Wildlife Art

Recently I was contacted by a very talented artist based in Sydney Australia, with the view of recreating one of my photos as a white on black pencil drawing. I have finally found some time to post this in my blog for all to see, along with the link to Debra’s website where all her amazing work can be purchased. Thanks Debra for doing such a great job of Khan!

Click here for Debra’s website

Work in Progress (Left) – Final Work (Right)

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Barbary macaque

Monkey Forest

Barbary Macaques are native to the Cedar forests of the Atlas mountains in Morocco and Algeria, and once roamed wild across southern Europe and north Africa reaching out to Tunisia and Libya. But due to deforestation, logging and persecution from local farmers, the wild population of the Barbary Macaque has been reduced to just over 12,000 in the wild. In 2009 IUCN classified the species as endangered and added them to their IUCN Red list. Today the Rock of Gibraltar is the only home out side of the Atlas mountains where 230 individuals run wild.

However… The Trentham Estate in Staffordshire UK is home to 140 Barbary Macaque monkeys, although in captivity, roam freely among a 60 acre woodland they can call home. On our way home from a family wedding in Derby, we decided to divert across to Trentham to take a walk in the woods among the Macaques.

After walking through the gates to the forest, it was not long before monkeys could be seen playing and chasing each other throughout the trees. The forest plays a vital role in bringing awareness and education to the UK public of these endangered species, and runs breading programs to help re-introduce this animal back into the wild where possible. Within the forest the 140 individuals have divided into Two troops. The oldest female within the forest is 25 years old and the youngest just a few months old. Paths throughout the forest lead you down from the gate to a flat open area, winding up to the top of a hill before a descent in to a small valley and stream, this then leads you back round to the open space at the start of the forest. The monkeys run completely free within the 60 acres and can be seen all over the forest.

Watching the monkeys go about their daily business can be quite amusing, they are extremely social animals and have many different expressions. Moods within the troops can change instantly and fights within the troop can break out right at your feet. Although we only spent a few hours in the forest, it would be quite easy to spend all day walking around and watching the Macaques… We shall return for a full day in spring next year!

 

Posted in UK

Puffin Island

Puffin Island

After a failed attempt last year to land on Skomer island Pembrokeshire, this year we decided to return to the Farne islands. Although the weather was fantastic both days, a combination of strong winds far out to sea and the new moon tide, prevented us from landing on Staple island. However this did not affect our visit to Inner Farne, shortly after disembarking our boat and as we climbed the path to the top of the island, the Arctic terns wasted no time in attacking our heads.

Each year Arctic Tern’s fly thousands of miles to nest on the island, there are so many Tern’s on the island the birds nest anywhere possible. Nests can be seen on the walls, in the grass and along the edge of the walk ways. Every day before the island is open to the public, the resident RSPB wardens re-adjust guide ropes along the wooden pathways so visitors do not accidentally harm nest close to path.

The Arctic Turn’s story is one of many, the island is a temporary home and breading ground for Black Headed Gulls, Guillemots, Shag, Kittiwake, Sandwich Turn, Common Turn, Razorbill, Herring Gull and of course the Puffin.

Puffin

On this trip the main story that was played out over and over is one of feeding for the Puffin. Across the island Puffin have burrowed in to the soft soil that lay on top of the island rocky structure, Each year new burrows are dug and old are revisited. Once the chick of the breading pair hatches from its egg, parent Puffin’s fly out to sea to catch Sand Eels to feed the chick. As the comical Puffin returns to the island and lines up for a typical clumsy landing, Black headed Gulls are already poised and waiting. As soon as the Puffin lands on the ground the Gulls attack, experts at mugging the Puffin for as many if not all of the food intended for the Puffin chick.

Not all is lost for the Puffin and not every fishing trip is lost to the Gulls. If the puffin is fast once on the ground, his little waddle will get him to the nearest burrow before the Gull reaches him. Even if the burrow is not his, the Puffin will enter to escape the thieving Gulls. PuffinThe Puffin knows that after a short while the Gull will loose interest and other inbound Puffin’s will draw the Gulls attention away from the burrow being used as refuge. Once the coast is clear, the Puffin will gingerly appear from the hole making sure the Gulls are not there, then dart off to the correct Burrow, in some cases the Puffins burrow is just next door. After the chick is fed, once again the Puffin heads back out to sea for more Eels and to run the gauntlet of the Black Headed Gulls.

 

Posted in UK

Morning Light

Morning Light

After a record breaking winters rainfall Saturday started with a welcomed clear sky, Perfect for my first early morning shoot at Richmond Park! Up at 5am driving round the M25 to get to the park for first light was not easy after a long week at work, but well worth making the effort for.

The park was being bathed in glorious light as i parked my car and broke out the camera. I so wish the park was closer to where I lived, you don’t have to be a photographer to appreciate how beautiful the park is!

The Red Deer were quite active in the early hours, keeping ahead of them and positioning myself so the early morning light would make the shot I wanted was not so easy – This was my first attempt.

Looking forward to the next clear sky already – not the 5am start!

