Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Gusty Golden circle!

We arrived at our apartment in Laugarvatn after dark, driving en route through Thingvellir National Park and were pleasantly surprised at how nice and large it was, with a great location overlooking a large frozen lake. Similar to Grundarfjordur the village of Laugarvatn is small with less than 1000 inhabitants. Nestled at the base of a small mountain and close to many of the main 'attractions' of the 'Golden Circle'

That night we kept a check on the skies above but again the sky was cloaked in heavy cloud. In the morning we woke to crazy winds, in excess of 50mph and decided to head back to Geysir and Gulfoss waterfall. Both places that we had visited in warmer climes back in 2012.

The sun barely managed to cast light through the thick and with such high winds on occasions as the Geysir spouted it blew the hot steam in many directions and to some unsuspecting tourists provided a shower of hot sulpher scented water! As the winds peaked to a point that it practically knocked you off your feet and so we decided it was time to head off to Gulfoss waterfall, just another 20 minute drive away.

Unlike our visit in September 2012 there was no spray visible from this mighty waterfall as we approached, and fortunately unlike 2012 no rain!

We were met with perilous icy steps that guided us down to the falls. Turning the corner for our first view we were met with a huge wall of frozen water, with just a minimal waterflow in some parts of the waterfall.

What an incredible sight, to see such an immense area frozen, with huge icicles sculptured into beautiful works of natural art. Even though it was mostly frozen it by no means comprimised its beauty, and a great contrast to see how the huge glacial flow changed through the Icelandic seasons.

Before we all turned ourselves to icicles from the bracing cold icy wind we headed back to our apartment and wandered what the evening may bring. The outlook did not look good for aurora as the heavy clouds started to bring snow and so Angela and I consoled ourselves with a couple of glasses of Amarula, while Andy decided to abstain. It turned out this was a good decision..........




So close yet so far!!!

On our last evening at Hotel Framnes we were again hindered by thick cloud and sadly no aurora activity, indeed disappointing but as there is little you can do to affect either we all remained bouyant and in good spirits. The next morning we were due to leave Grundarfjordur early to make our way to the small village of Laugarvatn in the 'Golden Circle'. However, as we came down to breakfast the hotel staff advised us that they were going to run an Orca watching trip at 11am. Needless to say after our trip the day before was cancelled it didn't take long before we made a rapid change of plan and decided to abandon an early departure and booked ourselves on the trip. We suited up with thick heavy overalls provided by Laki tours and waddled our way to the boat. It was still bitterly cold, but the wind had dropped and the skies for the first time crisp and clear as we boarded the small vessel that took only 30 passengers, on this tour just 18 others joined us making a total of 21 passengers on board.

As we started making our way out to sea the captain advised that we were headed to a nearby fjord, where orcas had been spotted already that morning by local fisherman. A ripple of excitment came from all on board as we headed out of the harbour. This was our first opportunity to get a really good view of the mountains that surrounded this lovely little village. The tops of the jagged peaks were revealed and the sight was quite something against the blue sky, where the sun just about poked high enough to cast a beautiful light over the stunning white giants that towered over Grundarfjordur.

It was only around 20 minutes into the voyage that we started to notice the seas becoming far more choppy, the swell seemed to be increasing. As we had left the harbour it was inevitable that we would enter less sheltered waters. However, the boat seemed to list rather precariously as it cut through a swell that seemed to grow minute by minute. Already one or two on board had fallen victim to the undulating waves and were turning green and sadly already seeing their breakfast again!

Despite this we were distracted by the prospect of orcas and our slight concern over the increasing rough waters was well averted when suddenly Angela spotted a fin, shrieking with excitement in the meantime!!! Although not an Orca we soon saw that one fin became several, then a small pod of dolphins appeared and came hurtling toward the boat. We could see they were white beaked dolphins and for a very short time they swam alongside the boat, riding the bow wave with speed and agility that was a sight to behold. Their movement too fast to capture any images (added to the fact that it was near on impossible to hold the camera steady in such rough seas!) but a fantastic sight even so.

