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Kenya Photo SafariTour
Trip 1, 2013 Trip Report


Our first tour of the fall season went extremely well, with several great Serval sightings and photo sessions, a record 12 Leopards in Samburu alone, and the youngest Leopard Cub I've ever photographed, and full frame, too! We did quite well with Lion cubs, and had two very exciting Lion hunts, both involving warthogs.

We carried our gear on the flight to Kenya, and throughout the safaris, with Bataflae photo backpacks by Gura Gear. Check them out.

The following is the complete report.


Day 1, September 29. In this desert landscape the locals, the camp staff of our lodge, and the street merchants outside of Isiolio, all say we bring the rain, and today for the first time this season it rained, coinciding with our arrival at Samburu. Our arrival here each year varies somewhat, often by two weeks or so, but generally, as a wonderful happenstance, the rains arrive as well.
We left Nairobi at 9AM after a 1.5 hour orientation and with now surprisingly good roads, and with one short stop at a curio shop for a break, arrived at Tree Trout for lunch. Black MONKEYand White Colobus Monkeys often cluster in the trees here and we hoped to start the safari with a good encounter. As we pulled into the drive the sun blazed brightly, but minutes after we unloaded, and found an extremely cooperative troop of monkeys, the sky clouded over, giving great, even light for this potentially contrasty subject.
A group of nearly a dozen gathered in the trees overlooking a clearing, with two small juveniles putting on a show; one gathering purple flowers from the tree and sucking on blossoms in clear view. Lunch was waiting, and the skies cooperated further, as an advancing thunderstorm cracked thunder and the first heavy droplets of the impending storm signaled the end of a successful shoot.
We arrived at Samburu by 4:30, traveling a now paved road that, years past, was one of Kenya tourism’s true horror stories. Back then, the perpetually-being repaired road required deviations where we paralleled the road for miles, often through such dust-filled conditions that the road was nearly invisible a car’s length ahead. Today, thanks to the Chinese who seem to be everywhere in Africa, the road is smooth and fast, and development has followed.
Back in the day, just ten years or so ago, the stretch of dirt that passed for the only thoroughfare north to Ethiopia was a wilderness, with stately tortillas acacia trees dotting the landscape and Grevy’s Zebras, Reticulated Giraffes, and various antelopes often crossing the road. Now, at least during the first half of this drive, the acacias are gone, and the only reminder of their presence being the bags of charcoal stacked along the road to be transported as a cheap fuel in the cities. The game is gone, replaced by scattered shanty towns and dome-shaped huts of tiny villages, presenting a fairly depressing scene as we neared the entrance to Samburu.
To do so we passed through Archer’s Gate, a now growing small town that looks, today, like the burgeoning town of Isiolio of twenty years ago. Now, Isiolio is a city, and I wonder if Archer’s Gate will take as long to grow as large, although I suspect it will be far sooner.
Still, once we passed through the Samburu checkpoint we entered an ancient world, where the signs of goat and sheep-denuded landscapes vanish and game once again appears. On our drive in we saw all of the big five endemics, including Reticulated Giraffe, Beisa Oryx, Grevy’s Zebra, Gerenuk, and Somalia Ostrich, as well as Gunther’s Dik-dik, Grant’s Gazelle, and Impalas, and various birds. After a fairly effortless check-in, we met again for a 7PM orientation and an 8PM dinner. While we ate, Joshua, one of our guides, took Mary aside to show her a cloud. In a cloudless sky one cloud appeared, illuminated by an unknown light source as if the moon had passed behind it. To Joshua, it looked like a sign, the end of the world. Mary couldn’t explain the phenomenon, so perhaps tomorrow will indeed be very interesting!

zDay 2, September 30. The end of the world did not occur, and the morning dawned clear, cloudless and warm. Throughout much of the morning a light breeze kept the temperature fairly tolerable although by 11AM, as we headed to camp, the heat was beginning to be oppressive.
First mornings are always a bit of a shake-down as photographers get acquainted with using their bean bags, attaching lens bags and camera bags, and simply feeling organized. We started the morning with a surprisingly close HORNBILLview of a pair of Gray Hornbills, a species that until just a few years ago we almost never saw in Samburu. The pair perched on a limb and preened, fairly oblivious to our presence. Birds are always good in Samburu and this morning was no exception, with shots of a pair of great Shikras (Mary’s vehicle), Gray-headed Kingfishers, Somalia Ostriches, and, late in the morning, a pair of Secretarybirds that took flight and soared overhead.
Joshua, just after sunrise, heard a jackal barking and spotted a Leopard perched in the top of a ten-foot high shrub, a spectacular find as he was looking almost directly into the sun when he saw the cat. The cat was lazy, lifting its head a few times but otherwise rather well covered in the vegetation. Batelur Eagles, Tawny Eagles, Fan-tailed Ravens, and a White-backed Vulture  soared or circled overhead, and we figured it had made a kill. Later, Mary saw one of the Batelurs flying off with a scrap of meat, confirming our guess. A small herd of Beisa Oryx fed in the golden grass, ORYXseedheads glowing a bright blond in the breeze. Two different pairs spared, none seriously, but enough to kick up some dust, and make an interesting shot. Once, one of the two fighters dropped down to his belly and from that position jousted with the other, before rising again and resuming a more typical fighting pose. Occasionally one would buck and lash back rapidly with its horns, showing the potential these saber-like horns have for damage, but the match stayed rather calm and eventually the two remaining males separated and ambled off.
Along the Uaso-Nyrio River a small group of Elephants gathered and drank, but never left the far riverbank and, when finished, turned back inland. Another Tawny Eagle perched on a broken snag, disintegrating the tattered remains of a Dwarf Mongoose, swallowing the last few clumps of flesh before flying off with a patch of fur. A couple of Olive Baboons BABOONscaled Dome Palms for nuts, and we shot some silhouettes as a large adult perched, then climbed, to gather another nut.
As we headed back to camp we circled back to the leopard without luck, but nearby two Reticulated Giraffes stood posturing in the high light. As we watched they closed their distance and their stance indicated a potential fight, and while we watched they moved towards us, one walking backward to keep pace with the others forward steps. Finally they squared off, signaling their intention with legs spread, braced for an impact, and the GIRAFFEtwo slammed together with swinging necks. We were so close, and the fight was so violent, that we could hear the loud ‘twack’ of impact, as the two crashed together several times. Surprisingly, it was the larger of the two males that gave up first, turning and running, with the other in pursuit. The loser didn’t run far, but kept the distance as the victor continued to follow and close upon the other. It was a dramatic ending to a good first morning’s shoot.

