After an overnight flight and an early arrival into Nairobi, we had a short flight from Wilson Airport to the Masai Mara. We arrived at around 11.30 and had a short game drive before a well deserved lunch. On this first brief game drive we saw hippos, Thomson’s gazelles, Grant’s gazelles, topi, zebras, wildebeest, eland, ostrich and dik-dik. After lunch we spent a considerable time taking quality photographs of two leopards including a session of play fighting. We also photographed impala as the sun set, plus giraffe and elephant. Some of the guests had an eventful night with buffalo showing their faces inside the camp.
Today we had a full day in the Masai Mara, taking both breakfast and lunch in the vehicles. Our first objective was to see the wildebeest migration. We saw tens of thousands of wildebeest migrating but none crossed the Mara River that day. We did however see a small herd of Thomson’s gazelle crossing the river. We saw crocodiles, white backed vultures, lappet faced vultures and hooded vultures, ground horn bills, tawny eagles, bee eaters and Malibu storks. Our most notable experience was with a cheetah and three tiny baby cubs. One of our vehicles watched her hunt unsuccessfully, whilst the other had the privilege of ‘babysitting’ the three cubs – the mother left them under the vehicle, knowing they were safe there! We saw hyenas, zebra, baboons, and a herd of buffalo with a significant number of tick birds on them, before coming across a beautiful leopard on the river bank. Once again the buffalo visited the camp at night!
Our first encounter was with giraffes eating from Acacia trees at sunrise. We then came across a small pride of lions consisting of one male and two females. The male was carrying some fairly serious injuries and one of the females was bursting with milk. We later learned that this pride had suffered an attack from other lions and that these attackers had killed three baby cubs belonging to the lioness in milk and also injured the male. It was a sad sight and everybody was quite moved. Our fortunes suddenly changed for the better. We had no sooner left this sad family than we found a female leopard and two cubs in a tree. After a while the leopards moved on and we decided to find a quiet spot for breakfast. Whilst looking for this spot we came across a cheetah that proceeded to hunt and kill a small Thomson’s gazelle. Needless to say, we were very late having breakfast! We next found a herd of elephants wallowing in a mud pool, followed by a close encounter with a long crested eagle. On our way back to the camp for lunch, amazingly we came across another leopard that had killed a wildebeest only minutes before. We spent a good hour with her before taking a late lunch at the camp.
After lunch we retraced our steps and found the female leopard still guarding her wildebeest from a large flock of vultures determined to have their fill. Our guide was aware that this leopard had two ten month old cubs nearby. We could also see five lions not more than a quarter of a mile away. The mother dare not expose herself to the lions and could not go and get her youngsters, nor dare she leave her kill unguarded. We photographed her all afternoon in amazing light as the sun went down, before finding her female cub several hundred yards away, hiding under a bush. We spent a final half hour with the lions which stalked and hunted two huge male buffaloes. The lions eventually decided that the threat of serious injury was too great, and retired gracefully into the undergrowth.
Another full day with breakfast and lunch on board. Our first encounter was with the Marsh Pride of lions with their cubs in superb morning light. We photographed these for some time alongside the Big Cat Diary film crew, before leaving to find some game on our own. We came across a pair of ostriches dancing and mating, before finding three male cheetahs on three separate termite mounds. On our way to the crossing point we encountered a large herd of wildebeest crossing a dry river bed. The migration was well under way and this was a wonderful taster of the full crossing that we later hoped to witness. We also photographed bee eaters, hippos and giraffes before enjoying our picnic lunch. After lunch we photographed zebras and impalas whilst waiting for a huge herd of wildebeest to cross the river. They went down to the river’s edge several times but did not cross, obviously spooked by some huge crocodiles. The wildebeest ran alongside the river for a few miles towards another crossing point. We had a brilliant time photographing them crossing a deep but dry river bed. On our way home we paid a second visit to the Marsh Pride of lions and photographed their cubs playing together for more than an hour. We also photographed a Martial eagle, a black breasted eagle and a tiny baby Thomson’s gazelle running alongside its mother.
