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Trip Report:

Photo Safari
Trip Two


This was the second of two trips and completely different from the first safari. As you read this report, or link to our first safari you'll see that I devote a lot of text to the problem of the cattle entering the Maasai Mara and the destruction of habitat that results.

That first safari of the year went extremely well, and that report is posted . In that report I discussed, at length, Kenya's conservation problems, and if you're interested in reading that you can go to that link. Between our Kenya trips we did our second Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda trip, and prior to that, between our Tanzania and Kenya trips, we did our first of the year Gorilla trips.

I really had no intention of rehashing those issues in the second report but we saw too much abuse to ignore it, and I found I still had to comment on what I was seeing. Hopefully, somehow, my observations may help to spark some fire in the hearts of those who can actually do something about it. If not, if trends continue, the Masai Mara will be lost.

As I said several times in the last report, Kenya still offers the best value for the money for near-continuous wildlife photography. As you see as you continue, our shooting has been superb.

mHere's the Report:

Day 1. Yesterday, Mary, Val, Nancy, Randy, and I flew in from Rwanda, which is an hour behind Nairobi time. Although we changed our watches we did not change our alarm clocks, and 15 minutes after our morning briefing was to start Val called our room, reminding us of the time change. Five minutes later I was downstairs, but my mind was addled as I went over our briefing. What a start!

Our drive towards Samburu went uneventfully, with a stop at Tree mTrout for lunch where the black and white Colobus Monkeys performed well. A care-taker there was giving the monkeys cabbage leaves, and the monkeys are now so tame that he could keep a nut or leaf in his closed fist while a monkey tried prying his hand open. He could pet and stroke the monkey, too, and a Kenyan lady offered her hand, while holding a nut, for the monkey to take. I reminded her about Ebola, and should she be bitten … who knows? She fed the monkey anyway.
We arrived at our camp by 5, in plenty of time to unpack and get ready for the next day’s game drive. After dinner, right beside our tent where, last trip, a Pearl Spotted Owlet perched, we now had a Scop’s Owl sitting on a branch a few feet from the trail. I determined I’d have a flash and camera with me from now on, so we’ll see if we have any more luck with the owl.

lionDay 2. Samburu

We awoke expecting overcast skies since the temperature was very warm, but the dawn was clear – it was just very, very hot. After helping everyone with arranging bags and beanbags for their first safari we headed out, and had a very successful morning with most, or in some cases, all the endemic species – Reticulated Giraffe, Grevy’s Zebra, Gerenuk, Vulturine Guineafowl, and more.


My morning started with Elephants, shot side-lit in the crisp morning light, and soon after we found two Lionesses, one sitting on a bank overlooking the Samburu landscape, a beautiful scenic we shot several different ways. Kori Bustards, Desert Warthogs, gfighting Grant’s Gazelles, and finally more Elephants, which we shot against ‘Mary’s Mountain’ and followed to the river. There, several herds congregated, and drank and bathed, while a few medium-sized bulls play fought with varying levels of intensity.
eBy 11 it was almost too hot to photograph, and with the elephants leaving the river we headed back to camp.

PM. Val, Nancy, and I were in one vehicle, and Mary joined Nancy and Randy in another for a rewarding afternoon. Despite the heat no storms developed and the afternoon light was wonderful, low and sharp, with great color and contrast until nearly 6PM. One of my guides told me that 90% of the Dik-Diks here are Kirk’s, not Gunther’s, as I was always led to believe. This evening we went into the country where Gunther’s were supposedly most common, and to me, ALL the Dik-Diks here look like Gunther’s and do not look like Kirk’s. At any rate, we had great photography of the species.
eleMost notable were the baby Elephants. In our first encounter we found a small Elephant trying to climb up onto a slighter larger baby, although it looked more like real play and not some premature attempt to mount. The second encounter had a baby climbing over a much larger Elephant, this one with tusks, and the baby probed and kicked and climbed until the other Elephant got up. Then, that ele reversed the process, and leaned down on its front legs on the squealing baby.

mMary’s vehicle had the Lionesses I had this morning, and an adult male, that characteristically up here, lacked a mane. Instead it had a black Mohawk down its neck and a ruff, and it obliged them at the end by roaring, a wonderful experience to conclude the evening.