PM. We left at 4PM with a strong breeze that kept the temperature tolerable. The afternoon started fairly slowly, although an extremely cooperative Tawny Eagle, perched on a low snag, exercised its wings against the wind, providing full-frame shots until, unfazed by our presence, it flew off. Later, another vehicle had a Martial Eagle that they passed as they headed to another subject, Leopards, and that eagle later captured a Dik-dik. That group saw the aftermath, as the eagle scrambled about on some branches, hauling its kill to a higher vantage.
About twelve Reticulated Giraffes focused their attention, alerting us to some predator, and soon we spotted a female Lioness, fat, swollen with milk, and nursing, heading purposefully west. Vehicles raced ahead of her, missing the shot – the backlighted dust swirls kicked up by her steps. Later we found an old Male, and typical to this desert environment his mane was scraggly, little more than a crown and a ruff at the base of his shoulders. I missed, but several caught the male as he sneezed, throwing up a obscuring cloud of dust.
We left the lions for reported Leopards, and although my vehicle saw two there were no shots. Mary, in Henry’s vehicle, had a wonderful, clear view, and typical of the confusion of Swahili, my driver drove passed the other vehicle asking directions as to where to go. Had my driver only said, I’m just twenty yards away, what do you have? we’d have had the leopard as well. That was frustrating.
BATBefore this afternoon’s game drive I set up three Phottrix wireless slaves and three flashes for an after-dinner shoot of the Yellow-winged Bats I’d seen roosting yesterday evening. After dinner I had a great session, shooting this big and attractively colored bat from several angles, with the lighting even and interesting with three flashes, set at different angles. Several of the camp staff gathered around my LCD screen to see the bat magnified, something they’d never had a chance to do before.

Day 3, October 31. The group had five Leopard sightings this morning, perhaps a record for Samburu, and we’d have had six, and a personal high of five for me, Carolyn, and Jan, had we seen two leopards that we missed by just minutes. One of these, another company’s driver pointed to, somewhere deep in a bush but it had either moved or we simply couldn’t make it out in the tangle of brush and shadows. The second we missed by a minute or so when we left a perched Martial Eagle and, soon after, a leopard ran behind Mary’s vehicle and right passed where we would have been!
EAGLEOur first Leopard of the morning was spotted by Henry who somehow saw the cat, in the shade of a lugga about 80 yards away. How he spotted that cat from his driver’s position as he passed I can’t fathom, as it took me several seconds to discern it even after he pointed me in the right direction. I told him, I was humbled, that was a great spot!
Today was indeed a Martial Eagle day for many of us. I met one of my long-time drivers, now with another client, at an eagle perched beside the track so close that a 500mm and full-frame sensor only captured parts. The bird, perched on the top of a small acacia, filled the EAGLEframe at 300mm, and although I gave room, I still tipped its wings when it finally launched into flight.
Mary had another Martial Eagle that had been feeding upon a dik-dik, perhaps the one from last evening. This morning, several Fan-tailed Raven stooped and harassed the eagle as it perched upon another low acacia, catching the birds as they swept by.


Later the eagle carried the remains of the carcass to the ground where it mantled it defensively, finally flying to another tree where I later saw it, and missed the leopard.
Earlier, we’d done well with Vulturine Guineafowl in a huge flock not yet dispersed for individual nesting sites. Three fowl in turn visited a small shrub, plucking at the new growth, then pausing to raise their heads and cackle loudly. I’d contemplated bringing the 800mm on this trip instead of the 500 I’m using, and for the most part I’m glad I stayed with my standard, the 500. Any more would be too much for several subjects.
Birds, including Namaqua Doves and Black-faced Sandgrouse, and Dik-Diks occupied our time when we weren’t hunting for leopards, or waiting for the one that supposedly was in a thicket that we missed. Impala and Desert Warthogs grazed in the park-like glade near the river and we hoped that, although we couldn’t see the leopard, it was there, and would hunt either animal as they neared the copse. We waited about an hour, with animals literally surrounding the thicket at various times, and decided that today was not our day to witness a kill.
ELEAs we started home a large herd of Elephants, really the first here in Samburu on this trip, waded across the river. We drove ahead, finding a spot where the elephants left the water and climbed ashore, walking straight toward us in the river, then banking across to the right only a few yards from us. It was a spectacular show.
Several vans were parked on the main road as we neared camp where still another Leopard lay hidden in the brush. This one, some time this morning, had killed a doe impala. Little was eaten, but the cat was mostly covered by the thick limbs of the Salvador tree.
LEOPARDPM. We headed directly back to the impala kill where the Leopard was far more visible, lying atop a trunk deep within the thicket. The kill had not been moved or touched, and we waited, hoping that the leopard would retrieve it and drag the kill through the most obvious opening which would present a great photo op for us. Within fifteen minutes the leopard rose, yawn, and stretched, and moved towards the kill, but instead of moving it he began to feed, with only his head and neck poking from the thick vegetation.
While we photographed several other vans gathered, with one vociferous woman yelling at us to move, that the game was to share. While that is true, she did not realize she hadn’t been waiting forty minutes or so for the leopard to present itself. Instead, now that she arrived, she expected to have immediate access. We ignored her, but soon (not soon enough for her) the leopard returned to the trunk where we first met him and at that point we drove off. Mary met the woman an hour later and she was still babbling about being blocked – like who hasn’t been?
We drove on to the other leopard from this morning but it was gone. Instead, however, a group of at least fifteen Reticulated Giraffes fed near the road, with one male and female pair GIRAFFEsporting several Red-billed Oxpeckers. These clambered about the horns of the giraffe until the animal tossed its head with annoyance and the birds flew off, to hover a moment above the giraffe before settling back upon its skull.
We drove to the high country and, upon our return, had perhaps the best sequence of Golden-breasted Starlings we’ve ever had. One bird, of a flock of five, repeatedly flew off, only to perch closer and closer to us until it was actually too close for our large lenses. We continued downhill where a group of vans indicated something of interest, this time a young female Leopard that walked ltowards us, stopping to scratch its claws on a tree, then finally settling upon a rock where, as the last minutes of the day faded, we left her for a fast drive home.
This evening I set up a RangeIR setup for the Yellow-winged Bats that have been at our tent the last two nights. Tonight, by 9PM, none have appeared, perhaps because of the strong wind that blew throughout the evening.

Day 4, October 2. Most everyone slept poorly last night as a northernly wind blew hard and constant, sometimes so flapping the tent that at times it sounded as if someone was pounding the roof or sides with a carpet beater. The susurrus near-roar of the blasting wind sounded like rain, but we awoke to bone-dry conditions and an odd but pleasing light, with the early morning sunlight perhaps filtered softly by dust from the constant wind.

Top, left to right: Shikra Hawk, Somalia Ostrich, Fiscal Shrike
Bottom: Barbet, Black-capped Social Weaver, African Hoopoe

Birds and landscapes occupied the first part of the morning, and in the span of an hour I saw four Pigmy Falcons, the first of the trip for me. One, partially hidden by acacia twigs, fed upon a freshly caught Black-capped Social Weaver, and the falcon plucked feathers and tore bits of flesh oblivious to us watching nearby. Allen spotted a Lilac-breasted Roller on a distant tree and while we waited for Jan to finish a scenic the bird flew increasingly closer, not requiring our moving at all. It flew down for insects several times and I anticipated the next landing, but stupidly didn’t act on it and watched dumbly as the bird flew in to the perch. We did get a second chance, but the approach was a glide and undramatic.

