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Kenya Photo SafariTour
Trip 2, 2013 Trip Report

Our second photo safari went extremely well, although I missed the first week of the safari because of the BBC Wildlife of the Year Awards in London. As we had on the first safari, we had extremely good luck with Servals, plenty of Leopards, a small Gnu River Crossing, and, a real highlight, our only Cheetah Cubs that we saw this year!/

Because I was in London, Mary ran the entire first half of the safari, and along with her regular duties she also wrote the first week of the Trip Report. Our styles differ ... Mary is detailed, and those who were on the trip need not have taken notes as Mary reported on everything. Sadly, she relinguished the reporting duties to me when I joined the group when they entered the Masai Mara.

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

Here's the complete Report.


Mary's Report:
Saturday, October 12, 2013

By the time that Joe and I got back to Nairobi from the first safari the second group had arrived. Several of the crew had gone to Nairobi National Park today (Joe, Tom: Leanne rested today, Wendy and Dee), Tim was waiting for us in the lobby after transferring from a church guesthouse across town, John and Sue were to the hotel by noon as well (they had arrived two days earlier and stayed at another hotel for the rest), Bill had come in the night before and of course Carolyn arrived with us from the Mara.
We were having a farewell dinner with the departing group at 6:00pm so we told the new group to meet at 7:15pm for dinner. We joined them as well. After introducing everyone and after ordering dinner, Joe and I told them that Joe would not be joining the group for the first few days of the safari due to his 1st place win in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. Everyone was elated with the news. Joe conducted part of the orientation briefing while the group dined and I went to the room to finish packing us for both adventures.
Day 1, Sunday, October 13, 2013
Joe did the orientation after breakfast, as usual, and while I finished up with logistics for the trip, he went and talked to the guides. We have a new driver/guide for this trip, Peter Kimau. Wendy and Dee had him yesterday at Nairobi NP and really liked him. Luckily at dinner last night they informed us about him not having all of his seats installed in the vehicle. We called Henry last night, who talked to Peter, and the seats were put back into the vehicle this morning in Nanyuki. Peter ended up carrying all of the beanbags and some non-essential luggage. The rest of us fit into the other three vehicles for the trip to Samburu.
Since I am writing this log I have to say that it was a very sad departure from the Serena as we pulled away and left Joe standing on the curb. Even though I’m sure that the safari will go smoothly (the group is a great one) I am still not looking forward to doing it without Joe. But as they say, ‘The Show Must Go On’ and off we went. Now all we have to do is to wait and hear from Joe on Wednesday to see if he won the top award at the competition!
Joe's Note: You can also read my report on the BBC experience.

mSomehow the entire trip was made in record time. We were to Tree Trout Restaurant by 12:30pm. Even though the colobus monkeys weren’t as good, at first, as last trip, once we found the guy to help us lure the monkeys lower, we got some great headshots of the male and some cute stuff with the youngsters. As we were leaving it began to thunder but we never had rain for the entire trip.
We arrived into Samburu and Elephant Bedroom Camp at 4:50pm: the earliest we had ever arrived. How we did it in that amount of time, I have no idea. The camp wasn’t quite prepared for us but we quickly got oriented and into our tents. Samburu is still hot and dry: the rains have not started in earnest. After entering the park (and after Henry won our usual ‘what animal do we see first’ with the gerenuk) we saw more elephants in the drive to camp than we did the entire last trip. I have a great feeling that this will be a good elephant trip here in Samburu. With no rain yet, and no water in the puddles or away from the river, they will all be coming down to the river during the day to drink.
Despite my angst with giving the Samburu briefing solo, I think I did OK. We were all up by 7:00pm and even though a few were nodding off during the talk, we were done and seated by 7:40pm. It was a warm night with many of us opening up some of the tent flaps to get some air through the tent. I was actually in bed early (by 9:20pm) so that I could read and get to sleep at a decent time.

Day 2, Monday, October 14, 2013

gWe left on the game drive a little later than 6:15am, only because we had to sort the beanbags. Most of them were in Peter’s vehicle yesterday and were in one big pile. So until we did that, and I went around and made sure that everyone was OK and ready to go, it was after our normal departure time. But what a start we had to this safari!
No sooner had we crossed the dry river bed than we had a lioness run across the road in front of Henry. Carolyn said that the lioness was going with a purpose but we couldn’t find her, and I didn’t get a chance to see if she was nursing or not. So whether she was going to her cubs, or chasing something, we will never know.
As we were looking for her in the salt bushes between the main road and the river, we got a call from Joshua that he had a cheetah up on the old airstrip. It was a male cheetah and was absolutely beautiful sitting in the golden grass with the early morning, golden light. It was many people’s highlight of the morning (Sue got it stretching and yawning). I learned later that Joshua had seen it running across the airstrip and then stopping in the grass. I don’t think that it was chasing the lioness but I think that it might have been chasing her since when we saw her run across the road that is about the time Joshua saw the cheetah running in the same direction.
When the cheetah walked to some shade, he was favoring his front, left paw. He lay down and we all left him to work on our first group of elephants for the day.
eWe had several groups of females and young heading toward the river. All four of the vehicles got in front of them and photographed the groups as they walked past us. There was one group with a tiny baby elephant and that was everyone’s photo target for a while. Of course it was hard to get good photos of it as the other elephants kept it on their far side and away from us.
As we left the elephants (once again on the old airstrip) we drove past the cheetah and found a herd of Grant’s gazelles with a lone oryx mixed in. As we photographed the animals Peter reminded us of the cheetah that was lying behind us and was in the direction that the herd was moving. So we went and stayed with the male cheetah for at least a half hour to see if it hunted. Unfortunately the Grant’s went in the other direction and after receiving a call from Henry that they had two more cheetahs, we decided to head in his direction.
On the way we passed a kori bustard and decided to photograph our first reticulated giraffe. As we were stopped, Peter and I heard guineafowl ‘complaining’ (we had also heard it while driving past this one area but didn’t react at that time). So we went back to look for whatever was bothering the helmeted guineafowl. We never found a cat or other predator but we did find an immature pale-chanting goshawk hunting and stomping on something in the grass. It came up with a lizard that it had caught so we had our first kill for the trip.
fWe then went and joined the rest at the two cheetahs. We learned from Henry and his crew (Carolyn, Bill and John) that there had been a third cheetah but it had been chased away by these two. We never did see this one again. But the two that we saw had made a chase and had caught a dik dik and were just finishing their meal when we came onto the scene. They had caught it in the dry river bed so even though people saw the chase, they did not witness the kill: only the dinner afterwards. The two cheetah turned out to be females so I wondered if it was a mom and grown female cub and if the cheetah that had been chased away was a male, possible coming in to mate with one of them. They walked and lay down in some shade in the middle of the river bed so we all went to breakfast up on the Pyramid Hill. But on the way we stopped to photograph gerenuks standing and feeding.
The view was spectacular at breakfast with Mt. Kenya still visible (even though it was 9:30am). While at breakfast we saw two large groups of elephants heading toward the river so we all decided to check the river, and especially the elephant corner, before heading back in to camp at the end of the morning.
We all drove in the direction of the river and Larsen’s Camp. We ophotographed secretary birds and good oryx and as we were photographing the animals, we saw vultures taking off from a kill or something in the distance. The other vehicles got their first and called us (we have the problem once again that Peter and Joshua can’t communicate by radio with Henry and Felix and must use cell phones to relay info) to say that there was a giraffe carcass with lots of vultures. Off we went.
It was a full grown giraffe that was dead. I couldn’t see the head so I don’t know if it was a male or female. Something had started to feed on it because the vultures were into the body cavity of the giraffe. I was amazed to see how many Ruppell’s Griffon vultures were at the kill. In fact this was the main vulture present. Knowing that they nest on cliffs, I’m wondering if they nest on Ol Lolokwe and travel this far looking for food. There were some white-backed and a few Nubian vultures but most of the squawking, fighting and feeding were the Griffons. I never expected to get flying vulture shots in Samburu but we had great action as vultures came and went from the huge carcass. But my favorite shot of the episode were the green-headed vultures feeding on the giraffe. Why green you may ask? The giraffe had a stomach full of green, partially digested vegetation, and as the vultures chowed down on the contents, their naked heads and necks turned bright green. It was great!


