Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Captured on 'bushcam' and the conclusion to our African adventure

The stars of the show in the African bush are always the animals and this also continues into the night. Those of you that follow our blog through our African adventures will know we like to have a bit of fun by placing out night cameras where we camp. Here is a collection of some of the best that we captured on this trip. You never know, one day we may capture the holy grail and 'bag' ourselves an Aardvark or even Leopard. Whatever we capture, opening up the camera in the morning to see what we have captured around camp at night always feels like Christmas day. You never know what night time visitors have been skulking around as we sleep! Thanks to everyone who has made kind comments on our blog and have taken the time to read our usual lengthy posts! So until the next trip its 'Kwaheri' from the Skinner's and Kenya for now...

Spotted Hyena
 Female Dik Dik
 Female Dik Dik
 Scrub Hare

Our last days catching up with the Lions in the Mara Triangle

We have now arrived back in Nairobi after a pretty horrendous drive back. Which unfortunately included us being stopped by the police twice and witnessing a horrendous incident in which a young girl was knocked down by a vehicle trying to cross a busy highway, really tragic. So as Andy has the arduous task of cleaning out the Land Rover I thought I would catch up on the last two days of our Mara trip.

After leaving the 'Narok side' we headed to the Mara Triangle, a part of the Mara we always cherish visiting. Our mission on this short visit here was not only to catch up with friends here but to also catch up with the Mugoro Pride as well as hoping to see the Oloololo pride.

We camped again in our favourite place in the Mara Triangle, a place where you are exposed to all elements of the bush and where we can camp totally wild. For some this maybe the idea of 'living hell' as there are no facilities at all, but for us it is a wonderful place and where you can experience all of the bush sounds at night, often with many nocturnal visitors. Sure enough 'our camp' failed to disappoint, the first night was somewhat quiet, except for hearing the Mugoro pride roaring very close. However, on the second night we had elephants crashing around in the trees next to our vehicle and Hippo grazing nearby, although they failed to make an appearance on 'bush cam' but we could hear them as we lay in the safety of our roof tent.

On both mornings we found the Mugoro Pride at first light and had around 30 minutes with them on our own before other safari vehicles arrived. They had been busy on our first evening there as morning revealed that during the night they had taken down 3 Wildebeest and found them still feeding in three separate groups before they all formed as one group. It was great to see 3 of the 4 Adult lioness there as well as the 7 cubs (the oldest being around 10-11 months old). They looked in fabulous condition, not a surprise given the migration passes right through the core of their territory. However, one concerning factor during our time with them was that we failed to find any of the '4km males' with them and nor did we hear any males roaring in the night, except for just over the Mara river on Paradise plains. We know these guys had been seen in the last couple of weeks on Paradise plains where they continue to mate with the females. Whilst it may certainly be a case that they have just not been found it does seem that that the 4km males have been MIA in the Mara Triangle for quite some time. This is hugely concerning as yet again it leaves the females and their pride extremely vulnerable to any new incoming males which could even include the Oloololo males (x4) who would perhaps start to look further afield for additional prides to control. Given in all the time we have followed these females (since 2007) they have never been able to successfully raise cubs to adulthood we desperately hope this wont be the case again and we hope that the events of Nov 2010 (in which the 4km males killed all the cubs sired by Notch and Co and born into the Mugpro pride) don't repeat themselves. For now it seems the 4km boys are too preoccupied with spreading their genes over the river.

On our last morning in the Mara we were delighted to find the 4th Mugoro adult female, the one who appears to be blind in one eye. She was on her own and did look as if she could be pregnant, although I would not want to stake my life on this fact! So all 'Mugoros' (except for the males) were present and correct!

Having spent time with 'our girls' we also looked for the Oloololo Pride and although in our time there we were not successful in finding the whole pride we did see one of the Oloololo males mating with a very young lioness from the same pride courtesy of a tip off from our friend in the Mara. We spent around 1hr 45 minutes with this 'honeymooning' couple in which time they mated only 3 times, meaning that they were likely in the last days of mating (which generally lasts anything from 3-5 days and in the first days can even mate as often as every 10 minutes). The female was quite young at around 4 years old and she was quite a distinct looking female with rather large 'mickey mouse' ears! The male looked to be around 5, maybe 6 years old and a fine looking boy indeed.

As the heat of the day took hold on both days it was a chance for us to catch up on meeting some of our good friends in the Mara, although sadly our short time there meant we could not see everyone we had wanted to, if you guys are reading we are sorry!!! You can blame the wildebeest for keeping us on the other side.

With heavy hearts our time in the Mara had come to a close and it was time for the long drive back to Nairobi. Leaving the Mara always pulls at the heart strings but everything has to come to an end and I am sure it wont be too long until we are back. Our last blog soon to be published includes a culmination of the shots from our night time camera.