Day 3. Samburu

Another clear dawn but scattered clouds in the northwest and building cumulous clouds kept much of the morning fairly comfortable, until 11 when the heat and the light marked the end of the morning. It was a diverse morning of typical Samburu subjects, and began with a male Lion that was lying on one of the game tracks, a dead Oryx stashed in the brush nearby. He was the same male as yesterday, a well-built but not huge cat with a slight rim of black fur running down his neck and yellow sideburns, not much of a mane but typical for this semi-desert country. The cat stood, and in the golden light of dawn it was magnificent.
We found the same Savannah Monitor lizard we’d seen yesterday, when only its head and one forefoot stuck out of a termite mound. Today it was wandering about the same mound, moving in an awkward, tortoise-like gait that belied the speed a monitor can achieve when it wishes. Then, in undulating swings and elevated high off the ground it can run faster than a man can, as I know from trying to catch one years ago. Eventually the lizard dropped back into a termite chimney, hung there with only its tail and hindfeet showing, and then backed back out.
Mary was very ill today and sat out the morning game drive, but we found the Secretary Bird nest she’d seen yesterday. While we photographed the bird an immature African Harrier Hawk, or secGymnogene, left the distant forest and flew directly towards the bird. Stupidly, I zoomed in for a flight shot, and mostly missed the real action when the Hawk swooped down and the Secretary Bird turned to face the attack, fanning its wings and tail in a defensive display. The Hawk continued and landed in a tree sprinkled with Weaver nests, and was promptly bombarded by defending birds. The hawk ignored the nests and instead hunted along the broken trunk, perhaps after lizards. The behavior reminded me of a very similar species found in Brazil’s Pantanal, the Crane Hawk. Like the Gymnogene, the Crane Hawk is a nest raider, frog and lizard hunter, and it is shaped, colored, and acts just like the other bird, true ecological equivalents and great examples of Parallel Evolution.
sBaby Elephants playing in mud was another highlight, as was another observation when one baby, seemingly stuck as it tried climbing over a fallen log, was helped by a larger young elephant, that wrapped its trunk around the other and pulled it across. Randy’s images confirmed what we thought we’d seen.
At lunch the sky was filled with cumulous clouds but by the start of our afternoon drive a steady wind had blown most of those away, fowlpromising a rain-free game drive.
PM. Mary was still sick and stayed in, attempting to recover from a general malaise, fever, and ache. We left at 4 under nearly clear skies, but with a small breeze the temperature was tolerable. I was with Keith and Lenore and soon after leaving we had a DeArnult’s Barbet singing on a bare limb, and got decent images. We continued up the luggage where we had the Leopard last trip, continuing north until Mary’s mountain loomed prominently in the distance, surrounded by rocky crags normally not visible from the flood plain.

We skirted the mountains, hoping to spot a leopard descending into the flatlands for an evening hunt, but no one spotted a cat. I did find a family of Greater Kudu grazing at the base of the mountain, and although the image needed to be cropped I did manage a fairly decent shot of the bull. Later, I spotted the head of a Dwarf Mongoose sticking out of a termite hole where it would probably spend the night, and we shot a couple of cute images before it retired for good. Our guide, as we drove back, spotted what he thought was a striped hyena, which we’ve seen here in the past, but

the animal was even better – an Aardwolf, the first one I’ve ever seen in Samburu. Typical for this species here, it bolted across the plains and darted into a hole, but luckily, when we stopped, it popped back out, paused to pee, and ran off, giving us time to shoot. The image is small but nice, in the post-sunset glow of orange light.
That evening, before dinner, I had a chance to photograph the African Scops Owl, a screech owl-look-alike that has been perched in the bushes near our tent. Last trip, in the exact same area, another small owl was here, the Pearl-spotted Owlet, which I had one chance to photograph as well.

Pearl-spotted Owlet; African Scops Owl (with a blind eye)

Day 4. Samburu


The day began overcast, with only a few breaks in the clouds, and as the morning progressed a thick band of storm clouds, black and imposing, moved in from the southeast. The morning started somewhat slowly, but Val, Nancy, and I had great conversations as we moved along, photographing Dik-Dik and some miscellaneous subjects as we searched for the still elusive leopard.
weaverAlong the main road I spotted a Viteline Masked Weaver nest, where the male was still adding grass blades to its tear-drop shaped nest. We spent at least an hour shooting the bird as it flew in with freshly cut grass blades, with either Nancy or our guide calling out a warning that the bird was approaching with a fresh addition. An uncommon Paradise Whydad, a bird that in flight looked like a helicopter with its whirring wings and long trailing tail, flew in to the same tree, as did a Gray-backed Fiscal Shrike that was stealing pieces of nest from some sparrow-weavers.

eleWe were about to head out when I noticed Elephants rounding the hill, framed by the black-blue storm clouds, making for wonderful environmental shots. We finished with this just before the rains hit, and we drove on to join the other vehicles where all of us ate inside to avoid the soaking rain. When we left, we immediately had a good Leopard Tortoise near the road, and soon after received a call that Lions were spotted. When we arrived, six were lying upon the bank overlooking a luggage, close to where we had the lionesses on our first morning. Eventually they moved down into the luggage, although one remained and climbed a tree that was the highlight for many.


