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Kenya Nov 2018 - Part 2 (Amboseli and Selenkay)


KCAZ
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NOTE - I had attempting posting this trip report a little over a week ago and it just . . . disappeared.  In my efforts to learn whether the ST autosave feature would recover my text and uploaded photos, I tried a test version of the Part 2 report with a slightly different title, nonsense text, and no photos.  That experiment did not work, but I now could not delete my posted experiment.  I have asked @Game Warden to delete it for me, but please ignore it if it is still visible when you are reading this report. 

 

INTRODUCTION - After returning to Nairobi from my previous four nights at Saruni Samburu, i spent the rest of the evening and the night at the Eka Hotel, which is modern and conveniently close to Wilson Airport.  My friends Dick and Kathy from Minnesota in the USA were flying into Nairobi later that evening, and then the three of us would catch an early morning flight from Wilson down to Amboseli.  I had sent Dick and Kathy the ST links for my report from Nov 2017 on visits to Porini Rhino, Porini Mara, and Porini Lion camps, and that inspired them to visit Africa for the first time.  The itinerary for the three of us included three nights at Porini Amboseli Camp, followed by 2 nights at Porini Mara Camp and ending with 3 nights at Porini Lion Camp.  I hoped that my friends would enjoy the Porini camps as much as I did a year ago, and I recommended that we start with a visit to Amboseli National Park, which I thought would offer some reliable wildlife and bird viewing because of the permanent water bodies there (spring-fed from meltwater off of Mount Kilimanjaro).  Also, my friend Dick had seeing Mount Kilimanjaro on his bucket list, so this became a natural starting point for our trip.

 

Our flight down to the Amboseli airstrip was uneventful, and because this airstrip is located within Amboseli National Park, our guides planned for us to spend the entire day within the Park, only leaving in the late afternoon for the one-hour drive to the Porini Lion Camp located n the private Selenkay Conservancy.  Amboseli did not disappoint, though the rainfall pattern was somewhat reversed from what I had seen in Samburu.  Whereas the permanent water bodies usually concentrate the birds and wildlife near the water, Amboseli had quite a bit of rain recently, with the effect that the birds and mammals were somewhat more dispersed than when I had visited Amboseli in September 2016.  Well, to be truthful, Amboseli did disappoint us a bit - the lower flanks of Kilimanjaro were usually visible, but the top two-thirds of the mountain were always hidden behind cloud cover.  This elephant photo would have been even better if the mountain were visible in the background.

 

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LARGER MAMMALS - I knew the water bodies in Amboseli would provide a reliable place for elephants, and fortunately that was still true here despite the recent rains.  I think the elephants here love the lush vegetation that grows in and near the water, and they seem to go through a cycle of being in the water, then out of water heading to a different water body, then back in the water . . . Rinse and repeat.

 

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The elephants here may not have seemed quite as friendly as those in Samburu National Reserve,  but they were certainly majestic and well-fed.  By comparison to Samburu, there seemed to be more large males and fewer really young elephants in Amboseli.  During subsequent game drives up in the Selenkay Conservancy, the elephants were also abundant and seemingly happy and healthy, but they lived a very different lifestyle than the "semi-aquatic" elephants in Amboseli.  The Selenkay elephants were doing fine in the drier savannah terrain, but instead of grazing on lush green grass, they were busy uprooting acacia bushes to feed on the leaves.

 

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One of the larger elephants did approach our companion safari vehicle, and while the guides did not believe there was any threat to the vehicle or the humans, the expressions on the guests in this vehicle (Courtney, Mindy, Chris, and Julie) reflected some combination of delight and an elevated heart rate.  There is a certain visceral excitement in watching wildlife terrify the other guests!

 

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Hippos were reliably seen in Amboseli, though the restriction about staying on roads in the Park kept us from approaching too closely.  The hippos were usually sighted semi-submerged feeding on aquatic vegetation during the day, or grazing on the grass adjacent to the water bodies.  I suspect that these hippos, as well as the elephants, like the water not only for its cooling effect and the lush vegetation, but also for a little extra buoyancy to offset their massive body weight.

 

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Some of the usual suspects in the grazing community were easy to spot in Amboseli, starting with the wildebeest:

 

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And a standout and literally easy to spot, the Maasai giraffe.  As I mentioned in my Part 1 report, I find the patterning of the Maasai giraffe more attractive than that of the reticulated giraffe seen up north.  Something about these free-form splotches brings to mind . . . the paper cut-outs of Henri Matisse maybe?  The following giraffe were seen in the Selenkay conservancy.

