I had the privilege of visiting Amboseli National Park in south-east Kenya in mid-April this year. This trip was postponed by a year due to the pandemic travel restrictions. Thankfully with the requisite tests and paperwork and guidance from photographic safari operator, Wild Eye, I was able to return to this amazing national park. I first travelled to Amboseli with Wild Eye in 2018 with Andrew Beck and was so impressed, that I wanted to return. The team at Wild Eye were amazing to get all the paperwork sorted out and made the trip as stress free as possible – and a big thank you to Judy van Zyl for that. Our guide was Mike Laubscher who was knowledgeable and fun and a big thank you to him for looking after us and pushing us to try new things photographically.
“Wildness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” ~ Edward Abbey
There are two dominant influences on the climate in Kenya: the onshore monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean, and the altitude. The winds determine the onset of Kenya’s two rainy seasons, with the hot northeast monsoon or kaskazi blowing dry air in from the Persian Gulf from November to March/April and the warm, moist kusi monsoon blowing in from the southeast from April/May to October. Despite Covid, April is not considered the high season because of the long rains. Well that might be so for general tourists but not for wildlife photographers. The heavy skies associated with the long rains bring vernal green grasslands and deep dark blue skies as dramatic backgrounds – perfect!!
“Not all who wander are lost.” – JRR Tolkien
Amboseli National Park, was formerly known as the Maasai Amboseli Game Reserve. It is a national park in Kajiado South Constituency in Kajiado County, in south east Kenya. The park is 39,206 hectares (392 km2) in size at the core of an ecosystem that spreads across the Kenya-Tanzania border. It is located just inside the Kenyan side of the Kenya/Tanzania border at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. The park protects two of the five main swamps in what is a flat open area with several distinct ecosystems. The National Park embodies five main wildlife habitats (open plains, acacia woodland, rocky thorn bush country, swamps and marshland) and covers part of an ancient lake basin, which is dry for most of the year.
There had been a lot of rain before we arrived. The swamps had filled and there were large pans of shallow water which attracted Greater and Lesser Flamingoes by the thousands. With so much water around the flamingoes were spread out and not confined to a few large pans. In the mornings the surface of the pans were dead still reflecting the cloud laden skies.
Adjacent to the swamps were huge tracts of open grasslands which attracted the elephants. Where there were elephants, the Cattle egrets followed. Invariably there were family groups with a few females and several calves foraging on the low bush and grasses. The skies at this time of the year are filled with cumulus clouds providing a dramatic background especially in the afternoons when the cumulonimbus clouds formed creating deep dark blue backgrounds with towers of heavy rain clouds.
With so many elephants on the open grasslands so too were there many Cattle egrets. The elephants disturb the insects in the grass as they are foraging, and the egrets stay close by to take advantage of the insects which have been disturbed.
The grey of the elephants in the verdant green grasslands with deep dark blue skies were beautifully punctuated with splashes of white.
Where there are rain clouds so too were rainbows which added the extra colour and spectacle to a wonderfully peaceful scene.
Mount Kilimanjaro in the background just peeking through the clouds. It is the highest mountain in Africa standing at 5,895 metres above sea level and is snow capped all year round. It is quite incongruent to be sitting sweltering in a game vehicle while looking up to “Kili’s” snow capped peak.
The cloud formations in the “long rains” made a dramatic and colourful background for our wildlife landscapes in Amboseli. This is a place of big open spaces and even bigger dramatic skies which makes the pachyderms look minute in the context.
With all the drama in the skies, the scene in the foreground was tranquil with Greater flamingoes filter feeding before sunset.
I have been wanting to go back to Amboseli since my first trip with Andrew Beck of Wild Eye in 2017. The last trip was in June when it was dry. This trip cast an entirely different complexion on the park.
There is an openness in the park which is to be found in the Kenyan game parks. The long rains created a verdant landscape with dramatic cloud filled skies. There is an abundance of wildlife in Amboseli which of course is more dispersed in the rains because of the abundance of water, but it is full of life.
“The sky above me the earth beneath me and the fire within me.” – Unknown
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.