Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Grand Slam

This was our third trip to Africa (2008, 2010 and 2012). Our first trip was to South Africa to see leopards. Our second trip was to Tanzania then on to the Masai Mara to see the plains and the great migration. The Masai Mara is completely different than South Africa, especially during the migration. In South Africa the terrain is mostly bush and a few animals here and there, while the Masai Mara is mostly plains with very little trees and massive herds of animals.
A cheetah mom and her four, two month old cubs in the Masai Mara

Our third trip was designed to combine the best from South Africa with the best from the Masai Mara. More specifically we were hoping to see and photograph lion, leopard and cheetah cubs. We had yet to see cheetah or leopard cubs and were hoping the stars would align for us. Cheetahs need space to sprint and hunt down their prey, so they are more abundant in the Mara. Leopards require bush to do well. Leopards take their prey up a tree so they can eat without lions or hyenas stealing their meals, so they require nearby bush. The Mara is miles of open plains so there aren't many leopards in those areas. Lions are found abundantly in both South Africa and in the Masai Mara. Both of the main areas that we visited are protected by a coalition of four big male lions in their prime, so both of the areas in South Africa and the Masai Mara that we visited should have very strong growing prides for many years to come.
Two lion cubs in the Marsh pride in the Masai Mara.

By our second day in the Olare Oruk/Masai Mara area our guide had already found for us a coalition of three cheetah brothers on a kill, then a cheetah and her two month old cub, then a cheetah and her four-two month old cubs. At our second camp, we hung out around a lion pride with 26 members including many cubs. In South Africa, we saw leopards on every game drive but one. Our favourite game drive was on day three in South Africa when we spent a couple hours alone with a four month old leopard cub and his mom.
Four month old leopard cub in South Africa

We hadn't ever seen a leopard cub or cheetah cub in the previous two trips to Africa, so seeing and photographing cubs from each of the three big cat families was our grand slam.

In addition to the big cats we were able to spend time with the giraffes at Giraffe Manor and ellies at the David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary. All in all a very good trip. I came home with about 15,000 images and about 20 really good shots. None of which are spectacular, but some very good images and I am happy with the results. I failed with the silhouette images that I was looking to take, I still haven't seen caracals or serval cats in the wild and I have come to the realization that I need to step up some of my equipment if I am to take this to the next level. I'll save up for more gear over the next year and go back to South Africa next year, then to the Mara and South Africa in two years and try it all again.

I almost forgot. Our other highlights were the hot air balloon ride over the Mara, our visit to the elephant sanctuary and to the monkey park in Nairobi. And now I can say it, I almost can't believe that we went all that way to all of those camps and locations with out any major glitches. Our biggest problem was not getting our favourite guide in the Mara that we requested and now we're home, safe and ready to get back to work so we can do it all again in 2014. In the meantime, my African images will be up on my wildlife photography website as soon as I finish processing them.
Floating over the Mara river in a hot air balloon in Kenya

Day Fourteen and Fifteen: August 23 and 24

This morning it was pretty grey and chilly out so the sightings were far and few between. We went north and saw a giraffe and a very young baby, a few jackals and a white rhino. On the way back we came across a male leopard and photographed him for a while then went for lunch. After lunch we spent most of our time with the lion pride. We got a call that there was a leopard sighting, but he was 25 minutes away, so we opted to stay with the lions.

Day Fifteen: Aug 24: Mala Mala. Morning safari and departure to Johannesburg. Flight back to North America.

One of the rangers saw a leopard dragging a warthog, so this morning we went south to see if we could find it. We found the drag marks, and part of the kill at the base of a tree, but no leopard. A few minutes later we saw a leopard kill on a tree (a dyker) that hadn’t been eaten at all, so we figured he would be back but he never showed up, so we decided to move on. Thankfully moving on was a good decision. Several hours later we got word that the leopard still hadn't showed up to eat his meal.

