Kenya May 2014 Tour Report: Masai Mara
The morning began early for the group as they made their way to Lake Naivasha for birding, and found yellow-billed storks, African fish eagles, pelicans, cormorants and pied kingfishers. Hippos and waterbucks were in residence too.
Then they drove to the Mara, and made some closeups of a topi without much ado. A white-bellied bustard was studied from close proximity, while the group’s wait near it also yielded the sight of a female displaying, with the male following suit.
After this song-and-dance sequence, they hit upon a steinbok, a courser and a crowned plover in that chronological order.
Late in the evening a Thomson’s gazelle duo were having a duel, and on the way to the lodge, some nice silhouettes of a lone hartebeest standing on a mound against the horizon were produced. Life in the Mara was good.
Day two dawned to a brilliant start with the coveted sighting of a black rhino.
With as few as 30 left in the Mara, every encounter of a black rhino is special. This was even more so because the pachyderm kept walking towards the group until he got close enough for frame-filling images for even participants using short lenses.
The group spent a lot of time watching him as he casually fed, showing nothing of the shyness his kind is otherwise notorious for. They had been exceptionally fortunate.
The fortune continued, as Sachin spotted a lioness and two cubs who posed beautifully on a mound. Later the female rose, walked briefly and sat on the road, with the cubs in tow.
A brilliant hour-long sighting followed. The return was punctuated by the sight of a grey kestrel.
Carrying on, a male Maasai ostrich crossed the road in front of them.
Then they heard about a pride of lions and got there. The light was harsh but the sight was nevertheless soft on the eyes, as they enjoyed watching the two adult males and a subadult. There were a grand twelve of them in all, but the group made images of only the shaded ones.
In the avian department, blue starling, white-headed shrike, spotted thick-knee, African wattled lapwing and bare-faced go-away put together a visual treat.
In the evening the group saw a pride of lions in a marshy area, who were plotting to isolate a buffalo. It didn’t work. The buffalo moved away and the pride came onto the road, walked head-on and away.
With that the group also exited, retiring to the cosy comfort of the lodge to call it a productive day.
In the evening Sachin delivered another of his trademark interactive sessions, which are replete with as much fun as learning. There was also good food, pleasant local music, the freshness of the Mara air, and a star-studded sky overhead.
Next morning the group found two male lions on a Maasai cattle kill, being shadowed by several jackals. One of the duo was one-eyed. Some time later, the twin-eyed male left with a leg as a trophy and crossed the road, leaving the one-eyed male to chew on the remains. Then, the jackals moved in to finish what was left.
A herd of elephants walked towards them a short while later, a young calf in the herd the prime attraction. A male cheetah walked some distance and had a drink before moving on. Action was unfolding thick and fast.
Sachin had decided to have the group stay out on safari all day, and decided to explore the Sand River area for action. Reaching there, they found a 60-strong herd of wildebeest and to their surprise, saw that the first crossings had already started happening, although it was only May.
Excited, they reached the river to find that a lioness had just killed a wildebeest on the bed. She sat on the moist sand, her beautiful tawny coat reflected in the water, as she partook of her meal.
Then they found a tower of giraffes. One of them sat in the grass, causing the illusion of the grass being abnormally tall.
A Senegal lapwing, considered rare in the Mara, put in an unexpected appearance.
By then they were close to the bridge that crossed over from Narok to the Mara Triangle, so Sachin decided to pause and have the group lunch at the bridge. Then their three vehicles decided to go different ways in the quest for wildlife, and Sachin found a lion pride on a kill along with hooded and white-backed vultures and a marabou stork close to it.
After spending a generous amount of time with them, the group moved on to find a huge herd of zebra, topi and a few hartebeest. The participants gleefully accepted the offering and made some buttery-smooth portraits of zebras being presided upon by oxpeckers.
At dusk they reached the lodge and found both male and female dik-dik to send the day into the annals of history as a mammalian extravaganza.
The next morning began on an avian note, when they photographed some red-throated spurfowl atop a rock, before the mood turned reptilian when they made the delightful find of a Nile monitor lizard.
The mammals reclaimed the limelight soon enough, with a magnificent dark-maned lion walking head on, causing mild tremors to permeate the vehicle.
Stabilising themselves from the sensory overload, the group marched on to find a lioness and her cub on the other side of a river. Suddenly, the mother rose and stalked a herd of zebra, but before she could make her charge, the other lionesses in the herd wrested the initiative and brought one down to the dust.
Then the male appeared on the prime scene and sat some distance away from the kill while the females that slayed the zebra fed. The mother and the cub, joined by another little one, soon joined. The party was complete but the revellers were the participants, as they photographed the pride feeding for a protracted time.
Then they found a leopard tortoise crossing the vehicle track, which, along with the elephant shrew, the rhinoceros beetle, the buffalo weaver and the lionant, constitutes Africa’s ‘Little Five’.
A handsome male waterbuck then lent itself beautifully to pleasant portraiture.
Later, a lone banded mongoose and a cinnamon-chested bee-eater called time on the day.
Then it was time for the last day in the bush. At first they found hyena pups at an almost completely eaten carcass. There was a hyena feeding on it, which was far. But the pups were closer and they shot them with wildebeest in the background, even as lappet-faced vultures sat eager-faced at the kill.
Barely 200 metres from the cadaver was a lioness, and they conjectured that she may have made the kill and the hyenas had taken over subsequently. The group approached the lioness and found a cub with her, only for them to flash their comely selves in good light.
Then the news of a courting pair having caused an imposing distraction, the group left the mother-cub duo and drove on, when they suddenly encountered a lioness walking towards them. To the group’s delight, the male, who was trailing the female closely, drew abreast, and the honeymooning couple walked in ethereal synchrony.
A Nile crocodile and four lions – including a courting pair – elevated the group to seventh heaven, before a ground hornbill brought them back to solid ground. By now the clock struck the midday mark, and Sachin thought it was time to return the group to the lodge, where a tree hyrax waited to greet them.
The evening ride, the last of the Tour, arrived, and with Kenya having showered so much goodness on the group, the opportunity was ripe to just enjoy themselves without expectations, and let the magic of the savannah soak in deep so it’d linger in their hearts until their next visit, even as a herd of common eland and a yellow-throated sandgrouse bade them goodbye.