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Kenya 2011

Trip Two Report


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Day 1, to Samburu

The ride north from Nairobi went uneventfully, but after we passed the 8,400’ highlands leading to Mt. Kenya we encountered rain, heavy but sporadic, and as we continued through Isiolo and to camp we passed huge puddles from the afternoon’s storms. At our lunch stop we had some of the best luck with Colobus Monkeys we’ve had in years, with a grounds keeper feeding the monkeys (illegal) by hand. Still, I was surprised at the patience and gentleness that the male monkey displayed in prying the man’s hand open to pluck the pieces of potato. Although rarely rabid, I feared the man might be doomed if an annoyed monkey ever bit him, for they’d never suspect and probably not treat a bite for potential rabies.

elephantDay 2, Samburu

We loaded at 6, for our first shake-down exercise with beanbags, but we were still on the road by 6:15. The morning started brilliantly clear, the air scrubbed clean from yesterday’s rains, and the roads were muddy, without dust. Surprisingly we encountered African Elephants almost immediately, which we headed off to shoot as they worked their way along an elephant trail towards the river. Surprisingly none stopped to bathe or play in the mud of the many pools, and we finally left them before the river when the herds paused to feed upon the bushes.
It was a good morning, with standing Gerenuk, a nice bachelor herd of Grevy’s Zebra, ten or more Reticulated Giraffes at various times, a few Oryx, and many birds. With the rains the birds are now active, and both Vanderdecken’s and Red-billed Hornbills displayed, doing their ‘book – bok- bok’ call ending in an upright wing display.
We returned to camp by 11:40 with the air hot and humid and the southeastern skies building with large cumulous clouds, hinting at the threat of cooling rains for the afternoon game drive.
PM. Big rains spread through the southeast but the winds pushed the winds to our east and the afternoon remained dry, cool, and pleasant. With Joseph we headed along the luggas for a rather uneventful afternoon until we heard that a Leopard had been spotted upriver. We meandered in that direction, encountering vehicles concentrated in some salt brush, and I spotted a female leopard as it went through a small clearing. We had two more brief encounters while our other vehicles drove in, concluding with the leopard climbing a huge dead riverine acacia where she chewed on the thin remains of a Dik-Dik she had carried up the tree. We stayed until there was no light for shooting, and arrived back in camp late and after dark.

baboonDay 3, Buffalo Springs

We intended to do a thorough visit of BS this morning, but events conspired in a positive way against us. Before crossing the bridge to BS all of the guides did a scout-about for the leopard from yesterday, and Bill’s vehicle, with Rita and Gary, had one cross the road in front of them. It continued up along Leopard rocks until it disappeared in the rocks of the surrounding hills. Meanwhile, one of the Samburu drivers spotted 4 African Wild Dogs in the area, which we learned about too late for a morning hunt.
At the bridge the usual huge troop of Olive Baboons were making their commute across the river and covering the sand banks of the BS side. One large male perched on a limb next to the bridge and yawned widely twice, and another did so at more than frame-filling distance with a 500, revealing their huge fangs. The fangs of a big male baboon are formidable, and deadly, and we’ve often seen leopards and cheetahs either give ground, disappear, or be run off by baboons. Once, in the Serengeti, we watched a stand-off where a lone cheetah faced a lone baboon, with the cheetah finally losing its nerve and bolting, with the baboon in a half-mile long hot pursuit. In Nakuru, we once watched a whole troop of baboons race after a leopard they had flushed from the tall grasses, with the cat luckily escaping into heavy brush.
bush shrikeMy vehicle headed uphill into the higher country, but another stayed along the river and soon encountered a Cheetah that had recently made a kill, a young impala. As we approached a few dozen White-backed Vultures were flying in, possibly driving the cheetah off its kill before it reached its full. As the cheetah moved off it flushed another baby Impala and immediately went in  pursuit, eventually catching the fawn in a cloud of dust close to our vehicles. She dragged the kill to a better protected bush than for her first kill, and we left her there.
A Leopard was reported and we found it, a male high in one of the riverine acacia trees. While we watched another was sighted, and this one approached and climbed another big tree. After a few minutes it descended and advanced, and climbed, the tree where the male, and its impala buck kill, were resting, and the male almost immediately drove the much smaller female down and off the tree. Later he climbed down, but he returned, climbed the tree again, before leaving a final time and disappearing into the brush.
leopardAll of the vehicles except our’s left the leopard at this point but we remained, hoping that with the quiet the cats would return. Although monkeys were barking alarms, and impalas were snorting, the cats never returned. Still, it was a 3 Leopard morning, and 1 Cheetah, making a kill – making this a fantastic morning in Samburu.
PM. By lunch black storm clouds were rolling in from the southeast and a dust storm blew across the river, making a windy meal but luckily without the sand obscuring the opposite shore. We left for our game drive with closed roof hatches under a sprinkling sky but within a few minutes the storm blew passed, missing us, and the rest of the afternoon was clear.
We headed into the high country where the wild dogs had been seen this morning but our search was unsuccessful. We did photograph a Black-backed Jackal and we saw a shy Cheetah that slipped into the undergrowth, and the scenic from this elevated position, showing an entirely different face to the Sacred Mountain, was worth the drive.
As we returned towards camp we had a road-side Pale-chanting Goshawk and, in the last light of day and with flash, a Martial Eagle that was finishing a meal of a spurfowl.

