Thursday, 16 September 2010

3 weeks have passed and its time to say farewell (Until December)

Sadly this will be the last post of our recent 3 week photographic expedition to the Masai Mara, The time has passed so fast with days of endless excitement to look back on. It never gets any easier to say goodbye to the cats we follow as the last night is always marked by puffy eyes! Andy and I, in all of our 5 years of coming here have grown to see the Mara as our second home. In the time we have known the cats we follow you just can't help but get attached as you get to know their characters and we will especially miss "killer Bogie', Notch and the two little gutsy female cubs who have grown remarkably in confidence and technique along with the other 7 cubs from the Mgoro pride.

We spent some time today again with 'our girls' (Mgoro pride) who relaxed on the plains as there was again another big crossing at Cul De Sac. We had another good look for Notch and boys but we are fairly sure (and a few sources confirm) that they are still the 'other' side. still. A shame that we have not seen them in the last three days but the boys clearly have business to attend to elsewhere.

Just two days ago the plains around Rhino Ridge and Paradise plains had become empty of wildebeest. All of a sudden and overnight (probably driven by the rains in the central Mara area) a huge mass of wildebeest has gathered back on the plains and are slowly heading south. We can only think that these herds have come from the Keekorok area/Look Out Hill area and are making there way through the Narok side and now south back into the Mara Triangle. There is certainly going to be plenty of excitement in the next few days and today the size of the crossings at Cul de Sac and Upper main had grown in size in comparison to the last two days. We are sure there are going to be some BIG crossings over the next 2-3 days.

Sadly Andy and I will not be party to this excitement as tomorrow we make the 6 hours drive back to Nairobi, a few jobs to do in town and the land Rover to clean we leave in the happy thought that in December we return back to Kenya.  We look back on what had been an incredible trip, thank you Mara Triangle for such an adventure and we cant wait to be back to see how our cats are fairing and of course just to be back camping in the bush.

We are of course looking forward to going home to be united with our own cats (of the smaller variety!) and have a massive 125GB worth of pictures to deal with on our return. All of the best shots from this trip will be posted on our website ( in the next 2-4 weeks and a post will be placed here when they are 'live'. Dont forget to also check back on the blog late December for our next trip.

So as we prepare our tent for the last night in the bush its time to say kwaheri from the Masai Mara and a huge thanks to all those who have patiently read our often rather lengthy posts, we hope you check back on the photos and there will be a feast awaiting Notch fans!

I will leave with a final video of some cute lion cubs who we came across today for the 2nd time on this trip and when we return home to our 'ID shots we will be able to confirm if this is the 5th Mgoro female or one of the Serena females, regardless its highly likely these guys are both offspring from Notch or boys, given they have mated with both of the aforementioned females. Just after this video was taken a third tiny cub rejoined the family making three tiny cubs.

Thanks all and we look forward to showcasing the photos from our trip.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A noisy night followed by a Rhino extravaganza

Last night was certainly quite a cacophony of sounds. As we fell asleep to the lullaby of the hyenas whooping we were suddenly woken at around 1am by the sound of two hippos close by to our tent/Land Rover. It sounded like two males who had come across one another whilst out grazing and were having a 'stand off'.  They bellowed and growled each other for some time, sounding like neither was prepared to walk the 'other' way and carry on with grazing. It seemed to last forever and was so loud that it was impossible to get back to sleep. However, no complaints from us as: A) we were not prepared to ask the hippos to be quiet! and B) we are actually quite happy to be woken by the amazing sounds of the bush, no matter what time.

Shortly before the alarm went off at 5.45am Andy and I had already woken up, again by something VERY close to our tent. As we were a little 'drfity' from waking it was hard to tell what it was. It was certainly large with quite heavy footsteps and had a large bladder!, which it duly emptied next to our vehicle. You could clearly here the sound of snapping branches and sounds as if it was pulling at trees. It was at the side of our roof-tent so we could not see what it was and did not want to start shining torches around so not to surprise the visitor, although given how close it was it would have clearly smelt our human presence so must have known we were in the tent.

