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amybatt

My Safari #4 -- all things rainy and Lucky

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Posted (edited)

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.

Edited by amybatt
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All right, bring it on. It was a year ago that we had the fortune to be guided by David and Kapen. With your visit and @@offshorebirder's recent visit, we can enjoy a wonderful return to Offbeat Mara.

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Really looking forward to this @@amybatt - especially Amani and her cubs!

 

I agree 100% regarding Kapeen's eyes. He blew me away multiple times with incredible spotting feats.

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Posted (edited)

Mara Day 1 -- I'm back!

 

However tired I was, it all wore off as we flew down to the Mara. My excitement and anticipation was almost overflowing. I couldn't help but smile as I started to spot giraffe, buffalo and hippo as we started the descent. I'm finally back!! This is why I work all year long!

 

We arrived at the Mara North airstrip right at 4:00 and were greeted by Kapen and David. I was psyched to see it was them, because their stellar guiding reputation precedes them, at least in the online safari world. On our drive, Kim and I let them know there's no such thing as too many cats or too few snakes. I asked if they'd seen Amani the cheetah, who I saw in Olare Motorogi in 2014 and I knew she'd been around here a bit. They said she disappeared for a while in January but just returned a couple of days ago, so there's hope I'll get to see her. They've also seen Malaika's newly independent cubs around too, so maybe we'll bump into them. I was feeling really positive that we'd have some great sightings. They seemed to know the comings and goings and didn't think I was utterly crazy to be asking for cats by name.

 

One thing I noticed is my photo taking, other than of the cats, has started to trend more towards "interesting things I've not seen before". I think on earlier safaris when everything was new, I took pictures of everything. Now it's just neat/new things to me. Like a bunch of tiny hyena pups we saw on the drive to camp:

 

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The rest of the game ride continued as we looked for the Offbeat pride of lions. That's the resident pride in Mara North closest to the Offbeat camp. It didn't take too much work before we spotted them down along the river. There were a few lionesses and a bunch of cubs of different ages. This is already a bonus because I didn't get to see any tiny cubs last year and already I was seeing about 5! Kapen told us that the littlest cub was named Lucky, because he and his sister were born to a mother who couldn't produce milk. The sister cub died but Lucky was taken on by an auntie who had a set of cubs and would nurse him too. We decided there and then I need to take Lucky home with me! We came across this group of lions a couple times as we headed back towards camp and they were heading (it seems) towards a kill they had hidden somewhere. Excellent start to the safari. And a very early reminder of why I love it here. The cat sightings are the best!

 

My very first lion pic of the trip:

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Someday they will grow into those paws!

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Rough-housing siblings:

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You can see here a mix of ages among the cubs:

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And bringing up the rear, as fast as his little legs will go, the littlest one, Lucky:

 

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Lucky would prove to be the laggard of the group when we saw him. David said that he is bullied a fair amount by his cousins, but on the flip side he's sat right down next to the pride males on a kill and growled at them when they've tried to shoo him off and eaten his fair share right along with the big boys. So he has gumption. He's also disappeared for days at a time and everyone gives him up as lost, but he had reappeared eventually.

 

Offbeat Mara is a great camp. Seven tents nestled into some bushes. We were in tent 4. Dinner tonight was beet risotto appetizer which was excellent. My entree was a stuffed pepper that was wonderful. Dessert was a blueberry cake with sticky toffee pudding sauce. The Cabernet Sauvignon is wonderful too. This was by far our best meal of the trip so far, but I sort of expected it. I've always eaten very well in Kenya's tented camps!

Edited by amybatt
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Part 2 of the trip started where part 1 ended ... in excellence!

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Wow, I think we have four Kenya trip reports simultaneously underway now - @@amybatt's, @@dlo's, @@pomkiwi's and mine.

 

It's an abundance of fun!

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Posted (edited)

@@offshorebirder, good thing there's no such thing as too much Kenya!!

