Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Video of the cutest Hyena cubs!

Short video captured last week at a Hyena den in the Mara Triangle. These guys were adorable beyond belief, and anyone that thinks Hyenas are anything but utterly fascinating needs to rethink please!. Awesome creatures, that are too often misunderstood.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Short video of Olive & Nkayioni

As promised here is a very short video of Olive and her older 'cub' male cub Nkayioni (who I believe is around 19-21 months old now). Apologies for the poor quality and inability to hold the camera still, a mixture of sheer excitement and trying to do three things at once! More short videos to come in the next few days.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Kitties galore, the Mara in the last few days.

Firstly, profuse apologies for the lack of blogging activity in the last few days. A mixture of busy days and a few Internet connection issues have hindered updates in the last 72 hours. So sadly the last update of the previous 3 or 4 days comes just as we have arrived home to the UK this evening

Let's start with Notch and the boys. The afternoon after we photographed Notch in all his glory (last post) we found 3 of his boys not too far away doing what lions do best, sleeping! They lay under a shady acacia tree and in the three hours that we sat with them they moved a grand total of about five foot, just enough to re-adjust their position away from the scorching sun. Clearly not even the setting sun and cooling temperature was going to budge them from their horizontal state.

The next few mornings were dedicated back to 'Operation Leopard', so each morning we started off very early scanning the luggas and riverbeds for any sign of movement. It always seems that despite hunting high and low for Leopard we always come across them when we least expect it, almost when you feel you have 'given up' on a chance of seeing them. We had two mornings that were exactly like this!. On one morning it had got to around 8.00am, the heat was rising with rapid intensity and the light already starting to get a little 'harsh', despite it still being early. We both commented that as the time heat was rising our chances were slowly decreasing. This did not stop the 'Skinners' in continuing the quest for a while longer as Leopards don't always follow the 'text book' of when they are usually active, especially in this part of the Mara.

As I (Sarah) continued to scan far and wide out of the roof hatch and as we came around a 'blind' corner  I felt a tug at my leg! Andy was trying to get my attention as I was looking at something to my left. As I looked at Andy he beamed with a big smile and frantically pointed to his right. Not even 8 foot from the track sat a young male Leopard! Scrambling for the cameras, thinking he would skulk into the bush away we wanted to at least get a shot or two before we lost him. He ambled off very slowly and very relaxed in our presence. Much to our delight he repositioned to a nearby mound and happily posed for us for at least 15-20 minutes. He looked less than 2 years old and lacked the build of an older male, given the area we were in we knew its was fairly likely this one one of Olives older sons (Nkayioni) and later we had confirmation that it was. What a delight, as not only was this a Leopard but one of the very same  that Andy had photographed as a tiny cub in Sept 2009.

It was not long until we were joined by other vehicles and at this point the boy wanted a little more peace. He moved away slowly, stopping to roll around in the dust, leaving his scent along the way. All in all it was a great sighting and gave us the chance to capture some nice images.

Another particular morning we again found a Leopard as we almost started to 'give up'. This time it was later, gone well past 9am and again very hot. The dust was immense so we broke the photographers golden rule today and put away our cameras. Especially given that I had sadly damaged mine the day before, increasing the chances of getting dust where you don't want to get it. You can guess exactly what happened next! We came down to the Talek river crossing point, which is steep incline down to the river bed. Just as we negotiated the harsh articulations a Leopard suddenly darted across the river bed. In a mad panic, as Andy slowly negotiated the incline I scrambled to at least get Andy's camera ready. Stopping at the bottom it happened again, to Andy's right sat a Leopard just metres away and it was Olive! She sat for a matter of seconds as she then got up and slowly moved away from us. The next moment another Leopard appears, the young male we had seen the day before (Nkayioni). Olive growled at his presence. Soon he will be pushed away for good as Olive has other more important priorities now in the form of two much younger cubs.