Initially it made sense to think it was an elephant, (although did perhaps seem to be a little heavy footed for an elephant, who are surprisingly quiet on their feet). To be safe we resided ourselves to the fact that if it were an elephant that close we were tent bound until it left or moved further away. The noise however, soon passed and Andy ventured into the darkness to check all was clear, and it was. As the light began to improve I began to have a look around the area to see what it was that had been there. Mmmn, there were no discarded branches and little other sign of elephant damage, it could not have been an elephant after all and the sound of snapping branches sounded too 'high' to have been a buffalo or even Rhino and it was definitely not a Rhino.  Seeing no tracks anywhere were were none the wiser until we left the camp and then saw giraffe droppings nearby. So the mystery was solved, it was a giraffe and our initial diagnosis was a little wrong!. We collected the remote camera that we had placed at the entrance to camp and also had photographic confirmation. I must admit I had set it at a height to catch small to medium size animals so apologies for half a photo of a giraffe! The night before we also stuck it lucky with a Hyena on the remote camera which we have also attached below.

As we made our way for a stop to catch up on the Mgoro pride (and again to see if Notch/boys had returned from their trip across the river) my attention was soon diverted to a large obscured dark shape in the tall grass 250 metres in the distance and near the river. Initially my brain went to process the object as a hippo that was returning to the river, a second later I could see that no it was not a hippo as its back was too concave and walked with the gait of something I knew was a rather special and rare creature. Andy quickly stopped and then out from the long grass (which covered nearly all of its body height) came a Rhino, a large female, a second or two later it was then revealed it was not one rhino but two, she was followed by a lovely little calf and likely to be the same one we had seen last year in the same area with a younger calf.

Wow!, two Rhino and no cars and a lovely glowing light casting over the grass tips. We made a quick apology to the Mgoro ladies for not stopping (who we spotted a moment after)  and drove far ahead over toward the lugga toward where the Rhino may be headed, this way we did not follow the animal and if it moved where we expected it to do so it meant we could get a shot of it without 6 foot high grass and let it come to us if she wished. Which she very kindly did. By this point a few other vehicles had arrived and all gave the Rhino the space they needed. Not only are these animals rare they are also very shy, getting too close not only spooks these animals but would just force it into cover or make it a little aggressive, especially as she had a young one with her. Although we were amazed how calm she was as she plodded with her calf at her own pace and gave a good show to all who were at the sighting.  From our initial sighting we had over 45 minutes watching the rhino, what a massive treat and sorry lions but this was pretty special and you were clearly still sleeping!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A feast of spots

First thing this morning we had a wander down to Balloon plain to see if there was any sign of Notch and boys. They usually spend a few days at a time over the 'other side' so seemed unlikely but worth a shot. As expected no sign, they were either still over the Narok side or they did not wish to be seen this morning, their prerogative!

We surveyed the area high and low but our attention was diverted, the plains opposite were practically devoid of the large wildebeest numbers that we had seen some days ago. This was no real surprise as they have been crossing and heading south daily now in huge numbers since the mammoth crossings on Sept 6th. The numbers crossing in the last 2 days have begun to subside in comparison to the crossings a week before. Now only smaller numbers and the resident herds occupied the plains over the river. Although, there was of course a huge area of the Mara that could not be seen and it was still likely that there would be more smaller crossings in the next few days. We concluded a trip toward the border would be interesting to see where they were headed as we suspected they were still making a 'beeline' for the 'burn area'.

Before going south we made a stop was to catch up on the Mgoro pride, it was again possible the males could be there but as expected we came across the pride minus any of the boys in exactly the same spot as in the last 7 days. These lions are becoming too easy to find! They all seemed rather subdued and quiet this morning, the cubs not even playing in the morning sun. They had obviously been very active in the night as they slept off their nocturnal activities. They must have hunted again during the night as in first light as a few new 'additions' adorned the area, probably the poor wildbeest calves that were left loitering around the river from the crossings earlier that day.

Leaving the ladies and kids to a restful sleep in the golden light we ambled off toward the salt lick/burn area. Not even 20 minutes after we had left the Mgoro pride we came across 4 cheetah, a mother and 3 cubs (around 10-13 months old). It looked as if they may have hunted earlier given their reasonably nice size bellies and not to far from the rocky area where sighted we could see the remnants of what looked a small fresh kill which was now playing host to a couple of Maribu storks.

