Banner Left Side








Trip Report:

Photo Safari
Trip One


An extremely successful safari! Finally, after at least twelve years, we had African Wild Dogs, one of the most endangered large predators in Africa. And the encounter was great, with dogs walking right to our vehicles for wonderful images.

Honestly, I didn't know how I'd feel about Kenya after completing our Tanzania trip, which was spectacular. I needn't have worried, for the wildlife shooting was as good as always, and our team of driver/guides were great.

In the following report, however, I spend a good bit of time discussing how Kenya is losing a valuable resource -- their wildlife, and specifically the Masai Mara. Make no mistake, dollar for dollar, cKenya still offers the best photography, hour by hour, but I really believe that will not last a decade from now. Years ago, we vehemently opposed the idea of fencing the Masai Mara, as Richard Leakey and others proposed. Now, perhaps 40,000 cows illegally enter the park each night, and if the surrounding, denuded, near desert-like conditions outside the park are any indication, the park itself will soon face the same fate.

The Masai Mara has always been our favorite place in the entire world, and its ability to produce is why the Big Cat Diary was filmed here. Unless Kenya gets its act together, and corruption and exploition is stopped, this absolutely unique and wonderful place will be lost. Forever.

For now, though, it is still a wonderful location to photograph, as were all the locations we visited, as our trip report will surely illustrate.

Day 1. Nairobi to Samburu

We arrived yesterday, after a terrible flight from Rwanda to Nairobi, causing us to arrive about four hours behind schedule. Kenya Airways had cancelled a flight, combined it with one or two others, and then over-booked. We waited on the tarmac, after a two hour delay, for some folks to give up their seats, to which KWA provided no compensation. It was pretty pathetic customer service.
Mary was ill that evening, so much so that we had the hotel doctor visit and provide some meds. Accordingly, we (because she does all the work) weren’t packed for today’s drive, so I did the orientation while Mary toughed it out and packed. The drive to Samburu was surprising in the lack of vehicles at the curio stop where the guides bought extra beans and take a driving break. Normally the curio shop parking lot is packed with vehicles, but our five were the only ones.
I asked the owner, Clement, why. Terrorism on the coast, which happened this summer, has really hurt tourism, probably especially so with European travelers that combine a beach visit with a brief safari inland. The Ebola scare probably didn’t help, either, although that was a more recent event. However, our Tanzania outfitter said they’ve seen cancellations because of Ebola, even though Tanzania is further away from the countries affected than is London!
bAt the shop, one of our new guides, and one of the only Kenya guides that has a Gold certification, the top award and one requiring a huge amount of knowledge (I wouldn’t make it, at least based on what must be known about culture), pointed out Spotted Epaulet Bats hanging from a tree directly beside where one of our vehicles was parked. I was impressed, since I’ve been to this shop for twenty years, and none of the other guides had ever mentioned this. I have to wonder.

mWe stopped for lunch where Colobus Monkeys and Blue Sykes Monkeys frequent. When we arrived, the Colobus Monkeys were low on the trees, where, these days, a caretaker gives them vegetable handouts. Instead of going directly to lunch, the group shot. After lunch, the Blue Sykes Monkeys had joined the Colobus, and the shooting for that was the first good opportunity I’ve ever had there. I grabbed my camera and shot, too.
We arrived at our lodge, a small but luxurious tented camp consisting of only 12 tents, by 5:30, in plenty of time to unpack and get organized in the light. At 7, we met, and Mary and I gave an orientation on the subjects we’d be shooting in Samburu. We were in bed by 9:30, whooped.

Day 2. Samburu

eProbably the most successful morning we’ve ever had in Samburu, if getting a good Leopard and seeing the African Wild Dogs for the first time in this park counts. Our drive started somewhat inauspiciously, with my vehicle having a dead or malfunctioning battery. We’d traveled only a short time, with me explaining to my passengers that we’d stop for anything, but my goal was to have them shoot, well, the things we saw, so I suggested passing on the giraffes in heavy brush, with only their heads sticking up among distracting background trees. We hadn’t shot anything, except a sunrise, when we got a radio call that a Leopard was spotted. No, a Leopard Tortoise! No, a Leopard – actually both were seen, but in the bexcitement of the radio call that transmission was misinterpreted. We headed that way, regardless, and found a fast-moving Leopard that didn’t seem spooked but was just traveling. This was confirmed when it walked right to our vehicle, and slid beneath another to continue on its way.
The female provided a wonderful show, chasing after a bird at one point, and flushing a Greater Spotted Genet from a bush, giving us a brief series of shots of an animal I’ve only seen in daylight one other time – two weeks ago in Tarangire National Park, TZ. The Genet eluded the Leopard, which continued on, pausing to groom, then eat grass, then vomit up a brown soup (exciting, huh?), before continuing on. Eventually the Leopard settled under a bush where Vulturine Guineafowl were approaching, and I commented that it would probably stay there until a Dik-Dik wandered by. She was hidden from view, so we left, and later in the morning she did, indeed, kill a Dik-Dik. One of our vehicles saw the Leopard feeding, deep inside the bush where there were no shots.
We continued, but didn’t go far before we had another radio call that African Wild Dogs were spotted. We headed in that direction, where we found a healthy pack of 11 to 14 dogs, hunting, jogging along and sometimes walking quite close to vehicles. Mary’s vehicle was the first there and she had some wonderful frame-filling shots, dwhile my vehicle came late and had rather mediocre images, at least compared to her’s. The dogs continued, with several vehicles in pursuit, trying to get ahead or in position, but the dogs veered away from the track and eventually settled in a clearing amidst some acacia trees far from the road. Hopefully, they will be at that spot at 5, and will resume hunting – if so, we’ll be there.
We did have one near disaster. Until this morning, as we were loading our vehicles, we did not know that one of the RangeRovers had a pop-up top. Our vehicles, at least the ones we request, have removable tops with separate shooting ports for each of the three passengers. The pop-up had only one, and also four supporting struts that really compromised panning or shooting from the rooftop from any position. Mary was in that vehicle today, and as she finished sending a radio message for the other vehicles to get there, to the dogs, the driver pulled out, before she was settled. The net result, Mary fell virtually head over heels, landing on her back on the middle seat, as she held her 500mm in the air. Since she’s only 3 months post-back surgery, and knee, she was really worried that she had injured herself. Fortunately, aside from a badly scraped knee on the one with the recent replacement, she was fine. However, she hit the roof.
bAt breakfast we gathered the guides and Mary made it clear she, nor no one else, would ride in that vehicle until something was done to partition it for safety. I then added that this was the second time in two years that our outfitter dropped the ball (last year, the radios didn’t work in all of the vehicles and seating was screwed up initially, but fixed quickly). Had a less fit person have fallen, and been injured or simply broke their lens on the first day of the two week safari – it’d be a disaster. I explained that we needed a remedy to this – or I’d switch companies. A call was made to Nairobi and a vehicle of the correct configuration, with a new driver/guide, would be arriving this evening. We’ve used this company for years, and we feel that the driver/guides we have our great, as good as any in Kenya or better, but we’ve been disappointed with the management. Hopefully, the management now understands this, but as far as I’m concerned, if we have an unpleasant surprise next year, we will change companies. I’d hate for this to happen, as we’ve worked with our guides for ten to twenty years, and they work great for us. But … professionalism from the management, or the lack of it, will dictate our decision.
bIn case anyone reading this thinks we use a budget outfitter, we do not. The outfitter is the same one that almost all of the major players in photo tours use, if not all of the top tour companies. However, I know that those companies have used the pop-ups, and perhaps they too have been unhappy with them. However, we won’t, and luckily this issue has been resolved. We’ll let our competition settle for less than the best – we won’t.
After the dogs, we had some great luck with Reticulated Giraffes at a waterhole, drinking, and earlier, a large family of Desert Warthogs, with babies, that were tame and came close, drinking at a waterhole where, we hoped, they would wallow. They did not.
bBirds were excellent, and my vehicle photographed a rare Swallow-tailed Kite, European Rollers, and less notable birds. Elephants meandered about but did not go to the river, and so, by 11, in the heat of a very sunny day, we headed back to camp.
PM. Tom, Noel, and I, as well as everyone else, at least at first, headed in the direction of the Wild Dogs. We couldn’t find them, at first, although a passing Elephant raised its trunk and flared its ears, as if annoyed by their presence. We circled the area, and our guide spotted them before me, a short distance from where we left them this morning. What followed was a waiting game, based on faith.
dThe dogs were about 100 yards away, lying partially in the open, but too far for anything decent. A herd of Elephants eventually came close, trumpeted, and charged, driving the dogs off. Unfortunately the Elephants and Dogs were always too far apart for an effective shot, and the dogs nearly disappeared, behind trees, and only one or two occasionally presented an ear. As the afternoon wore on, the dogs rose and one by one moved uphill. Mary was on a road paralleling the hill, so if the Dogs traveled in that direction we’d know. My vehicle stayed where we were, and as we talked away the time, suddenly, the Dogs rose and started trotting – towards us! Within a minute or two all 13 Dogs had funneled through a gap in the vegetation to gather in front of our vehicle, making frame-filling shots. They circled, and in front of us rolled in the dirt. Then they set off, moving up the road, giving everyone nice shots, and then overland. We followed, trying to anticipate where they’d cross by a road, and once again, we nailed it. We had two wonderful sessions before the Dogs headed overland and towards the Park boundaries, and at 6:15, in the shade of the mountain and with the sun masked by heavy clouds, we headed for home, too far from the dogs and with no light to shoot by. It was a spectacular afternoon.


