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offshorebirder

Kenya: a west-to-east birding + mammal safari January 14-29, 2017

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In the daylight we could see how dry things were around camp. The Orange-leafed Crotons were either bare or positively shriveled.

 

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We were greeted by the rescued Impala fawn - such a sweet creature. But a bit naughty - the Impala grabbed a napkin and then kept moving away from Chania as she tried to get back the choking hazard.

Comparing notes with Tessa, we listened to her describe how she had a nice Serval sighting on her morning game drive. "You must be living right" I exclaimed.

After a delicious lunch, we retired to the tent to rest and backup images from our memory cards. We had a nice Steppe Eagle sighting and some other birds from the tent. Things gradually got cloudy and we were surprised when at 3pm a light rain began. It ended a little before 4pm - just in time for tea. We gathered in the dining tent for refreshments and soon started our afternoon game drive. The light rain had cooled things off and cut down the dust marvelously.

Our first sighting was before we even left camp - a Temminck's Courser and then a Bushbuck peeping out of some brush.

Bushbuck

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Soon we came upon a Lioness keeping an eye on some cubs.

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Across the lugga some Cape Buffalo were approaching.

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The Buffalo kept drawing closer and the female Lion kept an eye on them. The cubs became interested as well!

 

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When the cub brazenly pulled a head-on stalk of the Buffalo, we figured the Lioness would intervene, or call the cubs or something. Instead she just napped and glanced at things occasionally.

Then two of the cubs turned things up a notch. They did keep glancing at the Lioness to see if things were OK.

Lion cubs taunting buffalo

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Practicing - one holds the attention of the "prey" and the other stalks from behind.

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At this point the Lioness was sleeping.

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Here are a couple of short videos of the cubs being mischievous.

 

In this segment, the cubs and Buffalo scare each other and end up on different sides of the lugga

 

 

Staring contest

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Cape Buffalo and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers

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Eventually things fizzled out with no real fireworks. Moving on, we saw a Giraffe feeding on Acacia.

 

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It seemed to have irritated its tongue.

 

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Then we went from bird sighting to bird sighting - Marico Sunbirds, Black Stork, Swahili Sparrow, White-headed Saw-wing and much more. Winding our way around the Olare Orok's semi-dry watercourse, we eventually ran into the Offbeat Pride. It looked like Frank and Jesse were just starting to stir. Jesse stood, stretched, and walked over to greet Frank.


Jesse greeting Frank 1

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Jesse Greeting Frank 2

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Jesse - an impressive specimen

 

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We birded the general area near the pride, getting out of sight but staying close in case anything interesting happened. We picked up a couple of dozen more bird species - several new for the trip.

Soon it was time to go meet everyone for a bush dinner away from camp. It was in a nice location and the food, conversation and comraderie were wonderful. Ben and Jesse compared notes on out-of-the-way lodges and quirky proprietors and many other aspects of the safari business. We caught up with Tessa on how her game drive had been, which was good as usual.

Eventually Roger, Ben and I excused ourselves and joined Josphat and Kapeen for a night drive. Cape Hares were all over the place. And eventually we started encountering Springhares - a total of eight on the night drive. We saw them fairly well with binoculars in the red spotlight but my photos did not come out well. In addition to plains game and Lions, Kapeen spotted a Small-spotted Genet in a thicket of branches in a tall Acacia tree. How he saw it in such a tangle by roving red spotlight is beyond me. Amazing spotter, Kapeen. Simply astounding sometimes.

We had more of the same critters until we were approaching camp. Josphat spotted a snake in the beam - it reared up at a couple of points - and it was tentatively identified as a young Black-necked Spitting Cobra. Jesse greeted us on our return and helped formulate the ID.

A very nice day in the field. Slept like a log again.

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I'm really enjoying your TR @@offshorebirder

I'm also pleased you stayed at Tumbili Cliff. Lake baringo is one of my absolute favourite spots for birding in Kenya.

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@@offshorebirder

 

@Game Warden - Kapeen was tickled that I learned about Fisherman's Friends from you. He was so surprised/happy to get them that he chomped the first lozenge to bits, rather than letting it dissolve slowly. Ouch.

