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Tsavo West, Amboseli, Meru & Samburu — January, 2015


Tom Kellie

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Tom Kellie

“They had made this safari with the minimum of comfort. There was no hardship;


but there was no luxury and he had thought that he could get back into training that way.


That in some way he could work the fat off his soul the way a fighter went


into the mountains to work and train in order to burn it out of his body”.



~ Ernest Hemingway in ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro





Pre-Safari Planning





~ All safaris I've experienced have been unique yet in certain respects the preparations in each case were nearly identical. My first safari was in 2011 as the guest of a former student who was then working in the Paleoanthropology Department of the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. As he organized all aspects of that safari, I did no more than bring two overpacked bags, enough camera gear for an around the world trek and my own illusions. As it turned out, it was a fine experience on a standard joining safari in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, staying at a tented camp. Based on that experience I waited, taught a series of extra courses and thereby saved enough to upgrade both camera and travel gear. I returned to Kenya for a second safari in 2013. There have now been seven safaris, all in Kenya, with an eighth safari scheduled for less than four weeks from this writing.



Why do I go on safari? To enjoy the experience of being outdoors in nature. Doing so is a contrast to my life as a university faculty member in Beijing. Occasionally Chinese life science and medical students join me. They've told me that they notice that my skin rapidly tans and I laugh every day while on safari. Wearing no pith helmet the equatorial sunshine has its way. The laughter may be my response to the untrammeled joie de vivre that I experience while being driven at breakneck speeds on dusty tracks to a far-off big cat sighting. Smiling is my innate response to the freedom from tedious convention, the warmth and jovial hospitality of Kenyans, and the long-delayed fulfillment of childhood dreams of being with wildlife in its home, which is also our original home. Perhaps the only extraordinary experience I've had in Kenya was on the first safari, when a kindly curator graciously invited me to photograph the 1.5 million year old skeletal remains of Turkana Boy, or Nariokotome Boy, when they were temporarily out of storage to be photographed by visiting National Geographic staff photographers. That experience underscored that biologically we're equatorial primates whose genome was shaped for life in the very biomes in which I've travelled.



The six safaris which I've planned following the initial safari, have all been organized on nearly the same pattern. What will be described for this, the seventh safari, would equally fit the second safari and the others between. My reticence to recommend anything I've done stems from the conviction that others know best for themselves and my own approach is far from ideal. This description serves as no more than a prelude, to set the stage for the safari which followed. Others in similar circumstances might understandably follow substantially dissimilar approaches.



While variety is said to be the spice of life, the spice of my safari experience has been the cheerfulness of those who've made possible all aspects of the travels. Although Christian churches dot Kenya, what's even more ubiquitous are small schools, academies and institutes. The Kenyan graduate students in botany who I taught in Beijing were astute in their approach to research. Kenyans by and large have treated my frailties, ignorance and missteps with grace, good humor and intelligence. To have been a frequent guest in their homeland is one of the treasures of my life. What stands out has been the consistently high quality of my experience out in the bush. Not high quality in the sense of luxury, but rather in the sense of authenticity, modesty, kindheartedness, care and awareness of basic needs. My career has been predicated on the feeling that quality trumps quantity as far as those aspects of life dearest to my heart.



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Maggie & Anthony Gitau of Bigmac Africa Safaris




Although safaris focus on wildlife and plant viewing, they start with those who make everything possible. In my case that's been a couple, Maggie and Anthony Gitau of Bigmac Africa Safaris in Nairobi. (http://www.bigmacafricasafaris.com) They're a young Kenyan couple with a son, Adrian, in kindergarten. Anthony's from Nyeri County and studied tourism in university, with a specialization in large mammals. He's a gifted photographer with a fine set of lenses, such that he's highly sensitive as to what might be an optimal shooting position. As the portrait shows, they're warmhearted, loving individuals, which is what I most appreciate. Anthony and I share a predilection for staying back from larger wildlife so as to disturb as little as possible. As I use a super telephoto lens during game drives, the distance is seldom an issue. Last year year Anthony remarked to me: “I could never, ever kill any animal”. He's been my guide, driver, field instructor and friend on six safaris. We don't talk all that much between game drives as he's typically on his mobile phone talking with his wide network of friends. At the gates of parks and nature reserves it's self-evident that he's very popular among park staff and other drivers. When we talk it's delightful, as we share an active interest in the photography of trees, wildflowers, shrubs, grasses, butterflies, dragonflies, spiderwebs, rock formations, birds of all species and sunsets, as well as larger mammals. I fully and implicitly trust them, who have made my safaris trouble-free and satisfying.



Initial safari planning amounts to seeing an availability on the academic calendar, looking at the bank balance, proposing tentative travel dates to Maggie by e-mail and tossing out places of interest. All of my safaris have been private safaris in which I hire the vehicle, a white Toyota safari van, with Anthony as guide and driver. I originally stayed in tented camps but have shifted to lodges. When Chinese students have accompanied me, the per person rate has reduced accordingly. They propose an itinerary to which I've heretofore always agreed. By now Anthony understands that I'm interested in observing seasonal changes to ecology, hence welcome repeat visits. Visiting unfamiliar parks or reserves or observing previously unfamiliar species is a much lower priority for me than watching the process of change at different times of the year, hence the safaris have been scattered throughout the calendar. Anthony picks me up and drops me off at the Sirona Hotel in Nairobi, which is walking distance from the National Museum of Kenya and has been my Nairobi overnight lodging. As a consequence of Safaritalk reviews, I may begin including the Emakoko in my travel plans. During game drives we eat box lunches provided by the lodges. I'd never heard of sundowners until reading Safaritalk trip reports.



