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  1. PART 2 - OL KINYEI AND NABOISHO CONSERVANCIES (PORINI MARA CAMP) My gratitude to the kind folks who commented on part 1 of my trip report. However, had you been more candid, you might have saved yourselves from the pain of even more photos in part 2. Now my conscience is clear going forward with this section . . . Departure from Nanyuki West airstrip for the flight down to the Ol Seki airstrip (closest to the Mara Camp) was uneventful, but interesting nonetheless. I had assumed that we might get a direct flight to Ol Seki, but it didn't work out that way. In fact, it took two different aircraft (Twin Otter & Caravan) and four flight segments to reach Ol Seki airstrip, but all segments were reasonably short, skies were calm, and the flights were no hassle. Every one of our AirKenya flights left at a different time than originally scheduled, which I gather is routine for these safari flights in Africa, but what really impressed me was how well AirKenya and Porini handled these changes. Once AirKenya figured out their schedule for the coming day (presumably looking for an efficient mix of aircraft, crews, passengers, and destinations), they would contact with Porini main office in Nairobi with any schedule changes (and it seemed there were ALWAYS schedule changes). The Porini main office would then contact the relevant camp manager, and the most disruption a guest might see is to hear "your flight is leaving an hour later tomorrow morning, so you will get an extra hour of game drive". Amazing how smoothly this all operated. Mara Camp itself has only six guest tents, situated in an arc along the banks of a small winding stream, and a dining/lounge tent located at the approximate center of that arc. In the larger sense, this camp is situated on the western edge of the 18,700-acre Ol Kinyei Conservancy, but that borders directly on the 50,000-acre Naboisho Conservancy, so the Mara Camp has easy access to a lot of productive terrain. I am not sure I can articulate exactly why this is so, but I thought the Mara Camp had the best "vibe" of the three Porini camps I visited. Sometimes it is the setting, sometimes it is the staff, sometimes it is the other guests - in the case of the Mara Camp, I guess it was all of those things. The camp has a resident bushbuck (not by any means tame, but clearly accustomed to hanging around the safety of the camp environs) As well as a troop of vervet monkeys that frolic around the camp (well, okay, also THROUGH the camp). An editorial comment here. A small river forms the boundary between Ol Kinyei and Naboisho, and someone was very smart in how they handled the river crossing. Instead of just driving down one bank, through the water and up the opposite bank as you see in the Mara Reserve, the conservancies here have built a short section of pavement through the lowest part of the crossing (what we would call a "Texas crossing" here in the United States). There are upright concrete posts on the downstream side of this paved section, which I assume gives the driver a visual reference on water depth and also would keep a vehicle from washing downstream. Not only does this type of crossing (also seen elsewhere in these two conservancies) seem safer, it also reduces streambed erosion and creates a small impoundment of water upstream. And you know how much the local animals and birdlife benefit from reliable water sources in the savannah. In the vicinity of this border between the two conservancies, we saw a number of very healthy grazing animals, including numerous impala (always graceful). And this unusual-for-me Coke's hartbeest. This terrain seemed to abound in birdlife, and I can never seem to resist a lilac breasted roller in good light. The highlight of this first afternoon (23 Nov) at the Mara Camp, and probably the highlight of my entire visit to this camp, was time spent with a small lion pride on the eastern side of Naboisho Conservancy. The weather was overcast, and looked like an afternoon shower was likely. This pride of two adult females and five cubs was sleeping off their evening meal of wildebeest. The fifth cub is not visible in this first photo; more on this cub later. WARNING - lots of lion photos to follow. This particular cub is definitely well-fed; even lying on her back, her belly is enormous! One other cub found a nice plaything from part of the wildebeest carcass, and went looking for a playmate. However, an afternoon downpour started, and everyone, including the playful cub, headed for cover. Given the small size of the local bushes, most of the adult lion bodies were left stuck out in the rain. The cubs fared better in finding cover, but their attention span for sitting still did not last long, and soon they were back out in the easing rain. Some of the cubs began cleaning each other, and some others started playing together. But our little bundle of trouble with the wildebeest bodypart toy went back out looking for new playmate to engage in a little tug of war. Meanwhile, one of the adult females did her best to shake off the excess water, and then sprawled out on her back - because it is important that the ENTIRE lion be clean and dry. Trouble eventually did stir up some interest in a game of tug of war, but probably not with the body part he had in mind. This cub seems to be trying to strike that perfect balance between cute and fierce. Sorry, buddy, still too cute! Most of the cubs began wandering further afield into a shallow depression, and became much dirtier in the process. Meanwhile, the fifth cub stayed tucked under the bushes near the wildebeest carcass. Our guide was concerned this cub could be ill and might not last too much longer. After a quick round of seconds on the carcass, the pride began moving off to stage right (minus the fifth cub). The adult females looked pretty clean and tidy at this point, if still a bit damp. Some of the cubs . . . not so much. This one female doesn't seem very happy with a muddy cubby walking so close to her. At this point, an adult jackal was approaching from stage left, and one of the adult females was keeping a close watch on this jackal. With the pride apparently departing the scene, we were worried what this jackal might mean for the fifth cub. Fortunately, this cub got up and walked away (and looked normal walking) as the jackal approached the carcass, and eventually the jackal was left to dine in peace. I did alert you there would be a lot of lion photos. But lion cubs are so adorable, even when wet. Maybe especially when wet. The adult lions seem really annoyed with being wet, whereas the cubs' joy at being alive seems to override any temporary discomfort from the rain. Beyond the photos, the memory that will stay with me from this time with the lions is the SOUND of the pride members softly calling to each. Not really a MEOW like our domestic cats make, more just the "OW" portion of the sound. Interesting that it was hard to distinguish whether it was an adult or a cub making those OW sounds. All made for a