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Found 18 results

  1. I had a terrific first trip to Kenya with a 4 night, five day trip to Offbeat Mara. This camp is in the Mara North conservancy. I wasn't sure what to expect exactly with weather and sightings in January, but I was pleasantly surprised! With the changes in weather patterns, the Mara was green like a giant golf course (I was told it was supposed to be dry in January). We had several rainstorms during my stay which provided some beautiful lighting. My other trips to Africa were in the dry season, so I was thrilled to have the chance to photograph the animals with the lush green backgrounds. My main goal was to see lion cubs, and I saw lots of them, from all three prides that roam that conservancy. I still have not managed to see a successful hunt, but we saw two unsuccessful hunts--a cheetah going after a warthog baby, chased away by mom, and 2 young lions stalking warthogs unsuccessfully. Lots of babies around--impalas, zebras, kopi, gazelles, elephants, and of course the lions. We even saw a gazelle give birth, which was very exciting. I was very impressed with the guide I had throughout the stay there, Stanley; he was the equal of the best guides I had in Botswana and South Africa. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the trip... The first afternoon we had a great lion sighting--we followed a lioness while she retrieved her 3 cubs at the top of a cliff, where they were well hidden, and then joined her sister and her 3 cubs at the remains of a zebra kill. The lionesses were jealously guarding the kill, while the cubs were playing around in the carcass. The next day the carcass had disappeared, so some other animal had made off with it. It was fantastic to see the six cubs, nearly the same age, playing together! Other great sightings--a crowd of hyenas at a hippo carcass and a mother hyena peacefully nursing her pups...
  2. So with the new non-stop JFK to Nairobi flights on Air Kenya starting up, I am planning a "quickie" return visit to the Mara for February 2019. Just 8 nights. Four nights will be at Enaidura again, with Ping as our private guide (hoping the 5 Musketeers will still be around--even if they have separated by then, they should still be in the area.) But I want to spend 4 nights in a conservancy as well. We really loved Olare Motorogi and last trip stayed at Porini Lion. We were totally happy there, but I really want to try a new may sound nuts but to me that will make it feel like we are not just repeating ourselves. Also, I have learned the lesson from our Zambia trip, and from now on will always book a private vehicle. The only other remotely affordable option in OMC is Kicheche Bush Camp. I really love the look of that they are geared to photographers, with vehicles really well-equipped for photography (like that they have open roofs with bracing for beanbags, so that you have sort of the best of both worlds) and by all reports, outstanding guiding. It would also be my birthday when we are there and Kicheche Bush Camp definitely looks more posh, while still being a tented camp. But, they offer no deals, and really top out our budget. Another option would be Offbeat Mara in Mara North Conservancy. This would save me considerable money, as they offer a four for three night deal, plus a 10% early booking discount, plus are less expensive than Kicheche to begin with. I know that @amybatt had a fantastic trip with them and is returning, in fact, next fall. But I really haven't heard much else about Mara North. It seems there are many more camps there than in maybe more vehicles...but on the other hand, the conservancy itself seems larger. So I am completely I go for the much more expensive option in OMC where I would really love to see Fig again, and Figlet, and Olare (Fig's son from a prior engagement And where I know there is a very high density of cats in general, with multiple lion prides? Or do I take a chance on Mara North, which I really know little about...and save a bunch of money? (In theory I could even add another day there, although we really want to keep this trip shortish.) I have read that maybe the Loita herds could be in that area in February...or maybe not. Anyway I would love to hear from anyone who has been to Mara North and any thoughts on Offbeat Mara vs. Kichche Bush Camp---especially in the Jan/Feb season.
  3. Where: Mara North Conservancy for 6 nights (preceded by 5 nights in Rwanda, which is reported on here) When: Feb 2017 Who: Amy (me) and Kim. We did our China Panda Volunteer trip together and our first safari in Tanzania together. We only see each other on these sorts of trips but we both agree that it's rare to find someone that we travel this well with. Honestly, I've never had an easier, no-friction travel relationship with anyone. It was a no-brainer to ask her to go with me. How: I booked with Offbeat Safaris directly. I worked with Peter at Offbeat on booking the 6-for-5 deal last June. He arranged for our pickup at Nairobi Airport, transfer to Wilson, the Safarilink flights, and a driver for the day on our return to Nairobi before we flew out at midnight that night, all included in that package. Why: I am ridiculously, passionately in love with the Mara. There was no way I'd go back to Africa and not return. I also had a bit of "business left unfinished" from my last safari, and I wanted to remedy that. I read a bunch of trip reports here and decided on Offbeat pretty easily. I wanted to experience a different conservancy again and appreciated honest feedback from other STers. Whatever I had wished for during the last 12 months (and I wished for a lot and bargained with the Safari Gods for even more), the Mara delivered for me far beyond even my wildest expectations. My rule of "never try to repeat perfect" may have to come into play again. Guides: David and Kapen. I consider us blessed to have been assigned to these two guys. David is an incredible guide. His knowledge of the area, the animals and their histories and his ability to convey it so that it's interesting and memorable is unsurpassed in my limited experience. And Kapen…man, if anyone has better eyes out there in a safari vehicle, I'd be surprised. He's so good that he can spot something you'll never find on your own miles away, and then turn around to where you're sitting behind him and point your arm to exactly where you need to look to see what he sees. To say he's incredible is a vast understatement. When Kapen stood on the seat and popped his head out of the rooftop, we knew he was looking for something and he always came through with a sighting. More on these two coming up. Accommodations: Pretty typical canvas tent with porch, bucket shower, flush toilet and dual sinks. Comfortable beds. Meals were excellent, even for this vegetarian (to be honest I don't eat as well at home!) I'll write a more extensive lodge report once I'm done with the TR. They offer a lot more than game rides, like walks, village visits, etc. but we only took advantage of the night drive. We were all about game rides and eaked out every one we could. Camera: for those who suffered listening to me whine about the Nikon that was failing me, fear not, I invested in the Sony RX10 iii and LOVE IT. I knew I couldn't buy my way to better photos, but could buy a more reliable camera. So I figured that if I’m investing in the camera, I better know how to use it. I took classes, shot a lot of animals at zoos and got up on weekends for sunrises more than I wanted to. But I think in the end, it paid off. I’m beyond thrilled with the results. I took 7 16-gig memory cards which I almost filled (5880 photos and 65 videos) and 7 fully charged batteries and only used 4. The Sony has excellent battery life. Logistics: I spent the last 8 months worrying that five hours to connect between NBO and Wilson would not be enough on a Friday late morning. In reality, between our empty flight, no lines at customs/immigration, almost immediate delivery of Kim's luggage, and the new bypass road that takes you from NBO via the Mombasa Road to Wilson, we had just shy of 4 hours to kill at Wilson, which we spent having a late breakfast and vacuuming up iced coffee at the Java House at the Aviation Club nearby. We'd been up since 3:45 am and at that point needed every ounce of caffeine to keep us going. But soon enough, we were on our Safarilink flight to Mara North.
