Trip Report: Big Cats & Tuskers July 2016

Andrew Beck All Authors, Andrew 3 Comments

If you’re reading this and are already thinking of visiting Kenya but are not sure which regions to visit, look no further. This incredible safari is one of our most popular offerings in Kenya as it combines the iconic regions of the Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, lake Naivasha and Amboseli into one incredible 9 night journey.

This was the first time that we have run an additional departure in July over and above our February departure and it is safe to say that it was a massive success. I’d encourage you to read through Dave Marshak’s trip report in case you feel that we present a bias opinion of the experiences our guests have on safari with us.

So, lets do this destination by destination shall we…

The Mara Triangle Conservancy

When scheduling a July departure we always knew that we may be in luck and catch the first of the migratory herds as they enter the Mara Triangle conservancy but the sight that greeted us as we flew into the Mara from Nairobi on our private charter blew pretty much all of us away.

After landing we headed straight to the river where we checked of the first of a number of river crossings.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-2

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-4

There was of course plenty of croc action as the massive reptiles made the most of the smorgasbord of wild meat on the menu as thousands of zebra and wildebeest made their way across the Mara river. Most guests agreed that these crossings were an absolute bonus and that they had not even expected to witness this spectacle during our safari and, with the guests satisfied with the crossings that we had seen on day one and day two, we shifted our attention to the big cats.

With an abundance of game in the region it wasn’t long before we found 3 different prides of lion, all within close proximity to camp and it seemed as though love was in the air across the lion population in the Mara with mating pairs being encountered in each pride.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-9

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-6

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-10

This was not only good for us but bodes well for our February 2017 departure when, assuming some of the many attempts we witnessed were successful, there should be a couple of cubs running around. Of course, no sighting of lions would ever be complete without at least on image of them doing what they do best.

Nothing.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-8

A longer drive down to the remote Tanzanian border almost always delivers on the cheetah front and we were fortunate enough to encounter the two males that we have spent so much time with during our Great Migration Safaris in the past chilling in the shade of a Balanite tree.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-7

Surprisingly, the leopards were the only species of big cat that played hard to get with us with our patience being tested as we spent hours sitting and waiting for what was a very shy female to return to her Oribi kill which had been hoisted into a Balanite tree.

Imagine_if-8

Despite our best efforts and patience, we were only rewarded with a fleeting glimpse as we returned to the tree late one afternoon and the leopard dashed for cover when we were more than 200m away. This is unusual for leopards in the Mara but, to be fair, this was in an area which didn’t receive much traffic in terms of safari vehicles.

Whilst the migratory herds and big cats took centre stage for our 3 night stay we made the most of the good morning and afternoon light o capture some of the Mara’s iconic but less charismatic species.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-5

After a morning drive towards the Oloololo escarpment gate it was time for us to head north to the iconic fever tree forests of Lake Nakuru.

Lake Nakuru

I must share that this was my first time visiting this destination, a destination that I have dreamt of visiting for years after seeing the extensive green fever tree forests and I was not disappointed. I snapped this image with my iPhone on arrival.

Nakuru

I’ve always shared somewhat of a love affair with the Fever tree forests and have loved exploring these wherever they occur (eg Pafuri/Makuleke Concession in KNP, KwaZulu Natal and isolated areas of Amboseli. Throw in even the slightest hint of golden light and a photographic subject of any size and you have the potential for some incredible images and scenes.

I had no idea just how extensive the fever tree forests that surround lake Nakuru are though, despite the lake being filled to record levels. Fever tree forests aside, the orange fields of red oat grass that dominate the Mara eco-system had been replaced by lush green Digitaria and Panicum grass species. Already at only the second of four destinations the diversity and contrasts offered on this safari where clearly evident.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-11

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-12

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-15

We spent the first hour of the morning photographing a crash of rhino, Rothschild’s Giraffe and buffalo against the fever tree forests and a variety of birds along the lake shore.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-48

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-49

The fever tree forests beckoned and we headed deep into the swamps and to say that we were blown away by what we saw was an understatement. A majestic male lion was carrying a young waterbuck foal in his jaws, followed closely by a beautiful lioness, who had probably made the kill. Other members of the pride were around but the fact that this entire area was dominated by muddy swamp, forced them to retreat to more comfortable and drier areas as these two shared the spoils of the morning’s hunt.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-13

Our exploration of Lake Nakuru continued and after taking a turn past the Makalia Waterfall, we headed back to camp for lunch.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-50

Our afternoon drive saw us heading back to the fever tree forests where we had encountered the lions that morning and, after spending some time with a journey of giraffe searched the area but turned up empty handed.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-51

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-14

As the afternoon progressed our luck turned and we were alerted to the fact that one of the lioness’ had made herself visible.

Highly visible.

In a tree.

RIGHT next to the road.

The first frame I tripped at this sighting was at 17:08 with the “money shots” all coming between 17:56 and 18:01.

We sat and waited for more than an hour as the lioness lay perched in the fork of a fever tree, facing away from us, positioned in prime spot for that moment when she stood up, stretched and then descended. She did exactly this and I can assure you that every one of our guests could not believe what they captured in those 5 brief minutes.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-16

The lions had stolen the show at Nakuru and, as if providing us with a parting gift on our final morning, gave us one final opportunity to sit in awe of the environment in which they thrive.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-52

It was hard to leave Nakuru after what we had been so fortunate enough to experience and witness but the promise of new opportunities on offer at Lake Naivasha and Amboseli made it that much easier.