memorable encounter. The sky stayed overcast at dusk, and we were in for heavy rain through the overnight hours. Day 5 (24 Nov) dawned clear and a little cooler. This seemed to be the pattern for the next several days- cloud cover building up during the day with late afternoon thunderstorms, typically with the rain continuing overnight. I knew going in that this was at the end of the short rainy season, so some rain was not at all surprising. The camp manager here (Jimmy) said that the rains were a little later coming than usual this year, as it more typically dry by the latter part of November. The rain did not really cause any problems or prohibit any game drives. Some of the river crossings, especially down in the Mara Reserve, were probably more challenging for the drivers than they would otherwise be, and I was surprised how much standing water there would be on flat sections of ground after a rainstorm. The most significant impact for me was just the lower light levels from the overcast skies - I spent a lot of time shooting at ISO3200. Our morning drive with Josephat as our guide and Julius as our driver was quite productive in terms of bird life, especially around some of the river crossings in the Naboisho Conservancy. Morning sun highlighted the coloration of the Maasai giraffe, noticeably different from the reticulated variety up in Ol Pejeta. A group of grey-backed fiscals enjoying the morning. Would this be called a flutter of fiscals? An Isabelline wheatear, a new species for me. And a male Maasai ostrich, looking for a mate. A mated pair of Kirk's dik-diks. This little species seems to be fairly reclusive, which probably keeps them from being eaten. This scene struck us as a bit unusual, a group of five vultures in the morning sun. But three different species of vulture all together: African white-backed vulture, lappet-faced vulture, and Ruppell's griffon vulture. We sat for a while at one of the river crossings and just watched the birds come and go. Starting with a grey-headed heron reclaiming his favorite parking spot. Continuing with this vulture flying from tree to tree looking for the perfect perch. A nearby Thompson's gazelle had a pair of horns that seemed nearly as long as his legs. A white-headed buffalo weaver busy collecting construction materials for a new nest. And a pair of yellow-billed oxpeckers was just hanging out at their local breakfast joint. Our guide thought this topi calf might be only a day or two old. Harry, driver Julius, and guide Josephat enjoying a bush breakfast in Naboisho Conservancy. And a lilac breasted roller enjoying his own bush breakfast (I think I'll just stick with my toast, thank you) These helmeted guineafowl seem to be fairly common, but are surprisingly hard to photograph as they are always in motion (and usually moving AWAY from the photographer). Sort of the avian equivalent of warthogs . . . What kingfishers eat for breakfast when they get tired of fish . . . And another satisfied bug-eater, this one a female Von der Decken's hornbill. I expect most everyone else has already seen these mwanza flat-headed agamas, but this was the first time I noticed them. In part 1 of this trip report, I did ask readers to take notice of where the elephant calf was nursing. No, the answer is not that the calf was nursing in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. I meant where on the mother elephant the calf was nursing - strangely enough, and something I never knew, elephant mammary glands are located just behind the front legs. And that is relevant why? Well, because the elephant's closest terrestrial relative shares this distinguishing anatomical feature, as does the elephant's closest marine relative (the sea cow/dugong/manatee). In addition to the locaton of the mammary glands and having a long gestation period, these terrestrial cousins share some other common features involving the shape of the toes and toenails, tusk-like dentition, and internal testes in the males. If you were to see these two creatures standing side by side . . . well, you probably wouldn't even notice one of them. Welcome to the world of the little rock hyrax. This little fellow is politely posing for his school yearbook photo (voted LEAST LIKELY TO BE MISTAKEN FOR AN ELEPHANT). And a creature that you might think is closely related to an elephant, but is not. Unfortunately, I did not note down the name of the river where these happy hippos were found. Here is a lovely violet-backed starling: And a hammerkop poised to do something, I'm not quite sure if it was actively hunting or just thinking about it. Our afternoon game drive went to the eastern side of the Ol Kinyei Conservancy, new terrain for Harry and me. Finally, a presentable photo of a little bee eater! A lovely striped kingfisher I am always a sucker for zebras. A mother giraffe next to junior What a magnificent pair of horns on this impala When not hunting or scavenging, jackals are really quite striking animals. Definite look of intelligence behind those eyes. The afternoon rain arrived, and soaked a pair of cheetah brothers. Like the lions, still gorgeous even when soaking wet. Day 6 (25 Nov) was an all-day drive from the Mara Camp down into the Mara Reserve. This daytrip bears a little more explanation. I understood that stays of 3 nights or more at Mara Camp include a one-day admission to the Mara Reserve, so Harry and I assumed that one of our two full days at Mara Camp would include this trip. The camp manager Jimmy and our guide Josephat, knowing that we were going on to Lion Camp next, assumed that we would prefer to do our Mara Reserve visit from there, a much shorter drive. However, we only had a 2-night stay at Lion Camp, meaning only one full day there, and I felt we had more time for the Reserve visit during our longer stay at the Mara Camp. Was I right in persisting for a one-day visit to the Reserve from Mara Camp? Well, you will have to keep reading to learn the answer to that question. As with the previous day, this one dawned clear and that first hour provided some of the best game viewing and photography. Most of these photos were taken during the drive through the Naboisho Conservancy to reach the Talek Gate into the Reserve. The total drive takes maybe two hours, but the last hour or so is not particularly scenic. Here is a tawny eagle warming up with the sunrise (and probably also scoping out breakfast opportunities). An already-beautiful lilac breasted roller looks even better in morning light. Everything looks good in morning light, even this Ruppell's griffon vulture. After entering the Reserve via the Talek Gate (and resisting the urge to buy a shuka, necklace, or a Maasai spear (not that the opportunity did not present itself), we did come across this lovely zebra mother with her young foal I do like the "milk chocolate" coloring of the young Zebras. And the zebra lookout. Almost should qualify as a "dazzle of one". Further into the Reserve, we located a leopard sleeping in a tree. Well, maybe more accurately, we located a gaggle of safari vehicles