 

Thank you so much for remembering :)

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The sequence of photos of the Speckled Mousebirds must be pleasing. It is so enjoyable to see the pics of all the birds and cross reference with what pics I have. Looking forward to more of your report.

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@@offshorebirder I just love all your photos,especially of the wattled lapwing.

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Thanks @@Soukous - yes, I can see why Lake Baringo has such a rep among birders. I plan to return in late October/November to see how it is during passerine migration. I would love to see Nairobi NP during migration as well - an island of good habitat after southbound birds traverse greater Nairobi.

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@@CDL111 thanks for following along and your continued kind comments. I too like to compare photos from TRs and other forums to help learn African birds.

 

@@optig - Wattled Lapwings are one of my favorites. We saw a very young chick near Musiara Marsh - photos to come in the January 23 installment.

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Just spent my lunch hour catching up on your splendid report @@offshorebirder, and a very enjoyable hour it has been indeed-thank you!

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Really enjoying your report. It is fun to recognize some of the familiar landscape of Mara North. Did you hear if Amani raised any of her cubs?

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Thanks @@Towlersonsafari - glad to be appreciated.

 

@@mapumbo - yes, Amani has raised two cubs to near-adult status. They are still with her. @@amybatt saw them 3 days in a row at Offbeat Mara earlier this week.

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Posted (edited)

January 22 - before tea time.
I apologize for how long it took to post this installment. So many photos to process! I took a sample to illustrate this narrative but doubtless have better Leopard and Cheetah photos still to be processed... I am going to cut it short and only cover up to the afternoon game drive in this post for the sake of expediency.
We drove out of camp at 6:30 and started by nosing around wooded areas along the Olare Orok. Looking for Leopard and whatever else was stirring. Birding was good even if light was not yet good enough for photography. We enjoyed Red-faced Crombec, Plain-backed Pipit, and Capped Wheatear among more distant birds.
Moving out into open country, we enjoyed a nice sunrise to go with our wildlife watching.
Mara North Sunrise
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Birding was good in the open country - we saw Senegal Lapwings, a pair of White-bellied Bustards, and Temmick's Courser. Bustards had been scarce this trip due to short grass and dry conditions, so we were glad to see the White-bellied Bustard pair.
Temmick's Courser
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We also saw a Dik Dik out in the open that posed for photos facing us. Nice not to have branches in the way or a "butt shot" as Dik Dik are so fond of providing.
Dik Dik
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Moving on, we came to a hillside with a Hyena Den. There was a huge number of Hyenas scattered about a hillside and along the base of the hill - over 50. Kapeen said that if one of us were to be here alone on foot with no vehicle, we would probably be dead in short order. That they would dart in from all sides but especially behind, in hopes of biting and crunching a bone. Then finish their disabled target.
Hyena clan vista
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Not far from the Hyena clan, there was a nice concentration of plains game - Zebras, Wildebeest (presumably from the Loita migration), Coke's Hartebeest, Thomson's Gazelles and Warthogs. And a lone Hyena.
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Thomson's Gazelle

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We moved on into a hillier area that was strewn with rocks. After several uncooperative birds, an obliging Grey-backed Fiscal posed for photos.
Grey-backed Fiscal
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It seemed that when the grass in the easy-to-access areas is depleted, that grazing animals pursued the remaining grass in more difficult-to-access areas.
Tough grazing habitat
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We ran across Superb Starlings at regular intervals

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In last year's report I may have mentioned the uncanny resemblance between Yellow-throated Longclaws and North America's Meadowlarks. Roger and I were struck by it again.
Yellow-throated Longclaw
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Proceeding on, we saw White-browed Robin-Chat, Red-necked Spurfowl, Little Bee-eater, Spot-flanked Barbet, Wooly-necked Stork and Rupell's Griffon Vultures among some White-backed Vultures.
White-browed Robin-Chat
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Then we ran into some of the Offbeat Pride of Lions. But they were deep in cover or asleep and not being very photogenic. So we moved on fairly quickly.
Josphat had a good breakfast spot in mind and so we began heading that way. Along the way we passed a couple of Zebra herds and some Wildebeest too. Then a Winding Cisticola perched up for a couple of photos - they are a greyish, nondescript little Cisticola.
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The breakfast spot was a place we had visited last year - it is a salt lick favored by both game and birds. And Maasai and their herds too, but it seems to work for all concerned. Even in the middle of a drought, there was nice wetland habitat and good shorebird habitat. And shady trees...
Salt Lick western end
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Salt lick eastern end