HORNBILLAllen incorporated a trick I mentioned to him yesterday, zooming out rather than going for a tight shot when a Yellow-billed Hornbill launched from its perch. The bird stayed within his focal plane and he captured a beautiful image of the hornbill, wings spread-eagled against a blue sky. I had a fixed 500mm and caught everything – but the head!

The soft angular light was perfect for landscapes and we stopped at two Termite Mounds with great spires that stood out starkly in relief. Normally Savannah Monitors or Dwarf Mongooses set upon these red mounds at dawn but we saw neither, until spotting a band of a dozen mongooses later on, foraging along the road.

cobraWe headed to the river and the site of some of yesterday’s leopards, where a flock of Fan-tailed Ravens were mobbing either an Egyptian or Spitting Cobra (id yet to be confirmed). The snake was completely in the open, its throat raised above the sand with its hood outstretched, while the ravens hopped about, trying to muster the courage to pluck the snake’s tail. Some came close, but none dared. We had several great opportunities with the snake, mindful, however, that if it got too close it might climb into the axle area of our vehicles. Whenever it approached, our drivers wisely drove off!

lionessEnormous flocks of Vulturine Guineafowl, interspersed with a few dozen Helmeted Guineafowl, gathered along the sand banks. A Lioness made a fast charge on a young impala and missed, and then sat upon the river bank where it was literally surrounded by swarms of cackling fowl. The lioness paid no attention to the birds, who seemed confident in their ability to flee if the lioness would show any interest.

The lioness moved upriver, towards the grassy parkland where, yesterday, we waited on a fowlleopard to make a hunt. Impalas were grazing and the lioness stalked within fifty yards where she flattened into the grass and waited. As did my vehicle and Henry’s. Nothing happened, and eventually, as it was close to lunch, Henry’s vehicle drove off, leaving the prime spot open for us which we quickly took. Within ten minutes a Desert Warthog appeared, grazing along and walking parallel to the lioness’s ambush site. We thought the warthog would move on but instead it turned, and doubled-back, now following the shrub line where the lioness crouched.

It is difficult to judge exactly how close the warthog came but I suspect it was no more than 15-20 feet when the lioness charged. We started shooting immediately but the cat was already in full stride, as was the warthog, when our first frame fired. The second frame had half of the warthog’s head behind brush and the lioness seemingly just half a body length behind, and by the fifth frame the lioness was hidden as well. Seconds later the warthog appeared, rocketing across the sand, the lioness no where to be seen.

impalaMeanwhile, the impala continued to graze, and in my shots those that were grazing showed no reaction to the drama not far away. Other impalas had occupied our time while we were waiting, including several quite close that mutually groomed, nipping at neck or head, and another doe and fawn that simply cuddled, head to head. That alone was worth the wait, but the hunt, though brief, was spectacular.

Henry’s vehicle stopped by yesterday’s impala kill and did see the male Leopard again, this time well concealed in another Salvador tree where it had finally stashed the kill. The wind had never stopped, and at lunch was strong enough to snap a guide rope securing one of the roof uprights. The locals say rain is coming, as expected at this time of year.

PM. A sundowner was planned for 6 and with most of the Samburu subjects successfully captured we stayed fairly close to camp, hoping to find Klipspringers on the cliffs a few kilometers away. En route we had our first small group of Grevy’s Zebras, three males who, when two of our three vehicles were there, graze peacefully beside each other.

About a half hour later, Mary’s vehicle encountered the three again. This time they were involved in a violent fight, one of the most violent zebra fights she has seen. While two were fighting, the odd zebra out defecated. Later, one of the two combatants stopped fighting and defecated at the same spot, while the first ‘pooper’ now took up the fight with the remaining zebra. When they finished, that one, too, defecated at the same spot, much like rhinos will mark territory at a set toilet.

Mary was late because she also had a kill! A Black-tipped Mongoose was chasing a mouse who evaded its predator by running around a bush, directly into the talons of a Pale-chanting Goshawk. The hawk captured the mouse, and the mongoose attempted to steal the kill but was unsuccessful. Afterwards, the goshawk dragged its prey towards Mary’s vehicle were it finally stopped and fed
Our other two vans had seen and photographed the zebras who were so placid we never suspected further action. We continued on to the rocks, and Joshua finally succeeded in spotting two Klipspringers high on a smooth, huge boulder as the two small antelope individually appeared, framed against a cobalt blue sky. Both ran down the rock and disappeared into the vegetation and we hoped they’d continue to a closer ridge line but they remained hidden and, after a long wait, we moved on.

We finished our shoot with a good Tawny Eagle before continuing to the Sundowner along the river. When we returned to camp and broke down our gear we had an odd confrontation. Mary was relaying the menu to me, about 15 feet away, when she was interrupted by another guest – in this common area, who objected to her speaking loudly (normal volume) and that he was on vacation and wanted quiet. When he said he wanted to enjoy the lodge I told him we did too, but we were with friends, and hence the difference, as he was alone. Still, it raised the ire of both Mary and me, putting a blemish on an otherwise wonderful evening.

Day 5, October 3. Today was essentially a travel day. We left Samburu on schedule, leaving the lodge and our friends by 6:15AM and with various stops arriving at Lake Nakuru by 1:45PM. After lunch and a short break we headed into the park.

Over the last two years Lake Nakuru has gradually filled with water and the long-established park roads are now threatened by an ever-rising water level. It was astounding to drive along, looking out to a lake abutting the dying yellow-barked acacia trees, with virtually no grassland or marshland separating forest from lake. Areas we visited last year to photograph white pelicans and flamingos are now completely inaccessible, with the shoreline in these areas extending a full quarter mile from previous edges.

impalaOften the afternoons here are cloudy, rainy, or stormy, but this afternoon’s drive was benign, with partly cloudy skies until close to 6 when the sky muddied and the light failed. My drive was rather uneventful, more of a reconnaissance than anything else, and I shot few images.Mary spent most of her time at the cross dike where she, Deb, and Diane photographed ducks, other birds, and zebras, including a nice crossing.

Day 6, October 4
. We left the lodge at 7, packed and ready for our transit to the Masai Mara. The skies were clear for our early morning game drive and the temperature cool, and Mary and I bundled in layers. My vehicle hadn’t traveled far when we encountered a large troop of Olive Baboons sunning bthemselves along side the road. One young baboon had a huge gash, or hole, on the top of its head, the red flesh glistening fresh and bright in the early morning sunlight. Had this been a human juvenile he’d be in intensive care, but this injured baboon seemed oblivious to the wound.

