So after an amazing third day in Kenya, filled with fantastic sightings, I really wasn't sure how day 4 could get any better. But don't be alarmed, the 4th day was certainly one to remember! Perhaps the photography opportunities weren't quite of the same standard as the day before (primarily due to some harsh or unhelpful lighting) but once again that is all part of the challenge of a trip like this.
I love simple monochrome photography, it is something that has always appealed to me and I like to try my hand at it when I can. Harsh lighting often works really well for this type of photography, providing strong shadows and bright highlights. The hardest thing I always find is getting the composition just right.
Anyway today was one of those days where the colour often disappeared from the images, and so I shot a lot of monochrome photos. The morning was quite quiet on the big cat front, a couple of young Lion early on and some Elephants too, including a good sized bull. Don't get me wrong these are all wonderful sightings, and I love every minute in the field but it did not quite have the same wow factor as the day before.
We were heading for the northern part of the Mara Triangle for what was meant to be a breathtaking breakfast spot and on the way there wasn't all that much about in the endless sea of grass. We stopped to photograph another Lioness in a truly vast, open landscape which was short but sweet.
Then we arrived at our breakfast stop, quite late on in the morning and goodness me, it was one phenomenal view, absolutely astounding! The panoramic shot I took just doesn't and it never could do it justice but I hope it at least gives you an idea of how spectacular this landscape actually is.
So after spending an hour or so at what has to be one of the best spots on Earth to sit and eat your breakfast, we primed our big lenses once again for the journey back along the Mara River to our campsite.
As we descended the escarpment down into the valley we came across a couple of giraffe making their way between the scattered Acacia trees. It was then that one started to walk over a rise in the rolling landscape, providing an eye level view of a giraffe's head. It again provided something a little different with the heat of the Kenyan sun beating down.
As we got further down towards the plains proper, one of our vehicles stopped and we soon noticed that there was a Lioness up a tree. Now this is not something you see everyday in the Mara, the tree climbing Lions of Queen Elizabeth NP in Uganda are well known, but here it is a rare sighting. Actually I was pretty excited and really rather chuffed with it all. Being the picky photographer I am, the lighting wasn't great, but none the less it was one heck of a sighting and it really made it a top morning. It seems every morning in the Mara stands out, and it does!!! It is just one of those places which can provide you with the most memorable of sightings.
So after another exciting and productive morning it was time to head back to camp and relax. That actually meant it was time to go back to camp and get on the laptop, sort through the vast quantities images from the past few days and have a cold drink. We would be going out again in the afternoon but this time it would be only for a short drive close by to the camp.
So, refreshed and with the camera again at the ready, it was time to head out on our last evening drive in the Mara. By this time, the long hot day had turned rather stormy, there were big dark clouds looming overhead, threatening to release a deluge of water, which they eventually did (leading me to almost fall flat on my face as I arrived in camp).
The light levels were rather low but we found some subjects to photograph early on. The one that stands out most was a Secretary Bird. This amazing looking bird is perfectly adapted for the plains of the Rift Valley and they are instantly recognisable. It was amazing to watch this bird try and take flight, it certainly isn't an easy process as you can see further below.
There were still a few Wildebeest around at this time of year, not in the vast numbers you find during the migration, and we soon found a herd thundering around the plains. This provided a great opportunity to try and get some panning shots ... we also kept the vehicle moving, enabling us to really get a sense of the speed and power that these strong antelope possess.
Then to our amazement the herd of Wildebeest startled a Cheetah that had been laying in the grass, it was very nearly trampled! By the time we caught up, the cat was resting again, with the Wildebeest and some Thompson's Gazelle providing a backdrop.
Thanks again must go to the Wild Eye team for keeping everything running so smoothly on yet another busy day. The wildlife sightings were, once again, superb and the company was excellent too. A great guide again in Joseph, always putting us where wanted to be and two Canon buddies in Wild Eye Ambassador Andrew Aveley and tour participant Richard Sparks providing plenty of entertainment and banter.