Day 3. Samburu

We left shortly after 6 with no agenda. Last night’s dogs, we correctly assumed, had continued traveling and were unlikely to be seen. Instead, we had a chance to do the ‘filler’ species that are unique to the park. It was a ‘slow’ day, but productive. Victoria, in my vehicle, had not been to Africa before so we stopped for some common animals, which always proves productive. At our first stop, iImpalas were in good light, and while we were shooting the ram started roaring, bouncing about with his tail up as he roared and snorted, something that always happens unexpectedly and that we usually miss. Another vehicle had a great Grant’s Gazelle bachelor herd fight, where when one combatant quit another took his place. These semi-serious contests establish a pecking order, so that when it is time to challenge a male for a harem the challenger knows his ability, or other potential rivals know the challenger’s.
gMary and I both did some nice work with birds, she getting a good Gray-headed Kingfisher and a Hammerkop catching a frog, while I did well with a Grasshopper Buzzard, a bird I’ve only seen once before but that we’ve seen several of the last two days. A Vulturine Guineafowl framed against deep shadows, and a herd of Grevy’s Zebras, backlighted in the early light, were two other highlights.
bWe had three Lions, but the lioness and large cubs were in the shade and partially obscured by vegetation, and a boring shot, regardless, and a mother Cheetah with two older cubs. The cheetahs had eaten, and were too far away for anything but a record shot. My vehicle ended a hot morning with a group of Elephants that picked at Doum Palm nuts on the ground, shaken from their hanging seed pods by a troop of Olive Baboons. The heavy nuts crashed to the ground with a heavy thud, sometimes hitting and bouncing off an Elephant, that paid no attention to the nuts. Other Baboons were nearby, and I half-expected a palm nut to hit a baboon, which would have knocked it out. None did, and the baboons didn’t even flinch when a nut crashed nearby.
ePM. We had beautiful, partly cloudy skies and a clear western horizon, casting direct light on the Elephants that browsed close to the road. We polarized the skies, and had wonderful wide-angle views as the Elephants, including a mother with a young, quite bold calf, ambled by. The calf often left the protection of its mother, lagging behind or visiting other, probably older sisters. I was with two new people to Africa, which is always immensely pleasurable for Mary or me, since newbee’s  are generally very enthusiastic and excited about everything. Gary and Gayla certainly were, and it was ga real thrill when the bull Elephant we were photographing mock charged, flaring its ears and trumpeting.
We headed towards the hill country again, which I suspect is favorite grounds for the guide I had. We hoped to find leopard, but did not. Instead, from a high vantage point we spotted three Reticulated Giraffes that my guide thought were fighting and I thought, from their positions, were courting. In a way we were both right, because if was three young males that were sparing, but, as is typical with giraffes, periodically a male would mount the other in a show of dominance. Although the fight wasn’t serious we had a great vantage, and nice shots while it lasted.
lAs we headed down the hill we spotted distant vehicles, and driving up found 5 Lions, a lioness and four year-old cubs, lying on a small mound in the salt brush. The cats were hungry and periodically surveyed the surrounding area for game, giving us nice shots to end the day.

