Day One – Short Day
We arrived at the Masai Mara landing strip approximately 12.15 pm. During our drive to Kicheche Mara Camp we stopped to photograph a mother Thomsons Gazelle nervously attending her new-born baby. Sometime later we also got some great shots of an Augur Buzzard. We arrived at the camp, had showers, lunch and a photographic tuition session before our first game drive. In the afternoon, one of the highlights was spending considerable time with a herd of Elephants with three small youngsters in a wooded area. We then came across a Cheetah sheltering under the shade of an Acacia tree. We watched her wake up, stretch and stalk a herd of Impala. We were well positioned to capture her final approach when a previously unseen Lioness appeared not far from the Impala. The Impala were alerted and the hunt was over. We withdrew for a well deserved sundowner as the light fell.
Day Two – Long Day
Today was to be a “long” day. A day when we leave camp at 6 am, take both breakfast and lunch with us in the vehicles, and do not return until after 7 pm. It is on these “long” days that we enter the Masai Mara National Reserve for our game viewing. Our drivers had received information where both a Leopard and a Cheetah with 3 small cubs had been spotted during the previous evening. One vehicle went in search of the Leopard and the other one the Cheetahs. We searched intently for about one and a half hours, stopping only twice – once for a Kori Bustard and once for a herd of Elephants containing one very tiny baby. It was so small that it regularly ran underneath its’ mum’s belly. Totally captivating. We heard that the Leopard had been spotted and quickly sped off. Two minutes later our second vehicle found the Cheetah and three small cubs walking across an open plain. We decided to carry on in search of the Leopard. When we arrived at the Leopard site, she was half hidden with her rear end down a Wart Hog’s burrow. Not something I had seen before, and she looked quite comical almost emerging and then virtually disappearing down this burrow. After about 45 minutes she emerged completely and strolled along the river bank. She walked almost half a mile, giving us some fantastic photo opportunities before crossing the river and walking across an open area and then back into the river area before settling down out of sight in some bushes for the rest of the day. Our second vehicle had spent half an hour alone with the Cheetahs and had arrived at the Leopard just in time to see it cross the river and walk in the open. We eagerly showed each other what we had seen during breakfast. My group then went in search of the Cheetahs while the second vehicle decided to target a river crossing. We found the Cheetah curled up with her cubs under the shade of a single tall tree. The photo opportunities were not great and we decided we would stay with her all day. The cubs were absolutely adorable and we knew that at some time we would be in for a real treat. While nothing was happening we worked the immediate vicinity and photographed a Lilac Breasted Roller -both perched and in flight, Ground Hornbills, a Saddle Billed Stork and some Zebras. The Cheetahs woke up and began to hunt. When the mother had targeted an animal, she would somehow instruct her siblings to lie flat and motionless. They obeyed impeccably. It is only by spending a long time with a subject that you begin to see things occur that are contrary to what you might expect. It really is both a privilege and really enlightening. Twice the mother crept up on an unsuspecting Thomsons Gazelle and got well within striking distance of her prey. When she was only a few metres away and closing fast, she suddenly stopped and let it go. What was she doing? All became clear about half an hour later. What she had apparently done was to drive a nursing mother away from its’ hidden fawn. The Cheetah sat up – intently scanning the apparently barren plains. Suddenly she was off. She had seen a tiny movement as a little fawn did no more than prick up its’ ears to see if mother was returning. That was all the Cheetah was waiting for. She grabbed the hiding fawn and brought it back alive to her three cubs. The cubs all pounced and one of the cubs grabbed it under the throat and quickly finished it off. The three cubs played with it for almost half an hour – they took it in turns to grab the lifeless animal by the throat, shake its head and ‘kill’ it once more. It was plain to see that they all had different characters. One was bold and aggressive –it was this one that actually killed the fawn, one was extremely timid and wary, and the third one was somewhere in between. They were not of an age whereby they could open the animal up and consume their prey. This was left to mum to do, and when she had all three cubs duly tucked in. Mum was continually scanning the area to ensure that no other predator arrived on the scene. Apparently one third of Cheetah kills are stolen by another predator. She later joined them and all four consumed every morsel. The second vehicle had photographed Giraffes, a Sea Eagle and two crossings. Both Wildebeest and Zebras had crossed and they also saw Crocodiles take one very lame Wildebeest. Unbelievably they joined us at the Cheetahs just as the youngsters were playing with the dead fawn. After the Cheetahs had finished their lunch – we had ours. It was then four pm. We then drove slowly homewards along a river bed photographing Storks, a Malachite Kingfisher and a Yellow-throated Longclaw. Each of the group, with one exception, had previously been on safari in Africa. Not one of them had ever witnessed a day like this on any trip before.