Yet another long day with breakfast and lunch in the vehicle. We photographed another Martial eagle and a black capped snake eagle on our way to the crossing point. During our journey we saw one of the most memorable sights we have ever seen in the Masai Mara. We found a cheetah with five baby cubs on a termite mound. This was the first time she had left her birthing area and gone into open country side. We spent two hours photographing these wonderful creatures. This was Shakira and her babies as featured on the Big Cat Diaries. There was nobody other than the BBC film crew and ourselves at this wonderful scene. We then headed off towards the crossing points photographing a topi on a termite mound, some big crocs, some hippos with a tiny baby, a glossy starling and some more lions with their cubs. After lunch we watched a herd of around eighty zebra attempt to cross the Mara River. A number of zebras entered the water led by the dominant male. We were amazed to see him suddenly spot a huge crocodile from the middle of the river. He turned around sharply and bit the zebra that was immediately following him on the nose. This made the whole herd turn around and head back for the safety of the original bank. We all got some great shots of the zebras before spotting the Marsh Pride of lions as we gently made our way home. There were three adult females and several cubs on a kill. A large herd of elephants stood nearby. There was one tiny elephant in the middle of the herd completely circled by all the older elephants that were obviously protecting him. He was very well concealed and quite difficult to spot. He was very unsteady on his feet and obviously less than one week old. There was also confrontation between two other elephants and the lions. The elephants kept making mock charges at the feeding lions. It was only now that we realized that the lions were eating another tiny baby elephant! Everybody was extremely upset and felt very sad for the mourning elephants. The elephants that were confronting the lions were only half-grown. They were inexperienced and they were putting their lives at huge risk. It was amazing to see one of the largest elephants leave the herd and escort these youngsters back to safety. This was an experience that shows the brutality and the caring of wildlife in the Mara.
Today we saw both a jackal and a hyena sharing the same carcass. Hooded crows and tawny eagles were also grabbing morsels when they dare. We then found a leopard and its’ cub out in the open plains. We photographed these for more than half and hour. We next visited a local Masai village where we saw traditional costume and dancing. The young children also sang and clapped for us. We watched the Maasai warriors lighting a fire using only dry sticks, and later went inside their primitive dwellings. Before having lunch we saw a leopard take a Thomson’s gazelle, one that it had already killed, up a tree. We photographed this for half an hour or so before returning to camp for lunch. After lunch we saw three white rhinos and a calf. These are guarded twenty four hours a day by soldiers, and we were allowed to walk with a guard to within five yards of them. On our way back to camp we photographed eland, jackal, hartebeest, bush buck, zebra and a group of giraffes running.
Today once again we elected to try and witness a river crossing. Just outside the camp we found two female lions on a wildebeest kill. We waited for the sun to rise before photographing this scene. We photographed them in fantastic light as they played with each other once they had had their fill of the kill. Hyenas were queuing up for anything that was left. We had our second sighting of Shakira, the cheetah and her five cubs. We photographed her hunting at speed, once again unsuccessfully. We then went to the crossing point and saw several small crossings of one to four animals before taking a break for breakfast. After breakfast we saw a huge crossing of somewhere between fifteen hundred and two thousand wildebeest and a small number of zebra. One wildebeest was taken by a crocodile. We then witnessed a second crossing of about a hundred zebra and a few wildebeest. A croc grabbed a young zebra by the neck and started to drag it downstream. Amazingly a large male zebra ran towards the crocodile, jumped up in the air and landed across the middle of the crocs back. The croc then let go of the young zebra and both of the zebras then crossed the river successfully. A second croc took a small wildebeest calf that was very weak and would not have made it across anyway. We then had a well deserved long lazy late lunch – all of us were very elated by what we had seen! One our way back we came across a mother elephant with one half grown offspring and another virtually newborn. It was amazingly fragile and tiny. It struggled to walk and wobbled wherever it went. We watched it suckle and we could tell from its fumbling that it had not done this many times before. Near to our camp we came across the local leopard with her two almost adult cubs. We spent considerable time with them as they unsuccessfully hunted a ground hare.
We were woken very early by roaring lions, but we could not find them when we left the camp. We photographed giraffes at sunrise and backlit hyenas. We found some more giraffes with a one week old baby before coming across a number of birds. Bateleur eagle, brown snake eagle, Augur buzzard, Denhalms bustard (very rare) and squacco herons. We moved on to a rock hyrax, a leopard, and five dik-diks before photographing a herd of wildebeest and giraffes walking along the skyline. After lunch we photographed a pallid harrier and a family of five jackals squabbling over a baby Thomson’s gazelle. We next found a leopard, both in deep undergrowth and in open woodland. The light was low but we got some excellent shots. We saw a wayward pelican which was resting in a tree. This bird should not be in the Mara and was obviously lost. A number of wildebeest were rolling and scraping the ground with their horns, and we also saw spotted green emerald doves and a tiny baby giraffe in woodland. The night was quite eventful. A leopard walked through the camp just before we went to bed and we were watchfully escorted to and from our tents by the camp guards. The night was punctuated by jackals barking, a leopard growling, hyenas calling and lions roaring! The full story unfolded the following morning. The young female leopard had made her first kill inside the camp and had spent the night fending off the jackals. The lions had also killed just outside the camp and they in turn had to defend their kill from the hyenas.