full of tourists all trying to observe a leopard sleeping in a tree. I think our guide quickly understood that this wasn't the Mara we came to see, so we headed off in different directions from the rest of the crowd in search of something out of the ordinary (and, to be honest, some solitude). Josephat soon found us a yellow-throated longclaw . . . Enroute to more open spaces, we did see a herd of elephants (being somewhat harried by safari vehicles and white minivans) and what I gather is somewhat unusual for the Mara, a couple of black rhinos. By only 10AM in the morning, the sky was already starting to cloud up. At our stop for another bush breakfast, we discovered some lion pawprints in the vehicle tracks (hopefully made prior to our arrival, not during . . . or so we convinced ourselves!). There is something special about those Mara landscapes. Those who have been there already know what I mean. Those who haven't been there yet - you have to go and experience this place. As the lion tracks attest, things were a bit damp from heavy rains the night before. The other evidence of recent rains - it seemed that half the puddles were occupied by hyenas cooling their hindquarters! Josephat soon found us a close cousin to the yellow-throated longclaw we had seen earlier in the morning. This would be the rosy-throated variety of the longclaw. I have earlier confessed to my fascination with small mammals in Africa, and thought at some point in my safari future I should visit the Kalahari to see those cute little standing meerkats. Just saved myself a trip, when we came across a group of banded mongoose doing their best meerkat impressions: Not that I can pass up some of the larger mammals: Another of those iconic Mara landscapes. I am pretty sure this is a pale variant of a tawny eagle, but feel free to correct me if that is wrong. That request goes for all of my species identifications and misidentifications. This one I think I can identify with some confidence (always a dangerous thing). Superb starling. Part of the magic of the Mara and surrounding conservancies at this time of year is seeing how quickly everything "greens up" after some rainfall. All the grazers seem to thrive with all the fresh green grass. This small pod of hippos was either on the lower reaches of the Talek River just before it joins the Mara River, or on the main Mara River itself just after the confluence with the Talek (I forgot to ask). And where there are hippos, there often seem to be Nile crocodiles. The riverbank was a promising place to search for small birds. First, a little bee eater (why do they often looked so pissed?)r: And a grey-headed kingfisher: Black-winged Plover (or Black-winged Lapwing, pick your poison) More banded mongoose, some in motion, and some other ones . . . also in motion. I didn't take the photograph of the mating mongoose pair out of prurient interest. Rather, note that the female is continuing to look for food. So much for the whole dinner-and-a-movie thing first! The river levels were still high from the previous evening's rain. They would get higher. The sky began to darken, there were rumbles of thunder in the distance, and the temperature dropped dramatically. Interesting to watch how the animals reacted to an impending storm. Even us humans finally figured that something was coming, and we decided to head for home. We were not quite timely enough with that decision, and spent much of the drive back to the Mara Camp through the pouring rain, with the canvas side covers rolled down. Photographing from open-sided safari vehicles, I expected to come back and have to wipe off some dust and occasional moisture from the cameras and lenses. This was the first time I came back and had to clean mud spatters off of EVERYTHING (including myself). I mentioned before how I was surprised at how water stands on the flat terrain after a rainstorm - this photo gives you a sense of that. Even when the land is dry overall, I guess the soil type here does not allow for rapid infiltration of the rainwater. Closer to camp and through the worst of the rain, we found a couple soggy cheetahs - I think these are the same cheetah brothers we had seen on the previous afternoon. Unlike the young lion cubs from earlier in this Mara Camp adventure, I guess these adolescent cheetahs are old enough to capture that feline look of aggravation and misery at being wet. So, was I right or wrong about insisting on a daytrip to the Mara Reserve this day? WIth the advantage of hindsight (and especially after visiting Lion Camp), the camp staff at the Mara Camp was right and I was wrong. You do lose some transit time getting from camp to the Reserve, and some of the drive right after entering the Talek Gate is not particularly interesting, but in a sense you gain that time back by having lunch in the Reserve instead of returning to camp for a lunch break. My real issue is that, after enjoying the relative solitude of the private conservancies, the Mara Reserve just seemed . . . overcrowded with tourists. Some behaving badly. I still love the Mara, it is a special place, but I fear it is being loved to death. Too many people for my tastes, even in off-season. In retrospect, I would have done as well for game viewing and photography to have stayed in the Ol Kinyei and Naboisho conservancies for those 12 hours, and I would have had a more enjoyable time in the process. End of sermon . . . Day 7 (26 Nov) dawned with a light overcast. This was our day to drive (rather than fly) from the Mara Camp over to the Lion Camp, a drive of roughly 2 hours duration. However, we coupled this with a morning game drive through the Naboisho Conservancy, so it became more like a 6-hour journey. The most fascinating part of this trip was watching a pair of young male lions slowly working their way from east to west through the Conservancy. Josephat thought they were from out of the area, and either looking for new territory or trying to reunite with their pride. You know how older male lions show their age with scars and other wear and tear? These two young lions (Joesphat estimated 5-6 years old) were in magnificent shape, positively beautiful. As you are about to see for yourselves . . . These two tended to mosey along at 100 yds or more apart, so I did not capture too many photographs of them together. A few more subjects of interest from our drive over to Lion Camp. Bare-faced go-away-bird Tawny eagle hunting on the ground White-backed vulture feeding on carcass A crested lark Blue-headed tree agama A Ruppell's griffon vulture (I think) And one more cheetah portrait I will end this portion of the trip report with a parting photo of our driver Julius and our guide Josephat, and a sincere thank you to both of them and to manager Jimmy and all the other staff at Mara Camp. And for those readers that have stuck with me so far, I should warn you that Part 3 will have cats, cats, and more cats. However, due to a travel commitment, I won't be able to post Part 3 until another two weeks or so. Sorry about the dramatic pause...
