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Kenya 2011

Trip One Report


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Day 1, Samburu.

cheetahAfter a long, 6:45AM pre-trip briefing we departed for Samburu, arriving, after a few breaks and lunch, at the gate by 4:45PM. As usual I was struck by the apparent barrenness of this semi-desert landscape, and as we drove into the park that feeling was reinforced by the real lack of game. The area was still suffering under the dry season, and although heavy clouds surrounded us, and despite having driven through a heavy rainstorm less than forty miles away, the land was harsh and devoid of ground cover.
As we continued into the park life did appear, first a lone dik-dik, then a small herd of elephant, then Grant’s gazelle, impala, oryx, and zebra. Our paranoia was unfounded, as game still abounds, but the highway that has recently been completed linking the once tiny settlement of Isiolo, now a thriving city, with Archer’s Gate and beyond, north to Somalia and Ethiopia, has brought changes. Twenty-five years ago Isiolo was barely the size of the present-day Archer’s Gate, and the latter, just a few years ago, was nothing more than a tiny park crossroads with a few scattered shacks and the haphazard bomas of Samburu clans. Now Archer’s Gate is a little town, bustling and active, and the highway linking the two is now bordered nearly its entire length by either settlements and homes, or denuded landscapes that just a few short years ago were still the habitat and lands of Grevy’s zebra, reticulated giraffe, and elephant.
This growing presence will eventually surround and strangle Samburu, and it is with that fear that we viewed the gameless plains as we drove in. It was refreshing to arrive at camp long before sunset, giving us time to unpack and prepare for tomorrow’s game drive. At 6:30 we had an hour long review of the game we should concentrate on here in Samburu, as this park is unique for having several endemic mammals, species we will not find elsewhere on our safari. As we talked, olive baboons occasionally screeched in complaint or alarm, and at a nearby lightpole huge yellow-winged bats swooped about, pausing periodically to hang upside down from an acacia before darting off again into the night.

elephantDay 2, Samburu

Although we planned on loading at 6:15 and departing by 6:30 we were on the road by 6:17, with everyone set and ready. We encountered Oryx, Grant’s Gazelles, and two fairly cooperative Gerenuk soon afterwards, when we got a call about lions. As we drove in what we thought was the right direction we met three Cheetahs, a mother and two full-grown cubs that we were told had killed a gerenuk yesterday. We followed them for a short while, getting some OK shots of the cats as they passed through several open areas, before they settled into the shade and laid down.
We moved on to the lions, where a traffic jam marked the spot. Two Lionesses, with two cubs, and an older cub or a small lioness were close to the road. We followed them long after the other vehicles liondeparted and were rewarded by some great shots as the cubs walked towards us in the clear and, later, when the adults settled into a shady clearing, nursing shots. Eventually a lioness moved off, leaving her sister with her cubs, and we encountered her again beneath a tree overlooking a frequently used waterhole. While we waited several Oryx ambled down to the river and she made a stalk, but stopped far short and the oryx and impalas drank undisturbed and wandered off.
While we waited a bull Elephant walked to the shoreline to drink, and then walked straight to us as he went on by. A large herd of Elephants came next, splashing in the shallow water while one baby rolled in the mud, its mother occasionally bumping it forward with a leg. More elephants entered the river upstream and, as we headed back towards camp, long lines of elephants headed to the river from the surrounding forested hills.
PM. The afternoon was fairly slow, although it climaxed with the two lion cubs playing atop one of the fallen riverine acacias where, in days past, we often had leopards. We arrived late, but Henry’s vehicle, with David, Diane, and Bill, had nearly 20 minutes of shooting before we arrived. Prior to this, our highlight was standing gerenuks feeding on some low browse, and a large herd of elephants returning late from the river. The afternoon was partially overcast, and earlier in the day serious thunderstorms covered the Isiolo area. A wind blew most of the afternoon, and the climate was wonderfully cool.