As the dolphins left us after a few minutes we suddenly realised our course had changed, no longer did we appear to be heading in the direction of where the orcas had been sighted earlier. Our fears were confirmed when a crew member advised that the seas were just too rough to continue any further and that we were heading back into more sheltered waters. This was disappointing, we had come so close to seeing orcas in Iceland but no sighting is ever worth putting 21 passengers in jeopardy. Despite this once we had ventured back in calmer seas we continued to search for more marine mammals and took in the beautiful scenery. We were not lucky to see any cetaceans but it had been a enjoyable boat ride and we were pleased to have seen the dolphins.

After a short time we were back on dry land, we quickly checked out of the hotel and jumped in the car, as it was time for us to leave Grundarfjordur. Just a few miles out of the village we stopped the car along the fjord where the orcas had been seen. The captain had recommended this could be a good plan in the hope that maybe they had tracked close to the land. We did see a few seals pop their heads up but no sign of the orcas. One day we will return again to Grundarfjordur and perhaps next time lady luck may be on our side.

The wind had certainly whipped up on land, driving snow blew horizontally across the icy roads as we drove through more stunning scenery and headed on the 4 hour journey to Laugarvatn. Here we would spend our last three nights before heading back to a wet and windy UK!

Well insulated in thermal (and ill-fitting) suits!

Our boat

Looking back on the mountains

Partially frozen fjords leaving Grundarfjordur
Beautiful scenery en route to Laugarvatn
Hardy Icelandic ponies


Sunday, 29 December 2013

Velkomin aftur til Íslands (welcome back to Iceland!)

Our latest travel blog brings us back to Iceland. In contrast to our visit in September 2012 this time we have chosen to come back in the winter. Iceland in the winter certainly provides a different kind of experience but our main aim this time is to capture the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and hopefully a chance to see Orca whales.

Arriving late on the 26th December with an overnight in Keflavik first we then travelled up to the western part of the island, to a place called Grundarfjordur. With just 930 inhabitants and around 250km from the capital Reykjavik this was our base for two nights. Here we had hoped to have a chance of viewing the lights as well as being one of the best places to view Orcas in the wild, who from late November to spring feed on the plentiful herring in the surrounding waters.

The journey up was certainly an interesting one! firstly it was a rather strange experience driving at 1030am in the dark, with the sun rising at around 1130am. At this time of the year just 4 hours of daylight occur and so careful planning to time our activities during light hours will be needed! We navigated intense icy roads and in some areas met harsh snow storms that created an almost complete 'white out'! It was certainly a marked contrast the the fairly mild and wet weather we had just left behind in the UK.

As we arrived into Grundarfjordur, we were greeted with a quaint little fishing village, surrounded by beautiful mountains and fjords, some of which were partially iced over. Snow covered fields housing the hardy Icelandic ponies and a multitude of frozen waterfalls dominated the landscape. Our base in here in the town was a small hotel called Hotel Framnes, a friendly establishment that although basic carried with it a certain charm with very friendly staff and everything that we needed for our short stay.

Sadly thus far during our stay here we have been rather unsuccessful in seeing the Northern Lights. The weather has been extremely cold and windy on both days and marked with heavy cloud and occasional snow falls. Last night we had hoped we were in luck when around 9pm the skies finally cleared so Andy, Angela (our good friend who also joined us) and I doned our thermals and headed out in the car, driving just 20 mins from town and where there was no light pollution. Here we sat cosy in our hire car watching the skies for 3.5 hours hoping for a glimpse of the Aurora. The predictions for activity have been low in the past few days. However, we hoped we would be lucky as the predications for activity are not always accurate. However, sadly we were not and at 1230am we decided to retreat back to the comfort of our beds!

Hourly we continue to check the space weather centre websites for updates on Aurora conditions. This site measures the particle flux from the Sun and how it is interacting with the Earth's magnetic field, a phenomena that causes the Aurora spectacle. The Aurora are measured by a 'KP' index with ideally a grade of '2' plus needed. The predictions sadly look poor, with a KP index hovering around 0-1 and with very cloudy conditions continung for at least the next few days across most of Iceland the outlook is not looking too promising! However, we will continue to remain optimistic!!

Today in daylight hours our attentions turned to whales, and we booked a boat trip to hopefully view the Orcas. However, just 15 minutes before we were due to depart the trip was cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions! A disappointment but when it is for reasons of safety we are not one to argue with the captain of the boat! It seemed thus far luck was not on our side and Iceland was certainly giving us a show if its infamous unpredictable and fast changing weather conditions!