  2. INTRODUCTION This will be a three-part trip report covering visits to several different conservancies in Kenya during the latter part of November 2018: Ol Pejeta Conservancy via Porini Rhino Camp, Ol Kinyei and Naboisho Conservancies via Porini Mara Camp, and Olare Motorogi Conservancy plus the Mara Reserve via Porini Lion Camp. I am a relative newcomer to SafariTalk, but I found it an invaluable resource in planning this trip, so it is time to start paying it back (or paying it forward for the next person contemplating such a trip). This won't be an hour-by-hour detailed recap of everything on the trip. Instead, I will try to post things that might interest more experienced ST members, such as animal behavior, new and unusual species (at least new to me), critters I find particularly photogenic, etc. However, this is only my second safari trip and my very first ST trip report, so when it comes to my narrative text and photos . . . be gentle. A little background pertinent to this trip. I did one of those "package safaris" to Kenya in Sept 2016 with Odyssey Safaris. It seemed like a good introduction to safaris in general and to Kenya specifically, as it covered Amboseli, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru, and the Maasai Mara Reserve, all-inclusive with international airfare from the US for under $4000USD. After an initial night on arrival in Nairobi at the Safari Park Hotel, there were two nights at the Amboseli Sopa Lodge, two nights at the Naivasha Sopa Lodge, and two nights at the Ashnil Tented Camp in the Mara Reserve. I had a feeling I would fall in love with Africa, so I viewed this first safari as sort of a budget reconnaissance trip for me, and it delivered well for that purpose. The food and lodging were all better than I expected, the single driver/guide was good (only four passengers per pop-top Land Cruiser), and the quantity and variety of the wildlife was amazing to me. Interestingly, of the eight guests on that package safari, I was the only one who caught the safari bug and was determined to return as soon as possible. For everyone else on that trip, an African safari seemed to be a one-time "bucket list" sort of trip. That said, I knew there were a few things I wanted to do differently on my next safari. First, I wanted the smaller tent camps versus the larger established "lodges". Second, I wanted to fly between the safari destinations; a lot of potential game-viewing time was wasted on my previous safari in driving time between the various parks and reserves (and on Kenyan roads, that can be hard for someone like me with bad disks). While photographing with a beanbag under the open pop-top of the Land Cruiser worked well, the side windows made photographing out the sides quite frustrating. Third, the all-inclusive package price included international airfare that was purchased at the lowest possible fare class through a ticket consolidator - which meant no seat assignments until the day of departure at the airport. For someone whose personal travel nightmare would be a middle seat on a long international flight, I resolved to handle my own airline reservations the next time around. Fourth, the arrangement of a single guide that handled multiple safari destinations in Kenya meant he could not be knowledgeable on the latest game activities at a particular location, so I knew I wanted to stay at safari camps that had "resident" guides. Lastly, being conscious of the numbers of other visitors at places like Amboseli and especially at the Mara Reserve, I wanted to try the private conservancies bordering the national parks and reserves. After doing underwater photography for 30 years, I have learned that crowds of more people never make for a better wildlife viewing experience, nor for better wildlife photographs. A little research, including a lot of time reading ST trip reports, led me to Gamewatchers and the Porini Camps in Kenya. From my perspective, they were PERFECT for this second safari. The Porini tent camps absolutely hit the sweet spot for me - the food is good and the lodging comfortable, but the real emphasis is on the game viewing. After reading a couple of the most recent Kenya trip reports here on ST, I guess other people already figured that out. The open-sided Porini safari vehicles (with canvas roof and side-curtains) were were photographer-friendly. As an aside, of the 8 guests on my previous safari, only my buddy and I would count as remotely semi-serious photographers - one person had a borrowed a DSLR with non-working autofocus, one had a small point-and-shoot, and the other 4 were using only cellphones. This is not meant as a criticism of how other folks do their safaris; rather, I was not impressed that Odyssey did not seem to put any thought into how they assigned guests to their vehicles, so I felt sorry for the two non-photographer guests who were stuck with us two photographers. Porini gets it - with the exception of one afternoon game drive, every other drive during this most recent trip was just me and my photographer friend Harry in a single vehicle. Porini staff make an effort to accomodate each guest's particular safari interests in a way that did not happen for me in 2016. With a lot of patient help from Phil Bottrell, one of the Gamewatchers representatives in the US, I put together this trip on the assumption I would be traveling as a single. Fortunately, a friend of mine (Harry from California) decided to join me about four weeks prior to departure. I welcomed the company of another photographer, but Harry's presence also brought my cost down by roughly $500. Total trip cost (1 night in Nairobi plus 8 nights in the field), including tips and everything (and use of 80,000 United miles) came in under $4000, which I consider an outstanding value for the safari experience delivered. PART I - THE OL PEJETA CONSERVANCY AND PORINI RHINO CAMP For this return visit to Kenya, I wanted to add a destination in central Kenya to pick up some of those unique species resident there such as Grevy's zebras and reticulatied giraffes. And most especially I wanted to see some wild dogs. As I was finalizing the arrangements for this trip, I used to tease Phil at Gamewatchers about making sure to "reserve" a pack of wild dogs for me (preferably slow ones that would be easy to photograph). When Harry decided to join this trip, seeing leopards was at the top of his wish list, to which I readily agreed as I never saw any leopards during the 2016 safari. Believe me, I understand from my scuba diving days