  4. Hi folks, we are planning to go to Kenya this January, actually in the Massai Mara. Plan is to go to Ol Seki Mara Camp in the Naboisho conservancy for 6 nights (they offer a stay 3 pay 2), and 4 nights in the Offbeat Camp in Mara North (they offer stay 4 pay 3). Anybody has input esp. about Ol Seki Camp? Would that be too much time in the Naboisho conservancy? I watched up and down to find camps to fit into our budget (€ 6000 for 10 nights excluding transfer for 2). This seemed to be the most interesting possible combination. Thanks for your help Thomas
  5. Blue-headed Tree Agama This prologue is for a trip report covering a recent Kenya safari I took with my friend Roger, who is a fellow birder-naturalist. Conditions were DRY throughout our travels, which ran from January 14 - 29. Throughout much of Kenya, we learned that the short rains came late or little this year, or almost failed completely - depending on the area in question. After reading @@michael-ibk's recent Kenya trip report, I suspect places like Kakamega Forest (that seemed OK when he visited) had dried out by the time we came through a few weeks later. Our guide Ben Mugambi said it was the driest he had ever seen Kakamega Forest - and also Aranbuko-Sokoke Forest on the coast. The forest trails and forest floor in Kakamega and Arabuko-Sokoke were carpeted with crispy dry leaves - which made moving quietly or stealthily pretty difficult. Dry Kakamega undergrowth - January 18 In the Mara, Musiara Swamp was almost completely dry, with dust devils blowing round. Orange-leafed Croton bushes were either shriveled or bare all around Mara North. Dry and dusty Musiara Marsh with Governor's Camp and the Mara River in the background -- But we still did very well - and the theme of the trip was "quality over quantity". Another theme was "improbable chance meetings". We got almost all our major bird and critter targets and the Mara delivered fabulously again. Some highlights of the safari included: - Three big cat species in 19 minutes in Mara North Conservancy, followed by a sighting of the "Offbeat male Leopard" from the porch of our tent #4 after lunch. Viewing two male Leopards within a couple of hours of each other was a real treat! Leopard stalking Leopard resting Cheetah - 18 Suni in Nairobi National Park! Photos and video obtained. - Black Rhinos parading and sleeping in the open in Nairobi National Park. And the first Verreaux's Eagle sighting in Nairobi NP in over 10 years. And a pair of Crowned Eagles over the forest just west of Nairobi Tented Camp. Black Rhinos - Golden-rumped Elephant Shrew in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. (wait for that day's report for a photo) - Frank and Jesse the Offbeat pride males, are still large and in charge in Mara North. Had good quality time with the Offbeat Pride of Lions with cubs of varying ages. Jesse - A very enjoyable birding over lunch experience at Little Governor's Camp and finally meeting a "nemesis bird" - Schalow's Turaco. Crossing_Mara_River - Great shorebirding and coastal birds at Mida Creek and the Sabaki River Mouth. - A neat boat excursion on Lake Victoria to break up the drive from Kakamega Forest to the Mara. - Stumbling on a great birding spot at a crest in the Tugen Hills and photographing a Narina Trogon. Narina Trogon - Great birding at Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria. Heuglin's Courser Pygmy Kingfisher - Ongoing evolution and improvements at Offbeat Mara camp. They are so flexible and accommodating to guest desires. For example: one day we did a bush breakfast and all-morning game drive, then afternoon game drive, transitioning into a fine bush dinner with some other guests and then straight into a night drive ending up back at camp after a couple of hours. Birding behind Offbeat Mara - down behind the dining tent, beside the Olare Orok River. - Shy and difficult-to-observe birds in Kakamega Forest Spotted Flufftail Dusky-crested Flycatcher -- Before the trip, I had warned Roger that "something will go wrong" and that we would just go with the flow and with Ben and his network's help, things would work out. Sure enough we had a few blips during our time on the coast, but things worked out just fine. Our first issue was before leaving the USA - our Emirates flight was very late departing JFK and we missed our connecting flight from Dubai to Nairobi. But we were met exiting the plane in Dubai with tickets for the next morning's flight to Nairobi, a hotel voucher, and an explanation that we did not need to collect luggage - it would be put on tomorrow's plane for us. So we got a free night in Dubai and had some good birding in the hotel garden that afternoon. The downside was that we would miss our day trip to Nairobi National Park on January 14 but I had a plan to address that. Our itinerary ended up being: January 14 - Arrive at JKIA one day late. Hit the Nakumatt, do some birding along Red Cross Road. Overnight Boma hotel. January 15 - Drive to Lake Baringo for lunch and afternoon birding, Overnight Tumbili Cliff Lodge. January 16 - Lake Baringo + Lake Bogoria. Overnight Tumbili Cliff Lodge. January 17 - Drive to Kakamega Forest by way of Tugen Hills and Kerio Valley. Overnight Rondo Retreat. January 18 - Kakamega Forest, overnight Rondo Retreat. January 19 - Kakamega Forest, overnight Rondo Retreat. January 20 - Drive to Mara North, via Kisumu. overnight Offbeat Mara. January 21 - Mara North Conservancy, overnight Offbeat Mara January 22 - Mara North Conservancy, overnight Offbeat Mara January 23 - All day in the Main Reserve, lunch at Little Governor's, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 24 - Morning game drive in Mara North, after lunch bush flight to Malindi, overnight Ocean Sports Resort in Watamu. January 25 - Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. overnight Ocean Sports Resort in Watamu. January 26 - Sabaki River Mouth and Mida Creek. overnight Ocean Sports Resort in Watamu. January 27 - Morning birding at Mida Creek, fly to JKIA in Nairobi. Overnight Boma hotel. January 28 - All day outing in Nairobi National Park. Overnight Boma hotel. January 29 - Morning birding along Magadi Road south of Nairobi. Fly home in the late afternoon. -- I talked to Ben and Roger and we agreed to cut a day off our time at the coast, in order to return to Nairobi a day early and get a full day in Nairobi National Park. For this safari, I had obtained a new camera backpack - Think Tank Photo's Airport Commuter. I love this camera bag! It held my camera, lens, a Swarovski spotting scope, Swarovski binoculars, laptop, iPad, memory cards, batteries, a La Cie portable hard drive, cables, camera cleaning