About half an hour after leaving the dyker in the tree we came around a corner, our ranger;  Peter looked down and again there was a small female leopard lying right on the edge of the road not three feet from the land rover. Keeping our distance, we followed her for the rest of the morning through thick bush and then on thick reeds on the river bank. Just when it was almost time to leave we managed to get stuck and had to be towed out. On our way back to the lodge, one of the springs came loose and was rubbing against the back driver side tire, so we had to stop, jack up the vehicle and do some repairs before continuing on. All in all, it was quite an adventerous morning.

My images from the trip can be seen at my nature photography website.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Day Thirteen: August 22: Mala Mala Day Three:

Today was probably the best day of our trip to date. We started out looking for leopard tracks. Within about 15 or 20 minutes Peter; our guide found the leopard tracks of a mother and four month old son. We followed them around and drove in circles for an hour and a half looking for them when we got a call that there was a large male leopard near the river. Reluctantly we went only because the light was good and this was a sure thing. On our way there we saw a herd of impala drinking at the river and noticed two crocodiles on the bank. After a couple minutes the crocks slipped into the water. About 15 minutes later the crocks surged up from the water in an attempt to get a meal, but they hit one another as they were lunging and the antelope took off. 

We made our way to the leopard and after photographing the male for a bit and having a quick breakfast Peter casually announced that they found the leopard mom and cub. I thought he was kidding. He mentioned that they are in thick brush so the sighting isn’t good, but we’ll go take a look. On our way there we stopped to photograph a small pride of lions with two 5 month old andtwo 6 week old cubs and two adult lionesses. A few minutes later we decided to move on to the leopards. When we got there the sighting was poor. The mom and cub were hidden under some brush eating a bush buck baby. To make a long story short, a herd of elephants came in, the cub got scared and he scurried up a tree while his mom slept in the shade about twenty feet away. The cub stared down at us and posed and slept on and off for hours. We didn’t come back for lunch so while everyone was eating we had this sighting completely to ourselves. It was probably the cutest sighting I have seen in the wild. No interaction between siblings, no action, no affection with mom, just pure cuteness.

Day Twelve: August 21: Mala Mala Day Two:

Day Twelve: August 21: Mala Mala Day Two:
This morning Peter; our ranger spent about 90 minutes looking for leopard tracks, then when we least expected it we saw one about 15 feet away from the road. The light was great and Peter positioned the land rover so we would have a good angle to take pictures. This leopard had been attacked by a lion and had a huge 16 or 18” gash on her leg.

Unfortunately for us, the ground where we parked was a little swampy and we got stuck. While waiting for "Triple A" (another ranger) to tow us out, he noticed a bush buck dead in the tree directly above us... Not the most convenient place to get stuck, but "Triple A" did arrive within 15 minutes to tow us out.

This leopard was walking pretty gingerly, so I can’t imagine how she caught the antelope and ran it up the tree while in that kid of discomfort, but she seems to be managing. After being towed out we left this leopard alone and found another one within about ten minutes and stayed with her for the rest of the morning. At one point the leopard was heading toward a herd of impala and stalking them so it was pretty exciting for about an hour waiting and watching to see what she would do next. She started out by rolling around in the grass to cover her scent, then stalked toward the herd, hiding behind bushes and trees. Then something spooked the herd and they took off and the hunt was over before it even really started.

After lunch we went back to see the leopard with the bush buck in the tree and waited for her to jump up the tree to eat the rest of it. We were hoping to get a nice shot of her walking across one of the branches to get to her meal. Unfortunately the nice light had mostly passed by the time she went up, so although we got some pictures of her, they weren't as nice as we had hoped. Not to mention that when she got up to her kill she started by eating the brains of the antelope. It sounds gross, but was truly amazing how easily her jaws punctured right through the animals skull. It would likely be the equivalent of us eating a granola bar. Mmm, right before our supper time.

I am behind in writing updating my blogs, but day three at Mala Mala was my favourite day of the trip and one of my favourite days on safari in all the years that I have been photographing animals. Hopefully I will be able to post that one tonight or tomorrow sometime.