Day Three – Short Day
A short day means that we work an area more local to our camp. We leave camp at 6.30 am, take a picnic breakfast with us, and return to camp at approximately Midday. After lunch we review a selection of each person’s pictures taken during the last two days, before going out again from 4pm until darkness falls at approximately 7pm. Our first find was seven Lions on a Wildebeest carcass as the sun rose. We watched them extract every morsel of flesh in gorgeous light, before leaving virtually nothing for two Black-backed Jackals that were waiting patiently for the Lions to leave. We found some Giraffes grazing amongst some tall trees before finding another lioness on a Zebra carcass. We then spotted a second Lioness a short distance away and photographed her walking through a wooded area and then posing for us on a Termite mound. We moved to a well known breakfast spot where we spent considerable time photographing a pod of some eighty Hippos – the light was perfect for some stunning close up shots. We returned to camp for lunch and a full critique of all the photographers’ efforts to date. Our afternoon safari produced a herd of Eland, a beautiful Martial Eagle both perched and in flight and a pride of Lions. Various small birds were also photographed before we rounded off the day with sundowners.
Day Four – Long Day
Today we decided to spend most of the day in the Marsh area inside the Reserve. We photographed a herd of Elephants and their babies walking right past our vehicle, Gibbons with tiny babies on their backs, Crocodiles, Reedbuck, Waterbuck, Vervet monkeys and their small babies, various types of Heron, Warthogs, Lilac-breasted Rollers, Impala, Hippos, Chanting Goshawk, Black Crakes, various Eagles, Vultures and Storks on an Elephant carcass, Hyenas, Buffalo, Wildebeest, Eland and the Marsh pride of Lions with cubs. All before a well deserved lunch! After lunch we watched Shakira – the mother Cheetah of Big Cat Diary fame – and her three fifteen month old cubs kill and eat a Grants Gazelle. We then went to the crossing area and saw a small number of animals cross safely. We then watched an absolute frenzy of Crocodiles writhing in the water tearing bits off of and completely devouring an old Wildebeest carcass. Some crocs, further downstream, sat with open mouths catching any bits of food that floated away from this writhing mass. We then made our way home – stopping for another herd of Elephants with some really tiny babies, a second encounter with the Marsh pride of Lions and cubs, and some Ostriches.
Day Five – Short Day
We had a quiet first half of the morning. We photographed Zebras, Thomsons Gazelles, a Hoopoe, and Giraffes. Where have all the animals gone? It all changed very quickly after breakfast. We found four Lionesses with five really small cubs. They had not been seen for over two weeks – it was a great prize. We then watched three white rhino cooling off in a wallow, before finding Eland, Reedbuck and a Warthog with tiny babies. Back to the camp for lunch and another review session of peoples’ pictures. We then spent the whole afternoon session being entertained by the Lionesses and their five small cubs
Day Six – Long Day
Today we set off in search of a Leopard and two tiny cubs. We found the mother Leopard named Olive, but the cubs had been left well hidden in the wooded area. We photographed Giraffes before finding a Lioness hunting Zebras. She painstakingly got to virtually striking distance before being spotted, and the Zebras fled to safety. We saw a Serval hunting for almost thirty minutes. She ended up catching and eating a large rat. We photographed Vultures, Eland, more Zebra, a Topi with a newborn calf, Wildebeest and Baboons before coming across Shakira and her three cubs. The cubs caught and ate a small Warthog. We visited the crossing area but nothing appeared likely to happen that day. We found a Lioness with a tiny cub sheltering from the sun under a small bush. After lunch we photographed Bateleur Eagles, baby Giraffes, Jacana, Hippos, Crocodiles, Ostrich and Vervet monkeys, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, Saddle-billed stork, Wood Sandpipers, Yellow Thicknee, before making our way towards home. We heard of a Leopard – Zawadi – previously heavily featured in Big Cat Diary, in a rocky area. This cat had not been seen for over six months, and had been presumed dead. We found her, fit and well, in a rocky area before she obligingly moved to a large Termite mound and sat and posed for us. She is the most beautiful Leopard I have seen and has a ring of spots round her neck which forms a perfect natural necklace. We photographed her until there was no more light.
