There is one more group of images I wanted to show you from our trip with Lou and Veronica Coetzer of Coetzer Nature Photography to the Masai Mara in September.
“It can be a trap of the photographer to think that his or her best pictures were the ones that were hardest to get”.
– Timothy Allen
We visited a Hyaena clan’s den late one afternoon . This male came into the den site, returning from what appeared to have been a scouting expedition.
In true Hyaena style everyone had to smell everyone’s crutch. I am really pleased that human beings just settle for a hello!!
Late the same afternoon after having watched this clan of Hyaenas at their den, close to the Mara river, for about an hour, we set off back to the camp. On the way Sammy, our guide, pointed out a pair of Bohor’s Reedbuck. They were hiding in the short grass and were so well camouflaged that without being shown where they were we would never have seen them. When threatened, they usually remain motionless or retreat slowly into cover. They only break cover once the threat is very close. Their alarm call is a shrill whistle. They only eat grass and live in groups of up to seven females and one male. This particular young female remained motionless.
The next image is of a few Waterbuck. Nothing special about the photographic quality of the image but I thought it was interesting to see the different markings in the East African Waterbuck. For a Southern African this was quite a novelty. Our Common Waterbuck looks like it has sat down on a toilet seat freshly painted with white paint. In East Africa there are two types of Waterbuck, the common Waterbuck with the white ring on its rump and the Defassa Waterbuck, which has large white patches either side of its rump.
Other unique herbivores in the Mara are the Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelle. The Thompson’s Gazelle superficially looks like a Springbok. Both have reddish brown backs and flanks and a dark brown side stripe. Their horns are a different shape and the Springbok’s face is white as is its throat. Both have a dark brown stripe down their cheek, from the eye to the mouth. The Thompson’s Gazelle has a much smaller mouth than a Wildebeest so can nibble at the smaller grass shoots left by the passing Wildebeest.
The Grant’s Gazelle has different colouring and is bigger than the Thompson’s Gazelle but is found in the same area. The Grant’s Gazelle has white on its rump which extends above the tail. It also does not have a dark brown side stripe but has a white stripe on the side of its face from above the eye to the mouth.
The internet connection at our camp Kitchwa Tembo was down so on a number of days the group adjourned, around late morning, to Serena Lodge which was sited on top of a ridge in the Masai Mara overlooking the Mara River. The views were so good that I was more interested in scouting around the Lodge than getting on the internet. Out basking on the hot rocks around the lodge were these Red Headed Agamas -amazing colours.
The next four images are of Serena Lodge. The first was taken at the entrance looking through the reception area onto the viewing deck. The second image was taken looking east down between the rooms which were sited along a ridge with views north and south over the Mara.
The next image was taken from the viewing deck looking east along one row of rooms down onto the Mara and the river in the distance. The second image was taken from above the swimming pool looking north-east out down to the Mara river. As you can see the views from this lodge were forever.
Down below the lodge, there are numerous anthills scattered across the Mara. These anthills provide valuable elevation points enabling the animals to see some distance above the grass. These anthills were actively used by Topis to look out for Lions, Hyaenas and Cheetahs and by Cheetahs looking for the next meal.
We stayed at Kitchwa Tembo tented camp. It was situated in a riverine forest which gave it a lush, cool feel – superb. The last thing you want in the bush is a glitzy camp. This was perfect. The main dining and bar area were under thatch with low parapet walls which opened out onto lush lawns.
The lawn in front of the main dining and bar area stretched down to a swimming pool which overlooked the Mara. It was great to see people lying on their deck chairs watching Giraffe and Elephant directly in front of them on the Mara .
The low parapet walls in main dining and bar area allowed open views onto the lawn and invited in any passing breezes. The temperature was warm but not hot by South African standards.
We found three male Cheetahs in among the Inselbergs down near the Tanzanian border. It was hot and they were doing a lot of nothing. Every now and then one of the males would get up to have a look around and then flop back down to resume his dozing.
In a previous post, I had mentioned that the Elephant looked different in the Mara, somewhere between an Indian and a Southern African Elephant. The Giraffe were also different, specifically their markings were different. There are eight distinct Giraffe coat patterns, each found in a different geographic region.
One of the features of the trees, specifically the Desert Dates, scattered all over the Mara is that they have all been browsed to a similar height. Desert Dates are not umbrella trees but have been browsed into that shape. The next image shows a Giraffe bending down to browse on low bushes because almost all of the trees have been eaten to the point where they are out of reach for all but the tallest Giraffe. Another place where you will see the underside of the trees have been browsed to a similar level is in Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.
We often saw Black-backed Jackal in the Mara despite them being diurnal. Mostly we saw them first thing in the morning or at dusk. There are three types of Jackal in East Africa, the Golden, Side-striped and Black Backed. The Black-backed Jackal in the Mara was more slender and upright and had longer ears than we are used to seeing in Southern Africa.
Up on the slopes of the Oloololo Hills below were Denys was buried in ‘Out of Africa’ , we found these Oribis. The male was marking his territory with a scent gland positioned just below his eye, much like a Duiker or Klipspringer.
The Mara has many predators because there is so much food available. We were fortunate to see Lionesses with cubs and were able to spend quite some time on different occasions watching and photographing them.
On our last evening, we were out near Serena lodge and came across a mother with her new-born calf. I have never seen such a small Elephant calf. It could barely reach its mothers nipple.
One of the guys in our vehicle, Nic said he wanted to get some shots of Elephant because on his last trip to Tanzania he had not managed to get good ‘Elie’ shots. That afternoon we saw more Elephant than we had seen at any point on the trip. A small breeding herd came out of the riverine forest next to the Mara. Nic also got to see the new-born calf on the same afternoon. Needless to say he got good images.
The modus operandi after an exciting morning’s photography was to retreat from the action to have a coffee break to catch up and chat. Lou converted the two vehicles you see in the next image into photographic platforms, with highly versatile seats bolted onto the vehicle base. Each seat had a camera support which effectively acted like a tripod – ingenious. The goose-wing windows allowed excellent viewing space and ability to move our cameras.
Our two game guides and drivers in the Mara – Douglas and Sammy – were great guys, very affable and knowledgeable. A real asset to the team.
One of the key attractions of the trip were sightings of the Mara river crossing. We were on the west side of the river and the Wildebeest were coming from the east to cross the river. Time and time again, the tour vehicles on the east side of the river drove too close to the Wildebeest and cut off the crossing. The poor Wildebeest are terrified enough of the crossing without vehicles pushing them too. The next image is of three such tour vehicles, which drove too close to the herd and forced them away from the river’s edge. These ‘dedicated nature lovers’ then proceeded to drive right into the crossing point, where they stopped and chatted. The lack of understanding and respect for the animals was starkly apparent!!!!
Once it all comes together and the crossing starts it is dramatic and spectacular.
Thank you again to Lou and Veronica for a memorable trip. We got to see new things and capture some great images. That is a must do trip but beware it pushes up you standards. I now see sub-Saharan Africa as my playground.
“ Which of my photographs is my favourite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow“.
– Imogen Cunningham
Seek to understand nature, marvel at its interconnectedness and then let it be.