Night Drives

Old Jun 22nd, 2007, 04:07 PM
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Night Drives

We are staying at Bateleur in Kenya in January and I heard they have night drives (right?). We did not do any night drives in South Africa and I am curious about what makes them so special. What time do they usually occur? TIA
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Old Jun 22nd, 2007, 04:52 PM
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I've haven't done night drives in the Mara area but have in other parts of Kenya. Night drives give you the opportunity to see nocturnal species which aren't often seen during the day. Game I've only seen after dark include aardvark, African wildcat, serval, genet, zorilla, aardwolf (OK, I've seen these once during the day too but I was told it's uncommon). That said, I've also been on night drives where all we saw were a few hares It just depends on luck. I usually go if offered. Night drives can start anytime after dark, depends on the camp. Some areas have restrictions on how late vehicles can stay out. Other areas, night drives can start after dinner and stay out until 10:00-11:00pm or later. I don't know the specifics at Bateleur.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2007, 07:18 PM
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If the Bateleur offers it, go ahead and try it, but definitely don't alter your itinerary to stay at a camp that offers night drives. They are not that great. More than likely you will try one and skip doing it again. Save your energy and enjoy a fun time around the campfire or at dinner and/or an early morning drive the next morning. Both are better than a night drive in most cases.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2007, 08:07 PM
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As always, whether night drives are worthwhile depend on personal preference, location and luck.

I've a friend with similar safari tastes as I have, except that he finds night drives uninteresting. I just love being 'on the road' at any time. Night sightings don't have to be restricted to the smaller nocturnal critters; lions and leopards on kills have been among some of my highlights, including in the Mara. And it's just a tad interesting driving (carefully) through a large herd of elephants coming away from water. Like being in heavy traffic and none of the other vehicles is showing lights

Sometimes there's quite a different thrill to a night happening which would seem ordinary during the day. One night, we were watching a pride feeding on a buffalo in a patch of bush; suddenly the pride male came out of the darkness from behind us and brushed alongside our vehicle before squeezing between two of the females on the kill. The reaction of a young lady sitting in the back when the lion appeared beside her was quite interesting.

John
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 05:01 AM
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I'm going to agree with afrigalah about it being a matter of preference. My suggestion is that you try it if your lodge/camp offers it. But in my experience, I usually don't repeat.

And my point to others (Dr Andrea already has her itinerary set) is don't go out of your way looking for night drives. Select your camps/lodges based primarily on the expected daytime experience. And try to stay in an unfenced camp in an area with a high density of wildlife -- you may not even have to leave camp to get your night drive. The sound of a lion roaring near your camp, sharing that experience with others around the campfire ("shhhh, did you hear that? is that a lion? oh my gosh it IS a lion, listen. how close do you think it is? two miles? it sounds like it's just beyond that tent.&quot and then drifting off to sleep while wondering if the lion will wander through the camp at night -- in my opinion that beats two hours driving around in the dark with a spotlight any day. Again, just my opinion. Try it once and see how you like it.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 08:11 AM
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Some lodges, including most CCAfrica properties, will also do a short star tour. I worked with rangers at all but two CCAfrica locations so they would be able to give a good presentation, unfortunately for you Kichwa Tembo was one of two I missed (the other was Mnemba) so I am not sure if they include stargazing as part of their night drive. If you have never had a good look at a really dark sky in the Southern Hemisphere, you will probably find a guided tour special.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 08:14 AM
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For certain like every safari choice preferences will vary but I would give the exact opposite advice from Sevendown. Anyone who cares about the opportunity to see the full diversity of wildlife and wilderness experience absolutely needs to plan to stay somewhere that offers night drives during your itinerary, and it should be in a great wildlife area not just because they go out at night. There are a large number of mammals that are almost never seen during the day on safari -- interesting species like porcupine, bushbaby, genet, civet, brown hyena, aardvark, wild cat etc. and in many areas your chance to see leopards, servals, honey badgers and many other species is much better after dark -- and of course it is the time for owls, nighjars and easiest to locate chameleons. Clearly night drives are not for everyone because they take a lot of patience and are not always frutiful with easy viewing so you have to really care and be excited about seeing new species or lucking into the rare opportunity to experience the rawness of the Africa night when something extraordinary happens. For instance, I do agree that I love hearing lions while sitting at dinner or around the camp fire but sitting in the dark amongst the pride with males in full roar 10 feet away from me and the sound reverberating in my body in the pitch black is one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life.

For those who prefer a heavy focus on only sexy megafauna veiwing under soft easy conditions, which is certainly a large portion of safari goers, night drives are probably not a great idea although you can always get lucky with a night time kill but more often you will be bored. For those with a more encompassing desire to discover I would urge that night drives are included and that you keep a sense of wonderment to get through the occassional empty night drive.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 08:39 AM
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WOW! Lots of insight! Thanks. Is the night drive the third drive of the day or is it in substitution for an afternoon drive?