It was a good morning for scenics as well with puffy, cumulus clouds building up. Tom, Leanne and I did the classic scene of the doum palm with Mary’s Mountain (Ol Lolokwe) in the background. For the first time I am playing around with the infrared camera and it is fun. I did this scene, as well as others throughout the morning. I think my favorite IR shots will be the ones I took at the river, at the end of the morning, with elephants in and crossing the river!
Yes, we went to the elephant corner on the way back to camp and had at least 100+ elephants along and in the river. There were at least three huge bull elephants and many, many groups of females with their young of all sizes. We had a small baby (the ears were still pink behind them) go in to the river and we tried to get shots of the baby playing in the water. Of course it was hard as many other elephants blocked our way. There were elephants behind us, in front of us and to both sides. In fact an elephant, while we were all looking behind us at the elephants that were blocking our departure, came and scratched against the antennae of Peter’s vehicle. It was great!
So all in all, it was a fantastic fist morning. With dark clouds building we’ll see if we get a little rain this afternoon.
And the rains came! The clouds built up and at first we had just a few sprinkles. Then we had a light rain that felt good since we were all so hot. But unfortunately we didn’t heed the oncoming freight train sound of the approaching rain! We were filming a yellow-necked spurfowl on a dead tree fat eye level when the heavens let loose. Of course with the new vehicles, it’s not just a matter of flipping lids closed. Until we were all covered up, Joe, Wendy and I were soaked to the skin with water pooling in the door wells, the seats wet and everything dripping. One of Peter’s car doors leaked so badly it was like a waterfall.
But despite the rains it was a great afternoon. We started out by seeing the male cheetah from this morning on the other side of the airstrip. We then had at least three chances to photograph the spurfowl up on fallen trees with one of the times as a full-frame, sky-pointing call. It was great! We also had really good and very serious oryx fights. Not just with one pair but with three pairs of males in total. In that herd was a small, brown baby so I figured that the males were fighting after smelling the female after giving birth: what we call as smelling ‘fresh’ after having the baby.
After the rains, and after we opened the roof again, we went past the giraffe carcass and I could see that it was an old male giraffe that had died. From there we headed to the river. When we got there we saw a van looking and looking with binoculars. We thought that it had a leopard on the other bank but as we stayed around, followed it back along the river’s bank, Peter saw the tail. It was a female leopard walking on the sand banks along the river’s edge. We probably would have figured it out since the Egyptian geese were going crazy but maybe not. She finally left the river’s edge and walked back up and into the salt bushes.
pWe got great photos of her as she walked toward us and then started stalking something unseen in the bush ahead of us and about 40 yards. We never saw what she saw (maybe a rodent, but definitely something small) but we got some good stalking poses and sitting. By that time it was pretty dark when we realized that it was close to sunset.  By the way, it looked like the young female leopard that we saw close to Samburu Lodge last time. She still had greyish eyes and looked smaller but up here in Samburu, with the size of the leopards being smaller anyway, I wasn’t sure.
As we left the leopard and headed along the river we got a very nice sunset shot with the river glowing orange and an acacia tree in our foreground. It was a very nice end to a good day.

Day 3, Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Last night as I prepared for bed I could hear lions roaring on the other side of the river. They roared for about a half hour, each time coming closer to the river and our camp’s position. Whether they lcontinued to roar after I went to sleep I’ll never know because I slept very soundly last night.
This morning dawned clear and warm. Mt. Kenya was visible until nearly 10:00am. The light was golden and the birds were active. The four vehicles split up with each searching in different areas for cats. Henry finally found a shy male leopard up on the mountainside above Samburu Lodge that we drove to see but it was hidden from view by the time we arrived. But this wasn’t until nearly 8:00am.
In the meantime most of us worked on birds and the other mammals of Samburu. The rain yesterday brought puddles of water in the many rock outcroppings so we found everything from helmeted guineafowl to warthogs, doves, Grant’s gazelles and weavers coming to drink. Yesterday, after the rains, Joshua’s vehicle saw a leopard tortoise drinking from a mud puddle in the middle of a tire track. So everything was thirsty for water. We saw several pygmy falcons and Henry’s vehicle saw one with a full grown chameleon. Our vehicle (with Sue and Dee on board) got good standing gerenuk and had the most adorable baby warthogs. The five piglets and their moms went to drink at one of the lower rock outcroppings and the small ones, and one of the females, knelt down on their front knees, to drink. This completely debunks the philosophy that desert warthogs don’t kneel to eat. And maybe they don’t do that to eat, but they do to drink. The babies were very playful and even though we couldn’t photograph them at play, they would wrestle with each other, bump heads and when the mother’s finally took off from the road area, the babies were forced to jump over a ditch. It was quite comical.

vThe giraffe carcass still had actively feeding vultures and storks and we saw a jackal near to the carcass. It didn’t look very full so I’m not sure if it ever ate or not. We found the large flocks of vulturine guineafowl near the river (past the wire bridge) and flocks of immature and non-breeding wattled plovers were coming inn to the mud flats and pools of water in the river to drink.
As we headed to the breakfast overlook from the river, we passed three giraffe that were definitely watching something. One of them had come out of the bush to get a better look and it was definitely the look of giraffes watching a cat. Our vehicle, with Felix driving, looked and looked but could see nothing. This was the area where Henry had seen a shy leopard on the first trip and where Felix had heard there was a lion. We did get shots of a Grevy’s zebra, the first we had seen, and then went to join the rest for breakfast. As we were eating we saw vehicles starting to gather down where we had looked for whatever the giraffes had seen. As more vehicles came we knew that there must be a cat there and the other three vehicles, having finished their breakfasts, went to investigate. From our vantage point we saw a lion walking and then Henry confirmed there was a lioness.
We went down into the big bushes toward the river and found the lioness sitting in the shade. We also passed the male ostrich for the second time and photographed several dik diks. We looked on the river side of the main road, especially for kudu, and even though we didn’t see any we got some good giraffe feeding. A few more birds followed before we went to check up near the tree where we had the male leopard and impala kill last time. There was a flock of vulturine guineafowl in good light but there was also a band of dwarf mongoose. As they disappeared under a bush we went to the hother side to see if they would come out (there were also all three species of hornbills feeding in the bushes and Dee had wanted hornbills).
As we cleared the other side of the bush we saw the entire troop of mongoose in a pile sniffing and tumbling over each other and going upside down against some sticks. It turned out that the entire group, several times each, marked this one small vertical branch, with their anal glands. They would come and sniff and then turn upside down, doing a hand stand, and would rub their anal glands up and down this branch. Both males and females, young and old: it was some of the most unusual behavior I had ever seen. And when they were done they all marched off together down the track.
We checked the elephant corner but other than two small groups of elephants, there were none in sight. Pretty amazing and especially after yesterday’s spectacle but with the rains yesterday, maybe they found enough water up in the hills.
As we head to lunch it is very hot and the clouds are building up. Peter said yesterday that when it is this hot (and humid) it will rain and I do believe that we will get some this afternoon as well.
And guess what, we did not get any rain. And as the afternoon wore on the clouds that had been visible dissipated. We searched for a leopard again as well as cheetah. Finally at the end of the afternoon Henry found the mom leopard near to Samburu Lodge as she came out of the bush and sat on top of a fallen log. It was great to see but I understand that it was a pretty bad, bright sky behind her. But it was still pretty cool. We went the other way kand found a great and very cooperative male klipspringer that was standing on top of a rock only 50 feet from the track. We were called about a male lion so we sped off toward Leopard Rock and found the male that we had seen from the trip before lying out in the open but not close. But it had been walking and some of the group got nice photos of it in the afternoon light.
Tonight is the award ceremony for the BBC Competition. Every minute I keep looking at the clock and wondering what Joe was doing in London and if he won the top award. It is going to be a very long morning until I can finally get onto the internet at lunch tomorrow to see if he won or not. Good luck Joe!