Once again we took breakfast and lunch with us in the vehicle having made the decision to spend the whole day in the Marsh area. Our first encounter was with two crested cranes just as the sun rose. Their golden crowns looked as if there were on fire. We then photographed a heron and a hammerkopf on a perfectly still pond, before coming across three young male lions eating a wildebeest. It was an incredible scene as they were surrounded by no less than fifteen hyenas who were constantly trying to move the lions away from the kill. The hyenas were repeatedly creeping up behind the lions as if to bite their rear ends, and the lions would turn and snarl at their tormentors. Two of the lions got bored with this leaving just one on the kill. This lion was adamant that he was not going to give up his prize and then spent more time chasing hyenas than eating his prey. Almost thirty vultures were in turn waiting for anything that might be left by the hyenas. Eventually the third lion left the kill and joined his cohorts, whereupon all the hyenas grabbed parts of what was now little more than a pile of bones. We got superb shots of one hyena carrying away just the wildebeest head in beautiful light. The hyenas left absolutely nothing for the vultures and we headed for the marsh area. On our way we had breakfast beside a large pool which was completely green – covered in water lettuce. Here we photographed jacana walking across the lettuce and also at times standing on the heads of some of the ten or so hippos that also shared that pool. We all had great fun trying to photograph a hippo with a lettuce on the top of its head as it rose up through the greenery. Later we arrived at the marsh where we photographed an unusually dark red bushbuck and four reedbucks jumping a stream. Birds were aplenty and we photographed a rufous naped sky lark, a fish eagle, a francolin, a wattled plover and a black bellied bustard. We saw a troup of almost one hundred baboons and many water bucks. There were stags, mums and babies, some quite small. We found a beautiful woodland setting overlooking the Mara River, where we stopped for lunch. On the far bank we could see a huge crocodile sitting on a nest. We photographed a tawny eagle in flight, elephants with a small baby, some impala in woodland, and cattle egrets, before once again coming across Shakira – the Cheetah and her five tiny cubs. We then saw zebras fighting before they crossed a small river. We saw a group of mongooses running up and down a large fallen tree – they continually disappeared inside the hollow trunk and popped out elsewhere. We photographed eland, a large herd of wildebeest, and two lionesses, before once again finding some elephants with a tiny baby less than a week old. We shot a lilac breasted roller both perched and in flight, a saddle billed stork, red necked spur fowl and a grey kestrel before returning back to camp. On our journey back we found two cheetahs – known as the brothers – slowly inching forward in pursuit of some wildebeest. We watched as they got closer and closer before they finally decided it was time to make their attack. Unfortunately for the cheetahs, the wildebeest spotted them immediately and made good their escape.
Today we had a really boring morning. We saw nothing but leopards!! We initially saw just the mother lying out in a rocky area. We took some great shots of her here before she got up and walked and sat down below a tall tree. Whilst we were photographing here, we noticed her son was directly above her in the single tall tree. We then noticed that it was eating a Thompson’s gazelle. After a while of watching him tugging and pulling at the carcass he dropped a leg onto the ground below. Mother rushed to it and proceeded to devour all but one hoof. By now the light was superb and we predicted that the mother would climb the tree. We positioned the vehicles so that we would have a beautiful background whilst making use of the light on her and the tree. We got it wrong – the mother did not climb the tree, but the son came down exactly where we had predicted the mother would climb. We all got some phenomenal shots. Mum then climbed the tree but not where we expected and none of us managed to capture the moment. What she did do, however, was to move the carcass around in the tree. Again we all got some great shots. We then spotted the leopard’s daughter in another tree about one hundred yards away. We photographed her for half an hour or so before she jumped down and lay in the shade. We went back to the original tree hoping that the daughter would join her mum and the gazelle up the tree. This did not happen and we went back to camp for lunch. Lunch was interrupted by a variable sunbird near our dinner table. We also photographed a Coqui francolin in the camp after lunch. We returned to the trees where we had left the leopards. They were exactly where we had left them. We parked in a position to hopefully shoot a leopard either coming up or going down. Neither leopard moved, and the afternoon was cut short by one of the biggest thunderstorms any of us had witnessed. None of us was at all disappointed due to what we had already seen. The rain was replaced by storm clouds which led to a spectacular sunset which we watched as we enjoyed our last sundowners.
