Mara part 11
Paul and I heard hyena whooping and giggling in the night but if there were other night sounds we slept right through them. It did rain last night and the moisture actually started falling while we were eating dinner so we had to walk to the tent under umbrellas.
We are up early as usual and our tea-tray arrives with a cheerful good morning and a smile from the young man as we unzip the tent canvas to take possession of the tray. Once we have finished the tea, hot chocolate, and cookies we gather our gear and walk up to the main tent where David and Kapen are waiting for us. After exchanging good mornings, Paul and I climb into the Cruiser ready to enjoy whatever the morning brings.
Hey, we are going to have a sunrise this morning! I missed seeing the dramatic sunrises and sunsets while we were in Sosian. Shortly after leaving camp in the dim morning light, we see a half-grown cub peeking out from a clump of bushes. The forlorn looking cat appears to be all alone and David tells us that the Offbeat pride has been separated due to an altercation with the local herders. Our guides tell us they think most of the pride is across the river and this is certainly the direction the young lion is looking. Well, I hope he is reunited soon because she is too young to defend herself or hunt on his own.
A few minutes after leaving the cub we see several spotted hyena walking in the unmistakable slouchy way of hyenas. David says they are probably returning to their den after a night of scavenging or hunting. Looking at them through the binoculars the unattractive animals, (in my opinion), do have bulging bellies, which indicates they have been successful in procuring a meal.
We cross the small river where the water is flowing swiftly and the vehicle slips and slides as we climb up the rough cut on the other side of the river. There are Masai who are taking their cattle to the salt flat this morning; they have a deal with the Conservancy that allows them to do this once a week I think. The sun has risen high enough now that its rays are highlighting all the beads of moisture on the grasses so that the landscape is glistening. It is quite beautiful.
We climb higher into the hills and find a topi and her very young calf. Being a good mother, as soon as the topi sees us she begins leading the youngster away from our vehicle. Even so we are able to admire the cute baby from afar. A short distance from the topi there is a herd of eland and David stops the Cruiser so we can watch them. Our guide tells us to listen closely when the bull eland walks, which we do. We can hear a clicking noise similar to those tin cricket clickers I played with as a child. David tells us that this is a form of communication from the bull to other males in the vicinity. Evidently the louder the sound from a male elands’ clicking joints the stronger the animal is perceived to be and the clicks warn more wimpy eland not to bother trying to fight him. This seems a bit bizarre to me but who am I to question what evidently works for these large antelope!
Beyond the eland a small dazzle of zebra are grazing although two members of the herd are having a mock fight. The two bite at each other’s neck, strike out with their forelegs and generally do all the things two horses would do when play fighting. The black and white coats of the zebra against the lush green landscape and set off by the early morning light is stunning.
Driving on through the grassland one of our guides calls out bat-eared fox and points off to the right of the vehicle. Sure enough we see four of the big eared fox running for cover. Three of the group end up running to the left of us and the fourth continues in a straight line to hide in thicker foliage. It turns out that the three that dodged left were heading for their den which isn’t far from the track we are driving on. The mother and her two big pups peer out at us from the safety of the den that is fringed by dewy foliage. As the trio becomes bolder the fox sit up taller and stare curiously at their audience. This is only the second time I have seen bat-eared fox and this is Paul’s first look at them. Paul was not feeling well in Tanzania and stayed in camp so missed the numerous fox we saw on that game drive. I had forgotten how cute the bat-eared fox are with their oversized ears but boy I bet they can hear anything within a mile with a pair of ears like that.
We stay with the fox for twenty or thirty minutes. Mama becomes tired of the den and slips out the back door where she settles down in the grass and at times she closes her eyes for a quick cat nap. The two little ones also become bored with the human intruders and one yawns then lies down in the hollow of earth out of our sight except for the tip of its ear. Soon the other pup is drifting off to sleep so we leave the relaxed fox and drive on.
As we wind our way through the open grassland a warthog and three piglets run away with their tails raised in the air. Do you know how hard it is to get a warthog’s photo from the front? David estimates where they are running to and drives around them enabling us to have a look at one of the piglets that isn’t quite as fast getting to cover as his siblings. The piglet stands still for a brief moment and I manage to get a frontal photo of the little pig as he stares defiantly at us.
A few minutes away from the warthogs are a pair of black-backed jackal lying in the wet grass. Kapen says they have a den here where they are raising a litter but no pups are in sight. The two jackals seem unperturbed by our presence and we enjoy the company of the delicately made animals as they soak up the warmth of the sun. There is something very appealing about the jackals face to me and I love looking at the pleasant features of the small canines. The pair seems content to just lie around although one of them does sit up to vigorously scratch an itch. It is pretty obvious that the pups are not coming out of the den so we leave the jackals and David starts back towards the river.
