DIANA'S BLOG




Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

We drove from the Serengeti in Tanzania to Masai Mara in Kenya crossing the border at Isebania. Our Kenyan drivers met us there and we said a reluctant goodbye to our Tanzanian drivers. After a simple visa check and pass-through at border control we transferred all our gear to our Kenyan Land Cruisers and headed to Masai Mara. It was a beautiful drive and we were glad we hadn’t flown. The countryside was lovely.

We stayed at the Kichwa Tembo Tented Camps (http://www.andbeyond.com/kichwa-tembo-tented-camp) at Masai Mara so we were able to drive into the reserve before sunrise. As a result we were able to get some spectacular shots of the sun rising over the Masai Mara.

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Sunrise in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

Right after sunrise when the light was truly exquisite we continued our game drive and stopped at some incredible sights. We were lucky to encounter this mother and baby elephant right after sunrise near the entrance to the reserve. Watching the baby with its mother and listening to the sounds they made was a real treat.


Mother and baby elephant, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa. These incredibly beautiful animals are threatened by habitat loss and ivory poaching.


Baby elephant leaning up against its mother, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

Our guide spotted this White-browed coucal so I was able to photograph it spreading its wings in the great morning light.


White-browed coucal (Centropus superciliosus) in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

In my two previous trips to Kenya I had been lucky enough to see many Lilac-breasted rollers. They are such beautiful birds that it’s hard to pass one by. So while others in my Land Cruiser were focused on seeing leopards and cheetahs I was known as the one who couldn’t pass a bird by! It’s true. I’m really glad we stopped for the birds, too!


Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) on acacia tree branch in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Pied kingfisher (Ceryle rudis) along the Mara River, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Brown snake eagle (Circaetus cinereus) at Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Grey kestrel (Falco ardosiaceus) with butterflies at Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) in acacia tree, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) in flight, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

After stopping to photograph birds we did, of course, come upon a leopard and her cub in a tree. We waited and watched the pair a long time. It was well worth the wait as they interacted and changed positions in the tree branches several times. Leopards stay in the trees during the hot hours of the day and hunt at night when it’s much cooler. I have not seen many leopard cubs so this was a great find.


Leopard and cub spending the hot afternoon in the shade in a tree, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Leopard cub and mother in a tree, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Leopard cub climbing a tree, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

I always like sitting by the watering holes in Africa to see what happens. Waves and waves of animals coming in to drink in the mid morning can be so interesting to photograph. The zebras were usually skittish and would dash out of the water fearing a crocodile or lion was nearby. I took many slow shutter speed exposures to blur the motion as they took off. I set my shutter speed to 1/50s or 1/60s at f/22. The results can be very interesting.


Zebras dashing out of the watering hole, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Zebra running, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Zebra dashing out of the water hole, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

A few years ago while we were in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, I was lucky enough to witness a male bee-eater displaying for two females. I got the photo and it is one of my best bee-eater shots. You can see it here. On this trip I saw this bee-eater in Masai Mara and photographed him while he flexed his wing. It was a beautiful sight.


White-throated bee-eater (Merops albicollis) flexing a wing, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

In Africa, the “Big Five” game animals are the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros. The term “Big Five” came from big game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Luckily, we were only hunting them with our cameras. Here is one of the Big Five, the regal Cape Buffalo. I was lucky to see this one with her very young calf. Our guide thought the calf was just a day or two old.


Cape Buffalo and days-old calf, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

We got to see many baby elephants and it was encouraging to see such strong populations of elephants in Masai Mara. This baby pretended to be eating grass like its mother but then would occasionally go over to mama and get some milk.


Baby elephant nursing, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Elephant in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


A baby elephant bluff charging our Land Cruiser in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

We got caught in a rain storm one afternoon and got to photograph these elephants in the rain.


Elephants in the rain, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Baby elephant and mother in the rain, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Mother and baby elephant in Masai Mara as a rain storm approaches, Kenya, East Africa

It’s always fun watching the zebra roll around in the dirt. The official name is “dust bathing” which according to Wikipedia is “an animal behavior characterized by the act of grooming while rolling or moving around in dust, with the purpose of cleaning fur, feathers or skin, and removing parasites.” The zebras seemed to enjoy it a lot.


