Ol Pejeta and Olare Orok October 2011
Posted 24 October 2011 - 10:59 AM
Here are a few photos and thoughts from my recent, too-short visit to Kenya, to get me started and help push me to complete a trip report, which is underway, but not going anywhere fast! We spent five nights at Ol Pejeta Conservancy and then 4 nights at Olare Orok Conservancy, from October 1-10. The sightings this time were very high on quantity and not bad on quality too. Lots of youngsters - in fact I have never seen so many, with the notable absnce being very young cheetahs. Olare Orok was very good again, while our single day in the Mara was probably our most remarkable day on safari ever. The surprise was Ol Pejeta, which exceeded expectations and is highly recommended, with a couple of small caveats that I will mention as I go. Laikipia appears to be getting more and more successful and there were quite a number of first-timers at our camp, which is gret as every night there probably contributes $100+ to the conservancy. Kicheche Laikipia is doing very well indeed, and I beleive the Porini camp is too. The third camp I don't know about. Unfortunately we did not see young Safaritalk.
Most importantly for some, we saw very limited numbers of vehicles everywhere except at the wildebeest crossing opposite the Mara and around the star leopard, Olive. Most interestingly for me, there were almost no minibuses in teh Mara, but I can say this in itself improves little. As always when there are a lot of vehicles there was cutting in front, getting too close and blocking an animal's path. However, it did seem slightly better than in the past, with guides and clients both seeming less tolerant of others' bad behaviour - just an impression. There was a lot more patrolling by rangers than there used to be too, and I saw people moved on twice, including away from the expected exit point for the wildebeest at a crossing.
But that's to give a negative impression. As soon as it is time for people to go back for breakfast you have large parts of the Mara to yourself, and we did. We were with a couple visiting Kenya for the first time and they were blown away with the beauty of the place, and looking down from Olare Orok it is magical with the view all the way to Tanzania, as the elephants and giraffe move slowly across the plains and the concentrations of "spots" gradually move left or right to reveal themselves as wildebeest.
All in all in was a really enjoyable trip, and a bit uneventful really. My wife saw that as a good thing, although I like a little bit of uncertainty and a few surprises (my wife being charged by a lion, albeit in the Landcruiser, was a surprise, but I mean in terms of the travel). It was almost an off-the-shelf safari you could buy in the travel agents in a small English town. I definitely need to add some complications to our next trip before my wife realises that all you need to do to have a completely hassle-free (bland I say) safari is to stay at a limited number of tented camps during good weather and fly between them. It may be too late!
Question: There are three leopard (mother, fully grown son and 3/4 grown daughter) and a carcass about two meters up in a tree. Whatis the wise thing to do? (i) wait with 15 other vehicles each with a bazooka poking out from the side or roof, near the carcass, waiting for others to leave so as to get a good position (ii) go to have breakfast (iii) Ask the guy with the biggest bazooka to move because he's been there an hour already. Answer later.
IMPRESSIONS FROM OL PEJETA CONSERVANCY
One of the best things about Ol Pejeta is the foggy, misty mornings. As the fog dispersing before 7, it reveals mist in the valleys below and it is all mysterious and wonderful. Some days the sun blasts everything in 30 minutes and some days it is barely light until nearly 8. The recommended starting time at Kicheche is 6 am (love that as it mens even the most stubborn vehicle-mates are feeling guilty if they keep you waiting until 6.15) both to catch this change and to catch the animals getting active as the sun warms them up. It is often 8C or below in the early morning and so a bit bracing driving along with the windows open (Kicheche have some vehicles with ordinary windows as it gets very cold here sometimes and many people prefer to keep the windows up until 7.30 or so and use the open roof for viewing, but there is plenty of space to get shots out of those windows and you can use the open tops for birds in flight, so it's not so bad and to be honest some evenings and when we visited the busier Sweetwaters portion of the Conservancy it was good to be able to roll up the windows against the chilling breeze/dust from passing conservancy vehicles - we rarely saw other tourist vehicles except when we called in a sighting like the wild dogs).