Day 4. Samburu

Our last full day in Samburu, for this trip at least. We awoke to wind, and a stormy sky with gray sheets of rain scattered across the southeastern horizon. It promised to be cool, with even light, and most of the morning it was exactly that.
cMy guide felt the beginning of the morning was slow, although I wasn’t aware of this. When we stopped for a Yellow-billed Stork, he glassed further down the river where a new Cheetah mother with year-old cubs was walking along the shoreline. We headed up, finding the three about to drink. The cheetahs spooked at the approach of vehicles, but settled down and returned to the river where they drank before jogging off into the brush. We followed.
En route, we had a very close Dik-Dik that was using a dung midden, and upon completion, did a pre-orbital gland scent mark. I may have missed focus, but it may not matter – I had a problem down-loading and ended up losing this and the cheetahs at the river. Frustrating , and the result of using an SD card as well as a CF card in my Mark IV. I’m always wary of SD cards, and the cheaper ones have actual wire pins that can bend or break. I use Hoodman cards, which have a solid interface with no wires that can bend, but for some reason my usual reader wasn’t working and, stupidly, I put both an SD and CF card in at the same time. Result – lsome confusion as the download was supposed to require hours (it didn’t) but again, stupidly, I formatted the cards before checking – something I never do, but Mary’s one Mark IV died, and when we dug out the replacement, with the camera handy, I thought I’d save myself some work when I returned to the vehicle. Wrong move!
While we were looking for the cheetahs we came across another family of Dik-Dik, where the female, and then the grown-up son, posed wonderfully. One of our guides induced some confusion for us, telling us that 95% of the Dik-Diks in this park where Kirk’s, and not the Gunther’s Dik-Dik that we assumed. He’s the Gold guide, so he’s extremely knowledgeable, but to our eyes, Kirk’s is bigger and more chestnut, while the Samburu Dik-Diks are grayer, and smaller. Hopefully, during the next trip I’ll have a chance to check, in an area where the Gunther’s species is more common. For now … I don’t know.
cWe received a radio call that the cheetahs were found again, but when we arrived we discovered it was another family of three, a mother with a female and a male that was slightly older than the other pair. They were finishing up an Impala kill, and just by how much meat was left (or gone), it had to be a different trio. Mary had checked, and the other cubs were both females – confirming the fact that we had two familys, six cheetahs.
After our field breakfast we headed to the river where we photographed Elephants as they advanced towards us, then entered the river to drink. Although our vehicle was the only one there, we later learned that all of our other vehicles were present for three other elephant river crossings. I saw John’s shot – a long line of eelephants stretched across the river – and it was great.
The sun had finally burned away the clouds and the elephant shooting was, for the most part, under sunny conditions. By 11:30 it was hot and the light harsh, and we headed into camp.
PM. Our last afternoon in Samburu. The wind continued and the sky was cloudy, but not so overcast that the light was dull. My vehicle was at a Pale Chanting Goshawk when the carpenter from our camp came zooming in, careening around corners, to meet us. I thought it was some idiot in a hurry, but the guy stopped, and excited told us he’d just spotted a Leopard. And that was the rest of our afternoon!
The carpenter led us to a meadow where we eventually spotted the cat as it began walking, approaching a young bull elephant that charged the leopard, causing it to jog across the field. Eventually the Leopard turned and headed in our direction, and walked almost directly to us, giving great front-on shots. The cat crossed the trail and descended into a lugga, where it began a stalk on some Dwarf Mongooses. It missed, and disappeared out of sight.
We raced to get to the other side, and luckily I spotted the Leopard, now sitting in an opening above a small Amphitheatre. The cat settled there, grooming at times, at other times sleeping, but within sight of most of our vehicles, although rather distant. However, we bstayed, figuring that the cat would move at some point.
Two Dik-Diks approached, and the Leopard saw them, dropping into a stalk and sliding like a reptile into the bushes and out of sight. Leopards usually are successful with a hunt when they are 5 yards or less from their prey, and I figured that unless the Dik-diks moved into the shrubs, the cat wouldn’t catch anything. Still, we kept our lenses on the antelope, hoping to capture a rush. It didn’t happen. The Dik-dik eventually sensed the cat and bounded off. The Leopard appeared, sniffing wistfully where the antelope had been, and advanced towards us.
The cat could have gone in several different directions, but we were lucky. The leopard veered this way and that in the brush, but eventually turned and walked directly down a game trail, straight to and passed our vehicle. After it passed, it headed towards the open fields of the airstrip, where we once again had a very good, front-on lview. The Leopard crossed another field where we had side-shots, while a few of our vehicles, arriving seconds earlier, were in a position where, as luck would have it, the Leopard now walked directly towards them. At the end of those three passes everyone had great views and shots of the Leopard, and as she walked towards the thick salt brush meadows we left her, to drive to a SunDowner where our lodge had set up a nice evening’s bar. There we toasted the success of the first leg of our safari, while one of our guides played guitar and sang, and we watched the sun set, to music and to drink.

Day 5. Samburu to Nakuru

We left at 6, eating breakfast en route at a curio shop. It was overcast but the air was still, and as we packed it felt hot and humid – a good time to leave. We made good time to Nakuru, arriving around 1PM to a very empty lodge. Whether it is the recent coastal terrorism or the Ebola scare, the parks are not nearly as crowded as bthey normally are, and as usual, the best time to travel is when there is fear of a disaster or catastrophe.
Our game drive started at 4, with the southern end of the park threatening heavy rains that we somehow avoided through a very slow afternoon. The lake is now the highest I’ve ever seen it, far exceeding its high water mark when Jomo Kenya had his lake front house here. Now, most of the lake front roads are submerged, and most strikingly, a signpost marking an intersection where, only two years ago, we’d photograph rollers and chats, is now underwater. The sign is visible, but the stone column, rising an easy three feet, is submerged.
The beautiful Yellow-bark Acacia trees that comprised the surrounding forest are dying. Many forests are now completely in flood, and the trees merely black skeletons. The water table has risen so that the roots of trees further from the waterline are still flooded, and those trees are dying, too. Many of these trees are fifty or more feet high, and probably thirty to one hundred or more tyears old – I’ve been visiting here for nearly thirty years, and the forest was just as high way back when. Now, that forest is dying.
Last year, when the flooding was becoming truly evident, I made an observation. Kenya has been settled by Westerners for little more than 140 years or so, and this park probably had little visitation before the 1930s. As I looked at the lake, and the grassland basin that surrounded it, I had to wonder – were these grasses and meadows in these surrounding flatlands the norm, and was the previous low water, as we’ve known it in recorded history the fluke? Did anyone ever ask a Kikuyu elder in the 1930s whether that person’s grandfather said the water was high or low fifty years earlier? In geologic time, these fluctuations may be the norm, but for us, now, seeing the acacia trees dying and the shoreline practically devoid of flamingoes, it looks like a catastrophe.
About the third or fourth year of doing Kenya safaris, about 24 years ago, I visited Lake Nakuru during a drought. At that time, the water level was so low that the sun-baked mudflats extended what looked like a mile to a small, distant patch of water. Flamingo and cormorant carcasses littered the mudflats, many half buried in the sediment – true fossils in the making, and the lake looked like it was dying. The next year, however, water levels were back to normal.
This time, the situation is entirely different, at least in human, not geologic, time. It will take a human lifetime for the fever trees to recover. Entire forests are dead, and even if the water started dropping tomorrow, the damage is done. Global warming and weather changes might be the culprit, but another theory is the Kenyan government had removed people from the Mau Forest, which is now regenerating. Supposedly, the forest catches rain, and that rain, in turn, is filling up Nakuru. However, Lake Bogoria, Elementita, and other Rift Valley lakes are also rising, and another theory is that water from the Rift itself is leaking into these lakes. Huh? Lake Tanganeka, the deepest lake in the Rift Valley, Lake Victoria, the largest, and all the others in between may once have been connected. Unique species of ciclid fish that have gone through a huge degree of speciation, are thought to have originated from one parent stock. As lakes became isolated, the geographic isolation spawned new species. Perhaps we’re seeing a return to the past, and perhaps, at some distant point, these lakes will once again be one. Who knows?
Another mystery here is the change in the number of Leopards. When we first started visiting Kenya Lake Nakuru was known as the kingdom of leopards. Nearly every game drive yielded a sighting, and it wasn’t uncommon to have three in one drive. I started noticing a decline in leopards when Lions were introduced into the park, for, I believe, controlling the burgeoning African Buffalo population. From that point on, leopards grew more scarce.
My guides say that the Park Rangers say that there are so many baboons and that’s why we’re not seeing leopards. Baboons will harass leopards, so to avoid being seen, the leopards stay out of the trees but they’re still as common, only hidden in the undergrowth. That doesn’t explain why we’re not seeing leopards walking the roads at dusk, as they used to boldly do. Another Nakuru mystery.
Our game drive was cut short by more rain threatening from several directions. The western horizon was shrouded in thick clouds and the light level was low, as we photographed the only notable subject for the afternoon, six White Rhino. A long-horned male was doing flehmen, and following females, who periodically would turn to face him and rebuff his advances. One of our vehicles stayed out nearly to dark to photograph Rothschild Giraffes, and another vehicle did do well with Eurasian Buzzards close to the road.