Day 4, Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Last night was a sleepless night. First I was awoken to what I thought was a baboon or a giant rat rooting around in my garbage can. Half asleep I jumped out of bed, grabbed the flashlight and as I turned it on I half expected to see a small herd of rats running across the floor and my bare feet but when nothing happened and I came to my senses I realized that the noise was coming from outside. The tent was surrounded by elephants tearing and feeding on the vegetation around the tent. With the nearly full moon I was able to look out through the screening and watch them for a few minutes before going back to sleep. Then at 2:50pm, the strong winds woke me up as the tent was snapped in the blow. As I tried to look at the clock to see the time I accidentally hit the alarm and completely changed the one alarm time. So I had to put on my glasses, get out the flashlight and change both the time and the alarm time. Needless to say that woke me up. And then I was awake by 4:10am once again.
Our goal this morning was to find the group a leopard and with that in mind we headed toward Larsen’s Camp area to look for the leopard cub. I was with Joshua, Carolyn and John. We drove through the riverine forest past gLarsen’s looking and listening to the sounds of the area. After the first pass, Joshua decided to head back to just double check the area that we missed (the area closest to the main road) by us traveling closer to the river. From the track just outside the trees, and at the beginning of the salt bush, we spotted fresh leopard tracks leading down in to the forest. They went down the same track that we had first gone down but we didn’t see the tracks as we had originally come from the opposite direction. We stopped to photograph a grey-headed kingfisher when I heard the monkeys going crazy.
Off we went toward the river in the opposite direction that we had originally travelled. There was another vehicle there, from Larsen’s Camp that had heard the monkeys as well. In a large acacia tree there were at least a dozen or more monkeys sitting in the branches looking toward our left and just going crazy. So we knew that they saw the leopard. At first we thought that maybe the leopard had gotten the baby impala we saw all by itself but we saw it on the other side of the tree about 70 yards away. We looked very hard in the bushes about 40 meters from the tree, and where we thought that monkeys were looking. The other vehicle drove around the bushes but we didn’t see anything. We were not going to give up and as we drove a little further away from the tree, keeping it and the monkeys in our line of sight, the other vehicle motioned for us to come quickly.
lHere was the female leopard cub (now by cub she is almost 2 years old by Joshua’s estimate and seeing her before) with an impala kill. And not just any kill: a full grown female impala. She was still lying with the kill as if she had just finished killing it. If we would have gone that way to begin with, we might have seen her with the choke hold. She was lying underneath a fallen tree trunk but still out in the open. As we watched she drug the impala off to our left, out of sight and into what we thought was the big bush at that side. We drove around to see if we could see her. If we would have stayed where we had originally parked, we would have seen her change directions and drag the impala back and away from us and in the open. As it was by the time we got back to our first spot, she was back in the brush and close to being underneath another bigger bush. At that point the monkeys couldn’t see her and they stopped barking and giving off alarm calls.
We called the others and some of them got shots of her through the bush as she began to eat. I guess she also, after eating a little bit, tried to cover it up and then came out a little more. Those who waited around for a while balso shot lots of birds. But we had the best view of her to begin with but it was a good start for the morning.
After we left the river area we drove through the salt bushes and headed toward the Samburu Lodge on the way to look for her mom (that is where Henry’s vehicle saw her the night before). We had great white-headed mousebirds feeding on young acacia leaves, several people had black-shouldered kites and we had a male rosy-patched bush shrike sitting on top of a bush singing away. As we went past the wire bridge, we were looking at the vulturine guineafowl when we saw a black-tipped mongoose. We were trying to get around the bush to photograph it when a young vervet monkey decided to chase it around. It was great watching it since we had no photos. Before leaving that area we were trying to find a dik dik standing near elephant dung for John for a size comparison. We stopped to photograph some dik dik beside impala when some of the males near us began to fight. We had a good fight and then a good chase sequence. In fact as the impala were chasing each other a dik dik got in the way and to avoid getting run over, it hunkered down as the impala jumped over it, not breaking stride whatsoever.
bWe headed up to the breakfast spot to join up with the others. Felix was already there. On the way we saw leopard tracks, fresh from that morning, leading down and away from the hill. No sooner had we gotten out of the car and began to eat our breakfasts when Henry radioed that he had a leopard in the tree not far from where we were. So the two vehicles threw our breakfast boxes into the vehicles and off we went. Below us by about ¼ mile was Henry with a leopard on the top of an acacia tree. As we approached she began to come down the tree. We got photos of her in the crook of the tree and then she came down the tree on our side. She then proceeded to walk past us and toward the hill. We frantically called to Peter to come for the leopard and his vehicle finally got there (they had already began to eat their breakfast along the river) just as she was at the base of the mountain and heading up into the rocks. At least they got to see it but unfortunately they didn’t get any good photos.
At lunch I finally got to go on and check my e-mail from word from Joe. Unfortunately he did not win the top award. A guy from South Africa did with a shot of elephants at sunset at a waterhole with flash. And then I got to talk to Joe. It was a frustrating first hour as I tried to connect with Skype but once I downloaded whatever needed to be done, and after going back on after lunch, as soon as I was online, Joe called. I couldn’t see him but we could talk and we did for a good half hour or so. I am so proud of his first place in the Mammal Behavior and even though he didn’t win the top award, that’s OK. It was a great accomplishment and I am so proud of him.
mIt was hot today and the clouds were building up some but I could tell that there was going to be no significant rain and in fact, it didn’t rain at all. The clouds once again dissipated by sunset. We all stayed on the side of the dry river bed, or at least close to it, since we were having a sundowner tonight. We were looking for cheetah one more time but never found any. Some people had great elephants, maybe 40 or so, that walked past them heading back up into the hills in the great late afternoon light. That was a highlight for several. We found the klipspringers again but not as low as yesterday. As we headed down to the river, and right after we crossed the main road, we saw the Grant’s gazelles looking at something and the guineafowl complaining. So we stopped to look for what we were sure was going to be a cheetah. Instead we saw a striped hyena running away from the river side of the road. As Joshua quickly tried to turn the vehicle to follow it, we spooked up an African wildcat from the grass that ran back stoward the main road as well and disappeared into a termite mound at the junction of the two tracks. We never saw either animal again but it was an exciting last 10 minutes of the game drive.
The sundowner was great as usual. It was a lovely evening with the moon rising and a gentle breeze. Dinner was nice and comfortable, not too hot but as we go to bed, the wind is again beginning to blow.

Day 5, Thursday, October 17, 2013

By the time we got up this morning the wind was howling. The curtains in the tent were straight out and it was tough sleeping again by around 3:30am. The tents at Elephant Bedroom Camp make a terrible racket when the wind is that strong. But the morning was clear and Mt. Kenya was visible for the entire drive to Nanyuki. I was with Henry, Dee and Wendy and they stopped to take a photo from the highlands. This of course was after we stopped in Isiolo to buy bracelets and bananas.
We arrived into Nakuru around 1:10pm but had to go through the main gate instead of Lanet Gate. Peter did not have his park card charged up so we had to go to the main gate to do it so all of the guides decided to go through that gate since Felix had everyone’s money paid on his card. The lake’s water is the highest that I can ever remember and if not, it is soon approaching record levels. I also knew that the main gate was closed with water right up to it but I never expected what we found.
Just past the main gate, and not even to the fork in the road where you nturned right to Cormorant Point and left toward Sarova, the water was only 50 feet from the gate. The water had already inundated one or two buildings close to the lake and it was almost up to the main gate housing. It was phenomenal. I took photos for posterity’s sake. I just wish Joe would have been here to see it. The normal road was under water so the park personnel had made a new road back behind the leopard forest and we took that toward Lion Hill. I looked for leopards in the usual place where we would always see the big male leopard but saw nothing. By the time we got to the hotel, it was almost 2:00pm. We went right to lunch before heading to the room. Carolyn and I ended up in the Ziwa Suite of rooms. That is nice since we are away from the main group of rooms and people and today there is a school group here so it will be noisy and crowded at dinner.
I got to Skype Joe in London (he kept his dayroom until late afternoon). This time I could see him as we spoke for another half hour. It wasn’t a great image (he looked like a pixelated alien with no real facial features) but it was good to talk and share. He will be on his way home this evening and by this time tomorrow night, we’ll all be together and he’ll take over the journal once again.
Joe’s Note: I almost missed my flight! Stupidly, somehow, I interpreted 20:00 as 10PM, not 8PM! I only had my day room until 4, but I tried getting it to 6PM! Having nothing to do, I decided to beat rush hour on the Tube and just get to the airport early. After checking in, I went to the Business Lounge where I had a leisurely dinner (the best Lounge I’ve been in since South Africa’s, years ago!). Afterwards, I checked at the desk on my flight status and was told boarding would begin in 20 minutes. I headed to the gate and boarded without incident. However, when I commented on the early boarding to the guy in the next seat, he replied that we were on time, since the flight left at 8PM. Only then, while I was thinking ‘man, this is a long time for a boarding!’ that it finally computed, that I had the time all wrong! For the record, I do know military time, and I do know how to read a watch … I think!
fAs I was finishing up the call with Joe I heard thunder. We had to close the roofs before even heading out on the game drive due to the rain. It ended up raining very heavily and we shot out of the window for the first part of the game drive. At the causeway Joshua noted that the water seemed to be down some there but his rock that he placed two weeks ago was almost covered. So the water level continues to rise.
There are about the same number of flamingos as last trip and we could get some isolated birds close to the causeway. Some people got a zebra crossing there and we photographed birds. We headed toward the airstrip and saw two young male lions licking themselves off from the rains lying underneath the deadly nightshade invasive weeds. I actually saw a third lion further in but they never came out the entire afternoon.
While we were with these lions another guide told Henry about two big males that had walked up and over the small hill behind the rhino research lfacilities. We headed up that way and found two beautiful black-maned lions sitting along the track. There were buffalos nearby but the lions didn’t seem interested. And the males were a little skittish in the sense that they were very keen on keying in on us. At one point I actually sat down as we were turning around and the lion looked like it might come toward us (or run away, it was hard to tell but it was definitely watching the two ladies behind me). Despite the fact that the light was poor, we got some good lion portraits. We’ll check here tomorrow morning as well.
Dinner was noisy and chaotic. A  group of school kids was all over the place. It is neat that they are out on a school trip and learning about the animals but it was a little distracting. But we need these young kids to get interested in conservation so that something is saved for future generations. And after reading in the newspaper today that the count of elephant carcasses in Hwange National Park in Zambia is over 100 from cyanide poisoning (the locals were poaching them for the ivory and for money to survive), the wildlife need all the help they can get.

