Simon, Jocelin and I had five wonderful days in Amboseli during our photographic safari with Andrew and Sammy from Wild-Eye. Amboseli is the most amazing place to visit as a photographer because of the incredible diversity of habitat, wildlife and birdlife. This is the last post from Amboseli and hopefully shows some of that diversity.
“Africa – You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the Hand of God. You watch the slope lope of a lioness and forget to breathe. You marvel at the tripod of a giraffe bent to water. In Africa, there are iridescent blues on the wings of birds that you do not see anywhere else in nature. In Africa, in the midday heart, you can see blisters in the atmosphere. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world.”
~ Jodi Picoult
Around 6h30 we left the Serena Lodge nestled in an acacia forest in the south of the park. Travelling north up to the acacia forest in the Oltukai area we found a troop of Olive baboons and this Yellow-throated Spurfowl. It was early in the morning so the sun was not out yet but this character stood and posed for us. It must have been a female as it did not have a pronounced spur on the back of its legs. The males need the spurs to fight for dominance and territory. I have found that you can try over and over again to photograph a species with little luck then out of the blue one character poses beautifully. This was one of those occasions.
This female spurfowl was quite relaxed standing on top of a berm on a drainage line. Spurfowl are generally cryptic in colouring but always have definitive colouring around their head.
On into the acacia forest where the Oltukai lodge is nestled. Baboons seem to love this area perhaps because it offers protection and food. On the side of the road a male Olive baboon and his female sat close together. Within the hairy tangle emerged this very young baboon.
This youngster was cradled within his mother’s thigh and seemed to be sucking his thumb – genetic cognisance!
The male was an impressive character who looked like he was up for any sort of territorial tangle.
On our travels around the Olokenya swamp we found this lone Serval wandering parallel to the road about 20 metres into the grass. The Serval is characterised by a small head, large ears, a golden-yellow to buff coat spotted and striped with black, and a short, black-tipped tail. The Serval has the longest legs of any cat relative to its body size. This character looked to be out hunting. It came to a drainage ditch and instead of walking around, it jumped straight over the water filled ditch. Servals have very strong back legs and are known for their ability to jump high into the air to catch doves and guineafowl.
“One cannot resist the lure of Africa.”
~ Rudyard Kipling
In true cat style, this character was confident and walked through the long grass ever alert with those big ears moving backwards and forwards like radar scanners.
This Serval knew where it was going and stopped to take in different smells. As an observer you get the impression that all the smells help form a picture of who passes by and the state they are/were in.
Once out of the grass, the Serval’s colouring was very distinctive. It stopped to scratch its ear with its back leg. These creatures are so lithe.
Further on this African Hoopoe was foraging on the ground and hopped onto a log to get a better view of the goings on around it. They are beautiful birds with a distinctive onomatopoeic trisyllabic “oop-oop-oop” call.
Past the Oltukai forest we travelled west towards the Amboseli lake. It is dry for most of the time. On the edge of the dry lake bed we stopped to photograph some trees and this small herd of wildebeest wandering through the grass fringe.
“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.”
The Amboseli lake lies on the west side of the park. The lake bed is huge and desolate.
As it got hotter, the heat waves began to form a mirage and the legs of the zebra began to shimmer.
Plenty of game cross this lake bed including zebra, wildebeest, ostriches and elephants.
The lake bed is dry and the fine alluvial mud forms interesting patterns when it dries. Naturally forming mud cracks start as wet, muddy sediment and desiccates, causing contraction. The top layer shrinks faster than the underneath layer causing the crack.
A sign of a large pachyderm having passed this way!
This elephant must have crossed the dry lake bed to get to the long grass and swamps on the south east side.
We found this bull who we had watched walk around the side of the lake. The bulls are impressive in Amboseli. They are big and some of the older “boys” have huge tusks.
“In Africa you have space…there is a profound sense of space here, space and sky.”
~ Thabo Mbeki
Having looked around the dry lake bed we travelled east. It was fun watching a long line of wildebeest cross this pool of water. They could have walked around but they chose to wade through the water. They must have some primal instinct that tells them to speed up when they walk through water, perhaps because of the danger lurking under the water.