oxyrDay 3, Samburu

We left shortly after 6 under a clear sky  and a soft, orange-ish half-light that bathed the doum palms and hillsides. We headed towards Buffalo Springs, but first we surveyed the areas where, yesterday, we had the three cheetahs. My vehicle, with Henry, Voytek, and Yanni,  drove along the mountain edge for leopard but we saw nothing and continued to the bridge.
Two years ago, a massive flash flood had washed out the bridge linking Samburu with Buffalo Springs, and this was the first time we had an opportunity to return. Atop the bridge we photographed baboons in the first light as they foraged along the river’s edge casting long shadows that stretched along the shoreline.
Huge herds of Beisa Oryx and more Grevy’s Zebras than we’d seen in years grazed in a pasture that, in wet years, hosts widowbirds but with the drought all of the birds seem scarce, or nonexistent. A leopard had been spotted and when we arrived it was stretched across a tree limb, mostly hidden from view and offering no photos. Three African Buffalo had treed the cat and Mary’s vehicle, knowing this, stayed on waiting for the buffalo to leave and the cat to descend the tree. It did, and her vehicle got great shots.
elephantWe returned, and managed a few shots of the male Leopard as it laid in the shade of a salt bush but those shots were perfunctory.  We drove on, looking for more leopards, unsuccessfully. From our vantage at the Viewpoint, where we had breakfast, we watched herds of Elephants literally running across the acacia barrens as they raced towards the river and water. Elephants passed on either side of us at the viewpoint, and from there we could see that the closest mountains, where the eles probably spent the night feeding, were miles away.
We drove down to intercept the elephants and challenged ourselves with slow shutter speed pans as the elephants trotted or walked by. At the river, despite their haste, none of the herds stayed for longer than a few minutes as they drank. Then, slowly, they ambled footoff into the forest where we passed them, later, huddled beneath large trees in what little shade they could manage.
We finished the morning with an across-the-river photo op of Greater Kudu, a bull and two cows, that were drinking and browsing along the river’s edge. Once we crossed the bridge we tried locating them as we headed to camp but they’d either moved on or bedded down, and had disappeared.
PM .No storms threatened the afternoon and the drive started out hot, with two bull elephants kicking up a cloud of tawny dust as they shuffled towards the river. We were too far, and too late, to get into position for an image, but the dark silhouettes haloed by the dust was beautiful. One bull was starving, and its spinal ridge looked as if it sunk 12 inches before meeting the curving flanks. The other looked healthy, so perhaps it was age, and not starvation, that was to blame.
kuduWe had the mother Cheetah  and two full grown cubs next, and almost as soon as we arrived the mother set out on a dead run after prey. She missed, and the family settled into the shade to rest. We were to learn she missed again before the evening was over.
Game seemed sparse from that point, but eventually we found the Greater Kudu we were searching for this morning. They were extremely cooperative, coming into the open and approaching us repeatedly as we drove to get ahead as they slowly made their way back towards the forested hills where they’d spend the night. Incredible shooting.
We returned to the cheetahs by 6 and after a short time resting, after their second miss, the trio took off again, walking fast towards the river. Several of us had some good opportunities as they walked by until they went off-track and in the  thickets of the forest, just as the dust-dimmed sun slipped behind the eastern hills.

Day 4, Samburu

A small collection of images from Samburu, from top:
Cheetah (ma), Ostrich (ma), Pale-chanting Goshawk (j), Martial Eagle (ma),
bottom row: Impala (j), Grevy's Zebra (ma).

