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A Cat Trick, A Crossing and a Kill - an Outstanding Opening to a Superb Safari


JulieM
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My friend Augustine was frozen in her seat with her heart pounding, camera held just below her eyes, where moments earlier a male lion known as Mohican had progressively filled her frame as he approached the vehicle. Being unable to take any more images, she had lowered the camera to find him heading straight for her, only metres away and closing. Just as he was about to hit the car he looked up and looked straight into her eyes - "straight into my soul" - before veering away and disappearing. It took several minutes for Augustine to regain her composure but she knew then that she would remember that look forever, and I knew, from that moment, Africa was always going to be in her heart. That later she would take a truly memorable image of Mohican, majestic above us on a mound, which will one day decorate her home was an added bonus. Our first day was an exceptional day on safari - sighting after sighting - the like of which I have never experienced before and don't expect to again. It truly was an outstanding opening to a superb safari!


We were in the Masai Mara Game Reserve, on our first full day of our safari, a trip which had been some 18months in the planning. Hubby and I were on our second trip to Africa together, my third trip, and we met Augustine and Dave, Africa virgins, in Nairobi. They had been travelling around Asia for the previous 7 months and this was their last destination before heading home. When deciding on destinations, the Great Migration was on Augustine's bucket list so Kenya was chosen. We were limited by school holidays so towards the end of September we headed off from Australia to Nairobi. Endless hours of (fun) research on Safaritalk and other websites had lead me to the Kicheche Bush Camp in the Olare Motorongi Conservancy off the main Masai Mara reserve and that was the basis of our trip. We had 7 nights there, followed by 4 nights in Kicheche Laikipia and then 3 nights in Amboseli, staying at the Tawi Lodge. Once we had chosen Kicheche Bush camp, we made contact through their website which lead us to Josephine from Chameleon Tours who then organised the trip for us. Overall we were exceptionally happy with our trip, and I have to say that the Masai Mara is my new favourite place in Africa.


Our flights from Australia were from Brisbane to Sydney and then to Johannesburg with Qantas, using Frequent Flyer points. We spent one night there before flying to Nairobi on South African Airways. We were met at the airport by Chameleon Tours who took us to the Fairview Nairobi Hotel. Seeing the giraffe next to the fence in Nairobi National Park on the way to the hotel, I knew we were in Africa! We had a lovely stay at the Fairview, with a wonderful meal in their fine dining restaurant. I can happily recommend this as a place to stay in Nairobi. The next morning we were again collected at the hotel and taken to Wilson airport for our flight to the Mara. How wonderful it is to again be flying over African landscapes, knowing that it is teeming with life and upcoming adventure!


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Another addict to Africa safaris!

 

Your title is so intriguing that I'll be keeping a close eye on your TR. besides, i'm going to OMC in February and your TR will be a window to what I will experience there, albeit a non-peak migration season though.

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Well-written and enthusiastic! I also loved the Mara. I hope more pictures are to come!

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There will definitely be more words and pictures to come - as soon as I can!

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A captivating introduction, Julie, very much looking forward to more. When were you in the Mara - maybe we passed each other?

 

Giraffes near the airport were my "Yes, I really am back in Africa" moment as well.

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Thanks @@michael-ibk - we arrived in the Mara on the 21st of September and stayed 7 nights.

 

The plains were covered in game - wildebeest, zebra and antelope - in a density that I had never seen before. What a sight! On our drive from the airstrip to camp we spotted an eland - a first for me - and what a handsome devil he is! Before we had even started our safari proper we had seen topi, eagles, jackals and giraffes, as well as all those wildebeest, zebra and antelope.

 

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(I have to confess from the outset that my ability to remember the names of birds is impaired - so please feel free to pipe up with their names!)

