Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Day Seventeen - Bonus Day becomes Bonanza Day

With shots of a Wildebeest crossing and lions, our last full day in the Mara was bonus day – everything we saw today would be a bonus. We eventually saw so much that it turned into a bit of a bonanza. It had started so poorly but by the end we were ecstatic.

When young couples come to the Mara on honeymoon, one of the things they really fancy is that romantic balloon ride across the savannah. They take off at dawn and fly gently across the Mara for one or two hours before landing at a pre-arranged spot for a champagne breakfast and a game drive back to their lodges. There are rules and regulations to prevent danger to passengers or distress to animals, which are generally adhered to but occasionally some companies get greedy and flout the regulations. This morning at dawn, we watched them take off, then half an hour later we saw two balloons flying far too low. One of these came to an unintentional landing just below the Oloololo Escarpment and it was no surprise, as it was clearly overloaded, with people jammed like sardines all around the basket. The second flew so low that it startled a Secretary Bird!

We headed back to where we had seen the lions but did not get there, as a family of Elephants came right up the track towards us. Most of them, including the two older females and many youngsters, simply walked around us but a young female with a very small calf was bringing up the rear and made it very clear she did not wish to deviate from the path, so we backed up and left them to it.

Elephants make a convincing road block

Hippos don't really do a lot, so they don't often make good photographic subjects. We had even commented after yesterday that the most interesting Hippo we had seen was the dead one being eaten last night, so we went to see what it looked like today but it looked no different. We were in for a surprise though, as we passed a mud-wallow near the track where a pair of Hippos usually spend the day like muddy boulders, the big male yawned and showed his impressive tusks. He wallowed around and then got out and came to drink from a puddle not ten metres from us.

At last a photogenic Hippo pose

We then found a couple of Grey Crowned Cranes and stopped to photograph them. As we did so, the male began to entwine his neck with the female's, then he began to dance around her. The courtship ended with a gruff grunt from the female and they went back to eating. It was fascinating to watch and almost as balletic as the Ostriches.

The Crowned Crane did a beautiful dance but the lady was not interested

After lunch, we decided to head round to the crossing points and see if anything was happening. To our surprise, we were the only people on the side of the river that a large group of Wildebeest were crossing to, whilst there were eleven vehicles on the other side. This gave us plenty of photo-opportunities without other vehicles to worry about. We settled down for a long wait and opened some biscuits but we had no sooner done so than the animals started to cross. We headed down to the crossing and managed to photograph lots of incidents. Today, like before, one of the Wildebeest was grabbed by a Crocodile but this time it was not so lucky. The poor animal let out a series of heart-breaking cries and struggled for about 2 minutes before it succumbed.

The race is on to cross safely

The Crocodile grabs his victim

The Wildebeest makes one last desperate effort before the Crocodile drags him under

We all had mixed emotions about what we had just witnessed. It was a thrill to be there to see such an incredible event and we were delighted with the photographs we took but the death of that poor Wildebeest was truly shocking and brutal.

We decided that Bonus Day has become Bonanza Day and elected to head back to the campsite early to download and back up our images before supper. However, the Mara and Bonanza Day had other things in store for us. As we drove back, we saw two vehicles stopped so looked to see what they were watching and realised it was a pride of Lionesses setting out in what appeared to be a hunt, with different animals taking the lead and then spreading out across the plain. They then lay down and waited. About a thousand metres away, a small herd of Zebra and a similar number of Topi were heading directly for the Lionesses. We parked and waited for about an hour, as the Topi led the way into the ambush. Just as the lead Topi climbed a Termite mound for a better look ahead, one of the Lionesses raised her head and was spotted. The Topi scarpered, followed by the Zebra.

Finding five Lionesses setting out to hunt was a real bonus!

We were almost back at the campsite, talking excitedly about the day's events, when we came across a massive male Lion. It really was Bonanza Day and a great way to end our stay in the Mara. Then as we were eating supper and compiling the blog, a rival male Lion started roaring in the night. We now had one male Lion 800 metres from the campsite and another roaring from about a kilometre the other side, so discretion being the better part of valour, we adjourned to the tents to finish!

At Dusk, the King heads off to work

Tomorrow we head back to Sekenani and the next day back to Nairobi. We will not have a signal at Sekenani, so the next update will probably be on Thursday.

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1 comment:

  1. W O W. Great shots. Man alive have to do this at some point looks and sounds wonderful!