Day 6. Lake Nakuru to Masai Mara, Sarova Lodge

bAlthough the day began with a heavy overcast, by 8 the skies had cleared. All of us headed to the flooded road where, yesterday, I photographed the flooded sign. Today, Lesser Flamingos and a few Greater Flamingos stalked the shallows, swinging their heads as they filter-fed for shrimp. With the increase in fresh water I had to wonder how productive their feeding was. African Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, Ruffs from Asia, a Black-tailed Godwit, and other shorebirds shared the wetlands and we spent most of our morning there.
One of our vehicles went on and spotted a Black Rhino, and the rest of us headed there but the rhino bedded down and disappeared in the undergrowth. Eurasian Bee-eaters swooped about but never landed, and a few Long-legged Buzzards and European or Eurasian Buzzards hunted the grasslands. By 10 we were heading to the gate, via the road that climbs to the highest point on the east side of the park where a picnic site and overlook is jointly sponsored by the Kenya Wildlife Service, the makers of Amarula, and Sarova Lodge. The view from up top is spectacular, and gives a great overview of this, now flooded lake. Brown, dead fever trees line much of the lake, and the shoreline, once a broad expanse of clay and mud, is gone.
The picnic site is absolutely pathetic and emblematic of the lack of pride this country seems to have for its resources. Having just completed a safari in Tanzania, where at various picnic sites, or air fields, there were clean restrooms with attendants constantly cleaning, we were greeted at the entrance to this park with a decrepit gravel, unimproved road and, at the gate, pit toilets. Here at the picnic site one table was functional, while the other two were disintegrating from no care. One had a roof or pavilion, and although the other once had one, now it was on its side, lying below the table in the brush. And three organizations proudly take credit for this picnic site!
We left the Park by 11 and with two stops, to break down gear for the long drive and for lunch, we arrived in the Masai Mara by 5:50PM. The drive was arduous, as usual, and a national lembarrassment, considering the Mara is the number one tourist attraction in the country. I’ve been told, by way of explanation, that the ‘powers that be’ keep the road poor so that it discourages day-trippers, and driving in almost demands staying at least two nights. Considering many tourists fly in, that argument seems absurd. At least two times since we’ve been coming to Kenya the road to the Mara has been paved, and each time that road has deteriorated in less than two years. The construction, obviously, was poor, and I suspect the money involved was siphoned off via corruption.
Our participants commented upon the fencing, now dividing countryside that used to be open game country; the amount of sheep and goats – not a domestic animal the Maasai traditionally raised – that was cattle; and the incredible amount of litter, a product, our guides said, of the Maasai being accustomed to tossing food or other organics away, and now doing the same with plastic and with bottles. As we passed through the town of Narok, which used to be a sleepy little village that was the gateway to the Mara, we couldn’t believe the change. Town probably does not describe Narok, it is now a crowded city. On the hillsides of what was once game country we saw houses of block and stone scattered everywhere, and the petrol station that once was a few miles out of town is now in the middle of a suburb.
All of this is immensely discouraging of course, but as I said in tonight’s orientation to the Mara, bang for the buck, there is probably more shooting per hour in the Mara than anywhere else in Africa. The Mara is still a very worthwhile location to visit, but the changes on the outskirts are frightening, and will eventually spell its doom. I pointed out the advantage of driving in to the Mara, rather than flying, as tourists get to see how isolated and vulnerable and fragile the Mara now is. For those flying in, those tourists never see the boundary, never see the crowds, the litter, the fencing, the ‘progress,’ and the vast numbers of goats and sheep that denude the land, turning grasslands into deserts. Instead, coming into the heart of the park, they are presented with an artificial view.

