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Yet another sleepless night after 2am. I should have arranged to be paid by some researcher studying the effects of sleep deprivation...

I urge fellow Safaritalkers to visit Samburu + Buffalo Springs in the green season – it is amazingly vibrant and bursting with wildlife activity.


~ @@offshorebirder


I guffawed out loud when I read your ‘sleep deprivation’ comment.

Very droll!

Having been to Samburu and Buffalo Springs twice during green season, I strongly agree with your suggestion.

Tom K.

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The Vulturine Guineafowl is a beautiful bird - I would love to see one.

The behaviou you describe and photograph so well is enchanting!

Your enthusiasm shines through

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Thanks @@TonyQ - they are indeed beautiful birds.


I am surprised you did not see Vulturine Guineafowl in Meru National Park - I know they are present in numbers there...

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February 17, 2016.

After a whopping six hours' sleep, I was cautiously optimistic about a return to normal sleep patterns. And I felt much sharper and less frayed. Tommy had recieved email news the night before, saying his wife and her friend had finally gotten their lost luggage taken care of on their trip to Costa Rica. So our few remaining worries had melted away.

The river had risen overnight and gotten much noisier. The background noise and darker conditions under the riverside canopy convinced us to try the more open areas first. We met up with Francis and immediately had some good warbler action around the car park.

A Grey-capped Warbler was a new species for the trip, and we had good looks at a Willow Warbler as well. Then just before 7am we had a Red-chested Cuckoo giving its three-note whistle call. Francis spotted it high in a tree and we zeroed in with the scope for pretty good early morning views.

Then a pair of Grey-crowned Cranes flew over and a Pied Wagtail perched up for good views. Suddenly a Wood-Hoopoe flew into a nearby tree and skulked around a bit before flying off. We had to leave it a "Wood-Hoopoe species" without narrowing it down further. Then we had a new Sunbird for the trip - a nice male Green-headed Sunbird. That was the rationale for spending a night at Naro Meru River Lodge - the ability to pick up some highland forest species we may have missed during our time at Mount Kenya. We added close to twenty such species and some new Eurasian wintering birds as well. I was intrigued by the grounds at Naro Meru - it strikes me as a perfect "migrant trap". I would love to see it on the right day in late October or November when migrating songbirds are tumbling down from the sky into the nice isolated patch of remnant forest and surrounding early successional habitat.

Birding our way back towards the lodge, we had Chin-spot Batis, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and White-browed Robin-Chat. Then it was time for a quick 7:30 breakfast, checking out, and proceeding to Nanyuki airstrip for our flight to Mara Naboisho.

We were sad to be bidding Francis and John goodbye, but we were very much looking forward to our week in the Mara! The next few days we would be without a birding specialist guide until we reached Encounter Mara and Ben Mugambi joined us. And we were expecting to share a vehicle during our time at Encounter Mara. But it would not be disagreeable to follow a more regular safari pattern for a few days.

Though we were over an hour early for our scheduled flight, the Safarilink plane was prepped and ready when we got there. So we rode up to Samburu airstrip to pick up a nice british couple, then stopped somewhere on the Laikipia plateau for a couple from the USA. After a scenic flight we descended to a sunny Mara North airstrip. Both couples got off and we continued on to Naboisho airstrip.

It was raining steadily when we landed. Our Maasai guide Wilson from Encounter Mara greeted us and his spotter David also helped with the luggage. David is on temporary assignment to Encounter Mara from the Koyaki Guiding School. I was a little worried that the afternoon might be a washout and focused on having positive thoughts. I recalled the words of @@Safaridude - "The Mara always delivers".

Driving away from the airstrip, we were seeing a lot of game despite the light rain. Topis, Thomson's Gazelles, Coke's Hatebeest and Plains Zebras were fun to see.

Coke's Hartebeest


Then seven minutes after getting underway, the rains ended. Wilson and David hopped out and rolled up the canvas side panels of the safari vehicle. Hooray! We chatted a bit about our goals and what kind of natural history interested us. Wilson seemed glad to know we were not solely focused on big cats and Elephants, etc.

Just then, a pale Cisticola popped up. It seemed similar to Zitting Cisticola. "Desert Cisticola" Wilson said. I was impressed. For confirmation I looked it up on the Birds of East Africa app. I saw Wilson was absolutely right - Desert shows a paler crown and a darker tail, which this bird certainly had. "This is going to work out well" I thought. I just had no idea how well...

Then I had four excellent new life birds in a space of three minutes. A pair of Senegal Lapwings shook the rain off and started foraging.