After Maggie confirms the tentative dates, I go to the city ticket office of Etihad Airways to purchase an economy roundtrip ticket between Beijing and Nairobi, with a change of aircraft in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I've flown once each respectively on Ethiopian Airlines and Qatar Airways and wouldn't hesitate to do so again. The inflight catering on Ethiopian was superb and the Doha, Qatar Hamad Airport was impressive. Most trips have been on Etihad due to their convenient timetable and reasonable prices. Etihad's ‘Seafood Special Meals’, by advance request, have been flavorsome and well-prepared. All three airlines have been accommodating of the larger than usual camera bag with a bulky lens, permitting it be carried onboard as cabin baggage. Roundtrip airfare, PEK – NBO – PEK, has ranged between RMB ¥6500 to RMB ¥10,500, depending on season and advance purchase timing. The January, 2015 safari rate was for an all-inclusive private lodge safari with two guests in separate rooms priced at USD $340 per day for 11 days/10 nights which was reasonable in light of the value received.



All of the safaris since the initial experience have involved a single soft-sided camera bag plus a small camera. I've never felt constrained, aside from occasionally wishing that it were possible to bring a few more lenses. Airline weight restrictions rule, therefore I've made the necessary adjustments.



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Maps and Field Guides



• While daydreaming of the next safari and enjoying memories of safaris past, I find maps and field guides to be indispensable tools. Since childhood my approach to science has been largely empirical, emphasizing field observation and analysis. The maps and books shown above were nearly all purchased at the National Museum of Kenya Gift Shop. At the close of every safari I buy a few more books to bring back to Beijing. Through having a variety of materials, it's possible to cross-check information in hopes of increasing certainty. There's nearly always one of these safari-oriented books in my briefcase to read and highlight key passages during breaks between classes. They're an excellent way to increase familiarity with species, binomial nomenclature and locations. What I've happily learned in recent weeks is that Safaritalk also provides a comparable educational function, but larded with humor. I don't bring books on safari and bring only a single map, as in the field I prefer to relax and enjoy the experience, leaving detailed identification to the long months at home.



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Safari Essentials




• Above are the essentials which are packed for each safari. What isn't worn by me travels in a sturdy Lowepro Pro Runner 450 AW camera bag. It snugly fits into overhead baggage bins on all flights, albeit with occasional squeezing and shifting of contents before finally being safely wedged into place. To date nothing has ever broken, nor has anything ever been lost or stolen. The bag stays with me at all times, even in washrooms.



• I wear tan khaki long pants and light, short-sleeved shirts, my favorite shown in the photo above. A floppy pair of well-worn Timberland slip-ons has served me well in all safari situations, including walking through thick mud during a Nairobi downpour. I habitually take a new pair of light colored socks with me. A former student photographed birds and insects in the Hong Kong Wetland Park, after which he generously gave me a Nikko sun hat with a neck covering. I seldom wear it, yet at midday in Amboseli, it's a godsend. A light-colored cloth is useful for drying forehead perspiration or wet hands. My U.S. passport, wallet, reading glasses, and wristwatch I check several times a day, to be sure they haven't been misplaced. A safari diary keeps me honest in my recollections and is invaluable for accurate photo labelling months or years later. A yellow Staedtler marker and an EF nib Montblanc 149 fountain pen with blue ink are reliable tools, which write in all sorts of weather. They're protected in a black sheepskin leather Clairefontaine pencil case. The fountain pen has never leaked during flights and has had enough ink for use throughout each safari. The most recent addition is an iPad Air. I hesitated for several safaris before buying it, as I want to limit carryon weight. It's primary value is showing images from the previous day's safari to Anthony, other drivers and both lodge and restaurant staff. It's also useful for sending brief messages from lodges confirming my safe arrival and safari experience. By far the most frequent question from students and friends is: “Have you seen a leopard?” or “Did you get your leopard?”, to which there has usually been a positive response.



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• Every safari I bring a Sony RX1 R full-frame camera with a fixed Zeiss 35mm lens. It's discreet, lightweight, user-friendly and takes fine images in low light. The moderately wide lens suits landscape scenes. I've found that it takes excellent shots out of a moving vehicle window. The other camera is an EOS 1D X full-frame camera. It's rugged and versatile, which I highly appreciate. As a back-up there is an EOS 1D Mark IV with an APS-H sensor. Students may borrow it if they join me on safari. The custom neck straps by Phat Straps are comfortable in high temperatures. A Manfrotto 680B monopod is used to support the large lens. I usually hold it in my hands, rather than extending the monopod to rest on the ground. The monopod's solid design makes it a joy to use.



• The primary safari lens is an EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II super telephoto lens. It's well-suited for low-light conditions and generally produces the bright images typical of fast lenses. There are two extenders, respectively 1.4x and 2x, which are sometimes used with it, but not very often. I'd originally planned to acquire a 500mm or 600mm lens, but was dissuaded by the same friend who gave me the Nikko sun hat. He said that I'd eventually be glad that I had the brighter lens. He was right. The other lens which now is a regular on safaris is the Zeiss Apo-Sonnar T* 135mm f/2 ZE manual focus telephoto lens. It's color rendering is the finest I've seen of any telephoto. I like the 3-dimensional quality of the images it produces. There are other lenses, chiefly Zeiss wide angle lenses, which I occasionally bring, according to my interests of the moment.



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• No pith helmet and certainly no ‘mankini’, but one has one's own safari traditions. A student who's now a mineralogist gave me a safari vest for the first safari. It's now in sore need of a tailor's care, due to having accompanied on all seven safaris. Handy for carrying pen, passport, reading glasses and the like, when I wear it I feel like it's really and truly ‘Safari Time’. It also seems to accord me a certain sympathetic treatment by airport customs and immigration officials. After switching to lodge-based safaris it was a pleasant surprise to find they usually have a swimming pool. When I neglected to bring a swimsuit, Anthony stopped at the Nakumatt supermarket in Meru where I bought the colorful blue suit above. I think of it as my only African apparel, but truth be told, it was ‘Made in China’.