kit, and 1 day's clothing. I checked two bags, including a large duffel bag (Patagonia Black Hole Bag). This was to take my tripod, beanbag, and other bulky gear. When we arrived at JKIA, there was a long line of dozens, maybe hundreds, or people in the e-Visa line. Roger and I walked up to an empty desk for Visa-on-arrival passengers. I see no reason at all to put forth the effort and time (and online credit card activity) for an e-Visa. We spent part of our first afternoon in Nairobi birding Red Cross Road - the road where the Boma hotel and Boma Inn are located. We tracked down the ATM near the gate of the Boma Inn and of course we had our binoculars with us and started birding from the gate and out onto the sidewalk. There is a nice hedge and some trees across the street from the Boma complex - we had close to 30 bird species just standing by the gate. Both young security guards - a gentleman and a lady - were interested in the birds we were seeing. We loaned them our binoculars in turn - they could not both be distracted at once you know. They both relished seeing the birds closer and clearer and the young man in particular looked and looked at birds. He had fun tracking swifts and swallows especially. Boma birding We were guided throughout the trip by the incomparable Ben Mugambi, of Ben's Ecological Safaris. I booked all the accomodations and bush flights through Ben's as well. Ben and his office staff handled everything deftly - including a few unforeseen hurdles. Ben knew people everywhere we went, which came in handy a couple of times. The vehicles: Offbeat Mara won "Best Safari Vehicle" again - closely followed by Ben's Ecological Safaris. Offbeat continues to improve and evolve, and their vehicles are no exception. They seem to have taken @@pault's advice and added flat trays to the armrests of their game drive vehicles. These trays are great platforms for photo beanbags. Offbeat photo tray While at Campi ya Offbeat, we had the same trusty Landcruiser as last time - with the photo tray improvements. This vehicle has pop-top roof hatches over both rows of rear passenger seats, and another pop-top hatch over the driver and spotter's seats. These hatches let you see and photograph birds and other things directly overhead. Or stand on the seat and observe + photograph from above roof level. Or sit on the roof in certain situations. Or close the hatch if you need a break from the sun. Offbeat vehicle We used two of Ben's vehicles during the safari - his large Landcruiser for most of the non-Mara safari, then his pride and joy - a 1980 Toyota Landcruiser VX - in Nairobi National Park and Magadi Road the last two days of the safari. Ben's primary safari vehicle, with Ben and driver Simon parked in front of a Baobab Tree near Mida Creek. Ben's Safari Vehicle Ben's Landcruiser VX Ben's VX Landcruiser is the quietest safari vehicle (and quietest diesel SUV) I have ever seen! It is a 12-cylinder turbo-diesel and Ben has the idle speed turned down low. So it purrs along very quietly through field and forest. Ben has some real war stories about using it to deliver late-arriving clients to the Mara late at night in stormy weather and passing abandoned Landrovers and other Landcruisers stuck deep in the muck. The companions: We were fortunate to have Ben Mugambi with us the entire time. We also had great local guides helping in different areas. Super-sharp Francis Cherutich guided us on his home ground of Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria. We were fortunate to have Josphat and Kapeen at Offbeat Mara. At Arabuko-Sokoke forest we had William (Willie), and on Lake Victoria and adjacent land birding we had Solomon. I hope this teaser post stokes some interest. Maybe a few videos will help:
  6. I haven't seen this posted yet. Both Offbeat Mara and Serian have posted photos on Facebook the last couple days of wild dogs spotted near their respective camps. Now if THAT doesn't make me want to hurry back to Offbeat....!
  7. This trip report covers a safari I took to Kenya with my friend Tommy Graham. Tommy is a good naturalist who also knows his birds, though he is not a lister or twitcher by any means. Mammals are his primary natural history interest. Tommy went to school with my father and has been a friend of the family since before I was born. This was the first trip to Africa for both of us. Prologue By rights I should do acknowledgements first - because this exceptional safari would have been a much poorer experience without the safaritalk community at large, as well as several individual members who were extremely generous and helpful with their advice for this Safari newby. For key advice I am particularly indebted to @@Safaridude, @@armchair bushman, @@pault, @@Tom Kellie, @@madaboutcheetah, and @@Geoff. For inspiration - too many to list but particularly @@Safaridude, @@Game Warden, @@madaboutcheetah, @@twaffle, @@Paolo, @@Bush dog, @@michael-ibk, @@pault, @@COSMIC RHINO, and @@AKR1. And for outstanding guiding, agent services, and "riding to the rescue" to overcome the unexpected loss of a private guide in the Mara at the last minute - Ben Mugambi of Ben's Ecological Safaris. I am so glad to count Ben as a friend and field companion - he is a "birder's birder", a fabulous field man and safari guide, and a scholar and a gentleman who is rock-solid dependable. The theme of this safari was "good luck". And baby animals I suppose. Time and again the guides or camp managers said "We have never seen X before". Or "we have only seen Y two or three times in our lives." I suspect some camps say things like that fairly often to set the hook with their guests - but in our case, I believed the statements to be true! Itinerary: January 7 - Arrive Nairobi late pm. Overnight at Purdy Arms. January 8 - Recovery day (birding the 20-acre grounds) + shopping in Nairobi. Overnight at Purdy Arms January 9 - Day trip to Ngong Hills + Magadi Road w/ Ben's. Overnight at Purdy Arms. January 10 - Day trip to Nairobi NP w/ Ben's. Overnight at Purdy Arms. January 11 - Drive to Mt. Kenya NP with Ben's. Overnight at Castle Forest Lodge. January 12 - Mt. Kenya National Park with Ben's. Overnight at Castle Forest Lodge. January 13 - Drive to Samburu + Buffalo Springs. Overnight at Samburu Simba Lodge January 14 - Full day in Samburu + Buffalo Springs. Overnight at Samburu Simba Lodge. January 15 - Full day in Samburu + Buffalo Springs. Overnight at Samburu Simba Lodge. January 16 - Short game drive in Samburu, drive to Naro Meru River Lodge. Overnight Naro Meru. January 17 - Bush flight from Nanyuki to Mara Naboisho. Overnight Encounter Mara. January 18 - All day in Mara Naboisho. Overnight Encounter