Another of the best things is having Mount Kenya right there across the valley - a massive, alien block of cold blue contrasting wildly with the generally green conservancy (rainfall is good here), mostly with its peaks hidden behind cloud, but occasionally revealed in full. It is a strange experience to see the snow on its peaks while watching cheetahs hunt, or elephants dusting themselves. We've had views of Mount Kenya before - from the Aberdares and from Serena Mountain Lodge, and even from Sweetwaters back in 2006, although it was cloudy then - but I think from the plateau up here, alone, is the best so far by some way.
Posted 24 October 2011 - 11:09 AM
We flew overnight from Bangkok and landed at 5 am. We were transferred to Wilson and had to wait until after 9 for the flight to Nanyuki. It is a 90 minute transfer from there to Kicheche; although only 40 minutes to Sweetwaters.
Before we fly... buying the necessary postcards and stamps at Wilson Airport.
Our assigned guide was Francis, a Maasai imported from the Mara Camp. He did the usual thing of "what would you like to see". "Wild dog pups frolicking with Lion cubs" said I. "Cheetah" said my wife. Within an hour of our first game drive, guess who we found? Not just any cheetahs.
And after 15 minutes of pleading they agreed to get up and hunt for us.
Of course, like with most cheetahs most of the time, the hunt was an absolute disaster and none of them ever even got faster than a slow trot before they were spotted and the prey dispersed. Still, what a nice way to be welcomed to Ol Pejeta. First impressions are good!
End of day one. The clouds were moving in and it rained during the night.
Next morning we met the fog
Unfortunately both my longer lenses decided to let condensation form on the glass. I have no idea why this happened to this day, as of course the tent was not really noticeably warmer than outside. And both had hte lens caps on so it wasn't direct transfer. However, on following days I kept the lenses in a bag (again inside temperature shouldn't be much different) until they were needed and had no further problems. Nevertheless, we were looking for the cheetahs and all I had to shoot with were a 100mm macro lens and a 16-35. I decided the macro would have to do but I was a bit depressed.
We did find the cheetahs walking as the fog was clearing (that is not air pollution or a poor lens, just the fog... now mist). But this was apparently the only shot I would be able to get - over and over if I wanted!!
But Francis had other ideas and put his foot down to get well ahead of the cheetahs and then turned left offroad to stop about 70m in front of them. On reflection he had worked out where they were heading (one of their play trees) but at the time, as they turned and headed straight for us, it seemed that we had a master at the wheel. Like many excellent Maasai guides Francis wasn't talkative and didn't always explain what he was doing - although he did this more than some guides we've had before. It may even be that he wasn't even taking into account my lens limits, as it was grat position to be in regardless, but I am pretty sure he was (one of the owners of Kicheche is a talented photographer and he brings his own photo tours to the camps, so the guides have to know what they are doing to some extent or the boss will have words).
And after marking the tree copiously, one of the boys decided to climb it, to make this officially "cheetahs climbing trees" month on Safaritalk after Tanya's catch.
Not quite as elegant as a leopard.
And they kind of fall out of the trees rather than run down them like leopards...
After that they decided it was time for breakfast and we followed them for quite a while, with Francis doing his thing of following from the road and them zooming offroad to stop some way in front when he had the notion. On the last of these off-road forays, Francis spotted two lions in the bushes and we had to wait for an agoniaing minute to see whether the three brothers would see them too before it was too late (and no, we didn't warn them although I could tell my wife was itching to do so!). Fortunately about 50 meters short of the bushes the cheetahs got a whiff of lion male scent or something and stopped and sat down. THey eventually spotted the lions too, but they didn't run or even walk away; just sat there. We waited for quite a while to see if anything more would happen, but as the lions were a mating couple I think they had other things ont heir minds and not enough spare energy to be chasing cheetahs. So the stalemate continued - on our right the lions and on our left the cheetahs. In any case there was going to be no hunting that morning and so at about 8.45 we decided to go for breakfast, which is the best meal of the day at Kicheche, always (even if it rains). We found a nice spot down by a river.