Instead we took a really lovely scenic drive further west and into the Snaefellsjokull National Park. Continuing on roads literally blanketed with ice we were pleased to be driving in a robust 4X4. We drove through immense lave fields covered in snow, with imposing mountains cloaked in cloud looming ominously above. Here where the lava fields meet the sea we watched a beautiful sunset. However, just getting out of the vehicle to photograph this even provided a challenge! The wind chill is quite something, not only icy cold but on some occasions almost knocking you off your feet!!

Tomorrow we head to our next destination, an area known as the 'Golden Circle' and where we will spend the last three nights of our trip. Here we will once again return the the famous spouting Geyser and of course every night (after the sunsets at 4pm!) will be avidly watching the skies hoping for a show of the Aurora!

En route to Grundarfjordur

Kirkjufell mountain in Grundarfjordur (463m)

Frozen waterfall

Fjords 10 minutes from Grundarfjordur

Snaefellsjokull National Park




Sunday, 20 October 2013

Find us on Facebook!

We would be delighted for those that follow our blog to come and 'like' our facebook page. As well as links to our blog you will find more  photos and updates. We would be delighted if you are all able to spread the word! Click on the link below to link to our page. Thanks everyone
Find us on Facebook

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Life and death on the plains

In the last few days the weather has changed a little, lovely sunrises but the afternoons marked with cloud and a slightly increased rainfall as well as a rise in temperature. Fortunately so far the rivers remain low and allowing us to still cross over.

A few days back we were treated to quite some action. Starting first with an attempted hunt by three cheetah's, all offspring of a cheetah mum called 'Amani'. That consists of two males and a female, all under two years old. When we arrived at the sighting we looked skyward and saw that one if the cubs was aloft on a car belonging to a friend of ours, a tactic that many of the cheetah in the Mara seem to be adopting with increased frequency in order to scan for prey. Not long after all three were mobile, and had locked onto a warthog family. Barely getting a chance to reposition the vehicle for a good spot and anticiptaing their direction the cheetahs were off! Starting at some distance away but running at high speed toward us. During the intense chase on of the cheetah lost its footing slightly as one of the adult warthogs turned to face off the cheetah, in an effort to defend them against their small piglets. The cheetah darted after different individuals and it was incredibly hard to keep locked on to them and they sped across the plains! Up and down the many undulations and at one point coming so close to succeeding in an effort to secure a meal. However, with the distraction of the warthog family darting in different directions the cheetah soon lost ground and no sooner did this happen they ground to a halt and gave up on their attempts. The warthogs, for now would live to see another day and were reunited as a family further up the plains. The sun began to set and as it did the cheetah all began to settle, tomorrow would be another day that would allow them to hunt.

The next morning we headed to the Musiara Marsh, yet before we even got as far as the area we spotted a startled group of wildebeest and not long after saw the cause. A small clan of spotted hyena, around 5-7 individuals. The wildebeest began to run from the hyena and as they did we noticed an adult, who was possibly lame and lagged behind. At this point we knew that the fate of this animal was sealed. The hyena soon isolated the individual and circled it, then each moved in closer. Then the inevitable happened, as one or two of the hyena started biting at the legs of the wildebeest. This was all happening at quite some distance but we saw that very soon the wildebeest was down. Now, we knew it stod no chance. The way in which hyena hunt and dispatch their prey is not for the feint hearted and their is no easy way to describe what we saw. Whilst the animal was still alive they bit at it's rear and pulled it down, on one or two occaisons the wildebeest tried to rise but it was a fruitless effort as each time the hyena dragged it back down. The hyena would bite chunks and then looked up scanning for any other imcoming predators, their faces becoming more and more bloody as the poor wildebeest struggled. This continued for about 15 minutes until at the point that which the hyena went for the stomach, opening it up. At this point the pain was over for the wildebeest and the hyena fed in a frenzy. Whilst we admit this was not the most pleasant thing to watch we were incredibly fortunate to have witnessed such behaviour and an illustration of what successful hunters Hyena actually are. Contrary to many who mark this animal as being a scavenger alone. Statistically they are actually more successful hunters than lion. However, witnessing such behaviour is often very hard given such hunts usually occur at night. The first time in nine years of travelling to Africa that we have actually witnessed this!

