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  1. 41 likes
    Let’s get straight to the main point here. Bibi vs the Invaders was of course a “no contest”. “Right then. We’ll have no more of this invading. Naughty, naughty boys.” Note for Kenyans: Yes, we know ‘bibi’ means “wife” in Swahili but it is also “grandmother” in some areas of Tanzania and it is difficult to drop its use, even though using it in Kenya would have created all kinds of misunderstandings – like was my wife our adopted daughter or was I a bigamist with two wives (something that would not have raised an eyebrow in much of Samburu County)? One funny thing our guide Zarek told me was that he had assumed in past reports that Bibi was my wife, making Bibi’s comments and adventures hers, and creating a very confusing narrative! So I will probably more frequently use Mum or Mama this time around, with Bibi saved for “Bibi-like events”. We discussed the option of using the proper Swahili word “Nyanya”, but it also means “tomato” so that seemed likely to create even more misunderstandings, given that she was not grandmother to anyone on this trip. We stuck with “Mama” when discussing her with staff and guides and being a junior was just fine with my wife, who had a shocking “first” experience when she revealed her age to one of our young Samburu moran hosts at Sabache Camp. “How old are you?” “47” (Surprised) “Oh… Mama!” Actually the young moran nearly had a nasty experience too, but my wife was too shocked to get the slapping reflex going for days afterwards. Itinerary June 17 Boulevard Hotel, Nairobi (unscheduled) June18-19 Fishing Lodge, Aberdares National Park June 20-22 Sabache Camp, Namunyak Conservancy, Samburu County June 23-26 Saruni Samburu, Kalama Conservancy, Samburu County June 27- July 1 Kicheche Bush Camp, Olare Motorogi Conservancy July 2 Day room at Ololo Safari Lodge, Nairobi National Park So, a real Kenyan conservancy safari, without forgetting to pay our respects to the Daddy of them all, the Kenya Wildlife Service. Spending another small fortune may as well be virtuous. Of course the amount of love given to the NRT conservancies and the Samburu in particular was based on decisions made prior to the escalation of the Laikipia land invasions by the Samburu, and I probably wouldn’t have had quite the same itinerary if I had booked in May 2017. However, I checked out the security situation as thoroughly as I could and decided there was no reason to change things up, especially as Mum hadn’t read about the armed robbery in Samburu National Reserve and carelessly assumed that her son and daughter-in-law would never go anywhere that wasn’t completely safe anyway. And it did seem completely safe. While you can never say more than “seem” both Sabache and Saruni have good security and intelligence networks (although Saruni may need to review their protocols as the genet breached them a number of times) and our experience was very positive. The first 6 nights was a road safari with Zarek Cockar and team. The last 9 nights were genteel fly-in safari, coordinated by Chameleon Tours. The parts were knitted together with care by Chalo Africa. Main characters pault - Your narrator and most careful planner. What could go wrong? Mrs pault aka Mrs K aka wife - The only person I know who cried when arriving at a camp Bibi aka Mama aka Mrs. Tomato - The one and only Bibi, Queen of Adventure Zarek Cockar - A fine guide and a very good man to have an adventure with, but would he be able to answer all of Bibi’s questions? Job the moran - Driver and assistant guide for Zarek and occasional Samburu warrior Vincent - Our excellent cook brought by Zarek to Fishing Lodge Lepayon Lekotip & James Leitore - Our guide and spotter at Saruni Samburu - a great team but could they find the proverbial needle in a bone-dry haystack? Nelson Kasoe - Our guide at Kicheche Bush Camp – a recurring character in our adventures, and no bit player either. Could he do it again? I don’t think you’ll find this one as dull as the last one, although of course I would never expect to please everyone. Some highlights - with some surprises saved to make sure you don’t skip the full report Servals (yes, there is an s or two) Singing wells Bibi vs the camels Sleeping on top of Mt. Ololokwe (and getting up there!) I’m a wild dog magnet The fearsome genet that grew to the size of a leopard The Grevy’s megaherd Six hunts - arguably many more but half-hearted ones don’t count Four kills as a result of the hunts (but not always quite what you’d expect - including my most shocking safari moment ever) Zorilla (sorry @Tom Kellie – yes, again) Aardwolf and Striped Hyena? Oe were they one and the same? The beginning of the great rut Of course, as part of the ceasefire deal Bibi struck, my wife does now have to adapt to life as #3 wife of a Samburu elder....... apparently she's doing as well as could be expected.
  2. 39 likes
    We haven't even got started yet, although I must warn people in advance the Mara part of this trip was totally boring. I will have to try to distract you with photos for that part (which might be many weeks away unless I get a move on with my now-stalled photo editing). Sabache Camp, in Namunyak Conservancy was not boring. I became aware of it almost by accident. It is mentioned by the Kenyan Camper twice in his Kenyan travel blog, which I follow, but he used it as a comfortable camping stopover and then for porters to climb Mount Ololokwe. So I was surprised and intrigued to find out by chance encounter on the internet (a led to b led to x sort of things) that they had a tented camp, and some very interesting activities. I contacted them. Chalo Africa contacted them. Zarek contacted them. Expectations were not super-high but it all looked pretty good, and cheap enough that we could relocate to Shaba Sarova or somewhere if it was a disaster zone. It wasn’t and we didn’t relocate. I need to mention that this was all my idea and all my planning. Zarek wasn’t really involved and, unlike in the Aberdares, would need to play things by ear. We didn’t really know how being in the conservancy would play out. This was all known and accepted before. That doesn’t necessarily absolve him from any blame whatsoever - you may blame him as and if you want; but do blame him for the right things. I am really not sure how to tell you about our time at Sabache Camp. I could tell it as a comedy full of pratfalls, cultural misunderstandings with hilarious results, and Bibi’s greatest adventure yet. But I could also tell it as a series of magnificent, unique, authentic and unscripted experiences that may be unmatched in my (admittedly very limited) travels to date. And I honestly wouldn’t need to twist the narrative either way. By simple omission I could easily tell either story. Blow by blow would be a rollercoaster ride that I don’t think I can take myself, never mind take you all on. I am just not sure I have the writing skills necessary for it – I am not sure anybody does. It seems like there is enough material from those few days for a novel. Even if I tell you that you are going to miss the point, I am sure you will still miss the point. I am not even sure I quite get the point. Did we have fun? Did we enjoy it? Would we recommend it? I just cannot answer those questions. Would we do it again? It doesn’t need to be done again and it can’t be done again anyway, because the second time couldn’t be like the first. I certainly won’t forget it though. And when I say “I am really not sure how”, I mean it. I have to think about it some more. At the moment I am filling blank space and leaning towards just telling it in small stories without any links between them – as if it wasn’t all happening at the same place with the same characters. But linking it all together is what I probably do well, so it’d be such an admission of defeat. Maybe Africa sometimes just defeats you. I hope you might have some ideas for me. In the meantime, I am going to show you a few pictures with some captions and then tell you the story of our first and only “game drive”, and see if you think I could fit these things together. Pictures first because (i) we all like pictures and (ii) for sure you would jump to the wrong conclusion (who am I to say it is wrong though?) if I told the story first. You might even switch off “Channel Bibi” and say “That’s not for me.” and miss the point that it is definitely for you. You just might rather do it via Sarara and Serian for example, or on your own. I definitely wouldn’t advise you to take Bibi there. It was once in a lifetime for her. I promise I will add some narrative and information to go with the pictures in due course – just as soon as I work out how! Down in the well Making ugali - and the spoons to eat it with - on top of Mt. Ololokwe Ian and some of his many friends. Dawn from Mt. Ololokwe Highway sundowner Everybody's working The cat and the mouse - iconic Samburu outcrops And this is Bibi Wild - okay, you might be a little disappointed. Now for the story. Zarek might add something to this and it would be fun to hear his side. I am quite sure his story will differ from mine significantly, and both would be true! Ian’s story would be fascinating. See, we have half of Rashomon already? The whole story is a book. Having said that, Zarek certainly shouldn’t feel obliged to add anything - it’s an invitation to a party (non-RSVP) if he’s in the mood, not a request. And the story? Sorry. Soon after arriving at camp we were served a quite late lunch and I think then Zarek arranged that we would go on an evening game drive, in line with my expressed desire. We had to take one of the Samburu staff as a guide – a young moran (warrior) whose “English” name is Ian. Mum and my wife didn’t want to go as there wouldn’t be that much to see we thought. They preferred to hang around in camp (made up of around 8 Meru tents with shower and toilet areas outside) and get a shower and unpack and so on. Then Ian decided to take his younger friend, who didn’t really speak much English but had the most beautiful smile in the world, as an assistant guide. His name may come back to me. This meant I had four guides in the Landcruiser with me!! Overkill or what, but hey let’s see, I thought (and I assume Zarek thought the same). No critter would escape all these eagle eyes anyway! For our game drive we had first, apparently, to head back to the main road, which is maybe 10 minutes drive from camp. There Ian casually instructed Job to head north, but he seemed to be most interested in just talking to me and Zarek. The boys were both very relaxed - in fact it was a bit like they thought we were sitting around a campfire, except a campfire in a Landcruiser looking for wildlife on the new, Chinese-built highway to Ethiopia. I looked at Zarek and if he didn’t actually shrug his shoulders and look quizzical, his eyes did it for him. Four guides but only Ian knew what was going on here. After a little while I think Zarek asked where the wildlife was and Ian interrupted his fireside chat to tell Job to take the next left, which he did. As soon as we turned we saw a small manyatta (Samburu compound) and another moran - but this one older and pretty tough looking - waved at the vehicle to stop and came running over. It seemed like he knew Ian, or knew who Ian was, and they had quite a bit to talk about. There was later some talk about conservancy fees but I am not sure this guy was a ranger. Their talk looked more like friends talking to me, and Ian showing off a bit - being in a shiny big Landcruiser with his posse, who included two mzungu. I thought I read the situation and we were good, but at this point I admit that I discreetly made sure all my camera equipment wasn’t too visible from outside the vehicle – just to be safe. Anyway, there was some pointing and “ay”ing and we all I think assumed this was a hot wildlife tip. Indeed, Ian pointed knowledgably forward and Job followed his instruction again, but after about 150 or so meters we came to a spot on nondescript wasteland that was clearly our target, where Job (presumably under instruction although maybe also knowing bull when he smelt it) turned around and headed back to the road. Four guides and nobody knew what was going on here. Bet this wasn’t in Zarek’s guide exam! At this point (exam question or not) Zarek asked Ian if there was anywhere with actual wildlife since, according to the generally accepted definitions, a game drive usually involved game (defined as “not livestock or chickens) or at least the prospect of it – and this usually involved heading for a specific destination where such sightings were more likely than e.g. on the main road or next to one’s homie’s manyatta. Fortunately, Ian understood exactly what Zarek wanted and said he knew a great place where wildlife came to drink in the evening and he would take us there now. Great – everybody was relieved we were back on track. The mood improved further when we actually saw a few skittish dik diks and some vulturine guineafowl after Ian told us to turn off the road. This was more like it. At some point either we could not drive further or Ian told us we should stop and walk (I think the latter) and so we got out and walked -we were clearly going to walk to this special waterhole. Walking safari is cool too, I thought. However, one moran walked at the front and the other at the back and they talked to each other quite loudly, while also throwing plenty of questions at us others. We were still around the campfire, but now the campfire was walking. It became clear that we weren’t going to see much wildlife on the way but we kind of assumed Ian knew what he was doing now – we believed less and less the further we went but still, there had to be some ending to this, surely? He was a very friendly and seemingly intelligent young man and had been quite attentive, especially to the old mzungu (that would be me). After a decent walk, Ian said the waterhole was ahead. I assumed he meant like 50 -100 meters, but no it was right ahead – there in those rocks. No wildlife – just a small dip in the rock with a foot of stagnant water and a discarded plastic cup at the bottom of it. Ian was obviously pleased to show us this – he knew exactly what we wanted. But he was also not too fussed when we expressed less interest than before we had actually seen it. He’d done his job and if we didn’t want to stick around (building a campfire of course) for a couple of days to see if wildlife came then perhaps we weren’t quite as keen on wildlife as we had made out, and no judgments from Ian on that. So we walked back to the car in a kind of shock and drove back to camp in mostly silence. “We also offer sundowners.” Ian volunteered. “They are much better – game is no good right now. It’s too dry.” We got back to camp and I asked how the women’s showers had been. They looked daggers at me and said they hadn’t had one as the hot water wasn’t working. I went down to ask about this and the reason was very, well “reasonable”. There is no hot water – even though there is a hot water tap. “You could have told us this.” I suggested. “Yes, we should do that.” admitted Ian thoughtfully, as if he now planned to transport back in time and do it. Perhaps he did, and in another universe my wife and mother are not standing naked trying to summon up hot water that does not exist. Ian said they could get hot water in the bucket shower and so I asked someone to fill the bucket shower and he dutifully did so. Unfortunately the holes were too small or clogged and my wife and Mum couldn’t get enough water out to soak a mouse. They gave up in frustration. I had a cold shower and pretended it was actually quite warm and the women were just moaning for the sake of it. We were all snapping at each other a bit – well quite a lot. If Zarek hadn’t already read the signs I would have advised him to get busy with something in his tent. At one point when Mum asked me a question about Namunyak Conservancy and what there was to do, like she was expecting a folder of activities such as the one they used to have at Elsa’s Kopje, I unreasonably snapped “How would I know? What the hell did we hire a guide for? Ask the #&$* guide!” Then, when we were all thoroughly alienated from each other, I told my wife to ask me how the game drive had been. She did and I told her and she cracked up laughing and kept on laughing and we were all happy friends again. I have no idea what Zarek made of this but I am sure he has experienced much worse and hopefully he didn’t even hear most of it – while enjoying his slightly icy shower. There are no pictures of any of this, except the dik-dik. It will be at least the weekend before I get more together I think. Thank you very much for all the kind and encouraging comments so far.
  3. 38 likes
    After two great weeks in Zambia´s Kafue National Park (see report in progress here) @AndMic, our guide @Doug Macdonald and me moved on from Lusaka to Zimbabwe. We had five nights on the flood plains and two more at Kanga Camp to look forward to, and our anticipation was high indeed. Our 2015 trip had been our most exciting safari ever. Walking into close distance of animals like Elephants and Lions had really changed our perceptions of what a safari can be. But it was not only anticipation we felt, also concern. They say you cannot home again, and could a second trip really live up to what we had experienced two years ago? Or would we always compare and think, yes, very nice, but last time ...? Well, come with us, and I let you be the judge of that. We left Lusaka (which is actually closer to the park than Harare) late morning. The border post at Chirundu has a bit of a bad reputation but for us it was a pleasant enough experience. The room is climatized, all officers were friendly and professional (like everywhere in Zimbabwe so for for us), and the whole procedure didn´t last much longer than half an hour. Granted, we didn´t have to check through a car (of course Doug took care of that) but we were pleasantly surprised. Zambia had already been very, very hot but nothing like here. As we approached the park the airstream from the car felt more like a hairdryer, and we knew we were in for some hot times in Mana Pools. The temperature was somewhere between 45° and 50 ° Celsius (as it would be in the coming days). It was actually a relief to drive up the mountain a bit to get our permits. It was almost 15:00 when we finally entered the park, and still had the long gravel road ahead of us. I wanted to use the facilites at the second gate, but quickly retreated when my planned entrance provoked a lot of shrieking and unfriendly hissing - a troop of baboons had made the toilet their home. And shockingly, they did not even adhere to the most basic rules in there - Lady, can´t you read? We arrived at the Flood Plains at about 16:45 and were happy to leave the dusty bonedry hinterland behind us. Here in the vicinity of the mighty Zambezi life abunded, lots of Impalas, Baboons, Elephants everywhere. We did not take pictures since we would have plenty of opportunities for the regulars later but just had to stop for this majestic Kudu: Doug took care of the paperworks at headquarters, while we were happy enough watching our favourites, the Carmines dashing across the sky. A staff member also pointed out a Hyena hiding in a distant bush to us. We moved on to get to camp, it had been a long day, we were hungry, sweaty and tired. Still, we had to do a quick stop at Chisasiko, one of the "mana" permanent pools of the park. Surely some nice birds are there. But - wait, what is that over there? No, not you, grumpy old daggy boy, nicely decorated as you are by Egrets. A big fine male Leopard was playing welcome present for us! We were thrilled! Leopard sightings are not exactly a Mana Pools staple, and this guy was even pretty relaxed. Doug felt that the number of Baboons has been decreasing a bit (maybe because they are on the Dogs´ menu now) and speculated that might prompt the Spotted Cats to become a bit bolder. Did not matter to us why, he was here, all ours (an unshared sighting) and we were grins all over! Big Boy gave us a good ten minutes until he retreated. We celebrated at the river banks. I had so looked forward to stand by the Zambezi again, I think it´s one of the most beautiful places in the world. Everything there is good and peaceful and as it should be. At least it felt that way. It dawned, and the sinking sun was becoming less and less visible through the strong haze. Well, we were overdue in camp anyway, and just took a last look at the Elephants congregating. But never a quiet moment in Mana Pools. "Quick, quick, spill down your beers, Gentlemen, get in, get in, no time to lose!" Why the rush? Yeah, Doug had spotted the Dogs, Mana´s main stars. We were thrilled again to see them! While pretty likely to find them in dry season (Doug says six out of eight visits) they are not a given, and last time we only found them at noon, doing the Lion thing - nothing. This time, even if the light was gone, they were active, probably on their way to hunt. And they had their pups with them. We could not watch them for long, they soon left the road, and it was already way too late to try to follow them, so we finally, finally proceeded to camp. They had actually already started to worry about us there, being so late, but we had no complaints - First 90 minutes of Flood Plains Excitement had not been half-bad. And we thought "Wow, cool, last time we did not even see a Leopard! And only saw the Dogs lying around." Of course, it was a day to be celebrated with Gin Tonic(s).
