Kenya – The Masai Mara

Following an over night stop over in Nairobi, we headed for the Masai Mara, just a 45 minute flight from Wilson Airport, carrying camera gear only, other luggage had gone ahead on a truck. Our aim to witness the transmigration of the wildebeest.

Leaving the camp before sunrise and driving through the cool morning air did nothing to prepare us for the sight of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of wildebeest grazing on the wide-open plains. The herds spread for as far as you could see. The gentle grunts of the animals signaling that all was well and there were no active predators in the vicinity.

In the Mara Triangle, the area to the west of the Masai Mara, there is a coalition of cheetah, known as the Five Brothers, such a coalition is a extremely rare. Because they are five in number and all must be fed, they are prolific hunters, and are very effective. As we arrived they had just brought down a wildebeest and were making the most of the kill before the gathering vultures alerted other and bigger predators to the opportunity of a free meal. One or two of the brothers stood guard as the rest ate, alternating every few minutes. A well practiced routine.

The Masai Guard advised me that we were 14 miles from camp, ‘would you be able to walk back’ I asked. ‘yes, no problem’, ‘what about the lions’, ‘not afraid of the lions, but the leopards….’

Back on the trail of the wildebeest, looking for the spectacular river crossing shot. We came across a large herd queuing to make the dash across the Mara River, each beast willing to make the crossing, and risk the crocodiles, to reach the more succulent grass on the other side. The animals formed an un-orderly queue to launch themselves into the water, totally oblivious to the leopard hidden behind the rocks of the riverbank, the accomplished ambush predator.

Uganda – Primate Forest and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

6 hours drive west from Entebbe, is Kibale with its primate forest, home of the chimpanzee. Staying overnight at the Primate Lodge, where the chimps had actually come into the camp the evening before and created quite a ruckus outside one of the lodges, we set out early morning, before light, into the forest, just as the rain started to fall. Very soon we were very wet.

It didn’t take long for the guide to locate the chimps, but due to the rain they remained high up in the forest canopy. ‘be careful, they throw dung at you from the tree tops’, too late, a brown splodge hit my camera bag. As the morning wore on the rain cleared, but the chimps remained elusive. Other guides arrived with their groups. Hilariously we watched as one group quietly crept through the undergrowth, keeping a watchful eye on the canopy, and as they past our position, we spotted a large male chimp following their footsteps; not 3 metres behind them.

Travelling south now, tracking the foothills on the snow covered Rwenzori Mountains, which are home to six of Africa’s ten highest mountains. Crossing the equator, stopping off to watch the water disappear down the plughole in different rotations either side of the ‘line’. Approaching the Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we hoped to see the tree-climbing lions, the sky darkened. By the time we entered the park the downpour was biblical. Tree-climbing lions don’t’ climb in the rain apparently, or show themselves at all, we’ll have to come back we decide.

Another day of driving on challenging roads brought us to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, the home for over 1,000 mountain gorilla. It was very hot and humid in the forest. I had upped my walking before leaving for Uganda, in anticipation of the mountain trek, but nothing could have prepared me for the walk into and out of the mountains, thanks to Strava I could see that we have covered 8.5 miles and climbed 3,000 feet and seeing as though we arrived back at the place we started, I guess that is 3,000 feet decent as well.

But. You would give anything to be in the presence of the mountain gorilla family, it is as a humbling experience. With the help of the guides and the rangers we were able to get very close to these magnificent creatures. The rangers communicating with Kanyonyi, the silverback, with a low grumbling noise, assuring him that all was well. Kanyonyi, was very generous, allowing you time to be close to his family of female gorillas and their young babies, however when he moved, best give him space, when on all fours he is a huge creature with formidable strength.

As we left Uganda Covid-19 was starting to bite. Shortly after arriving home the National Parks of Uganda closed to the public. A few weeks later, we heard of the death of Rafiki, a 25 years old silverback of the Nkuringo group, at the hands of a poacher. Rafiki’s death was even more damaging to the preservation of these creatures since he was the only male on the 17 strong group, an uncertain future for the remainder of the group for sure. The family will most likely disperse and incoming silverbacks will kill the young of other silverback as they take over, such is nature.

Prints available to buy from the Uganda trips.

Zambia – Kafue National Park and Busanga Plains

The Kafue National Park lies to the west of Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. After driving for around 2 hours we turned off the asphalt road that leads to the Angolan border. Another 2 hours and we arrived at Musekese Camp, our base for the next few days. On arrival we were told that we had just come at the right time as the previous evening two hippo’s had fought just outside the camp and one of them was dead not a 100 metres away. We were told ‘two things were to happen, one, it was to get very smelly in camp and two, big cats will come.’

Luckily, the smell never permeated the camp. The vultures and the hyena started to make short work of the carcass of the dead hippo, until the big cat made his appearance. Two days after our arrival a large male lion about 5 years old took over the ‘kill’, everything else kept its distance. Now you would think that with a full hippo carcass to dine on at his leisure, anything would be anticlimax, but when a family of warthogs inadvertently wandered close to the hippo site, the lion couldn’t resist an early morning snack of young warthog, lightening speed and clouds of dust, the young warthog stood no chance.

We were having breakfast three days in, about to move to the Busanga Plains, another 4 hour drive through the Kafue bush. As we sat on the veranda, a second large male lion cantered past not 5 metres away, a few coffee splurts later and he was gone, off to share the good fortune of a ‘friendly fire’ kill.

I was never one for ‘camping out’ when I was young. When I was school age that’s what we did in the summer holidays. Now sleeping in a canvas tent on the edge of the Busanga Plains with a lion roaring away just outside the tent sort of gets the juices flowing, even at 4 o’clock in the morning. The Busanga Plains is one of Africa’s largest protected areas, but it still succumbs to its (not) so fair share of poaching. But what an amazing place, herds of zebra, antelope of many shapes and sizes and a plethora of beautiful sub-Saharan birds, it is paradise on earth. We witnessed a lion kill. The ‘Machine’ as she was known stalked a large herd of antelope, relying on stealth until she was spotted and the herd were alerted to her presence. She changed her tactics, rather than staying low in the long grass, she stood proud and charged at the herd knowing that there had to be one that was infirm or just old and she was right of course. Once the kill was over it was back to the business of grazing for the antelope, such is life on the plains.

Prints available to buy from the Zambia trip.

UK Wildlife

Recent international travel restrictions have given me the motivation to explore UK wildlife photography. There are many wildlife hides available up and down the country offering photographic experiences with many native birds and mammals.

My first foray into the hides to photograph kingfishers was in Worcestershire. Colourful and beautiful as they are, it can be a frustrating experience, patience is required to capture a good shot of a kingfisher. First time in the hide, waiting for nearly two hours, with no sign of the bird, I decided to put my camera down and have a spot of lunch. Yep, as soon as I did that the bird appeared, lunch went on the floor and I never got that shot. Fortunately later efforts proved more rewarding.

Badgers are as equally elusive, obviously active at night and therefore quite challenging from a photographic point of view. But they are a pleasure to photograph, always inquisitive and of course fitting for the the monochrome image.

There are a limited number of locations where you can see and photograph red squirrels in the wild in the UK. Scotland being the main concentration. They are extremely photogenic little animals, providing opportunity to capture many interesting and captivating shots in the one visit to the hide.

Prints available to buy from shoots in the United Kingdom.