Day Seven – Short Day
We went straight to where we had left Zawadi the previous evening. We found her in a large tree draped across a thick branch and a number of people got their coveted ‘leopard up a tree’ shot. We decided that she would probably not move until after four pm, so we left her. We photographed lines of Wildebeest running towards the river before being made aware that one of the most amazing sightings ever to occur in the Mara. We found a Lioness and three newly born cubs under a small bush in a fairly open scrubland area. This Lioness had been seen still pregnant at six pm the previous evening. Amazingly we were the only vehicle there. We photographed for half an hour before leaving the site to allow our second vehicle to photograph this amazing scene. As far as I am aware, Lions in the wild of this age had never previously been photographed. In almost every instance, Lionesses give birth inside caves or in completely secluded areas. The drivers acted impeccably in that only one vehicle photographed these animals at any one time. Waiting vehicles queued some thirty metres away. This scene left me an emotional mess, it was extremely moving and I cried uncontrollably. It was the most wonderful moment in all my wildlife photography. We returned to camp for lunch and went straight back out again to the Lioness. We spent one hour alone with them before making way for our second vehicle. The tiny cubs were now dry in contrast to our earlier session when they had obviously not yet been licked clean. Their eyes were closed as is the norm for the first seven to ten days of their lives. The mum was amazingly gentle with them using her front paw to guide the tiny cubs towards her teats. Twice she got up as one of the tiny cubs started to stray away from her. With great tenderness she picked up these tiny mites in her mouth and took them back to safety. The mother had four teats towards her back end. The uppermost two were showing and the lower two were hidden in a fold of skin. Two cubs remained locked onto the two uppermost teats and the third cub spent a long while searching for a teat. It was incredible to see these tiny little cubs ending up having quite a vicious ‘fight’ for a teat and a lifeline. Eventually the third cub, seemingly much weaker than the other two, forced one of the others off the teat and suckled. It resisted strong attempts by the indignant dislodged cub to regain control. After a while the dislodged cub, now full, settled down and slept between the other two suckling cubs. The mother was absolutely fantastic. While this was going on, she regularly leaned back lifting her uppermost hind leg into the air, trying to reveal the lower teats. However, the little cubs were not aware of what she was trying to show them! Originally one cub was suckling and two others were trying to find milk from under her throat. She very gently used her front paw to push the two forward cubs back to where the other cub was suckling. Her maternal behaviour was amazing to watch. Obviously stiff, she got up and changed position several times, but was always so careful not to sit or lay on her almost helpless offspring. All four animals slept and we left in pursuit of the Leopard in the tree.
We found the leopard in exactly the same place as we had left her six hours earlier. We picked our position and waited. After an hour she climbed down the tree and moved to a rocky area where she posed beautifully for us before falling asleep. We left and made one more visit to the Lioness and newborn cubs – incredibly once again we were the only vehicle there. We watched as the male Lion came in inspected and sniffed the cubs and walked away. We all held our breath as this was happening and were quite amazed that he left them unharmed – this is a recently formed pride and we all knew that these were not his cubs. Things looked very promising for a wonderful sunset so we left the area – found some trees and animals on the horizon – took our sunset pictures and enjoyed our sundowners.
