Sunday, 21 March 2010

Time to say Kwaheri (for now!)

It pains us to say this but sadly we have now left the Mara, and so unfortunately this is the last blog before we embark on our travels back to the UK. Home renovations are going to have to take priority for the next few months so it will be a while until our next update; but time moves fast, so it wont be long until we are back blogging again from the bush for the 2010 migration season.

 Within a few weeks we shall images taken from this trip loaded onto our website ( so check back soon for an update on when they are 'live'

It would not be right to leave the blog without a final update from the Mara Triangle and what another great couple of days we have had. Rhinos are sighted fairly regularly in the Mara Triangle, but on Friday we were treated to not just one Black Rhino but two! (which continues our luck of the 'two's as reported in the previous blog!) The sun had barely appeared in the sky when before our eyes we had a mother and small calf in view. She looked to be headed for cover so we knew we had only a short time to get a few images and also enjoy this lovely scene. Sure enough she began to move with a little more speed and we knew that this was the moment to leave her in peace and let her continue on her way undisturbed. What a pleasant sighting and its wonderful to be seeing Black Rhino more often in the Masai Mara.

On the 'cat front' we had 2 sightings on Friday of two different Cheetah, one was seen trying to hunt on the plains some 400 metres or so away, which cheetah this was was impossible to say. Not too far away and within view we came across another female cheetah, young and very edgy. So, this leads nicely to an update on the 'missing cub' and the 'Sita' family. Since the lions chased Sita and her two cubs a good few days ago they have apparently all been sighted together. (although the last time we saw them the day before yesterday we saw only two, but perhaps one was hidden out of view) We have also found 3 other individual cheetahs, one of which we are sure was a male and the two others female, both young (at least 18 months +). The question is now is one of these 2 girls one of the missing cheetahs and which one was the one we saw on Friday!. We have already done quite a bit of work on looking at the spot petterns and many are matching to stills of the 4 together,. However, we have done all we can on trying to identify these guys now so all the photographic stills have now been passed to our contact and we will await news and if she can enlighten us further. Regardless of their identity its really quite fantastic to see so many Cheetahs. Given the dominace of the Notch clan in the area we noticed that for a short period of time a few months backs we saw less Cheetahs here than usual in this area and instead had located themselves nearer to the border. Given the sparse prey compared to migration season its apparent that many of the predators have at present moved to where the food source is. Lets hope in the next blog we can report on some more good news and perhaps even Cheetah cubs!

The latest news on Notch and Co is that they have AGAIN been crossing back and forth over the the river, According to reports from the Talek side they were sighted feeding on a previous Hippo kill in the night (Thursday).The next day 3 boys (Including Notch) graced us with their presence and had obviously crossed back into the triangle early in the morning. They must have been so full of Hippo meat as whilst resting under a tree they allowed 2 Thomson gazelle to walk within 6 feet of them, not even raising their heads!

Our last morning in the Mara (yesterday) was a fantastic morning (again!). We were meant to be departing early in the morning for the long trek back to Nairobi, these plans soon changed! Notch and two boys were down by the main crossing area, together with 4 females. A little bit of tension was evident between the group, likley due to the presence of the fermales, two of which may have been in oestrus. The 3 boys remained a distance apart and were trying to covert the females. This was soon interrupted by a small herd of male Buffalo that were unhappy with the lions presence and proceeded to chase them around the plains. The male lions choosing to run only at the last moment as if they were taunting the Buffalo. Notch and co are of course used to the presence of these huge herbivores, having been brought up in the Musiara Marsh. This confrontation went on for around 20 minutes before the lions decided to retreat away from the area and under a small bush where they looked sure to spend the rest of the morning. This seemed a fitting time to accept that it was now time to leave the Mara and embark on the 6 hour drive back to civilisation. What a great end to another awesome trip!

This is a great opportunity and a fitting time to thank everyone for their interest in this blog and we hope you have enjoyed. Please do keep checking back as we will continue to post when we hear news of the cats in the Mara and also when we have loaded our photos onto the web.