Day 6, Friday, October 18, 2013

Finally the day has arrived that Joe will be coming back to Kenya and rejoining the safari! I am so anxious to see him that today will go fast and then very slow as we get closer to the Mara. The day started out chilly and damp after the rains yesterday afternoon. We were all loaded and on the road by 7:20am. Of course we headed to the south since there is no place to game drive the other way. Where we saw the Verreaux’s eagle owl byesterday, there was a big group of baboons. And amongst them was the young one with the terrible scalp wound: the one that Joe photographed last trip and looked like it had been scalped (I’m sure it had been bitten severely by one of the big males). At first this one was being groomed by a young male and then, as big as it was (it is at least half grown), it was hanging on underneath a female, being carried around. She would groom the young and kept it close. But at one point later on in the shoot, I saw it running and yelling so I’m not sure if it is completely well or not. The scalp wound is starting to heal around the edges but there is a terrible ulcerated sore right in the middle and whether that heals or the infection enters into the skull, I guess only time will tell.
Several of the vehicles stopped for these baboons. There were young chasing and playing, running along a horizontal tree trunk, jumping up and bthen sliding down a slanting trunk. But the light was low (we were behind the hill and the early sun had not reached us yet. It was at this point that my phone rang and it was Lydia on the other end saying that she was at the airport and there was no Joe. I figured that she was kidding and within a minute or two I was talking to Joe. The irony of her joke was that he almost did miss the flight last night from London. Even though his itinerary said 2000, he was thinking 10:00pm and not 8:00pm for the flight time. Luckily he went to the airport early and made the flight. But he is now back in Kenya, was on his way to Wilson airport and we’ll see him later at Mara Intrepids. Yeah!
Despite the light we stayed with this group of baboons for a while. There was a small pool of water that they were walking behind, chasing each other band then leaping across. We got some great B&W reflections of them standing on the back side of the water. But then we got them, both as a silhouette and as a reflection at the same time, jumping across the water. They couldn’t jump too high or we would lose their head against the dark background but we got some nice shots.
Further down the road we stopped to photograph more baboons in good light. We had a great baby and its mom right along the road. We also got good Defassa’s waterbuck as well. Then we headed out to the causeway. We were told about some good white rhino along the road. We eventually got there (they were down where the road is lost in the rising waters) but we spent quite a bit of time at the causeway shooting birds and a few zebras. We had good ruff, stilt, flamingos, bathing geese, flying egrets and ducks. But the most exciting thing we photographed was a common greenshank that caught a frog and kept carrying it around by one of its legs, or by the middle of its body. It would run with it and then put it down. For a while the frog would try to jump away and the bird would chase after it. This frog was way too gbig for the greenshank to swallow but it was weird how it was trying to kill, or eat, it. Instead of stabbing it, (like an anhinga would do), it looked like it would try to grab a leg and pull it off. Or it would take its beak like chopsticks and would ‘chop’ at the frog’s body. The entire time that we were there the bird never ate the frog. The frog did die, so who knows who finally ate it. (We were hoping the Hammerkop that frequents that area would come and steal the frog.)
From there we went down to the end of the road that disappears into the lake at this point. Joshua’s rock is almost under water and the clumps of grass that were visible and above water two weeks ago are now only islands surrounded by water. So the lake has come up maybe 3-4 inches in two weeks. If you think that the entire lake has come up that much, then you frealize the significance of the elevated water levels. At Baringo, another rift valley lake, the lake hotel is under water so it’s not just a problem at Nakuru but is occurring all through the rift. What did happen due to the record high water levels is that Lake Natron had a record year for nesting flamingos so in the future, if the waters go down, we should have record numbers of birds frequenting the lakes at this time of year.
After breaking down the gear we were off to our next stop and lunch. There I bought Joe a carved male lion’s head as a gift for his accomplishment in London. Next stop was Narok where two of our vehicles, much to my surprise, stopped at the ice cream gas station. I bought some bracelets from the street girls and then the safari fell apart.
I was traveling with Peter and we were the last ones leaving Narok. Instead of going through Sekanani Gate, the guides decided to head through the Aitong since supposedly, it was a better route to Intrepids. The road was paved for a longer stretch and they thought that it would be quicker going that route. Well it turned out to be one of the worse decisions that they ever made, and unfortunately one that I didn’t question beforehand. I should have thought that when they leave Intrepids, they get back to Nairobi sometimes in 5 hours or so. So I should have insisted on them going that way to Intrepids because even though we had to go into the park, and then out again at the Talek Gate, we would have gotten to Intrepids much quicker. Last time we left Narok a little before 4:00pm and got to Sarova by 5:15pm.
Anyway, as soon as we turned off of the paved road, it was dirt and rocky so we couldn’t go very fast for much of the way. Then we ran in to heavy rain and luckily the road was more marum than soil because otherwise we would have been sliding all over the place. At this point we had left Narok at 3:50pm and had not heard from any of the other guides to see where we were and if we were OK. As we hit the Aitong Hills, and near to Mara Safari Club, it luckily stopped raining, even though it had rained there before we arrived. The black cotton soil was very slippery and as I watched the rains behind me, and the lightning over the escarpment, I hoped that the rains wouldn’t catch up to us on the Aitong because if it did, we would never make it to camp.
The wild land leading up to the Aitong is now gone. We drove along a large farm that had electric fencing, four strands high and along both sides of the road, for many miles. It wasn’t until we passed this huge farm, and we came into the back of the Aitong Hills, that we even saw any wild game. But even here there were Maasai cows and herds and manyattas everywhere. Even if the herds had wanted to migrate north following traditional migration routes, they couldn’t. There was no place to go without running in to human interference. And when we cleared the hill past Mara Safari Club, I was blown away by the number of permanent dwellings, people, and domestic herds. Many of the old places where we saw cheetah and lions were gone. When we got to the crossroads where the road through the hills entered onto the plains, instead of heading toward the old Mara River area, we turned onto the road to Talek and Fig Tree. That is when it got really depressing.
eIn the place where we used to see lions and where we would have breakfast on the candelabra tree hill, there is a sprawling town, Aitong Village. There were huge schools and many permanent structures: satellite dishes and antennas. There were people and herds everywhere. And as far as I could see, there were manyattas and small plots fenced off. Even as we drove down through the different conservation areas, there were manyattas and herds and now many of the Maasai are beginning to plow the land for agriculture. I have to say that the Mara that we once knew is definitely endangered and destined for oblivion. I can’t see how they would move all of the Maasai out of that area, how they will protect the lions if they kill cattle (even though a new program has been instituted to reimburse them for lost animals). There are manyattas along all of the luggas and riverine areas. There are herds grazing everywhere and even though a huge number of migratory animals were up in this area, they can’t go any further and the predators that once feasted on them are either in hiding during the day, or gone from the area. Tragic, very tragic!
Anyway at 5:50pm Henry called us for the first time. They were at Aitong village and we were just coming off the hill by the Safari Club. They were maybe a half hour or so ahead of us. When we got to the middle of the village Peter suddenly turned off of the main road to Talek and headed through the village and out the other side. I asked what was happening and he said that they had decided to go through the Double Crossing area and this road would take us there. To my own common sense I thought that this was stupid and would take much longer than it would the main road route. It turns out that the other three went to the Talek and then in via the main road while they left Peter go the other way. I can’t say if it was Peter’s decision, or if the other guys decided to mislead him, but we ended up in the middle of nowhere, by ourselves as dark descended.
I was mortified, humiliated and so mad at the guides for deciding to come this way. I was mad at myself for giving them the benefit of the doubt that they were going the best route. I was incredibly pissed when I thought that they had not truthfully informed me on how long it would take us to get to camp and that I had mislead the group. And I was horrified and very upset to think that Joe had been waiting for us since probably 5:30 or so and that here it was, after sunset, and we were still out on the plains.
We finally got to camp at 7:15pm, a half hour after the rest. Joe was worried, as can be expected, and I greeted Henry by telling him that I was so mad at them. But it was so good to see Joe and to have him there to help deal with this issue. We had a late dinner and then a discussion with the guides. It is behind us, my part of writing the journal is complete, and the safari is on to bigger and better things.
Joe’s Note: I did indeed begin my vigil, waiting for Mary, as I sat in the game-viewing tower on the edge of the lodge grounds. While I waited I hoped that a serval might pass, hunting in the golden grasslands sweeping to the north and east, but the plains were empty and only the shouts and yells of the lodge staff playing soccer filled the emptiness. At 6 I made a quick trip back to the tent to turn on my Range IR setup and flashes for the Bushbabies and Spotted Genets, returning to the tower by 6:15.
As darkness settled and vehicles started returning into camp I expected each to be Mary’s, and as a joke I’d stop them at the gate, look at my watch, and deny access. I did this six times, including for Park Rangers, all the time thinking it was Mary’s vehicle whose headlights blinded me. Her’s was the last, and as she wrote, she was furious!
hAfter everyone checked in I had a ‘little talk’ with the guides, expressing my disappointment, frustration, and anger. Every year some thing always happens that requires a lecture, even though the issue is one that has been addressed before, and should be standard procedure. It was also disappointing to later discover that one of the guides, looking at frank and honest as he could be, was boldly lying, saying he’d called Peter several times before Mary was aware. Considering someone was sitting right next to Peter, and observed that there were no calls, the lie was particularly stupid.

Joe's Report Follows:
Day 6, Friday October  2013 Trip 2

Arriving at 6AM from an overnight flight from London, I was met by representatives of our tour company and transported to Wilson Airport, the domestic airport for my flight to the Mara. Although only a short distance, only a few miles, Nairobi’s traffic congestion is legendary and we had to take several side streets to avoid massive, lengthy traffic delays. The flight to the Mara went rather uneventfully, except for a stubborn, unpleasant baggage guy who insisted I had too much luggage- a camera backpack and a computer bag—and said I needed to check one. He kept my camera bag first, but we later made a switch where I emptied the computer and extra hard drives from my computer backpack and essentially checked in an empty bag, prominently marked FRAGILE.
When my bag was unloaded in the Mara it was unceremoniously dumped on the ground, and other checked luggage tossed on top, so anything inside would have been extremely vulnerable. Morale: never check valuable gear! The flight was marred by my sitting on my open Kindle ebook reader, just for an instant as I lost my balance moving my bag. The result however was long-lasting, as my Kindle screen now looks like a bad etch-a-sketch, and is totally unusable.
I slept through part of the afternoon, trying to recover from the flight, and spent the remaining time setting up a Range IR system and flashes for more Bushbaby and Genet photography. Mary expected to arrive by 5, and by 5:15 I was in the camp’s tower, watching the grasslands for serval and her approaching vehicle. At 6:15 I returned to my tent to turn on the flashes, and at 7:15 Mary’s vehicle finally arrived, over thirty minutes later than the first. She was livid, as her driver/guide was essentially abandoned and she felt foolish providing an arrival time that was off by nearly two hours. Before I dismissed the driver/guides I had a talk … a riot-act reading, really, about the trip’s first but major screw-up.


