Monday, October 16, 2017

Family Safari. Timbavati and Blyde Canyon

Sunset over the Three Rondavels.
The Hebbes family visited us from the UK in August. Their safari stared out in the Timbavati and ended with three days in the Blyde Canyon where they explored both the wild eastern side of the canyon as well as the incredibly scenic western walls of the canyon. 

12 year old Ethan explains: 

My experience of the safari camp Umlani was of happiness and fascination. Everything we wanted was always right there whether it was a hot chocolate to start the day or some expert advice and knowledge from the rangers. Umlani was a more traditional camp which was one of the best things about it. In the small wood and thatched huts, we were always close to the bush.

Have a look at Ethans video of the wilddogs of Umlani:

My experience of all of the animal viewings will stay with me forever, from the cackling spotted hyenas to the graceful elephants. Some of the most exciting encounters were: Coming within 5m of multiple leopards; seeing the rare and endangered Ground Hornbills; watching as a massive group of hyenas stole food from under some lions’ noses and of course being mock charged by some baby elephants while their mothers looked on in despair! Possibly my favourite experience was of watching wild dogs trot along the road sniffing out their prey and never stopping no matter what came into their paths. To anyone who is reading this, I think that you should come to South Africa and create these memories and share them with those that you love.

Some Blyde River Fun.

After the wilds of the Timbavati, the next stop was the Blyde River Canyon. We love taking our guests to the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitations Centre. This world renowned centre has rehabilitated wildlife since 1992 and keep on doing wonderful work. In addition to offering guests the opportunity to experience the realities of what wildlife face at the hands of man, at also affords them the chance to see may species, including those seldom seen, at close quarters.

8 year old Anna feeding a vulture almost larger than herself. 

Close-up views of Africa's most colorful eagle - a Bateleur. 

Fun in the forests. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Laikipia and Maasai Mara Private Safari

Breeding season in full swing.

It’s been 18 months since our last safari to Laikipia and in view of the latest unrest the area has received it was with mixed feeling that we travelled the well-known route from Nanyuki to Laikipia Wilderness Camp. But all fears were soon laid to rest as we drove through striking landscape and seeing the first herds of Elephant, Zebra and the always weird looking Gerenuk antelope. Upon arrival we were met by the friendly camp staff and showed to our tents. Laikpia Wilderness Camp is still the well-kept and exciting destination it ever was and after lunch cameras were polished off as we headed for our first drive along the Ewaso Narok river where herds of Elephant, Eland Waterbuck and a host of other wildlife greeted us against a backdrop of dramatic equatorial stormy clouds.

Our daily schedule for the next few days was an early start (once delayed by soft rain) where we searched for the special wildlife that calls Laikpia home.  We returned to Camp for breakfast after which we did some image processing. Then lunch and leisure until afternoon tea, and the second game drive of the day. Because we were searching for the great light we only stopped for sundowner drinks once the last of the light had disappeared. Then it was off to dinner at camp. 

Laikipia has a very healthy predator population but because we were heading to Mara afterward we concentrated on the special wildlife of the area. Most nights we were serenaded to sleep by distant lions calling, a subtle reminder of the true  wilderness of the place.

Except for the aforementioned Gerenuk, Grevy’s Zebra of which there are only 3000 left in the wild and Reticulated Giraffe were high on our list of priorities. The feature-full Laikipia landscape makes a dramatic backdrop for wildlife photography and catching these unique species against the undulating hills is always special.

There were still breeding activity in the area and an active Jackal den provided interesting opportunities. Yet the most interesting of all was a newly born Elephant calf en-route to the airport on our transfer drive back to Nanyuki.  

Then it was off to the Mara for the next stop of our safari. 

Avoiding the crowds proved very worth while on our first afternoon with this Black Rhino on the plains all to ourselves. 

It is only in the Maasai Mara where the total nonchalance of two large and very indifferent male lions ignoring us, is matched by us, equally uninterested in the very impressive, albeit sleeping, specimens. This happened on our very first game drive in the Maasai Mara. Wherever cars crowded poor animals, especially Cheetah and Leopard, we deliberately avoided the crowds. This approach proved very effective and the sightings we had over the four days we spent in the Main reserve proved to consistently of a very high quality. Often we were the only vehicle in a sighting and if there were other cars present it was but a few. This approach proved particularly productive on the very first game drive when we located a black Rhino out in the open without anyone in sight. This set the stage for the remainder of our stay here and this approach, leaving the crowds behind proved most effective.

Although seeing lions every day, it took three days to get this very large specimen doing something in great light. 

The very first day was probable the best example as within a few hours drive we managed to locate a Black Rhino out in the open without anyone around. What a privilege it was to be able to have this rare sighting all to ourselves.

Our main objective, as is the case with most people visiting the Mara during the migration season, was to get a herd of wildebeest crossing one of the rivers snaking through the reserve. Eventually one such crossing took place only a few hundred meters from camp where we were the only vehicle present.

