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Trip Report:

Photo Safari


lLion in mid-shake

I have to admit, I really thought this would be my last big safari to Kenya. It will NOT be, let me make that clear before I go any further. Overall, the shooting was spectacular, and the area where we were disappointed we're simply eliminating from our safari next year.

However, the Mara Triangle and Upper-Middle Masai Mara were quite good, and so much so that next year I'm squeezing in a private safari with two good friends to photograph in Samburu and these two areas of the Masai Mara. And that's saying something, as that trip will take up nearly all of my 'open' time between mid-July until the end of December.

Kenya is still a great shoot. In fact, on our last safari, the mini-Mara photo safari in late November, one of the participants said this was the best shooting he's had in Africa. He had photographed in Botswana, which has a stellar reputation, but he felt the thick brush and trees there made game-viewing and photography far more difficult than it is in the wide open grasslands of the Masai Mara. I told him I was surprised at his comment, and he told me he was surprised that I was surprised!

We will be doing this trip again in 2018. Check out our 2016 brochure for a general idea of that trip -- updates will be posted in January 2017.

This photo safari followed our first of two trips to Rwanda for the Mountain Gorillas. After a week in Rwanda we were anxious and eager to get back on safari. Kenya's photography is still fantastic and we'll be going back next year and in 2018, too. The following is the trip report -- telling it exactly as it is.


Day 1. Nairobi to Samburu
We left Nairobi at 8:26 on the day of the famous Kenya Marathon, where many of the streets were closed for the racers and requiring us to do a circuitous route out of the city. We passed hundreds of white-shirted runners, joggers, and walkers along the way, a hopeless mass of racers if you were not in the top tier and aspired to place well. .
While the drive to Samburu was once notoriously bad, with ruts in the road deep enough to swallow vehicles, the Chinese have constructed a road that extends north to Kenya’s border and is finally, for Kenya, a first class road.

We always play a game as we enter Samburu, guessing what would be the first animal we see. I won, with a Gerenuk, one of many we saw in the first few minutes, followed by Grants Gazelle and Oryx, Grevy’s Zebra, Elephant, and Baboon.  Although we did see Samburu herders inside the park boundary, which was distressing, the grasslands, although dry, looked healthy and not over-grazed, and the number of animals we saw was extremely promising.

lCattle grazing far inside the eastern section of Samburu Game Reserve. Last year this was potentially excusable, as there was a drought. This year the rains came, and if it was not for severe over-grazing, there would be grass outside the wildlife reserve. I address this and other concerns, especially regarding the Masai Mara, in a separate report.

We arrived at camp shortly after 5, met by our old friends, the camp manager Joseh, a great chef, David, and the various  Samburu staff. Before dinner, Mary and I sat on our veranda and looked out over the river, entertaining ourselves by trying to figure out where the ants were carrying the bits of popcorn we had dropped. The white flakes, moving at random and sometimes colliding, reminding me of a Rosebowl Parade gone mad, as two dozen or more ants joined together to move the flake in one direction or another. Insect-eating bats swooped around us, catching insects we couldn’t see, and expending energy that just didn’t seem possible to replenish with the tiny bugs they might capture. It was good to be back!

lDay 2. Samburu

Dawn broke with a cloudless sky, the sun a too-hot-to-watch orange ball over the river, framed by palms. We headed upriver, driving through surprisingly barren countryside. We passed a few Gerenuk early, small, scattered herds of Grants Gazelles, and a small herd of Impala.
We had Lion tracks right outside of camp, and during the night the Olive Baboons created a loud ruckus, screaming and barking alarm calls, which may have been generated by the Lions or perhaps a passing leopard.  Lion tracks were common, and I wondered if they were far-ranging because of a lack of food.
lWe headed towards the river where, en route, Mary spotted an African Wild Cat, but it ducked into thick vegetation quickly and I missed it. At the river the scene changed, with Common Waterbuck, Impalas, Reticulated Giraffes, a few Warthogs, coming to the river to drink. A Lioness walked in, and settled herself beneath a bush where she waited for prey. At one point a ram Impala walked up close, facing her from only thirty yards or so, and the Lioness flattened. She did not charge, and I suspect that her experience taught her that a run at an Impala would be wasted. The Impala walked by, never suspecting the Lioness close by.
The cat shifted position and faced downstream, and appeared focused on something but we couldn’t see what it was. Finally she charged, futilely chasing a pair of Dik-diks in the river bed and hidden from our view by a tree and the river bank. She missed, and only split up the pair, with the one she chased bounding back to the thick vegetation and the other racing upstream.
Minutes later we heard bells, goat bells, as a Samburu herdsman brought a large flock of goats down to the opposite shoreline. We knew any further hunting would be suspended until he left, and we headed upriver to look for a reported Leopard. We did not find it, but Vulturine Guineafowl squawked in  alarm, facing a thick bush, and we suspect they had seen the cat. Forty minutes passed, and we returned to the Lioness.

In one morning we had three different hunts, as this Lioness unsuccessfully
charged at Dik-diks, and Impalas.