Senegal Lapwing



Then a pair of noisy Crowned Lapwings entertained us with their antics. Off to the side, a Northern Wheatear looked for insects becoming active after the rain. And then a lovely pair of Temminck's Coursers dipped and ambled across a shortgrass area.

Temminck's Courser


Then just downhill at a stream crossing, we had a cooperative Wood Sandpiper, a Marsh Sandpiper and a Pied Wagtail.

Wood Sandpiper


Pied Wagtail


Then we had a new species for the trip - a beautiful Rosy-breasted Longclaw that Wilson spotted and called. Then a pair of Common Ostrich paraded past. Then Wilson called out "Sharpe's Starling". Another new bird for the trip and further confirmation that Wilson knows his birds.

Then we had mother and baby Topi, mother and young Waterbuck, and some Eland. What an incredible drive from the airstrip to camp! People are right - the Mara delivers!

Mother and baby Topi


Waterbuck mother and calf


Female Common Eland


I was feeling quite satisfied as we pulled into Encounter Mara camp and met one of the managers named Andrew. We did the juice and towels thing and went to the lounge tent for a safety briefing while our luggage was taken to the tent. Just outside the mess tent, Andrew showed us an active nest of a Paradise Flycatcher! It looks a lot like a big Hummingbird nest - or a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - acup-shaped nest made of flakes of lichen stuck together with spiderwebs. Another friendly manager named Sammy gave us the introduction and safety briefing and asked us about our choices for lunch and dinner as well as the evening game drive.

Lunch was a delicious affair; we ate with some friendly Dutch people that we heard beforehand were Asilia employees who were passing through. I had a nice conversation with a gentleman next to me named Joeron, who it turned out is the CEO of Asilia. After asking each other about our homelands, we chatted about safaris and conservation, and Joeron mentioned how close a partnership Encounter Mara and its sister Naboisho Camp have with the Koyaki Guiding School. I said yes that we were happy to have David working with us and that we would be making a donation to Koyaki. Little did I know that I would be making two donations...

After lunch, Tommy retired for a rest and I headed for the photo hide down by the salt lick. I had heard about the famous photo hide at Encounter Mara and could not wait to check it out.

Green season view from the Encounter Mara photo hide


Left view from the hide


I spent the next couple of hours in the hide reveling in the gorgeous scenery and bird activity. White-headed Saw-wings were coming down to pick grass for nesting material. They were swooping down to the shelf to the left of the hide, just below the overhang. I tried some photos but they were too close and moving to quickly. Cinnamon-breasted Rock Buntings foraged for seeds on the earthen shelf, and Yellow-rumped Seedeaters, Red-billed Firefinch, Purple Grenadier and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu ate seeds atop mature grasses. I could see several Jackson's Widowbirds and Red-collared Widowbirds bouncing up and down out of the tall grass in their territorial displays. There was also a Pin-tailed Whydah showing off its finery.

Red-collared Widowbird display flight


Eventually the time came to leave the hide and go for n afternoon game drive. Tommy was still recovering from the bumpy journey, and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon around camp. So Wilson, David and I bundled into a vehicle - turned out that Tommy and I were the only guests in camp that night. David and I had discussed our strategy, which was to focus the route on desirable safari animals and let the birds kind of work themselves out. David suggested starting the drive with a trip to a Hyena den to see if we could spot a baby Hyena with enough light for photography. I replied that sounded great to me.

On the way to the hyena den we came across a lone Bull Elephant. He was very relaxed and strolling unhurriedly along.

Bull Elephant having a relaxed stroll in Mara Naboisho


Then we came across a White-bellied Bustard, then some Tommies and Waterbuck.

White-bellied Bustard in tall grass



Thomson's Gazelle




Then a small muddy wet area held a Three-banded Plover.


Next we came upon a lone male Impala and his enormous harem.



Big Boss Impala




Soon we came upon a lone male Lion - first at rest and then he got up and walked a short distance.




We had some nice birds on the drive to the den, including Brown-chested Snake-Eagle and Hildebrant's Starling.

Then we began approaching the Hyena Den. It was located under some bushes on the edge of a plateau, beside what Wilson said were the headwaters of the Talek River. A little earlier, Wilson had stressed the need for silence and no fast movements near the den. Quite right! At first we only saw a single adult Spotted Hyena near the entrance, but then a Hyena cub appeared. It was very young and cute! At first it posed a bit for a couple of portraits, then it scampered back and forth. It ended up straying too far from the den, so the adult Spotted Hyena grasped the cub and carried it back to the den. Chastised, the cub went underground a bit, and then came back out and resumed cautious play. What a privilege to witness!

