Category Archives: Africa

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…
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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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The Great Migration

No more than 5 paces away from our van at the top of Lookout Hill “Quick, Stuart into the van, we must go now!” Godfrey shouted. The race was on. Over the airwaves the wardens had called in that the wildebeest gathered beside the Mara River had started to cross. As we sped down from the heights of Lookout Hill, from all around, there were vans heading towards the river. This truly was a race. There is only so much space along the river bank from where you can get a good viewing point and we wanted that space.

As we arrived at the rivers edge, the crossing was in full flow. Thousands of wildebeest were lining up and jumping in to the river and struggling to get to the bank on the far side. Within minutes the last few were in and making their way across. Some of the younger stragglers for some reason turned back, maybe the current was too strong for them. Once back where they started, the stragglers made their way up and down the bank to attempt another crossing. Out from the shadows on the far bank, a very slow moving object swam towards one of the young calves that stood in the waters edge.

The biggest Nile Croc I had ever seen was heading straight for the calf. Slowly, the crocodile swam towards it with unbelievable speed, launched itself from the water to grab the young wildebeest by the head. Within less than a second it had grabbed the wildebeest and dragged it under. Godfrey had managed to get a perfect spot on the river bank, out of 40+ vans positioned on the side of the river, we were the only van in a position to witness the ferociousness of the Nile Croc.

For the next 4 hours we waited for the herds and pressure to build in order for the wildebeest to cross again. They have very poor eyesight and throughout the day, they would move down to the water’s edge then move back again to safety, their behaviour is intriguing, so indecisive! If there are no Zebra to lead the way, then wildebeest will go back and forth all day long. If a super herd is formed at the rivers edge, then the wildebeest on the edge of the river bank are more than likely to have no choice but to jump in and cross. Once this happens then the rest will follow.

Life and death is all part of existence in the Mara. Many wildebeest die from drowning as they break their legs jumping into the river from a height. Some get taken by crocs, and some, rarely, are attacked and killed by a bull hippo from one of the many pods that share the river. The crossings present many opportunities for other predators to try their luck. Leopards and female lions will come to the river in the chance of an easy kill.

The river is a dangerous place to be, but year after year the wildebeest make this life threatening journey as part of their fight to survive.

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Friends round for breakfast

The alarm rang out and it was time to get up, get dressed and make our way up to the tea and coffee station for a hit of caffeine before our 6AM drive out in to the Mara. At 05.30am it was still dark and there was a nip in the air, the rain was still falling as it had been all night, we just new it was going to be one of those days!

As we drove out of camp and headed into the bush, we heard over the radio that two Black Rhino had been seen not far from camp, so we headed off to find them. Once we arrived at the area they had been spotted, there were several vans parked up and all were looking in to the bush area beside us. The Rhino had made their way in to the dense bush and could not be seen. We decided to stay for a while in case they came out, but after nearly an hour we decided to move on.

For the next hour or so we were slowly driving around on the look out for any animals of interest. Then suddenly over the radio, “Godfrey, come in Godfrey…….” it was James, one of the rangers we gave a lift to earlier in the week. James was asking Godfrey to meet at a certain point in the Mara. Godfrey turned to me and asked if we wanted to meet up with James. We had nothing to loose, maybe there would be some game or with a bit of luck one of the big five over in that direction, so we decided to go and find out what James was calling us over for.

When we arrived at James’s location, to our surprise James had found four lions feeding on a kill from earlier in the night. 80% of the wildebeest was gone, this was a big feed for the whole pride. As we sat in our van next to James’s van, James told us he heard Godfrey on the radio asking if any one had seen lions this morning, and to show his appreciation for the lift we gave him on our way in to the Mara, he wanted share his find with us, hence the lack of information given over the airwaves. So it goes to show, if you do a good deed the favour will be returned when you need it.

We sat and watched the Lions feed for almost an hour before any other vans arrived. When they did it would be time for us to leave and make our way back to camp for our own breakfast.

 

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Pride of Africa

Designed to kill, they stalk with stealth and attack in a group. The only big cat in the world to have a social network. The lion is an amazing animal, and in the wild their true power can be seen in full glory. The day before we had seen a pride of lions in the distance which were coming down from the rolling hills bordering Tanzania and Kenya. We stopped on the dirt track and could see that they were looking for food. Behind us was a small herd of wildebeest numbering 30 strong. The mother of the pride was assessing the situation for a kill, but there was no cover for the lions to utilise in order to get close to the herd for an attack. After a few minutes the pride walked off into the distance.

After breakfast we had planned to drive to the river to watch the wildebeest crossing, this was 50 km away from camp and as we drove out of the gates, we heard on the radio that there had been a lion kill not far from the airstrip. As we got closer to the kill site, we could smell in the air the potent stench of death, we were close by. As we arrived we quickly counted the lions in the pride. There were 14 lions in total, several females and many young males, but no big male. This was the pride we had seen the day before, and that night, just after dark, we could hear the male near camp calling out marking territory.

The pride must have had a kill in the night as there was not much left of the large wildebeest when we arrived. The pride were clearly satisfied and full, as some of the young males were playing and others were rolling around in the short grass. It was enthralling to be able to watch such a large pride interact with each other. As they approached one another they would rub heads and against each other’s bodies. In a way it felt like they were congratulating each member of the pride for a job well done. Even the smallest cubs of the pride were relaxing and showing affection to their siblings.