  4. 38 likes
    Preamble Don't worry - we're heading for the top of the world... patience! One June morning in 2016 my wife and I were having breakfast in the house of my sister’s neighbor in Spain (he was kindly hosting us while we attended the First Communion of my youngest nephew) when she asked “Yesterday, at the party, after they opened the bottle of wine the size of a child, did I invite your Mum to join us in Kenya next year?” “Yes, you did.” I confirmed. And so it was set. A party of three it would be. Fast forward one year of waiting and looking at calendars and we’re waiting even longer – in Bangkok, for a Kenya Airways flight to get out of Guangzhou, where storms had grounded all flights. First it was a four hour delay, then an eight hour delay, and before it got to the ten hour mark they had stopped sending text messages and simply changed the time on the departures board. We’d had 3 hours’ sleep. Meanwhile Bibi was en route to Nairobi, knowing we were delayed but not by how much. Fortunately, Zarek was on Whatsapp with me already, and so we kind of worked out a Plan B and then a Plan C. In the end we had to abandon any idea of driving to the Aberdares that day and Zarek took Mum to the museum and botanic gardens, where I believe he impressively answered nearly all of her questions, and then checked her in to the Boulevard Hotel to have a rest. The last message from Zarek had been “Look for the beard.” and it had been sent after I had switched off my phone in Bangkok, but that didn’t matter as we had met before (even if Zarek didn’t remember it until he saw us) and I knew about the beard anyway – and the height. Safari tip #1: If you don’t want to look short and –ahem – “stocky” in photos on safari with Zarek, get him to take them all and pose with his driver, Job. In fact you may want to ensure that Zarek is bringing Job just for this purpose. You will note me using this technique throughout this report. The Boulevard Hotel is “retro”, “gently run down” or “a bit shabby” depending on your point of view – we went for “retro” and loved the open plan, low-rise design and casual atmosphere. At Eka Hotel last year we had to go through gate security, bomb detection, a metal detector and bag scanner every time we entered and left, and swipe our room cards just to get onto our floors, never mind into the rooms. The security detail was impressive! At the Boulevard security is a guy in a worn uniform napping on the sofa in the lobby (he was literally “caught napping” by my habit of getting up at 5 am on safari but I just smiled and wished him a good morning) and a guy dozing off in reception - although to his credit he was able to appear bright-eyed and open for business at 5.30 am. Neither had given us the requested 5.30 wake-up knock (the phones were out of order) but I am sure the security guard was just about to jump to it when I appeared. Seriously, we liked it very much. Nice gardens too – full of birds (including roosting herons) although the birdsong and your sleep can sometimes be interrupted by the noise of the nearby bypass if you have a room at the front. Of course Bibi had a room at the front and we had the birdsong. The restaurant and bar are decent and reasonably priced too - a place where locals go mostly. Retro African luxury for sure. Good choice Zarek! Of course we were all very, very disappointed that we’d have to cut a night off the Aberdares portion of the trip, but that’s how it goes sometimes (said through gritted teeth). Storms closing airports in China are not something anyone can do much about. A knock-on effect of it though was that we always felt a little bit rushed for the next few days – kind of subconsciously trying to make up for the lost time I guess – and we probably wore Bibi out a bit more than we intended. So we haven’t even got out into the bush yet. Now you too have a little taste of what it’s like to be held up on the edge of a safari – so near but so far. And eventually.......... Okay, so here goes: pack your bags and let me take you for an almost exclusively factual ride through Kenya. I may exaggerate a bit here, tailor a quote an teeny bit there for artistic effect, and even not wholly respect the order in which things happened – although I assure you I will never be far off. But this wasn’t a crime and I am not writing a police report, so who really cares? I certainly won’t invent things, or have random celebrities like Angelina Jolie or Richard Branson turning up during the story just to increase the interest. No, I won’t do that. So... are you coming along? Follow us.....
  5. 36 likes
    Kafue is wild. Kafue is beautiful. Kafue is diverse. Kafue is a birder´s paradise. And Kafue is harsh. Difficult. Uncomfortable. And unwilling to easily reveal its many treasures. We had discussed Kafue with @Doug Macdonald on our last trip to Mana Pools, and his enthusiasm for this rarely visited, huge national park convinced us that we had to see it, and that we wanted to see it "properly". @Atravelynn had had similar talks with Doug and had come to the same conclusion, and so it was a logical thing that we would team up for this again. To our delight @Kitsafari also decided to join up, and so we were a very Safaritalky ensemble since we decided to have Doug along as well as a private guide. This was our itinerary, from Oct 3d/4th to Oct 16th: 1 nt Pioneer Camp, Lusaka (2 nts for Kit) 3 nts Konkamoya Lodge, at the Southern shore of Lake Itezhi Tezhi (about 7 hours from Pioneer) 3 nts Musekese Camp, Northern sector (about five hours from Konkamoya) 3 nts Ntemwa-Busanga Camp (Musekese mobile), Busanga Plains (about four hours from Musekese) 1 nt Musekese Camp, Northern sector 1 nt Pioneer Camp (only Michael and @AndMic) ( @wilddog I hope it´s ok to include this map? If not here´s the link: https://www.expertafrica.com/zambia/kafue-national-park/reference-map)) So let´s gonna find out how it was for us. Not always easy, I will admit that. But in the end, so much worth it.
  6. 35 likes
    Like so many other Safaritalkers before us we spent our first night after arrival at Pioneer Camp. @AndMic and me would also stay there at the end of this trip since we´d move on to Zimbabwe afterwards. https://www.pioneercampzambia.com/ It´s a very good alternative to staying in a hotel in Lusaka. Only about 30 minutes to the international airport (and it would be even quicker if not for that terrible access road), really nice gardens and very reasonable rates (from USD 44,-- pp for the tents up to USD 94,-- for the Chalets). If I only would judge accommodation from our first night I´d say pretty much perfect. Clean, airy, spacious, showers with good water pressure - all super. The experience on our second night was not equally convincing. This stony Chalet was very dark inside, looked like a vault, and what was worse it was not clean at all. There was batshit in the bathroom which in all fairness could have been fresh, but in general it felt like nobody had been inside here for quite a while. I´m not very picky but actually considered requesting a change but then decided against it because we were just too lazy to pack again and move, and it was only one night after all. Food was alright to pretty good, and staff friendly and welcoming. And as mentioned the gardens are really, really lovely. I was quite surprised when I looked up during lunch and saw these (Epauletted?) Fruit Bats staring down on us. I spent a bit of time in the morning to do some birding, and was very happy with what I found. Some of my clicks: Spectacled Weaver Scarlet-Chested Sunbird African Yellow White-Eye Chinspot Batis Village Weaver Blue Waxbill Variable Sunbird Grey-Headed Bushshrike Schalow´s Turaco - I was particularly pleased to find this one. It was great to see Lynn and Doug again, and a real pleasure to meet Kit. She even came to the airport with Doug to be part of the welcome committee, such a nice thing to do. I knew from the get-go that we would get along splendidly, and was right of course. You simply cannot ask for better travel mates than Lynn and Kit, and we are thankful they put up with us. Immigration into Zambia was a fairly smooth process. Actually much quicker than we or Doug had anticipated, and so we were outside the airport 10 minutes before he got there! We had actually wanted to get the "Kaza" visa which grants access to Zimbabwe and Zambia for almost the same price. But we were unable to get them, "no Kaza sorry", we were told, and the officer avoided giving a clear answer to why not. Understandable, since the reason is quite embarrassing - they ran out of stickers and were unable to produce new ones in time. It´s a good thing we knew that in advance, so it did not bother us too much - no point in getting worked up about stuff you cannot change. But had I not known in advance and would have been explained right there I´m sure the poor officer would have received some pretty incredulous What-do-you-mean-no-stickers comments from me.
  7. 35 likes
    The next morning we were up and out before dawn to try and catch the sunrise and those iconic sunrise sillhouette shots. We followed the photography group to a spot where the guides of course knew would give the perfect vantage point. As I started to shoot from the vehicle, Jackson and Gerard encouraged me to get down and lay on the ground--as we now saw that the photography group was doing. The results... Little did we know that this would be just about the only clear sunrise of the trip--nor would we ever get a beautiful sunset. As it turned out, we had an unexpected amount of rain on the trip; fortunately, it only interfered with a couple of drives, but we just never again had any good opportunities for sunrise or sunset photography. After the sunrise, we decided to return to where we'd left Olare the night before. Sure enough, he was back in his tree, and apparently just waking up... a nice stretch... resting... At the same time, Dad was lying in the grass a little further up the river. Soon Olare came down and joined him. Seeing the two together was amazing--even if the grass made for a messy photo. (Update--just checking the Exif I see this photo of the two of them was actually from the evening prior, not the morning. I told you my memory wasn't that good!) Olare then moved to the kill which was now on the ground...or perhaps this was a new kill, I'm not sure. He is a most gorgeous leopard! What eyes! Well, his mom is Fig, after all. Would we see her later? We really hoped so, as I'd heard so much about her and seen lovely photos from several trip reports here. Eventually we had to tear ourselves away to see what else we might find.
  8. 34 likes
    This will be a fairytale. A story about two places. Far between. But connected in the way of wildlife and for some rare sightings. Part one will be a story about Marrick in South Africa and my search for the shy nocturnal animals who is roaming these lands. Was the reputation true? What did I find? Part two is a story about some characters in Okavango delta in the very high season when the flooding make the life easy for many animals. Not all, some of them will have a hard time. My story will tell... This part take place in Khwai Concession. In Marrick I stayed at Marrick lodge. Trevor Datnow and his crew make this to an exceptional place to stay. In Khwai I used WalkBotswanaSafaris and Gareth Flemix as a guide. Wild camping. Very luxury though with an attached toilet and shower built in the back of my tent. Even a proper bed and staff who make excellent food all the way. This was the real deal. I was there for wildlife, not sitting around in a lodge and spend most of the time to find a sunset point for a Gin/Tonic. Such a waste of time for the most perfect conditions for wildlife and photography. I can drink at home and I can hang around in a lodge at home. But I can definitely never ever photographing "African animals" in the sunset at home... WalkBotswanaSafaris fulfilled all my expectations. So let me introduce the stars of the show. These characters is where the most action were. But there will be others as well... First out, Marrick. My most sought after creature here was of course Black footed cat and Aardvark. We found alot of other things as well... African wildcat! I will tell you more day by day in my next posts. I had three nightdrives and one daytrip to Mokala NP. Oh hell... I almost forgot the Meerkats! There are alot of them around Marrick and also Mokala NP. Nice and cute family. Khwai Concession in Botswana is another story. About a Leopard family... The cub is around 3 month old. A Lion family... With cubs in most ranges... A Wild dog family. On the hunt... And 12 days old puppies who sees the sky for the first time in their life. Especially one of them who got lost and a very rough start (and maybe end) of his life... Here he is. A story about very rare sightings... ...and creatures who have some problem with all the water to collect food... ...while some others have more than enough and take full advantage of the pantry. African darter and Dwarf bittern. Now when the stars are introduced. We can start from the beginning in Marrick on day 1. To be continued...
  9. 34 likes
    You'll love the landscapes @twaffle There are some beatiful spots up in the highlands for sure. Looking at the map we had been driving northwest most of the time we were ascending, and we then turned east as we descended, eventually reaching what I think was Wanderi Gate, where Zarek expected to find a road running roughly along the fence line that would take us into the Salient. To Bibi’s disquiet, since Zarek had been ultra-reliable up to this point (obviously the issue with not having enough warm clothes was my fault for not factoring in that she would turn on the central heating if it was cold) there was no road. We were all surprised. There was a set of tyre tracks overgrown with grass, but that was not the kind of road Bibi approved of – especially when both guide and driver were looking quizzically at the map. She was swiftly assured that if that was the road then we would exit the park, drive around and reenter by another gate, although the map was quite clear there was a road somewhere. Unfortunately, the ranger on gate duty had no personal knowledge of a road from here to the Salient. Hmmm. However, she had seen a car coming out of the bush a few days before and so she supposed there must indeed be a road there. Since Zarek and Job had discussed this in Swahili there was really no need to repeat the whole story in English. Of course Mum’s face made this clear, and she was quickly hearing from me, Job and Zarek together that there was definitely a road and of course it was probably a good road and not far anyway, while driving outside the park was really, really far. I think for a few minutes she even believed she had been consulted and was the one who made the final decision to take the shortcut. I know you are shaking your head now, saying to yourself “Well, I wouldn’t have been that reckless.” But you probably would. It was a lovely morning and after following the tyre tracks it did turn into a proper-ish road – the one built to patrol and maintain the fence. There was clearly not going to be any wildlife as the other side of the fence and right up to the fence was cultivated by smallholders. The rural life on the other side of the fence proved a nice distraction which I wish Zarek had rammed home with some long and very distracting stories about the rural Kenyan economy… because the road was getting very, very steep and well, it wasn't what some people in the vehicle would call a road. Take into account the following picture doesn't really do the steepness full justice - especially the bit where the road disappears. The only thing Mum was listening to now was the sound of the engine and the brakes protesting and she started to make comments and stare pointedly through the front window, perhaps suggesting to Job that he really better know what he was doing or she would know and both he and Zarek would be off to bed with no supper. Her grimace tightened more as the gradients rose and the tension in the car rose so high that finally either Zarek or Job or I could stand it no longer and recklessly blurted out “This is the last one I think. It’ll be fine after this.” And (relief) it was. The road was a bit more cross country (at one point Zarek had to briefly get out to make sure we were actually still on it) but it was much less steep. There were nice views at one point. The relief lasted only a short while and then another really steep section plummeted down and just disappeared around a bend, giving no clue as to how steep it might eventually get before we reached the bottom. We stopped. Of course I quickly offered that we could go back, causing some alarm with Job until he realized what I was doing. “No way” said Bibi. It's the part you can't see that is the problem. Of course most of the issue was simply psychological - Job and the vehicle could actually handle the terrain. Problem was that since the terrain was a bit of an unknown it was hard to confidently reassure Mum that it was fine up ahead. That strategy had backfired already. So with almost no prompting Job and Zarek dutifully set off to walk the road down to the bottom and return with news of whether it met Bibi-specifications of road safety. The news was good but since it hadn’t been that far down Zarek made the wise decision (well wise because it turned out there wasn’t an even steeper, 3 km section later) that Job would drive and the rest of us would walk down and remount at the bottom. It was a lovely walk too. When we got to the bottom we found a lovely, rushing mountain stream, a proper bridge and an area that couldn’t have been cleared more nicely as a picnic site if it had been done deliberately (perhaps it was, but it would be a rather odd place for it). So we decided to have lunch there and enjoy the sunshine, gurgling stream and birdsong. The way forward now looked much more respectable and manageable. Looking again at the map (which I should can and upload for you, but dread the job my phone under fluorescent lighting is going to do on it) I can’t really imagine where we were – perhaps Zarek can tell us when he comes upon this report later. Anyway, up the road over the hill and we were in what was recognizable the Salient. Unfortunately, having taken all that time to get there the area was very quiet (or the tiny bit we could see was very quiet and our sightings were few and not very impressive. they're all in the forest, guys - come back this evening. So in the end we cut our Salient visit fairly short and headed back up by the same route we had taken the previous day, seeing little on the way up. The plan was to visit the Chania Falls in the afternoon and then return to the Lodge, but Bibi was feeling it had been a long day and wanted to get back to the Lodge earlier. She had had enough driving. We got back around 3 or so. Zarek, Job and I decided we would go to Chania Falls anyway and make a bit of an evening game drive of it. However, that afternoon a bushbuck and its fawn, the buffalo and a gaggle of red-necked spurfowl were hanging around the Lodge and entertaining us – the male made an appearance too. So in the end we left a bit later than planned but with just enough time still to get to the falls before it started to get too dim for good photos. I took my tripod for this falls visit as I thought this one was one that would benefit from a long exposure, especially if we could get all the way to the bottom. Whenever I pick up my tripod you can be sure something unplanned is going to happen – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but definitely unplanned. The bushbucks had been one instance but there was more to come. Somewhere on the way – not that far into the relatively short journey – Zarek from his viewpoint spied a duiker. And then another serval. Job swiftly braked and we reversed, looking to see if we could find it again. We could – well done Zarek! It was hiding from us behind a log but not very effectively in the end. We waited for quite a long time to see if it would move. Fortunately, as I had to put myself and camera out of the roof too to get an angle through all the trees, branches, bushes and grass I was able to just place the camera on a beanbag, pre-focused and aimed, rather than trying to hold things in position for endless minutes, which I don’t think I could have done. That’s likely the only reason I got a shot of it standing up to depart – and beyond that tree on the left there were no more shots at all. One second, one click. Unfortunately the camera had sunk into the beanbag a bit, as you can see from the framing, but still, well done. However, all my skill and attention and timing was rendered a bit useless because instead of walking off any further the serval sat down, and by rolling the vehicle forward a meter or so we were able to get clear views for a minute or more! The first picture (standing up) is now for the bin as soon as this report is posted! Nobody wants to hear stories about how clever you were in achieving something completely useless. Eventually the serval walked off and we decided to let it be and get on to the falls, even though it was now nearly dusk. We sped there (well, within limits) quickly descended the path to the viewpoint and I set up for my shots in very fast fading light. Three shots and it was time to trot back up the steep path (panting a bit) and try to get as close to Fishing Lodge as possible before dark. Just as the last of the light was fading away Zarek saw another serval! However, we couldn’t find it again and didn’t look too long as we had had our fill with the first. Really a bit of a rushed day and it should have been followed by a more relaxed one, rather than a travel day (and doesn’t travel always take longer than you expect?).
