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Can one have too much time in the Masai Mara! A resounding NO! Safari Sept 2016


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Having several African safaris under our belt--South Africa twice, Tanzania, Botswana--and having read so many wonderful Kenya trip reports on SafariTalk, Kenya seemed the logical destination for our next safari. But where to go?  I knew that the Mara had to be included.  Should we add other areas and parks?  Usually for a first trip to a country we like to get an overview and see as much as possible of different habitats but in the end, mainly due to time and budget constraints, we decided to concentrate on the Masai Mara--and do it at the optimal time to witness the "Great Migration" and the famed river crossings. The only other thing I was certain of was that we wanted to stay primarily in the conservancies, so that we would have less crowds and the ability to off-road.


So, with the expert guidance of our safari planner, Bill Given at The Wild Source, we decided on the following itinerary, commencing mid-September 2016.


1 night Eka Hotel, Nairobi
3 nights Porini Lion Camp, Olare Motorogi Conservancy
4 nights Encounter Mara Camp, Naboisho Conservancy
4 nights Wild Source's private mobile camp, Enaidura, in the Mara triangle
1 Night Ololo Lodge, Nairobi


The Wild Source has a new collaborative model with two local Masai guides, who have co-ownership in the Enaidura operation: Johnson Ping’ua Nkukuu (Ping) and Paul Kirui. They also have arranged with some camps to allow these guides (who are very well respected across Kenya) to bring clients to those camps in Wild Sources' specially configured safari vehicle. So this unique arrangement enabled us to have our own vehicle with well-known and highly regarded Ping as our private guide while we were at Encounter Mara and Enaidura Camps.  At Porini Lion, we were to be in a shared vehicle (or so we thought...)


As departure approached I started to get a little apprehensive--were we making a mistake staying in just one location--the Mara--for our whole trip? As birders, I knew we were unlikely to add many "lifers" in this area, since being contiguous with the Serengeti, where we'd been in Tanzania, there would be few birds that were unique or new. Would there be enough photographic opportunities?? Would we drive endlessly through featureless savanna without seeing much of anything?? Would we be bored with so many nights in one area...were the three camps different enough?


Well...as those of you who have been to the Mara must know, there was no need to worry. I can honestly say that we have not been anywhere else on safari where there was never a dull moment--never a lull--always something to see just around the corner! And each camp was unique with its own attractions.


And we learned a few things: the Mara is THE place for cats--we saw 7 unique leopards, countless lions, 12 different cheetahs, and 2 servals. And we even picked up 152 birds, with 15 of them lifers--more than I expected! Not to mention the endless plains of wildebeest, zebra, and all the other game species.


And one other thing I learned--although I am glad that we saw a few river crossings--I don't ever have to, or want to, do that again. More on that later.


So enough preamble, I'm sure you want to get to the meat of it--and some photos! A bit later...


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Can't wait to settle in and read more.  Just like there's no such thing as too much Mara, there's no such thing as too many Mara trip reports!

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Well that should have been a question mark in the title, but there's no way to change it :(  oh well!


As I've done in prior trip reports, I'll be posting highlights and impressions and a few special sightings at each location, but not always day-by-day--I don't keep a journal, and my memory isn't that great!


Porini Lion Camp, Olare Motorogi Conservancy


On arrival at Porini Lion we were met by Jackson, who was to be our guide, and Gerard, our spotter.  But in actuality, they both seemed to do equal spotting work and were equally skilled and fun to be with. We were also really thrilled to discover that even though we'd not booked (nor paid for) a private vehicle, we would have one to ourselves for our entire stay! The reason being that there was a large photography group who were using three other vehicles, and just one other couple who had booked a private vehicle. On our last day, that couple left, but another family of five came, and so they had their own vehicle as well. What incredible luck!


I won't go into detail about the camp as I have already done a camp review in the "Reviews" section. Suffice to say that it was very comfortable, with good food--very home-style, simple buffet cooking, with some really outstanding dishes--especially the ribs! Our tent was #3 which looked out into the riverbed. For some reason on this trip I forgot to take photos of most of the accommodations. But there was plenty of wildlife right around the camp and in fact, the river below our tent was active with Zebra and Wildebeest most days.