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We had good birding over breakfast at the salt lick - Wood Sandpipers, Common Snipe and Three-banded Plover foraged the muddy margins. And we enjoyed a Banded Martin perched on a bare branch nearby.
Banded Martin
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As we packed up after breakfast, some Zebra approached but waited for us to leave before drinking. So we hurried to make way for them.
Zebras
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Just then, Josphat got a "Chui" text saying there was a Leopard not far from Elephant Pepper camp. Naturally we hustled on over!
When we got there, the setup was that there was a herd of Impala grazing and loafing near a small brush-lined Lugga. The Leopard was apparently hidden in the lugga. Just then we got a glimpse of its spotted coat as it moved along the lugga towards the Impalas. The Impala herd moved around a spur of the vegetated lugga and we adjusted our position after they got far enough away.
They were quite near to cover near the Leopard - along with the other vehicle, we waited breathlessly for an explosion as the Leopard charged.
But the Impala kept moving, angling along the lugga while staying what seemed dangerously close to it.
At one point, when the Impalas were blocked by some brush, the Leopard peeped up over the lip of the lugga and got its bearings to the Impala herd.
Leopard peeping
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Then the Leopard stalked some more through the brush, getting closer to the Impalas all the time.
Leopard stalking 1
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As the herd drifted, the Leopard kept stalking closer. It got to the edge of the shade it was in and paused. Then tension was extreme but silent. The three vehicles from three camps were very respectful - of the Leopard, the Impalas, and each other. Respectful in distance, respectful in silence, respectful in stillness.
Leopard staking 2
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Then as the Impala moved and it got a better angle, the Leopard darted across an opening into shady cover to close the distance even more.
At that point the Leopard got right to the edge of shade and cover - mere feet from the Impala.
Leopard stalking 3
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"Surely it is going to go for it now" we thought. I checked my settings and readied my camera yet again. But the Leopard kept looking over its shoulder - and eventually decided to allow the Impala to move off without attempting a kill. We could not figure out why - it seemed plenty close enough. Even our experienced Maasai guides were confused by the Leopard's behavior. Its belly did not look full, and even if it had been - Leopards will always save food up a tree for later when given a chance. And there were good trees around...
Whatever the case, the Leopard settled down and got comfortable.
Leopard lounging
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After spending some time with the Leopard, it began to get drowsier and we decided to continue on our way. It was a very enjoyable encounter. After moving a little over 120 meters, we ran into the Acacia Pride of Lions sleeping soundly.
Lion sleeping
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That explained the Leopard's hesitance to go for a kill! The Leopard correctly figured that if it caused a commotion that close to the Acacia Pride by killing an Impala, a Lion would either take its kill or take its life. So the Leopard appeared to let the Impala go for later.
We headed for a wetland downhill from Elephant Pepper camp - it had been very birdy last time and nearby we had scored an African Crake. No Crakes this year due to nonexistent grass cover but there were a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes, Black Storks, Green Sandpiper, Zebras, Impala, Grant's Gazelles, Warthogs, Wildebeest and more. A bit farther on, we ran into a nice herd of Eland.
Then 19 minutes after we left the Leopard, Kapeen and Josphat spotted a Cheetah with a Thomson's Gazelle! We must have just missed the kill, since the Cheetah was still panting very heavily when we pulled up and had not begun to eat. It soon began eating - right as a Jackal appeared. Oh no, we thought - the Jackal is going to call Hyenas or something to steal the Cheetah's Kill. But we need not have worried - no vultures ever appeared and the Jackal kept quiet and did not yip.
Eventually the Cheetah settled down to eat. Eventually I remembered to snap some photos...
Cheetah with kill 1
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And shoot a little crude video:
The Jackal hovered nearby but never nipped or overtly harassed the Cheetah. It was a well-behaved Jackal - maybe it figured it would be in sole possession of the scraps if it just kept quiet and let the Cheetah have its fill.
Cheetah with kill 2
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Cheetah with kill 3