goshawkmartial eagle
Last night, as we lay in bed reading, a male Leopard gave its rasping, saw-like call repeatedly, answered by annoyed or frightened baboons in the trees surrounding our tent. Richard’s tent at a 2AM visitor, Obama, the male Elephant, feeding on some trees nearby.
We left at 6, and had immediate luck:
The female cheetah was in heat. The sun had not yet risen when David’s vehicle spotted the cheetah family in a large lugga, radioing the rest of us in where we spotted the cats from the opposite bank. We quickly noticed there were four cats, as a large male had joined the group but the female rebuffed him and he eventually climbed the bank and rest close to our vehicles. The mother and cubs moved east, away from the male, and we followed, driving far up the lugga to a crossing point.
We had another brief session with the trio before they headed across a trackless section and we headed around to intercept. We didn’t travel far when I spotted two of the cheetahs sprinting, with a Black-backed Jackal running as well. The cheetahs were chasing the jackal, which had been drawn by two new male cheetahs that had made a kill. All five cats met, and the next minute or so was chaotic, as we tried to sort out numbers and sexes.
The female was far enough in heat, apparently, to have drawn the attention of that lone male, and she was now cornered by two new males that surrounded her. One chased one of her cubs and snapped at its hindquarters, but within a few minutes a stalemate ensued, with the cubs lying together under one bush and the female, and her patient suitors, under another. Periodically they’d move, but the males kept the female, who was hungry and wanted to feed, from hunting. We stayed with the cheetahs for three hours, but by 9:30 it was apparent nothing significant would occur and we moved on.

We finished our morning with more elephants moving to and drinking in the river, and upstream Mary’s vehicle had 7 Reticulated Giraffes do a ‘river crossing,’ wading leg-deep as they joined 4 others on the other side. Others did well with a Pigmy Falcon that eventually obliged and flew, and the shooters, including Voytek and John, captured it in flight.

PM. The afternoon was extremely slow for everyone as the guides drove towards the mountains to look for leopard. We were unsuccessful, and the plains were virtually barren. We did encounter a group of oryx that we shot at slow shutter speeds, and a dik-dik, but otherwise the first hour was dead. Stormy skies were building, and beautiful cumulus clouds, and verga and actual rain, shrouded the southern skies.
As we headed towards our surprise Sundowner we met a nice bull elephant we framed against the pyramid hills and sky, and later a 40-strong herd of elephants returning to the mountains. A vivid rainbow was in view, but by the time we reached a road where our paths would cross the sun had dropped behind the mountain and the elephants, as they walked to us, were in shadow, ruining what, with the rainbow and huge number of elephants, would have been an outstanding shot.
Within a half mile of the river and our sundowner we met the three cheetahs again, now without any annoying, attendant males. They were hunting gerenuk moving about in salt bush a quarter mile away. The cubs are old enough and large enough to be on their own, and that was evident by their stalking – they were serious and knew what they were doing. Unfortunately the gerenuk moved off and the cats never had a chance to charge, and we continued on to our sundowner, psyched by the excitement andthe tantalizing prospect of seeing a hunt. We will surely see one later on.

pelicanDay 5, Nakuru

We left Samburu by 6:20 for the long drive to Nakuru, arriving around 1:30PM. The lake is full, with water reaching the acacia forests, and the shoreline, often delineated by a ring of pink, is barren. With the high water the lesser flamingos have moved on, although small groups of Greater Flamingos, and hundreds of White Pelicans, have moved in.
Thunderstorms threatened the afternoon and as we started the game drive the prospects of good weather were bleak, but the storm moved on and we had no rain. Pelican Point, where we usually shoot flamingos, is now a floodplain, but we filmed white pelicans, African Fish Eagles, storks, and gulls as they passed by. Three zebras unexpectedly swam the small feeder stream directly to Yanni, who was standing, videoing the zebras as they charged out of the water and raced by her. Great video!
We saw no white rhinos, which is quite unusual for an afternoon, but a herd of Common Zebras gave us some nice opportunities for a zebra fight, where two males sparred, testing each other’s dominance. The western sky was obscured, and the light low, but the action was intense.

