The Final Kenya blog, 2016

The Final Kenya blog, 2016

Today is Paul and my last day in Kenya. The good news is that we don’t fly out of the Mara until four p.m. so we get to take a morning game drive and have one last bush breakfast. Whatever this morning brings will just be icing on the cake because what a wonderful variety we have experienced throughout our safari. The young man from New Zealand is going with us this morning.

Our last Mara sunrise

Our last Mara sunrise

There is a beautiful sunrise this morning and no sign of haze or fog. It is going to be a gorgeous morning! David and Kapen decide to cross the river and see if Frank and Jesse have stayed on that side since they were not with the pride last night. Say what?? We question our guides on why Frank and Jesse would be on the other side of the river since they stayed on this side of the river the three days they were separated from the rest of the pride. “No, not the abandoned cubs, the two brothers that are the adult males of the pride” David tells us. What the heck, Paul and I thought the cubs were named Frank and Jesse when all along Frank and Jesse were the big males that run the pride. The two males were dubbed Frank and Jesse because they are brothers and the duo stole the pride from the single male lion that had been the king of the Offbeat Pride. I thought we had been getting a few funny looks from people when we kept lamenting Frank and Jesse’s predicament!

The plains are empty on this side of the river

The plains are empty on this side of the river

David drives for quite a while in the area but there is absolutely nothing to be seen. All the grazing mammals we saw yesterday have vanished and we do not find Frank and Jesse. David and Kapen survey the surroundings with their binoculars looking for wild animals of any kind. David or Kapen see something across the river on the farthest ridge and speak to one another excitedly in Maa or Swahili. David then tells Paul and me to look along the ridge near a certain tree because they have seen either Frank or Jesse. Sure enough, standing on the horizon is a beautiful male lion in what is a classic head lifted proudly, I’m the king, pose.

The real Jesse

The real Jesse

Jesse and one of the lioness of Offbeat Pride

Jesse and one of the lioness of Offbeat Pride

David drives back to the river crossing and twenty minutes later we arrive at the place where the big male was spotted. The handsome male with a thick, reddish-brown mane, (our guides identify him as Jesse), is lying down and two lioness are also resting nearby. We spend some time with the sleepy trio but soon leave them because a couple hundred yards away a number of lions are piled together obviously feeding on something. Frank, who has a much darker mane than Jesse, is recumbent not far from the scrum of feeding felines. David maneuvers the Cruiser very close to the group that is eating so we are able to observe and hear all the interaction of the lions.

Part of the Offbeat Pride eating on the remains of the impala

Part of the Offbeat Pride eating on the remains of the impala

Feeding on the impala

Feeding on the impala

Tug of war for food

Tug of war for food

Frank staying out of the melee

The real Frank staying out of the melee

There are seven big cubs and a lioness still licking and chewing on what little is left of an impala. One of the cubs is dominating the other cubs and if they get to close to the part of the bony carcass it has latched on to, the feisty rascal will lay its ears back and growl deeply at his pride mates occasionally lashing out with its front paws. The lioness is feeding right across from the aggressive cub but it knows better than to challenge the adult. Our New Zealand companion is astonished at the sound of the chewing and crunching the feasting lions are making. Frank stands up and smells the ground not far from the kill which causes him to open his mouth and curl his lips, making it appear that he is snarling. A cub gets up from the mob and rubs against Frank, (who is rather thin), and the big male seems fine with this act of affection from the little guy.

Whatever Frank smelled made him make this face

Whatever Frank smelled made him make this face

Some affection from a cub

Some affection from a cub

This cub sure looks like one of the two cubs that were left behind for three days.

This cub sure looks like one of the two cubs that were left behind for three days.

As usual there is a jackal skulking as close to the lions as it dares, while three hyenas are slinking around at a safer distance hoping that something will be left for them to scavenge. There is another lioness and cub lazing a few yards from the group that are still scrapping for the leftovers. That makes four lionesses, eight cubs and Frank and Jesse but I forgot to ask if this was all the members of the pride darn it. Anyway, an impala for this many lions is hardly a snack let alone a fulfilling meal. No wonder the felines are working at getting every bit of edible worth out of their kill.

The jackal biding his time

The jackal biding his time

Hyenas keeping a very safe distance.

Hyenas keeping a very safe distance.

Eventually the dining lions begin to drift away from the remains of the impala, starting with the lioness. The pretty female runs her tongue over a couple of the cubs then stands up, walks in front of our vehicle, then joins the other lioness and cub. One by one the cubs abandon the carcass, one cub passes by carrying a leg bone of the unlucky impala, and they flop down next to the two lionesses. With the departure of the other lions, Frank decides to gnaw and lick on the skull and spine that was left behind. Now that there is only one lion to keep an eye on, the spry jackal darts in then quickly retreats several times, searching for any tidbits the lions might have missed.

Time for a little grooming of a cub

Time for a little grooming of a cub

This cub carries his prize with him

This cub carries his prize with him making David smile

Jesse is now walking towards us with his head hung low and he is staring at his brother Frank. David informed us that Frank used to be the dominate male but Jesse has now taken over that position. By Jesses’ posture we wonder if Frank has committed some pecking order crime and is about to pay the price for it. As Jesse approaches his brother, he stops to smell the ground in the same area Frank had earlier. Jesse’s reaction is exactly the same as his brothers, his mouth opens and lips curl in what appears to be a reaction to some pungent smell in the grass. Frank doesn’t stop licking and chewing on the skull and Jesse walks over and sniffs at his brother’s head. Then he lies down and rolls over in what could almost be seen as a submissive posture. So much for the idea that an altercation might take place!

Here comes brother Jesse

Here comes brother Jesse

Jesse doesn't look real friendly here

Jesse doesn’t look real friendly here

Jesse with the same reaction as Frank when he smells the grass near the kill

Jesse with the same reaction as Frank when he smells the grass near the kill

Hey brother, what's up

Hey brother, what’s up

Frank gives up on getting anything worthwhile from the spine and skull of the impala and rises to his feet and walks in the direction of the cubs and lionesses. Jesse decides to see if he can lick off anything of worth from the skull now but after a couple of swipes of his tongue he too gives up. The impertinent jackal has come quite close to Jesse and the big male sits up and stares at the little whippersnapper! Jesse stands up and starts to walk towards the jackal and then suddenly veers off in what appears to be an “it’s not worth the energy to chase the varmint” decision. As the lions are all retreating for some nearby bushes to beat the heat, we decide that we will move on to see what else might be awaiting us.

Frank leaves the impala skull for Jesse

Frank leaves the impala skull for Jesse

Jesse staring at the pesky jackal

Jesse staring at the pesky jackal

Jesse acting as though he might give chase

Jesse acting as though he might give chase

Never mind

Never mind

Persistence pays off

Persistence pays off

A few minutes’ drive from the lions we come upon a group of Thompson gazelle where the ewes are tightly together. The male is snorting and prancing around the herd’s perimeter. One ewe breaks from the herd and runs towards a few gazelle in the distance. The ram snorts with anger and chases after the stray but the ewe manages to escape despite the rams determined pursuit and ends up with the distant gazelle. David tells us that by the way the ram is acting, (grunting, snorting, and hyper), that he has more than likely just defeated the ram that used to be in control of the harem. The ewes are staying bunched tight under the patrolling ram but seem to be looking longingly at the few gazelle that the recalcitrant ewe ran off to join. My guess is that the victorious ram better enjoy his spoils of war while he can because losing the ewes to another ram will likely be his fate in a few weeks!

Victorious Thompson gazelle ram and the ewes he won

Victorious Thompson gazelle ram and the ewes he won

Ram returning after his futile attempt to corral the escaping ewe.

Ram returning after his futile attempt to corral the escaping ewe.

As we continue driving through the lush landscape on this blue-sky morning we encounter a nice herd of topi sporting their blue jeans and yellow knee socks. The uniquely marked animals mostly ignore us and continue grazing or resting when we stop to enjoy them.

Topi

Topi

David and Kapen lay out our last bush breakfast on top of a hill where we can enjoy the vastness of the Mara. We are surrounded by various plains grazers in the distance and it is a perfect way to enjoy our meal. We also watch David and Kapen as they scan the area with their binoculars, confer with one another, scan again, gesture and eventually come up with a plan for driving back to camp I guess. This is one thing Paul and I got such a kick out of on all our game drives with the two young men as they constantly consulted one another on everything!

David and Kapen laying out our breakfast

David and Kapen laying out our breakfast

Our guides scoping out the countryside

Our guides scoping out the countryside

Plotting our course back to camp?

Plotting our course back to camp?

Paul took this close up of our guides conferring.

Paul took this close up of our guides conferring.

Our drive back to camp is serene and beautiful and we just sit back in the Cruiser and soak in the wildness of the Mara. The two guides drive back to the river and show us that if we had not crossed back over the river this morning due to seeing Frank and Jesse on the horizon, we likely would have been stranded. The river level has risen dramatically, and though we didn’t have much rain last night, somebody sure did. David informs us we might not have made it to the airstrip even though our flight was in the afternoon. Well, I’m not sure that scenario would have been all that bad:).

Mara view

Mara view

Checking out the high water in the river.

Checking out the high water in the river.

Once we get back to camp it is time to face the fact that we have to go home. Paul and I have ordered showers before lunch and we also get most of our things packed. When we go to lunch I take all the things like bug repellant and lotion we didn’t use up and ask Lara if they want such things. Lara says absolutely, that most people do leave things like this with them rather than haul them back home. Great! At lunch we relate the story of our misunderstanding about thinking the cubs were named Frank and Jesse. Lara laughs and says “we wondered why you guys were so worried about Frank and Jesse, now it all makes sense!”

Portrait of Frank

Portrait of Frank, it appears Frank might have injured his left eye?

Portrait of Jesse

Portrait of Jesse

Even though our plane doesn’t leave until four p.m. Kyle suggests we take off shortly after lunch so if we see anything interesting along the way we will have time to stop and enjoy it. We agree with this plan and go back to the tent to brush our teeth and finish packing. Wilson comes to help get our luggage and Paul, who has brought postcards with his stone fence featured on them, asks Wilson if he would like to have one. Wilson says yes, hesitates, and then asks if he might have one of the photos of our cows too! Paul laughs out loud and pulls the photos out to let Wilson choose the one he wants. He picks the photo of our cows that are standing on our hill to the southwest of our house. The photo also shows our homestead in the background. What a delightful young man Wilson is.

We profusely thank Kyle and Lara for their hospitality and for taking such good care of us. Paul promises that he will give the camp an excellent review on Trip Advisor too. David and Kapen are waiting to take us to the airstrip and we wave goodbye as the Cruiser takes us out of Offbeat Mara camp for the last time.

Crowned Crane

Crowned Crane

Kyle was right; we do see things that are worth taking some extra time for.  We stop to watch a cape buffalo enjoying a roll in the mud. There is a pair of grey crowned cranes strolling through the long grass. David drives us to a different part of the Mara River and in a bend of the river a large raft of hippo are residing. We get out and have a last look at the river horses that don’t seem at all happy to see us. The grey beasts do a lot of grunting, submerging and gaping while we look on. Finally we leave the noisy hippos and make our way to the small airstrip.