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The Cheetah ate and ate, getting a bloody face and full belly in the process.
Cheetah with kill 4
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Then it ate some more, until there was not much left besides skin, bones and stomach
Cheetah with kill 5
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At this point, we were really late for lunch, so we reluctantly headed back to Offbeat Mara.
Turns out good 'ol Tessa was later than we were due to good sightings, bless her heart :-) And lunch was great again - light in tone but plentiful. Very satisfying.
After lunch, while resting in our tent, Roger and I heard some commotion. The game out in the plains was panicking. Looking out, Roger spotted a huge male Leopard walking out in the open! It was the "Offbeat Male". We could not believe our good luck. I was glad the old fellow is still doing well and in possession of his territory. No photos sadly because he passed behind a rise just as I ran back out with camera...
We spread the word around camp and Tessa got to see the "Offbeat Male" on her afternoon game drive. The Mara certainly delivers.
Edited by offshorebirder
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Posted (edited)

@@offshorebirder I'm ashamed to admit that I've been to Lake Baringo even though it's relatively close to me in Nairobi. I will defiantly go. I hope that @Zarek Cocker wiil be my guide.

Edited by optig
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@@offshorebirder I'm continuing to enjoy this very much. Your misfortune with being unable to get a photo of the 'Offbeat Male' reminds me of arriving at a lodge in south Africa and being gently scolded for leaving my camera in my room as animals frequently passed through! Ever since then I am that sad person who always has a camera with him :rolleyes:

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Never seen such a cackle of hyena before, and then to see leopard, lion and cheetah, right place right time?

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Wow, really great morning of sightings. We have not seen a successful stalk and kill yet, but the anticipation of watching a stalk is still a tremendous thrill.

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What an amazing day you had...it was worth our wait. And the sunrise is just magic...love the subdued tones.

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Posted (edited)

@@optig - you will love Lake Baringo. And having @@Zarek Cockar along will be a tremendous asset!

 

 

@@pomkiwi - I am often that camera-toting person myself. :-)

 

 

@@CDL111 - a little "right place, right time" but more of a "right place, right guides".

 

 

@@mapumbo - I agree seeing the stalk or chase is very nearly as good as seeing a successful kill.

 

 

Thanks for your kind words @@xyz99 - glad you find the photos satisfying.

Edited by offshorebirder
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Posted (edited)

January 22 - afternoon game drive.

 

As we began the afternoon game drive, we ran into a female Lion who was an on-again, off-again member of the Offbeat Pride of Lions. She was sleeping soundly by herself so after admiring her and a nearby White-headed Barbet a few moments, we got moving. After snapping a few photos of an Olive Baboon sitting around, we crossed the Olare Orok to check out some new areas.

Olive Baboon

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After some good birding along the way, we came upon a small journey of Giraffe browsing on some hillside Acacia trees.

Maasai Giraffe browsing

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I noticed fewer baby / very young Giraffe in Mara North Conservancy than last January, which was lush and wet. And we saw almost no baby Impala, Waterbuck, or Eland. But we did see very young Wildebeest and Topi.

This Wildebeest calf still had part of its dried umbilical cord hanging on

Wildebeest mother and calf

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After a bit, we came upon a very cooperative Striped Kingfisher that posed at length for photos. Why is it that the most obliging birds are always the scruffy-looking ones?

Striped Kingfisher

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While watching the Kingfisher, we noticed a flock of Arrow-marked Babblers being inquisitive and foraging on the ground. Once again, these birds proved elusive in terms of a good photo.

Heading into a more open plains area, we saw a couple of Topi standing like sentinels atop a termite mound

Topi sentinels

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Not far away, a Common Warthog rested in the shade of a tree

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We came upon a large scattered herd of plains game with many Common Zebras grazing. Like we had been seeing before, the Zebras seemed to preferentially graze on old termite mounds. The grass there was not as long as the surrounding area, but perhaps it was more nutritious?

Zebras grazing on termite mound

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After a while, we moved from open plains into a more forested area. There were many White-backed Vultures roosting in some trees, with one Ruppell's Griffon Vulture among them. Among other birds, we admired a female Von der Decken's Hornbill. Von der Decken's look very similar to Jackson's Hornbill, but without lots of white spots on their black folded wings that Jackon's have.