eagleDay 4, Buffalo Springs

The dawn skies were gloomy, heavy and gray with impending rain. We crossed over the bridge to Buffalo Springs, heading along the ridge crest just above the flood plain. Yesterday’s cheetah was spotted again, but the cat was doing nothing and, while we watched, we heard that the Leopard was back at the kill. Our groups’ vehicles were the first to arrive and we took prime spots down low, framing the male leopard as it lounged in a dream perch on the kill tree. The leopard was improbably lying upon a small thumb of trunk that jutted out from the main horizontal trunk, and stayed there, looking about and dealing with pesky flies, until the incoming rains drove it back to the foliage and the kill. There were still many shots there, and then we waited, hoping the cat would return to the open perch or to the ground. It did not, and we drove off, but when we returned the leopard was again at the kill, in the open, providing more wonderful portraits.
Two other vehicles saw the leopardess, as well, and two lions, and Mary’s vehicle also did well with Vulturine Guineafowl and a Rosy-patched Bush Shrike. We returned to camp by 12:15, with our roof hatches closed in the gentle rain that now covered the entire area.
PM. Samburu
It was a slow afternoon, but the rains of earlier had blown by and the air was crisp and clean. An adult Batelur Eagle bathed in one of the granite pools, spending at least fifteen minutes in the water, after bathing, before it finally hoped out and flew off. We left the field early as our camp was hosting a Sun Downer by the river, where in the last light of day we had the mother Cheetah and two cubs we’d seen so often on the last trip. They were too far off track for a photo, so instead we enjoyed the late light, the fire, and the drinks of the sun downer.

pelicanDay 5, to Nakuru

We left early, arriving in to a rather chaotic Lion Hill Lodge in Lake Nakuru by 1. The usual staff were not on duty and our rooms were confused, with the hotel staff even more so, although everything eventually was straightened out. As we drove in to Nakuru the western/southern skies were black with rain, but by the start of our game drive the weather had cleared, although more storms loomed to the south.
We left the lodge before 4, heading directly to Cormorant Point, hoping to get some great flight shots in before the southern storm enveloped us. When we first arrived the point was empty, and disappointing, but within a few minutes the first White Pelicans arrived, then more, and more, until continuous flocks flew in. An African Fish Eagle flushed a large flock of Greater Flamingos, Brown-headed Gulls, and Cormorants, and for a moment the air was filled with birds swirling in every direction.
Meanwhile, the gray wall of the southern storm crept closer, filling both sides of the lake basin. The sun broke through in the west, and now it was a race, would we get good light before the storm, or would the storm hit first. As it was, the sun reached us first, but only by a few minutes, and then a wind began, blowing hard and, within minutes, slanting, driving rain drove us back to the vehicles. The sun still shone, and a vivid rainbow arched over the tree where the cormorants roost, but all of us were with the wrong, long lenses. By the time I made the switch at the vehicle the clouds had closed over the sun and the rainbow had faded, and the shot lost. Mary had left earlier and was ready, and managed a couple of good shots before the rains.
We finished the afternoon game drive with a drive to the point where the Greater Flamingos gather, and we did some shooting in very low light as the birds fed and walked the shallows in the driving rain.

storkDay 6, Nakuru to the Lower Mara

Low clouds created a gray, gloomy, and dark conditions as we started our game drive, and the cloud cover did not break until after 9AM. Oddly enough, both species of Rhino were hard to find, and my vehicle only saw a half dozen or so, and all at a distance. One vehicle did do well, and had White Rhinos crossing the road in front of them.
We did have luck with Rothschild’s Giraffe, and had a big male close to the road. Two male lions, full bellied and lazy, lounged in the grasses, watching as a solitary bull African Buffalo lumbered by. This buffalo was the loser of a battle we encountered, where, with locked horns, one buffalo lifted the entire forequarters of the other from the ground. We worried that the horns may have been oddly snapped in place and the bulls trapped, but as we watched they eventually broke free.