In the next moment we then saw a tiny cub, who quickly darted across to be with mum, with most of this time they had their backs to us making getting any really decent images hard (not helped by the fact that we were also not ready!). Andy managed to fire off a few shots and I did manage to get a little video footage on the 'point and shoot' camera, thinking I may as well given I did not have time to 'clamp up' the camera which takes longer to 'mobilise' (especially when you are stupid enough to have put it away!)  So, we sat and watched them disappear in the distance, far upstream along the river bed. jumping from rock to rock. It was just too far away for photography so putting the cameras down again we delighted in watching for nearly an hour and witnessing from a distance truly natural behaviour as the little cub bounded around with such innocence on the bed of Talek

Knowing that it was unlikely that she would tolerate the older male cub near her while she nursed the cub we took a chance of going back up to the top of the river bank in the hope that we would see the male again. This paid of as within 10 minutes and after hearing a few growls at the bottom of the bank he appeared as we had hoped. All this with no other cars! He had spotted some Impala who were moving into the thicket away from the scorching sun (by this time it was gone 10am and getting REALLY hot) but  he was still seriously interested in hunting. We then witnessed something we have never seen before, a Leopard stalking its prey. He sat there with immense patience and silence, absolutely nothing was going to distract him. In an attempt to move closer he would shuffle on his belly through the croton thicket, moving just a few feet at a time and with absolute silence, being cautious not to alert the Impala to his presence. His shoulder blades pronounced as he crept along, we were witnessing the pure stealth that Leopards are so famed for and we were in total awe watching this. This behaviour went on for nearly one hour as he shuffled deeper into the croton bushes and nearing the Impala. However,  the sun was beating down on him and you could seen him beginning to pant uncomfortably in the heat. He was faced with a dilemma of wanting to hunt but just looked to be getting so very hot. It was at this point that the temperature superseded his desire to hunt and so he moved away from the Impala and just disappeared into the deep dark bushes at the top of the river bank. It was incredible to watch and neither of us would have swapped that sighting for anything!

There were also a few other really nice sightings in our last few days on this side of the Mara, including one with a cheetah and its older cub 14-16 Month old cub, who had recently killed a Grants Gazelle. We also had another nice, but brief sighting of Mzee Notch with one of his new families (the lionesses that will feature in the new Disney movie) The cubs played around him in the morning sun, stopping to occaisonally glance at him with a mixture of respect and in sheer awe of his size and stature

On the last day we also found 4 of Notch's boys near a Hippo kill. When we came across them three sat in the bushes (including 'Grimace') as one guarded the Hippo, by now most of the remaining meat was rotting and little remained of this once huge adult Hippo. The four males were fit to burst and could barely even walk with stomachs so huge! Sadly just a few feet away a dead lion cub was also found and had been killed in the evening/early morning, (perhaps possibly by Grimace?). Jackson Looseyia's blog has more detail on this.

It was soon time for us to leave this side of the Mara, but we had one last quick stop to make back in the Mara Triangle before we left for Nairobi and that was again to see the 'Mugoro Pride'. (see previous blogs). On the last afternoon we failed to find all the lionesses, but instead found one of KB's fellow lionesses (likely to be her sister/cousin) mating with one of the new males. In respect of the previous post on this we confirmed straight away that she was mating with 'Male 1'. So now that meant at least 2 of the adult females were now mating with at least 2 of the three males. Perhaps in approximately 110 days days new lion cubs will soon arrive, or are the females still just keeping the males happy for now?  ('false oestrus'). Something tells me that soon the patter of tiny feet will once again adorn the territory of the Mugoro pride and hopefully restoration of the pride can begin.

As we bring an end to our time in the Mara its a big thanks from both of us for reading our blog. Its always a pleasure bringing news from the Mara and our time there never seems long enough! It was a great trip and we are glad to say this time we were not hindered by flight cancellations or illness like the last trip!  You can bet though we will be back in a few months after the long rains to bring more news on our feline friends.

In the next few days we will load onto the blog a few videos on from some of the sightings from our trip. For now we leave you with a few images of the above sightings and will crack on with getting
our the new images loaded onto our website in the next couple of weeks.

Kwaheri for now......

