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Samburu, Buffalo Springs, Maasai Mara November 2013


samburumags
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This report has taken me longer than any other and I think it is shorter than any other! I have had nothing but trouble with inserting photos etc and only managed to succeed after several days angst by changing to Mozilla Firefox, dont ask me why but on this occasion Internet Explorer just did not want to know Safaritalk!

 

 

KENYA NOVEMBER 2013. SAMBURU AND THE MAASAI MARA

When I left Toulouse the weather was sunny and quite warm, the flight to London was on time and landed early at Terminal 5. Terminal 5 as many of you probably know is vast. Too vast, and if you are suffering any level of back/leg ache the distance from where you disembark to baggage reclaim is absolutely ridiculous. There are no moving walkways just miles and miles of boring corridors. I luckily managed a quick transfer by bus to Terminal 4 Hilton where I spent the night. Not much sleep because the folks in the next room had a party until 2am when I banged on the door and “politely” asked them to be quiet! When I woke the next morning I made the decision after struggling around the room that I would have to take the course of cortisone that the doctor had given me and I am very glad I did. Anyway enough of my aches.

The Kenya Airways flight was excellent as usual. There is no aperitif in the world as good as a G & T, ice and slice at 35,000’! Arrival in Nairobi was early and I was amazed that it only took half an hour from landing to leaving the terminal. Could that ever happen at Heathrow after a major fire – I think not. I was met at the airport and transferred to the Somak Head office where they have a very comfortable lounge with excellent shower facilities and plentiful tea and coffee.

I have to mention my camera equipment. Its not an excuse for mediocre photography its just an explanation of what I tried and what sadly did not work. After joining Safaritalk and seeing what photographs should look like, I regret not having gone into photography at a younger age and maybe if I had I would have better equipment and knowledge by now. To try and improve my “snaps” I bought an additional telephoto and wide angle lense for my Canon A640. They have resulted in more shots being out of focus than ever before and even more frustration after viewing over 400 photographs. That said I have enough for an aide memoir and that will have to suffice.

Before leaving home I had made arrangements to give my old laptop to The Pastoralist Child Foundation (www.pastoralist-child-foundation.org)a charitable organisation based in Isiolo. They are working to end female circumcision amongst the Samburu and Maasai and also helping children get schooling. Three representatives of the organisation turned up at the office to meet me complete with cameras and were delighted with my gift. They presented me with a bracelet in beadwork with the Kenyan flag and my name on it and a T shirt with their logo. We had coffee and a long chat and then it was time for me to go to Wilson to catch my plane for Samburu and Elephant Bedroom Camp.

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Wilson has been much improved to include a spacious lounge/café. I had arranged another meeting this time at Wilson with a representative of Kicheche Camps, who act as a collection point for “Pack with a Purpose” I had collected a large amount of pain killers and diabetic needles, pens etc and as they were taking my bag over the 15kg limit Kicheche kindly agreed to relieve me of them at Wilson. They also sent me a photo of the clinic.

 

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SAMBURU

 

I was met at the airstrip by my driver guide Anthony in all his Samburu finery. He insisted on a short game drive which is customary I know but one tends to be not as enthusiastic as one should be when desperate for the loo!!! We spotted impala, dik dik but not much else.

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I am not sure if this is a DIk Dik or a Duiker Please enlighten me

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My tent at Elephant Bedroom

 

 

Camp was in a lovely setting on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro which was running quite fast as there had been a heavy downpour earlier. I was soon to find out that the downpours were by no means over. They gave me an enormous tent, probably the biggest I have ever seen. Lunch was most welcome as was the Tusker which accompanied it but then the rain started again, don’t believe them when they say it’s the season of the light rains – its light rain Jim, but not as we know it! So that was it, no evening drive, too much mud and to be honest I was too exhausted anyway. So I went to bed and felt much better for it the next day.

 

Next day dawned bright and very warm. After tea and biscuits we set off to a beautiful sunrise and saw Grevy’s, warthog, impala, leopard tortoises, elephants and gerenuk. With my new binos I was better equipped to see more birds this time, if I had had a Twaffle camera I would have been able to have more bird photos too but beggars can’t be choosers. On this drive we saw yellow necked sparfels, pygmy falcons, Kory bustard, secretary birds, Augur buzzard and Marshall Eagle.