We disassembled our gear at the curio shop outside the park entrance, where one of our drivers inexplicably let off his loaded passengers so that he could retrieve an item from the hotel he stayed at. The hotel was on our route, so the extra ten or fifteen minutes required for the errand wasn’t necessary. This was just the start of one long, comedic travel day. On the way to Narok David’s vehicle blew a major gasket and began overheating, requiring us to abandon that vehicle and have three of us, with gear, transferred to the other three vehicles present. One other vehicle had driven on ahead, far beyond radio range and he had his cell phone off. This was annoying, to be gently blunt. Later, in the town of Narok we had another time-consuming delay as one driver got a tire inner tube, then filled with gas at a different station. All told, consequently we did not arrive at our lodge until 7:30, nearly an hour late for park closures, and everyone was tired or exhausted or aching from an 8 hour transit.

pythonDay 7, Lower Mara

David’s replacement vehicle had not yet arrived so Mary and I sat upfront with the drivers, keeping the 3 photographer/vehicle ratio for the game drive. Our vehicle had stopped for a Yellow-throated Longclaw, a meadowlark-like bird and its ecological equivalent, and as we finished Joshua spotted some cars where a leopard had been seen.
When we arrived the leopard was sitting atop a termite mound in full view, distracted and annoyed by some flies that constantly had the cat twitching and biting. We managed only a few shots before the cat moved off, following a lugga as it hunted.
A few hundred yards ahead a Bohor’s Reedbuck flushed, and ran towards the leopard. The buck stopped and laid down, within easy sight of the cat which proceeded to stalk it. There was a ditch and some open ground between the two, and we guessed that we might be sitting here all day as the leopard waited for the buck to move again. Meanwhile my camera battery was almost drained, and I was watching the scene with a camera whose low batty light was blinking constantly. Fortunately, Gary had an extra and I was in the clear, but unfortunately the wind shifted and the reedbuck bolted without the cat making a move.
For only the fourth or fifth time we had an African Rock Python. This one was large, an easy 12 foot or longer, that worked along a lugga, either hunting or seeking a hide out. Unusual for this snake it did not flee but moved at a steady pace, as if unbothered by the vehicles nearby.
Later in the morning we spotted 14 of 17 lions, all stuffed and full-bellied, while not far away a bull buffalobuffalo trotted by, alone and vulnerable. We found what we assume was the mother Cheetah with the three cubs, but she was alone and we’re wondering whether the cubs had died or been left sleeping while the mother hunted. We followed her for a few miles, and while she broke into slow testing trots as she approached the herds of Thompson’s Gazelles, she didn’t make a hunt. Sadly there was a newborn gazelle just over the rise but from the cheetah’s angle she missed it and, at 11:30, we left it as it walked into the trackless no-man’s land.

PM. The mother cheetah with three cubs had been spotted near the Kissinger Tree, and while we eventually found them, they were 3.5 miles from the tree.  At the point where we saw the foursome the cats were 2.7 miles from one location, and 1.7 from another location, and during the afternoon they moved about another miles further from the tree. Mary’s vehicle stayed with the cheetahs the entire giraffeafternoon, hoping that they would get up and pass by, which they did, but late, at ISO 3200.
The 17-19 lions from this morning were still sleeping off their huge meal, but we did find another Lioness with one cub that, though way too far away, put on a great show as the cub hoped about the resting mother, then wrestled with her backside and tail as she walked off hunting. We followed, hoping that she’d cross a track, but she settled in the evening light too far from the road.
A young giraffe, nervous on being left behind as its mother and a male walked into the grasslands, eventually grew frightened enough to leave the croton bushes and galloped past us to rejoin its retreating mother, an early shot in the afternoon but still our highlight.