Red Deer  - Richmond Park

Red Deer  - Richmond Park

Red Deer  - Richmond Park

Posted in UK

Black + White Photography

Black + White Photography Magazine

This months edition of Black + White Photography magazine sees my Wildebeest image in print! Issue No. 152 – July 2013 – Page 28. for those of you who buy who read this fantastic magazine.

Posted in UK

Day 6 – Rare Sighting

Rare Sighting
As always in the Mara and early start, after our excitement yesterday with Keeka the Leopard how could our game drives get any better. Our first sighting was a family of elephants, we parked up along the road side and watched them go about there business. The air was cold and the sky still dark, as the sun creeped above the horizon the sleight blue overcast sky softly lit our surrounding landscape. Every so often the matriarch elephant would head towards our vehicle, she flapped her ear giving us a warning. Each time she did this we moved further down the road. She didn’t mind us being their, but at the same time wanted to make sure she had comfortable distance between us and her young.
An animals behaviour and body language should always be observed when viewing wild game, the last thing you wan is for a big animal like an elephant to charge at you. An hour had passed as if only a few seconds, we must have moved a dozen time to keep space between us and the herd. So far a great mornings game drive, the advantage of visiting the Mara in January is that there are less tourists. With the elephants we were the only onlookers, no other vans chasing around disturbing the deadly silence. It was so quiet you could hear the roots breaking as the elephants pulled grass from the ground to eat.
With a calm soft wiser, Godfrey leaned over with wide open excited eyes and said “excuse me, shall we go and see something we have not seen”, I instantly knew what Godfrey had heard over the radio, I turned round to my wife and father and said “Sit down and hold on, Godfrey’s on a mission!”. This was my Father’s first safari and up and till now we have not really had any real speedy drives, his expression said it all. “Rhino, theres a Rhino sighting” We raced along the tracks as we had lots of ground to cover to get there. As this time of year there are less tourists in the Mara, the Rhino are much harder to spot, any sightings are called in to the Kenyan Wildlife Service so they can be monitored.
Poaching of these huge and critically endangered animals is still high, poachers will risk there lives even in the mara to take the horns of Black Rhino to sell on the black market which ends up in China. Unfortunately I have had first hand experience of seeing where poached Ivory, along with Tiger paws and various other animal parts end up. Its quite clear that the end user and makers of these pointless products, have no idea of the horrific slaughter and damage that is being done surrounding the origin of the material they use.
In an obscure way every sighting of the Black Rhino goes towards educating and making us aware of why we should protect these magnificent beasts!
As we approached the area the Rhino was seen, the KWS and several spotting vehicles were already on site. We made our way slowly and carefully in to the thicket and waited along side of the KWS vehicle. Like a scene out of Jurassic park, she pushed her way throughout the bush and on to the track. Our encounter was brief, not stopping as she moved up into he hills. It was a moment of observation and not photography, this time I was going to use my eyes to view what was before us and not the lens.
As we drove back to camp we discussed all the viewings so far, this trip was turning out to be the best Safari we had been on so far, and we still had three and a half days to go…
Posted in Africa

Day 5 – Keeka!

Keeka!
The last time we were at Keekorok was during the annual Wildebeest migration and it was great to be back but boy what a difference. The grass was tall and spotting animals was not going to be easy, driving in to camp, the surrounding areas were full of vegetation, not an animal to be seen.
4pm came round quick and it was time to head out in to the bush. Approaching our vehicle I asked Godfrey if he had been able to find out from the locals and rangers where the prime sightings have been, as always Godfrey looked like he had something up his sleeve. With a cheeky smile “lets just see what we can see” he replied. As we pulled out from camp we headed up a track leading towards the near by air strip, less than half a kilometer from our camps main entrance we stopped. To our right, 30 meters away in the middle of a large bush there was movement. Deep in the heart of the bush an impala carcus lay – there was a Leopard…!
A prime sighting, when all looked to be stacked against us our trusty guide had once again pulled the rabbit out of the hat, this was where we would stay for the next 3 hours. Over the next 4 days we had sightings of her every day. Climbing trees, walking along the road, in and out of the bush… then we discovered she had cubs! It was not until I studied her neck markings marking’s that I realised we had met before during the migration, the last time we were in the Mara. It could not get better than this, we had multiple sightings of a female Leopard that we had discovered 18 months earlier as an adolescent, and now she had cubs of her own!
Around camp no one knew the name of this leopard, so I decided to call her Keeka as she seemed to be the resident leopard of our camp Keekarok! If anyone knows Keeka’s real name, if she has one please let me know.
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Day 5 – Encounter of the third kind