Day 7. Masai Mara

tWe left the lodge by 5:55AM, and driving fast we passed our old lodge, Keekorok, at 6:10, five minutes or more sooner than had we stayed at that lodge. We had abandoned Keekorok for several reasons: 1. The management had deteriorated and we were generally not satisfied there, 2. The food deteriorated, and 3. The Chinese had adopted the lodge, and they were a loud, boisterous bunch that may have been enjoying themselves immensely, but impacted upon the serenity of the lodge. 4. The rooms were always small, and returning to Sarova was a great change, with an extremely helpful staff and absolutely great food.
We headed to the ‘kopje rocks,’ the only location in the Masai Mara that approximates the kopjes of the Serengeti. Along the way Mary’s vehicle had to break hard not to run over a Serval, which was totally unfazed by their vehicle. They shot it in the predawn light at high ISOs and low shutter speeds, watching it pounce and catch a mouse, before it disappeared into the brush.
We had a total of 22 Lions, in one large group of 10, another of 7, a mother with two 10 week old cubs, and two lone lionesses. I spotted one of these, distinctively posed in a stalking position, and through binocs we watched as it stalk/rushed passed a small herd of Hartebeest to unsuccessfully pursue a family of Warthogs. The Hartebeest were blowing alarm snorts, so I didn’t have much hope that the lion would be successful – warthogs are alert and fast, and these ran away at speed.
bThe best shots of the lions were the group of 7 on the rocks, overlooking the Mara and northern Serengeti, and the mom and cubs that walked up the Sand River, with meandering streams leading ‘lines’ towards the lions. While the mother did the typical lion move of keeping her feet dry, I was surprised to see the cubs just plow into the water and wade across, not caring about getting wet. That was notable!
One of our vehicles spotted a Cheetah that was finishing up an Impala kill. Although we were still in the heart of lion country, the Cheetah did not drag the kill into the sheltering brush. Instead, the cat ate out in the open. When the cat abandoned the kill two Tawny Eagles flew in, and one White-backed Vulture. Within a minute the sky was, as one guide said, filled with parachutes, as birds gathered overhead from nowhere, and plummeted straight down to join the mob at the kill. What little remained, the legs, were quickly picked clean and birds still overhead and in the process of descending stopped, seeing the futility, and sailed off.
lWe had a 10AM breakfast before heading towards camp, passing a location where two different Black Rhinos had just been, and now were hidden in the brush. Our route took us by the Kenya Wildlife Service administration building, or what once was, I guess, as now the offices are abandoned, some of the windows there, and at the Sand River Gate’s ranger station, were broken and missing, and with some of the outlying buildings, possible residences, now with collapsed roofs.
It was fitting to see this disarray, as KWS has done a miserable job of enforcing the park boundaries, and cows grazing in the park is commonplace. Perhaps they’ve moved HDQ, or just given up all together, as the status and prospects of the park certainly would appear that is so. We arrived at our lodge at noon, under a cloudless sky that certainly compromised the shooting after breakfast.
Still, a great morning, with 1 Cheetah, 22 Lions, 1 Serval, plenty of elephants, and other plains game. A great start to shooting in the Masai Mara.
PM. We left at 4, heading to the Hammerkop area. Mary’s vehicle had three Cheetahs, although none were particularly good photo subjects. Another of our vehicles had 4 Lions, although they were in the brush. Another vehicle shot nothing at all, but the occupants were too critical, much to the chagrin of the driver/guide.
My vehicle had a fairly productive afternoon, beginning with a male Masai Ostrich that was radiating a blazing red, the color they adopt when actively courting. Although females were in sight, none were close, and the male wasn’t displaying. Instead, he was just red!
jWe stopped for a Black-backed Jackal that moved off, but in doing so we noticed a den right beside the road, with two young pups at the entrance. We pulled into a position and got some shots with the pups sunning, but our 1 hour wait was otherwise unproductive until we had to leave, when we drove by the den and did some nice shots, with the pups completely unconcerned.
As we drove home a fog-like cloud rolled in from the south, in the Sopa Valley, and to the east the entire horizon was masked in a heavy haze. No one could come to a conclusion as to the cause – was it dust and smoke, or fog, or just dust from the parched, over-grazed lands to the east. I couldn’t smell any smoke and the wind was strong, and I suspect the dust hypothesis.
I did have an interesting talk with my driver/guide as we sat waiting on the Jackals, about the state of the Mara. He believes that there are indeed 40,000 cows grazing inside the park each night, and that now the Rangers turn a blind eye to it. He agreed with me that cows probably, periodically, get separated from the herd and are lost to predators, and that the Maasai would retaliate. As he said, any compensation for the loss is tied up with red-tape and slow to come, if it ever does, and for the Maasai it is like someone robbing their bank. Sure, they’re going to retaliate.


He commented upon the drop in game, and how the Maasai and their cattle are driving the predators into hiding. He said, quite chillingly, that no one his age expects to retire as a guide – the game will be gone before then. Perhaps because of Ebola scares and terrorism, or perhaps there is a lack of bookings due to the decrease in quality, but for whatever reason, the normal year where, cumulatively, a good guide would work a total of 5 full months is now doing about 3 months of work. I failed to ask if that was this year, or for the last several. He said, also, that when the kids of friends or family say they want the same job, as a guide, he tells them ‘no way,’ that there is no longer a future in that business. He hopes that it continues long enough for him, but he didn’t seem very convinced it would.
40,000 cattle entering the park each night, and scattered herds still brazenly grazing in the Mara by day, must have a dire ecological impact upon the Mara. If you look outside the park and see the near desert-like conditions due to over-grazing, you’ll understand why. Further, in my tenure of doing safaris here, I’ve seen the introduction of goats and sheep, livestock that was not a part of the traditional nomadic Maasai life. When I first started, the Maasai here were still truly nomads, and I photographed Cheetahs sitting atop abandoned mud and dung huts as the cats scanned the open plains for game. Then, Maasai moved about, and their cattle did little damage. Now, they are settled, and send out their animals to graze in the same areas each day. Although the Maasai measure their wealth through their cows, they also are using the cows as investments. A cow worth $400 doubles its value in 2 years when it produces a calf, and that calf in two years doubles its value as it produces a calf. One $400 investment turns into $1,200 in cows in no more than six years. Cow-killing lions, then, are big threats.
I mentioned that in the Gol Kopjes of Tanzania’s Serengeti we saw Maasai cattle deep inside the park for the first time. From well over ¼ mile away lions bolted from the kopje rocks they were lounging on when the Maasai came within sight. At that kopje we saw young cubs, under 8 weeks old, and too small to flee with the pride. Although I suspect the lionesses would return at night for the cubs, one must wonder if the cubs will still be alive – either starved (unlikely) or killed by predators (possible) or killed by the Maasai kids that are herdsmen, should they discover the cubs (a certainty if they spot the cubs).
All of this is extremely depressing, and if trends continue private reserves in Kenya, and the vastness of the Serengeti will be the only spots in East Africa for the wildlife, and I’m not saying the grand wildlife spectacle. That will be gone. Anyone considering a safari should be thinking in terms of five years or less, and not planning for the future. I do not see one.

Day 8. Masai Mara

We left at 5:55 with a blazing dawn sky, broken clouds that caught the predawn light in glowing purples, then oranges and reds. Several of us stopped at an acacia tree to shoot the sunrise, which was the highlight for some of the guides. We headed back to the kopje area where that lion pride still eluded us, although one vehicle found nice four-year-old males which may be a part of that pride. We did find the Sand River pride once again, although this time the male wasn’t present. The younger lions were stretched out on large boulders, then moved to a termite mound where they remained, until drawn towards some brush as a herd of zebras appeared in the distance. The lions were still well-fed but yesterday, and although they looked at the zebras they didn’t show too much interest.
mMary switched into my vehicle and Noel to her’s so that we could accompany one of our participants to the Keekorok airfield where he met a plane, having to return home early. By the time the plane arrived it was nearly 11 and high light, so we returned to camp. Other highlights today for folks included a great White-browed Coucal, full-frame, fighting Common Zebras, a trumpeting Elephant, and Storks. John showed us some panos he stitched together with a simple app, including a neat one from our breakfast spot. Clouds built up at lunch, so it may be cooler, or perhaps even raining, for our afternoon game drive.
PM. This afternoon illustrates why it is still absolutely worthwhile to visit the Masai Mara. A spectacular afternoon. We hadn’t traveled far when one of our guides located two Lionesses with three cubs close to the road. All of our vehicles arrived, and we had some great shots of the cubs. The mother wandered off to visit a kill, much to the distress of the cubs who yelped for her return. Eventually she did, and moaned her summons and the three cubs rushed from the croton bushes to meet her. She led them into a larger thicket where the majority of the pride hovered around a kill. One young male stayed outside, and his presence tempted us to stay and not drive off. Eventually a new pair of young cubs appeared, and played and wrestled in an odd opening that provided separate, and sole, windows for my vehicle, Mary’s, and Noel and Bob’s. The other two vehicles had gone on, and had a successful afternoon, too.
lThe cubs played, and were eventually joined by a young male who played roughly, causing one of the cubs to snarl, which immediately brought the mother rushing in to protect her cubs. The young male, who was innocent at the time, dashed off a short distance, and she did not pursue. At one point we had all five young cubs, both mothers, and the young male in the open, in a beautiful arena before us, offering shots everywhere. We stayed with them until sunset, and raced back to the lodge.
The two vehicles that left the lions did well. One had two bull Elephants in a semi-serious wrestling match/fight, with tusks clashing, trunks wrestling, and serious trumpeting. All so close that John needed to use a wide-angle. Erick, Victoria, and Laurie had babies – Thompson Gazelle’s, Topi, and the Jackal pups we had yesterday. This time, in ten minutes they did as well, or better, than we had yesterday.
It was an amazing afternoon and a rare, priceless opportunity to spend hours of quality time with young lion cubs.