 

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The common or plains zebra were ever-present at Amboseli, and quite photogenic.  Of course, by definition all zebras are photogenic:

 

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As with the zebra, we sighted a number of other smaller grazers, but not in large numbers.  I suspect this is not really about absolute numbers of the animals, but rather to them being dispersed over a broad area as the recent rains triggered good grazing across more of the Park.  If I can keep the order straight here, we have a Thompson's gazelle, a reedbuck, a lesser kudu, and a leaping impala.

 

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But there was one grazing animal that I did not expect to see here, nor in such numbers . . . the gerenuk.  I went to Samburu and the Kalama Conservancy up north to see these unique long-necked antelope, but they were truly abundant in the Sekenkay Conservancy.  I am guessing the recent rains changed their distribution somewhat, but I did not think to ask our guides whether gerenuk were usual or unusual in this Conservancy.

 

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Very elegant animals, if a tad improbable.  Especially when viewed from the front . . . 

 

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Unlike at Samburu and Selenkay, not only did I see a lot of gerenuk in the Selenkay, but that included a number of the very distinctive males:

 

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This was also the first time I had ever seen young gerenuk:

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Still, the male gerenuk is pretty impressive, whether or not they are standing up to feed.

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SMALLER MAMMALS IN AMBOSELI AND SELENKAY - The little dwarf mongoose seemed everywhere, though maybe they are just easier to spot given the open and flat terrain of Amboseli.  They are cute regardless, if a little bit primitive in appearance (might the effect of those beady little eyes).

 

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I wonder how many individuals it takes to count as a mound of mongoose (mongooses)?

 

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While on a night drive in the Kalama Conservancy prior to this visit to Amboseli and Selenkay, I was fortunate to see a genet, though not under conditions that I could photograph it well.  A night drive in Selenkay changed that.  The color is still a bit off due to photographing under the red-filtered spotlight our guide was using, but the shape and patterning of the fur still came through nicely.

 

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And now we come to the most unexpected mammal, at least for me, during our visit to Amboseli.  I had seen these little guys on previous safaris, but typically after the sun had set and the light levels were extremely low.  Here, we were seeing them in broad daylight; these were photographed around 9AM one morning.  First a junior bat-eared fox, and then his/her mother.

 

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BIRDS OF AMBOSELI AND SELENKAY - Much as I like the mammals, especially the rarer ones like the gerenuk and the bat-eared foxes, I was really looking forward to the birds.  I knew the water bodies in Amboseli would host a variety of waterbirds, and as I learn more about birds, I know enjoy seeing and photographing species that I had not seen before (or had not noticed before).  I am sure other casual birders like me have had this experience, where an expert birder calls out a bird ID of some nondescript little brown bird from a quarter mile away, when the bird is nothing more than a dark speck against the distant sky.  Amateurs though we may be, we know just enough about birds to realize the experts are usually pulling a fast one on us.  But Amboseli did provide some justice for me after all - finally, a bird even I could identify from a quarter mile away.  The pink line was a dead giveaway for a flock of lesser flamingos:

 

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And the larger greater flamingo (yes, the colors really are THAT pink).

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Even larger than the greater flamingos were the great white pelicans.  Our guides spotted a group of these pelicans feeding on catfish and mudfish in a small roadside pond.  I think this was likely an ephemeral wetland/large puddle, so I am not sure how the fish grow to edible size under these circumstances.  But they were clearly of edible size as they were clearly being eaten . . . with enthusiasm.  The pelicans had some competition - not did only did the lucky fisher-pelican have other pelicans try to steal his or her catch, but a couple Marabou storks were part of the action, and would peck at the pelican holding the fish in the hopes it would drop its catch.  Interesting example of some direct competition between species for the same food source.

 

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The pelicans and storks were not the only birds interested in these catfish and mudfish.  An African fish eagle was enjoying one of these fish (visible in the grass just in front of the eagle's feet), and a pair of wet tawny eagles were patrolling a water-filled roadside ditch.

 

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There was a large variety of waterfowl in and near the water bodies in Amboseli, including the relatively common Egyptian goose and the somewhat larger and more unusual (at least for me) spur-winged goose.