• There's one more essential on a safari which isn't visible. Music. The sound of birds, animals and wind is all that I hear on game drives, yet something else occurs. In my mind is a horde of western classical music and jazz, which plays along with changing scenery. I don't bring music with me nor do I own any headphones. While flying along through the African savannah and bushland, strains of Beethoven, Mozart, J.S. Bach, or Schubert mingle with the deftly composed melodies of Gershwin, Kern, Jobim, Ellington and Berlin. When my heart soars, there's inevitably an elegant soundtrack, but none other hears it but the angels.



~ Now on to the safari in question...

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Tom Kellie

Beijing to Nairobi




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Lights Out on EY 889



~ After my safari partner, Peking University medical student and researcher, XU Ni, 徐铌, rendezvoused at my Beijing campus apartment, we rode subway trains to Beijing Capital International Airport where we boarded Etihad EY 889 bound for Abu Dhabi. We each sat in left-side window seats, facilitating sleep during the long flight across western China, Afghanistan, and Iran before briefly flying over the Persian Gulf into Abu Dhabi, UAE. I'm 191 cm, 91 kg, but didn't feel uncomfortable despite the seat in front of me reclining throughout most of the flight.



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Smoked Salmon Sandwich and Apple Juice



The smoked salmon sandwich and apple juice snack before sleep was adequate, considering that it was around 2:40 am. Flights on Russian and Middle Eastern carriers serve premium apple juice, for which I'm grateful.



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Jewel-like Abu Dhabi



Descending into Abu Dhabi in the pre-dawn darkness enables one to appreciate the geometric layout of residential communities. There's a jewel-like quality as they glitter with halogen light brightness in a crystalline array of lines and curves. From the aircraft window one sees speeding cars race along uncrowded highways at that early hour — Ferraris, Lamborghinis or souped-up Maseratis?



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Meeting All Camel Needs



In the temporary Abu Dhabi air terminal — a grand replacement is under construction in the surrounding desert — there was the first animal sighting of the safari. Shelves of toy camels surely meet all tastes and budgets. I passed as I bought a camel last year in Qatar's Doha Hamad Airport. The next camels I'd spot would be over one week later beside the road from Isiolo to Archer's Post, near Samburu National Reserve.



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Hookah Sets



Souvenirs run the gamut in any travel center. These colorful hookah sets would be a surefire conversation starter. The camel crossing sign would have limited use in Beijing, therefore as with the toy camels I once again passed. I'm not exactly a souvenir vendor's dream customer.



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Gate 44 Nairobi



A slight delay was a minor concern, as the driver waiting for us in Nairobi would be inconvenienced. I made a mental note to be sure to increase the tip accordingly. The Arabic signs remind me that before pushing back from the gate all Etihad flights play a brief prayer from the Qur'an.



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Desert Compound — Arabian Peninsula



The flight from Abu Dhabi was unusual in one respect — it was the clearest weather I'd ever seen when flying over the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula. The faint cloud shadows visible in this image were all that we saw. Nary a sandstorm or a stratocumulus cloud in sight. Despite the desert sands devoid of vegetation, compounds such as those shown are present on the margins of the Rub' al Khali.



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Yemen's Curved Topography



After more than an hour of flying over the Rub' al Khali the ramparts of Yemen's curved topography hove into view. The exceptionally clear conditions thrilled me as I'd never before been able to clearly distinguish features in the tortured landform below. What I wouldn't have guessed is that on the post-safari return flight I'd see Aden's harbor and surrounding mountains, Yemen's ancient seaport.



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Remote Kenya Community



When this remote northern Kenya community appeared out the port window I felt a tug, knowing that I was back...for a seventh time. The familiar laterite red soil, the airstrip, the roads — they all evoked what had been and what was soon to recur. Appropriate music might be Erroll Garner on piano playing Rodgers and Hart's ‘Where or When’.



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Arrival at the Gate in JKIA



On the ground at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, I felt the part of my heart I'd left behind three months earlier snap back into place. I'm back, I'm back! There's no gainsaying it, I do feel at home in Kenya. Seeing clear blue skies again may be a contributing factor to my elation.



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Maggie, Adrian, Anthony & Ni in Nairobi's Sirona Hotel



We were brought to the venerable Sirona Hotel, where I've stayed on every safari. Situated around the corner from the newly opened Kenyatta University School of Law, it's a ten to twelve minute stroll from the National Museum of Kenya. The soaring old trees on the grounds give a feeling of permanence, even if the hotel itself looks forward to much better days to come. Maggie and Anthony stopped by with their son, Adrian, to welcome us and discuss safari plans. The warm family feeling brought smiles to my face and theirs. Well-behaved Adrian initially was hesitant but eventually became at ease in the presence of the paunchy, white-haired stranger.



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Mrs. Mbabu's Kiosk



There's are two unvarying traditions I uphold during every visit to Nairobi. One is to visit the National Museum of Kenya Gift Shop to peruse the books and maps. The other is to walk outside the entrance of the Sirona Hotel grounds to pay a call on Mrs. Mbabu's kiosk in order to buy a fruit juice for the night and to see her three children. There are kiosks selling sundries and comestibles scattered all over Kenya, including in fairly remote communities. Yet I'd never think of stopping anywhere but Mrs. Mbabu's kiosk as I'm sure to be greeted with the question: “How's China doing?”, which pleases me. Mrs. Mbabu hails from Meru thus was pleased to hear that on this safari I'd once again visit her home area. She lives in the kiosk with her children, selling to customers living in the well-guarded apartment complexes in that Parklands neighborhood. Each time I visit there are gifts for her children, whose thirst for learning and refined courtesy would be a model for my university students to follow.

