Maasai Mara: Day 3 of 7
While it was only the third day, the routine of the early rises, a Maasai escort to the camp fire, some quick online activity over a hot drink, and departure into the ever-fading darkness, had become very normal and comfortable.
We met Francis at the 4WD and climbed in, as we had planned to head out for another dawn and sunrise shoot at a tree Mario favours, which affectionately became known as "Mario's Tree" throughout the trip.
We headed due west of camp for a short distance and jumped out into the wet plains for some dawn silhouette photography of Mario's Tree, with the first frame shot at 6:38am. It was not the world's greatest sunrise, but there was some nice colour in the sky, and I captured a distant passing wildebeest in most of my images.
We ventured south-west to Leopard Gorge, where we hoped to see our young male leopard friend, or maybe one of the Cheli brothers again, but alas, the big cats were not to be found on this morning. We spotted a few impala, and on our way back north-east, we spotted a topi, zebra and general plains game.
Less than an hour after the first frame was fired off for the day, we encountered a herd of Cape buffalo out in the open. The herd was quite a decent size, and there were a few calves. Typical of these large bovines, they did not do anything exciting, preferring to graze, rest and groom, fighting off the ever-present flies.
Trying to isolate a particular animal, as well as capturing interesting activity such as action or tender moments, can be quite challenging.
We continued shooting for a short time longer, and I did not realise it at the time, but I captured a far more pleasing image of a buffalo, in which, in a split second, I had also captured an oxpecker launching into flight from the top of the buffalo's head! I did not discover I had captured it until a few days later when reviewing the many images I had shot.
Here is what I consider to be the finest buffalo image I have captured:
I managed, this time, to not only isolate one animal from the crowd (well, mostly), but I captured some interesting action too.
The staff of Elephant Pepper Camp had organised a bush breakfast, and all of the guests were being taken by their guides to a nice spot which had been set up, and where a hot breakfast and a chance to mingle with the other guests awaited us.
It was a really nice experience, and with the size of the Mara North Conservancy, most of the time one does not see any other vehicles or have any interaction with other guests, as the vehicles can be spread in terms of time and distance. Usually when there is something very exciting, or some ever-appealing big cat activities happening (leopards and male lions in particular), all of the vehicles tend to descend upon a scene quickly.
We sat down to a fantastic breakfast with all of the other guests and exchanged stories, viewed photos, and tried to stop the flies swimming in our coffee and juice, to varying degrees of success.
As breakfast drew to a conclusion, some of the guests spotted fighting plains game way down on the distant plains, so they headed off to see what was going on.
As it turned out, we never quite got to the river itself, as something distracted us.
We stumbled across the River Pride of lions, which inhabits the territory just south of the river, and within a very short distance of the Mara North Airstrip, from which we would depart the Mara four days later.
The look on her face certainly is not one of contentment.
Camera shutters were flapping furiously as this uncommon spectacle unfolded in front of us. I also captured some frame-filling video footage as the lioness fumbled around trying to decide whether she wanted to be up or down.
By now, one or two other vehicles had arrived, so the other guests were also enjoying the spectacle.
One of the young males decided to park himself under the shade of a tree not far from where the female was awkwardly positioned.
This particular male still has some youth under his belt, as his mane is not yet fully developed; but I loved the pose here, as he ever-so-casually leaned on a rock under the shade and gazed in our general direction, as well as keeping an eye on the female in the tree.
Perhaps only 50-70 metres to the south-east of this male was another, younger male who was also resting, enjoying some sunshine as well as some shade.
Here he is, taking it all in:
Shortly after resting, this younger male wandered over to a tree to see what the lioness was doing. She had previously descended from the tree in which we found her, but had then climbed into another tree nearby!
This time the young male was curious, and walked over to her tree. Her dangling, swishing tail was a source of interest for the young male lion, who looked up at the lioness as she sat perched in the bough.
It was now quite late in the morning, and time to head south, back to camp. Along the way we spotted a giraffe on the open plains, and even closer to camp, we spotted a Maasai farmer leading a herd of cattle.
We soon arrived back at camp, where we rested, worked on images and had a light lunch.
Little did we know, but the afternoon drive would bring us something truly special.
We watched and photographed the elephants drinking and splashing water over themselves to cool down.
The sky was starting to become moody and threatening, with some high storm clouds lingering. I reached for a wider lens and captured an image of two elephants grazing, with a thick cluster of trees in the background beneath an increasingly brooding sky.
The sky was develop into a dramatic show later in the afternoon and into the early evening.
Francis soon continued heading south, as we were hoping to see something more dramatic. Along the way, while Francis was cornering, I spotted an intense patch of blue in the grass as I was spotting for lions.
A minute later we continued on. Less than ten minutes later, north-east of where I spotted the agama, we happened across an intensely amazing sight.
This was yet another first: a sighting of lions feasting on a kill.
It was quite a fresh kill, too, as there was no stench from the carcass; but it had been quite substantially devoured, and we figured it had been taken during the morning.
What an intense sighting. We were glued to the drama as a three cubs gorged themselves on the kill under a bush, while other Cheli Pride lions rested in the thicket or were lurking and sunning themselves very close to the site where either the zebra had fallen, or more likely, where the pride had dragged it to keep it out of the open plains where other predators could have got in on the action.
I used a combination of wide focal lengths and short focal lengths to capture the drama.
Here, this cute little cub - one of the younger members of the pride - was very engaged in the business of chowing down, and kept feeding well after the other lions had all moved aside to rest and roll around.
A short time later, most of the pride members strolled a short distance north-east of the kill, and into the open grasses, where they bonded, groomed, rested and played.
Here, one of the well-fed cubs decided it was time to play, and in so doing, he gave one of the females a mighty good smack in the face.
It was enjoyable to watch the lions rolling around, stretching, playing and bonding with each other after a huge meal.
One of the cubs wandered over to a small watering hole in the grass, which we could not see, but which he certainly could.
He lapped up water, and even managed to let some of it drool out of his mouth as he looked back towards us as we furiously snapped away.
While we were immersed in the company and actvity of the Cheli Pride, a herd of nearby elephants entered the area, and they were obviously distressed. There was trumpeting and running as the elephants, who realised they had stumbled across a pride of lions, ran further away to avoid any confrontation.
The elephants kept moving south, further away from the drama we had witnessed; so, we decided to follow them, as it was a breeding herd, which contained a few calves and some big tuskers.
In the relative safety of the distance the elephants had put between themselves and the Cheli Pride, they grazed more calmly as the sky continued to brood and become more intense. I captured this image of a big tusker at fairly close proximity as he made his way through the thicket, grazing.
Early evening was rapidly approaching, and in the opposite direction, the sky became very menacing.
We stopped here for a sundowner, and we jumped out of the 4WD and rigged up for some landscape photography under an intense sky, where I captured this image of a distant acacia tree under a dramatic sky:
In the morning we were treated to the River Pride, with its clumsy tree-clinging lioness and two young males nearby; and in the afternoon we were treated to the spoils of the Cheli Pride, as the lions feasted on a zebra kill, followed by a sundowner under a very moody sky.
Published on Sunday, 2nd August, 2015.