Lake Naivasha

A short two hour drive towards Nairobi from Lake Nakuru saw us arriving at Lake Naivasha where we headed out on an afternoon boat cruise to get used to photographing from a boat. This is a great way to enjoy some time outside of the vehicle and get a whole new perspective of the life that thrives along the lake shores.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-17

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-18

The afternoon cruise was fairly relaxed and after an early night we were eager to head out for our morning cruise and capture some images of the vibrant birdlife.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-19

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-20

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-21

Back at camp we enjoyed a hot breakfast before capturing some images of the resident Black and White Colobus Monkeys and continuing on our way towards Amboseli for our final 3 nights of safari.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-22

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-23

Amboseli National Park

It is no secret that Amboseli is one of my personal favourite destinations and I cant get enough of the place( you can check out my trip report from the Exclusive Amboseli & Tsavo Safari here). The first photographic opportunity we encountered helped the guests understand why this place was so special.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-24

And it just got better from there.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-25

Our first morning drive re-inforced the luck that this group seemed to carry with them when it comes to the big cats as we encountered a pair of lioness’ moving intently toward the swamps for what we can only assume was a hunting mission.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-26

This luck was repeated on our second morning but with less spectacular light as we encountered 2 big male lions and, in a separate sighting,  3 young lions finishing of a kill before being followed closely by a herd of wildebeest who were making sure that they didn’t loose another member of the herd.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-34

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-38

Its hard to imagine how lions can hunt successfully out here in what looks like open plains but there are a number of erosion gulleys and natural depressions which provide ample cover for these predators.

The big cats were great, as were the sightings of serval that we enjoyed, but this was the Tuskers part of the Big Cats and Tuskers safari and it was time to bank some of the classic and iconic elephant images that only Amboseli can provide. With that in mind we headed off to the dry lake bed of Lake Amboseli.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-40

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-37

Scanning around the massive lake bed with binoculars we caught sight of a large dark blur on the far eastern side of the lake. As we got closer the indiscernible blur took on more form and we realised that we were in luck, a large herd of elephant were crossing the lake bed.

We spent more than 45 minutes with these gentle giants, carefully readjusting our position to photograph them in various positions without disturbing them.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-28

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-31

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-41

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-30

This was an incredible sighting for all, both from a photographic and pure safari experience point of view and will undoubtedly feature as one of the highlights for all of our guests.

We were also fortunate enough to photograph Masai Giraffe on the open lake bed during our 3 night stay in Amboseli.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-32

The first two afternoons were dominated by strong winds which whipped up the fine dust of Amboseli and made for some interesting, if not difficult photography. There is always an opportunity to be had, albeit with a bit of creative license.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-33

Luckily for us the winds died on our final afternoon and the iconic images of Mount Kilimanjaro with pretty much any animal you can imagine in the foreground were a dime a dozen.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-53

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-44

We were treated to a spectacular sunrise on the final morning of our time in Amboseli and were fortunate enough to stumble across a small group of elephant which we could use to anchor the frame.

Wild_Eye_Big_Cats_&_Tuskers_Safari_July_2016_Andrew_Beck-45

After enjoying our packed breakfast (something we do every day to maximise time in the field) near the lake bed we headed back to the lodge for lunch and finally, for our return flight back to Nairobi.

Is this safari for you?

Yes.

I may not know you but I can tell you that this safari is so diverse and covers so many iconic destinations that everyone will find something that they love about the Big Cats and Tuskers Safari. And, if you’re sitting there saying you’ve been to these destinations before, if you haven’t been with us you should allow us to change the way you see the world.

Don’t take my word for it though, check out these guest images:

Stuart Jamieson

A tired King

Late afternoon sun Hyena

Stuartjamieson-9

Mandy Marais

W.E 5

W.E 11

WE 12

WE 17

WE 16

WE 15 WE 19 WE 20 WE 23 WE 26

Pietro Biondo

6K5A7801 6K5A7963 6K1A4316 6K5A7527 6K5A6486

6K5A7465 6K5A7277 6K1A5202 6K1A5157 6K1A4946

About the Author

Andrew Beck

Facebook Twitter Google+

Very few people can tell you what their passion in life is. Even fewer will be able to tell you that what they do for a living is in fact their passion. My love for the bush and conservation took me on journey which would not only allow me to explore the continent which fascinates me so much, but to share my passion for photography and conservation with others. Be sure to check out my my website and instagram account.

Comments 3

  1. Pingback: Trip Report: Big cats & Tuskers July 2016 - Africa Freak

  2. Stuart Jamieson

    If after reading this trip report your still not convinced to go to Kenya you must be very hard, this was an amazing trip and experience. The diversity was outstanding, from open plains, dry pans, lakes to fever tree forests, we were never disappointed. The WildEye team ensured that we were well looked after and the learnings I gained from their photographic experience has inspired me even more to get out and capture more images.

    To the WildEye team, you guys rock. If you are thinking of a safari in Africa and you want to take the best images that you can, don’t go pass the WildEye team, they truly will change the way you see the world.

    Stuart

    1. Post
      Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *