Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Maasai Mara : Lions and Cheetah

This is the last post related to animals in Kenya.

Like every tourist, I wanted to see a lion on my visit to Maasai Mara. The area has a good population of lions, supported by a couple of millions of herbivores. So there is always a good chance of seeing the feline predators - which includes lions, cheetah and a leopard.

We didn't see any leopard, as it is the shyest of the three. But the lions have gotten used to tourists, and boy, were we lucky or what!

First, photos of a Serval, a wild cat that gave us a fleeting view. It's hard to focus on a small animal that's hiding in tall grass, or running away from you :-( So apologies for these photos not being sharp.

I wish I had seen a cheetah sprinting behind a gazelle, but I had to be content with seeing one resting. It was about 50 feet away from us. Beautiful animal.

It was aware of us, but made no effort to move away.

The next photo is an unforgettable scene for me. Something that I have seen only in nature shows, and something I have dreamt of seeing.

A vast savannah, a predator waiting in the golden grass, looking at its food and thinking about how to make the move. The problem here was, the antelopes had noticed the lioness and the distance was too much. There was no scope for her catching them. The antelopes were aware of it, and kept on eating their grass, only to pause occasionally to make sure the lioness was not moving towards them. A common scene from the constant battle of life and death that goes on here.

The waiting game continued till we were there, giving me an opportunity to take some photos when the lioness turned her face towards us for some fleeting moments. That look can send shivers down your spine. It was good to be secure in the safari vehicle.
That lioness was less than 50 feet away from us, and I was thinking of it as the highlight of my visit to the Mara. I had no idea then that I would come even closer to another apex predator, a male lion, no less. This time the king and his queen were on a honeymoon. Really!

How close ? Take a look - we were much closer to the couple than those vehicles.

Then they got up and walked all the way to our vehicle. Literally just 5 feet away.

Fortunately, they were interested only in each other, and not in us.

They paid no attention to us, allowing me to take some more photos

That's one good looking but extremely scary animal.

That, was indeed the highlight of my trip!

This concludes the photos of animals. Next would be plants, and then some images of the rural Kenya.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Kenya : Birds

My main interest in visiting Kenya was animals. Still, here were a couple of bird species that I wanted to see and I was lucky to see them.

First, the birds from Lake Naivasha area. This is a large freshwater lake, and attracts many birds that feed on fish. The most abundant bird was Great White Breasted Cormorant.

I think the white bird that is sitting next to the cormorant in this photo, is Little Egret.

They are generally sitting in groups.

In very large groups ! Entire trees are full of these.

The next I think is Grey Goliath Heron.

Now two photos of what I think is a Black Headed Heron.

See how many thorns are there on the tree ! There are countless trees with just thorns - 6 inch thorns - and all these birds peacefully nest on them.

Next, two photos of the Pink Backed Pelican. First, a take-off.

Next, in flight.

Now two photos of the Yellow Billed Stork. It's really beautiful.

For the next one, you have to admit that it was perfectly timed :-)

The last bird from Lake Naivasha is Pied Kingfisher. Also pretty.

Now, the birds of the Savannah. The one bird I wanted to see was an Ostrich. In front of the ostrich is a Topi.

The next photo will give you some idea of a typical scene in the savannah. All these were really far away, but in front is an ostrich, in some distance are the elephants, and even further away is a herd of zebras! Animals everywhere you can see.

We rarely got too close to an ostrich. Maybe once.

Another common bird that comes to everyone's mind at the mention of the African savannah, is of course the Vulture - the main janitor of the area. They play such an important role in the circle of life here. What I didn't know was there is another scavenger bird - Marabou Stork. We always found them together!

Two vultures were happily eating a wildebeest carcass, when a Marabou stork walked up to them.

Surprisingly there was no altercation - they shared the feast. We know vulture is a big bird, but look at this stork. It is huge. It dwarfs the vulture. In the background are of course wildebeests.

There was a zebra carcass, and all these birds were patiently waiting for us to leave, to begin their lunch. We also saw the lioness who most likely had killed this zebra, and was sleeping with a full tummy in nearby bushes.

So many of them, and as usual, the background is dotted by countless wildebeests and zebras.

It gave me another opportunity to take photos !

Some other birds of the savannah, use their legs to walk around and find food. These are not flightless birds (like an ostrich is) but walking is a better way of looking for insects and lizards in the tall grass.

The next two photos are of Crowned Lapwing.

There is another similar species, Black-winged Lapwing.

Apart from Ostrich, the one bird that I was really hoping to see was the Secretary Bird. Very striking in appearance, it is an African symbol to an extent, being featured in flags, national emblems and stamps. Their population is dwindling due to loss of habitats, and it's currently listed as "vulnerable". So I was really thrilled to see it, just a few feet away from us. This bird is beautiful!

That completes all the birds and animals, except of course the big cats.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kenya : Giraffe, Hippo, Crocs and "Hakuna Matata"

This is the last post on herbivores from Kenya, and specifically Maasai Mara. I have included some meat eaters too, but the photos of the lions have been reserved for the last!

We saw a few groups of giraffes.

Yes, they are very tall :-)

They have a curious way of looking at you.

This mother was with 2 calves, so understandably she was far away from humans.

All the previous were "Masai Giraffe". The next is a different type of giraffe, called "Rothschild's Giraffe". It has much lighter colored coat and a clean honeycomb pattern. These are commonly found in many zoos. But their numbers in wild are too few, and these are listed as an endangered species. Their home habitat is near Kenya Uganda border. We were told that during the times when the rebels were fighting Idi Amin, they were killing these giraffes for their meat as well as their skin which was used as camouflage.

On of the fearsome resident of the Mara is the "Nile Crocodile", an apex predator. The wildebeest migration hadn't reached the river yet, so these crocodiles were just relaxing. These can be really huge.

The one in the next photo,  is easily over 15 feet long.

We saw numerous hippos, but of all the animals, I found them to be the most difficult to photograph. They spend all day submerged in the water, and come out only after sunset to graze. So you never see them full in clear daylight.

This baby was hiding safely behind the mother, and on the other side, at a distance was the crocodile above!

There has to be a photograph of a hippo with the mouth wide open :-)

This mother came out a tad early. Maybe she gets hungry earlier, or maybe she wants to give a chance to her baby to graze before the others get out. Still there was not enough light.

The resort at Lake Naivasha gets mobbed by hippos at night. They come out to graze on the lawns. I did not have a tripod, so tried taking this photo with 1 second exposure.

The movie "Lion King" made the phrase "Hakuna Matata" famous. In Swahili, it means "No worries". The famous song is sung in the movie by a warthog and a meerkat. The warthog is a type of wild pig, adapted to the savannah

They generally run away from people.

Meerkat is a type of mongoose, so I am taking the liberty to post a mongoose photo in the context of "Hakuna Matata". Meerkats are not found in Kenya, they are from much southern part of Africa. This one is called "banded mongoose".

They live in large families.

Next, I would post pictures of birds of Kenya.

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