The scene had changed, and now, in the mostly dry and sandy riverbed, a large herd of Common Waterbuck grazed the shoreline close to where we’d last seen the Lioness. A lone Grevy’s Zebra stallion grazed nearby, and Impala and Giraffes dotted the shoreline upriver. We figured the cat had to be close, and only minutes later I spotted the Lioness as she darted forward, using a broad lugga for passage, towards a ewe Waterbuck that was feeding only thirty yards in front of her. When the ewe looked away she crept forward again, and finally charged, but her run was short and the ewe, and all of the other Waterbucks, escaped safely. The Lioness turned and retreated back to the forest edge, leaving the riverbed game free.
We headed back, watching with some anticipation the building cumulous clouds. At lunch the area to our southeast, near Isiolo, looked like it was catching rain, and 45 minutes later the dark clouds reached us, blowing in a storm that drove the brief downpour horizontal for several minutes.
As I write this, an Elephant is fifty yards away, heading back to the river where, earlier, a family group of eight Elephants crossed in front of our tent, passing within 20 yards as they moved towards the forest.

rPM. The weather cleared for our afternoon game drive, although to the east and south more storm clouds rode the horizon. We headed directly to where we had left the Lioness, but she was gone, and with the rains so were the various herbivores that had been to the river to drink.
A vivid rainbow stretched across the eastern sky and we shot some landscapes, polarized, as well as incredibly tame, and close, Reticulated Giraffes. A pair of Dik-diks had a stare-down with a lone male, but the mates stayed together and walked off, with the lone male moving in, head bristling with an erect crown of fur, gwatching them go off. Mary spotted an immature Gabar Goshawk in a dead tree where we had the Wild Cat earlier, and we had some confusion as she told me to look – I was scouring the ground for a cat, with the bird right in front of me! The hawk was extremely cooperative and stayed even after we drove off.
Fresh Lion tracks of varying size marked a section of trail where, nearby, a Giraffe stared intently, and eventually we found the Lioness. We had some disagreement whether or not it was the same one we had earlier – I thought it looked different—and when we checked images later we found it was indeed a second cat. Later, the camp driver told us that two large cubs and another lioness appeared after we had driven off.
We returned to camp by 6:15 with showers threatening, but the rain held off and by nightfall the sky was beginning to clear. Frogs honk constantly, but despite the rains the noisy and shrill Mole Crickets still haven’t emerged. We’re guessing that with another rain they’ll start tomorrow.

Day 3. Samburu

Last evenings clouds were gone by dawn as we started our game drive with the sunrise shot of Doum Palms and the river. Our guide wanted to check the mountainside for Leopards and Mary made an amazing spot – seeing the Leopard resting on a rock about 200 yards away. The cat was lying down, and even with binocs I found it anything but obvious. The cat was too far away for photos, and shortly after being sighted it slipped off the rock and disappeared. Perhaps to her cubs, which our guide thinks she has.
Minutes later we thought we had her again, coming towards us, but it was a Honey Badger, scuttling along right at us but, perhaps hearing our excited voices, turning and heading up the mountain. I’ve seen them here at least once before, in all the years, and this was Mary’s first sighting here in Samburu.
We continued on, heading to where, yesterday, a Leopard had been spotted. Then, Vulturine Guineafowl clucked in annoyance, but today the birds were silent. Fortunately, though, the young male Leopard was lying on a log, its head resting upon his paws, providing some nice portraits until he once again disappeared into the thick vegetation.
lWe headed inland for our usual breakfast spot, then returned to the riverine forest/brushland where we found the two Lionesses from yesterday. They were together and for a brief moment snuggled together, banging heads and winding around one anther before getting up and walking down the game trails. They were hunting, particularly the smaller of the two, who we think also is nursing cubs. We followed her for the next hour or more as she first stalked a herd of Impala, presumably targeting one of three babies, and later Common Waterbuck. In each case she missed, although she appeared to try harder the first time, charging across a meadow but too far away, at the start, to realistically have a chance to succeed. The second charge seemed to be just a test, as she emerged from the brush, saw the Waterbuck in front of us, and started loping in. She did come straight at us, and although we blew the initial exposure we didn’t clip – just did the ‘right thing’ by pushing the histogram to the right!
After this charge the game cleared out, although there were still large numbers of Impala, some Zebra, and Oryx on the hills nearby. We figured hours would go by before anything new happened, and since it was now nearly noon we headed home. Along the way we spotted two female Desert Warthogs and seven babies. As we approached the light was awful, high noon, sharp shadows, bad contrast. But as we pulled up the babies congregated around their mothers (perhaps not caring which) and began to nurse, and a cloud passed over the sun, giving us shadowless light for much of the nursing session. When they finished and moved off we headed back to camp, arriving a little after noon, with clouds building to the southeast and promising rain somewhere.