After a wonderful lunch and a rest we headed out for our first afternoon game drive. Well, we didn't get far...and I mean not five minutes from camp...when we spotted this:




He was perched in a tree on the other side of the riverbed right above camp. We spent a while watching him, until he descended the tree and went into the forest. And then shortly thereafter...he came back...or did he?




Wait! This is NOT the same cat! Check out that split ear in cat #1--this guy didn't have it. Sure enough, we were told this is Olare...son of the famous Fig! The other leopard (who had no known name) was apparently his father.   So we spent most of our evening drive with Olare...even if it was hardly a "drive" as we had barely left camp!


Olare was climbing in and around in the branches, making photography difficult--the vegetation was thick and the light was low. Soon we realized that there was a kill in this tree (actually, I'm pretty sure Gerard and Jackson knew this all along, and knew the leopard would come back to this tree for the kill. ;)




After awhile the light was getting very low and it seemed the leopards had settled in for the night, we decided to move on--with some assurances that the leopards would likely still be in the same area in the morning. We started to drive further away from camp and soon came upon a lioness with a cub.




But we didn't stay with her long, because somehow...and I'm not even sure how, because it all happened so fast...Jackson said "there's a lion on the hunt"!!! And so we quickly found ourselves in the midst of a kill situation!


The light was terrible and this was the best I could get...




I was rather unprepared and it being our very first night I didn't have my settings down, this is ISO 20,000 (yes that's right, no extra zero by mistake.)


It all happened so fast and before I could even see what was going on, it was over. But it was successful! At this point we were close enough so that I could switch to my faster lens and down to ISO 8000...but the light was almost non-existent by this time.




WELL! What a way to end our very first game drive in Kenya! Two leopards and a lion kill before we even went to sleep! Could it only go downhill from here? We'll see tomorrow....

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~ @janzin


The images you've posted have such intensity!


Thank you for this trip report.


Tom K.

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That's certainly a high-octane start! Your running lion amidst scattering wildebeest has a lot of energy - I would say you did great.

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The leopard with the cut ear is an impressive beast. Hopefully the light improved. I found the afternoon light in the Mara very dull on most days.

It seems we just miss each other. I was in OMC from Oct' 2016. You're at Nsefu in Sept' 2017 & I'm there Oct 2017. 

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@Geoff we did have some great light on some days, but we had more rain and clouds than I expected, which I'll mention in the next post. 


Yes it seems we are ships passing in the night! Although I'm actually not at Nsefu camp, we will be at Tena Tena just up the road (or river, as it were.)

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The next morning we were up and out before dawn to try and catch the sunrise and those iconic sunrise sillhouette shots. We followed the photography group to a spot where the guides of course knew would give the perfect vantage point. As I started to shoot from the vehicle, Jackson and

Gerard encouraged me to get down and lay on the ground--as we now saw that the photography group was doing.


The results...








Little did we know that this would be just about the only clear sunrise of the trip--nor would we ever get a beautiful sunset. As it turned out, we had an unexpected amount of rain on the trip; fortunately, it only interfered with a couple of drives, but we just never again had any good opportunities for

sunrise or sunset photography.  


After the sunrise, we decided to return to where we'd left Olare the night before. Sure enough, he was back in his tree, and apparently just waking up...


a nice stretch...








At the same time, Dad was lying in the grass a little further up the river. Soon Olare came down and joined him. Seeing the two together was amazing--even if the grass made for a messy photo.  (Update--just checking the Exif I see this photo of the two of them was actually from the evening prior, not the morning. I told you my memory wasn't that good!)




Olare then moved to the kill which was now on the ground...or perhaps this was a new kill, I'm not sure.






He is a most gorgeous leopard! What eyes! Well, his mom is Fig, after all. Would we see her later? We really hoped so, as I'd heard so much about her and seen lovely photos from several trip reports here.





Eventually we had to tear ourselves away to see what else we might find.





Edited by janzin
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Great start with the Leopard extravaganza!

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~ @janzin


As if the giraffes at sunset wasn't stunning enough...a stretching leopard!