Day 8, Lower Mara.

cheetahThree from the group, Pam, Rita, and Gary, did the balloon safari this morning under near-perfect conditions, sunny and windless. They had a great ride, and thus did not miss a great land-based morning.
We started with the mother Cheetah and three cubs, as she led her brood across the short grasses. Henry’s vehicle later returned to the cats, where they observed the mother almost making a gazelle kill (missing by inches), and watched as the babies climbed a tree.
The rest of us had moved on, checking on the still fat and sluggish pride of lions that had barely moved since yesterday. Two males, however, lay close to another female in what looked to be a mating pair, but despite an hour of waiting the cats did nothing but walk to cover.
Our vehicle spotted a Black Rhino in the open, completely unafraid and oblivious to vehicles. When we arrived a park vehicle was very close, with someone taking photos which we hope were for identification, otherwise their rule-breaking of driving close and off-track would not make sense. Who knows? The rhino slowly fed, allowing Mary’s vehicle to arrive in time for frame-filling shots as well before the rhino disappeared into the croton bushes.
gazelleMary had luck with another newborn Thompson’s Gazelle, this one just minutes old and very close to the track. A male Thommie was drawn to the scene and attempted to mate with the mother that had just minutes earlier given birth. She ran off to avoid him, and the fawn tried bonding with the buck, who roughly butted the fawn away. Fortunately the female returned and the pair, mother and fawn, eventually ran off.
Meanwhile my vehicle had flushed a pair of Reed Buck that, once stopped, surprised us as the male tried repeatedly to mate with the doe. When we found the antelope they were in the usual reed buck pose – lying down, so the initiation of mating was a real surprise. David had never seen this species mate, and neither had I.
We arrived back to the lodge just after 11 where I learned the our room’s housekeeper had been frightened by a monkey (or baboon – the story varied) that came into the room behind her. She screamed and locked herself in the bathroom, giving the monkey free reign to steal Mary’s bag of popcorn and cookies we had placed on a shelf. The management originally blamed us, saying we hadn’t locked our room, but when we empathetically told them that we had, they confessed to the real story. We were annoyed at this lack of responsibility and professionalism, and we were out our cookies, too.
lionPM. When we returned from our game drive, a note from the head housekeeper and a box of cookies and a chocolate bar and note of apology were on our bed, a nice touch of professionalism that indeed needs to be noted. The game drive itself …..
Was terrific. There were scattered cumulous clouds that, in the late afternoon light, polarized wonderfully and we took full advantage of that early on with a herd of Elephants that eventually browsed past us on the track. Nearly all the vehicles stopped at a huge and placid herd of African Buffalo where Gary, Rita, and I tried all sorts of compositions, and where I tried to get the feel of a Texas feedlot with selective focus and rows and rows of horns and bodies.
Henry spotted another Serval, his second for the day and where his first won a three-year-running bet with Mary about who would spot a serval first. Later I too spotted one, which we managed to get some pleasing backlighted images as it walked through the grasses.
Lions were feeding upon a zebra they had killed earlier in the afternoon, and we stopped for a short time to shoot the feeding. Mary got the Black-backed Jackals poised and ready to feed at the same spot. Heavier clouds dropped some rain to our east and we were treated to a vivid rainbow that capped off the afternoon game drive.

lionDay 9, Lower Mara to Mara Triangle

We left a few minutes later from camp than usual, as two people slept in and another arrived a bit late to the vehicles, yet we still managed to leave ‘on time’ for the scheduled departure. Other days, our ‘loading time’ generally ends up to be the departure time, or within minutes. Despite a not perfect start, the morning was indeed perfect.
We headed into the southeast looking for the lions we found yesterday evening but they had retreated into the crotons or luggas and had disappeared. Far to the south, almost along the park boundary a group of vehicles had gathered, and we headed there, finding 14 lions of varying ages feeding upon a gnu carcass. A calf, now nearly 9 months old, circled repeatedly around the area, and we suspect that the lions’ dinner was its mother. Her movements caught the attention of some of the young males, who focused and began a stalk. Unfortunately the distant was too great and the gnu, despite running in wide loops for minutes, never came within range of a charge.
Felix was still driving towards the lions when he spotted a Caracal with two kittens about to cross the road in front of him. The caracal is extremely rare, and in all our years in Kenya I’ve seen only 7 or so until now. David’s vehicle rushed to the scene, and we caught the three cats as they trotted across a caracalshort grass plain, coming quite close to the car. The adult caracal, which resembles a sleek bodied lynx with its long black ears, complete with distinctive lynx-like ear tufts, disappeared into the croton bushes, leaving her two kittens on the edge of the luggage. The kittens, feeling lost, started ‘bird-chirping,’ making a call almost identical to that which cheetahs use when calling to one another. The mother reappeared and the kittens joined her, and we drove off.
Some of our vehicles missed the caracal on this first pass but those returned and everyone in the group was treated by some lengthy and good observations of the cat. Caracals can weigh over 40 pounds, although a 20 pounder is probably the average. They are consummate bird hunters, able to leap quite high to knock a flushed sandgrouse or spurfowl from the air. Their color reminds me of an American puma, Puma concolor, and they might almost pass as one except for the distinctive ears and the shorter tail.
The lions eventually left the kill, at least long enough to encourage vultures to fly in, which were chased off twice by one of the cubs. The young male lions, giving up on the gnu, moved in on a trio of African Buffalo, who turned the tables and briefly chased the lions through the brush.
As we drove towards our next camp the cumulous clouds started bunching into dark storms, and as I write this after lunch the first thunderstorm has struck, belting our windows of our room in a heavy rain.
hippoPM, We headed to the river and, quite surprisingly, a herd of a few hundred gnu had amassed for a river crossing. Crocodiles gathered at the egress and, at the exit, at least seven lions were scattered about, four hiding in the yellow long grass close to the river shoreline. The gnus, for whatever reason, turned back and wandered out onto the Paradise Plains.
Mary’s vehicle had spent some very productive time with two juvenile hippos that were fighting, and once the crossing petered out Alan, Bill, and I headed there, where we spent the rest of the afternoon. The hippos sparred constantly, sometimes almost breaching out of the water to gain advantage, but most was simple jaw-gaping displays that were exercises in dominance.
The other vehicles moved on and did quite well, although the light dropped horribly as the day progressed. Mary and company had good Masai Giraffes necking, or fighting, and two different sets of lionesses with cubs, including the last set of three cubs that were the youngest we had on this safari. The lioness had killed a zebra and we’re hoping that the entire family will be there tomorrow morning, when the light is good.

