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Crikey I'm only on page one and you have at least 78 species AND a generuk! What a fantastic start.

I think we forget too easily just how much there is to see in and around Nairobi.


Great sharp shots on this day. Expectations are now high for the non hand held versions :)


I have been looking forward to hearing about your trip and am going to read your report at a leisurely pace so as not to miss anything! Page two will await me this evening!

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All the videos came out great. That's some vigorous eating!

Good on you for saying something about the other vehicle being too loud.

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I apologize for letting this thread languish a few days - "necessitates vitae"...

Thanks for the kind words everyone.


@@mapumbo - we saw Amani four days in a row at Offbeat but I think you and Mama Ndege had the best and longest sighting on January 23. The light was great that morning.


@@amybatt - THANKS for the update from Naboisho about Willow and her cubs. Glad to hear they are still doing well. Thanks also for relaying greetings to the Encounter Mara crew. And I am glad to hear the African Paradise Flycatcher is still nesting outside the mess tent at Encounter Mara.


@CarolE - I am glad to hear you are enjoying the trip report, as I have enjoyed yours in the past.


@@Treepol - wow. Nothing like finding a trip report of interest and binge-reading. :-)


@@Marks - thanks for the compliment.


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Thursday January 21, 2016.

We got an early start - the plan was to spend a full day in the Masai Mara National Reserve. Not long after leaving camp, I spotted a dim figure in an Acacia tree. "Is that an owl?" I asked. There was so little light that at first we had trouble telling if it was an owl or a monkey. Eventually we saw that it was an immature Verreaux's Eagle-Owl - a new species for the trip.

Continuing on, we passed a very large herd of Topi, many of whom were still bedded down. There were a lot of young Topi present. (Shore) birding on the way was good, with multiple pairs of Temmick's Coursers, Wattled Lapwings, Senegal Lapwings and Crowned Lapwings. We also had a new species for the trip - Grassland Pipit eating seeds on the road shoulder.

Passing through various mixed herds of game and predators like Spotted Hyenas and Jackals, we made our way to Musiara gate.

Ben Mugambi outside Musiara gate



As Ben and I waited for Josphat to complete the formalities, the birding just outside the gate was fantastic. A Black Crake pranced around out in the open to the right of the gate. We also saw our first Rufous-bellied Heron - a strikingly handsome wading bird. Other nice birds around the gate included Spur-winged Lapwings, Wattled Lapwing, Northern Wheatear, Pied Wagtail and Wire-tailed Swallows. Lesser-Striped Swallows were also flying around and landing to drink at puddles.

Spur-winged Lapwing



Wire-tailed Swallow



Then the paperwork was done and we entered the reserve. We made for Musiara Marsh and the birding was excellent. Little Egrets and Hammercops foraged in long puddles and bog holes in the road. We also got great looks at a new species - Tree Pipit. But by the time I brought my camera to bear, it was facing away from us.

Poor photo of a Tree Pipit



In open pools we saw Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and Egyptian Geese, and on the muddy shores we saw African Snipe, Wood Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers and Marsh Sandpipers. Black Crakes were also stalking the reedy wetland margins and Grey-crowned Cranes were scattered about. I had really been looking forward to birding the Musiara Marsh and it did not disappoint!

As we birded our way along, there were a few tricky places which prompted Ben to tell some tales about vehicles getting stuck on their way to help extricate vehicles. And then subsequent rescue vehicles getting stuck as well. As the former director of transportation for Governor's Camp, Ben had a lot of those tales to share!

As we worked around the southern fringe of the marsh and over towards Governor's Camp, we saw a large flock of Open-billed Storks perched in a bare tree. Eventually we worked our way up to a multi-acre wetland / deep pool east of Little Governor's Camp. An even larger flock of 53 Open-billed Storks was perched in a few trees around the wetland. We decided to stop for breakfast there, as the wetland had an African Jacana, Long-toed Lapwings and plentiful bird life in the trees. There was also a herd of Elephants scattered throughout the grassland between there and Little Governor's.

African Jacana



Long-toed Lapwing



Elephants grazing



Ben shared a bit of common-sense bush wisdom: never go swimming in water where Open-billed Storks are congregating. This is because Open-billed Storks feed primarily on freshwater snails and these snails transmit Bilharzia.

We set up the spotting scope and tripod and scoped wildlife while we ate breakfast. We also finally picked up Pied Kingfisher - it was astounding that we had failed to connect with them throughout the trip up to that point! Other good birds included Saddle-billed Stork, African Crowned Hornbill, Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Steppe Buzzard, Malachite Kingfisher, Pin-tailed Whydah and much more.


