2021 A Year of Adventures in Review

2021 Year in Review

            Again, this year’s wildlife encounters were exceptional compared to past years in all locations .  The lack of other travelers and the extra efforts and positive attitudes displayed by all of our hosts and guests themselves made every trip a pleasant memory for all.

Most of these trips will be featured in my  2022 Calendar of Trips .  2022 will be an exciting year for safaris as I have added an exciting addition to the itinerary.  I am also always on the look out for last minute opportunities; especially if something disrupts a planned trip.  

You can see my safaris at https://www.photographafrica.com/  and underwater trips at PhotographUnderwater.com

American Paddlefish in Loch Loch Low Minn,  Tennessee

            This quarry in southeast Tennessee is home to American paddlefish; a species that can grow to over 5 feet in length and live over 30 years.  I visited in early March just after the spring thaw when the fish would be found nearer to the surface.  Loch Low Minn is a popular dive location in the summer months and is used to train divers for deep and technical dives as well as local first responders in techniques for search and rescue.   The bottom is decorated with statues, humorous items, and vehicles such as a bus: items such as skeletons and fake sharks were useful as orientation when looking for the paddlefish. 

Loch Low Minn Tennessee paddlefish
The Quarry at Loch Low Minn

It took half the first dive to find where the paddlefish hang out, but thereafter it was possible to find and photograph multiple fish at 10  meters and a deep as 15m. They are slow swimmers and not very nervous around divers.  This was a fun road trip which I would do again (has to be in March = early spring) if I found the right people with drysuits who would like to give it a try.

South African Safaris in African Autumn

It was nice to finally get back to my tree house lodge in January after a year of lockout to give do some maintenance and catch up with my safari community.  My safari groups in May, however, were the real highlight of my return to South Africa.  We enjoyed empty flights and lodges, and everyone at our destinations was so happy to welcome visitors back after a year of lockdown.

Wildlife sightings were better than ever and included wildlife babies: elephants, zebra, antelopes, lion cubs, wild dog encounters, and some rare bird and reptile sightings.  Every stay in Sabi is full of breathtaking encounters with their leopards and each visit is a lasting memory for the guests.  

I wish to thank my 2 groups of  2020 guests who were patient and excited to travel in May 2021: they were rewarded with an exceptional and memorable safari of a lifetime.

See my full Trip Report from May here in my blog

South Africa safari with giraffes
Giraffe Family at Sunset
safari in South Africa with lions
Male Lion Napping

Quad Biking in Southern Mozambique Coast

After hosting the two safaris, I took a trip to Mozambique with South African friends to ride  ATVs through remote spaces and beaches in the southern coastal region.  This was a great trip with good friends centered around a sand dune rustic beach resort.  This is an underused exciting and natural place and I am thinking of ways to include this as an adventurous extension for safari guests.

atv trip to Mozambique

South Africa Sardine Run at Port St Johns

In June – July millions of sardines migrate along the east coast of South Africa following a cool inshore current.  Super pods of common dolphin are seen chasing shoals of fish into tight bait balls which results in a feeding frenzy of dolphins, penguins, sharks, whales, seals, and sea birds.  This is the Big Show when it comes to sardine runs.  I have snorkeled sardine runs with sailfish in Cancun and marlins in Baja Mexico, but this was the biggest stage for this spectacular and famous natural phenomenon. 

This trip had also been a victim of 2020 pandemic, but we were able to reschedule in 2021 and most of the guests were able to travel in what turned out to be a safe window between outbursts of pandemic.  

sardine run Port St Johns South Africa bait balls

Six of us stayed at a lodge along a river which opens out onto the southern coastal region of South Africa.  Each day we would follow the signs to find the bait balls.  Long the way we found super pods of dolphins gathering and moving toward the places where the sardines congregated. 

I was not ready for the number of humpbacked whale encounters each day as they migrated north: some encounters took place right under our boat! This is truly one of those places and times when you never know what you might encounter.

Highlights from the Sardine Run, Port St Johns South Africa

The feeding frenzy starts with a few birds in the sky spying the sardines close to the surface. They gather in number in the air and on the surface. Pods of dolphins arrive at a running pace surfing the waves and calling to each other.  They circle the sardines and when the time is right, birds fold their wings and dive bomb the sardines squawking and fighting over those who caught a fish in their mouths.  Under water the dolphins circle and make runs through the bait ball.  Seals and predator fish might join the action or even a whale. 

super pod of dolphins sardine run south africa

We had great guides, boats, and location and I plan to return again for another season of action.  It will be possible to schedule a special safari just before the Sardine Run.  Watch for future information about this and dates.