Day 9. Lower Mara to Mara Triangle via Hammerkop area

A spectacular morning, perhaps the best we’ve ever had on the transit day from the lower Mara to the Triangle.
Since I’ve entered the Mara I have been dumping on it, lamenting the cattle, goat, and sheep grazing, and the huge numbers of Maasai that now flock along the borders. Last night, as we walked to dinner, we could hear the cowbells of Maasai cattle being driven into the Park to graze. By dawn the cows are gone, creating the illusion that the livestock isn’t grazing here, but they are. As we started our game drive we passed a prone cow that was dying. My guide said that when the new grass comes in it often causes severe diarrhea in the cows, and they lose calcium doing so. They get too weak to stand up, and like the cow we were seeing, they simply lay, unable to rise, and die.
As I mentioned yesterday, however, a day like that, or today’s morning, illustrates why the Mara is still an incredibly productive location to photograph, probably the best in Africa. And the tragedy here, is it appears that the management is quite willing to strangle the goose that laid the golden eggs in order to squeeze every last egg, or bit of cash, from the Mara without thinking of the future. My guide last evening said he didn’t anticipate retiring in this job, as he sees the future looming ahead.
That said, the Mara is still incredible and today aptly illustrated that. We had a total of 7 Cheetahs, 11 Lions, 1 Ardwolf, 1 Side-striped Jackal, a Black-backed Jackal family, and a Gray-Crowned Crane nest. Our morning started with a lone Cheetah that appeared disinterested, despite having a herd of Thompson’s Gazelles within sight. One vehicle had faith and stayed behind, and the Cheetah did do an approach on a family of Warthogs, but aborted it quickly, only going into a trot as she half-heartedly pursued a piglet.
The rest of us drove on, and my vehicle came upon a pair of Saddle-bbilled Storks close to the track, and in the same marsh a Crowned Crane that was lying flat, concealing herself on the nest. She relaxed, left the nest and began tearing out surrounding vegetation, in preparation of building the nest higher. While she did so, the male flew in, and after a few minutes he sat down on the single egg. Later he stood, flapped, and turned the egg – all frame-filling shots.
We got a radio call that two male lions were posing nicely at an Eland kill, and when we arrived we found 9 lions scattered about, 2 males, 2 lionesses, and 5 babies. Over the next two hours we shot them from multiple angles, as they drank, cuddled in the shade, carried off an Eland leg, ran beside their mother, etc.
We received word that a Cheetah, Malaika, and her five cubs were in the area. We headed out, and my guide spotted them, the five cubs clustered together on a low termite mound where they chirped, calling for their absent mother. We assumed she had left them to go hunting, and she did eventually return, answering their bird-like cyelping chirps with a louder, deeper bird chirp of her own. She was a hundred yards away but the babies saw her and went running.
We followed the family as they moved downhill, the female still looking for game. Periodically she’d pause beneath a bush, or come to one of our vehicles and rest in its shade. At one point, when I thought I was about to get a nice front-on sequence of the mother and cubs walking towards me, she turned, and jumped to the spare tire on the rear of Noel and Larry’s vehicle, then clambered up to sit on the rear roof panel. Noel was in the back seat and I caught a shot of him, hugely wide-eyed, as the cat stood cabove him. Larry has some experience and popped up quickly, and began shooting his wide-angle. Noel joined him in the middle compartment and they blasted away, with the cheetah about 5 feet away.
A film crew was there, and with the cat on a roof it wasn’t, I’m sure, what they wanted, so the guide started and gunned the engine, which spooked the cubs from under his vehicle. Malaika didn’t budge, and didn’t jump off until the guide drove forward, going slowly but hopefully enough to have the cat hop off. It did and we headed to the Mara River Bridge to cross into the Triangle, and to drive to our next lodge.

PM. Mara Triangle

We left at 4PM with thunderstorms and verga rain shrouds covering the horizon in several directions. We drove to the Mara River where everyone photographed Hippos, a Nile Crocodile with a Topi seemingly stuck in its jaws, and other large crocs. One Hippo obliged in a huge yawn.
A cloud burst/thunderstorm crept in from the south, soon enveloping Serena Lodge and moving towards us. My vehicle tried beating the rain, heading northwest, and aside from a few sprinkles we succeeded. The other vehicles stayed behind, and were forced to put on their roof hatches in the downpour.
sDriving north, we had the best Wooly-necked Storks I’ve ever had, right next to the road. A Gray Crowned Crane posed wonderfully, then flew/ran across the shallows for wonderful shots. Another rain storm in the north forced us to head south, which was now clear, and where a pride of Lions had been seen. En route, we had a wonderful sky-scape and a Giraffe walking across the horizon. The Lions were together, 8 in all, joined later by 2 more. The shooting was pretty dull except for the wide-angle shots that included lions and the wonderful sky.
cBy 5:30 the light was gone, but we did stay out to 6:30, adding 5 more lions to the count as we searched unsuccessfully for servals. Other vehicles had Bat-eared Fox and Black-backed Jackal pups as well.