One apparently old male had a terrible neck wound, with the fur around the area matted and greenish and seepy. An adult male, but not a huge troop leader, had walked towards the injured baboon and another, about the same age, came charging towards it. As the first baboon ran, a troop leader joined the chase and with the combined screaming of the three soon almost the entire troop was involved, racing across the grasses in pursuit of the unlucky one. We couldn’t be sure if they caught him, but it appeared as if they had and gathered, screaming in a cluster, in the low Sodom’s apple bushes. I wondered if the pursued went submissive or was simply killed, but the violence of the chase was more reminiscent of a leopard chase than another baboon.

Later on in the morning, however, we met the baboon troop again as the entire group, one by one, jumped over one of the new feeder streams that are filling Lake Nakuru.

flamingoIn the meantime, one of the tracks led to the new lake shore where Lesser Flamingoes were feeding and, as we waited, came quite close to our vehicle. One actually walked right by us, just feet away, which is ironic, as there are fewer flamingoes here now, with the high water, than we usually see, but because of the high water they are feeding in the shallows, closer than we’ve ever had in the past. Lesser Flamingos feed in brackish water, on shrimp and, perhaps, algae they strain from the water. In captivity they are fed supplemental food with karotene, to preserve their pink colors, and now, with a habitat no longer brackish but increasing fresh, their normal food source, and the foundation for their color, is diminished, and most of the flamingoes we saw were whitish. Great Flamingos, in contrast, feed on other prey and are typically rather white, and now the two look quite similar, distinguished, really, only by their bills. Lesser Flamingoes having a blackish bill, and Greater having a two-toned, pink colored bill.

bAlong another track a small water channel offered great shots of African Spoonbills, Sacred Ibis, and Black-headed Herons quite close to the road. The same group of nine White Rhinos we’d seen yesterday were present, but closer, and as we drove the road a large group of Rothschild’s Giraffes emerged from the fever trees.

We finished the game drive with a trip to the Sarova picnic overlook, located almost directly behind and above the lodge, at what must be the highest point in the park. The view was spectacular, overlooking the now flooded Lake Nakuru, the flooded main gate, and the surrounding countryside. It was the first time I’ve been here, but we’ll return with other groups.

Later, as we left Lake Nakuru and continued towards the Masai Mara we passed Lake Elementita, that I barely recognized. Like Nakuru, the surrounding grasslands were gone, and the lake looked vast. Earlier, while still in Nakuru I had looked over the flats towards the distant lake, seeing it as a flood plain and, as such, an area subject to flooding. The yellow-barked acacia tree forest bordering the grassland marked a water line, otherwise this grassy plain would be in forest much as the higher ground was covered with tall trees.

In the early 1960’s, Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, had a home on this lake, complete with a long, winding pier that extended over the marshlands to a dock. By the time I visited the lake, in the mid-80’s, one could drive around the dock, which was decrepit but visible as an odd anomaly in the grasses. Obviously, the waters had receded since Kenyatta’s time, and later still, on one visit, I photographed the carcasses of flamingoes and cormorants lying half covered in the mud of a nearly vanished lake, the only water hundreds of yards away across a barely inclined lake basin. Within a year or two the waters had returned to normal, as they remained through the latter 1990’s and beyond, until two years ago when the lake again began to rise.

Our guides say the weather is no longer normal, that it rains throughout the year here now, and consequently the lake is rising. But looking at the forests, and the obvious floodplain marking some past water mark, I have to wonder if this isn’t just a natural cycle and that, perhaps 100 years ago, the lake may have looked much different than it has for the last 30 years, and is now returning to its past levels. Time will tell, but it is sad to see the acacia forests that had lined this most recent waterline flooding and dying, the yellow bark now a deep orange, the limbs lifeless and devoid of leaves.

We reached the Masai Mara by 5:15, passing through countryside that years ago, when I started doing safaris here, was grassland and acacia forests. Now so much of the countryside is dotted by Maasai villages, with some areas swept clean of trees or brush for charcoal, and with the grasslands literally smothered by herds of goats and sheep. Construction seems everywhere, with small shopping centers marking new villages all along the way, and worse yet, for hundreds of yards around any settlement plastic bottles, bags, and unidentifiable leaves of white plastic flutter in the wind. In nearly 30 years of passing through here we’ve seen a transformation from wilderness, where there was little difference in wildlife or habitat from outside to inside the park boundaries, to suburban sprawl. Hundreds of yards inside the park gate sheep and cattle grazed, where just a few years ago this illegal herding would take place only at night or at least most furtively. The reason for all of this, of course, is the increased population, and one has to wonder where this will lead, as there surely is no end in sight.

Day 7, October 5. Lower Masai Mara. For at least the last ten years we’ve stayed at Keekorok Lodge, located rather centrally in the southern portion of the Masai Mara. However, in the last few years the influx of Chinese tourists using this lodge had changed the dynamics there, and with reports of a real deterioration in service and food we switched, returning to a lodge where we practically began our lower Mara trips. After at least an 18 year absence it was a refreshing and surprisingly welcome return to old haunts.

The only negative is the lodge is located along the eastern edge, which required us leaving for our game drive precisely at 6AM in order to be passed Keekorok by 6:15, the normal ptime we’d have left that lodge and putting us on target for reaching the kopje area where we hoped to find lions. En route, we passed a road-killed African porcupine covered by thousands of Army Ants capitalizing on the easy protein source, and Mary spotted a distant Serval, a bobcat-sized spotted cat of the grasslands, and everyone in her vehicle got some shots of the retiring cat.

Henry’s vehicle found the lions, a group of nine eventually that were lying and posing in the open on a broad stretch of these granite rocks. Most were juveniles, and we recognized one, Floppy Ear, from last year when it was still very much a cub. Two young males, and five young females, and a lone adult Lioness surveyed the Mara grasslands below them until Joshua spotted a male, his head poking out of a distant bush. The juveniles spotted him as well and left their resting spots, trotting to him in greeting. We thought it was a heart-warming scene until we realized that the male had been on a kill and now, visible, signaled the all-clear for the others to visit the kill and feed.

Throughout the early part of the morning we had a variety of opportunities with the male, the lioness, and the juveniles, including several chances for action as they play fought. Far in the distance Henry had spotted another black-maned lion, which we later confirmed was mating, and we had two sessions with the pair once we left the rocks. Later, Deb, Diane, and Phil encountered another mating pair of lions, and this time the sequence was the longest Henry had ever seen, but only because the male was a bit inept in making contact.

After breakfast we searched for a mother cheetah with cubs but failed to find her, although we later learned she had moved, and hopefully we’d find her in the afternoon. Huge herds of African Buffalo, a flirty pair of Masai Ostrich females and a disinterested male, and small herds of Common Zebras occupied the rest of our morning, all shot under a cloudless sky.

PM. We headed to the Sopa Valley for the afternoon and Henry spotted a Serval. We got the call and within ten minutes arrived at the site where our other two vehicles were already parked. The serval was fairly relaxed, although it stayed lying down but its head was up and ears constantly rotating as it surveyed its surroundings from its resting spot. Interestingly, the serval displayed no interest when my vehicle, or Mary’s, drove by, but the cat was very intent, almost nervous, when Henry’s vehicle moved, and his was the one that found it.