We evetually made ot to the Marsh, and managed to find two of the four marsh males (Morani and Hunter) as well as five of the sub adults belonging to the pride. They were inactive with the males popping up their heads out of the croton every now and then! The subs all looked rather hungary but this would not continue for long given that the marsh is always an area with plenty of game.

In addition we have returned again to look for the Notch Coalition of lions, now finding all four males on this trip and to get more ID shots of some of the females in the rongai area. As well as looking for the lionesses with cubs. we have been successful in finding them as well as some new lions not seen so far on this trip, including 2 more sub adult males (who we think originated from the Rekero Pride) with a female. An intetesting sighting in which the female trailed the males, who would only tolerate her at a distance. In large given that times are now tough with little game in the central area of the Mara most times the lions have been inactive, often when finding them deep in the shade of a tree or large bush.

As well as lions we have found a lovely pack of jackal pups, they were tiny and stayed close to their den. Sadly they remained quite hidden so we were only able to get a few limited shots in bad light, before the sun rose and they entered back into their den to rest for the day.

We have also found another cheetah, one that we have followed for a couple of years now, her name being Malaika. When we saw the cheetah we could barely make her out and only knew it was Malaika as we talked to our friend Elena who is one of the cheetah researchers here in the Mara. She confirmed the cheetah was malaika and delighted in telling us she has given birth just four days prior to at least 4 cubs who with her hidden deep in long grass but out of sight for us to take any images. An important time that vehicles need to be kept away from her. This was awesome news! However, on the other hand the news was marked with some concern given that she was literallly 500 metres from lions. Sadly the next day our worst fears were confirmed as Elena advised she lost 3 of the 4 tiny cubs to lions. Now leaving only one. We can only hope that she now has the ability to focus on the one remaining cub and whilst it was such sad news it is unfortunately part of life and death on the plains of Africa.

Hunter (Marsh Pride)

Marsh Subs
Hyena hunt


Thursday, 17 October 2013

Olkeju Rongai cubs and Notch boys!

Unfortunately I start the latest update of the past 3/4 days while Andy is currently horizontal under our vehicle! This morning we had an issue with our Land Rover whereby the anti roll bar mount, part of the chassis severed during our morning drive, we are just hoping that we can continue on as we are only half way through our three week trip in the Mara! He is currently trying to make a fix by removing the entire front anti roll system. Not really a job that you want to be doing in 30 degree heat, added to the fact that poor Andy has been a little poorly in the last couple of days with a stomach upset so he is finding this afternoon a little tough going given he has not eaten properly in the last few days.

So, for the next few days we will continue to bring updates from the Narok (north of the Mara River) section of the Masai Mara reserve and whilst Andy is fixing the car time I finally have time to update on what we have been doing in the last few days.

Most of the last fews days have been spent in the eastern section of the Narok side, in an area known as Olkeju Rongai. Here we have been concentrating our efforts in establishing what is going on with the dynamics of the Olkeju Rongai females as well as trying to ascertain more info and ID shots of a group of 11 lions, who are believed to be either part of the Olkiombo pride (if so a pride have shifted south of their usual territory and who a couple of years back split into two groups) or possibly members of the Maji Ya Fisi pride. The consensus as to who these lions are appears to be split among guides here in the Mara.