Mugoro Lioness

Mugoro Cubs

Mugoro Cub

Oloololo Lioness

Oloololo Male

Lion love in full swing

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

New males quite literally bump into the Rekero Pride

Still catching up on the last few days the next instalment comes from our last morning on the 'Narok side' on the 21st October and was certainly an action packed one. Quite apt given this is our 100th post in our blog! In fact the excitement started the evening prior when we had the who pride literally right opposite the camp we were staying in that night. Roaring all together as a pride, as we shone the torch across the Talek river you could just make them out through the dark but clear night. The sounds were truly amazing and the roars bringing goosebumps as they continued to vocalise well into the night.

Next morning we picked up the roars from the pride again, having moved a little further up onto the plains and this certainly gave us a good head start in locating them. Sure enough they had moved only about 500 metres away from their location the evening before and were mobile when we found them. The subs and cubs stopping to play every now and then. Their bellies still full from the gorging on wildebeest in the croton two days prior.

As they continued to move one of the lioness caught sight of some Zebra in the distance and she soon went into stalking mode, and was soon joined by one or two others from the pride, including one of the male subs. However, it was not long until the zebra caught sight of the hunting party and their attempts to hunt had been foiled. As they started to track back to the rest of the pride the sub male soon turned his attention to a nearby Hippo, still out grazing from his night time foray. Clearly this chap was about to try and 'bite more than he could chew'. He would slowly move forward to the Hippo and then would quickly jump back every time the Hippo turned its head and grunted at him. The sub would them try and move in again when he turned his head back. This quite comical interaction continued for around 5 minutes before the Hippo had clearly had enough and ran back to the river, not before he gave one last charge to the male lion finally making him retreat back the rest of the pride who all seemed to look on with a degree of disapproval at his antics. It certainly seems as if this sub male has inherited some of the 'Hippo hunting genes' from his Notch coalition 'fathers' (which ever one it may be that sired this male!)

The pride the settled deep into a croton and it looked as if they were hauled up here for the morning and no doubt the rest of the day. How wrong we were! Andy then cast his eye toward the Talek river and caught sight of another two males, just a few hundred metres from where we were sat with the pride. We quickly went over to check who these guys were as they certainly we not from the Rekero Pride. We knew that there had reportedly been another young male (aged 3.5 years and called 'Kijana)  who had apparently some association with the pride and was from Paradise pride but here we had 2 young males, who looked to be 3-3.5 years old, one with quite distinct black marks (looking like an injury) on the left side of his face. They tracked into the bed of the Talek and after a brief confrontation with some buffalo moved with haste back up the river bank and they were headed right for the where the Rekero pride were. They quite confidently moved through the croton and out the other side, right into the line of sight on the Rekero Pride, who by now were less than 50 feet away.

At this point one of the male subs from the Rekero pride saw them and his facial expression turned instantly, his eyes fixed with absolute concentration. After hesitating for a very brief moment all hell then broke lose. The 2 year old male subs, then followed by the same aged female subs jumped up and ran at the two other males. The males retreated, almost running into the Buffalo again and the Hippo that had not long had the encounter with the Rekero male. The adult females, followed by the 12 month old cubs (who didn't seem to have a clue what was happening!) followed the chase led by the subs of the Rekero Group. The two males then became split, one escaping back down into the river whilst the other male was continued to be chased by the pride. The pride stopped for a moment and started to assert their pride territory and dominance with a succession of roars while the male being chased paused for a moment to catch his breath. Just as we though the chase was going to stop it then commenced again and 3 of the subs continued to chase the male down into the river and up over the other side and then totally out of sight. By this point the adult females had relented in the chase and remained with the two younger cubs (12 months old). The two males who had literally bumped into the pride were now at least 1.5km apart. We lost sight of the action but stayed put at the edge of the river bank, waiting to see if the subs would return and give up their ferocious chase and eventually some 10 minutes later three tired subs returned back the rest of the pride clearly having been satisfied that they had rid of the 'intruder'. They had exerted alot of energy during the chase but for some time the whole pride remained tense and showed aggression to each other, the lions had become totally charged up for sure and clearly had a job to contain this!

The question we wanted to know the answer to was who were these two males?! We discussed between us as to whether it could have been Joys boys (who we have not seen ourselves) and had also asked our friend Jackson who was also at the sighting as to whether it was but he seemed to think not, a sentiment also shared by some others. Whilst other guides seemed to think they were indeed her offspring. So the question of who they are remained split between guides on one camp the two males from the Paradise pride and in the other 'Joys boys'. However, it seemed more likely they they were indeed the 'ex' Paradise males given there age, but to our knowledge unlikely to have been Kijana given that our guide contacts had said Kijana almost totally lacked any mane whereas these young chaps had a normal sized mane for their age. If they were indeed from Paradise it was likely they too were offspring from the Notch coalition

We had lost sight of one of the males who had been chased but returned back to the area where we had first seen them and to where the other male had ran to and there we found him again. He sat there looking nervous and displaced as you would expect, intermittently making soft contact calls in the hope he could be reunited with the other male that had been chased some distance away. Just a few moments later he then moved off and out of sight but in the approximate direction of where the other male seemed to have been chased of to. We really hoped that they would be reunited as two males of this age were certainly vulnerable, especially given they were still in the core of the Rekero Pride territory.

