Gorongosa National Park - Alexander Becker

Gorongosa National Park

Published: 02/18/2020

Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique is one of the most interesting places I've had the pleasure of going to. But yet...despite how much I enjoyed my week in Gorongosa, I've struggled to write a blog post about it or figure out an "order" for the images I took. On the. one hand, the classic tried-and-true method of just going day by day (as I will do for Kruger National Park) is highly effective. On the other hand, since we revisited multiple places and species throughout the week, that approach doesn't really make sense here. So what I've decided to do is go through a "day" in the park -- starting with generally morning sights, and then ending with generally evening sightings.

This works especially well in terms of getting started as some of my favorite wildlife opportunities are right before, or just as, the sun is coming up. While we normally strive for that beautiful, full on, golden hour first light, I also love the 15-20 minutes before that too. Not only do you get this great diffused, really even, low light, but I also feel like you get just a little extra bit of emotion from the animals.

This Nyala frame was one of my favorites from the trip. While a completely different continent, it somewhat reminds me of The Jungle Book. IMO, the subject here really is the layered forest -- the Nyala was just in the right place at the right time.

The last bit before the sun was fully up felt like all the animals were on the highest alert -- ranging from protective parents like these baboons:

To herd members like this Impala.

Once the sun was fully up however, everything seemed just a bit more chilled out. This baboon sat in this tree catching some rays pretty much the entire morning.

The waterbuck strutted their stuff just a bit more:

We even saw a bushbuck trying to court a mate.

Once the sun had fully come up, I felt like the park turned over (or maybe it was just my attention...) to the birds. And one bird in particular really captured my attention -- the Pied kingfisher, a relatively unique kingfisher species in that they breed in colonies and, unlike our Belted kingfisher, it wasn't unusual to see multiple birds hanging out together without (too much) fighting. Here, I captured two images consecutively of each bird and then composited them after the fact in post.  

Kingfisher are some of my favorite species of bird and getting a couple of days to capture an array of settings and poses was really a lot of fun.

Getting a kingfisher in flight, especially with a great pose and background has been a dream shot for me for a while, so I was absolutely thrilled to see this image on the back of my camera. I'm still not sure how I pulled this one of to be honest.

We saw other species of kingfisher as well, but they were far less cooperative.  However, this Malachite did pose briefly in nice morning light. For reference, this species is on average 14 cm in length, compared to the larger Pied counterpart (~25 cm in length).

I was also eager on the trip to see and capture the Liliac-breasted roller. Although we didn't actually see that many, we got some 'signature' looks at them (which I realized when we saw 1,000 in Kruger -- that to follow).

However, getting one in flight with all the colors visible was such a thrill, and this ended up being my only opportunity at a flight shot.

The massive African fish eagle was a common sight in the park as you would expect around water.

Wading birds were also common. Click the image of this Black-winged stilt to see it larger picking up a very small fish. While I usually aim for super low angles on shots like this (e.g., laying down), I passed on that here as Africa has something I'm very unfamiliar with as an Northeast wildlife photographer -- crocodiles!

As we further moved through the day and started to approach sunset, the light consistently turned to that beautiful golden hour that is so synonymous with images of African wildlife. Each afternoon it became somewhat of a race to find something, anything, to photograph in such gorgeous light. This image of a Yellow-billed stork became one of my favorite such frames. I loved the raised foot and the rippled water from the step.

I was also treated to the amazing African sunsets and landscapes as well.

The depth in the layers of this image make it one of my favorite "abstract" landscape frames.

Perhaps, however, my favorite sightings and images came just before or after sunset. Coming across this family of five lions just after sunset is one of my favorite all time sightings. This was my first time seeing a lion and it was pretty much everything I hoped it would be. I was blown away by how big they actually are.

Here, three siblings are pictured checking us out. This image, as are the others in this sequence, was taken in super low light, but the files actually held up pretty well I think. 

They were super active and running around with each other, gearing up for a hunt. I usually dislike images with out of focus stuff cutting into the subject, but this frame (IMO) gave off a good 'frenzy' feeling.

This energy and environment made for one of my favorite images of the year, shown below. Surprisingly, and it's not necessarily a contest, but I like this image much more than the technically more perfect (e.g., light, light angle, detail, etc) Kruger lion portrait (although I don't hate that one by any means!!).

Seeing these lions so active was an awesome and unique experience, and walking away with a few keeper images was a great bonus. What was maybe best however was having this sighting basically to ourselves! 

But perhaps my favorite image of the entire trip, and the best to leave this blog post on, is this silhouette of three African openbills, taken on the Sungue river. I love this image for two main reasons: 1) it almost looks like a composite, but it was all one capture, and 2) you can see the light through each of their bills. Enjoying the sunset while watching the amazing array of the wildlife Gorongosa National Park offers was one of my favorite aspects of the trip and this image encapsulates that perfectly to me.

All in all, it was an amazing trip and easily one of my favorite all time locations I've visited and photographed. I would highly recommend traveling here if at all possible. Each day I was blown away by the photography opportunities we experienced. Special thanks to Justine for making this trip happen, and to Arjun Potter and Matt Hutchinson for their thoughts and tips beforehand.