One of the cheetah cubs (male) sadly had a broken tail near to the top, which looked to have been done some time ago. We wandered if this could become a hinderance to this guy when hunting as its known they use their tail as a 'rudder' and to balance at high speed. However, Andy and I concluded its likely to adapt and find a way to compensate and hopefully prospective females will still be conducive when the time is right! Nature always finds a way.

Scanning the area we could see lines of wildebeest herds still heading South and a big concentration in the 'burn' and salt lick area. The grass is becoming lush in this area and with the recent rains it makes for a really palatable feast for the herds.

We stuck with the cheetah for a couple of hours but as the sun became harsh it was time to leave the cats alone and go off to get cooking, shower and have a nap. Although everything we touch is so dusty it seems a pointless exercise sometimes in trying to keep clean!

Returning later we again found the cheetahs in the same spot, the light looked beautiful on the distant plains grasses and the cheetahs resting peacefully under a bush. Occasionally allo-groming but mostly napping!. That was until around 6pm when the light became really golden the mother came out her rustic bed and up onto a mound around 40 metres away and posed quite happily for us whilst surveying the savannah before nightfall. A really beautiful family of cheetahs.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Another morning with Notch and the joys of black cotton mud!

At first light this morning we found our man 'Notch', who was making his way near to where we had left him (Cul De Sac) the previous night and seemed to be headed toward Balloon plains (a frequent hang our for Notch and sons). As always he was looking mighty fine for his 11 years (approx) and moved with relative ease despite carrying a stomach full of wildebeest!. We had him all to ourselves and tracked him across the 'football pitch' for a little while until he settled not too far from the bottom of Serena. We got a few nice shots and the opportunity to get a little video of him, but most of the time just sat, absorbed and watched as he stomped across his land.

As always time with our big man is always special, its impossible not to get attached to an animal we have followed and photographed for nearly 5 years now. It seems only 5 minutes ago that we photographed him and his young sons on the Musiara Marsh, its scary how time flies!

We then had a wander down to the rest of the Mgoro pride, who were very quiet and resting, probably exhausted after a crazy few days! 'Grimace' had remained with the pride overnight whilst Notch had gone off 'on his rounds'.

On the way to the Mgoro lions we had also seen some Wildebeest herds again congregating, this time around main crossing. However, as there were quite a few cars both sides, and as we had seen many amazing crossings already in the last few days we decided to have a drive further afield for a change of scenery before coming back to 'our' pride later.

After having a nice drive along the bottom of the escarpment, seeing plenty of game we noticed it was getting pretty wet, but the Land Rover was happy to negotiate the wet sticky mud. Well, that was to a point!. We had stopped to look at a Hyena den and no sooner after we had left we suddenly encountered a huge patch of black cotton mud. In retrospect perhaps we should have possibly taken option B, going off road and around the mud. However, instead we decided to 'abide' by the off road rule and have a crack at going through it, after all if we got stuck then we got stuck and the world would not stop revolving in trying!.Its not the first time we have become stuck and wont be the last!.  So, option A was not such a great idea and yep, we got stuck!.  However, there was no point in worrying or making calls to our friends for help though as we have pretty much have all we need to get ourselves out alone and so this is what we did! Out came the ground pins which we knocked into the ground and with the winch wire connected to the pins Andy skillfully manoeuvred the vehicle using the winch at a right angle away from the mud. Within 20 minutes of getting stuck we were free, job done, nice and easy! Never under estimate the suction power of black cotton mud!