  10. 33 likes
    Since we were having an early dinner to go on a night drive. I wanted to walk around the kopje at sunset one day to take some photographs (some sample results above) my wife wanted to wash her hair and not rush, and Mum was happy to go for a swim and have a nap, we decided skip any organised afternoon activities after the second lion hunt morning. We had dinner at around 7 with our contrite, late-rising travel companion and then sat around waiting for Lepayon and James. They showed up a minute before 8 but our new friend was AWOL and James jogged off to her villa as my wife began a quite loud lecture on punctuality and other matters of good manners that absolutely everybody agreed with (even if she had been wrong - which she wasn't - nobody would have dared contradict her). Anyway, leaving 20 minutes late actually turned out to be a good thing/ bad thing. It was bad because I had not set up my camera for spotlight shooting before we set off – deciding that I could do it in the dark as we drove rather than spending more time. It was good because almost as soon as we left the camp, James picked out a mongoose- big mongoose- strange mongoose – not mongoose- not civet… er… “Oh wow, a zorilla!!!!” I said – this being the first but not last time (okay, there were two in total) on this trip that I identified something before my guides. Turns out neither of the guys had even seen one before and (with the greatest respect to me I am sure) they had to check out their field guide just to make sure. Result of not having changed the ISO yet…… a two headed zorilla, presented only as proof. Well, that was an interesting start, but the rest of the night drive couldn’t live up to such a start, although it was not bad, delivering two genets and three bat-eared foxes of interest. There was a bushbaby too, but it wasn’t worth a picture. This genet tried to avoid us for a minute, but eventually just gave up. I am not going to go into the drive in any detail. We got back quite late, both because we left late and because the guys were working hard and we went out quite a long way. We did take a pass by the bins at the staff quarters in a desperate’ “just in case” attempt to maybe see a honey badger before being dropped right beside our villa as usual (ours was the only one with road access by the way). When we walked inside we found Bibi lying on the sofa in the living room in her underwear. “Thank goodness you’re back” she said. “I’ve been here for 40 minutes. There was a genet in the room.” “Really?” said my wife. “In the room. On no!” “Yes” said Bibi, misinterpreting jealously and disappointment at a missed opportunity for horror and sympathy. “I just froze– like you and the guides have told me to do when confronted by a wild animal. I don’t even know if it is still here or not,” “Look, you were right to stay still, although a genet isn’t going to hurt you. But why didn’t you use the radio to call someone if you were so concerned, or just shout for help?” I asked. “I didn’t dare to put my feet down as I don’t have any shoes on. And I couldn’t call for help because I am in my underwear.” “You didn’t dare to put your feet down? You thought it was going to bite your toes?” I asked “Or worse! Who knows? It was big! I mean what if it had been a leopard? Look at that big gap there. Anything could get in.” So I bravely checked under her bed, in closets and everywhere else a vicious genet could be hiding, and then instructed Mum to not in future lie around in her underwear, just in case she did want to call for help. She protested that it was hot and this is when we learned that a pair of shorts and a singlet were two other items that she had not brought to “save space”. When she was convinced all was clear she went for a shower and our faces could finally make the shapes they had been wanting to make for some time. Of course they were faces of extreme sympathy, guilt and regret, and if anybody rolled on the floor is was only to check for genets under the sofa. To give some context, I should add that the first night at dinner the genet had been wandering around the dining area like he owned the place – seen by everyone (although Mum claimed she had not had her glasses on when confronted with this). In addition, the day before we had ordered coffee and when we later came back from lunch I found the milk spilt and had told everyone this was certainly the genet – a suspicion confirmed by one of the owners himself at dinner that evening. Finally, we had been told upon arrival that the leopard was often resident on the rocks next to our villa, and we should really not be alarmed if we saw him – just stay still and he would go on his way. So, this wasn’t quite out of the blue. And who sits around on their sofa in their underwear apart from Homer Simpson anyway? That night in bed I wondered about Mum’s claim that the genet was big and about past identifications of cheetahs as cougars and wildebeest as bison. But it was such a ridiculous thought I was having that I told myself not to be stupid and went to sleep instead. Next morning we were having no company and were out at 6 am as usual. We found James outside out front door with Lepayon looking at tracks. “Looks like Ugali was here last night.” they said. I still don’t think so. I really don’t, but then when Mum saw Fig the leopard in Olare Motorogi she did say “That’s not a big leopard. That genet was nearly as big as that.”
  11. 33 likes
    Since I accidentally left the next part half done at work I am going to skip forward a bit and tell the story of the climb of Mount Ololokwe (or Ol Donyo Sbabche) which actually happened on out third and last day at Sabache Camp, but it is very much a standalone story, and when it was done doesn't really matter. If you have any kind of interest in kenya you've probably seen pictures of Ololokwe. It's dramatic and a regular stop on helicopter flights. It's one of those places that is so familiar if you watch all the nature documentaries, you instinctively hear David Attenborough's voice when you see it. You may have seen it like this before. This is how I saw it when half way up - very dark! I am not a climber or hiker - never have been although I used to climb and hike quite a bit when young because it was the thing to do growing up in Scotland. I don'd do "because it is there". You may as well answer "because I like inflicting pain on myself, but wish to do so in socially acceptable ways, rather than nailing myself to a cross or something, which is what I really want to do." That I understand, although I have no wish to do the same to myself. I value being pain-free. It is a pleasant state and I have no wish for it to stop. So this was really quite unusual for me and my wife and Mum were intrigued and supportive. They both thought it was probably a really bad pleasure of views vs. pain of ascent equation and would have nothing to do with it. Mum might have tried if it had been flat, but then there wouldn't be the views obviously. Zarek isn't a bit "because it is there" climber either, although he is trying to get fit so he inflicts less pain on himself when he does do long hikes - that is sensible. In fact Ololokwe is a fairly sensible mountain. It is only 2000 meters high and the starting point is at around 1000m, so you are half way there before you start. So I tried not to think that the last time I walked uphill for more than an hour was in Uganda, gorilla trekking. I live at sea level in a city without a single hill - except a couple of little man-made ones. I can walk forever and I will go neither up nor down, except when I use the stairs in the underground stations - which I do because I enjoy the exercise... but that's like 35 seconds tops at a time. This was going to be more. One thing every person who has written about climbing Mount Ololokwe is "set off in the very early morning before it gets too hot." So of course I decide we are going to set off about 2 in the afternoon. Zarek is okay with that (how could he not be having decades on me and being much more outdoorsy than me). The reason was that I wanted to do something else in the morning (which we did) and that I didn;t want to leave Mum alone too long. My goals were (i) shoot the sunset from up there (iii) shoot the dawn from up there (iii) shoot the stars from up there (iv) check out Ruppell's Vultures and other birds of prey flying at eye level. All of this could be achieved by going up in the afternoon and coming back down in the morning. It was so dusty in the area, so dry, that I had actually developed a cough and some allergic symptoms. Basically my lungs and tubes were full of dust and I was breathing through my mouth at ground level. I also had a good walk (and jog to get ahead and prepare to take photos) in the morning when Mum amd wife had ridden camels (oh yes, she did) and noticed I was panting more than I should have been. However, I was sure I would be okay. We set off around 2.30 pm. Zarek and I had small packs - he with a sleeping mat, water and other stuff (mainly for me, bless him!) and me with camera gear, including tripod and head of course. Ian was supposed to stay in camp as he was the only one except the cook who was able to speak English well enough to get things done, but he really wanted to come and so he did so, tigether with another moran, Robert. This left the women with Job, who was having stomach problems and not really much use - but at least he was there. Otherwise, it was hoped nothing would go wrong as there was nobody we would trust to do their job left, except the cook. Fingers crossed, eh? Ian seemd to quite like the mzungu mzee (I am really not old but try telling that to a 20 year old Samburu) and the hairy man with the wild beard - Zarek could not dissuade him. We followed elephant paths up the mountain, but people go up most weeks so there was a clearish track and we rarely had to walk through bushes or anything. I needed a staff to get up. Zarek did it without but he has much longer (and younger) legs than me. I would not have made it without the staff - or at least would have fallen multiple times. The young guys did it with bags in their hands, but they do not count. The first 100 meters up was fine. It was steep but the track wasn't too bad and nowhere was it so steep that my balance issues would put myself and others in real danger - I just had to be sensible. After that it and I got progressively worse. I was panting for air, overheating (it was bloody hot of course) and my heart was beating at an alarming rate. About 30 minutes in we stopped for a rest and I thought "How humiliating. I am not going to make this. We will be back in camp by 5. It didn't get any better over the next hour. It got to the point where I was monitoring my heartbeat and when it got alarmingly fast we stopped until it returned to a normal, distressed rate. Overheating was no longer a measure- I was permanently overheated. Zarek was probably a bit worried as getting a body down from the mountain and the subsequent paperwork would be an almighty pain in the ass. Ian and Robert kindly took pity on the poor, decrepit old man and carried my backpack, together with the bags they had already. They also cheered me up with stories of how the British soldiers ran up in 15 minutes (actually on reflection I do not believe this but my mind was too wasted to work out the degree of probability at the time). Ian said he could do it in an hour if he ran. I also doubt this but it is more feasible. Can you guess which one is me? Fortunately, my breathing improved a bit (or got no worse) after the first hour or so and this really helped. I was still running on empty and it was still bloody steep, but one step at a time I was getting there. I just tried to stay in a trance state and wait it out - it had to be over soon! Then my leg started to cramp up. Damn. That must be the top? But the views started to get spectacular every now and again - like wowwwww! - and that gave me a bit more energy, as did some eggs with salt and I think we had a boiled sweet or something and some fruit juice. And about 5.15 or so we came up onto a relatively flat sort of plateau. We were there - although with the bad news that we still had to walk to the other side of the (table top) mountain to get to our camp site. Why couldn't we just camp there, I wondered, but realised when we stopped for our final rest that there were no views and I would have to get to the other side for the photos I had come for. The views!! And we're not even on top yet. About 10kgs of gear wrapped up in a sheet - no problem for Robert. So I limped on behind our guides, using my staff to take the weight off the bad leg and hoping the cramp wouldn;t become unbearably painful before we arrived at camp - although to be fair, it hadn't really been getting any worse. Up on the top is another world. It is a completely different environment - much greener than below with lots of big trees and some pretty unique looking plants that Zarek was photographing, but I honestly wasn't very interested in right at that moment. It's beautiful. Zarek still fit enough for photos and enthusiasm for the flora. But it was even dry up there - reltaively. We met a moran up there on his own getting water from a well, and it was nearly dry. Ian filled up a couple of water bottles with water for cooking. When we returned the next morningn the well was completely dry - although Ian told us the water would see back in by the next day. We passed the cave where the Samburu sleep and celebrate when they visit their saced mountain, but I was not in the mood for detours - otherwise we would have to had go for a look for sure - and then entered refreshingly cool forest, although it was gettiing close to 6 now so much cooler anyway and the altitude helped as well. It was clear that I was going to make it and in fact without the climbing I had improved quite a lot. We reached a clearing in the trees that Robert and Ian said would be our camp site and everybody sat down to get their breath. But not for long, because it would be dark soon and we had to go and see the view. Unfortunately that involved walking up a long sloping rock, but I gritted my teeth and was rewarded with views that were just as good as expected, with a view as far as the atmospheric dust would let you see and Ruppel's vultures flying below us, around us and occasionally above us. No problem!! Even carrying my own gear now. As the sun set it quickly became very cold and the strong wind was threatening to blow me off my still wobbly legs, so we didn't stay up there too long, but returned to camp. On the way I tried to select a couple of spots that would be good for shooting the stars later, after dinner. Back at camp Ian had set quite a lot up and Robert helped him complete the job and get a fire started. They had even brought two tents, which turned iut to be good as it was now really quite cold. One of them appeared to be for a child though and when Zarek asked which I wanted I nearly casually took the big one, but then imagined what position Zarek would have to sleep in, and said I'd take the little one. It was the right decision, although it didn't do any favours to my cramp. No, I just couldn't do it..... doesn't fit. The guys had forgotten the rice, so we had the chicked and boiled eggs that we hadn't eaten on the way up and we were really too tired to be hungry so it was actually enough. Anyway, later in the evening they made ugali for themselves, giggling like boys on a camp out, and we ate some of that fresh from the pot with milk added - just like porridge back home in my youth. It was very nice, but of course much too filling to eat much. We talked for quite a while (well I mostly listened as I was still not really recovered, but I talked some too). Robert claimed to be 17 but as you can see he is a very mature 17 and he told us he might not be 17. His ID card listed him as 28, but he said that was because his father just made up a year when he registered his birth. By questioning him about school, Zarek worked out he was probably about 24, which seemed about right, but Robert really wasn't bothered. The conversation was interesting, even though I am sure some of it was made up. Robert was particularly talkative - in fact we couldn't get him to shut up. At one point in the evening I went to set up my equipment for the star shots. Zarek had taken me out to look and the sky was really clear apart from some very thin cloud. While talking stars with Zarek I mentioned that I hoped that thin cloud would disperse or move as otherwise it was ideal. And I'd get my phone app to check where the milky way was. "That thin cloud is the milky way." Zarek informed me. Well, problem solved then! Except when I assembled my tripod and ballhead and camera with 28/2 lens I found that I had nothing to join them together with. I had somehow left the camera plate to attach the camera to the ballhead back down below. Of all the most stupid things. I had three different plates. Any of them would have done. I had NONE. I didn't have any other means of support and although I thought about just putting my camera on the ground, that wasn't what I had in mind. Zarek suggested I not mention this to Ian and Robert, who had carted my tripod and head all the way up for me. I thought that was a good idea and returned to the campfire telling them how wonderful the stars had been and omitting the rest. I slept surprisingly well considering the tent was a foot or two shorter than me and it was really cold. In the morning we made coffee on the last of the fire and then set off to watch the dawn, which was spectacular, although the amount of dust in the air down below meant the view wasn't very clear. The brids were out in force too and although the light wasn't right and the strong wind meant they were hurtling through the air, we both had fun trying to get some shots of them. Almost zero hits by the standardsi was looking for, but some of the offbeat shots kind of worked. Better light and it would have been perfect. The trek back down was pretty tiring too but much easier than coming up. Zarek's knee went though, so he did well to get down and we were both hobbling and aching when we arrived back at camp at around 9. Investigating a hole on the way down. And remember the crossed fingers? There had been no water the night before. Ian went and turned it on as soon as he heard this (I kid you not - someone had forgotten to turn the pump on, and then maybe someone had decided they had water because they still had a full bucket - remember the bucket?). So, once again I had a nice shower while Bibi seethed. And yes, climbing in the morning is to be preferred.
  12. 33 likes
    Well that should have been a question mark in the title, but there's no way to change it oh well! As I've done in prior trip reports, I'll be posting highlights and impressions and a few special sightings at each location, but not always day-by-day--I don't keep a journal, and my memory isn't that great! Porini Lion Camp, Olare Motorogi Conservancy On arrival at Porini Lion we were met by Jackson, who was to be our guide, and Gerard, our spotter. But in actuality, they both seemed to do equal spotting work and were equally skilled and fun to be with. We were also really thrilled to discover that even though we'd not booked (nor paid for) a private vehicle, we would have one to ourselves for our entire stay! The reason being that there was a large photography group who were using three other vehicles, and just one other couple who had booked a private vehicle. On our last day, that couple left, but another family of five came, and so they had their own vehicle as well. What incredible luck! I won't go into detail about the camp as I have already done a camp review in the "Reviews" section. Suffice to say that it was very comfortable, with good food--very home-style, simple buffet cooking, with some really outstanding dishes--especially the ribs! Our tent was #3 which looked out into the riverbed. For some reason on this trip I forgot to take photos of most of the accommodations. But there was plenty of wildlife right around the camp and in fact, the river below our tent was active with Zebra and Wildebeest most days. After a wonderful lunch and a rest we headed out for our first afternoon game drive. Well, we didn't get far...and I mean not five minutes from camp...when we spotted this: He was perched in a tree on the other side of the riverbed right above camp. We spent a while watching him, until he descended the tree and went into the forest. And then shortly thereafter...he came back...or did he? Wait! This is NOT the same cat! Check out that split ear in cat #1--this guy didn't have it. Sure enough, we were told this is Olare...son of the famous Fig! The other leopard (who had no known name) was apparently his father. So we spent most of our evening drive with Olare...even if it was hardly a "drive" as we had barely left camp! Olare was climbing in and around in the branches, making photography difficult--the vegetation was thick and the light was low. Soon we realized that there was a kill in this tree (actually, I'm pretty sure Gerard and Jackson knew this all along, and knew the leopard would come back to this tree for the kill. After awhile the light was getting very low and it seemed the leopards had settled in for the night, we decided to move on--with some assurances that the leopards would likely still be in the same area in the morning. We started to drive further away from camp and soon came upon a lioness with a cub. But we didn't stay with her long, because somehow...and I'm not even sure how, because it all happened so fast...Jackson said "there's a lion on the hunt"!!! And so we quickly found ourselves in the midst of a kill situation! The light was terrible and this was the best I could get... I was rather unprepared and it being our very first night I didn't have my settings down, this is ISO 20,000 (yes that's right, no extra zero by mistake.) It all happened so fast and before I could even see what was going on, it was over. But it was successful! At this point we were close enough so that I could switch to my faster lens and down to ISO 8000...but the light was almost non-existent by this time. WELL! What a way to end our very first game drive in Kenya! Two leopards and a lion kill before we even went to sleep! Could it only go downhill from here? We'll see tomorrow....
  13. 32 likes
    “It is Hard Work” Now that isn’t a comment on our journey through the Congo, but a quote that came up more than once from our wonderful driver/guide Martin, and sadly pretty much sums up the life of the average Congolese. On a much happier note for us, we have just come back from one of the most amazing trips to Africa we have ever been on. First, the trip itinerary. 11/9 - Day flight to Kigali, Rwanda, with KLM from Manchester via Amsterdam. Overnight in the Hotel des Mille Collines. 12/9 - Road journey to the border with DRC at Cyangugu via Nyungwe Forest. 3 nts in Orchids Safari Club hotel in Bukavu. 13/9 - Gorilla trek in Kahuzi-Biega NP. 14/9 - Gorilla trek in Kahuzi-Biega NP. 15/9 - Boat transfer on Lake Kivu to Goma, road journey to Virunga NP. 3 nts Bukima Camp 16/9 - Gorilla trek in Virunga NP. 17/9 - Gorilla trek in Virunga NP. 18/9 - Gorilla trek in Virunga NP. Road transfer to Mikeno Lodge, stay for 2 nts 19/9 - Free day at Mikeno Lodge 20/9 - Road journey back to Goma, cross border and onward to Kigali. Overnight flight back to Manchester with KLM. Steppes Travel based in the UK, arranged this trip for us. They have plenty of experience in arranging travel to the more off the beaten track destinations and as we had used them for several holidays in the past we had every confidence in them. In the DRC they use a trusted and very reliable ground agent and at no point during the holiday did we feel unsafe in any way whatsoever. We particularly wanted to see the Eastern Lowland Gorillas. They can only be found in Eastern DRC and the only habituated groups accessible to tourists are in Kahuzi-Biega NP. It then made sense to combine this with a visit to Virunga NP to see the Mountain Gorillas. We had previously trekked Mountain Gorillas back in 2006 in both Rwanda and Uganda so it would be nice to finally see them in the Congo as well. I will round off this intro with pictures of 2 Silverback gorillas. The first is the Eastern Lowland and the second, the Mountain Gorilla. See the differences? More on that and the different methods of habituation later in the report. Eastern Lowland Gorilla - Bonane, Bonane Group, Kahuzi-Biega NP Mountain Gorilla Silverback - Humba group, Virunga NP
  14. 32 likes
    Hi all. Just returned from Mana Pools, having spent 6 days walking with the wildlife in this beautiful part of Zimbabwe. I traveled with WildEye, a Johannesburg based outfit known for their photography specific tours, led by professional photographers. My hope was to find myself with like minded people hoping to enjoy the park at a slower, more patient pace. For me, Mana Pools posed a bit of a conundrum. It's not exactly where you'd go to maximize photographic opportunities. There are other parks if you're simply interested in photographing as much as possible. It was the idea of walking on foot with the wildlife and really feeling connected to the landscape that enticed me to visit Mana Pools. I felt that if I were to really embrace the experience, not only would it be especially rewarding in a way previous safaris weren't, but I would also find unique photographic opportunities as a result. These days I feel if I relax and go with the flow, bush karma will deliver me great sightings and fun photos. I camped with Mwinilunga Safaris, owned by Tess and Dave. I know others here have stayed with them so I'll just add to the record. Dave and Tess are two of the most wonderful, charming people you could hope to meet. We didn't want for anything, and were constantly amazed with the service they were able to produce in the bush. The camp is simple, comfortable, and beautifully situated on the Zambezi. Every day and night we were visited by elephant, hippos, etc. It was truly a wild experience. I recommend this camp unreservedly. Marlon Du Toit was the WildEye guide and photographer that led this tour. He's young, energetic, and passionate about the wildlife. He's also an incredible photographer and his perspective and tips led to photographic opportunities that I don't think I would have had otherwise. Mana Pools is of course famous for a few things. First, I was really hoping to spend time with wild dogs. I had never seen them before and this was a huge draw for me to Mana Pools. Second, I was excited to photograph elephants in the woodlands. I find photographing elephants quite difficult, because I think there's often no sense of scale. This is especially true out on the plains of the Serengeti, for example. I loved the idea of photographing the elephants in a different context. Of course, meeting Boswell, one of Africa's most famous elephants, and perhaps seeing him stand up was on my wishlist as well. On to the photos. Walking (and sitting) with wild dogs was an incredible experience. As they grew comfortable, we were able to approach very closely and spent hours with them. I'm not sure who was tracking who in this photo! I loved how the great trees of Mana dwarfed these giants. You've got to be on your guard more with buffalo than just about any other animal when on foot. Lions mock charge 90% of the time so if you can hold your nerve you're fine. If a buffalo comes for you, however, you better find your way up the nearest tree. On our last full day, we found him. The famous Boswell. And here he is performing his most famous party trick. And finally, this is Boswell and family drinking from the Zambezi. I loved Mana Pools, despite the stifling heat. I must say, I don't know how I'll be able to get back into a Land Cruiser on my next safari after having walked in Mana Pools. As always, feel free to let me know if you have any questions about the park, the experience, or the photos.