that you have to take whatever nature gives you, but I find having a goal or two in mind makes the trip planning more focused. And it does build up one's anticipation prior to the trip. After a late evening arrival in Nairobi on 19 Nov (Phoenix >> Frankfurt >> NBO), and a short night at the Eka Hotel, we departed at 0615 for a short drive to Wilson Airport (which would not have been a 15-minute drive later into morning rush hour). Since I was carrying a photo pack with approx 11kg of camera equipment, I was a bit concerned about fitting within the 15kg total baggage limit for in-country safari flights. Before I ever had a chance to put a camera and lens over my shoulder and a couple batteries and chargers in my pants pockets, the staff at Wilson weighed my total baggage at 16kg (Harry's was similar). Nobody seemed to care about that slight over-weight issue, and once we boarded our AirKenya flight, we realized why - Harry and I were the only passengers on the DH Twin Otter flying to Nanyuki that morning. Technically, we flew into an alternate dirt airstrip (Nanyuki West?) on the western side of the Conservancy, as we were told the main Nanyuki airport was undergoing repairs. One additional aside regarding air travel - after obsessing a bit about the plastic bag ban in Kenya, on arrival at NBO - no obvious signs regarding plastic bags, no questions about plastic bags, in short zero hassles. The Nanyuki West airstrip is only a 10-minute drive or so to the Rhino Camp, so we did a lazy meandering drive to reach the camp around lunchtime. Nice small tent camp with only seven tents spread along a small creek. To me, it has two big advantages - first, most camps and lodges are on the eastern side of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, so it felt like Rhino Camp guests had the western half of the Conservancy pretty much to ourselves. Second, the porch of the main dining tent looks out on a nice waterhole which attracts a good variety of animal life (and bird life on the vegetation bordering the streambanks). After checking in, getting unpacked in the tent, and a nice lunch, we did a short walk with the Maasai staff for the spear-throwing and dancing demonstration, and then headed out for our afternoon game drive. My personal highlights of that first day (20 Nov) at Rhino Camp included a Kori bustard doing his mating display, some attractive reticulated giraffes (these photos were taken at the camp waterhole,as was the nearby Speke's weaver), and several curious young jackals and hyenas. A Speke's weaver, taken from the porch of the Rhino Camp dining tent: As you will eventually figure out through this trip report, I do have a thing for some of the smaller mammals in Kenya, and some of the ones like hyenas that we sort of take for granted. And for zebras. But those were just the appetizers. Toward the end of the afternoon, our guide Benjamin and his eagle-eyed spotter Henry saw something light-colored high in the trees in the distance. Turned out to be a leopard! Mind you, this was quite distant (photo is taken at 500mm with DX sensor, and cropped significantly), but still . . . any leopard sighting is a good sighting when you have never seen one in the wild before. A promising end to our first day at Rhino Camp in Ol Pejeta. We awoke early on Day 2 (around 0430), with nearby hyenas making quite a racket over their breakfast of zebra. Enroute to the eastern side of the Conservancy, we came across a small pride of lions working their way through the acacia scrub. Lion cubs of any size, age, and location are always cute . . . even when wet. Also a pair of cheetah brothers, either just waking up or just falling asleep - one can never be entirely certain with cheetahs. I should note that, when driving between Rhino Camp and the eastern side of the Conservancy, one passes by a substantial livestock operation including a slaugterhouse and worker housing (little village is named Kamok?). At first this struck a bit of an off note with me in the midst of so much natural beauty, but I came to accept it. After all, the Conservancy was formerly a 90,000-acre cattle ranch, and continues with a sustainable livestock operation that provides a source of both food and income to the local people. And the wildlife certainly seems to enjoy the watering stations that were built for the cattle. The eastern side of OP, though it gets more visitors than the western side, definitely has more beautiful terrain, especially the riverbanks along the Ewaso Nyiro River. Made a lovely spot for a bush breakfast. A local elephant herd seems quite at home in the river valley environment, and several family groups with cute baby elephants were present in the area. Note where the elephant calf is nursing in the first photo; this fact becomes significant later in the trip. Several African fish eagles also seemed to appreciate the location along the river. The central part of the Conservancy abounds with both southern white and black rhinos, though there seemed to be quite a bit more of the southern white variety (or possibly the black rhinos were feeding back in the bushes and therefore less obvious). These appeared to be family members playing together rather than any serious tussle. On the drive back to the western side for lunch, we came across a nice martial eagle, and one of my personal favorites (another underappreciated animal), the common warthog. But then, but then . . . let's just say that Christmas came early for me last November. Our guides spotted a lone wild dog moving around in the shade of a large tree. Apparently this young female was separated from the rest of her pack during a hunt roughly half a year ago, and the pack moved on while this young female was left here. Sort of sad to see a pack animal without her pack, and a social animal being all alone, but fortunately she looked quite healthy. After a lunch break, we headed out later in the afternoon with Benjamin and Henry trying to see if we could find the wild dog again. Close by the camp, we were passed by a herd of Thompson's gazelles zigzagging past us at full speed, headed in the opposite direction . . . followed soon thereafter by the wild dog. We tried reversing course to follow them, but it wasn't really possible with all the acacia scrub and the speeding animals, so no pictures of the solo wild dog hunting. Shortly thereafter, as we reached an area of more open grassland, keen-eyed Henry spotted our wild dog in the distance, apparently feeding on a kill. It was clear she has figured out how to catch gazelles