Day 6. Nakuru to the Mara

We packed, had breakfast, and were out on the game drive by 6:20, covering the southern side of Lake Nakuru before the long, arduous drive to the Masia Mara.  Almost immediately we had a Black Rhino, the first of three for the morning, although none were really close. We did have excellent White Rhinos later on, especially a mother and full grown calf that eventually grazed to the road and later crossed. zebraAlthough Rothschild’s Giraffes are sometimes elusive we had good luck, with a small group feeding near the road and a large herd of 18 on a distant ridge.
Near the airstrip and rhino pens we found a sleeping male lion, and in the brush nearby 6 cubs of various ages, but nothing were shooting. We had a leopard, too, early on, sitting on an inclined tree trunk almost directly behind, but very far from, a white rhino we were photographing. The water is high, and the shoreline, normally lined by flamingos, is strangely white, by thousands of African White Pelicans. Normally there are hundreds here so where this vast number of birds came from is a mystery.
Apparently all of this fresh water has been a boon to the fish, which brought the pelicans and, for many today, the Giant Kingfisher that was a highlight. The bird had captured a fish, perhaps a tilapia, that was huge, half as large as the bird, and the kingfisher bashed it repeatedly, seemingly softening it up as it tried, several times, to swallow it. Eventually, after much tossing it finally had the fish positioned properly and with what looked like a mighty effort got the fish down.
The drive to the Mara was uneventful except for the misery of the road. Considering that this highway, if one can abuse the word, serves as one of, if not the most important tourist road in Kenya, it is a shameful abomination. Rutted in many places, completely lacking paving in others, it is a travesty. Sadly, in the many years we’ve traveled this road we’ve seen it paved repeatedly, but all that was laid was a thin veneer of asphalt that disappeared within a year or two, leaving the road worse than when they started. We arrived at our lodge by 6, seeing Elephants along the way, giving us a true ‘Big Five’ with the buffalo, black rhino, lion, and leopard we had seen at Nakuru.

giraffe gnuowlhornbill

cheetahDay 7, Masai Mara

We left before sunrise, stopping at an acacia tree for a fair sunrise/silhouette image before continuing into a little traveled area of the grasslands to look for lions. Surprisingly there were a few wildebeest on the horizon, and we saw some lines leading northwest, so perhaps we’ll have action later on. Joshua’s vehicle found a zebra that had died of natural causes that attracted a large group of vultures – Nubian, Ruppell’s, White-backed, and a solitary Hooded, and one heavily maned Spotted Hyena that worked from the back-end inwards, its face lathered in a coat of green slime. When the hyena would look back, checking for danger, the color and its grimace created a demonic look fitting the stereotype often hung upon this interesting scavenger-predator.
Two mother giraffes were nearby, one with a calf that was only a day old at most, that caught the attention of a distant lioness. Giraffes are rarely preyed upon, as their kicking ability deters a predator, and I didn’t expect anything to happen. Nothing did, but we drove up for a closer view of the lioness and found her with a golden-maned male that had an injured hind leg.
At the Observation Hill we had some great luck with a pair of Oribi, a smaller, straight-horned cousin of the reedbuck, and after breakfast we had a few Bohor’s Reedbuck in the same locale. One flushed, jumping high and flashing its white tail as it bounded across the plains.
cheetahLate in the morning we found a mother Cheetah with the smallest cubs we’d seen in the Mara in a long time. The cubs were only five weeks old or so, with a heavy mane of silver hair that gives them a distant resemblance to the dangerous, no-nonsense honeybadger. The mother set off to hunt, leaving the cubs huddled beneath a bush, and we drove off, and as we did so the mother returned, facing, I’m afraid, a convoy of minibuses racing to the scene.
PM. Afternoons are often slow and the area around the Kissinger Tree and Hammerkop are especially so, despite the leopards, servals, and lions that we’ve had here. This afternoon was slow, although Voytek spotted a Serval in Henry’s vehicle, so the two-year-old competition between Mary and Henry for who spots a serval first is still in play.
Around 5 we reached a pride of 9 lions, all cubs and two lionesses that probably fed early this morning. They were stuffed, bloated, and sleepy, and while we waited until 6:15 when we had to leave the cats did little. Two male cubs wrestled half-heartedly, never getting off their bellies to do so, and a few others got up, moved, and flopped down again, but that was it. Still, it was a great lesson in patience for everyone, as all saw that not much was happening elsewhere and it paid, however low the dividends, to stay with something in hand.

