PHALANX

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  1. Our remaining days were spent covering as much of Ol Pejeta’s 90,000 acres as was possible, but we soon came to realise it would not be possible to see it all, the remainder would have to wait until next time. The area east of the river is normally the most productive and with the most amount of game, but on this trip the west side of the river was proving to be much more productive. We constantly found small herds of Elephant, many with young and in all sorts of terrain. On one occasion as we worked our way through the bush near to the Chimp sanctuary we were surprised by a magnificent bull Elephant which suddenly materialised from out of nowhere. He was in musth with the glands on the sides of his head distinctly marked by the oily secretion produced when his testosterone levels rise. We could also detect the scent of urine as the light breeze wafted the aroma in our direction, and we could see the stains on the inside of his back legs. Sam our driver became hyper alert when this big guy appeared ahead of us. Watching & waiting to see where he was going so as not to obstruct him. He momentarily gave us “that look” that big bulls give as a distinct warning, and after a shake of his head he turned 180 degrees and moved off having first to cross a small stream. It was amazing to watch this enormous animal tackle this small but tricky obstacle. The stream was about a meter or so deep so he had to be careful, first placing his front legs in the stream, his back legs were now bent so as to be on his knees, he slowly pulled one back leg forward, then the other and in one movement pushed up on his front legs was soon on the other bank. A little further along the stream we found several Buffalo standing up to their stomach’s in the stream feeding on the rich vegetation.The Buffalo are doing very well and on one morning drive we were seeing large herds everywhere. Approaching the Ol Pejeta dam it was like watching an exodus. Buffalo were coming from all directions and there were so many calves among the herds which was a good sign for the future. The herds were all converging on the dam and in the early morning light it was a magical scene which lay before us. With the rains coming much of the game had young and there is nothing more endearing than a young Giraffe. We came across one such endearing creature with its mother, whom we had seen from a distance earlier, and we were amazed at the distance they had covered to where we had now found them. The youngster was about 10ft tall so we took it to be about a year old. This area was also where we had seen the two lionesses’s so mum was very alert and wary as they moved through the low whistling thorn bush. We were seeing black/silver back Jackal on most game drives; constantly on the move they always seemed to be going somewhere. Occasionally they would rest, but something in their psyche seemed to prompt them in to action and they were off again. The large amount of Jackal is probably the result of the immense amount of young we saw in March. The Eland is without doubt my favourite antelope and I will photograph them at every opportunity if possible. This is fine when I travel alone but on this trip my family & friends were not impressed when I asked Sam to stop for a photo opportunity while we were heading to where we were told there were two male lions. But they were very generous knowing my love of Eland, and we did find the lions, and they were the two comatose lions we had seen before. Overall, I think you will agree, it had been a successful safari, and an amazing one for my first time visitors, I mean “wild dog” on their first visit. They were very happy, especially with the Elephant sightings, and assure me they will return. Apart from Leopard they had seen just about everything Ol Pejeta has to offer. Roll on next year.