Day Eight – Long Day
We left camp at six o’clock, firstly dropping in at the Lioness and tiny cubs. We spent no more than twenty minutes there before the area was closed by the authorities to give the new family some much deserved privacy. As we left the scene we saw a Leopard disappear into a cave high up on a rock face. The Rock Hyraxes were making an incredible noise to alert each other of her presence. We then headed down to the crossing area. During the day we witnessed no less than five crossings. Two of these involved large numbers of Wildebeest and Zebras. Between the crossings we saw Eland, Hartebeest, Buffalo, Secretary Birds, Booted Eagles, Steppe Buzzard, Auger Buzzard, Warthog with tiny babies, Hyenas with tiny babies, two separate single female Cheetahs, Crocodiles, Fish Eagles, Sacred Ibis, Topi, Vultures, Bee-eaters, Black Kites and Zebras having a dust bath. While at the crossing area we saw a large amount of frightened Wildebeest emerging from a huge cloud of dust being chased by a Lioness. All escaped unharmed. We also had time to spend a couple of hours with Shakira and her cubs and saw them successfully hunt down and kill a Thomsons Gazelle. Yet another amazing action packed day.
Day Nine – Short Day
We found two male Lions just before sunrise. We stayed with them for a considerable time. They walked through the plains for more than a mile. They stalked a herd of Zebras which included one newborn foal. The mother of this baby was extremely alert and kept her offspring far from the hunting Lions. She always put herself between the lions and her foal. The Lions then walked through a herd of Topi – at times getting very close to them, but the Topi were always aware. We photographed Eland, Ground Hornbills, African Cuckoo Hawks, Hippos with a tiny baby out on the river bank, Hyenas, Lilac-breasted Rollers in flight, a Rufous Necked Skylark and running Thomsons Gazelles. Following breakfast, we visited a Maasai village – always a very colourful affair. Our afternoon safari produced a herd of Hartebeest, Waterbuck, Zebras, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Thomsons Gazelles, Grants Gazelles, two young male Lions, Auger Buzzard, Secretary Birds, Black-bellied Bustards, two Lionesses and a pair of Dik-dik before ending with a perfect sunset with Zebras walking across the horizon.
Day Ten – Long Day
Our target today was the Leopard, Olive, with her two tiny cubs. We arrived there to find that all vehicles except one had left the area assuming that she was not around. We found a family of bearded Woodpeckers and eventually got to within three metres of a dead tree from which they were extracting all manner of grubs. We spent almost half and hour getting some really special shots of these beautiful birds and were still photographing when another vehicle alerted us that the Leopard had just walked behind our vehicle! We followed her and within fifty metres she had found and collected her two tiny cubs. We spent the next half hour or so photographing her as she moved her cubs, often across open ground to another safe wooded location. One of the cubs was very forward and daring whilst the other was much more timid. The mother had to keep backtracking and encouraging the second cub stay with her. It really was a privilege and one of the highlights of the week to have spent quality time with such tiny predators. We then moved towards the crossing area and witnessed two more major crossings. During the day we also photographed Warthog, Eland, Hartebeest, a distraught mother Hyena carrying her dead baby cub, Crocodiles, Hippos, Fish Eagle in flight, Saddle-billed Stork in flight, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, Bee-eaters, Elephants, Waterbuck, Vultures, Lilac-breasted Roller in flight, Snake Eagle and a mass of Vultures on a carcass. We drove through a herd of some five hundred Buffalo and photographed these and the Tick birds pecking whatever they could from the Buffaloes various orifices. We also photographed Shakira and her three cubs and, later, three more Cheetahs -the three brothers on a kill. On our way home we came across a family of Jackals – mum, dad and five really cute baby cubs.
Day Eleven – Short Day
Today began with a male Lion walking through a dry river-bed and across a vast open plain, scent marking as he went. We placed our vehicle well in front of him on several occasions and got some fantastic shots of him walking towards us. We saw a Hartebeest with a newborn baby – literally only a few minutes old, an Augur Buzzard, two Lions on a Wildebeest carcass, Giraffes, three Black-backed Jackals, the five Jackal cubs, Impala, Thomsons Gazelles and Grants Gazelles. We also made a second visit to the White Rhino sanctuary before returning to the camp at midday for lunch. This was the end of the safari for the first group of photographers and, sadly, they departed from Kicheche Mara Camp for Nairobi at three pm. I was transferred shortly afterwards to Offbeat Mara Camp to await the arrival of my second group, late the following morning.