Day 7, Saturday, Upper Masai Mara

Normally the Upper Mara is our last stop on a safari but due to a scheduling conflict we needed to stay here first, and it was a bit disorienting as we looked for subjects we either have dismissed by this time or that we’re actively seeking to complete the trip. I spotted a scarred Hippo slowly working its way through the grasses back to the Talek shortly after dawn, while Mary, soon after, spotted two cats she first thought might be cheetahs sbut ended up to be a mother Serval and nearly full-grown cub. Both cats eventually walked right to our vehicles, providing great shots. We were moving for a new position when the serval made a huge, coyote-like leap, pinning a rodent in the grass roots with its front paws. The mesh of roots must have prevented the cat from digging out the mouse and after several minutes it seemed to give up, walking away for a few steps, then returning and, with a second effort, digging out the mouse. It ate it quickly.
Henry’s vehicle had a mating pair of Lions and, oddly, a very tiny cub that seemed to be abandoned. The mating pair ignored the cub even when it cried, and the cub, far too small to effectively eat meat, tried gnawing on the last remains of a carcass. By the time we arrived the cub had hidden itself in the long grasses, probably in response to Jackals that had come to the kill, and later, with vehicles driving through that same area to look at the kill we wondered if the cub may have been crushed. Either way, it seemed doomed.
lThe Lions mated three times while we were there, two of which were fairly violent with much snarling and grimacing, and the third rather tame. Meanwhile, Mary’s vehicle came upon a Topi mother and newborn being attacked by a pair of Black-backed Jackals. Normally, a baby topi would be a fairly daunting prey, and the mother Topi extremely dangerous and formidable, and the topis did eventually escape. At one point, though, one of the jackals pounced upon the topi baby and at another grabbed the baby’s leg, but in both cases the topi escaped, while the mother charged after the attackers.


lThis was Mary’s day and along the Talek River, as we headed slowly towards home, she spotted a nice female Leopard lying partially obscured on a thick tree trunk overhanging a lugga on the opposite shore. The leopard alternated between sleep and looking about, and we stayed with it until it seemed most likely it was there for the duration. We headed in to lunch.
PM. At 2 it rained hard and continued until 3:45PM when the skies gradually cleared and, thankfully, we could do our game drive without the roof hatches on. Mary’s vehicle spent most of the afternoon at a Hippo pool where they enjoyed a lot of activity with young and old all yawning repeatedly.
bMy vehicle hadn’t traveled far when we found five African Buffalo that were broken off into sparing pairs. Usually, any type of ‘fighting’ occurs rather quickly, and most of the time occurs within a large herd where dominance or mating rights are being temporarily disputed. These five bachelors may have been part of a herd and were contesting their strength like teenage boys testing one another for rank. The sparring was only semi-serious but, just like boys, too rough a move on the part of one might trigger a like response from another and in so doing escalate an encounter into something serious.
Most of the contests simply involved butting horns and hooking, straining the neck of the opponent and turning him in a direction. Once I thought that the two bull’s horns had interlocked as the tight curve of one’s horn wrapped around the thicker section of another, much like bull moose or elk will sometimes lock antlers, fatally. While these two bulls circled and strained, they did eventually slip apart. I’d suspect that with the massive strength these animals have that the end of a horn might snap off before the animals would simply surrender and die.
Despite the rather constrained fighting the potential for damage was enormous. Several times one bull or another, while locked horns, would end up with the sharp tip of a horn pressed deeply into the face of the other, sometimes seemingly right around the eye socket. When a bull wished to quit and would walk off, the more aggressive bull would follow, sometimes hooking a leg to trip up the bull, or hooking into the soft underbelly of the other and actually lifting it slightly off the ground. Either action usually resulted in the more passive bull turning and resuming the fight.
Sometimes one bull would break away and another would take its place, starting the fight all over again. After nearly an hour of this one pair ran off, heading to a swamp, while another pair continued fighting downhill, breaking off at one point to jump and hop like a bucking bull in a rodeo, before resuming one last time in a final clash before running off to join the others in the swamp.
aIt was nearly 5:45 when the fight ended and we searched the croton bushes for the cause of a flock of Helmeted Guineafowl’s alarm calls but we found nothing. Later, we visited 7 rather boring Lions on a mound, almost in darkness with the gloom of the storm that had continued to the west, and we finished with shots of an acacia tree against the one window of colorful light to the west, where a Topi obliged us by galloping across the horizon, clearing the grasses with its leaps.

Day 8, Sunday, Upper Mara.

Last night was a total eclipse of the moon and the sky was clear, but no one was awake at 2AM at the height of the event. With clear skies this morning was cold as we headed north, planning on circling Rhino Ridge, crossing the Topi Plains, and ending up at the Double Crossing where Henry’s vehicle would continue for a visit to a Maasai village.
I was with Felix who followed the planned itinerary, while Joshua and Peter, heading north by a slightly more westerly route, encountered vehicles and btwo good Leopards. They’d missed where the first one must have been lying up as they photographed Verreaux’s Eagle Owls but in following the leopard ended up backtracking and meeting the second leopard as it walked straight to them and right passed their vehicle. They had a hectic but fairly continuous leopard show, with the female leopard climbing up, and down, a tree, and wonderful shots when that leopard walked out and sat in plain view on top of a tall termite mound.
lWith our terrible radio/phone communication network Felix was advised as to the leopards’ progress, where most of the time it was too tenuous to warrant our backtracking to the Mara River area where they were photographing the leopards. Finally, however, Mary used Joshua’s phone to strongly suggest that we get there, as the leopards were great.
We had had a fairly slow morning, with some mediocre Bat-eared Foxes, a mother Common Zebra and newborn foal, and several Spotted Hyenas, when we spotted a large blond-maned Lion walking across the plains, heading to water at one of the double gorges. We lpositioned ourselves for a nice aerial as the cat drank before the lion continued on where it finally laid in a croton thicket.
Nearby the mating Lions of yesterday were completely in the open. Identification was easy as the male had a bad limp with his left forefoot. Yesterday the lions mated once every 15 minutes or so but today, in 30 minutes of watching, the lioness changed positions as if to mate but only snarled when the male, rather disinterested, came near. When we had Mary’s call we decided it was worth the long drive to reach the leopard.
We hadn’t traveled far when we had another call saying the leopards had disappeared into the brush but we continued on, as morning light is best for hippos and crocodiles from this side of the river. By the time we arrived, 15 minutes later, the rest of the group was having breakfast. While we ate


tHippos lounged on nearby sand banks and a Leopard Tortoise mysteriously appeared amidst us, giving us great chances for ground-level shots as it walked, seemingly on its toes, across the bare ground.
Afterwards we did spend some quality time with the hippos where a sand bar, empty 30 minutes earlier, was now packed with hippo adults and young. One small fight broke out, tossing water everywhere, when a hippo too closely approached a female with a half-grown calf.
By 11:15 we slowly headed home, passing a very fresh carcass of an Impala. Only the head and neck remained, and after inspecting its throat for fang marks I confirmed, as best I could, that it was a cheetah kill. Our driver/guide initially disagreed, saying that a cheetah will eat everything, head and all, but not if it is disturbed or, indeed, had eaten virtually the rest of the carcass. The kill was in the area where we had had a cheetah on the last kill, but in the mid-day heat, and with a full belly, the cheetah was, no doubt, lying asleep in the shade of the croton thickets.
sPM. We’d barely started the game drive when Peter spotted an extremely cooperative Serval that was standing in the open by a bush scent-marking, the first time any of the guides had seen this behavior. Mary’s vehicle was one of the first to arrive, and I just managed a few quick shots – my camera was off, and critical seconds were lost as I turned on the camera – before the cat moved into the brush. It reappeared a few more times but was off-track and we let it be.
A female Warthog and two nearly grown young surprised me, being the most cooperative or oblivious to vehicles warthogs I’ve ever seen in the Mara. Normally warthogs wander or run off when a vehicle approaches, but the female here continued to graze in the middle of a track, forcing vehicles to drive off-track as they passed her, just feet away. The three weren’t gstupid, and as close as we were we could appreciate their alertness as they constantly stopped and scanned over the grass tops for potential danger.
A short time later Peter spotted another Serval, this time nearly a quarter mile away. We got the call and as we approached I was within fifty yards of their vehicle, with lenses pointing at the serval, before I saw it. That was an impressive sighting! The cat was hunkered down in the open and seemed unconcerned, but aside for lying down shots it wasn’t doing much. We may have stayed, but Mary’s vehicle had another leopard, one of the two from this morning, and she radioed that it was in the open and we had to come! We left the serval and raced through the Mara to the river. Dee, Bill, and Mary had wonderful views of the cat completely in the open, walking across the rocks and through the grasses quite close to their vehicle.
When we arrived the Leopard had moved, and all we managed was a brief glimpse as it walked through the bushes on a ridge line before settling in cover beside the Mara River. We waited, but the cat remained at rest until, without warning, it slipped off and disappeared. We searched but never saw it again.
We headed back to camp with a backdrop of a truly magnificent sunset, orange and red and filtered by curtains of verga, rain sheets that never reach the ground. Henry spotted a lioness they thought was starving to death but I had Felix drive around the cat and discovered what I expected, marks on its spine where it had been bitten, and its spine crushed. The cat may have been injured days ago, and perhaps had dragged itself across the grasslands in search of water. It was thin, and looked indeed as if it were starving, but with the game about that didn’t seem likely and the wounds verified the suspicion.
lThe lioness must have wandered into another pride’s territory and the lionesses of that pride must have attacked this interloper. Males generally don’t care – the more the merrier, but females zealously guard their turf. In fights, cats do not have to kill, they only need to maim, and let the inevitable occur. Should a lion actually attempt to make a kill they would run the risk of incurring a crippling injury as a fatally injured rival makes a last desperate bite or claw swipe. Instead, once the damage is done the lions instinctively know there is no point or reason to continue, and can leave the injured animal alone, its fate nonetheless sealed. It was a sad, poignant conclusion to an otherwise uplifting and exciting day.