Edited by amybatt
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Posted (edited)

Mara Day 2 -- One of those days I just won't forget

 

What an incredible nights sleep I had. I think a combination of the activity of the last week, the fresh air and the super-early day yesterday but I was out cold, but not so much that I didn't hear the lions twice last night quite nearby. This is what I live for!

Off we went at 6:30 to see the sunrise. I had high expectations for the day but I had to temper it so as not to be disappointed. But man, I had no idea what would happen.

First we came upon the Offbeat Pride females and cubs coming in from a night out. They'd quite obviously made a kill as they all had nice round, distended bellies. Our little guy Lucky was bringing up the rear as he seems to usually. David said that Lucky was having a problem with diarrhea which is common after a big kill where he's drunk a lot of blood with high levels of iron. Poor little guy! The three lionesses brought the kids up on to the hill to sleep for the day, but not before we got a bunch of photos.

 

The tell-tale yellow fur against the earth:

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Lucky and his big round belly:

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These kids always have something to say! "But Moooooommm...."

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Little man Lucky lagging behind again:

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Lone zebra watching the lion parade:

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A bit of lion politics before the next sighting. The Offbeat Pride numbers around 28 now. 13 of those are nomad lions, sub-adults that have been cast out. Their options are to become a pride of their own somehow, join another or perish. The problem is that with the Offbeat Pride proper being right there, Acacia and River Prides also nearby in MNC and the Moniko Pride bordering on the other side in OMC, there isn't much room for these nomads. (Acacia Pride itself is having problems keeping together with splinter groups forming and general instability affecting relations within). What I found interesting is that one older Offbeat Pride female would often be spotted with the nomads, almost like a caretaker or babysitter. She didn't have cubs of her own and was usually found rounding this lot of nomads up to keep them out of trouble and usually was leading them away from where they might annoy the main pride. But often we'd find the nomads sneaking back to where they weren't wanted and causing trouble. Which leads us to the next story.

 

We'd stopped to watch a few giraffes as they was the first we'd seen since we'd been here. As we sat there, we heard a bunch of lions roaring and growling at each other very close by as if there was a big fight going on. We zipped in that direction and saw the two Offbeat males, Jesse and Frank, fighting with something, which turned out to be three nomadic males . The Offbeat males and three females had just fought Rana, a local male leopard, and ended up chasing him up a large acacia tree, where he remained. The nomads turned up when they heard the noise thinking that maybe there was a kill they could take part in (being desperate having to work on their own for food). So it was a drama within a drama, with poor Rana stuck up a tree until all the lions would leave. The Offbeat males chased the nomads off but one returned eventually (not very bright) and sat just out of sight of the Offbeat males and females. With binoculars, at the very top of the tree, lying precariously in a crook was Rana. He was going to be stuck up there as long as there was a bunch of lions hanging about or risk losing his life to lions who don't like him in their territory.

 

Offbeat Pride males:

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Spot the leopard (7:36 a.m.):

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Waiting it out, in the shade just below:

 

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These two always looked as if they just left a West Hollywood salon after a hot oil treatment and a blow-out:

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Look at the zebra on the hill watching the proceedings. A nomad male looking back at the scene of the action:

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Nomads retreat:

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Leopard at 8:30 a.m.

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The rest of the non-nomadic Offbeat adults lying in wait under the tree:

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The interesting thing about Frank and Jesse is that they are brothers and swap off being the dominant male in the pride. Jesse has a fairer mane while Frank has a quite dark one. They took over the pride three years ago at the very young age of 5 and have held it down since. They are very handsome, healthy looking boys. They are named for Frank and Jesse James, the American outlaws who were known for their violent crimes.

After we left Rana stuck up in the tree with a bunch of lions napping nearby (thus preventing him from coming back down), we went off to look for cheetah, specifically Amani, who the guides said returned to the area a few days ago. I saw Amani in 2014 with one cub. David says that cub must not have survived, as it would have stayed with her for another year or so and she had another set of cubs in 2015 {Note, I found out after I returned that that cub is indeed still alive! She parted from Amani very young and was given up for dead but in reality is alive and well in the Reserve}. The two cubs she has now are almost adults and both female. I really thought it was wishful thinking to want to see her again, so imagine my surprise when we pulled off from the treed leopard and not 10 minutes later, there is Amani walking the savannah with her two girls. Wow.