Mara. January 19 - Morning game drive then vehicle transfer to Offbeat Mara in Mara North Conservancy. Overnight Offbeat Mara. January 20 - All day in Mara North, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 21 - Masai Mara National Reserve 7am-4pm, game drive in Mara North, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 22 - All day in Mara North, overnight Offbeat Mara. January 23 - Morning game drive, lunch, then 4pm flight to Wilson Airport, transfer to the Boma. January 24 - Depart JKIA for USA We flew Jetblue from Charleston to New York City, then Emirates to Dubai and another Emirates flight to Nairobi. It was a 26 hour trip and I was not able to sleep a wink. My carryon was a Think Tank Photo camera backpack - Airport Essentials. I loved it - but next time I might get the model that is one size larger. It held my camera, lens, a Swarovski spotting scope, Swarovski binoculars, laptop, iPad, memory cards, batteries, a La Cie portable hard drive, cables, camera cleaning kit, and 1 day's clothing. I checked two bags, including a large duffel bag (Patagonia Black Hole Bag). This was to take my tripod, beanbag, and other bulky gear. Next time I will travel lighter - did not need sweater, long underwear and various other ballast it turns out. Upon arriving at JKIA, there were not different queues for eVisa and Visa-on-arrival. But the lines moved quickly. The immigration agent asked for my eVisa and I said we needed Visa on arrival. She scowled slightly but then took $50 from each of us, gave us the slips of paper and we were on our way. The baggage claim was chaotic, crowded bedlam. After following our flight number as it moved from carousel to carousel, we watched an endless succession of luggage parading around and around. After close to an hour, we finally started seeing our bags. Huge relief! When we got outside and saw the guy holding the sign with my name on it, a wave of relief washed over us. We were home free now and on our way to our lodging. We were the only guests for our entire stay at Samburu Simba, and the only guests in camp for the first part of our stay at Encounter Mara. There were only a couple of other parties staying at Castle Forest Lodge while we were there. We had private vehicles the entire safari. I cannot say enough good things about Offbeat Mara camp and Encounter Mara camp - we loved them both immensely. And I loved the Purdy Arms in Karen - a nice laid-back place, green + leafy + good birds, very affordable, good food and drink, convenient to Magadi Road + Ngong Hills and Nairobi National Park, as well as the Galleria mall (for beer, Forex, and a SIM card). Many thanks to @@armchair bushman and @@pault for suggesting Purdy! There are those who scoff at the notion of a photo safari in Kenya during the green season, particularly one this green - high grass everywhere, etc. Let me tell you - things worked out very well. The green season is a double-edged sword for sure but the good edge far outdid the bad edge on our trip. We were still able to find extensive short/cropped grassland areas, and even in tallgrass areas we could usually pop out the top of the roof and shoot down on targets to overcome the tall grass. The Vehicles: Offbeat Mara won the "most functional safari vehicle" contest - closely followed by Ben's Ecological Safaris. But the vehicles at Encounter Mara were very good and completely satisfactory as well. Ben's Ecological Safaris vehicle: Encounter Mara vehicle (David on the left and our guide Wilson on the right): Offbeat Mara vehicle (the short wheel base was invaluable for not getting stuck): Interior shot of Offbeat Mara vehicle, showing the very handy storage shelf behind the cabin: The companions: For our first week we were guided by a sharp young birding and safari guide named Francis Rutich, from Ben's Ecological Safaris. And our driver John was a fine driver and very good spotter. Francis has some of the sharpest eyes I have encountered in my field travels. I run with guys like Steve NG Howell and Todd McGrath - and Francis would give them a run for their money at sea. He might take them on land... I am no slouch at spotting birds + wildlife, even in heavy cover but it was spooky how good Francis is. Francis on the job: We had a Maasai gentleman named Wilson for a guide at Encounter Mara - he is one sharp safari guide! Good driver, good at route planning and very attuned to our wants and needs. No complaints whatsoever. A young man named David from Koyaki Guiding School was attached to Encounter Mara during their semester break - he was very sharp as well. * See the above Encounter Mara vehicle photo to see Wilson and David. During our time at Offbeat Mara, we were fortunate to have a Maasai gentleman named Josphat for a driver/spotter/guide. Josphat is superb! Though we had intended to have the legendary James Sengeny for a private guide at Offbeat, a foulup that we learned of 5 days before our arrival in the Mara meant James was unable to guide us. This is a somewhat sensitive matter, and I won't mention the agency involved, but suffice it to say I am 100% convinced that James was in no way at fault either for the foulup or for us not getting notified very far in advance. When I learned the bad news, I was sitting in the bar at Samburu Simba at 3pm on January 14. By 4pm Ben Mugambi had agreed to fly to Mara North and guide us during our time there. Ben handled the Safarilink tickets and other details, and he knows the crew at Offbeat well. What a relief! Ben saved the day and I am so glad to have spent time in the field with him - great learning experience and lots of fun all around. Here is a photo of Josphat, Tommy, and Ben at our first sundowner together: The next post will cover our first day afield - a day trip visiting the Ngong Hills, a long stop at 'Corner Baridi' (cold corner), and various stops on the way down to Oltepesi and beyond. Lots of birds and birding, but also a very unexpected mammal find!
  8. I am very new to looking around Kenya (and right now it's just a dream for me anyway), but I happened to stumble across what seemed to me to be a very good last-minute offer: $800/night for up to four people in the Mara Bush Houses (so potentially $200pppn), if you go in the next four weeks. Maybe they run this all the time, or maybe it's not that great of an offer, but it seemed pretty good to me -- in fact, if I had any vacation time left, I'd be seriously trying to talk my husband and some friends into leaving next week. Also, you apparently get your own vehicle for your group, which sounds really nice to me. Again, forgive me if this is not out of the ordinary, but just in case it was, I thought I'd pass it along.