Day 9, Monday, Upper Mara to Lower Mara.

Packing to move to our next lodge went uneventfully and we headed out by 6:20AM. My vehicle, with Joshua, hadn’t gone far when I spotted the bright yellow, and almost artificial-looking, beak patch of a Saddle-billed Stork. sThe stork was fishing in a narrow lugga and drove to an overlook where the bird promptly disappeared, moving upstream and into brush. We followed, and were rewarded when the stork stepped back into the open in nice light, so close it ended up to more than fill the frame.
We continued south, meeting two young Lions that we’d seen two weeks earlier. The lions might be migrants, or perhaps just old enough to have taken over a pride from old males. Tellingly, however, they sniffed and did a flehmen at a bush but did not scent mark themselves, making me suspect that they may be keeping a low profile. Two Bushbucks flushed out when one lion moved, and it appeared as if they might advance to keep the lion in sight, and in doing so stepped right into range of the other lion, but they didn’t and ran off when the first lion did a U-turn and returned.
Later in the morning most of our group congregated at a Cheetah that was hunting. Mary was there first, radioing us that the cat was hunting Grant’s Gazelles but by the time we arrived the cat had been spotted and the prey was alert. We did manage many great images as the cheetah walked across the grasslands directly towards us.
cThe cat was still actively hunting, changing direction several times as it studied the distant grasses, and finally spotted a bouncing Thompson’s Gazelle baby over ¼ mile away. She began purposefully walking/ half-jogging in that direction where, unbeknownst to her, a Grant’s Gazelle kid was lying in the grass. The young gazelle had no idea that the cheetah was advancing and flicked its ears, which alerted the cheetah who subtly changed course and began a stalk. From our vantage it was impossible to tell how close the cheetah got before the gazelle recognized danger and began its run, but it seemed assured that the cat would be successful.
Surprisingly, though, the chase took much longer than I expected, as the gazelle led the cheetah on a winding course through the short grasses. I fired continuously and looking at the images later I discovered that the ccheetah was often within a gazelle’s body length, and once even half-tripped the kid before finally knocking it down, at 10 seconds, and another at 14 seconds. The entire chase took 18 seconds before the cat did the final reach-out and trip, and 20 seconds for the killing neck-bite, whereupon most of the vehicles raced off-track to see the cat upclose with the kill. We didn’t, and let the cat in peace, and without risking a fine for no justifiable reason.
Meanwhile, Peter’s vehicle was with 8 Lions and 14-18 Spotted Hyenas that were contesting a kill. The ownership of the kill may have been disputed, but most of the encounter involved the lions trying to drive the hyenas from a kill that the hyenas probably had made. Peter’s vehicle did get to the cheetah later on.
lWe continued towards our next lodge, stopping at a very fat or pregnant Leopard perched in an acacia tree. There were a few windows for some nice shots and, at one point, we all moved to one side hoping that the leopard would leave the tree and seek more shade, or water. It didn’t, and instead simply changed positions on the tree where we left it.
Clouds were building as we neared camp and now, at 2PM as I write this, it is raining hard. Most rains are brief and the afternoon drive should not be encumbered.

lPM. We headed directly to the Leopard in the tree but ten vehicles had already encircled the tree and other minivans were streaming in from all directions. We decided not to stay and as we met more vehicles I helpfully told the passengers they were heading to a leopard. We hoped that we’d clear out the Mara, with every vehicle clustered at that tree!
We continued towards the Oasis where we hoped to find the small cubs from last trip. En route we passed five lions that had been feeding on a kill and were now comatose beside the road. Vans clustered I the distance drew our attention and through binocs I could see a Secretarybird that I assumed was the attraction, and I suspected it had captured a snake. Later, when we got closer I saw that the bird was eating from a kill, as she was swallowing either bones or thin leg bones.
A Lioness materialized out of the grasses while we watched the bird, heading towards the road and calling softly to the unseen pride. We followed her and three other lions, two large cubs and one adult, ran to her and we stayed with them until we headed back to camp. It was a bit of a circus with vehicles, with vans often driving right in front of us as we shot.


More troubling were the Maasai cows that were DEEP within the park, so far inside that we estimated they would not reach their bomas to 8 or 9 at night. Outside the park, as Mary reported earlier, the area is a wasteland of Maasai manyattas and denuded grasslands, with cows, goats, and sheep everywhere. t having no available grasses outside the park the Maasai are driving their cattle in. The obvious outcome of this will be that the edges of the park will be wasteland as well, and the grazing will only push in ever further.
bWorse still, it is inevitable that some cows will get lost and be killed overnight by lions or hyenas, and those deaths, even though illegally inside the park, will be avenged, and most likely done by poisoning the carcasses. Doing so, not only would the ‘guilty’ lions be killed but hyenas, jackals, vultures, and any other animal from bat-eared fox to civet to honey badger to tawny eagle … the list goes on. We do not see the number of hyenas by exponential numbers these days, and I’m sure they’ve suffered most as hyenas will travel great distances, crossing other clans territories, to find food. Lions, luckily, stay put, except for nomadic males, but they too risk poisoning or being shot as they wander.
It is an absolutely pathetic testament to the corruption and ineptness of those responsible for the Mara ecosystem, and the reserve, should this continue, is most certainly doomed. All I can say is visit it now, not later, as the Mara will be a pathetic ghost of itself in five or ten years if this trend continues.

Day 10, Tuesday, Lower Mara.

rDuring the night we heard more cow bells as livestock filed past our lodge, and this morning, when Tom and Leanne left early for their game drive they saw more cows, and their balloon pilot said she must have seen nearly 1,000 as she drove to the balloon launching site. Where they landed, deep inside the center of the park, she said that they’ve had cows there as well, so virtually the entire eastern side of the Mara River is under assault.
We left at 6AM and headed to the Sand River area and the kopje-like rocks where we’ve often had a lion pride. We found three, full-bellied and walking purposefully towards cover, and we managed two good series as the lions approached, framed by the early morning light and golden grass. The cats soon disappeared, and we headed on toward the river.
eEn route we had a Batelur Eagle perched in the open on a high branch. Shooting had been slow and although the bird was only fair it was a subject so we stopped. While we photographed the bird changed its position, began stretching its wings, and finally launched into flight, flying directly towards our cameras. The AF kept up and I managed my best flight shots of this species.
A fair size herd of Gnus, perhaps a thousand or so, were gathered on the Tanzania side of the river and appeared to be approaching, for a mini-crossing across the mostly sandy and very shallow river. We had breakfast there as we waited, and the herds moved down several times before lspooking and retracing their steps. After breakfast most of us continued on, while Mary remained and had the gnus return to the river, drink, and retreat. Elephants appeared as well, for a productive time spent waiting.
We continued on, stopping for a scenic of zebras and clouds, checking the ground hornbill nest for activity, and meandering onward toward home. We took a side route that would lead to the general area where the Leopard traffic jam was yesterday, and while passing below a hill I spotted a leopard’s tail separated from an acacia about 200 yards away. To our delight there was a game track that led directly under the leopard’s tree and when we reached the spot we spent another 45 minutes, changing positions a few times for different angles on a completely oblivious leopard. Spectacular shooting!
hAt lunch Mary and I found the Tree Hyrax one of the participants from our last group had spotted roosting in a tree near one of the lodge’s paths. I set up two flashes, mounting one first on a tree, and later simply hand-holding both high overhead as I shot with mirror lock-up and a ten second self-timer, giving me time to press the shutter button and aim the flashes. The hyrax was unfazed, and only changed its position to get a better look at me as I moved around the tree.
PM. Throughout the afternoon thunder sounded and as we started our game drive the skies to the northeast were black with an impending storm. We headed northwest and the storms stayed to the north of us, giving us a rain-free afternoon.
We hadn’t traveled far when we were called back for a Serval that had appeared from behind a sign while Joshua stopped his car the serval appeared. We met it as it walked down the road, tail facing us, but the cat moved off into the brush as we passed, attempting to get a front view. Felix’s vehicle drove on to the Leopard which had switched trees, moving about fifty yards. Only a few vehicles visited so the chaos and circus atmosphere of yesterday was gone, and after twenty minutes or so the leopard awoke, stretched, and as it started climbing down the tree paused momentarily for a nice portrait.
At a lugga my vehicle, and Mary’s, photographed four Hammerkops, wading birds that vaguely resemble a pterodactyl, having a large crest extending back, giving the bird almost a two-beaked look. These birds build huge nests, a dome-like structure with a bottom entrance, and the birds appeared to be gathering nesting material. Several would pluck at twigs or sticks, or the long tail hairs of a gnu carcass, but these birds normally only pair up and I couldn’t explain why four adults would be so close together and without any sense of rivalry.
We attempted to frame a small herd of elephants against the black skyline, and I hoped that a lightning bolt might strike while I did very slow exposures. I wasn’t successful, and the storm clouds, shifting to the west, dropped the light precipitously.
zSeveral Eland ran off as we drove down a track with one making impressive, arching leaps. The last eland in the group was separated and galloped to join the others, jumping as well and giving us a chance at some shots. In the failing afternoon light another Serval was spotted, as well as a few Lions and a very pregnant Cheetah.
As we returned to camp a rain shower forced us to close the vehicle tops and in the gloom of dusk more Maasai cattle poured into the park. As Mary’s vehicle drove the final half mile a lioness was moving ahead of the cows, attempting to hunt while still avoiding the encroaching livestock. At our tent we could hear more Maasai cow bells as the herds passed in the night, illegally but blatantly grazing within the park boundaries.