Two years ago I had a lioness that acted similarly, displaying real aggression whenever my vehicle approached, and appearing as if she might charge. We had to pull back each time, while all of our other vehicles could drive by the lioness without any reaction on her part.

giraffeMy vehicle spent some time with a family of eight Elephants, and another vehicle had a nice session with two male Masai Giraffes necking or mock fighting, and we were headed to a large group of lions when we were flagged down by Henry who told us Mary’s vehicle was stuck.

We found them, mired deeply in a very small stream with, apparently, a very deep drop-off right before the opposite shore. When her guide tried backing up both front and rear tires just dug in deeper, and so they stopped, waiting ten or fifteen minutes until we arrived and, via a change, easily pulled them out.

It was now late and we headed home, past our usual 6:30 curfew. Two vehicles took a ‘short cut’ over the top of the Sopa ridge which led to the research center, while our vehicle followed the usual track through the valley to the main road. Mary, nor I, had ever been through that country and she loved it, although the enjoyment was curtailed by the advancing darkness. Their shortcut proved a bit longer than our route, as they arrived in camp about ten minutes after we arrived, now 7PM.

Day 8, October 6. Lower Mara. We loaded at 5:50AM in the dark, aided this morning by headlamps we failed to bring yesterday. We headed to the Hammerkop area where a cheetah with cubs had been reported. The morning started as a Lion morning, when I noticed a lioness on a kill in the half-light before dawn,and before the game drive was finished we had 25 lions.

Most of the lions were observations rather than shots, although in the first good light we had a fully maned male standing in the high grass, and two different groups, of a pride of 12, where the juveniles played and wrestled. They had made another gnu kill and had separated, with one group wrestling over a gnu leg while the second group ate or lingered around the carcass. Eventually they all met up and disappeared into the thickets.

About two miles further on, but probably a part of the same pride, two well-maned lions lay zoned out beneath a bush. Earlier Mary had these two at another gnu kill, and after we drove on I saw the two walking downhill for water, creating a traffic mess of 13 vehicles attempting to see the cats. We had a sighting, and limited shooting, of a lioness, her sister, and three young cubs, but the shooting for those present was marginal.

cWe headed into the very short grass country after breakfast and Mary and Henry spotted a female Cheetah far off on the plains. We spent a brief time with it before driving off a distance where we waited, expecting a kill. Within the cheetah’s sight was a mother Topi and new born baby that we thought she might try, although usually a mother topi is aggressive and protective enough to dissuade a cheetah. We’ve only seen a few successful hunts. One notable hunt occurred when a cheetah we had been watching barreled in to a large herd of topis that were lying down. The attack was so unexpected that the entire herd panicked, giving the cheetahs time to catch a baby and make the kill. On another occasion a topi mother charged, head down and horns sweeping the ground, at a cheetah every time it neared its baby. Both mother and baby were at a full run, but the mother topi would swerve and charge, and the cheetah was forced to veer off.

Not far from the topi and baby Thompson’s Gazelles walked into view. One female had a baby that, at the time, I thought was young enough that the cheetah would certainly make a kill. Young gazelles require little work, and we’ve often seen cheetahs practically trotting for a quarter mile or more towards a herd, their attention riveted upon a baby before they put on the final burst of speed and caught their prey. Older babies, after a week or so, are fast enough to keep up with their mothers and, given a head start, will outrun a cheetah. Apparently this cheetah assessed the baby’s size and decided that a chase wasn’t worth it, and let the herd pass. I’d have bet anything that we’d see a hunt, and most likely a successful one, as I judged the baby younger than it was. Proving, once again, that Africa always holds surprises and the only thing you can expect is the unexpected!

PM. We headed back to the KWS Research Center to redo the ‘short cut’ two of the vehicles took yesterday evening. Henry spotted three Black Rhinos on the ridge, a male trailing a female and calf, and called us back for a viewing. The rhinos were too far away for photos, although we waited several minutes hoping they’d drop lower but it was clear that they were staying in the high country.

The rest of that drive was rather uneventful, although had we found anything good we’d have had it to ourselves as this route was FAR off the tourist track. Several bull African Buffalo stood their ground on the track, but we didn’t bother stopping to shoot. Our route finally had us back in the Sopa Valley at a seep where, years before, I’d been and thought a perfect location for leopards. We saw none, and continued into the valley.

lionWe had virtually no shooting until we neared an area we call the Oasis where 15 or more vehicles were clustered. There we found two sleeping male lions, and we continued on. Heading on the track towards home we spotted another cluster of vehicles and I could see the belly of a lioness. We pulled in to discover 8 cubs and three lionesses, and with the extremely limited window we had we still managed some nice shots.

ostrichIt was 6:08PM when we started towards our lodge, but a group of at least 27 baby ostriches, with two females and a male, stopped us for a short time. Two other males tried to join the group and, for a moment, I thought we were going to see a real fight between the harem male and the two others, but after some wing flashes and one brief chase the birds all settled down.

hyenaMost upsetting, however, has been the complete lack of spotted hyenas, an animal that was once fairly abundant in this area. Over the years, as the Maasia presence has increased both inside the park borders and out, I suspect that the hyenas have been killed, probably poisoned, as they either preyed upon or scavenged lion-killed cows. Hyenas will travel far from their territory to follow prey, and territorial hyenas will tolerate these trespassers provided they simply pass through. Unfortunately, in doing so hyenas may pass through Maasai land with poisoned cattle, thus killing the commuters far from their own homes. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I see no other explanation for the year-by-year decline in hyena numbers in this area.

Day 9, October 7
. Today was a transit day from our lodge in the Lower Mara to the Mara Triangle, although the entire morning was devoted to a game drive. Our plan was to return to the Sopa Valley where we’d seen the lion cubs yesterday but when we arrived the lions were gone. As we searched the forest where they’d last been seen I spotted a pair of juvenile Verreaux’s Eagle Owls perched in the open on a limb. We’d just finished shooting when Mary’s vehicle radioed that they had found the cubs.

The lions were now nearly 2/3s of a mile from last evening’s lionlocation, up on a hillside a short distance from the croton bushes. They were feeding, on a young giraffe we later discovered and only the third time we’ve seen lions actually feeding on a giraffe. This has always puzzled me because females will often leave their young in a crèche, relatively unattended with, perhaps, an adult somewhere nearby. It always seemed so simple and easy for a lion to ambush a baby, killing or so severely maiming it before an adult could attempt a rescue, yet these occurrences seem quite rare. Adult giraffes are indeed a formidable prey item, as a giraffe is said to be able to kick out with any leg in any direction, and their near-dinner plate sized hooves could crush the skull or smash a jaw of a lion if it connected. The only film I’ve ever seen of a kill had lionesses hanging from the hip and thigh and shoulder area, literally dangling as the giraffe lumbered along. A male lion appeared, but the film cut to the feeding and did not reveal how the male contributed in taking down the giraffe.

cubsWe hadn’t been there long when a lioness led most of the cubs uphill towards the bushes, and we raced around, getting ahead of the lion and eight of the cubs as they walked to and passed us. One cub turned, faced us, and sat down in the open, a real gift. Soon they disappeared into the brush and we moved on.

