Saturday, July 27, 2013

On to Mara Serena Lodge! - 04 Jul 2013

The view from our room in the Mara Serena Lodge
Happy Independence Day to the U.S.A! I'm listening, but I hear no fireworks. None. It is heavenly quiet here in the Masai Mara. Last night's dinner was punctuated by a going away cake given to Guy by the lodge staff. They did the typical Applebee's parade and singing, but in a much more traditional African manner. Very cute.

Black-backed Jackal
We loaded up the van and headed for a 52 Km drive to the Masai Serena Lodge at 8 am. No sooner had we driven away from the lodge that a Black-backed Jackal was spotted trotting across the grass.  We could only manage a couple quick photos before it disappeared.

Usambiro Barbet
It was clear and cool this morning, much like yesterday. On our drive out I managed a quick photo of a suspected Usambiro Barbet sunning itself in the morning sun. Considered a conspecific to d'Arnaud's Barbet the Usambiro has a grey bill (vs. pink) and suffused green in the head relative to the yellow head of d'Arnaud's. As we passed close to a herd of Cape Buffalo we had an opportunity to photograph some Yellow-billed Oxpeckers that were riding their backs. It was a chance to also discuss the symbiotic relationship the birds and buffalo enjoy.

Secretary Bird
In the middle of nowhere, miles away from the lodge, a pair of Secretary Birds flew in and started working the grass in our direction. A Hippopotamus was spotted along a ridge far away, but a passing van blocked any photo pops.

As we drove along we encountered dozens of Rufous-naped Larks, identifiable only by their flashing rufous wings in flight, and countless Pectoral-patch Cisticolas, tiny grassland birds that dart out in small numbers over the long grass before disappearing again. A thin whitish tail band is all you can see on these tiny brown jobs. Buffy Pipits tended to stay on the road ahead of us, and are tiny, dull, Horned Lark-ish types of birds. I was too close to photograph a Rosy-breasted Longclaw that appeared next to the road. Btw, thanks to my buddy Scott Jennex, who has offered a 'shiny dime' for new species, I have now offered my Kenyan brother Charles 10 shillings for every new species on this trip. Now, he's stopping more often for me to ID and photograph birds!

A short distance later we stopped on a bridge and found a small colony of Brown Parrots in a single palm tree next to a small creek.  The bright yellow shoulder patches helped ID them in the backlighting. A caravan behind us prevented us from staying for photos. We were still about 30 Km from the Masai Serena Lodge, and folks needed a rest stop (we called it a 'Hippo Stop' because the Hippo Creek was at the only location w/ restrooms). Our present location was only 1 Km from the Keekorok Lodge so we headed in that direction.

Little Bee-eater
Unfortunately for the group I kept stopping Charles for a Little Bee-eater, a Sooty Chat, a gorgeous Greater Blue-eared Starling, and Hildebrant's Starlings. Once at the lodge we were only going to stay for a minute, but decided on a coffee break. I took the opportunity to chase after Grey-capped Social Weavers, Purple Grenadiers, Ruppell's Long-tailed Starlings, Yellow-crowned Canaries, Aftrican Grey Flycatchers, Red-rumped Swallows, Lesser-striped Swallows, Superb Starlings, and a juvenile White-browed Robin Chat.

Hildebrandt's Starling
African Grey Flycatcher
Disembarking for the last leg of the trip to the Mara Serena Lodge, we managed to see some Elephants and a single Cape Buffalo in miles of open grassland. The road up ahead suddenly opened up in front of us and showed two huge water-filled holes that looked big enough to swallow the entire van. A path was attempted to the right of the giant pot holes, but massive ruts showed very soft mud. We couldn't go back so we all had to agree that if we got stuck we would be ok to wait for another vehicle to possibly come along. So Charles carefully mapped a path around the right of the first pond then across the front and through the second pond. We made it. Whew! Another small water-hole later didn't stand a chance against our new-found confidence.

Our bravery seemed to be rewarded a few minutes later when the first large herds of Wildebeest and Zebra were spotted in the now-taller grass. Overhead a Ruppell's Griffon Vulture and a Maribou Stork were riding the now-warming air currents.

Charles slowed the van just long enough for me to get a nice portrait of a Grey-backed Fiscal (shrike).  A few meters later a large snag hosted a number of Maribou Storks, White-backed Vultures, and Lappet-faced Vultures. Another group of tiny Cisticolas were seen, photographed but as-yet unidentified... (grrrr).