Day 10. Mara Triangle

hWe left at 6 with a blazing sky in the east, and scrambled to find something in the foreground to justify a shot. We managed a tree, but it was below the horizon line and the disparity between sky and earth might challenge the RAW converter. We returned to the main road where one of our vehicles had seen a female Bat-eared Fox nursing three pups, right beside the road. We pulled up, and one, then two, pups popped up, but they were shy and never completely emerged from the den. We waited over an hour, as the sun cleared the morning clouds and warmed the earth, hoping the family would come out to sun. They did not.
While we waited, we scanned, and on the horizon I saw several fbumps that looked light, as if they might be cats. When we left the foxes we headed in that direction, and along the way I spotted a Serval that appeared fairly tame. We drove towards it and it began to hunt, jumping a little hop to catch a lizard. It ate the prey with his/her back towards us, and the rest of our shots, as we followed, were less satisfactory.
We continued, and the bumps turned out to be 5 Lions, a family of 2 lionesses and 3 half-grown cubs. They had been standing as we approached, as a Warthog had passed, almost triggering a hunt, but they soon went prone. We could get close enough to do some wide-angle shots and polarize the sky, which was gorgeous.
We received a radio call that a Cheetah was spotted and we headed there, arriving just in time to pick the perfect spot as the cheetah approached, directly to us, and walked by. A mother Topi and newborn baby were in the grasslands before her, and the cheetah tried hunting them, but the mother spotted the cat and just trotted on ahead, keeping close to 1/3rd mile between them. When we drove away I could still see the cheetah sitting upright in the grasses, an easy 1/3 to ½ mile away, illustrating how conspicuous a cat can be in the grasses.
After breakfast we headed to the roadside pond where two Hippos were contesting ownership. I think this is the first time I’ve seen hippos here, and I suspect that two males that did not have harems at the river ended up at this convenient pool, but now were in dispute as to who owned it. Earlier we had driven by the spot, and I saw one hippos yawning, which can be a territorial display. Yesterday, we passed, and I saw only one hippo here, but today I saw two. When we arrived to shoot, the two hippos were facing each other and periodically  one or the other yawned a warning. Since the pond is actually on higher ground we had a near-water-level view, and a spectacular shot when one hippo did a spectacular, water-thrashing yawn. We hoped for a repeat but lunch was approaching, and the hippos seemed to have a truce, so we headed home.
hPM. We left at 4 and since John hadn’t had a chance with the hippos (he was with Mary in the AM and did have Painted Snipe, Pin-tailed Whydah, Hammerkop, Topi silhouette, Giraffe scenic, Hyena) we went to the hippo pool, which was best suited for an afternoon shoot. Both Hippos were still contesting the pool, and over the next hour must have sprayed feces (via tail fanning) and yawned huge yawns, and splashed their enormous jaws into the water, for a truly spectacular show. Most impressive to me was seeing a motor-drive sequence as their dagger-like lower canines, or tushes, rose from the water like swords, followed by the lower jaw several frames later. It is easy to see how someone could be literally sawed in half by a mouthing hippo.
At 5 we headed to the Bat-eared Foxes, hoping that with the failing evening light we’d have better luck. As we approached the foxes darted into the den, but a moment later a baby appeared, and we got that shot. Our guide spotted one of the adults resting in high grasses, that fox stood up – we got shots – and it ran off. Then, for the next 1.5 hours nothing happened and the light dimmed. I said we might as well go and John said, you first, and just as I put my gear down the female fox appeared at the den, and John got some more shots!
Mary and the others went to Lions, and the group had success with young cubs, a mediocre Lion Mating, and a Spotted Hyena den. Larry had Hippos mating, a first as well.

Day 11. Mara Triangle to Upper Mara

Considering today was a transit day we left promptly, driving out of Serena Lodge by 6:10AM. The skies were clear, with only a low rim on clouds on the edge of the eastern horizon. I paid attention to the cloud buildup today, and at 9:30 the first cumulous clouds were building in the east. By 10:30 most of the sky had clouds scattered about, and by 11:30 the horizons were beginning to appear stacked up with clouds, although still giving no hint that rain or storms may occur later.
rWe headed directly to a tree where, yesterday afternoon, a fresh leopard kill had been spotted, a Topi baby. The tree was right off the track but when we arrived the kill was mostly eaten and the leopard was gone. One of our vehicles had found the Lion pride from yesterday, and my vehicle was headed there when Mary radioed that they had found the Black Rhino. We raced to the area, the same location where, two evenings ago, we had the storks and cranes. The Rhino was in the open and walked parallel to the road, and we kept breast until it appeared that the rhino wished to cross. We stopped, it did, and disappeared into the riverine thickets.
We continued along the marshy flats, stopping for a great Defassa Waterbuck standing beside the road, close enough for short lenses and plenty of habitat. Continuing, we spotted two Saddle-billed sStorks, and I noticed one was hammering away at something. It was a frog (or toad, less likely) and the stork was repeatedly picking it up, juggling it in its beak, and basically pulverizing it in doing so. After it swallowed the frog it grabbed another, this one still laying eggs and when it picked the frog up, a shiny sheet resembling a spider web rose with it – the egg mass. The stork repeated the slamming process, then grabbed another, this time a pair in amplexus, the mating grip practiced by frogs and toads. After a few bangs one frog dropped off, which was eventually eaten, and the stork walked back, either grabbing its mate or another frog, and swallowed it as well. After the stork consumed another we headed out, as it appeared to finally be full. The female did the eating, the male never left his stance.
We had a call that 3 lions were up on a mound, and 3 Black Rhinos rr
were lying down, in the open, where they appeared as rocks. We checked out the lions first, and with no activity we drove to the rhinos. They were settled, too, and we were about to leave for breakfast when the female, a 30-some year old, got up, and rubbed against one of her two calves, one 3 years old, the other 8. That got the calves up as well, and they began to feed, getting closer and closer until they were frame-filling with a 200mm. At their closest, with a big lens I was doing headshots, as the rhino plucked leaves via its triangular-shaped, prehensile upper lip. When it crossed the track in front of us, and went to backlighting, we drove off, to meet the group for a 9:30 breakfast.
Afterwards we headed towards our next destination, driving through the Oloololo Gate and the northern boundary of the Mara Triangle Conservancy, into new Conservancy areas that, from the road at least, were disasters. I saw a recent map of the Greater Mara and the various Conservancies here, and perhaps this is working, but on the main road, leading to the Musiara Gate, it was cattle, goat, sheep, and Maasai filled.
When we first started doing safaris to Kenya we did almost all of our game-driving in these areas, which are now fenced or developed. The hillsides extending to the northeast are dotted with tin roofs, where back then scattered mud/dung Manyattas marked present, or former, nomadic Maasai bomas. Mara Rianta, which was once little more than a dispensary and a three-room bar/hotel, is now a small town, and disqusting, with plastic bags and bottles littering the ground everywhere. I wondered how the President of Rwanda would handle this, as he mandates one day a month as a national clean-up day. The Mara needs that!
Driving to the Musiara Gate we passed barren hillsides that were once covered in acacia thickets. Back then, Tsetse flies were an annoyance, but today they’re gone, as most of the mammals are, too. The Park Gate, marking the northern entrance to the Masai Mara Game Reserve, where Governor’s Camp is located nearby, is a national disgrace. A winding, rutted, pot-holed dirt track that snakes through the Maasia pastureland and deteriorates to a very rutted path before the gate, leads to the gate where vehicles must first ford a small stream. In high water, with heavy rains, I wonder if this route would even be passable.
bAfter we passed Paradise Plains things improved, and herds of Gnu, Zebra, Hartebeest and Topi were in numbers. We suspect the Gnus are not migrants, but the resident herd from the Lolita Plains which are now mostly fenced, giving the Gnus no other option than to stay in the Mara. Still, the game was promising, and our time inside the park should be productive. Sadly, though, the Mara is now an ecological peninsula, relying for its survival on its southern border with Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains, as the other three sides, north, west, and east, are basically disaster zones – at least for wildlife.
One of my guides said the Conservancies are great and that we should go there, but when I’ve flown over all I saw were settlements and cows. Game may be there, but to be shooting it between or among cattle herds, and looking for shy lions that seek hiding places by day to avoid the Maasai, is not appealing.
bPM. We left at 4PM under hot, clear skies. The 1PM cloud cover was gone, and the air was still and hot. For the first hour we had virtually nothing, but at 5 we came upon a pride of lions with 9 juveniles or young, and 6 older or adult. They were not doing anything and we were leaving when my guide spotted 2 Coqui Francolins right beside us. These quail-like birds are normally fast and shy, but these two just posed and walked about, actually walking with a yard of our vehicle. Great photos!
By then the first lions were waking up and for the next 1.5 hours we photographed the activity, as the lions nursed, played a bit, and were scolded by the lionesses. It was a productive afternoon.


