Monday, June 16, 2014

Masai Mara: Day 3 AM

Day 3 was billed as a full-day safari when we'd head to the other side of the park along the Tanzanian border to hopefully see some of the migration, which was starting early. The day before a few groups had seen a series of Mara River crossings by wildebeest - how cool! Unfortunately, the day was overcast and chilly, and wildebeest like to cross when it's hot, so we knew from the start we were unlikely to see a crossing. We also knew that many of the 500K strong wildebeest herd had headed back towards Serengeti with the weather change, but we were hoping to see some big herds. And we did. And then some!

We had a relatively late start - 8 am - and had a leisurely breakfast before starting out. My big concern was toilet stops along the way, but Joseph assured me there were a few flush toilet options. (Five knee surgeries = squat toilet is just not happening.) We met some lovely giraffes on the way to the park gate and then stopped to let some buffalo cross the road in front of us. First on the agenda was to find some rhino close up; we found a mom and baby, but not close up. Just wait, Joseph told us, they'll come. We waited. And waited. And waited. And, finally, they did come, crossing right in front of us! How cool!

We went off to find our lions from the day before but instead heard one of the females from the day before had a kill and was dragging it home. We sped there but only arrived to see her drag the baby zebra carcass into the forest. Three giraffes looked on, perhaps excited it wasn't them! She finally left her zebra and walked, breathing heavily, to get a drink of water from a stream. We didn't see any other lions around, so it might have been a snack just for her.

After that we did head towards the south and the Serengeti, about 75km away. En route we stopped by the Serena for a bathroom stop. The exciting thing here was seeing the dassies (rock hyrax) lining the Serena's access road. A few posed very nicely for us! Most were piled up together for warmth, very cute.

Bladders empty, we headed on. It wasn't long before we saw our first wildebeest. Joseph told us it's unheard of to see a wildebeest on this side of the Mara on June 7th. He said they were at least a week or two early. As we drove on we saw more and more wildebeest; these are the successful ones who've survived the several hundred kilometer journey as well as a Mara River crossing. We congratulated these guys but were sad to see a number of carcasses, particularly of young ones. 1.5 million wildebeest attempt the journey each year; up to 250,000 of them don't make it. Predators aren't the only dangers - they die of dehydration, exhaustion, and injuries sustained in their journeys. Predators do make use of those who die of other causes; we saw some particularly happy vultures.

As we approached the Mara River, we started to see scattered herds of wildebeest on the far side who had not yet attempted to cross to, literally, greener pastures. Joseph said it was nothing like he'd seen a few days ago, but it was still pretty impressive. Everywhere you looked, wildebeest dotted the horizon. The herds seemed to move as one - from a distance you could see them all start to move in one direction and then seemingly move in the other. A few males in each herd would run and chase out other males every now and then, but it was mostly a slow-moving group, grazing as they went. As we got closer, the sound was incredible. The males were lowing all at once, a virtual cacophony of moo-like sounds.

It was late morning by now, and we were starting to scout for a place to have our picnic lunch. We saw a vehicle on the far side of the river parked in one spot for a while so assumed there were some cats there, but it would take us quite a while to get there. Joseph had a picnic tree in mind and headed toward it, but as we got closer we saw a number of vehicles there. They were watching - surprise, surprise - a pair of mating lions. At this point we really didn't believe Joseph when he told us how rare it is! We watched one copulation, which, since it was in short grass, was slightly more visible, but it was also the same thing we'd seen several times yesterday. We moved on.

There's one all-weather crossing point for vehicles over the Mara River, a bridge between the Mara Triangle and the Narok County Council sections of the park, managed by different organizations. As soon as we crossed the bridge Joseph told us that there was a big difference in the management styles, and we saw immediately what he meant. The Triangle's roads are well-maintained, with proper drainage and regular maintenance. The roads on this side, not so much. They were muddy with no drainage and not particularly passable. It was an amazing difference.

We finally found a good tree for a picnic; when we got there we were surrounded by several hundred noisy wildebeest, but they moved off as we settled in. Lunch was a gourmet affair, and we tucked in immediately.

After finishing we drove on in search of bigger herds, encountering black-backed jackals and a number of other antelope as we went. Bones and carcasses were in even greater supply on this side. We reached the area where we'd earlier seen the vehicle and found six very lazy lions completely passed out in and among the trees. They were barely visible from the road; if we hadn't had a reason to look, we wouldn't have seen them. They were five lionesses and one young male. We watched them for a few minutes, but they were really not particularly interesting, so we moved on.

I'm breaking up this day into two posts for the sake of photo/story overload, so bear with me until - probably - tomorrow.

Good morning giraffe!

Buffalo crossing.

Mama rhino grazing. Baby isn't tall enough to see with the grass.

Mama and baby finally came close.

They run with their tails up like warthogs!

Love the folded ears on baby.

Lioness and her zebra.

Giraffes watching lion drag her kill.



The very first wildebeest of the tour! You can just see some dots on the horizon (smaller than trees) that are more wildebeest.

All those dots on the far bank are wildebeest.

Just a few wildebeest to start with close by...
Yet another pair of mating lions. Check out his lustrous mane!

Love the pose :-).

Wildebeest EVERYWHERE we looked. It was a bit crazy.

Black-backed jackals.

Secretary bird!

Vulture and stork, waiting for their turn.
Only three visible here - two to their right in the tree, one to the left.

Pile o' lions.

Home, home on the range! Is sort of what it felt a bit like.

This one didn't make it, but circle of life.

Just imagine miles of this!

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