Encounter of the third kind.
Whilst moving around in the Mara and as long as we don’t have rain, I like to stand up in the van and keep look out as we are moving along. The van has a roof which we can raise in order to stand up and get good viewing. Whilst making our way to Keekorok and cutting across the Mara along one of the many small tracks I had my very own close encounter of the third kind.
The Masai Mara has a short rainy season and a long rainy season and our trip was not long after the short rains has passed. It’s amazing how quickly and tall the many grasses can grow in this environment and in some places the grass was as tall as our van. Long grass attracts many creatures, one being Grass Hoppers! Casually looking out at some distant elephants, suddenly I’m hit bang in the face! I don’t remember it like this but my loving wife said I screamed like a girl…. I’m sure I didn’t! As I vocally made everyone aware I had just been hit in the face, Godfrey slammed on the breaks. “Are you ok, Stuart are you ok” he turned around and asked. With my wife and father laughing I replied to Godfrey, “I’m ok, I’ve just been flown into by a massive Grass hopper!”
Now I was faced with another challenge, it was sitting on my seat and I needed to pick it up and remove it from the van. This was the biggest Grass hopper I had ever seen. After much deliberation on my part, we managed to safely remove the Grass Hopper and he could fly on. We too could move on and with no more encounters we arrived in time for Lunch at Keekorok. Our journey into Keekorok was sparse with animal sightings, my heart sunk as I immediately thought we are going to have to work for our game viewing here. The last time we were at Keekorok was Migration time, and the surrounding landscape was heaving with animals. This time it looked to be a different story!
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Day 5 – Four goodbye’s

Four goodbye’s
As we left Fig Tree camp for the last time and head to Keekorok, laying under an over hanging tree was our four lionesses. Making our way along the track we decided to stop and check out the mix of Thompson Gazelle, Topi and Grants Gazelle. These Antelope were at ease with the lionesses not so far away as all can out run the pace of a lion, and in the near mid-day heat they knew the lions would not make chase. Just as we started to move on the four lionesses got up and headed in our direction. “They are coming to say goodbye” Godfrey said, and he was not wrong. It was as if they had come to escort us on our journey to our next camp, as we moved along the road they made their way south, parallel to our vehicle. Eventually the four lionesses stopped and decided to have a sleep under the cover of another tree. It was nice to think they had come to say goodbye to us though.
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Day 5 – Speed Queen

Speed Queen
Stepping out of our tent to a raging Talek River was no surprise. The rain had fallen hard all night and the staff from camp told us the rain had been falling all day north of the Mara in the  Mau Forest. The colour of the sky was grey but you could see the sun would eventually burn through. We finished our morning tea and discussed with our guide Godfrey the plan for the day. This was going to be our last game drive at Fig tree. After breakfast we would pack our bags and head south to Keekorok.
As we slowly drove out from camp ahead of two other vehicles, the extreme silence of the Mara was broken by the roar of a hot air ballon taking off. Godfrey told us that the Masai had a full long night of defending their cattle and although the lions had moved on they were still in the area, we had a good chance of an encounter. Slowly moving along the South side of the Talek River Godfrey informed us that the Masai had reported a Cheetah hunting along the river’s edge. Not before long we found our Cheetah, she emerged from the bushes right in front of us, she was in hunting mode! Several Dik Dik’s could be seen running around and kept catching the eye of our hungry female. For 20 minutes she stalked and dashed into the bushes but with no luck, each dash ended without success. We decided to stay with our Cheetah and as she moved away from the river’s edge she disappeared into the bush. On the far side of the bush line, 500 meters away lay a herd of Impala but no sign of our hungry cat. We moved along in the hope that she had seen the Impala and was planning an attack, for almost half an hour we sat tight and waited, would she return?
Suddenly emerging from the bush line behind our vehicle she appeared, she had seen the Impala, it was now a waiting game! With a light cross wind every now and then the Impala on the edge of the herd became startled, they could smell the Cheetah but could not see her, Well camouflaged by a loan bush, she sat looking  directly at the herd picking out her victim. As much as she was planning her attack I was wondering if she was testing our patients as yet again she made us wait almost an hour before deciding to make any move on the Impala.
After much planning she was about to show us one of the fastest onslaughts we would ever witness!
The closest Impala on the edge of the herd made a big mistake. It had turned its back on where it repeatedly had thought there might be danger looming. Without any hesitation, our hungry cat’s hunting instinct went into overdrive. Immediately she stooped low to the ground and crept out from behind the bush crawling out towards nearer cover. Just at that point the Impala stopped, turned around and sniffed the air, it knew something was not right! Frozen in a low crouching position the Cheetah did not move, waiting for the Impala’s short memory to forget there could be danger. Then with no warning a few strides turned in to a short dash and then BANG! The chase was on! The Cheetah was at full speed, the reaction of the Impala was lightening quick in response, it too was off at full pace trying to escape! The herd dispersed with much confusion … they must have thought – where did she come from!
To our disappointment the chase was moving away from us, the Cheetah and the Impala was dashing from left to right making unbelievable tight turns. Every move the Impala made, the Cheetah mirrored, and then they both disappeared over the crest of the hill! All five vans that sat waiting for the action to begin started their engines, surely the Cheetah had caught the Impala! There was a track that led to the other side and we all decided to head over there. Then from our right hand side where we first saw the Cheetah just as we started to move, something was running towards us, it was a Thompson Gazelle! And then out from the bush line in hot pursuit, our Cheetah was in chase! With the Cheetah running off in one direction and then within seconds later heading back towards us, I was caught completely off guard and with the speed that both animals were travelling, I had no chance of catching any photos of the chase. This was our first full on Cheetah chase, and what a rush! Seeing these cats run on TV does not do justice to the sheer raw speed these cats have.
As she reached our vehicle at speeds close to 70mph, the Thompson made one life saving manoeuvre that would allow it to escape to safety. 15 to 20 meters away from our vehicle the Thompson turned towards our van and then immediately turned away, it was using us as defence. With this last turn towards the van, the Cheetah was forced to ease off the power in fear of hitting us and injuring her self allowing the Thompson to escape! I was left thinking, if only she had reached out…. The Thompson would have lost it’s footing and crashed in to our van….. The Cheetah would have had a meal! But I guess living in the Mara you need to know when the battle is lost and when not to take chances?
Completely exhausted the Cheetah lay down in front of our vehicle resting, panting heavily, she was not going to be moving for some time. The chase would have used up valuable energy and with a failed hunt, she would need to rest up in order to try again later. After waiting with her for a further half hour we decided to go back to camp and see what was left of our breakfast buffet before our drive on to Keekorok.
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Day 4 – Escape