For sure it had been an action packed morning, we had struggled to capture any of the chase through stills as it had just been too frantic and happening very fast as the lions ran with gusto through the croton. It was not the time to follow too close as there was enough tension for the lions to be dealing with let alone a charge of cars behind them, but it was fascinating behaviour to see and although we soon had to leave for the 1.5 hour drive to the Mara Triangle we would be following the next chapter as the story of the two males unfolds.

Soon after we left this part of the Mara for the last two nights of our trip in the Mara Triangle where we were keen to find out what the lions on this side were up to.......

Rekero Subs first thing in the morning

Lioness trying to hunt zebra

Delusions of grandeur! 

The new males before they bumped into the Rekero Pride

Rekero sub male sees the intruding males

Monday, 22 October 2012

TIme for a catch up.......

It’s been none stop in the last few days and also the need to catch up on some sleep has unfortunately taken priority over blogging late int the night so this one is a bit of a catch up of the last few days in the Mara.

Notch made another appearance for us two days ago, we found him along the opposite bank of the Talek from the previous sighting and again with the same lioness as before. However, what we noticed this time is that the female was lactating and sure enough two very small cubs, no more than 6 weeks old made a brief appearance. So he had not been mating as we had first suspected but instead playing guardian over the cubs whilst making the most of the fact that the lioness would be hunting regularly. We sat with him on our own for 3 hours, 2hrs and 55minutes of which he sat deep in the bushes! Playing the family man again, grumbling occasionally as the cubs clambered over him in the croton. It seems as if one of the cubs has an injury to its front legs given it has quite a chronic limp. This does not bode well for the little one, given mamma lion will soon start moving them more frequently. It may be something temporary so we wouldn't want to write this one off yet but its not the best start in life for this little ‘toto’.

Later in the afternoon we had word from a guide friend that Bahati had been spotted , not too far from Rekero and sure enough we found where she was, along with a handful of other vehicles. She had been feeding on a wildebeest kill partially hidden in a small dip and then made a brief appearance for us, before moving into the croton after getting a little spooked by the vehicles. Given her location on this trip and the last one it seems she has taken up permanent residence in what was Binti‘s (her older sister) territory, signaling the fact that as suspected Binti is certainly no longer around, clearly having moved off or maybe worse. It will likely be soon that Bahati herself will start a family of her own as she is approaching the age of which she will be able to start reproducing.

The next day we again saw the most amazing wildebeest crossing. The second one of our trip. They wildebeest were crossing in two locations along the south Mara area, and given this, and the fact that vehicles were spread out along the two locations we were able to get a great position front on to photograph this amazing spectacle. At least 3 crocs were cruising along, at some points bringing the crossing to a stop as they blocked the path of the Wildebeest. The current here was strong and sadly causing some to drown and also several fell victim to the prehistoric ‘monsters of the deep’. So, although the day had started somewhat frustrating, given we waited hours for Notch and the cubs to show their faces it had turned into an amazing afternoon. Later that day we caught up with the Rekero pride, hauled up in the deepest croton possible!, and given the stench coming from the bush they had a kill and certainly had no reason to move! 

This brings me up to  the 19th October in which we took a drive down toward Paradise plains in the hope we would find the 4km male lions. Coming toward the area we paused to take a good scan around with the binoculars and then into sight came not one of the 4km boys but a Leopard! Just sitting on a termite mound and surveying the plains. It’s huge neck and build gave the no question that it was a big male and we figured it must have been the one named the “Paradise male’. Not being familiar with this cat we stopped some way back to take a couple of landscape shots. Leopards are in large very shy and we feared that if we moved too near we may have lost him for good. Soon we saw he was not phased by our presence, helped by the fact that there was no other cars around at all or at the sighting. We edged forward and then a few moments later he casually strolled off the mound and away from us. He moved off, into a slightly rocky area around around 30 feet away from us. We stopped the car, silent and patiently hoping he would track back around toward where there was more game, he had a look on him that he wanted to hunt. Fortunately he doubled back as we hoped, and then completely surprising us by walking right up to the vehicle and in gorgeous light!. In normal circumstances we would be delighted with one coming so close of their own accord. It was a stress free sighting and he seemed perfectly relaxed with our presence. However, this big boy then started coming a little too close for comfort, ending up just 1ft from the right hand-side of the car and stopping to look up at Andy and then I, who at this point was shooting stills out of the roof-hatch. His behavior had altered somewhat and for just a split second we had actually wandered if he was going to suddenly jump on the car! Needless to say we backed away from this big boy and this is probably the first time we have ever felt a tad uncomfortable with a Leopard so close. Needless to we stopped shooting and I sat down whilst he paused, carried on looking and and then eventually continuing on. Leopards do not ordinarily jump on cars but he exhibited some behaviors that gave us slight concern. Later we heard this this male, the Paradise male can be a little ‘tetchy’!