  2. Sorry about the quality, they are old photo's.
  3. There are many Cheetah on Ol Pejeta but they are not easy to find due to the terrain and the conservancy rules which ban off road driving. Fortunately our driver Sam has a friend who is a ranger on Ol Pejeta. John would phone Sam if he saw any of the cats while he was out on patrol and give us a rough location. This obviously gave us a head start knowing where to look, but we still had to find them, and in the time it took us to get there they would have move quite some distance. John phoned Sam three times. Twice for Lions, & once for Cheetah. The lions were relatively easy to find as they were resting not too far from the road. The Cheetah was another proposition. It was a mother & two sub adult cubs and they were moving through the whistling thorn bush. When we finally found them mother was on the hunt, with cubs in tow. She appeared to be focusing on some Thompson Gazelles a little way down in a shallow depression. It was amazing to watch her weave her way through the thorn bush, not ideal terrain for a Cheetah, with the cubs instinctively copying her. The track we were on did not go in the direction of the Gazelles so all we could do was to watch them as they slowly disappeared down into the depression. As far as we could see the Tommie’s had not seen her but not much happened, so we can only assume she had been spotted and moved on to find other prey. On another evening we found two large male Lions near to Murera donga, they were doing what lions do best, sleeping. I say sleeping, but they were more comatose. Lions do not move much but there is usually a twitch of an ear or a momentary look up on hearing a noise, but these two never moved as much as a whisker all the time we were there, so much so as to cause us for a moment to think, “are they alive?”. We came across them several days later and amazingly the exact same scenario. We were told there was a lot of commotion behind the Chimpanzee sanctuary and that it was a Cheetah. On arrival, literally outside the back gates, the Chimps inside their secure quarters were screaming. We don’t think they could see the Cheetah, but may have earlier when she caught a young Impala. Their natural instincts must have told them this animal is a predator as they would never have had any encounter with a wild cat before. She was resting under a bush, not far from the sanctuary. We could not see any kill, then After a while she got up, sauntered a few meters and settled down to finish her meal. John made one more call on our penultimate day. It was around 5 O-clock and it was to inform us of a wild dog over on the Ol Pejeta house side of the conservancy. We headed off, crossing the bridge that has a sign which says.........and on to the Lodru plains. It was not long before we picked up on a lone figure lying a little way off from the road. In my mind when I hear “wild dog” I immediately think of a pack or maybe 4/5,I was surprised to see just the one. It was a male and we have been told he was born on the conservancy a few years ago. Why was he back? And alone?? He did not stay long and eventually trotted off into the distance where we could not follow. We made our way back passing through a small valley north of Kicheche camp. The sky was starting to clear and the sunlight lit the valley revealing a large herd of Reticulated Giraffe spread throughout the valley. At first we thought there was only 5/6 Giraffe, then the sunlight revealed 15 more as we scanned the full length of the valley. It was such a beautiful & peaceful scene, one which will stay with me for a long time to come.
  4. After a few days relaxing and a couple of productive game drives, Lion and Rhino, it was my big day. It was an early start, and I came to realise very quickly this was not my sister-in-law’s favourite time of day. It was a beautiful start to the day, Mt Kenya was clear apart from a bit of cloud which soon dispersed as the sun rose from behind the mountain, up to then it had been covered in low cloud, and the bird song was a joy to awake to. The drive was very pleasant, though the game this morning was not abundant, but as always there were those magic moments, like when we came across a small breeding herd of Elephants, and later five white Rhino out on the plain. The birdlife again made up for the lack of game on this drive with two African fish Eagles setting up home in a large yellow fever tree near the marsh. Not too far from them on the other side of the marsh was a magnificent Martial Eagle. As we drove along the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River we saw Grey headed Kingfisher’s flying from bank to bank, and unintentionally disturbed a pair of Little Bee-eaters. A little further on we came out into a small glade where a table had been set up, with numerous amounts of Birthday paraphernalia, the chef was busy preparing breakfast and we were greeted by friends from Sweetwater’s who were to see to our every need. After freshening up we tucked into a sumptuous full English breakfast, washed down by copious amounts of tea. I did say tea was to play a large part in our safari. After numerous photo’s had been taken we headed off back to Sweetwater’s. The birthday celebrations were not over. After resting up through the remainder of the day we set out on an afternoon drive. It had been raining on and off throughout the afternoon but it was beginning to stop now and we noticed there was more game around than in the morning. The cats though were proving to be elusive. Around 5.30pm we were driving along the road which runs along the back of the marsh and as we approached we could see there were 30-40 Buffalo in the marsh and a large flock of about 15 Grey crowned Cranes. As we turned the corner to drive down to marsh we were surprised by our friends from the morning who had set up a bar with some very tasty hot bites. The rain was holding off and we settled down to enjoy a sundowner, even if we would not get to see the sun go down. The low cloud cover caused the light to be less than it would have been at this time. Our driver brought our vehicle closer and turned on the headlights. We thought this was a very good idea until one of the staff informed us that the rangers think we should leave. “Leave” I said a little confused, “yes, leave now”. We had not even had a sundowner, but the rangers had raised their rifles and were looking quite concerned. We got into the vehicle and as we drove away we saw in the head lights scores of Buffalo coming through the bushes heading towards the marsh. A few minutes later the heavens opened. After a quick wash and change of clothing we finished the celebrations in the dining room telling anyone who would listen about our encounter with Africa’s most dangerous animal. The evening finished with the traditional birthday cake, which was brought out amid much singing and joviality by the staff. The end to an absolutely lovely day. Happy birthday to me.