After a quick cup of tea it was 4pm, time to head out on to the plains. All morning and right up till 3pm the sun was out but as we drew closer to our next game drive the weather changed. Once again the Mara ecosystem was showing us how quickly it could turn. As I loaded our cameras into the van I turned to Godfrey and said “I think we are going to get wet” and as if it was planned, on cue, the heavens opened.
It was not good. The rain stopped us from having the roof up and game viewing was going to be almost impossible, but we carried on. As we drove out of camp we turned immediately left on to a dirt track that took us in line with our tent along the Talek River. About 800 m from our tent we stopped. The rain, as quickly as it came, had eased right down to a fine drizzle and then completely stopped. Parked up on the dirt track, Godfrey was scouring the horizon for something of interest. With his eagle eyes he pointed not too far away “lets move, we just move forward a little ok?” he said. He had spotted a hyena kill, it was almost under our noses. We could not see it well due to the tall grass, but in the weather conditions we just experienced, it was a good find. As we sat watching what we could see of the hyena dismember its feast, to our right about 400 m away and in between us and the Talek River, Godfrey had spotted 4 female lions laying in the grass.
This was unbelievable, there were only two other guides out on game drives in our area of the Mara, with very few eyes spotting we were convinced we would draw a blank. We knew that not far from the main dirt track there were Topi and Grants gazelle along with a family of warthogs. With the rains starting to fall again, maybe the warthogs would move our way to take shelter in the bush?
We formulated a plan! We would sit tight and stay with the 4 female lions no matter what would come over the radio. The air had become cooler and it became perfect hunting conditions. The morning game drive had been fantastic and were in no rush, especially with the rain coming and going to keep driving around the Mara trying to find non-active animals. With a bit of luck the warthogs would want to seek shelter and the only bushy cover would be right where our lions were laying.
I could not believe it. After sitting and watching the lions lay in the rain for almost 2 hours, one of the warthogs and a piglet started to head towards the bush. I quickly set up my camera, put my huge lens on a mono pod and slid the front of the lens out of the side window. It was dark and the light was poor quality, but I did not want to miss this. I ramped the ISO settings on the camera up to 2500 to give myself half a chance with a fast shutter speed to freeze any action and waited.
As the Warthogs got closer, the lions spotted them. They immediately saw an opportunity and switched to hunt mode! Low to the ground the lionesses moved in to position. Like a military operation they formed a pincer formation. The warthog was almost in range and one lioness took the lead. You could read exactly what the lionesses were planning. The lead female would creep up on to the side of the warthog, scare it into running forward straight into the path of one of the other lionesses, simple! The trap was set and just as the warthog trotted into position it stopped, the wind had changed and the cover was blown. The warthog could smell the lions and swiftly ran back in the direction it came from… but instead of completely running away, it dived in to a hole. The warthog in the attempt to escape had  surely just sealed its own fate? All the lioness now needed to do was wait outside the hole until the hog had forgotten that she was there and as it came out of the hole the lion would catch it!
With another twist of fate, the lion that chased the hog into the hole had stopped at the wrong hole. She lay on the ground and with paw and arm thrashing in the hole, she was trying to claw the hog, but in her haste it would be empty. Almost 20 minutes would pass with the lioness trying to get at the non-existent warthog before she gave up, moved away and rejoined her sisters.
This would not be the end of the action. Not long after the failed hunt, moving along the river’s edge was the Maasai herders with their cattle. The lions saw the cattle and decided to try their luck. This meant the lions were very hungry, normally lions run away from the Maasai, but when desperate the lions will take their chances. The lions moved towards the cattle, with only two young Maasai as the cattle’s protection the Maasai might lose a cow to the lions.
The light dropped and the night was closing in, we were only 5 minutes drive from camp but needed to get back, time was up. Rules of the Mara are that all game drivers must return back to camp by sunset.
What a show! Even in the wretched weather conditions we had, the Mara once again showed us its magic. But what would come of the Maasai and their cows? Later that night, I lay awake and could hear the Maasai on the opposite side of the river to our tent. The Maasai stay out all night with their cattle so they can graze on the grass. They definitely had to work hard to keep the lions from killing one or more of their cows!
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Day 4 – Looking for breakfast!