Woodland Kingfisher



Though I failed to include it in my field notes, this photo indicates we also had a Little Sparrowhawk join us for breakfast.


Then I walked around the margins of the wetland trying for photos of the Jacana and Lapwings - though being careful not to get too close to the pool which could have Hippos or Crocs hiding within it!

While we were eating breakfast, Josphat got word that there had been THREE Leopards seen near Offbeat camp that morning! Apparently we got underway too early! So we decided to not stay in the reserve quite all day and to be back at camp for 4:00 tea and to try for some leopards afterwards.

Getting underway, we headed over towards the woods along the Mara River. We wanted to look for some forest species like Ross's Turacao and African Blue Flycatcher (ended up missing those the entire trip). Josphat and Ben asked a guide in a passing vehicle if we could nose around the woods surrounding Governor's camp. But the guide apologetically explained that a very big party was in the process of arriving and being shuttled from the airstrip to camp - so we had to go up to a point on the river near Little Governor's.

There we dismounted from the vehicle and explored on foot. We saw multiple groups of Nile Crocodiles sunning on the far riverbank.



There were also Hippos interacting and fighting in the river, shorebirds on little rocks and islands mid-river, and many swallows and swifts overhead. The Hippos were mainly concentrated in a backwater out of the current on our side of the river but there was a smaller pod across the river and slightly downstream. As we watched the smaller pod, a mother Hippo and her baby came trundling out of the water. The baby was very young and very cute! They were followed by what appeared to be an older child of the mother Hippo's. Normally I don't like to have too many photos of the same animal in a trip report, but in this case I will risk "Baby Hippo Overload" and include them.





Eventually the Hippo family descended back into the water.

As we sat on the bluff above the Mara River, I imagined the scene a few months earlier during the great migration. At times it doubtless consisted of a scrum of vehicles packed cheek-by-jowl along the shoreline. I may be the only person on Safaritalk who has ZERO desire to ever be there at such a time. The thought of all the minibuses full of people packed along the shoreline, at times blocking and interfering with animal movements is too awful to even think about going then...

After our time along the Mara River, we headed south towards Paradise Plain. In front of Governor's Camp we came upon a HUGE herd of Elephants. We counted 105 individuals in the widely scattered herd. For the day we had over 250 Elephants in the main reserve!


After Paradise Plain, we headed for Topi Plain and eventually stopped for lunch under the only scraggly tree around. While we were sitting and eating, a pair of African Crakes started calling practically at our feet! We never saw them but it was fun listening to them vocalizing repeatedly close at hand.

After more driving and wildlife sightings, we came upon a vehicle with a BBC film crew from Big Cat Diary.


I guess the Big Cat Diary crew is "getting the band back together again." They were sitting stationary and staking out some female Lions from the Marsh Pride. Not far away was a large herd of about 100 Cape Buffalo. After scoping the BBC vehicle and seeing no filming activity, we eventually went over and asked them if it was OK if we approached the lions for a few photos. They amicably agreed.


The Marsh Pride females alternated between snoozing and sitting up to stare at a Maasai herder and his cows just outside the reserve boundary.



It was eye-opening to see just how close to the edge of the reserve the Marsh Pride has to operate. Constant cattle temptation by day and swarmed by illegal grazers at night. So sad.

I wish the powers-that-be would stop ignoring rampant nocturnal illegal grazing in the reserve! Money from the conservancies finances the purchase of more cattle, yet not more land to feed them. That seems to be the Achilles heel of the entire conservancy model and over the long term it threatens to eventually unravel the entire system.

After watching the lions lazing about a bit longer, we headed back into Mara North and back to camp. On the way we had a confiding Lilac-breasted Roller.





Back in camp, we learned that a mother and daughter Leopard had been seen, and also the big male Leopard known as the Offbeat Male.

* I think this was the day that @@mapumbo and Mama Ndege arrived at Offbeat but I am not certain about the exact timing. But it was a pleasure to meet them! Unfortunately I did not learn they were Safaritalkers until lunch time on our last day... But better late than never.

We set out for the afternoon game drive with high hopes of Leopard. These hopes were quickly realized just outside camp. But this Leopard sighting was one of the few times that the long grass was a real problem. We got few clear views and I got no clear photos of the big male Leopard. But he was an impressive specimen - and fairly old as well.

At first he spent some time sleeping in the long grass. Then he slowly woke up and contemplated things.


Then he got up and started moving towards the wooded ravine east of camp.


We last saw him heading down into the same habitat Ben and I had been birding on foot the day before


After the Leopard sighting, we decided to go see if we could catch up to Amani the Cheetah. We did so 6.5 minutes after leaving the Leopard! We had all three big cat species less than three hours apart. The Mara sure delivers!