We drove on, but one vehicle stayed behind and Lenore got a nice shot when a Lioness hunted a Warthog, but missed, although Lenore’s shot of the chase is quite dramatic.
I found another Weaver nest, this one quite close to the road, and we spent another lengthy time doing portraits and flight shots. The radio call of the lion hunt took us back to the cats, where we found, and worked to death, the lion in the tree, for spectacular shots.

This was our first view of the lion, but we stayed with it for nearly an hour, moving our vehicle into several different positions to shoot a wide variety of angles. Too often, photographers anchor themselves into one spot and shoot the same thing again and again.

Randy and Tom’s vehicle had, earlier, a Cheetah that was attacked by a Beisa Oryx, that charged in to the brush where the cat was hiding. They got shots as it tried spearing the cat and as it sprang away, and was then chased by the entire herd.
Mary was still sick and spent the morning recovering.

bPM. Mary joined us on our game drive and we had luck, finally getting a Leopard. We were told before the game drive that a Leopard had been spotted in a tree with a kill, but our directions were all messed up and we spent nearly an hour searching. Finally, a guide from our camp drove out, and pointed us to the cat. A few of our vehicles had actually passed nearby, but I can use the excuse that we had made a right turn, instead of a left, and consequently we didn’t get the cat until the guide showed us.


lHowever, it was a good leopard, treating us to multiple views, including having the cat descend from the tree exactly at 6PM, the deadline we’d given ourselves to have time to enjoy the Sundowner our camp was hosting for us. The light was low by then and when the cat left the tree it literally disappeared, so it was a non-tempting conclusion, with everyone ecstatic to get a leopard before we left Samburu. A great conclusion to the first leg of the trip!

Day 5. Samburu to Lake Nakuru

We had a great early morning start, saying our good-byes to the wonderful camp staff at Elephant Bedroom Camp, before continuing on the long drive to Lake Nakuru.

The long drive to Lake Nakuru , despite its length, is usually enjoyed because of the varied terrain we pass through, from semi-desert to the high country of over 8,000 feet along Mt. Kenya, and then dropping into the Rift Valley. As we approached the Lake I’m still stunned by its new apparent size, basically filling much of the lake basin on the northern end. No one can really account for the relatively sudden (last two years) rise in water level, although one conjecture is the water table has slanted, and now flows north, into the Rift lakes, and not south as in the past.
The weather cooperated for the afternoon game drive, although the skies still clouded up and the light level fell dramatically. Mary and I did work in our room while most of the group went out, with the best highlight being White Rhinos close to the road.

Day 6. Lake Nakuru to Lower Mara

fWe did a game drive until 10:30, concentrating on Lesser Flamingos along the flooded section of the road before heading inland, looking for more rhinos. Near ‘Ship Rock’ we found a large herd of Rothschild Giraffes, all moving in one tight group through the Yellow Bark Acacia and towards us, and the waterhole behind. The shooting was excellent, and ended with one pair of young adult giraffes necking, doing the play-fighting that would establish dominance.

bAt the park entrance we broke down gear and headed on towards the Mara. The most notable aspect of this commute was the litter, plastic bags of various colors stuck to bushes and fences in thick mats that extended at least a quarter mile each way when we reached small towns, villages, or settlements. We arrived at our lodge by 5:30, in plenty of time to see well for unpacking for our three nights here.