Breakfast (sorry for the advertising )
By now there was barely a cloud in the sky, and inf act we would have only one game drive on which it rained heavily here, despite the fact that it was a time of year when the waether is getting very changeable. From talking to the manager, Andy Webb (a Zimbabwean, but not an import so much as a man with the right credentials in the right place at the right time - talking to him he takes pains to point out that he is not there how to show the Kenyans how to do things, but to combine his knowledge with theirs to produce something extra. He's undoubtedly the best camp manager I've met and this was at a time when his wife Sonja, who has run the camp with him since it opened, was in hospital for what appeared to be a serious issue) the rains here are now coming earlier and earlier to the point where there can be rain in August and no rain in October. Although overall the old seasons still hold, they are less and less relevant - low season fans take note).
After breakfast we found another cheetah with a half-grown cub, who was doing her utmost to disrupt her mother's hunting. Apparently the week before the mother had brought it a gazelle fawn to practice on, and it had obviously got a taste for the chase as it chased and harassed everything it could on the two occasions we saw it - even some startled and indignant Jackson's hartebeest and an even more indignant zebra stallion.
we only ever saw them in the heat of the middle of the day, and once after dark, drinking from a trough made for cattle to water but now, as ever, used by the wildlife too.
And the cub being a pest to hunting mother
Posted 24 October 2011 - 11:30 AM
Posted 24 October 2011 - 12:06 PM
… clarity in thought comes after challenge …
Posted 24 October 2011 - 12:07 PM
… clarity in thought comes after challenge …
Posted 24 October 2011 - 12:38 PM
Posted 24 October 2011 - 12:52 PM
How do you put the black frame around your pics, btw?
As another Kicheche fan, I like this itinerary. But if you had wanted to add that twist, what do you think you might have added?
I love reading your reports, so keep it coming...
Zindagi na milegi dobara... Chalo Africa
You only live once...Go To Africa
Posted 24 October 2011 - 02:00 PM
Posted 24 October 2011 - 03:01 PM
Do you have any photos of Francis, we have visited Mara with a young but excellent guide called Francis a few years ago, I know guides move around, so would love to know if same one.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
"I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees."
Posted 24 October 2011 - 07:44 PM
Thank you for all the kind comments.
BTW, hope you aren't threatened by the floods.
We are definitely "threatened". Had all our stuff that is movable upstairs for a week now. A few kilometers away everybody has had to abandon their homes (this is in the suburbs). Touch wood, so far the water has gone left and right and left us untouched. Very difficult getting a taxi though as our area has been announced as a flood zone. Worst thing is the water is no longer drinkable, even after filtration (too much chlorine). Am on my last bottle of some obscure Japanese mineral water. Tomorrow it is time to scour the supermarkets for more.
Glad you plunged right in, Paul. Fantastic photos, though with that "best day ever" teaser, now you've got me waiting for photos of lion cubs playing with those wild dog pups!!How do you put the black frame around your pics, btw?As another Kicheche fan, I like this itinerary. But if you had wanted to add that twist, what do you think you might have added?I love reading your reports, so keep it coming...
"Most remarkable day" I said... it could be a let down as no wild dog pups were involved - let's see!
I think I would have driven up to Ol Pejeta via the Lakes - maybe Elmenteita, Nakuru and Bogoria (where all the flamingos are now) and perhaps Baringo too. Or I might have driven up via the Aberdares... or a combination of the two, which is logistically quite feasible.
I use a freeware program called Faststone, which is an image viewing program (fast-loading as the name suggests). It has a nice set of tools for downsizing your pictures for the web and at the same time adding frames, text (it's a bit clunky with that) and sharpening and contrast adjustments. Very simple and if you don't do the sharpening and contrast adjustments you can produce 100 pictures with black (or safari green if you prefer) frames in a couple of minutes, using batch processing. As it is free it is highly recommended. Other programs can do the same but not sure if they are as fast and easy.