We look forward to posting more frequent news when we return in a few months for the ultimate wildlife spectacle in Africa......THE WILDEBEEST MIGRATION!!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Not one but TWO!

Sighting Leopards can always be somewhat of a challenge, given their solitary shy and secretive nature. Its true that in some areas of the Mara they are known to be somewhat more habituated to vehicles and are thus seen more often. In the area we are currently in they tend to be a little more illusive. The population here is unknown but given the plentiful riverine forest and luggas the area is sure to hold a very healthy population and still remains a great place to view these amazing animals. Most nights we hear leopard (often more than one) but very rarely do we get to see them for any length of time and often it is just a fleeting glimpse. BUT... yesterday was the exception! To keep it brief we came across a leopard in a tree, some 100metres from our track. It  was tucked happily in the fork of the tree and also dangling across the branch was the remains of a kill (what looked to be a Thomsons Gazelle). At first glance it looked to be a male given the size of its head, but on closer inspection a few 'vitals' appeared to be missing so we concluded it must be an older big female. There was a cool breeze and the remains swayed in the wind, the plains were silent and it made for an eerie and mysterious atmosphere. We had a unhurried amount of time to absorb this truly beautiful cat resting in its lofty retreat. However, its relaxed behaviour was soon shattered when all of a sudden to our right  a SECOND Leopard appeared on the ground, coming through the long grass. TWO leopards...we could not believe it! It's distance from the track and the grass height proved hard to enable us to accurately deternine the sex, but given the thickness of its neck and general build it appeared to be a young male. The second leopard was only 75 metres or so from the base of the tree, with the agility that only a Leopard can possess it shot down the tree and a very brief but aggressive interaction took place between the two Leopards.  It appeared to be more noise than actual contact. Their encounter with each other was then rapidly interrupted by a hyena that advanced toward both Leopards, all of a sudden the Leopard that was originally up the tree was now back up the tree for the second time! In this moment we lost sight of the other leopard, which we think darted into the thickly vegetated lugga. The Hyena had also vanished. So here we were back again watching a leopard up the tree. Some 40 minutes or so then passed as we watched it scan the plains below, the sun was increasing in its strength and the tree provided little shade, so upon deciding that the area was safe the Leopard descended down the tree. This was quite a comical moment at first as the Leopard decided to edge down gradually backwards, looking quite awkward, but then deciding that a forward facing leap was possibly a better idea! As soon as it was on the ground we lost sight immediately. We looked at our watches....had we really been with this leopard for TWO hours?,  what an unbelievable encounter! Whilst the whole sighting was some distance away (these are sometimes the best sightings!)  it probably goes down as one of our favourite leopard encounters given the time we had to take the whole experience in, and not to mention seeing the interactions between the other leopard and also the Hyena.

Also that morning we came across 4 of Notch's boys, relaxing under a tree. Later in the afternoon they were still under the same tree and were doing what Lions do best....sleeping! After leaving them for a while we also came across Notch and another of his boys a few kilometres away, once again sleeping peacefully and no doubt building up some energy for their night patrols. Given we have not seen all the boys together for some time (and since a reported fight and increasing tensions) its possible that they are starting to split. Perhaps they feel that 'dad' is becoming a liability? Howver, given his current good condition he certainly has some mileage left in him yet! Shortly before sunset we returned to the 4 boys, as the sun began to disappear behind the escarpment we watched them gradually awaken, stretch and scent mark. Mobilising with military precison  they sauntered through the long grass up and over a hill, disappearing out of sight.

Another great day in the Mara Triangle?...... I think so!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

King of the Mara

Finally we are delighted to report that we have now seen Notch!  He must have crossed back over the river in the last day or two and is located not too far from the lionesses and 9 cubs. Resting beside him was another male, one of his many sons! He is still looking great for a lion of his age (approx 13 years old) Meanwhile, this morning we could not locate the other males seen last night, its highly possibly they have crossed over the Mara, but we are sure they will be back! We are back off to spend some more time with Notch this afternoon and hoping he may join the females and cubs for some family bonding time!