Day 7. Lower Mara

bAs we drove in last evening several small groups of Maasai cows grazed within the park in clear view of the main gate. Today, in various locations we saw: 1. About 1,000 cows (estimated) that were supposedly ‘arrested’ along the Sand River for illegally grazing in the Park. One of our guides said it was cheaper to sell one cow and pay the fine, and continue to graze in the park, than to risk the health of the cows by staying outside the park boundaries. 2. Three different dead cows, all being fed upon by vultures. 3. A live cow that had fallen into a large hole, wedging its hind legs and hips so tightly that it was dying inside the hole. We pulled it out, but the cow was close to death. Hopefully birds will draw in hyenas or lions to finish it quickly. 4. Near the south entrance, by Sopa, and also at the southeastern entrance, by Sarova, the grass is extremely closely cropped. Only as we headed north from Sopa did the grass begin to look taller, and then, as we drove the main road back to our lodge, it shortened again, via the over-grazing.
bPerhaps more distressing was the lack of animals in those areas. In the past, the Sopa area was home to several cheetahs, lion prides, and game. Now, south of the area we call the Oasis, there was almost nothing.  When I questioned one of our guides later, at lunch, he agreed that the area will become like a desert in the future because of the over-grazing. For now, sadly this area has little game.
I’ve ranted about the plastic and the litter and the lack of national pride and personal responsibility here, and this morning I had another telling, and very sad, example. As we drove along the main road heading towards our first shooting location I spotted a discarded plastic drinking bottle beside the road. My guide pulled over, got out of the car, and walked to the front. I was standing on the car seat at the time I told the guide ‘thank you’ for what he was about to do – pick up the litter. The guide rearranged this cooler and other items in the front passenger foot well, repacked, and circled back to get into his driver’s seat. He never touched the plastic bottle, right next to his open door. Randy, bNancy, and I looked at each other in chagrin and we all shook our heads. If a professional guide can’t bother to pick up litter when it is practically bumping in to him, what does that say? I’d bet anything that the Kenya park rangers will do likewise, and until the bottle is so smashed and dirty from passing vehicles it will remain visible and ugly on the main track into the park.
It was a diverse day, with flying bee-eaters, a Lion pair that I suspect were at the end of the mating cycle, with the male interested and the female only concerned with catching prey, vultures flying down to kills or bathing, and a calling family group of Ground Hornbills. When we returned at lunch the skies were clear but by 2PM rain threatens, and it will be interesting to see how the weather unfolds this afternoon.

lPM. It never rained, and the skies were broken with heavy cumulous clouds that did produce a few heavy raindrops as we drove the main road, passing the discarded plastic water bottle as we did so. It will be interesting to see if any of the park rangers (we saw two vehicles tonight) bother. I won’t bet on it.
It was a spectacular afternoon. We’d heard about a lion pride feeding close to the game track, and with cubs. We found the pride quickly, two lionesses and two young subadults – the same cats from the last trip. They ate and bumped heads and finally laid down, and while they rested we scanned with binoculars and found one of the Lionesses with three young cubs. We drove there, shooting the cats until they too settled down. We were hoping they’d walk to the kill and while positioning ourselves to intercept them, if they did, Mary’s lvehicle found the other Lionesses of the pride, with six young cubs, descending the hill and approaching the gnu kill. We raced ahead and shot several wonderful series of the family as it approached.
At 6:15 the cats disappeared into the brush and we headed home, stopping along the way for a wonderful sunset with looming thunderheads glowing in the low light, and zebras and Thompson’s gazelles silhouetted against the skyline. A great afternoon, that more than compensated for a fairly slow morning.