  9. I have a question and would appreciate any thoughts. My three previous solo photography trips to Kenya have been in the shoulder season including the last two years in the conservancies in late October, early November. Both times the weather was quite gray with quite a lot of rain last year -making for lacklustre photography and cutting short several late day drives. I have a pretty good itinerary in front of me for 14 nights this summer in early to mid July (4 at each Kicheche Bush, Mara and Valley camps and 2 at the Emakoko) Cost is decent (aside from the CDN exchange on the USD!) It would be the first time I would be going in high season, staying in camps that were full and sharing a vehicle. (Previous 2 years in shoulder season I stayed at Ngare so had my own truck and a couple of days with SUV at Kicheche. So, thinking about the pros and cons.... - before the biggest crowds, which I believe fall more August-September? - likely better weather given July historically has lowest rainfall so more light for photos (and the novelty of blue sky?? :-) - busier sightings although conservancies are still pretty good for this. The reserve likely busy. - much busier camps (can be good or bad depending! Last year I was alone at 2 camps. - shared vehicle (although Max 4 at Kicheche) - possibility of seeing migration if it arrives a little ahead to time-ya never know! Anything else I should be thinking of? Would love to hear from anyone who has done the Mara in July. Thanks NJ
  10. After reading pault's great report on his recent trip it reminded me i am very behind on posting a trip report from our most recent safari. My wife and i celebrated our honeymoon 5 years ago in Kenya and Tanzania and after fully catching the safari bug we have done subsequent trips to zimbabwe, botswana, south africa and Zambia. Each trip has been amazing and different but we both were excited about the prospect of returning to Kenya and Tanzania. We had some extra time for this vacation so we decided to add Rwanda and gorilla trekking to the end since it was a major bucket list item for both of us. After doing a ton of research and with the help of trip advisor and the generous folks on this site we decided on 3 Serian camps. From our limited experience we have come to prioritize top notch guiding, the ability to do some off roading and night drives, and being in the right areas at the hopefully the right time of year. And to be honest the value proposition of a private vehicle for every guest with an extremely strong reputation for guiding at Serian camps sealed the deal. We booked the trip directly with one of Serians agents based in england (billy jones) and she was patient with my many many questions and very responsive despite the time difference. Final Itinerary Arrive JKIA Nairobi, Kenya. Transfer to Giraffe Manor. Overnight Giraffe Manor, Nairobi. Visit Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage & Giraffe Centre. PM fly to Masai Mara. Overnight Ngare Serian, Mara North Conservancy. Overnight Ngare Serian. Overnight Ngare Serian. Transfer by road to Nkorombo Mobile Camp. Overnight Nkorombo Mobile Camp, Masai Mara National Reserve. Overnight Nkorombo Mobile Camp. Overnight Nkorombo Mobile Camp. AM fly to Northern Serengeti, Tanzania. Overnight Alex Walker’s Lamai Camp, Northern Serengeti. Overnight Lamai Camp. Overnight Lamai Camp. Overnight Lamai Camp. PM fly to Kigali, Rwanda.
  11. 1) Name of property and country: Mara Bush Houses, Mara North, Kenya 2) Website address if known: 3) Date of stay, including whether Green Season, Shoulder season or High season pricing (if known). Green season, April, 2015 4) Length of stay: 6 nights 5) Why did you choose this camp or lodge to stay in? Based upon what? Troy from True Africa recommended this property and after checking reviews I was hooked. 6) How did you book the property, direct or agent? Were your enquiries dealt with quickly and efficiently? Through Troy at True Africa. 7) How many times have you been on Safari? 4 times 8) To which countries? South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Namibia. 9) Which properties have you been to previously that you are comparing this one to? None 10) Was the camp/lodge fenced? No, but not necessary 11) How many rooms/tents does it have? 2 separate houses with room up to 6 people in available beds and more if necessary. 12) What tent or room did you stay in? Did it have a good view? Was it overlooked or private? We had Mara Bush House with a fabulous view over the private waterhole. 13) How comfortably furnished was the room/tent? The house was stunning and very comfortable, king size or twin beds, sitting area with fire, indoor and outdoor private dining and dining around the pool, bathrooms with everything necessary. Everywhere was super clean and luxurious. 14) Did you like the food? If yes, please state why. If no, please state why. The food was fantastic and there was great variety. 15) Was there a varied menu offering multiple choice? If vegetarian was a suitable alternative offered? (Did you have to request this in advance?) Yes there were different things on offer. 16) What is the default dining arrangement? Single tables or communal dining? Do the guides/managers host at mealtimes? Hosted by our guide for lunch but dinners were alone. 17) How good were the packed breakfasts/lunches if staying out on game drives? Yes, packed breakfasts and lunches were fresh, filling and delicious. 18) What are the game drive vehicles? Please include photo if possible. We had an enclosed 4WD which was ideal due to the weather. 19) How many guests per row? 2 rows with 2 seats in each row. 20) How long were the game drives and were they varied in the routes taken? Game drives were varied and depended on where we wanted to visit and what we wanted to see. 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? We stayed out 6 hours in the morning and about 3 hours in the afternoon. We travelled longer distances in the morning and stayed local in the afternoon (walks, village visits). 22) Is this a private conservancy/concession, and what is the vehicle/lodge density like? I think I saw 4 cars during my whole stay. 23) If in a National Park, what is the vehicle density in the immediate vicinity? 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. No 26) What wildlife is this property known for? Did you get good sightings? Sightings were a little slow in this conservancy and it was necessary to drive about an hour over the mountain to get into the main area of the conservancy to find game. 27) How was the standard of guiding? A good guide. Roads were very bad during certain parts due to the weather. 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? N/A 29) If you had a very good experience with your guide, please give reasons why: N/A 30) Were staff attentive to your requests/needs? The staff were helpful and happy during our stay. The staff were awesome. They looked after my parents when I was on safari and they were in the house which is most of the time. Plus they provided a lovely celebration at the end of our stay with breakfast on top of the mountain. 31) Does the property support a local community conservation initiative. If so, please provide brief details and website address if known. Yes, through Asilia Africa. 