My leopard images can be found on my wildlife photography website. You can even get a sneak peek of the leopard cub that we saw the day after this post was initially published.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day Eleven: August 20, Flight to Mala Mala and Afternoon Safari

Day Eleven: August 20: Flight to Mala Mala and afternoon safari
So far so good. Our  tour company; i-tours stood us up at the airport at Johannesburg, but no worries, we still found a reputable company to taxi us to our hotel. Gaye spent the evening sick (It was her turn I suppose. I was sick for three days in Kenya). And our flght to Sabi Sands went really well. So far so good and now we’re charging batteries and loading for leopard. Good news/bad news. Good news is there is a leopard mom and cub near the camp. Bad news is the wild dog pack and puppies have moved off the Mala Mala property so we won’t be able to photograph them.
Our first good leopard sighting of our trip.

This afternoon we went out in search of leopards. Along the way we took a few cute shots of ellies in the water and a little of this and that. A ranger found a two and a half year old female leopard so we headed over just before the light disappeared. She is beautiful! I only managed to take a handful of shots of her. I got one okay shot and one really good shot of her, so I am quite happy with this afternoon’s safari. Fingers crossed. I am really hoping to photograph my first leopard cub on this trip. I got some pretty good images of a mom and an eight month old cub in 2008, but that doesn't count. Eight month olds are practically full grown. They have lost their "cuteness" factor by then. There is one mom and cub not far from the camp, so hopefully we will be able to photograph them at some point.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kenya Day Ten; August 19th. Check out of Giraffe Manor, visit to Monkey Park and shopping.

Day Ten: August 19: Check out of Giraffe Manor, shopping and visit to Monkey Park (City Park).
Today the overcast lifted considerably enough for me to get some pictures of Kelly. I was mostly experimenting with a fish eye lens, so I hope I managed to capture something creative. Just before we left Gaye called Kelly over to our room and she spent some time feeding her from our bedroom window until she ran out of pellets. Kelly is a fairweather friend. No pellets, no love. And with the food supply cut off, she meandered over to the giraffe centre to get some treats there. Luca the resident dog was in fine form too. She loves to run up behind the wart hogs and bite them on the butt. She knows that the wart hogs aren’t supposed to be around the people, so she likes to round them up and chase them off. It’s actually pretty funny.
This is the Bouganvillea vine. It's really pretty.
 It covers huge trees. The tree looks beautiful,
but it isn't actually the tree that is blooming.
Just the vine on the tree.

From the Giraffe Manor we went to Kazuri beads and a shop that has amazing bead jewelry. After that we went to a Masai Market. At the market they were the friendliest and yet most aggressive sales people I have ever seen! They almost made it impossible to leave each booth whether you were interested in buying something or not. After the market we went to a shopping mall. At the shopping mall they had recently put escalators in. It was entertaining watching the locals. They would cram into the lift (elevator) but many of them avoided the escalator and a lot of children were scared of it. I even noticed a few adults who were tentative and weren't sure how comfortable they were with the thought of using it. I asked my guide about it and sure enough he said that the escalators were new...I didn't notice him using it either. :) After the visit to the mall we went on to City Park. City Park; or Monkey Park, as it also sometimes called has a couple thousand sykes and several vervet monkeys. These little characters love the park visitors and are always looking for a hand out. One of their favourite tricks is to jump out of a tree when they see a small child. The child gets startled, drops his ice cream or what ever treat he is eating, the monkey picks the food up off the ground and darts back up a tree to enjoy his ill gotten goodies. They’re pretty clever. 
Sykes monkey at City Park

Tonight we fly to Johannesburg and spend four more days on safari In South Africa before heading for home. So far our strategy has been right on. Cheetahs and lions in the Masai Mara, and hopefully leopard and leopard cubs in South Africa. Fingers crossed…

Monday, August 20, 2012

Little Governors' camp to Giraffe Manor; Kenya Day Eight and Nine

Day Eight: August 17: Little Governors' morning safari and flight to Nairobi. 
A pretty uneventful morning for the most part. There was a lot of overcast. We saw a couple bat eared foxes foraging. That was kind of neat. You don't see them often as they are a nocturnal animal. The only thing that we found of any interest to us was the cheetah mother and 2 month old cub that we saw while at our first camp at Kicheche. Unfortunately the sighting was in tall grass off road, so we could only stay a few minutes and take a couple pictures before we had to leave. We had a nice flight to Nairobi. The sky was clear and the terrain between the Masai Mara and Nairobi is very interesting.