 

Amani with two cubs in the shade of the tree:

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Passing by:

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One of the cubs:

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Running like kids, you can still see the soft downy fur on the back of the heads:

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Stalking:

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Cub:

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Always alert:

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Spotting:

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Our view over breakfast:

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We stayed with her for almost 2 hours, following her as she stalked a couple different groups of Thomson gazelles or impalas. Her cubs, while almost adult looking, still played like rambunctious children, chasing each other and wrestling, which the guides say is a form of practice for chasing and taking down prey. At one point Amani was stalking them straight on, when all of a sudden we noticed one of the cubs coming the long way around behind us to get to the Thommies from the rear. Sometimes it works, David says, and the element of surprise is enough to scatter and confuse the gazelles so that one is caught. Not today. While she gave it a good effort, Amani wasn't able to eat, which is a shame since I'd love to see her hunt but also she and her girls looked very skinny and must be hungry.

In the midst of waiting and watching Amani and not wanting to leave her as she was looking like she wanted to hunt, we had a wonderful bush breakfast in the vehicle. I had "eggy bread" (French toast) with baked beans, lychee juice and a hard boiled egg and coffee. It was very good and more than held me over to lunch.

On our way back to camp, we drove back to check on Rana, a full 3 hours later, and found him still perched high in the tree in the blinding sun, with the Offbeat males and three females that we could see scattered on the ground around him nearby. There was no coming down for him until they left, and they looked as if they were all down for the count, albeit in the shade!

 

Leopard, 12:22 p.m.

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Great silhouette!

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Lunch today was baked fish sticks, vegetable salad with potatoes, zucchini, carrots, a bean salad and a chocolate fudge cake for dessert. It was very good.

A quick nap during siesta and catching up on the blog before we headed out for an afternoon drive. We went straight away to check on Rana, and he was still up in the tree at almost 5 p.m. and the lions were still lying about, in the comfort of shady bushes, all around him. He wasn't panting as much as he was at midday but I can't imagine that was comfortable for him up there that long.

 

Leopard, 4:24 p.m.

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Still lying nearby:

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Still handsome:

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That one nomad male also nearby:

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A cute little pair of dik diks who stayed still long enough for photos:

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Leopard, 5:02 p.m.

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We went off to look for the rest of the Offbeat pride with the cubs and came up empty. We found some elephants and a harem of impala. There was a storm over the Tanzanian border and the clouds and the sky were just tremendous as sunset approached so we took photos of that. We stopped for a sundowner and watched the crazy sky.

 

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I was surprised by how big a storm that turned out to be and how violent the thunder and lightning appeared. While I'd seen a bit of rain before, it was usually very brief and didn't make much of an impact. Thankfully tonight this didn't trouble us.

 

Once it was dark we headed back toward camp. It was dark enough that Kapen used the red light that illuminates night drives and we found Rana, still up in the tree a full 12 hours after he was chased up. We watched Frank and Jesse yawn a lot and finally get up and move on, but the three Offbeat females stayed put, with an eye on Rana in the tree. They're the most dangerous to him and I hoped they move on so he could come down overnight.

 

Leopard, 7:12 p.m.

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Still lying in wait:

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Just outside of camp we saw a hippo grazing. The staff said that there were three Cape buffalo nearby too.

We took quick showers and headed over to the tent for a gin and tonic and dinner. My meal tonight was a puff pastry stuffed with a combination of veg and cheese (sweet potato, carrot, onion), mashed potato, zucchini and a fruit crumble for dessert that was quite good. The white wine was tasty too.

Edited by amybatt
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A bit of video:

 

Amani and cubs, one cub making an end run around us

Our first Offbeat Pride sighting

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Wow @@amybatt - three big cat species in 10 minutes! That beats the heck out of my 19 minute time with the Offbeat crew.

 

Thanks especially for sharing the news and photos of Amani and family. Sorry to hear she was having a bad run catching food. Last year Amani was catching baby Impalas at will around MNC - this year not as many babies, due to the drought I guess.