So far we have found 5 females from the Olkeju Rongai Pride, two of which have 2 small (roughly 7/8 weeks old) cubs each and one other who looks to be pregnant (seen once). It is not every day you get to photograph such small cubs so we have therefore spent as much time as we can with them while also covering this eastern section. The other two females (without cubs) we have seen twice, but had limited time with them with with limited visibillity. We are assuming they are from the Olkeju Rongai pride given where were we found them. One set of cubs belongs to a female called Napejo, who is unmistakeable with an old large scar across her right side of her face. Both sets of cubs are adorable, very playful and coming out to provide some nice photographic opportunties. The first morning we found Napejo and her cubs they were with a kill, a wildebeest calf that looked to have been killed during the previous night. Napejo moved the kill into the shade and attempted to cover the kill, to keep the smell from attracting hyena and other predators and also in an effort to keep fresh from the sun's rays. Whilst Napejo fed the cubs clambered across the carcass and over the mother, whilst they are too young to be feeding on meat they nibbled at the carcass, getting to know the texture, smell and taste of what will in a few months time become their main food source. They played with the wildebeest calves tail and had a mischievous time indeed. One particular cub is a gutsy little fella with bags of character, even growling at mum and lashing out with his paws while she fed, a cub that certainly thinks he is older than he is really is! He frequently wanders away from mum, a little concerning given that this type of behaviour will get him into trouble one day if he is not careful. However, the sightings of these cubs have not been without a large degree of discipline from the mother, making them behave where she can, although with the one male cub it seems a fruitless task as he sometimes refuses to listen and be told!! Yesterday the same group of cubs were close to Ceaser, one of the Notch boy's coalition. The same male cub cautiously approached Ceaser, with a mix of intrigue and nervousness. His size completely dwarfed to the huge size of this mighty male. Ceaser was tolerant as the cub approached but was clearly not in the mood to entertain the cub's curiosity and immediately rose and walked off. One day, all being well this tiny little boy will become a force in his own right, always hard to comprehend when you see how tiny and fragile they are at this age!

The other cubs belonging to another female from the same pride are just as naughty, ignoring their mothers demands to stay close, again wandering around and discovering their new world. It has been lovely spending a few mornings and afternoons with them, sometimes staying in the long grass, but on occasions venturing out between nursing on their mother to have a mooch around their new kingdom.

As mentioned above we have found Ceaser, the first time a few mornings ago he was at the far eastern end of the Rongai river, in an area known as 'Hamerkop', barely lifting his head, just once or twice and giving us enough to confirm it was him (his ear clip visible and adding to the fact he now only has one testicle!) the next morning, we found him again, around 20 hours since we left him the day prior. He has moved further west and taking a reading from the GPS from the day before he had travelled a staggering 6.78 miles (as the crow flies). As well as Ceaser we have also found 'Ron', another male from the same coalition. This male bears an uncanny resemblence to his father, Notch (who it is believed has now sadly passed on and who many believe was killed in a fight with other males around 8-10 weeks ago) Like his brothers and nephews he is a still a mighty and fine looking male, a far cry from when we used to see them on the Marsh when they were only 18 months old. Ron and Ceaser were both found together last night (on the third occasion that we found Ceaser) He was resting under an acacia before moving a short distance across the lugga and taking interest to a nearby buffalo, and then soon joined by Ceaser. We returned again the morning of the 16th to try and find them again, hoping they may have been joined by the other two from the same coalition (Grimace and Notch 2/Notch Jnr) However, they had moved on and we were unsuccessful in finding any of the males. No doubt moving off in the evening and patrolling their territory and getting away from the cheeky cubs! We suspect they have moved a little further south, the area they were looking toward and given we checked all along the Rongai river to find them with no luck.

Twice we have also found a group of 8 cubs (around 10-12 months old) and 2 adult females (it is believed there are 3 adult females to this group) The first sighting they were laid out in the shade under dense bushes, but this morning (16th) they were more visible, we identified that the 8 cubs comprised of at least 5 males. The two females were trying to hunt but unsuccessful on two attempts trying to hunt Hartebeest. After giving up they moved back to the cubs and sought shade in a lugga, on their return to the cubs there was a big bundle of lion!, as the cubs excitedly greeted the adult females. What is interesting is that this morning they were literally 2-3 km from the Rongai females. One of which (Napejo) was seen briefly this am in the same area we left them last night, but no sign of the cubs.

In addition to the above two days ago we also found three young male lions, located between Mara intrepids and Fig tree camp, around 2.5 years old. One had a slight injury to his eye and a fresh wound on his back, we believe they were the former cubs of the Rekero pride (sired by the the Notch coalition) part of a group of four males (or it may be 5, at this moment my memory escapes me!) including an older one called 'Kijana' who seemed absent from the group. Given the slight injuries to the one lion and the absence of the 4th we suspect they have started mating and had been fighting over mating rights, we are fairly sure the one missing was Kijana, the older one who would have likely been the victor over mating! Kijana is a male who actually originated from the Paradise pride (again offspring from the Notch coalition)

We have also been looking for the females from the Olkiombo pride (the breakaway group usually found north of the Talek River) and so far have found 2 females, East of Rhino Ridge, who we believe are Olkiombo females.