lionsDay 10, Mara Triangle

We headed directly to the lion cubs, finding them where the group left them last evening at their zebra kill. The cubs were active, running about, wrestling, and jumping on the lioness, but the shooting was limited with some high grass. The lions didn’t stay long before moving off into roadless high grass, but we found them again, and another lioness with the older cubs of yesterday, at another location where they played, eventually falling asleep and where we left them.
Yesterday there were a few scattered herds of gnus in that same area, but today a huge herd of 50 to 100 thousand gnus stretched across the plains. It was as if they grew out of the ground, as in most places, 24 hours earlier, there was nothing. We worked on some panning shots of gnus and zebras, but the herds rarely ran, unusual as they normally run when crossing a road and vehicle. A mother Zebra and foal loitered by the road, where the foal repeatedly circled around and beneath the mare’s belly, a play activity that reminded me of puppies around a dog.
The end of the morning found us at the river where a large herd of zebras repeatedly tempted fate with a Nile Crocodile that lay submerged a few feet from shore. A small group of gnus repeatedly circled a crossing point, indecisive about crossing, and, at the Hippo Corner, two large bull Hippos squared off for a few seconds, splashing and chasing so violently I could hear it forty yards away.
PM. The western sky was clear, promising a full afternoon of sweet golden light, with the north and east shrouded in black storm clouds. The promise was not fulfilled, as the eastern storm eventually swept west, blocking the sun and, as it did so, erasing the most spectacular landscape light we’ve had in years. We lion stormhad two male lions in the golden light, against a backdrop of black storm clouds, but the lions were lying down and except for one brief instant when one sat up they offered no shots.
We did have a nice Gray-backed Fiscal Shrike against the storm, and Mary had a male lion shaking off the rain since her vehicle was on the edge of the storm through most of the afternoon. As we drove into camp another storm rolled in, and I wondered whether or not we had closed our big bay doors, facing the storm, before we left on the afternoon drive. If we did not, we were facing a very wet room!