He then tracked into the grass and along a high ridge that was totally out of reach for us, too rocky and no tracks. So we watched from a distance before disappearing in a forested area. Surprisingly still no other cars clocked the fact that we had spotted a Leopard, complete bliss!!!

Leaving the Leopard to its own devices we then continued to track around the river, looking for the 4km males. By now it was getting warm and so we knew if they were around they would most likely be in the shade. Leaving our search for the males we headed off toward the Marsh and where we soon found the famous Marsh Pride of lions. Looking fit to burst with huge stomachs and located under a tree and in one their favorite areas. The pride were laid in two groups, we could see 2 males in one group, that apart from a short moment of movement were lying flat out making it pretty hard to ID and further along in the other group another male, who barely even moved his tail, let alone putting his head up.! 

Present among the two groups were Charm, Sienna, Mapema and their collective bundle of tiny cute cubs that have recently been born in to the Marsh pride and the offspring of the new males who took over the pride one year ago (ousting the longstanding ‘Romeo and Claude’). They occasionally moved around, trying to play with the male’s tails but instead being greeted by a low growl that meant “leave me alone I am trying to sleep”!.  Most of the lions were laid flat but we managed to also just about make out Bibi. It appeared that Scarface was missing from the group, however, this was not uncommon given he is quite often apart from the others. Later we heard that he was away from the Marsh and nearer to the West side of Rhino ridge.

By now it was nearly 12pm and these lions were moving for no-one! So we headed off back to camp.

Drawing the last few days to a close we ended the day before yesterday with quite a nice sighting of the Rekero pride, initially in the same croton as the day before but eventually moving a little further into the open and giving us the opportunity to grab a few ID shots of the 4 sub adult males (Notch off-spring). At 23 months old now they are starting to develop tufts of mane and certainly bulking up. The next generation of Notch coalition who one day may rule their own pride in the Mara.......

On the way back to camp and just before sundown we were then lucky to see a gorgeous serval cat, hunting around in the long grass. Despite being at 850mm and as the setting sun had disappeared from behind the cloud Andy managed to get a quick shot as it paused to pose before it carried on mousing!

Yesterday’s blog coming soon!........

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Humungous herds!

Anyone that takes the 'text books' of African wildlife too literally may not expect me to be blogging about what we saw yesterday in the Mara. Technically the guide books will always state that the wildebeest migration takes place between July and September and this is indeed generally true and of course the same time of year when the Mara is heaving with literally hundreds of tourist vehicles and the chaos that sadly seems to accompany this. It's for this reason that Andy and I now tend to avoid this time of year after having done many migration seasons and seeing the Mara getting more and more chaotic during high season. However, coming in Mid October, although tending to be slightly more temperamental weather wise is certainly a great time to come and a time of year I would always recommend (despite the torrential afternoon downpours we have suffered every afternoon!). Most of the tourists have left yet in the vast majority of cases the Wildebeest have not.

The Wildebeest migration is not just a one way cycle of crossings and instead a complex cycle of movements around the Mara that can continue sometimes into late October (we have even seen big crossings in December!) and this year it has proved no exception.

A few weeks back it looked as if the Wildebeest (who arrived 'late' this year as reported in our blog from early July) were indeed following 'text book' and headed back to the Serengeti to continue their transit through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, eventually moving towards the Ndutu area for calving in February before cycling back toward the Mara for July. They had remained in the Mara Triangle for the last week or where they enjoyed the lush palatable grass and some herds moving South quite fast. However, in the last few days the number of Wildebeest in the Mara Triangle has reached unbelievably huge numbers, with as many as 500,000+ in the area. Truly an unbelievable sight to see endless plains dotted with what you first think is bushes in the distance to then see on closer inspection masses and masses of wildebeest.

In true fashion of abandoning the 'rules of the guide books' the Wildebeest have in large abandoned the transit to the Serengeti and have once again started to mass in huge numbers along the southern end of the Mara River and so yesterday we were lucky to experience a large crossing of around 7,000 - 10,000 wildebeest, crossing from the Mara Triangle onto the plains South west of Look Out Hill.