As well as lions we have had two brief cheetah sightings, one of which we did not spend any time with as there were a hoard of cars and we were reluctant to join this minivan circus. The other's were two sub adults with their mother but so far in the croton that we could only just about make out their age but could not their identity their sex. Again we stayed with them a short time. They were inactive, with little game around and so we left them to rest peacefully.

Tomorrow we will likley venture a little more west and probably toward the marsh area to catch up with the Marsh pride, but who knows what the night time sounds will bring and where this takes us!



Napejo & cubs
Olkiombo or Maji ya Fisi cubs


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Last few days in Mara Triangle

We are a bit behind of blogging given our days have been spent out in the field most of the day for the last 3/4 days! As we write this post we are now in a different section of the Mara so time for a quick update on our few days in the Mara Triangle (MT) before we moved to a different location. The weather has been mixed, heavy cloud with rain on a couple of occasions in the evening, the last day in this area it started to clear and we hope this fair weather continues! We had some fabulous Rhino sightings, Including a female and calf that is being closely followed by a beautiful, yet protective and aggressive male. Twice we have seen them together, interesting given that Black Rhino are normally solitary. Whilst we would love to post a photograph of these guys it feels inappropriate to do so given the issue of poaching and the photo will provide too much indication of their current location.

We managed again to find the two females with the 7 x 3 month old cubs who then stayed in the exact same location for 48 hours. What we are not 100% sure of is whether the two females are in fact part of the Owino pride (satellite pride of the Oloololo pride). Something we are still trying to ascertain, but at present we suspect and remain fairly confident they are from the core of the Oloololo pride. The mothers have been struggling to hunt, in an area of little game at this moment in time, on many occasions refusing the cubs to suckle. However, the cubs still look healthy, although a fraction on the skinny side, and although the females had quite a low weight index and little milk they will no doubt have success soon when a little more game passes through. Confident that opportunities will present themselves to hunt warthog and zebra, from the small herds that are transiting back toward the Serengeti. Given they had not fed for at least 2/3 days the females and cubs were reletively inactive. Frustratingly we heard so many people pulling up to the sighting moaning that lions are lazy!! Far from being lazy they are merely conserving their energy, a strategy that lions will often employ.

Fortunately we again found the 3 adult female lions and 4 cubs who we are reasonably confident are from the paradise pride. They are hunting successfully at night and looking well indeed. It seems there are 3 male cubs and 1 female cub and perhaps the MT is providing a safe haven from the recent marauding males from the Marsh. Contrary to many reports that the 4km males had lost this pride it seems that 'lipstick' is still holding tenure of these particular ladies and offspring. Whilst we did not see him with them during the last sighting we did hear a male roaring nearby on the morning we found them, but sadly we did not get any visual of the male, but suspect that it was 'Lipstick'. We failed to find the other two males who are part of this coalition while in the Mara Triangle.

Other 'big cat' sightings included seeing 'Milima', the female cheetah and her 12-13 month old male cub. She sadly lost some of her cubs (3 we recall) to lion just less than a year ago so it was a huge relief to see she had managed to get one of her cubs this far, fingers crossed she can rear him to independence. We found them sat upon a murran pit, sweltering in the heat of the mid day sun, both resting but continually looking around for prey to hunt. A small group of Zebra passed by, Milima initially went into hunting mode but then soon realising that these Zebra were all far to big to even consider predating. They both returned to their slumber and we left them to return to camp as we had a few vehicle chores to complete!

