850_7877 African landscape

Kenya, to be specific.

It was a truly unforgettable experience in many ways, not the least of which was the sprawling Maasai Mara and the incredible diversity of the wildlife it sustains.

I left the Olympus cameras at home. We really wouldn’t be doing much walking, so lightweight gear was not a consideration. Instead, I used the full-frame Nikon d850 and the Nikkor 200-500 telephoto lens. I also brought the d500 along, whose APS-C sensor would give a little extra reach when needed.

I had some trouble adjusting to the mechanical viewfinder. I am so used to the EVF on the Olympus, where what you see is what you get. So, some of my photos were, um, “exposure-challenged.”

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Good thing Andy showed me how to use Adobe Camera Raw!  I was able to salvage this cute little bee eater, albeit with some graininess that, had I paid attention to the available light, would not have been an issue.  Lesson learned!

But that’s not all I learned on this trip.

I learned that the African savannah was not crowded with great herds of animals dashing about or dramatic life-and-death struggles between predators and prey — despite what we see in National Geographic videos.  In truth, we had to search for the wildlife, sometimes for hours and sometimes without success.  Most of the animals we did find were in small groups, and although we followed some predators, we didn’t witness any hunts-in-progress. 

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But the savannah does not disappoint!

We saw lions just about every day. Not only are they King of the Jungle, they are King of the Mara as well. And why not? They are at the very top of the food chain, if not the food web, so lions rule wherever they roam. Period.

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We did find a lion guarding a recent water buffalo kill. The day was hot, so he would periodically lumber out from the shade for a meal or a snack. Other wildlife gathered nearby, but none were willing to risk the wrath of the lion by approaching too close. So, they simply waited patiently until the lion abandoned its prey, and it didn’t take long after that for the carcass to be reduced to mere bones.

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Of course, the Mara was not just about lions, water buffalo, and hyenas. There were lots of birds, big and small. I can’t find my bird fieldbook, so I will identify the unnamed ones once I find it.

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We saw lots of other animals, too.

And, of course there were hippos! Hungry, hungry hippos! Interesting that they spend most of the daytime soaking in the water, coming out at night to forage.

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The broad expanse of savannah was awesome. There were few real roads, only parallel paths where tires from the 4-wheelers had matted the grass. The drivers had to be very careful, because matted grass could be a resting place for baby animals, and no one wanted to interfere with that.

But at other times the drivers had to be very aggressive! River crossings could be downright dangerous at times. It took some skill for the drivers to maneuver the 4-wheelers safely across rocky streams and quick-flowing water. There were several times when I had to close my eyes and hang on tight, hoping for the best!

Like, the time when the driver was struggling to get us across a slippery, rock-filled stream. In the midst of this struggle, one of our number urgently called out STOP! — because he wanted to take a picture of a bird. I suppose it’s a good thing that he doesn’t know how close he came to being ejected from the vehicle by a forcible, well-placed foot belonging to a terrified occupant who was angered by his selfishness (me).

Kenya isn’t all Mara, though. The trip organizer, Andy Nguyen, put his extensive experience and meticulous travel-planning expertise to work and designed an 8-day trip that gave us not only the full experience of Maasai Mara but also an exploration of two lakes, Nakuru and Naivasha, before returning to Nairobi to catch our flights home.

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Nearing the lakes, we came across some sparsely wooded areas with enough trees to support some amazing (and amusing) wildlife.

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We couldn’t access Lake Nakuru directly, but the ring road provided unfettered viewing.

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More funny birds:

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Other animals living lakeside included monkeys

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and baboons!

 

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The giraffes were really hilarious.  I thought these two were a loving couple, but the guide assured me they were not — they were two males fighting over a female!  When fighting, they attack the most vulnerable area — the neck.  If a neck fracture isn’t fatal in itself, it would certainly cause the injured giraffe to starve to death. 

 

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However, there were some giraffes who were behaving nicely:

 

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Surrounding Lake Naivasha is a small fishing village.  The animals were amazing. . .

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. . .almost as amazing as the villagers

 

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There was only one thing that bothered me on this trip, and that was I WISH I was a better photographer!  So many of my photos were duds, and I see lots of areas in these photos that really need improvement.  I returned to the States with a task list to work on and with much gratitude and admiration for Andy, who devised this incredible safari.  His example as a photographer, teacher, and an honorable man who is true to his word is certainly one that inspires!

Oh, yeah, well . . . there was this other problem, too.  Unfortunately, a couple of participants were not satisfied with what the tour offered.  Their extensive (expensive!) and divisive demands ruined the social affability we had previously enjoyed.  They were pervasive, persistent, and far from silent; they even persuaded one of the driver-guides to take sides in the dispute.  Although there was no way to send the troublemakers home while in the middle of the African bush, we simply made the best of a bad situation; however, it is comforting to know that they are banned from attending future tours — and that the aggrieved parties had withheld from the driver-guide his share of the customary end-of-trip tip.  

And, I can attest to the success of this policy! I recently attended another Andy Nguyen phototour, this one in Costa Rica, and I assure you the absence of these two was sooooooo refreshing!  Costa Rica was almost as wonderful as Kenya, so stay tuned — I will post the Costa Rican results soon. 

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For more information on Andy’s phototours, you can send a message to him through his Facebook page, Andy Nguyen, https://www.facebook.com/andybirdwhisperer .  You won’t regret it!

P.S.  All that stuff about his being the bird whisperer — it’s true!!

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