Cheetah mum and Cub

Notch Boy with Hippo

 Notch & Cubs

 Stalking Nkayioni

One of Olives cubs

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Mzee Notch

With all good intentions Andy and I had planned to dedicate yesterday morning to a serious leopard mission. However, by 3.30am in the morning this was all to change! Waking to the sound of grumbling and grunting we soon knew we could hear several lions on a kill that sounded as if it was not too far away. There was a light breeze as the sounds were carried over to our direction, far and wide over the plains. You could almost picture the tension at the carcass, lions fighting and scrabbling to get their portion of meat. Half of the excitement in listening was to paint a 'mental picture' of what was going on. How many were there, was it males or females or both, and what had they killed?. At this point there was no way that either of us were going to go back to sleep, this was far too exciting!!!

Not too long after listening to the fracas at the kill some of questions were answered as soon enough 1, 2, 3, 4 and then 5 males started to roar, a spectacular sound that sent goose bumps all around! The noise, even at a distance was overpowering. We could not hear anything other than the males, any female roars would have been drowned out in the cacophony of roars that resonated far and wide. However, one roar was rather distinctive and one that we have blogged about before. We could hear the trademark whiny/gurgly roar of a cat that has become a star the world over and our most favourite lion in the Mara, having followed his life for the last 5 years. Yes, you guessed it, it was Notch! So this meant Notch and the four boys, awesome!

We were like two children waiting for Santa to arrive as we waited for the time to tick on ready to get up and go! We lay there and listened to them moving away from the carcass, roaring as they walked, just imagining the pure 'majesty' of them all as they pounded the plains.  We could tell they were getting closer and kept pinpointing their direction, there was no debate here, Leopards were abandoned, 'Operation Notch' had begun!

We spoke with Jackson on the phone, he had also heard them roaring from his camp and we set about to find them together, covering different areas. A lioness that was clearly lactating was the first to reveal herself and closely followed by Notch. He looked in excellent health, must be some kind of 'anti ageing' properties in all that hippo meat he keeps consuming! We knew that his pride must have been nearby (one of many) and so we knew she was leading them back, and Notch was coming to. (This is the other pride with tiny Notch cubs, that we have had a glimpse of only so far)

He walked across the plains with a gait that exuded confidence and dominance, he was looking as good now as he did 2 years ago, if not better!. We were curious where the other boys had gone, probably loitering not too far behind him. We anticipated where Notch would go, drove far ahead. He soon came to us as hoped and it was gorgeous light! As he came towards us he stopped on a mound just metres from us, just gazing around and totally comfortable with our presence, after all he had come to us. What an amazing moment, truly a magnificent lion. No doubt he scanned the area, wandering where his marauding sons were!

Notch passed us and so we let him continue his way, still following the adult lioness. She moved down into a lugga and deep thicket where we could see tiny tawny coloured shapes. She was back with the cubs. Notch soon joined them, but the bushes totally obscured our view and we were some distance away so we did not even attempt to go down to where they were. This was time for a family moment!

A few moments after leaving them, whilst imagining these tiny little cubs scrambling over mum waiting for the milk bar to open we then spotted another shape over the hill. Coming from the same direction of Notch it was no mistaking who this was! It was 'Grimace' the lighter male and the one with a torn left upper lip. He moved fast and gave us no time to get a shot, soon after he too disappeared into the bushes, followed closely by another lioness.

So we had three sons unaccounted for, but not for long. We headed back toward the direction of where Notch came from, upon coming around the corner we saw a vehicle parked up and looking into a Lugga 150 metres away. There lay three piles of adult male lion fluff. There manes being so dark now and big it just merged into one big mane! They were not moving for anyone and the heat was rising so time for us to retreat.

What a morning, happy 'Skinners' all around!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Night cam action around the campsite

For the last two nights we have had a bit of fun with our remote infrared cameras to see what nocturnal shenanigans are going on whilst we diurnal folk get some rest in our bush campsite. We have had a far bit of luck, coupled with some thoughtful consideration as to where best to sight the cameras.

We both absolutely love the anticipation waking up in the morning to see who has visited us during the night, its like unwrapping a present every day! Below are the results, 4 mammal species so far.

Spotted Hyena

 Spotted Hyena


Buffalo smelling the camera!