The 3rd day in the Mara promised to be a good day, after the success we had the day before, it was going to have to be pretty epic. And the morning started off absolutely perfectly, we found our Leopard friend up the tree, looking rather relaxed and pretty sedate. We did find some other subjects to photograph, including Grey Crowned Cranes and a Jackal but the Leopard stole the show somewhat!
After taking far too many photographs of our lovely Leopard we heard about a Cheetah only a few hundred yards away. As we hadn't yet seen a Cheetah we decided it was worth a chance and we left the Leopard to enjoy its rest. However when we got there we were rather disappointed, there were quite a few vehicles around the Cheetah and after only a few moments it moved off. Without getting a single decent shot we were a little frustrated.
We then heard about another Cheetah sighting further down the road, sat atop of a rock and we rushed off to see whether we could get some shots. What happened over the next 3 hours was truly phenomenal. It was probably one of my top photographic and top wildlife encounters at the same time. It was truly exhilerating!
After 15-20 minutes of excellent portrait photography the Cheetah decided it was time to move on. She jumped down off of the rock and headed straight towards a herd of Thompson's Gazelle. They spotted her very early on and she quickly gave up going to ground. We stayed with her for the next couple of hours, watching and waiting!
It was then, after the gazelle came too close, that the Cheetah made its move. Within only a matter of moments it was off, running at full speed after a young male Thompson's Gazelle. Unfortunately for us it was over the hill in a split second. We quickly made ready and we headed off to see whether or not it was successful. It was successful and its quarry was still alive. Seeing this side of nature is at times very hard, but at the same time you cannot help but be enthralled and I for one feel extraordinarily privileged to have been able to say I saw such an intense spectacle.
We decided to leave her to it so she could feed undisturbed and not draw attention to her. We would come back later and see how she was doing. We headed off across the Mara River and into the Maasai Mara NP for a spot of lunch and we explored some of the big open landscapes that this has to offer. We came across some Lion lazing in the shade, a rather grumpy bull Elephant and plenty of Topi. We then headed back to camp, checking up on the Cheetah which had eaten a whole leg and was starting on another.
What a wonderful day it was then, big cat sightings galore and some truly epic landscapes. Animal behaviour at its absolute best and a great day out with our guide Joseph as well as Wild Eye ambassador Andrew Aveley and Richard Sparks.
After a lovely night catching up on some much needed sleep, it was time to spend our first full day in the Mara. Awoken bright and early with an enthusiastic "Jambo!" (actually it was still dark), the camera gear was already waiting to go and after a spot of Tea (in my case, everyone else had coffee) I was ready too!
We climbed aboard the Land Cruiser, our guide Jimmy was ready and raring to go. It wasn't long in fact before my French counterparts gave Jimmy a rather appropriate nickname. For the rest of the trip Jimmy was to be called "Jimmy Loeb", after the French World Rally Champion: Sebastien Loeb. Jimmy is a top quality guide and his driving skills are second to none, and at times pretty nippy, always getting you to the right spot at the right time.
So anyway, after only 30 seconds of driving outside of camp, we saw some Impala all alert and looking the same way. A moment later we spotted a lone Lioness making its way across the open grassland, the light was warm but not very bright, it was time to push the new Canon EOS 5D mkIII and see just how well it performed at a higher ISO. An ISO of 2500 was just right and the image showed almost no signs of noise, what a great start to the morning. We only stayed a short while before heading off to find some other species to photograph. We noticed, in the distance, a herd of Wildebeest running in all directions and we quickly realised a lone Hyena was trying its best to hunt. As we arrived on the scene the Hyena went to ground, seemingly worn out by its morning exhertions.
After this little foray we heard that there were some Lion not far from where we were, so off we went with our trigger fingers hovering over the shutter release button. It was Canon all round in our Landcruiser with two 60D's and my 5D mkIII plus my 7D, a 70-200mm f2.8, two 100-400mm's and my 300 f/2.8. We had all angles covered as we arrived to find a young male and a young lioness stood in the open.
We again moved on quite quickly as we knew the rest of the pride, including some young cubs, were just over the brow of the hill. We got there to find two large females relaxing with two sets of cubs. What a wonderful sight it was and I took far too many photos as always.