As I write this blog we are again alone with Notch this evening who as we thought had made his passage to balloon plains where we found him this afternoon (after seeing another spectacular Rhino and briefly a young female cheetah close to the Sundowner Hill area) There Notch sits high up on the rocks in one of his favourite vantage points surveying the savannah all around, such a nice way to finish the day, but time now to retreat to camp and get dinner cooking.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Hunting school continues

Andy and I have continued to focus our attentions entirely on 'our lions', the Mgoro pride and hunting school continues with no let up in the amount of wildebeest they continue to take down. The crossings have subsided marginally in herd sizes but still continue to stream from the Narok side and toward Tanzania. As a result the lions, with Notch and cubs in tow have firmly established the area around Cul de Sac for the last 4 days. Unbelievably we have witnessed 17 lion kills in as many days, that's more sightings of this kind in 4 days that we have ever had in 5 years of travelling to Africa. Granted the majority were at a distance, or in torrential rain but its fascinating to watch how the cubs are building so much confidence and getting plenty of practise at technique. With the lionesses there to supervise and provide the 'bulk' where needed.

Notch has of course been enjoying the spoils of the kills, and is now absolutely HUGE, the first male lion that should be certified as clinically obese! He continues to stay close to the females, why would any male need to be any where else with a continually stocked larder!

The Mara river is now completely full of hundreds of wildebeest bodies, given the huge number that have gathered in the rocks in the last few days of crossings the Mara is casting a rather unpleasant stench across the plains, which we can even smell occaisonally from our camp when the wind is blowing our way.

Yesterday we  had some interesting news, a distance away from their usually territory Notch's 4 boys had reportely had a fight with another male from the Oloololo pride. The male was apparently left in quite a bad way (but since we have had news he is fine). We trundled down to the area in which they were seen and soon came across the 4 boys. Their walk and posture carried an air of purpose before they then settled out of the harsh sun and under a tree. They are clearly pushing the boundaries of their territory and the testostorone filled lions are roaming far and wide.  Grimace and 3 others were present but no sign of 'Notch Jnr', aptly named as he bears a striking resemblance to Notch 3 or 4 years ago.

As I write this post we are actually again sitting with the boys, we can see at least 3 of them, who are well hidden in a croton thicket in their usual haunt on balloon plains having returned from their troublesome wander yesterday and we have just left Grimace who is close to Notch at the crossing area. This morning we had seen 3 of the boys at first light after tracking the direction of their roars, we soon lost them but knew they were likely to be heading to their favourite area and sure enough here they are this afternoon just as predicated. One appears to have something wrong with his eye, exactly what it is hard to see at the distance we are at. Its likely it was as a result of yesterday, we hope its nothing too serious.

The weather in the Mara has been poor most afternoons, rain continues to travel from the Tanzania direction (driving the wildebeest back there) and has cast a shadow on the plains from around 3pm most days. Today was particularly dramatic weather. At around 2pm the thunder started and the rain came with impressive lightning. Then to our amazement huge lumps of hail pelted to the ground with a huge force and continued for some time, each piece way in excess of 1 cm big. It was time to park up and wait it out as you could barely see one metre ahead.

Once it had stopped we carried on driving and were quite stunned that even an hour after the bad weather the huge piles of hail were still pilled up along the road as it had turned very cold. It was very odd to see ice along the roads, something you really don't expect in the Mara!

Although we have spent all of our time with Notch and Co. we have also seen some other great things along the way and sometimes things happen when you least expect it. yesterday, whilst driving to the lion pride in the early morning suddenly a massive male Black rhino crossed the road and headed into the thicket before anyone else could see him, he had a truly impressive horn and was quite possibly one of the largest Black Rhino we had seen.

So, the moral of the story....always expect the unexpected!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Bogie goes bonkers

If I were to write in absolute detail about what we have witnessed in the last 24 hours I would be practically writing a dissertation. Needless to say yesterday was a crazy day! So I will try to keep to the shortened version.

The morning started with unbelievably more crossings, the wildebeest just keep on coming and with more rains over in Tanzania their thirst for heading south does not abate. The morning crossings were indeed fraught and hindered by the presence of Notch and some of his females, who in the early morning had heard the sound of the wildebeest, who had again formed in Cul De sac crossing point. Notch and the cubs soon gave up but one of 'our' lionesses (from the Mgoro pride that we are following) did not. 

To cut an incredible sighting short she launched at many of the wildebeest coming up the bank and even took down a Thomsons gazelle. In a true photographers nightmare most of these were at long range or 'conveniently' behind a bush, but that just the way it goes sometimes!