on her own, without the rest of the pack to help. Also clear that she had to pass through some muddy terrain to catch her dinner this day. It was fascinating to see the hunting and feeding behavior of this distant relative of our domestic dogs. I know our Norwich terrier had a pretty strong hunting instinct around small rodents and lizards, but the shih tzu - not so much. His idea of hunting was to bark at the refrigerator. So within the span of about 26 hours at Ol Pejeta, we had both a leopard and a wild dog sighting. At this point, if the rest of the trip just had shown me the routine African wildlife, I would have felt this to be a successful safari that already met my expectations. We did spot a bird I had never seen before, the white-bellied go-away-bird: But there was one more interesting incident later that afternoon. Near the wild dog kill, a pair of young jackals were engaged in a tug of war over their dinner (some sort of very young grazing animal, not sure what). Unfortunately, they made enough racket to attract the attention of a nearby hyena. One jackal had sole possession of his prize for a brief moment in time, but as soon as the hyena came near, the jackal dropped the carcass and the hyena came away with a free dinner. If nothing else, these pictures show the significant size discrepancy between the two animals. Smart jackal. The end of a good full day in Ol Pejeta. Our Day 3 morning (22 Nov) involved another trip over to the eastern side of the Conservancy, this time to see the three remaining northern white rhinos and the Grevy's zebra. The morning drive eastward brought us a nice tawny eagle looking for breakfast: Some up-close-and-personal views of a reticulated giraffe: And the ugly-but-strangely-elegant marabou stork: I love seeing cheetahs, especially young sibling groups. They seem to share an almost telepathic connection. Cheetahs on the hunt are so focused . . . But sometimes their brother is only dreaming of the hunt . . . so much for my telepathy theory. As I mentioned before, there were lots of healthy-looking southern white rhinos in the central part of the Conservancy and other healthy grazers, I guess visual proof that the conservancy model is working well. On the previous day, we had visited the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary along the Ewaso Nyiro River to see Poco and the other rescued chimpanzees from elsewhere in Africa. Admission was included with the stay at Rhino Camp, and it was a worthwhile visit, but nonetheless a somewhat grim place. We had the option of visiting the Endangered Species Boma the next day, but opted to pass. Our guide Benjamin suggested that we could see the endangered Northern White Rhinos and the Grevy's almost as well from the outside of the fence, which is what we did. Again, this facility is a sad place, to see animals fenced in that should be in the wild, but it is sadder still to know that it is necessary because of human actions. Other than a nice view of the Grevy's zebras, I did not come away with any good pictures of the three northern white rhinos other than some for record purposes. Soon afterwards, we did go to visit Baraka the blind black rhino. Maybe a little inconsistent that I did not have such a negative reaction here, but that might be because here humans are taking care of a native Kenyan animal that was injured by forces of nature rather than by human actions. In any case, Baraka was worth seeing (this is Harry with one of the local rangers). On the way heading back to the west side and Rhino Camp, Harry and I had been looking for small birds such as lilac breasted rollers and bee eaters. My friend Harry is a real birder; I am not. I enjoy photographing large impressive birds and small colorful birds, but the little brown jobs (however rare) don't do it for me. I wasn't getting great shots of these small perching birds, so to amuse myself I tried to get some flight photos, right after they take off. I tried quickly panning to the right or left, but wasn't at all successful, so eventually I zoomed out to try to catch the bird in flight in any direction it might head. I apologize in advance for the quality of the following two photos. They are poor technically, but are interesting for another reason. This first photo shows what Harry tells me is a European bee eater, perched on a branch. Not real exciting, right? Now take a look at the picture taken just a split second later, when this bee eater has decided to fly away. Note that he not only did a nose dive off from his branch, but he has also rolled through 180 degrees, which is why we are seeing his underside rather than his back. I thought that rollers (and related bee eaters, in the same order Coraciiformes) were so named for acrobatic maneuvers they perform during courtship - either these particular birds also do these acrobatics during daily life, or this guy is practicing for his big date. Or more troubling, this little bee eater is courting a Land Rover Defender. In any case, I am impressed . . . Came across a rhino parent and young one enjoying a mud bath at the local spa And a warthog family group enjoying the same treatment. Entertaining watching a warthog parent and adolescent interact with each other (well, maybe more fun for the little one than the parent). A few more scenes that caught my attention on the drive back to Rhino camp, all pretty much self-explanatory. Black rhino with oxpeckers (kept waiting for the rhino in the first photo to sneeze out the oxpecker, but didn't happen): Olive baboon mothers with young ones: And an elegant (and not ugly) sacred ibis: Can never go wrong with more baby elephants . . . Though young hyenas might give them some competition in the cute category . . . I knew I was visiting near the anticipated end of the short rainy season, so I fully expected to see some rain during this trip. We were lucky with no showers during the first three days, but rain started during dinner on Day 3 and was occasionally pretty heavy during the night. The game drive the next morning, enroute back to the Nanyuki West airstrip for our flight down south to the Mara Camp, was fairly sparse as far as large game goes, and the ground was still pretty wet, but we did see a few interesting birds including this Speke's weaver, and one good-looking black-backed jackal. And of course a parting shot of our wonderful spotter Henry and our guide Benjamin. Both did an exceptional job, as did camp manager David and all the staff at Rhino camp. Thanks for reading this far. END OF PART I.
