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Spectacular photography, so many beautiful photographs! I love the lions in the tall grass and, of course, those of the mother lion moving her babies.


I enjoyed the story of the zebras saving the life on one little fawn. Such a special memory for you!


The whole trip report as been simply wonderful. Thanks for sharing it.

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Just incredible sighting! The way to the Nature is a mysterious one, and being a witness of one such miracles is priceless.

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Goodness Gracious me! Jane and I have just read your Hyena /gazelle/Zebra sequence with our hearts in our mouths-it was exciting enough for us in our living room-what an experience for you actually being there-and having the skill to capture some fine shots-I love the first one with the saliva dripping from the hyena and the jackals in close pursuit behind!

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Superhero zebra! What amazing behaviour, and so well captured by you with your photos and your words. Extraordinary.

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An amazing sighting that any of us would be lucky to see. I have only ever seen 1 successful hunt and I would take this any day over that. I liked your comment of the muted cheer. We had a sighting with multiple cars cheering once which is the only time I've ever had that happen. You've really had a great safari.

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@@offshorebirder Incredible sighting and phot sequence with lovely storytelling. One of the episodes that keeps one returning for 'just one more' safari!

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The entire gazelle/jackal/hyena episode, from your edge-of-the-seats narrative to the superb action shots that you were able to capture, is simply extraordinary. The zebra's stepping in to run interference in the end was one of the most unexpected twists I've heard of. Thank you so much for sharing such an unforgettable experience.

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Your machine gun camera made me laugh.

Gorgeous landscapes on the last page, too.


I'm struck by how small the jackal(s) looks in comparison to the vultures and impala carcass.


Really interesting zebra behavior, hopefully some members can shed light on it.

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-- Omissions from the January 19 report - Steppe Buzzard and African Quail-Finch (great looks).

* Due to the volume of great sightings and photos, I am going to post two installments for our activities on January 20. The second installment's photos and videos may cause "Cheetah overload" for some people... Of all the days on our safari, January 20 may stand out as the best.

Wednesday January 20, 2016. Morning activity.

I woke to a leopard coughing not far away around 5:30am. What a thrill to hear! Coffee and biscuits were delivered with a "Jambo" greeting at 6:00 and we boarded the vehicle at 6:30am under cloudy skies. Getting underway, we drove through a herd of Topi, Impala and Zebra on the way out of camp.

Then we nosed around various thickets near the river in search of Leopard. No luck there so we moved on to a grassy plain in search of Lion or Cheetah. Ben casually pointed to a figure in some tall grass to the right and commented on the Bat-eared Fox. Then he sat up straight and corrected himself in an excited tone "No - it's an Aardwolf!"

Indeed it was! The Aardwolf looked a bit nervous but as we sat still and quiet for a moment, it got more comfortable and began walking slowly back and forth in front of us. The light was poor and the grass was tall but I managed a couple of decent photos in between long looks through my binoculars. We had the Aardwolf in sight for a little over 9 minutes.

Aardwolf 1


Aardwolf 2


Then the Aardwolf pulled a disappearing act and we got underway again. But we stopped almost right away, to admire a new bird species for the trip - a Plain-backed Pipit.

Plain-backed Pipit


Then we had another new species - Violet-backed Starlings. They are striking birds with their purplish glossy sheen. Not long after that, we came upon a pair of Secretarybirds copulating - it was becoming a daily sight in Mara North. As we continued searching for big cats, we passed a Topi lek - a very crowded one as it happened. Nearby were Plains Zebras, Giraffes, Impala and Thomson's Gazelles. Some Spotted Hyenas and Black-backed Jackals were also padding around in the background.

Before long we came upon a handsome male Black-bellied Bustard. Initially he was walking slowly in front of us.



Then he paused, and began puffing up his throat to vocalize


Then he let forth with a "croak-pop" territorial vocalization. Very exciting stuff.


On our way to a breakfast spot, we stopped to admire a cooperative Topi. Topi can be a little hard to capture well - light always seems bad or maybe it's their dark and subtle coloration.