Von der Decken's Hornbill

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Not far away we saw a pair of Bateleurs perched in a low Acacia that were very confiding. Ben said you will never get closer looks at a Bateleur. Unfortunately they were backlit from every angle the terrain allowed us, and the sun was starting to go down.

Bateleur

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We encountered multiple flocks of Swahili Sparrows in the course of the afternoon game drive. And Helmeted Guineafowl were plentiful.

Since the light was now fading fast, we decided to go find the Offbeat Pride and see what they were doing. We found them gathered around a picken-clean Wildebeest kill. Frank was yawning a lot.

Frank yawning

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We watched one of the cubs playing with Frank - attacking his neck and generally getting in his face. Frank was remarkably tolerant. Another one of the cubs used the Wildebeest carcass as a plaything.

Lion cub and Wildebeest carcass

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The pride began milling about and before long, some of the females started roaring. One of the cubs tried to roar as well - needless to say, it did not come out as a roar. More like a raspy squeak.

Lion cub "roaring"

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Just then Jesse pricked up his ears, stood up and went trotting off towards the Olare Orok. Wondering what he was doing, we followed him. We had to detour a bit to cross the Olare Orok. When we caught up with Jesse, he was approaching the female Lion we had seen at the start of the game drive. But just then, some of the Offbeat females came into view, having crossed the largely-dry Olare Orok. They did not seem happy to see the other female, who began trotting away. Jesse followed her more slowly. We moved slowly along, keeping pace.

Just then, the Offbeat females started roaring again. We stopped since Jesse had slowed - at this point we needed the red spotlight to keep track of the Lions.


Not long afterwards, Frank and Jesse started roaring very close to us. It was an amazing sensation - we could feel it in our chests.

Here is a video clip of some of their roaring (not much visual content - but good audio).

 

 

After a couple of more roaring sessions, the pride settled down and it was time for us to head back to camp for dinner. What a fantastic day in the Mara!

Edited by offshorebirder
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@@offshorebirder I also have to mention that I think the black and white casqued hornbill is just awesome. It's truly a bizarre bird.

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Great sightings, great photography, great report! I'm very creative with my superlatives.

Really enjoying this, especially your warthog laying in the shade with one ear back. Not sure why, but that photo just makes me happy.

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Thanks @@Zarek Cockar. I liked that Warthog too - not sure why, it just had a sort of charisma...

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I have tried four times to post the next installment. It kept failing. Eventually I got to where it showed an error message saying "you have posted too many images". @@Game Warden or anyone - do you know what the image per post limitation is?

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Posted (edited)

OK - I will split January 23 into two posts.

 

