Monday, February 24, 2014

Kenya Day Eight -- And The Cats Just Keep On Coming

Monday, February 24

Wake up call at 5:45 and we were on the road by 6:15 and almost immediately there was a call over the radio that the Moniko pride (known in the area) was nearby and coming in to roost from a night out.  If we were interested, we had to hold on tight as we tore across the plains.  We made it just in time to see 16 lions, almost all but the pride males, cross the plains towards the thicker trees.  What a sight it was, but still very dark as the sun hadn't yet made an attempt to come up in earnest.  We sat and watched as they made their way to snooze the day away.  One lioness in particular was very worked up over a flock of herons, and kept running into them to cause them to scatter, just like you see little kids do to gulls at the beach. I'm not sure what annoyed her about them, but she wanted them gone.  They'd scatter, circle and fly to another part of the clearing, where she'd go through the whole exercise all over again.  Fabulous sighting overall.  We were there long enough to see the sun come up and I think I may have a shot or two of her in front of the sunrise, but since I don't have my laptop finding out will have to wait until I get home.

We moved on now that it was daylight and caught another vehicle watching something in the grass.  As we pulled up we saw a female cheetah surveying the land and once we were quite close we noticed a small cub in the grass.  Jackson says this was Amani, a cheetah well known to them, and her only cub of her fourth litter.  So she's an experienced mother, but both she and the cub look think and in need of food.  Little did we know that she was going to try to remedy that.

We watched mother and cub for a bit.  The cub is rambunctious and runs circles around its mother but never strays too far.  It seems to love chewing on sticks and taking to the higher points of downed tree limbs or rocks to look over the land, often  mimicking its mother identically.   A few times it would try to initiate play with its mother, standing on hind paws and lashing out.  I caught it once trying to climb a tree...maybe it thinks it's a leopard instead!  Stanley would move the car to keep us just ahead of the pair as they made their way up the rocky outcropping.  At the top of the hill was a flat clearing with a slew of impala grazing.  Hiding in the shallow rocks and trees was perfect for Amani, and she spent about 20 minutes hiding in there selecting her victim.  Incredibly, the impala kept grazing closer and closer to her.  Surely, we thought, they were close enough now that she could take her pick.  We'd lost sight of her but if she stayed near where we last saw her, she'd be almost on top of them.

Suddenly, the impala herd scattered.  There were hundreds of them all moving rapidly in the opposite direction.  I spotted the cheetah in pursuit but could already tell she'd lost the race this time.  Her speed and streamline were impressive, for the 4-5 seconds I actually saw her.  She stopped almost as soon as she knew the game was up and circled back to where her cub was for a rest.  We moved back and watched her, panting heavily and clearly trying to catch her breath.  Jackson said she'd have to rest for at least an hour before she had energy to try again.  But by the time we left, the impala were long gone so she'd probably have to move again too.  It was a fabulous "almost" kill, certainly the best I've seen so far.  The chase was pretty spectacular.

We passed a few other excellent sightings which were cats so of course I'm not going to elaborate nearly as much on: lappet faced vulture, female agama lizard and six giraffe.  We did see a "business" of seventeen banded mongoose, which were sprinting for a termite mound on which to see the lay of the land better.

Breakfast this morning was on the savannah high up over the most expansive, beautiful view.  We had hard boiled eggs, pancakes, sausage and toast with mango juice and coffee.  It was rustic but filling at that point.  All the fresh air and excitement makes me hungrier than I should be just sitting in the vehicle.  I also used the bush bathroom yet again; I hate to admit I'm getting used to that and actually don't mind it.

Jackson spotted a lone male lion crossing the savannah, and we were on it.  So impressive it is to see a gorgeous male making its way across the expanse of the savannah.  He just strode as if he owned the place.   A nice shady bush became his rest spot, and he sprawled out panting, which is how lions rid their bodies of excess heat.  While it's not terribly hot today, the sun is out and it's warm enough I suppose for the cats.  We noted he had a nice round belly and there was a bit of blood on him, so he'd clearly eaten recently.  He is probably one of the two Double Crossing males, with a bigger older male brother, who we just so happened to spot lying on the plain not too far away.  He was indeed bigger and with a much darker mane.  The manes get darker as the male's testosterone kicks in, so the darker the mane, the older and more sexually developed the male is.  Female lions obviously prefer the darker manes.

