015

I must write something about our wonderful lodges/food/guides/service. Our three lodges are simply the best that Botswana, Africa can offer! Pure rustic elegance in the middle of paradise. We are treated to the best food and service that you could find anywhere in the world! I’m serious…anywhere in the world!! Our guides in Botswana are some of the very best, they are extremely knowledgeable and they truly care about this place they call “their office.” Did I mention the wines… the great South African wines?!

March 2016 Botswana Photo Safaris Tours to be back in this wildlife rich gem of Africa!!!

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