Day 8. Lower Mara

The first thing I heard when my alarm woke me at  4:50AM was the tinkling notes of Maasai cow bells. Each night, to preserve the illusion of a wildlife park, the Maasai wait until dark to drive their cattle in to graze, and leave before dawn. Today, however, the cow bells were ringing continuously as we got ready for our game drive, and when we left the lodge gate several hundred cows were still deep inside the park, crossing the road in front of us. As we drove westward you could clearly see the damage the cows are doing, as the grasses were cropped down to nearly golf putting green height.
We drove fast to head towards the Sand River and possible lions, and as we reached the Keekorok we had a Lioness crossing the road. Continuing, I was looking to the right where there is a small forest, and possible leopards, but saw nothing and continued. Randy was in Mary’s vehicle and pointed out what he first lthought was another lioness, but instead was a huge male Leopard resting fully in the open on the LEFT side of the road, about twenty yards from the track. Mary got on the radio and told me to get my butt back there! We arrived in time for some nice portraits, and in time to watch the cat focus beyond us. Mary looked back and saw Baboons, as did the leopard that darted in a slinky move off the mound and into the luggage. A trumpeting Elephant marked its progress, while about six Olive Baboons boldly bounded to the mound and beyond, looking for the leopard. Fortunately they were unsuccessful.
Towards the kopje rocks we found two male Lions, but aside from sitting up occasionally they did nothing. Later, we had three more males, all sleeping beneath a bush. And a Cheetah, that Mary’s vehicle encountered as it walked across the grasses, with a full belly and a bloody muzzle. By the time we arrived it was sitting in the shade of a distant tree, for poor images.
lPrior to that, we did have another good Leopard, a female sleeping on a grassy knoll above a lugga. While we watched the cat got up, walked towards Val, Keith, and Nancy’s vehicle for great vertical frame-filling shots, then the cat turned and snuggled into the grasses beneath a bush, giving the rest of us great views.
Ironically, while goats, sheep, and cattle graze with impunity in the Reserve lands, a Maasai park patrol gave us much grief about being ‘off-road.’ In order to properly see the leopard, one of our three vehicles was partly off the road, and the other, mine, was about a car length and a half further in, again to see the cat. When the rangers arrived they drove down into the lugga below the leopard, which fortunately did not run off but easily could have with their very close approach. Nearly getting stuck on our side of the lugga, they gunned their engine and backed up, finally clearing the steepest part. One of our vehicles was parked in front of them, and showing their authority, all three of our vehicles had to move to accommodate the rangers as they drove past, and then summoned my vehicle over where for the next five minutes a spirited conversation transpired. The rangers had no concern for what the tourists were missing – they were doing their job.
zI would only have made it more difficult for my guide if I spoke up, but I really wanted to tell the three guys how misguided they were. The Mara is dying because of the over-grazing of the Maasai cows, and if tourists are nonetheless successful in photographing what is here, those tourists can and probably will relay their experiences in a positive way when they get home, and hopefully drive more tourists to Kenya. Or … the tourists can see the land being over-grazed before their eyes, with cows, goats, and sheep openly grazing in the almost barren fields within a mile of the park gate, and then experience Park Rangers who ignore those rules and enforce the slightest infraction of tourists vehicles. As I said to my guide, imagine if this leopard was the one ‘must-see’ animal of a lifetime these tourists hoped to see and did, and then these zealous rangers spooked it (which they could have easily done) or simply pulled off the vehicle so they could lecture the driver for a time, when we were talking a few car’s lengths to simply accommodate viewing. He said saying anything would only make it worse for them. I was quiet.
lAt lunch we had a discussion with our guides about the grazing problem, and two of the three blamed the Conservancies that have been established along the northern and eastern border of the Mara. These were originally supported by nearly everyone as a way to ‘buffer’ the Mara, and to provide more wildlife land than what little actually made up the Masai Mara. Now, two guides claim that the Maasai are forbidden from grazing on those lands, so instead they go onto the ‘public land,’ the Masai Mara, because it is the only place they can graze. When I pointed out that the land where the Maasai live is now almost a desert, with grass cover reduced to a thin patina, that was ignored. Instead, the rich people that own the Conservancies are to blame. Our other guide said the Maasai graze there, too, and I suspect he’s correct. 27 years ago, when we first came here, all the Maasai were nomadic here, and Maasai manyattas were built, lived in for awhile, and then abandoned as the Maasai moved on. Back then, we had photos of lions and cheetahs sitting on top of abandoned mud huts. Today, all structures are permanent, and the amount of livestock has increased by countless factors.
The conversation concluded with no answers, with the only one even coming close simply being to blame the Conservancies, and believe that with those areas open to grazing that somehow the cattle will come in balance with the land, via droughts and die-offs, while not addressing the denuding of the land. Really depressing!

cPM. The landscape looked barren and it seemed like there was far less game than what we’ve seen in previous years. It is hard to know for sure. It was, however, a very good afternoon. We started with a Black-backed Jackal at a small waterhole, being dive-bombed by a pair of Wattled Plovers. I framed too tightly and only caught a few passes; had I not been greedy on the ‘perfect’ composition I’d have been more successful, and could have cropped in for the same view. Dumb.
Mary found a new Cheetah and radioed that it was great, so my vehicle, with Keith and Tom, drove there and spent the remainder of the late afternoon with golden light bathing the cat and lighting up its eyes. Several times, behind the cheetah, I framed to capture the thick clusters of Maasai cows that were being driven through the preserve, on their way to deeper pastures within the park. The barren nature of the land, the close-cropped grasses, the beaten trails leading to water holes – all the work of thousands of cows.  Late in our shoot the Cheetah got up to hunt and stalked towards us, but stopped and as the sun was about to set behind low western clouds it rolled to its side and slept. On the return home we had another nice sunset and a nearly-adult Martial Eagle that perched close by.
As we turned to drive into our lodge thousands of cows were moving into the park, streaming right passed the Sekkani Park Gate entrance. Mary raised cane with some Maasai she passed on her way in, expressing her anger and disappointment to Maasai kids who looked back at her blankly.