What is hilarious though is when there's a lion crossing the savannah or even just lying peacefully, just about every other animal within eyeshot is turned and staring at it.  We've used that indicator before to discover cats, but it's just funnier still when you're sitting with the cat and look out to find an audience of plains beast staring back in your general direction.

The second male lion led us from the open savannah right to a thicket where two female lionesses were lying with two young cubs.  They too were all panting and hardly left the cover of the bush except one cub who came out to pee and scrambled back in.

Really, at this point I was feeling as if we could throw a dart and hit a big cat.  Our luck already today had been exceptional.  And then Stanley turned and said "there's a leopard sighting, do you want to go?"  Of course we said yes, so it was lights and sirens and top speed to the thicket where the leopard was.

There were only three other cars there, and we were fairly quick to spot the leopard. For once, I used binoculars first and managed to see her full face under the bush, but by the time I switched to the camera and focused, she was on the move and I got only a back view.  She shifted along the river through the densest of thicket.  We spotted her once crossing the dry riverbed, again another flash of leopard and no photo.  Leopards are notoriously shy and hard to see and this particular leopard was new to the guides watching her.  Where we were was an area notorious for its male leopards.  I hope she's not this elusive for them, but the guides maintain that it is really just that she's not yet habituated to vehicles yet.  I don't know, but with this type of sighting, where the animal is clearly dodging us with an attempt to escape our attention, I really do feel like we're not meant to be here.  That said, we did pull right up next to, within 10-12 feet, some other pretty spectacular cats already who didn't seem to mind.

So while I saw a flash of leopard, I'll count it as a partial sighting.  I still have two days to see one for real.

We returned back for lunch around 12:20.  It is amazing how quickly those six hours passed.  I can't believe how eagerly we all jump out the door for a game ride at that hour.

Lunch today was an onion quiche, lasagna, beets with mandarin oranges and beet root salad, which was sort of pickled.  A sliced apple and melon with honey was dessert.

The weather continues to be cool enough for a fleece in the early mornings but once the sun rises and heats up the plains it does get pretty warm.  Not uncomfortably so but it feels good and I'm getting some color.

Crashing now for my siesta, we head out again in an hour...

Well, we had quite the unexpected storm during the siesta.  It came in windy and dark and then poured torrentially until about 5:00, so we were late heading out.  Jackson said that the animals would be very active after such a rain, but it was sort of the opposite.  Maybe it is because it never really cleared up and remained rather ominous looking.  We came up short on most fronts, except for some birds, hippos and one notable cheetah sighting.

Fans of Big Cat Diary, like me, would know Amani the cheetah and her daughter Narasha.  Well, the female we came across tonight is Narasha's daughter, and she managed to make a kill earlier today.  She is on her own, as female cheetahs are, and with a quite distended belly and blood on her paws (literally), she seems to have made a great meal for herself today.  She is a very pretty cat and seems to be on top of her game.  She does however have some wound on her upper and lower lip on the left side.  It looks almost like a burn or an abscess, not a cut.  Jackson and Stanley have seen it before and said it will probably heal on its own, but if not the Kenya Wildlife Service will intervene.  We watched her clean up after her meal and walk around a bit before we moved on.

We had our sundowner on a scenic hill with another massive view of the area.  I'm getting used to these grand gin and tonics.  It was a quick trip back to camp and I  manage to fit a shower in before dinner tonight so all I have to do is write this and go to sleep.

Dinner tonight was good.  It was pork chop in a mango sauce over mashed potato, carrots and green beans and an orange cheesecake.  I met the chef tonight when we got back from our drive and I told him he's making me fat.  He said that's a sign of success and that makes him happy.  Everyone here is so sincere in my enjoying myself.  It is just such top quality service, it's worth every penny.  I'm already contemplating coming back just to Porini Lion next year....

Wind is howling again, I hope these storms pass in the night.  We're on the road at 6:00 tomorrow.

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