Tuckeg-Have you been to Mnemba. We are also visiting Mnemba on our trip and am curious about your thoughts on the destination. Any specifics would be appreciated.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 10:44 AM
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No, I didn't get to Mnemba but did snorkel on the reef that surrounds the island so I was within about 50 ft of the island itself. It looks very nice from what I could see. Snorkeling was very good. Several dive and snorkel operators bring their boats to the reef at Mnemba so for a few hours around noon it won't be quite so exclusive as there will be 50-100 people off shore in the water, but once riff-raff like myself have departed it will be a Robinson Crusoe experience, with lovely white sand beaches, etc.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 11:18 AM
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Some camps actually include 3/game drives daily - early-morning (6-6:30am), mid-morning (10am-12N), and late-afternoon (from 3:30pm-6:45pm). The night drive is just that "a night drive." Can be from 8pm, 9pm or 10pm... will vary depending on the camp.

I would verify with Bateleur where exactly they do their night drives. The camp is located immediately outside the Mara itself and since night drives cannot be done inside the Reserve, I'd find out exactly where their drives are conducted.

There is a road outside the reserve, which is the access road to Bateleur and Kichwa Tembo, where game does pass... elephants, I know and sure other creatures pass this way. However, as there are a number of villages nearby, can't say what else might be in the area and likelihood to come upon these.

Ask and see what their reply.

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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 03:05 PM
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Bill,

I'm embarrassed...how could I forget lions roaring a few metres from the vehicle? It happened on a night drive at Savuti bush camp. Lionesses came out of the bushes and just stood there hurling their voices into the darkness. Then one of them chased away a cheeky hyena who thought he might be on to something. Yes, I just couldn't turn down a night drive for fear of missing something like that.

John
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 04:15 PM
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John: well established at this point that you and I would be perfect mates for gameviewing! I certainly want to take every opportunity I can to be in wild Africa because there is always something going on, you just have to give yourself a chance to find it.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 06:50 PM
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Hi Bill.....unfortunately with the significant price increase of safaris in certain countries, the indoors experience gets elevated. IF i am charged an arm and a leg, i damn well not spend a good chunk of my time indoors!!! Also, when you need to get back to camp for the food that tastes just right when cooked a certain way.......you know how these things go!

I wish operators put in enough emphasis on the game drive experiences. No, i'm not talking about game density or quantity....but, the whole quality of experience! That's what i go to Africa for.......
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 07:01 PM
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Hari, so true! The whole thing is getting turned upside down. They upgrade the camps so they can charge more and then the management emphasis to have you enjoy those amenities shortens the time in the bush.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2007, 07:09 PM
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Glad you agree...

Back to night drives, personally i am not a HUGE fan of staying out too long. If there isnt something in the works, i'm glad to head back home slowly with the spotlights to try and see some of the creatures you mentioned. Also, i don't want to tire out the guide too much as i'd rather have a long day out!
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Old Jun 24th, 2007, 01:25 AM
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Has anybody tried doing any photography on a night drive? With a decent flash (possibly with a flash extender) one should be able to get stuff up to 20m away.
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Old Jun 24th, 2007, 02:24 AM
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fbirder,

Plenty of times, usually with success and usually without a flash extender.

John
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Old Jun 24th, 2007, 02:35 AM
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I should explain that I've found a flash extender more of a hindrance than a help on night drives. Because it narrows the flash beam, it has to be aligned very accurately or the flash will miss the target. Good alignment, both vertical and horizontal, is quite difficult to maintain in a jolting safari vehicle and to restore in darkness when you stop at a sighting.

John
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Old Jun 24th, 2007, 09:52 PM
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I have a Nikon SB-600 external flash and I would say 20m is stretching its limit. For the f stop zoom lenses (f4.5) I have and an ISO of maybe 800. 10-12m probably more realistic. This also is without any type of "better beamer". Depends a lot of course on your lens f stop and ISO capability. The main problem with night flash is the harsh strong shadows usually cast. Also can give the animals a serious case of "red eye". But it is worth still worth trying and you can come up with some acceptable photos.

Focus is usually a big problem at night. Many times I use manual focus.

regards - tom

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Old Jun 24th, 2007, 11:16 PM
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This was taken at a range of about 15 metres with a Canon 540 EZ off-camera flash above a 100-400 IS lens, auto focus (using Provia 100 slide film pushed 2 stops) in 2000:

http://www.afrigalah.com/selimg/Feast2-1204.jpg

An off-camera flash bracket usually eliminates red-eye but you can still get a bit of steel-eye on occasion.

John

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