 

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I can honestly say that the first three days in Samburu did not produce sightings which I had hoped for. The rain makes many animals head for higher ground or, like us, take cover and hide. Anthony tried his hardest to find my cats but to no avail. Samburu however looked so beautiful in its green finery and the air was so clear and invigorating that just to soak in the ever changing views was a wonderful experience.

 

 

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Yes there was a scarcity of wild life but before we turned home from the drive I had what can only be described as a once in a life time experience. We were amongst a small family of female elephants and their young. One female had a broken ear which must have been a birth defect and she was close to our vehicle with her back to us. Suddenly she wheeled round as if on a sixpence, he flank was almost blocking my window, she stepped back and her trunk came through my window. She gently brushed my cheek about three times and then quietly moved away. I was stunned and very emotional; it was a truly wonderful moment. We saw her the following day and Anthony suggested that she should be called Margaret, so there is another samburumags on the planet, this time in Samburu.

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Samburumags the Second

 

 

 

Elephant Bedroom Camp gave me the biggest tent I have ever seen we could have housed everyone from Safaritalk in it and what a party that would have been. Strangely though not one elephant came to the “bedroom” which was a big disappointment. On the last day there we spotted a lone lioness, black backed jackals, amazing kingfishers and one kingfisher in particular which was coffee coloured with a red head and cream breast, I cannot remember its name so I hope a ST twitcher will let me know.

 

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Malachite Kingisher (the best I could do!)

 

 

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Dhoum Palms across the Ewaso Nyiro

 

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ASHNIL MARA BUFFALO SPRINGS

 

 

 

Guides Shukri and Johnson

 

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Waiting in my tent was a deliciously cold bottle of champagne now that’s what I call attention to detail!

 

I omitted to point out that I was extremely lucky with my guides/drivers on this trip. Of around 28 drives I only had to share a vehicle twice! Normally that would have cost me a fortune so I felt well and truly spoilt.

 

The lack of big cats was beginning to worry me, I have never been to Samburu without seeing lots of lions, but on this visit it was to be only three in a week. The rain persisted and I could sit on the loo and have a shower at the same time as there was a major leak in the toilet roof – good job it was warm rain!

 

 

 

 

I saw more eagles on this trip than ever before. In a clearing, surrounded by trees we counted over 40 crowned eagles. The rain must have brought out their prey and that particular clearing must have been a three star eagle fine- dining restaurant. Before returning to camp we visited the historic spring where, it is said, the British during the war had intelligence that the Italians were about to bomb Nairobi. So they lit the surrounding countryside to make it look like a city and the Italians, thinking it was Nairobi, dropped their bombs. Craters can still be seen there today. The pool is full of beautiful deep clear water which has been protected from the animals by a stone wall and swimming is allowed there, which must be very refreshing in the height of summer.

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Just as we were approaching the river we heard the vervet monkeys screaming in the trees. Lions, we thought. I looked through my binoculars and saw an animal on the river bank. It wasn’t a Jackal or a hyena, what on earth could it be? In the middle of Samburu, miles away from any civilisation, on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro a domestic dog! A young black and tan” Heinz 57” which was soaking wet and exhausted and had obviously just swum across the crocodile infested water! I still wonder if the little chap made it through the night. So I had travelled over 6,000 miles to see a domestic dog!!

 

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Towards the end of the drive we saw Bataleur Eagle, black backed jackals, hyenas with pups, yellow billed stork, lilac breasted roller,hornbills, guinea fowl, water bucks and impala.

 

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My tent at Ashnil Samburu

 

 

So that was my week in Samburu. Not as much wildlife as I have seen in the past but I still love the ever changing landscapes of the Samburu and the rains had brought out all the shades of green you can imagine along with the flowers both on the acacia and on the ground.

 

Accommodation both at Elephant Bedroom Camp and at Ashnil Samburu was excellent, the staff and management were, in my opinion, faultless, the food excellent. This was a very quiet time of year, I had the entire lodge to myself on two nights at Ashnil and the same happened at the Mara. It also meant that there were very few other vehicles to disturb the peace which was wonderful.