The days in the Mara produced amazing sightings of lions and cubs, herds upon herds of wildebeest, Topi, Zebra, Eland, Buffalo, elephant and a host more.

Our camp, positioned at the confluence of the Mara and Talek rivers certainly not for the faint hearted. Every night herds of elephant would move through, Hippo’s were regular visitors to camp, (once even following us to our tents!!) and even the resident Buffalos, generally regarded as part of the scenery, provided endless excitement. Hyenas and lions would call from a few meters away and often we would encounter them only minutes out of camp.

Seconds and the action is over. 
 We stayed in the main reserve in order to find a crossing, yet the next stop, also in the Mara were reserved for the cats without the crowds. Off to the Mara North is was.

We stayed in the main reserve in order to find a crossing, yet the next stop, also in the Mara were reserved for the cats without the crowds. Off to the Mara North is was.

Our very forst drive in the Mara North produced this stunning photo opportunity. 

Having deliberately avoided the crowds which swarmed around the leopard and cheetahs in the main reserve, we set our sights on the spotted cats while in the Mara North. During the first afternoon reports came in of a mother leopard and sub on a kill and with this in mind we set of to see if our luck would hold. Not to be disappointed, shortly after arriving in the area we located first the cub and then mom feeding on a Young wildebeest. The afternoon was spent photographing these two as they finished off the remains of their kill only meters from our vehicle.
Behind the scenes of what happened when the following image was taken.  
The Mara North is an old time favorite of mine. This region borders the main reserve yet has a completely different feel. In some parts Maasai people occupy the same territories as the wildlife and although this may seem out of place in todays sterile conservation landscape, it doesn’t take long to realize that this authentic co-habitation of people and wildlife is pretty much how it was for centuries past. As they say the proverbial proof of the pudding lies in the eating, the test of the Mara North as a wildlife destination lies in the quantity and quality of its wildlife.  We lost count of the amount of lions we saw and could stay for lengthy periods following cheetah without crowds overwhelming the sighting.
The three musketeers. 

Arguably the best photographic opportunity came about here when inquisitive lion cubs came to inspect a remote camera.

Sadly, as with all great things, it must come to an end at some stage and with the last flight taking us back to Nairobi and onwards, we had to say till next time to the Mara. But at least its not goodbye.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Maasai Mara Migration trip report. Sept 2017

Day 1
Today, 13 years since our first visit to the Maasai Mara, the area still holds the same promise of wildlife action and excitement as our very first visit more than a decade ago.

The beautiful Fairviev Hotel in Nairobi, our first overnights stop.

Although we all met at OR Tambo International airport in Johannesburg the safari “officially” only started only once we touched down on Kenyan soil. After quick airport procedures we met our transfer at the gate and proceeded to the Fairview hotel in Nairobi. Except for the normal congested Nairobi traffic we reached the Fairview less than an hour after departing the airport. Here in verdant gardens this well kept sandstone hotel provided much appreciated rest after the long traveling day.  Our first safari day came to an end with a round of tusker beer and dinner.   

Geoffrey our friendly tracker for the week. 
Day 2
Breakfast the next morning and off to Wilson airport to our flight to the much anticipated Mara where we will hopefully catch up with the migration. Seamless logistical support from the minute we arrived made traveling effortless and within no time we were sitting high above the clouds over the Great Rift Valley en-route to the Mara.

After our Air Kenya plane touched down Geoffrey who was going to be our tracker for the next few days met us. At the airstrip herds of Giraffe. Topi and Warthog greeted us while a lone Hippo and a single lioness about 500 meters from camp made for an exciting welcoming committee.  

After check in and a light lunch it was time for our much anticipated first game drive. I normally use the first couple of drives to familiarize myself with the area and get an idea of what animals are around. The first drive produced three individual solitary lions, Giraffe and Elephant on the plains as well as host of herbivores, most of which proving new to Southern African travellers.  We also encountered a small herd of wildebeest congregating along the Mere river bank. Although it proved promising, they didn’t cross the river. Back at camp we enjoyed drinks at the fire while everything from fruit bats and hippo’s to Hyenas and Lions serenaded us into dinner and then bed.

No more than 5 minutes out of camp this magnificent male greeted us on the first morning out.  
Day 3
Our morning started as expected very early with a wake up call and freshly brewed Kenyan coffee at 05:00 am. Lions were heard throughout the night around camp and the obvious decision was made to try and locate them.  Barely five minutes out of camp we came upon a trio of two males and a female.  This proved to be the photoshoot of the morning and what more can one ask for than apex predators in great light. Shortly afterwards we located a Black-backed Jackal den with small pups. Although we got some images we agreed that this deserves more time over the next few days. Later on we finally caught up with the wildebeest herds scattered over hundreds of hectares throughout golf course green fields. Breakfast served under a quintessential solitary tree allowed more time to absorb this spectacle of wildlife after which we made our way back home.