lionDay 8

The day dawned clear and still, which boded well for one of our participants doing a hot air balloon safari this morning, but by 7:30 a wind kicked up that continued, almost unabated, until noon. Luckily his ride still lasted an hour, but nothing noteworthy occurred, short of his after-breakfast game drive leaving a cheetah while it was hunting. That was frustrating!
Mary too had a moment of frustration when, late in the morning, they found a leopard and as it appeared ready to leap across a ditch another tourist van drove in front of them and stopped! Later, that same van did the same to another vehicle. Still, she, Sue, and John managed some frame-filling shots.
This morning was a lion day, with 21 total, including 6 young adults perched, backlighted, upon a termite mound, 7 cubs, and scattered adults in the lower Mara. Most of us stayed with the 6 young adults for over an hour, as they looked half-hungry and stayed alert, watching for game. On our return towards camp we passed that area again and the young lions looked as if they were feeding. They had captured a four to six inch long Leopard Tortoise and were attempting to split open the shell. Three different lions tried doing so, each having a go when another finally abandoned the attempt. We had good close up views of the tortoise, and the shell was unharmed. We were hoping they’d abandon the tortoise and move on, but when we left one lioness still had the reptile with her, but fortunately now in the shade so, when they finally let it go, the tortoise could find shade, and perhaps shelter, from the sun and lions.
lionPM. While each of the days in the lower Mara had seemed somewhat slow, this evening’s game drives made up for all the others. Collectively it was a three cat afternoon, with most everyone seeing the Cheetah mother and three cubs, the Leopard from this morning, and 19 different Lions.
I was with Felix, Sue, and Richard, and we headed in the general direction where we had the cheetah mother and cubs yesterday morning. We found them quickly, but they were off-track and we had only a brief period with them as they passed by a track. Still, it was incredible to see what just one day seemed to make in their growth, as they not only appeared larger but as they bounded along beside their mother they were surprisingly active. Sadly, another cheetah mother with three cubs, we learned, had two of the cubs taken by a Martial Eagle over a few week period, as the bird swooped down, clutched a baby, and flew off. Two of our other vehicles, including Mary’s, came into the cheetahs later when the four had finally settled in for the evening, and they had some wonderful shots as they lay upon an open termite mound.
David’s vehicle also had luck with the Leopard from this morning, as the leopard returned to its reedbuck kill. Vultures and a Tawny Eagle were hanging about, but they flew off when the cat appeared, alerting David that the leopard was coming. Earlier, Mary had passed by but occupants of a vehicle with a flat tire, being changed, were wandering about on foot, and the leopard had stayed hidden.
After leaving the cheetahs my vehicle had intended to look for the lion pride of yesterday evening, figuring that the fat-bellied cubs would now have 24 hours to digest food and be active. We never made it.
lionInstead, we came upon another 8 lions, with one 9-10 week old cub visible, whom the lioness began to groom. Minibuses were parked off-track and close, but we held back, hoping that as other vehicles appeared that they’d honor a more realistic shooting line. They did, and the close buses left, providing everyone with a wonderful viewing/shooting arena.
Eventually the cub grew tired of its mother’s attention and stalked off, directly to a great black-maned male lion that was sleeping nearby. The cub climbed atop the male, pulling at its fur and playing until the male awoke, snarling and gaping at the cub, who was undeterred. Two more cubs ran into view and soon joined the first cub in play, which included bouts of wrestling with one another, their mother, and the male. At times all three cubs stood upon the recumbent male, until, provoked it would again wake up and snarl its annoyance. This pattern lasted nearly an hour, when the lioness separated herself from the pride and walked into the plains, where she again laid down, in a perfect pose for cubs to join her. Unfortunately they were more interested in play, chasing one another and wrestling, and there, with the light failing and a long drive ahead of us to reach camp, we left them, still tumbling about across the grasses.