Day 11, Mara Triangle to Upper Mara

We packed the vehicles and left the lodge shortly after 6, under clear skies and a bright orange eastern horizon. We had traveled less than 3 km when we spotted two lionesses beside the main road, which we hoped to film backlighted by the rising sun. Unfortunately the cats moved off into the grass before sunrise, but a small group of African Buffalo obliged, and we shot silhouettes of the trio.
cheetahWe headed south, and Mary spotted a lone cheetah sitting erect upon a termite mound, from about 1` km away! All of the vehicles gathered as the cheetah adopted multiple poses in great light. One by one the vehicles left, soon finding another cheetah that appeared to be hunting. It was, and was headed towards a small herd of zebras with a foal.
Two of the three vehicles present moved on, assuming that the zebras would defend the foal should the cheetah attack, and guessing that the cheetah would not even bother trying. Instead, the cheetah broke all the rules and charged in, scattering the zebras and splitting the herd, and as they split the cheetah singled out and tackled the zebra. Remarkably the zebras did not return to the foal’s aid but kept running, and the cheetah, with great difficulty, dragged the zebra into thick brush.
Cheetahs can be even taller and heavier than a leopard, especially a female leopard, and while the cheetah struggled with merely dragging the zebra foal to cover a leopard of equal size can carry the same carcass high up a tree. Joshua, at lunch, commented that he’d once seen a baby hippo high in a tree, an obvious leopard kill, but all who saw it wondered where the leopard obtained a jaw-grip to lift the round ball of hippo! I’ve seen photos, and Felix personally observed, dead cheetahs stashed in trees by leopards.
Meanwhile, my vehicle and Joseph’s stayed with the first cheetah. Not long after the last vehicle drove off the cheetah spotted prey, and its posture turned alert. The cat stretched and moved off, head high in the classic cheetah hunting pose. We saw her target, a baby Thompson’s Gazelle with its mother at least 1 km away, standing on a distant hillside.
We drove towards her target and parked about 80 yards from the gazelles. The cheetah stalked, slipping into the ravine and disappearing. The gazelles moved, trotting downhill towards the ravine. The cheetah reappeared, its head low, its body sunk low in a slinking stalk. The gazelles stopped, and for a few minutes the baby laid down. Had it remained so, when the cheetah charged it is likely that the cat would have missed, as the adults may have outran the cheetah and the cheetah would have missed or ignored a motionless baby.
Instead, the baby stood, and together with its mother moved closer to the ravine. We stayed where we were, now about 250 yards from the antelope. The cheetah charged, and the antelope turned and ran uphill and towards us. I followed the cheetah and was surprised to see the cheetah go from a full out run to a loping trot and I thought the cheetah had missed and given up its chase. Instead, apparently the baby had run beside our vehicles (Pam, Doug, and Eleanor were there, too) and was running away. The cheetah passed us and began to turn on the steam, and about 50 yards off tripped the baby, full out in the open.
I was motor-driving at 10fps and caught the first reach, as the cheetah in mid-run extended its foreleg and hooked or batted the baby’s hindquarters, flipping it off balance. In the shots that followed  the cat is about to grab the baby when the fawn rights itself, gets to its feet, and starts to run. The cat’s paw reaches out again and knocks it down, and an instant later the cheetah is upon it. Seconds later the cheetah carried it off, and we drove ahead, assuming the cat would take cover in the ravine. After several yards, however, the cat stopped, looked about, and began feeding, and we left it to its meal.
lion cubsMary’s vehicle missed the cheetah chases but found a good black-maned Lion with three lionesses, and two of the cats exhibited flehmen, where the lion sniffed urine and drew the smell deep into the vomeronasal organ at the roof of its mouth. Doing so the lions adopt a peculiar look, that resembles a snarl as the lips draw back and the fangs show, looking ferocious but actually distinctive and quite different from a real snarl.
PM. Shortly after lunch high winds and dark clouds rolled in, and as we started our afternoon game drive we had to close the roof hatches with the heavy showers. Soon after we started Henry’s vehicle found the leopard, although we’re not sure if it was the mother or a cub, by the ‘stinky waters’ where it sat upon a rock. The leopard disappeared in the brush but we found it again, in thick cover, lying down, where we left it.
gnuBy the sundowner tree we found the pride of local lions, but all were sleeping when we arrived. We waited on a nearby track and with great luck both the distant male and lioness both walked directly to our vehicle, with the male finally settling down almost beside our land rover. The pride was split on both sides of the dirt track and, on the opposite side, a lioness solicited the male who promptly mounted and mated, but in a very mild manner without some of the usual violence. The lions all fell back to sleep and in the very failing light we headed towards camp.
On the way we learned that the 1 year old female leopard was visible, and we found her, relaxed and unconcerned, lying in the open beside a track. A hippo appeared and as it walked by and through the woods the leopard cub got up and followed behind, stalking the hippo for a few hundred yards. Eventually the hippo moved off into the open grasses and the leopard paused, again sitting along the clearing edge. Our last shots were of the cub walking directly to, and passed, our vehicle where we left her as she walked back into the croton bushes.