Hyena cub portrait



Hyena cub portrait 2


Hyena cub scampering


Hyena carrying cub back to den


I was buzzing with excitement after the Hyena cub encounter. Wilson said he knew a good Lion spot near a good place for sundowners and I readily agreed. On the way, we saw a family of Bat-eared Foxes that did not give good photo opportunities. At the Lion spot, we found four Lions dozing and lounging about. A young male and an adult female perked up a few times at the approach of some Black-backed Jackals.



After enjoying the Lions a bit more, we headed for sundowners. It was in a wonderful location - Ol Masiligi, a vast plain of closely cropped grass that was packed with game. Though the light was fading, it was a fantastic spectacle that extended to the horizon.

Back at camp, I had time for a shower before fireside nibbles and a wonderful dinner. Tommy and I had a very nice visit with Mariana, another manager who was in camp. We were very fortunate to have a rare alignment of all three Encounter Mara managers in camp for our stay - Sammy, Andrew and Mariana. Mariana told us about the Kenyan coast, where she is from. One of our first questions was "how big are the tides?" Big as it happens - three meters. After the delightful dinner, we were escorted back to our tent by an Askari. Dropping off to sleep, we could hear distant Lions roaring and closer Hyenas giggling.

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Awesome Hyena sighting with the cubs! And lots of great birds.


Great to know that Encounter Mara has a hide--I didn't know this, we will be staying there next September. I don't think I saw a hide mentioned anywhere in their literature. Is it a real hide set up for photography, or more of a simple blind?

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~ @@offshorebirder


Monster-Impressive Photography in the most recently uploaded set!

Photo after photo sets a high standard which inspires me to do better.

Your widowbird in flight, the bustard in tall grass, the baby hyena, the impala harem, and the walking lion — all SUPERB!

This trip report keeps getting better and better. The relevant detail you include is a great resource for those planning safaris in Kenya.

Very glad that Tommy's wife's Costa Rica issues worked out.

Tom K.

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Awesome Hyena sighting with the cubs! And lots of great birds.


Great to know that Encounter Mara has a hide--I didn't know this, we will be staying there next September. I don't think I saw a hide mentioned anywhere in their literature. Is it a real hide set up for photography, or more of a simple blind?


@@janzin - at least in the off season, it is more a simple blind. But it has nice shelves for beanbags and with a tripod it is superb. Edited by offshorebirder
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Those cut-throat finches look awesome - well captured in your images .......... Also, amongst all the big game, you've captured the bird life exceptionally - congrats!!!

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Love your bee-eaters.

The vulturine guinea fowl chick steals the show, though. What unexpectedly pretty plumage, especially the striped head.

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* I apologize for how long it has taken to get this latest installment posted. Processing the images from each day of the Safari is taking longer and longer, as the volume of photos shot each day increases. On my non-travel days in the Mara, I was averaging around 2,500 photos per day...


Monday January 18, 2016.


I woke just after midnight and it was raining. Then I woke at 5am and it was still raining. On one hand, I was thrilled at having finally gotten a decent night's sleep. On the other, I was dreading a rainy morning in terms of photography challenges. But the rain ended just before the 5:30 "Jambo" delivery of coffee and biscuits. The clouds were clearing by 6:30 as we approached the vehicle, and later on it was partly cloudy with blue skies showing by 7 o'clock. Tommy and I had expected to share a vehicle with the other guests, but Encounter Mara management was kind enough to give both our small parties different vehicles. Very nice of them!


I was elated at the positive change in the weather, elated at the performance thus far of my new camera and lens, and elated to be in the hands of a good Maasai guide and spotter at dawn in the Mara. It was like living a dream and the only downside was a vague "fleeting" feel to it all. I felt a subtle sense of responsibility to stay sharp and not miss anything or any photo opportunities. I made a mental note to keep checking and updating my camera settings in response to changes in conditions, habitat, etc.


In discussing our plan for the morning with Wilson, we decided to focus on finding Leopard or Cheetah, followed by Lions and general "neat wildlife or bird activity". As we approached enough light for good photography, a damp Spotted Hyena and a bedraggled male Black-bellied Bustard were each foraging in their own manner.





Then we came upon a larger group of Hyenas and some attending Black-backed Jackals. They were finishing off the meager remnants of a carcass. One of the Hyenas ran off with the horns - presumably for the tiny bits of bone still attached.





Then near a small water hole fringed by rushes, we saw a pair of Wattled Lapwings - a much-anticipated new shorebird species for the trip. They are such striking shorebirds!