  15. 32 likes
    Bale Mountains The title is compliments of the alliteratively talented @AndMic. Heading above the clouds last March along with @AndMic were @Michael-ibk and myself. We settled on the travel company, Ethiopian Quadrants, after some independent research and reaching out to other Safaritalk members who have gone to Ethiopia and have posted some great reports here. A key factor in choosing Ethiopian Quadrants was securing the guide @Nature Traveler had, Abiy Dagne. Red Jackal was also a company we considered and they provided timely, informative, and professional information. Traditional meal with injera bread After Ethiopia experienced some security problems in Oct 2016, we were cognizant of safety issues. Our investigations, contacts and especially our visit allayed any concerns. Absolutely nothing, even the least little bit unsettling occurred. As more time passes without incident, as more people heed Lonely Planet’s 2017 “Ten destinations you cannot afford to miss” (Ethiopia’s on the list), and as more accounts of successful travels to Ethiopia are shared, visitors are going to flock to Ethiopia. Geladas in Guassa, led by male Four safety anecdotes: 1) A hotel employee in Addis proudly described to me the beauty, wonder, and security of Ethiopia. He explained that the grass outside the city was so green and soft, it just beckoned you to lie down upon it. And when you did, he explained, “You can fall sound asleep on the grass and not one single animal or person will harm you.” 2) A longtime resident of Ethiopia from the UK explained he had no qualms walking around the city and heading home on foot at night. He added that he would not feel so safe in other African cities. (Or American cities, I might add, from my own experience.) 3) An NGO worker who had been all over Ethiopia for the past 3 years stated: “I could tape money to my naked body and walk the streets any time of day or night and nothing would happen to me.” None of us put that suggestion to the test. 4) At the end of our trip we were a few hours outside of Addis Ababa when we noticed several men approaching the street and waving machetes over their heads. They were making obvious eye contact and gestures toward our vehicle. Alarmed, I asked our guide and driver what was going on. “This is the town where they make knives and they are selling them.” Oh, nothing to fear, just free enterprise at work. Scenery bordering Guassa Ethiopian Endemic--Black-winged Lovebird, Addis Ababa, Ghion Garden ITINERARY, and some notable wildlife MARCH 2017 10 Met upon arrival and transferred to Jupiter International Hotel. Visa upon arrival at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, no hassle. 20 minutes drive to Jupiter Hotel. I had arranged for a morning check-in. Day at rest. Ethiopian Quadrants owner,Tony Hickey, offered to host me for dinner that evening at his restaurant, but I was asleep when the invitation was granted and needed the recuperation time. 11 Depart Addis Ababa to Menz Guassa 7:10 – 7:30 Gentlemen arrived on early flight, drive to Ghion Unity House and Gardens 7:30 – 9:00 Birding at Ghion Unity House in Addis Ababa 9:00 – 11:00 Drive 11:00 –12:00 Birding at ponds/lakes between Addis and Debre Birhan 12:00 – 12:40 Drive to Debre Birhan 12:40 –1:50 Lunch at Eva Restaurant, Debre Birhan 1:50 – 5:30 Drive to Menz Guassa, Guassa Community Lodge Some Notable Endemic Birds Seen in/around Addis: Black-winged Lovebird, Black-headed Siskin, Abbyssinian Long-claw, Blue-winged Goose 12 Menz Guassa, Guassa Community Lodge Mostly walking 13 Menz Guassa, Guassa Community Lodge Mostly walking Some Notable Guassa Wildlife Seen: Wolves, Gelada, Blick’s Grass Rat, Serval, Klipspringer, Mountain/Gray/Common Duiker, Abyssinian Hyrax, Rouget’s Rail, White Collared Pigeons, Abyssinian Long-claw, and other Birds 14 Menz Guassa to Awash National Park 7:00 – 12:40 Drive to Addis, stopping about 15 minutes for Gelada 12:40 – 1:40 Lunch at Road Runner, same owner as Ethiopian Quadrants 1:40 – 4:50 Arrive at Awash Park Gate 4:50 – 6:30 Drive in park, arrive Awash Lodge 15 Awash National Park, Evening at Harar Hyena Den, Awash Lodge Walk and drive during the day 5:30 – 8:30 pm Drive, then walk to Harar Hyena Den 16 Depart Awash Lodge to Ali Deghe Wildlife Reserve, Doho Lodge 6:45 – 9:00 Drive Awash to Ali Deghe Wildlife Reserve, wildlife enroute 9:00 – 10:00 Game drive in Ali Deghe 10:00 –11:00 Drive to Doho Lodge, wildlife enroute 3:30 – 4:30 Drive Doho Lodge to Ali Deghe Wildlife Reserve, wildlife enroute 4:30 – 6:30 Game Drive in Ali Deghe Wildlife Reserve 6:30 – 7:30 pm Drive Ali Deghe to Doho Lodge, wildlife asleep 10:00 pm Night walk for Defassa Waterbuck Some Notable Awash & Ali Deghe Wildlife Seen: Soemmerring's Gazelle, Gerenuk, Grivet Monkey, Abyssinian Hare, Beisa Oryx, Hamadryas Baboon, Olive Baboon, Bat-eared Fox, Hyena, Salt’s Dik dik, Crocs, Somali Ostrich, Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, Arabian Bustard 17 Depart Doho Lodge for Lake Langano, Hara Lodge 6:30 – 7:30 Bird walk around lodge 8:45 – 2:10 Drive Doho Lodge to town of Ziway, wildlife enroute 2:10 –3:10 Lunch at Bethlehem Restaurant, Ziway 3:15 – 3:30 Tree Hyrax walk and viewing in Ziway 3:30 – 4:30 Drive Ziway to Abijatta- Shalla National Park, wildlife enroute 4:30 – 6:00 Walk in Abijatta- Shalla National Park 6:00 – 7:00 pm Drive to Lake Langano, Hara Lodge 18 Lake Langano, Hara Lodge Walking Some Notable Lake Langano Wildlife Seen: Banded Barbet, Black-winged Lovebird, Yellow-fronted Parrot, Double-toothed Barbet, , Colobus Monkeys, Gambian Sun Squirrel, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Northern Carmine Bee Eater, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, White-cheeked Turacao 19 Drive Lake Langano to Bale Mountain Lodge 8:00 –9:20 Bird walk, Bishangari at Lake Langano 9:20 – 2:30 Drive Lake Langano to Gaysay Grasslands of Bale National Park 2:30 – 2:55 Game drive Gaysay Grasslands 2:55 – 3:15 Drive to Park Headquarters, Dinsho 3:30 – 6:45 pm Game Drive through Sanetti Plateau and reach Bale Mountain Lodge 20, 21, 22, 23 Bale Mountain Lodge Forest walks, drives to Sanetti Plateau, drive to Gaysay Grassland, grassland and owl walk Some Noteable Bale Wildlife Seen: Ethiopian Wolf, Giant/Big-headed Mole Rat, Blick's Grass Rat, Bale Monkey, Starck's Hare, Mountain Nyala, Menelik's Bushbuck, Reedbuck, Colobus Monkey, Abyssinian Catbird, Blue-winged Goose, Lammergeier, Rouget's Rail, Spot-breasted Plover, Thick-billed Raven, Wattled Ibis, White-cheeked Turacao 24 Drive Bale Mountain Lodge to Hawasa, Halile Resort 7:35 –12:15 Depart Bale, mostly game drive 12: 15 – 1:35 Lunch Meeboon Restaurant 1:35 – 6:00 pm Complete drive to Hawassa, Halile Resort 25 Drive Hawassa to Jupiter Hotel, Addis Ababa. Fish Market & Senkelle Sanctuary 7:00 – 7:15 Drive Halile Resort to Fish Market 7:15 – 8:15 At Fish Market 8:15 – 9:50 Drive to Senkelle Sanctuary 9:50 – 11:15 Walk through Senkelle Sanctuary 11:15 – 4:30 pm Arrive Jupiter Hotel 6:00 – 6:15 Drive from Jupiter Hotel to Roadrunner Restaurant for farewell dinner 6:15 – 8:30 Farewell Dinner, joined by Tony Hickey, owner of Ethiopian Quadrants 8:30 – 8:50 Drive from Roadrunner Restaurant to airport Some Notable Fish Market Wildlife Seen: Marabou Storks, Black Crake, Grivits Monkey Some Notable Senkelle Sanctuary Wildlife Seen: Oribi, Swayne’s Hartebeest, Northern Carmine Bee-eater Yellow-billed Ducks, outside of Addis Ababa Me at Awash Falls
  16. 32 likes
    The first night Zarek had been oout and about with a torch - not for long as it was freezing - and noted a fair bit of movement - some identifiable as bushbucks or waterbucks and some less identifiable. The next day we awoke to a fairly busy scene around the lodge as a chilly dawn came. There was a buffalo about 20 - 30 meters away that we had to keep an eye on, waterbucks that we had seen last night had clearly been around the lodge all night, and at least a couple of bushbucks of course. Best of all there were two or more elephants feeding up the hill in front of the lodge. Quite a scene and Zarek and I were enjoying it peacefully when there was suddenly a massive racket from inside the fence enclosing the wood-stoked boiler that supplies the hot water. A waterbuck had gone in there to sleep and, surprised by our appearance outside had tried (unsuccessfully) to leap over the wooden fence to escape. As the buffalo had disappeared while we were working out what the racket was, I decided to retreat to the warmth inside until it got light. Zarek was clearly freezing and keeping me company anyway. After a second coffee and as the light came, I went out again with my camera – keeping an eye open for the reappearance of the now invisible buffalo (so bushy and the grass is so long in places, anything could be there, but probably isn’t). Elpehant in the morning murk. Our plan for the day was to drive down to the Salient and back to Fishing Lodge via a roughly circular route that would take us up before we came down and would give us a view of the alpine vegetation as well as a good overview of the park. Hopefully we’d see some interesting animals along the way, although actually anything short of an elephant could be hiding in the grass by the side of the road (but probably wasn’t) and you wouldn’t see it. We took a packed lunch but Vincent prepared us a very good breakfast at the lodge first. The day got off to a very good start with a fairly distant but very clear view of a serval. We then passed through what I would call the “magical woods” – you may know that I mean a stretch of mossy woodland that is fairly open on the ground and processes the light in a very interesting way. The waterbucj above is near there. I was always hoping for animals in here in sunlight, but didn’t have much luck in the most “magical” areas. A bushbuck on the fringes though…. We passed through moorland where bushbucks, waterbucks and buffaloes could be observed at a distance – miniature specks in a massive landscape; dwarfed even by the grasses and slightly obscured by the lifting fog. A sighting of a reedbuck And before you think "oh he's even suing the wide angle for wildlife, no these are details of the landscape picked out at 400mm! Even the buffaloes could disappear Morning seemed to be the best time to catch wildlife stepping out of the forest to warm up on the road. A waterbuck and a duiker (is it common @michael-ibk,?) both coming out behind our vehicle but spotted by Zarek or me (nearly always Zarek of course) despite the cold and condensation on the windows - he would stand with his head out of the top most of the drive. I don’t know how high we actually got, but we started to see the Giant Lobelia regularly just before we started descending, and we found the fog that had lifted from below some hours before – or rather we found the bottom of the clouds, I suppose. There is very little wildlife up here that is visible, but it is fascinating scenery, changing all the time. The bamboo zone is quite interesting the first time, but you quickly learn it is the most boring zone, where very little is likely to be seen and the bamboo – at least at this time of year – is pretty scrappy, although impressive in a few places. Back into the clouds Augur Buzzard in flight Most of the above is shot in pretty murky light of course - ISO 800 is often as low as you can go and ISO 1600 ++ was usually needed for morning or evening wildlife. Down below the bamboo and the skies cleared, giving us a beautiful day as we reached some of the small mountain lakes – the highest peaks of the Aberdares range in the background. Once here, any wildlife becomes a nice bonus and you can just enjoy the beautiful views. Colours come with the sun. Not always wide-angle for the landscapes though - this is at 300mm. And we'll finish with another heron (Black-headed too unless my prior ID was wrong), this time successful in catching a lizard. We're still only at 11 am here and not yet in the Salient.... the rest of the day to come.
  17. 31 likes
    "Guassa" is not only the name of the place but also the community´s lifeblood: "Guassa" - or Festuca abyssinica - is the Amharic name for the special grass growing here, slightly taller and coarser than ordinary grass. The locals use it as grazing fodder, to thatch cottages, to mix with mud for housebuilding, to make whips and ropes, to make raincoats known as "gesa" and much much more. Not a national park but something unique, the area is managed through a common property resource system by the communities living adjacent to the area. This indigenous management system has been traced back to the 17th century and is one of the oldest conservation management systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. Because Guassa, the grass, is invaluable to the locals they have a good incentive to take care of the place which is of course hugely beneficial to the local wildlife. They are financially supported by the Frankfurt Zoological Society which also tries to assist the communites in practicing sustainable resource management. In part thanks to their work Guassa was gazetted in 2012 as the first community conservation area in Ethiopia. One more of the endemics - the huge Thick-Billed Raven, the largest corvid. Standing guard on the lodge´s roof. Another endemic - the White-Collared Pigeon. The Society also helped in constructing the self-catering lodge here which is the only accomodation for tourists. All revenue goes to the community. The lodge in the background Is this a great place to stay? Well, I will be honest. The rooms are rather damp and extremely basic. No sanitary facilites in the room. The one sink they have outside did not work, so we had no running water at all which was a nuisance. The shower did not work (but it was way too cold to get one anyway.) Let´s really not talk about the toilet. And it´s getting very, very cold up here - Ethiopian Quadrants provided us with warm sleeping bags which was welcome indeed. The eating room was ok. We had our own cook, a local, who prepared a combination of pasta - potato - rice with tomato and sometimes meat. Nothing special but absolutely alright. The evenings were quite cosy, the huge fire really was very pleasant. I did my very best to also warm myself up from inside and "enjoyed" a bottle of "Ethiopian Gin" (some brown extremely strong stuff made from barley) with our driver Bege (who knew he did not have any driving duties the next day) and our local guide. Miraculously I survived without getting sick, just a decent good old hang-over the next day. One evening we were joined by a party of four, two expats living in Addis who had visited their parents to show them the country. A fun meeting, and what they told us about living in Ethiopia and its people was very positive. (This was the guy Lynn mentioned plastering his naked body with money btw). All in all, the lodge is extremely basic - which I do not mind as such, simple can be absolutely alright. Unfortunately I also felt the place is not very well kept (and not very clean). All the facilites (running water, shower, even electric lights) are in place, they just do not work because they are being neglected. A bit of a shame, with only a bit of an effort the lodge could be much nicer. But - who cares! There are Wolves there! And it´s such a unique place, unlike anything else I´ve ever been to, majestic and simple at the same time, silent and powerful, plain and grand. And most important of all - it´s home to the Geladas!
  18. 31 likes
    We stopped for lunch at Debre Birhan and had our first try of the local food! While the toppings were really good we agreed that Injera, a flat-bread with a somewhat spongy texture used both as plate and eating instrument, would need a bit of time to get acquainted to. Pretty weird and sour stuff. Ethiopians love it and eat it with everything, each household has their own recipe. Little did I know at that time that I would definitely not learn to like it but rather hate, hate, hate and detest it and would swear never, ever, absolutely really never ever again to touch this devillish stuff again. But more on that later. We drove up onto the highlands, on steep, winding roads through idyllic villages which seemed a bit out of time, like something from eras long past. In a good way - obviously people here don´t have much, but everything was tidy, and the locals looked content. It was already late afternoon when we finally reached Guassa Plateau. Straight away we found our second endemic - the Abyssinian Longclaw. After settling in at the "lodge" AndMic and me decided to have a look around the place. It was already very cold, and we planned to escape the freezing shadows and enjoy the last shimmers of sun on a hill close by. And enjoyed the golden light Guassa´s long grass was bathing in. But wait - what is that? Surely not a ... YES! A wolf, only 15 minutes after we arrived at the place. Supersuperlucky! Humdidum, we couldn´t believe our luck! While we had hoped for Wolves here we did not really expect it, from everything we´d read we knew that sightings were few and far between. But here it was - right at our feet. We carefully climbed down the hill and tried to approach the Wolf who luckily was busy - it was hunting for rodents. So how shy would it be? Would it allow us to get a bit closer? Well, this one was not very attentive. Completely oblivious to us it was totally fixated on getting a snack for dinner. Jump jump everybody! When suddenly it realized it was not alone, it stared at us indignantly and ran ran ran. Apparently this one is a bit different from the Bale population, the "Northern Ethiopian Wolf" (subspecies Canis simensis simensis), found here at Guassa (about 50), the Simiens (about 100), Mount Guna (probably extinct there) and the Wollo highlands (around 40). Interestingly enough it seems the southern subspecies has a "longer nasal bone". Contrary to that, my impression was that the Wolves at Guassa had a somewhat more elongated snout. The Wolf did not stop until it had reached a safe distance to us. Their population in Guassa seems to go up a bit. Wiki says there are 40, a Gelada researcher told us a recent count had come up with 54. The Golden Jackal (which was recently promoted to Golden "Wolf") is their rival here, and the two animals apparently do not get along too well. Abiy thought it could be beneficial to remove the (least vulnerable) Jackals from the area to ease the tension for the Wolves and ensure their survival. As the light was going down we spotted a second Wolf pretty close. We would not see the Wolves again in Guassa. This was a super-precious sighting we had not even dared dream of, even more special because we saw them on foot. I said to Andrew that Lynn would kill us once we´d tell her of what we had found. But I needn´t have worried, Lynn was right behind us, and even saw one Wolf more than we had. Just as the first Wolf focused on the rodents had not noticed us we hadn´t seen Lynn, transfixated as we were on our canine object of desire.