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graceland

I knew this was going to be good...actually it is even better. The start is fantastic The writing evocative of a soul deep in sync with the love of people of Kenya,

and I think all of us enjoy the personalization of a report. Details enhance a story

 

ID love to meet Mrs Mbabu. How fortunate she is to have you as a customer. With white hair, paunch and a worn out vest

 

On the road...hope to keep catching up Tom. This is a keeper

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Game Warden

@@Tom Kellie Great start. What were you ever worried about :)

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Tom Kellie

~ @@Game Warden:

 

You've MADE my day...er...night, actually!

Such encouragement from you is fuel to my determination to complete as much as possible before classes resume a couple of days later.

The two weeks of reading through past trip reports was invaluable, with a very, very big thanks to @@graceland, @@Kitsafari, @@Safaridude and @@TonyQ for their consistently engrossing trip reports.

Many, many thanks!

Happy!

Tom K.

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Tom Kellie

I knew this was going to be good...actually it is even better. The start is fantastic The writing evocative of a soul deep in sync with the love of people of Kenya,

and I think all of us enjoy the personalization of a report. Details enhance a story

 

ID love to meet Mrs Mbabu. How fortunate she is to have you as a customer. With white hair, paunch and a worn out vest

 

On the road...hope to keep catching up Tom. This is a keeper

 

~ @graceland:

 

Both @@Game Warden and you?

What a night!

Thank you so much for what you've written above.

The encouragement you give reinforces my inner drive to tell this safari's tale as honestly and thoroughly as possible.

May your travels be pleasant!

Happy!

Tom K.

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Kitsafari

@@Tom Kellie wonderful start - gosh and you were so hesitant about writing! I love the personal feel to the report, how you make characters like Mrs Mbabu and her kids come alive, and I can feel your thrill in returning to Kenya.

 

Great aerial shots, especially love the jewelled network of lights that made the city look so sparkling. I've always found it hard to take picture form the plane, esp when plane windows are so blurry.yours are so clear.

 

Looking forward to more!

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Tom Kellie

@@Tom Kellie wonderful start - gosh and you were so hesitant about writing! I love the personal feel to the report, how you make characters like Mrs Mbabu and her kids come alive, and I can feel your thrill in returning to Kenya.

Great aerial shots, especially love the jewelled network of lights that made the city look so sparkling. I've always found it hard to take picture form the plane, esp when plane windows are so blurry.yours are so clear.

 

Looking forward to more!

 

~ @Kitsafari:

 

Wow! Many thanks for your very kind words.

Such encouragement is exactly what I need while selecting photos and typing the trip report.

You know what this is like because you've written many a trip report, thus your support is especially welcome.

It was on trips to Venice, Italy, by way of Moscow or by way of Paris, that I learned how to take satisfactory night aerial photographs.

The transcontinental flights from Beijing pass over lovely St. Petersburg, Russia, affording ‘target practice’ for the camera.

Before I return to trip report writing I'll upload a non-safari aerial image for you, in appreciation of your comments.

Tom K.

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Paris by Night

Photographed from an Air France flight bound from Paris to Beijing on 3 February, 2014 at 9:12 pm, using a Sony RX1 R camera.

ISO 800, 1/20 sec., f/2, 35mm, handheld Manual exposure.

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Tom Kellie

Nairobi to Tsavo West National Park




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China Road and Bridge Corporation Facility



~ We drove from Nairobi to Tsavo West National Park on the Mombasa Highway. Throughout much of the drive the ongoing construction of the Mombasa to Nairobi link of the Mombasa to Kigali standard gauge railway line was evident. The China Road and Bridge Corporation is grading land and preparing all of the project's extensive infrastructure. This image shows one of several large gated facilities with slogans on the perimeter wall in both Chinese and English. In a few other locations, Swahili has been used on banners.



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Supermarket in Red & Yellow



I'm not much for eating snacks on long drives, but appreciate bottled juice. We stopped at a supermarket near one of the railroad construction sites. Its colors of red and yellow are also China's national flag colors, which no doubt pleases Chinese workers far from home. I claim that I don't eat snacks much yet the two small bags of popcorn brought to me from a vendor beside this supermarket were superb — the best I've tasted in years!



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Cercopithecus pygerythrus with Infant



Every safari truly kicks off for me when the ‘big lens’ is brought out and used for a test shot. This is the test shot for this safari. It's a mother Cercopithecus pygerythrus, Vervet Monkey, with her infant. She was watching me in the parking lot of our lunch stop in Kiboko, a community on the Mombasa Highway. A town named ‘Hippopotamus’ has a certain appeal. The earth tones in this image contrasted with her fur. A safari that begins with a mother and infant has a fine beginning.



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Hunters Lodge Restaurant Patio



We stopped at Hunters Lodge (http://madahotels.com/index.php/kiboko/hunters-lodge) which surrounds Kiboko Springs where, oddly enough, there are presently no resident hippopotamus, despite the name. Quiet, uncrowded, comfortable, with extensive forested grounds, the soup and steamed chicken were superb, not to mention a glass of passion juice, the first of many during the safari.



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Sculpted Head



This sculpted head by a local Kenyan artist caught my eye. I'm especially drawn to Kenyan interpretations of nature and of their own homeland. On my to-do list for next month's safari is to purchase a couple of novels by Kenyan female authors, as I want to read what their soul is feeling. The artist of this sculpted head has an innate respect which is conveyed by the gentle countenance. To achieve that required skill, care and heart.



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After a Long Drive



Guiding others on safari is exhausting labor at times, requiring a self-sacrificing spirit. This portrait of Anthony was taken as he waited for lunch to be served. I left him alone, as he needed his own space without interruption. His and my relationship as guide and client is firmly grounded on mutual respect. That's why I'm looking forward to going out on another safari with him early next month. He not only teaches me about Kenya's wildlife, but also about Kenyans themselves, who safeguard the precious heritage of all humanity. If I teach him anything in return, it's that certain older professors do indeed go ‘safari mad’!