We had received a phone call from a good friend of ours and a guide in the Mara who had informed us that a crossing was imminent and by 10am we were down in the area after having a quite morning drive, only briefly seeing Notch again who had crossed back over the the South side of the Talek River. Waiting only around 1.5 hours (which is not bad as sometimes we have waited 5 hours for a crossing!) they did their usual 'shall we or shall we not cross routine' which always builds up the anticipation before launching down to the river.

The crossing was actually quite orderly, but no less dramatic as the Wildebeest took the plunge into the deep waters of the Mara, disturbing Hippos nearby who soon moved their young calves away from the swirling waters created by the herds. Some took easier routes, whilst some took leaps from higher up the banks and then battling against the current of the river to the other side. Its always a tense and often emotional scene and you watch some of the Wildebeest battle for their lives, not always making it across.

The crossing lasted around 45 minutes or so and in that time streams of wet and tired wildebeest flooded the plains where the grass was already short from being grazed by previous herds. Some mothers who had already crossed called from over the river for their young had become separated in the chaos and conversely some calves who had crossed already called frantically for their mothers to join them. Its always an emotional scene and not all have happy endings. Fortunately the number of casualties seemed to be in low numbers from this particular crossing. At least one fell victim to a croc attack that happened out of site and it seemed that even though many thousands had crossed not too many suffered from drowning from the currents or broken limbs from the passage down the banks.

Still after the crossing many herds remained close on the opposite side of the river as it looked as if a another, even larger group would cross around 1km further down the river. so we waited.....and waited and waited, but eventually the Wildebeest turned and moved away from the river after another 2 hours of the 'will they wont they' game.  Given the number of wildebeest that still remain here there are certainly likely to be some more crossings in the next few days, although it is still expected that many will continue the transit to the Serengeti rather than to cross back over the Mara River.

We still had some time for an afternoon drive but as more rain clouds had started to form we made our own crossing back over the Talek River in time before the rain and mud would again make the crossing impassable and so again we decided to stay local to our camp and went to try and find the Olkiombo breakaway lionesses again.  It was not too long until we found one of the females with the cub we had seen a day or two previous and in similar fashion to the other day we found them bounding around the plains, having a great time in the coolness of the afternoon once the rain had stopped.

As you sit and watch the cub play you see all the behaviours exhibited when a lioness hunts and it shows how important playing is for a cub to learn the necessary hunting skills. The female cub bounded around, stalking the lioness, grabbing her around the neck, practising the 'kiss of death' and of course the launch from behind. It was flat light for photos and much of the time they played in the longer sections of grass and in the lugga, but apart from a short time with a couple of other vehicles we spent a good couple of hours with them alone. A really nice way to end a great day

So a fantastic migration crossing with only a handful of cars and a lioness and cub to ourselves shows why we generally love to come at the end of the season...

Wildebeest launch into the Mara River 

Chaos in trying to exit the river 

Hunting school is fun for a cub!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The bush antics continue and reunited with an old friend........

Yesterday afternoon was certainly an afternoon that we will always remember, and one that will remain in our minds for some time.

The rain started again at around 3pm , as it has every day since we arrived and the pattern certainly seems to mark the onset of the short rainy season that has come a little earlier this year (normally November - lasting until December)

The original plan was to cross the Talek River just near Mara Intrepids and take a drive up to find Malaika, but given the crossing was already in a bad state the afternoon rains put a stop on being able to cross. So instead we decided to go and look for the Rekero Pride who had been seen in an area called 'maternity', not too far from Rekero camp itself. To get to this area you have to cross the Olare Orok River (which leads into the Talek) and although we had to be wary of rising waters we felt this crossing was more feasible. This crossing has also been in a bit of a mess in the last couple of weeks, with big crevasses on the entry/return exit point and although many rocks had been laid to try and even out the terrain the entry it was still in a bad state. Although it seemed a bit of a fruitless exercise, together with Aatish and Aashit we took it upon ourselves to throw a few more rocks in before we crossed. By now the rains had ceased but the conditions still very slippery.

Crossing was fine, although the waters were quite high and for those who know this crossing the ledge on the right on crossing toward the 'Maternity' area now seemed to be far steeper. This is one crossing where you need to get your position just right and not one to mess with!

Not too far after the crossing point we came across the members of the Rekero Pride, around 50 meters off a track and in medium grass where they were lying flat out in two separate groups. It was hard to see how many were there given there horizontal and partially hidden state, we could see at least 7/8 of the lions with one sub adult male on his own.

Aatish and Aashit had official off-road passes and so decided to move a little closer off one of the tracks to see who was there so we could add to my 'lion log' that we have been continuing to compile. Andy and I sat back while they drove a little closer, watching the lions sleeping from a distance and hoping they would rise so we could at least get a few shots. However, not 2 minutes after carefully driving through the grass we suddenly heard a 'bonk' and then saw that the guys vehicle was stationary and all of a sudden positioned at an angle that meant only one thing, they had unknowingly driven into a large hole. At this point the phone rang and we knew we would be coming to the rescue and happy to do so as this is just part and parcel of life in the bush.