Their was a lull in the crossings until mid afternoon, the rain started and soon fell heavily on the plains and thundered echoed all around. Again the wildebeest crossed, this time the sticky mud up the banks made for the most treacherous crossing we had yet to see. It was complete carnage, wildebeest struggled and fought to climb the by high banks Sadly a huge amount perished, drowning either by the ever increasing flow of the Mara river or being caught in the frenzy as they tried to escape up the banks.

We left the crossing whilst it was still in progress and turned our attention to the Mgoro pride, who had since the morning moved further up the plains, the wildebeest were headed right in their direction. The rain pelted down and a strong wind swept over the plains. With hatch tightly closed and windows up we still wanted to see what could be happening, even through wiper blades!

What was saw in the next 20 minutes was what we never thought we would see, a lion on the rampage, driven by the adrenalin of seeing the huge herds storming from the crossing. In the space of this time one of 'our'  lionesses, (one of our 'bogie' females...named due to a scar that two lionesses have in the same position under their noses) took down 4, yes 4 wildebeest calves! The poor things had been separated from the herds and proved the ideal chance for the lioness. So, it was now time for more hunting school. The lioness simply maimed the prey, called the cubs and and then let them practice their skills and we can tell you that these cubs are extremely advanced! The technique is definitely there and their confidence seems to be building day by day. The rain pelted down and the continuing photographers nightmare of almost impossible conditions gave us a chance to absorb what we were seeing and truth be told it was hard to keep up anyway!

It was a day of mixed emotions, seeing so many wildebeest perish was not an easy thing to watch, but at the same time it was a day of seeing nature in action and the harsh reality of survival on the plains.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The thundering plains

The beauty of self driving is most definitely the flexibility it gives us. Yesterday was the day it proved to be SO true!!. After ambling along the Talek river looking for leopard, again with little luck we headed toward Paradise plains to check out what the wildebeest and Zebra herds were doing. I don't think the words for our reaction are printable, but as we came closer to the Mara river and near paradise THOUSANDS of wildebeest were heading towards the crossings. Not just one crossing but pretty much all of them!

The only problem was we were 'technically' on the wrong side as the ultimate sighting is to get these guys coming toward you or at least a side view. Ideally we needed to be back in the Mara triangle. So, what to do? Well, within a few moments a plan had formed. There were thousands of wildebeest and these guys would take some time to cross, even though many of them had began (at around 8.30-9am). So, time to abandon 'spots and rosettes' for now (and its not like you cannot see them in the Mara Triangle!) and head back over to our favourite place.

We knew that perhaps we would probably miss the crossings but at least we were better placed as it looked like a few days of crossings may ensue. 1.5 Hours later and we were the 'right side', as we came along the river we suddenly saw a large herd looking to cross. Here we had never seen them cross before and we were totally alone!. As soon as we rocked up, parking aside to not to stop these guys from crossing, it started!. We were astounded, a crossing HERE?.....and a crossing ALONE?. Surely not! it was a great crossing. OK so not a massive herd, being hundreds rather than thousands but watching them battle the sharp current on the bend of the river was a sight to see, but always very sad to see animals lose their lives. Fortunately the carnage was not to bad, only one or two poor beesties succumbing to a floating grave. I often wander how we can sometimes watch such a spectacle whilst animals are suffering and battling to cross the river. We repeatedly tell ourselves its natures way and I guess somehow when we are photographing it causes a distraction away from any emotional thoughts.

By now it was nearly 12pm, so off we amble after an exciting 30 minutes to see the herds that had crossed into the Triangle. Words just do not describe, but to our complete and utter amazement the wildebeest were STILL crossing at the points we had seen from the other side and there were still so many wildebeest on the plains and coming though that for once I, (Sarah) was speechless.

To Cul De sac we went and witnessed total carnage, wildebeest, Zebra and a handful of Topis crossed the river and had the poor things had a really tough time getting back up the banks, there we sat and witnessed them cross for another three hours,. They had been crossing for 6 hours!! yes, 6 hours!!!! Neither of us had ever seen anything to extent before, WOW! What was also a first for us is that we even saw a few Thomsons Gazelle crossing and they looked so fragile in the torrent of the Mara. There was a distinct lack of crocs, clearly they were already full to the brim.