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Lifted Front Claws



This male Agama agama, Red-headed Rock agama, was a character! He cheekily approached me despite my holding a large camera lens. When I moved closer, so did he. ‘What are we doing?’, I wondered. It was a game of ‘chicken’ played between an agama and a foolish old fella with an absurdly oversized lens. There were a number of images of him, but this one best captured the intense saturation of his color and his bold demeanor.



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Sycamore Fruit



As a child I especially liked the biblical story of Zacchaeus, who climbed up into a sycamore fig in Jericho to see Jesus. I'd wondered at that time what a sycamore fig might look like, but never knew until seeing this one at Hunters Lodge. Ants may be seen attending to the fruit, seemingly attracted to sticky exudates. There were several birds which visited the fruit and a solitary baboon climbed up into the tree, the Hunters Lodge counterpart to Zacchaeus the tax collector.



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Ploceus subaureus



Around the margins of Kiboko Springs reeds flourish, on which a small colony of Ploceus subaureus, African Golden Weaver, have built their distinctive suspended nests. This particular weaver was a most cooperative model, pausing on the bent reed long enough for this portrait to be made. The song of Ploceus subaureus at moments was like that of canaries, so sweet to the ear.



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Mother Amblyospiza albifrons



Intermingled with the Ploceus subaureus nests were Amblyospiza albifrons, Grosbeak Weaver, nests of similar yet identifiably different construction. This image shows a mother Amblyospiza albifrons entering her nest with food in her beak. She flew to this nest several times, diligently feeding her hatchlings within.



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Pond Cichlid



As a pre-teenager I'd raised a pair of cichlids who never grew much owing to the cramped aquarium confines. Therefore I couldn't resist the opportunity to photograph a cichlid in Kiboko Springs. While many times larger, it shared the same body configuration with vibrant coloration. Who says that safaris overlook fish? Herons and egrets certainly don't!



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Palm Fruit



Photographing palm fruit is rewarding because their color and shape has an especially pleasing decorative quality. Henri Matisse included palm fruit in paintings done in Tangiers, highlighting their vibrant hues.



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Apiaceae sp.



The celery family, including carrots and parsley, constitutes the Apiaceae sp., which grows throughout Kenya. This plant grouping beside Kiboko Springs attracted my camera lens due to the felicitous contrast with the water surface. Several pollinators were at work on the flowers in this ever-so-slightly dreamy image.



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Junonia natalica



At times the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II super telephoto lens is capable of usable macro images. In this photo, Junonia natalica, or Brown Pansy, has briefly lit on a blossom, resting from the fluttering I observed over vegetation along the Kiboko Springs margins. It is especially satisfying that details of the compound eyes are visible.



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Sycamore Fig, Baboon, Grey-headed Kingfisher and Rickety Footbridge



As I myself am grey-headed, I'm partial to Halcyon leucocephala, Grey-headed Kingfisher. There is one perched on the bridge railing to the left and below the baboon in the sycamore fig. The footbridge was alarmingly rickety. While crossing it to examine the sycamore fig fruit, there was a very real sense that one misstep would lead to a premature bath.



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Dragonfly, Bridge, Plants, Fish



This image incorporates several characteristic ecological elements of Kiboko Springs. It's a still life comprised of the painted bridge lumber, the perching dragonfly, two plants and fish in the pond. The simplicity and serenity were emblematic of tranquil Kiboko Springs.



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Motacilla aguimp



An old friend in a new location. Throughout Kenya Motacilla aguimp, African Pied Wagtail, provides cheerful energy to otherwise static landscapes. The characteristic rapidly bobbing tail and the inquisitive stance of this Motacilla aguimp was my farewell to Hunters Lodge on this visit, as we returned to the safari van to continue our journey.



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Baobabs and Agave Plantation



This safari's first few days were unlike the prior safaris in that baobabs were a constant presence. This image was taken out the window of the moving safari van, using the Sony RX1 R camera, which is especially adept for such shots. The neat rows of agaves behind the baobabs show the sort of horticultural use prevalent as one approaches and passes along the Chyulu Hills.



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Magnificent Baobabs



This is another image taken out of the moving safari van window. The linear cluster of sizable baobabs are in a cornfield, both species thriving. The gentleman in the vividly red T-shirt is a stroke of luck, as his presence provides a sense of scale relative to the immense trees. Both he and the cornfield exemplify the mix of human communities with surviving endemic species. It's to the credit of those living near the Chyulu Hills that they've largely retained the baobabs after planting crops.



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All Shapes and Sizes



Near Ngwata, on the Mombasa Highway, gourd and woven basket vendors have used wooden poles to construct display racks. The variety of gourds on offer was impressive. Time, thought and planning resulted in the attractive display shown in this photo. As I greatly admire handiwork and craftsmanship, this image strongly appealed to me.



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graceland

First. love the aerial of Paris

2nd. Of the exhausted guide Anthony. I always know they must get exhausted doing not only their guiding but everything in between. Though they never complain to a guest. Hard work. But folks like you know it and respect them even more so

 

On the road so will be reading remainder ...looking good. Have NO idea why you of all would be hesitant to write a TR.

Me. It took years

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Marks

Off to a great start. Really enjoyed your preparatory section, too.

Excited to see what comes next.

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Tom Kellie
On 4/6/2015 at 8:03 PM, graceland said:

First. love the aerial of Paris

2nd. Of the exhausted guide Anthony. I always know they must get exhausted doing not only their guiding but everything in between. Though they never complain to a guest. Hard work. But folks like you know it and respect them even more so

 

On the road so will be reading remainder ...looking good. Have NO idea why you of all would be hesitant to write a TR.

Me. It took years

 

~ @graceland:

 

Thank you. Paris from the air has the same unique charm that it has on the boulevards below.

 

Anthony would be honored by your understanding. When I see him again next month, I'll tell him about Safaritalk and your thoughtful comment.