Day 12. Upper Mara

We left at 6 and headed to the pump station area where a Leopard and cub were reported to be frequenting. En route we stopped for a small group of Lions in the first gold light of the day, their sun-lit coats contrasting nicely with the dark, shadowed grasses. Arriving at the station we were rounding a stony hill when I spotted the lLeopard sitting atop a small rock pile, and a second later her cub bounded into view.
We drove as close as we could amongst the rocks, and for the next half hour or so watched the Leopard mother and cub play. Unfortunately there was one solitary, skinny croton bush in the middle of the rock amphitheater and as luck would have it, most of the time the two leopards played directly behind it. There were some breaks, when the two would move to the side, and towards the end the female walked in front of the bush, so there was some good shooting. But … without the bush,

lthe shooting would have been spectacular. Still … it was great!
Other highlights for the day include bounding Impala, several Topis who strutted about, showing their dominance and chasing off younger rams that were sparing, 4 big male Lions, 15 lions and cubs – same as yesterday’s, Nile Crocs, and more. We arrived back at camp by noon, and one of our guides gave a Maasai cultural talk after lunch.
PM. A four cat afternoon.
We headed south to the general area where we’d seen the Cheetah with five cubs a few days ago, and we found them! The family was lying on a termite mound amidst some bushes, but there were several vantage points and Erick, who loves cheetahs, was in a prime spot when the mother groomed one of the babies. I was behind him and I could hear the camera ripping through frames. The cats eventually left the mound and walked directly  to our vehicle, and then continued where they paused on another mound, providing a wonderful family view as they looked over the grasslands.
hWe saw 7 Lions, that were at a buffalo kill, but the Mara Rangers were there and the shots were nothing, so we continued, and that’s when we had the cheetahs. Leaving them, we re-encountered a Serval that was hiding in the grass but it never really relaxed, so we headed out, as we had a radio call that the Leopard that had been spotted earlier in the afternoon was now in the open. We drove there, and in fading light shot the leopard before it disappeared into the brush.
As Mary and I shared wine, a Greater Spotted Genet climbed down a vine near our porch and fed upon some banana slices, completing a wonderful day.

Day 13. Upper Mara

hTwo vehicles went to the Maasai village at first light, while our other vehicles hunted for the Leopard and cub. We were unsuccessful in that quest. The village people had, at first light, a great Spotted Hyena chase where a lone hyena chased a young Gnu about a half mile before bringing it down, grabbing its leg and then ripping into its abdomen. Soon after a rival clan appeared and drove off the hyena, who later returned with her own clan. For the next twenty minutes the two went back and forth in disputing the kill, and in the process annihilated the carcass. It was there morning highlight, and then they proceeded to the village.
vWe did find a male Lion at a buffalo kill, and when it eventually left we had a spectacular show of Vultures, including a few Ruppell’s, many White-backed, Hooded, and one immature and very rare Egyptian Vulture. We were close to the carcass and birds more than filled the frame as they dropped in to the kill. Two Hyenas arrived and tried claiming the carcass from the vultures, but the best they could do was run off with a hide, and two legs. We followed, and got some nice panning, slow-shutter speed shots as the hyena ran through the grass. There were several lions and cubs nearby, too, and two vehicles had good luck with the cubs playing on a fallen tree and drinking.
lPM. We headed south again, and soon found two brother Cheetahs lying beneath a tree. One vehicle stayed with them the entire two hours, but aside from moving 60 feet they did nothing. The rest of us found and shot a mating pair of Lions, lying in the open in the baking sun, typical position for a mating pair. The female had a banged-up jaw, but the mating was rather tame, with little slapping. We moved on, discovering a lone Side-Striped Jackal pup that wandered about under an acacia tree, completely fearless. We could not see a den, and the jackal looked like it was abandoned, but it was healthy and fat-looking. It was extremely tame, and this is very odd.
We returned to camp shortly before sunset so that everyone could empty their beanbags, shower, pack, and have luggage out for the guides who would be leaving at first light tomorrow for Nairobi. Our farewell dinner was fun, as we reviewed trip highlights, thanked the driver/guides for a great job, and listened to their wrap-up as well. lOne guide droned on about the coming Apocalypse, rambling about the end of the world and the signs pointing there. The next guide changed the mood completely by telling a silly joke in a series of questions: how do you get a giraffe in a freezer? Push it. How do you get an elephant in? Take the giraffe out first. All the animals went to a party except one. Who? The elephant, still in the freezer. The guide said little kids get the answer straight away, 5 year olds, but one of the participants did, too, so we weren’t sure what that meant…..
Day 14. Breakfast and flight to Nairobi
We met at 8 and flew out at 11. Reviewing further, this was an extraordinary trip for Lion cubs, the most I think we’ve ever had, in all three parts of the Mara. The Wild Dogs were exceptional, the eye-level Hippos, the Cheetah on the roof – tremendous highlights for a great trip.

Regarding equipment, I used the new Canon 200-400mm zoom lens, which I've owned since July. Although I truly love it, I had a major problem with the lens mid-way through the trip in Tanzania. The rotating lens collar jammed, or stuck, for no reason, and did so with the lens foot basically upside down, so it was impossible to mount the lens on a tripod, unless I was prepared to operate all of my camera controls upside down and in the opposite position, right to left. Extremely frustrating!

We used our Gura Gear Bataflae bags in the safari vehicles, fishing out our smaller cameras and lenses, and we kept our long lenses in the Long Lens Bag by Vertex. I'm proud to say I helped design the bag, and to hear from our participants that it is the best investment they made for their safari. Everyone loves them and we are seeing more and more of our participants using them.

Refer to our BROCHURE to get an idea of next year's trip! The brochure is not updated for 2015 (remember, I'm in Africa), but the itinerary wil be similar.