. I lost the bet. I predicted no rain for us, but by the start of our game drive Isiolo and the area to the east was under a heavy storm, and by 4:20 we had to close the lids to our RangeRover as the rain hit us. We heard from another driver that Cheetahs had been spotted, and we found them, a mother with three 1.5yr old cubs, close to full grown. It was still raining and we did our first series of shots at varying shutter speeds – with 1/125th seeming to be the best for catching the streaks of rain.
Eventually the mother Cheetah rose and seriously looked about for game, and soon took off, determinedly, with the three cubs trotting behind. We lost track of her, as did the cubs, but a short time later we spotted her as she carried a lamb Impala baby towards the cubs. They joined her, and stopped in the open (but for us, behind some shrubs) where she left the kill for the cubs. After a half hour or so she joined them, eventually grabbing what little remained and, in a tug-of-war with one of the cubs, split the carcass in two and carried the head and what little remained of the neck away, followed closely behind by the cubs. It was just past 6 and the western sky was still rather obscured by clouds, and with little light and no reason to look further, we headed back to camp.

Day 4. Samburu

Patchy clouds marked the sky at dawn, with increasing humidity and, my late morning, a haze and a sky that was a quilt-work of clouds. Again, we debated whether or not there would be rain, or a potential real storm, but the morning game drive remained sunny throughout.
We headed to the mountain rocks to look for leopard but we were unsuccessful. At the river we found the two cubs, about 8 months old, and the older Lioness, who was still hungry and hunting. A poorly maned male Lion, with a mane typical of this environment, lay in the salt bush near an old Waterbuck carcass, but we passed on it.
gAlong the river in a thicker grove of a tree-like Milkweed plant we found a pair of mature male Reticulated Giraffes (but not old males) necking, and these, like all we found here, were incredibly tame. We did tight head/neck shots of the two together, although their play fighting was confined more to heavy butt bumps than any swinging necks. A new born Gerenuk with its mother, standing in the open and calmly looking at us was another highlight.
Perhaps the best, however, occurred near camp at a river bend where Elephants often gather. A herd of thirty or so were mud-bathing, scratching on palms, or crossing the river, some doing so and then recrossing a bit further down stream.
eThe most unusual observation was a female who re-crossed the river and approached a small herd. She stopped there, and waved her left foreleg, as if she was debating whether to step forward or not. It looked like she was afraid to step in, or was reluctant to do so, and this after just walking back and forth across the river. After doing this gesture a few times, the small herd, led by a juvenile Elephant, plunged into the river and raced towards her. She turned, and led the others across. We think she had communicated with them with subsonic calls, and paused, ‘gesturing,’ for them to follow her. It was a nice way to end the morning.

iPM. Although the cloud cover appeared somewhat ominous, I bet that it would not rain, and it didn’t, at least not until after sunset when we were finishing up a Sundowner the camp gave us as a thank you for our long-term visits here. As we started our game drive the Isiolo and Buffalo Springs Reserve area were covered in heavy clouds and a wall of gray-black rain, jazzed up a bit by a horizontal rainbow that appeared when the western sky cleared.




We didn’t find the leopard but did photograph a mother Impala and a newborn lamb that she licked continuously as the lamb teetered about on uncertain legs. Several Gerenuks were standing on their hind legs feeding, and Dik-diks lay quietly, feet tucked beneath them, as we headed downhill towards the river.
We were told Lions had been spotted and we found two Samburu males, appearing young and relatively unscarred, with one in attendance with a young female that we suspect was about to come into heat. He was attentive and followed her, settling beside her when she finally lay down in a dry wash. The sky clouded again and with the threat of an advancing storm reaching our Sundowner soon, we headed back, stopping to see the four Cheetahs a final time, lying in a bare field far from any game trail. Far off and with terrible light we were not tempted and headed on to a campfire and drinks.
Day 5. Samburu to Nakuru

It rained through part of the night but by dawn the sky was once again clear. Mt. Kenya, which was clearly visible as we headed south, was covered with a fresh blanket of snow and, from our angle, looked rugged and formidable – a technical climb for anyone thinking of visiting that mountain. Clouds were building over the Rift Valley and as we dropped in to the valley towards Nakuru it rained hard, coming down in near blinding sheets. The rain continued until 2, but by the time we were assigned our rooms it had stopped, although the skies were still cloudy and the conditions dark.
bLake Nakuru has changed immensely over the years. Once world-famous for the enormous concentrations of Lesser Flamingos, those birds are now largely gone, as the lake has for unknown reasons risen, flooding much of the plains and all of the mudflats. Once, nearly 28 years ago, I was here when the lake had nearly dried up, and the birds had left, with only desiccated carcasses of cormorants and flamingos dotted the dusty flats. That condition only lasted a year, but this new trend has only been increasing over the last four years, and with the rising water the birds’ habitat has vanished.
We took the afternoon off, giving ourselves and everyone else a rest-day after a long commute, and with high water, cloudy skies, and still the threat of rain coming from the south we didn’t feel like we’d miss a thing.