  19. 31 likes
    The cartographer bug bit. We traversed a small area of this expansive and fascinating country, as shown in red. It was more driving than most African safaris we have done. Thank goodness we had such a pro in Begashaw, or Bega for short. That man could motor! In keeping with the title of the report, that emphasizes “endemics,” the next map is where we saw some of the endemics. It is possible I omitted a bird species or two. Temps and elevations could be a little extreme, so they are noteworthy. And we did see wolves! I believe the count went like this: Guassa = 3* Bale = 3, 2, 12, 2, 6 for a total of 25 in 5 outings. The gentlemen may have spied even more in Bale. * The gentlemen saw 2 wolves in Guassa. I saw #3 while they were getting fantastic photos of #1 jumping off the ground. Collage from Bale At times they even hunted - from Bale
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    I’m going to tempt fate and start a new trip report whilst completing my Mara 2016 report. Preamble ~ My travelling companion Peter emailed me last January “I’ve again booked ten nights at Kaingo & Mwamba. Your welcome to join me especially as I won’t have to pay the single supplement.” And so began planning for this trip. Whilst Peter headed off to the Mara after the 10 nights I decided to stay in the South Luangwa and have a look at the Nsefu sector on the other side of the river and be able to compare two renowned Zambian safari companies. The duration of this safari was 21 days including travel. The itinerary consisted of; 1 night Pioneer Camp (Lusaka) Overnight after 30+ hours travel as we were unable to make the Proflight connection. Shenton Safaris 3 nights Kaingo Camp 5 nights Mwamba Bush Camp 2 nights Kaingo Camp Robin Pope Safaris 5 nights Nsefu Camp I did want to stay longer here but Simon King had booked out the camp for a photographic workshop so I had to find an alternative. As RPS provide a 10% discount for stays of 7 days or more at any of their camps and they do not charge Single Supplement I chose Luangwa River Lodge. 2 nights Luangwa River Lodge. The game viewing was hot and the temperatures even hotter. Approaching sunset on the first evening. Last year the lions were the stars with cameo appearances from the leopards. This year it was the leopards taking centre stage. During the day the birds were suffering in the heat. White-fronted Bee-eater Wire-tailed Swallow Elephant breeding herds enjoyed their daily drink from the river.
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    And what did we have at Musekese, almost in camp? Yes - Lion! You may have heard about the dead hippo here already in @gatoratlarge´s report - he was Satan incarnate! Well, at least that´s what they called him. He was the victor of a bloody, brutal, no holds-barred fight for dominance. Even after his opponent had died he could not stop hacking and biting at him. But victor only for a little while. After a little more than a week Satan succumbed to his many wounds - so the big battle only knew losers after all (as battles often do). Now of course, Satan was a huge chunk of meat to cherish (for those with a robust nose) and two male Lions were making sure nobody would rob them just a parcel of their breakfastlunchdinner. It made walking in camp quite interesting, this was maybe 100 m or so from Kit´s tent. (And while I went over to watch a bit I was quite happy to have my tent on the other side of camp - the odeur was not exactly Eau de Cologne.) For our afternoon activity we took a closer look - and did our best to hold our noses! The stink really was breathtaking - and not in a good way. "Satan" did look quite ghoulish now - fitting. The two Boys (the second would join in later) were pretty new to Musekese, had only arrived on the scene a few weeks ago. The dead hippo was very fortunate therefore because no matter what they would not leave that carcass, and that was a good opportunity to get them used to cars. They had been reacting very nervously before. Sorry, vulture, there´s not enough dead hippo for both of us. It was clear they already had fought some battles. Here´s Big Brother, obviously looking forward to more rotten Hippo delicacy! Doug suggested I could get out of the car to get some eyelevel shots, and as a good soldier always doing what I´m told I happily jumped off while the lion looked the other way and then I crouched down next to the vehicle. We had chosen a different angle by now (because of the stench) and had a little waterarm (not broader than a metre) between us and the lion. Doug said he would feel more secure that way, and in a way I appreciated that "barrier" as well. For quite a while the lion only presented his back to us and did not bother to check what was going on behind him. He finally did - and he did not like this at all. He might have gotten used to cars pretty quickly but obiously did not know what to make of me sitting there. But he decided he did not like this at all and got very agitated. I was just a bit agitated as well now and quickly got back in the car. The lions were a constant presence in camp, we always heard them roaring in the night, sometimes so loud that I was sure they must have been right outside the tent. We´d see them again twice at night but not at daylight.
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    I enjoyed the night drives at Konkamoya very much. I remember we saw lots of Bushbabies (jumping frantically around), Genets, a Civet and of course these guys: Hare taxonomy is way over my head, but apparently what used to be Scrub Hare (Lepus saxatilis) all over Africa is now only Scrub Hare anymore in South Africa and Namibia and "African Savanna Hare" (Lepus microtis) anywhere else. We did a very long, very late night drive on our second evening from around 21:00 to 01:00 in the morning, hoping to find Aardvark pretty far South of camp. The area we went to looked suitable enough, and we did see plenty of holes, but not even the tip of a long snout was seen. Oh well, we´ll never see an Aardvark without trying hard (or going to Tswalu), and we did see other nice stuff on the way, including lots of Springhares. We also thought we had found four(!) Cheetahs but they turned out to be Oribis. We did see a Serval, which kept his distance. We had a great sighting of a Porcupine, actually pretty close but it moved amazingly quickly, the car did as well, and so apologies for this very poor picture - but this one was actually one of my favourite sightings. White-Tailed Mongoose was seen quite regularly. As were Genets - I do know Lynn has a better photo than this. This was a small highlight for me, an Elephant Shrew! Such tiny and fantastically cool-looking creatures. I´d guess it´s a Four-Toed Elephant Shrew but not completely certain. And this was very cool as well - a Sharpe´s Grysbok, not an antelope you see every day. "Grys" is Afrikaans for "Old Man" and refers to the fact that their fur is densely interspersed with white hairs.
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    I may have oversold the great Bibi exposee a little @Patty, but I was shocked. Anyway, the following day was Mum’s last and it would be a differnt kind of jaw-dropper, although Mum would actually miss most of the action. Mum had decided to skip the morning drive as she wanted to get up late – long journey and all that – despite our protestations and encouragement from Nelson, Darren, Emma and others at the camp. There was no plan at all for this day, but it started with lions in the dark, just sitting out on the plains. Since they were not being interesting enough for us and the terrain and their flat position presented limited opportunities for interesting photos as the sun came up (in fact the sun probably wasn’t coming up as it was a fairly cold and damp morning, with rain looking very likely) we moved on and found a pair of bat-eared foxes, jogging around. It still wasn’t even light yet, so this was a very promising start to the day. The bat-eared foxes were not really happy to see us, so we let them be and looked to see what else there might be. A herd of impala came sprinting past, which of course might be a sign of something happening. Perhaps we should take a closer look? And when Nelson looked to see what that something might be, he was very happy that he had done so. He saw wild dogs jogging away from us. It didn’t take us too long to catch up and this time Nelson didn’t wait to tell the other Kicheche guides, although. Up to them to share the news with some other camp guides (or not, but of course they would do so and then it would spread) as Nelson had some driving to do keeping the dogs in his sights – they were not going to use the tracks. There isn’t a lot I can say really about the dogs. There were two (both females I believe) and one was collared, although Nelson said it was thought to be from a now defunct project in the Northern Serengeti. This was only the second time this year dogs had been spotted in Olare Motorogi, although as you may know dog sightings are up a little bit in the Mara. Still very rare though – more common than pangolins but much less common than caracals and aardvarks for some context. And the thing about dogs is they do things – lots of things. I’d never seen them in such a wide open area before and it really is great, especially when your guide can guess more or less exactly where they are going and knows the terrain intimately. They were moving so fast that if we got ahead and stopped they would be past us in less than 10 seconds – and half of the time my 400mm lens was too long. Really lucky I hadn’t put the teleconvertor on actually as it was very murky still (with occasional rainfall) and even at f/4 and ISO6400 (right on or arguably beyond the limit for my gear) the shutter speeds were barely enough for trotting dogs. I was mightily tempted to go to ISO 12800 but I’d still need to use tricks to prevent too much motion blur and the quality of the picture would deteriorate significantly, so I stuck with the tricks. Non-artistic panning at 1/125s (you’d never normally do this as it just gives you a less sharp picture for no benefit, but when there is no alternative it can rescue something – I use it on night drives too. Ye olde “wait for them to stop” trick They had some blood stains that suggested they had just had breakfast but they were more than ready to have a second breakfast if anything wasn’t quick enough off the mark. They went for a reedbuck (ironically this was our first sighting of one with Nelson – since Aberdares actually -and a good one as the reedbuck ran towards us and away from the dogs) but although they got close at first, it had the advantage in a boggy area with very long grass and bounced away from them - and they weren’t hungry enough to get into a long distance chase. Still, this was definitely a hunt. End of the hunt Occasionally they were kind enough to use the tracks. About 15-20 minutes into our chase they frustrated the photographers (we had now been joined by the other Kicheche Bush Camp vehicles and one each from Porini and Mara Plains) by engaging in some fantastic play while the light was still too low for a shutter speed to effectively freeze the action. Non-photographers just got an eyeful! Using the high speed burst judiciously rescued something… Whoooo! Aren’t you glad you got up this morning guys? Of course after 25 minutes or so the number of vehicles had increased – this couldn’t be kept a secret. Whoa! Water! The scent is definitely going that way, isn’t it? Well they thought that was where the scent (whatever it was) was leading and so they crossed the lugga and so did we, although a couple of vehicles gave up at that point – not everybody would have appreciated this sighting and wanted to follow forever. On we went… at a very bouncy trot Gazelles scattered, desperately showing their best leaps to tell the dogs they were not good targets.. The dogs were having fun with everything, even animals they likely had no intention of hunting. And wild dogs may not be seen frequently by us humans, but every animal on the plains that saw the dogs scattered when they came their way. The rain got heavier but the dogs just got busier. Some hyenas were hoping to take advantage of teh chaos the dogs were causing, and became a new target, with the dogs running around them, letting them get close and then sprinting off. A dangerous game but the dogs seemed to enjoy it. And on and on and on they went, towards Mara North where gleeful Kicheche guides were no doubt already heading towards us. Of course tsometimes he wildebeest ganged up and faced the dogs down, but they always had the speed not to get cornered. And on they on and on....... We reached the border with Mara North and Nelson asked if we wanted to continue following. We'd need to take a detour to cross the valley they had just run into, but it could be done. I don't think I was thinking straight when I replied that it was okay. We'd had well over an hour with them and we could let them go now. Really that was pretty dumb, especially as the light had been gradually been improving. Don't ask me why - my wife did and my nocomittal answer got me a bruised arm. The best I can do is that my Mum's imminent departure was causing me worry and stress.... Anyway, good reason or not, we watched them trot off into the valley and through into Mara North. Looking for wild dogs in unlikely places? I am available for hire. And yes, it's barely 8 am .... plenty more left of Bibi's final day.
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    Second full day at Saruni and we opted for the same morning routine, but there was a twist today as we would be joined by one other guest. We were at the door to our palace at 6 am but no vehicle. Since we knew something was wrong (those guys take their job very seriously and there is no way they would just be late) we walked up onto the rock next to our villa, where we could see up to the central area. Sure enough the guys and their vehicle were there and so I jogged up (the last of the stiffness had left my legs now) and asked what was up. The other guest hadn’t showed and James was just on the way to see what had happened to her. While waiting for we enjoyed the dawn (but this bonus didn’t save the offending young woman from the patented “Mrs K Ice Bath” treatment for the first hour of the morning drive I regret to report). Gently seething woman, beautiful dawn Within Kalama we saw some of the usual suspects, although we were moving a little faster today as the guys tried to let the wind blow some of the frost out of the back of their vehicle. Nah, nah… I see you. Hmmm.... I see only part of you. Okay, well you are not even trying to hide. Upon exiting the conservancy today we took a different route into the reserve, much closer to the escarpment. The endemics were less common here but there would of course be a chance of a leopard, klipspringers, kudu and other treats.. I could see the logic and silently agreed it was a good move - even if it turned out fairly unsuccessful that day. Birds were also much better on this route. For example…. A pair of grey go-away-birds A white-throated bee-eater in the wind None of the target animals this time, but a view all the way to Mount Kenya again (in the left of this panorama looking down towards the river, which you should be able to enlarge by clicking). And this is later, with the line of trees marking the river (again you should be able to click if this isn’t already clear enough for you) When we did get down to the river we didn’t have to spend long wondering what to look at. The giraffes down there? The elephants way over there? The impalas right in front of us? The lion preparing to hunt those impalas? What? Where? Just as well we had a spotter or I surely wouldn’t have seen it. The only other two vehicles in the area didn’t seem to have noticed her yet; in fact one of them headed off back to the lodge for breakfast. I think we would have told them if they had been close enough, but the guys were not going to put it on the radio. The first part of the stalk took some time, as there was a lot of ground to cover to the drinking impalas and no cover except for one dead tree and the camouflage of colour. Same girl as the day before, looking a bit leaner but not yet desperate (which could be very dangerous given the number of livestock around on the other side of the river). When there was no more cover left, the lioness edged forward for a minute more and then just went for it. This time although we had a great angle for the stalk, the latter part of the chase was away from us. In any case, the distance had been too great and although she got surprisingly and excitingly close, the impala she had targeted got away without the damage the warthog had suffered the previous day. Giving up the chase and returning to the shade on the banks. It was time for breakfast and so we had breakfast right there, but the lion didn’t go away. She kept on walking around looking for prey and we twice had to prepare to mount the vehicle when James lost sight of her and felt she might be too close. Lepayon told me he thought this was a “bad lion” i.e. not scared of humans and likely to cause trouble. She was certainly a bad lion as far as the other animals around were concerned as she kept on stalking things for the next hour or more, although never getting closer than she had to the impala. She was hungry and not staying still. Stalking zebras Looking for something else And causing the helmeted guineafowl to roost about 8 hours early! She was much too impatient to be successful now, and in the end the rising heat got to her and she decided to rest. Back down at the river, elephants were drinking. No space at the water for the little one. Or maybe just enough to squeeze in.... … and get a refreshing drink. Vulturine guineafowl were always around And there were dik-diks And as it got towards 11, other animals like this greater kudu were forced to come down from the hills and escarpment to drink at the river. Not the prettiest light by this time, but a very pretty beast. Grevy’s zebras And then goats and sheep across on the Buffalo Springs side. Elephants warily watching the humans warily watching the elephants By this time the light was so strong and harsh that is was barely worth taking pictures. It was also very hot and very dusty. In any case, our companion had taken the front seat and James was stranded with my wife at the back, unable to track as effectively as usual. We traveled pretty much straight back to Saruni without stopping – at least that I remember, although I am sure we must have stopped at least once.
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    Since we had pre-ordered all the food and drink with Zarek (most now 50% more than we needed since only the Aberdares part was self-catered) we were able to drive straight from the hotel to Fishing Lodge in the Aberdares. Six of us in the vehicle (see list of characters above) with a pile of stuff, so we were snug, but not crowded as Zarek had a roomy vehicle for the occasion. We had a choice of two routes into the park - shorter via Naivasha or longer but more wildlife-likely via Nyeri, and due to the missed day chose the latter. This made the drive rather longer than it could have been and as it happened we didn’t really see that much on the way up. “Not that much” included B&W colobus monkeys, buffaloes and bushbucks (very common in Aberdare NP, as mentioned elsewhere). Obscured views of the Black Colobus A male buffalo with tiny horns. Fishing Lodge Panoramic view of the two identifcal houses at dawn Fishing Lodge is at over 9000 feet and quite exposed, so in mid-June (the coolest months are July and August) it is pretty chilly. However, I am not a reptile – I am able to regulate my own body temperature to some extent – so with a bit of movement and the aid of a nice fire and Vincent’s catering I found it very comfortable – no more bracing than a visit to Scotland. Bibi, who lives in Scotland, was freezing and let us know at every opportunity that she had decided not to bring an extra sweater because it was a waste of space for three days and I had told her that it would be like Spring in the Scottish highlands (it was), but that she had had to fill up extra space in her bag with packing materials so that things didn’t roll around and get damaged. We all thought that made tremendous sense and never once asked her why she didn’t just bring the extra clothes since she had space. Apparently the advice about spring in the Highlands didn’t count as “I would have the central heating on if it was cold.” Fortunately I had asked Zarek to being extra blankets, and one of these was used. So…. if you are “reaching the mature years” and feel the cold more than you used to, when traveling to over 3000 meters, even on the equator, do pack that extra layer if you have space. (This one is too obvious to get “Safari Tip” billing). Location, location.... look center, then left and up a little Back (or front? I am nor sure) verandah Front (or back?) lawn Fishing Lodge is probably the best equipped and most luxurious of the Kenya Wildlife Service accommodations – although I haven’t stayed at many so you can take that with a pinch of salt. It is considerably more expensive than any of the others, but well maintained and good value overall. Super retro (probably a bit retro when it was built in the 1970s or 80s!) but everything was more than adequate – including bedding. The two bedrooms are both en suite and seemingly unlimited hot water is available in the evening (well. Zarek or Job may tell you it was not unlimited, but we found it to be so). Water seemed warm at best in the morning, but it is way too cold to be taking two showers a day up there. There is a cook’s room (super retro concept, but very practical for wildlife tourists) and Zarek and Job slept there. Vincent was going to sleep in a tent and then in that room, but it was clear we wouldn’t be using our living room at night and by the time we got up he’d already have coffee on the stove (or he would be doing so 5 minutes later) so we told him to please sleep in the living room. Familiar to Michael... House #2 We would definitely stay here again, although you should note that this is not the most wildlife rich area and for purely wildlife-focused tours being based down near to Nyeri is probably more practical. We wouldn’t have stayed here if we had known in advance that we were only going to have two nights (and this one full day). We probably made the mistake of trying to pack three days into two as well. It would have been nice to spend a little more time there probably. One more thing to note is that (in June to August at least) Fishing Lodge isn’t somewhere to relax on the verandah with a beer in the evening. There is a lovely verandah for beers but only usable when the sun is on that side. Out of direct sunlight, anytime, it is whisky and/or mulled wine weather. I wonder now if Vincent has a mulled wine recipe. Regretably the only picture I have of Vincent (and I cannot be absolutely sure it is not Job) is this enigmatic one of him capparently calling Zarek and Job to lunch .... he was always in the kitchen! Soon after arriving and getting settled, Mum joined Zarek on a walk down to a stream behind the lodges. Nothing special here, but something to do and Mum could get some close up looks at plants she had seen on the drive up. Walking down was easy as there were very nice steps, but getting back up was more tiring (not very!) than expected and reminded us that we were at altitude. Zarek earning his bread. I thought it was a nice spot for a photo and asked Bibi to pose – I think this is how the models do it in Bibi’s mind, although I am not sure. Definitely it is “hip” and I am calling this pose “The Cool Bibi”. You’ll see “the Wild Bibi” later. Since this is a wildlife-mad forum I better get on to the interesting bits. After the drive up the first day was mainly different sightings of bushbucks and buffaloes. There were bushbucks by bridges Bushbucks among the hillside tussock grassland Bushbucks sneaking around the houses to feed on the short, soft, cropped grass there. Bushbuck at Magura Falls (singular because this one always seems to be there while 9 years ago a female was there – perhaps his mother?) He is so habituated you can stand at almost touching distance, but if you appear to be approaching him, he will retreat and even run off. Through the vehicle window. And of course the falls themselves are very pretty and a very short walk from the road – so ideal for those who don’t have enough time left for their original itinerary! Spot the lead characters.... And a Black-headed Heron (my ID, as Zarek’s is now forgotten) was happy to let us watch it hunt from fairly close. Vincent cooked an excellent dinner but we were all so tired at the end of the first real day that we honestly have forgotten what it was - just remember it was tasty and warming.