 

What caused the hesitation was the consistent quality of trip reports I read. The wisdom, erudition and seat-of-the-pants experience of several Safaritalkers is breathtaking, far, far exceeding my paltry experience.

 

After reading trip reports by @@Safaridude all I could do was smile and shake my head in admiration for such consistently high quality that was both highly readable and informative.

 

The recent “Lipault Ladies” trip report loosened me up, with it's ongoing sense of fun. @@SafariChick's writing is a hoot! She, @@Kitsafari and yourself showed me through your trip reports how to be lighthearted while describing the awesome.

 

I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge once again @@TonyQ's superb leopard adventures, as described in his trip report. His writing style is especially worthy of emulation for its understated grace and modesty — which is actually what I like about your writing.

 

As with everything, a process. I replied to @@twaffle's kind post in my self-introduction that while writing this trip report my respect and appreciation of the care and craftsmanship of all previous Safaritalk trip report authors has increased.

 

Only through writing a trip report does one realize how well others have done, to have produced lucid, pleasurable to read commentary from scattered notes and thousands of images on a CF or SD memory card.

 

...Back to writing.

 

Tom K.

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Tom Kellie

Off to a great start. Really enjoyed your preparatory section, too.

Excited to see what comes next.

 

~ Hello, @@Marks!

 

Thank you so much! It's very kind of you to write that.

The preparatory section was intended for those who may not yet have gone on safari.

It wasn't intended to be instructive so much as was meant to represent one way of doing it.

That it may be unorthodox in various aspects is OK, as safaris by their nature seem to bring out the offbeat and hitherto untried.

There are more photos on my computer screen waiting commentary and posting — back to writing!

With Thanks,

Tom K.

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Tom Kellie

Tsavo West National Park



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Tsavo West National Park Mtito Andei Gate



~ When we arrived at the Mtito Andei Gate of Tsavo West National Park it was 4 pm on an overcast afternoon. The entrance sign puzzled me with its reference to ‘Lava’. Obviously I hadn't done adequate due diligence in reading up on the park. As I should have realized, being not all that distant from Mt. Kilimanjaro had resulted in local volcanism, the traces of which I'd later see. There was a slight air of melancholy at the entrance, with no trinket-sellers, only a single guard and a sense of reduced visitation. As it turned out, we never encountered another safari vehicle during our stay, except at the lodge itself. Thus my abiding memory of Tsavo West is of privacy, which is wholly unlike my working life in Beijing. While I had by no means paid for ‘exclusive use of the park’, that nonetheless turned out to be the de facto reality.



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Terminalia orbicularis's Distinctive Seeds



Immediately inside the arched entrance gate, to the left, was a large Terminalia orbicularis bush. Anthony had never before seen the seeds of this endemic species. Their shape and color were unlike anything in my experience...except...they vaguely resembled a ‘white peach’ after it's sliced in half. An odd association, but it may be attributable to the rosy tones around the Terminalia orbicularis seeds, and to my fond recollection of the sweet flavor of ‘white peaches’, which I haven't tasted in years. Perhaps absence does indeed make the tastebuds grow fonder. I haven't visited the United States in over eight years, thus find myself occasionally pining for a spoonful of full fat, small curd cottage cheese, of all delicacies!



We drove forward into the park where, unbeknownst to me, a wealth of avian observations awaited.




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Tom Kellie

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Francolinus sephaena



~ This Francolinus sephaena, Crested Francolin, ran across the road in front of us, the first of a parade of bird species we observed while staying in Tsavo West. This image expresses a fundamental truth, which is the occasional moments of solitude along bush tracks. The rich laterite red soil, the curving grass, the small bird running for cover — all the bedrock of the biome, ultimately supporting the keystone predators who rate rock star treatment. Three cheers for Francolinus sephaena, going about it's business without any concern for ever becoming an A-list species.



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Corythaixoides leucogaster



Here's an example of how easily I misjudge prevailing ecological equilibria. When this Corythaixoides leucogaster was spotted, I excitedly pressed the shutter button, delighted to capture it's grey plumage against the spare, leafless branches. I mistakenly supposed that it might be my only opportunity. Ha! The joke was on me, as we spotted dozens of these White-bellied Go-away-birds in Tsavo West, often in groups.



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Lamprotornis superbus



While Coracias caudata, Lilac-breasted Roller, has been officially designated as Kenya's National Bird, it often seems as though Lamprotornis superbus, Superb Starling, is the people's choice. Unmistakably plumage, loud cries, disdain for decorum, Lamprotornis superbus is known to all Kenyans and their guests, who accept it as one of nature's gifts to Kenya, and a right flashy one at that!



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Coracias garrulus on the Wing



This image of Coracias garrulus, European Roller, on the wing was valuable in that it impressed upon me two taxonomic realities concerning this species. The tip of the upper beak is hooked so as to puncture and the claws are talon-like in their sharpened curvature. During our Tsavo West visit we all agreed that Coracias garrulus was easily the signature avian species, so numerous were they.



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Tsavo West Numida meleagris



This image is especially for @@ZaminOz, who shares with me a love for Guineafowl. This small flock of Numida meleagris, Helmeted Guineafowl, were less frenetic than expected. I'd never previously photographed young Numida meleagris at such close range. The adult birds prudently herded them away from us, but without haste. I enjoyed about one minute of ‘face time’ with this family in motion.



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Tom Kellie

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Dark Tongue Extended



The first larger game animal we met was this elderly male Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi, Masai Giraffe. The bull was frail, stepping with care off of the track to continue his late afternoon grazing. Watching him, we discussed among ourselves how it might be that giraffes cope with the sharp thorns on the acacias they favor, as such would wreak havoc in a human soft palate. Lacking experience, I don't know, but anticipate that through Safaritalk or during future safaris this question may be answered.