Topi frisking


The grass grew taller and denser as we began approaching a wet depression not far downhill from Elephant Pepper Camp. As we passed an overgrown tire track leading off to the right, Ben patted Josphat on the shoulder and quietly asked him to back up. Ben said "there's a crake or something" just as I saw a small gray/tan shape walking down the right tire track. Josphat did a great job quietly reversing and then shutting the vehicle down.

The crake kept passing in and out of sight as Ben strained to see pertinent details. I "shot first and asked questions later." Autofocus was out of the question with all the tall grass so I did my best to bracket each shot with slight focal adjustments to the left and right of where I thought was the optimum focal point. The crake paused a couple of times in almost-clear patches and allowed a decent photo or two.


** It turned out to be an African Crake, a HIGHLY sought-after species by both Kenyan birders and visitors from afar. Ben said that in all his years of guiding and leading bird tours, that he had only seen African Crake three or four times! Wow. I knew it was a "Rara avis" but I did not know how rare! And we got far better views than the fleeting and partially obscured looks that are almost always the case with sightings of this species.

Eventually the Crake moved off and we shook hands and back-slapped over the exciting find. I had not expected to see an African Crake in my wildest dreams about potential species.

A few minutes later, we had a Coqui Francolin stalking through the grass and a Yellow-throated Longclaw advertising his territory.

Coqui Francolin


Then we came upon a wonderful little muddy + grassy wetland not far downhill in front of Elephant Pepper Camp. There were a pair of Grey-crowned Cranes, African Snipe, Three-banded Plover, Wattled Plover and Marsh Sandpiper. I relished watching the shorebirds feeding and the Cranes foraging and preening. Then off to the side in a smaller mud puddle, we saw a Wood Sandpiper resting and foraging.

Wood Sandpiper


Eventually we tore ourselves away from the shorebird gathering and made for a hilltop shortgrass area for breakfast. The view was superb and the food was very good as well. I set up the scope and scanned the area between bites, admiring Elephants, Common Warthog, Plains Zebras, Wildebeest and a large male Giraffe and his Yellow-billed Oxpecker attendants.



Yellow-billed Oxpecker


As we packed up after breakfast, Josphat got some news about Lions. The Acacia Pride was next to Mara North airstrip. So we headed off to see them. Upon arriving, we saw a young male being groomed by an adult female. First washing then 'fleaing' - chewing his fur with her teeth.



Most of the pride had retreated into cover beneath some croton bushes. But a few were still out in the open and clearly visible.


There were 11 lions total - an adult male, a young male, and nine females. As we pulled away from the Lion sighting to continue the game drive, another vehicle was approaching. It contained a family, and instead of surveying her surroundings one of the girls had her face buried in a smartphone. Sad, we commented.

As we passed some rocks, we saw a Mwanza Agama Lizard.



It was immediately followed by a Grey-headed Woodpecker and some Yellow-fronted Canaries. Then Ben asked Josphat to stop and pointed out a Blue-headed Tree Agama - a beautiful and venomous lizard.



On the way back to camp for lunch, we enjoyed watching some Common Dwarf Mongoose in tall grass, as well as Wood Sandpiper and Wattled Lapwings.


Lunch was a delicious affair and I had the best "veggie burgers" I have ever tasted. They were made in camp and were exceptional. The conversation was grand as well - we really enjoyed Kyle and Lara's families and listening to Ben and Kyle swapping more safari stories. Partway though lunch, the conversation turned to snakes - Kyle is a snake wrangler who rescues snakes from human habitation around Nairobi. I commented that I had not yet seen any snakes on this visit to Kenya and that doubtless the rainy and cloudy weather was not helping. At this, Kyle hopped up, walked over to a bush off the corner of the dining tent and pointed out a small green snake twined around a small limb. I neglected to write down the name but I think it was a Green Bush Snake (Philothamnus hoplogaster).



Afternoon activities (and Cheetah overload) coming soon.

Edited by offshorebirder
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~ @@offshorebirder


Which is more remarkable?