Monday, 15 March 2010

The mighty are rising.

This morning the plains below Serena were filled with testosterone. At around 8am we came across 4 of the Notch clan (the 'sons'). They were a little restless at the entrance to the croton thickets and were glancing around the plains. It was not long until their facial expressions soon changed to a fierce and focused gaze into the distance. Evident quite some distance away was another male lion and these guys were locked on to him. Within moments all four boys started roaring, which echoed across the plains. Leaping into the action the boys pounded across the plains towards the other male. Anticipating the action ahead we moved to nearer the other male to see who it was. It was another of the Notch coalition,  He was not hanging around for anyone and made a beeline toward the Mara. We suddenly noticed the 4 boys made a change of direction and no longer toward the other male.All of a sudden 3 cheetah appeared into view, fleeing from something, it was Sita and her two lovely daughters. They has been disturbed by the commotion and were now being persued the 4 boys, but their speed an agilty ensured they were able to escape the advancing lions. One of the cheetahs (it was not possible to see which one as by now they were at some distance from us) was split from the others by the commotion but only by around 200 - 300 metres or so, Soon the single cheetah was lost from view and the remaining two moved quickly from the area, Later on two were sighted again in the afternoon, the third not visible. However, it is highly possible she was around and close to the other two but perhaps merely out of sight as the temperature was still very hot, maybe she was resting in the long grass (we hope so!) Our attention soon turned back to the fleeing male, he had disappeared out of sight and with the distraction of the cheetah the 4 males stopped and looked around and had lost focus of their original plans. Thinking that maybe the other male had crossed the river we tracked up and down the river. Then across the river bank we saw the male, in a flash he had already crossed over the Mara!.  Walking along the opposite banks he started roaring, was he calling Notch for reinforcement (who we think is maybe still across the river or was he responding to the advancing males?). What was interesting was that the 4 boys did not respond at all to his roars. Given that these boys are part of the same unit this behaviour was incredibly fascinating. Perhaps it was a case of 'mistaken identity' as they were spotted together a day or so ago (we have often seen lions act agreesively to other family menbers at a distance) or perhaps there are tensions that are begining to fracture this strong coalition. Or perhaps it is simply to much testosterone as the boys approach their prime. 
This evening we found the 4 boys again, where we have left them earlier. They were relaxed in their gait and meandered through the bushes, scent marking along the way to reafirm their territory. They moved only a short distance whilst gazing casually over in the direction of the river. Only to then collapse into a pile and fall asleep. It is here we left them. Will they cross over the river tonight,? we are sure the night sounds will reveal all!. Meanwhile as I conclude this blog we can hear a lone buffalo in the thicket nearby, perhaps a little grumpy that tonight he has to share his space with us!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Habari gani?

The days in the Mara have continued to be beautiful and sunny and not too mention extremely hot, the river has dropped considerably which has meant the Notch clan have been hopping backwards and forwards! We have not yet seen the 'legend' himself yet (Notch) but this morning we are fairly sure we saw him across the river near to the main crossing point. The distance was very great to be 100% sure but the walk, the posture and the behaviour, (and not to mention a huge mane) looked to suggest it was him.

Further to my earlier post we are now not 100% sure that the lone young cheetah is actually one of Sitas cubs.We have seen her again and she has been seen looking as if she may want to cross the Mara. We have had further opportunities to take some more close up stills and a few pointers (indicative markings) are now suggesting it may not be one of the cubs. To resolve the mystery we have supplied some photographs to some contacts who have followed this family since the cubs were born. Hopefully the next few days will provide some conclusive evidence. At the same time there has been much talk in the Mara that one of her cubs had succommbed to 'nature' a few days ago and we dearly hope this is not the this space for more news.

On a more happier note we can report the the 9 lion cubs we photographed back in December (sired by either Notch or one of the boys) are all still well and alive and have been seen for the last 3 days in the same spot. Given there appears (and reports that we have been given) to be a little tension between the Notch boys and Notch (lots of testosterone!) we think that the females are choosing to keep the cubs in a safe area where they can be well hidden, whilst 'food' and water is readily available.