Day Twelve – Short Day
My morning began with a drive on my own at 6.30 am. At Offbeat Mara Camp we had the luxury of an experienced driver and also a spotter in our vehicle. Having been advised that there was a leopard in the area, I instructed them to concentrate their efforts solely on finding the leopard and to ignore everything else. After an hour of searching they duly came up with the goods. We spent almost two hours following her as she wandered through the treed area surrounding an almost dried up Lugga. At one time she appeared to be going to ambush a passing herd of Impala, but for some reason declined. The driver and spotter said that she was well within striking distance. Eventually she retired for the day by climbing into a shady tree. We made way for another vehicle from the same camp and went back to camp for a well earned rest. The second group arrived at Midday. They had already photographed a Cheetah on their drive in. After lunch, and a briefing and tuition session, we undertook our first safari. The leopard was still in the tree where we had left it in the morning. Only a partial view, but not bad for their very first sighting. We spent the rest of the afternoon photographing some of the more common species before starting in earnest the following morning. We photographed Impala, A herd of elephants, Eland, Baboons, Black-faced Vervet Monkeys, Zebras, Giraffes, Thomsons Gazelles, Topi, Cheetah, Buffalo and Banded Mongooses.
Day Thirteen – Long Day
Our first find was two Lionesses with two cubs around one year old lying in a dry lugga. It was quite incredible to see Reedbuck lying peacefully not more than twenty metres away. I am sure they were aware of the Lions’ presence but they were obviously not perturbed. We then photographed some Impala running and jumping, and a Lappet faced Vulture, before finding another Lioness along with five large cubs and an adult male. Next were Hartebeest, Topi, two Black-chested Snake Eagles, Buffalo and two more Lionesses before finding a Zebra with a tiny baby that was clearly only a few days old. We then moved towards the crossing area encountering Hippos, Baboons, Giraffes and another male Lion on the way. We watched both Zebra and Wildebeest crossing the Mara towards us for nearly three quarters of an hour. Everybody was over the moon as many of the wildebeest jumped into the water from a bank a couple of metres high. All crossed safely and there wasn’t a crocodile in sight. We moved on and found another Lioness with three very small cubs. She was also babysitting a three month old cub that was clearly not hers’. While we were photographing the cubs, the spotter noticed that Shakira and her three cubs were hunting close by. By the time we got to them they had already caught a baby Thomsons gazelle and were devouring it with gusto. After lunch we found another single Cheetah and stayed with her believing that she would hunt before too long. There were only ourselves and one other vehicle in the vicinity. Sure enough after about an hour she spotted a Thomsons gazelle walking towards her. Amazingly the gazelle lay down about sixty metres from her and fell asleep. She must have waited for a full ten minutes before making any move. She then stretched, shook her head and paws before coming out in the open and walking towards the sleeping gazelle. The gazelle did not stir. As she got closer she increased her pace but never got into full stride. The gazelle was totally unaware until the Cheetah had actually got its legs around its neck. The gazelle tried to get up but the Cheetah held it just using the claws of one front paw. She looked up at us almost as if to say “are you all ready?” She let go of the gazelle and chased it towards our vehicle – catching it again no more than twenty metres away. Again she looked up at us and let it go once more. She ran round it in a circle half trying to trip it up with an outstretched front leg. Eventually she did trip it up and once again stood there holding it with one paw whilst looking directly at us. She then backed off and sat about a metre away from it. The two sat there for more than a minute before the gazelle made one last ditch attempt to get away. Again she half heartedly tried to catch it – almost like a cat playing with a mouse. When she did finally catch it, still not more than twenty metres away from us – she grabbed it under the throat cutting off its’ air supply. Once again a really special moment that I doubt will ever be repeated on any future visit to the Mara. We then made for home, stopping twice on the way – first for a long line of Wildebeest which ran by us giving us great opportunities for panning shots – and then for a herd of Elephants with several tiny babies in amazing light as the sun set.