Wattled Lapwing



Then as we crossed an open plain area (full of game) on the way to a productive lugga, we came upon a family group of Bat-eared Foxes at their den. The three young stayed in the entrance holes and the two parents sat scanning their surroundings not far away. Eventually one of the parents stretched, got up and took the young into the burrow.





Not long afterwards we came across another lone Hyena. Spotted Hyenas certainly were in evidence that day in that part of Mara Naboisho.




As we approached a well-vegetated lugga named "Four Wheel Drive Lugga", we saw an obliging Striped Kingfisher perched on a dead limb.




Then we came upon two vehicles that were lined up photographing something down in the Lugga. Just as Wilson said "there are Lion cubs down there" we barely heard a cub make a single mewing call. The vehicles were lined up at a gap in the vegetation so their guests could get partly-obscured looks and photos of the cubs. The setup was not such that we could get looks ourselves, and we certainly did not want to push things. We got a brief look at the mother lion as she headed off down the lugga - we presumed to hunt. Then we sat waiting for 15 minutes while having some good birding. Wilson got on the radio and checked if the other guides planned moving soon. The reply came back negative. So we decided to go look for Cheetah at a nearby spot and try the cubs again on our way back to camp.


We backed up, turned around and crossed the lugga several hundred meters down from the cub sighting. The road briefly led back along the opposite side of the lugga where we had just driven. Just then Wilson spotted the mother lion headed back towards the hiding place. He perked up and said "we need to stop here - something is happening". He backed up the vehicle a few meters towards a gap in the foliage.


"Something is happening - oh boy", I thought. I focused the camera down the lugga and checked my settings. We were fairly close and I wanted a wide-angle view of the mother lion in the surroundings at first, so I had 100 mm focal length (160 on a crop camera), 640 ISO, f/5 aperature - giving a 1/400 second exposure time. I hoped she moved slowly at that shutter speed but I dreaded the thought of going up another ISO notch. Just then, the mother Lion appeared on the slope of the lugga with one of the cubs in her mouth! She was moving the cubs to a new den site! The cubs were TINY. I started to rip some photos.





Then the mother lion carried the first cub several hundred yards down the opposite bank of the lugga, into thicker cover that was also on higher ground. But she carried the first cub in a decidedly nonstandard manner before hiding it away in the new location.






After moving the first cub, she returned to the original hiding place to retrieve another. As she brought the second one into view, Wilson whispered excitedly "these cubs are so new - they were just born - see how their eyes are not open yet?" "Wow", I thought, "what a privilege to witness!"


The mother lion moved uphill and left along the other side of the lugga, eventually passing opposite us. We had a much better view of the action than the two vehicles who had stayed put at the original sighting location. Bit of divine justice in there somewhere...


I increased the zoom a bit, and the slightly increased light of the lion's surroundings opposite us had improved the exposure time to 1/800 second. Resting camera and lens on a beanbag, I ripped another couple of bursts through gaps in the foliage while marveling at our good fortune. By the way, I really appreciate the Canon 7dmkII's 10 frames per second versus a maximum 7 for the 7DmkI.




Sniffing and looking around constantly, the mother lion went back, descended to the original hiding place, and picked up a third cub. Then she walked up and out of the lugga, paraded past us on the opposite bank cub in mouth, and went down and into the new den site out of view.






"Getting good pictures?" Wilson asked in a gleeful whisper. "Need to move vehicle"? I could tell how proud he was to have outdone the other parties and I recognized his skill and experience in how quickly and smoothly he took advantage of the opportunity as it presented itself. David was also beaming at our good fortune. "Great pictures, thanks - outstanding - vehicle is perfect - no need to move" I whispered back, in danger of babbling outright. Tommy was also shooting with his hybrid camera - "this is amazing" he quietly gushed.


As I ripped another burst of photos, Wilson said quietly "see how she is carrying each cub differently? First one by the head, second one around the middle, this one around the middle facing us? She is an inexperienced mother - this is probably her first litter" Wilson said. I later learned through Encounter Mara management that the Lioness' name was Willow and this was indeed her first litter of cubs. And that sightings of them dried up after ours that special morning.


"That thing sounds like a machine gun" Tommy noted in reference to my camera. "Burn 'em if you got 'em" was my whimsical reply. We waited for the mother to go back for another cub, but after a while it seemed that three was the final total. We decided to press on, still glowing from the marvelous encounter.


"We do breakfast now?" David inquired. Yes thanks, we replied. We drove a short distance (stopping to photograph a Rock Hyrax) to a game-filled plain within sight of Koiyaki Guiding School up on a ridge. A sizable mixed herd of Plains Zebra and Eland watched us as we approached the breakfast site (which also seemed like a good sundowner location).