 

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Ducks were also present, including the gorgeous fulvous whistling duck and the intriguingly-named Hottentot teal:

 

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Smaller birds enjoying the abundant water in Amboseli National Park included the long-toed lapwing, the blacksmith lapwing, the black-winged stilt, and the pied avocet.

 

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And an unusual bird that I have never seen before, this very intent African jacana:

 

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Near the edges of the water were a pair of grey crowned cranes, the large and stately grey heron, and diminutive but colorful malachite kingfisher.

 

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As we moved into the drier parts of Amboseli Park and into the Selenkay Conservancy, there were a good variety of dryland (upland?) birds.  Starting with this little fellow, one I have never successfully photographed before.  Of course, that is because I have never been so close to one that was sitting still for me . . .  a greater kestrel.

 

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This next bird will probably stir some debate among the expert birders on ST.  I am making an educated guess, after consulting a couple birding friends and my trusty Birds of East Africa by Stevenson and Fanshawe, that this is a female Taveta golden weaver.  Maybe.  Let the debate begin!

 

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An Eastern chanting-goshawk surveying the local territory, and a black-shouldered kite - for once, a bird flying toward me.

 

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The common but still beautiful superb starling, the distinctive markings and shape of the African hoopoe, the finely-patterned feathers of the crested francolin, and a red-billed hornbill.

 

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The go-away bird was a crowd favorite on this trip, partly for its distinctive call, but mostly because they hung around a tree in front of the Porini Amboseli Camp dining tent:)

 

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The European roller has somewhat subdued color, at least at this time of year, whereas the lilac-breasted roller has spectacular plumage.  My friends Dick and Kathy were still not used to being on safari with me, so they did not yet realize that we would be stopping at every lilac-breasted roller this trip.  They would soon learn.

 

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I live in the American Southwest in northern Arizona, not that far from the Navajo Nation.  The Navajo women are renowned for the quality of the rugs they weave, and local legend has it that the Navajo weavers always introduce a minor flaw into their weavings so as not to offend the gods.  Well, I have adopted the same approach to my photography, as you can see below.  This was SO CLOSE to being perfect . . . 

 

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The elegant long-tailed fiscal in formal wear . . . 

 

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A new bird for me, the Namaqua dove . . . 

 

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While I am somewhat familiar with this little bird, the red-and-yellow barbet, because a drawing of one has been staring at me from the cover of the Birds of East Africa book, but this is my first one in the flesh:

 

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An elegant but gangly secretary bird in flight (previously, I had only ever seen these on the ground), and a two-banded courser.

 

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The most obvious birds in the drier parts of Amboseli and Selenkay were the Maasai ostrich:

 

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This ostrich was apparently sitting on an egg in the nest, and allowed us to approach rather closely (at least in telephoto lens terms).

 

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PEOPLE IN THE SELENKAY CONSERVANCY - We spent the latter part of one morning on a nature walk from Porini Amboseli Camp, followed by a visit to a nearby Maasai village.  I had done this type of village visit in other places, but this one stood out in my memory for the beauty of the local women - partly because of their brilliant clothing and beadwork, but largely because of their genuine smiles.

 

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We had been carefully coached on the proper way to greet the Maasai adults, and the different way to greet their children.  That last all of a few seconds, once it became clear the children were determined to high-five us instead.

 

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PARTING THOUGHTS - Porini does a great job running their Amboseli Camp, and staying there was a perfect safari experience.  Here, camp manager David is telling guests Kathy and Dick, and Julie and Chris, about our plans for the rest of the day.  And our guides Julius and Amos, plus one of the local rangers working in the Selenkay Conservancy (and they do a great job).

 

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One our last morning, we did the one-hour drive back to the Amboseli airstrip for our return flight to Nairobi.  This was not really a game drive, but it did end with one sighting to keep us happy - Mount Kilimanjaro.

 

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~ @KCAZ

 

Although it was a tough struggle posting this, so worth the wait!

 

Lovely images, bringing back memories as well as illustrating your unique experience.

 

The genet by night...the bat-eared fox...Kilimanjaro from the air...Porini dining al fresco...little ones in bright clothing...a Secretary Bird in flight...a terrific African jacana image...a baby gerenuk...the male kudu.

 

All outstanding images. You've portrayed the Selenkay Conservancy in a compelling light.

 

Thank you so much for your patience and persistence in preparing and uploading these photographs.

 

May your next safari be at least as productive as this one was.

 

Tom K.