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@@amybatt I sometimes dream of being back in Mara North: I recall after landing and before transferring to camp, @@Safaridude saying to me that I wouldn't believe the amount of wildlife we'd see, (words to that effect), your photos and experiences only serve to reinforce that dream of returning...

 

Matt

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Posted (edited)

@@offshorebirder, it was difficult to watch Amani and her cubs, because when we spotted her on the Saturday, David estimated by the looks of them that they hadn't eaten in 3 days or so. He suspected the reason she came back from the Reserve proper was the lack of prey there. Not to ruin the story, but it would be more than that before they did get to eat. I suspect Amani is a far more successful hunter on her own. Her cubs either jump the gun and tip off the prey or they blow the hunt to bits by not executing the plan. But yes, as a big cat fan, I was over the moon to have the leopard, lion and cheetah served up in the first full morning, that was pretty darn cool. I've only ever seen one active hunt, that being the last thing I saw on my last Mara safari, so this was a bonus for me too.

 

Poor Rana the leopard ended up being everyone's running joke that day. We'd pass other Offbeat vehicles when we were away from that tree and ask if he was still up there. And every time someone headed back out or came in, everyone wanted to know.

 

@gamewarden, the game is spectacular in Mara North. It's still all setting in a week later, but I do think it's my favorite of the Mara conservancies now. And Offbeat's guiding is spectacular, which is a bonus!

Edited by amybatt
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Posted (edited)

Mara Day Three -- Another Day in Lion Country (Paradise!)

 

Another good night of sleep here in the Mara, not too windy or too cold. I only heard lions once though, quite far off in the distance. I didn't know how that bodes for the day.

We were up at 6:00 and on the road at 6:30. It was a beautiful painted sky sunrise today, lots of hot pinks and orange. I've noticed this time that every sunrise and every sunset has been completely different, and beautifully dramatic in its own way. Mental images to file away for later.

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The sun was just about coming up when we came across Offbeat pride males Jesse and Frank, heading back toward the same hill we saw the moms and cubs return to yesterday.

 

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It seems as though Jesse and Frank had just manhandled the nomadic sub-adults out of this territory, as we came across them next. There were five of them, although one was Leia, a veteran Offbeat female, fully grown, whose job it is to coach these sub-adults on how to behave themselves.

 

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While the nomadic lions were headed towards the spot where Frank and Jesse just retired, Leia guided them away. I asked David how likely it is that these nomads would form their own pride, and he said unlikely. The survival rate of 14 nomads isn't good anyway, but to have the Offbeat pride, the Acacia pride and the River pride just here in Mara North along with the Moniko pride next door in Olare Motorogi, there's almost no room for anyone else without some serious competition.

 

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We stopped along the way to watch some elephants and to watch a group of hyena, two of which seemed to be in the courtship dance. I thought for sure they might mate, but then they ran off rather than consummate the dance.

 

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While we were watching the hyenas though, Kapen and David were watching the hill ahead of us. They noticed that some buffalo got driven downward and some zebra scattered, so they headed that way. It turns out that this is Acacia pride territory and a lioness had left two 5 month old cubs deep in a bush for safe keeping while they went out to hunt. We saw both, one more clearly than the other, sitting there patiently until their mom returns. That's putting two and two together and getting a sighting, for sure! Remember these two cubs, we'll see them again.

 

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We stopped for breakfast after this, surrounded by gazelle, zebra, wildebeest, topi and eland, which was pretty cool.

 

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Today we had pancakes, hard boiled eggs and little muffins with coffee and juice. It was pretty filling. Just as we finished breakfast, Kapen jumped up, having been sitting there staring at the hillside as he finished his coffee, and said "I see cheetah". He grabbed his binoculars and true to his word, it was Amani and her two cubs again on the opposite hillside, maybe a mile away. David said she wasn't too far from where we left them yesterday, and they still hadn't eaten. So we quickly packed up and off we went.