fDay 9. Lower Mara to Mara Triangle

Maasai cow bells rang throughout the night and starting at 4 passed close to our camp as the cows returned home. We left shortly after six under overcast skies, with only a few patches of open sky to the east. Near Keekorok, and close to where we’d seen the Leopard yesterday, I spotted a Black Rhino on a nearby hill. It was scent marking and doing flehmen, the smelling/lip curling move, and browsing occasionally. We made some shots, then drove quickly to a turn to get closer. The rhino stayed, and actually walked towards us, just as the sun poked through one of the openings in the clouds, and we enjoyed low, golden, angular light as the rhino retreated into the croton bushes for the day.

bMary’s vehicle stopped for the same troop of Olive Baboons that chased yesterday’s leopard, and they got some interesting images as the baboons inspected a baby.
We continued, and I soon spotted a pair of Lions that were beginning their honeymoon. The male was interested but the female was not, and we had the same experience as two days ago, with the male pawing at her while she growled and walked on, this one going to cover. We continued.
We still looked in vain for the kopje lions we’ve seen every year but this one and with a big herd of Maasai cows ‘arrested’ yesterday within earshot, I wonder if these cats are still alive. We never found them. We did find the pride along the Sand River, but they were on the opposite bank and too far for any shots.
The rest of the morning went rather uneventfully, although after we crossed the Mara River Bridge we found a mother Cheetah and four cubs, all younger than the ones from last year. They were resting under a thick brush and in deep shade, and hwe decided to go for them on the PM game drive. As I write this, our lodge in in sunlight but in three directions it is raining, and thunder booms constantly from the southeast, the direction of the cubs.

PM. It rained everywhere around us, but we stayed rain free. A great afternoon.
Randy hoped to see a Leopard to complete a Big Five day, and so we drove along the forest buttes and a wooded lugga where, it leopards were about, they’d be most likely here. Tom spotted something running, which turned out to be a baby Warthog racing full-out across the plains, while another warthog ran a short distance perpendicular to it. This was odd. On a hillside, three Defassa Waterbuck stared intently in one direction, with an Impala doing the same further up the hill. With those clues, we drove in the direction they were looking, at our guide spotted the Leopard lying on a termite mound. It was shy and ducked into a lugga, and clater zoomed out, where I caught a few snaps as it bounded away.
We continued, heading towards the Cheetah cubs. Along the way a good rainbow formed, which we framed with a family of Elephants. While we did this Mary radioed that the Cheetah was hunting, and we drove down in time to see the cat jogging along, with two different herds of Thompson’s gazelles running, one east, one west. She was jogging east and suddenly turned south, to watch the antelope running west, and then took off at a fast run that began an explosive charge, culminating in her taking down a female.


She must have seen something with that antelope to trigger the intense chase, for she had been jogging for a few hundred yards prior to the run. The chase, beginning with the jog, took 26 seconds, while the full-out charge took 18 seconds until the take-down.
bWhen the mother killed, and held on, to the antelope she began chirping for the cubs, even though her mouth was still covering the throat of the prey. The cubs heard her and came charging in, swarming over the kill and playing, enacting their version of throat-holds. A few minutes later they settled in at the back end and opened the carcass themselves, and began to feed. Soon after the mother joined them, and as they ate we headed for home, as closing time neared.

Day 10. Mara Triangle

The morning started with the pup Bat-eared Fox sitting in the open, while the female, as usual, ducked into a burrow and the male lay curled in the higher grass nearby. Last trip all of the foxes were shy, so it was refreshing to have the pup relaxed. Soon after, eight Lions were lying or sitting beside the main road, with some hungry and others full-bellied. All were looking off into the distance where we presume the other lionesses had gone, and at one point the sole lioness here roared, as if seeking a location.
cMy vehicle headed into the high country of the buttes, while Mary’s vehicle went low and found two Cheetah brothers. At one point when they were close the cats climbed a tree for a better vantage. We joined them as soon as we could and followed along as they hunted, getting several chances as they walked towards the vehicle. No game was in sight and the cheetahs eventually settled beneath a Balanites tree to spend the rest of the day.
We received another call that a Martial Eagle had just killed a Cattle Egret and we arrived before the bird began plucking feathers and feeding. One vehicle saw the capture. The light was now high so we drove on to the hippo pool, hoping to get water-level shots of the resident bull displaying. He did not, and simply thrashed about a few times.
At breakfast, held beneath a balanitis tree, I found several different grasshoppers, katydids, and other insects in the high grass. A very refreshing change from the sterile, over-grazed lands we had just left.

