23 September 2014

Kenya: Camera gear, video and slideshows

What camera gear did we take?

Canon 1D Mk4 - a cropped sensor - which has a fast frame rate, used with a f/4 600mm lens and a f/2.8 70-200mm. (Lindsay's photos)

Canon 5D Mk3 - a full frame sensor, used with a 300mm f/4 prime lens (Jane's photos)

Canon 5D Mk2 - a full frame sensor - the frame rate is too slow for animals, so it was used with a 70-200mm for taking close ups and landscape. We wouldn't take this camera again.

A tripod that we didn't use. We either hand held or used bean bags (provided by the safari company) to rest our cameras on the car.

Video of the Masai Mara

a 9 minute video towards the end of our Masai Mara trip

Photo Slideshows:

22 September 2014

Our last and most amazing day

Masai Mara 

Our last day was the most amazing day. It happens like that to make you want to come back! First up was a stunning sunrise, then the Rekero lion pride with the 9 cubs were playing out in the open. 

Then we got word that the cheetah cubs were playing out of the restricted area. It was a long drive there and there was a possibility that we would miss all the action, but we were rewarded, and were able to spend quite some time with them. The cubs were playing with each other, over logs and with mum. It was fantastic. Later they moved into the restricted area and the Ranger made us all leave. 

Word on the bush telegraph told of a pair of leopolds quite some way away. A long drive away but the male was still there when we arrived. The pair had conspired to bring down a Topi which is quite a large prey for one leopold, so it made sense that they tried with the two of them. They had been mating earlier on but we missed it. The female is shy and had hidden herself by the time we arrived. The male leopold was the first one we had seen as they are quite elusive, was fending off the vulchers from his kill. Finally the need to find shade won over keeping the kill and he gave it up to the birds. The kill was too big for him to drag it all the way to the trees and then it up the tree. They always take their kills up a tree to protect it from other predators.

Male Leopold
We then heard that a black rhino had been seen. We had spent quite some time a few days ago looking in the bushes for black rhino but never found him. Did we want to try again and find it Simon asked us, absolutely! and we did.

Black Rhino
It was getting near lunchtime so we started heading back to camp. We came across a family of elephants bathing in water holes, then while we were watching them a cheetah walked unobtrusively and sat under the shade of a bush to sleep.

We had our final lunch and packed our bags, our wonderful 19 days was over. We had organised to have a shower for after lunch as we wouldn't be there at the end of the day when we usually have it.

From an airstrip about half an hour away still in the park, we flew in a small plane to Nairobi's Wilson airport. A car was then waiting for us to take us to the International airport. As we enter the airport there are signs that say that you are not allowed scissors, nail clippers - basically the normal sharp objects you can't have in hand luggage - but you can't have them in checked luggage either! a bit cruel. It was a long eight hour wait - six hours before we could check in our luggage and go and sit somewhere comfortable. We were so exhausted we couldn't eat on the plane, the flight stewards must have thought we were strange. A few hours stopover in Istanbul, then onto Los Angeles. Phew, that was a long day!

21 September 2014

Special permission

Masai Mara 

There is a cheetah with five cubs in the park but park wardens have forbidden most people from going to the area where she is. Brian has a permit that allows him to go to this spot. He has been here for over 30 years and has built up relationships with the Park Rangers. People in the Mara affectionately call him Mzee which means old man in swahili. When he was in camp he would take a few people to see the cubs each morning. Today was our turn.

We had to leave at 5:30am to travel to the other side of the park to find the cheetah cubs. The mother had got a kill the night before so she was eating when we arrived. Even the cubs who are about two months old were just starting to eat meat. They played in and around the shrubs which made it very difficult to get good shots - we were actually surprised at the photographs we got. Being there early it is difficult to get enough light into the camera to get the speed up. If the speed isn't fast enough, the photos are just blurred. Being cubs, they play constantly; so are always on the move which of course is the action we want.

You're watching me and I'm watching you, the film crew gets a personal greeting

There were only three other cars there, one was a film crew that had been with them for weeks. You need to be constantly aware of where all the cubs are, especially if you need to move your car as they might be on the wheels.

That afternoon we went to Brian's house, his manyatta, which is about half an hour away from camp, right on the edge of the park. He wanted to show Lindsay his workshop and get me to set up his new laptop! - glad I have my uses in life. Lindsay drove there and back, which greatly increased my appreciation for our guides, the terrain here is not easy to navigate, let alone knowing where you are going. You could get incredibly lost in the park if you were self driving. There are quite a few people who work at the Manyatta working on his fleet of Landrovers and generally around the place.There are no workshops close by to service his vehicles, so he has to do them himself. Other people in the Mara bring their vehicles to him to get fixed too. There were two men making new furniture for the mess tent - everything is made on site - the tents, the directors chairs, the tables, dining chairs, lounge chairs etc. I think he employs about sixty people all up.

On the way back to camp we could see a couple of cars off into the distance. Brian recognised one of his cars and radioed Ruben and said, I'm at your 11 o'clock is that you? It was, what were they watching? Some mongoose had a kill and a martial eagle and a tawny eagle were trying to get the kill off them.  The light was fading and the eagles were fast, so it was difficult to get sharp shots, but great to watch.

