Kenya (14) – Maasai Mara

Our second full day on the Mara started out with a pair of Grant gazelles locking horns, just inside the park boundaries.

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We also had a lovely view of the sunrise hot air balloon rides… so much more fun to be in one, though!

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A new bird sighting, in the form of a pair of Kori Bustards, believed to be the heaviest birds capable of flight. They’re certainly rather large and solid looking, but we didn’t see one in flight to prove it!

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We haven’t seen all that many buffalo since we left Tsavo East, but there were one or two around today. This one looking rather grumpy.

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I continued trying to hone my running gazelle shots, and we also saw a group of mongooses (yes, that really is the plural, I checked!) Like the ones we saw at Satao Camp, they didn’t hang around long and quickly vanished into the long grass.

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We stopped for breakfast by a river, in a beautiful spot that afforded plenty of photo opportunities, both of the landscape, and fellow travellers.

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Continuing on and my resolve not to photograph any more giraffes was broken again, this time by a courting pair. The male was looking very affectionate, but the female didn’t seem too impressed by his advances and they went their separate ways.

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After the giraffes we came across the first decent sized herd of elephants we’ve seen so far in the Mara, and again, my intention not to take too many photos of animals we’d seen a lot of already was tested, this time by a young calf, and a pair of youngsters sparring.

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We followed the elephants after they wandered off and found ourselves in a grassy area filled with topi and gazelles. Where there were mounds, there were topis on top of them – a curious sight. In this photo there are a number, but most often we saw one topi per mound, dotted around the landscape.

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Our next sighting was rather less pleasant – we followed a large number of vultures to where they were feasting on a dead elephant. There were huge numbers of vultures with more constantly flying in, and squabbling with each other. Every time the wind direction changed we were hit with an awful stench. It was a sad sight, but a good reminder of the vital role that vultures play, and that nothing in nature is wasted.

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After the vultures, something completely different – we came across a small group of hyena cooling off in a little waterhole. One of the hyena was particularly bothered by flies, and kept submerging himself in the water to get some relief. Each time he emerged he shook himself vigourously, to the sound of 10 camera shutters on motor drive.

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Lunch, and then another lone elephant sighting – this one took exception to the presence to our other vehicle, who appeared to be sitting on his preferred path. After a disgruntled shake of the head, the vehicle moved, and he continued on his way.

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We had a number of bumpy river crossings today – fortunately we managed them all without getting stuck anywhere.

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We spent quite some time along the river, finding first some hippos and then, we surprised a crocodile. We pulled up along the bank and a giant croc slid quickly from the bank down into the water. Just about 10 feet away, we found a second croc, this one sleeping and totally undisturbed by our presence. He was huge, and had a massive thick tail and huge feet to boot. Whilst we were photographing him, we were joined by another vehicle, who started asking us all sorts of random, and dare I say, dumb, questions about our cameras. The cracker, though, was when their guide was telling them about the crocodiles catching wildebeest during the river crossings during the migration. One of them piped up ‘so, do the wildebeest ever eat the crocodiles?’.

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Our sightings after the crocs leaned more towards the small, cute and cuddly in the form of a hare, and a nest of bat eared foxes, in the middle of the track.

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It was beginning to seem that the only thing we weren’t going to see today was the big cats, and certainly, trying to find them in the long grass is a challenge.

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Our two vehicles split up, and suddenly our guide and driver started talking together excitedly, and scanning the grass. In all the Swahili, I picked out one vital word – simba, or lion. Sure enough, we found a track through the grass, and started heading towards a lone tree. At the bottom of the tree was a lioness with a kill. There we were, with no other vehicles in sight, with our very own lion sighting.

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As we approached the lioness who was resting against a log, she stood up and started walking towards us. I was photographing through the lower window, and she walked right towards me, stopped at distance of about 3 feet, and lay down, taking advantage of the shade provided by our vehicle. I really felt like I could have reached out and stroked her – an amazing experience, a lioness so close by that you have to use the wide angle lens to photograph her!

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Eventually, after letting her cool of a bit, we moved the vehicle around so that we could photograph her in the beautiful evening light.

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She obliged us for a while, before walking off over to her kill, a topi, and having a bite to eat. Her stomach was already very round and full, so where she found the room I have no idea. (If you don’t want to see the pictures, I suggest you abandon this post now, or scroll to the bottom…)

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Because we stayed a long time with the lioness, we found ourselves racing the clock to get back to the park gates. It turned out that we were a long way from the exit, and we only reached the park boundary about 45 minutes after the park is officially closed. It has to be admitted that we did stop on the way to watch some sparring topi and photograph the sunset.

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