We had noticed on the previous evening big storm clouds developing and dumping rain over in Tanzania. Had they heard the distant roar of thunder and smelt the rain? Perhaps this was why all of a sudden the plains had just emptied and the southern plains were calling them?. Retreating back to our campsite we were exhausted and amazed. It was great to put our cameras away and just absorb the spectacle of the wildebeest migration. Of course we did fire off many memory cards, so we look forward to seeing what we have when we get home. For now here is a little taster below until we load the images on to the website.

What would tomorrow bring?

Monday, 6 September 2010

In search of spots and rosettes

Yesterday (Saturday) Andy and I decided to have a wander across to the other side of the Mara (Narok side). It seemed a sensible plan given that across the plains we could see a HUGE amount of wildebeest and lots of smaller game. So the mission was to be ‘in search of spots and rosettes’ for the next few days. The first afternoon drive was a quiet one as it always takes a day or so to reacquaint with where the game is. That’s not to say we did not have a pleasant drive and like every drive, even if it does not involves cats we always seem to see something new and interesting.
Driving along side the Talek river shortly before darkness fell we were looking high and low. It was not long until we saw a large ‘rectangular shape’ high up in the trees. It was not an eagle and it was not a vulture. It was not until we got much closer we realised we had stumbled upon a very impressive Verreaux’s Eagle owl. It was huge and a stunning sight to see. Sadly the light was dimming at this point so getting any shots was near on impossible but even so, what a fantastic sight. Our first time to see this species in Kenya.
Waking early the next morning we decided to spend some time searching for Leopard whilst they may still be on the ground. After having little luck we moved on in search of Cheetah. It was not long until we came across a mother Cheetah and two older male cubs. Clearly these guys wanted to hunt, so we decided to sit tight. We spent most of the sighting with only two or three vehicles at most and had a nice long chat with Jonathan Scott and a pleasant chap with him, working on a book on predators. 4.5 hours later and after several failed attempts to hunt 

our patience paid off and the Cheetahs finally got the nourishment they needed. Good news for the Cheetahs, however, not so lucky for the Thomson Gazelle. It was indeed a considerable distance away, too far to photograph even with every teleconverter in our arsenal mobilized! Of course we could have moved a little closer but we have seen so many hunts that have been foiled by other vehicles getting to close and alarming the prey to the cheetahs whereabouts. Putting the animal first is always our mantra, just a shame that so many people don't have the same outlook!. Nevertheless, photo or not it was a great sighting and the mother put on a considerable chase across the plains. Their impressive speed and agility never ceases to amaze us. We were rather happy that this attempt was a success as we knew that if she lost this gazelle she would have to rest for some time before trying again. 
So, all in all a successful first day in search of spots!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Wapi Duma?