Day 6. Nakuru to Mara Sarova, Masai Mara

The sky was clear at dawn. We had a cooked breakfast and then a three hour game drive, leaving our luggage in the rooms until we returned to the lodge to pack and to continue on to the Mara. Our first impression of the lake’s high water was correct – I don’t think we’ve ever seen it so high. A tiny scattering of pink Lesser Flamingos clustered on one shoreline; another, longer line of Greater Flamingos stretched out across the lake; and white patches of Pelicans marked a few spots on the shoreline. The Yellow –barked Acacia trees closest to the waterline, an area once hundreds of yards from water, are now dead. One of the crossroads towards a one-time favorite spot for flamingos is now flooded, with the sign marking the intersection an easy 100 yards or further from the nearest land. Large tracks of acacia forest, extending for hundreds of yards, is dead, and I suspect the water table and ground water is so high and saturated that the roots of acacias are slowly dying.
rWe addressed this last year, in the trip report, and I suspect that this condition had happened in the past, otherwise the acacia forest would be all across the crater floor. However, the last time this happened may have been hundreds of years ago, and the recovery of this forest, and those trees lining the shoreline, may take scores of years to come back. In my lifetime I doubt if I’ll see it, and it will also be interesting to see how much higher the lake fills.
No one has a reason for the change. Is it from deforestation, where rainfall in the mountains, that should be soaked up by the trees and roots, simply drains downhill, filling rivers, streams, and eventually this lake? Is the geology changing, and a plate shifting and lifting, tilting or sloshing the water table? I haven’t heard answers.
The game drive was nonetheless a good one. We had a great Black Rhino that I mistook, and was corrected by Mary and our guide, as a White Rhino based upon how it held its head (downward) and not by the sway to its back. The Rhino walked up to the road and we shot it full-frame as it debated whether to charge us, change direction, or reverse. It did the latter, then crossed the road a bit further down behind us. Rothschild Giraffes and, we suspect, a leopard that we did not see but heard the Vervet Monkeys barking in alarm were our other highlights.
We arrived by 5, a welcome change from our typical late arrival, and having the time I decided to write a fictitious addition to our trip report, incorporating a fun mental exercise where we were citing how many animal references we make in our language, like ‘dog tired’ or ‘busy as a bee.’


Day 7. Lower Masai Mara

The sky was clear and the air cold as we started our game drive, heading to the mini-kopjes by the Sand River where we often have lions. Near Keekorok we heard the barking complaints of Vervet Monkeys, and we circled the small forest involved but we couldn’t spot the reason, which we suspect was leopard. With only one vehicle it can be difficult to spot cats in an extensive area and we did not succeed. Along the Sand River, however, we found two Goliath Herons, Africa’s largest, in the tiny stream. A small herd of African Buffalo entered the stream bed, sometimes causing one of the herons to fly as it attempted to stay close, probably expecting to catch an insect, frog, or snake the buffaloes disturbed.

gOur route eventually took us to the Sopa area south of Keekorok, to an area we call the Oasis where lions often lie on another rocky, kopje-like outcrop. We drove on, eventually going north into what we call the Hammerkop area, where a long, continuous lugga often has lions and leopards. Along the way we had an excellent encounter with a pair of necking, or sparring, Masai Giraffe. The two males were not equally matched and we’re sure it was just a friendly wrestling contest, although I couldn’t determine which of the two, of very different sizes, seemed to initiate each neck swing.
Three Lion cubs had been seen, and we eventually saw them when a mini-van drove so close to the thick vegetation they were hiding in spooked the three, very thin cats. We drove on, hearing about a mating pair of Lions. When we arrived they were in the process of mating, so we missed it, but only ten minutes later they went again, and although they were facing away from us at the completion, as the
male jumped off and the female gave him a swat, we got some great shots. Eight minutes later they mated again, and this time as the female solicited the male she was facing us!
Unfortunately the male didn’t respond and the lioness had to get up, approach him again, and faced away from us as they once again mated. Afterwards the two got up and crossed the lugga, settling in separate bushes and appearing to be uninterested in continuing.
We headed towards the lodge as it was now past noon. Mary spotted our first Serval of the trip, out in the open but shy, and the cat ran by us towards the brushy cover of a lugga. No one bothered to shoot, and I regretted not grabbing my lens as I had the camera on and the right exposure already set. The cat seemed to relax when it reached the bushes and started walking, but when we tried to approach the Serval slipped into brush to hide, and we left it there.
Heavy, nearly stinging raindrops struck our faces and the windscreen as we headed home, with dark walls of gray or gray-black rain masking parts of the western and eastern horizon. The drops stopped, and we reached the lodge without having to put up the roof hatches, although a cool, steady and constant breeze started up and seemed to mark the rest of the day. b

Today we saw two Jackals, a dozen Elephants or so, and, tonight, one Lioness, although we were told that two others were in a lugga. With the absence of lions I would expect Cheetahs to flourish, but to do so they need food, and the number of Thompson’s Gazelles are few and life would be tough for this cat. We saw none.
Further out to the west, around the Hammerkop area, the grass was longer and there is where we saw a Serval today, but also plenty of cow droppings.