32) Safaritalk trip report link: 33) Any other pertinent details you wish to add: Mara Bush House is a stunning property in the Mara North Conservancy that allows guests to enjoy the splendour of the Mara in their own private house. The property has 2 houses on it so a larger group can enjoy their time all together. Mara House where I stayed had 3 ensuite bedrooms, a large lounge with a fireplace, dining area, small kitchenette for preparing food and a huge outdoor seating/dining area. The pool and bbq area offer a chance for guests in each house to alternate eating down by the pool and near the pond whilst watching the animals come down for their daily drink. The house provides its own car for the group so safari drives are taken when the guests want, walks can be organised and picnic breakfasts/lunches/sundowners are offered. Visits to local villages and the weekly markets are a fantastic opportunity to meet with the locals and to understand the culture. There is also a chance to visit a school during the school term as well. The service at Mara House was beyond brilliant. The amazing Jackson who looked after us in the house was one of the best Asilia staff members I met during my 18 days on safari. The food was excellent and always fresh and of course way too much. My parents and I left having put on a number of kilos. Sightings at Mara House in April were a little hard to come by. I enjoyed time with some lion prides, elephants, giraffes and other plains game. The scenery around the Mara North Conservancy is stunning and the rains made the plains beautiful and green. It allowed for beautiful photos of the animals contrasting against such lush grassland. Troy from True Africa helped me prepared my 18 days in Tanzania/Kenya and provided great support, guidance and suggestions with my itinerary. The Asilia properties I stayed at were all fantastic and I have already booked my next trip down in November to discover more. 34) Please add your photographs of the property below, with headings. Mara
  12. The Lipault Ladies go to the Mara It was meant to be my second solo trip to Africa. Singapore had a short working week in February and I wanted to make use of it to have a longer trip. But feb is packed end to end with projects for my husband so that meant I would go alone again. As I narrowed my short list to kenya (thanks to much advice and input by the ST-ers in this thread: ), @@SafariChick jumped on board. I had originally wanted to see wild dogs in Laikipia but in the end, Laikipia didn't work out so we were happy to settle for a Masai Mara-focused trip that minimized travel to land transits between neighboring areas, and sealed a what turned out to be 9-night trip. The schedule was finalized - Feb 8 - Emakoko in Nairobi National Park for @kitsafari Feb 9 - meet @@SafariChick at Eka Hotel, Nairobi Feb 10-13 Serian Mara camp, Mara North conservancy Feb 13-16 Serian Nkorombo mobile camp, Masai Mara Reseve Feb 16-18 Mara Plains, Olare Motorogi conservancy Feb 19 - Emakoko for @@SafariChick Once we had the schedule pinned up, @@graceland jumped in, eager to relive her happy memories at Serian in Mara. So it became a threesome and it worked out marvellously as with the power of three we could command a PV at MP. Serian provides PV and guide for each tent, one of 2 big draws in clinching the deal, the other being a stay 6 and pay 4 deal. How we ended up being the Lipault ladies is something of a tale that @@graceland has to tell since she was the catalyst!
  13. Looks like I will finally be able to flip the switch on a trip this fall for more photography! I really want to support Kenya–plus, well, it's stunning–so I am returning again. Last November I did 3 nights Kicheche Laikipia, 4 Bush Camp, 4 Serian Ngare and 1 Emakoko. Ngare and Mara north was certainly my favourite but I enjoyed it all and the Kichehce camps were great. (Game was not fabulous in Ol' Pej however.) So, this time I thought I would just do the Mara (although Meru has tempted me, the extra costs of the flights will effect total time in country) I know I want to return to Ngare for 4 nights but also try Serian Nkoromobo, maybe for 2? I also want to visit Kicheche Valley camp as I am liking the descriptions of Nabiosho and would like to see that side of the conservancies. It sounds quite different ecologically. They have a 4 for 3 right now and no SS at this time, so that is also great. I am hoping I can stretch the Canadian dollar for 3 more days...and if I can, I am wondering if I just add it to both sides or spend 3 in OMC at Bush camp again? If I can only swing 2 days I would likely add one on both ends. (nkorombo and valley.) I would welcome any thoughts on Valley Camp and also on where to spend those "3" days if I can squeeze them! Looking forwad to finally taking the new photo equipment out for a proper spin! Footnote: The time frame is dictated by the drop in rates and drop of the ss in late october/early nov. Not sure I will ever get there for a crossing given the price difference. Then again, I am not a big fan of crowds either. :-) Thanks NJ
  14. It was announced at the International Congress of Relais & Châteaux in Paris, celebrating the association's 60th year, that Mara Plains Camp, Kenya, has been accepted on all standards as a member camp based on its experience, fine cuisine, hosting and accommodation. "This is our third camp to become a Relais & Châteaux member, an honour and responsibility we don't take lightly. The association stands for excellence at all levels and in general celebrates the art of living which in our case is all about the life changing experience of a safari," says Dereck Joubert CEO Great Plains Conservation from Paris, last night. Mara Plains reopened in August 2013, after being completely rebuilt to become one of Africa's finest ecological camps. Located in the exclusive Olare Mororogi Conservancy, bordering the Maasai Mara National Reserve to the north, Mara Plains Camp has the largest traversing area of any camp in the Mara ecosystem with additional access to the Mara North Conservancy. Mara Plains Camp has seven, expansive tents, each with views over the classic savannah grasslands of the Maasai Mara ecosystem, yet the camp is inconspicuously shaded by the riverine vegetation of the Ntiakitiak River. Of the seven tents two of these form a two-tent family suite on a shared deck, and for honeymooners one tent is perched above the river with its own rope-bridge access. Each spacious tent has a copper, free-standing bath, indoor shower includes the complimentary use of professional Canon EOS 7D camera equipment and Swarovski high-definition binoculars. Mara Plains Camp joins its sister property ol Donyo Lodge, in Kenya's southern Chyulu Hills, as East Africa's only other Relais & Châteaux member property. Great Plains Conservation's third member property, Zarafa Camp, in the Selinda Reserve of northern Botswana, was the recipient of last year's Relais & Châteaux Environment Trophy 2013. Life changing experience at Mara Plains, shot by a guest using camp's photographic equipment