As I am patiently sitting here waiting in hope for the wildebeest to again cross at 'Cul de sac' I thought a good time to catch up with today's antics.
It may have become apparent by now that Andy and I have a special place in our hearts for Notch, a cat we have followed now for 5 years. So we make no apology for YET another blog that involves Notch!
First thing this morning we could hear the unmistakable roar from Monsieur Notch and what sounded like several females at the bottom of the hill close to our campsite. It would have been rude to have ignored his call to say where he was, so at first light we ambled down and found him far across the plains, just us alone with our favourite cat! Along with the 9 cubs, 4 females they all gradually made there way closer to the road (Mgoro pride). The light was terrible for photography (as it has been since we got here!) but it was still nice to sit and watch them. The cubs, rather obligingly walked in an orderly line past the vehicle which gave me the opportunity I have been waiting finally ID the sex of the all 9 cubs. So, as each one sauntered past I had the perfect opportunity and I can now confirm that the 9 cubs consist of 5 females and 4 boys.
Also present was another 'Notch son', and we were pleased to see it was the one we have not yet found on this trip. A.K.A 'Grimace', so called as he has an old injury to his lip which appears he is always 'grimacing'! Grimace has always been a little of an outcast and even looking back Notch has never allowed Grimace to get that close to the rest of the 'family' or share the same space under a tree. Today proved no exception to that rule and Notch only tolerated him as long as he kept a great distance. Careful Notch, one day you may need him!.
After some time and a failed hunt 2 of the females has spotted a small wildebeest herd in an area of tall grass, it did not take long until they had locked onto them, and soon enough one of the lionesses bursts in to attack her quarry. The herd scattered leaving one wildebeest standing steadfast, but where was the lioness though? A pair of black ear tips soon revealed she was there and being confronted head on by the Adult wildebeest. A few moments of tension ensued until Notch realised his sheer brute force was needed. Like the cavalry arriving Notch barged in, and in the next moment the wildebeest was on the ground and had succumbed to the force of the big cats.
It would be great to say we captured all on this on camera, but giving the cats had stalked the herd in long grass it was alas no go on getting any good shots, but it was nevertheless a great sighting and interesting to see Notch in action at a kill. The next few moments saw Notch dispatching the wildebeest with a strong throat hold, but not quite finishing the job, whilst the little cubs looked on in awe and hopefully taking notes for later in life!
Although he was evidently quite full we had expected him to feed a little first but unusually he passed the opportunity to feed and moved away to allow the cubs to feed (and allowed them to finish dispatching the wildebeest as Notch had not quite completed it!). Given its unusual for the male to allow the cubs to feed before him we concluded he must be so full that he need not eat. (either that or he is a genuine family man and was looking out for the kids!!) 
So, after our little distraction of lions this morning we then set upon what was to be the original plan of action for the day, looking for Cheetah. One thing we have noticed on this trip is a lack of cheetahs in this particular area, compared to normal. Yes, there is a large concentration of lions in one area, to the point that even the hyenas have moved their den. Even so, where are they?, we have chatted to some local guides who have also commented on the surprisingly low numbers at present. Andy and I love the area down by the Tanzanian border so we decided to have a recce down there as that's often where Cheetahs can be found. We were really keen to at least try and locate Sita and her (probably) now independent daughters. However, after several hours of driving we soon noticed that there was a real lack of small game, and prey for the cheetah, perhaps this one one of the reasons for their absence?. So no cheetahs today, but given its such a huge area that's of course not to say that are not there. We have heard there are several cheetah on the Narok side, but in no greater numbers than normal. In the next few days we shall try a few different areas and hope to be able to blog on some feline variety other than Panthero leo!
Whilst down at the border we also scanned far and wide to see what the wildebeest herds were doing in the distance into Tanzania. All was quiet all around so apart from those herds in the current area on bothe sides of the Mara. However, there looks to be no more big herds progressing at the moment, However, it can take only days for this to change, although given the early start of the migration we do wander how many big herds of 'wildies' can be left to come up from Tanzania? Perhaps now the migration will be centred on those existing herds in the Mara who will likely cross back and forth and go around in circles chasing the fresh shots.
Lastly before I leave this blog we saw another quite an interesting (and rather funny) sight today, not something we have seen before. A hippo, that stood on the river bank with the rest of a small pod was noticeably different from the others. It appeared that one of his large 'tusks' (incisors) was growing outside of his mouth an was obviously deformed in some way.  Quite comical (but not for the hippo) actually given it looked like a hippo had mated with a warthog! 
Oh...and by the way, the 'wildies' decided not to cross and instead will wait until tomorrow, thats the way it sometimes goes!
For now its 'la la salama' until the next installment.....

Thursday, 2 September 2010

The day of the Gnu's

Sure as 'eggs are eggs' our predications yesterday of imminent large wildebeest crossings came true. A number of large herds had congregated on the plains nearer to the river overnight and by mid morning had split into many different groups, and eventually crossing at multiple points of the Mara, such as: Cul de Sac, lower and upper main crossings, all crossing over in to the Narok side of the reserve. With a lack of Zebras in many of the herds it seemed that more indecisiveness filled the wildebeest minds more than normal.