The not so good news is that a male lion has been killed in the MT, we were headed to the Narok portion of the reserve, at this point having reached north at a place called look out hill. As we reached this point we received a text from a contact in the MT advising a male lion had been found in the MT with injuries sustained from a suspected lion fight and whether we wanted to try and ID. Whilst we had crossed through the gate already we were keen to see if we did recognise this male we made an about turn and met with our ranger friend back at the southern gate who took us directly to his location. By the time we arrived the male (circa 5 years old)- had managed to make his way a shirt distance into a shady water filled lugga. Ranger Bett showed us a video and some images of when he was found earlier that morning. It was a terribly sad sight indeed, blood pouring from what looked to be a puncture wound to the top right of his skull and unable to walk properly, almost falling over with every step and completely disorientated. Clearly the injury had caused serious damage to his brain/nervous system. Always a sad sight to see a majestic male in such a fragile state. We could see him in the bushes, the bleeding having subsided by this time, but clearly by the way he tried to occasionally reposition himself he was in a great deal of pain. We all suspected he would not make it, although lions are resiliant and can fight back from the most terrible injuries this seemed unlikely in this case given there looked to be such bad damage to his central nervous system. What was a little odd was that there were signs of no other injuries, ordinarily in a lion fight other claw marks, bite marks and especially attempted bites to the spine etc would be expected to be visible, but not on this male. Even more interesting were two other males nearby, one younger than the other. One was mating with an adult female while the other lay around 150 metres away. Both in very close proximity to the injured male. Both males had no injuries either and had the males been fighting with these two you would have expected some sign of a fight, all that could be seen on the mating male was a small, but not so recent wound to his rear. So whilst the wound on the head of the injured male resemblembed a large canine bite it seemed a little odd to see no other signs of a lion fight. Given his head injury was so severe you would have also expected this to have been a fight to the death once this male would have been immobilised with such a deep puncture wound, especially as the other males were still within 250 metres of the injured male. We therefore believed that the three were likely from the same coalition, it was unlikely that such a bad injury would have also been caused by males fighting over mating rights, again more signs of fighting would have been visible. So it was a little strange indeed to see no other injuries. The other theory, is that if it was not caused by a fight he was possibly trying to hunt and had been gored by a wildebeest horn. However, the wound looked to small to be caused by such and we could therefore only assume it was caused by a canine bite. Perhaps caused by another male who was chased away by the other two before the fight continued.

After a little time and being able to observe him from a position and distance that did not disturb him we left him. With a heavy heart we embarked back on the journey to the Narok side, knowing he was likely to perish and sadly the next day we heard news to confirm this. He was indeed alive the next morning as per information from Ranger Betts, but later that afternoon we heard that he was attacked by what looked like buffalo, who had gored him in the stomach and must have happened just a few hours after the update. A sad sight to see the fall of what was once a beautiful male, the only peace being sought in the fact it was of natural consequence and that instead of suffering from starvation and lying in great pain for days his end was brought sooner rather than later. He was a male we did not recognise, and nor had we seen or had ID files for the other two males nearby. We indeed wandered if they were new males to the purrangat pride.

This brings to a close our last few days in the Mara Triangle, where we will return at the end of the trip for a few more days, updates coming soon from our first few days in the Northern/central section of the Masai Mara, including more cute lion cubs!

Fighting stallions

Milima & son
Oloololo [possible Owino satellite] female & cubs
Injured male in the lugga
Puncture wound on injured male (photo credit: Ranger Alfred Bett)



Thursday, 10 October 2013

Recce to the border and Serval kittens!!!

On the morning of the 8th we took a drive around the Mugoro pride territory to look for the mugoro females and to hopefully find out which males were holding tenure of this pride, we had heard stories that the 4km boys had returned but at the same time news that the Olooloolo males were in situ here. So slightly confusing! However, despite looking in all of their favourite haunts we were unsuccessful, not so suprising as these females often go AWOL for a number of days at a time. So after ceasing this mission we decided to trundle toward the Tanzanian border where the game was more prolific and in the hope of maybe finding cheetah.

Very few game vehicles seem to travel to this area so we had the place to ourselves as we cruised along the border posts with a clear view into Tanzania. There was plenty of prey species for cheetah but little sign of them. Many of the wildebeest herds that we had seen the day prior had moved further south with just a few small herds remaining. We continued on our journey toward the area held by the 'border/[Oldonya Nasipa?]pride. A pride held by three males, two of which we photographed last year. It was then that we met along the road one of our good friends, ranger Alfred Betts, who works on the anti harrasment/anti poaching team. After having a general catch up we then got onto the serious business of lions!, mentioning that we were on the look out to see if the three males were in the area still. Alfred happened to mention that morning he had seen a male in the direction we were headed and very kindly showed us where.