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Masai Giraffe in Tsavo West National Park



As the Masai Giraffe bull continued on his way, we remained to watch his stately progress. He was by no means the oldest giraffe we saw, as a later solitary bull was nearly ebony-hued. This image particularly spoke to me as it shows the colors of Tsavo West as we experienced them in late January. Although underlying ecological relationships are a primary professional and personal interest, another side of me responds to the incomparable aesthetics of wild places.


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Tom Kellie

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Lanius cabanisi



We stopped at what I refer to as ‘one of those bird zones’. By that I'm referring to the occasional clustering of various bird species in a relatively small area for no glaringly obvious reason. No bush with seeds, no tree in flower, no wildflowers or grasses. Were one more familiar with the micro-niche ecological circumstances, the apparent mystery might be resolved. Among the various birds on bare branches was this Lanius cabanisi, Long-tailed Fiscal. Sociably trading deep-toned notes with another of its species, something about its behavior and frequent glances downward aroused a suspicion that it's predatory instincts were on high alert. As it turned out, that was indeed the case.



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Detail of Lanius cabanisi with a Chameleon



The Lanius cabanisi I'd been watching flew down to a low branch, appeared to peck several times, flying back upward, prey in its hooked bill. The hapless chameleon it had caught struggled a bit before going limp, its distinctive chameleon eyes losing luster, its limbs going slack. While I'd hoped to photograph a chameleon during the safari, this was not what I'd had in mind. The image vividly restores to memory the admiration I felt for the Long-tailed Fiscal's hunting prowess.



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Bubalornis niger



This photograph of Bubalornis niger, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver is especially for @@Peter Connan, who's been discussing the ‘Little Five with me. As @@armchair bushman noted a couple of years ago, there are no less than three species of Buffalo-Weavers, of which this is one. This particular Bubalornis niger was in the same vicinity as the Lanius cabanisi which caught a chameleon.



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Tom Kellie

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Kongoni Sextet



While the zebras carried on with grazing, the Kongoni family were all on high alert to our presence. Of course, infants do need their milk, but other family members were eyes left to the intruders. Despite being among the subjects of their wariness, I admired their vigilance. Alcephalus buselaphus cokei is the triumph of natural selection over expectations. I like the pattern in their ears — cool!



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Typical Tsavo West Track



Much of our drive was through terrain like this. A red earth track gently wending its way through grassy berms, lined with shrubbery and trees. It was striking that not a piece of trash was seen anywhere during game drives in Tsavo West National Park. As previously mentioned, no other vehicles were seen, apart from a couple of security trucks.



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Inviting Exploration, Despite the Likelihood of Many Snakes



This might just as aptly been captioned: “This is Why I Come to Africa”, although truth be told, many photographs in Safaritalk trip reports evoke the same feeling. Looking over the cliffs, scrutinizing the vegetation — admitting that I'd love to spy a raptor or two perched there — and reveling in the sheer untamed wildness of it — this image touches me like few others. Perhaps that's in reaction to the harshly prim, obstinately arbitrary constraints on my life away from Africa.



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An Older Elephant with Family



I won't tell if you won't, but an underrated truth is that Tsavo West is brimming with Loxodonta africana, African Elephants. From this sighting until we departed, elephant families emerged from the surrounding bush everywhere we went, with infants in tow. In this low light, early evening shot, the deep colors were attractive. The matriarch and her family foraging as they moved through the undergrowth.



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Syncerus caffer



When we rounded a downward track passing by an elongated muddy waterhole, this solitary Syncerus caffer, African Buffalo, bull was stepping out of the mire. In Safaritalk I'd read references to ‘Dagga Boys’, wondering what that meant. Does he qualify as a Dagga Boy? As a child, how I'd have loved this photo, to try an convince my mother that playing outside in the dirt was no more than a guy's good fun. Fortunately, she understood that, so I don't mind a bit of mud to this day, although this fella may be pushing filthiness to the limit.



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Tsavo West Ardea melanocephala



Sharing the waterhole with the Dagga Boy mudlark was a slender Ardea melanocephala, Black-headed Heron. The approach of twilight caused me to adjust camera settings for higher ISO so as to facilitate a portrait of the graceful heron. It remained still while we clicked our shutters, perhaps long accustomed to overeager shutterbugs beguiled by its beauty.



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Tsavo West Mycteria ibis




After proceeding downward less than half a minute we encountered this Mycteria ibis, Yellow-billed Stork. One benefit of early evening images in shaded locations is the rich saturation of the colors. No concern about washed-out, overly bright highlights here. The focal target was the water droplet on the tip of its bill, as well as its right eye. A bonus was the clearly visible grey-edged wing plumage.



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Tom Kellie

When what to our wondering eyes should appear,


but a dozing young lion, ever so near...




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Who's Resting in the Grass?



~ When we continued our slow downward progress in the narrow valley where we'd paused by the mudflats, Anthony gently stopped, softly asking: “Do you see it”, which triggered a brief bout of scanning in the distance, not realizing that what he had spotted was directly beside us. One of the fabled ‘Lions of Tsavo’, albeit a juvenile wrapped in slumber's embrace, was just beyond a tussock of low grass. We'd had no advance warning that she might be there, and no other vehicles were around us. As it was my Chinese student's first-ever lion, it was a joyous occasion, albeit muted so as not to disturb the resting cat.



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Visions



Anthony eased the safari van into a different position after several minutes of observation, during which the young lioness did little more than twitch. This portrait does show an open eye, yet she may well have been asleep, or half-awake, at best. She neither stirred nor gave any indication that she was aware of our presence. Of what do lions dream? When the original photograph was magnified on my 27-inch iMac screen, I was startled to see the safari van's image reflected on her eyeball, a fly to the left unconcerned with intruders of our ilk.



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Tranquility



Now and again, even predators have their subdued moments. All of life isn't blood-red in tooth and claw, even if the most dramatic episodes may be. This portrait of a young Panthera leo represents another facet of their character. The early evening low light and the grass which affords concealment highlight this lioness's vulnerability in an ecosystem where there are seldom any gifts.