eDay 8. Lower Mara to Mara Triangle

Ironically, the Lower Mara was great today. We didn’t hear any cowbells during the night and drove directly to the northern end of this area, which is also within driving range of our last destination. Mary and our guide spotted what they thought was a Black Rhino, and Mary was convinced of it, while I was looking at what I thought was their rhino, and I thought I was looking at a hippo. I was wrong on both counts, as the hippo was a buffalo and I was not looking at the right animal. r
They had seen a Rhino, a male that sprayed a fountain every few minutes in quantities rivaling a fire hydrant. The longer front horn was squared off, and we suspect it had been captured and the horn sawed off for protection. A good thing.
In the same lugga where we saw Lions yesterday we found a new Lioness with three younger cubs, and a young adult male who playfully pawed at the cubs when they passed. Eventually all disappeared into the brush, but the Lioness was hungry. Eland were far in the distance, and perhaps she’d hunt later in the day. We also found the mating pair, and this time they were under a 25 minute schedule. The Lioness wasn’t nearly as feisty, and the mating was uneventful. We moved on after one bout.
We had a report of Cheetahs, and after making the effort to investigate a kill where a few Vultures were feeding, we found the Cheetahs – a mother with nearly full grown cubs – lying beneath a bush. They were fed and weren’t going anywhere, so we continued.
Along one of the luggas a small herd of Zebras funneled in to drink and Mary wanted some infrared shots. While we were doing that our guide spotted a Malachite Kingfisher, which we circled around for. The Zebras were not disturbed, and instead more came down to the water, from our side and the opposite, giving us great views and shots. At one point, two got into a pitched fight, but the action occurred in a shading part of their pool and only partially visible to us. Still, a very good shoot.
After crossing the Mara River we looked for leopard, and as it was now past noon we headed to our lodge. A bull Elephant was by the roadside plucking grasses, and nearly filled the frame at 24mm, with a sky of puffy clouds and, fortunately, with the sun popping out to decrease the contrast between the Elephant and background. We reached the lodge by 1.

PM. After lunch there were storms, but none hit us and we had a dry game drive although rain clouds and sheets of dark rain encircled us. We headed straight to the river where Lions had killed a young Hippo. Seven Lions were present, four big pride males that own both sides of the river, two Lionesses, and one hungry cub trying to chew into the tough hippo flesh. The adults were sated and mostly lying flat. We didn’t stay long.
We headed upriver to discover a huge male Nile Crocodile feeding on what turned out to be an Impala buck. The full adult antelope’s horns were giving the croc problems, as it raised its head, and occasionally rolled, probably trying to dislodge the head from the rest of the carcass. Five other Crocs tried stealing pieces, reminding me of lion cubs nuzzling at their mother’s snout.
Our guide spotted a Rock Python, catching  a shiny patch of skin beneath a bush forty yards off the track. A great spot! The snake eventually raised its head as  it searched the bushes for birds, then did a U-turn and became less visible, and we moved on. We spotted a Serval that was shy, and several other Lions, all just lying about, and over 100 elephants in two large groups. Although it did not rain the west was cloudy and the light failed by 6, and we returned to the lodge shortly after.

Day 9. Mara Triangle

lWe headed directly to the lions and the hippo carcass, finding all of the lions active in the dawn coolness. Two male lions were feeding on the carcass, with a cub between the two, while the two other lions lay sprawled. Over the next 1.5 hours all four males fed upon the hippo. One of the Lions appeared to have a missing eye, but the eye was there, it appeared as if the brow above the eye had been crushed, as the eye now was off-set and deeper, and never closed as the Lion chewed on hippo hide.
Across the river first one Lioness, then two more, with a total of five small cubs in tow, walked up to face the Lions on our side. Our guide told us that all of the Lions had crossed the river earlier, including the Lioness and cub, but when the first Lioness appeared on the other side, one on our side hunkered down and stalked towards it, using our vehicle as a blind. The Lioness ended up right beside our window, within touching distance.
One of the three Lionesses roared, the typical ‘uh-huuhh, uhh-huuuhh, huh, huh, hun’ which a guide once translated as ‘who’s land is it? Who’s land is it? Who’s land? Mine. Mine. Mine.’ Prompted by that roar, all of the lions on our side roared in return. One of the males, lying flat on his side, roared also, which was a bit comical, while the others either lay upright or stood to do likewise. Being surrounded by roaring lions, the air vibrated. Carolyn watched the cub attempt to do so, squeaking out a thin roar.