As soon as the water got deep, the wildebeest would try and jump out of the water.
“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.”
A little further east we found a hyaena den. This old female seemed to have be ostracised from the clan and had only one or two clan members who were prepared to tolerate her. It certainly looks as if life has been tough on her.
We then headed south toward a fever tree forest near the Enkongo Narok swamp. An old dead tree stump looked to be a favourite lookout and congregating point for this troop of Olive baboons. A place for earnest discussion!
All the youngsters were looking very mature on top of the tree stump conferring with each other.
That was until the boss came along, then the game was deference.
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”
The baboons were looking onto a fever tree forest. This forest was fenced off to protect it from the elephants and looked to be a preferred place for the giraffe. Research shows that giraffe in different regions of sub-Saharan Africa have different coat patterns. The pelage of these giraffe and the location made me think they were Masai Giraffe, one of nine distinct species in Africa.
Amazingly, the long white acacia thorns seemed to be no deterrent for these voracious vegetarians.
These fever trees have a beautiful green-yellow bark which seems to ooze a dark brown resin, probably because of some close attention from a number of large animals in the past.
The giraffe were not the only ones to enjoy this fever tree forest. Some elephant found their way through gaps in the fence.
The fence seemed to help protect the forest from the elephants, though a few canny individuals managed to find a way in and looked to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Beyond the fever tree forest, we moved down at a small dam along the Kioko road. Next to the road by the dam, we found this hive of African bees in an acacia tree.
It was interesting to see that the natural form of this hive was a cone shape. From the small dam we drove down to the lake and swamp below Observation Hill. The bird life was superb along this stretch of water. There were quite a few Collared Pratincoles in this area. One found a blue dragonfly and was trying to subdue it in order to swallow it.
″A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.”
~ Moslih Eddin Saadi
After some considerable maneuvering it finally got the blue dragonfly into a position it could swallow it.
It does not appear that these birds taste what they are eating although I am sure some birds can taste their food. I know that birds do not like the taste of Monarch butterflies and I am not sure whether sunbirds can taste their nectar or whether they just recognise the flowers which produce it.
There were also many Spur-winged Lapwings. This pair were ensuring the continuation of the species. It always intrigues me that the female never seems to buckle under the weight of the male.
Now this is something I had never seen before, Black-winged Stilt chicks. They must have been days old and looked just like Jacana chicks but for their lack of long toes.
The Black-winged Stilt mother was very busy fending off all other birds near her chicks.
The stilt chicks would tuck under their mother’s wing just like Jacanas do their father’s. The Black winged Stilt mother had to get down onto her knees so her chicks could nestle under her wings. The Jacana mother is usually no where to be seen as their father is their guardian. Both Jacana and Stilt chicks look to be precocial.
“You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
~ Mark Twain
This little bundle of fluff seemed to be quite independent when its parent was away.
The Spur-winged Lapwings were also highly protective and territorial. This character had to nosedive to get out of the way of a stooping opponent.
In contrast to the dry Amboslei lake bed earlier in the day, along the lower reaches of the swamp we watched this contented pod of hippos enjoying the warmth under the cloudy sky.
“Amboseli” comes from a Masai word meaning “salty dust”, and it is one of the best places in Africa to view large herds of elephants up close. There are five different habitats to explore ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulphur springs, grassland plains, savannah and acacia and fever tree woodlands. There is a vast array of mammals and a much bigger variety of bird life than I ever expected. We had a wonderful and interesting five days exploring Amboseli. Five days is not nearly enough so I will be coming back. From Amboseli Andrew and Sammy took us on to Tsavo West further down in the south east of Kenya to explore another interesting game park.
“Live out of your imagination, not your history”.
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.
Thanks for sharing another great story Michael. The sighting of the serval must have been very special!
Thanks Maurice – I am really enjoying your wildlife blog. Keep up your great work.
Hi Mike, The top of my list is now Aboseli. I will treasure your photos, not only the elephants, but the birds as well. Thanks very much. Love, Jenny
Thanks Jenny I appreciate your comments. There is much to come. Best wishes Mike