Maasai Mara 2019: Day 7 of 7
Sunday, 15th December, 2019
After grabbing our gear and signalling for the Maasai tribesman to escort us through the darkness from our tent to the camp fire, we met Mario and Francis for a final morning drink around the fire before heading out into the plains to see what awaited us.
We headed into the north part of the conservancy.
For the seventh day in a row, the sky was not suited to compelling dawn landscape photography, so we got straight to the business of looking for wildlife. In the Mara, one does not necessarily need to look for the wildlife; it is just there, sometimes in abundance. The exception, and a challenging one at that, is to find an elusive cat such as a leopard, serval or caracal.
Not far north-east of camp, we encountered a red-necked francolin on the ground. This was another first-time experience, having never seen one before. The sighting was not ideal for photography, so it was an eyes-only sighting.
In this area, we were greeted by beautiful golden hour light, and we spotted a dik-dik on a mound, followed soon by an impressive male impala in the open. Typical of an antelope, he looked in the opposite direction when I tried to photograph him.
I borrowed Mario's Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, within which the 170mm focal length provided an ideal focal length for capturing a pleasing landscape image of the tree, which was being bathed in rich, warm golden hour light.
Here is the resulting image I captured, with a brooding sky in the distance providing some excellent contrast and mood:
After this session, we boarded the 4WD again, and Mario wanted to shoot the rising sun over the canopy of the dense bushland, using a telephoto lens.
I could not get excited about the concept of the image, and did not take any shots myself; but Mario landed a very pleasing image which looked far better than I expected of the scene.
Unfortunately the conditions were not ideal, as the roller was on the ground, which made for a cluttered composition. Additionally, photographing a bird from a higher altitude does not make for compelling images.
After spending a few more minutes with the lilac-breasted roller, we headed to the river and climbed out of the vehicle. From high on the south bank, we could see hippos wallowing in the mud. The water level in the Mara River was very low when we were there, so we were fortunate enough to see a mother and baby hippo standing on a mud bank.
Fifteen minutes later, as we headed south-west of the river, we happened upon a pair of warthogs engaging in a battle.
We saw many warthogs during this trip, and while they are not the most attractive or interesting animals, they are part of the Mara story, and when one sees them engaging in behaviour such as fighting or mating, it is worth capturing the moment.
Naturally, we spent some time with her, capturing various images. The sky by this time had turned grey, and the light was flat and uninspiring. I did not land any 'wow-factor' images, but all the same, just being in the presence of a cheetah is a reward.
In the very same area, we spotted a Cape buffalo grazing. By now, some light drizzle had started to fall, so in the lower-than-usual light, we set about photographing the buffalo at a sufficiently slow shutter speed to capture the rain drops as streaks.
I captured a portrait of the female as she rested, surrounded by the foliage of croton bushes.
Naturally we spent some pleasing time with the lions, photographing both the mother and the cubs as they played and foraged around in the thick scrub. Photographically, it was not a productive sighting, but it was a nice way to conclude our final game drive, and it was our final sighting of the Cheli Pride for this trip.
We headed back to camp, and the three of us sat down to a cooked breakfast in the dining tent, enjoying the presence of zebras grazing a short distance away.
After breakfast came the unpleasantness of packing and preparing to depart. Our flight back to Nairobi was not until later in the afternoon, so we had time to relax a little. We also bought some things from the camp's gift shop.
A new initiative introduced to Elephant Pepper Camp under the management of Tom and Alison is the planting of trees around the camp. Earlier in the week during a few hours of down time at camp in between game drives, Xenedette had planted a tree for both of us. Naturally, we chose elephant pepper trees in honour of the name of the camp, which is nestled within a distinctive cross-shaped cluster of elephant pepper trees.
Beside each tree is a flat stone, upon which is painted the name of the person who planted the tree, and the date on which it was planted. This initiative is a fantastic way to give back to Kenya, and leave a piece of ourselves at Elephant Pepper Camp.
Soon enough (too soon!), it was time to climb into the 4WD for the final time, and head to Mara North Airstrip to board our departing flight.
We said all of our goodbyes to Tom, Alison, Francis, James, Amos and the other wonderful staff, before hitting the road.
During the flight back to Nairobi, my mood was sombre, and even as I write this article now, it is not pleasant to recall the feeling of departing a truly special place, and one in which I could happily spent a lot more time if real life was not the obstacle it is.