We tracked her again for about 2 hours as she was foiled a couple times by nearby baboons or zebra who spotted her. She never really got too close to executing a chase, but my hope was always there. All three cheetah looked very thin, they definitely needed a meal. Once a fifth car showed up and started following, we left. David believes that the cars tracking a cheetah can ruin a hunt for her, tipping off the prey that there's something there to worry about, which I completely appreciate. I'd rather that she eat than I get to see a hunt. It was still pretty cool though to get some great photos of her on termite mounds as she assessed the area and watch her cubs as they followed her (or in some cases led her) around.

 

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Today was cooler than we're used to and no sun until lunchtime. It was a challenge taking in that light but I think I made the best of it.

Lunch today was delicious. There was vegetable lasagna, roasted carrots, tossed salad and a chickpea salad. For dessert was a tropical fruit salad.

Quick nap before the afternoon drive.

The afternoon drive started off a bit quiet. David and Kapen really want to find a leopard for us at eye level, not stuck way up in a tree. But I think Rana has packed it in and called it a week. He's likely recovering from yesterday's stranding up in the tree and both David and Kapen think he's moved a ways away after so harrowing an experience. So we just drove along and enjoyed whatever we saw. Some vervet monkeys, some baboons.

 

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What was interesting was a large tower of giraffes, about a dozen, but one adult was teaching a youngster how to neck, or crash necks together as adults do when they fight. It was sort of half-hearted but interesting for me to see nonetheless. I thought video worked better for this than photo, apologies for the wind over the mic.

We kept driving in search of leopard, it really felt endless for a bit. Then Kapen, from far across a valley, noticed a spot of lion yellow in the bushes across the way. This is precisely what Kapen spotted, from all the way on the other side of the river:

 

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So off we went, and there were three Offbeat lionesses asleep in the bush. It was Napono, the alpha lioness, and Lucinda and Polypoly. These were the three, apparently, who stranded Rana up a tree yesterday. They were passed out cold and looked unlikely to rise. Until they did. Something behind us caught their eye and they became quite intent.

 

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Then the yawning started (a sure sign they'd get up) and Kapen figured out that the zebra and impala on the hill behind us were the likely targets. So we headed that way. The zebra were conveniently located near a watering hole, which is a prime location for lions to ambush zebra (as I well know from my safari here last year). The zebra, predictably, headed down to the watering hole, and about half had crossed through it when the one lone lioness who decided to make a strike was spotted, thwarting the effort. Seriously, I'm collecting thwarted kills like bad pennies! Another one! So that was ruined. Her sisters didn't seem to be too into it, since they were just catching up to her when we got on scene. So maybe it wasn't a serious effort anyway.

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We drove a short distance further and found two lionesses with a bunch of cubs, which was great, except that our little guy Lucky and two of his cousins were missing, which is not great news. Ugh. I can't handle losing that little guy so soon after seeing him.

 

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Offbeat set up a great sundowner at a pretty much ideal location under an acacia, with a firepit and everything.

 

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It was excellent and very enjoyable for all the guests to meet up there. And then it started to rain. Kenya desperately needs rain, and it got it. For the next hour and a half it was pretty torrential. I've never seen rain like it in my two previous trips to Kenya. We got back to our tent after our afternoon drive, had a shower and got to the dining tent just as the deluge happened. That pretty much eliminated any chance for a night drive that night though.

 

Tonight's meal was fried fish with couscous, herbed cauliflower and peapods. Appetizer was a delicious ravioli with a sweet tomato sauce. Dessert was a delectable Amarula mousse, which is wonderful as I'd been drinking Amarula before dinner!

Tucked safely into bed for another early morning. As I drifted off, I thought to myself how much I love it here and how each day is a blessing in some way or another

Edited by amybatt
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really enjoying your report, and what fine cat sightings @@amybatt The lions in the early morning sun are very evocative.

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@@amybatt

 

 

Part II is off to a great start. That Lucky is adorable -- I sure hope he turns back up. Poor Rana the Leopard definitely did not have a good day. What an interesting sighting, though.