The exceptional nature of your sightings?


The superb quality of your photography?

Any one of them would be the highlight of a safari for me, yet you saw and photographed all of them.

Both you and @@bettel have considerately alluded to an unknown syndrome called “cheetah overload”.

There is such a condition?

There's never enough quality images of cheetahs in their natural habitat.

Bring on the cheetah images!

Tom K.

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Very lucky with the Aardwolf! That first picture of the Black-Bellied Bustard is wonderful.

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I don't think I've ever said this before but great lizard shots and fantastic giraffe, all good shots as stated above though.

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An Aardwolf - what a thrill. But I have also enjoyed how excited you are about the African Crake. I love your enthusiasm.

I didn't know Agamas could be venemous. And a snake with lunch!

I look forward to the cheetah overload.

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Thanks for the high praise @@Tom Kellie, though I fear I fail to live up to your superlatives...


Thanks also for the kind words @@dlo and @@Marks. The Aardwolf was indeed exciting!


@@TonyQ - you are so kind with your continuing encouragement. As you know, these trip reports require a lot of time and effort and its comments like yours that keep me going through to the end. Cheetah overload coming up!

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Wednesday January 20, 2016 - afternoon + evening activity


(there are three Cheetah videos at the end of this post for you Cheetah fans, so be sure to read through to the end - especially @@madaboutcheetah and @@bettel )

Ben and I were keen to do some birding in the riverine forest around camp and Ben had consulted with Kyle and Josphat about safety, etc. After lunch, we gathered our optics and photo gear and got cracking. We began by approaching the riverbank behind the mess tent and stalking down into the jungle-like undergrowth. Nothing wakes you up and heightens your senses like a stroll through thick cover in Leopard and Lion country! I was also in full "snake detection mode" - a mindset I was intimately familiar with, having spent part of my formative years roaming woods and swamps in the snakiest bush in South Carolina.

There were some ephemeral game trails that we were able to follow to reduce any noise and motion associated with our passing. I was not surprised at all to see that Ben had superb fieldcraft. Neither of us made a sound as we carefully avoided stepping on twigs, piles of leaves, etc. Whichever of us was in the lead at the time silently pointed to upcoming "noise hazards" and we would take turns scanning the surroundings while the other ducked under branches or vines. All the emphasis on moving silently and on threat detection meant we moved rather slowly but that is part of the game.

I was thrilled at being able to move freely on foot in thick jungle-like habitat in Africa! I had a little fun doing it at Mount Kenya, but not in habitat as thick or with as many potential hazards. I grew up in jungle-like coastal maritime forests and swamp-forests in South Carolina so lush thick cover is my native habitat. But photography was a challenge in the dark, heavily vegetated surroundings. In addition to various common species we had great looks at a Grey Woodpecker and I obtained a few photos.



Eventually we left the riverside forest and began working the trails and camp margins. We hit major paydirt near tents 3 and 4. There was a huge African Olive tree that was loaded with fruit. As we approached it, we saw a Northern Black Flycatcher and Southern Black Flycatcher perched on low branches on opposite sides of the tree. The opportunity to compare these highly similar species was superb! After watching the flycatchers a bit, we decided to move to the far side of the tree, so it was not partially backlit. We began processing the large and varied flock of birds feeding in the tree. Violet-backed Starlings were the most numerous species.


Amid the swarm of more common species, there was also a flock of Brown Parrots and we delighted in watching their antics. Suddenly we noticed a large bird flying low out the corner of our eyes. We turned and saw an African White-backed Vulture flying with a branch (nesting material) in its mouth.


The vulture then landed in a nearby tree and looked around - apparently judging where to place the first branch of its nest. It was a real privilege to see this critically endangered species engaged in nest-building.


Then we walked over to the front of tent #4 (where I was staying) and had a nice Little Bee-eater and an expansive view of game feeding in front of camp. There were Impalas, Plains Zebras, Thomson's Gazelle, Eland, Warthog and Elephant. Before we knew it, the time to begin the afternoon game drive had arrived.