Whale Sharks & Giant Mantas in Mexico

Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres (near Cancun) is something I have done every year for over 12 years, almost since the aggregation was first discovered.  I have used the same operators and boats and it is always a quality trip fulfilling the wildlife encounter wishes of everyone.  It is also a fun and welcoming place to spend a few days each summer.  It was one of the only destinations safe and open in 2020 and the same goes for 2021. 

It was a popular year for this trip and we had several groups including private family groups.  There were still far less people visiting and the encounters were as good or better than ever.  We had clear water and great weather and were able to locate several groups of giant mantas and of course the whale sharks were plentiful and easy to swim among. 

swim with whale sharks Mexico
Whale Shark feeding with water splashing detail

Besides the long and productive days on the water, highlights for me are when the guests are surprised and pleased by the many nice restaurants, shops, and sights on the safe and relaxed Isla Mujeres.  I look forward to going back in 2022.

swim with manta Mexico
Giant Manta Ray feeds near the whale sharks

South African Safari in African Spring

September was still uncertain, but South Africa was still safe for travel and I hosted a small group of wonderful people. I was happy that most everyone from 2020 had now had a chance to fulfill their safari dream trip. 

This was dry season, but the rain season was a good one so the bush and animals were in good condition even in the middle of this dry period.  The weather was cooler than average so we avoided any early season hot days.  It was perfect weather for game drives and being outside.  It is not rare to have rare and unusual sightings in Kruger National Park, and we enjoyed an exceptional day.  Sabi presented us with many leopard cubs to watch as they had adventures learning to hunt and climb trees.  Giraffes seems to be all around the lodge this time too.  Guests enjoyed spectacular sunsets from the balcony of their tree houses and visitors to our watering hole.

elephants at Kruger National Park safari

To see my full Safari Trip Report Sept 2021  click the link

2022 will hopefully be a great year for safaris and I have added  a new lodge with a special photography hide / blind to the itinerary. Guests will be able to sit in the hide at water level and be close to wildlife like elephants and lions as they come to drink at the watering hole. This blind and the house will be for our exclusive use so I am very excited to share this with my 2022 guests.

Safari with Leopards in Sabi Sands
Leopard Cub explores

Polar Bears in Churchill, Manitoba Canada

It was necessary to be flexible and able to work last minute in order to offer great trips in 2021.  Polar Bears came about very last minute when Churchill was granted go ahead to host guests for the polar bears season (Oct – Nov).  6 of us made the trip up to Churchill where we stayed in the Churchill Northern Studies Centre.  It was wonderful to be a part of this season since the whole town had missed the whole of last season.  The bears were easy to find and we had several mother and cub pairs.  There was no snow but we had wild sunrises and sunsets to photograph in between driving to find bears on the beach, resting in the rock,  and swimming.  The water was not yet starting to freeze over so the bears were just getting ready for leaving to their hunting ground within a few weeks.  We had sunny days with good lighting and the CNSC was a comfortable place to relax at night.  We photographed stars and looked for Northern Lights on clear nights. (a few small auroras)

photography guide for Churchill polar bears

This trip is always difficult to book as a small group due to demand by large tour companies, but we hope to return in October 2022.  I will announce this trip to my mailing list in January.

Read my Photo Essay of 2021 Churchill Polar Bears

polar bear photography tour

Baja, Mexico Sardine Run at Magdalena Bay and Best of Baja Diving

I have been offering this combination Sardine Run and diving trip for a few years now and it continually astounds me the beauty, wildlife, and adventure possibilities that are here in Baja, Mexico.  We try to add new things each time to share this gem with visitors.  Many of my guests for this trip are frequent visitors to Baja and I can still surprise them with places and experiences they did not know about. 

While the bait balls, weather, water clarity, and marlins were are spectacular with year, the special encounters almost stole the show.  We had whale and dolphin encounters while in Magdalena Bay and for the 2nd year in a row we had multiple encounters with humpbacked whales.  We missed visiting orcas in the bay by one day.   We had several static bait balls to snorkel and chances to photograph marlins alone on bait balls, sea lions alone and then the two hunting together. 

striped marlin and bait balls

Diving in both La Paz and Cabo Pulmo is a highlight because of the pristine condition of the reefs and the abundant sea life.  With the help of my local guide partner, we have found the best captains, boats, places to visit and stay.  This is a trip I look forward to offering and a destination that I believe and offer great opportunities in other seasons for future trips.

Please read my full Baja Trip Report on my blog

guest and a bait ball

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Thank you to everyone who traveled with me in 2021 and for all of those who follow my adventures and plan to join me in the future.  Stay in touch with your questions and interests.