Cape buffalo covered in mud

Cape buffalo covered in mud

Cape buffalo rolling in the mud

Cape buffalo rolling in the mud

Lots of hippo in this calm part of the Mara River

Lots of hippo in this calm part of the Mara River

Saying goodbye??

Saying goodbye??

Our plane hasn’t arrived yet so we take this time to give David and Kapen their well-earned tips plus thank them for doing such a spectacular job. Kapen leaves to greet some friends and Paul thinks to ask David if he would like one of our ranch photos. He smiles widely and says that he would indeed. David too, picks one of the photos that contains our black cows, (what a surprise), and thanks Paul for it. Our Air Kenya plane arrives shortly after and I hold my breath wondering if the fifteen seater plane will get stopped in time on this short runway. Whew, it does come to a stop in time but the brakes sure did squeal.

Approaching the airstrip

Approaching the airstrip

David and Kapen carry our luggage out to the plane and hand it over to the pilot who stashes it in the luggage compartment under the belly of the aircraft. We shake hands and say goodbye to our two guides who then walk back to the Cruiser. The pilot tells us that there is another passenger on this flight but if he doesn’t show up within a few minutes they will leave. As we visit with the pilot, he naturally asks us where we are from. When we tell him Kansas, his face lights up and he tells us that he took his pilot training for flying Cessna’s in Oklahoma! It really is a small world.

The other passenger does show up and as we prepare to crawl into the Cessna, we wave goodbye again to David and Kapen who are standing along the airstrip. Once we are all strapped in and the pilot and copilot have gone through their checks, they start the plane trundling down the bumpy runway. We turn around at the end and start back with much more speed. The plane lifts off the ground and as I look through my window I see David in his bright red Masai outfit waving with both hands to Paul and me. I wave back and all my resolve to not cry when I leave Africa this time is broken. I watch through blurry eyes as the grassland of the Mara and the scattered antelope grazing on it recede and then it is gone. Nancy

Paul, Kapen, Nancy and David

Paul, Kapen, Nancy and David

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The Mara part 14 2016

The Mara part 14 206

Last night after dinner, Kyle and Laura asked Paul and me if we would mind sharing our vehicle with the German couple tomorrow morning and of course we said the shared game drive was fine. The four of us converge by the dining tent at six a.m. this morning where David and Kapen are waiting with the Cruiser.

The Mara is cloaked in a heavy fog this morning which is going to make game viewing quite difficult. The haze is so thick that even sound seems to be muffled adding to the mystique of the eerie morning. On the hillside we are able to see ghostly shapes of giraffe and the vague outline of the gentle giants is surreal to say the least.  On the ridge line a mixed herd of impalas and topi are barely visible, and we must identify the antelope by the shape of their horns. A warthog is sitting near the track and for once it doesn’t take off running, maybe because it can’t see more than a few feet ahead and it is too dangerous to run blindly into the fog bank.

Fog enveloped giraffe

Fog enveloped giraffe

Impalas and a few Topi

Impalas and a few Topi

Warthog sitting tight in the fog

Warthog sitting tight in the fog

The sun begins to thin the stubborn fog after an hour or so, and when we drive on top of the hills there is actually blue sky. As soon as we descend into the valleys however the fog still covers much of the landscape wrapping itself around the trees and lying thickly in low spots. As we get closer to our destination, the Mara River which is the northern boundary of the Mara North Conservancy, the sunshine is slowly but surely burning the thick fog away.

David and Kapen point to a lioness that is striding through the wet grass where she is heading for some nearby bushes. Since there are several vehicles in the area, either parked or driving slowly around the clumps of bushes, we aren’t surprised when David tells us that the Acacia pride is sheltering in the thickets. The lioness finds a suitable bush and walks into the leafy shelter and lies down. David begins to circle the various patches of brush and we can see bits and pieces of lions as they lay sleeping inside the thick foliage. One lioness hasn’t bothered to find cover and is lying flat on her side in the grass sound asleep.

Lioness of the Acacia pride

Lioness of the Acacia pride

Sleeping in the open

Sleeping in the open

Since it appears there will be no activity from the lazy pride, David moves on to see if they can find the two adult males that belong to the Acacia pride. David and Kapen must have talked to other guides as they drive to a specific place where the bushes are very thick. David drives slowly in and around the scrub covered ground and on a second pass we can just see the mane and chest of one of the males. There is even less to see of the second male as he is lying deeper in the cover of the bush. We also see a bristly patch of hair that is part of what is left of the warthog. David tells us that the females killed the warthog but the males took possession of the kill and drug the carcass into the safety of the bushes, keeping the whole hog for themselves. Our guides also say that the Acacia pride had 22 cubs this year but the cubs contracted mange and only eight cubs survived!

Sun trying to burn off the fog

Sun trying to burn off the fog

A variety of grazers glowing in a patch of sunlight

A variety of grazers glowing in a patch of sunlight

When we leave the lions we drive into an area of the conservancy where flat-topped Acacia trees among others dot the beautiful grassland as far as the eye can see. The scene that is spread out before us is just breath-taking as the sun lights up a variety of plains animals while remnants of fog and a darker sky are in the background. Wow, an indelible image to say the least. As we drive through what almost seems a dreamscape, there are two young bull giraffe mock fighting. They sidle up to each other and then take aim at one another by swinging their long necks and landing a blow on their opponent with their heads. It would be the human equivalent of using a mace I guess. I saw a program that says a mature bull giraffes’ head weighs fifty pounds so imagine the damage that could cause your enemy!

The nearest giraffe winding up to strike a blow on his playmate

The nearest giraffe winding up to strike a blow on his playmate

The two got tired of play fighting and struck a beautiful pose for me.

The two got tired of play fighting and struck a beautiful pose for me.

We can see a sliver of the Mara River beyond a large herd of impalas that are glowing in the bright sunlight. Even from this distance we can tell that a lot of water is rushing between the rivers’ banks. When we arrive at the river all of us climb out of the Cruiser to gape at the rushing water and the huge raft of hippo that are mostly submerged in the muddy water. David begins to unload everything needed for our breakfast which we will eat while overlooking this wild scene. Kapen walks with us tourists along the edge of the river, but not too close to the edge, as we look down at the active hippos.

The Mara River in the distance

The Mara River in the distance

David setting out breakfast

David setting out breakfast

A few of the hippos in the Mara River

A few of the hippos in the Mara River

The current is really strong in the main part of the river and even along the bend of the river where the hippos are situated; the current is still tugging on the massive animals. We watch as two youngsters emulate the adult gaping as they touch muzzles, which I assume is a pecking order thing among adults. We witnessed this gaping lip to lip contact several times among the mature hippos and it didn’t look to be a friendly encounter!

Two youngsters copying the adults

Two youngsters copying the adults

I'm pretty sure this isn't a friendly encounter!

I’m pretty sure this isn’t a friendly encounter between these adults!

Paul and I watch a monster hippo as it appears to be trying to hold a smaller hippo underwater. It suddenly dawns on us that perhaps the hippos are mating. Since Kapen has left us to help set out our meal, Paul wanders over to the guides to report what we have witnessed. Sure enough, David tells Paul that in order to mate; the female hippo must lie flat on the river bottom in order for the male to be able to mate with her. The problem seems to be that this female isn’t really ready to mate and hence continues to battle her way to the surface. Facing off with the big male in a gaping battle is hopeless for the feisty female. Finally in frustration the small female retreats to the middle of the river, where she settles in a heavy current that she must fight relentlessly in order to maintain her position there in order not to be swept downstream. The male follows her but he too ends up putting all his effort into staying put! The two were still struggling in the forceful current while we ate breakfast and after we left and I can’t imagine how long their strength will hold up in that situation.

Large male trying to submerge a female to mate with

Large male trying to submerge a female to mate with

The female on the left situated herself in a strong current. The male is to the right

The female ( on the left) situated herself in a strong current. The male is to the right

Eating breakfast by the river was quite different from our other peaceful breakfasts in the bush. The sound of the rushing river, mingled with the constant grunting and complaining of the bloat of hippos made for a noisy breakfast but we sure had a variety of behavior from the blubbery hippos to watch while we enjoyed our meal.

A gaping hippo

A gaping hippo

Another hippo gaping as it came up out of the water.

Another hippo gaping as it came up out of the water. Look at those teeth!

Kapen loved to have his photo taken.

Kapen loved to have his photo taken.

Once we have left the river, David drives back to where the Acacia pride was lounging to see if anything has changed. They are still sleeping in the shade of the bushes so we begin our drive back to camp. David drives through the valley where we found Amani yesterday and Kapen spots the cheetah lying in the shade of a short tree. Amani raises her head to look at us and then lashes her tail as if to relate her irritation that these pesky tourists are staring at her again. We can’t drive closer as the ground between Amani and us is very marshy but we feel privileged to have seen the cheetah four days in a row! There are a few elephants about not far from the lounging cheetah and we stop to watch one spray himself with mud. We also marvel at the brilliant red and blue color of an agama lizard that is perched in the top of a small bush.

The lions are still brushed up

The lions are still brushed up

Our old friend Amani

Our old friend Amani

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Mud bath

Mud bath

Agama lizard bush sitting

Agama lizard bush sitting

We make it back to camp an hour before lunch and I remind myself at how hard our guides, particularly the driver, works on these game drives. We have been gone for six hours this morning! The guides are always cheerful and try to answer any questions we have, while searching endlessly for wild animals. You can’t help but admire them.

A young man from New Zealand has arrived while the four of us have been out this morning. We learn that he has quit his job in Boston and is joining a friend in Kenya in hopes of landing a job with a nonprofit organization. I can’t imagine quitting your job before you have another lined up but then the man is quite young and full of optimism. We all wish him good luck in his endeavor.

Kapen posing with his bow and arrow before our evening walk.

Kapen posing with his bow and arrow before our evening walk.

This afternoon Paul and I are finally getting to take a bush walk. Kyle and Kapen are leading us; Kyle carries a rifle while Kapen carries a bow with arrows. One might find the bow and arrow a bit amusing except this man is a Masai and I have no doubt that he is a deadly shot with the antiquated weapon. Not far from camp we watch some elephants in the distance as they feed in the long grass. Walking just gives you a whole different perspective, for one thing you feel very small in the scheme of things!

Elephants in the distance

Elephant in the distance

Two more elephants that I zoomed in on

Two more elephants that I zoomed in on

Kyle schools us on the many different trees and bushes, including the toothbrush tree and the sandpaper tree. Kapen relates the story of when he and a friend were in the bush when a lion attacked them. His friend ran away and climbed a tree and left Kapen to fight off the lion alone, which he obviously did or he wouldn’t be relating the tale. He shows us the large scar next to his knee where the lion bit him but the lion payed for that wound with his life. I can’t even imagine facing such a fierce opponent with only a spear and winning the battle.

