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Re: Field recording in Tanzania, or South(ern) Africa

Subject: Re: Field recording in Tanzania, or South(ern) Africa
From: "kincorning" kincorning
Date: Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:17 pm ((PDT))
Hi Daan,

I have made a number of trips to northern Tanzania, and various other locat=
ions in Africa. I should say, however, that I am new to this list and sound=
 recording, so these comments are based on experience in the location but n=
ot specifically with recording there.

I would not recommend group tours if you want to focus on recording, becaus=
e you will be driven by the schedule of the group and most peoples' desire =
to see a lot of things rather than concentrate in one spot for any length o=
f time, plus the lack of quiet in a larger group setting.

Anywhere in Africa you can organize a personalized itinerary through an age=
nt/safari operator who specializes in Africa. There are such agents in Euro=
pe or you can work with one in Africa. They will plan around any program yo=
u want, and work with the camps to organize your transport from one place t=
o another. In this scenario, daily activities (game drives, walking, etc.) =
are typically with guiding staff employed by the camp where you are staying=
, and you will be handed off to a new guide as you move from camp to camp. =
 Depending on which country you go to and what camps you select, the cost o=
f this can range from moderate (in relative terms) to very expensive. Throu=
ghout Africa, there is a very wide range in price which is primarily driven=
 by the camps where you stay.

In northern Tanzania (Tarangire, Manyara, Ngorongoro, Serengeti, etc.) ther=
e is another option which is not the case in most other countries, and in f=
act is sort of the norm in northern Tanzania: You can do a 'safari' in the =
traditional meaning of the word, with a driver who will meet you in, say, A=
rusha and act as your sole driver/guide for an overland tour through the va=
rious locations you select. We have done this for trips as long as 3 weeks =
and 1500km, from Arusha to Tarangire to Ngorongoro to southern and then nor=
thern Serengeti. This is not an inexpensive option, but if you are travelli=
ng with friends or family (3-4 plus the driver/guide in a long-wheelbase La=
nd Cruiser is still comfortable and personal) the cost can be spread.

Rental/self-drive is an option, but you need to look carefully what you are=
 getting into.  Travel on the main highways is not a problem, but most othe=
r roads are unpaved and in some locations/seasons can become very difficult=
. In places like southern Serengeti or across the (vast) Ngorongoro Conserv=
ation Area, a road where the vehicles are churning up huge clouds of dust c=
an become completely flooded or a slippery quagmire of mud in just a couple=
 hours of downpour. You may well practice getting unstuck or changing flat =
tires on a Land Cruiser no matter whether you go on your own or with a guid=
e. If you want to camp on your own (rather than staying at a safari camp), =
then this is possible but I'm afraid I'm not familiar with what reservation=
s, permits, etc. may be required for the campsites.  Going with someone who=
 has experience in self-travel in Tanzania would be a good idea, particular=
ly so on a first trip.

You should be aware that most of November and December are rainy season ("t=
he short rains") in northern Tanzania. This may be a good thing for recordi=
ng, in that bird nesting should be in full swing, I believe, but rains can =
be torrential affecting how much you can realistically do, affecting travel=
 as noted above, and potentially limiting what areas are accessible.  I hav=
e never been in Tanzania later than early November nor earlier than mid-Feb=
ruary, so I can't comment more specifically.  The rainy season is a great t=
ime to experience Africa, but honestly I'm not sure it would be my advice f=
or a first trip.

You also need to research season in terms of what is going on in the locati=
ons you select.  For example, a park like Tarangire is by far at its best f=
or game in the dry season when an absence of water in outlying areas drives=
 elephant and other animals to the permanent water source of the Tarangire =
River.  If you want to see the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, you n=
eed to be in the far north on the Kenya border (or in the Maasai Mara) in r=
oughly August, but in the far south of Ngorongoro Conservation Area (near N=
dutu) where calving takes place in roughly February.

Everyone has different objectives, but I would personally avoid the major t=
ourist locations.  Ngorongoro Crater is wonderful to see (and despite my co=
mments to follow I'd go back) but has the feel of a safari park somewhere i=
n Europe with all the vehicles from the big lodges and day-trips out of Aru=
sha.  The main part of Serengeti near Seronera is the same -- you will see =
elsewhere-difficult sightings like leopard but you will probably see it wit=
h 40 other vehicles gathered around. Anywhere there are a lot of big lodges=
 (as distinct from the smaller tented camps) there will be a lot of vehicle=
s.  On the other hand, if you go even a little off the beaten path, the num=
ber of people drops dramatically, and especially so off-season.