Rock Hyrax



Part of a large herd of Eland



Plains Zebra



Koiyaki Guiding School



At the breakfast stop, Tommy and I stretched our legs while Wilson and David got things set up. The views were spectacular.






Breakfast was a wonderful affair - Encounter Mara won the "best packed breakfast" prize (with a close second place going to Offbeat Mara). Encounter Mara's packed breakfast included delicious little quiches, muffins, very good bread, various fruits, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, toast and marmalade, muesli, crepes, and more. Tommy and I ate more than normal out of deference to the chef and staff for their efforts - and because it was so good!


Driving away from the breakfast spot, we enjoyed Topis, Zebras, Thomson's Gazelle, Eland, and some vultures perched in a tree. Just then the vultures began taking flight - we saw both White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures in the mix. Then we came upon a pair of Grey-crowned Cranes foraging close at hand. Their plumage and eye color is arresting!


Grey-crowned Crane



Nearing the top of a grassy rise, we saw a Secretarybird foraging. As we got close, it started doing a "crazy dance" in pursuit of prey - a grasshopper of some kind.


Secretarybird foraging



Secretarybird crazy dance



Secretarybird in pursuit of a grasshopper



Crossing the rise, we came upon a Common Warthog preparing to bathe in a small puddle.



Then Wilson spotted a distant kettle of vultures - some of which were descending to the ground. We drove that way to investigate. Tommy and I were both eager to spend time with African vulture species, which Wilson seemed glad to hear. Reaching the scene, we saw the carcass of a male Impala. It was fresh from the night before, but very little meat was left. Three Black-backed Jackals gnawed at the bones while a sizeable group of vultures waited in the wings. There were African White-backed Vultures, Ruppell's Griffon Vulture, and Lappet-faced Vultures - engaged in a combination of sleeping, loafing and occasionally sorting out the pecking order. One White-backed Vulture kept carrying a leafy branch around, waving it back and forth. Some kind of courtship display? Later in the encounter, a pair of White-backed Vultures began copulating on a low tree branch.


Black-backed Jackal feeding on Impala carcass




Committee of Vultures



White-backed Vulture



Lappet-faced Vulture




Immature Ruppell's Griffon Vulture asserting dominance over a White-backed Vulture



White-backed Vulture showing off a leafy branch



White-backed Vultures copulating



After a while, the jackals seemed to give up and depart. But the sight of the vultures moving in was too much for one of the jackals, who rushed back and snapped at the vultures, causing them to back off temporarily.




But then the jackals left and the vultures began finishing off the carrion. We made our way over to Payie Plain, a vast shortgrass plain full of game near the edge of Naboisho conservancy. We saw some distant hills that Wilson said had been given to the conservancy to help protect the Loita Wildebeest migration. Good to know, we replied.


Making our way back to camp, we spotted Willow the lion near Four Wheel Drive Lugga. She seemed to be finishing up a check around the area, then moved off to hunt. We wished her the best and continued on. Then Wilson stopped suddenly beside a large tree with a thick, dark vine tangle in the center. He pointed out a Greater Galago curled up in the middle of the dark vine tangle. Using the spotting scope, we were able to discern some basic details but it was too dark in there for photography. But we were very excited at our first bushbaby sighting!


As we pulled into camp, a Rufous-naped Lark sang and advertised its territory.




Andrew Conway joined us for lunch and we had a very enjoyable and informative conversation about Kenya, the USA, birding, global and Kenyan wildlife conservation, people we knew in common, and more. After lunch, I set up my laptop on a table at the edge of the mess tent and made backup copies of the morning's now-sacred photos to my portable hard disk. I also worked on transcribing my field notes from the morning into a more detailed journal entry. And I kept taking breaks to look out on a herd of Elephants moving along a ridge, as well as some nice birds that kept stopping by.


At one point, a new couple arrived who were beginning their stay - they were from the USA, on their honeymoon to Kenya, where the young lady had worked for an NGO a few years previously. They were very nice - currently living in Kentucky; he was originally from Louisiana.


Before I knew it, tea time and afternoon game drive time had arrived. Wilson suggested a stop by a Hippo pool to begin with, and suggested trying the Hyena den closer to dark. We agreed enthusiastically since Tommy had missed the baby Hyena sighting the previous evening.


At the Hippo pool, there was some drama afoot. Two young males followed what appeared to be a female around and around, jockying for position alonside her. At times, their pursuit erupted into violence with great splashing, slashing and even leaping about. The female occasionally put on bursts of speed as she circled and moved back and forth. At this, the males began "porpoising" as they undulated through the water at top speed in pursuit.