After a good nights sleep and well recovered from our adventure to Bila Shaka, we awoke to the horrid sound of my alarm. It had just turned 05:30am and it was time to get up and prepare for our next adventure in the bush. The sky was clear after the rains in the night and the moon was in its full glory. As we drove out into the Mara the sun was just starting to creep over the land. The safari hot air balloons were rising in to the sky as we made our way south east from camp, towards a bushy area between sign post corner and Simba Lodge. Godfrey had been doing his usual networking the evening before and had also been on the radio discussing what had been seen whilst we were at Bila Shaka.
Yesterday saw a great sighting of a Black Rhino and her calf and we were one of several vehicles that was on the hunt to see if we could spot them today. We stood a slim chance of spotting them but if you don’t try then you never know, and at this time of year the Mara is not full of safari vehicles all chasing after the same animals. Good for the animals but making spotting much harder. After several hours of creeping around the bush, we had no luck finding the Rhino and her calf. She probably was not far from us and just deep in the bush where we could not go, but as long as she was safe we did not mind. Black Rhino need all the help they can get if they are to survive in Africa, sightings can be extremely rare in the Maasai Mara. Poaching has brought Black Rhino numbers to such low levels they are fighting for survival. The KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) are doing a fantastic job in tracking and protecting these animals within the Mara and every sighting is valuable data collected.
We had decided to turn back and head towards camp and as we did, from out of the long grass two very hungry male lions appeared. They were very lean and with the posture and pace they were marching, they were definitely looking for food. We were situated along a bush line which the lions were heading towards, as they reached the bush line they stopped, the concentration on there faces was intense, they meant business. These lions needed to find something to eat!
We had seen lions feeding the day before and also during migration time the previous year, but for our first time we truly could see real character when they had a job to do.
The lions marched along the bush line and both would take it in turns to stop, head would lift up and with a raised top lip would taste the air with the sensory gland in the roof of the mouth.

All cats have this sense, and if you watch a domestic cat do this he is not just pulling a funny face, but tasting the air around him, sensing what is in his surroundings. These special tools give the cat the ability to home in on a specific target and in the case of our lions, it would be for one of two things, food or finding the pride. Given the body language and how lean these lions were it was dinner time!
We followed the lions for as long as we could, but as they moved into an area that we could not drive, we decided to turn around and head back. Along the main dirt track which lead us back to our camp – Fig Tree, we saw a line of vans parked up in single file. As we joined the vans our luck was in! A young male cheetah was on the hunt, he was pacing along the edge of the track searching for Thompson gazelle.
To the left of the track was a vast expanse of open grass land, the grass was tall but the plain fell away down hill from us. We could see in the distance several Thompson’s and guess what, so could the Cheetah! The Thompson gazelle were too far away to get any good photos if a chase developed, but it would definitely make good viewing. The wind picked up and unfortunately for the cheetah he was up wind of the prey, his smell spooked the Thompson gazelles and they were off. Our young cat would need to find a different target if he wanted breakfast. As for us, if we wanted breakfast we would need to get back to camp pretty quick, however we would have happily missed breakfast to see the cheetah take a gazelle. This was day 4 of our 9 day trip and in a time of year where the grass was very tall, we had so far experienced unbelievable sightings. What would our early evening game drive bring…….
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Day 3 – Bila Shaka

After several hours of negotiating the sodden plains of the Maasai Mara and with a mud covered van, we arrived at an area known as Bila Shaka. The name Bila Shaka in Swahili means “without fail”. The locals and guides called it this due to the main lion prides continuously being spotted in the area and giving them a guaranteed lion sighting for paying clients.
True to its name and within minutes of arriving we discovered a buffalo kill where a large powerful male lion was feeding. This was a fresh kill and we must have missed it being brought down by no more than 2-3 hours. The buffalo had been ripped open from the belly and it’s remaining organs were being devoured by scavenging vultures and storks, even the jackals were trying to muscle in on some free food. It’s not long in the wild for word to get around that there has been a large kill, more vultures soared above and one by one glided in to land like military fighter planes on an aircraft carrier. As the vultures pushed their luck by trying to steal meat off the carcus, a second large male run out from a nearby shaded bush and directed himself at the scavengers to chase the thieves away. Whilst we sat and watched the two kings of the plains guard their bounty, the same story would act out several times. The scavengers including the jackal, would creep closer to the buffalo to get some meat and when the lions decided they were to close, they would chase them off again.