In the afternoon we aimed to get a glimpse of a leopard with two cubs but these proved too elusive.  Amidst thousands of heads of herbivores such as buffalo, topi, eland, impala and a single hippo feeding out of water a juvenile Bateleur provided great photo opportunities. We ended our day on the plains with the same three lions we found at daybreak.


Today was one of those crazy Mara days where the action just never seemed to stop. After a first and unsuccessful search for a leopard along the Talek river our luck turned for the good when we found a pride of lions with several cubs in tow. Shortly after that we swung past the Jackal den where we photographed the pups playing and feeding as dad brought back some unidentifiable food for the pups. A nearby hyena den provided great interactions after which we decided to head back from brunch at camp. This was not to be as shortly afterward we located a very obliging Tawny eagle n the process of finishing off a stillborn Thompson’s Gazelle fawn.

In the afternoon we headed away from the river and the crowds in order to search for our own wildlife. The plan worked beautifully as we saw our first albeit very brief crossing of wildebeest over the Talek river. Shortly after that a nearby due of two lionesses with five playful cubs provided action for the rest of the afternoon. Thinking we would head back to camp a herd of giraffe in the sunset held us captive for the remainder of the afternoon repeatedly passing the best spot for photos. An appropriate way to end a perfect day.

As always fireside drinks with nearby hippos grunting and dinner finished of the day as we retired for bed.

One of the apex sighting sof the trip, a Tawney Eagle with a Thompsons Gazelle kill. 
Day 5
Cheetah were in our sights today. As is normal with Maasai Mara game drives much gets in the way of ones ideas and our Cheetah quest were interrupted hy a hunting clan of Spotted Hyenas shortly after a most perfect sunrise. With tails curled up in agitated excitement the clan ran beside our vehicle for a while in pursuit of some still unseen quarry. Something was about to happen. Upon closer inspection it looked like they were seeing off a lone trespassing Hyena. These highly territorial animals, although very social, won’t tolerate intruders.  We located the cheetah later in the morning already at rest and well fed and decided on a follow up visit. After our compulsory coffee stop we took a leisurely drive back to camp though vast herds of zebra, Wildebeest and Topi interspersed with the occasional Cape Buffalo.

In the afternoon we picked up the herds again and spent a most fruitful afternoon photographing them backlit. 

A young Bateleur Eagle taking off. 

Good Cheetah photo opportunities still eluded us. Although we had seen them before we didn’t stay long as the throng of other cars crowding the sighting distracted from the quality we strive to maintain. Thus today our aim was set at finding a mother and two almost independent cubs. The days started out with a pride of 15 lions, three females with 12 cubs walking through the yellow Mara grassland. Having had such great lion sightings earlier in the safari we passed up the opportunity to photograph this remarkable sighting.  And the gamble paid off. We finally caught up with the mother Cheetah who obligingly laid down with her two cubs in glorious light atop a termite mound. Two other vehicles were present at the sighting initially but before long they also left the scene leaving us alone with the elegant cats.

The afternoon drive delivered three individual sightings of lions, all of which were fast asleep! Contrary to the morning’s success the big cats didn’t do much and we had to return to camp empty handed. However the experience didn’t end there as three large males close to camp became vocal after dark providing a dramatic serenade while we were having drinks at the fire.

The perfect end to a day. 

Day 7

Everyone visiting the Maasai Mara is hoping to meet up with a herd of Wildebeest herd crossing one of the rivers. Although this can never be guaranteed it is certainly one of nature’s apex experiences. And today was about to be our lucky day. After yet another action packed morning spent with a pride of lions and two female cheetah our afternoon tea on the mess veranda was interrupted by Wildebeest snorts upstream of the Talek river. Dashing for our cameras and speeding out of camp we met up with the herd no less than 500 meters from camp! Once there we got ready for a long wait - these animals can take hours to make up their mind. Again this was not to be as within minutes of our arrival the first brave Wildebeest crossed the Talek river. Soon the entire herd, joined by scattered zebra tumbled down the bank leaving clouds of dust in their wake.  

The Jackal den, easily overlooked proved a most fruitful photography spot. 
Day 8

And so came the end of our safari. In order to allow for a graceful departure we do a shortened game dirve in the morning to allow sufficient time for a leisurely breakfast and check out. Yet even this shortened drive produced a spectacle. The Wildebeest herds which for the most part were scattered in vast feeding groups aling the plains had come together in tightly clumped herds along the Ol Kedyu Rongai spring and crossed this watercourse in battalions of dozens of animals wide. A most fitting goodbye from the Mara, or so we thought. After breakfast and check out  it was the last drive back to the airstrip but not before we was another three lionesses perched on a termite mound as well as a clan of 20 Spotted Hyenas finishing off the last bits of their kill. And so came the end of our safari as we gazed down on the vast green savannahs below. Until next time.