lionDay 9 Lower Mara to Mara Triangle

A spectacular Three Cat morning! Although there was some doubt whether the Leopard would still be at its reedbuck kill we headed in that direction with hope. The reedbuck was in brush and far from trees, and with Spotted Hyenas nearby it was likely that the scavengers would assume possession of the kill. They did not, and the leopard was standing atop the mound adjacent the kill when we met Henry, the first to arrive. We had various poses for about 15 minutes before the first minibuses arrived, which created real congestion and, as the sun was now high enough to create distracting highlights, we moved on. Earlier, the leopard moved close to Henry’s vehicle and the cat reacted at Richard, snarling aggressively when he moved from behind the lens. Henry quickly moved, and several of us got the shot --- one I don’t like to see as a snarling leopard is an unhappy cat, and a dangerous one.
We were hoping to find the fat lions of two evenings ago, and we succeeded, as the 9 lions were moving down the road and through short grasses, hungry and now intent on finding game. One cub lioness, about 6 months old, had a tail-long string of tapeworms protruding from her rear, and even more that just broke off a few minutes earlier.
We continued to the location of last evening’s lions but they were gone, although 3 young adults were in the area, making a total of 25 lions for the morning. We located the Cheetah mother and three cubs, still bounding along across the grasses.
We arrived at the lodge by noon, after a very productive morning game drive in the lower Mara.
PM. Mara Triangle
A fun afternoon, with nothing exceptional but good shooting and a lot of sightings. We started at the river with several crocodiles, including five large adults lying on the river bank amid the skulls of long-departed wildebeest. We spotted two Bat-eared Foxes, but they were far off-track and apparently shy.
Impalas reluctantly leaping over a water ditch, frame-filling portraits of Defassa Waterbuck, and Mary’s 17-35 WA view of a very close Masai Giraffe were other highlights. Mine was a pair of Black-bellied Bustards actually courting, with the female motionless and the male raising his head high, then bobbing in a bow, then stepping a half-step closer. Eventually he was almost close enough to mount when she skittered out from under him and ran off.

cubsDay 10, Mara Triangle

We left early, heading south under a clear sky and absolutely no wind. The hot air balloons were up for nearly 1.5 hours, and I only wished that anyone on our group would have picked today for this expensive, and often disappointing ride.
David spotted a Lioness with three cubs and we had nearly twenty minutes with the four-some as they walked and trotted towards the Mara River. The cubs were frisky, and we had multiple chances for running shots as they trotted along, completely unafraid of the vehicle. Their mother was oblivious, too, but with a face covered with black flies she wasn’t much of a subject. Eventually the cats crossed the main road and moved into the ‘no offroad driving’ area, where we left them.
rollerMultiple small herds of Gnus had gathered, and while we ate breakfast we hoped that a river crossing might develop, but as we waited all of the herds moved back from the river. Other highlights, however, included a huge male Leopard, with hanging dewlap jowls, that was perched in a fig tree and then descended and crossed in front of them; a Martial Eagle so tame that at our last position the bird was too large for a 500mm, so I tried pano pieces; and a very cooperative Lilac-breasted Roller that perched beside the track and finally flew, and, for a change, we were ready, switching to short lenses to catch the bird in flight.

PM. The afternoon was slow, and ironically we spent well over a half hour on another roller, unsuccessfully  waiting for it to fly. When we left, Mary’s vehicle took over and, twenty minutes later when the bird did fly, it flew away from them and resulted in no shots. David’s vehicle did see a Black Rhino and baby, but far off-track and no photo. We contented ourselves with skyscapes and landscapes of the stormy western sky.