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~ @KCAZ

 

Although it was a tough struggle posting this, so worth the wait!

 

Lovely images, bringing back memories as well as illustrating your unique experience.

 

The genet by night...the bat-eared fox...Kilimanjaro from the air...Porini dining al fresco...little ones in bright clothing...a Secretary Bird in flight...a terrific African jacana image...a baby gerenuk...the male kudu.

 

All outstanding images. You've portrayed the Selenkay Conservancy in a compelling light.

 

Thank you so much for your patience and persistence in preparing and uploading these photographs.

 

May your next safari be at least as productive as this one was.

 

Tom K.

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One of the joys of being just a birder is spending the time looking up the name of a particular bird and still not 100% one has got it right. The plus side of early flights into and out of Amboseli is a lack of haze over Kilimanjaro which is portrayed in your photographs.

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Wow great photos!! I am going to these same places in a few weeks and can only hope to be lucky enough to see bat eared foxes! I also loved your gerenuk portraits. They are so wonderfully funny looking. You are an awesome photographer.

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Thanks all for the kind comments.  I did not get all that excited about the gerenuk in Samburu National Reserve, as they were few and far between and usually behind some bushes.  But with lots more of these animals in Selenkay, in a variety of poses, I concluded they really are pretty cool.  Not up there with bat-eared foxes yet!  Or lilac-breaster rollers either.

 

It is such a relief knowing that the upload of Part 2 went without a hitch.  Also a personal relief that I could recreate the text and photos and formatting (some minor hiccups there) in one straight session on my computer, so I did not have to rely on autosave anymore.  

 

I was prepared this morning to send out an email to some of the people who were with me on safari for Parts 1 and 2 that they should register as members of Safaritalk so they could view these reports, hopefully sidestepping the recent closure of access for non-members.  But . . . I no longer see any option for new members to register with ST; all I see is an option for existing users to sign in.  Am I understanding this situation correctly?

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@KCAZ I think the reopening is imminent but has not yet been actioned. Should not be long now. 

Edited by wilddog
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@KCAZ such lovely images!  You capture the Amboseli I remember with the elephants and especially wading all-legs-in in the swampy parts.  So happy Kili came out for you after all!  I'm not a birder but I do appreciate well-done shots, and yours are crystal clear and show such minute detail; I'm very impressed.  I"m afraid most of my bird shots are blurry or cut off in some respect, so I hesitate to post anything of lesser quality when shots like yours are also shared here!  Yours are all stunners!  Well done.  And yes the pink on the flamingo does look otherworldly!

 

It looks like the sharing of your previous trip reports to your friends sold them on a Porini safari!  Maybe you should get a kickback! (Or a free night!) LOL!

 

Looking forward to continuing along with you in the Mara!

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All lovely photos... I particularly love the gerenuk close up. Beauties. Precious bat eared kit, as well. 

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A beautiful selection of birds, superbly photographed. A fine selection of mammals. The Gerenuk photos are wonderful- a fascinating animal.

Thank you for your perseverance !

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I appreciate all the helpful comments, @wilddog, @amybatt, @Amylovescritters, and @TonyQ.  It helps motivate me to get Parts 3 and 4 done now, though that will be a challenge as am in the process of selling house and moving.

 

For all the photos that I captured successfully, my mind is invariably drawn back to the "ones that got away."  Unfortunately, there was one of those right at the start of this trip to Amboseli and Selenkay.  For those of you who have flown on Air Kenya, you will remember that the very first thing you encounter when stepping into their small terminal at Wilson Airport is the scale, to make sure that your baggage (checked plus carryon) does not exceed the 15kg weight limit.  I believe this is somewhat of a "soft" limit, especially in low season, but nevertheless I always pack as though it matters.  When my checked duffel and camera backpack were placed on the scale, the winning number on the digital readout was 14.95kg!  I was off by a mere 0.05 kg, or one-tenth of a pound.  I doubt I will ever come that close again, and I really should have thought to take a quick picture of the scale readout (so you all would actually believe me).  I wonder what happens if you hit 15.00kg exactly?  They should at least have some confetti drop from the ceiling!

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On ‎1‎/‎29‎/‎2019 at 12:14 AM, KCAZ said:

I am sure other casual birders like me have had this experience, where an expert birder calls out a bird ID of some nondescript little brown bird from a quarter mile away, when the bird is nothing more than a dark speck against the distant sky.  Amateurs though we may be, we know just enough about birds to realize the experts are usually pulling a fast one on us. 