So after a lovely morning with the Lion and the excitement of the Hyena chasing the Wildebeest it was time to head back to camp for a well deserved rest! On our way back we stopped at the Mara river, as you can see below, and came across some Giraffe making their way across the rolling plains.
After a busy morning with some great sightings we thought it would be difficult to beat. And to start with it seemed as if this might be the case. The gloomy clouds were coming in (not always a bad thing for dramatic photos) and after 45 minutes we hadn't seen very much at all, even with "Jimmy Loeb" once again at the wheel. Then we heard that the Leopard was in the tree where the kill had been found the day before.
Before we knew it Jimmy's rally skills were put to the test as we raced back before the cat disappeared. After only 10 minutes, we arrived to find the cat was still up the tree but it was no prime photography opportunity. Well unless you like lots of branches in the way, being photographers we are always particularly fussy but you can't help but watch Leopards and we did just that!
After working in Zambia's South Luangwa NP, I have spent quite a bit of time with Leopard and once we had got our record shots I asked Jimmy if we could move back from the other vehicles. The way the tree sloped and the postioning of the lower branches I thought we might strike it lucky if it decided to come down. Then just to make sure we got the shots, an almighty rain storm came in and the Leopard decided it was time to find some better shelter. Our positioning was spot on, thanks must go to Jimmy for really listening to where we wanted to be and helping us get the shots. This is the key difference on a photography tour to a normal safari and one that you really appreciate, this is where Wild Eye really excelled.
After all that excitement, and a complete soaking, we went off to find the Lion family that we saw earlier on in the day. We quickly found them and after a bit of water was removed from the front of my lens, it was time to get some nice Lion portraits in the soft light. Then it was time to head back to camp, dry off and spend another evening in the great company of my fellow tour participants.
As many of you will know, on the 7th February I set off on a photographic trip to Kenya with Wild Eye. Gerry Van Der Walt and Andrew Aveley were our photographic mentors and they were absolutely fantastic. So first of all a massive thank you must go to these guys for making the trip such a massive success.
Now onto the action ...
So after a flight with Kenya Airways I was greeted by the group and before long we set off towards the Maasai Mara. We made a quick stop at the edge of the Great Rift Valley, before eventually arriving at the spectacular Wild Eye Mara camp.
After a spot of lunch and some time to get ourselves settled it was time for our first drive into the Mara proper. The great thing about the Wild Eye camp, is that it is based in the Mara Triangle which is across the Mara River from the main park. This means that you get all the wildlife, the great photographic opportunities and a lack of minibuses. As those of you that have been to the Mara before may know, these minibuses can be a little, well very annoying.
So off we went in our spacious Land Cruisers, our camera gear primed for action, ready to see what wonders awaited us. Our first drive showed us the beautiful landscapes and some of the more common species that the Mara Triangle has to offer, we had found a Leopard kill high up in an Acacia tree but no sign of the cat. We would have to come back tomorrow and see if we could find the elusive feline.
As you can see we had some great bird photography opportunities as well as coming across a Hyena den. The highlight had to be the sunset we had and the photographic opportunity that presented. There were no cat sightings at all on this outing but this is when you really learn a lot and you try and learn new skills. There are always amazing things to see in the Mara but the cats are always a highlight.
So the UK has been through a cold spell. The rest of the northern Europe would not even bat an eyelid but of course this is England and everything ground to a halt. I didn't really mind all that much, although I was snowed in I had my camera so out I went into the sub-zero temperatures.
The only downside was that I was actually dog sitting so I couldn't go out all day. I instead made do and just photographed the garden birds, and there were lots of them.
In fact at one point there were over 50 individuals, ranging from the Wood Pigeon and the Great-spotted Woodpecker to the tiny Wren.
I just thought I would share a few of these images with you, I could post lots of similar ones of the same species but I thought these would give you all a taste of the couple of hours I spent in the cold. Actually it was -4, so it was a little nippy.
Anyway some more images will be coming soon, hopefully of some Barn Owls.