Paul looking up at where an elephant has left a gouge mark with its tusk in the tree

Paul looking up at where an elephant has left a gouge mark with its tusk in the tree

Kyle looking over the landscape

Kyle looking over the landscape

As the four of us traipse up the hill that looks down on the camp ground we see scattered across the hillsides, topi, Grant’s and Thompson gazelle, impalas and a giraffe with a very young baby. Again the feeling is totally different gazing at these animals with your feet on the ground. As the four of us are soaking in the beauty of the landscape in the early evening light we see a lion far below us approximately where we saw Frank and Jesse last night. There are a couple of vehicles there too and pretty soon another lion appears, then another, and another. By the time the parade of lions has ended there are nine of the tawny felines, a good portion of the Offbeat pride. The people in the Cruisers are getting a front row view as the lions walk or lay practically next to the trucks. I for one am tickled with our hillside seats as the lowering sun makes the lions glow like pieces of gold. The pride is too far away for a decent photo but I take a documentary photo of two of the group that are farther away from the vehicles and other lions. What a wonderful way to end our lovely trek plus no more worrying about Frank and Jesse!

Topi

Topi, gazelle and impalas seen on our walk

Kyle and Kapen

Kyle and Kapen

Two of the nine lions we saw a long ways from us. Frank and Jesse are rescued!

Two of the nine lions we saw a long ways from us. Actually there might be three lions in this photo. Frank and Jesse are rescued!

When we return to camp, Paul and I are relaxing in our tent before dinner when Wilson, the young man who usually escorts us between the dining tent and our tent, calls to us from our tent porch asking if we want to see lions. Paul and I assume he wants us to load up in a vehicle and drive to where the pride was while we were walking. We thank him for the offer but say no thank you. Wilson asks in a puzzling voice, “you don’t want to see the lion”?  This makes me feel guilty, the young man must think we are getting jaded, and I get up, walk to the tent flap, unzip it and stick my head out of the opening. My mouth falls open as I see a beautiful lioness walking along the far edge of the tall grass that borders our tent. I rush back into the tent to get the camera but when I get back the lioness is gone. Paul who came to look as soon as he saw and heard my reaction was able to catch a glimpse of our visitor before she disappeared.

Wilson gazing out to where the lioness was. It is really darker as I set my camera on a high iso.

Wilson gazing out to where the lioness was.

We apologize profusely to Wilson and tell him we thought he wanted us to leave in the Cruiser to go look at the pride. He laughs good-naturedly at our stupidity and since we couldn’t get a photo of the lioness, we take Wilson’s photo instead! Since it is nearly time for dinner, Wilson just waits for us to get our shoes on and then escorts us to the mess tent. We quiz our friendly chaperone on where the lioness has gone and if she could be hidden in the tall grass that we are walking next to. Wilson shrugs his shoulders and says “Oh no, she has gone that way” and he waves vaguely in the direction away from the camp. Since it is pretty dark by now we would never know if the lioness had bedded down in the tall grass! Our story about Wilson and the lioness by our tent does make good dinner conversation :).

 

 

The Mara part 13 2016

The Mara, part 13 2016

Paul taking notes on our way to the dining tent. That is our tent in the background

Paul taking notes on our way to the dining tent. That is our tent in the background

 

Paul and I ate just enough at lunch to be polite because we were still so full from our late breakfast. We enjoyed catching up with the Germans we had met at Sosian, but we were sorry to say goodbye to the South Carolinians and their private guide, Ben. We found out one of the men from S.C. is also a Safari talk member and Paul even recognized his Safari talk name because he had read blogs or comments by him. It is a small world indeed!

On our afternoon game drive, David and Kapen decide to cross the river again and look for the Offbeat Pride. This is the pride that left Frank and Jesse behind. Our first sighting is a Bateler sitting on a messy twig nest placed in the branches of a fig tree. The raptor sits tight on her nest and sends us a disapproving look for disturbing her important task of incubating the eggs.

A stern Bateler sitting on her nest

A stern Bateler sitting on her nest

This afternoon seems to be good for seeing Secretary birds and our first sighting of the long-legged bird is finding one perching precariously in the top of a tree. A few minutes later we see another of the gangly birds shadowing a grazing zebra. Obviously the secretary bird hopes that the striped equine will cause a rodent, snake or insect to move giving the raptor an easy meal. By the way the secretary bird will stomp its prey to death when it does find a meal!  Cattle egrets employ this strategy of following grazers all the time, but I don’t know if it is normal behavior for secretary birds or not. We find another of the plumed birds striding through the grass by itself and this is the way we have seen the unique birds hunting in the past.

Perching Secretary bird

Perching Secretary bird

Secretary bird hoping the zebra will kick up some prey.

Secretary bird hoping the zebra will kick up some prey.

Another secretary bird hunting in the long grass

Another secretary bird hunting in the long grass

As we continue searching for the lion pride we pass by a small group of zebra who are standing around and swishing their tails, trying to keep the pesky flies at bay. A cute foal is part of the group so we take time to watch the baby zebra as mom stays close by its side. Driving on we come upon a jackal taking an afternoon siesta and it is so unconcerned about our presence that it hardly bothers to look at us. A half an hour after seeing the zebra and foal we find a herd of topi with three babies in their midst. The little cuties appear to be about the same age. The trio look at us curiously with their soft golden eyes as we snap photos of the youngsters. The baby topi are a solid camel color, no sign of the bruised purple shoulders and hips, or the mustard colored legs that are the costume of the adults. I really wonder what the purpose of that odd coloring on the adults is for.

Zebra and foal

Zebras and foal

Mom sticks close to her baby

Mom sticks close to her baby

A sleepy jackal

A sleepy jackal

I love their beautiful eyes.

I love their beautiful eyes.

Adult topi and three baby topi

Adult topi and three baby topi

The afternoon is fading and it seems that David and Kapen have checked all the bushes and clumps of trees around this area with no sign of the Offbeat pride. Since the lions have refused to show themselves, David and Kapen decide that we will go back to the river and look for the leopard and her cub that have been hanging around that area. David drives along the fringe of the river while Kapen, (and Paul and I), peer up into any tree that looks like a leopard might enjoy lounging in it. Another vehicle with a driver and one tourist are also looking for the leopard pair and David stops to chat with the guide for a bit.

David and Kapen make the decision to cross back over the river and scout along that side while driving back to camp. After crossing the river we stay next to the tree-lined bank hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive cats. The other leopard hunters are visible to us across the river and suddenly the driver flashes his trucks’ headlights at us. We all know what that means, they have found the leopards, and David drives as quickly as he can back to the river crossing and then towards the helpful guides truck. David says we must hurry because the leopards might move now that they have been discovered. When we arrive to where the other vehicle is sitting, there on a curved, thick tree limb are the leopardess and her good-sized cub. The light is poor but the sight of these two cats sprawled on the fat, mottled, branch is wonderful. The leopards do just as David said they would and shortly after we have arrived they stand up, walk off of the branch, and disappear into the canopy of leaves.

Leopardess and half grown cub. High iso setting so colors a bit off

Leopardess and half-grown cub. High iso setting so colors a bit off

The leopards have had enough of our prying eyes.

The leopards have had enough of our prying eyes.

Amazingly the leopards walk into the open

Amazingly the leopards walk into the open

We assume we would not see the duo again but by gosh the mother and cub appear in the open not far from where our Cruiser is parked. David and the other vehicle follow the two leopards slowly keeping a good distance between them and us. The cub is feeling playful and we laugh out loud when he pounces on his mother when she is standing still. The two leopards eventually lie down in a low spot where only their heads are visible but after a brief rest they are on the move again.

Taking a rest in a low spot

Taking a rest in a low spot

The youngster

The youngster

Two more tourist vehicles have arrived which is making it a bit harder to follow the cats. The leopardess and her cub have disappeared into the timber so Paul and I decide that we have seen enough of the leopards, (we have been with the pair for twenty minutes), and besides that the light is fading fast. Turning back towards the river crossing, we drive around some trees and there is the female leopard standing in a copse of trees crouched down in hunting mode. Soon the leopardess breaks into a trot but we can’t see what she is after. Suddenly a dikdik bursts out of the timber and jumps into the safety of a thorn-bush. The leopardess, who never really gave chase, stops, turns around and walks back in the direction she came from. The cub is not with her so the little fellow must have climbed into a tree. We drive back across the river and as we head for camp we see that the leopardess is lying in the grass with three vehicles parked nearby watching and snapping photos of the gorgeous feline.

Not far from camp who should we encounter but Frank and Jesse walking along the track. One of the cubs lowers his head to the ground and emits a heartbreaking mournful call. The other young cub sits down next to the road and looks right at us. It is just too sad to think they will spend another night on their own.

Frank or Jesse looking lost

Frank or Jesse looking lost

Frank or Jesse sitting down in the track. This cub looks more like a female to me but what do I know.

Frank or Jesse sitting down in the track. This cub looks more like a female to me but what do I know.

The gloom of dusk has settled over the Mara and as we are turning off the rocky track onto the main road to the camp, Kapen points to our right where two lionesses and a cub are lying. They are looking in the direction that Frank and Jesse were walking so hopefully the two lionesses intend to go find them soon. What a relief to think Frank and Jesse will likely be united with some of their family tonight. Hey, we scored another cat trick today!

Two Lioness perhaps just a quarter of a mile from where we last saw Frank and Jesse

One of the lionesses and the cub, perhaps just a quarter of a mile from where we last saw Frank and Jesse

A big yawn that doesn't appear they are ready to move on to find the lost cubs

A big yawn which makes it appear that the rescue party are not in any hurry to find the lost cubs

At dinner we have the usual good food and lively conversation. Kyle is a natural-born, story-teller and he keeps us all entertained. The bad news is that again it begins to rain while we are dining so our hopes of a night drive seem to be in jeopardy again. Happily the rain is short-lived tonight, and although it has made the roads slick, Kyle says the night drives are on. The German couple is going on a night drive too.

Paul sitting in the lounge with his favorite African liquor.

Paul sitting in the lounge with his favorite African liquor.

After dinner, which is topped off by chocolate filled crepes (sumptuous), we are ready to depart on our long anticipated night game drive! As David fights to keep the Cruiser moving forward on the rain slickened track, Kapen sweeps a red spotlight back and forth lighting up the blackness on both sides of the truck. The red light is much less intrusive than the typical white light for the animals.

It is pitch black out here because clouds are obscuring any moon or starlight. The first thing Paul and I note on this adventure isn’t something we see but something we hear. There is a cacophony of various frogs and toads that are in full chorus on this wet, dark night! We drive by one water filled hole where the singing frogs are emitting a sound like that of the ringing of brass bells. The sound is so sharp and clear it is hard to believe that an amphibian is producing it. I have never heard anything like it before.

Kapen finds a springhare for us which can be added to our first time we’ve seen this animal. Springhare hop around on their hind legs like kangaroos, in fact they are sometimes called Africa’s kangaroo according to David. We see several of these interesting creatures which aren’t really a member of the rabbit family but are rodents.

We are driving near the river crossing when a pair of eyes light up in the beam of the spot light. David drives closer to the brushy area and Kapen searches until he finds the owner of the glowing eyes. The animal is identified by our guides as a large spotted genet and is another new mammal for Paul and me. At least we don’t remember seeing one before.

David takes the Cruiser out of the valley and on top of the hill where the blackness of the night soon has me completely disoriented. Kapen who is talking to David most of the time often forgets to sweep his spot light back and forth, instead he keeps it pointed forward where the trucks headlights are already lighting up the road. We drive for what seems like miles and occasionally we see a few gazelle or impalas but not much else. A white-tailed mongoose crosses the road in front of us and we spend a little time watching the bushy-tailed critter before it disappears into the gloom. Yes, another first for us.