Male Hippos facing off:



Here is one particularly violent episode as one Hippo leaps clear of the water:





After the Hippo Pool, we started winding our way along upper tributaries of the Talek River. We had some nice Giraffe sightings, as well as Elephants, two large Impala herds (one harem and one bachelor herd), plenty of Thomson's Gazelle and a small herd of Wildebeest.


Then we saw a very large Nile Crocodile across one of the streams feeding into the Talek River.




We got quiet and still on our approach to the Spotted Hyena den. Though we sat and waited patiently and quietly, no activity was forthcoming. No adults around and no young stirred. Oh well, we thought - can't win them all. Rather than wait until almost dark, we continued on and birded our way towards Ol Masiligi plain. We did very well, ending a string of good sightings with a cooperative pair of Kori Bustards I spotted from about a mile away. One gave good photo opportunities once we drove closer.


Kori Bustard



As we reached Ol Masiligi, Tommy and I marveled at all the game. In addition to hundreds of grazing animals scattered about, a trio of Elephants with a very young calf browsed in some trees at the edge of the scene. It was very serene and wonderfully relaxing to watch. We exited the vehicle and spent a while scoping distant game, admiring soaring birds, and watching smaller birds foraging on the ground. Before we knew it, Wilson was suggesting sundowners where we were. My how the time flies when you are having fun!


Impalas and Wildebeest in fading light



As we drove back to Encounter Mara, Tommy and I marveled at a fabulous day in the field. We will forever be grateful to Wilson, David, the Encounter Mara + Asilia team, and the Maasai and others behind Mara Naboisho conservancy!


Dinner was outstanding, as was the illuminating conversation we had with Sammy. Among other things, he told us about the founding of Mara Naboisho conservancy, and the history of Encounter Mara camp. We were sad to be leaving the next day, but I will certainly be back!


Edited by offshorebirder
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@@offshorebirder Beautiful photos - a unique sighting of the lioness really well recorded.

Edited by pomkiwi
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Wow, wow, and wow again!!! That would be one wow per baby. What a fantastic sighting with the lioness and her cubs. You got great shots as well.


Goes to show that sometimes it pays to be polite and not pushy. Your plan B turned into an A+++

Edited by mapumbo
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Love those hippos and the secretary bird in after-breakfast part of the last post - great catch with the grasshopper (for you, not the bird). And of course some really impressive stuff before breakfast,

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"I was averaging around 2,500 photos per day..." it looks like the 10 fps was used to max! And to great results!

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What a special sighting of these adorabla cubs - precious moments! And lots of other great stuff too, a wonderful day for you.

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~ @@offshorebirder


You've exhausted the supply of superlatives.

Both your pitch-perfect commentary and the striking photography maintain a high level of interest.

Thank you for the considerable effort to prepare and upload such a thrilling trip report.

Tom K.

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Sorry, I'm having to take a break in post #111 and catch my breath at the end of that morning drive. A family of bat-eared foxes, the new mother lion relocating her newborn cubs, the beautiful grey-crowned crane, the secretary bird dancing, the great shots of the jackal on the carcass. What a morning!


Whew. Okay, back to your post and the afternoon excursion.

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How wonderfully it worked out for you with the lion cubs! And those bat eared foxes, adorable!

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The lion with cubs is amazing - they are so small. I love the hyena and babies, and the Bat-eared fox. Great photos of the Secretary Bird

What a wonderful day.

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Only up to the end of page #5 but there's already been an incredible number of cracking birds in this thread.

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I have just been through the lion cub photos again. What I really like, is that although you are using 10 f.p.s (I presume!) you select from the many pictures you must have taken to give us a beautifully thought through sequence that tells the story superbly. I really admire that. And your enthusiasm for the sighting really shines through.

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Thanks very much for the kind words @@Geoff, @@TonyQ, @@pomkiwi, @@mapumbo, @@pault, @@michael-ibk, @@Tom Kellie, @@Alexander33, and @@Patty.


@@Geoff - that is high praise coming from you - much obliged.


@@pault - "really impressive stuff before breakfast" should be a slogan for Mara Naboisho!


@@TonyQ - I tried to provide a representative sample of the mother + cub photos. As you say, there were a lot of images to sort through, many of which were highly similar to each other. I am sure in some cases I did not pick the best/sharpest image - I mainly concentrated on providing images of each cub, showing the mother going down into and coming out of the first den, showing as much of the mother Lion as possible through gaps in the foliage, etc. As I have said previously, this trip report is almost as much for me as for Safaritalkers - I want something that will last for years that I can look back on and use to spark detailed memories. I do not have a blog but Safaritalk can be a useful substitute.