 

The landscape does not look as parched as others visiting the area earlier in the year reported, but it looks like you made it through the first two days without inclement weather. From the title of your report, I'm guessing that the distant storms you viewed on your first sundowner might be a preview of things to come? Can't wait for more!

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Wow, cat overload here, you must have been in safari heaven!

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The hyena pups and lion cubs are adorable. So many great poses that your photo lessons helped you capture. Great luck with the cats! How wonderful you found such a suitable safarimate.

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@offshorebirder There is also @travelingteacherz and @@Tom Kellie is playing the long game as usual, but that's still puttering along @@SafariChick is coming too. So ironic this is like Kenya month on Safaritalk but unfortunately those seeing all these reports and thinking "I want some of that" are also seeing the Laikipia news and thinking "maybe later".

 

 

Very good @amybatt Some lovely shots in there and of course fabulous sightings... one thing after the other. Mara North is looking great - would definitely be my favourite conservancy to take a new camera for a workout .To me it is the most attractive. But it's like choosing a favourite child, no?

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@@amybatt - I know that Acacia. Were there huge spine-covered caterpillars on it or on the ground?

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@@offshorebirder, I don't recall looking at what was around the tree, but I am fairly certain this is a regular Offbeat spot. Jesse and Chania were there setting up for all the guests and the firepit was a well-worn spot! And a great view!

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Posted (edited)

Mara Day Four -- I Could Get Used to This

 

Another solid night of sleep, lots of dreams (good ones, like relaxed, REM-sleep good ones) and very restful. I have started to hear the night watch making passes by the tent, usually within the hour before we wake up. I also heard a large cacophony from our resident lions about 20 minutes before we woke up. I thought at the time that it was a good sign.

We were all still wondering what happened to little Lucky and whether Rana had recovered from his day long stay in the tree. This weather wasn't doing much towards finding us an answer to either. Unfortunately the torrential storm from last night left us with a world shrouded in heavy mist and fog and for the first hour we were out driving we could see next to nothing until we were right upon it. While it was a peaceful, ethereal scene, it was somewhat disappointing for the lion fan who hoped to see the noisemakers from not an hour earlier.

 

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We drove in a direction we'd not taken yet, so it was all new trees, grassland and road passes to me. Yes, after a few days you start to know your way, recognize when the road is getting close to where you'd usually see the lions or when you're about to approach camp. It's funny like that. I knew, though, that even David had given up on lions at that point when he said "let's go look at hippo". That was the back-up plan on my last two safaris: when things get slow, we go look at hippo. They are reliably always there, hanging out in their pool during the daytime, coming out only to graze after the sun sets.

Surprisingly, on the way to the hippos David spotted a male lion lying regally out in the open plain with his cohort lying out flat nearby. By the time we got to them, they were making their way into the croton bush to sleep the day away. These were the two pride males of the River pride. The males had broken away from the Acacia pride and taken the River pride and all its females over. They looked healthy and well fed and just fell down for a nap as we watched. So it was now on to the hippos.

 

River Pride Male on the move:

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Let sleeping lions lie:

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So off we went to have our bush breakfast, over the hippo pool in the Mara River. I counted over 80 hippos directly in front of us, all sizes and ages. There was some barking and roughhousing between them but it was a lighthearted moment there watching them. There were three crocs on the other side of the river on the bank. Thankfully no where near us. And at 6-10 feet each, they were "pretty small" says David. The ones nearer the migration crossing points (where they get all the spoils when wildebeest and zebra fail to cross during the chaotic river crossings in August) can grow over 20 feet.

 

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Kapen setting up breakfast:

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David surveying the river:

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By the time breakfast was over, the sky had cleared and the sun was shining brightly. We started to head back the way we came, which looked new to us now that the veil of mist and fog had burned off in the sunshine. David quickly swerved to the right and took us deep into the brush, where we found 7 lions of the River pride (3 sub-adult males and 4 sub-adult females, they all still had the spots of youth on their legs and the boys only had gentle manes) tucking into a hippo kill. This was clearly the second sitting for this meal, as five of the lions already had nice round bellies and were dozing heavily in the shade. Two lionesses were devouring the hippo though. The hippo appeared to be a sub-adult, not full sized but not a baby either. It was big enough that it could not be dragged anywhere. Where they were eating is where it was killed. David said that the River pride were experts at taking down hippos, and I guess this is proof. {Warning: the photos do get a bit graphic, do I need to tell seasoned safari goers that?}

 

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You've got a little something right there on your chin...