We continue driving in what seems to be a mostly empty landscape when the guide that is with the German couple calls on the radio. David and Kapen talk to him briefly and then laughingly tell us that he has told them that they saw an aardvark. This nocturnal animal is something Paul and I had really hoped to find on a night drive and we ask if we can try to find it. David continues to laugh and says that their friend said it went into a hole but it was possible it might come back out. David tells us he thinks the guide might be teasing them but decides to go back, (we already drove by this area), and see if there really is an aardvark around.

Once we return to the area where the aardvark was seen by the other people, Kapen does a better job of sweeping the spotlight around but we come up empty. I can’t believe that an aardwolf and now an aardvark have been seen by clients of this camp and we missed both of them! Rats. David and Kapen are still not positive their friend isn’t playing a joke on them but we find out the next morning that indeed, they really did see an aardvark. Unbelievable!

We return to camp having seen three new animals which is great but I still was a bit disappointed with the experience. I didn’t feel that Kapen really worked very hard at trying to find animals with his spotlight but perhaps he was off of tired, or perhaps the guides knew that wildlife would be sparse on this wet night. I know I was exhausted tonight after three game drives so why wouldn’t our guides be too? Nancy

Kori bustard an zebra

Kori bustard and zebra

 

 

 

 

The Mara part 12 2016

 

The Mara part 12 2016

A partly cloudy sunrise in the Mara

A partly cloudy sunrise in the Mara

Paul and I are well rested after our light day of activity yesterday, so even though we were disappointed that our night drive was rained out perhaps it was good for us to take it a bit easy. It is a beautiful morning and we are ready to join David and Kapen for another adventure. The deluge of rain last night left the roads sloppy with mud and we feel sorry for David as he must fight his way through a lot of slick spots and mud holes. I can’t imagine how tired his arms must get.

Not far from camp the lone cub we saw yesterday is lying among some rocks only he isn’t alone this morning. A litter mate is with him and David says that they have been together since being separated from their pride, we just didn’t see the other one yesterday. David alludes to Frank and Jesse and we ask if they are named after the James brothers. David says they are and we tell him that the James brothers were notorious outlaws that committed crimes in Kansas where we live. David looks shocked and asks us if Frank and Jesse were real people, which we confirm that indeed they were, but that the dastardly duo lived a long time ago. Evidently David thought Frank and Jesse were fictional characters. As we watch the lost cubs peering across the river for signs of their family, Paul and I lament about poor Frank and Jesse who are in their third day of being without protection or food. I can’t believe none of the pride has come back for the vulnerable cubs.

Not one but two cubs were left behind by the pride

Not one but two cubs were left behind by the pride

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At least we have each other buddy.

At least we have each other buddy.

Where are they?

Where are they?

Poor Frank and Jesse

Poor Frank and Jesse

After trying to get some decent photos of the abandoned cubs in the dim light, we wish the two brothers good luck and continue on our way through the thicket lined road. Paul and I have been amused at how David warns us of thorn trees that might brush the side of the Cruiser and thus inflict scratches on a passenger if they are too close to the open window. Whenever the possibility of a thorny encounter might occur, David melodiously calls out “Watch out, prickles (thorns)”. He sounds like a conductor pleasantly calling out the next stop on a train journey!   Quite often at the announcement of “prickles” we indeed need to scoot away from the windows or pull our hands back inside the truck to escape being scraped by a thorny limb.

One of the baby giraffe browsing on a thorn tree

One of the baby giraffe browsing on a thorn tree

On a hillside there is an adult giraffe and two baby giraffe browsing the thorn trees (how do they do that and not lacerate their tongue and mouth?). Since the baby giraffes are two different sizes there must be another female around somewhere. Pretty soon the calm of this scene is interrupted by a single wildebeest that is running wildly out of sheer joy I think. The odd-looking beast starts his race to our right scattering impalas and gazelle as he lowers his head and runs and bucks with reckless abandon.  The stampeding wildebeest continues traveling in a semi-circle until he ends up near the trio of giraffe. The silly animal has startled the smallest giraffe that runs awkwardly for a few steps until it realizes the adult is not alarmed so the cute baby stops to stare at the wildebeest too. Another mammal has lumbered into the scene and unlike the harmless wildebeest the spotted hyena gets a different look from the female giraffe. The skulking critter stands and watches the smallest baby giraffe but seems to know a lone hyena is no match for an adult giraffe and soon it shuffles off across the grassland. We continue to observe the graceful giraffe and watch as an oxpecker lands on the back of one of the baby giraffe. The perching bird is not appreciated by the youngster who swishes its tail and twists its head back, mouth open as it appears to try to bite at the confused bird. I wonder how long it will take until this young giraffe understands that the oxpecker is its personal pest controller?

The smallest baby giraffe looks like a stuffed animal. Darn cute

The smallest baby giraffe looks like a stuffed animal. Darn cute

The hyena just visible next to the scrubby tree

The hyena just visible next to the scrubby tree

The spotted hyena walking across the plain

The spotted hyena walking across the plain

Get off of me! the oxpecker is a little hard to see but it is out of reach of the baby giraffes' open mouth

Get off of me! the oxpecker is a little hard to see but it is out of reach of the baby giraffes’ open mouth

Driving across the hilltop, the sun is beginning to take the chill out of the morning air and the sky is turning a brilliant blue. We stop to watch two large male wart hogs that are butting heads very much like our bulls do when they are fighting. Again the boars seem as though they are just fooling around and not really in a knockdown, drag out fight for territory. A Thompson gazelle is watching the warthogs pushing contest and it looks as though he is refereeing the old boars fight.

Not the best photo but these boar warthogs are big fellows

Not the best photo but these boar warthogs are big fellows

David drives the Cruiser down the hill and we enter an expansive valley carpeted in knee-high grass. Because of the tallness of the grass the valley is devoid of prey animals. There are a few elephants in the valley and as we scan the far hillside something else catches my eye. I hesitantly call out “is that a cheetah?” and David brings the Cruiser to a halt. As I raise my binoculars to zoom in on the object in question, I say with disappointment ” never mind it is not a cheetah”.  David on the other hand refutes me and states that it is indeed a cheetah. I quickly look at the animal on the hillside again but it definitely is not a cheetah, it is a gazelle, and I repeat my assertion that it is not a cheetah but a gazelle. David insists that it most certainly is a cheetah. We go through this no it isn’t and yes it is one more time before I ask our very eagle-eyed guide where he is looking because I am looking at the gazelle on the hillside. Oops, this is why we are so puzzled by each other’s assertions as David is looking along the edge of the valley! David has indeed found Amani across the valley, sitting in the grass, looking up at the hillside where the gazelle is grazing, actually where two gazelle are grazing. I have no idea how David found Amani so quickly once I voiced that I might see a cheetah.  It takes Paul and me a while to find Amani even with direction from our two guides for crying out loud. Masa are known for their keen eyes and boy have we seen proof of their sharp eyes on this safari. David reverses the direction of the truck and we take another road that will bring us much closer to the handsome feline.

A view looking down the valley

A view looking down the valley to give you an idea of its expansiveness. How beautiful is that.

There is a cheetah in this photo and keep in mind that I have zoomed in on Amani. How did David see her?

There is a cheetah in this photo and keep in mind that I have zoomed in on Amani. How did David see her?

Amani appears to be seriously considering stalking the gazelle on the hillside because she is studying them carefully. Eventually the polka-dotted cat stands up and begins walking through the wet grass towards the elephants that stand between her and the gazelle. Who knows what she is thinking but Amani draws near one of the adult elephants and stands staring at the humongous beast. Since a cheetah would never consider attacking even a baby elephant, when Amani turns her head and looks back at us she seems to be saying “I was just pulling your leg”. Amani begins to walk away from the elephant who never gave her a first glance let alone a second glance and thus she also walks away from the real prey, the gazelle.

I think I could take this big boy.

I think I could take this big girl.

Just kidding.

Just kidding.

Putting Amani in perspective to the landscape

Putting Amani in perspective to the landscape.

From this point we have many iconic National Geographic views of Amani. First the sinewy cat strides through the wet grass with purpose. When Amani reaches a small mound she stands with her front paws on top of it surveying the mostly empty valley. Amani then decides to sit atop the mound and relax so we enjoy looking at the cheetah in contrast to the wide valley with the elephant family in the background. Soon Amani is making her way forward again and we think she has her eye on some distant warthogs rutting up the ground in an area of short grass across the road.  The porkers see the attentive cheetah long before Amani is within striking range so she gives up on having a warthog for breakfast and makes her way to a large pile of black dirt. Here the elegant cheetah walks to the top of the mound and sits down, again surveying the mostly empty landscape. Eventually Amani, her fur damp from the stroll through the wet grass, lies down on the termite mound, (I think it is anyway, although I see no vents in the mound), and she seems to be settling in for a morning rest. We spend a few more minutes with the amber-eyed cat and then decide to move on to Leopard Gorge which was our destination for the morning. We spent an enchanting hour with the elegant Amani and enjoyed every minute of our time with her.

Amani standing with her front feet on a dirt mound surveying her surroundings

Amani standing with her front feet on a dirt mound surveying her surroundings

Beautiful Amani

Beautiful Amani

Portrait of Amani

Portrait of Amani

A big yawn

A big yawn

Resting on a mound of dirt

Resting on a mound of dirt

We leave the beautiful cheetah resting on the dirt or is it a termite mound?

We leave the beautiful cheetah resting on the dirt or is it a termite mound?

 

 

On our way to Leopard Gorge we drive near more elephants, some on the move while others are cutting off grass and stuffing it by the trunkful into their mouths. There is a fairly young elephant with one group but the little one is mostly obscured by the long grass except for one brief moment when the elephants walk into shorter grass. There is also a single impala standing proudly at attention and why not with the set of trophy horns atop the stunning antelopes head. Farther on there are a pair of Lappet-faced vultures perched on top of a small tree, wings spread wide to dry the nights moisture from their feathers.

The clearest view we had of the baby elephant.

The clearest view we had of the baby elephant.

A proud impala with his impressive set of horns.

A proud impala with his impressive set of horns.

Lappet-faced vultures. Not the most attractive birds!

Lappet-faced vultures. Not the most attractive birds!

As we approach Leopard gorge a small herd of impalas are there to greet us near the entrance with curious stares. Although it is mid-morning and the light is growing a bit harsh the brilliant blue sky with a few puffy clouds accentuate the beauty of the narrow, rocky gorge. The gorge is not very long and in our drive through the small but beautiful ravine we see hyrax, lizards, a spotted eagle owl, and a hammerkop’s huge nest of sticks sitting on one of the chunky blocks of rock. We don’t find any leopards or other large predators but it certainly would be a great spot for them to hide or live.

Looking back towards the entrance to Leopard Gorge. Love that sky.

Looking back towards the entrance to Leopard Gorge. Love that sky.

Paul scoping the rocks for wild life

Paul scoping the rocks for wild life

 Colorful Lizard with half his tail missing

Colorful Lizard with half his tail missing

Spotted Eagle Owl

Spotted Eagle Owl

 

It is past time for breakfast and David turns the Cruiser around to drive to the chosen site for our breakfast. As we approach the scenic place there is an enormous elephant grazing nearby with massive tusks. David and Kapen seem delighted to see the collared elephant which is named Hugo. Our guides tell us that Hugo is collared in hopes of discouraging poachers who would be tempted by the trophy tusks the old guy is carrying around. Evidently, Hugo often leaves the safe, or at least safer, areas of the park and conservancy which obviously puts the old bull in more danger of being poached.