There was a bit of a mix up with our driver at Nairobi. He misunderstood and was waiting at the wrong airline for us, so that was a good lesson for next time. You don't want to be stranded in Nairobi at dark! He finally found us though and we checked in to Giraffe Manor with a few minutes to spare before dinner time.

Day Nine: August 18: Giraffe Manor and David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary
Gaye feeding Kelly at our bedroom window

Today the overcast is pretty thick again, so we couldn’t really take many pictures of the giraffes at breakfast. It was just too dark. The new babies that were born here last year were killed by the lions from Nairobi national park and Jock Jr., The dominant male giraffe of the herd died two weeks ago. He got his neck caught in the ‘v’ of a tree and rather than lifting up, he panicked and stangled himself, so sadly the herd here is short a dominant male. Daisey and Arlene died suddenly and no one knows why. At the same time, 40 giraffes in one of the nearby Kenya National Parks  (I can’t remember which park)  also died. No one knows why, but there must have been some weird phenomenom of nature going on in 2011. Regardless, it was a difficult year for Giraffe Manor. Giraffe manor also got four new giraffes in July, but they are scared of people so they don’t come up to the manor or giraffe centre yet. Ed was born in April, 2010 and spent our entire breakfast at our window. Ed is very gentle and very friendly, but he ocassionaly dropped his pellets on my plate. As much as I like him, I wasn’t really interested in him sharing his treats with me.
Baby ellies at the David Sheldrick Elephant
Orphanage coming back at lunch time to be
fed their milk formula.

This afternoon we checked out the ellies at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It was pretty neat to see Sities, the ellie that we fostered two years ago. Two years ago she was quietly sucking on her keepers hand and today, she was 800kgs of rambunctious elephant. Within the next two years she will be transfered to the Tsavo location where she will be introduced to the wild herds. From there within the next couple years she will be just another elephant living in the wild.

More images of giraffes from Giraffe Manor and ellies from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust can be found on my wildlife photography website.

Little Governors' Camp; Hot Air Balloon Ride, Kenya Day Seven

Day Seven: Aug 16: Hot Air Balloon safari and afternoon safari

The hot air balloon ride was awesome! The morning was a little bit overcasty so I didn’t get any good sunrise shots, but it was really neat photographing the animals below. Gaye and I were a little bit nervous about how it would feel, but for anyone thinking about it, I would highly recommend it. The edge of the basket comes up to your armpits (well, Gaye's armpits), so you feel very secure. Our pilot flew about 65 feet in the air, probably a comfortable 30 feet over the tallest trees. The flight is quite gentle and 
not in the least bit scary...And neither one of us are good with heights. When you come in for a landing, there is a bench seat close to the floor that you sit on. You sit down, grab on to these handles and ease down to the ground. Of course we were lucky because it wasn't windy and our landing was perfect, but even if the wind picked up I think we still would have felt quite comfortable. The only problem is that there was a lot of over cast that day. I would love to do it once more on a nicer day, but of course mother nature has a mind of her own and we can't control such things. Tomorrow is our last morning game drive. We haven't seen the marsh pride cubs for an entire day now. I hope we will get to see them once more before we leave. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Little Governors' Camp; Kenya, Day Six

Day Six: Aug 15: Little Governors’ Camp Day Three:
I was going to mention that we had a pretty non-eventful morning which we did, but we still saw three lion cubs by the Musaria airstrip and another two lion cubs from the Paradise pride, so it was still a fun morning.