 

As the midday sun beat down on the African plains causing haze to dance across the horizon, two young female lions emerged from the distance. Drawn like a magnet to metal they headed straight to the buffalo. Suddenly the male lions got up, had a sniff to greet the females then moved away, it was obvious the female lions were part of our male’s pride. As the male lions moved to one side the females wasted no time, with each bite tearing the flesh from the buffalo with ease, each lioness got stuck in to the kill, literally head first!
For the next hour and a half we watched these magnificent creatures gorge on the dead buffalo, and as they did so, the male lions relaxed in the shade of an open sided vehicle next to us. The lion was so close to the open side land cruiser, that the head of the lion was within six inches of the exposed legs of the onlookers.  Every so often the lion would look up, turn his head and look directly at the man he was laying next to, after the third time of doing so, the driver guide of the land cruiser started up and moved forward away from the lion. However, the lion got up and followed the land cruiser to lay back down in the shade, the lion wanted to sit in the shade not the sun, how dare he move! With one final inquisitive look from the lion the land cruiser decided to move on completely, better to be safe than sorry, after all, this is the wild, but what an experience for the tourists in the land cruiser, a close encounter they won’t forget for quite some time I would imagine!

After leaving the lions to finish off their lunch, it was time for us to find a place to park up and have our own lunch. Half a kilometre away from the lions was an Acacia tree that we decided to head towards and have lunch by. As we got closer to the tree we could see movement, to our surprise and good fortune we had discovered another kill, this time it was a feeding Cheetah and cub. We could not believe our luck, two kills in the same outing and so close together!

The Cheetah had brought down its kill not far away from the tree, but as the sun was at full strength both the cub and the mum decided to go lay in the shade of the tree which was great as this presented many photo opportunities. As the Cheetahs rested under the tree we raided our lunch boxes and too had a well deserved rest.

 

After we finished lunch Godfrey told us about a nearby hippo pool, such a fantastic place and located right next to the Musiara air strip, what a sight for guests of Governors camp arriving by air.
As we pulled up to the edge of the marsh area the hippo pool was glowing bright green with dense vegetation in the strong sunlight. Like overgrown duck weed on a pond this vegetation completely covered the 60-70 meter span of the pool, but where were the hippos? Suddenly with a large snort and that familiar grunting noise only a hippo could make, several heads popped up out of the vegetation. The hippos that had come to greet us were young, and as we watched them playing, slowly and gracefully a very large head emerged from the blanket of green.
Looking straight down the barrel of my lens directly at me was the young one’s mother, perfect timing. I fired of a few shots from the camera and just knew I would have a great image awaiting me. As she rose from the vegetation, she had a small amount of vegetation on her head just like a crown, definitely the queen of the marsh!
It was time to head back, we had a long drive and the weather was starting to turn, we needed to make it back to the three river crossing before the rain came in otherwise we could find ourselves getting stuck in the river or even not be able to cross the river and we did not want to be out in the Maasai Mara after dark…….
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Day 3 – Double River Crossing

After breakfast we headed out into the reserve. Today we were heading to the North Western side of the Mara reserve. We were off to find the stars of the BBC Big Cat Diaries and hopefully a lot more along the way.

After we crossed the Talek River we started our trek west. It was not long before we started to encounter animals. Our first encounter was Coke’s Hartebeest, these antelope always look malnourished, they are also extremely skittish and very shy. The last time we were in the Mara we could not find any Coke’s Hartebeest so we took this opportunity to bag some images. Whilst watching the Hartebeest, we were graced by the largest antelope in Africa, the Eland. Both the Eland and the Hartebeest can be found all over the Mara but mainly keep to small herds or can be seen grazing alone.
Eager to get to our destination we moved on, the sky was hazy but we could see that the storm from the night before had completely passed over and today was going to be hot.
After an hour of driving across the rugged terrain we approached the three river crossing. As the name suggests, there are three rivers to cross. Although not very big, the second of the crossings can be extremely dangerous. In this area of the Mara the only way to cross the river is to drive through it. In the extreme wet season the river becomes so fierce, the Maasai use a rope bridge to cross the river by foot and at this time no vehicles can cross. Sitting on the exposed rocks of the river are Crocodiles waiting for Zebra and Antelope to attempt a crossing or drink from the rivers edge.
As we approached the river, a 4×4 land cruiser started to cross from the other side, the land cruiser was much bigger than our vehicle and we could see it had a hard time crossing the river. The heavy rains from the night before gave the river a fast paced current and had unsettled the river’s bed. As the land cruiser cleared the river and drove past it became our turn to cross in the opposite direction. We gingerly made our way down the steep bank and entered the river, with a deep roar from our engine and using all Godfrey’s skill we worked our way across the river. You could hear the gravel and the river bed moving under the wheels. Every so often we would hit bed rock and make more progress, with each turn of the steering wheel and impeccable driving ability, Godfrey worked his way towards the other side of the river.
As we reached the incline of the river bank we suddenly hit a snag. With water above the wheel arches of our vehicle and now the lack of movement we seemed to be stuck. Aa tense moment for us, but with a few more skillfull turns of the wheel we were free! “Pole pole….. Hakuna Matata” (slowly slowly….. no worries) Godfrey turned around to us and said with a reassuring smile as we climbed clear of the river.
Once back on the track we stopped for Godfrey to check the tires and give the van a quick visual once over. Waiting over the other side of the river was the land cruiser that passed before us. An unwritten rule in the Mara is that everyone looks out for everyone, this way help is never too far away, so they had waited to make sure we could cross safely. With the all clear we waved to the 4×4 to signal all was ok and we headed off towards Billa Shaka…… The river would wait for us to return later on our way back to camp.