Hugo. You can see how enormous his tusks are and understand why they put a tracking collar on him

Hugo. You can see how enormous his tusks are and understand why they put a tracking collar on him

It is nearly eleven and Paul and I are more than ready to eat breakfast! As David and Kapen set up the tables and chairs and lay out the food, Paul and I enjoy watching Hugo entwine his trunk around a wad of grass, kick it with his foot to cut off the grass, shake the dirt off, and then shove it in his mouth. Soon we have our plates full of the usual breakfast fare and the two of us are shoveling the food in our own mouths without the need to shake the dirt off:). David and Kapen are also eating breakfast but I notice that the two are keeping a wary eye on the big bull elephant. I don’t know if they are reading body language from Hugo or what but suddenly the pachyderm stops eating and start walking slowly towards us. The big bugger is a long ways from us but David suggests that we finish eating breakfast next to the Cruiser. We pick up our plates and do as our guides have asked. Now all of us are finishing our breakfast standing next to the trucks doors as we watch Hugo who continues to approach but with no signs of aggression from him. As quickly as the old bull showed interest in us picnickers, he decides we aren’t worth his time, and turns away from us. Hugo begins filling his mouth with grass again and we finish our breakfast too.

Panorama of the beautiful place where we had breakfast

Panorama of the beautiful place where we had breakfast

Hugo as he starts walking towards us.

Hugo as he starts walking towards us.

Paul and Kapen pose for a photo once Hugo decides we aren't that interesting.

Paul and Kapen pose for a photo once Hugo decides we aren’t that interesting.

Paul has brought the photos of our ranch along and pulls the pictures out to show Kapen and David. The guides look at the photos eagerly and when they see our cows and calves their faces literally light up with delight. The questions pour out of them, are these your cows, are they for beef or dairy, your ranch looks like the Mara, you know that Masai think all cattle belong to them, how long have you been raising cattle? Paul happily answers every question that is thrown at him. Kapen jokes with us that he will come and take our cattle because since he is a Masai the cattle are really his. When Paul tells the interested Masai that we are fourth generation cattle ranchers, David exclaims “you are Masai too”! Paul agrees and then points out if we are Masai then we have the right to take Kapen and David’s cattle which makes them laugh joyfully. We end our breakfast on this fun and connective note and prepare to go back to camp.

Part of the buffalo herd that was crossing the road.

Part of the buffalo herd that was crossing the road.

Hoop ornament

Hood ornament

We are waylaid a short distance from where we ate breakfast by a large herd of Cape buffalo who are slowly crossing the road. Many of the crusty bovine must stop and glare at us before they mosey on. Once we are able to safely drive on we see three fly infested buffalo rolling in a mud hole in an attempt to protect themselves from the biting insects. The fact that the buffalo are rolling in the mud is no big surprise but the fact that the mud hole is on top of the hill attests to the abundance of rain that has fallen in the Mara.

Big bull giving us the once over

Big bull giving us the once over

Three buffalos rolling in a mud hole

Three buffalos rolling in a mud hole

We drive back through the valley but see no sign of Amani the cheetah. Kapen does find a saddle billed stork in the distance and since they know I like birds they are determined to get closer to the big stork that from where we sit now looks like a colorful speck. David does manage to get us somewhat closer but not enough for photos. I assure our determined guides that it is ok that we can’t get closer because I have seen many saddle-billed storks before.

When David drives out of the valley back to the hilltops, Paul and I are standing, (yep, my back is good as new), scanning the area around us. I call out “what is that over there” pointing just to our left. David and Kapen look up at me and ask me to show them where I am looking so I point and say “over there”. David and Kapen look in the direction I am pointing and confirm what I was almost sure of, that what I have spotted is a cheetah. After this morning’s mistaken identity I was too timid to declare “Is that a cheetah”?  Not only is it Amani but once we drive closer we see that she has made a kill! David pulls up quite close to Amani and shuts off the engine. Amani is eating as fast as she can on the Thompson gazelle. The poor cheetah is panting with exertion and because just about anything can and will steal a cheetah’s kill she must eat as fast as she can. The gulping down the meat causes Amani to appear to nearly choke several times while we are sitting there watching and listening to the cheetah munch on the unlucky gazelle. Amani stops occasionally and does a 360 degree scans to check for other predators before she continues speed eating on the carcass. The guides do their own scanning and are pleased to see that no vultures are approaching which will alert bigger predators to the fact that the vultures have found food. We spend about ten minutes watching Amani eat, semi-choke and pant not only from the chase but also from the heat, as it is quite warm by now. David knows that Paul and I would have liked to have seen the chase and the actual kill. He points out that if we hadn’t tried to get closer to the stork we probably would have arrived on the hill in time to witness the dramatic event. Paul nods in agreement and says he has already thought of that and they all look my way! Wait a minute, I never asked to try to get closer to the stork, in fact when I saw how far away the bird was I suggested that driving closer to it wasn’t necessary.  I refuse to be blamed for missing out on the action! O.k. the finger-pointing was in jest, (I think), and we all laugh. When we leave all of us are happy that no vultures are circling, no jackals can be seen and especially that no lions or hyenas are in sight. Maybe Amani will get to eat her fill, after all she is eating for those little cubs she will be having any day now.

Amani and her kill a Thompson gazelle

Amani and her kill a Thompson gazelle

Trying to catch her breath

Trying to catch her breath

Surveying the area for predators that would steal her kill.

Surveying the area for predators that would steal her kill.

Kyle and Lara are waiting to greet us when David delivers us to the camp. The two of them ask us how our morning was and we replay “Fantastic” and proceed to fill them in on our time spent with Amani in particular. The couple is delighted that we had such a great morning drive after which they tell us that lunch will be served at one o’clock! It feels like we just ate:).

We dutifully return to the mess tent at the appointed hour but we definitely aren’t hungry. The South Carolina people that we have enjoyed getting to know since we came to Offbeat camp are leaving after lunch to go home. There are new spur of the moment arrivals to Offbeat who arrived this morning while we were on our lengthy game drive. We are waiting for them to show up for lunch and imagine our surprise when the German couple from Sosian walks into the dining tent!

The end of this day in part 13! Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mara part 11 2016

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.

We have visible sunrise this morning!!

We have a visible sunrise this morning!!

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.

If the colors look a bit weird here I had to use a high iso setting as the light was still dim.

If the colors look a bit weird here I had to use a high iso setting as the light was still dim.

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.

Skulking hyena in the early morning light

Skulking hyena in the early morning light

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.

Yes the Cruiser is tilting heavily and we are going up that dirt cut on the other side

Yes the Cruiser is tilting heavily and we are going up that dirt cut on the other side

Masai taking his herd to the salt flats.

Masai taking his herd to the salt flats.

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!

Topi taking her tiny lamb away from us

Topi taking her young lamb away from us

This is the bull whose joints clicked loudly when he walked

This is the bull whose joints clicked loudly when he walked

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.

Dazzle of zebra

Dazzle of zebra

"zebraing" around.

“zebraing” around.

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.

Adult bat-eared fox just before she goes into the den. I think it is mom anyway

Adult bat-eared fox just before she goes into the den. I think it is mom anyway

The trio watching us curiously

The trio watching us curiously

Mom scrutinizing us

Mom scrutinizing us

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.

Mom after she left the den through the back door

Mom after she left the den through the back door

Getting sleepy

Getting sleepy

If these humans aren't going to do anything interesting I might as well take a nap!

If these humans aren’t going to do anything interesting I might as well take a nap!

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.

The usual photo of warthogs. Running away with their tails in the air.

The usual photo of warthogs. Running away with their tails in the air.

Piglet who stood facing us for a brief moment

Piglet who stood facing us for a brief moment

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.

What an attractive face

What an attractive face

Putting the jackals size in perspective to their surroundings

Putting the jackals size in perspective to their surroundings

Scratching an itch

Scratching an itch

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.

I don't know what we did but we are sorry!!

I don’t know what we did but we are sorry!!

This is the tree where we eat breakfast

This is the tree where we eat breakfast

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.

The gash in the buffalo's testicle was assumed to have been inflicted by a lion.

The gash in the buffalo’s testicle was assumed to have been inflicted by a lion.

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.

David and Kapen setting out breakfast while Paul watches the Cape buffalo on the horizon

David and Kapen setting out breakfast while Paul watches the Cape buffalo on the horizon

A closer view of our breakfast table

A closer view of our breakfast table. Paul’s photo

Paul took this panoramic shot from our breakfast spot.

Paul took this panoramic shot from our breakfast spot.

A photo of Kapen, Nancy, and David before we leave our gorgeous breakfast spot.

A photo of Kapen, Nancy, and David before we leave our gorgeous breakfast site.

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.

Rosy-breasted Longclaw.

Rosy-breasted Longclaw.

Impala having a friendly tussle

impalas having a friendly tussle

Vervet monkey and baby

Vervet monkey and baby

Elephant near camp

Elephant near camp

The elephants have had enough of us and are leaving

The elephants have had enough of us and are leaving

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

Vervet monkey

Vervet monkey

Some of the big Topi herd we saw. What a view.

Some of the big Topi herd we saw. There is one eland in the topi’s midst.  What a view.

 

 

 

Sosian to Mara part 10 2016

Leaving Sosian and going to Mara part 10 2016

It is hard to believe that we are having our last dinner tonight at Sosian! How time flies when you are having fun. When Paul and I walk into the living room we hear a heavy British accent that is very familiar. Our British friends from Meru have arrived at Sosian as planned and things are already livelier. Mr. B gives me a bear hug and a kiss on the cheek and shakes Paul’s hand vigorously. Ms. J hugs us both and we inquire about each other’s sightings since we parted company. It isn’t long before Mr. B has me shaking my head and laughing although with his heavy British accent I do miss out on some of what he has to say.

Dining room Paul's photo

Dining room Paul’s photo

Once our before dinner drinks and snacks (they call them bites) are finished we file into the lovely dining room for dinner. Again I feel completely under dressed compared to the other women around the table but with my limited clothes I have no choice in the matter. They serve lamb tonight which is not a favorite meat for me but it should come as no surprise that this lamb is delicious. The conversation around the table is varied, interesting and lively and we really enjoy the evening.

Before Paul and I return to our cottage Simon asks us to write a comment in the guest book which we are happy to do. Simon then tells us that we will need to leave early in the morning as the drive to Nanyuki takes around two hours and our flight is at nine. Rosie will be driving us to Nanyuki as she needs to stock up on groceries for the Lodge. When Paul and I return to the cottage we pack up everything we won’t need in the morning. Paul also prepares envelopes containing tips for Misheck, Patrick and the staff. Paul and I both admit that as much as we enjoyed our stay at Sosian we are ready to sleep in tents again, with the canvas flaps down of course!