  5. Have a great trip. I have just heard they have had a lot of rain, so it should be green.
  6. The stripped Hyena is mostly seen on night drives. When the rangers know where a den is, it will always be visited on a night drive.
  7. My goodness, where does the time go? I have been back from Ol Pejeta in Kenya almost three weeks and have only just about found time to share my latest experiences with you. As some of you will know, I am a great admirer of the Ol Pejeta conservancies work. The last five years has seen great advancements /improvements on the infrastructure & the continued success with their livestock – wildlife programme. Ol Pejeta integrates cattle with wildlife, and use livestock as a means to manage the rangelands more effectively. By day they graze out on the plains and at night are corralled in predator proof enclosures. There are over 100 herders, one for every 60 head of cattle, and there are now 7,000 head of pure Boran cattle on the conservancy, the largest herd in the world. There are also the amazing and most beautiful Ankole cattle which originate from Uganda. Much to the conservancy’s credit there has never been any conflict between the cattle & the wildlife, and No infections either. The threat of attack by predators is thwarted in the traditional way. The herders carry their traditional rungu’s, wooden clubs, and like all pastoralists they are very dedicated & protective towards the cattle. Ol Pejeta’s 90,000 acres are a paradise for the wildlife that lives there and their numbers are also on the increase. The dedicated work with the Black Rhino especially has gone a long way towards Ol Pejeta having the largest number of Black Rhino in Kenya. The Southern white Rhino is also doing very well, not to mention the valiant efforts being made to save the Northern white Rhino of which only three remain. Elephant & Buffalo numbers are up as are the numbers for the Reticulated Giraffe. There are now 5 large prides of lion on the conservancy and Cheetah numbers are stable. Leopards numbers are much harder to assess because of their elusiveness, but spotted Hyena always seem to have cubs so that is a good sign, and the stripped Hyena is also stable. Jackson's hartebeest are holding there own. Wild dogs, as a pack, have not been seen for a while, though there is one lone male on the conservancy at the moment. When I visit Ol Pejeta I always stay at Sweetwaters tented camp, Primarily for the excellent service & food, and for the very active waterhole, Though the waterhole in sept/Oct is never very busy, but night time makes up for that. But this time it was a special trip, my 70th Birthday, and I had come out with family & friends, who have never been to Africa before, to celebrate it. We flew out with BA, not overly impressed & I had arranged Transport/driver with Real Africa Safari in Nairobi. We drove up to Sweetwaters the morning after our arrival having spent the night at the Boma hotel, which I would recommend, and we arrived in time for lunch. On our way to Sweetwater’s we stopped at the blue post Inn to see the Chania falls and enjoy a refreshing cup of Kenyan tea & a toilet break. My family & friends were fascinated by the towns we passed through with all their variously coloured buildings. There were small markets creating an air of hustle & bustle but the largest market in Kenya at Karantina was not on that day. We crossed the equator, and then again when we turned off at Nanyuki. After lunch we unpacked and settled in with a relaxing afternoon watching for game at the waterhole, sadly it was very quiet, apart for a small herd of Zebra that paid a visit and three old bull Buffalo, but the bird life made up for the inactivity at the waterhole. In about two hours, with no effort on our part, save making a cup of tea, and tea would play a large part in our stay, we saw 34 species of bird, including three of the four species of Woodpecker to be found here. As I was getting ready for the evening I heard my name being called quite frantically. As I was in the shower I could only reply verbally. Chris wanted me to come and see the Black Rhino that had arrived at the waterhole. It was something of a dilemma, but having been blessed over my many years of coming to Kenya with more Rhino sightings than you can shake a Rungu at, the shower held a greater attraction for me. I told Chris to sit quietly, take it all in, and above all, enjoy the moment.
