Mike Mockler

Kenya 2017

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March 2017 and November 2017

Private Safari, March 2017

In mid-March we arrived once again in the Masai Mara Conservancies, hoping that the drought might be coming to an end.  During our previous visit four months ago, the rains had started only fitfully and much more rain would be needed.  From the air as we approached the airstrip, we could see patches of green below so we were optimistic.   

During our stay this time, there were intermittent showers, some of which were heavy enough to soak the ground and turn the black cotton-soil to its notoriously slimy consistency.  There were times when, on game-drives, we slalomed around on the plains.

We renewed our acquaintance with the cheetah mother known locally as Amani and her two cubs, now around ten months old.   When we had last seen them four months earlier, the cubs entertained us with their play which often involved climbing trees.  Now, it was evident that they still loved climbing trees and jumping down from them.  When we first relocated them, it seemed Amani had just lost her kill to hyenas, so we were disappointed for her when she was unsuccessful with subsequent hunts.  Her playful cubs were a major problem for her as they frequently caught the attention of their mother's quarry and caused the hunt to fail.

Other cheetahs appeared to be having more success.  On one morning, before breakfast, we watched two successful cheetah hunts.  Firstly, we watched a young female cheetah chase and grab a young impala.  Although her hunt had been successful, baboons appeared as if from nowhere to chase her.  A massive male baboon threatened her so she had to drop her kill and leave it to the baboon. 

Incredibly, less than 30 minutes later, we found another female cheetah who caught a young Thomson's gazelle and quickly devoured it before it could be stolen from her.

We were treated to regular excellent leopard sightings too.  We watched one big female who was evidently coming into oestrus desperately trying to attract a male to mate with.  There was also a leopard mother with two 9-month-old cubs and a fine-looking young male leopard feeding on an impala kill in a tree.  At one point he came down from the tree and walked into a patch of forest, apparently seeking better shade.  However, he failed to notice a passing lioness with a well-grown cub who quickly detected the leopard's presence and attacked him.  He escaped up another tree by the skin of his teeth!

As ever, lions were seen on a regular basis.  Several prides contained cubs, most of them small enough to be highly entertaining.  However, lionesses killing an adult topi showed the other side of lion life - it was a grisly and harrowing affair.   We discovered a male lion with a fresh zebra kill (which had been made by the lionesses).  In attendance were over 20 hyenas whooping and yelping and four jackals, ever watchful for scraps.  We also found mating lions on two other occasions. 

We witnessed another drama as a pair of jackals chased and killed  a Thomson's gazelle.  This attracted a huge number of vultures that quickly scattered the jackals and voraciously fed on the carcass.  One of the jackals tried to drive off the vultures but it was a lost cause.  Later, the jackals fed on the few last scraps that the vultures had missed or ignored.    

Elephants with small calves are always a delight to watch and we had many such encounters.  The breeding herds in the Mara conservancies are always extraordinarily relaxed in our presence, even when they have small babies.  If we sat quietly, the herds gradually edged closer and closer, scarcely paying attention to our vehicle. It's deeply satisfying and moving to watch then going about their daily affairs at incredibly close range with no sense of fear.  At such times the horrors of ivory poaching seem a long way away.

Bird life was gloriously abundant.  Many migrant species were still  present, while resident birds were as plentiful and striking as ever.  Three species of displaying bustards, impressive Martial Eagles, singing Rosy-breasted Longclaws and hunting Pallid Harriers and Montagu's Harriers all posed for photographs.  In camp, one of Kenya's most attractive birds, the African Blue Flycatcher, came close enough for me to photograph it.

We encountered a small family of ground hornbills foraging, unusually, in the canopy of an acacia tree.  Eventually, an adult hornbill caught a large tree agama lizard and flew down to the ground where it strutted purposefully away with its prize in its massive bill.  Later, it fed the lizard to one of its youngsters that swallowed it in one gulp.

In most parts, the green plains teemed with wildlife: wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, elands and many other species of plains game. Some of these herbivores were frequently seen near or even within our camp.  Some such as buffalos, elephants and hippos entered camp after dark to feed on the lush vegetation, which meant more work for the camp's askaris during the night.