@@mapumbo - yes, the older I get the more I think there may something to the notion of karma...


@@Alexander33 - your post made me laugh; I didn't mean to cause overload for anyone :-)

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Tuesday January 19, 2016

Another good nights' sleep! We rose early and got an early start for our game drive. The plan was to do a game drive until 9am, then come back and eat breakfast in camp. At 10am a vehicle from Offbeat Mara was scheduled to pick us up for a ground transfer to Offbeat Mara in Mara North Conservancy. My thinking had been to forego another bush flight and have a game drive / transfer from the Naboisho conservancy, across the Olare Motorogi conservancy, into Mara North. I was not sure how productive the route would be in terms of wildlife sightings, but I wanted to see a big swath of the conservancies from the ground and Tommy did too.

Not long after setting out from camp, the misty conditions turned into light rain. We headed for a productive area for Cheetah and then we planned to search some wooded ridges for Leopard. On the way, we saw a Spotted Hyena chasing a Topi. Then suddenly the Topi decided enough was enough, and it turned around and started chasing the Hyena. Who knows what sparks such decisions?

As we reached an open plain area, we saw a lot of game - some of which were intently looking in the same direction. There were Zebras, Topis, Wildebeest, Coke's Hartebeest, many Zebras, Impala and Thomson's Gazelle. Also present were 3 Spotted Hyenas and 3 Jackals. Wilson said there was a pair of Lions ahead and just afterwards they stood up. Once again I was amazed at what sharp eyes Maasai have. Not long after they stood up, the female Lion started flirting with the male and they began copulating soon thereafter.

Zebras watching a pair of Lions



Lion pair


Lions copulating


Then the lions flopped down and we decided to move on. We quickly came upon a partially-eated Thomson's Gazelle carcass. Wilson said it must be a Cheetah kill - Lions would not leave it unfinished like that. Wilson's theory was that a Cheetah made the kill, was able to eat some of the carcass, but had gotten frightened at the Lions close by and abandoned the kill.


So we knew a Cheetah was in the area and began a search pattern. Long story short - though we saw some neat things, the Cheetah eluded us. We did spend some quality time with a Zebra foal and its mother.

Zebra foal



Then we moved along and began searching for Leopard in a likely area. Over the next hour we had some nice bird encounters - African Hoopoe, Wattled + Senegal + Crowned Lapwings, Temmick's Coursers, African Paradise-Flycatcher and more. But no Leopard unfortunately. Eventually the time came to work our way back to camp. Just before we pulled into camp, the rain ended. Typical.

As we arrived at camp, we thanked Wilson and David profusely and gave them generous tips - bordering on too generous as had been our custom throughout the trip.

At breakfast, I also filled out a donation form and put money in an envelope for the Koiyaki Guiding School. We enjoyed having a sit-down breakfast in camp and Mariana again provided good conversation and companionship. I also picked up a bush shirt with Encounter Mara's logo on the pocket. It's a superior bush shirt by the way - very good design and quality. I had wanted a ballcap but all they had left were white ones after the holiday season. Next time for sure.

Then our ride from Offbeat Mara arrived. We met Kapeen (pronounced Kap-en) and Josphat and bid farewell to the Encounter Mara team. I was glad to see Kapeen - remembering him from @@Game Warden and @@Safaridude's Excellent Adventure. Sammy, Andrew and Marian all came to see us off - wonderful hosts to the end.

We got underway and saw some good shorebirds as we crossed a couple of watercourses. Then we reached an open plain with game scattered about. Suddenly Kapeen let forth an excited string of Maa at Josphat (I assume Maa since it did not sound like Swahili). Josphat stopped the vehicle instantly and said "get your camera ready, here comes a Hyena chasing a baby Gazelle."

I did a quick settings check and then saw a Hyena tailed by a couple of Black-backed Jackals in hot pursuit of a baby Thomson's Gazelle. The mother Gazelle was running beside her offspring, encouraging it to run for its life. At first, the gazelles increased the distance between themselves and their pursuers. It seemed the Hyena had just jumped the baby gazelle at close range and as they pulled even with us, the gazelles had increased the distance.

I have included timestamps above each photo to give an idea of how fast everything moved.

10:17:49 am


10:17:51 am




But after passing us, the baby gazelle's stamina started to wane. The pursuers were clearly gaining on it. The mother gazelle fell back a little and tried to run interference - to distract, obscure or do whatever it took to let her offspring escape or get far enough away to hide again.