  8. I filmed this in March this year on Ol Pejeta & around Sweetwaters tented camp.
  9. We were staying at Kitchwa tembo camp on the west side of the Masai mara, just outside the actual reserve. We chose this area as we knew from past experiences that this was good Lion country. We were not far from the Musiara mash and it's famous Lion's when we thought we had found Lion's on a kill, technically we had, but on close inspection we realised that the Zebra was still alive. The other unusual thing was, all the Lion's were youngsters. We could not see an adult, but did not think these young Lion's had made this kill as they did not seem to know what to do with the Zebra which was braying and trying to get up. Two of the female Lions were holding the zebra down while the male kept walking backwards & forwards near to the head. It was as if the females were waiting for the male to finish the Zebra off, and the male looked like he knew he should, but how? He jumped on the Zebra which gave out a stifled cry. He bit at the Zebra's neck but looked confused, as did the females who were depending on the male to give the coup de grace. The male tried to pull the Zebra over to expose it's throat but the females holding it would not let go. We had been here about half-hour and it was a little distressing but were aware this has to happen for the youngster to learn. The male walked around the other side and jumped upon the Zebra again biting at it's neck. The zebra was kicking out weakly when the other female decided to join in and grabbed at the Zebra's flailing leg's. As the Zebra struggled it cried out in desperation which startled one of the Lion's which leapt backwards looking a little confused. At that moment we noticed a movement in a bush just beyond where the Lion's were. We thought it must be another youngster about to join the struggle. We drove slowly around to the other side and there was the architect of the kill, Mama. She had reacted to the Zebra's last cry of desperation, probably not believing her young had still not finished the job. She made no attempt to go and help them. She had chosen well, the Zebra was a sub adult, a good size to test her youngsters but had they been paying attention when she had previously shown them what to do? From what we had seen so far the answer was No!. The last effort by the Zebra caused it to turn more onto it's back and the male suddenly gripped the Zebra by the throat, a few adjustments and a final effort by the Zebra to get free, and it was all over. It was only now that Mama came over to show them the art of opening up their pray. As distressing as it all was, we must assume the Zebra was in shock through out. It had been about one hour in all and mama had resisted any temptation to help. She had done her part in bringing the Zebra down. You can imaging the scenario; Ok kids, here is your lunch. You have seen me do it now don't disappoint me. And eventually they didn't. On another occasion in the north of the Masai mara near the Talek river we saw a mother Cheetah do the same thing. She caught a young Thompson's Gazelle and carried it back to her three cubs. She dropped it in front of them and surprisingly the gazelle just lay there.The cubs stood looking at the young gazelle and then at each other and then back at the Gazelle. The gazelle got up but the cubs never moved, the gazelle started to run and the cheetah cubs instinctively gave chase. They soon caught the up with the gazelle and the lead cub tripped it with a quick flick of it's paw. The three cubs once again surrounded the gazelle and standing there staring at the gazelle seemed totally bemused as to what they should do. Two of them clawed at their prey but without any real conviction when suddenly the gazelle was up and running again. Once more they gave chase and caught the gazelle once again, this happened two more times until mama decided that was enough practise for one day, and she calmly walked over, dispatched the gazelle, opened it up allowed the cubs to feed first. Resting a short distance away she waited until they had finished and then ate herself.