There has been many years of research and study on Lion prides in Kenya and Tanzania,  trying to understand why Lions are the only big cat with a social network. To date there is no definitive answer to why this is. With the ever encroaching human population on the Lion’s territory, will we ever understand them fully, or will we forever be second guessing long past their existence?

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How many are there!

Driving through the bush looking for leopards we heard a rumbling. Slowly it got louder and louder until out of the gap between the bushes came the Wildebeest! Before we knew it, we were caught up in a mighty stampede of them passing through, amazingly they all kept to single file as they passed by. For five minutes my wife counted the wildebeest whilst i tried to get a panning shot of the action, after nearly a 1000 she gave up. “Wow, how many are there, when will this end, its amazing” I heard her say to Godfrey. The noise, the volume of animals and the luck was truly incredible, we could have been anywhere in the Mara but no we were right in the middle of it. After fifteen minutes from when it all started, we decided to move on when a gap appeared. There must have been over 2500 wildebeest pass us, and when we left they were still flooding by.

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North Mara Conservancy

After three hours searching for a lioness and her cub, we decided to head back to camp. Our guide Godfrey was disappointed that this was the first outing in ten days that we did not see what we had planned to. Suddenly, running across our path, being chased by its mate was a spotted hyena. The mood quickly changed as Godfrey shouted to me at the back of the van, ”Hyena! …. with a kill! …. hold on!”. Foot down we were in hot pursuit.

As we drew closer to the hyenas, they started to fight over the catch. Probably a kill from a leopard or cheetah that the hyenas had stolen. Obviously not willing to share with each other, they savagely snapped and snarled.

Hyenas have the strongest jaws and bite power on the planes. Being bitten by a hyena would cause serious damage. Hyena’s steal most of their food, but they do bring down prey when times are hard.

Hyenas don’t humanely kill their prey like a lion does. As a pack they mob their victim, and while some hang on to the defenceless animal, the others start to tear it apart.

All of a sudden, one of the hyenas won priority over the meal.

From our van, we could hear the bones crushing one after another as the Hyena broke its way past the rib cage and in to the tender inner’s.

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Mara Triangle

Cheetah, the fastest land mammal. With a top speed of seventy miles per hour, there’s not much that can escape this swift agile cat over a short sprint. Normally the cheetah hunts alone, but when a female has cubs nearing maturity, then hunting as a pack can prove successful but sometimes testing.

As the rains came down, activity on the plains of the Masai Mara calmed down. For two hours we sat and watched a lone thomson gazelle move closer to the bush with great caution, as spectators we could sense the tension. Shakira and her three cubs lay in the grass ahead waiting for the rains to ease. At this point all four cheetahs lay facing away from each other looking for the next opportunity. One of the cubs had a firm fix on the nervous gazelle, patiently waiting for it to draw closer (A cheetah will not waist energy in a pursuit if the target is more than a short sprint away).

As the rain stopped, the gazelle froze. It was now all too aware of the dangers ahead. After a few minutes assessing the area around it, the thomson gazelle ran in to the distance away from the hunters. The next day, as dawn broke, we followed Shakira and her cubs along the flats beside the Mara River.

For several hours she guided her cubs over the open land keeping a watchful eye on the nearing herds of gazelle. Suddenly from across the plains three topi antelope charged the pacing cheetahs. Two topi veered off to the small herd of nearby gazelle, and as if they were shepherds, rounded up the gazelle and escorted them to safety. While the remaining topi faced off our hunters.

After a short rest and a refreshing drink from a rainwater puddle, Shakira spotted another lone thomson, this time she had a plan!

While Shakira sat on the crest of a termite mound, the three cubs dispersed. Two headed left and one turned right. On the left, one of the cubs started to crouch down whilst the other continued to move round. A classic pincer movement was being formed. The aim, to push the thomson closer to Shakira for a deadly attack.In an attempt to confuse the young cubs, the herd of gazelles regrouped with its stray companion. Now the cubs became unclear on what to do. Shakira clearly had more teaching to do before her students could graduate.

With a frustrated look, Shakira and the cubs retired in to the bushland to escape the increasingly searing sun.

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Lake Nakuru

The most accomplished climber of all the big cats in Africa, agility combined with the strength to carry twice its own body weight enables the leopard to kill and store its prey in the trees for several days before the need to feed. Although it has been known for lions to climb trees, they do not have the strength to carry a kill off the ground away from other predators.

Through the daylight hours, you are most likely to find a leopard resting up in the branches of a tree.

Whilst driving through the forest area, along the edge of Lake Nakuru, our driver suddenly came to an abrupt stop. Leaning out of the driver’s window, Godfrey pointed deep in to the woodland “There Leopard, can you see?”. Every time I think about this moment, I still can’t believe how Godfrey saw this leopard. Not only was it over 50 meters away, but we needed to reverse our vehicle 20 meters or more to a clear opening in the trees to see it.

This was a proud moment for our eagle eyed guide, as quickly as the Leopard was spotted, the location of the sighting was passed around all the vehicles in the vicinity. I’m sure Godfrey was the hero of the drivers camp later that night.

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