Do you have any photos of Francis, we have visited Mara with a young but excellent guide called Francis a few years ago, I know guides move around, so would love to know if same one.x
Francis is the man with the Fanta orange standing next to my wife in the dark. He looks about 20 in that photo (more importantly my wife looks about 30!) but he's much older.
Posted 25 October 2011 - 12:01 AM
Posted 25 October 2011 - 01:32 AM
Posted 25 October 2011 - 02:01 PM
Praying you are well and weathering the floods. Be careful.
Posted 25 October 2011 - 10:48 PM
Posted 26 October 2011 - 11:16 PM
Posted 27 October 2011 - 07:22 AM
I'm enjoying the photos and TR - the mist certainly adds to the shots at Ol Pejeta.
Posted 28 October 2011 - 06:09 AM
I'll try and finish the second day and get onto day three, although you know how I get sidetracked... and the afternoon of day two was an interesting one.
We started off looking for the three brothers but they had moved on - the cheetahs, elephants and wild dogs move between the conservancies in Laikipia (as can other animals if they like, which is excellent for the wildlife). Just about all fences have been down inside the conservancy for some time, and the perimeter fence opened up to the north-west (I think, I get disoriented) to create a game corridor linking Ol Pejeta with the rest of Laikipia. It all seems very organised and well thought out and I want to find out more about it all in detail, but later for that.... for now I know only the first little bit.
But although Ol Pejeta seemed to have lost three cheetahs (they weren't seen again during our stay) they gained a small pack of wild dogs that evening, so fair exchange. I would guess the exchange was with Sosian, who I am thinking (assuming) have probably gained most from Ol Pejeta's establishment as a decent-sized conservancy.
Anyway, with the cheetahs nowhere to be found we got the "tour". Of course we saw large herds of Impalas and Grant's Gazelles and Burchell's Zebras, but here there are also very good numbers of Jackson's Hartebeest, Eland and Reticulated Giraffe, which give the place its own character. There are also a lot of waterbuck We only saw one Grevy's Zebra; although apparently there are a few more around some days, and Lewa would seem to remain the place to go for these beauties. There are some Grevy's/Burchell's crosses too, which are strange looking creatures. Buffalo are of course present in good numbers with the water available from the rivers and boreholes, as are elephants. Buffalo herds are mid-sized while elephant herds seem quite small; really just sisters raising calves together. Very few of the animals are skittish, even though Eland and hartebeest are in my experience often very difficult to get near. Here was as close as Eland have let me approach. Having said that, they are a bit more wary than some animals in the most popular areas of the popular parks, and you are not supposed to off-road to get a closer look at Eland; in fact the Eland seem to know when you are not where you are supposed to be and get agitated then. All had very young youngsters - hence the presence of those three cheetah brothers. Warthogs... well they are everywhere!
I'm afraid I haven't got around to processing my many "for the record" pictures of various herbivores and so you will have to take my word for the above. Not because I don't value them, but just because we tended to spend the best times of day with the carnivores this time, and in the afternoons it was often cloudy and nothing was very photogenic. Here are a few that I have done and hopefully I'll have a few more ready for Day 5, our other big herbivore day.
There is a lot of research going on in the area, and so you will sometimes come across animals that are collared or tagged, like this hartebeest. There was a time when I would have preferred this not to be, but it is all for good causes (usually to identify ranges for longer-term conservation purposes) and it really is a tiny, tiny number of animals. I actually think she looks quite pretty with her orange earring, and I am not going to clone it out.
An "overbirdened" buffalo
A journey of giraffes
Impalas, zebras and waterbuck... oh, and Mount Kenya too
Anyway, towards the end of our tour and as the sun was beginning to set, almost unseen behind the clouds, we spotted (well, Francis spotted - I saw nothing) a lioness being followed by a youngish but very big male. These were the couple we'd seen in the morning out for one of those very long strolls courting lion couples go on. They were a long way off, but fortunately they were heading our way, so we just stopped and waited.