That would be my DH and I.  He knows just what the little birdie is.  I just call those birds LBJs (Little Brown Jobs). :) Again, absolutely fabulous pictures.

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Aaahh, the notorious LBJs. When we were in Costa Rica on my first, group trip there (my next were  private) many were full on birders, or “twitchers.” Lol. Another, smaller group of us were primarily herp fanatics, but loved all good sightings. It was a constant search for nothing but birds at first for some, which grew a bit annoying for those of us interested in everything. After spending way too much time looking at far too many LBJs and literally driving past howler monkeys, green iguanas, and then a boa ( last straw) we finally had to put our proverbial foot down and insist on a more even targeting of species. This ended up being a bit of a struggle for the rest of the trip. There were definitely sides taken. Lol. Loved seeing so many amazing birds and so much else. I was just stunned at how many twitchers were literally interested in nothing but their lists. Never again... Some are definitely another breed. That said, I love birds and love how challenging IDs can be. BUT DRIVING PAST A 9ft BOA? No way. Not on my watch. Also, some of the birders actually began to see the wonder in species sans feathers. Cheers to the LBJs!

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Hitting the right balance on safari with guests having disparate interests is a tough challenge.  I give Porini a lot of credit for putting out enough guides and vehicles to separate the serious birders from the photographers from the first-time safari-goers, all of whom have different ideas on how they want to spend their time and what they want to see on safari.  Personally, I am consciously trying to be patient and take more time once I see something interesting, as opposed to always wanting to drive on and see what is around the next corner.  I am also learning just to appreciate what Africa offers to you, and make the best of that.  Having a little extra time on safari, and also knowing that you will return to Africa in the future, takes a lot of the pressure off to attempt to see everything on a single trip.  

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Hi @Amylovescritters,  I have a Costa Rica question for you.  I am doing a wildlife photo workshop on the Osa Peninsula (Crocodile Bay Resort) in late June, but would like to add a couple more days somewhere up in the cloud forest, hopefully to see some different species.  Any thoughts or recommendations on that part of Costa Rica?  Thanks.  Kevin

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I would highly recommend Monteverde for the ultimate cloud forest (and hummingbird) experience, but not too far from Monteverde there is the Arenal Volcano area which is fabulous,too. Both have amazing zip lining, canopy hanging bridges, and hiking. I do not remember where I stayed in Monteverde but can recommend Arenal Observatory Lodge as a fantastic place for wildlife (birds, monkeys, coatimundi, agouti, etc.)and there are miles and miles of trails to explore. Not the most glamorous lodge but very comfy and good food. A bit remote on a bumpy road, but safari goers are used to this. Some folks really complained about the remoteness of the lodge but it (and subsequent wildlife) were why we chose it. Likely be rainy in June but typically there are breaks in rain. We went early July and had some rain and sun. Osa is amazing, for sure. One of my favorite places on the planet. Well, I love Costa Rica in general. 

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Thanks much for the advice, @Amylovescritters.  That is just what I needed to know from someone who has been there.  

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That's some amazing birding. The go-away bird in flight was an especially nice capture. I'm glad Kilimanjaro came out for you in the end!

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Wow - great photography, just catching up on this excellent Trip Report.     

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for posting, really enjoyed this and Part 1! 

 

If it helps, we saw gerenuk in Tsavo (East) so I think they are pretty well spread out, relatively speaking. 

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@KCAZ  Thoroughly enjoyed this TR as Amboseli was one of my very first Africa areas on my very first Africa trip. That's when I became addicted. I have to ask though....on your posting about the grazers you saw....honestly? I think that is a Grant's gazelle, not an impala. Please, someone else check too, but I'm pretty sure. The butt is too white :)  Among other things. Regardless- great trip and look forward to part 3.

Edited by lmonmm
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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for persisting and posting your report, @KCAZ.  Can you give the dates?  What great sightings and photos, whether large or small mammals or the mountain, which came out for you.  It's nice an animal placed itself in front of it!  I noticed that Lesser Kudu.  Your Minnesota friends were treated to a tremendous safari by joining you!

Edited by Atravelynn
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  • 2 months later...

Great report @KCAZ!  I am reliving our trip to Porini Amboseli by seeing your wonderful pictures.  We were there a few weeks after you but it seems our trips were very similar wildlife wise.  

 

Alan

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