Quite soon afterwards I spotted two nice black maned Lions walking along the edge of a distant field. The two looked as if they were heading towards the main pride, but they stopped and regally surveyed the land before them, looking splendid but too far off track for any images. We drove on, hoping to finding a cheetah mother and cubs we had heard about further along the track.

lionOur route took us directly to the Sand River Gate, an entranceway to Tanzania’s Serengeti that is inexplicably closed for such a passage. I’m told another gate much farther to the west permits entry, but most visitors must travel far to the east to enter Tanzania, making a dual-park visit quite inconvenient and time-consuming. Soon after leaving the gate Henry spotted another male Lion that started a downhill walk towards the sand riverSand River as we approached. We got ahead of the lion several times for wonderful front-view walking shots, with the lion leading us off-track and to the Sand River where it laid down in the sand beneath a shading fig tree.

The cat was doing nothing and we lingered, hoping it would move the short distance to the river and drink, or cross the river and on join another male and female lying on a kopje not far off on the Tanzania side. Rangers, on foot, discovered us, and we returned to the gate, with rangers in our vehicle, for a talking-to. This, and breakfast there occupied the rest of our morning and we headed on to the Mara Triangle, pausing gnuat the Mara River Bridge to photograph a reeking, decaying collection of wildebeests, caught in the eddy there from an unsuccessful river crossing in the last ten days. The stench was almost over-powering and I pitied the rangers manning the check point as there was little escape from the smell.

We reached the lodge near 1, meeting again for a quick lunch and being greeted by a staff we’ve known for years. The lodge itself has been renovated and was almost unrecognizable, but quite impressive with a huge, big windowed lobby overlooking the Mara. From this position we can see gnu herds if they’re present, but today the plains are empty.

PM. Mara Triangle. We left at 4 and had the most productive afternoon game drive of the trip. We had just left the lodge when we encountered a Masai Giraffe next to the road, providing wonderful headshots and animal-in-habitat against a black stormy background. Descending towards the river we saw four Lions, then two very good Nile Crocodiles, with one large male basking on the opposite shore, mouth agape. Minutes later two buck Thompson’s Gazelles sparred seriously until one lost its nerve and turned tail and ran, traveling only a short distance before grazing again in their bachelor herd.


topiA pair of Crowned Cranes pecked along the roadside in great backlighting, and a family of Ground Hornbills fed close to the road, picking for beetles amidst the grass tussocks. A Topi mother and baby caught our attention and we stopped, and while we watched the baby began nursing, giving the best view and photo opportunity we’ve ever had for this behavior with this species. Mary had some Common Zebras fighting, and we spotted a Black Rhino lying in a field, but it never rose and we passed on by.

servalWe continued towards a pride of lions, with one Lioness perched high on a termite mound. The pride appeared to be hunting Eland and we circled widely to not interfere, and while doing so spotted a Serval that was creeping through the grass. The serval stayed concealed and we had to circle its location to get a clear view, but afterwards it stood and walked off, seemingly completely unconcerned. Later, near the end of the day, Mary found the serval again and saw it catch a large rat, and they successfully photographed the serval, nearly full frame, as it carried the rat, servalwalking parallel to their vehicle. The serval stopped to play with the rat, and in doing so the rat escaped!

By the time we reached the lions we had seconds before the Lioness on the top of the termite mound climbed down. The pride started moving, playing occasionally as they traveled across the grasses. When they reached a higher, rounded termite mound they stopped, spotted a distant Warthog, and began a stalk. The smallest of the lions, a young Lioness, circled widely, flanking the warthog expertly while some of the young males moved in the opposite direction and some (of eight cats) stalked straight ahead. Although quite a liondistance away it was still exciting to watch, as the cats moved closer and the lioness disappeared from view. Eventually, however, one of the lions was spotted and the warthog turned and faced them, finally spinning and running off, out of the encircling gauntlet and on into the temporarily safe plains.

We headed home, passing several Spotted Hyenas in the failing light, with the storms that encircled us through the afternoon now breaking, painting the sky in orange and swirls of red in the last light of the day.

rhinoDay 10, October 8. Mara Triangle. We headed out at 6AM with Henry going one route and Mary’s vehicle and mine doing another. Soon after Henry found a male Lion and two Lionesses in the early morning light but we continued, hoping to find the Black Rhino from yesterday evening. We spotted him, moving fairly rapidly across the short grasses, his nose to the ground as if sniffing and following a scent trail. We drove onto a road where the rhino might pass and he did, walking directly to our vehicle. Mary’s vehicle was further back and so continued following the rhino, and had success.

Meanwhile, Henry had spotted two Lionesses that were walking purposefully and he suspected they were either hunting or returning to cubs. He followed, and over a mile later the lionesses reached their seven cubs that came charging out to greet them. We arrived a short time later when the cats had settled beneath an acacia tree, at one point with all seven fighting to nurse from one female. With the ‘five car rule’ here we didn’t stay long before driving off for other subjects.

kiteAfter breakfast we had a small group of Elephants moving down from the escarpment towards the river. One young female appeared ready to false charge, advancing for no reason towards our vehicle, trunk up, ears flared, head held high, but after a few steps she tossed her head, turned, and rejoined the herd.

My vehicle continued down to the river flats where in the distance I saw a dark shape that looked suspicious. It was a Cheetah, and one of three that appear to have recently been abandoned by their mother. All were big, but their scruffy clittle mane identified them as subadults. While we watched a distant herd of Impala appeared and the cheetahs began a long stalk, but the female of the trio walked out into the open and was spotted. After several louds snorts, all of the Impala raced away, almost close enough for a chase attempt but the cheetahs simply watched.

Henry’s vehicle, with Allen, Deb, and Diane, were on the opposite side of the cheetahs and lingered after we headed back towards the lodge. The cheetahs approached their ‘cruiser and, quite unexpectedly, one leaped onto the back tire and then onto the back roof hatch. After sitting there for several minutes the cheetah tight-roped across the narrow roof, pausing long enough to pee on Deb’s shirt sleeve and to very noisily defecate onto her beanbags, then continuing on to jump off the front end of the vehicle. They were thrilled, but unfortunately none of our vehicles were there to catch them with the cheetah, and although other tourists were there, none offered to send a photo



cPM.  We headed to the southwest and towards the Tanzania border for the afternoon drive. It was slow, with fairly low light but without rain, although everywhere around us, north, south, east, and west virga or sheets of rain shrouded the horizons. Henry spotted a Cheetah at an incredible distance and flagged us down, although we arrived too late for a shot of the cheetah lying atop a termite mound with a sky background. The cheetah did cooperate, though, by moving to a tiny waterhole where it drank, then climbed atop another mound. Later it moved to another mound where Mary saw it crouch and look intently, and in the distance there were three male Lions, the focus of the cheetah’s attention.

zebraLater, we stopped for a distant Common Zebra with a nursing foal, but they stopped before Jan could get a shot. Fortunately, the two started walking towards us and came fairly close. I kept my lens on the foal, hoping that it might start into a gallop if it separated from its mother and it did, sprinting across our field of view and providing excellent shots as it galloped by.