 

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Day 2 – Fire in the sky

After a scorching day we could feel a storm developing. It was in the air. You could just sense a change in the weather was coming. As we headed south towards Keekorok, to our right (West Mara) we could see heavy rain in the area of Mara Serena. Moving in the opposing direction was a second storm system, they were sure to merge. Before the two storms collided, the sun was desperately trying to break through. It looked like an orange fire ball, as if there was fire in the sky. As the two storms started to merge lightening started to strike. We were desperately hoping the storms would not change direction and head toward us.
The air was fresh and you could smell the rain in the distance, animal hunting was again going to prove to be very tricky, not like the day before when we were graced with many Lions.
After an hour and a half of searching we heard our friend Henry on the radio, he had just entered the Mara and was staying at the Mara Simba Lodge. He was on the lookout for Lions so we decided to join him on the search.
After much looking and scouring the long grass plains, we found what we were looking for…… but there was one snag. They were in the long grass, off track!
“They” were a large pride. 15 Lions made up this pride, and we could just about see the top of an ear of only one Lioness. As the light faded and the air became much cooler we hoped that they would go on the hunt.
We knew there was 15 lions laying in the grass as a ranger parked up nearby directed us to them. He was on the watch for any misbehaving drivers eager to please and chance breaking park rules.
After 40 minutes of waiting it was time to leave. These Lions were not going to move for anyone. Then just as we started the van, a Lioness lifted her head and gave a yawn. I fired of a burst of shots and that was all we were getting this evening.
Just as we made it back to camp, the heavens opened and the storm was upon us. We were in for a full night of rain. General Godfrey would need to use all his skill tomorrow, we were off to the Musaria Marsh and Billa Shaka area of the Mara. The most northern point in the Maasai Mara and home to the famous Marsh Pride, stars of the BBC series Big Cat Diary…… but what would the river crossings have in store for us?
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Day 2 – A hard days work

Mid-day in the Mara can be extremely hot, and this was true of today. The sun was pumping its rays down onto the land and the horizon was dancing. Our tent was situated right on the south bank of the Talek River, and the opposite side of the river was home to more than 20 Masked Weaver Birds. As the sun pounded down, I sat under a tree on the river’s edge watching the Weaver Birds work away, all were franticly building new nests to attract a mate.
Starting with two branches, the six inch tall, black faced and bright yellow coloured Masked Weaver ties together the foundation of his nest. With selectively picked lengths of grass, he wraps the grass around the first branch and skillfully ties the grass to the branch. With the two branches providing a frame to work from, he starts to weave a ring of grass between them. Once a ring is formed, the outer structure can be built and worked into the unmistakable Weaver Bird’s nest. Without counting each blade of grass, I would estimate there being close to a thousand blades of grass in a completed nest.
It’s non stop work for the Weaver Bird and after each blade is threaded into place he flies off to select another blade. It must take several days to make a fully formed nest, I watched the same bird for about an hour and he tied a blade of grass every 2 – 3 minutes, he must have tied more than 35 blades in the time I spent watching him.
Its was fantastic watching our Masked Weaver build his home. The agility and skill this tiny bird has developed to engineer such a perfect structure is amazing and the finished nest is a work of art! All I could do was hope his work was not in vain, and once finished his mate would approve, otherwise he would have to start all over again!
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Day 2 – The Hunt

Heading out from camp in the early hours, the morning sun was working hard to penetrate the dense cloud cover. With a nip in the air we decided to scout the Talek River for Leopards. It was not long before we found our first animal, not the leopard we were hunting, but a lone Hyena. Could this be one of the clan we heard the night before? Did she find our new born Lions? Did our Lion cubs make it through the night?
As we reached the river we could hear the unmistakable deep grunts of our camp’s resident Hippos. The pod had just reformed in their pool from a long nights grazing on the planes. The main male in the pod was putting everyone in their place, making sure they all knew he was the boss!
To our left on the rocks of the rivers edge stood fishing a Grey Heron. He stood perfectly still intensely looking into the river, poised to strike an unfortunate river fish that would wash into his path by the power of the river. Without any warning and lightening speed, the Grey Heron’s head darted in to the river! Not this time, the river fish was lucky. Now the Heron would need to wait, re position himself and wait for the fish to forget he was there.
Moving down along the river our game drive was tricky, we had to work as a team to spot the game. Black cotton soil that forms a base for the Red Oat Gras to grow had absorbed a lot of water in the recent short rainy season. This made driving very tricky, but for our skilled driver this was just another day at the office.
Today would not be the day that we would see our Leopard. As we headed back for breakfast five magnificent Masai Giraffe were gracefully walking along the Berrungat plains. Whenever we see Giraffe in the wild I feel like I’m in the film Jurassic Park. Giraffe walk so tenderly and elegant, giving the impression you are watching them in slow motion. After our therapy session with the Giraffe we headed back to camp for breakfast and a well earned cup of Kenya’s finest tea.
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Day 1 – Evening of the Lion

After a long trek from Nairobi in to the Masai Mara game reserve we headed straight out into the bush. It was great to be back. The last time we were in the Mara was for the Great Migration, now, 18 months on what a difference!