Our alarm goes off early and Paul and I are up quickly, dress, and go to the veranda to eat a bowl of cereal plus some fruit and toast. Simon comes by to tell us that Misheck and Patrick will not be here to say farewell as they had assured us last night that they would be. Rats, we hate that we won’t be able to thank them in person for all they have done for us. Paul hands Simon the envelopes that are for our guides which in addition to  their tips they also contain a written note of thanks, so that is good. Our British friends wander up from their cottage to say so long to Paul and me before they leave on their game drive. We wish each other great sightings on our remaining days in Africa and we then wave goodbye to these fun people. Paul and I return to the cottage, finish packing and sit the luggage outside the door where two of the staff are waiting to carry it to the vehicle.  We walk to the office but Rosie is not quite ready to leave as she is attending to some last-minute duties.

While we are waiting for Rosie, Simon brings out some disinfectant spray and douses the soles of Paul and my shoes since we have been around livestock. We think this is a very good idea even though we will be at another place for four days before we start home. Rosie appears and we all climb into the crew cab pickup, wave goodbye to Simon and Daisy and begin the drive to Nanyuki.

Finally a photo of Grevy's zebra

Finally a photo of Grevy’s zebra

The roads are pretty good this morning, there was no rain last night, but there is one rutted, greasy place that concerns Rosie a bit, however she maneuvers the truck through the muck with little trouble. We haven’t seen much wildlife when suddenly up ahead a few Grevy zebra are getting ready to cross the road. I’ll be darned, sometimes you just have to wonder don’t you? I can only take photos through the windshield but at least we now have proof that we have seen the muscular Grevy’s.

Two more Grevy's

Two more Grevy’s

Our drive to Nanyuki takes us by Simon’s parents ranch where they still fence wild animals out so their cattle can range free like ours do at home. Rosie also tells us that without the stress of predators around, the cattle on his parent’s ranch gain some 25% more in the same time period than cattle that are raised alongside wild animals like those at Sosian. Well it is understandable that some people prefer to run cattle this way too.

Eventually we are driving on pavement and besides more traffic we see lots of uniformed children walking to school when we are near the villages. When we reach Nanyuki we drive by the military base where the British soldiers are stationed. We also drive by a medical center and hospital but somehow the coffin maker that is displaying his wares right across the street doesn’t give you a lot of confidence!

Nanyuki airfield

Nanyuki airfield

A clever rhino sculpture in front of the cafe

A clever rhino sculpture in front of the cafe

Rosie pulls into the Nanyuki Airstrip where a few wood frame buildings are scattered about. Rosie finds the manager and makes sure we are on Air Kenya’s passenger list. After Rosie has confirmed that we are listed, she takes us into the open air cafe where we are to wait until someone comes and gives us our boarding passes. Rosie asks if we will be o.k. on our own, (of course we will), and says that if so, she will be on her way as she has several hours of shopping to do. Rosie tells us that she hopes she will be back at the ranch by five this evening! That is over eight hours from now, that must be a long grocery list!

This sign was on the side of a truck at the café. We have this same Farm 2 fork ad in the states

This sign was on the side of a truck at the café. We have this same Farm 2 fork ad in the states

Soon a young man appears and hands us a plastic boarding pass that is color coded. After thirty minutes has passed the same young man comes and holds up a yellow ticket, that’s us, and we follow him out to the runway. We are the only people to board the plane that can hold twelve or fifteen people if I remember right. The pilot informs us that we will be in the air for around an hour and then we will land at a small airstrip in the Mara to pick up some passengers. Once we are in the air again the next stop, which is only a five-minute flight, is where we will get off the plane.

Farmland from the air

Farmland from the air

Village or homestead? below us

Village or homestead? below us

I spend most of the flight from Nanyuki to the Mara looking out the window where farm land and villages dominate the landscape so it is obvious when we begin to get close to the Mara as farm land gives way to grass land. As we descend towards the Ngerende airstrip there are a handful of wildebeest grazing on the verdant landscape below us. Once the two passengers are on board the pilot guns the plane down the runway and we are in the air again. We must fly along the boundary of the Mara as there are farms below us and I can see a man plowing a field with oxen. Yep, we are not flying very high. The pilot brings the plane in for a landing on what seems to be a pretty short airstrip, but the plane comes to a screeching halt before we run out of room:).

Wildebeest on our first landing

Wildebeest on our first landing

Plowing with oxen

Plowing with oxen

Paul and I thank the pilot for the smooth flight as he retrieves our luggage from the hold. Two men from Offbeat Mara camp come to greet us and grab our luggage. I guess it isn’t hard to figure out who your clients are when only two people get off the Air Kenya plane:). The men introduce themselves as David and Kapen and we shake hands and introduce ourselves. We walk to the vehicle and it will come as no surprise that it is a Toyota Cruiser! The guys load our luggage, we load ourselves, and then we are off on a game drive while we head towards Offbeat Mara camp.

A brave warthog

A brave warthog

A Tommie, wildebeest, warthog and impala

A Tommie, wildebeest, warthog and impala

We don’t even get out of sight of the airstrip before we see ostrich, warthogs that actually don’t turn tail and run, zebra, and Thompson Gazelle. Wow, all this game we see within minutes appears to be a good omen for our stay here. As we drive on Paul and I marvel at the beauty of this grassland and except for the exotic animals, acacia, and fence free land, we both comment that we could be in the flint hills of Kansas. When we showed Dominic, our guide in Meru, photos of our ranch he remarked that our ranch looked like the Mara.

The Mara

The Mara

This isn't the photo I wanted to compare the Mara and the Flint Hills but it will have to do. I couldn't find the one that elicited the comment from Dominic

This isn’t the photo I wanted to compare the Mara and the Flint Hills but it will have to do. I couldn’t find the one that elicited the comment from Dominic

About a half hour into our drive, Kapen points to a lone tree and states that there is a lion in the tree. Paul and I gaze at the distant tree and sure enough a lioness is standing in the crotch of the tree! David tells us that they aren’t allowed to drive off-road except for an exceptional sighting and a lion in a tree is definitely an exceptional sighting. We approach within a few yards of the young lioness and observe her as she tries to find a comfortable position in the prickly tree. David says the flies are so bad right now that he thinks the lioness is trying to get away from the pests. There are a few times when the lioness tries to change her position in the tree and steps on frail limbs that in no way can hold her weight. I think it is David who says she better be careful or she could fall out of the tree, so every time the lioness has a skinny limb snap under one of her paws I whisper “don’t fall!” We watch the uncomfortable lioness sit in the crotch, stand in the crotch, stand spread eagle with her back paws on one limb and her front paws on another. The big cat even lies down briefly at one point, (my photo was no good of this darn it), with her big head resting on her front paws but this position was not comfy for her either. When we leave the fidgety lioness she is sitting down again, looking as though she can’t quite figure out how she got into the tree in the first place.

That is a lion in a tree!

That is a lion in a tree!

Ouch

Ouch

Maybe sitting?

Maybe sitting?

How about this stance

How about this stance

One of the men sees another lion lying in a bush close by so we drive over to check it out. This is a young male and the flies are settled in his eyes, nose and over his face. He definitely looks like he is in misery with the little bloodsuckers biting him but the lion seldom tries to swipe them away, I suppose it is futile and takes up too much energy to constantly brush the flies away. When we leave the miserable lion, David drives us by a den where bat-eared fox are living but there is no sight of the mostly nocturnal animals. We are not complaining, a lion in a tree for crying out loud! We have seen this tree climbing lion phenomena before at Lake Manyara but that has been years ago. Moving on there are two secretary birds striding through the grass on their long legs looking for snakes or insects to eat. A jackal, carrying part of a baby impala, trots down the road in front of us for a little ways before loping into the grassland.

As we travel on we pass by vast tracts of tall grass with no animals in sight. Grazers don’t like tall grass because they can’t see a predator coming so prefer to stay where the grass is very short. We also discover that the roads have terrible muddy spots due to lots of rain here too, and I honestly don’t know how the vehicles get through the gooey black muck. As we draw closer to the camp we begin to see large expansions of short grass fields that are filled with Grants gazelles, topis, and impalas. We also run across a few of the cow-like eland which seem much more tolerant of letting humans near them than those in Meru. One eland has several hitchhiking oxpeckers riding her back. We also stop and watch a large group of bachelor impalas with many sporting impressive lyre shaped horns.

Young male hiding under a bush

Young male hiding under a bush

Darn flies

Darn flies

We ran into these rutted mud holes in the roads quite often

We ran into these rutted mud holes in the roads quite often

Sweeping vistas filled with animals

Sweeping vistas filled with animals

Bachelor herd of impalas

Bachelor herd of impalas

Our first look at Offbeat Mara camp

Our first look at Offbeat Mara camp

When we reach Offbeat Mara camp a very young couple is waiting to greet us with fruit drinks and smiles. Kyle and Lara introduce themselves, (we find out later they were married three weeks ago), and then Lara takes us to tent three. The tent site is stupendous with an unimpeded view of the plains and in fact there are a few giraffe that we can see browsing in the distance. Inside the tent we find a beautiful wood framed bed with cute towel elephants sitting on the king-sized bed. Like Meru the shower, bathroom vanity, and stool take up one side of the tent with curtains to separate this part of the tent from the bedroom. There is a desk in the bedroom while the wardrobe sits in a corner of the bathroom area. We have a sitting area in front of the tent furnished with two wicker chairs and a table so we can lounge outside the tent. Very nice. Lara tells us to come up to the mess tent for lunch as soon as we are settled in.

How cute are those towel elephants?

How cute are those towel elephants?

View from our tent. There is a giraffe's head and neck barely visible on the horizen

View from our tent. There is a giraffe’s head and neck barely visible on the horizon

Our tent is a nice distance from the dining and lounge area which will give us a little exercise just walking back and forth between them. Arriving for lunch we find the New Jersians busy playing a game in the lounge tent and we exchange greetings. I ask them if they have seen anything out of the ordinary since they have been here and Mom says they saw an aardwolf on their night drive last night. My mouth drops open and I repeat “aardwolf” rather questionably. Mom tells me that everyone has had my awed  reaction so I don’t think the family understands how rare it is to see an aardwolf! Wow, they are on their first safari and they have this kind of luck. This sounds very promising.

Kyle has family members visiting which include his parents, paternal grandparents, and uncle. We sit with them and visit before lunch is ready and Paul and I take an instant liking to his grandparents, not that we don’t enjoy his other relatives:), but you know how you just connect with some people. We eat another terrific lunch followed by a chocolate/caramel pudding type dessert and I have to refrain myself from scraping every last bit out of the cup. I will say that on this safari we have had an abundance of chocolate desserts which is heaven for me!

Kyle and Laura draw up the plans for the afternoon game drive and ask if it is o.k. if we ride with his grandparents and uncle because one of their vehicles is off picking up supplies. Paul and I assure him that this is not a problem at all. Kyle’s grandma pipes up and tells us that we must be lucky as the giraffe have only shown up today in front of the camp. The friendly lady then says maybe we will bring them luck this afternoon and we will find a leopard. I can’t remember how many times this couple has been on safari, (maybe five?), but they have never seen a leopard. Paul smiles and tells her that he and I are pretty lucky in seeing leopards and he predicts that we will find them a leopard! This prediction is pretty cheeky of my husband I think even though he has been laughing while almost guaranteeing a leopard!