  10. Just for you Pam; Egyptian goose, in a tree? Black shoulered Kite, some call it a Black-winged Kite? Egyptian Goslings. Cute or what Yellow necked Spurfowl/francolin African Snipe The resident Tawney Eagle(pale phase) There has been a pair nesting at Sweetwaters for many years now. Bearded woodpecker. There are many around the camp. Darnaud's Barbet. The beautiful duet of these birds is one of natures pure joy's. White crowned Shrike gathering at dusk Wattled starlings. There were literally flocks of hundreds around the camp LBR surely one of natures master pieces. A regular migrant on Ol Pejeta The cattle Egret. I have recently seen one where I live on the south coast of UK. That was a surprise. Must be up from southern Europe. Blue naped Mouse-bird, just beautiful. Finally the common Kestrel
  11. As I said in my trip report "BACK HOME, OL PEJETA" the birdlife on the conservancy and especially around the camp at Sweetwaters was amazing. Cardinal & Grey woodpeckers. While one cannot photograph every bird, though I tried my best, Sulphur breasted Bushshrike there were plenty of opportunities to capture a lot of the wonderful sighting I saw. White bellied Bustards Red billed tea yellow billed Duck. There were a lot of migrants, trans African as well as European around which added to the variety of birds I saw. Northern Wheatear Brimstone Canary And a regular sighting of raptors. Jv Black chested snake Eagle. African Fish Eagle Martial Eagle Augur Buzzard. Here are a few more. Crowned Hornbill. Greater blue-eard Starling. Brown Parrot. Rupples Starling. Speckled pigeon. If you you can bare it, i may upload some more.
  12. The waterhole at Sweetwaters had not been overly busy during the day, but at night there was a lot of activity, especially between 7-9 O-clock. At dusk the Defassa waterbuck would arrive settling down after drinking for the night. Then the Buffalo would arrive. Herds of about 60/70 were the norm but on one evening a big herd of about 150+ arrived. With the ground having reverted back to it's pre storm dryness the movement of 600+ hooves moving across it created dust screen which in low lighting gave the scene a surreal feel to it. Three black Rhino had arrived just before the Buffalo and were drinking quite peacefully but then became very agitated by all the commotion & upheaval that comes with a large herd of Buffalo intent only on sating their thirst. One Rhino in particular was really put out by it all and was charging around snorting and caused a moment of panic when he mock charged a mother & calf. The Rhino continued strutting up & down and snorting his displeasure, while the other two continued drinking and then all three finally moved off leaving the Buffalo to finish drinking, and probably thinking "what was his problem". On another night a lone bull Elephant had an altercation with another pair of black Rhino. On this occasion it was over the drinking rights at the best spot which is where the camp keeps the waterhole topped up. At this spot the water is fresh and unsullied and a lot of the game has learnt this, but not all. These, natures heavyweights, both knew this was the prime spot and both were intent on drinking there. As the Rhino moved in like a pair of heavies the Elephant backed off, which must have made the \rhino feel quite smug, but the Elephant was just sizing up the competition and after a few minutes moved forward menacingly. One Rhino backed away instantly, they other needed a little more persuasion. A deep rumble came from the Elephant and with a forward lunge of his head was more than enough to deter the other Rhino from staying any longer. The rhino moved away to drink at the waterhole leaving the Elephant to sate his thirst after what had been a very hot day. My time at Sweetwaters & on Ol Pejeta was coming to an end and as I look back I will always remember a most wonderful morning in camp when we had herds of Eland, Giraffe and Zebra came together with the regular Impala & wart hogs and what a magical scene it was. Then there was the morning when three big bull Elephants came. They were noticeably very close, constantly rubbing against one another. And while they drank, all together, they would rub heads in a way I have not seen before, it was very touching. One morning down by the river we came across a herd of Giraffe drinking from a pool left by the storm, set among yellow Acacia trees it was such a beautifully natural scene. On another morning while I was sitting outside my tent I saw a large herd of animals in the distance. Picking up my binoculars I focused them & my goodness, they were Defassa Waterbuck. I had never seen them in a herd before. I counted 35 all together. They were coming strait towards me, it was such a lovely sight. These were not the resident waterbuck I usually see. Some of them drank briefly at the waterhole, otherwise the moved on in unison across the camp and vanished into the bush. The little things are always a bonus, like the Steenbok we surprise near to camp, and the slender Mongoose which ran across my path in camp and the pair of bats I found while I was birding. In the evening I would walk to the far end of camp, torch in hand, and on most nights I would get to see 2/3 Bush babies. My bird count finished at 174 species with 130 of them seen around the camp grounds, which is quite astonishing in such a small area. Some final memories. I hope you have enjoyed your time with me on Ol Pejeta, until next time(Oct?)................