We were stunned to find a Serval cat in the road ahead. The normally shy, nocturnal feline RARELY seen in daytime was slowly sauntering along the road and pausing just briefly to sniff the air. An approaching tour van would surely scare it into the grass so I readied the camera for a nice profile before it disappeared. Luckily it stayed to the edge of the grass appearing to stalk something in the grass. I had to switch to manual focus in order to photograph it through the grass (2). But soon it retuned to the road and continued along in front of us. Only when we reached a herd of Wildebeest crossing the road did it finally disappear.

The Wildebeest herd we encountered was huge! Hundreds of the Serengeti Migration herd were on either side of the road and crossing several at a time. We spent some time photographing them crossing before we split the herd and drove on through. For miles on either side of us were herds of the Wildebeest with Zebra scattered throughout. The tall grasslands and hillsides.

Because the Serengeti migration involves a circular north-south route from Kenya to Tanzania, we concluded that these animals are literally the first animals to have crossed the Mara River from Tanzania. We'd been traveling south through the Serengeti to get to the lodge and hadn't encountered this many animals in one location.

Finally arriving at the gates to the Mara Serena National Park we crossed the Mara River and saw several large Hippos in the rushing, muddy waters. At this location the entrance fees to the park could be paid with credit cards, but we ran into problems. The 'popular' Visa cards were denied, first for Guy, then for Deb, and then for us! Had we not had second Visa cards (thank you NuPathCU) our trip would be over. But we finally got our entry passes and were free to drive into the park. I spent a few minutes in the hot sun photographing the numerous Grey-capped Social Weavers and Speckled Weavers that were foraging on the grounds, along with several  Agama Lizards and numerous Acacia Rats. Overhead the trees were filled with nests from both sets of Weaver birds (2).

Agama Lizard
Once past the gates the habitat changed dramatically. Rolling hills of tall grass everywhere with only the occasional acacia tree. Even the road smoothed out. Coming to a fork we had the choice of going left or right. We chose to cut 5 Km by going right. Unfortunately we had to cross some very large water holes. The first few were ok, but we got stuck trying to cross a creek at the base of a steep hill. Once again Lady Luck shone down on us. Andrew, Robin and I were able to push the truck backward enough for Charles to gain a foothold, then we floored it and made it through a muddy trench. Next time we'll be staying on the longer main road...

The scenery was spectacular. Grass as far as the eye could see and dotted with the occasional antelope, zebra, giraffe and elephant. We drove past a recently-deceased elephant next to the road that was covered with White-backed Vultures, Ruppell's Griffon Vultures, and Maribou Storks. We were late for lunch, and had started hearing something crashing somewhere under the van, so we didn't stop unti we reached the lodge.

Heaven on Earth

Holy crap is this place gorgeous! The Mara Serena Safari Lodge is located on the side of a large hill overlooking the plains below. When you walk into the lobby you are greeted with an awe-inspiring view of the Mara River and hundreds of miles of spectacular scenery in every direction.

When Robin and I reached our apartment, our little balcony has the exact same onubstructed view. As lovely as the Mara Sopa Lodge was, this place is 10-stars lovelier.

We had a wonderful lunch in the lodge, and about 2 hrs before our afternoon game drive, so I stripped down into my skivvies and enjoyed the views of elephants and hippos 5 miles away (through the scope). I only mention my state of dress because Sandi had mentioned seeing a cute little antelope that we hadn't seen before, so when this tiny female Bushbuck appeared in front of me while I was putting my pants on I had to drop everything to get a photo of it before it was gone. So, with pants down around my ankles I leaned over the balcony and got pics to ID it. Glad my neighbors didn't see me.

Masai Mara NR, Narok, Kenya 
Black-backed Jackal
Usambiro Barbet
Cape Buffalo
Yellow-billed Oxpeckers
Secretary Birds
Rufous-naped Larks
Pectoral-patch Cisticolas
Buffy Pipits
Rosy-breasted Longclaw
Brown Parrots
Little Bee-eater
Sooty Chat
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Hildebrant's Starlings
Grey-capped Social Weavers
Purple Grenadiers
Ruppell's Long-tailed Starlings
Yellow-crowned Canaries
Aftrican Grey Flycatchers
Red-rumped Swallows
Lesser-striped Swallows
Superb Starlings
White-browed Robin Chat
Ruppell's Griffon Vulture
White-headed Vulture
Maribou Stork
Grey-backed Fiscal
White-backed Vultures
Lappet-faced Vultures
Cisticola sp.
Speckled Weavers
Agama Lizards
Acacia Rats
Common Bulbul

1 comment:

david boon said...

fantastic Jerry! How did you ID all those new birds? By the Guide,or Guide Book,or did you wait until you got home? A feat of Gigantic proportions and I heartily congratulate you! Greta Blog cant wait for next instalment!

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