January 23, 2017.
* I still have a LOT of photos to process. But I went through enough from January 23 to come up with a representative sample, so this trip report can keep moving...
Today we planned to get an early start and do a full day in the main reserve. We also had special plans for lunch. During last year's safari we had been a bit frustrated in trying to spend time in mature forest in the Mara or adjacent Oloololo escarpment. The problem was - there is not much mature forest left in the Mara!
So before our safari, I explored possibilities. The two best options seemed to be A) the forested area around Governor's Camp and B] the forested area around Kichwa Tembo and Bateleur Camp.
So a few weeks before the trip, I got in touch with the crew at Offbeat, to see if they could inquire at those camps. I wondered if it would be possible to pay for lunch, and then bird the area looking for some targets (like Schalow's and Ross's Turaco) that reside in mature forests. Chania was very helpful in this endeavor.
Governor's Camp replied immediately, saying yes we were welcome to come as paying guests for lunch and then we would be welcome to bird the area around camp. And they suggested lunch at Little Governor's Camp, on the west side of the Mara River in the Mara Triangle, where there had been some good bird sightings lately. We were sold!
I made sure that Chania and Governor's camp knew we wanted reservations for five - Roger, me, Ben, Josphat, and Kapeen. I could tell that Chania, Josphat and Kapeen were pleased we included them - but I would not dream of excluding any members of our team!
We were rolling out of camp before 6:30am. Anticipation was high! Some Red-necked Spurfowl lined the track out of camp and Zebras, Impala, and Thomsons Gazelle grazed on a hillside.
Continuing on, we came across two Lions. One was the eldest member of the Offbeat Pride - Napona, who is something like a matriarch. Josphat and Kapeen said she is the best hunter and teaches younger Lions how it's done. We watched them striding purposefully towards a rocky hillside - the younger Lioness went directly into a thicket but Napona paused to drink from a hidden little water catchment.
Here is a short video clip of Napona drinking and then walking up into a thicket to rest. The bird calling in the background is a staple of the African Bush - Ring-necked Dove (AKA Cape Turtle Dove). The mnemonic people use for learning the call is "drink lager, work harder".
* For best results, set the youtube video quality to 1080p (from the lower default setting).
Then we got moving. On our way to the main reserve, we passed through an open plain largely devoid of rocks. It was crawling with Caspian Plovers! We had over 50 of them in the general area. They were in or approaching alternate plumage and seemed to be setting up breeding territories. But none of them allowed us get close. The distance plus dim early morning light conspired against good photos but here is a mediocre one:
Caspian Plover
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As we made our way, we encountered more plains game, Green Sandpiper, Red-billed Oxpeckers, Brown Parrots, Pallid Harrier and Rosy-breasted Longclaw. We also passed a couple of groups of Maasai children walking to school.
Maasai children walking to school
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We seemed to pass into the reserve along the Olare Orok, and we cruised the trees along the river looking for Leopard and good birds. Presumably we would check in officially at the Musiara gate soon.
There were some Spotted Hyenas milling about some high ground near the Olare Orok.
Spotted Hyena
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When some of the Hyenas started to move, it set off some Warthogs who scooted away.
Warthogs fleeing
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As we cruised the thickets, we saw some Red-necked Spurfowl
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Then we came upon a lone Hippo that had some wounds - but it was not in overly bad shape.
Battle-scarred Hippo
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Back beside the Olare Orok, we saw Black-face Vervet monkeys on the ground and in the trees. Suddenly they started making alarm calls and the ones on the ground ran for the trees. We looked and looked for any sign of a Leopard but to no avail.
Heading back onto the plains, we saw a couple of herds of Impala.
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Impala ram walking
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Impala ram grazing
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As we moved northwest towards Musiara gate, we passed a Topi that allowed a fairly close approach.
Topi walking and standing
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Before long we reached Musiara Gate. As Josphat handled the paperwork and formalities, we birded around and admired the view. There was a Rosy-breasted Longclaw in a patch of taller grass and we could see a lot of game just inside the reserve.
Rosy-breasted Longclaw
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Game inside the reserve
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Approaching the Musiara Marsh, we could see it was a lot drier than last January! But there was still a little water left in a small area and some reeds as well.
An immature African Fish Eagle was standing around for a while looking a bit listless. But our concerns for its health disappeared when it flew away looking healthy.
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Then at the muddy fringes of a wet area, we saw a very young Wattled Lapwing Chick. It was a homely creature, yet it spent time preening its three ragged tail feathers. As more and more game and other creatures came and went, the parent Lapwings got nervous and hustled it over to an overgrown ditch for safety.
Wattled Lapwing Chick
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Then we saw some Lion activity across the marsh - it was part of the Marsh Pride, Kapeen said. We moved to a slightly better vantage point and saw two female Lions on our side of the marsh. One got up and moved into the muddy reeds.
Marsh sisters
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Moving into cover for an ambush
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The Lions seemed to be setting up an ambush. After the one on our side was hidden, the others spread out - presumably to act as drivers towards the hidden Lion. But the Wildebeest and other plains game moved and avoided the trap. So it goes.
After watching the Lions, we moved over to a bird-filled section of marsh. There were shorebirds, wading birds and more. Several Long-toed Lapwings prowled the marsh, and African Snipe probed around the margins. There were also Spur-winged Lapwings and Common Sandpipers nearby. Scanning through the wading birds, we saw Yellow-billed Stork, White Stork, Saddle-billed Stork, Hadada Ibis, Great Egret, Little Egret, Black-headed Heron, Grey Heron, and Squacco Heron. Then Ben spotted a major target bird - Rufous-bellied Heron! In Kenya, this bird can only be found in a narrow section along the southern border - in the Mara, Amboseli, and Lake Jipe for example. Sadly distance and heat shimmer did not allow for good photos of the Rufous-bellied Heron.
Great Egret
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Long-toed Lapwing