You should be aware that within the major national parks it generally is no=
t permitted to get out of your vehicle.  There will be exceptions in more r=
emote areas or at designated rest stops, where camps have arranged walking =
concessions, and of course within the boundaries of whatever camp you are u=
sing.  Working from a vehicle may be ok for opportunistic recording of thin=
gs you encounter, but will be a challenge for capturing ambiences of any le=
ngth.  This might cause you to consider more remote locations, areas outsid=
e the national parks, and camps on the various semi-protected game reserves=
 if sound recording is your primary objective. For example, we are going ba=
ck to Tanzania in August and one of the places we are going is Lake Natron,=
 where a large majority of the world population of Lesser Flamingo breeds. =
It is remote and dusty, with only a couple ok-not-great camps, but you are =
able to walk, and there is some woodland/waterfall habitat as well.

Most camps and campsites are set into patches of open woodland, so the nigh=
ttime sounds and dawn chorus are wonderful, and camps should be a great pla=
ce to record. However, in camps within parks that have big game, they will =
not permit you for safety reasons to wander around on your own after dark o=
r before dawn.  Most camps are unfenced and in places like Tarangire and Se=
rengeti it is common for hippo, buffalo, elephant, lion and leopard to wand=
er through camp at night.  I would work with the camp manager to select a s=
pot where you can leave equipment protected from weather and elephants/verv=
et monkeys/baboons and let it record as long as battery life permits, or if=
 feasible do so with long cables back to the recorder in the comfort of you=
r tent.

The typical safari in Tanzania is in savannah or open woodland habitat (the=
 northern parks I mentioned above, Ruaha in central Tanzania, Selous, Katav=
i), but there are also some interesting alternatives. Mahale National Park =
on Lake Tanganyika has habituated chimpanzee in dense woodland, and I assum=
e you can walk there (I've not been), so I would guess it to be excellent f=
or recording. And, you have the highland locations on the slopes of Mt Meru=
.  Arusha National Park is a little gem in my opinion -- under-appreciated =
and thought of as a place for day-trippers out of Arusha town -- but has so=
me great highland forests. Guereza Colobus is readily found there, as well =
as the more common Blue Monkey, and the birdlife and sounds in the highland=
 forests are really special.  (You will still, however, mostly be confined =
to a vehicle in the park itself).  It would appear from the earlier replies=
 to your question and the recordings that he has posted that Andrew Skeoch =
is working in this area and the nearby Mkomazi reserve, as well as the rive=
rine woodlands of Tarangire which is my personal favorite park in Africa (a=
lthough as I said, not best for big game in Nov/Dec).

If you stay in safari camps (vs. a safari with your own driver/guide), make=
 sure you know what the vehicle arrangements are, i.e. if you are sharing w=
ith others and how many. If so, it will be a crapshoot whether your compani=
ons in the vehicle will want to sit in one place for any length of time, be=
 quiet enough for you to record, etc. I usually travel with my wife and son=
 and, in Tanzania, with a guide we know personally. In other locations we s=
elect camps where we know we will have a dedicated guide so we can go at ou=
r own slow pace without bothering anyone else.

Finally, other countries:  Of course there are countless options but I'd su=
ggest Botswana (Moremi, Okavango) which would be stunning for recording. In=
 Okavango activities are organized around walking and boats which would wor=
k well.  Another great option is Zambia and I'd suggest Lower Zambezi and S=
outh Luangwa for a first trip (you could comfortably do both on a 2-3 week =
trip).  Nov/Dec may a bit late for both countries, however, and I know some=
 of the camps in South Luangwa close for the season as the river floods.  I=
 think some of my same comments (great for birds, but wet and thick undergr=
owth, not so good for big game) would apply but I've never been to either c=
ountry later than October so I have no personal experience -- you'd want to=
 research that. On the price scale, Botswana has generally become one of th=
e most expensive places in Africa, but I think some good low-cost options r=
emain. Zambia, on the other hand, is at the lower end of the Africa price s=
cale in relative terms.

Sorry about the length of this note, but I hope something here helps.


--- In  Daan Hendriks <> wrote:
> Hello hello!
> I'm a long-time lurker to this mailing list, and have been enjoying to
> read and learn from the group. I was hoping to take the opportunity of
> my first post to the group to ask a generally broad question regarding
> the following...
> I am intending to book a 2 to 3 weeks holiday, of which a main purpose
> would be to do lots of field recording. I'm currently undecided where
> to go, but my eyes have fallen on Tanzania, as it seems to have a huge
> amount of national parks and wildlife.
> My intention is to visit in December, or perhaps November.
> Has anybody here been to Tanzania, and if so, what was your experience
> like in terms of field recording? Is it relatively easy (and cheap) to
> organise a personal safari (as opposed to a group), in order to avoid
> being with noisy crowds?
> Related to this; as I'm still undecided where to go exactly, perhaps
> there are better places to visit in southern Africa for the purpose of
> a field recording holiday?
> Thanks a lot!
> Best,
> Daan
> --
> Daan Hendriks - Audiomotif
> Sound Design | Music Production | Audio Editing
> +44(0)7842917821
> skype: humanworkshop

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