Monday, 30 August 2010

Up close & personal

One of the things that Andy and I love about camping in the bush is that fact that you are totally immersed in the environment and often get to see a different perspective of the bush other than when driving around game viewing. You see and smell things that you would ordinarily drive past and get to appreciate the tiny creatures as well as the big impressive predators, as well as continually expanding your knowledge of the bush.

However, of course there is always a little more risk in camping than when staying in a lodge or a luxury tented camp, but if you are careful and have some bush knowledge camping need not be an issue. This morning proved just how careful one should be. Last night we feel asleep to the sound of a Buffalo mooching around camp, a nightjar calling and lions roaring again in the distance. Every morning when we wake we always do a 'sweep' of the camp with a torch before climbing down the tent ladder as who knows what else may have joined us in the night!.

That was just as well this morning as an old solitary Buffalo had decided to sit and chew the cud just 25 feet from our tent. Of all the big game Andy and I are always wary and very cautious of buffalo as they are so difficult to 'read' from a behaviour point of view and their lack of facial expressions give away little of their intended plans and you really don't want to get on the wrong side of these guys. You never know especially with these old Buffalo's what mood they are in as they can often be a little grumpy and moody. So not wanting to chance anything we got out of the tent, making sure the buffalo knew we were there and decided to move the vehicle another 50 feet away. Gladly and to our relief he seemed quite happy just to sit there whilst drinks were made and a quick wash before our morning drive.

For some bizarre (and stupid) reason Andy and I have forgotten to put out the remote infrared camera for the last two nights, which was a shame as we would have got some good images last night of the old buffalo around the tent. Perhaps it has something to do with the downpours we have had at night cocooning us in the vehicle!. We will definitely make sure this evening we do as barely a night goes past when we camp at this site that we don't hear some form of creature skulking around and it would be great to capture this on camera. As long as they are of the four legged variety they are always welcome in camp!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Roars and Big Paws

Our first night back was filled with roars from the plains below and the sound of a few zebra stallions snorting and munching close to our tent, together with the often comical sounds of large wildebeest herds close by. After our usual ritual of making hot drinks with a very tame Scrub Hare nibbling grass just feet away it was time to see what the day would bring.

There is a huge amount to see in the Mara and its certainly not just the predators that command our interest. However, first we had a mission that we needed to complete. We had found Notch, we had found his pride (one of them!) and we had found the cubs. BUT, there was one thing missing. What about the Notch sons?  We had seen them during our last trip in March and of course were keen to find them again. Given the tension we had witnessed between the sons and Notch earlier in the year, that started from around Dec 2009 we were keen to see for ourselves how things were fairing. (given that these lions have already broken all the 'text book rules').  

It didn't take too long to find out! Although a fair distance from where we again found Notch & Co this morning (who were feeding on several wildebeest that they had procured during the nights stormy rains) were 4 of his boys with a single lioness. It looked as if one of the boys was possibly 'coveting' the female (although we had no actual sight of this), whilst the other three laid motionless for most of the sighting, but long enough to confirm that it was the Notch sons, with the most magnificent of the sons (the one we un-originally call 'Notch Jnr') included in the 'role call'. His name contributed to his likeness to Notch in terms of build, face and mane colour. All looked well, although one of the chaps did have a superficial wound on his spine, maybe caused by an internal fight, perhaps over mating rights (again!). This was nothing to worry about and we had seen lions with worse injuries than this. Other than being a little stiff he was fine and no concerns there. We had noticed that one of the males, who was always a slight outcast was not around, this is the guy that has an old injury to his jaw causing his lip to hang slightly and we affectionately call him 'Grimace'. Again this was not a huge concern as they often go off on the 'rounds' for days and we had after all been in the Mara for less than 24 hours!

They all rested peacefully, sadly due to cloud and poor light we were unable to get any good images but attach one below for those who are keen to see 3 of these impressive guys. What will be the most interesting thing is to see how they are now interacting with the rest of the Mgoro pride and of course dad!

The rest of the day was filled with cute bat eared foxes, Notch and Co (again!) and long lines of wildebeest that are still migrating through the Mara toward the Mara river. At the risk of lion overdose it is impossible to leave todays blog without mention of Notch and his roar. Those who know Notch will know he has a distinctive gurgle to his roar and of course any lions roar sends goosebumps to your skin!. We had heard his roar, along with the females long into the night, but lucky for us to we were greeted this morning with another rendition. Albeit a slightly less powerful version that seemed to imply "Oh must I roar I am tired and I am comfortable so I will do this sitting down thanks"

Apologies for the poor quality of the video, but I thought it was rude not to include as I know there are many fans of Notch our there! Enjoy......

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Notch family fun

Those of you who know Andy and I know that we have a particular soft spot for a certain 'big puss' in the Masai Mara called 'Notch', who we have followed since around 2005. Although we only saw him last in March 2010 we dearly hoped to see him again on our current trip. We certainly did not expect to see him on day 1! So today, just a few hours after entering the Mara we came across Notch, together with the females from the Mgoro pride and their 9 cubs. There he sat in all of his feline glory. Given the often high infant mortality rate of lion cubs, we were happy to see that all of the original 9 cubs are still alive and looking very well, They must now be around 8-9 months old, with 2 who appear to be possibly be a fraction older. The little cubs failed to keep still for very long which made sexing them a little hard, but there are at least 4 little males that will carry the Notch genes on and the rest are tba, we hope to have a full report on that one by the end of the trip.

Notch looked great, a little stiff in his gait but given he must now be around 13 years old not bad for an old fella. Canines still intact and surprisingly not too worn and a mane that surely cant go any darker! Truly magnificent.

The cubs had a great time frolicking around with a wildebeest tail they had found on the plains with the one of the pride pride lionesses also joining in on the fun. Simply put it was a great family moment. Notch sat and watched, reluctant to join in but tolerant (to a point) of the cubs mischievous antic's around him. In between bouts of playtime and taking rest breaks the cubs enjoyed his company and sat close by. It's always hard not to put human emotion to animals (the golden rule!) but both Andy and I could not resist the odd giggle at how cute they looked against his huge bulk and how they seemed to be enjoying the company and quality time with Notch.

The tone turned a little more serious when two buffalo approached nearby and signalled a vocal and postural signals that they were not happy of the lions presence. The remaining cubs that were present, and some of the females (some had by now retreated to the long grass for a nap further way) positioned themselves safely on a mound and watch with intense curiosity as Notch firmly positioned himself in front of cubs and warded the buffalo away. He had rapidly gone from lazing around to his role of protector of the pride. The buffalo soon moved away and Notch resumed his horizontal position as the light faded, which signalled the time for us to go back to camp and get ourselves set up for the night.

No sign of Notch's elder sons, who have now reached their prime. However, the trip is by no means over yet!

What a great day to the start our three week trip.