We spent the afternoon scouting for a cheetah and her eight month old cub. We finally found her at around 5:30p.m. just when the light was getting nice. We didn’t have very long with them, but they posed a bit andplayed a bit and I think we likely got a really nice couple of shots. Tomorrow we get up early to take a hot air balloon ride over the Mara. The people at the camp think I’m a little strange because I don’t want to have the “champagne breakfast” where we land. I was trying to explain to them that light is precious that time of the morning. Our guide will pick us up from the landing site so we can still get our photo session in. Or at least that is the plan anyway.

This is a picture of today's sunrise. The birds landing on this tree are called marabou storks. They are huge, very ugly scavenger birds. There are so many here that I wanted to take a picture of them. This is the only way I could figure out how to make them look even remotely nice.

More images from this year's safari can be found in the "African Wildlife" section of our wildlife photography website.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Little Governors' Camp; Kenya Day Four and Day Five

Day Four: Aug 13; Kicheche then travel to Little Governors’ Camp & LG afternoon safari

The wildebeast love the camp at night and thousands of them basically surround it. All we can hear all night are these gnus honking all night long. We hear an the occasional lion roar, hyena shoot and the odd zebra spat, but there's definitely no silence at night. I tried to video in the pitch black tent so I could use the sound track to tell people what Gaye sounds like when she sleeps (she doesn't really, but I like to tease her anyway), but my video cameras didn’t want to pick up the sound. I was so disappointed. 

Today we made the 90 minute drive to Little Governors’ camp taking pictures along the way. It was a nice leisurely drive and we got some great pictures of a couple affectionate zebra babies and a 3 month old giraffe that still had his umbilical cord attached. Little Governors' camp does have a great atmosphere about it. They have resident wart hogs and this year two little babies that run about 90 miles an hour around the camp. The camp of course has all kinds of the wildlife that wander through. Possum for instance is a huge bull elephant that was visiting just outside the reception area when we were signing in. I think Possum and Blossum (Blossum is the other bull ellie that visits regularly) both like to visit the camp almost daily as we saw them during the day when we were signing in and then again when we were signing out of the camp on our last visit.
Possum; Little Governors'
camp welcoming committee
visiting camp at tent #6

Day Five: Aug 14: Little Governors’ Camp Day Two:
This morning we decided to first check out the marsh cubs. They were in the same spot as when we left last night. Only they were munching on a wildebeast kill. This morning was incredible! We had the marsh pride 6week old babies running around and playing with mom, then a 100 feet away we had Moran and Scarface (two of four male leaders of the pride) fighting and on the other side of the marsh there was a leopard up in the tree only 100 feet away on the other side of the marsh.

For more images, visit our nature photography website.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olare Oruk Conservancy; Kenya Days 2 and 3

Day Two; Aug 11: Kicheche
I looked up the definition for ‘dumb ass’ in the dictionary. I never would have guessed it, but Websters definition of 'dumb-ass' is two lilly white Canadians who plan to spend 13 hours per day in the blazing hot sun about 150 miles from the equator and forget to bring sunscreen. The UV index here is comparable to a blow torch I’m sure! We did manage to find a camp that had sunscreen priced at a very reasonable $30 a bottle. They think they are so smart charging three times market value. Little do they know, we would have gladly paid 100! All in all a fun day. 

Our highlight was finding six6 week old lion cubs. The light and background wasn’t very good, but it was a lot of fun watching these little characters playing…So cute.

Day Three: Aug 12: Kicheche
We have seen too much to mention, but our highlight today was driving to the south Mara. On a hope and a prayer and knowing there are a mom and four cheetah cubs, our guide drove us an hour to an expanse of fields and tall grass as far as we could see. After looking for about 30 minutes, he spotted the mom and cubs. I have no idea how he found them because they travel a lot and have a huge territory, but he found them and we were fortunate enough to photograph them for a few hours on and off.