Day Fourteen – Long Day
Due to the proximity of the Offbeat Mara Camp to the Masai Mara National Reserve the second group opted to spend most of their time in that area. The first encounter today was seven Lions on a kill. We saw them strip and devour the meat from a Wildebeest they had killed and then watched as a large amount of Vultures and a Tawny Eagle flew in and completely stripped the carcass. We then moved on and before long found Shakira and her three cubs. We watched a herd of twenty or so Thomsons Gazelles walk into the plain. The three cubs stood up and made themselves conspicuous – as is normal the Gazelles walked towards the Cheetahs. The three cubs sat there motionless. Meanwhile Shakira was doing a large semi-circle to outflank the Gazelles. She was stalking round them extremely low to the ground so as not to reveal herself above the medium length grass. Eventually the Gazelles spotted her and tried to flee. She purposely cut off the last Gazelle and forced it back towards her three daughters. Her job was now done and the three daughters set off as one in pursuit of the isolated Gazelle. One daughter was much faster than the others and soon caught the hapless Tommy. The other three Cheetahs arrived shortly afterwards and after recovering from the chase devoured their prey. At no time were all four Cheetahs eating at once. It was amazing to see that at least one Cheetah was on guard at all times to protect the others from any potential predators. We then made our way to the crossing area where nothing was happening. We photographed a single Lioness before stopping for breakfast. We then encountered a herd of Elephants at a muddy water hole, Zebras, Wildebeest, a Warthog with very small babies, Topi, a Cheetah on a mound, and a Yellow-billed Stork before spending a good while photographing Hippos from a riverbank. We then found another single Lioness, another Cheetah on a mound. Before leaving the reserve we came across a Lioness with five small cubs and yet another herd of Elephants with a tiny baby. This baby mock charged our vehicle and provided some excellent sport for all.
Day Fifteen – Short Day
This morning we stayed locally, searching a lugga for a Leopard that we knew to be there. Despite hearing a number of alarm calls, we did not spot the Leopard, but got lots of shots of the more common animals and smaller birds. We photographed Eland, Topi, Grants Gazelles, Thomsons Gazelles, Impala with young, Buffalo, Black-faced Vervet Monkeys, Baboons, Bushbuck, a Monitor Lizard, Dik-diks, Zebras, Giraffes, Bee-eaters, Lilac-breasted Rollers in flight, Rufus crested roller, Woodland Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher and various smaller birds before breaking for lunch. After a photo critique and tuition session we ventured out again. We decided to go into the reserve and soon came across a carcass that the first of a large group of vultures had just found. We photographed as more and more arrived. All the common species of vulture were present. Lappet-faced, Hooded, White-backed and Ruppell’s Vultures as well as a number of Malibu Storks. They kept flying in for almost half an hour and everybody managed some really sharp flying shots. After leaving the vultures we spotted a Thomsons gazelle giving birth. She did not seem to be progressing so we moved on and left her to it. Our next significant find was a beautiful cheetah on a mound. She was absolutely superb – stretching, loosening up and running short distances in all directions – obviously limbering up before going hunting. She jumped on the bonnet of the jeep next to us to get a better view of any potential prey in the vicinity. Time was, unfortunately, against us and we had to leave her in order to get out of the reserve on time. Once out of the reserve we photographed Hartebeest, Black-bellied and Kori Bustards before shooting one of those amazing orange Kenyan sunsets. It was almost as if the sky was on fire.