 

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Farewell to the Ewaso Nyiro

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You were just building up expectation and excitement with all those prior posts about the images Mags ;)

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“Internet Explorer just did not want to know Safaritalk!” My experience as well. Sometimes I can’t even sign in with Explorer.

 

That experience with the ele contact is most amazing and I can how emotional.

 

Love your namesake. She's a beautiful gal.

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Great start Mags - I love that now there is another Samburumags and she's Kenyan! I think the report has been worth the wait. That was great luck that the camps weren't busy and that you got most game drives to yourself. I really liked the shot of the Grevy's and oryx.

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Love your report Mags. Glad you persisted and found a way to do it.

 

Your little gazelle is a dik dik, and your malachite kingfisher is actually brown hooded kingfisher.

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BTW great work with the laptop and medical supplies. Good on ya mate as the Aussie Safaritalkers would say.

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What did your guide say about your ele encounter, other than suggesting a name? What was going through your mind as all this happened? I can't stop thinking about that encounter and if I can't, imagine you.

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I'm glad to see you've been able to start your report, I can't think of any kingfishers that have a red head are you sure it was a kingfisher?

 

As @@JohnR says the one in the photo is a brown-hooded.

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@@samburumags

I'm glad you persisted - very enjoyable

Good work with the donations

Your elephant encounter was amazing!

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Thanks @@samburumags, well worth the wait.

sorry the animal sightings were a bit sparse, but it's wonderful country even without them.

 

I'm also pleased you enjoyed Elephant Bedroom.

Interested too to hear about Ashnil. Theirs was one of the worst affected by floods over the past couple of years so I am curious to know how they have addressed that in the rebuild.

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Re the elephant encounter, my guide was as stunned and amazed as I was, Initially "Margaret" had her back to us and looked as though she would wander away I had taken a photo of her approaching and was just watching her; I was imobalised by her closeness, not at all scared, just frozen! Thank you for the nice comments I just thought my dik dik looked a bit big! and thank you for putting me right on the kingfisher. I will try and find the other "kingfisher" and let you know what it was.

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BTW, re: Kingfishers, I too cannot think of one with a red head and a cream breast. The closest I can think of is the African Dwarf Kingfisher, but they don't occur (as far as I know) in Kenya.

Also, I don't think your Malachite KF is a Malachite. Looks more like a Brown Hooded KF to me. Oops, that's already bene said. sorry. Must learn to pay more attention.

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Oh Heavens,what I would give to be stroked on the cheek by an elie. What a marvelous experience!

 

I am certain you will never forget the encounter as it was meant to be (as when a young bull came to my room in S.Africa- I still think about him!)

 

Great photos - so happy you were able to upload them, and hopefully chilled out with a glass of wine afterwards...you may recall my frustration on my GreenSeason Bots safari. I drove everyone crazy with my worries! And probably went through a case of pinot trying!

 

Looking forward to more;thanks for sharing.

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Finally!

 

I not only love the photos, I love the way you inserted them! :)

 

Keep'em coming...

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Part 2

 

 

 

MAASAI MARA

 

Because of the lack of tourists there was no direct flight available from Samburu to the Mara so a lady from Lewa and myself were flown back to Wilson and transferred to the next flight out for Mara North. It felt like Air Force One having a plane almost to myself.

 

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Nairobi from the air

 

 

Kicheche Mara Camp – North Conservancy – Duncan driver/guide, Rachel relief manager

 

Kicheche was recommended to me by Armchair Bushman and I have him to thank for a truly magical three days.

 

Duncan picked me up at the Mara airstrip and on the way into camp we saw Eland, Reed Buck, Topi, Impala, Mongoose, Hippo’s, LION, Ostrich, Vultures, Dik DIk, Thompsons Gazelles……………at last wildlife in shed loads. We arrived in camp to be met by Rachel, Kicheche’s relief manager.

 

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I just loved Rachel, she was so knowledgeable and had a vast repertoire of true stories of the bush and of Kenya where she was brought up. We had dinner together on the first evening because I had the camp to myself. I could imagine myself as Karen Blixen sitting under the stars with a sumptuous glass of red wine, listening to the cacophony of sounds that is the bush at night. The food prepared by Henry was delicious and Michael explained the menu after which he recited his “thought for the day”. He did this each evening and it is a feature of the dining experience. Apparently he receives quotes from people all over the world and his memory is quite amazing. Dinner culminated in the cheese board. Normally I pass on the cheese in Kenya because I have never tasted a good one but at Kicheche they buy their cheeses from an English lady in Nairobi who makes almost any cheese you care to mention. She even makes the Greek Halloumi cheese, which I love but cannot buy here in France.