At varying times one of the three Lionesses would come close to the river’s edge, as if about to cross. Several large Crocodiles cruised about, and I suspect the Lionesses recognized the danger and thus were not tempted. It would have been interesting, however, if one did cross, and made it safely, since the Lioness on our side seemed aggressive. Perhaps it didn’t recognize a pride member? Had the lioness crossed, its wet figure and water-downed scent may have further confused ‘our’ lions, and perhaps a fight would have occurred.
After nearly two hours most of the male Lions retreated into the brush, as did the cub that had alarmed us by visiting the river and walking along the shoreline. We were worried that a Crocodile would get it.  We were close enough to the lodge to visit that restroom, and while there, we decided to have a real cooked breakfast, and not use our boxed breakfast. We were in and out in a half hour, losing no time from our game drive.
We looked unsuccessfully for the Leopard reported for the area, but did find two Cheetahs, well-fed from a recent kill. Other highlights were Topis on termite mounds  and a close flock of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse that were surprisingly tame and tolerated us close by.
PM. This afternoon was a great one for Lion behavior. We headed back to the hippo kill, surprised to find that the Lions had dragged the kill uphill to the edge of the croton bushes. Through the afternoon various males fed upon the carcass, but the tail tip-less Lioness, the one without a cub, tried coming in to eat while one of the males was still eating, and was quite stuffed. She settled in at the far end of the carcass, as far from the male as possible, while his brother lay prone at the male’s back end. Suddenly the Lion that was feeding charged, and the female scuttled off thirty feet or so to avoid him.
Later, one or the other of the two males would approach towards her, effectively blocking her from the kill. When we finally left here, the Lioness had tried once again, coming in low and submissive, with her ears flattened backwards in a submissive pose – reminding me of one of our cats cowering after being corrected (verbally!), and then moving closer, half twisting her face and grimacing – snarling like – again in submission. As she got closer she yawned repeatedly, as bears do in a displacement activity, and finally, still not eating from the carcass, she flopped to her side. Her proximity, with time, may allow her to eat.
The other Lioness with the cub came down to the river, as did all four males at some point. This time, the cub didn’t venture as close to the water’s edge, and when a vehicle on the opposite side spooked the half dozen or so Nile Crocodiles all basking on the bank, the cub reacted, dashing away from the water’s edge and moving inland fifty feet. When the crocs were in the water, and also basking, the cub occasionally looked their way and hissed or snarled in annoyance – she knew that crocs pose danger.
The males all drank at the river’s edge at varying points, and even flopped down to lie, Sphinx-like, close to the shoreline. While we watched, a bloated carcass of a Thompson’s Gazelle floated downriver, and the crocs swam towards it. The largest croc seemed to ignore it – perhaps he was full and didn’t need to eat bloated lcarrion, but others came in also. The male Lion with the bad eye and face – it looks as if he was slammed and the whole right side of his face, from his eye to his ear, is now distorted – came down to the river as the carcass floated by. He moved in closer to inspect it, and the crocs kept away. Later, he walked further downriver to drink, but he returned to the carcass, which was now moored in a shallow area by a small island close to shore. It was as if he was telling the crocs that he wasn’t hungry enough to be interested, but you’re not getting that food! After drinking, he walked right to the bank overhanging the carcass, and then, when he finally settled, he did so rather close to the carcass and within view. The crocs stayed away.
It appears as if the crocs respect the lions, on land. This might be instinctive, as baby crocs, and small crocs, could be killed by a lion, and eaten. A large croc is probably safe, but the instinct to avoid a lion on land may carry over into adulthood, even when a croc is huge. Conversely, in the water, a large croc rules, and I suspect a lion must be very careful in trying to swim across a river. Last year, two nearly adult Cheetahs were killed by crocs in the Talek River, and the Disney film, African Cats, has a sequence where one of a couple young lions was taken by a croc, submerged, but somehow escaped.
The shooting was outstanding, with unprecedented views of the Lions along the Mara River, super scenics, blue water, and many different poses.
After the lions we had two different Bat-eared Foxes, and tonight we did have luck with the baby Jackals at the den. Unfortunately, two vehicles, one with noisy French photographers, and another with babbling Chinese (this is true, not racist) who spoke so loudly that the Jackals ran off. Had they been quiet, they would have had shots, although the latter only had cell phones and ipads.
On our drive, besides the 7 lions at the river we had 5 more, and at one point had the big 3 in view at the same time. The weather was perfect through the afternoon, and as we drove in, to the southeast and northeast rain shrouded the landscape.

Day 10. Mara Triangle

zWe drove south towards the Mara Bridge, looking for the mother Leopard and two cubs that were reported in the area. We were not successful, but one of the Rangers later showed us video and cell phone shots of the Leopard, taken about noon as it walked across an open field towards a lugga. We had just returned to the lodge for lunch when our guide received a call about the leopard, supposedly up on a rock with its two cubs, so we immediately turned around and raced to that location. The cat wasn’t there, and after an hour’s search we headed for lunch – at 2:45PM!
Looking for the leopard, however, we started at the headwaters of one of the luggas. I heard Jackals barking in alarm, and as we followed the sound I spotted the two Jackals, facing down into a lugga. Mary spotted the Leopard, a shy male, first – but I disputed who should get credit (friendly competition) – and we did manage a few quick shots when it darted across some openings. Being shy, we didn’t try following the cat.
Our guide spotted two Lionesses on a distant hillside with a fresh Zebra carcass they must have dragged far uphill. There were two cubs with them, and we shot the group until the Lionesses retired into the croton bushes capping the top of the hills.
Most of our morning was devoted to looking for the leopard with cubs, but on the way back to the lodge (before the call) we stopped at the roadside hippo pool where five Elephants had come down to drink. Three subadult males stayed together, shoving each other a bit, and we hoped they’d enter the water and play, but instead the did a U-turn and amused themselves chasing Zebra that were nearing the waterhole to drink.
zAt another roadside waterhole we stopped for Crowned Cranes that began mutually preening, appearing to be kissing. Larry was the only one shooting at the time and got the shots – the rest of us came in at the end of the action. More Zebras entered that pond, almost bogging themselves down in the muck and panicking, somewhat, when they couldn’t move easily.
We stopped at the river to check on the lions, which had now completely finished the carcass – pieces were strewn about, perhaps from Hyenas. A full adult Fish Eagle and a nearly full, but still blotched with some dark feathers, subadult Fish Eagle fed upon one of the legs, the skin stretched inside out like a sock, making the pickings slim. At one point the full adult took off, making a nice shot with the other still on the carrion.
PM. We had the half hour lunch and headed straight back to the leopard area, where we remained until nearly 6PM when the light failed and a storm advancing from the south threatened to soak us. We never saw the leopard, and did not shoot anything this afternoon, devoting our time and attention to this quest.