Day 11, Wednesday, Lower Mara.

We left at 6AM under clear, windless skies and headed to the Sopa area where we hoped to find the lionesses with cubs. We did, 16 in all in the first group, and four more later spotted by Mary’s group, but the lion pride was returning from a kill and were in a distant field, far from any road track. The cats walked about a quarter mile before settling in a small woodlot of a lugga, where they disappeared.
We continued to the southeast towards Sopa, hoping for more lions but the smorning was slow. A group of five Gray-backed Fiscal Shrikes hunted grasshoppers close to the road, landing repeatedly on a bush beside our vehicle. We tried, unsuccessfully, to catch a bird about to land but every time the branch we aimed at proved to be the wrong one. I was successful once when a shrike flew fairly straight across my field of view and I managed a sharp shot.
Leanne spotted a Serval for her group, a real highlight, and the male Leopard was back on the tree it perched in yesterday afternoon. We did a few shots which, in a normal safari, may have been the day’s highlight but was now ‘just another leopard’ lying in a tree. We were hoping the leopard would seek shade and climb to the ground but instead it got up and climbed higher, practically disappearing in the upper, leafy branches of the acacia where the cat’s body was nearly completely exposed to the sun. I couldn’t make sense of the move, because the leopard was completely unfazed by the few vehicles present (there were vehicles there all morning) but climbing higher the cat seemed to disappear. We drove on.
Within a half mile of that leopard there is a tree with a 45 degree slope that looks perfect for a leopard and indeed today another one was in the tree. Bill, Joe, and John arrived first when the much smaller cat was still lying exposed on a large limb in dappled light, but it didn’t stay long and moved higher, into thick cover. When I arrived, I might have missed it had I not seen its tail and knew that a leopard was there.
Clouds built throughout the morning and we suspected another thunderstorm in the afternoon as everyone arrived in camp by 12:10PM. After lunch we met with the assistant warden and who I assume was the head ranger of the Mara to discuss the situation with the cows and the proliferation of camps virtually everywhere in the Mara. These days, prime forested leopard habitat along the Mara, Sand, and Talek Rivers have either permanent or semi-permanent tented camps, which not only ruins views and game-viewing but also must impact upon the wildlife.
The meeting was probably a waste of time, although both gentlemen expressed their hopes that things would improve, that they have new vehicles for patrolling, and that enforcing the banning of cows would be adhered to. Tonight, as we drove into camp, within a quarter mile of our lodge and in plain sight of the main road two huge herds of cattle grazed as if, and indeed, nothing has changed.
bThe assistant warden explained how, basically, his hands are tied, as the Maasai amass larger and larger herds of cows and denude the grazing lands outside the park boundaries. With nowhere else to graze, they enter the park where the only grasses remain. The impact of this results in denuded rangeland within the park boundaries so that as time passes those edges will be as barren as the lands outside the park. As this happens, the Maasai will push their cows ever deeper – they already graze into the heart of the park, as is, which will increase this edge of barren land, constricting the prime habitat ever further.
Supposedly there are hundreds of thousands of cows just outside the park, and who knows how many of these enter the park on a regular basis. Since cattle are illegally grazed, duh!, at night, it is likely that on occasion a cow strays or gets lost and disappears. Left alone, overnight, the chances are great that it will be killed by lions or hyenas. When the loss is discovered, and the carcass found, retaliation is likely. Predation loss is supposed to be bcompensated for, but I’m sure that doesn’t apply to cows grazing illegally inside the reserve, so it’s possible the predator will be hunted down or the carcass poisoned.
Poisoned carcasses not only would kill the lions or hyenas that preyed upon the cow (assuming they were the same animals that returned again to the carcass), but would also kill vultures, jackals, tawny eagles, bat-eared foxes, leopards, and even warthogs that will scavenge or eat carrion. In southern Africa at least carcasses are baited with poison to purposefully kill vultures as circling vultures may indicate a poached rhino or elephant, and thus give away the position of a poacher.
Tom and Leanne, who did the balloon ride, shared a conversation they had with hyena researchers from the US who told them that hyenas are the only predator whose numbers are on the increase in the Mara. This actually surprised me, as hyenas will range far in search of food, beyond their own territories, and are most susceptible to poisoned bait. Even if hyena numbers are increasing, I wonder if that’s compared to the decline of the others, or if the Mara now has a top predator because of the absence of lions. Regardless, we do not see the hyena numbers that we used to.
PM. Although all of us expected rain we had, instead, a beautiful afternoon of clear skies, puffy clouds, and a spectacular 6:27PM sunset. My vehicle had three different Servals, although one was quite shy and ran off, another was blasé but walking away from us, and the third seen after sunset in very dim light. We were hoping to find a Cheetah and were successful, but the cat was off the road a short distance and in the shade of a bush and never sat up. We spent fifteen minutes waiting to determine if it might be interested in starting a hunt but by 5:15 a hunt would be pointless as hyenas would now be about.
The highlight for most groups were the Crowned Cranes that were quite tame and cooperative, although Dee finally got some shots of a Malachite Kingfisher. I’d spotted two this morning for Wendy, with one perched within two feet of the larger Pied Kingfisher, but the birds were too far away, and stayed too briefly, for a shot. Mary’s favorite shot was the herds of zebras in the golden light although they also had the three Black Rhinos we’d seen on the last trip, but by then it was too dark for any photos.

Day 12, Thursday, Lower Mara to Mara Triangle

lWe loaded at 5:45AM and were on the road by 6:02AM, heading back to the Sopa area where we still hoped to find the Lion cubs. Peter’s vehicle was ahead and encountered the pride, 14 in all, as they were leaving the lugga we had left them at yesterday morning, when no photos were possible. By the time we arrived the pride had crossed the road and were drinking at a roadside pond. The pride moved uphill, but two lionesses and a small cub lagged behind, eventually coming to the same pool where the cub, in trying to cross a water and mud stretch, comically moved about, not trying to get its feet wet.
lWe were told of more lions further south and when we arrived a young male was feeding on the remains of an Ostrich, only the fourth time I’ve ever seen one killed by lions. Three others later joined the cat while nearby a black-maned Lion and lioness lounged, the same pair that were mating yesterday. One of our shooters was still missing a nice lion and wished to stay when we learned of a Leopard report only a few hundred yards away. The other three vehicles drove up and did have a nice shooting opportunity, but unfortunately our lion pair never cooperated, doing nothing more than getting up and walking further down the hill.
We continued on, driving to the Sand River area where, en route, Henry’s group met another enormous herd of cattle deep inside the park. Henry made a diversion to the warden’s office to report it – probably for nothing. Later, Henry spotted a Cheetah close to a track and they photographed the cat for a few minutes before the first of two tiny heads, cheetah cubs still with the honey badger cape, showed itself around the tree.
It took the rest of us nearly 20 minutes to arrive, and during that time the cubs posed and nursed. We had just pulled up when the cheetah started moving, walking downhill parallel to the track, the two cubs walking or jogging alongside, and providing great shooting opportunities.
After settling beneath a tree the female spotted a distant Thompson’s cGazelle and began a long stalk, with the two cubs running behind. Normally this catches the prey’s attention and the hunt is ruined but today the ram gazelle did not notice and the cheetah charged, chasing the gazelle for about 8-10 seconds when, in brush, the antelope made a sharp cut and raced to safety. Mary suspects that the cheetah actually tripped it, causing the abrupt change of direction that the gazelle capitalized on, keeping its feet and escaping. It was a sad outcome for the cheetah as catching food for three, especially with cubs that are so disruptive at that age, is extremely difficult.
We continued on to the Mara Bridge where I photographed the final remains of the Gnu carcass pile-up we’d seen about two weeks earlier. A significant eddy collects carcasses, and we suspect about ten days earlier (that is, two weeks ago on the last trip) the carcasses had washed down river. Then the bodies were still intact, bloated and hairless and covered with vultures. Today, perhaps 24 days after the drowning and two weeks from our past visit, the graveyard was mainly wizened hides or skeletons with only a few Hooded Vultures scrounging amongst the bodies.