 

 

 

The evening before I arrived a leopard killed an impala right outside Rachel’s tent, you cannot get much closer to animals in the wild than that. I had a hyena which prowled around my tent at night and two big bull buffalo’s who were only a matter of yards away. Just below my tent there was a hippo grazing, along with topi and impala. Lions could be heard during the night, and only a slither of canvas separated us.

 

 

 

 

Next morning after tea and biscuits were delivered to the tent we left camp with a bush breakfast. I was introduced to the slate coloured bou bou (laniarius funebris) a bird I had never seen before and one which sings it song as a duet with its mate. We also saw Elan, Reed Buck, Topi, Impala, Mongoose, many Wildebeast in fact the migration had not quite finished and some crossings were still taking place. There were lots of Zebra running with the gnu’s. More birds included the Hammerkopf a medium sized bird which builds the most enormous nest, red necked Spurfowl, Secretary Birds, Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Hoopo, Kori Busturd and many Superb Starlings. They say the Kori Busturd is the heaviest of the flying birds. I definitely found the bird life fascinating, it must have been the new bino’s which I can adjust to my own weird eyesight and which let me see more than I have ever seen before.

 

 

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Tea, biscuits and hot water for washing

 

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Hammerkopf

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We had breakfast by the river with a huge pod of hippos just in front of us. There were several sleeping crocodiles alongside and a monitor lizard warming up in the morning sun

 

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The piece de resistance of course was after breakfast when Duncan “happened” to find the biggest pride of lions I have ever seen. I counted 32 but they were literally carpeting the ground and it was difficult to tell exactly how many there were. Oh wow, absolute heaven. There is not much I can say you just have to imagine 30+ lions within about 30’ what more could a big cat lover wish for? They were so spread out that it was impossible to get a “group” photograph.

 

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That was a five hour game drive which just flew past and we arrived back in camp just before lunch. A group of American Travel Agents had booked in for the night and we all had a tasty lunch together and enjoyed each others tales of safari. The evening game drive once again was something special. The lions were on the move along with their cubs and we spotted a Tawny Eagle, Cork Hartibeast, Giraffe, Hyena, Bat Eared Foxes, Jackal, and a family of Elephants with young. I constantly marvel at the acute eyesight of these young driver/guides.

 

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We were driving through rocky leopard country when Duncan stopped and pointed at the rocks. It was just about dark and, after my eyes had sorted themselves out, there he was. A magnificent male leopard, watching us watching him. He didn’t move a muscle and melted in with his surroundings as though he were made of stone. You remember I said at the beginning there is nothing like a G & T at 35,000’ well there is; a G & T in a tall glass sitting with a leopard in the dark!!

 

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More sundowners round the camp fire were followed by another superb dinner. One of the American guests had a birthday so the staff entertained with their singing and dancing and served a birthday cake which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

 

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Delicious Mango and Avocado soup

 

 

 

We left camp early next morning and had only been on the “road” around ten minutes when we heard the jackals calling and there he was our magnificent leopard, he was sadly not in camera range for long but it is at times like this when you wish you could either have a much better camera or maybe no camera at all. If I am able to go on another safari I think I will go without any cameras that way I will not be disappointed with my mediocre attempts at photography and I will just have memories, memories which do not fade and which are never out of focus.

 

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We saw the lions again and spent some time with them, we had breakfast under a tall acacia in the middle of the plains surrounded by wildebeest, impala, and zebra. It is only when you are in a situation like that that you see the world is truly round. That sounds silly I know but it is the only place I know where the horizon is absolutely round with no obstructions only the outline of the animals grazing around you.