Amani sitting



Amani on the move



After the Amani sighting, Josphat suggested going to a group sundowner. We readily agreed. When we got there, the Offbeat crew had a surprise waiting. In addition to all the Offbeat guests, guides, spotters and managers there were several Maasai warriors and they put on an amazing show - singing, dancing, chanting, etc. When I saw things developing I figured I would have to suffer through it and pretend to like the show to avoid being rude. Quite the contrary - it was grand! One could feel the earth shake from a fair distance away when the warriors jumped up and down in unison. Everyone seemed very glad to have the surprise event.

There were also some amazing caterpillars on a large tree where we were assembled, and a few on the ground underneath. They were very large and had stiking colors and long spikes running in rows down their backs. I'm sure @@armchair bushman would have recognized them instantly. Please forgive the photo quality - it was pretty much dark at the time and I didn't want to use a flash.


They were African Emperor Moths (Bunaea alcinoe) - one of the giant silk moths. Their caterpillar stage is as impressive as their adult phase.

Back in camp, dinner was great again - with wonderful conversation.

Edited by offshorebirder
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What a wonderful day you had. Lovely photos all the way through, but I particularly like the Jacana on the water plants, and the baby hippo looks very young and is extremely cute! It deserves a few pictures.

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Big Leopard you had there! What a beauitful day you had (again!) - the Hippo baby is a highlight for sure.

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Another fantastic day I love the baby hippo and quite impressed with all the ele's at Governors. When I stayed there previously I saw a grand total of zero.

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Yes, that is the day we arrived at Mara North in the morning and had a great game drive to camp with David and Kapen. We also had a cat trick that day. We saw our lion in the morning just shortly after leaving the airstrip and then basically shared the Offbeat Leopard and Amani with you, Tommy and the other guests at Offbeat.


I am just about to the point where my trip report catches up with yours.


Certainly not too many photos of the hippos. One does not often see the babies out in the open like that during the day to afford good shots.


We are pleased to have the caterpillar identified. They, indeed, were impressive.


We did not venture down into the reserve. We were advised that it would not be an advantage. Not so sure after seeing your results.


As to not wanting to return during the migration, Mama Ndege and I commented while we were in Mara North that seeing the migration at the crossings with the mass of cars was not the least bit of an attraction for us. We had experienced the massive herds of animals on the move in the Serengeti and that is thrill enough.

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Lovely pics, especially Amani.

I, for one, appreciate the baby hippo overload.

Very interesting news about the Big Cat Diary team. I know some members think it focused too much on the presenters, but I've always been a fan.

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Isn't Kapeen marvelous @@mapumbo? Friendly and cheerful as the day is long and incredibly good spotter - truly amazing eyes and intuition.

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armchair bushman

I've just given a talk on the importance of Binomial scientific nomenclature (last week). The ID of your caterpillar (Bunaea alcinoe) is correct. The common name "African Emperor Moth" is one that I cannot find anywhere else. In all literature I have come across, where a common name is given for this moth, it is referred to as a "Cabbage Tree Emperor". Hence the importance of the inclusion of the scientific name in the ID that was given to you. So well done to who ever identified it!

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Actually @@armchair bushman - I identified it myself using Google after getting home...


So the incorrect common name is my bad...

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@@dlo - I have been told that the Elephants move away from the area when the great migration is around. Apparently all the crowding bothers them.


@@TonyQ - thanks for the kind words once again.


@@michael-ibk - thanks, yes it was a huge male Leopard. I presume it is the father of the cub that is currently hanging around Offbeat with its mother.


@@mapumbo - so I guess you saw the vehicle from the other camp almost turn over at the Leopard sighting? Josphat had warned them to be careful there was a hidden pothole but they drove right over it with their right tires. People had to hang out the left side of the vehicle (like sailors on a racing yacht) to keep it from flipping. Glad they did not flip - might have gotten dicey with a big Leopard right there...


@@Marks - yes I too like Big Cat Diaries despite its drawbacks. I always thought they over-hyped things and sometimes created false dramas. And sometimes their narration is a little sappy. But overall I think it's a good show and I imagine it has generated an incredible amount of eco-tourism to the Mara.

Edited by offshorebirder
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I wanted to mention some of the humor and games we engaged in with Ben and Josphat to pass the time while waiting for things to happen, knocking around in camp, etc.