Day 11. Mara Triangle to Upper Mara

We headed directly to the leopard with cub area but had no luck. After scouring that area, we backtracked to the buttes where a large pride of lions are based. We found the cats, returning either from drinking or a kill, the entire group of twelve walking back to climb the steep slope of the plateau where they’d spend the day. There were thousands of gnus in the area, and large groups would trot up and follow the lions, keeping them in sight. The last young Lioness of the group chased them repeatedly, and from our position the shots looked as if she was going for a kill.
bAt the Mara Bridge, on the Mara Triangle side, I found a very disturbing scene at the Ranger check in station. Dozens of insect-eating Bats were lying about, dead or dying. I picked a live one up very carefully, checking for an identification, and I asked one of the Rangers what killed them. He said some disease, but Mary and I could clearly smell the INSECTICIDE that surely had been used, killing the bats in their roost. Looking up at the roof’s peak I saw Bats still squirming from openings, unhealthy looking and sick. Before we left, I spoke with the Rangers there, playing stupid about the cause. I told them it was too bad the bats are dying since one bat can eat 10,000 mosquitos in a night, and these bats would be a great control for Malaria and Yellow Fever. They didn’t seem to know this, and perhaps, hopefully, they’ll not kill the bats in the future. Hopefully, anyone reading this will also CC this to the Head Ranger/Warden of the Mara Triangle and report this slaughter. If scores of people did this, it might make a difference.

PM. We headed up to the Double-Crossing area to look for the other Leopard with two cubs. Although we didn’t find her we did find one of her other sons. He was stalking a family of Warthogs, two full adults and several babies, but surprisingly early, the Warthogs retreated to their burrow, backing in, butt-first, and disappearing.
Rain surrounded us, with a big storm appearing to envelope us so we headed back to camp – 6PM, anyway, but along the way the sun appeared and behind us so did a great rainbow. We found a small group of Elephants and caught the two together for our last images of the day.

eDay 12. Upper Mara

We headed back to look for the Leopard and cubs. We missed her, but found a surprisingly tame large male Leopard that sat in the grassy bank across a lugga, grooming his paws and licking his fur before rising and disappearing into the forest.
While looking for the mother leopard we encountered a mother Defassa Waterbuck and a young baby, that tried nursing while the mother groomed and licked the lamb multiple times. It was an extraordinarily good shooting op.
We headed towards the Mara River but our guide spotted a Martial Eagle that appeared to be on a kill. It was, mantling a baby Thompson’s Gazelle it had killed. We shot the bird from several positions and, at one point, the mother Gazelle appeared. I STUPIDLY was doing video at the time with my big lens, and as I tried switching to a smaller zoom in case there would be some interaction the Gazelle charged in, trying to dislodge the Eagle.

gThe Gazelle leaped over the eagle, which left the kill and spread its wings. The Gazelle circled a few times as the Eagle returned to the kill, but never charged in again, although it ran close twice. The second time, it did so after a Steppe Eagle dropped from the sky and swooped right in on the Martial Eagle, when fanned its wings and flipped to its back in defense. The Steppe didn’t succeed in stealing anything, but that commotion caused the female Gazelle to race part way in again. eFour Topi also approached the Eagle, acting quite bcurious, and I wondered if they either recognized the Eagle as a predator or were curious because of fresh blood. We were expecting one or all of the Topi to charge in, but after staring and walking a bit closer, they moved off. The mother Gazelle had been watching, but she too soon wandered away, leaving the Eagle to finish what was left.

. We spent the afternoon looking for the mother leopard and dodging the rain. We were not too successful with either, as we did not find the leopard and we did get a bit wet, but not enough to close the hatches on the vehicle. Mary’s back was sore so she stayed in, and reported that the camp had at least a half hour of heavy rain. All around us, on the game drive, there were curtains and dark walls of rain, but aside from some serious sprinkles we avoided the worse of it. Still, it was a cold, damp, and very dark afternoon. We did find the male Leopard from this morning, but he was a bit far off and the light was poor, and we passed on any shots. We also had a male lion – perhaps 5 years old, that another group of tourists drove extremely close to, so that they could lean over and shoot selfies of themselves with the lion in the background. Pathetic.