During the migration the Wildebeest trim the grass right down to its roots, but in the few months that they had vacated the planes, the grass had grown back with a vengeance. Tracking down the animals was going to be tough in these conditions, but this just added to the excitement.

Slowly driving along the tracks looking through the tall grass and into the bush our search began. It was not long before we had out first sighting, and what a sight it would turn out to be. Deep in the bush we saw some movement. As we looked closer, the smallest lion cub rolled out of the shadows, followed by another, and then a third. With eyes closed, they climbed over mums back leg and worked their way to her belly to feed.

This was a dream, we were less than 3 meters away from the next generation of Mara lions. What a fantastic start to our adventure, it seemed that this was third time lucky as we had never seen cubs so small, these had just been born. We could only hope the rest of the trip would follow the same way.

Although the lioness and cubs were not phased by our presence, we decided to move on and leave them to settle in for the evening. As we drove away, Godfrey told us that there was another lioness not far from the mum and cubs, so we headed out to find her. This was shaping up to be a lion packed evening. Laying on the crest of a hill catching the evening rays she lay calling, “Listen…… can you hear?” Godfrey could hear another lion calling back. “lets go and see….. He cant be far”

Our experienced guide was correct, less than half a kilometre away lay a fantastic looking male lion. He lay there without a care in the world and as the light faded he became more restless. As we watched, he rolled over several times, yawned twice and gave us the most intense stare we’ve seen from a Lion, this was his patch and boy did we know it! Again, in the distance we could hear the lioness from earlier calling and without question our Lion king called back.

The evening closed in and we could hear the haunting sound of the hyenas in the distance.

As we made our way back to camp and crossed the Talek River, I could only wonder how the young cubs would fare through thier first night in the bush…. Would we see them again?…. What would tomorrow bring for them? What would tomorrow bring for us?

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Clouded Leopard

The most majestic, small and elegant cat, the Clouded Leopard. With teeth the same length as a fully grown tiger, the Clouded Leopard has the longest proportioned teeth, second only to the Sabre Tooth Tiger. African and Amur Leopards can climb trees with ease, but this smaller, more agile cat completely puts them to shame. The Clouded Leopard is the only cat that can climb along branches upside down and climb down trees head first, turn around and go straight back up without touching the floor. The Clouded Leopard lives between the Himalayan region and China. In 2008 IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) declared the status of the Clouded Leopard as vulnerable with a population of adult cats to be less than 10,000 in the wild.

The first time I visited the WHF (Wildlife Heritage Foundation) big cat sanctuary, this cat would not come out to play. So on my next visit, I was not expecting to see one again, but to my good fortune not only was I graced with one Clouded Leopard but two.

Until this encounter the African Leopard was my favourite big cat, but the markings and the pure beauty of this beast has completely captivated me. We need to do everything in our power to stop poaching of these animals for their coats, and protect their valuable habitat and just maybe our next generation will be able to see these in the wild, not just in captivity.

 

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Farne Islands

Leaving the harbour was nice and calm, but as soon as we hit open water, our small boat was thrown from side to side; the swells were not for the feint hearted but it would not be for long as we soon reached the islands. We were the first visitors that the islands had seen since the start of the season and the rangers looked pleased to see fresh faces. Being the start of May, the puffins were still on arrival to the islands, the breading season starts in May and ends in July. Guillemot’s, Shag’s and Arctic Terns were among the many birds on the islands, even though we were at the start of the season the birds were showing well!

Our stay on the island was short lived, the sea was getting worse and our captain could not risk the safety of the boat. After 30 minutes on the island it was time to leave. Hopefully our next day would bring better weather.

Driving to the boat the next day we could not believe it, the sky was crystal clear, what a change from the day before. As we climbed aboard the boat, our captain said “Told you better day today lad!, better day today!” The sea was remarkably calm and flat, our ride to the islands was amazingly smooth. Our first drop off was Staple Island, with over an hour on the island we were able to get great shots of the puffins and other birds. As the rain came down we moved off Staple Island and on to Inner Farne. In the height of the breeding season, as you make your way up from the shore to the top of the island, Arctic Terns dive bomb all visitors in defence of their nests, lucky for us this was not an issue.

Walking around the island, Puffins darted in and out of their nests, heading out to sea to catch Sand Eels and bring them back to their mate.

Due to bad weather this year, the Puffins have struggled to breed successfully and trips to the island have been limited. To follow the latest news from the islands check out the Farne Island Blog!

The Farne Islands are a wonderful place to see a wide variety of the UK’s treasured wildlife.

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