As we approached we could see how the hole which had practically swallowed the front two wheels was completely concealed by the grass and there would have been no way the guys would have been able to have seen this.

We knew the only way out of this was for us to tow them out, of course in normal circumstances this is no problem at all and something you get used to doing in the bush. However, there was one slight complication, we were less than 20-50 ft from the lions!! One sub adult male rested just 20 feet from the vehicle and at least another 7 a little further away, around 50 feet in-front. Had this been earlier in the day we would have just sat it out and waited for the lions to move, but as it was by now around 4:30pm we knew that we did not have the luxury of time before darkness (and more rain) fell. Checking the area with binos we felt happy that the other members of the 12 strong pride must have been elsewhere, although we still remained wary as to where, as the grass height could still easily conceal a sleeping lion.

So, the plan (which we carefully debated) was for Andy and Aatish to attach the rope whilst Aashit and I watched over the lions. Fortunately Aatish was able to get the rope out of the side door out of sight of the lions and much of what we needed to do could be done from the protection of the car. At this point the sub adult male nearest woke so of course it was back in the car at this point. He was pretty disinterested to be honest and just looked at us as if to say 'keep the noise down please I am trying to sleep'. He then moved away from us and to the rest of the group further up. So again Andy and Aatish continued to attach the ropes needed staying on the side of the car away from the lions. At this point as things were almost ready for the tow out when Aashit suddenly shouts 'Get in the car, get in the car!". I have never seen Andy and Aatish move so fast as a lioness who had been totally hidden by the grass had suddenly appeared from 'nowhere' and started stalking (fortunately from the opposite side of the car) and was only 15 feet or so away.  So again the process had to stop as we waited for her to move away. Her expression was more of 'Oh you saw me, you have now spoilt all my fun' and of she also went to join the other lions, who were still flat out sleeping.

Initially the tow out did not work as we had been forced to connect the ropes to one side of Aatish's and Aashits car, so it was back out of the vehicle and to instead jack up the front wheels with the hi-lift jack and to try and attach a rope to the other side. Fortunately the lions had become completely bored with our antics, although two of us kept a close watch as this was not somewhere where we wanted to take any risks. Jacking the two front wheels had worked and 'Beauty' eased her way out of the hole. The sigh of relief was exhaled by us all and was probably heard all over the Mara!. Had this not worked we had already decided we would have to abandon the car as it would have been two dangerous to have done plan B and to start winching. Fortunately we did not have to worry about this. It had been a somewhat nail biting 45 minutes in which we had to carefully and safely get out of this situation, but with a bit of team work and doing everything 'pole pole' (slowly slowly) everything was just fine!

There was still at least 90 minutes of daylight left so we left the pride to it (we never did get any shots!) and crossed back over the river. In this time we had news that a male lion had been seen about half way between Mara Intrepids and Talek town. Andy and I had spent most of the morning looking for our favourite Male lion, Notch. On this trip, as with every other trip to the Mara were pretty desperate to find the old chap. We had been told it was an older lion and the guides who had seen him were confident it was Notch. Hell yes, we HAD to go and find out!!!!

As we drove another 30 minutes Andy and I were pretty silent, the anticipation of whether it was him or not took over the mood in our car! Crazy I know!

We came toward the area where he had been seen and soon saw a few hundred feet away a male lion, lying out in the open and near a lioness from the Olkiombo Pride. There was no question at all as we approached that it was the big guy himself. Seeing Notch always seems to evoke emotions with us both (after all we have known and followed him in the Mara for 6 years now so make no apologies for feeling attached to him) and this occasion was no exception and we were pretty damn happy to see our 'old friend'!

For an lion now easily approaching 13 years he looked much better than I had expected, He had broken his lower left canine a while back and had already lost a fair few of his incisors but for a lion of his age his teeth still looked in pretty good shape. The only noticeable change since seeing him in March was that he was starting to get quite widespread mange now on his stomach, although it did not appear to irritated or sore now covered much of his stomach now and was a bit of a concern, but expected really for a lion of his age.  He looked well fed, which is nothing unusual here for the old 'mzee' and it was good to see him looking healthy and still obviously a hit with the ladies!  He sat there with the usual majesty you expect from  a male lion and in the hour we spent with him he rested a little and also sat up giving us a few opportunities for some nice shots. It was a bit of a shame the clouds were so heavy and the light not too great, but quite frankly we didn't really care about that! He eventually stood up and moved nearer to the lioness (and as he has been in the last couple of years with a little initial stiffness and limp that soon evens out once he gets moving)

It was now virtually dark and so we had to leave him. We of course hoped we would see him again on this trip but incase said a little goodbye, but of course hoping we will see him again when we hopefully return back to the Mara early next year. The old man certainly has more life left in him yet, he just needs to watch for any new coalitions coming into the area. He may be a bit of a legend but no less vulnerable then any other male of this age if caught on his own.......