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Familiar



How familiar thy countenance, oh lion tawny. Or so it seems, to one who has admired lions for half a century. When she rose, a single glance in our direction before walking two meters and laying down to resume her nap. Anthony started the engine and we moved away, leaving her to her dreams...


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graceland

@@Tom Kellie

 

Your style of writing and your elegant photos of the birds, so descriptive put you the a category of writers that weave their magic drawing a reader in.

 

Though I loved the birds; all birds in Africa are so beautiful, the shot of the giraffe's dark tongue took ME back; and coming unexpectedly upon the lion resting - well done to Anthony for not disturbing her.

Never having been to Tsavo but seeing the red clay dirt path to drive, the landscape dotted with elephants, and buffalo, herons and storks in one day...lovely; and to think you had it all to yourselves; I can see why you love it so.

 

You are very poetic in your writing. I know you are a teacher - scientific? But obviously with a background in literature.

 

White peaches - oh yes we have them soon here in Virginia; cannot wait myself!

 

Great intro to Tsavo; thanks!

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Tom Kellie

@@Tom Kellie

 

Your style of writing and your elegant photos of the birds, so descriptive put you the a category of writers that weave their magic drawing a reader in.

 

Though I loved the birds; all birds in Africa are so beautiful, the shot of the giraffe's dark tongue took ME back; and coming unexpectedly upon the lion resting - well done to Anthony for not disturbing her.

Never having been to Tsavo but seeing the red clay dirt path to drive, the landscape dotted with elephants, and buffalo, herons and storks in one day...lovely; and to think you had it all to yourselves; I can see why you love it so.

 

You are very poetic in your writing. I know you are a teacher - scientific? But obviously with a background in literature.

 

White peaches - oh yes we have them soon here in Virginia; cannot wait myself!

 

Great intro to Tsavo; thanks!

 

~ @graceland:

 

I'm overwhelmed, hand on heart and all. Truly, many, many thanks!

Throughout the trip report I'm scattering a variety of subjects to interest a general audience. There are ‘bird people’, ‘big cat people’, ‘blood & gore people’ (I've no photos for them), ‘African sunset with acacias & eles people’, yada, yada, yada...

Me? I'm ‘whatever I couldn't see at home people’.

I never took English since I was in junior high school — tested out of it...in the long run, to my loss.

My classes are in a school of life sciences — biology, as it were — where my specialty is field ecology.

No literature in my background beyond reading Shakespeare and the Bible.

I write as nature seems to me — I'm incessantly wondering what existence is like for other species, even plants and microorganisms.

Funny that you mentioned the giraffe tongue image. There were quite a few other shots of comparable quality...I hesitated...in the end I went with that one as it seemed to have that ‘certain something’. Glad you thought so, too.

Anthony is extraordinarily sensitive to the lives of animals. He even avoids disturbing dragonflies resting on obscure stream crossings.

Whites peaches in Virginia? Then you know why they're one of the happiest food memories. When they arrive, please enjoy!

Back to Tsavo West...

Tom K.

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twaffle

Just catching up with this truly delightful recall of your most recent safari. I would hesitate to call it a report, such a mundane and prosaic word to describe such expressive and interesting writing. The photos are masterful and I think you have been teasing us somewhat with your reticence and deprecation with regards to your skills in this regard. ;)

 

I personally, especially enjoy seeing the travelling to destination photos as we nearly all forget them.

 

Certainly, I am looking forward to more.

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Tom Kellie

Just catching up with this truly delightful recall of your most recent safari. I would hesitate to call it a report, such a mundane and prosaic word to describe such expressive and interesting writing. The photos are masterful and I think you have been teasing us somewhat with your reticence and deprecation with regards to your skills in this regard. ;)

 

I personally, especially enjoy seeing the travelling to destination photos as we nearly all forget them.

 

Certainly, I am looking forward to more.

 

~ @@twaffle:

 

No teasing...fretting about not having had the sort of dramatic safaris many others have.

Your encouragement means so, so much, as during the process of selecting images and writing I ask myself over and over if this might be suited for Safaritalk.

With thousands of posts, you've long known what I'm slowly grasping, i.e. how to present an honest, compelling trip report.

My internal hesitancy has had a lot to do with the plain reality that I've never once seen any rare species in Africa, with one possible exception.

The big cats, small cats — no fresh kills, no small cats, no mating, almost no cubs in nests or dens.

Lots and lots of birds. Which is fine. One is grateful for whatever one encounters.

Thus I've been unsettled about writing a trip report for fear that its relatively tepid contents might be of little more than marginal interest to those weaned on freshly killed bushmeat.

Thus, your encouragement, @@twaffle, is highly welcome.

I'm so pleased that you liked the travel to destination photos, as they offer a sense of overall context. To any Safaritalk visitor who might not yet have visited Africa, they provide a glimpse of what's it's like to ride along a highway towards a national park or nature reserve.

I recently saw a post wherein you mentioned that you'd taken photos out the windows of moving vehicles. Me, too! At times there are unexpectedly telling images which would otherwise be lost.

Having just finished a late dinner, I read your kind thoughts and will return to the writing, newly emboldened.

With Appreciation,

Tom K.

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Tom Kellie

@twaffle:

 

When I'm typing, sometimes I stop. I ask myself: “Does this ring true?”

If not, I get up, walk around, re-read the safari notes and begin again.

It's a slow process, which is why I'm gaining respect by the hour for those of you who've written numerous trip reports in the past.

Tom K.

Edited by Tom Kellie
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Tom Kellie

@graceland:

 

As this process continues, it becomes like an awakening baby that there is SO MUCH that I don't know.

You who've written other trip reports know what it's like to seek for images and words to convey the essence to others.

Not at all easy. Yet fulfilling.

Tom K.

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