 

On arrival at camp, we were greeted by the marvellous Darren and Emma, the managers. What can I say about Kicheche Bush camp? The highlight of our trip, superb, marvellous, amazing…..you wouldn't believe me if I used all those words! But it really is a model of excellence and I can't speak highly enough of it. Darren and Emma are truly wonderful hosts - friendly and down-to-earth with a great sense of humour - it felt like meeting a new set of friends. The location in the Olare Motorongi conservancy, with access to the main reserve, is a great balance. The tents were spacious and well equipped. Our guide Charles was everything you want in a guide - especially for us amateur photographers. He understood what we needed for a great photograph - finding the right light, getting us in a great position and setting up shots for us. The food was the best on the trip - tasty, varied and in small enough portions that we could eat happily without feeling over stuffed. Being greeted after every drive by either Darren or Emma was a lovely touch. The other staff were also friendly and did a great job. I even enjoyed the ritual of the bucket shower!

 

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After a lovely lunch outside by the trees and a short break to unpack and unwind, we were off on our first game drive.

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A very good start

 

your bird in flight is a martial eagle - a lovely catch!

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Our first game drive was a lovely warm-up for the epic day that we were to enjoy the next day. We stayed within the conservancy and saw barely any other vehicles on our drive. It was a bit overcast and there was some lovely "God rays" over these vultures:

 

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We found some grumpy old buffalos, with those pesky oxpeckers...

 

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…and a very handsome jackal.

 

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Lions were the order of the day next! First we came across a group of young sub-adults who were doing what lions do best - laze around!

 

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And then we found a couple of lionesses and their cubs who were having a lovely time playing, before settling in to enjoy their dinner. Our first Kenyan sundowner was spent in the vehicle, watching them tuck in! Only in Africa!

 

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Mum wasn't always happy to share - I know the feeling!!

 

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We headed back to camp when we just couldn't see anything anymore, well satisfied with our first proper drive. After enjoying our first bucket shower, delivered by the always happy James, we had a wonderful first dinner with the other guests, Darren and Emma.

 

 

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You capture that first safari experience of your companion so well. It really rekindled that first time excitement for me too.............. and the eye contact with a male lion............. Loving this!

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madaboutcheetah

Lovely report @@JulieM ...... You captured the "Black chested snake eagle" in flight!!!! .......Brilliant

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Lovely report @@JulieM ...... You captured the "Black chested snake eagle" in flight!!!! .......Brilliant

 

I'm agreeing with @@madaboutcheetah - I think it is a black chested snake eagle.

Look at the legs - they are bare so it cannot be a martial eagle.

 

Lovely start to your report @@JulieM, you've clearly used a camera before.

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I stand corrected - didn't even look at his legs.... :blink:

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@@JulieM

A gripping introduction - and great pictures. I look forward to more....

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Sounds like a perfect safari experience so far. Loving it.

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Your report rings with enthusiasm. Your excellent photos are the perfect complement. Your first drive was a great way to start your African safari and your description of it is a great way to start this report.

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Thanks everyone! Glad you are enjoying it. More to come at the weekend...

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"Do you know any good spots to catch a sunrise Charles?" asked Augustine and I.

 

With a slight nod of the head, Charles heads off.

 

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This was the start of our epic day. A glorious sunrise, an iconic image. We couldn't be happier as we set off.

 

Our first sighting was of a bat-eared fox, something Augustine and her dad apparently had quite a fondness for when she was a kid so it was a really special sighting for her.

 

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Not long after that we came across these gorgeous jackal puppies who had a great time playing around their den. They were so cute!!

 

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I have some video of them playing which I'll upload when I get the chance. We really enjoyed watching them!

 

Next we headed towards a waterhole and found a few things to photograph there:

 

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A gift from one Kingfisher to another!

 

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And these guys were hanging out, just as hippos do! I love hippo whiskers!

 

Next up we played a little game I like to play when in Africa - "Let's see if I can take a good photograph of a lilac breasted roller in flight"! I usually lose badly! In fact I think I have given up! We call these "Julie" birds because of my particular fondness for them, but I now know them as "Dammit" birds, which is what I usually say after they have flown off. How many pictures of vacant branches have I got??!

 

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Our next sighting was of a small group of elephants - one of our favourite animals! They walked around the vehicle, so quiet and so close - magic! I particularly love the babies.