PM. A very interesting and diverse afternoon, if it was slow in some ways. Mary’s vehicle looked unsuccessfully for servals and ended up, at the end of the day, with the Lions from this morning. Our other two vehicles spent more time along the river, and our shoot began with a very good Topi fight, not a serious one since it is not the breeding time yet, but still quite animated.
tWe drove along looking for good hippos and towards the end of the day had a very aggressive bull that was plowing through the water, climbed ashore, sprayed feces on the bank, and went charging back in. Yellow-billed Storks and at least 20 Spotted Hyenas, that had been feeding on a dead Elephant in the brush, completed the day. Our guides told the park rangers about the elephant and one vehicle saw the rangers emerging from the brush with a pair of 18” long tusks. Cause of death unknown.
I did feel as if communication failed this evening and I had a heated pep talk with the guides about this. The guides were very defensive, explaining that they were in communication, and I think they missed my point that although that might be true, the perception was that they were not. My vehicle came in late on a couple of good subjects, and perhaps my guide/driver was ‘off’ tonight, but either way it wasn’t the job that I expected. The ‘talk’ was interesting and heated, on their end as they felt I was wrong, but it ended well. The funniest part of the episode occurred when the guides told me they had been talking, and had said they only had two days left and hadn’t gotten in trouble (with me) yet. I told them that now I didn’t disappoint them – now they had been in trouble, so their expectations were fulfilled. They didn’t catch the humor. As I said to them, I brag that we offer the best safari experience possible, and I expect the best from them and I’ll give them honest feedback, pro and con, as necessary. They accepted that, and our evening finished.

bDay 11. Mara Triangle to Upper Mara

Breakfast boxes were a bit late in arriving but we left our lodge in good time and headed southwest to a Spotted Hyena den we found yesterday. One vehicle discovered yesterday’s shy Leopard, and the occupants got some distant shots before the cat slunk off. Our morning started with a shy White-tailed Mongoose that ran off as we drove by, followed by a Spotted Hyena carrying the remains of an Aardvark! This was only the third or fourth aardvark I’d ever seen, and one of the others was quite close to here. All were dead or being eaten.
We spent some time at the hyena den but only adults showed, although we had some luck with an African Fish Eagle. As we were returning to the main road I spotted an extremely well camouflaged Nightjar sitting on the stones. We’ve only seen a few of these in all the years, and the bird, confident it was invisible, sat tightly and we got great shots.
We did find a few Lions, but nothing exceptional except Mary worried that the nearby Buffalo had killed a cub, but they did not. I spotted the two Cheetah brothers from yesterday, helped by Topi that all stared from several directions, helping me triangulate my search. A flipping tail several hundred yards away gave the cats away. The mangy Cheetah was seen too, and photographed drinking, with a good reflection.
Last evening, at the river, we had twenty or more Hyenas that had been feeding on a dead Elephant. This morning, at least 60 elephants came down to that area to ‘mourn’ the carcass, flushing out the hyenas while doing so. Several bulls crossed the Mara River, and as we photographed one doing so, my guide spotted a Leopard nonchalantly walking along where, only minutes earlier, we had been. We drove off to make zoom for zebras we hoped would cross.


cHeading for a 10AM breakfast we stopped at a Hippo overlook where several hugeNile Crocodile males and many females were just beginning to rip into a fresh Zebra. We believe it was captured as it came to the river to drink. In the hour we watched the crocs basically tore it to pieces, and when we left (because we needed to exit the Triangle under a time permit deadline) only the head and portions of the neck and legs remained. Great shooting, with the crocs spinning in the water to tear off meat, and swallowing and shaking chunks.
We ate as we drove out, and passed over the Mara Bridge, to the dump that is now Mara Rianta, a tiny town strewn with litter where, 25 years ago, we did all of our game drives. We reached our camp at 1, for our last base.

PM. We left at 4 with stormy skies to the south and west, making even but somewhat dark lighting conditions for the afternoon shoot. We headed east on the Talek River, and soon spotted several vehicles on the other side. We were told the vehicles were with the mother Cheetah with 5 cubs. We crossed the river, and soon reached the cheetahs which were beneath a tree. The female was resting but the cubs were playing actively, and continued to do so until the female left the tree and started walking on to the plains. We followed, and remained with the cats under 6 when the light failed. The female may have a slight limp in her right forefoot, so we hope that she will be OK with 5 young cubs (3 males, 2 females) to feed.
After dark, Mary and I had some wine while we watched Greater Spotted Genets and Greater Galagos, or Bushbabies, outside our tent. A good day.