 

 

 

Another more than satisfying lunch was followed by the evening drive and sundowners and good sightings of Tawny Eagle, Cork Hartibeast, Hyena, Jackal, Elephant, Hammerkopf, Malachite Kingfisher, Warthogs (described by Duncan as the Kenyan Express) Thompsons Gazelles and most of the other “deery things”

I had a delightful dinner with Rachel that night and we marvelled at the sound of the tree frogs which sounded exactly like wind chimes. The frogs of Kenya all make very different sounds, some drive you mad, others lull you to sleep. It was sad to leave Kicheche Camp but it was a very new experience for me and one which I would love to repeat.

 

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The next morning we drove to the Talek Gate to meet my old friend and guide Francis from

 

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Francis, Mags and David

 

ASHNIL MARA CAMP

 

I don’t know why but the staff at the Ashnil Mara seem to like me. I got a great welcome from all of them and it felt like coming home. Sitting on my terrace quaffing a glass of excellent red wine I realised that I had been very fortunate with my arthritic problems and I decided that, bearing in mind the wildlife was not as prolific as it had been in the past, I would concentrate on the morning drives (well I love getting up at 5am!) and take the rest of the day off. This proved to be a good decision as on most days it rained heavily around 4pm and reports from those who went on the afternoon drives confirmed my decision.

On our first morning the first hour passed quietly but we stopped to chat to a couple of Rangers who told Francis that there was a surprise waiting just around the corner. There he was a Black Rhino with the biggest horn I have ever seen. This was the first Rhino I have seen in the Mara and I have been going there for about 10 years. We could not get too close but we had an excellent view and on returning to camp we discovered that we were the only ones who had seen him. In the distance we also saw Cheetah but this was a year when I did not see cheetahs close up which was a shame because apparently there were quite a few mothers with cubs in the area. We also saw Defassa Water buck, Dik Dik, Reed Buck, Marshall Eagle, Topi, Wildebeast, Zebra, Warthog, Mongoose, Giraffe, Elephant. leopard tortoise, and Ostrich

 

 

 

 

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For those who dont know, the following photograph shows the size of the thorns of the acacia, the leaves of which are the favorite food of giraffes

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Later in the day we approached one of the viewing points, a place I had been to before and which is an ideal spot for panoramic views of the Mara. We were unable to reach the top of the hill however because a small pride of lionesses along with two young males had taken up residence and were recovering from their last meal. We sat with them for almost an hour and left them to their slumbers. Almost immediately we reached the bottom of the hill we came upon a handsome male with his lady love. At last I have a short video with the thrilling sound of the male lion obviously delighted with his prowess. Its one of the most amazing sounds of Africa.

 

 

 

Here are the two stars of the video apologies for the extra bit on the end which has nothing to do with the lovin but includes some of the pride of 32 and a bit of the road through Samburu!

 

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And this could be the outcome !

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Dinner was, as usual, excellent; in fact all the meals in all the camps were excellent and I treated myself to a full English Breakfast on every day, unusual for someone who never eats breakfast at home. It must be something to do with the fresh air and excitement.

Describe me as nosey if you want but I love people watching and one night at dinner the next table to mine was occupied by three gentlemen the origin of which I will not divulge in order not to upset anyone! The dinner menu consists of five courses with two choices of starter and three or four choices for main course and dessert. They asked to see the a la carte menu! They were politely told that the only menu available was the one on the table so they then proceeded to order three plates of everything on the table! Needless to say they were still eating long after everyone else had gone to bed. Well it takes all sorts.

There were also some Europeans (nationality withheld to protect the innocent) who arrived in fluorescent shorts and fluorescent clashing vests, the women wearing fluorescent leggings and vest tops and that is how they arrived for their drives, all the animals were issued sunglasses for that day! They were a really polite and friendly bunch, just didn’t have a clue as to dress code for safari.

On my last evening I arrived for dinner with a heavy heart. This could be my last time, who knows but I had loved every minute of the two weeks I was there. I had met many friends and made many others and experienced different locations all of which I would love to visit again. Every time I have been to the Ashnil Mara they have given me a tremendous welcome and an even better send off and I was given a farewell to remember on this occasion as well. The entire staff from all departments participated in the Jambo pot bashing, whistle blowing, drum beating flame carrying procession, ending at my table with an enormous cake and much speech making. Fortunately for you, dear reader, and for me I did not have my camera with me on this occasion so my tearful appreciation is not recorded but will be joyfully remembered forever.