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    In 2014, there were only a handful of flamingoes in the lagoon, although we were there almost at exact same time. This time, Mother Nature more then make up in numbers. Flamingoes were walking in groups, very close to the shore, enjoying the sun and the feeding and, obviously, also enjoying themselves! Yes, I know, too many photos. But they are so pretty in pink, and for me, I like even more the deep orange colour of their eyes. I think we have done enough photos for next 10 years . (to be continued)
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    On our second full day we left the lake for our morning drive and explored the area South of Konkamoya. It was much drier here of course, but not as barren as one could expect that late in the season (Zambia had good rain this year), and the wildflowers sparkled up the landscape. Game was much sparser (TseTses were not) but it was a very nice and tranquil morning. Spot the Jackal. Warthogs were quite common but did not appreciate our presence too much - we mostly saw their tails. By a small creek we found a colony of White-Fronted Bee-Eaters. All of this area should be perfect terrain for Kudu but we did not see too many of them. It´s pretty obvious this area is nowhere near its carrying capacity yet. If I understood correctly (probably not) this plant is kind of living upside down. What we see is just a tiny part of it and 90 % of it grows and expands subterraneanly. Many Impala females were already very pregnant, they were just waiting for the rain to drop their young ones. We did see one baby (probably one of the very first of the season). Here with some Reedbuck in the background. Watching this Gymnogene was very cool - it actually changed colour from red to yellow! I knew they can do that but had no idea that fast. What kind of Baboon is this? Actually a rather complicated question. The general thinking was it´s Yellow Baboons to be found all over Zambia but most authorities now consider the so-called "Kinda Baboon" a full species in its own right. Kindas are apparently a bit smaller and have shorter faces than their yellow cousins. According to IUCN there are only Kindas in Zambia but it appears to be quite a confusing matter - some people apparently are of the opinion both species are present in Kafue, and to make it more complicated, are even hybridising a lot. Zambia, as Doug said, is blessed with water. I was thrilled to finally get a photo of a Giant Kingfisher - a bird I´ve been hoping to see for many trips now. A large flock of Great White Pelicans was soaring above us and then coming down, always something special to see.
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    MARRICK DAY 1 After a 2 hour delayed flight between Johannesburg - Kimberley I was very much going from the airport right on my first nightdrive. Trevor, the owner of Marrick safaris had of course prepared dinner for me on arrival and then I went straight out in the darkness. My guide was Johnny. He knew this land like his pockets and is very very knowledge about where and when to find things. But damn it was cold! Winter in Kimberley....Brrr... Gloves and hat on. One of the targets here in Marrick is the Smith´s red rock hare. This species have a very narrow range with two different populations in Africa. Here in South Africa and also one in Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi. Here in Marrick it took Johnny 5 minutes to find them for me in a rocky outcrop close to the lodge. Sometimes they are very difficult to see though. This was not one of those days... Very long distance though. The other targets was of course Aardvark and the Black footed cat. This is probably the best place in Africa for them. But also Aardwolf was on my list. It didn´t take very long before Johnny spotted eyeshine from a very long distance in the high, dry grass. I have no idea how he managed to see this because i almost couldn´t see it even though I knew exactly where it was. He told me that he was almost certain that this is a Black footed cat... ...and YES, my 10th species of cat was now a fact! We waited some 15-20 minutes for the cat to move from the high grass and suddenly we could see him on a small termite mound or something. Quite far away but very clear. I was more than happy! Black footed cat is the second smallest cat in the world, only beaten by the Rusty-spotted cat in Asia. Very very small and cute. This is a big male... We continued on the grass plains and the next stop was a bit larger cat. An African wildcat. Only the second time for me to see one and by far the best sighting of one. He actually walked towards us and we just sat and waited in the car for the cat to come closer. Johhny told me that this was a pure wildcat, no crossbreed, Stripes all the way on the legs, the reddish color on the back of it´s ears and the size told him that this was a pure African wildcat. Actually, after a few minutes when we had leaved this cat we come across a hybrid. The difference was quite clear. Even for me. They should take them away, kill them if you ask me. Next animal was my other main target, Aardvark! They have no eyeshine so no reflection in the light. This means you have to look for movements. For like a "rock who moves" in the dark. Johnny was an expert in this. So, there it was! I lifer for me and the very sought after, Aardvark! I threw up my camera just to get the proof. You all know this feeling when you see something new and all that you care about is to get it in your camera. No matter how bad the picture is. Like a proof or something This was mine... He was quite shy and walked away in the grass. After 1 ½ hour I had already both of my targets which was an overwhelming feeling. Some Red crested Korhaan´s in the grass as well. Later on we came across another Aardvark. This one stayed much longer in the spotlight and posed quite well for us. I couldn´t believe this place. The reputation was really true! Bad eyesight makes them sniffing in the air. This night we also saw around 10 Bat eared foxes. They are very common here. One of them decided to come really close. Another very, very common creature here is the Springhare. A funny rodent. I think we saw like 30-50 of them every night. They are everywhere. Just before coming back home we saw another two Smith´s red rock hare on a different rocky outcrop. Totally 4 of them tonight which was unusually good. I was more than satisfied with my first nightdrive. The only missing target, Aardwolf fooled us this night. But a new chance tomorrow. Where I will also visit Mokala NP in the morning and daytime. More of Mokala NP in the next post. Summary first nightdrive: 4 Smith´s red rock hare 1 Black footed cat (male) 2 Aardvark 10 Bat eared fox 1 African Wildcat 1 Hybrid cat 30-50 South african Springhare 1 Scrub hare
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    The following morning was our last full day at Saruni, and for reasons best left unexplained (although feel free tro imagine that perhaps to do with murder being a serious offence, even though I had assured her that our travel companion would not be accompanying today, perhaps just a wish for some time alone, or perhaps to watch for invading genets) my wife stayed behind and sent Mum and me out on our own, thus practically guaranteeing it would be an eventful drive. Bibi was recovered from the genet (?) invasion – or rather she was forced into recovery when even the reliably sympathetic Lepayon and James assured her that a genet was at worst “naughty” – although they did try to make her feel better by telling her just how naughty they could be and agreeing wholeheartedly that they could be bold and destructive (to cookies, milk and food scraps) if not discouraged, and it might be a bit reckless to let them wander around unchecked – although perfectly safe. Well, that was not what Bibi wanted to hear and I wasn’t going to mention the leopard theory (although on reflection James could certainly have confirmed/ refuted it in a minute by scanning the tracks out the front of our villa) so the subject was firmly changed to something else. We took the same route as the first day at first and things were rather similar in the early morning. A particular treat of the area (and other arid areas in Kenya like Tsavo) is the golden-breasted starling, which is even more splendid than its superb cousin, although much less common and not as bold. This was never going to work as a flight shot, since the branches were certain to get in the way and it wasn’t light enough yet, but Lepayon thought I should take a shot anyway (every decision that Lepayon made this morning would be important, although he didn’t know it yet) as I hadn’t got a decent one yet (hmmm.. he had been paying attention!). Imperfect but still charming shot More gerenuks of course – and who could resist today, since there would be no more from tomorrow. I was a bit off form today – I could feel it and didn’t know quite why. Things weren’t going particularly well, so Lepayon took a different route towards the river once we had entered the reserve – somewhere between the two we had taken the first two days at first, and as we got near the river we found some quite bold mongooses, one of whom was searching for tasty morsels in elephant dung. Mongooses are very interesting to me and this sighting made me feel more alert and I think I started to get my mojo back - which was just as well as I would need it soon. Excavation Discovery and consumption However, there was no sign of the lioness today and it was still a bit early for watching the river (just a couple of giraffes and some impala at the moment) so Lepayon decided to turn around and head east to an area we had not visited before. There was some nice general game here – animals leisurely making their way to the river – although nothing that we hadn’t seen before. It was very nice. Mum then spotted a naked mole rat hole with an active digger. We had been targeting these in the vain hope of seeing one since Sabache and Mum had got into the spirit of the hunt. Generally you get to see sand flying out of the hole but rarely do they come out. Nevertheless they do sometimes, and so this had been part of our daily routine. We were there watching the sand fly for maybe 5 or more minutes, without any joy but still enjoying the challenge and ready to wait – there were two busy little excavations going on. That was when James and Lepayon noticed something a bit odd – a group of impala leaping and running at full speed. They scanned and saw what had spooked them. “Wild dogs.” I had seen nothing yet but we were traveling at pace in a specific direction, and then I did see (sort of) flashes of activity which 30 seconds later I would find out was a wild dog kill. The bush was thick and we had to circle back to get any kind of an angle for some shots, and by the time we found one the victim was already being (very literally) torn to pieces by three dogs. The view we had wasn’t good, with only a narrow channel unobscured, so as each dog took chewed down on their own piece of dik-dik we found better spots to view them. I’ll spare you the shot of the dog who got the head. There were only three dogs – possibly part of the larger pack that roam the area and possibly new dogs – Lepayon couldn’t be sure, but he thought the former. Having consumed their dik-dik snack, they remained very active, as dogs do. Everything of interest, any excuse for a run or jog. At this point Lepayon called in the other Saruni vehicles out, but he gave us another little while before doing the right thing and putting out a call to other vehicles in the area – well they would have been lynched if they hadn’t, right? It had been a while since dogs had been sighted, although there had been a period not long before when they were seen every week. One of them was really, notably dark. Of course we had never been off the road and so when a few other vehicles started arriving we were doing the necessary thing of guess where they are going to cross a track, get ahead of them and wait for them to pass. There were fortunately a fair number of tracks in this area and so this was pretty effective thanks to James and Lepayon’s ability to guess right every time. After maybe an hour from the first sighting it was getting hot and the dogs did start to slow down and then eventually stop – lying down under a bush. By now there were maybe 10 vehicles around, although there was plenty of space and the dogs were moving so it wasn’t an unpleasant one, and we decided we’d go and see if we could find the lioness again. We had no luck with that and hoped that it was because she had caught something now (preferably not a sheep) and was sleeping it off somewhere. In any case, it was time for breakfast, at which we decided we had to credit the wild dog spot to Mum, since if she hadn’t spotted the naked mole-rat excavations we would not have stopped there, where James and Lepayon could shortly later spot the wild dogs hunting from. After breakfast we headed across the dry Ewaso Nyiro river into Buffalo Springs National Reserve for the first time. There was no sign of people bringing in livestock today – at least not in the immediate vicinity – and I am glad we went across because there was a noticeable difference in the grass (much greener in spots) and the availability of water, with the springs providing the first non-excavated water source we had seen since we had arrived in the area nearly a week before. Seeing water like that was a bit strange! However, some of the water sources were not wholly safe. There were a few large ones as well (surprisingly few) but they weren’t as pretty. But the main attraction over this side was an incredible gathering of Grevy’s zebras. There were hundreds of them forming a mega herd – very unusual since Grevy’s tend towards life in small herds, or even solitary living. I suppose it was the water and good grass that drew them, but I doubt I will see such a number in one place again. Unfortunately the light was most uncooperative and since we couldn’t offroad it was not easy to get a shot showing how many there were. I took a panorama – this is 5 shots stitched – but doubt you can see the numbers in the background. Basically for every one you can see there are probably another 20 behind – and this isn’t even the whole herd. You should be able to click to enlarge this a bit more. And more zoomed in – a detail from the above picture- again a 5-shot panorama, but 85mm this time and closer to the herd (the horrible light is why I didn’t want to shoot from this location at first, even though it brought us closer to the zebras). Again you can click to enlarge if you want to see a lot of zebras and calculate density or something. They were amazingly quiet compared to a herd of plains zebras even a tenth of this size. Very happy to graze in large groups of male and female without a lot of talking, complaining and biting – although there was of course some. In a way that was a bit of a disappointment as normally a herd this size would be rocking. Grevy’s – the studious zebra? Well, they would probably have been more active and unruly earlier in the day – and they are mostly studying the grass, I think. The future There was a fair amount of other game about too, including a cooperative impala. And we were watching elephants (not good light but nice action) when James shouted out “Striped Hyena”. I turned, saw and pointed and shot as quickly as I could – managing to get off three shots before it disappeared into really thick scrub. We circled for a while hoping for a repeat with the camera a bit more ready but there was no sign of it at all. Still, a first! Every trip should have a first and this was essentially one – I believe I saw a striped hyena on my first trip to Kenya but since I had no idea what it was I couldn’t say for sure. After than we drove and ended up in the middle of the river, watching a pair of grey crowned cranes. Everything had gone so well this morning that I asked Lepayon to go a little closer. Of course he was reluctant – very sandy – but he said okay – quickly. We got closer and he asked if we could go – we should. I asked for one more shot, waiting for the crane to turn its head, got it and said “okay”. But it wasn’t okay – in the time it had taken one wheel had sunk just a little too far into the sandy river bed and with very limited traction for any of the wheels there was no way we were just going to drive out. Bibi was mightily unimpressed with this, especially as she had “told you that Lepayon wanted to go” and “told everyone she didn’t like this”… oh and also because she had decided her boots were too hot so she should wear her sandals today – and they were not walking sandals. Bibi displeased, in sandals. James did a couple of jogs to the banks to get some driftwood while Lepayon jacked up the vehicle to make space for it, and we were out of there in no time really. However, Lepayon was not going to stop once he got going and headed straight to the safety of the bank, some 50 meters away. So Bibi got to walk across the Ewaso Nyiro river in sandals, and when it got boggy James and I just carried her. Of course James was wearing sandals too, but it is not quite the same perhaps. We finished off the morning by watching some baboons playing on a tree for a while and then drove back to Saruni. A goosing Improvised support Edit: Oh I forgot to post the offending pciture of the crane... I know the light wasn't really favorable and it's not really doing anything special, but we all have to convince Bibi itr was worth getting stuck in sand for. I'm thinking I'll put it on the cover of the photo book I make for her this year - like it was my crowning photographic triumph of the trip......