Some of them involved bird or wildlife nicknames. I've already mentioned "Tomato Rump" - the nickname Kenyan birders have for White-headed Buffalo Weavers. But I kept calling them "Tomato Butts" - inadvertently putting more coarse American spin on the term. Ben got a kick out of that and said the term might catch on and supplant the original.


Augur Buzzards are very common raptors in Kenya and birders often refer to them as "Augur Buggers". So that's what we started calling them and eventually just shortened it to "another bugger".


During the safari I kept mentioning how uncanny a resemblance Yellow-throated Longclaws bore to Meadowlarks here in North America. It's really mind-blowing. Eventually Ben started saying "there's another Meadowlark" when we came across another Yellow-throated Longclaw.


Most of us on Safaritalk have heard Lilac-breasted Rollers called LBRs. Apparently European Roller sometimes gets shortened to "Euroller".


At one point when we were taking a long detour to cross a river in a less dicey spot, the well-known term "Miles and miles of bloody Africa" came up. Ben says people on the safari circuit often abbreviate it and simply say "MMBA" in such a situation.


And another acronym I liked was TAB. It's used when things go sideways or plans fall apart and it stands for "That's Africa Baby".


We also did impressions. Everyone had their turn doing David Attenborough and Ben was very good. Ben also mentioned that Sir David eschews deodorant, scented soaps and shampoos, etc. during his entire time filming in the field. It's to avoid putting animals off with chemical/unnatural scents. But that Sir David tends to get a bit pungent by the end...


Another impression was of Jonathon Scott. I won the contest by making a very happy-looking face and dramatically saying "It's Kike". When we approached the Big Cat Diaries vehicle, I said in the same excited tone "It's Johnathan" even though he wasn't there.


We also told funny tales about some of the world's most well-known birders and safari personalities but I'm afraid I can't post them publicly...

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We had left the scene before the vehicle got in trouble but remember you talking about it at dinner that evening.

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@@offshorebirder Next time you want to capture some video explain what you want to do and request some silence. It works a treat and doesn't offend.

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@@Geoff - my filming aside - the main point is that her yelling was bad for the rare / endangered wildlife. Perhaps I did not emphasize the right aspect in the wording of my post...

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@@offshorebirder Those cats are habituated to vehicles and the noisy human inhabitants. Her yelling was bad for the general ambience of the sighting and poor safari etiquette.

Edited by Geoff
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@@Geoff - the problem is that I had to raise my voice to a near shout to be heard by them. Hard to "explain what I want to do and request silence" before filming without being part of the problem...


And there was more afoot than Amani simply eating. There were Hyenas close by - one very close by. What if the human commotion had drawn a Hyena closer?

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@@offshorebirder Catching up after a trip away. What an excellent and comprehensive reports. Enjoying both the pictures and the story telling. Thanks.

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-- I forgot to mention a new mammal species we saw just before dark on January 21. We had nice close looks at an Acacia Rat (Thallomys paedulcus). But just as I raised my camera to try for a photo, it scooted into cover.

Friday January 22, 2016.

* I made a conscious decision to spend more time observing and less time photographing on our last full day of the safari. But be sure to read the upcoming post about January 23 - it has the best morning game drive of the entire trip!

We started the game drive by looking hard for Leopard. No luck in that department, but we had some great birding and Lion and Cheetah sightings during the search. Later in the morning we drove to a large salt lick to look for shorebirds and other goodies.

Just after 7am we had a group of four Buff-bellied Warblers - a new species for the trip. Nearby we added another new species - Dusky Turtle-Dove.

Then we had semi-obscured looks at an adult Lion and an older cub walking back and forth on a wooded ridge east of camp. They were moving around on a ridge apparently searching for something. Josphat said that the Offbeat pride had gotten scattered during an encounter with Maasai herders and that the pair was probably trying to find the pride again.

Lost Lion looking for its pride


Then we had another new species for the trip - Wooly-necked Stork. I was glad to see this interesting species.

Then we had a nice encounter with a pair of Red-throated Tits. This is an East Africa endemic - only found in portions of Kenya and Tanzania. The week before Ben had been guiding some birders that were avid world twitchers, and Red-throated Tit was high on their target list. But they missed them all throughout the trip - highlighting how lucky we were to see them on Magadi Road and now in Mara North.

This pair was in fairly worn plumage


While watching the tits, we also had Little Bee-eater, Red-chested Cuckoo, Ruppell's Long-tailed Starling, and Common Scimitarbill - a new species, as all our previous Scimitarbills had been Absynnian.

Around 8:30am we saw Amani the Cheetah - she was lying down and peeking through the tall grass at the base of a wooded hill.