  15. In February 2014, ST members Safaridude and the Game Warden undertook a Kenyan safari staying at three Offbeat Safari properties in Meru National Park, (Offbeat Meru), Sosian Ranch in Laikipia, (Sosian Lodge), and Masai Mara, (Offbeat Mara - Mara North Conservancy). In the following interview series we focus the Safaritalk Spotlight on Offbeat Safaris and gain an insight into each of its properties: here we speak about the Offbeat Meru camp, situated in the Mara North Conservancy. Part 1 of the interview series, Offbeat Meru can be found here. Part 2 of the series, Sosian Lodge can be found here. To read the ongoing photographic trip report, click here. To find out more regarding Offbeat Safaris, visit the website at ---------- James Stewart, the Game Warden and James Sengeny. What is the history of the Offbeat Mara camp and how is it/its management team involved in the Mara North Conservancy? The camp opened for guests in June 2005. Piers, the owner, worked for Offbeat Riding Safaris for 3 years before opening the camp. Offbeat riding safaris also camp in the same valley on mobile horse riding safaris. Offbeat Mara is one of the founder members of the MNC and Piers sits on the board. Offbeat contributes to paying Mara North in order to preserve the amazing landscape and wildlife that inhabit it. How does the experience of staying in Mara North Conservancy differ from that of staying in the Mara Reserve proper? MNC markets its product as low density tourism and has a strict game drive code of conduct. The management company, Seiya Ltd has a ranger force that monitors the code of conduct by patrolling around the conservancy. They also work with the guides on enhancing the guests experience and explaining the need to enforce regulations regarding the number of tourists in the conservancy. In the reserve you can find up to 25 cars per sighting. The rules in the conservancy are that there are no more than five cars per sighting. We are also able to night game drive up until 10pm in the conservancy, can drive off-road to sightings, sit on car roofs etc. How does the green season in the Mara North differ from the main tourist season? What is a visitor more likely to experience during this time? MNC has some of the best game around. Lions are almost always seen by guests and we have two big prides that reside in the conservancy; EPC and Offbeat. Other game such as leopards and cheetah are also seen often and year round. MNC also hosts the world famous Leopard Gorge. During the short rains in November visitors are more likely to see the smaller plains game such as gazelles and impala. After the long rainy season the grass is tall and visitors are more likely to see a lot of elephants, buffalo and Eland. The rain has little effect on the habits of the predators. How long has the Mara North been in operation and in that time, how has it changed? What were wildlife numbers when it started compared to now? Mara North has been in operation since 2009. It consists of 850 local Maasai landowners who have come together to lease the land to the camps. Since the Mara North Conservancy was set up the animal numbers have increased especially the predators. It is hard to know whether herbivore numbers have changed due to the fact that they move in and out of the conservancy so frequently. We have seen, especially with elephants, that they are more relaxed in Mara North than in the peripheries. Have you for instance noticed an increase in a specific species that you wouldn't have expected and conversely wildlife which you may have expected to return which has not? Since Mara North started the numbers of lions in the conservancy has doubled. For cheetahs the number is still constant but they have huge home ranges so it is hard to monitor numbers. Currently we have two cheetah researchers who are trying to work out exactly how many cheetahs there are in the Mara ecosystem. We have also seen an increase in serval cats and reedbuck. How has the ecosystem recovered from its previous land use? The previous land use of the area that is now Mara North was local homesteads and cattle. Now that we control the grass and grazing we have seen more nutritious grass growing back. This now serves as a grass bank for the local community in times of drought, whereas previously the cattle would die of in large numbers. Notably one species of Acacia Gerrardi is becoming less and less due to elephant destruction, (as they are restricted to smaller and smaller areas of land), and another type of acacia called Acacia Drepanolobiun is taking hold. Under the lease conditions of the conservancy, how are the Maasai allowed to use the land? MNC has a rotational grazing project, allowing local cattle to graze under control. Under what specific conditions and where are they permitted to graze their cattle? Mara North decided that cattle could be incorporated as part of the community conservation process in MNC. MNC believes that the culture and traditions of the Maasai including cattle and herding should be part of the tourist experience. We do not force it upon them but the cattle herders are encouraged to participate. The cattle are controlled in small areas and the areas are constantly rotated in order not to leave lasting environmental damage. What is being done to educate them about and improve animal husbandry techniques and livestock security? MNC runs the Bright Green Project, (OBEL Family Foundation), we have a pilot project based at the MNC HQ, we aim to teach improved management practices and using Boran cattle to improve local zebu cattle. The conservancy took fifty Maasai elders on an educational trip to Ol Pejeta Conservancy, one of Kenya's finest cattle and wildlife conservancies in existence. As a result we have seen local cattle owners buying in Boran bulls in order to breed with the local cattle and improve the quality of the livestock. The aim of the project is to teach the Maasai that quality is better than quantity and hopefully reduce the environmental impact that the cattle are having on the ecosystem. How many instances of human vs predator conflicts have occurred and what is being done to prevent further such occurances. Indeed, have there been any cases of revenge killings, (or the tradition of young Morans killing lion), in the conservancy and if so, what action has been taken against the culprits? There have been instances in the past but now when the Maasai threaten to kill a lion the rangers are on hand to guard them. MNC runs a livestock compensation project funded by the camps and landowners. A set of rules with a board governs the payments. A verification team with a motorbike verifies all claims. Who is responsible for enforcing the law in the conservancy over such matters and how affective are such laws? Management works very closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service. Any issues are done together with them. The punishments differ on individual cases and Kenya has just passed a new wildlife act that has seen stiffer penalties come into place Bearing in mind the success of the conservancy model first championed I believe by Jake Grieves-Cook in the Mara region, how many more conservancies will be established in the future and how far will they radiate out from the reserve proper? How important are they for wildlife dispersal areas and how essential is it that wildlife corridors exist between them? The Masai Mara Wildlife Conservancy’s Association has just been formed. This is now the body that will help and govern these issues on a county and national level. The conservancies are important in ensuring buffer zones around National Parks between humans and wildlife as well as allowing wildlife to move freely between big areas of land. Without conservancies Kenya is at risk of turning their National Parks into glorified zoos where animals are kept in by the encroachment upon the land by for human purposes, thus increasing human/wildlife conflict. Being a small tented camp obviously reduces its environmental impact and footprint: from where does the camp draw its water supply and how do you encourage responsible water use? Offbeat Mara draws it water from the Musiara Springs about twenty minutes from camp. We have introduced reusable drinking water bottles that guests are given on arrival and then can keep in order to reduce our waste of plastics. How do you dispose of grey and black water? What about waste disposal and recycling? There is currently a project in Aitong that