African Safari - Feb'19 ... Part 2
Coffee/Breakfast done and we were ready by 7. Today again we started with the elephants, this time in the golden light. They were having the company of the Crowned Plovers.
Suddenly we spotted some action on a nearby tree. It was another martial eagle perched nicely on the branch. It continued to change its position every few minutes giving us some nice shots. At the same time, there were some “Helmeted Guineafowls” in the grass
We spent just a couple of minutes on the guineafowls and grey-crowned storks (the way they gracefully strut their crown, is a sight to watch). Further down we came across a bunch of giraffes. This time we were lucky as there was a baby giraffe too (I had missed clicking it yesterday), we spent some 10-15 minutes with them and got some more photos. The specialty about these African jungles is, there are just so many animals around that you don’t need to search for them. And sometimes they just stand their ground without getting disturbed by human presence that is when we get a lot of photo opportunities.
Suddenly two of the male giraffes started fighting. Till now I had seen the fighting giraffes on National Geogrpahic channel but here they were in front of my own eyes. The force with which they were hitting the necks was massive. The fight lasted for only 3-4 such slaps and then stopped suddenly. We were lucky to witness such quick action happening so close to us.
Wait a bit, was that another “roger-roger” call from Nicholas? (hope you remember the radio chatter from the part-1 of the blog). Yes, it definitely was because our speed increased considerable. We were moving towards the zone where we had sighted the lion-pride yesterday. Those were obvious signs that there was some news, of some special sighting.
Very soon we could see a fleet of jeeps in front of us (and then a few more near a small hill), we drove near the spot quickly and realized there was a leopard walking. Soon we realized that it was not alone, there were 2 small cubs also following along. We immediately directed our cameras and took whatever shots possible from that distance. It was another once in a life-time show of the mother and cubs walking thru the grass. The mother was walking ahead steadily, simultaneous keeping a close watch on the cubs behind.
After a bit of walk, they circumvented the jeeps and went towards the hill. The cubs were climbing the rocks with ease, following their mother. The family stayed on the rocks for about 20 minutes continuously playing with each other. Constantly nibbling and mock-slapping each other. And in all seriousness, those scenes were worth going to Africa for. What I realized was (from the guide as well as seasoned photographers with us), it is not very often that you get this opportunity to shoot the leopards. Slowly they walked further up on the hill and disappeared from the scene.
There were just so many photos to choose from, I finally shortlisted 4 here to support the above story.
The whole action played out in front of us for about 30 odd minutes and thanks to our guide Nicholas we were at the right places to take good photos (considering that there were at least 10 other vehicles, getting good spot wasn’t that easy). One noticeable thing in Kenya was all the drivers were very considerate about fellow jeeps and no-one tried to take positions so as to block others, this seemed to be the trend in general throughout the safaris.
With happy faces, we moved away from there. Around a km away, we saw 2 Augur Buzzards on top tree branches, as if monitoring their territories (were perched on different trees about 20 meters away from each other).
Next we were fortunate to see the tiny dik-dik, possibly the smallest antelope in Africa (at least among those that I have seen). They appear smaller even than the juveniles of the other antelopes. Watching them at eye-level is another amazing experience. They suddenly become alert and dash into the denser bushes, prompting the others in the herd to follow. The male dik-diks have 2 tiny horns, giving them an even cuter appearance.
Little further we could see the graceful Impala males and the vulturine guineafowls. Typically in the jungles we see 2 types of antelope herds. One where you see a single male with ‘n’ number of females. The other herd is that of all males (“Boy’s club” as our guide kept referring them), these are those males who couldn’t challenge the stronger one (who gets to keep all the female members of the group) and had no choice but to stay separately. It is perhaps nature’s way of ensuring only the strong genes get inherited.
The area we were passing through was near a river bank (though hardly any water in the chennels) and there was a lot of green gas as well as few tall trees. This area had a substantial population of Guineafowls (Vulturine as well as Helmeted) and the antelopes. Some were grazing and some others were standing in tree shades always keeping safe distance from our vehicle. Little further there were curious group of giraffes as well (curious about our presence, they were busy grazing but kept a watch on us).
About 40 feet away, there was a dry (leafless) tree and a pale colored Eagle was perched on it. Very soon another eagle (darker in shade) sat on the same tree. We were wondering as to how 2 different types of eagles can come so close, they also seem to be interacting with each other. Nicholas was not able to see them from his position so he took help of our pictures and identified them to be a mother and a juvenile of Tawny Eagle. Any guesses which is the baby?
Expert birders will easily know from their plumage but for us commoners that was not so obvious… the darker one was the mother although they both looked similar in size and wing-span.
We were happily clicking the eagles (and some white-throated bee-eaters nearby) in that innocuous looking surrounding. Just see the adjacent picture to get the idea. The picture does show the eagles on the tree (far off) and bee-eaters on the nearer branch (so small in this picture, you will have to strain your eyes to find them).