Group Safari, November 2017

This was truly a spotted cats safari!  We had 18 cheetah sightings, involving at least 14 different cheetahs.  The leopard statistics were equally impressive considering the secretive nature of this cat: 12 sightings involving at least 9 leopard individuals, including 2 cubs.

As always, there were plenty of lion sightings including a pride feeding on a big bull buffalo they had just killed, another pride feeding on a topi kill, others mating and many more with entertaining small cubs. 

There were numerous groups of elephants, most with tiny calves, and some magnificent bulls with wonderful tusks. They were all just as relaxed in our presence as they were in March.

Colourful resident birds included Violet-backed Starling, Purple Grenadier, White-headed Barbet, the little gem that is the Green-winged Pytilia and no fewer than six different species of kingfisher.  An enchanting episode occurred beside a pool when two adult Black Crakes hurried past a huge crocodile lying at the base of a steep bank.  At that moment, we spotted two tiny, black, fluffy table-tennis balls scuttling along, trying to keep up with their parents.  Black Crakes are not easy to see at the best of times but to see two newly-hatched chicks running virtually along the back of the crocodile was wonderful.  

Among many intriguing encounters, we saw two porcupines in the open plain, an unusual daylight sighting, witnessed topi and gazelle babies struggling to their feet for the first time in their lives and came across a newly-born eland calf that was probably only an hour or two old.  We also met many tiny warthog piglets - absolutely delightful.      

Night-drives produced many sightings of nocturnal species such as lesser bushbaby, spring hare, white-tailed mongoose, bat-eared fox, common genet, zorilla and the rarely-seen aardwolf.  Other interesting night-time sightings included a hippopotamus grazing out on the plains, various nightjar species and a kamikazi White-backed Vulture which nearly crash-landed inside the vehicle.  Unlike previous tours, we didn't manage to see an aardvark.

We watched a young female cheetah chase two young topis but her inexperience showed as she began her run too early and missed what had seemed an easy kill. We also saw a remarkable coalition of 5 male cheetahs, a phenomenon previously unheard of in Kenya: usually a cheetah coalition is made up of two or three males.   We witnessed an extraordinary stand-off between the five cheetahs and a group of young male lions.  The cheetahs puzzled for some time over the possibility that lions may be lying hidden in the dense croton thicket ahead.  Then, with their worst fears finally confirmed, they slunk away nervously. 

We also met three young cheetahs that had recently separated from their mother, two males and a female.  They are likely to stay together for a time but eventually the female will split from her two brothers to lead a largely solitary life until she gives birth to cubs. 

Elsewhere, a male cheetah chased and caught a young impala before settling down to devour his kill.  This was despite the annoying attentions of a jackal which even bit the cheetah's tail in the hope of snatching a few scraps of meat.

Birdwatching became increasingly productive as waves of migrants arrived from the north: White Stork, Black Stork, Abdim's Stork, European Hobby, Amur Falcon, Eurasian Roller, Blackcap, Lesser Grey Shrike, Steppe Eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle, flocks of European Bee-eaters, various harriers and wheatears and many more.   

We enjoyed watching the well-known leopard, Fig, with her 6-month-old cub, as the light was fading and, the following day, we spent more time with Fig as she lay beside a pool waiting to ambush animals that might come to drink.

Several other leopards were encountered, including a big male known locally as George, named after one of our guides, and Nalangu, a mature female leopard, with her 9-month-old female cub.  Over the following days, we found Nalangu and her cub several times.  Some of the group even watched her hunting, though she had no success.  Ironically, although the mother appeared to be very hungry, the cub had a bulging stomach.  Presumably she had caught something small like a scrub hare.

Two days before the end of the tour, at first light, the room attendant was unable to reach my tent with the daily wake-up call and hot chocolate because Nalangu and her daughter were sitting on the path to my tent! 

It was a very enjoyable safari, especially notable for the extraordinary number of spotted cats we saw. The wonders of the arrival of the rains were obvious - newborn animals everywhere, resident birds in bright breeding plumage, migrant birds arriving after epic journeys and, of course, spectacular dawns and sunsets, such a feature of this stunning time of the year.  






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