Crossing the river isn’t any easier this way, in fact David has more trouble convincing the Cruiser to claw its way up the muddy incline, After backing the truck up a couple of times and trying a different angle we do make it to more level and solid ground. We stop to look at a Hildebrandt’s starling that looks sternly back at us. The colorful birds’ stare almost makes me feel guilty even though as far as I know I haven’t done anything wrong:). We also stop to scan a brushy hillside through our binoculars where Amani the cheetah was seen by some of our campmates this morning. Kapen somehow finds Amani lying under a bush (we are a long way from this hillside). After a lot of patience and pointing from Kapen, Paul and I finally see the barely visible head of the graceful cheetah. We also learn from the two Masai that Amani is pregnant and they expect her to have cubs in a week or two.
David drives higher into the hills and there is a herd of Eland browsing while in the background a large herd of impalas can be seen. We leave the plains grazers behind and drive along the top of the ridge where the view is so expansive it takes your breath away. We drive near three Cape buffalo and Kapen points to one of the bulls with a wound to his testicle. Kapen makes the assumption that the old bull probably was attacked by a lion. The bull looks pretty good considering but the wound is fairly deep so who knows if infection will set in and what those consequences will bring if it does. Life in the wild sure isn’t Disney world.
David and Kapen take us to a picturesque solitary tree with a sweeping view of the Mara. Paul and I watch the three Cape buffalo grazing in the distance while David and Kapen busy themselves setting breakfast out for us. At Offbeat camp they don’t use the hood of the Cruiser for a table, they actually have small tables and chairs and our guides set up our meal near the personable tree. Paul and I are really hungry, it must be close to eleven, and we dig into the sausage, toast, boiled eggs, fruit and more with gusto while enjoying the beauty of the Mara.
When we have finished with our meal, the guides pack up the breakfast gear and David turns the Cruiser in the direction of camp. Even though the day is becoming quite warm we still see plenty of birds and animals. A Rosy-breasted Longclaw stands on a rock as it sings loudly; it is quite a stunning bird. We drive through an area that is lousy with Topi! David tells us they say topi wear blue jeans with yellow socks. Yep, that is a pretty good way to describe the odd markings of the beasts. We drive near a pair of tussling impalas but they are not seriously fighting, just practicing for the real deal someday. A few vervets are sitting in the trees that line the river as we near camp including a mother and her baby. There are elephants near the place where we saw the big male leopard yesterday so we drive over to observe the wrinkled grey giants. The elephants aren’t particularly interested in having company so they make their way deeper into the trees. We take the hint and drive the short distance to camp.
Once we arrive at camp we return to our tents for a short time but lunch will be served before long. Needless to say we aren’t very hungry since we have hardly had time to digest our breakfast. When we get to the mess tent we are delighted to see that Kyle’s family is still here. We had said a fond farewell to them last night thinking they were leaving this morning after they had breakfast. We sit around and visit with these friendly folks before, during and after lunch until they say they must hit the road. Paul and I again tell the family goodbye and particularly tell Kyle’s grandparents what a pleasure it was to meet them and enjoy their company even though it was only for a short time. They return the sentiment and we wish them a safe journey then leave so they can be alone with Kyle and Lara.
Paul and I opted not to go on an afternoon game drive and instead go on a night drive. Kyle and Lara suggested that we eat dinner early and then immediately leave on our night drive. The idea of eating in about four hours is not very appealing right now but it sure makes sense. Paul and I return to our tent to read, go through photos, and take a nap.
Dinner hour seems to roll around very quickly and we walk up to the main area where a campfire is burning brightly. As in the other camps we are offered drinks and snacks before dinner is ready. Paul and I had been aware of clouds building on the horizon late this afternoon and it felt and looked rainy as we went up for dinner. As we begin to eat it begins to pour down rain so Paul and I look to be cheated out of yet another night drive. Kyle tells us not to give up on the drive yet as sometimes the rain stops as quickly as it starts. However, that is not the case tonight as the rain continues to drum steadily on the canvas all through dinner. We sit around the table for a while when we have finished the meal but the road next to the dining tent is becoming a stream and Kyle finally admits there will be no game drive for us tonight. Our escort comes to take us back to our tent, all of us walking with huge umbrellas held over our heads trying to stay dry. Oh well, it was still a great day and we have two more nights to try again for that elusive night drive. Nancy