Once a cat, always a cat.


Thank you for these outstanding images.


Tom K.

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Game Warden

@janzin Lovely - the first ST photos I've seen this morning and what a selection. Those silhouettes are sublime, don't forget to add them to this topic.



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Yay, an @janzin trip report.  Beautiful photos as always, and what a way to start your safari with two leopards and a lion hunt.  Looking forward to more.

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Gorgeous shots, especially the silhouettes and of course Olare.  He certainly inherited his mother's photogenic nature.  I think she knows she's posing for cameras at times!


I am guilty of a high level of Jackson worship.  My stay at Porini Lion was epic thanks to him, so I'm glad but not surprised to see he still delivers!

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Great stuff so far @janzin!     Some gorgeous Leopard shots.  And a Lion hunt your first evening - wow!


Question for you:  how is the birding around Porini Lion camp?   Is there good tree cover?


I am really looking forward to this trip report - I know it will have some great bird and mammal photos.


Having you and @Geoff  doing trip reports simultaneously is a real treat!


And as @amybatt said - no such thing as too many Mara TRs.





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10 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

Great start with the Leopard extravaganza!


And yet... I still have five leopards to go! Never dreamed we'd see so many individual leopards in the Mara.


@offshorebirder Birding around Porini Lion was quite good. There are many trees around. Of course, we were primarily in camp in the heat of the mid-day, so birding wasn't THAT active, but there was always something. While hubby napped I was usually sitting in front of our tent watching for something to land in the big bush in front of me.


I was going to save the birds for later, but since you asked ;) here are a few that were taken right in the camp. In fact, I may as well use this post to highlight some of the wildlife that was right in the camp itself.


So all of the following images were taken right in Porini Lion Camp.


This Brown-throated Wattle-eye was a lifer for us!




Speckled Mousebirds frequented the trees and bushes by the river.




This Little Bee-eater was actually below me on the river bank. A bit too busy of a background, but I like his spread tail.  We also got a lifer White-throated Bee-eater, but unfortunately it was far on the other side of the river bank, so no good photo.








There were some other interesting critters around camp. This Yellow-winged Bat was hanging in the tree directly next to our tent.




And as I mentioned, the river below held many zebra and wildebeest during the heat of the day. Here's a typical mid-day view from our "porch." Well, actually you couldn't see the river from the porch, you had to get up and walk ten steps to look down at it from above--there was a steep drop-off.  We kept hoping for a leopard to come through--and its entirely possible--but we never saw one.




And this Olive Baboon crossed below our tent as well.




There were also many sunbirds and a variety of LBJs, not all of which I could confidently identify. I'm pretty sure this one is Zitting.






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Wow @janzin - some superb shots in the latest batch.  The Wattle-eye in particular is grand - they are tough to photograph well!


And the Yellow-winged Bat is choice too - I love the effect of the sunlight shining through its ears.


You might be right about the last bird being a Zitting Cisticola.  I was about to say maybe Pectoral-patch Cisticola?  Zitting has a brown tail with dark band near the tip and whitish band at the very end - your bird doesn't show that (although feather wear might be responsible).   But then again - Pec Patches have darker bills than your bird shows.    So you're probably right.


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Wow, great stuff, fantastic photos. Bring it on.


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OMGosh your silhouettes!!!  

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Those silhouettes are incredible!

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Wow Wow Wow!!! What a spectacular start, with amazing pictures. I really love the sunset giraffes silhouettes!!!

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Silhouettes are very nice, and I also like the spread tail of the bee-eater.

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Thanks everyone for your kind comments :)


Since I've already managed to mix up dates, I'm not going to try too hard to stay in sequence. We're still at Porini for awhile, though :)


I do believe it was this first morning that we came upon this group of elephants in a small stream. (Make sure you click on the image to see it full size, as its wider than most.) The light was kind of flat, so I did a little creative processing here with Nik ColorEFX.








At one point, photographing this Secretary Bird, we got photo-bombed by a lion!  This is one of my favorites of the trip!