As we pulled out of camp, we passed another Little Bee-eater.


Then we saw an approaching bank of dark clouds. "Some rain coming" Josphat observed. We started the game drive by looking in some likely Leopard areas near camp. No Leopard so we moved on to more open areas to search for Cheetah. We had a nice sighting of a Fawn-coloured Lark - a very "tweedy" bird name to Americans like Tommy and me.

Fawn-coloured Lark



Near the lark, we saw a Northern Wheatear and a short distance away was a Pied Wheatear.


Not long afterwards we came upon a lone elephant with a GPS collar. It was the second collared Elephant we had seen - the first was in Samburu NR.


Just then a light rain started. As we rounded a bend, Josphat called "Cheetah!". Indeed it was. "It's Amani" Josphat said of the heavily pregnant Cheetah. We watched as she stood on a rock with her forelegs to obtain a better view.


Then Amani stepped down and got moving.


She seemed nervous and kept looking around, especially behind her. I wondered out loud what she might be nervous about. "Could be Lions or Leopard or Hyena" Josphat explained.


We first sighted Amani well west of Offbeat Mara, and eventually followed her to well east of Offbeat. As she moved across the plains, nervous Impalas and other grazers kept an eye on her.


Then at a certain point, Amani got very concerned. She stopped and turned to stare fixedly in one direction



Then we saw the source of her concern - a Spotted Hyena that was tailing her.



Amani kept walking, moving very close to Tent #3 at Offbeat and continuing on to the east of camp.


Eventually Amani trotted forward a ways and then had a little lie-down. Lounging around, she seemed to be faking a rest to put the Hyena off her trail.


After a while the Hyena grew bored and drifted off the way it came. At that, Amani hopped up and got moving again in the same direction as before. It led from the more open plains to an area dotted with small Acacias and many rocks. The rocks made it tricky to keep pace with Amani in the vehicle but Josphat did so admirably, at a respectful distance so as not to disturb the Cheetah in any way.


At about this point, a vehicle from Offbeat with Kyle, Lara, and some family members joined the parade. Not long afterwards another vehicle (with parents and children) joined the train. It was the same family from the Lion sighting that morning.

Then as she began nearing a herd of Impala, something caught Amani's attention. She broke into a trot.


Then she took off like a shot after a young Impala. Man Cheetahs can move fast! Seeing it on television gets nowhere close to doing it justice.


As we got moving to catch up to the action, we could see through the Acacias that she had caught it. As we maneuvered around a couple of trees and some rocks, we got close and saw the Impala still struggling and kicking. But Amani held its throat clamped in a viselike grip, swiveling her head this way and that to scan for danger.

(I posted a very large file size - hope this works in everyone's web browsers)


The Impala's struggles ceased but Amani still held it, while looking back and forth. She was still breathing heavily from her exertion. The other vehicles pulled in to enjoy the scene and the rain stopped as if on cue.


Eventually Amani was satisfied that the Impala had expired and she dropped it. But she kept panting heavily.


Then Amani sat up and scanned the area intently. She did not get this old being slack!


After some more looking, listening and sniffing for danger, Amani began tucking into her kill.


At first, I shot quite a few photos. Then I shot some video. But the family was being a bit noisy, so I stopped shooting video and went back to photos. -- I did not want their inane conversation spoiling my video's soundtrack. Amani seemed to be eating the Impala skin, hair and all.


I shot a few more photos, glad that the rain had ended but wishing for better light.


While I was absorbed in photographing Amani, Ben picked up my point-and-shoot (Canon S110) from the storage tray and shot a few surreptitious photos of the photographer. I was shooting from the side of the vehicle rather than the top roof hatch, in order to be closer to Amani's level.

Photographing Amani


Then, since the family had quieted down, I went back to shooting video.

I got in a 30-second segment before one of the daughters yelled "Eeeeewwww gross" at the sight of the goings-on. That tore it for me. I decided to make a little brief noise to end the greater noise/disturbance coming from the family vehicle (since the guide didn't see fit to shush his clients). So I said just loudly enough for the other vehicle to hear: "Come on y'all - I'm trying to get some video. And your yelling disturbs the endangered wildlife".