But we had missed the near-by bush (to the left side in this picture). I actually took this wide-angle photo keeping this blog in mind. There was no way I could explain this in words.
The peaceful looking bushes were occupied by a lion pride resting under the shade. Possibly the same pride that was on the warthog kill yesterday (or some other pride), we obviously did not venture in to check.
And this is the reason why the guides always caution against getting down from the vehicle anywhere in the jungle. It is just impossible to know it unless you actually see it. The place might look calm and serene but inadvertently you might disturb a wild animal nearby. Lesson learnt!
On realizing the lion-pride’s presence, we moved back a bit (close to where we saw those guineafowls and antelopes). All of a sudden there was a lot of chaos and the guineafowls started running helter-skelter making frightened calls all the while. Looking at them even the larger mammals became restless (even the Giraffes). We thought there might be some action in store but the reason for all this commotion was a martial eagle flying in. It sat on a nearby tree looking for possible prey but we were not that lucky (nor was the eagle).
It continued to sit there and soon the noises reduced. Then we happened to see another antelope variety near-by, this was the Kudu. The Kudus were having their personal groomers with them (the red-billed oxpeckers were busy cleaning them off the pest on their skin).
The radio-chatter was ongoing all the while and we did not hear anything to alert us but Nicholas decided to move away and the speed increased a bit too (not the super speed though). He did not keep the secret for long, and mentioned we are probably in for another treat (possible the best of the lot and the only missing piece). He didn’t utter anything else and just drove on for next 20 odd minutes.
We saw a jeep standing little away from the marked pathways (off-roading is the term used in Kenya for vehicles going away from the marked tracks, one has to take special off-roading permit to take the vehicles there) but still we could not make out anything special. Now even Nicholas was going off-road (though we did not have the permissions). He took us up a small hillock and there we were facing a beautiful Cheetah family. Mother and 3 grown-up cubs were resting under a tree. Nicholas made us aware that we will not be able stay for more than 10 minutes here as this was not on allowed route, so make maximum use of the available time.
We did extend those 10 minute interval to 25 minutes and then pushed off. We would have liked some more time though.
Yesterday we had seen the male Somali Ostrich and now we had the full family in front of us. 3 babies and their parents were grazing in a large field (it was a task to take all of them in a single photo).
Somali Ostrich (F)
By about 11:30 we were back in our camp. We were here for just 1.5 days and we had covered almost all our target species. Nicholas actually mentioned that there is nothing left now for him to show.
Today we finished the lunch quickly and managed to have half hour nap before the evening safari. Our camp location was also beautiful. It was right on the river bank (although there was not much water) and we could observe some of species directly from our tents.
This afternoon, I managed to click 2 common birds from near the tent itself.
For evening safari, we once again went in the direction of the water body (where we had sighted the leopard yesterday). The elephants were missing today but we managed to see the Nile crocodiles and small herd of waterbucks, 2 of them were engaged in a horn-tussle which lasted for about a minute and separated after seeing our vehicle (even though they were very far from us).
We were finding many of the usual species like Secretary bird, waterbucks, spurfowls, Egyptian ducks, etc. And although we had seen these in earlier safaris, we still waited for each and took some fresh photos, after all it is not so often that you see so much variety.
We happened to see a local variety of shrike called the “Taita Fiscal”, somewhat like grey-shrike. It had perched very nicely on a lower level tree allowing us some near eye-level shots.
I had earlier mentioned about the Grevy’s zebra. Now we were able to see both types in a single frame. If you notice, the Grevy’s one is little bigger in size and it’s stomach portion is plain-white. The common zebra has stripes all over the body.
We then came across a vast plain-field and the Giraffes were merrily walking on it. It was a treat to watch them nibbling on to the thorn filled acacia leaves. We waited for some time here and witnessed a little unusual scene. We saw a lone elephant walking towards the giraffe area. He came close and kind of gave a warning signal to the giraffe (put 1-2 steps in that direction with parallel trunk-movement). The Giraffe actually took a few steps away from the elephant, as if acknowledging the superiority of the bigger giant. I managed to click these 2 tall buddies in a single frame, there are some Oryx in the background too. Something you can see only in such rich jungles like Africa
Elephant with Giraffe
The day wasn’t over yet. We managed to see another bustard (the white-bellied one) before sunset. In the golden light, we also saw a Tawny Eagle. It was perched on a tree for some time, flew away to another tree and came back to the same branch within 2 minutes. What we observed was, it had carried some prey and was slowly eating it.
By then the light was fading fast, we got some beautiful sunset silhouettes and headed back to the camp. This was going to be our last night in Samburu as we were to catch the flight for Masai Mara at 10 in the morning.