DIY Repairs at Smelly Crossing!

 Crossing 'smelly' with high water levels

Holes when you least want them!


Not a bad set of 'nashers' for a 13 year old lion

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

"I have a problem with my shaft"! ......

Our first blog comes two days into our trip to the Mara and its been quite an eventful one already! We had arranged to travel down to the Mara with our friends Aatish and Aashit Patel. Its a journey we have all both done many times but travelling to the Mara in convoy is always a good plan if that option is there and so we decided to met early doors in Nairobi and make the 6 hour trip together.

All was going well, making good time through Narok and then making it onto the corrugated gravel road into the Mara. At this point our fortune was to change slightly as Aatish, who travelled in front in "beauty' (Their Land Rover) pulled to a stop around one hour down the dusty and bumpy road. "I have a problem with my shaft!" exclaimed Aatish. After overcoming the initial laughter of his random statement we stopped and Andy helped to investigate and it turned out that indeed the Land Rover had a faulty differential and half shaft, basically meaning they had lost 'drive'. This was not a good thing and so out came the tools and jack to try and make a fix. It became apparent that a permanent fix was not possible without replacement parts and so plan B came into action, that involved a hammer and forcing the half shaft into place. We set off again and then around a few KM's later the half shaft became dislodged and now a plan C came into effect. In good old bush style a plan was made to try and wedge the half shaft in place. For once we were all grateful of some old discarded water bottles that worked to temporally stop the part from being dislodged again. Just over 7 hours or so after leaving Nairobi we then all arrived, dusty, tired but happy to be back in the Mara.

As we arrived into the Mara storm clouds started to brew, and the roads were wet from recent rains. We had hoped that the clouds would evade us but sadly this was not to be the case and since arriving we have had some quite torrential downpours, mostly from around 3pm.  Our vehicle is well equipped to deal with these conditions but after a few weeks now of wet weather the tracks in the Mara were all quite washed out and the black cotton mud was playing its usual games. Its all 'part and parcel' of travelling in Africa on bush roads but the effect of the constant afternoon downpours has meant we have had to restrict our movements a little more than we would have hoped. Several of the river crossing have been impassable immediately after the rains and therefore meaning some areas have been accessible. Rather than worry about something we cant possibly affect we have still continued on and made the most of our time here and with the help of some of our local friends have been getting our bearings as much as has been possible of where the game and predators are located since our last trip in July,

Despite the rains and having to stay 'local' much of the time we have been reasonably lucky so far with sightings of some familiar faces. We have caught up with some of the Olkiombo Breakaway females (The Lionesses whom we 'blogged' about in March 2012). Seeing 4 females so far and one with a very cute 6-7 month old cub. In addition Olive the beautiful 12 year old Leopard made an appearance resting high up in a tree and this morning briefly seeing Maliaka and her one remaining cheetah cub not too far from Look Out hill and far from where we saw here in July. Both looking well.

There are still quite a few wildebeest in the Mara, most now being located on Possee Plains above Mara Intrepids and Naibor Camp as well as some large herds being reported on Paradise Plains (although as yet we have not been down this far) and in addition we hear that one of the 4km males is also in that area mating with one of the Paradise lionesses and who we hope to catch up with in the next few days.
However, the most notable numbers of Wildebeest though at present are to be seen across the Mara River in the Mara Triangle and are slowly making their way back toward the Serengeti, no doubt being tempted by the thunder and lightening that is also occurring down in the Serengeti. In a few days time we will likely be heading over this direction and hope the herds remain there for a while yet. Although it is likely that by then many of them will have passed across the border to continue their ongoing migratory routes.

So for now this is just a short blog to catch up on the last two days and more to follow soon, including the most hilarious and awesome evening tonight that involved a close encounter with lions (when you least want it!) as well as an evening with one of our favourite lions, Notch!

So for now its 'lala salama' until tomorrow...........

Investigating the problem....

 Bush Repairs start

Bush Repairs 'African Stylee'!

Olkiombo 'Breakaway' Female and cub

Playing in the rain


Thousands of Wildebeest across the River in the Mara Triangle

Malaika & her cub

Saturday, 6 October 2012

July Images loaded on to the website and it's back to the Mara soon!

Finally we have managed to start loading on some of our favourite images taken during our July 2012 trip to the Masai Mara. CLICK HERE to view or check out and go to NEW IMAGES. 