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Other waterbirds in Musiara Marsh included African Jacana, Red-knobbed Coot, Black Crake, and African Spoonbill. We saw a couple of Fan-tailed Widowbirds in the distance.
Mammals included Cape Buffalo, a lone Hippo, Olive Baboons and various plains game.
Cape Buffalo and attendants
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Olive Baboon

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Warthog grazing

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After a while, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from Musiara Marsh. What a productive birding stop! And the aborted Lion hunt and all game around were fun as well. Now it was well past time for breakfast and Josphat had a nice spot in mind.
On the way, we saw a sharp-looking Ruppell's Long-tailed Starling.
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Then we passed a Peregrine Falcon perched in a dead tree. Nearby were some Zebras preferentially feeding on termite mounds again.
Mother Zebra and foal
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As we admired the Zebras, an Eland walked by and gave us a decent photo-op.
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The next post will cover from breakfast onwards.

Edited by offshorebirder
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Posted (edited)

January 23 continued.

 

We made our way into a grove of trees along the Mara River, somewhat north of the crossing to Little Governor's Camp. It is a wonderful breakfast spot!
Kapeen and the Mara River breakfast spot.
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The Mara River looked very low for this time of year, however.
Downstream view
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Upstream view

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Roger and I forced ourselves to eat and drink while also scanning our surroundings and scoping up and down the river. There was a family of hippos well downstream, in a sheltered eddy. At one point, a baby Hippo was out of the water in full view. Alas, it was not as close as last year, so no good baby Hippo shots.
We also saw several Nile Crocodiles hauled out to warm themselves in the sun
Nile Crocodile
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There were also some Nile Monitors prowling the shallows and the rocks downstream of us. An Egyptian Goose kept an eye on them.
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Today's breakfast featured some awesome popover things. They are hard to describe - crispy and spicy flour shell around what seemed to be a hard-boiled egg. Looked like a giant Falafel at a distance but of course tasted completely different...
At one point I put my plate down in a hurry to jump up and shoot a Ruppell's Griffon Vulture circling low.
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After breakfast, we headed south. After passing several Rufous-naped Larks (the signature sound of the Mara), we saw some Quail-Finch - funny little birds. And we had a Grey Kestrel perched and flying down to grab some prey - a grasshopper or something. Unfortunately it was terribly backlit at the time.
Ben mentioned that the little islands of trees out in front of the woodline at Governor's Camp were all connected to the riverside forest when he worked at Governor's (as the Transportation Director). The elephants are whittling them down further and futher...
Speaking of Elephants, there were small groups of them scattered about. But nothing like the herd of 115 we saw in front of Governor's last year - presumably due to the drought.
Elephant mother and child
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Elephant child

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As we checked the patches of trees, we came upon a drowsy Lioness. The following photo is in the finishing stages of a yawn - but it looks like the Lioness is hissing or snarling at us.
Angry-looking Lionness
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After some more good birding and admiring Elephants, Waterbuck, Oribi, and other game - it was time to go on our lunch adventure. We parked in the Little Governor's parking area, taking our photo bags with us. Then we walked a short way through the trees and down to the boat landing. There is a little boat secured to a rope that is used to ferry guests across.
Little Governor's ferry landing
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We carefully sat in the boat and were on our way, instinctively keeping still and quiet so as not to rile any crocodiles. The boatman carefully pulled us along on the rope. Time slowed to a crawl. It was like we were frozen in that moment crossing from the Main Reserve into the Mara Triangle, with the sun shining, the bright blue sky, the cool temperature and the gurgling water. Loads of potential sightings just ahead of us - living in the moment, indeed. That scene with our Maasai friends in the foreground was unforgettable, wonderful. Words fail me I'm afraid.
Crossing the Mara River
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Making our way up the steps, we birded our way to the outdoor dining area. It is beside a nice little wetland - that was currently a reedy mix of mudflats and shallow water. A few Hippos were out in the middle - almost completely buried in the mud, and acting as islands for jacanas and crakes. We looked closer and noticed the African Jacanas and Black Crakes were foraging on the back of the Hippos. I rushed to snap a few photos of them apparently picking ticks or some kind of ectoparasites off the Hippos. They were acting like Oxpeckers! I need to do some research and see if this behavior has been documented before.
Jacana and Black Crake feeding on a Hippo

 