Little happened after that and as we drove home the light dropped to zero. I commented that back in film days at an ISO of 100 we’d probably be shooting at 1/4th sec at f5.6, and on a whim decided to check, and I was exactly on! At ISO 3200, possible with digital, that’d be a 1/125th sec exposure, still almost too slow for any shooting.

The far western horizon was clear and I was hoping that the sun would drop to illuminate the scene in golden light. Had it, the lighting would have been spectacular, almost polarized coming only from the west, but my hopes were in vain, as the sun lowered unseen and distant haze so muted the sun that it just glowed dully, and the effect was lost.

Day 11, October 9. Mara Triangle to Upper Mara. Yesterday afternoon, when we returned for lunch, the water to the rooms at our lodge was off, and we later found that a pipe had been broken. It was not fixed, and we went to dinner and to bed somewhat grimy from the day’s shoot. This wmorning, the owner of the lodge is visiting for an inspection, and I suspect that the water won’t be fixed but I also suspect that the manager will show him the renovations, and not say anything about the water to one bank of rooms. Although this was uncomfortable and inconvenient, it is Africa.

We packed and headed out for our last destination under a cloud-covered sky. Although Joshua’s vehicle found the Black Rhino once again, and had great cooperation with it with a variety of different angles and close, my vehicle had nothing the entire first hour. The plains seemed virtually gameless, although a binocular search would have revealed distant buffalo, zebra, topi, and giraffe, but there was nothing close, or interesting, in the flat light post-dawn.

Driving down the main road our luck changed when we encountered one of the Lionesses from yesterday morning lying on a mound right beside the road. The seven Cubs were nearby, and for the next hour or more we photographed the group as the cubs played, ran, and wrestled, joining mom for a few quick sessions, and finally settling down, wide-eyed but still, where we left them to continue on. Under the cloudy skies the light was perfect, completely shadowless, although our ISOs needed to be raised to 1600 to accommodate the action.

eagleWe hadn’t traveled far when another vehicle blinked headlights, alerting us to stop. Two male Lions were upslope near the escarpment and we headed that way, stopping en route for an adult Batelur Eagle that perched nearby and obliged us by flying off after some perched shots, flying parallel to our focus plane. Later, Phil and Deb and Diane’s vehicle had the eagle on a second perch, where it did the same.

One of our male lions was a scarless, flyless blond maned adult that yawned several times before getting up, walking into a valley-like depression, and scent marking a bush. His brother, with a rather scruffy mane, woke and began roaring, as if trying to call to his brother. He faced several directions, roaring a series, and finally began sniffing and trailing his brother into the valley. Summoned perhaps by the roars the other lion reappeared from the bushes and walked towards his brother, where they met, flopped on their sides, and rubbed heads companionably in the high grass.

We headed to breakfast and from there a commute across the northern Mara Bridge, passing areas that ten years ago were our prime photo areas. For our first fifteen years our favorite camp, the Mara River Camp, was in this area, but a tiny trading area under a huge tree, a permanent clinic, and three or four thread-bare cement structures hosting a bar, hotel, and little store became the village of Mara Rianta, and is now a sprawling suburb with tinned roofed Maasai homes, fenced-in pastures, and a series of buildings. Where we once filmed cheetahs killing wildebeest or agonized over which of three male lions popping out of the grass, all feeding on separate zebra kills, we now saw close cropped grasses, barren expanses where acacia thickets once sheltered leopards, and sheep and goats everywhere.

Things didn’t improve as we neared the Musiara Gate, except the road, which at one point, right in front of the park entrance, the road was nearly impassable. That section has cbeen repaired, but the areas around it, once an area of high grasses and thickets, was bare, and four different large herds of Maasai cows grazed boldly where herders once furtively snuck in to pasture. It was so depressing.

We continued on, into the heart of the park and the Talek River where the game is again thick and leopards are usually in their greatest abundance in the park. Here, kilometers away from the park boundaries, the Mara seems much as it always has been, but this sanctuary is shrinking, and the buffer zones which had made the Mara so rich, and big, are gone.

sPM. We headed out at 4PM under mixed skies that soon became overcast with rain once again ringing much of the area. We headed north and soon found a small group of vehicles around a Cheetah lounging in the grass, that obligingly sat up and posed for several minutes before flopping down again into the long grasses.

Soon after we found a Serval sitting like a little sphinx in fairly open grass. The serval looked like it was sleeping, but tempted us by periodically starting as if to stand, then settling down again to rest. Finally, the serval rose, and immediately started a stalk towards our vehicle, then paused, its body in a high arch and almost quivering before doing a short hop/leap and coming up with a rat. It carried the rat off a short distance where it swallowed it in just a few bites and posed wonderfully, sitting fully upright in the open.

lIt was quite gloomy as we continued on the drive, ending up directly opposite yesterday’s lodge along the Mara River. Another cluster of vehicles indicated something, and studying the vegetation I spotted the dark shape of a Leopard. Within only a few minutes the leopard rose and stepped out into the open where it sat, yawned widely, turned, and disappeared back into the brush. We headed home, having to close the roof hatches for a short but intense shower.

genet4That evening, while at dinner, I had a Range IR camera trap going and captured a Spotted Genet on a tree limb with the flashes. While that was going on, we celebrated Phil and Jan’s 50th wedding anniversary and Phil’s 72nd birthday, with a dancing and singing performance by the enthusiastic camp staff, and, of course, joined by Mary ululating along with the rest.

Day 12, October 10. Upper Mara. A brilliant orange-red layer of clouds heralded both sunrise and the sailor’s adage, red sky in morning sailors take warning, as the cloud cover persisted throughout the morning, with occasional very light sprinkles. By lunch time booming thunder came from the east and the skies darkened, perhaps forecasting more rain this afternoon.

The overcast light, however, made for wonderful shooting conditions without shadows. We spent much of the morning cruising along the Talek River and the croton thickets looking for leopards. Mary’s vehicle found a two-day-old carcass of a young gnu, and further downriver I found a fresh impala kill, most of it eaten but the leopard gone.

hippoHippos were quite active, and we spent some time with an aggressive mother with a tiny baby that I wondered might be just a day old. Later, in one of the larger pools another hippo emerged and starting walking towards us. I didn’t think anything of it and did not have my camera up when it gaped hugely in a threat display to a Yellow-billed Stork who countered by flaring his wings broadly, then flying off a short distance. Still another hippo emerged from an even closer pool, and gaped goosein another display at a group of young Egyptian Geese. That hippo continued into the grasses, now facing Mary’s vehicle across the river where it did a final, long, wide-opened mouth threat display.