10:18:09 am


10:18:10 am


But the Hyena and jackals were inexorably gaining. Things looked very grim for the baby gazelle. There seemed to be no way it could escape.

One of the jackals pulled ahead of the Hyena and was getting very close to the gazelles. So close that the mother had to veer off - the Jackal was now between the baby and her. She seemed to decide to go distract the Hyena which was still farther away.

* But then something amazing happened. I have not heard of the like before - if knowledgeable Safaritalkers could comment on how rare or unusual such behavior is, I would appreciate it.

Suddenly a Zebra Stallion said "not on my watch" and raced in between the baby gazelle and its pursuers, hooves flashing at the closest jackal. A muted cheer went up from our vehicle.


Some other Zebras helped press the attack - including a mother and her foal. That was very surprising.



Meanwhile, the mother gazelle had successfully distracted the Hyena and it was far away to the right of the action. It had obviously lost track of the baby gazelle.



The chase had gotten somewhat distant by then, and we scanned the scene with our binoculars. The Hyena gave up and started moving off. One of the jackals did likewise. The other jackal had obviously lost track of the young gazelle. It thought about trying to get around the angry Zebras and resuming a search for the tired baby gazelle. But the Zebras stood firm and the jackal gave up and left. Eventually I had a distant, heart-melting view of the mother being reunited with the baby.

* This episode may be my most cherished experience of the entire Safari. We saw some amazing things, some of which I will always remember. But the inter-species altruism displayed by the Zebra stallion and its herd-mates takes the prize I think. Even the experienced Maasai guides said they had never seen anything like that.

We thanked Kapeen and Josphat profusely and continued on our way. A light rain started again and we rolled down the canvas sides of the vehicle. The rains quit in Olare Motorogi and we got some good game viewing on the way to Mara North. Everyone we passed along the way returned our waves in genuinely friendly fashion. That would not be the case in the rural USA.

A while after crossing into Mara North we stopped in a very scenic spot to stretch our legs, have some refreshment and use the spotting scope on distant targets.



Getting underway again, we saw a pair of Secretarybirds copulating. Then we had another pair just outside Offbeat Mara camp.

Upon arriving at Offbeat Mara, we were greeted by Kyle and Lara the camp managers. They are awesome hosts, very knowledgeable and attentive in all things. Kyle and Lara had just been married a few weeks before and their parents and a set of grandparents (from the U.K.) were in camp for a few days safari. Kyle and Lara's family were wonderful and very helpful and encouraging. I especially liked chatting with Kyle's father Martin - we are kindred spirits on many things and he owns a security surveillance company that handles malls and big customers in Nairobi. I gave him some advice about computer and network security and gave him my contact info for future questions.

Kyle and Lara's family was interested to hear that it was our first Safari. I could tell they enjoyed living vicariously through our experience. They liked hearing about our experiences and impressions from each game drive. It was a blast spending three days in their company - they were one of the best things about our stay at Offbeat Mara.

Lunch was wonderful and we talked with Kyle and Lara about our plans. I mentioned that Ben Mugambi was arriving on a 4pm flight and we might need to pan the game drive around picking him up at the airstrip. Kyle said not to worry, that they had a vehicle needing to be at the airstrip anyway and that they could pick Ben up and deliver him to our game drive in progress. Excellent!

Long story short - we had a nice, though very cloudy game drive. Great birding, looked around likely habitat where a Leopard had been seen earlier in the day but to no avail. Very enjoyable game drive though without big cats. Not to worry I said, this was likely one of those "dues-paying" afternoons and that it would probably pay off handsomely tomorrow. I did not suspect how right I was!

I was impressed at the good chemistry between Josphat and Ben. Each was very strong all-around and also had their particular strengths and expertise in various areas. Each gave the other pointers in their areas of expertise in non-condescending fashion. Having two such high-powered radar units in the vehicle meant not much escaped our notice!

Back at camp, we had a delightful dinner. Kyle and Ben swapped safari tales and discussed whom they knew in common (pretty much everyone on the Kenyan safari circuit). We heard adventure-filled stories about things like the Rhino Charge competition and tales about places Kyle and Ben had worked in the past. And characters they had known along the way :-)

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In all our multiple safaris in Africa we have yet to see a successful predator hunt. Your non-kill action with the zebra coming to the rescue would fill in nicely as a suitable substitute. Getting the shots to document, are definitely icing on the cake.


Actually, we live in the rural Midwest USA and waving when meeting vehicle occupants is still the norm.

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~ @@offshorebirder


That hunt is a sequence like no other.

Thank you for the date stamped photos and commentary.

Your description of Offbeat Mara is especially pleasing.

Tom K.

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