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With this belly, I don't know how this one was still eating!

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When we drove up, we saw about two dozen hyenas resting nearby, knowing that if they're patient enough that they'll end up with some hippo. One made a hasty attempt at it and was quickly chased off by one of the lionesses.

Watching these cats for over an hour, I saw so much behavior that was just like my two house-cats. One went over to a tree, dug a hole, peed, then covered it over, as if it was a bush litter box. One lioness approached another lounging nearby and the lounging lioness greeted her sister with a head-butt and then proceeded to clean all the blood and hippo gore from her sister's face. There was a bit of good humored smacking with the paw. But the lions' focus was on filling those bellies as much as they could, since they never know when the next meal will come. It was much like Thanksgiving, when I've already filled a plate (or two) but I can't resist having a bit of a rest and going back for more.

 

Cleaning up sister:

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Trying to move it for safe keeping:

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What was interesting was that the kill was still very fresh, but the hippos ears, tail and testicles were missing. David explained that with so much of the hippo covered in tough skin, those parts are soft and easiest to get to, which is why they're gone first. But that didn't stop these lions. We heard so much bone crunching by those jaws. They were getting through to the soft innards. One lioness walked off with a long strip of intestine (still filled with, well, what intestines are filled with) and ate it like I inhale licorice or spaghetti. It was something to see. Quite a visual.

 

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Once it looked like the lot of them had had their fill and were going to sleep off their food coma (with one eye open to guard against the hyena), we moved on. What was significant about this to me was that it was the first time I'd seen a pride (or subset of a pride) on a kill. I've seen cheetah and leopard eating before, but I hadn't seen lions eating before. And to sit there alone and just watch and observe was pretty darn cool.

I think the cold and the rain last night brought out a lot of plains game today. We seemed to see a lot more giraffe and warthog than we usually do. The rain also brought out the flies, which hatch right after a big storm, so there's that to contend with now. Today though, the weather couldn't be more perfect. Not too hot, nice light breeze and warm sun.

David and Kapen were back to looking for Rana. They think maybe he had beat a hasty retreat back to Leopard Gorge (of Big Cat Diary fame) so we drove through looking for him there, but saw only agama lizards, rock hyrax and hyenas. I was starting to think Rana is keeping a low profile since he was publicly humiliated up in that tree on Saturday.

 

Obligatory agama photo:

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I always think of @@graceland when I see a roller in all its glory:

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I just liked the geometry of this shot:

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An interesting elephant sighting where we watched three climb up a steep dirt hill that even our 4x4 struggled with. It was here that Kapen taught us that if you're ever being chased by an elephant, run down a hill like this. Elephants can't go down at all and will likely stumble. Noted for future reference. You know, just in case.

 

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And I even took a second bird photo today. Not a great one but I liked its colors.

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Back to the camp by noon for lunch. I'd already written the blog before lunch so that meant I could make after lunch a true siesta, reading and napping the couple of hours away. I never get to do that at home, so it's a luxury I relish on safari. Kim by this point had come down with some sort of virus or bug or something that left her sleeping through meals and siesta, rising only to go on game rides. We never figured out what it was that took her out of commission for three and a half days, but I tend to think it was taking the anti-malarial on an empty stomach. It seemed to start after we left Rwanda (where she'd been taking it with food at breakfast) and started when we were having later breakfasts hours after she'd taken the pill. I never caught what she had, nor did anyone else in camp. She was a trooper though, and never missed a game ride, although she did miss quite a few excellent meals! Chania was wonderful in sending back bland sandwiches and rehydrants for her, which was absolutely welcomed by us both.