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Egrets, Spoonbills, Herons and Black Crakes foraged and squabbled. A particularly bold Spoonbill came fairly close to us - I had to keep getting up from table to walk over and shoot some photos. My companions did not consider it a breach of decorum at all.
African Spoonbill
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Using the spotting scope and looking at the photos, we could see the "proto-teeth" at the base of the Spoonbill's mandibles.
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And an equally extroverted Black Crake walked, hopped, ran and flew about.
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Lunch was very tasty and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. Ben was having fun being back and seeing some staff he knew. Kapeen said it had been 20 years since he was at Little Governor's. Josphat went back for second and third helpings - and Roger and I were enjoying bird sights and sounds.
After lunch we got down to the business of birding the forested areas around Little Governor's Camp. But first, we briefly watched a parade of birds coming to a water feature that Little Governor's set up at the base of a large tree. <bird list>
Then I spotted a male Painted Snipe foraging in the wetland. What a striking creature!
Painted Snipe
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Not far away, an African Jacana was scolding something. I saw a greenish snake disappearing into the grass in front of it. The Jacana puffed up, flapped its wings, vocalized and "mobbed" the snake - if one could be considered a mob.
Jacana - snake interaction
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Working our way around the wetland, we started searching the trees for Turacos. A couple of Askaris accompanied us for safety. The younger one was also an excellent spotter! He found a Schalow's Turaco, which led us to another as it flew from tree to tree. The pair of Turacos was in deep cover, but by using our binoculars we were able to appreciate them fairly well. Getting a good photo was another matter.
This is the best I could manage without disturbing the Turacos
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Returning to the mess area, we saw a Baglafecht Weaver keeping an eye on us

 

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Then one of the staff came to get us. He had a bird we might want to see in the food preparation area. He had been moving the preparation counter aside to sweep up the floor, and while he went to get something, a White-browed Robin-Chat came to pick up little bits of fallen food. Rather than shoo the bird away, he let it eat and came to get us in case we needed it. How considerate - of the Robin-Chat and of the visiting birders! I commented that it was very enlightened of Little Governor's camp to employ the local Robin-Chats as custodial staff.
White-browed Robin-Chat going about his work. Note the olive-brown central tail feathers - the similar Ruppell's Robin-Chat would show black central tail feathers.
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We birded around and had other nice sightings (including Holub's Golden Weaver) but dipped on Ross's Turaco. That is starting to look like a "Nemesis Bird" of mine. Thanking (and tipping) the helpful Askaris, we headed back to the ferry landing. Another scenic ride across the Mara River, and we were back at our vehicle. Time to continue the game drive - no resting around camp after lunch today!
Driving out into the reserve, we came upon more small family groups of Elephants, mixed Zebra-Wildebeest herds, scattered herds of Thomson's Gazelles, and a journey of Giraffes. The Lions we saw were sound asleep.
Wildebeest mother and calf in a big landscape
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Zebra foal
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Some raucous cries alerted us to the presence of a pair of Crowned Lapwings. Nearby, a Pectoral-Patch Cisticola hid in a ridiculously small bush - it did not seem possible yet somehow it managed. Not far away we ran across a Red-capped Lark that was a good bit more cooperative than the Cisticola.
Red-capped Lark
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Then we came upon a flock of Quail-Finch. They were slightly more cooperative than the previous bunch but still tough little buggers. I managed a couple of poor photos.
Quail-Finch
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Working our way towards Mara North, we saw a Pectoral-Patch Cisticola foraging low and then loafing around. I was able to manage a few photos.
Pecoral-Patch Cisticola
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A flock (AKA gripe AKA dune) of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse was less cooperative; they immediately turned away and only gave me rear shots. Then we had some Senegal Lapwings and a flock of Yellow-mantled Widowbirds. One of the males had a little breeding plumage left.
After a good deal more good birding and game sightings, we arrived back in camp around 7. It was nice to be able to take our time showering, etc. before dinner.
Edited by offshorebirder
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@@offshorebirder if Ross' Turaco is a nemesis bird, you'll have to spend more time in Western Kenya next time. They're common in the remnants of indigenous woodland around Kitale, Saiwa, Kapenguria, and Kakamega.

Really enjoyed your Painted Snipe photos and the Quail-Finch (obviously not the greatest photo, by nice that you got any photo at all of it).

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