 

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"Africa from Behind" - I'm thinking of making this a book!!

 

Next up, the first cat in our "Cat Trick".

 

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She was looking very settled so we didn't spend too long with her but she was beautiful! I think she was called Narasha.

 

Not too far away we got our first sighting of Mohican, or as I call him "Augustine's Lion". He and his brother Romeo were sauntering around, intermittently plonking themselves on the ground for a snooze before moving off again.

 

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As we were following him, that was when he gave Aug the death stare to really make her know she was in Africa!! But he made up for it by posing so beautifully for us up on a mound!

 

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So after all the excitement of Mohican, it's time for breakfast (!!! - so many sightings already and it's only breakfast time??! True story!).

 

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All the morning drives we did, whether in the conservancy or in the main reserve, included a picnic breakfast which was always plentiful and delicious! I brought quite a bit of Africa home with me, mainly around my midriff!

 

Here are the happy safari-ers hopping out for breakfast:

 

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That's my hubby Billy in the front, Augustine seated at the back and Dave in his preferred position, standing up with his head out the top. In fact I spent a lot of my safari looking at Billy and Dave's rear-ends, as they spent 99% of their time standing up with their heads out the top. In fact they were like caged animals when we had to shut the roof! Let me tell you a bit about the Kicheche vehicles too, while we are here. They guarantee only two tents per vehicle, which in our case meant a car just for us 4. There are only two rows of seats, with two seats per row, rather than the more standard 3, making for heaps of leg room and room for camera gear etc. Most wonderfully there is also a charging station so you can charge your camera batteries or phones while in the field. This was great for Augustine whose Olympus micro 4/3rds camera sucked up heaps of battery power. Each seat has a photography platform extending out from the car door, which is so good for putting beanbags on to stabilise your lens. Beanbags are supplied by the camp too, so no need to carry your own. Kicheche really knows what it is doing in catering for photographers - pros as well as amateurs like us!

 

After breakfast we decided it was time to go and sit and wait for a crossing. We headed down to the river, where other vehicles were coming, going or just sitting like us. Billy took the opportunity to work off breakfast:

 

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This group of school kids waited too:

 

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We waited, and waited, and waited - as you do! We spent a couple of hours doing this, until we decided we would take the opportunity to have lunch. Charles drove away for about 3 minutes, set up the picnic lunch on the bonnet of the car and we all filled our plates. Just at that moment, Charles gets a call that the crossing is building up and we had better get there. Well, action stations! Everything thrown back into the cooler, plates held tight and it was a Ferrari Safari to get back to the crossing site! It was so comical, watching ourselves hanging on to our fully laden plates while screaming across the Mara to the river. It is also funny watching all the guide vehicles racing forwards as the crossing starts trying to get prime position. It goes without saying that Charles got us the prime position. Lunch was chucked down onto our seats and Augustine and I hammered our shutter buttons furiously for the 5 minutes that the crossing took! It was chaos all round! When it was all over, we sat back down, exhausted, plates back in hand. The surrounding vehicles laughed and laughed at us! It was epic! I have to say also, that it was actually a very civilised crossing, for which I am very grateful. All the wildebeest got there safely, there were no crocodiles snatching them away and no broken legs or backs. Very nice!

 

They start off:

 

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The head of the herd safely across:

 

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And I even got a bit of a chance to try something arty with a slow shutter speed:

 

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And before we knew it, it was all over! So we went back to our lunch (of course!).

 

The day is only half way done and we have already had almost everything we had hoped for. We couldn't have expected to see much more, but we did……:)

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Yum, breakfast! Lovely Kicheche Bush Camp days bring back happy memories for me. Beautiful photos and of course beautiful sightings.

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I'm enjoying the photos and your safari story - favourites from the last post are the kingfisher photos and the whiskery hippo, wonderful.

 

I'm with you on the LBR - I don't have a single photo of one in flight.

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@@JulieM

The bat-eared fox and the jackals are great - as is the baby elephant.

Your writing and pictures relating to the crossing are very enjoyable!

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Thanks Pault, Treepol and TonyQ - glad you are enjoying my little tale.