Day 12. Upper Mara

lThe day started overcast and cold, but by mid-morning the clouds had burned off and with it came the heat. It was a FOUR cat morning, with a brief encounter with a shy Leopard, a Serval – that Lenore spotted and she and Nancy got nice shots, 23 Lions, and a Cheetah.
Nothing truly noteworthy happened until near the end of the game drive when we found two young Lions at a termite mound. One was baking on top in the sun, but with the puffy cumulous clouds building it made for a great wide-angle perspective.

Although it was clear at lunch, I lobbied unsuccessfully to push our afternoon departure to 3PM, instead of 4, so that if it clouded up as it did yesterday we’d have more suitable light to photograph. We compromised at 3:30, and at 2:25PM, as I write this, thunder booms to the east and the skies are dark. An hour from now, who knows?

sPM. It did not rain, but the skies remained dreary and storms threatened in several directions. We crossed the Talek to look for the cheetah mother with her five babies but we were unsuccessful. Heading east along the river and nearby plains we did see several Maasai cattle herds, and little else. After the fact, the following day, we learned that the cheetah was in the brush quite close to where we had passed. By 5PM the storm had nearly reached us and we headed back to camp in 6:30PM light, racing the rain. At the airstrip it caught us, but we drove on rather than stopping to put the tops on the vehicles, figuring we’d be wetter doing that.
It rained nearly the entire night.

Day 13. Upper Mara

At 5AM, from our tent, we could hear the river rising, and in the 1.5 hours that followed the river rose from a puddle-like stream to a river, rising at least 18 inches or more. We wisely decided not to cross the river to hunt for the cheetahs. Instead we drove north and west, hoping to find the mother leopard and cub. Despite last night’s rain the morning clouds quickly burned off and we had great light. Nancy, Tom, and I spent time along the river watching a mother Hippo with a very young baby, whose mother quite aggressively charged after any hippo that came nearby. While watching we discovered a Little Bee-eater nest and a feeding/hunting perch, and we spent a productive hour there catching the birds as they flew in with moths or bees. Nancy got some great shots.
After meeting for breakfast most of the group went on to a Maasai village, while Mary joined us in our vehicle for the remainder of the game drive. The group to the village felt that was their morning’s highlight; they enjoyed it.
sPM. Beautiful skies with storms around us creating some spectacular rainbows. The river dropped during the day and we were able to cross, again searching for the Cheetah. We did have a variety of subjects, great rainbows, some Lions, and wonderful silhouettes towards sunset, but the cheetahs eluded us. Still, it was a wonderful way to end the safari.
That evening we had our last dinner where we went over trip highlights, presented our tip to the guides, and had a few little speeches. It began to rain as we finished, and continued raining hard throughout the night.
Day 14. Upper Mara to Nairobi and to Home

The river rose again and exceeded yesterday’s high water mark, rising 2 feet or so. The guides left early and arrived in Nairobi safely mid-morning, while we slept in, had a late breakfast, and an uneventful flight back to Nairobi.
I caught a stomach virus of some type and spent the afternoon trying to sleep it off or rest, while Mary repacked for the trip home. I skipped our final dinner, not having any energy to eat, but joined the group for a final farewell before most of us headed to the airport.
When we arrived, Mary, Randy, and I found that our KLM flight had been cancelled, as had earlier flights during the week. The official line was mechanical problems, but we believe they cancelled simply because the planes were virtually empty. sTourism was down by 80% because of the Ebola scare. We were lucky to be rescheduled on Kenya Air, and we slept nearly the entire flight, arriving in London fairly rested. From there we were rebooked on a Virgin Atlantic flight, and we arrived in the States several hours earlier than our original itinerary, so we actually benefited from the cancellation. Virgin Atlantic is a spectacular airline, and although we flew coach the amenities were nearly Business Class on KLM.
When we arrived in Newark I called my family to tell them we’d be arriving for a visit and to pick up our truck in an hour or so, and I learned, then, how pervasive and over-blown this Ebola crisis is. When we arrived home I spent some time on the Web checking things out, reading some of the comments by rightfully outraged Africans about being lumped as one country with one big Ebola problem. East Africa, where we were, was further from the Ebola area than was Paris! But people’s geography obviously suffers. Thus ended our trip, a great one whose final memories involved silly worries about Ebola.

cRegarding 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 will be similar.