Paul and I read, nap, go through photos, until it is time to leave on our afternoon safari. David and Kapen are waiting for us and we five passengers sort out our seating arrangement with Kyle’s uncle in the back, Paul and me in the middle seats, while Kyle’s Gram and Gran sit in the front seats. Mrs. G, who has a bad knee or hip, uses a cane and she also needs a plastic crate to step on so she can reach the high step that leads into the Cruiser. I admire the heck out of this tough woman, who I’m sure is in pain, for not letting this impediment keep her from enjoying life.

Young giraffe running away from us

Young giraffe running away from us

Driving out of camp we stop to look at the giraffe that are still hanging around which includes a fairly young one that scampers off as we draw near. David drives the track along the small, tree-lined river that is next to the camp and we see a pigmy kingfisher and a woodland kingfisher. The grass is very tall so there are no herbivores here and the trees are so thick we only catch a glimpse of the water now and then. The river makes a jog to the left and we drive around this point then continue searching the trees for birds or primates. Suddenly Kapen calls out leopard and points into the heavy grass between our vehicle and the trees. There right next to the door where Kyle’s grandma is sitting is a huge leopard lying in the grass and I am talking right next to us, like two foot away! I cannot believe my eyes and when the leopard sits up both Mrs. G and I instinctively scoot away from the edge of the vehicle. The sleepy leopard sits still and studies us through the blades of grass as we humans recover from the shock of such a close encounter. I sure don’t need a zoom for taking photos of this leopard! The leopard, tiring of the humans that interrupted his nap, stands up and strolls in front of the vehicle which gives us a brief but clear view of the enormous male as he crosses the track. The leopard is on the men’s side of the Cruiser at that point so I can only snap a partial body photo of the leopard through the window where Mr. G is sitting.

The male leopard that is right next to our Cruiser

The male leopard that is right next to our Cruiser

He decides to leave his napping spot

He decides to leave his napping spot

My only shot of the leopard without tall grass around him

My only shot of the leopard without tall grass around him

The old male, his tail twitching in irritation, strides into the grass and when he plops down again the grass swallows him from view. Mrs. G is beside herself with happiness, as we all are, and she credits Paul and me for the fact that we saw the leopard. Paul laughs and tells her he doesn’t think it has anything to do with us and that Kapen is the one who deserves the credit. Finally Mrs. G becomes so overwhelmed with the event that tears start to run down her cheeks.  As she dabs her eyes with a tissue she apologizes for her tears of happiness. Paul and I insist that no apology is necessary and soon our own eyes begin to well up in empathy with Kyle’s grandma. Darn, my eyes are a bit teary just typing this as I recall the joy Mrs. G felt upon seeing her first leopard.

Walking back into the grassy field

Walking back into the grassy field

David and Kapen continue down the track as they try to locate the leopard where they think he laid down. You can imagine how tall and thick the grass is that has allowed this mega male cat to just disappear from sight. Paul is certain the big cat is near as he too watched where the leopard laid down. He directs David a bit further down the road and sure enough we can just see a portion of the spotted cat’s side and back legs if we stand up and look down into the grass. David drives a bit closer but not too close and we wait, hoping the leopard might sit up again. As we are watching and hoping for some leopard movement, Kyle and the New Jersey family who are on a bush walk, appear a few hundred yards away. The walking party halts and Kyle looks at us through his binoculars. I assume he has a pretty good idea that with one vehicle parked and two other vehicles driving our way this likely means that a predator is the reason for all the interest, and it is best that humans on foot don’t approach. The five of them continue to walk, angling away from us leopard watchers.

This is all we can see of the leopard once we find him again

This is all we can see of the leopard once we find him again

Once our company arrives, we decide to leave the snoozing cat and let the other safarists have their chance at watching the big fellow. David continues down the track but then turns onto another road that leads up a brushy, rocky hill. We drive by more giraffe as we explore this higher vantage point. I don’t know if our guides are heading in this direction on purpose but soon we see a trio of parked vehicles below us obviously watching something. As we near the vehicles, David says that a cheetah named Amani is sitting in the grass. It takes Paul and me a bit to sort the distant cheetah out from the grass that screens her but sure enough the slender cat is there.

Amani the cheetah

Amani the cheetah

I have never heard the term “cat trick” before but Paul says that on Safari talk the bloggers use this term when you see a lion, leopard and a cheetah on the same day. Well, I like the term and I like the fact that we can say that we had a cat trick on our first day in the Mara. We can’t get very close to Amani and the satisfied cheetah never does stand up or move while we are watching her. We stay for quite a while but it is late in the day and we are expected for sundowners so we move on as do all the other observers. I might add that Amani is not far from the camp either so who would have guessed we would see a leopard and a cheetah within a quarter-mile of our camp!

At least Amani sat up giving us a little better view

At least Amani sat up giving us a little better view

What a beautiful animal

What a beautiful animal

We arrive at the sundowner site where the two men from South Carolina that we briefly met at tea this afternoon are already waiting. Lara and some of the staff have a bonfire burning and chairs set around the crackling fire. Soon Kyle and the New Jersians arrive on foot so they have had a lengthy walk. As drinks and snacks are served another vehicle arrives and a group of Masai alight from the Cruiser. It seems Kyle has arranged quite a farewell for his relatives who are leaving camp tomorrow. Curious Topi stand close by our gathering while eland and Thompson Gazelle grace the horizon around us. What a gorgeous view.

Silouette of giraffe as we near our sundowner site

silhouette of giraffe as we near our sundowner site

Topi look on as we enjoy sundowners

Topi look on as we enjoy sundowners

The brightly clad Masai begin to chant and dance as the light fades and it is almost surreal to watch them leap and dance as the sparks from the fire occasionally leave orange smudge marks in the air around them. At one point the dancers start parading in front of us and try to convince the young girls to join them. The older girl refuses but the youngest girl has no qualms about joining the Masai and soon she is dancing in step with their rhythmic moves. When they finish we all clap enthusiastically and give kudos to the youngster from New Jersey for being a good sport. What a wonderful way to end this magical day in the Mara.

The Masai that dance and sing for us

The Masai that dance and sing for us

Perhaps a little clearer photo of the Masai. It was quite dark by now

Perhaps a little clearer photo of the Masai. It was quite dark by now

I must add this aside to the Masai warriors. When the dancers are walking back to the Cruiser, Kyle and Lara’s dachshund takes a dislike to the young men and runs snarling and yapping after them. An excited chatter springs up as the poor entertainers scatter and run to escape the short-legged dog while Lara runs after their pet scolding and trying to catch the little rascal. Since these young Masai are famous for facing down lions seeing the running from a weeny dog just doesn’t fit the tough guy image! It was pretty funny though. Later, Nancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sosian part 9 2016

Sosian part 9 2016

This afternoon the New Jersey family and Paul and I are going to visit a local village. Sosian has an arrangement with the village King that tourists will pay an admission fee of ten dollars per person but this allows you to take all the photos you want. Being able to take photos is well worth the price since there are places in Africa where people don’t want their photos taken which is perfectly understandable.

African Hoopoe

African Hoopoe

We assumed that all of us would share a vehicle but that is not the case. Paul and I crawl into our Cruiser with Misheck and Patrick, while the New Jersians are being taken by their regular driver/guide, Ambrose. Since there is a scheduled time for us to arrive at the village we can’t dawdle along the way although Misheck does stop so I can snap a photo of an African Hoopoe.

Village huts

Village huts

It is a forty-five minute drive to the village and once we arrive our attention is drawn to a group of young men singing while some are tapping short wooden rods against long staffs. Beyond them are dome-like huts that are covered with thatch on the roof. The sides of the huts are stick frameworks where mud and manure are blended together to make the walls. Cattle, goats, sheep, and a few donkeys wander rather aimlessly as the overgrazed grass doesn’t offer much grazing opportunity. Little chubby-checked children stare unabashedly at the tourists who have come to take a peek at their life that is so different from ours.

Village scene

Village scene

When we step out of our vehicles the young men begin to perform in earnest. The group chants and claps their hands while one or maybe two dancers begin to jump up and down, gaining height with every leap. A couple of the performers are wearing intricate bead work around their necks. Others have fine gold chains that cross under their bottom lip, run across their mahogany cheeks, and then loop over the top of their ears with the chain ends clasped together behind their heads. The dancer’s acrobatic leaps are mesmerizing and the champion jumper in my opinion is the fellow who is wearing a gaudy pair of red and white-striped knee socks. Perhaps if you out jump your fellow performers you are awarded the colorful leg wear as a trophy for your adeptness. Soon the dancers begin circling and swaying while bringing forth a sound from deep within the depths of their gut, almost a growl but more melodious. I love hearing it and yet it tends to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I have heard this type of music from past African trips and had the same reaction then.

The champion leaper of the group

The champion leaper of the group

An example of the beadwork some wore

An example of the beadwork some wore

A different way to wear a gold chain

A different way to wear a gold chain

A group of young girls dressed in their finest are walking towards us and they look absolutely lovely. The colorfully,  material of their dresses makes a vivid splash against the brownish huts. The girls wear wide hoops of beads around their necks and the two oldest girls in the group are wearing pretty tiaras made of beads also.  I have already made friends with a young boy by taking his photo and then showing him the results. I get two of the youngest girls to pose for me,( unfortunately they want to stand next to our Cruiser so not the best background), and when I let them look at their picture the more round-faced girl places her hands over her mouth and giggles with delight.

Villagers and livestock

Villagers and livestock

Young girls dressed in their finest

Young girls dressed in their finest

Young boy who loved seeing his photo

Young boy who loved seeing his photo

Cute girls posing for me

Cute girls posing for me

The New Jersey folks have joined in on the photo frenzy and we manage to get most of the young girls lined up for a picture. I get one photo taken when an old woman, the elder I would assume, comes up behind the group, slaps one girl hard on the back and sharply speaks to the girls. Yikes! Since all the girls leave and join the singing and dancing men, I guess they were being rebuked for standing around instead of entertaining us.

Girls that lined up for a photo

Girls that lined up for a photo

The elder that rebuked the posing girls

The elder that rebuked the posing girls

A beautiful young woman

A beautiful young woman

We are told that we can go inside one of the nearest huts but Paul and I have had this claustrophobic though interesting experience on our first safari and decide to forego it this time. Instead I spy three little kids sitting in the dirt quite some distance from us. The young children seem wary of us so I zoom in on the bare-footed trio for a candid photo. One of the boys has an old but wise face with almost Asian features which I am drawn to. The shy kids sit for one more photo but then jump up and run away.

Trio of shy kids

Trio of shy kids

The villagers, (unfortunately I didn’t write down what tribe these people were), have laid out beaded products they crafted upon a blanket in hopes their visitors might purchase something. Paul and I forgot to bring Kenya shillings but we really weren’t very interested in the jeweler and baskets anyway.  I think the villagers had some luck with the New Jersey girls though.

Beaded crafts for sale

Beaded crafts for sale

Some of the women that were gathered around the crafts

Some of the women that were gathered around the crafts

We have been at the village for nearly an hour and if we could see the sun it would be sitting low in the sky:).  We wave goodbye to our hosts and it begins to sprinkle as we drive away. As we talk about the village visit with Misheck and Patrick one of them comments that the costumed girls will be married by the end of the year! The youngest of the group surely couldn’t be more than eleven or twelve. That put rather a damper on the village experience for me.