 

So, where were we?

 

After a more leisurely lunch, we decided to stay around the river region and came across this hippo pool. There were 68 hippos in total, most of them out of the water. They were all having a lovely sleep!

 

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One by one they got up, yawned, and got back into the water.

 

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Meanwhile, behind us, we had visitors. We had no idea they were there until they were only a few metres away! Dave spotted them first, and said "OMG - we just got snuck up on by elephants!!"

 

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There were three bull elephants and I think they were equally oblivious to us until Charles moved the vehicle, realising we had no exit route should they get grumpy. One almost jumped with surprise, but a quick shake of his head and all was cool again.

 

Next up we had a little wildebeest mini-crossing - it was a creek - but hey, still a crossing. I love the dust the wildebeest create.

 

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Next up, vultures on a kill. We were close enough to hear them hissing at each other - grumpy old men they were! There were several species of vulture and Charles explained how each species has their special area of the body that they eat.

 

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Alas poor Yorick….!

 

More lions were next - snoozing with the flies they were. How cute are lion cubs??!

 

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This warthog baby had better stay clear!

 

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Just when we thought we had seen all the wildebeest on the move, this herd came running past. They seemed to be in single file and the line just kept coming and coming and coming - it was extraordinary! Billy estimates it took about 15 minutes for them all to run past.


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Augustine and I got to practice panning - another exercise in frustration - but just sometimes you get a neat shot!

 

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After all of that excitement, Charles casually drove to another riverbed and pointed out a leopard in the grass. Our cat trick was complete - cheetah, lion and leopard all in one day! We couldn't believe our luck. This was Golden Boy who looked like he had been in a bit of a scuffle.

 

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He moved off after a few minutes and was gone into the long grass. I hope he heals up okay.

 

We had a quick game of "Photograph the Bird in Flight", with bigger targets this time, only stopping when the boys got bored!

 

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It was time to head towards home. We were running out of light, as well as time - it was close to 6.30pm and we had to be out of the reserve and back into the conservancy. After all we had seen that day we would not have believed that there was more to come! I had to keep saying to Augustine and Dave that this was NOT a typical day on safari! When Charles stopped to watch impalas fighting we didn't think much of it, especially as we were on limited time. But he insisted that this was a serious fight and could be worth watching. So we stopped and enjoyed the battle for a spell.

 

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Next thing we know, Charles is saying "There's a lion"! A lone lioness was stalking the pair who were completely oblivious until she got quite close at which point they stopped fighting...

 

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…but they were too late. She was upon them!

 

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The other impala raced out of harm's way, but still remained in the area, snorting and stamping his feet. Instead of killing the impala herself, the lioness held him down as another lioness padded over.

 

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Then the cubs were called and they were given practice in killing him. He tried to get away at one point, but was soon pulled down again. It was all a bit brutal, but exhilarating at the same time!

 

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Augustine captured it on video which complimented my stills and they were used as Kicheche's Spot of the Week that week! V cool! Here's the link to that:

 

http://kicheche.com/news/kill-double-bill

 

By now it was dark and we really had to go. We flew home - high on the excitement of the day. Seriously - a cat trick, a crossing and a kill all on one day - as well as all the other sightings. We felt so blessed and happy - the Mara really delivers!!

 

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Those hippos look as though they have been taking lessons from the lions, so snoozy. Its amazing how those big ele bulls can sneak up on the vehicle - had a similar experience this year in Etosha.

 

Lion cubs are always uber cute to me, and your photos have captured their 'cattitude' perfectly. The baby warthog is also quite cute. Love the photo of the rising vulture.

 

The impala/lion sequence is amazing, what a memorable sighting.

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@@JulieM wow. just waiting a little longer really paid off! amazing footage altho i couldn't bear to watch till the end. it's astounding how the big cats train their young on catching prey. fascinating. feel very sorry for the impala but the lion cubs need it to survive.

 

for an "amateur photographer" your pictures are superb. wish I could compose the scenes as you do!

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Stunning pictures, especially the martial eagle and the lions!!!

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