We decided to hedge our bets with the one of the lower main crossings, although it was occupied by a smaller herd it had the the better viewpoint and less vehicles there (always a good thing!). After 3 - 4 hours of procrastination, (whilst Andy and I were 'cooking on gas mark 7' in the late morning sun) the wildebeest debate as to "should we cross or shall we run around in circles for the 5th time" was finally concluded in our favour.

The communication between the herds became louder and louder until eventually the crossing eventually began. The dust that was kicked up was immense and the fast flow of the river took the wildebeest several metres of course to their exit points back up the bank. Despite the large number that congregated many did not cross, the current seemed strong and hippos blocked many of their exits. So some decided to stop, retreat and find somewhere else. At this point Andy and I were seriously in need of food and the herd that remained was of a fairly small size. We had risen at 5.30, witnessed a lion kill (although from afar and in pretty long grass), briefly seen a lioness with 3 tiny 5-6 week old cubs and finally a wildebeest crossing. If we did not retreat ourselves to cook some food we were in danger of wilting (sadly like many of the wildebeest calves are on the plains near the crossings at present)

So leaving the wildebeest to debate their next action we left, had some food and showered in camp, whilst of course keeping an eye on what the herds were doing. That was just the morning drive!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Practicing for when I grow up

As the seasons and weather patterns change in the Masai Mara it can often be a case of ‘feast or famine’ for the predators. Migration seasons is certainly a time for feasting and every morning so far has revealed a vast array of fresh carcasses from the predators nocturnal activities. Providing food for not only the carnivores but also for vultures, and the vultures certainly have their work cut out right now in keeping the plains clean and free from disease. 
Interestingly we seen to have seen more hooded vultures on this trip than previously seen on our last two trips. A good sign as recently there seemed to be a distinct lack of this species. However, still in very small numbers and it’s still a sad fact that vulture populations (including White-backed, Griffin and Lappet Faced Vultures) are being faced with the same pressures of decreasing populations as most other wildlife species. 
The lions of the Masai Mara certainly make the most of the migration as an ample food source as it passes through, and its not uncommon to see many half eaten carcasses where the cats are simply too full to finish everything they predate. However, instinct still ensures the predators take every hunting opportunity and ‘make hay while the sun shines’.
This morning we found the Mgoro pride, although minus any mighty males (this pride includes the Notch/Notch son cubs) after having feasted partially on an adult wildebeest that they had taken not long prior to our finding them. Fit to burst the lionesses and cubs lounged around with HUGE stomachs and no doubt sever indigestion! As the sun came out (briefly!) they retreated to nearby shade and panted as they slowly digested the massive amount of meat they had obviously consumed!
Later in the afternoon we returned and as the temperature cooled one of the male (Notch) cubs decided it was time for a little fun on the carcass. Whilst it appears to be great fun for the lions to play around with the lifeless mass it also serves as a great time opportunity to practice a few skills that will be needed in adulthood (although being a male he will more likely be enjoying the spills of the kill rather than partaking in the actual ‘dispatch’ of the animal!). So today was ‘practicing the kiss of death school’.  This expression always seems a little of a crude and a ‘non biological’ way to describe one of the methods in which lions will starve its prey of oxygen but is literally the way on which it is carried out. Having likely seen mum do this previously and with a degree of innate behaviour the male cub decided he would have a practice. It was hard not to have a chuckle as we watched the cub grasp the wildebeest muzzle, but for the little cub this was serious business! We caught a little of this behaviour on video and have attached below.
Back to the migration, their initially seems to be marginally less wildebeest on the plains in this area of the Maasai Mara than previous visits here at similar times of the year. This is largely due to the early arrival of the migration this year and the fact that last year the migration was unbalanced and weighted heavily in certain areas due to the terrible droughts of 2009, However, today we have began to see more large herds forming and beginning to amalgamate again and adorn the banks of the Mara river in all their glory. 
We also took a fantastic balloon ride toward the Tanzanian border yesterday and it certainly looks like more herds, albeit not yet formed into the long lines are still migrating North toward the Mara in search of rich grassland. On several occasions today it looked likely for some big crossings. However, there seemed to be more in-decision than normal at the crossing points as the herds moved from crossing to crossing without taking the final plunge. So the next few days could be interesting as they increase in numbers ready to cross the great Mara river.