is being set up for waste disposal. As a camp we will take all our rubbish there and it will be recycled. We will also participate in a clean-up day in the local town and help educate the Maasai people about recycling and waste disposal. How does the camp generate electricity? All tents are fully solar powered and in the office during the day the internet is run off solar using a converter from the battery. At night we switch a small generator on for a couple of hours in order to charge up guest’s electrical equipment. How have you found that guests demands for electricity has changed over the years the camp has been operating and how do manage to meet those demands? The camp runs on solar power during the day. In the evenings we offer the guests the chance to charge all electronical items on a small generator that also runs the kitchen and office as is on for 3/4 hours a day. What is the story of the Offbeat Pride and how is this pride connected to your camp? The Pride normally resides on Lion Hill about half a mile out of camp and are seen daily. As cars from other camps are not allowed in this area they are the Pride of Offbeat and have been followed fanatically by the guides and spotters from Offbeat. As a consequence our guides know their history and the relationships between different members. The have also named some of them. How many lions does the pride consist of and how many cubs have been born this year? The pride numbers 18 in total of which 10 are cubs, (there was previously 11 cubs but 1 was recently killed). What is the extent of their range in the conservancy and have they ever ventured outside of its limits and come into conflict with the Maasai? In 2006 there were only four lions in the pride: in 2007 they attacked cows in the village and one of the lionesses was killed which left three. In 2009 eight cubs were born five of which were males and those boys were kicked out in 2012. Two of the kicked out lions attacked cattle in the village at night and were killed and the other was killed by buffalo. We have only seen one since. Once every year we notice that this pride move out of the area for about a month often intruding upon the territory of the Elephant Pepper Pride. The pride moved in February this year and one cub died, we assumed killed by another lion. What is your personal favourite spot in the Mara North Conservancy and why? What are the "secret" locations which you know but that perhaps guests don't get to see? There are some fantastic spots that can only be reached by foot/horse up our valley stretch. Alternatively the stretch of the Olare Orok between Offbeat and Kicheche often proves to be a favourite with guests. How in your opinion can such high visitor numbers to the Masai Mara be sustainable and how many more properties/bed spaces can it support before the negative environmental impact really degrades the ecosystem to beyond repair? What is the answer to overcrowding at the crossings? In Mara north I think we are about at visitor capacity. I.e. we want no more camps and those that are there can only slightly expand. The reserve is too busy and needs better management in general. All images courtesy and © @@Safaridude. The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.
  16. 1) Name of property: (Please also include name of property as topic title and include as a tag.) 2) Website address if known: 3) Date of stay, including whether Green Season, Shoulder season or High season pricing (if known) 12 - 14 November 2013 4) Length of stay: 3 Nights 5) Why did you choose this camp or lodge to stay in? Based upon what? Internet information and "chatting" with a safaritalk member 6) How did you book the property, direct or agent? Were your enquiries dealt with quickly and efficiently? Agent and yes enquires always dealt with quickly 7) How many times have you been on Safari? About 10 8) To which countries? Kenya 9) Which properties have you been to previously that you are comparing this one to? None 10) Was the property fenced? No 11) What tent or room did you stay in? Did it have a good view? Was it overlooked or private? The Zebra. Not overlooked and very private 12) How comfortable was the bed - were suitable amounts of blankets/duvets/pillows provided? Lovely big bed, plenty of covers and glorious hot water bottle at night 13) Did you like the food? If yes, please state why. If no, please state why. Food was excellent you could have as much or as little as you wanted, plenty of fresh vegetables and beautiful cheese board 14) Was there a varied menu offering multiple choice? If vegetarian was a suitable alternative offered? (Did you have to request this in advance?) No multiple choice but if you wanted anything specific you just had to ask 15) Can you choose where you eat, ie privately or with other guests, guides? Single tables or communal dining? You can choose but most guests eat together, guides eat elsewhere. 16) How good were the packed breakfasts/lunches if staying out on game drives? Excellent with lots of choice and plenty of tea and coffee 17) What are the game drive vehicles? Please include photo if possible. Open sided land rover (don't ask me for particulars of models etc!) 18) How many guests per row? Probably two but I had it to myself 19) How long were the game drives and were they varied in the routes taken? Morning was around 5 hours with breakfast, evening about 2 with sundowners 20) Are game drive times flexible: ie, if agreed in advance, can you go out earlier than suggested and stay out later, ie not returning for lunch but taking supplies with you? Not certain but almost sure 21) What wildlife is this property known for? Did you get good sightings? Most things. Leopard, buffalo, lion, you name it they have it 22) How was the standard of guiding? Excellent 23) 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? 24) If you had a very good experience with your guide, please give reasons why: Duncan knew what I wanted to see and came up with the goods, or something better on every day 25) Were staff attentive to your requests/needs? Absolutely 26) Trip report link: 27) Any other pertinent details you wish to add: 28) Please add your photographs of the property below, with headings. Most photos on TR
  17. I admit that there is a bit of a balloon morning rush hour feel in the Mara. One morning I was able to count eight balloons. This of course added a bit of a touristic feel and certainly decreased the feel of being in a wild, remote area (relatively speaking). Personally, I support each conservancy being able to ban balloon flights taking off, flying over or landing in their territory. Legally, I'm not sure that they have the authority to govern the airspace over their conservancies, (as this would seem to be the jurisdiction of the federal government), and how would a conservancy ever be able to prevent a balloon that takes off in another area from flying over its territory?
  18. At the end of my Alaskan Micro-safari TR this past winter, I mentioned that I was heading to Kenya in May for a taste of the Green Season on the Masai Mara. Luckily I landed in Kenya just as their epic rains ended, and had a great time and photographed many things. Here's the link: http://martinwgrosni...Africa12TR.html Sorry for the delay in writing this TR, but shortly after returning from Africa, I headed off to Iceland and another great, but totally different, safari. Unfortunately there's a downside to every wonderful safari (or two)--now I have nearly 120 GBs of images to sort through and process… (but maybe should that be !)

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