I could see the offending daughter puff up in preparation to respond, but her father gave her a stern look and said something that ended it. I went back to shooting video, sad that the bad behavior was coming from fellow Americans.



I shot several similar video segments, which I will not bore y'all by posting. But Ben also used my S110 point and shoot to take some video - it turned out surprisingly well.



The other vehicles left the sighting. As the family was pulling away, we saw the mother typing furiously on her cellphone. At least the daughter came by her smartphone addiction honestly we commented. We watched Amani a while longer, relishing the quiet experience. At nearly 6pm, we decided to leave her and move on. @@bettel is probably disappointed we left her in daylight :-)

On our way to a sundowner spot, we saw a pair of Dik Dik - our first since Samburu. Then we had a nice encounter with a Capped Wheatear - a new species for the safari. The light was getting very poor but I managed a so-so photo.

Capped Wheatear


Tommy and I were on proverbial cloud nine during our sundowner. What an incredible day - we thanked Josphat and Ben for their indispensible roles in making it possible. They really made an outstanding team - supreme local knowledge and guiding, combined with a world-class birder and fantastic naturalist plus safari guide.

Back in camp, I showed Kyle some photos of Amani with Offbeat tent #3 in the background and promised to email it to him for the Offbeat Facebook page. I also shared some video.

Dinner was again wonderful - both the food, the conversation and the companionship. And we had a special visitor - a Greater Galago hopped from a tree beside the dining tent onto a side table and grabbed some fruit, before making its getaway. Everyone was happy to be robbed in exchange for the sighting! I jokingly commented that perhaps I should start wearing my camera rig to the dinner table.

Thus ended a fantastic day.

Edited by offshorebirder
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Wow, thank you for Amani update!!! Thank you, thank you!! I am so glad that she is doing well (knock on wood)! I saw her in September but she spent all her time in MNC in February. I wish her new cubs all the best. Hopefully she will raise them this time.

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Wow I said I'd take the zebra's chasing off the jackal over a kill but you got both! Great stuff and a really great trip you've had. The photos are also exceptional.

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The aardwolf sighting is truly special. I agree with others that the black-bellied bustard shots, especially the first one, are great, and I really love the composition of the one of the blue-headed tree agama.


Good for you for chastising the loud family. Not a particularly pleasant task, but hopefully it served as a lesson in etiquette that they won't forget.

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@@offshorebirder Great shots of Amani. We saw her 3 out of the 4 days we were at Offbeat Mara during and after the time you and Tommy were there. Am I seeing the rain drops falling in the first two photos?? Amazing.

We came up on Amani not more than five minutes after she had made a kill. I blamed Mama Ndege for wanting to stop and look at a saddle-billed stork shortly before finding Amani or we would have seen the kill.

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The violet backed starling may be very common - but it is still very beautiful.

That is an amazing cheetah sequence superbly photographed.

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@@offshorebirder, just getting caught up now, great trip report. Andrew and Sammy sent regards to you, both remembered you right away! As an update, the orange bird (sorry, you know me with names!) is still on the nest outside the mess tent (or was as of Wednesday when I left there) and the other nest has one furry little black and white chick still hanging about a branch thinking about learning to fly. Its mother comes by to feed it regularly. I think it's a slow learner.


The lion cubs are now wobbling about on their own little feet. I have no photos to prove I saw them as they were deep in scrub bush but watching them through binos was immensely satisfying.

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@@offshorebirder I have just read your entire report in one sitting - what a great adventure and your bird photos are wonderful.


Thanks for the tip about the Purdy Arms and for the detailed report of Mt Kenya NP as not much is written on this destination.


The sequences of the hippo fight, the lioness moving her cubs and the zebra interfering in the hyena hunt are amazing. I also liked the photos of the gerenuk, Cut-throat finch, Wattled starling, Reticulated giraffe, Widowbird, White-throated bee-eater, Grey crowned crane and the Violet-backed starling.

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