Misheck says we are returning to the swampy area we passed by on our way to the village for sundowners. It occurs to me we haven’t seen a sunrise or a sunset since we have arrived at Sosian due to cloudy skies although the sun has always broken through later in the day. I share a little of Paul’s Tusker beer as Patrick passes around the chips. There are impalas grazing the lush grass to our left. We watch a pair of Crowned Cranes flying by and the two birds land in some slough grass not far from the water’s edge. There are Egyptian geese calling as they strut around the swamp land. As the light dims, Patrick points to the right and tells us there are Eland grazing in that direction. Paul and I squint our eyes trying to find the large antelope but we end up having to use our binoculars to see the creatures. How in the world did Patrick see them?

It was too dark for photos at the swamp so I put in this photo of impalas . At least we saw impalas there:)

It was too dark for photos at the swamp so I put in this photo of impalas . At least we saw impalas there:)

By the time our guides have packed up the sundowner leftovers it is getting dark. Misheck says we will take some side roads on the way back to the lodge in hopes that we might find some nocturnal creatures. We are driving down a narrow track that is lined with thick trees and bushes when it begins to rain lightly. Bringing the Cruiser to a halt, Patrick and Misheck quickly unroll the canvas across the top of the truck and they finish just in time as the rain becomes heavier. Soon the heavens just open up and it is pouring down rain. Paul and I sit huddled in the middle of the bench seats to escape the rain coming through the open sides, as poor Misheck tries to navigate a road that has turned into a stream of water. Misheck is worried that we may not get across some of the creek crossings that we have to fjord to return to the lodge but assures us there is a house on this side of the waterway where we can stay if necessary.

The rain slackens and as we near Sosian it is obvious the cloud burst did not reach this far, in fact the roads are hardly muddy. The stream crossings are fine and we make it back to the lodge in time for a shower before dinner.

We enjoy another wonderful meal and conversation with our dinner companions. We discuss the visit to the village and Rosie confirms that indeed the girls in the village may marry as young as twelve. Sean and his wife are joining us for dinner tonight and when cattlemen are together it is inevitable that cattle are going to be discussed. Last night Paul and I had told the story of the two horses we owned many years ago that were struck and killed by lightning. We also say that we had two cows killed this year from lightning strikes and we usually lose a cow or two every year to lightning bolts. This story was met with surprise last night and I believe it is Rosie who relates the lightning deaths of our livestock to Sean. Rosie then asks Sean if there have been livestock killed by lightning at Sosian. The surprising answer for us is that they have never had livestock killed by lightning. They have had lightning knock out things in their house however.  None of us can figure it out and Sean seems to consider for the first time why lightning has not killed any livestock. It makes no sense to Paul and me whatsoever!  After dinner we had hoped to go back out for a night drive but it began to rain and it is chilly too, so that plan didn’t work out.

I wake up in the night to sounds that I am sure are a leopard and I whisper to Paul “do you hear that”. The coughing noise also woke Paul up and answers me in the affirmative that he does and that it is a leopard. The spotted cat must be close by for us to hear it through the walls of our cottage. We also know that a lot of rain fell last night due to the pounding of raindrops on our roof!

This morning after we enjoy our tea and cocoa, Simon and Patrick accompany Paul and me on a walk. Unfortunately it is so muddy that we will have to walk on the roads while Ambrose, another Sosian guide, will shadow us in a Cruiser. With Ambrose nearby when we come to a water crossing we will load up in the truck and be driven across. O.k., it will not be the bush walk we had hoped for but at least we can stretch our legs.

The invasive cactus that we saw everywhere

The invasive cactus that we saw everywhere

The four of us walk across the lawn onto the road that runs in front of the Lodge.  We cross the road and walk through a wooden gate onto a less traveled track. As we hike Simon stops and talks about various plants and bushes including the invasive and introduced cactus that is becoming a huge problem. A beetle that likes to dine on the cactus has been turned loose and we see several of the cacti that look sick. However, there are thousands of the unwanted cacti that we can see just around the lodge so they have a big problem to solve here.

Simon also points out all kinds of animal tracks in the muddy road from impalas to bat-eared fox, and yes, leopard tracks which we see before we have walked very far from the lodge. So the cat that made these tracks is undoubtedly the leopard we heard last night. As for live animals this morning we don’t see anything. Even the bird life is sparse although we do see an African Hoopoe perching on a limb.

Our hike takes us to a stream crossing and the Cruiser is waiting there for us. Simon takes the wheel and as we approach the swollen waterway I ask in all sincerity if we are really going to cross this more than bank full stream. Simon looks back at me with a fearful look on his face that makes Paul and I bust out laughing. I say that I wish I had a photo of that look and Simon tells me to get ready and then reenacts his expression for me which makes us and Ambrose laugh heartily once more. Simon then assures us that the truck can make it through the flooded creek. The Cruiser did wallow through the high water but water seeped in through the bottom of the doors getting the floor of the truck wet. Luckily Paul and I were smart enough to have placed the daypack and camera on the seat with us.

Simon pretending to be scared at crossing the flooded stream

Simon pretending to be scared at crossing the flooded stream

Once we have made it across the creek we crawl out of the Cruiser and continue our soppy walk. Simon and Patrick take us to the fast-flowing river to a place where hippos can usually be found. There are no hippos today and our guides admit the current is probably too fast here for the blubbery mammals. Simon tells us to stay with Patrick and he runs to another spot in the river where the hippos might be hanging out but soon returns and says the water horses aren’t there either.

No hippos here today

No hippos here today

Eventually, Ambrose picks us up in the Cruiser and we drive back to Sosian lodge. We have entered the driveway and are not far from the office when Patrick draws our attention to a myriad of birds in the distance, some flying and others perching in the tree tops. Simon then points out the reason for the gathering of the various species of birds which are clouds of termites. Paul exclaims that due to the size of the insects he assumed they were butterflies. The termites really are huge and we watch as kestrels, swallows, starlings, flycatchers, any insect-eating bird within the vicinity as they feast on the hapless termites. It is an amazing sight and we sit and watch the feeding frenzy for some time. Well, maybe now we know why we weren’t seeing too many birds on our walk, they were all drawn to the eruption of the termites.

After breakfast Misheck takes Paul and I on a drive to see Sosian’s breeding bulls that are kept at a different part of the ranch. It is warm when we leave the Lodge so Paul and I leave our coats in the room. This turns out to be a mistake because we end up on a high windswept plain and the clouds are growing thicker. Luckily the Cruisers always have heavy blankets on board and Paul and I drape the colorful, plaid blankets over our shoulders. Also, Misheck is fighting gooey black mud in places in the road that threaten to grab hold of the truck and not let go.

Waterbuck

Waterbuck

There are sightings of wildlife along the way including Waterbuck, Grants gazelle, Oryx, and one big old Elephant that appears on the horizon. The grass is tall and endless up here on the plateau and there is a proud Kori Bustard stalking through this gold/green sea of grass. A huge water tank for dryer times sits along the road for wildlife and livestock to drink out of but with the abundance of rainfall it certainly isn’t being used now.

Pretty Grant's Gazelle

Pretty Grant’s Gazelle

A huge elephant on the horizon

A huge elephant on the horizon

Kori Bustard. They are big birds!

Kori Bustard. They are big birds!

Misheck drives by a hay shed half full of square bales of hay and we assume that this is where the bulls are kept. A man walks towards us from the barnyard and Misheck asks him where the bulls are being grazed today. The man motions for us to drive on the way we are heading. Before long we see a group of twenty or so bulls with a lone herder. Misheck drives out into the field next to the bedded down bulls. The herder comes over to talk to Misheck who must ask him to rouse the bulls into standing as the herder leaves and makes the big bulls get to their feet. Paul and I are impressed with the thick-topped, heavy muscled bulls although it is hard for me to get used to that huge hump on the bulls necks.

This looks very familiar

This looks very familiar

Boran bulls

Boran bulls

Some of the bulls and the herder

Some of the bulls and the herder

Paul and I are intrigued with a small wooden piece that the herder is holding in his hand. Paul asks Misheck what the herder is carrying and Misheck says it is a small stool for him to sit on so he doesn’t have to sit on the ground. Misheck beckons to the herder who walks over to the truck and then he tells the man that we are interested in his stool. The herder seems happy to let Paul study his hand carved seat and to allow us to photograph it. The wooden stool is really well made and this is something we would love to take home but how would we get that into our carry-on luggage!  Paul gives the herder his stool back and as we drive away the big beefy bulls are beginning to drift away as they graze so the man hurries to catch up with his wards.

Herder watching Paul examine his hand carved stool

Herder watching Paul examine his hand carved stool

A close up of the stool. I love it

A close up of the stool. I love it

This afternoon we are going on our last game drive at Sosian. As we wait at the office for our guides to appear, I take photos of a male and two female agama lizards that are clinging to the brick sides of the building. We see that the ticks here aren’t just partial to cattle as the male lizard has several ticks attached to him. Gross.

Male and female agama lizards on the outside walls of the office

Male and female agama lizards on the outside walls of the office

Ticks on the male. Yuck

Ticks on the male. Yuck

Patrick and Misheck decide to drive along the river for our last hurrah at this fun and interesting place. The scenery is absolutely stunning. We come across a small herd of waterbuck and see eland too. We finally find a hippo who has found a somewhat sheltered curve in the river so he isn’t fighting the strongest current at least.

What a beautiful view

What a beautiful view

There really are hippos here.

There really are hippos here.

Paul is standing and looking out over the landscape as Misheck is driving very close to the edge of the river, and I’m hoping the bank isn’t undercut along here! Suddenly Paul calls out that a Cape buffalo is standing behind a bush which is about 20 yards from our vehicle. The buffalo gives a loud snort and I think all of us fear we are going to be charged by the lone bull as Misheck immediately speeds up. Thank goodness the buffalo turns and runs away from us because if he had charged and hit the Cruiser in the side I don’t know where we would have ended up. We heard enough charging Cape buffalo stories on this trip to make one quake in your boots anytime a buffalo is very near. Whew, that made my heart rate go up.

As we near Baboon Rock, Patrick finds a Von Der Decken Hornbill bashing a big caterpillar against the tree limb he is perched on. The big-billed bird slams the spike covered caterpillar on the limb and then drags the worm back and forth against the tree bark. Misheck explains that the bird is trying to scrape the sharp spikes off his prey so he can swallow the caterpillar. We watch the hornbill for a bit but it appears ridding the worm of its spines may take a while. Since we still have to climb to where we are having sundowners we leave the bird and caterpillar behind.

The hornbill and his caterpillar supper

The hornbill and his caterpillar supper

Looking over the landscape as we approach Baboon Rock

Looking over the landscape as we approach Baboon Rock

Misheck drives to the foot of Baboon Rock and we climb part way up the beautiful formation to have our last sundowner in Lakipia. We don’t see any baboons but the sweeping vista that looks out over bush, river and more rock formations is breath-taking. We enjoy this final sundowner at Sosian as we drink in the wilderness around us.

The Cruiser below as we have our sundowners

The Cruiser below as we have our sundowners

After the guides take photos of Paul and I and we take photos of Misheck and Patrick we carefully make our way back down the rock face to the Cruiser and head back to the Lodge.

Misheck and Patrick

Misheck and Patrick

Paul and our guides

Paul and our guides

Next blog.  Leaving Sosian for the Mara. Nancy