Day Sixteen – Long Day
We spent today in the Marsh area of the Masai Mara reserve. It was decided to pick up as many bird species as possible while still taking in any quality animal shots that were available. Animal-wise we photographed yet another Cheetah on a mound, Reedbuck, Waterbuck, Baboons, Hippos, Blac- backed Jackals, a tiny Thomsons Gazelle, Impala, Grants Gazelles, Elephants and babies, no less than 15 Lions, a Montior Lizard, Zebras and a long line of Wildebeest running towards the River Mara. We probably spent the longest time with the Waterbucks as there were a number of really tiny babies dashing around as if in a childrens’ playground. Bird-wise, we photographed Fish Eagles, Black-chested Snake Eagles, Sacred Ibis, Egrets, Squacco Herons, Grey Herons, Black-striped Herons, Goliath Herons, Purple Herons, Green-backed Herons, a Malachite Kingfisher, Bateleur Eagles, Egyptian Geese, Lilac-breasted Rollers in flight, Bearded Woodpeckers, Saddle-billed Storks, Vultures, Malibu Storks in flight, Black-chested Bustards, Jacanas and Long-clawed Plovers. There were two particular highlights amongst the birds – the Goliath Heron caught and ate a sizeable catfish, and the Bearded Woodpeckers bored into a tree and extracted various large grubs. We managed to get very close to these beautiful birds.
Day Seventeen – Long Day
This morning we decided to travel to the farthest corner of the Masai Mara Reserve in search of the Leopard, Olive, and her two cubs. Upon arriving we immediately found her and spent almost an hour and a half with her. Most of that time she was hunting Impala. She did not have her cubs with her but it was amazing to see her crawling through the grass at speed with no part of her body more than eighteen inches above the ground. She moved extremely fast through the grass and nothing at all was visible to the prey until she inadvertently swished her tail. This alerted the nearby Topi and thereby also the Impala. She then walked through a clear area and followed the Impala through some scrubland. She was about to make the final charge when she was spotted by a large Baboon. His troop included lots of tiny babies and was also close by. He ran at her and she aborted the hunt, ran away, and was not seen again. We moved on and found the Cheetah that we had seen 15 days before with three small cubs. Unfortunately now there were only two small cubs, the fate of the third was unknown, and she had not been seen by anybody since our first group had seen her 15 days ago. We photographed her walking across open plains until she sheltered under the shade of a large bush. This tactic was similar to what we had witnessed before in that she was purposely scaring away the mother Thomsons Gazelles in order to leave the young “Tommies” behind where they lay. We watched her scouring the plains for over an hour when we got notification that more Cheetahs, -the three brothers were also nearby. We left the mother and cubs to photograph the brothers and found them once again in the shade under a bush. Suddenly they all jumped up and started to walk away from us keeping very low. Initially we thought they were hunting but could not see their intended prey. After a while we realised that about half a mile behind us was a Maasai warrior with a small herd of goats. Cheetahs are extremely nervous of people on foot and it was this single person from which they were running. We followed the brothers for a half a mile or so, getting some great shots before they finally came to rest under a large tree. We retraced our steps to the mother Cheetah and her two young cubs, and photographed the youngsters who were climbing all over their mother. The mother finally got up and we were surprised to see a dead baby Tommy lying next to her. She had obviously caught this while we were away with the brothers. She then proceeded to open it up and the cubs began to devour it with gusto. We left shortly afterwards and photographed Mongooses, Coqui Francolins, Zebras running and a baby foal suckling, Giraffes, Warthogs, Crowned and Spur-winged Plovers, Impala and Topi before revisiting the brothers. They were still asleep under the tree so we decided to leave the reserve and visit a Maasai village. It was quite late when we arrived, -well after 5pm and quite overcast. These conditions were ideal for portrait photography of a dark-skinned subject and the ladies faces, adorned with bright coloured paint, produced some amazingly vivid colours. We also shot the returning shepherds and their flocks of goats as well as a number of very cute small children. A superb ending to a superb day.