leopardDay 12, Upper Mara

It is 2:40 in the afternoon and as I write this the Talek River before our tent is as dark and gloomy as  dusk. Lightning splits the sky around us and the sound of rolling, echoing thunder bares teases. The short rains have arrived.
The day started under lightly overcast skies that thickened as the morning progressed, and with the rain of yesterday afternoon and evening the air was cool and remained so until nearly 11AM. My vehicle started the day looking for yesterday’s lions but we were called back when a leopard was spotted, a male drinking along the river. That cat disappeared, and for the next ten minutes or so we circled the croton bushes until David spotted the young female sitting beside the road. We barely had a chance to respond before she darted off, in what turned out to be one continuous hunt that resembled the behavior of a wild dog more than a leopard.
We followed the cat as it jogged or crept through the bush, at one point flushing a distant African Hare, and another time, after a prolonged stalk, a mother Impala and fawn. The antelope ran out into the open grassland far ahead of the leopard who nonetheless trotted behind, as if it had any chance at all of catching up. Later it slipped into an incredible stalk where this young leopardess moved in on to adult Warthogs who, should they a mind to, could have treed or killed the cat. Wisely she gave up the stalk when they grazed a bit closer. We had multiple opportunities for shots, including several times when the leopard walked right to and passed our vehicles. Henry’s vehicle, with Rita, Gary, and Laurie, stayed with the cat much longer than the rest of us, and were rewarded by following the leopard across the open grassland where, at one point, she posed perfectly. Later, that vehicle also did incredibly well with the tiny Malachite Kingfisher, getting extremely close to this elusive bird.
The rest of us had moved on, finding some of the lion pride of yesterday, but the fly-covered snouts and general lassitude wasn’t too appealing and we moved on. We drove far north, into the Topi Plains where, sadly, we found an adult male Olive Baboon dragging a long length of rope and wire, a snare tightly drawn around its wrist.
foxLater we returned to the Bat-eared Fox den that we found on our last safari, and like before there was only one fox at the den. The fox, however, was the most tolerant we’ve ever had in the Mara and it was alert, not hunched down in the usual stress pose. While we photographed the fox got up and flared its ears downward into the den hole, the pose it would adopt for finding buried insects, and an instant later the female fox popped out. They paused a moment before the male slipped in to the den, probably to keep the babies warm while the female now took a break and basked in the cloudy bright warmth. Several minutes later the pair switched roles, and the female went back into her den.
Mary had continued and ended up at the Spotted Hyena den where the action was incredible, with the tiniest baby hyenas we’ve ever had. She quickly radioed us to get there, without exception! but a very tame Warthog with five tiny young were beside our track and we spent several minutes shooting the babies while they advanced close by and curious, and later nursed off the mother nearby.
When we arrived at the hyena den we learned that a mother hyena had repeatedly carried her rat-sized baby back and forth from two dens separated by about 50 yards. Fortunately the behavior continued after we arrived, and the female picked up the small baby and walked off to the other den. There a second tiny baby appeared, and after a few minutes the mother decided to return the two to the den site close to our track. She would start to carry one cub, walking a few yards below looking back to discover that the other cub had remained behind. Then she’d return, switch cubs, and try again, only to have the same results. This happened repeatedly until one of the cubs finally got the message and jogged behind as the mother carried one of the pups towards us.
The pups were tiny, and we guessed their eyes had just recently opened. Their hind legs were barely strong enough to support them and several times the cubs went bow-legged as their hindquarters gave out. As cute as they were, baby hyenas have the nasty behavior of fratricide, as two cubs of the same sex will fight each other, beginning almost at birth, until one dies. Two surviving cubs are invariably of different sexes, although last year we wondered whether we were observing a female with three cubs, hyenawhere she kept one separate from the other two. It is possible, since this female today was using two dens.
Eventually the cubs grew tired and the mother hyena flopped down beside her den where one of the cubs nursed, and my vehicle, the last, decided to head on to camp for a lunch already in progress.
Heavy rains began shortly after lunch and continued through the afternoon. At 4 I made the difficult and risky decision to cancel the afternoon game drive, always worrying that the weather would then break and we’d have wasted a day. By 4:30, however, the skies were dumping and the rain continued, hard, long after 6. The camp turned off the generators at 4:40, but with everything now in a blanket of darkness, including the camp offices, I assume, the lights came back on ten minutes later. This gave everyone needed time to select and process images for our last day’s group slide show.

leopardDay 13, Upper Mara

The day started gloomy and dark and we began the day looking for the leopards where road conditions would make driving a bit easier. The Talek was flooded, and the normal crossings were now impassable, although some vehicles from other camps did cross the ‘stinky waters’ with water just up to the door bottoms.