A week ago I toured the Brithish Natural History Museum where I spent most of my time at the dinosaur exhibit and it was interesting to see the same disarticulated skeletons of gnus, some mostly buried in mud, some lying on the surface, a few almost hidden from sight in the mud, and all fossils in the making. I had to wonder how often dinosaur catastrophes occurred for fossil hunters, 65 million years (or longer) later, to uncover dinosaur remains. On the Mara River there are only a few spots where the bodies of failed crossings collect in numbers, so one has to wonder what are those odds?
We arrived at our lodge by 1, with promising skies that bode well for a productive, rain-free afternoon.
PM. Mara Triangle
bWe headed to the Mara River on our usual route, checking for crocs and hippos along the shoreline. A pair of Little Bee-eaters challenged us, perched in nice light and periodically flying out to snap up a bee or other insects. At one point the male flew off for an extended period and we waited for the other to fly when he returned with a bee and perched close to the other. After sidling up close he passed the bee to her, then hopped on top to mount, but apparently it was only a date as they never mated.
Zebras milled around on the opposite shoreline but never moved too close to the river. At the main crossing area four crocodiles sunned themselves on the shoreline, while another lay half in the water, a big deterrent from making any attempt.
lWe continued on into the grasses where we found the two lionesses and seven cubs from our last trip. They had killed a zebra earlier and the carcass was mostly eaten, with the interior rib cage visible, and appearing black and white – just like the outside! – as a cub fed inside. One or two cubs periodically fed upon the carcass, while others took turn nursing, and the shooting was fairly good.
The evening shoot was marred, however, when Felix pulled forward to reach the track that led to the track going back to the road. A Ranger was present and flagged us down, saying that we should have turned around and followed the same track we used going in. It was a ridiculous citation, and Felix argued, but as I write this the Ranger seemed firm and was to fine him later that evening.
I’m always torn in situations like this, as I’m tempted to pay the fine myself, although in this case, if the rule was to turn around, I didn’t know it, and it was the responsibility of the driver guide to know the rules. More importantly, however, we have paid the fine in the past, only to learn later, by accident, that the guides had talked their way out of a financial penalty but still accepted our money, not reimbursing us when they didn’t have to pay. After that happened a few times, we stopped being generous; lesson learned.
Day 13, Friday, Mara Triangle.
zAnother clear sky morning and we headed directly to the Lion cubs, hoping to get there before the tourist vans arrived. Along the way we spotted another Serval, but it was shy and ducked into thick bushes and we didn’t bother stopping, not wishing to harass it.
The lions and cubs were still at the zebra carcass, which was demolished at this point with the lioness feeding around the skinless head and neck. Nothing of the hide was visible. Most of the cubs lay in the grass, some watching two Spotted Hyenas some distance away, with one male cub boldly advancing and the hyena slinking off. One cub occasionally fed along one of the lionesses but the shooting was rather boring and we didn’t stay long.
bWe continued, and soon photographed two baby Elephants that were less than two weeks old, with one having a bad or missing eye. Further along a roadside Lilac-breasted Roller cooperated by launching into flight parallel to our view, and hopefully we managed a sharp shot as it took flight. Some in our group saw a Black Rhino and calf, but the two were in very thick shrubbery in a forest and the views were mere glimpses, with no real photos.
While we had breakfast a huge collection of Masai Giraffes gathered under one tree, creating a dark blob in the distance. We drove to the spot later, while there were still 12 giraffes clustered together, with another 8 now scattered across the plains.
Yesterday afternoon Common Zebras were gathering along the opposite shore of the Mara River and I suggested to our guide we finish our game drive along the river, in case any crossings might occur. En route a large herd of African Elephants walked across the grasses towards a small stream where a few gathered and drank, providing a nice reflection, before moving on.

Twenty vehicles were gathered on the opposite shoreline, following the progress of a herd of Zebras that appeared to want to cross. We parked at a good vantage point and, waiting only ten minutes or so, a small herd of 40 Gnus moved down to the shoreline and almost immediately a cow and calf entered the water, followed by the rest of the herd a few minutes later. While not a spectacular crossing there were still jumps and dives and slips as the current pushed the gnus down river, and the shots were worthwhile, as was the short video I did towards the conclusion of the crossing.
PM. As part of our tradition, Mary and I always ride together on the last game drive of our last safari, giving two ‘chiefs’ a chance to captain the vehicle! To Mary’s credit, she usually defers to me, but it is always fun to make a joint decision and to debate/confer/discuss what’s the next best move.
We’d just left camp when Henry radioed that he had a male Lion. When we arrived the nicely maned male was lying on top of a termite mound, partially hidden by the slope of the mound. A short time later the cat got up and walked parallel to the road but in our direction, where it eventually settled by roadside.
Joe A, Leanne, and Tom arrived late, and the rest of us left as soon as we knew they spotted the lion. Flies have been somewhat pesky and, like all of us, Leanne often brushed them away or off her face. She did this now, close to the lion, and it reacted, giving her a very definite stare. Soon after the male got up and walked off, and their vehicle followed for more shots. Leanne brushed another fly while the lion was looking towards her and the reaction was instantaneous, the cat half-lunged in a lightning fast move and although it didn’t advance the movement was so quick, and scary, that Joe thought the cat was just going to keep on coming. Wisely, they decided they had enough images and drove on.
Mary, Caroline, and I continued on towards the southwestern area of the Triangle. Joshua stopped to glass and I did likewise, and I spotted a brown lshape beside a darker shape. Mary looked too and thought she saw red, and the tiny dots of vultures, and we figured we had either a mating pair and a kill or two mating lions. We drove in that direction, and I regret we didn’t take a GPS reading from the point where we saw the lions, as it was probably 2 miles from one point to another.
When we arrived we discovered that the brown shape was a lioness and the dark shape was the rib cage of a bull Eland kill! In all the years I’ve seen lions on eland only three times, and a fourth eland kill where two cheetahs killed a calf. Eland are Africa’s largest antelope and are huge and formidable, and probably not the first choice for tackling a meal. Very little was left and we suspected that a large pride had to be nearby, and as we drove about we discovered two other lionesses and a male lion, who climbed out of a luggage to bask in the late afternoon light. The following morning, a friend returned to that spot and found one of the lionesses there with young cubs, and quite aggressive, and he did not stay long.
We made our shots and headed home, with a beautiful half-fireball sun settling to the west which we framed between two acacia trees. That evening we had our last meal together where we reviewed highlights and said thanks to our guides. The ending, with the lions, was a wonderful conclusion to a great trip.
That evening, everyone in our group and all of our guides signed a letter I'd written addressed to the Governor of the area, the Head Warden, and Head Ranger for the Mara Reserve. Henry delivered it to the head of the Mara Conservancy, in charge of the the Mara Triangle. Ironically, at the airport the following day Mary and I read the Conservancy's report where a good portion of the text was devoted to the very problems we addressed in the letter and with out talk with the Assistant Warden of the Mara. Here at least, the proliferation of camps and lodges and the rampant grazing of cows was discussed. There were also reportage on the poaching within the Mara, and the number of illegal snares (all are illegal!) collected, which amounted to thousands in the course of a few months. It is estimated at 30 (that's THIRTY) animals per day are poached during the high season, or close to 3,000 animals in the three month high season. Poachers were apprehended with AK-47 rifles; others were chased or tracked to villages; camps were raided and meat confiscated. The report was depressing, but reflects a picture common today throughout Africa.

Day 14, Saturday, Mara Triangle to Nairobi
Peter stayed behind to assist in the transfer to the Triangle's airfield and we boarded our flight to Nairobi without incident. Here I met with our in-country tour operator, who received an ear-full about the radio and communication situation we had this year. This issue compromised our trip, but the guides worked around it as best they could, and our group was easy-going, making a potential nightmare nothing more than an unpleasant dream. As I write this, our outfitter has addressed the problem and all looks like it will return to normal for next year's trips.

We are, of course, looking forward to our 2014 Safaris, and we hope that the letter I wrote will have some effect. Sadly, though, with the poaching of elephants and rhinos throughout Africa, and the encroachment and development around so many parks, I'd urge everyone to visit Africa sooner rather than later. A rhino is poached every 12 hours or so, up from a rate of every 18 hours only recently, and elephants are being killed or poisoned in numbers. In Zimbawe, over 100 elephants were recently poisoned by cyanide at a waterhole, and one can only imagine how many herbivores and carnivores drinking from that same source also died, unrecorded and wasted in the bush.


Inside the parks, however, this tragedy can be invisible, and for this reason a great experience, a once-in-a-lifetime photography opportunity, is still almost a certainty. It may not last, going forward ten years or so, so I urge everyone -- visit now, and perhaps our tourist dollars will deliver a message and help preserve this priceless world heritage.