Day Eighteen – Long Day
Today was to be our last full day in the Mara. We were on our way to the reserve when our spotter excitedly pointed to our right. He had found us an Aardvark in the open and in daylight. Apart from a carcass in a Leopards’ favourite tree, I had not seen one in the wild before. They are very fast and even in a Landrover it was difficult to catch up with this rare treat. We grabbed a few shots before it disappeared down a Wart Hogs’ burrow. We then shot Hyenas, two male Lions, a Tawny Eagle, before arriving at a Lion kill. Three young males were just leaving. There were two wildebeest carcasses and a third dead wildebeest lay nearby –still untouched. We stayed for a while to watch the arrival of a large number of Vultures and Malibu Storks. We headed towards the crossing area, but were distracted by Shakira and her three cubs. We watched them hunt for a Thomsons gazelle and a lone Impala. Both hunts were unsuccessful. We then watched three crossings over the next few hours. The first was a herd of Zebra. The second was much larger. Several hundred Wildebeest and Zebra crossed through the middle of 7 very determined crocodiles. It was the best “croc action” I have witnessed and I am glad to say that all the animals eventually made it safely across to the other side. Normally the Wildebeest and Zebras are very nervous of the crocs, but for some reason today they seemed to totally ignore them. The crocs set themselves up with mouths wide open and facing inwards from either side of where the animals were crossing. They advanced slowly, making the gap between them smaller and smaller. They clearly targeted the smaller animals. The crossing animals regularly leapt over the gaping mouths. One young Zebra was caught by a leg and one Wildebeest jumped up to avoid one croc and landed right in the jaws of another. Happily, both victims were released by the following adults and both of them ran up the opposite bank without showing any signs of their near-death experiences. Towards the end of the day a number of Zebra crossed without incident. In between the crossings we shot a Bee-eater, Crowned Plovers, Vultures, a herd of 500 buffalo with their accompanying Tick Birds, a male Ostrich in full breeding colours, large Crocodiles emerging from the water and walking on land, a herd of elephants and a Topi with a new-born calf.
Day 19 – Short Day
Today was our last morning in the Mara. Our collective aim was to fill in any gaps in species that each person wanted to photograph. There weren’t too many. The one shot that everybody wanted was a good shot of a Lilac-breasted Roller in flight. We devoted our first hour to this end and everybody was eventually satisfied with their efforts. We then found a single male Lion on a Termite mound before finding a group of 5 lions –part of the Marsh Pride. Here was the dominant male, the two dominant females and two 15 month old cubs. These were later joined by the other three 15 month old cubs. These all arrived one at a time and there was plenty of interaction as they greeted each other arrived. The male was clearly about to start mating with one of his dominant females, and all hell broke loose when one of the young male Lions ventured too close. It was obvious that it would not be long before all three would be driven out of the pride. We photographed yet another herd of Elephants with small babies, Giraffes with small babies, Impala, Zebras, Reedbuck in a beautiful waterhole surrounded by reeds, Black-chested Snake Eagle in flight, Topi on a mound, a line of running Wildebeest, Impala jumping a dry lugga and then watched a baby Impala stand for the first time and take its’ very first steps. Within less than 5 minutes it was running considerable distances with the main herd. Quite incredible. After breakfast we photographed Fish Eagles, Grey-backed Fiscal Shrikes, Hippos in a pond covered in green plants, Jacana, Crocodiles and a troop of Baboons including several mothers with really tiny babies on their backs and finally a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. We returned to camp for lunch and later flew back to Nairobi and London.
Our Safaris were now over. Photographically, 2009 proved to be the best trip so far. The quality of the sightings was certainly very, very special. The Masai Mara had suffered a huge drought and had experienced no rain for 4 months. Only the Mara River was still running. Despite this, the animals in general looked extremely well and were in good condition. There were, noticeably, more Guinea Fowl than I had ever seen before. The Wildebeest were in huge numbers near the Mara River. The first rains came during our time there (late afternoons and evenings) and it appeared that all the animals that had crossed the Mara looking for greener grass on the Tanzania side all turned round and came back to Kenya. This made for some great river crossings and it was unusual to see large numbers coming towards you at this time of year. Cheetahs were everywhere and we had some really special encounters with them. The only thing that appeared to be really suffering was the Maasai cows. Huge numbers had entered the Masai Mara under special license as their local grazing had completely dried up due to the drought. It was sad to see that many were in such poor condition that each daily journey to water or to find new grazing areas resulted in animals being left behind to die, since they were too weak to complete the daily trek. Sadly, at times it appeared that there were more carcasses than even the vultures and Hyenas could cope with.