We found the leopards fairly quickly, beginning with the little female that roamed about, chasing African Hares and going after Dik-Diks. Later she disappeared but my vehicle remained behind while the others moved off for a breakfast rendezvous as two vehicles were going to the Masai village. Meanwhile, David spotted the male Leopard, seeing a distant Warthog looking alertly into the croton bushes. It was a long, difficult, great spot, and the cat was hunting. For many minutes we were the only vehicle as we drove ahead, positioning ourselves where, a few minutes later, the cat would appear and walk right passed our vehicle. I had a mind’s eye vision for a shot and sure enough, the Leopard cooperated and posed wonderfully, full-frame, on a slight termite mound beside some bushes. At one point the leopard stalked a dik-dik, creeping low and then rushing, but the antelope saw him and ran off.
We circled widely around a big thicket where we found the leopard again, and while we waited for it to step into an opening I spotted the little female nearby. She approached the male from behind and frightened him, who reacted by doing a complete back flip as she made contact. Then, they wrestled and played and a few minutes later walked out of the brush, right in front of our vehicle where both paused within twenty feet of our windows. The cats then moved off into the grasslands where they stopped, groomed, played, wrestled, and watched for game. A few small bushes compromised many of the shots but there were several times when the cats rolled into an opening or lounged about or sat up, giving us the two cats. By their different sizes they could easily appear to be a mother and cub, but in fact they were siblings of different ages, either full or half brothers/sisters. Many times these two, and their mother, had been seen together, and just before we arrived the mother leopard had killed a gnu that all three were later observed feeding on.
We checked out the lion pride before lunch but all the cats were asleep and we headed back to camp, where gathering clouds threatened our last afternoon game drive.
PM. We left at 3:30 because of the light drizzle and darkness, but soon found the male Leopard who, earlier, had made a kill and was now full-bellied. Nonetheless the leopard stalked out into the open after some Impalas, and I got one of my favorite shots of the trip as the leopard crouched, ears laid back and eyes wide open and intent, and slinked towards me in the stalk. The impalas saw him and ran off and the leopard, in an increasing rain, moved into the brush. Henry’s vehicle saw the small leopard female, too, who was hunting the huge impala herd but was unsuccessful.
We moved on to the impalas, photographing them in the driving rain. At one point the herd stampeded and I got some nice blurred masses, very powerful, as they started running. Unfortunately, later my wonderful DELL computer crashed as I was using Breeze Browser to import images, where this program actually moves files off the card unless you tell it to copy, not move. I always just did move, and when the computer crashed the running impalas and my only shots of the lions (below) shaking their wet fur were lost, the files corrupted during the crash. As you may know, I love my Dell. And pulled fingernails, too.
impalaIn the driving rain we drove slip-sliding toward the Lions, which were now awake. I was hoping to get a big male shaking his mane and was successful, but with a smaller lens. Yesterday one of our Mark IV cameras lost the focusing dot display and I was trying to alternate the one ‘good’ camera between the zoom lens and the 500. I had the wrong lens on during the shake, so although it was a great shake it wasn’t too large in the frame. The good thing is, I’d have lost a great image when the DELL crashed, which would have really annoyed me!
The rains perked up the lionesses and several approached the two males, slinking about provocatively trying to initiate a mating. Inexplicably, though, every time a male would begin a mount the lioness would dart out and run, as if she wasn’t completely ready. Made for great, dynamic poses and action, as the lioness’s paws slapping through the water created great splashes.
One of the lionesses spotted a baby Thompson’s Gazelle with its mother about ¼ mile away and started walking purposefully toward it. Stupidly, I stayed with the male lions hoping for a shake and not expecting much success for the lioness. The fawn dropped to the ground, hiding, but the lioness found it and after a short chase caught it, but then she let it go, playing with it by chasing it down, knocking it over, and then letting the fawn get up and run again. After doing this at least four times she looked away, checking on the approaching male. The fawn got up and ran, and had disappeared over a nearby hill by the time the lioness looked back. It was comical (we had driven up by now) to watch her expression and intensity as she looked for her lost meal, but eventually she gave up and walked back toward the pride.
One of the males stayed on top and near him is when we learned we had a flat tire. David had to drive about a quarter mile to a safer position where Joseph met him and assisted in a fast tire change. By now it was after 6 and getting dark, but the rain had stopped so the afternoon, our last, proved fun and eventful and very productive for the shooting.
That evening we had one of our largest group slide shows, with approximately 500 images, with several photographers contributing 40 or 50 or more. It was a great show, ending a great safari, which concluded with our dinner and speeches and presenting our tip envelopes to our guides.

Day 14.

It rained sporadically all night and the Talek is still in flood, but the guides left at 5 and we flew out at 11, for our last busy afternoon in Nairobi as we packed for our flight home.


Our 2011 Safari Brochure is now available.
14 day trip


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