  13. I just love the scenery around the Chyulus. Great photo's. AJ
  14. Ol Pejta' stars were also doing very well, both Black & White, and there were many calves to be seen. In fact it was difficult not to see them on a game drive so well are they breeding. The whites were always in small groups, but the black were generally in pairs, mother & calf, or alone. A nice piece of interaction I observed was between three whites. They were moving across a plain with great purpose then stopped when they came across a pile of dung. They all took great interest in it and in turn each sniffed at it for several minutes. Then the largest of the three defecated, without the usual spreading of it's dung with it's back legs, then they all moved off, again with the same urgency they had shown before. I was fascinated by this. Firstly this site was not a midden, there was no spreading of the dung at all, so was this literally a message? It certainly appeared to be, for after they had absorbed it's content, they then left their reply and went on their way. It was all so simple, and so fascinating. Ol Pejeta is one of the few places in Kenya, if not the only place, to see Jackson's Hartebeest. In Uganda they are as common as Cokes Hartebeest are in Kenya, so it was nice to see that they were also breeding well, though I did hear that one fell prey to a Cheetah. As I have said, the conservancy was extremely dry with inch wide cracks in the ground around the camp. The marsh was green but bone dry leaving the Defassa waterbuck a little confused. There was water in all but one of the dams, though far from full. Elephant dam had a little water when I arrived but within a week it was dry. All this is in stark contrast to my second afternoon in camp. Each day rain clouds would build up in the distance around Nanyuki, the sound of distant thunder could be heard intermittently, but nothing ever developed from this. But, during that second afternoon all that was to change. After lunch I was sitting outside of my tent having a cup of coffee, the rain clouds & thunder over Nanyuki went through their routine, but this time I could smell the rain. Within half an hour the sky darkened noticeably and it became very cold. The wind had also picked up appreciably and for a moment I thought we may just get some rain. Hold that thought, "may" get some rain. Within fifteen minutes the first drops started to fall creating little puffs of dust as it hit the parched ground. Ten minutes later I was scrambling into my tent with my coffee, camera & binoculars, then frantically trying to zip up the tent & windows, which was proving difficult as the wind was blowing directly at the front of the tent causing it to bow dramatically. By now the rain had become a storm and I could barely see the waterhole as I peeked out through the corner of one window. Standing there I felt my feet were wet. Looking down I could see water coming through the zips which were being forced apart by the strength of the wind, and as the rain was being blown directly into the front of the tent it was running down, no cascading down the front like a waterfall. I tried as hard as I could to push the front of the tent outward hoping the zips would close a little but it was like it was alive. As much as I pushed the front outward the wind would lift the bottom and the rain would come in there. Thankfully, after about twenty minutes the wind turned and was now blowing across from left to right. I took this window of opportunity to get some towels and lay them along the bottom zips. This stopped any more rain getting in, but when I checked the zips when it was all over the wind had torn the zip lining away from the tent itself. The fundi man(maintenance)was very good & quick in repairing the damage and my tent was ready for the next storm. After two hours the storm had passed and the light rain stopped half hour later. The camp grounds were waterlogged but within a couple of hours you would not had known it had rained, apart from the ground being soft. Twenty four hours later after a day of sunshine the ground was bone dry again. Over the next few days we had some showers in the evening but no more rain. As I write this I have heard that it has not rained again since I left. In the cool evening air the game was noticeably more active, especially the Waterbuck who are normally quite sedate in their evening routine. The impala were running to & fro with no obvious reason for their activity other than enjoying some relief from what had been a very hot day before the storm. The waterhole was relatively quite that night, unlike other nights while I was there. More on that next time.....................

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