  3. 1) Name of property and country: (Please also include name of property and country as topic title and include as tags as well) Porini Mara Camp, Kenya 2) Website address if known: 3) Date of stay, including whether Green Season, Shoulder season or High season pricing (if known). November 2017, Shoulder Season 4) Length of stay: 4 nights 5) Why did you choose this camp or lodge to stay in? Based upon what? I have visited another of Porini's camps, Porini Lion, and wanted to try out another of their camps. I liked the fact that Porini Mara is situated in a conservancy, Ol Kinyei - and only Porini vehicles have traversing rights to that conservancy 6) How did you book the property, direct or agent? Were your enquiries dealt with quickly and efficiently? Though Gamewatchers - enquiries were dealt with quickly and efficiently, and special requests catered for. 7) How many times have you been on Safari? 14 times 8) To which countries? Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe 9) Which properties have you been to previously that you are comparing this one to? Other Porini camp (Porini Lion) + various other properties in East Africa: Entim Camp, Serian Nkorombo, Encounter Mara, and Asilia's Dunia and Sayari Camps to name a few. 10) Was the camp/lodge fenced? No 11) How many rooms/tents does it have? 6 12) What tent or room did you stay in? Did it have a good view? Was it overlooked or private? Tent 3 I believe ... It had a nice view of some trees, a little stream/river, and an open grassland. It was quite private. 13) How comfortably furnished was the room/tent? Simple but very comfortable - ample space and 1 double + 1 single bed. 14) Did you like the food? If yes, please state why. If no, please state why. Yes, food was great! I loved the soups as a starter for dinner. Lunch was nice and varied with various vegetarian and meat options. Great desserts - sometimes fresh fruits, sometimes decadent baked sweet desserts. 15) Was there a varied menu offering multiple choice? If vegetarian was a suitable alternative offered? (Did you have to request this in advance?) For lunch a few dishes are offered to choose from - both vegetarian and meat based. They had no problems catering for vegetarian options or in my case exclusion of some meats. 16) What is the default dining arrangement? Single tables or communal dining? Do the guides/managers host at mealtimes? Communal dining around one table. No hosting and no guides, but the manager dropped in at the end of meals to converse with the guests. 17) How good were the packed breakfasts/lunches if staying out on game drives? We took packed breakfasts every day and they were very nice! Sausages, bacon, toast, pancakes, fresh fruit, yoghurt, eggs, juice etc. 18) What are the game drive vehicles? Please include photo if possible. We had an open Land Cruiser with 7 passenger seats. Modified to be large, so quite spacious. Vehicle was very reliable and never had an issue. 19) How many guests per row? 2 rows of 2 and back row of 3. 20) How long were the game drives and were they varied in the routes taken? We had a private vehicle so the game drives were per our request - usually morning drive till lunch, and then resume afternoon drive at 3:30pm and returning back just before dinner. Perhaps 7-7:45pm or so. Routes were chosen depending on the animals we wanted to see - in our case we were keen to see cheetahs. 21) What are the standard game drive times? Are game drive times flexible: i.e., if agreed in advance, can you go out earlier than suggested and stay out later, i.e., not returning for lunch but taking supplies with you? At Porini they are very flexible and try to accommodate all requests as long as the guests sharing the vehicle agree. We had a private vehicle and they accommodated all of our requests. We often stayed out well after dark if we were enjoying a sighting a bit further away from camp. 22) Is this a private conservancy/concession, and what is the vehicle/lodge density like? Yes Porini Mara is situated in the Ol Kinyei Conservancy. In the conservancy there are very few vehicles because only Porini vehicles have traversing rights. That is a huge bonus for those preferring a more exclusive experience. Another big bonus is that guests at Porini Mara also have traversing rights into the Naboisho conservancy - so if there are interesting sightings there the guests can enjoy them too, and they can also experience more variety of habitats. Both conservancies have quite a pretty and varied landscape. 23) If in a National Park, what is the vehicle density in the immediate vicinity? N/A 24) Are you able to off-road? Yes 25) Are there rotation policies for sightings i.e., You face the risk of queuing or being bumped from a sighting. In Ol Kinyei this is not an issue as there are so few vehicles. But if I am not mistaken the max is 5 vehicles. 26) What wildlife is this property known for? Did you get good sightings? Ol Kinyei is very good for cheetah and lion sightings. We also saw many elephants - the elephants were very calm and mothers had no issues with their calves approaching the vehicles closely. We saw many wildebeests, which was a surprise to me as I was not visiting in the migration season - but these were part of the Loita wildebeests. We saw many other interesting birds, animals and reptiles. 