lDay 13. Upper Mara – lower Talek area

We crossed the Talek at one of the dry fords to try to find the Lioness with the small cubs and the Cheetah family. We succeeded with both! Our morning started with a Hyena den with a few babies that were just past the all-black coat. One carried around a portion of a warthog skull. The light was still very low and the shooting rather uninteresting, so we drove on.
At the same gardenia bush where we had the Lioness, five cubs, and her entire pride a few days ago we once again found the Lioness. I was curious whether she’d try to follow her pride when they moved on, as the cubs were not ‘introduced’ to the pride, but they were still far too young to travel any distance. She did not, and she and her cubs were still inside the hollow of the bush.
While we watched first one, then all five of the cubs came out of the bush to either inspect us or simply to play. One cub, the smallest with its eyes still not fully open (or as open as the others) was repeatedly picked up by the Lioness and returned to the safety of the bush. As she would go for another cub that cub would run out to join the others, and she’d go and lretrieve it again. This happened at least five times, which we shot from several positions – backlighted and front lighted. At one point the cubs sounded like nursing grizzly bear cubs (which we have heard) as they noisily sucked, but soon after they reappeared again for more play. Eventually all but one returned to the shelter and shade of the bush, and we headed out, with one cub’s head still sticking out of the bush.


cWe found Malaika, the mother Cheetah with two 5 month old cubs. She was obviously hunting but when she moved off-track we left her for our picnic breakfast. No game was in sight and we guessed that we were safe in doing so. After breakfast we returned to the Cheetah, who soon left one of her termite mound lookouts and, with head raised in what is usually a definite ‘on point’ stalking advance, she headed down a slope. Within seconds she broke into a run, lasting 10 seconds or less, which ended with her catching a ram Steinbuck, the first time we’d ever seen a Cheetah catch one. We raced there, expecting her to train the cubs with the antelope (at this point we thought she had captured a baby Thompson’s Gazelle) but a Steinbuck is a fast, sturdy antelope and perhaps too much for cubs of that age. Most likely the mother cwould have had to catch the ram again if she let it go. Instead, she choked it until dead, and then carried/dragged the corpse towards a termite mound. The two cubs surprised me in not repeatedly pouncing on the prey, although they crowded around mom as she carried the antelope. As she neared the termite mound the Cheetah dropped the carcass and moved into the shade of a small bush on top, and again I was surprised that the baby cheetahs followed mom, rather than play kill the antelope. We were off-track and did not want to wear out our welcome with the Ranger present, and we moved on.
Along the Talek as we headed home we had an adult male Giraffe that was drinking, and then trying to cross the nearly dry, but very stony, riverbed. The Giraffe waded in to the shallow water – inches deep, testing each step and obviously concerned about slipping. We backed up to give it room and watched the Giraffe’s progress from a bank. Eventually the Giraffe gave up, walked further down stream and at a slightly larger pool with more solid sand the Giraffe gingerly stepped across, carefully placing each foot, and sometimes backtracking and changing routes, until it crossed. We headed for camp.

lPM. Our last afternoon and we headed towards the Leopards hoping to find the mother with cubs. Once again we dodged rain and had a few sprinkles, but through most of the game drive we had no luck. A Hippo, that we believe was a natural death, was lying along the bank of one of the streams of the double-crossing, with 12 Lions gathered nearby. A few were attempting to chew into the hippo, but I believe the tough hide was making this difficult. From the position of the carcass I think it will be impossible for the lions to drag the hippo to a more accessible feeding location.
We were heading home when Mary spotted one of the young male Leopards about 100 yds off the road just as it sat up on its perch on a termite mound. It was a great spot! We drove over, and got a few shots before the Leopard suddenly rose and trotted off – we think it had spotted prey and was hunting. While there, we were told another Leopard had been spotted. This one was a female, but younger than the mother with cubs. She too was hunting, but missed an African Hare that went racing by. The light was poor and her poses not unusual, and we let her go. While there, we heard of still another Leopard sighting, this time the mother with cubs!
The light was low – after 6PM – as we headed there. Several vehicles had gathered and we pulled down to one of the few open spots, finding the Leopard in a ravine/lugga below us with her two cubs. She moved upstream and we changed position, getting her as the mother walked across walks while her two extremely well camouflaged cubs, spotted and dark furred, drank along a bank and quite difficult to see. The two soon crossed as well, and followed their mother upstream where we left them, ending our 2 week safari with 5 Leopards for the afternoon, including the mother and cubs!



lAs I wrote in the introduction to these trip reports last year, my initial reaction in seeing Samburu and the lower Mara last year was negative, but as our photography this year clearly shows, we still had extremely productive safaris. As everyone who knows says, Kenya still delivers, and Mary and I have to agree. However, conditions are changing and long term, if things don’t change, the Mara will not be what we now have. I’d urge anyone interested in wildlife and photography to go now – in 2018, with us – for tourist dollars are absolutely important for the preservation of this land, and for a photographer, that money would be very, very well spent.

For lenses, I used the Canon 200-400mm with 1.4X conveter and the new Canon 100-400 for most of my shooting. I kept a 1.4X III tele-converter on the 200-400, so my working range was 280-560, or up to 740 or so when I flipped the built-in converter as well. Mary used her 500mm on a 7D Mark II, but also found that she used her 100-400mm most often.

Both of us 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. I used 64 and 32gb Hoodman Cards, which are incredibly fast, somewhat essential when shooting fast action -- and we had plenty.

Refer to our BROCHURE to get an idea of next year's trip! The brochure may not be completely updated for 2016, but the itinerary will be similar.