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    So, back to chronological order now....... I don’t remember when I first heard of the singing wells of northern Kenya, but I kept on hearing about them from time to time. It seemed surprisingly few people had visited them but I suspected the general veto on photography made them a personal memory and not so easy to share, so perhaps they have more visitors than I realised. Actually of course there is no complete veto on photography. It’s something most Samburu do every 2-3 days as a practical survival measure – like eating their dinner, bathing and bleeding their cattle – and I always thought taking a photograph of it could be no more difficult than getting a photograph of someone eating their dinner. Except errr…. that isn’t so easy or comfortable is it? “Hi stranger. We’re unimaginably wealthy tourists from a country where everyone has so much money they get totally stressed out wondering how to spend it (cows are not usually an option). We totally respect you and your culture (except of course how you treat your women, and your children, and some other minor things – and your eating and personal hygiene habits are totally gross, of course) and we would really like to take photos of you eating your dinner and bathing.” I wonder what my reaction would be. I think I can see a potential issue. And people often seem to resolve this issue by having either a “look but don’t photograph” or a “just pay more money until they agree” policy (aka the Indecent Proposal approach). With the singing wells - known I believe to the Samburu by the ancient name “providing water for your livestock so that is doesn’t die today” - the “no photographs” policy is most common, partially because the Samburu usually don’t bother with swimming costumes and partially I think because, for some reason, the “Indecent Proposal” approach makes most thoughtful and respectable people involved in the tourism industry throw up. In fact I believe photographing the locals in general (other than those in the tourism industry) is quite frowned on in Namunyak Conservancy, at least with foreign tourists who have no idea that they may be helping to create this “money for pictures” thing that quickly gets ridiculous, annoying and even dangerous. So we were on our way to visit the singing wells. Dipa, the manager of Sabache Camp, had appeared and he was a much more experienced person than anyone we had met so far. He was also a very busy person with quite a lot of responsibility and plenty of meetings to attend re security in the area and other quite important stuff. We knew that because his American wife had told us and because he very regularly had to take calls. But we felt it – there was knowledge that he might at some point have to choose between entertaining us and perhaps going to stop a dispute turning into a gunfight. Not that we can excuse him totally, but we can understand. When Dipa was around at Sabache things seemed to run very smoothly. With only Ian things got a bit bumpy sometimes but it was usually okay – you just had to know Ian a bit (as you do now) but he’s a good lad. Without either, it was often fingers crossed and potluck. But efficiency at Sabache Camp is not relevant to the singing wells. What was relevant was that Dipa is someone, Dipa was well armed (and not to protect his cattle from predators as Mum assumed) and Dipa is together and experienced leading tourism activities. An activity with Dipa had no detours, inappropriate campfire conversations or issues with basic definitions. Anyway, I didn’t really know what to expect from the singing wells visit. I had my cameras but no idea how and if I could use them or of any rules there might be lines perhaps we shouldn’t cross. I thought at least I can photograph the scenery or photograph things on the periphery perhaps. There was no “the singing wells are blah blah blah…” explanatory script, although Zarek and Dipa may well have provided a few explanatory words to Mum and of course we could ask any questions we wanted. It was more like we were just all going on a drive somewhere. We got to “somewhere”, which of course was in the middle of nowhere (we knew it was somewhere because Dipa told us so) and walked for a short while across a long since dry, sandy riverbed and then through the trees on its “bank”. On the other side of those trees was another long since dry, sandy riverbed that had some human activity. The activity would grow significantly over the next couple of hours, so we had definitely timed our arrival perfectly – hardly surprising since this was Dipa’s gang – his mzee homies would be along shortly. Donkeys were drinking from troughs made by cutting a plastic barrel in half when we arrived. They were minded by one young woman, who was filling containers that would later be attached to the backs of some of the donkeys who were drinking – to provide water for the manyatta I presume, or for those our with the livestock who didn’t come in today. The other donkeys were not allowed to drink until later, because once they had drunk their fill they would probably just wander off and skip work for the day. The woman had a sweet smile, and was a little shy but not overly so. My Mum and wife were completely taken with her and declared her the most beautiful woman they had ever met. Unfortunately I don’t have any really good photos of her because this was just after we arrived and I did not want to start shooting yet, even though Dipa said I could. In my experience walking in and straight away pointing a camera at someone is absolutely the right way to (i) make clear that you view people as curiosities rather than having any real fascination (ii) spark demands for money for photos if there is any likelihood of that happening and (iii) disappoint your hosts greatly. So I kept my hands off the camera at first and checked out what was what. Fortunately with Bibi, Mrs K, Zarek and Job all buzzing around doing stuff and asking questions, once I had done the being respectful bit it became clear that I could take photos without anyone bothering much – well within reason. As time went on, people became more and more comfortable with it, although I never stayed on a subject for long and I always limited my shooting time in general. Shoot some, talk some, watch some, laugh some – not necessarily in that order. The fact my A7RII shoots completely silently did not hurt either, although I deliberately tried not to hide the fact I was taking shots. Zarek was similar, and even took some video. This is my view though, and of course it could have been that some people were extremely unimpressed with me. I will never know, although I do not think so. I accidentally took a picture of a naked man once – digging a well further along in the river bed, but otherwise I think I behaved myself. Greetings Anyway, that is a lot of talk for little photography really. My main goal was shots of everybody getting down with the water drawing. First Job and my wife got in the chain – I think Job even got his shirt off and got down to the first level of the well at one point in his enthusiasm. Mum was content to watch and so she features a lot less here. Everybody's welcome. The actual drawing of water up from the well was never going to be as spectacular as it can be at this time of year, soon after the rains. The wells can get fairly deep and at some spots I believe then a number of moran will come together to draw water for all of the different cattle and other livestock and this is when they have to sing to their animals to draw them in. Fortunately, because it was a very dry year, we did get at least a taste of what it is all about. At first there were two in the well and then as the water level sank as they drew water the chain grew to three. As they have to dig deeper to get to the water, it will grow to four, five and even many more. As people bring their cattle (or the ones they are responsible for) down to drink they will offer to help and jump in if somebody wants a breather or the chain is getting a bit short. They also help to separate the cattle who have already drunk from those who have not done so yet. The singing is apparently to the cattle, but it pretty obviously also serves the function of a work song – rhythmic as well as pretty. The songs are really good and extremely catchy – one was in my ears for hours afterwards. Of course none of our party were able to keep up the spped of extraction of water needed once the larger cattle got to the troughs. This is hard, hard work. I kind of wish I’d jumped in like Job, but I think I did the right thing making sure Mum and my wife have decent pictures to remember it all by – although I don’t think they will forget anyway. Plus, like it said it looked like hard work. Hard work but a socal occasion too. Dipa put in a good shift at the head - possibly for his own cows. But it was the morani who did the bulk - at quite a pace. As the morning wore on more and more people arrived and went and some stayed – usually an mzee (elder) coming for a chinwag with Dipa and his peers . Mum sat in the shade and soon that was a popular spot for all the wazee (plural of mzee) so we got a group photo together. Credit to Zarek for taking advantage of the silent shutter and shooting after the posing was over as well as during it – this is by far the best shot and only me and Job (who knew about the silent shutter) look a bit posed, or at least expecting a photograph. Everyone was very nice to us and welcoming, although some of course preferred to keep their distance. We could all just wander around and talk (with help but we had three translators) although Mum and my wife preferred the shade once the sun got hot. With Dipa around it was all very natural and casual and I guess we are a pretty relaxed bunch anyway – except for when we are not, like the night before! Job was totally into helping look after the cattle. He had his short back on now, but he was enjoying it a lot. I think Zarek had a great time too. I mention that not to suggest they were inattentive (they were not) but to emphasise what a great experience this was. My wife found some Sodom Apples that were much bigger than the ones we generally see around in Bangkok – in fact we found an apple tree. This seemed to please her more than it should, but it was that kind of morning – everything was pleasing, every bad joke was hilarious, everyone was a friend. In the shade Of course the guns were a reminder that it isn’t all roses here - not at all - as was the realization that after drinking these cattle would walk a long way to find grass, returning here for water in two days and probably permanently on the move in between. Not even the donkeys could find anything to feed on near the wells. Those guns were pretty routine and not for our protection in particular by the way – well maybe a little bit with Dipa’s but I doubt it. Imagine you have to carry a gun around to protect your cattle and those of your neighbours from armed gangs of cattle rustlers. I did and it was a sobering thought. I think we spent two hours at the well, but it was kind of timeless, if you know what I mean, and we would have been welcome to stay longer. It was getting hot though and Bibi doesn’t thrive in heat anymore. She wanted a shower too, and this time she got one.
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    You may note that there are a lot more photos of people and landscapes this trip. This is not accidental or due to an absence of wildlife - although there may incidentally be an absence of visible wildlfe. The first week of this trip was never really about the wildlife, although wildlife would surely be welcome! Looking through the shots I have for days 4-6 the only wildlife I have is one shot of a dik-dik. We saw more - just not the best circumstances for shos compared to later in the trip. Hopefully this will make it all the more exciting when it does appear.- and don't worry it is coming. More importantly, I carried three cameras this trip and the Sony A7RII with wider andgle (or a 55/1.8 at longest) attached was often one of the two cameras ready for use - in fact sometimes the only camera in my hands. All the better for shooting Bibi in winter fashion Or her blanket I even took a tripod, although you will hear about my experience with that in more detail later as it is definitely part of the story..The last time I took a tripod on safari I used it so little I could not even begin to guess where I might have lost it. In fact, I didn;t even notice that I had lost it until some weeks after returning. Sometimes, I am not even 100% sure if I actually ever took theat tripod on safari.
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    Thanks a lot for all your kind comments - much appreciated... What I loved about June in Kogatende is the lack of crowds. My first time in Kogatande and what hit me right away is the wilderness feel there (fewer roads, less man made, no cattle etc etc.,) ... When I say lack of crowds, I mean NOBODY around!!! Here goes the next bunch of images ...... Note the difference in the water levels in the Sand River after a massive rain storm at night...... Most of these images are from the Bologonja plains (so assumed that this is the wing of the migration that made it from Seronera). Our Coastal flight from DAR/Zanzibar dropped a newly married couple off at Singita and appeared to be massive herds there too (what we saw from the air)
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    Let´s take a minute to celebrate Puku. They are everywhere in Kafue, an enormously successful antelope here, even outcompeting Impala (by far). But this is only the case in Zambia and (still) the Kilombero Valley in Tanzania, everywhere else they are declining. So their IUCN status is "vulnerable". Two Puku doing their best to counteract the declining trend: And the eventual outcome - little Puke are very cute: We did find some nice birds along the lake: I won´t tell you the name of this one. Collared Pratincole Glossy Ibis Yellow-Billed Stork Two fishermen hard at work. One of my top "Must sees" for this trip - a Rosy-Throated Longclaw, a Kafue specialty. The team.
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    I’m a man of few words but I’ll attempt to be more verbose than the TR for Sept’ 2016. Sept 27th 6:45 am. I’m standing in the queue for the Proflight check-in. Up at the counter is a tall, lanky character with a classical guitar hanging across his back. I turn to Peter, “That guy with the guitar looks like Derek Shenton”. Not a minute passes and the guitarist turns around. “Hi Peter, Hi Geoff.” It is Derek. Derek and I sit next to each other on the flight. We discuss a plethora of topics including ~ the weather (i.e. temperatures), recent game viewing, Shenton Safaris 25th year, Kaingo chalet renovations, playing the guitar, respective families, the 2 pet zebras that mow the lawns in Lusaka, the recent Patrick Bentley photographic exhibition and venomous snakes. The 1 hour 10 minutes flight time literally flies by (no pun intended). Upon arrival I hear the pilot say “ Welcome to Mfuwe where the local time is 8:40 and it’s already 30 degrees”. Hendricks the transfer guide is there to greet us. It takes a little while to load some provisions onto the truck and I joke to Peter that he has to balance 5 dozen eggs on his lap all the way to Kaingo. Derek has a meeting to attend in Mfuwe and says he’ll see us in camp this afternoon. By the time we reach the main gate and complete the brief formalities vehicles are rolling back across the bridge returning from the morning game drive. I’m now officially on safari time. On the drive north we stop for a cuppa at a lagoon with a large fishing party of storks & pelicans. Although the light is harsh I take a few snapshots. Yellow-billed storks on final approach... We arrive at Kaingo in time for brunch. As is normal at any camp we are met by the managers. Gerard, a fantastic character who has spent much of his life working in the Copperbelt of Zambia and the lovely young Loraine who has been the manageress of Lion Camp but is currently with Shentons. Patrick is also there to greet us with his warm smile and after a shake of the hands and slap on the back we are chatting away where we left off last year. Word has got around that Peter has arrived and most of the camp staff come out to meet him. For years Peter has taken portrait images of the camp staff at all the places he stays and he either mails the prints or brings them with him on his next visit. This gesture is greatly appreciated by all the staff. Yoram, our guide for the next 3 days introduces himself and as it has clouded over we decide to spend an hour or so in the Hippo hide from 12:30 onwards. With the extreme heat the hippos are lethargic with very little action so I mostly content myself with the few birds coming close enough to photograph. Including the two bird images from the 1st post. Meves's Starling Grey Heron Wire-tailed Swallow White-fronted Bee-eater Before the afternoon drive I have a searing migraine and drag my sorry carcass onto the vehicle. I’m glad I did as I would have missed this sighting. We spend the majority of the drive with the young leopardess Chiphadzuwa (Beautiful Girl) She is located at one of her favourite spots, cooling off by lying on the damp sand in the shade of the river bank. I’m sensitive to the light and often have my eyes shut and instruct Yoram that if he thinks she is going to move to let me know. As sunset approaches she gets a drink from a nearby pool and then leaves the river bed.
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    Genevieve, who took all the photos on our trip, and I had been on one other safari two years ago in South Africa. We loved it, but then we wanted something a little wilder. So after much research (a lot of it on Africa Travel Resource), we chose three camps, two in the Kwando area—Little Kwara and Lagoon—and Selinda Explorers. I joined Safaritalk to make sure I had chosen wisely and was reassured by a couple of experts that these were great selections. I know a lot of people claim that their photographs aren’t as professional looking as others in Trip Reports, but our camera really was inexpensive and looked very small compared to the huge equipment with giant telephoto lenses everyone else in our vehicles were wielding. Madaboutcheetah and Wilddog and a few others urged me to post nevertheless, and I am happy to share our experience and hope to convey our sense of awe and wonder at our various sightings, some of which pale by comparison to the kills and matings seen in other reports. But enough disclaimers. Our itinerary was: Los Angeles to Frankfurt to Johannesburg to Maun to Little Kwara. The safari began on June 6, and we spent three nights in each camp. After 40 hours of traveling we hopped, bleary eyed, into a vehicle and our first sighting was something we had tried so hard not to count on seeing: wild dogs!! In fact, out first shot was of the pregnant alpha female, who with the other dogs were beginning to hunt as night fell. They were spread out, but then they came together and started barking wildly, and it turned out they were attacking a hyena. They were behind a tree so we couldn’t get a good photo, though we have video in which you can hear the blood curdling screams of the hyena (who was not killed and later was spotted lurking nearby). Our guide looked up, and spotted the source of the commotion below—a leopard in a tree with an impala, most of it eaten. Presumably there was some competition for the scraps. Needless to say our eyes were no longer bleary but wide open with astonishment. Our guide Tom was mock-worried that he had set the bar so high so quickly that the remainder of the trip would disappoint! The next morning began peacefully with some pleasant sightings: baboons posed picturesquely in a tree at dawn. (We were not quite as taken with them when they used our tent as a trampoline during naptime.) Then a two-headed tsessebe :-) a single tsessebe, a side-striped jackal, a lechwe posed in its native environment, a hamerkop, and ostriches. The female looks so delicate and flirtatious. As with the wild dogs, we had tried not to get our hopes up too high about seeing a cheetah. But on the first full day, a cheetah! It seems the cheetah brothers that had reigned for so long in this area had been pushed out by two young male cheetahs, then, not being from the same litter, the new ones went their separate ways. This one was well fed and had obviously just fed. A fabulous end to our first full day on safari.
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    Okay, that's done so I can finally move on to the last full day of our trip, although since we wouldn;t be flying our until midnight that isn't technically true. We had already agreed with Nelson that we'd make a full day in the Reserve and that our target would be the five male cheetah coalition... first time we had actually set him a specific target. But first we had to get out of the conservancy, and a few things did delay us. We were barely 5 minutes out of camp when we spotted hyenas and then notr-a-hyena - an aardwolf. There is a den near Kicheche so this isn't unique (we spotted one last time, two years before) but it certainly requires a bit of luck. In the interests of fairness, I would like you to notice the buffalos grazing in the background of this shot. The aardwolf moved on (very skittish) and so did we, to find the remains of that lion kill we had missed the morning before. We weren't interested in spending time with the whole pride, but there was no way we could pass up the pre-adult lions who had stolen away some wildebeest bits and pieces, whether from that kill or another, and brought them up on to a ridge for a chew, where they had attracted some hyena admirers. Their position, just before sunrise, was the most interesting thing! Hyenas and lions - BFF Of course in reality the hyenas and lions were not quite BFF, but they seemed to know their places and be comfortable just a few meters apart. The lion kill is visible down the slope in the background, with attendant vehicles. The hyenas did their thing and the young lions did theirs. The lions' thing was mainly chewing and licking The hyenas were a bit more active, with some individuals coming and going - I would guess this was close to the heart of their territory and they were very familiar with these particular lions. They might have been less chilled if one of the full-grown females had been around. Anyway, we had to leave them because we had to go and try to find those cheerahs, and preferably before the light got too harsh. Would we? Well, you have to know the answer to that by now, so perhaps the questions are how long would it take us and would it be a glance among a crowd of vehicles or a leisurely hour in their company on our own?
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    The afternoon started off in a similar vein but got very interesting as the clouds darkened and the rain came. It was a day when the rain certainly didn't spoil the experience. Still pottering around catching up on the things I hadn't photographed properly here yet. A terrapin A wattled plover The sky was getting quite gloomy but this little newborn giraffe brightened things up. So small compared to its mother More giraffes And then it started to get very dark. We were going to get rained on. A rainbow came and went quickly, I wonder if giraffes get struck by lightening? And then the rain came and it was heavy, We closed down the sides of the vehicle but I kept one flap open for my camera and put its raincoat on. I put my poncho on too, but it didn't help much as the rain gathered in a pool on my seat, with their waterproof covers. And the rain didn't stop. It slowed down slightly but it was here for the rest of the evening for sure. We could barely see so Nelson had little chance of spotting anything and were almost ready to give up (but not yet!!). Then Charles or Patrick called and said some lions looked like they might be plotting a hunt, using the rain as cover. So we slid our way over to where they were as fast as we could in the circumstances, crossing previously nearly dry luggas that were suddenly flowing fast, and arrived to see a herd of wildebeest backs against the rain. Nelson located the stalking lioness for me and I tried to work out how I could possibly shoot a hunt in this murk, and to get myself ready. Within 45 seconds of us stopping the wildebeest scattered and I looked wildly for a lion in the rain and murk, just spotting it in time to see it leap on a wildebeest calf. Naturally, theses shots do not reflect how dark it was. The lioness dragged the calf into the bushes and so we had to drive around the other side to get a view. Having killed the wildebeest and stashed it, the lioness went off to call her cubs and the sub-adults to feed. They were all sheltered somewhere, but came out when called. Dinner!!!!!! Of course,being cats, they got distracted on the way,,,,,, Climbing A tasty puddle Greetings And some weren't even hungry in the end, but enjoyed the social side of it all. The kill was in the bushes and it was nearly dark now but the sky was interesting and so I suggested we go for a quick sundowner in the rain, which was lighter now. And that was the wet end of another very interesting day!
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    We arrived at Saruni Samburu looking rather unlike the other guests. I'll do a post on Saruni later because I was rather impatient to get things unpacked and then get out to find some wildlife. My telephotos were feeling very neglected. Dear Safaritalk readers and being neglected - pages without fur! So fast forward and...... Our assigned guiding team was Lepayon and James. You'll meet them properly later, but would we actually find any wildlife in Kalama Conservancy that evening? Or would be end up pohotographing a plastic cup in a foot of stagnant water? We knew it was desperately dry and that for that reason grazing was going on in areas it normally wouldn't be. They ahd even drained the waterhole to avoid attracting elephants that might get into conflict with local herders. Both things had affected the wildlife viewing and we would accept anything. Dik diks hifing in a bush would do. Out in the open would be better Feeding on their hind legs like their neighbours the gerenuks would be fabulous! And it turns out there would be gerenuks themselves . Even better, some of them really weren't too skittish, if you didn;t push them too far. A little curious it seemed. We were feeling much happier now - there were dik diks every 100 meters. Freeze and then run like mad when we didn't stop coming towards them. And we finsihed the day on a real hgih note. The guys spotted something in a tree and braked hard. Bushbabies. It was really difiicult to see them in the center of the tree because of all the branches and leaves in the way. All views were obscured although you could certainly see they were bushbabies and clearly make out their features and that they were staring at us just as hard as we were staring at them. Getting a shot would be manual focus only though! So we got out of the vehicle and I managed to find a couple of angles. where I could see through to them relatively clearly, It wasn't ideal but damn it was good for bushbabies in what was still just about daylight. Seriously, this was not an easy shot to work out. And finally one of them made a giant leap up higher into the tree, and presented the cleraest view yet. It wasn;t going to get any better, and we could govery happily to our first sundowner a little bit too late, which was always a good sign. Klama Conservancy in the worst conditions was not going to be the Masai Mara, but at least it had life and potential. The next morning we would be leaving at 6 am to travel down into Samburu National Reserve. We were very much looking forward to it.