Soon enough we came across the male, although the sun was gaining in intensity he was still in the open and with enough of an opportunity to check against our ID files and get some nice shots. Sure enough it was one of the border males we had photographed the year prior and given he was in a similar area we could only assume he and his pride mates still held this territory. He did however look a little lean in weight and had perhaps been on his territorial rounds for a few days as he certainly had not fed on anything substantial in the last 3/4 days. He now had the most impressive mane, not particularly dark but with huge coverage, he certainly was the most majestic and beautiful male. Soon the sun was just too hot for him to bare so sensibly he took shade under the tree and this signalled time for us to leave.

The afternoon of the 8th was very cloudy, terrible for photography but on the upside providing better potential for increased animal behaviour. However, despite this it was a quiet afternoon, that frustratingly culminated in finding the same three Cheetah we had seen the day prior. We say frustrating as it was literally after sunset and almost dark. However, although on the verge of darkness it was enough to make out that it was 3 young males, speaking to the rangers at the sighting they had mentioned one of the males had been car hopping which was interesting as very rarely have cheetahs on the MT side been seen to do this. We suspected these males could perhaps been Shingo's boys or maybe even Amani's, but without fully checking there were a number of suspects who these could have been but it seemed they may well have originated from the Narok side. They were highly mobile but sadly it was just too late to follow as the time was fast approaching 7pm, when we needed to be back in camp.

This brings us to the morning of the 9th, and what was a great morning it was. Firstly we finally found who we believed to be an Olooloolo male (TBC!!) not too far from the gate, interestingly he was with another male, who could not have been much more than 3-4 years old. The younger of the males, yet huge in bulk was highly mobile, scent marking and roaring frequently, while the other male followed him. However, struggling a little to keep up given he had quite some limp. It was a little confusing exactly who this younger male was. He was indeed behaving like a territorial male but quite a difference in age to the other male. Given the Olooloolo males (sons of Romeo and Claude) only took over in Early 2011 the maths did not add up to even suggest they were the offspring of the males (by now he would have technically have been ousted from the pride also) It did all seem rather odd, but perhaps this male was sired from the previous males and gained acceptance by the new males. Unusual but not impossible to consider. Speaking to the rangers later on at the gate they said this male was very often with the other male and now two of the other Olooloolo males were rarely with the pride these days and instead spending most of the time with the Owino/Sausage pride. Talking to several different people there were mixed stories regarding the relationship of the males.

With a bizarre but very lucky twist of fate we had a lovely signting of a serval mum and two kittens after seeing the two males. I had asked Andy to stop the vehicle as I wanted to check what initially looked like a lion under a tree in the far distance, it turned out I was totally wrong and it was a 'log lion'! However, as we had stopped something much nearer suddenly caught my eye close to a large bush and in the long grass, immediately I could see it was a serval kitten bounding around, then mum appeared and then another kitten! Awesome!!! They were so unbelievably cute!! They pounced and played in the grass, it was amazing to watch and the first time we had seen serval babies. Then fortunately they both bounded toward a dead tree and sprang up it with amazing agility. It was again one of those moments when lens caps and tele converters were flying around inside the car! We knew we had limited time to get some shots before they would descend again, it was some way off but we still captured a couple of nice images. The cutest little cats ever! Sure enough they stayed up the tree only a short time before mum brought them to order and back onto the ground. They moved into another area of dense coverage and as mum went off hunting nearby they frolicked about, occasionally seeing tails flying and bodies flying into the air. Not that long after we saw the mother serval trotting back with a catch, with what looked like a large rodent. She called them across and they bounded after her and then we lost sight of them, no doubt enjoying some of the feast mum had procured. At this point we this left them to their meal as supper would not doubt be followed by a rest!

Just a km or so further up the track we then came across more lions, more members of the Olooloolo pride, flat out under the protection of an acacia and nearby an adult female who was lactacting, she moved across the plains after looking as if she was trying hunt. She moved into a culvert and here we assumed there must be cubs. Later that afternoon we returned and indeed found the female again having been joined by another with 7 x gorgeous 3 month old cubs. Sadly there were quite a few vehicles all vying for a photographic opportunity yet they were in such long grass that gaining any images was going to be nigh on impossible. So we decided to leave the cubs to it and hopefully we would find them again before we left the Mara triangle. The next day we planned to move to the central part of the Mara Triangle and here we hoped to spend a little more time looking for the Mugoro pride as well as continuing to recce more of the area and of course looking for more cats!

Border male

Oloololo male
Male companion to above
Cute serval kittens