Today we tried an area of the Masai Mara that we had not visited before. We found a heavily pregnant cheetah that could only have been days away from giving birth. We followed her for over a mile and got some great close ups. She was obviously intent on hunting, so we gave her space so as not to interfere. She walked into a large open plain trying to surprise some Thompson’s gazelles. They spotted her and amazingly the whole herd ran towards her. They stopped some eighty yards away and tracked her wherever she went. Any gazelle within 50 yards of the cheetah is as good as dead, but 80 yards it is seen as normally a safe distance. It seemed as though the gazelles preferred to have close sight of the cheetah rather than not knowing where she was. The cheetah realized that she was not going to be able to surprise the gazelles and walked away into a wooded area. We got some beautiful shots of a lilac breasted roller – the iridescent colours of this bird when in flight are truly stunning. We then had our final very late breakfast overlooking a hippo pool, and spent the rest of the morning photographing the more common animals that we had often overlooked! Just as we were about to turn into the camp for the last time – a beautiful martial eagle flew into a tree nearby. We photographed it as it flew into an adjacent tree where we had a second opportunity. When it took off, it seemed as if its body didn’t move for a couple of seconds, and it just hung in the air while flapping its wings. It was a wonderful farewell to our first group. As we drove into the camp we were followed by the vehicles bringing in the second group. We all had lunch and then the first group departed –feeling extremely sad to be leaving. There were actually a few tears.
The afternoon provided the first safari drive for the second group. It was decided that they would have a ‘free’ afternoon and try to photograph everything that moved. They photographed wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, a tawny eagle, secretary birds, Grant’s gazelles, topis, and hartebeest before coming across the Kicheche pride of lions. There were four females, three nine month old cubs and three baby cubs. We photographed these continually until the fading light allowed us to do no more.
The second group took their first long day taking both breakfast and lunch in the vehicles. We saw two lionesses soon after leaving the camp, and before moving very far -would you believe – two leopards! After these disappeared we photographed giraffes eating from acacia trees. We saw zebras drinking in a lugga (small river) and then watched them cross it. We shot crowned cranes, hyenas, impala, a secretary bird, a newborn Thompson’s gazelle with its’ mum and a bateleur eagle. We found a sizeable herd of elephants with young and watched them wallow in a mud hole. The large male elephant then left the herd and waded across the Mara River. We watched zebras take a dust bath, saw a large crocodile on a nest, and shot lilac breasted rollers both sitting and in flight. All this before lunch. After lunch we saw ostriches mating, buffalos, and reedbucks, before finding Shakira -the cheetah and her five cubs. She barked at her cubs making them sit quietly and proceeded to hunt. After a long session of stalking she set off after a Thompson’s gazelle. She chased it a long way before pulling it down. We took the decision to photograph the five cubs rather than the cheetah on her kill. Only our two vehicles made this choice. We got some super shots of these little bundles of joy. We then headed towards Shakira and were surprised to see her coming towards us. Apparently she had made her kill just outside a hyenas den and they had taken her prize from her. We watched her hunt again and got some shots of her running at full speed very close to our vehicles. This time she was unsuccessful in her chase. On our way home, we came across five lionesses. We watched them wake up and do a lot of stretching before setting off on their evening hunting expedition. On our way back to camp, we saw a side striped jackal –a very rare animal that many people deny even exists in the Mara. It was too dark for quality photographs, but the proof of its’ existence was undeniable.
The first thing we came across today was a hunting lioness. We followed her for a while and eventually saw what she was after. It was a single leopard. We left the lion and followed the leopard for some distance. When the leopard was certain that it was not being followed by the lion, it posed beautifully on a termite mound for us. For a long time we were the only vehicles there, and we shot here from all angles. Later, we got some superb pictures of her in a bushy area. We then moved to where we hoped to find the resident leopards near our camp. In less than two hours we saw five leopards in four different trees. When we had had our fill of leopards in trees, we had a late breakfast and then visited the local Maasai village. The day had become quite overcast and this was the first time we had photographed the Maasai people in anything other than bright sunlight. Today’s pictures taken in subdued lighting were the best that any group had taken. After lunch at the camp, we found jackals and then some warthogs going in and out of their den. We photographed zebra -two of which had lilac crested rollers on their backs, before finding a number of giraffes in an area with lots of very tall trees. This setting provided shots that were quite different to the normal giraffe pictures. During the rest of the afternoon we shot impala, Grant’s gazelles, a black shouldered kite in flight, francolins, white chested bustards, a Corys bustard and a tawny eagle.