Note the communications tower - I wanted that in. You'll not often be disturbed by "civilisation" being only 30-40km away, but from the highest points, and especially in the evening light, it is there to see. Remember this is a good thing and a real achievement by those who work hard for the conservancies in this area - maybe if the conservancies become as successful as the Mara, they'll persuade the locals to disguise their tower as a huge tree (done in the Mara for those who don't visit this part of Africa) and put up black curtains at dusk.
That is a joke - it is very fine and rather wonderful really to have lights down in the valley below as you follow the wild dogs.
And eventually the lioness stopped and lay down just off the road and the male flopped down beside her, so we moved forward a little closer, while Francis informed us that the lion was one of the three male coalition without a pride that had been discussed at dinner the evening before (trouble brewing in lion society, but surprisingly none so far).
For whatever reason, a few seconds after we stopped the male (or his hormones) decided that we needed a talking to, and he jumped up and charged straight at where my wife was sitting in the vehicle, with a decent big roar to go with it. He took about three big, fast strides (as you all know, they really can move when they want to) and then stopped about six feet from us with a big grimace, before turning around and retreating a few feet and then spinning around to face us again and giving us a last growl for good measure. My wife was warned! As we were the only ones in the vehicle I was sat behind her and because I had my camera set I took a shot anyway, rather than throwing myself over the seat (and possibly out of the vehicle) to protect my wife, which would have done no good whatsoever. In any case it was basically over before the brain could take in what was going on. Francis was cool, although his heart must have missed one beat - mine missed four at least. The problem was, while we "knew" we should be safe in the vehicle, as the distance halves and then quarters and your nose begins to actually smell him, that "knowledge" gets a little forgotten, and since this is already outside of previous experience, then why not the next step and the lion leaping at the vehicle! My wife did very well but she was shaking a little bit afterwards. We'll see next time we stop next to mating lions whether there is permanent damage. The shot of the lion leaping up to charge us didn't exactly work out, as it was already twilight and I had the camera on its "romantic, smooching lion couple" settings and not the "lion charging" settings, but I'll show it anyway.
And the last warning shot before he flopped down again...
I don't know if we were being warned or the vehicle, but he was definitely looking at my wife.
But rather than spend a lot of time comforting my wife and so on, Francis was already distracted. "Sorry.... are you okey? Sit down and hold on."
Paul thinking... "Come on Francis, every day for you perhaps... but the old EQ is a bit low isn't it?"
"I have just seen wild dogs running down in the valley there. I think they might be hunting."
Paul thinking.... "Go, Francis, go - put your foot down."
My wife gave me a look, laughed and shook her head and assumed the off-road position. It was turning out to be an interesting day.
We made it down to the dogs just in time to be able to follow them into the trees, but they had stopped there, whether because their intended prey was too far ahead or because they had been only running for the sake of it, we didn't know. It was a small pack of four (five? I'm embarrassed to admit I have forgotten) of which one was collared. Francis knew them well. He called in the sighting to the other two Kicheche vehicles, and we watched the dogs alone for a while, hyperactive but not yet going in any particular direction. As we saw the first of the other Kicheche vehicles coming, the dogs made a decision and headed off at a trot and then a steady gallop, while Francis tried to predict movement when they stopped to "consult", and moved us ahead of them so that we were not permanently on the move. At some point the third Kicheche vehicle and a Porini vehicle arrived and we had something of a crowd for Ol Pejeta. However, the light was very nearly gone with the sun already down and it was becoming too difficult to follow the dogs. Francis decide to call it a day and let us follow them with our eyes only. However, then a rhino came into view! Black Rhinocerous and wild dogs in the same picture. If only it hadn't been practically dark! Never mind though - an evening to remember.
I better get a bit briefer or this won't get finished!
Edited by pault, 28 October 2011 - 06:24 AM.
Posted 28 October 2011 - 10:09 AM
This is fantastic, loving every minute and the photos are wonderful.
Is it just my imagination or are the trip reports getting better and better? They have to be the best collection anywhere on the net.
I wonder if there is a collaborative book in it?! We could share the profits ... it could contribute to the 'make Matt happy fund'.
… clarity in thought comes after challenge …