Amani peeping out of the grass


Surrounding habitat


Amani showed no signs of getting up or moving soon, so we decided to move on and hoped to see her later. We worked towards the salt lick area, and came to a shorter grass area. There we had good looks at a Yellow-throated Longclaw (Meadowlark impersonator).


We also had a sharp-looking Little Bee-eater, a backlit Martial Eagle, and a very relaxed herd of Elephants. The Elephants we saw in the Mara - both MNC and the main reserve - were much more relaxed around vehicles than the ones we saw in Samburu.

Little Bee-eater


Elephant browsing


Elephant Child browsing


Elephant standing


Elephants crossing stream


After spending time with the Elephant herd, we decided to go check out the salt lick Kyle had mentioned.

We had to search for a passable crossing over a watercourse to reach the little plateau where the salt lick was located. The first couple of possibilities were not feasible. We made it across at the third and final option. It was fairly late in the morning at that point and temperatures were soaring. Ben and I dismounted and birded across the small plain on foot; Tommy and Josphat rode to the end and parked under a shady tree near the salt lick. Unfortunately this was the one weekend a month when the Maasai could bring their cows to the salt lick and there were no shorebirds present among the throng of cattle. But it was a fun diversion and we had good birding en route.

Returning to go to lunch, we got stuck! First time for the entire trip. We all got out of the vehicle, Ben took the wheel, and Josphat was a spotter. Ben expertly twisted the steering wheel back and forth while putting the motor in forward and reverse. He was moving the tires to get a better purchase on the sides of the grooves they had carved in the soft mud at the bottom of the steep-sided gully. With much changing of gears and gunning the engine and wheel-turning, eventually Ben was able to back up the hill the way we had come. Tommy and I were a little disappointed to be unstuck - we had entertained visions of a long bush walk back to camp. But we crossed the stream on foot, re-entered the vehicle and Josphat drove to another potential crossing. This was one we had sized up earlier but not attempted, due to a squared-off shelf. But we went over the shelf and down - at an angle so not much of the bumper would drag - just a little corner that carved a groove in the earthen shelf as we went over. Off to lunch we went.

Sadly, this was when Kyle and Lara's families were heading back to Nairobi. We all hugged and shook hands farewell and I urged Martin to feel free to email me with any cyber-security questions he might have in the future. I also promised to look him up on future Kenya trips.

Not long after setting out on the afternoon game drive, we ran into a family group of four Red-throated Tits and got better looks than before. It was much too far from the morning group to be the same birds. We enjoyed watching them forage - often upside-down. They reminded me strongly of the foraging behavior of Carolina Chickadees back home.




Near the tit family we had a nice Eland herd and a scattered herd of Elephants. Nearby were two new bird species - Bare-faced Go-Away Bird and Speckle-fronted Weaver. We also had a cooperative female Sooty Chat.

Eland calf


Eland Bull


Elephant herd


Suddenly a flock of eleven Green Wood-Hoopoes flew past, leapfrogging from tree to tree and moving ourt of sight. Ben said it was very unusual to see so many together.

Not long after that, a light rain started and we came upon two Lion cubs who seemed to be alone. Josphat said it was more fallout from when the pride panicked and got separated the night before. But the cubs looked well-fed so we wished them good luck finding their pride.



Back in camp, the rain turned to a deluge if I am not mixing up my evenings. We had to use the complimentary Wellies and umbrella in our tent to make it to the mess tent. But it was a fun time at dinner as usual and the rain ended before the meal was over.

We only got one new bird species on our final day. In writing this trip report and going through my photos, I've found a few more species than I had recorded in my field notes and the checklist spreadsheet from Ben's.

* Our final bird species total was just over 400 - pretty good for not making it to the coast, Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Kakamega Forest or any lakes. I think my favorite bird was African Crake, followed closely by Crowned Eagle.

Tomorrow's trip report will be a doosie - be sure to check it out.

Edited by offshorebirder
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You've already had a "doosie" of a trip so I'm looking forward to seeing how this cfliffhanger plays out.

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It is great fun to be reading your report, as our time coincides with yours with similar sightings of the two young lions and Amani in the distance.


One could never be sure that once you crossed the river away from camp that you would be able to get back when you wanted to with all the rain falling in different amounts at different places.

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"Doosie" - I needed to open the vocabulary :) ; but I should get the hint from @@dlo reply. Indeed yours is an fantastic trip report, and very valuable for folks like me, a birder wannabes.

Edited by xelas
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I had to chuckle at your disappointment in getting unstuck. We got badly stuck in the Aberdares once but were prepared to spend the night in the truck (we had food, water and blankets from our picnic) and slightly disappointed when our rescuer showed up at 8pm!

Edited by Patty
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