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    Dear All, Happy Diwali ........ First of all, back home after another amazing trip to the Kwando concession. A million laughs, the joys of cheetah tracking through the heat of suicide month, what more can one ask for ....... Many many Thanks to Spencer and Mr.Moe for another magical safari up and down the Kwando Concession. Many highlights which include the new very young Cheetah coalition trying to take a strangle hold of the neighbourhood, the dominant Lagoon Super Pride, Incredible Carmine colony, Bumping into a Cheetah mum and cubs who had never been seen before or who in turn had possibly never seen a vehicle before , stumbling into random Lions trying to make their way from the migratory corridor from Namibia, not to forget bumping into a curious Aardwolf while cheetah tracking, massive Elephant herds........ but, start with the first few photos from my final morning
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    Since we´ve been discussing camp let´s just cover the next one - Musekese Camp! And happy to report no negativism at all here - this is pretty close to perfection, definitely one of the coolest camps I´ve been so far. It is located in the Northern sector of the park, in a remote area where the Kafue River does a long U-Turn. Prior visitors might be scratching their heads now about this picture and think "Huh, I do not recognize this". That´s because they have relocated. Camp used to be closer to the river, but since last year they moved to a permanent lagoon they call "Eden" - and rightly so, it´s paradise. Musekese has four tents, all very private, and with a wonderful view over the lagoon. The rooms are basic but comfortable, spacious and airy - for my personal taste they got this exactly right, not too luxurios, you still feel (a bit at least) like being in a tent in the middle of the bush, but everything you need is there. If there´s one improvement they could make that´s definitely light though - they only use some small solar lamps, so finding stuff in the evenings and mornings can be a bit tricky. Last season the tents used to completely open to the front (as several camps in Zambia are). Some guests loved this but most were a bit uncomfortable so they closed this side too for 2017. I have to admit it does add some security - only in the mind, but still. The bathroom - note the Pangolin. And say Hello to Charlie, our stalwart tent guardian. He was very fond of AndMic´s jacket, otherwise he liked to hang around the shower. When we moved North to Busanga we could leave some of our stuff in the tent since we would have it after our return for our final night here. Charlie promised us he would take very good care of everything, and of course he kept true to his word. The view from the tents - abundant Puku all the time and of course lots of birds. Also Warthogs, Waterbuck, Bushbuck now and then, and always worth checking out for something special. Just prior to our visit they had a Sitatunga for a few days! One afternoon a herd of Elephants was visiting the lagoon (on the opposite side though). We sat on our deck and watched them for almost 30 minutes - safari bliss! The lunch/dining deck What a fantastic place to sit, chat, drink and enjoy food! And speaking about food this was just fantastic (and yes, plenty ). Lunches were hearty and more home-style while they are going for finer cuisine for dinner - very successfully so. It was all "mmh ... MMMH ... oh this is good .... mmmh" in the evenings. Also good choice for breakfast, toast, jam, honey, porridge, cereals. I developed a liking for that black marmite staff - apparently the first non-guide guest to do so. The lobby. The most important aspect of the charm of Musekese is not tents or foods however - it´s the atmosphere. I liked the energetic manager Kola a lot but credit primarily goes to the young owners who also act as guides. Phil Jeffreys and Tyrone McKeith are so passionate about their patch of Kafue it´s just a joy to talk to them. Their eyes begin to glow when they tell you about their long-term plans, they beam with excitement when they discuss the many completely unexplored areas waiting for them in Kafue, they smile when they mention how much effect their "no burnings " rule already has had, they are proud when talking about wildlife becoming more and more relaxed - in short, they love love love what they are doing here, and that spirit is infectious - you can´t help love being here as well. So Musekese is a camp where I felt very much "at home", very welcome, it feels a bit like visiting buddies who have come up with that super awesome place in the middle of the bush and invited you to check it out. So compliments to you, Gentlemen, you are doing everything right, and I hope you continue to be successful with it - you very much deserve it. Some of camplife: A Bushbuck family has chosen the safety of camp as their home. They were still very shy around people though. Vervets are still trying to figure out how to assess all these human intruders and have not yet learned to steal stuff. This is Timothy, the local Monitor. Or Tabitha possibly, if there´s a way to sex big Lizards I don´t know it. Francolins often choose camps as their homeground - Red-Necked in this case. There were some cool critters around at night (mobile pic). If you want to see me in good cartoon mode, jumping up and down, screaming "Ouch-ah-OUCH" and trying to get my shoes off, just have me step into a line of ants - it works like a charm, promise. I was very, very happy to find this one in camp, one of my Top 3 targets for this trip - a Böhm´s Bee-Eater. From a photographic point of view these little guys were the showstealers - Red-Throated Twinspot, tiny masterpieces of Nature. Well, it seems Lynn liked Musekese, too.
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    A short while later we thought we had found an old friend - Boswell, the iconic handstanding tusker of Mana Pools. Of course we had to walk over to say Hello, just to be polite. Doug soon realized this was not patient old Boswell. This guy here is called ASBO, an acronym for "Anti-Social-Behaviour-Ogre" (probably not Ogre I´ll admit, I forgot what the O stands for). As a matter of fact we were unable to find Boswell to find during our trip. It´s always a bit worrying when he´s not around because he likes to leave for the adjacent hunting areas from time to time and he would be of course the perfect trophy. But he´s fine we were told, others saw him during and after our stay. Back to ASBO: He definitely wanted to check us out, but unlike Boswell he was not so relaxed and good-natured. Doug resorted to his friendly Elephant-slang "Hello my Boy" chatting mode which somehow seemed to calm him down a bit - and it did also have a reassuring effect on AndMic and me. Still, ASBO made it quite clear we should make way for him. And came very close. You really only appreciate just how big an Elephant is when you are on foot, feeling like a mouse looking up to a giant. But he was simply interested in the juicy trees right above where we were standing. An angle you only get in Mana Pools. Not quite a handstander yet so he has to use other tricks. (Maybe that´s why he´s antisocial - he must feel inferior to the other big bulls who have mastered it. ) When the whole family joined in it was time for us to retreat. The youngster there was quite cheeky - he even climbed the tree, obviously wanting to impress us.
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    Kurrichane Thrush at Pioneer Inn Lake Itezhi Tezhi - Konkamoya Arnott's Chat This was the first sighting of the Rosy-throated Longclaw, we were told. We tried to make lemonade from lemons and take photographic advantage of the overcast, murky conditions. The 3 shots of Puku and Lake Itezi Tezi were taken on the Konkamoya grounds. Lesser spotted Genet The Elephant Shrew was a first for all four of us. @Kitsafari had specifically requested one!
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    We spent the bulk of or game drives in Konkamoya close to the lake. As is to be expected this is - by far - the most game-rich area around Konkamoya, and the number of Puku alone should be sufficient to nourish several prides of Lions. Apparently they are snacks on legs since they are neither very fast nor very bright. As mentioned before we were not too lucky with the weather. Only a very few times (like in the picture above) the sun valiantly tried to fight its way through the thick clouds and haze but most of the time it was more like shown below, and we´d also have very strong wind and some drizzle (which turned into proper rain in the night) the third day. Which did give the area a pretty cool mystical ambience but of course it was not exactly perfect for photography. Still, we tried to make the most of what little light we were given. Waterbucks were regulary seen. African Wattled Lapwing Banded Mongoose - the only "predators" we´d encounter. This is not exactly Big Cat central here though all of them are a possibility, Dogs as well. We did see a Leopard in the afternoon, but it was deep in the thickish and I´m afraid I was the only one of the four of us who could see it - for seconds only. I´m not quite sure but seem to remember that we saw Lion tracks as well. As mentioned the prey base is more than sufficient so there definitely should be more of them around. Why there are not - well let´s just say there are a lot of humans here, we saw many fishermen on the lake, i.e. inside the park, and who knows what else they are "fishing". It was also remarkable that this place should be full of Hippos, it´s just perfect for them, but we actually saw quite few. Again, Hippo meat is very tasty according to the locals here. Kafue is on its way up, definitely, but that does not mean its problems are a thing of the past. A mixed flock of White-Faced & Egyptian Geese and Knob-Billed Ducks An obliging Bateleur. We didn´t see big Buffalo herds but enountered small Daggaboy groups now and then. Tawny Eagle
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    We left Pioneer only about 08:30 since Doug wanted to go after the worst of rush hour, we still had Lusaka to cross through after all. And indeed, it takes some time to get through it. It´s a sprawling, pretty modern city and often called one of the fastest-developing cities in Africa. It was almost 10:00 when we finally left the city behind us and had open country before us. I asked Doug if there was wildlife around in Zambia since we were told most human settlements are found along the main roads. The answer was quite sobering, no, there´s not much left outside the National Parks and Game Management (=hunting) areas. It´s not too far from Lusaka to Kafue, we were at Nalusanga Check Point, at the Easternmost end of the park, after a bit more than two hours. But given the sheer size of the park (22,400 km²!) getting to the border only means you´re halfway there - at best! Just see the map in post #1 to get an idea of scale, at a guess I´day we still had more than 150 kms to go. We soon left the park and used a road through a GMA going South to Lake Itezhi Tezhi. We didn´t see anything on our way through the GMA except for a few Baboons which was a bit worrying. But once we re-entered the park a bit South of the dam we rejoiced - we saw a good number of general game. I made a fool of myself trying to get a photo of the first distant Puku we saw. Obviously we would see hundreds, no thousands, during this trip. The light was awful (and would unfortunately stay that way for most of our time in Konkamoya), so we did not take many photos. We had to stop, of course, for an Elephant family enjoying the lush feeding grounds by the lake. A good thing we did, since this was actually the closest we managed to get to them in Konkamoya. Which is absolutely not reflective of their numbers here. We´d see many, many hundreds of them, huge herds by the lake - but through our binocs. They´re terrified of humans here, and each and any of our attempts to get close to them failed, they always went into hiding when we approached. Only on our night drives we would manage to get close to the herds. It´s a widely known fact that Kafue was nearly poached out by the 90ies, Elephant numbers down to 4,000 from more than 30,000 three decades earlier. And Elephants don´t forget, at least not here down South, where the park borders, the hunting areas and many villages are close. (They would be much less on edge farther North in Musekese.) This one had a nasty wound on his foot: My obligatory birding pic - a Wood Sandpiper. The stretch between the park gate and the turnoff to the lodge was the only area where we would see Zebra in this area. We finally arrived at Konkamoya at about 16:00. After some refreshing welcome drinks and some really good snacks we hopped back into the car to have a sundowner by the lake. It was almost dark even at 17:00 (because of the clouds) but it was great being back - Gin Tonic in hand, Elephants for a view, this is Africa!
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    It was great to be back at the very comfortable Fireblade Aviation in Johannesburg where we transferred to another flight to the reserve. You can't fault service in Tswalu - it's always impeccable, and so it was at Tswalu's hangar. we had a shower and had brunch and just relaxed. we were the only guests flying into the reserve, but for company on the flight, we had a freelancer guide and a new employee with the security/anti-poaching team. Tswalu had a couple of small changes since my last trip but much of the place remained the same. They'd talked about undertaking refurbishment this year but the lodge has been so busy the management had no time to close the lodge. the refurbishment is now pushed to next year. Our guide is Kosie, an affable and experienced guide who hailed from Sabi Sands, while tracker Ben has been set on his career since young and many times this pair brought tracking to fruition while we were there. Kosie immediately recognised me but embarassingly I didn't recognise him. he had guided me on my last morning at Tswalu after my guide Adrian left earlier with the flight to Johannesburg. I had known him then as Chris, but I still couldn't recognise him. My OH had a long list of species he wanted to see - aardvark, aardwolf, pangolin, brown hyena, oryx, roan, sable, meerkats, and a big male kudu - all of which he had not see before. The drive to the lodge yielded the first species - the enchanting roan. Long of ears, large of eyes, and the curiousity of a giraffe, the first roan was giving us directions with its expressive ears, but it didn't seem to make up its mind. I saw only 2 roans last year, and each at separate occasions and area, and on its own. But on this trip, the first roan was the start of rollcall of some 25-30 roans - just on the first day. that's almost half of the estimated 60 roans that are in Tswalu! they sure rolled out the red carpet for my OH. turn to the right... or actually drive to your left or maybe it's neither Roans at the Tswalu waterhole and more roans during the evening game drive... a group of four roans
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    We´ll get back to the Geladas - but meanwhile, an interlude with another unexpected Guassa highlight. On the second day we were going to the hill we had seen the Wolves from, trying to locate them again. No luck. But Abiy, untiringly scanning with bincos and also his scope, found something equally interesting: A Serval! Really a testament to Abiy´s abilities as a guide, the local guide had never seen one, and also the Gelada researcher could not believe our luck - she only knew it from camera traps. The Serval was far off - many hundred metres, the other side of the swamp that was separating us from it. I asked Abiy if it would make sense to try to approach. He suggested to me to try it on my own but told me not to expect much - it would probably run very soon. And so I went down, across the swamp, pretty breathless, it was difficult to walk on the bumpy ground. But so exciting - how cool was this, trying to get close to a Serval on foot? And I was lucky again - the Serval trusted in its camouflage and stayed put. As a matter of fact, even though I knew exactly where it was it was difficult for me to remember the spot. There were no distinguishing features here in the landscape, and everytime I looked away (which I had to because I had to watch where I was going) it was difficult to relocate it. It blended in perfectly. The closer I got the more it crouched down, until I could only see its ears. Until it grudgingly came to the conclusion that hiding was not enough in this situation - and off it ran: After a while it stopped, hid again, and our game of cat and mouse started anew: But soon it retreated again, and I let it be - thrilled with my very own Serval hunt on foot!
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    An elephant bull enjoys his mudbath in the Mwamba waterhole. Safari is full of surprises. A few minutes out of camp on a morning drive and we noticed that lions had walked down the track during the night so we were quietly following their spoor. Imagine our astonishment when we rounded a bend in the road and this scene presented itself. Patrick the guide was agog. "Wow, that's rare" he said. In 24 years of guiding he had seen Spotted Hyaenas mating only once before.
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    And yet... I still have five leopards to go! Never dreamed we'd see so many individual leopards in the Mara. @offshorebirder Birding around Porini Lion was quite good. There are many trees around. Of course, we were primarily in camp in the heat of the mid-day, so birding wasn't THAT active, but there was always something. While hubby napped I was usually sitting in front of our tent watching for something to land in the big bush in front of me. I was going to save the birds for later, but since you asked here are a few that were taken right in the camp. In fact, I may as well use this post to highlight some of the wildlife that was right in the camp itself. So all of the following images were taken right in Porini Lion Camp. This Brown-throated Wattle-eye was a lifer for us! Speckled Mousebirds frequented the trees and bushes by the river. This Little Bee-eater was actually below me on the river bank. A bit too busy of a background, but I like his spread tail. We also got a lifer White-throated Bee-eater, but unfortunately it was far on the other side of the river bank, so no good photo. There were some other interesting critters around camp. This Yellow-winged Bat was hanging in the tree directly next to our tent. And as I mentioned, the river below held many zebra and wildebeest during the heat of the day. Here's a typical mid-day view from our "porch." Well, actually you couldn't see the river from the porch, you had to get up and walk ten steps to look down at it from above--there was a steep drop-off. We kept hoping for a leopard to come through--and its entirely possible--but we never saw one. And this Olive Baboon crossed below our tent as well. There were also many sunbirds and a variety of LBJs, not all of which I could confidently identify. I'm pretty sure this one is Zitting.
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    with the sun showing its face on the other side of the round planet earth, Ben took out the spotlight. Kosie and Ben could hear our whispers and feel our breaths on them to deliver what we were silently saying to Tswalu. aardvark aardvark aardvark. Ben suddenly jerked the spotlight. I had no idea what he was doing, perhaps the spotlight went kaput and he was shaking it vigorously to get it working again. But Kosie knew. He said aardvark! OMG OMG, where where? there There. well the grass was knee high and the light was so low, i could just make grass rustling. kosie had stopped the car. he took a couple of minutes before he said come on let's go on foot. Quietly. we quickly got down - my OH was grappling with his DSLR and I was grappling this new heavy Sony thingie. and struggling with the equipment, we also had to watch where our feet were going to avoid stepping on branches (failed), and try to keep up with Kosie (fail) and still looked where that elusive creature was heading (Big Fail). The aardvark heard us and zoomed so fast into its den. Kosie went close to the hole and told us to listen to the poor creature trying to claw its way in the hole far far away from us. I Saw My AARDVARK!! okay. it was blurry and half the time I was seeing grasses then the animal. But i saw its shape - it was bigger than I expected - ears like rabbit but I couldn't see its face clearly. and all i got were two blurry photos which I will claim to be works of modern art (one of which is above). back into the truck we went. what else could we see tonight? brown hyena i breathed. aardwolf, my OH breathed. the spotlight had other ideas. it konked out. Ben spent about 5 minutes fingering and tweaking it, and viola! it worked. and 5 minutes later he was doing the jerky thing again. an Aardwolf. this time round, my filming of the aardwolf was way better than the last time.
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    SLNP is synonymous with night drives. Many guests love them. Me, I'm in two minds about them. Often I think you end up in a hypnotic trance watching the spotlight flash back & forth in front of you and yet at other times they can be crackers. On one particular drive we were looking for ardvark, at one point a strange shape moved ahead of us... Is it!?, nope, ...only a leopard. I've never been so disappointed to see a leopard. Even so my consolation prize from that drive was this little gem. An innocuous chameleon. It's disguise revealed by backlighting from a spotlight. The young elephant from the family group shot in post #9. It's possible this was caused by a crocodile and I'd hate to think that a poacher's snare was involved. She seemed to be coping well enough and was healthy otherwise. The Last waterhole hide at Mwamba camp is not in an ideal location from a photography perspective as usually you are shooting into the sun but other than that it is incredible. Often guests spend hours in the hide between brunch and the afternoon game drive. An amazing amount of game from elephant to the smallest birds visit the waterhole. I witnessed a lion hunt there in 2008. The animals can be incredibly close too, at times if I had wished I could have reached out and touched the elephants standing next to the hide. Buffalo frequent the waterhole too. This is a full frame image with the buff suspiciously looking at the hide whilst listening to the sound of my camera's shutter. Behind you!, Behind you!. This impala herd was completely oblivious of the male lion and I could swear the 3 lioness (out of picture) deliberately forced them to run in his direction but the big fella was completely uninterested. He had found a nice shady spot with a cooling breeze off the river and wasn't moving. An ox-pecker either whispers sweet nothings or looks for parasites in a zebra's ear.

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