Nicholas suggested us to get ready as usual in the morning but with packed-bags. After breakfast, we will load the bags in the jeep, do a quick safari till 9am and then head straight for the Air-strip. This was going to be a small 18 seater flight that was to ferry us between 2 jungles. He opined that we can be there just half hour before the flight, and we all liked this plan. He was little sympathetic that we had missed out on evening safari on day 1 (the entire day went into traveling) so wanted to compensate a bit by having this morning safari.
Day 4 (5-Feb-2019)
Day started as usual and we were ready for breakfast by 6:15. Quick group-photo after breakfast followed by some more of the camp itself and then we hit the road again.
It was going to be a short 2 hour safari and we had seen a lot of stuff already, so we went with a uncluttered mind, no expectations (really? Some of us were still talking about specific frames that they wanted to capture!!).
Before leaving we managed to capture a pair of mouse-birds in the campus itself. Right outside our camp gate, there were 2 elephant babies in playful mood, we had to stop there for few minutes. Further down, there were more elephants and lot of them were posing for us (they probably got the hint that we are leaving the place that day).
It looked to be a routine day with common sightings when suddenly there was a “roger-roger” call on the radio. The routine reactions followed and we reached a spot where some other vehicles had spotted a leopard going towards a large patch of grass. There was no clue about the possible location, so we decided to stop at one point randomly but luck was with us. Very soon, the leopard did come out into the open for few seconds. Our cameras were already waiting for that.
After that short-span, it decided to remain hidden in the grass. We wanted to wait more but had flight to catch. Nicholas gave us 10 minutes time to wait (considering the time required to travel to the air-strip) but the leopard didn’t come out at all. While waiting we managed to see couple of different birds. First one was called the “GoAway Bird” and the second was “D’Arnaud’s Barbet”.
Very reluctantly, we decided to leave the place. On the way we did have a few quick stops for some more species. Finally by about 9:30 we reached the airstrip (flight was scheduled for 10am).
This was a very small airstrip, created out of the large open field in the jungle. The runway was identifiable as there was no grass on it (otherwise it was very much the part of the surroundings).
Our flight was to carry couple of other passengers from near-by airstrip and it had still not left from there, so we had some time on hand.
There was one big tree near-by and someone had kept some water in small containers (something like the used truck tyres), that place was full of small birds. I just could not let the opportunity go, took out the camera (it was packed as we were to board the flight) from the bag and started clicking. There was so much variety in that small place. We could see variety of sparrows, finches, silverbills, straw-tailed Whydah and some pigeons too.
Our flight came at about 10:15 and we were quickly airborne. The next hour and half was the most forgettable part of the trip for myself and Deepa. The plane was small and we had a bout of extreme motion sickness that I ever had in my life. We had taken the motion sickness medicine but that was of no use. Will not get into those details and get straight to Ol Kinyei conservancy in Masai Mara where the plane dropped us.
This was another in-the-jungle type of runway and our new guides (Nicholas could not accompany us as we decided to take the flight instead of road journey) were ready to take us to the camp (Porini Cheetah Camp). Camp was about an hour’s drive from that place, we loaded our bags into the jeep first and then got into our seats.
Will take a small breather here and mention something about the private conservancy. In Maasai Mara besides the main reserve, they have allowed private land-owners to have their own conservancies. These areas are adjacent to the main reserve and for the animals it is continuous terrain. The conservancies are managed privately, they provide employment to the locals and share the profits. These places have restricted number of vehicles thereby giving some exclusivity to the travelers. Our conservancy, the “Ol Kinyei” was the east most part (kind of farthest from the main reserve). This is where we came to know about the “Loita Migration”. Main migration is a north-south type between Kenya and Tanzania. But besides that, some of the wildebeests do not take part in that and instead move west to east. Ol Kinyei being the east-most part, they were right now in huge numbers here. Add to that it was also the calving season for them, so we could see many just-born wildebeest babies all over the conservancy.
Getting back to the blog, our journey till the conservancy was also eventful. Within 5 minutes, we saw the Egyptian Goose with 5-6 very small cheeks. That was a lovely sight but our cameras were all packed.
We did see lots Wildebeest (they were not seen in Samburu) on the way along with other regulars.
By about 1pm we reached the camp. The Porini Cheetah Camp is such a beautiful location. Completely inside the jungle with no fences anywhere. It has 6 well-furnished tents for guests and some more tents for staff, office, dining, meeting areas.
The camp is managed by Nirmalya and Jui Banerjee (an Indian Origin couple from Nairobi) with the help of locals and it is completely eco-friendly. Power-supply in the camp is completely Solar based (with emergency back-up of diesel-generator). They optimally use the ground water (the drinking water comes from Nairobi) and the place is so neat and clean.
We got introduced to them as well as the manager John and after their warm welcome, headed straight to the tents. Quick unpacking done and we were ready for lunch, the safari was to start at 4.
We occupied 3 out of the 6 camps and we were the only guests during that time. One advantage was, the food would be exclusively prepared for us, so we had all the choices (yes, even for vegetarians) there.
Tents from top
To be continued ........