Lunch today was a cheese and veggie quiche, beet and avocado salad, green bean salad and pineapple for dessert. I continued to be very happy with the food here. I certainly took advantage of their vegetarian prep skills.

During siesta, the heavens opened up again for about 20 minutes, just enough to make us all wonder if we really wanted to go out at all. I don't care about getting wet but I do worry that the animals will all be snoozing or taking cover from the rain. Thankfully that wasn't the case.

We found Frank and Jesse, who must have hidden out somewhere during the deluge because their gorgeous manes looked pristine as usual, like they'd just had a blowout in some Hollywood salon. They are gorgeous creatures. We spotted the female lionesses with some cubs on the opposite hill but were unable to cross the river to get to them after the storm left everything all muddy and slick. We couldn't tell from such a distance if Lucky our little guy was among them.

 

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We moved on and just around the bend we found the nomad sub-adults from the Offbeat pride. These are the ones who've been booted from the pride and are in the process of establishing themselves. They all looked well fed and were in serious food comas. They look as if they must have eaten recently so they're doing well. This group was 4 males and 3 females and again, they look pretty darn good.

 

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Maybe I'm just a crazy cat lady, but I see a different personality in every face:

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What a gangly teenager:

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The thing I love about these guides is that they try to do what they can to keep us happy. After the failed attempt at getting to the cubs, David managed to find another crossing and we made our way to where we spotted the cubs, but they had moved on. So, as the day got darker, we moved on and had our sundowner (gin and tonic for me) and chatted about the conservancy concept and how it's working.

 

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Proud of myself for having managed to figure out how to shoot a decent silhouette...next time I'll ask to get closer!

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Another thing I love about these guides, especially Kapen, is that they will stop the vehicle and hop out to collect bottles or plastic that humans have left behind. They realize what a danger these are to all the animals and they've stopped several times to clean up after someone else. I respect that.

We talked about it a bit, and we came to the consensus that we'll pass on the day trip into the Reserve. Both guides have said that most of the predators have moved into the conservancies, along with a lot of the prey, so it's not a great use of our time. I don't exactly have a great track record of getting in and out of the Reserve without mechanical failures, and I didn't need to see if the third time is the charm. We were thrilled with our sightings in Mara North so far and wanted to see what the next days would hold.

Edited by amybatt
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We had a foggy morning drive to the Mara river and breakfast at the same spot a year ago with Kapen and David. Good to hear they are getting some rain. It rained nearly every night when we were there.

 

Did you do any night drives?

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I continue to love this report and your wry writing style. Great lion sightings, and I have to say the shots in the fog and mist certainly add another interesting dimension. Glad that all burned off, though, and that you were able to see the lions on the hippo kill.

 

Speaking of which: "Let's go see hippo." My partner and I should adopt that line as standing code. At a boring party? Eye contact and, "Let's go see hippo" = I'm about to claw my eyes out. Let's get the hell out of here.

 

I suppose the poor guides do always have to have a backup plan. We experienced the same kind of thing on our first safari in Sabi Sands a few years ago with a hyena den. But backup plans can have their own rewards, and it looks like yours did as well.

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Sounds such a stress-free, super-pleasant time. Loving all the different weather and the breakfast spot..... and the sightings keep on coming regardless.

 

Silhouettes are a good start, biut yes a wee bit closer would better! :D

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Yes, @@mapumbo we did do a night drive, it's coming up. This was the first night it was offered to us and it ended up getting rained out. I hadn't wanted to do it the night before as Kim was down for the count with her illness.

 

@@Alexander33, what's funny is I hadn't picked up on the Hippos as Plan B thing, until on my last safari I was sharing a vehicle with young boys and their parents, and the younger boy picked up on it! When the guide said "let's go see hippo" the kid said "we must be able to find anything else!" Then I thought back and realized that's been the case. But in fairness, the hippos, if you know where the hippo hangout is, are pretty reliable fall-back sightings!

 

Indeed, @@pault, even on a "slow" morning we were rewarded with great breakfasts and even better sightings. Mara North was extremely good to us. She may be my favorite child now, just don't tell Olare Motorogi!

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