Our first wilderbeest migration crossing

Masai Mara 

The sunrises in the Mara are just beautiful. The Mara is a land of so many personalities with stunning landscapes and amazing wildlife. People think of Africa/Kenya as a land of the big 5 but the bird life here is stunning. We were lucky enough to see another crossing today, and the apprehension in the animals could be felt. Were the wildebeest saying to themselves "is this going to be my last crossing?" We all have seen the wildlife shows with the crocs taking animals as they cross and if a croc is there it just increases the panic in the herd. It's something that has to be seen. In reality, not many are taken by crocodiles, it is often the scrambling up the banks that breaks a leg.

Superb Starling 
Elephant calf

Bee Eater

The wildebeest went right down to the river and we really thought they would cross, but of course because we had the perfect spot and were ready, they turned around at the last minute and went back. They do it all the time, but never so close. In the afternoon we got word that they were back down by the river again and got there for the last five minutes. Yay!

Wildebeest gather for the crossing
yep, time to go!

19 September 2014

Was that good for you dear?

Masai Mara 

First thing this morning we caught up with the Rekero Pride as they have six cubs. It was difficult to get any good shots as they were playing in the bushes. 

So we went in search for a mating pair and found them with the Serena Pride. We photographed the mating pair twice. They mate for four days and this was their second. They do it in intervals of about half an hour to begin with but apparently the frequency dwindles as the days go by. Neither of them look like they are enjoying themselves and towards the end - she says "enough" and bites him.

I don't know, it just doesn't look that enjoyable!

the short cut out of the river, was straight up!
We were so close to this elephant, I couldn't shoot it, Lindsay had to use the 70-200mm.

Two wildebeest fighting - a rare sight

We found a leopold in a tree and could see it briefly, but there were too many large rocks to go in and even if we had, we wouldn’t have been able to photograph it. This is the season for babies, we have seen quite a number of warthog piglets in the past couple of days, and today we saw our first Thompson Gazelle, it would have only been about half an hour old.

Thompson Gazelle calves
There is a den of hyenas not far from camp, if we are lucky they wouldn't run back into the safety of the den when we drove past. Hyenas are one of the few animals that eat their prey alive, so they are my least favourite, that's just nasty.

Hyena cub

18 September 2014

My new favourite cat

Masai Mara 

We saw leopold out in open for the first time! Her name is Bahati, daughter of Olive who is very well known as she was on Big Cat diaries a BBC series, but unfortunately, no longer alive. Bahati was on one side of the ravine at first, then crossed over to the other side. We had to rush over to the other side going through the Rekero river crossing that Lindsay has nicknamed Toyota crossing. He doesn’t think Toyotas would make in the wet as it’s very steep and slippery. We, of course are in a Landrover which is the go anywhere car, we are only just slightly biased! This isn’t just his opinion though, all the guides agree that Toyotas get bogged here in the wet. It was quite exhilarating as we rushed over to get a good spot to be able to photograph her, sometimes you are in the right place, other times you aren't and of course, and even if you are - the animals move! Leopolds have the most amazing whiskas and have become my favourite cat. They are very elusive so seeing them is a real treat.

going across to the other side

this group had just finished a balloon ride and we sitting down to breakfast
We had morning tea in lots of different places, quite a few times  down on the river with the hippos and crocodiles. Today I asked if we could stop near a group of giraffes. There was this baby who had a gorgeous mane.

 We only saw one pair of side striped jackals, they are not the most common species of jackal.

Side striped Jackal

Two common jackals are finishing a kill from someone else

Malachite Kingfisher
The orange billed ox pecker clean the bufallo
We found a cheetah that jumped up on the back spare tyres of the car in front of us. The tail was inside the car at one stage as they didn’t have the roof on, and was hitting the guy in the back seat - he was petrified. We had heard that they do this but had never actually seen it. While cheetahs won't kill you, they could swipe a paw in your direction very easily. Brian tells his guides to discourage the cats by starting the engine but this was another company in front of us and they obviously don't get Brian's messages.

Lion Brother's bonding

Masai Mara 

We went in search of the leopold and her cub but we couldn’t find either of them. We then saw a female lion chasing off a male lion. Rather than have to deal with a whole pride, he ran off. The lioness was making a very distressing sound but we weren’t sure why. 

We then came across two brother lions who were sitting next to each other and displayed the most beautiful bonding behavior, our photos really don't show what we saw. It was an amazing experience. Later on, another six females and a couple of young male lions joined them.

Topi’s stand on termite mounds with their back to the afternoon sun, so they are never in the best position to photograph them. They look like they are watching out for predators, but I’m sure their eyes are closed and they are really just snoozing.

Eland calf
As we approached a group of Elands, they jumped over a stream. Apparently they can jump three metres into the air. They are a striking antelope that looks like it’s wearing socks on it’s front legs.

Eland family
Bee Eater

This afternoon we went looking for the double cross pride and found them asleep except for one male lion. We moved on to a cheetah which was stalking a herd of wildebeest but it was just taunting them. We found a leopold but it was asleep behind some bushes. Then just before we drove into camp we saw a hyena with two cubs, unfortunately we had the left hand side of the flaps down due to the rain, so didn’t manage to capture both of them before one darted back into the den.