While we photographed the hippos a pair of Little Bee-eaters flew repeatedly onto a perch and we had some fun challenging each other to catch the birds as they were still in flight and about to land. It was a bit bfrustrating for some if their cameras had a slow motor drive, and fairly productive for those with a fast fps.

A hungry Cheetah was our only good cat, and Allen’s vehicle saw it make an unsuccessful hunt, chasing an impala that ran off. When we arrived the cheetah was lying in the open near a bush, where it eventually retreated to as it continued to scour the landscape for prey. Nothing was in sight and so we continued looking, quite thoroughly, for a leopard. We were unsuccessful.

PM. Felix went to the impala kill immediately and had a good position if any Leopard action would occur. Mary’s vehicle and mine went east, but Felix called to say the leopard was in a tree and so we headed back, arriving to find a congestion of vehicles and a distant leopard. I suggested to my shooters that we move on, that even if the leopard returned it would offer limited shooting, and perhaps a very compromised shooting window. We moved on.

Felix stayed, and the leopard climbed down the tree and walked directly to his vehicle, coming so close that the photographers couldn’t focus. The leopard went to the kill, feeding before finally dragging the kill up into another tree. Felix followed, and with the press of other vehicles had to the vehicle so that shooting the leopard was in silhouette, but the three photographers were still quite happy with the experience.

Meanwhile, my vehicle and Mary’s headed north, where, because of the leopard’s presence, the plains were virtually empty. I used my GPS to direct us to the general location of a bat-eared fox den from last year or the year before, but no foxes were present. Instead, in that area there were two huge herds of Maasai cows and several Maasai herdsmen, almost in the heart of the park. It was an outrageous display of the lack of management and enforcement in this section of the Mara, so different from the Mara Triangle. There we contend with some frivolous and annoying restrictions, but the road system is well maintained, no cattle graze inside the park, and the system is healthy. Here, in the area we visited today no cats were visible as the predators slink into thickets at the sound of Maasai cow bells.

dWe continued on, investigating a lugga we’ve had some luck at in previous years. Several Kirk’s Dik-diks caught our attention as they were the most abundant ungulate about. Dik-diks may share a behavior called SPUDing known for Pronghorn Antelope in North America, where the SPUD stands for Sniff, Paw, Urinate, Defecate. Today I watched one male Dik-dik, presumably after the Sniff, pawing repeatedly at a dung pile, circling like a dog about to go to bed, then urinating and finally, spreading its legs wide, defecating in the cleared section of the dung pile. Dik-diks are notable in creating dung middens, or piles, to mark territory, and as soon as the last step, defecation, was completed the dik-dik bolted from the scene. A second dik-dik did exactly the same thing, and I suspect that after being so visible, and vulnerable, during the SPUDing behavior that once completed, and the task done and territory marked, the dik-dik races for safety. The SPUDing behavior is so conspicuous that if the antelope lingered it would be vulnerable to eagles, leopards, or any other predator that saw the dik-dik perform.

l cub
We had stopped for another pair of dik-diks when Henry spotted a baby Leopard lying on a branch of a small acacia tree. The dik-diks either smelled or saw it and advanced almost directly behind the cub’s tree while the leopard simply watched the antelope, or us as we photographed the cat. The area was surprisingly clear and we were able to position ourselves in three spots with the leopard cub, perhaps nine or ten weeks old, simply looking around or at us, completely unconcerned. Henry spotted a baby dik-dik lying in the grasses just a few yards from the leopard’s tree and extremely vulnerable if the adult leopard returned.

While we watched, both dik-diks began alarm whistles, and they appeared to be looking beyond the tree, as if the mother leopard had been spotted. When whistling, the long, dproboscis-like nose of the dik-dik goes from its normal position, outstretched where it moves constantly, testing the air and reminding me of a tapir from South America, to a quick drop down, covering the mouth. As the nose dropped the whistle sounds, a high-pitched but not very powerful blast.

The light was failing and we had a twenty-five minute drive to return to the lodge as we left the leopard cub, still sitting in his tree. To the south and west lightning flashed in the dark clouds and rain blackened the horizon, but above us, luckily, the skies were dry as we returned to camp.


Day 13, October 11. Upper Mara. The skies were clear at dawn and remained so throughout the day, our last for this safari. We stopped briefly at the Leopard, still lying in the tree with its kill, but the cat was asleep and the light low and we continued on. We crossed the Talek River to search for cheetahs, still hoping to have a real cheetah chase and kill, but we were unsuccessful. Several lions, including the Talek males, Notch and his brothers, and some young, possibly nomadic males, were seen or photographed, but nothing exciting there.

There were several herds of Common Zebras, Topis, and at one point a long, migrating line of Gnus. The zebras were active and would spar periodically, and had we known the morning would be so slow I’d have continued with the zebras all morning for that action. Topi babies feeling their oats raced through the tall grasses, circling their mothers or running parallel in races, and one male approached a female with a new calf in an obvious strutting, courtship stride. Head held high, ears laid flat back against its head, tail sticking straight out, and exaggerated, prancing-like steps with each foreleg marked the walk.

bTowards the end of the morning game drive we had a Malachite Kingfisher that finally perched in the sun against a shadowed river bank, popping the bird against the background. It flew, and I caught three nice shots at 12fps at it flew parallel to the film plane and in focus, the highlight of my morning drive.

PM. We headed north, eventually arriving in the area where we had the leopard cub and where we searched for another sighting. This afternoon, however, we had full sun, and contrasty shadows makes spotting difficult, and with the bright light I suspected the cub might be lying beneath a tree in the shade. If, indeed, it was within a half mile of where we’d last seen it, as the cub and mother could have traveled anywhere during those 24 hours. Either way, we didn’t find the leopard.

Alan, with me, finally did shoot the Malachite Kingfisher he was seeking, and we had rather close views of one perched on an open branch. Although we waited ten minutes or so for it to fly, hoping for a flight shot, the bird stayed perched until we risked going for a different angle. As we moved the vehicle, the bird flew off.

As we headed back to camp Henry spotted a Lioness that was flat and hunting, on the opposite side of a small cluster of croton bushes from a herd of topi, zebra, and gazelles. The wind was to the cat’s back and I wondered why the prey animals didn’t sense the cat and run, although zebras did periodically lift up their heads to look into the bushes. The cat slinked into the brush and we lost it, so we circled for another view where we watched a warthog trot into the brush. A few moments later the warthog trotted out, and the lioness sat up. The hunt, at least until darkness masks its moves, was over.

lThat evening we did our Group Portfolio Slide Show with most of the photographers contributing multiple images, giving everyone a great review of the safari and, hopefully, inspiration for a later trip on what all could be photographed. As usual the bird portfolio was surprisingly good with many different species, but the landscapes, ignored by so many, were truly striking as well. That show and our private dinner that evening where we reviewed trip highlights and thanked the guides for their great job finished the day’s activities and marked the end of a very successful safari.