Sita (Shakira) and her two cubs are doing well and have been hunting daily and have remained in the same area for the last 3 days. Hyena have been following their movements closely so sadly they have not managed to keep all of their kills but they are still looking well fed and healthy. This morning they caught an adult impala, we left them alone to to feed on it so not too alert any hyena to their presence. Black Rhino sightings have also been particularly good here, one monring we were lucky enough to have a great view of a rhino on the open plains and this morning we could again see another across the river at the main crossing area. We have also enjoyed some lovely moments of Hyena and their young which have, as always been fascinating to watch.

Of course the animal encounters are not restricted to just the day time and every evening we have had some interesting vistors to our campsite, including Buffalo, Elephant and a very cute Genet!

Thanks to all who are following this blog and we will report more news as it comes through.....

Friday, 12 March 2010

You've been framed...

For a few nights Andy and I have been putting up a infrared night camera in camp to see what night time visitors we can capture. Last night we had an interesting image, take a look below and you will see that we managed to capture a hippo as it came out of the Mara river to graze. (located on the right hand side of the frame)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Sita and the Girls

Fortunately the clouds have lifted in the Mara (for now!) and a brisk wind is keeping the temperature reletively cool and pleasant. For the last two days we have spent some time with Sita (cheetah.....AKA 'Shakira') and two of her cubs. In fact as I start to write this we are parked 100metres or so away as they rest under the bush so we thought we would take this opportunity for a quick update from the Mara.

Sita actually has 3 cubs that have survived to adulthood and they are now around 20 months old. Given their age independence for the cubs is imminent. The latest on Sita and her cubs is that only two cubs are with her at present. The third appears to have either left, or was possibly split from the family unit a few days ago. Whether this is temporary or permanent is a little early too say, the location of the single cub is not too great a distance to possibly 'reunite'. The good news is that yesterday we saw the single cub in ther evening with a fully belly, having taken down a young Impala & Thomson Gazelle fawn earlier in the day. She did have a rather close call with a group of 8 sub adult lions (3 females and 5 males) who were only 150 metres away, who spotted her returning to feed on the second carcass. Fortunately she was being vigilant enough and ran away immediately upon their advance. Even if this split is now permanent she has demonstrated that so far she is able to fend for herself.

Coming back to Sita and the girls......yesterday also provided some interesting interaction with a hyena who persisted in moving incredibly close to them as they rested on the plains, Perhaps waiting for them to make a kill so the hyena could steal it!  Hissing and spitting while advancing toward to Hyena the gutsy cubs showed that the hyena's presence was not wanted and it finally it gave up.

Meanwhile, this blog has taken some time to write!! being interrupted on two occasions by the cheetahs trying to hunt, the first an attempt to catch a scrub hare, the second a failed attempt to take a male Thomson Gazelle. Despite it coming only 20 feet from the bush where they hid they were not successful and have now retreated back to the confines of a croton bush some 200metres away to see out of the afternoon sun. its now 4.20pm and we have been with them at a distance since 10am.... lets see what happens and if they will be third time lucky before night falls?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Spots before our eyes

Not the best photo of a Serval I admit, but this morning it was spots galore on the cat front (minus the Leopard of course....that's for another day perhaps!)

"Dont mind me, just passing through"

Camping in the Mara is always an awesome experience, but last night proved it just gets better and better! After a long day and a much needed cool beer it was time to retire to the comfort of our rooftent. Just as we were about to climb up our ladder. Christian (a good friend who is with us at present) suddenly picked up movement in the camp and low and behold the flashlight revealed it was a BIG male lion! (It was one of the Notch son's) With excitement we stood and watched as he NOTCHalantly sauntered through only 50 feet from where we stood, with just a quick glance to let us know he was aware of our presence  His posture revealed he was on a mission, and totally uninterested in us. He soon disappeared as quick he appeared! What an awesome first night and again we are happy to be back in the magical Mara!!!