Wildlife viewing was not quite over. We arrived at the airstrip in the late afternoon for my 4pm flight to Nairobi and at the end of the runway were the cheetahs. They had eluded me throughout my two weeks but there they were, having lunch, not a clear picture but thankfully I would not be going home without a glimpse of another of my beautiful cats.

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So that was Kenya 2013. Will it be the last – I hope not. I hope the authorities in Kenya get a grip on the poaching problems. I wish there was something we could do as individuals but it is encouraging to see the British Army joining in the fight against these perpetrators. When I was there they were flying over both Samburu and the Mara with daily helicopter missions and exercises on the ground. The Chinese are, so I am told, ready to open their 200 bed lodge in the Mara, how come no one has complained about this lodge? But the good news is that all the animals are looking healthy and the “light” rains are working their magic, the ban on off roading has made a vast improvement on the countryside and there are plenty of young of every species roaming the land.

“Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is the worst of all!” Brian Jackman

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Edited by samburumags
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I'm so glad you persevered and got this TR uploaded @@samburumags.

Your Mara sightings were great, lovely photos and commentary.

 

A question:

You stayed with Ashnil in Samburu and in the Mara. You've used them before so you must like their camps. How do they compare with smaller camps like Elephant Bedroom and Kicheche?

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That was a wonderful elephant encounter, very special @@samburumags. I enjoyed staying at Elephant Bedroom Camp in July this year, we were lucky not only to have Elephants by the tent, but also to be chased up the path by Sam, the young bull. I think they'll cause trouble when they're older though, becoming too habituated perhaps.

 

Not sure if the Kingfisher is Grey-headed or Brown-hooded, possibly erring towards Grey-headed (or Chestnut Bellied) Kingfisher from your photo. However the other you saw with the coffee colour body and red head sounds more like a Brown-hooded in good light.

 

It seems that Mara had more to offer in overall terms of animal density on this trip, you had wonderful sightings of both Lion and Leopard. I've made a mental note... the Cheetah go on holiday this time of year!

 

Great TR, thanks for sharing.

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Soukous, Ashnil is very different from Elephant Bedroom and Kicheche. There are more tents and dare I say the clientele are more varied! If I had the money, which I don't, I would prefer to stay in the smaller camps but having said that I cannot fault the service and friendliness of the Ashnill camps and the accommodation is excellent.

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@@samburumags members will be asking yu for photo advice from now on: if anyone asks me I'm just sending them in your direction ;)

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@@samburumags thanks for responding, sorry to pester you but how do the game drives compare at Ashnil, does more people affect your enjoyment?

The reason i ask is that we had clients booked into Ashnil a cople of years ago which we had to cancel because the camp was destroyed by flooding. We went elsewhere and were very happy but I am wondering whether I should be giving Ashnil another chance; after all the floods weren't their fault.

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great TR! and I'm so glad you had such a good time at Kicheche! I've spent a fair bit of time with Rachel - She's one of my favourite people in the industry. And she can hold her own against all odds.
Great photos and writing. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Thanks AB, I told Rachel you had recommended Kicheche but of course I did not know your real name so she was none the wiser!

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Soukous I had no idea they had a problem with flooding I was there two years ago in October and all was fine then! The game drives are in smaller vehicles with windows so photography from sitting level is restricted. I was lucky in that I had the vehicle to myself apart from one drive when there were 4 of us. The guides are excellent. Games drives are normally 2 hours morning and late afternoon although you can ask for a packed breakfast and a longer drive in the morning and as far as I know they do not charge any extra. I don't know what the difference in price is between say Kicheche, Elephant Bedroom camps and the Ashnil but I am sure you will be able to find out.

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Yup, massive floods in Feb/Mar 2010. Ashnil was destroyed and had to be rebuilt, as did some other camps.

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Just had time to catch up with your report Mags and I'm so glad you persevered. I'm very envious of your elephant encounter and would gladly give up a few lions for that stroke of wildlife affection.

 

The rains do make viewing tougher but it sounded like you still had some good sightings and it just shows that we will always see something special on safari.

 

At the end of your trip, how was your arthritis? Did you feel ok when you had returned home?

 

And the photos were just fine, I'm glad you managed to include so many!

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