Kenya (15) – Maasai Mara

Our last day on the Mara, and for Mum and I, also the last day of our safari. In order to make the best use of the light, we set off from camp a little earlier this morning, so that we could get into the park as soon as it opened.

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We drove down to the river, where we found a huge pod of hippos, all grunting away, just like we heard at the start of our trip, when we were staying in Tsavo.

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We stayed a little while with the hippos, and then headed off in search of cats and other excitement.

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Driving through the long grasses, I was amazed when we saw the sunlight glinting of a large shiny body in the grass… could it possibly be? Yes, a hippo, quite a long distance out of the water. As soon as the hippo saw us, he did exactly what hippos are supposed to do in such situations and ran towards his safety zone – the river. A very good demonstration of why you don’t want to get between a hippo and the water. I didn’t really manage to capture the speed, but it was faster than you might expect such a large animal to move, and he soon disappeared.

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Continuing on, we ended taking an enforced stop in the middle of nowhere specific for our breakfast, as the other LandCruiser got stuck. After unpacking the blankets and breakfast, our LandCruiser was called upon to tow the other one out.

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Meanwhile, the rest of us used the opportunity to have a bite to eat, and to photograph the zebras.

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Just when I was beginning to think that we were going to have to head back to camp, without a single cat sighting on our final day, we struck lucky – we saw a vehicle ahead, stopped by a pair of ‘honeymooning’ lions. The pair were totally unperturbed by our presence, and got down to business as if we weren’t there. The female was definitely leading the show, after resting for a few minutes, she’d get up and the male, rather resignedly, would follow.

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As if to fit in with the theme of procreation, after moving on from the lions, we came across a couple young animals – a suckling zebra, and a newborn gazelle. If yesterday was a day where we came face to face with death, today was the day for new life – a wonderful note on which to finish our safari.

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Back at the camp we took lunch before heading off on the long drive back to Nairobi. After about 5 and half hours of hard driving we dropped off the main group back at the airport, before returning to the city centre to our hotel, for our last night in Kenya.

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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Kenya (13) – Maasai Mara

The Maasai Mara certainly lived up to its big cat reputation today.  After driving around for a couple of hours, and taking in the zebra, impala and giraffes, we were called by the other vehicle to a cheetah sighting.  Four cheetah – three males and a female, snoozing by a small waterhole.  They were very comfortable in the long grass, which made it rather difficult to photograph them without stray pieces of grass in front of their faces.

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We stayed and watched them for about half an hour, our attention to the cheetahs only broken when another vehicle got itself stuck in the thick mud, and could only be moved by being pushed by our other Landcruiser.  It took a few attempts and a lot of burning rubber to get them out.

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After the cheetahs we found ourselves a nice picnic spot for our breakfast, under a tree housing a couple owls.  I managed to get one quick shot before they moved.

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We’d hardly been going anytime before we found the one thing I really wanted to see, but barely hoped to – a leopard!  The leopard was doing exactly what the script said it was supposed to – resting in a tree with its legs and tail hanging down.  After a little while it got up and we thought we might see it leap down from the tree, but instead it jumped to a branch on the other side, a move which I unfortunately wasn’t quick enough to capture.

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The leopard looking like it wasn’t going to move again for a while so we drove off to another tree, where our guides had spotted a leopard’s kill hanging.  Can you imagine how surprised we were when we not only saw the kill, but a second leopard lying down nearby in the grass?  It’s unusual to find two leopards so close together, opinions as to whether it was a mother and young adult cub, or a mating pair were divided.

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Whilst we watched the leopard stood up and slowly walked up to the tree where the kill was hanging, and then climbed up the tree to lie down near it.

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We left him hanging there as though he didn’t have a care in the world, and carried on, stopping to photograph the occasional lilac breasted roller, and an elephant standing in the tall grass.

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For our lunch break, we picked a nice large rock, sheltered under a tree, with a view onto the large expanses of grasslands.

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After lunch, during the hottest period, we came across another pair of cheetahs, taking shelter in the grass.  They didn’t seem to have any intention of getting up to much action, so we left them there in peace.

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Some more sand grouse along the way.  Whilst we were watching we saw an interesting bit of behaviour – one of the grouse suddenly fluffed up all her feathers, and then rolled over onto her side.  She only stayed that way for a minute before getting up again and wandering off.  Whether this was supposed to be a bit of playing dead distraction behaviour, I’m not sure.

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Another giraffe on the distance, and as we slowed, I made myself promise that I wouldn’t take more giraffe photos, having so many already.  No sooner did I make decision then we came close enough to see that it was a mum and baby, the baby being so young it’s umbilical cord was still there.  Of course, there was no way that I wasn’t going to photography a baby giraffe!

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Leaving the giraffes, we finished our drive back with last night’s pride of lions. They were scattered about in the trees, mostly resting, but with some of the cubs finding the energy to play despite the heat.
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One more stop for a crested crane, and we went back to camp, where they’d set up a campfire for us. Unfortunately, I was the only person to enjoy it as everyone else went straight to the bar. Whilst I waited for them not to turn up, I had a nice chat with a couple of the staff, and my own private bar!

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Kenya (12) – Maasai Mara

On the road again early this morning. We arrived at the airport at about 6.30 where we met up with Chris, wildlife photographer and our tour leader, and met another of the participants.

We had a bit of a wait for the rest of the group – Arie arrived in from Amsterdam on time just after 6, but the flight coming in from London was delayed by about an hour. We quickly came to the conclusion that Nairobi International Airport isn’t the best place to kill time.

Eventually the whole group was assembled – 9 participants in total, and we filled up the 2 LandCruisers and set off for the Maasai Mara. We had one brief stop at a viewpoint over the Rift valley, where we were hassled by locals to come and look at their curio shops, and then we continued the journey.

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The journey ended up being longer than expected – about 7 hours in total, and we were all very relieved to arrive. As we’d been warned by someone we’d met in Amboseli, the last couple hours of the journey were along a very potholed road, thanks to which we had to make an unscheduled stop to replace a tire. For me that brought back memories of my time in Namibia, especially the rather painful moment when a side panel, along with the jack, fell off the LandCruiser and landed on my toes.

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We’re staying at a tented camp again, albeit tents with beds and showers! We didn’t waste much time settling in, but ate a quick as we could lunch (hard to make it fast when every meal is 4 courses!) before going out for our first game drive.

At the start of the drive we came across many of the critters that mum and I had already seen, so I did my best to restrain myself from pressing the shutter. One thing I did have to capture though was a bit of warthog mating!

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We drove on, and very quickly came across a huge pride of sleeping lions – 5 females, 3 males and 11 cubs. We sat and watched them until the sun went down and we had to leave the park. When we arrived the cubs were being babysat by a couple of the males, but slowly the females arrived back, and were greeted by great excitement from all the cubs who ran up to them. The reunions were accompanied by a lot of licking, rolling and very cute little growly noises. Unfortunately the light was poor and just as we arrived we were hit by a heavy rain shower. It didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the lions though.

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