Speaking of lions, we saw some good-sized prides. Now I know some of you are keen about knowing the pride names and names of individual lions and other cats. I confess that I am terrible at taking notes and often we just forgot to ask. I paid more attention to Leopard names because they are my favorite cats.  I did ask about the lion prides and I know that we saw the Enkoyonai pride and at least one other in this area, but I am sorry to say that I don't know which lions I photographed are from which. :(  I'll try to do better next time!


I do believe it was that first morning that we came upon this very photogenic group in the early morning light.






and this lovely couple...




I actually learned the name of this magnificent male from the couple above just recently, as I posted the following photo on Facebook and he was identified by someone as Lolparpit.




Isn't he grand!!


and his lady friend..



Edited by janzin
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On our last full day at Porini Lion, our guides asked if we wanted to do a full day out and head towards the reserve to try and find a river crossing. We really weren't that keen on it since we knew that we'd be spending five days in the Triangle at the end of our trip, with the aim of seeing a crossing or two; but Gerard and Jackson twisted our arm, assuring us that there would be plenty of wildlife along the way, and we'd see some different areas of the park. Okay, why not...


I might mention that at this time there were vast herds of wildebeest in the plains right outside the camp. Every drive we saw something like this (click to get the full size image in better resolution, its another wide one.)


I also might mention, in the aim of transparency, that some of these encounters may not have happened in the order or even on the dates they are assigned ;)  but I assure you they all happened.  I really do need to start taking better notes, but I am just too occupied with photographing!




So off we went heading towards the Mara River.


When we first were picked up at the airstrip, on our way to Porini Lion Camp the guides mentioned that they knew where there was a jackal den with pups. In fact we passed the area but at that time there was no jackals to be found. So we asked if we could drive by the den area and see if the pups were visible.


We were fortunate enough to see two pups right as we got near, but I could only grab a photo of one before they scurried back into their den.




Mom (or Dad, not sure which) was around too.




and gave us a little stretch...




and some other nice sightings along the way. Like this Banded Mongoose...




A Topi who had JUST given birth...




a Hyena having fun in the dirt...




Some hippos...



and then this... (not for the squeamish!)




We knew this meant there must be lions around.  Sure enough, not far we found some flat lions, doing what flat lions do after a nice hippo lunch (sleeping...)




She was nice enough to raise her head for a little washing...




Well the lions weren't going to do much, so we continued to the river. We actually got there just in time to see the end of a small crossing. We literally just saw the last few wildebeests climbing the bank, and then it was over. Rather anticlimactic, but we were sure we'd see more and better later in the trip, so we were fine with it.





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One disappointment we had on this trip was that we were only able to do two night drives. Two other evenings, we attempted night drives but had to turn back due to torrential rain (once was here at Porini, and once at Encounter Mara.)  However, we did get one night drive at Porini which was productive. A nice thing about night drives in the conservancies is that you can actually go out AFTER dinner, instead of trying to fit it in at the end of an afternoon drive and then have to rush to dinner with no chance to clean up or relax even for a moment. Our night drive at Porini started at around 9 p.m.


We were super excited to have barely pulled out of camp when we saw this Serval!






Well, the back of a Serval is better than no Serval at all :) In fact, it seemed that Serval was rather common in the Mara (more to come later) and there were many sightings in the area around Porini Lion Camp. I think this fella was seen quite often, but it was a thrill for us (only our 2nd life Serval, the first being in the Ngorongoro Crater.)


One cat we were really dying to see was Caracal.  A Caracal was seen during the time we were at the camp, and we spent quite a bit of time searching and waiting in that area, and another vehicle even saw it while we were sitting there :angry:  (the brush was really, really dense at this spot) but alas, we missed it. Hoping to see one on our upcoming trip to Zambia!


The only other mammals seen on the night drive were Hares and Spring Hare, but no other photos worth posting.

Edited by janzin
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Wow so far so good! Loved the interaction between leopard cub and male. It just goes to show how amazing leopards are and how little we do know. The giraffe silhouette was beautiful.


I know what you mean about taking notes. I vowed to start taking better notes after my river tour and I couldn't remember names of plants and birds afterwards. Can't wait for the next segment! Very interested in your Mara Triangle time.

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