In just over a week or so we are back to Masai Mara for just a short trip so check back here for more African bush adventures! 

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Continental plates and spouting geysers

Leaving Hotel Anna we were back off on our travels again, this time for the 2 hour journey to Geysir and Gullfoss waterfall via Thingvellir National Park.

As we arrived at Thingvellir we could see why the area was a UNESCO site, steeped in geological and historical interest the park was surrounded by volcanoes, most extinct or dormant. However, the most striking geological aspect of this location is that this area represents a divergent rift valley where the North American plate and the Eurasian plate are pulling apart in opposite directions. Other than the Great Rift Valley in East Africa (an area we have also been lucky enough to have visited) this is the only other place in the world where the spreading of the sea floor is visible. In the past 10,000 years the valley has moved by 70m and subsided by 40m. So in non technical terms its possible to stand in Europe and North America on the same day whilst in Thingvellir National Park!

Not only is the area a significant site in terms of geology it is also steeped in history as the site of the oldest parliament in the world, founded in AD930 and where settlers from all over Iceland would converge to discuss events and pass new laws.

We strolled around the main area of the park absorbing its natural and historical aspects, old lava flows could still be seen and the two plates highly visible either side of the valley, it was utterly fascinating. Its violent past also evident through fault lines where earthquakes had severed the rocks revealing deep crevasses.

After spending a few hours here it was off toward Gullfoss waterfall, passing many old lava fields, farming settlements and small towns along the way.

Approaching Gullfoss we could see a deep canyon, followed by mist rising into the air and as we got out of the car we could hear the roar of the water, a sound louder than anything we had heard from any other falls during the trip. Climbing down the wooden steps we then got our first glimpse of Gullfoss, no words other than 'wow' could describe the awesomeness of this waterfall! It was a mighty wall of water, gushing down in two tiers. It really was Iceland's answer to Niagra Falls and it was just spectacular.

We spent sometime here snapping away happily with our cameras, although to be honest no photo was going to do this place justice! You really had to be there to absorb the sound and power of the water as it spewed into the deep canyon below, carved out by thousands of years of water cascading through.

Damp from the spray we then moved onto our last location and where we would stay overnight. We had done waterfalls and volcanoes and now it was time for geysers!

We checked into our hotel, aptly named as Hotel Geysir, which was quite literally right opposite the geothermal area. Not wasting any time we were off to see our first ever Geyser. The smell of sulphur was quite putrid as the steam from at least ten geysers filled the air. However, as we walked around the area we were 'rudely interrupted' and practically stopped in our tracks by a huge whoosh of water that shot into the air like a rocket. Although the 'Geysir' (one of the most famous geysers in the area) is no longer active the second highest geyser called 'Strokker' quite evidently is. No more than 5 minutes passed and It was off again and it was a sight to behold. Watching in between 'eruptions' the water at the base bubbled and boiled at 80-100 degrees C as we watched and waited in anticipation for its next show. On average it spouted every 3-5 minutes. Sometimes the water reaching 20-30 metres high and other times much lower and on one occasion covering me with its watery sulphuric matter as the wind blew in my direction right at the moment that Strokker fired out her watery fountain (much to the amusement of other onlookers!)

It became almost addictive waiting for the next fountain of water to spout, and as a dome of water grew at the base it was followed by less than a second or two with the release of air and water giving us the opportunity for some great shots.

It had been another packed day of history and geology and by now we were ready to call it a day. However, what better way to end the day after dinner with a dip in the hotels outdoor 'pool' heated by an underneath geyser. Lying in the warm waters under the cold dark sky, staring at the stars was really quite a surreal experience. The only thing missing was the Northern lights that due to the heavy cloud on the last 3 nights was not visible and even though our last night in Iceland was a clear night the lights were not out for us that night, what a great excuse to have to return to Iceland!

And so the next morning we left the hotel and began the journey back toward Keflavik airport. It was a glorious morning, crisp air with nothing but blue sky and a huge contrast to the previous days! Given the amazing weather we abandoned our planned visit to the Blue Lagoon spa and instead took a detour back toward Mt Hekla, passing Kerio Crater along the way. We knew that it was not every day that you could view Mt Hekla without clouds brimming around the top and so our detour paid off with the most incredible views of the volcano and the glaciers.

Our brief trip to Iceland had been amazing in every way, the scenery had been spectacular and had whet our appetite to one day return again and explore more of Iceland. It was certainly evident why this amazing place is nick-named 'the land of ice and fire'.

So it is here that our blog concludes of our Icelandic adventures and in the next coming weeks we are fortunate and very excited to be once again returning the Kenya and hope you will join us as we will be back blogging from amongst the wilds of the African bush.

Thingvellir National Park

Gullfoss Waterfall

Geothermal area at Geysir
Kerio Crater
Mt Hekla