Our first encounter today was with a lioness and three very small cubs. She had obviously recently eaten, and was now walking through the middle of a massive herd of several thousand wildebeest. The wildebeest were making their way towards a crossing point and many were continually running in long lines that stretched as far as the eye could see. We photographed ostrich, and three giraffe babies that had been left alone but were still under the watchful eye of their mothers grazing some distance away. We saw two wildebeest cross a river and a lilac breasted roller, before coming across a dead baboon in a tree. We assumed this was a leopard kill and began to search the area. We found the leopard, but our time with it was very short as it had been spotted by the remaining troop of baboons. The baboons were quite obviously hunting the leopard, and the leopard made its escape and hid. We photographed hippos in pools, a cheetah under a tree, crocodiles, and a Cory’s bustard before having a very late lunch. We then photographed elands, ground hornbills and vultures. We came across three lionesses with six cubs devouring a young wildebeest that they had recently caught. After photographing these for a considerable time, we found a large herd of impala and photographed these in beautiful light as the sun set.
We photographed three lionesses eating a wildebeest in great light as the sun rose. Having moved on we came across a second set of three lionesses, this time with one cub. They had recently killed a fully grown wildebeest which was intact, save for the fact that its guts had been removed. We were extremely fortunate to watch the females struggle to drag this prize over half a mile to the rest of the cubs who were lying in the cover of a wooded area There was one huge lioness that was a piece bigger than the other two. She used every ounce in her body to do the vast majority of the work. The light was still very special and we were with these for a long time. The struggle to drag this animal that weighed probably twice that of the lion itself was incredible to watch. Sometimes the lioness could only manage three or four paces and she was regularly hampered by the single cub who thought it great fun to have a ride on the wildebeest while it was being dragged. Eventually the large lionesses could do no more, and she walked off to find her cubs. The lazier of the other two lionesses followed her, leaving just one lioness with the carcass. After a lot of struggling the remaining lioness finally achieved her goal and disappeared into the bushes with their prize. We moved on and came across a third set of three lionesses!! This group were with a single male lion. They were eating a topi, deep inside a bushy area. There were no great shots here so we moved on and found two cheetahs known as ‘the brothers’. We photographed a Maribu stork, zebras, a long line of running wildebeest, a black shouldered kite, vervet monkeys, waterbucks and finally we watched thirty two giraffes walk past us in line. After lunch we returned to where we had left the brothers. We stayed with these for sometime expecting them to hunt. A number of wildebeest walked by quite close to this pair of sleeping cheetahs, but they did no more than lift their sleepy heads. We found a single leopard in a ditch. One vehicle stayed with the leopard and were well rewarded when it walked out just before the sun went down. The other vehicle opted to return to where the lions had taken the wildebeest a few hours earlier. We photographed six lionesses, seven larger cubs and three tiny cubs all eating the wildebeest until the sun set. The vehicle that had stayed with the leopard joined us just in time for a few last shots of this wonderful family group.
We had information that a large herd of wildebeest were massing near the main crossing point. We drove straight down there – passing two large groups of lions without stopping. Shortly after reaching the crossing point, we had an excellent position and watched some three thousand wildebeest cross the Mara River. It was an amazing sight that lasted for t least half an hour. Two wildebeest calves were taken by crocodiles. A surprisingly low number given the number of crocs in view. It was only the wildebeest that crossed. None of the zebras crossed at this time. A considerable number of wildebeest that had crossed, came back to the river either looking for their mums or their offspring that had not crossed the river. Many of these crossed back to the original side in an attempt to be reunited. On leaving the crossing point we photographed some buffalo, black kites in flight, and a large amount of vultures competing with hyenas for what was left of a zebra carcass. Having had breakfast, we moved to the marsh area where we photographed baboons, fish eagles, bateleur eagles, crowned cranes, a saddle billed stork, mongooses, buffaloes with oxpeckers flying around their heads, and lilac breasted rollers. We spent a long while amongst grazing elephants of all sizes and ages. We counted in excess of eighty elephants in one herd. We then photographed waterbucks – one was with a very small baby, reedbucks, a topi with a calf that still had a wet navel chord and was obviously newborn, impala and a warthog with three tiny babies. On our way home we saw the cheetah brothers and photographed them until the light failed.
This was the last morning of our stay in Kenya. Our first find was two lionesses walking across the plains. We then found a family of six jackals and the elusive bat eared fox. We spent a long time with this animal before it eventually disappeared down into its burrow. We photographed impala, giraffe, hartebeest, a black chested snake eagle, and a baby Thompsons gazelle running alongside its mother. We spent an hour or more with three white rhinos and one baby, before spotting, but not able to photograph, some colobus monkeys. Again, a really rare sight in the Masai Mara. We even had the cheek to decline the chance to see a leopard in a tree because it was partially hidden and it was not possible to photograph the whole animal. A measure of the quality sightings we had had during the previous sixteen days of safaris. Sadly it was time to return to the camp for our final lunch and then our flights back to the UK.
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