Day 11, Mara Triangle to Upper Mara

We packed up and left early, spotting a nice male Lion that walked to the road and passed us in the dawn light. Later, we again found the Lioness with the three cubs, and we followed her 1.43 miles to a double kill atop a hill. A male lion was feeding on of the carcasses, which we spotted from another distant hilltop lionwhere we hoped to find the lioness, which had disappeared. When we reached the male we spotted the female, now on another gnu carcass with her cub. We’re not sure, and we have had some debate, whether the lioness had made both kills earlier, and took off to retrieve the cubs, or had she made one kill, went for the cubs, and had the male steal it? If so, we’re wondering if she then killed a second gnu in the time we lost her, although Mary felt the carcass looked bloated, as it might be after an hour or so of neglect.

lionEither way, both lions chose the same set of small bushes to drag the carcasses to, with the lioness and cubs arriving first with their totally intact, heavy adult gnu. The male lion’s carcass was much reduced, from either his feeding or others, as well as the vultures that had originally alerted us and that were now flying about, following the male. At the bush the male temporarily frightened off the cubs, but he continued on, eventually settling at a smaller bush where we left him. We drove by the female as we went, and she and the cubs were now busily feeding.
eagleThe rest of the drive was fairly uneventful as we crossed the Mara river and headed towards the Upper Mara, reaching our camp around noon.
PM. Upper Mara
We left at 4, circling a lugga where a leopard had been spotted this morning, but the cat eluded us and we moved south, ending up just 3.5 miles from our last lodge, but now on the opposite side of the Mara River. A pride comprised of 10 lionesses and half-grown cubs, and two small cubs, were feeding upon a zebra carcass. Surprisingly, despite the large meal the cats were surprisingly active, and the shooting good. The track was adjacent to a tiny waterhole where three lions eventually came to drink, affording nice close ups of one as it lapped the water. David observed that each tongue lap did not result in a swallow, but only after a few mouthfuls, or tongue-fuls, did the cat pause and swallow. At one point one of the large cubs walked out into the open carrying the end of the zebra’s tail in its mouth, making for a funny, interesting shot.
By 6 the light was beginning to fail so we headed towards camp, stopping at a Spotted Hyena den that perfectly faced west for great evening light. Two pups, and two adults appeared, with one pup grooming itself and leading to a discussion, that evening, of the secondary sexual characteristics of this matriarchal society. In the last light, unfortunately after the depressions were now in deep shadow, we found a Cheetah drinking, which despite the low light yielded good shots, and concluding our day.

Day 12, Upper Mara

hyenaWe started out the morning looking for leopard, unsuccessfully, although we were told that a mating pair were seen a bit later in the morning in the area. The lion pride from yesterday evening were gone, too, replaced by patient vultures perched nearby, but they, too, reappeared later from the bush.
We started our shooting with four Spotted Hyena on a nearly-stripped clean Buffalo carcass, apparently killed by lions but, I suspect, heavily worked on by hyenas as only the head and spine and ribs remained attached. hyenaOne hyena trotted off with the entire lower portion of a limb, and extra hide, that probably weighed over 15 pounds.
Joshua spotted a serval, seconds before Mary did, so the bet between Mary and Henry is still on. The serval lay curled up in the tall grasses with only its head showing, so there were no pictures. An hour later, when we revisited the area, it was gone.
Less than a hundred yards away we found a tolerant Bat-eared Fox by a den, which all of the vehicles shot, and later, when we passed by, we again shot it even closer and from a better angle. Normally the foxes are in pairs, and in mid-October it is possible that the mate is inside the den, nursing young pups. The den hole was small, however, and I had the feeling that this one was alone, a widower, perhaps, from a leopard or eagle attack.
cheetahNear the Paradise Plains we found a female cheetah perched upon a termite mound. She was hungry, with a tucked in belly, and periodically rose to scan the area for game. After one unsuccessful attempt, where the Thompson’s Gazelles spotted her long before she could make a rush, she started another hunt, walking directly towards a herd of gazelles. She didn’t appear to be actively hunting but eventually she broke into a trot, the gazelles scattered, and she slowly increased her speed as she finally targeted one female. The antelope veered about, avoiding the rocks and croton bushes, which forced her to remain on the grassy field where the advantage lay with the cheetah. She knocked it down, grabbed the throat, and a dozen vehicles sped in to form a half-circle around her. We watched for a short time while she fed, but the excitement was past, and no hyenas appeared likely to snatch away the kill. We headed home.
PM. We looked for leopards. Earlier in the day a male leopard that was the son of the resident female attempted to mate with her, but we did not hear the outcome. Fifteen minutes into our game drive we found the male, big and unconcerned, lying at the base of a croton bush. The shooting was compromised, but Joshua got our vehicle into a tiny spot with a window that offered a good vantage when the male awoke, yawned, and looked about. Earlier, Henry’s vehicle was in the perfect spot, but other camp vehicles blocked our view. As it was three of our four vehicles had shots, while Mary’s did not, but at the end of her game drive they found the young female, the cub of the female, sitting erect beside a track, for a great portrait in low light. In all, it was a two leopard afternoon, which concluded with 12 lions in the luggas, with 8 of them feeding upon a gnu carcass.