Zebra rolling around in the dirt, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

We saw lots of antelopes and other animals in Masai Mara. Here are a few.


Waterbucks (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Topi (Damaliscus korrigum) antelope standing on a mound in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

One morning we were watching wildebeests and zebra cross the Mara River just like they do at migration in the spring and we spotted a leopard on the opposite side of the river. We were amazed to watch as he jumped over rocks in the Mara River and crossed to our side. It was an astonishing sight to see. I call this one “Leaping Leopard.”


Male leopard jumping over rocks in the Mara River, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Leopard jumping over rocks in the Mara River, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Wildebeests and zebras on their way to the Mara River, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Zebra calling to other zebras crossing the Mara River, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Zebra colt playing ‘King of the hill’ in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


An endangered Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Female lion on a hillside in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Lion cubs in the grass, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

Another couple of beautiful Masai Mara sunrises.


Sunrise in Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa


Sunrise, Masai Mara, Kenya, East Africa

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The Serengeti, Tanzania, East Africa

We drove along the crater rim road from Ngorongoro Crater to Ndutu on the west side of the crater. After a few days in Ndutu we drove on to the Serengeti passing the distinctive kopjes (rock hill). Sometimes lions can be spotted sitting on top of the kopjes. We entered the Serengeti at Naabi Hill which is always a refreshing stop after the long, dusty road to the park. There are modern restrooms, two refreshment stands and gift shops we always enjoy because they sell cold drinks and homemade potato chips. These chips are delicious because they do not use any additives or preservatives to them. There is a terrific panoramic view of the plains from the top of Naabi Hill. We had ample time to shop and climb the hill as the drivers got their paperwork approved for our entry into the park. After this restorative stop we headed back into the Land Cruisers and down the long, straight dirt road to the Serengeti.


Baby elephant running next to his mother, Serengeti, Tanzania, East Africa


Sunset in the Serengeti, Tanzania, East Africa


Female lion attacking a wildebeest at the watering hole, Serengeti, Tanzania, East Africa


Dominik, Tanzanian Guide, Serengeti, Tanzania

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Ndutu Conservation Area, Tanzania, East Africa

On the west side of the Ngorongoro Crater just before you enter Serengeti National Park there is an area called Ndutu Conservation Area. Ndutu has become a favorite place of mine and other photographers because there are mobile tented camps where you can stay right in the park. This means you can get out into the park just before sunrise. We always see many animals in this area. This year we spotted several cheetahs. One one particular morning we spotted a cheetah and her cubs in the beautiful morning light. I was lucky enough to get this shot of them sitting behind a tree branch just staring at me.


Two cheetah cubs in the early morning light, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa

It was hard trying to shot sunsets as we were supposed to be back at our tent camps before the sun went down. It would have been very difficult for the drivers to find their way in Ndutu because it is mostly off-road driving. I’m still amazed that they would find their way in the daytime! We got lucky one evening as we were able to stop near our tent site to get this sunset as the animals were running and kicking up the dust.


Sunset in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa

The story of this cheetah and the baby Thomson’s gazelle is a sad one. Our guide told us that they have seen what happened before but it was still very hard to witness. I have not posted photographs of the episode because they are just too sad. The guide told us that sometimes a cheetah will catch a very small baby Thomson’s gazelle and “play” with it similar to the way a domestic cat might play with a mouse. The cheetah does this in the hopes of attracting the gazelle’s mother to come and rescue the baby. Once the mother turns up the cheetah then attacks the mother. Nature is brutal.


Cheetah in the rain with baby Thomson’s gazelle, Ndutu, Tanzania

I watched this female cheetah poke her head up and down while hiding in the marsh. She was hiding her very small cubs. I saw her pick one up and move it. There were male lions in the area and she could smell them. I took this panorama because it seemed so unusal to have a cheetah’s head sticking up out of the marsh at Ndutu.