27) How was the standard of guiding? The guiding was excellent as I am always used to with Porini. Our guide and spotter did their very best to find what was most important to us - namely cheetahs. They were very enthusiastic, and fun to spend time with, and they seem genuinely happy to share their wealth of information with us and proud to show us the beauty of the area. 28) If you had a bad experience with a guide, why? Did you report the issue to management, and if so, how did they deal with the issue? No issues whatsoever - we were very happy guests. 29) If you had a very good experience with your guide, please give reasons why: I love it when the guides seem to genuinely love their job and love the animals and the beautiful wilderness where they live - all Porini guides I have had the pleasure to spend time with fit this description to the dot. 30) Were staff attentive to your requests/needs? Yes, very much so. 31) Does the property support a local community conservation initiative. If so, please provide brief details and website address if known. Yes, Porini are very well known for this, and it is a reason why I choose them - it is important for me to choose ethical companies that value conservation and communities. Porini support many initiatives spanning both conservation and communities, with their main pillars being conservation, education and water. There is plenty of information about their initiatives here: 32) Safaritalk trip report link: 33) Any other pertinent details you wish to add: We had a great time, and we really enjoyed our stay in Porini Mara and Ol Kinyei - the conservancy is beautiful and rich in wildlife and the experience is quite exclusive with so little vehicles around. The small size of the camp promotes a more friendly and intimate dynamic. I don't know why it took me so long to visit this little gem! 34) Please add your photographs of the property below, with headings.
  4. Introduction: This was our first safari ever, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Easily the best vacation we've ever had. I will try to keep this trip report as short as possible and mostly let the photographs speak for themselves. We are in our late 40's. We chose All Seasons Safari to organize our trip. Our trip involved both flying and driving between camps. It also involved lodges and tents, Mara reserve and the conservancy. This allowed us to experience different options and I will give my opinion on how they compared. Itinerary: 1N Nairobi 2N Amboseli 2N Ol Pejeta 1N Naivasha 4N Masai Mara Warning: This is not necessarily a safari report, but rather a report of our entire trip. Although it was purely a safari trip, we witnessed a lot more than animals and I will be posting a variety of photographs. I prefer landscapes, still life, people more than close up of animals. However, there is plenty of the latter too. The report is primarily catered to the beginners, but I will try to keep it entertaining for the regulars as well. But, I can guarantee even the hardened safari goers, an image I will post will be very interesting to even them. In fact I'd like to know whether anyone has ever witnessed it was an image taken at ISO 16,000 at f4 and a shutter speed of just 1/30 at, its beauty is not in its image quality but rather what it depicts...but, alas it happened on day 9 and everyone will have to wait to see it. It is worth the wait Camera gear: I wanted it to be a compact package, all fitting inside my Lowpro Fastpack 200. We only took two backpacks for our other things. Pentax K5, K7 Pentax 60-250/4, Sigma 50-500/4.5-6.3 Pentax 12-24/4, Pentax 21/3.2, Pentax 43/1.9, Volna 9 50/2.8 1:2 macro
  5. A: Everyone! My daughter has been the punniest person around while on safari. Who knew became who gnu? Likewise, the lions laying under a bush were waiting to AMbush.... Many thanks to the SafariTalk community for endless recommendations. Our two week trip was beyond measure.
  7. We have completed our first week of Safari and having a marvelous time. Porini Cheetah Camp is lovely and had internet installed today! I am uploading some photos of the camp and will do a trip report after we return next week.
  8. An article by Paul Ogden in the Manchester Evening News: Going back to nature on an ecologically friendly African adventure Camps and Lodges available from Gamewatchers Safaris
  9. I found these to be useful to get an on the ground look at what the camps look like. Gamewatchers Adventure Camp: Porini Mara Camp Porini Lion Camp: Pricewise the adventure camps look to be a pretty good deal. I would be a bit leery of sleeping on the ground (snakes and scorpions) - yikes.
  10. Inspired by @@madaboutcheetah 's post detailing the places he thinks offer the best prospects for cheetah spotting, we have got together with Gamewatchers safaris/Porini Camps to create a Kenya safari specifically for cheetah lovers. Outline itinerary: DAY 1 – NAIROBI – PORINI RHINO CAMP, Ol Pejeta Conservancy DAYS 2 & 3– PORINI RHINO CAMP, Ol Pejeta Conservancy DAY 4 –PORINI MARA CAMP, Ol Kinyei Conservancy, Masai Mara DAYS 5 – 7 – PORINI MARA CAMP, Ol Kinyei Conservancy, Masai Mara DAY 8 – PORINI LION CAMP, Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Masai Mara DAYS 9-11 – PORINI LION CAMP, Olare Motorogi Conservancy, Masai Mara DAY 12 – RETURN TO NAIROBI – DEPART Prices start from US$4,495 / £2,835 and offer decent savings on rack rates; (as much as US$1,080/£680 in peak season) Prices are valid for travel through to December 15 2015. click here to find out more

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