leopardDay 13, Upper Mara

A three cat morning, and a four cat afternoon, a fitting and spectacular way to close a great safari. The skies were overcast all day, and we started with a search near to the camp for one of the three leopards in the area. Sue, as we drove passed a large clearing, spotted a yellow shape and drew her attention to John, who casually pointed back at the ‘lion.’ It was the female, mother Leopard, and we quickly drove in, getting within a comfortable frame-filling distance of the cat. She was completely accustomed to vehicles but after a few minutes, and six cars later, she moved off into the brush. Meanwhile, Mary, Arthur, and Yanni encountered her female cub right beside the track, shooting vertical portraits (just like last night). Later, one of our other vehicles had the mother by the river bank before it crossed. We continued on, finding a pride of 6 Lions, two adult lionesses and four large, year + cubs, that ignored a solitary bull Buffalo that came to their waterhole to drink. It would have been a great opportunity for a hunt, but two lionesses knew better, and ignored the beef-on-the-hoof.
Less than a mile away we found 4 mature male Lions, two sitting upright, two sacked out asleep, but no game was near and the buffalo, far away, was safe. Had the buffalo passed them the lions would have made a kill, as they were not full-bellied.
Two vehicles went to the Masai village with Henry and Joshua, and they spotted another cheetah on the return. Mary’s vehicle, with Felix, also had a Thompson’s Gazelle birth, about 75 yards off the road, but they witnessed the entire process, from the head and forelegs out to the final, on-the-ground pop. It took the baby 11 minutes to stand completely on its feet, and 8 minutes more before it nursed for the first time.
PM. Rain encircled us, and through the afternoon drive we had sprinkles, or rain hard enough to close the roof hatch. My vehicle found another Cheetah, a pregnant female constantly on the move, and the 6 lionesses and cubs, and the 4 male Lions, but there was no action. We searched unsuccessfully for the leopard.
Henry’s vehicle had a Caracal, an extremely rare lynx-like cat, that had just killed a Banded Mongoose. The rest of the pack of mongooses, surprisingly, did not attack in defense but merely cried and complained. The shooting window was tight and short-lived, but John and Sue both managed some great shots! They also had the cub Leopard on the way back into camp, and a Cheetah and Lions, for a wonderful four cat afternoon!
elephantThat evening we said thank you to the guides, delivered Mary’s cartoon-covered tip envelopes, and had a partial recap of the highlights of the trip, making for a terrific ending for a great safari.

Day 14

Our flight to Nairobi went uneventfully, although we flew with instruments as we neared Nairobi as we entered low clouds. We landed safely and had our farewell dinner, seeing everyone off, while, minutes later, we met the next group for our second safari. We were just hoping it would be as successful as this first!



Our 2011 Safari Brochure is now available.
14 day trip


For even more details about either safari, read my daily journal for our Safari Trip Two.
Interested in doing one of our safaris? Check out our brochure.

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order our DVD Photographing on Safari
which covers and illustrates various camps,
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