Cheetah pokes her head up out of the marsh to investigate two male lions sleeping at the marsh’s edge, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Female cheetah carrying her very young cub in her mouth in the marsh, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Two cheetah brothers running in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Female cheetah in the rain, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Cheetah chasing zebras in Ndutu, Serengeti, Tanzania, East Africa


Four cheetah siblings in the early morning light in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Cheetah cub running in Ndutu Conservation Area, Tanzania, East Africa


Cheetah cubs playing in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Cheetah watching zebras in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Cheetah and her four cubs resting in the shade, Ndutu, Tanaznia, East Africa

One morning just as the sun was rising we watched these two beautiful male lions get up from their resting area and walk almost a mile to a watering hole. The backlit lions walking in the dust made for a wonderful photo.


Two male lions walking to the watering hole just after sunrise, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa

Here is a shot of one of the male lions drinking at the watering hole.


Male lion drinking at the watering hole, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa

I love to take photographs of the stars and night sky in Africa and Ndutu is one of the best places I have found. It is very dark since we are camping out in tents and the sky in the southern hemisphere has so many different constellations to see. One night before we headed out to photograph I asked my two Masai guards to pose for me in front of my tent. I light painted them for about five seconds and it made a nice shot. They stayed with me at night and guarded against lions and other animals as I photographed the night sky. It was an amazing experience and one I would not have done without their help!


Two Masai warriors guarding my tent at night at Ndutu Wilderness Camp, Tanzania, East Africa

Here is one of the shots I got while the Masai warriors were protecting me. It is a 20-second exposure showing the Milky Way and the Magellanic Galaxy clouds. These galaxy clouds can only be seen in the southern hemisphere.


The Southern Hemisphere night sky with the Milky Way and Magellanic Galaxy clouds, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Almost full moon, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa

One of the other photographers on the trip was a really outstanding bird photographer and loved to take photographs of eagles in particular. We were kidding each other about who would be able to get shots of the long-crested eagle in flight. One afternoon I got really lucky and saw a long-crested eagle. I waited until he took off and was able to get this shoot of him in flight.


Long-crested eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis) in flight at Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa

Because we stayed at the Wilderness Tent Camp we were able to drive into the park and get into position to take very dramatic sunrise photos like this one.


African sunrise, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa

While we are out driving looking for lions, cheetahs and leopards I always like to stop and grab shots of African birds. I saw all these birds in a bush in the middle of nowhere in Ndutu and asked the driver to stop so I could get a shot. He told me that they were African pygmy falcons and not seen that often, especially a group of this size. I was able to photograph them as they few off. Beautiful birds.


A flock of African pygmy falcons (Polihierax semitorquatus), Ndutu Conservation Area, Tanzania, East Africa


A flock of African pygmy falcons (Polihierax semitorquatus) taking flight, Ndutu Conservation Area, Tanzania, East Africa

Another dramatic event took place one afternoon at the large watering area. We spotted several female lions positioning themselves in different areas behind trees. We watched as they studied the wildebeests and zebras cautiously making their way to the water. The female lions remained very still and stayed in their positions until all at once the lion nearest me took off and ran at full speed toward the watering hole. The mayhem was instantaneous as the wildebeests and zebras turned around and ran like crazy in the other directions kicking up enormous amounts of dust. It was hard to tell what was going on with all the dust flying but I knew instantly that a wildebeest had been caught as I heard the sound on my left. When the dust settled we watched the female lion smother the wildebeest by clamping onto its nostrils and holding on. I won’t post photos of what happened next but that is how nature works. It is one thing to see something like this on a BBC special and another thing entirely to see, hear and experience it firsthand in Africa.


Female lion in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Female lion hiding behind a tree just before hunting wildebeests, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Two female lions sizing up their prey, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Wildebeest spots the lions behind the acacia trees just before the attack, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Female lion creates chaos at the watering hole as the hunt begins, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Female lion goes after wildebeest at the watering hole, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Female lion confronts a wildebeest, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Female lion attacks a wildebeest, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa


Male lion, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa

It rained one day while we were in Ndutu much to the delight of our drivers and the animals. Lake Ndutu had been very dry and the alkaline dust was being blown everywhere. The morning after the rainstorm I was lucky enough to get this sunrise shot with the pre-dawn colors reflected in the lake. It was the only time there was this much water in the lake. On a previous visit the lake had been full and we saw hundreds of flamingos flying around and feeding.


Sunrise over Lake Ndutu, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa

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