A destination which conjures up iconic images of elephant herds set in front of the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro, barren open plans and perhaps even the occasional dust devil.
The problem with these iconic scenes is that they are so dominating that one actually forgets just how diverse this region is. A satellite view courtesy of Google Maps sets the tone for this blog post which, rather than giving a day by day account of our incredible sightings, will look at what we saw in specific regions of Amboseli National Park using the Serena Lodge as our base.
Amboseli has an endless underground water supply filtered through thousands of feet of volcanic rock from Kilimanjaro’s ice cap, which funnel into two clear water springs in the heart of the park – the green swamps that you see so clearly on the map.
However, the climatic pendulum can swing from drought to flood, and in the early 1990’s ceaseless rain changed Amboseli into a swamp. A few years later the rains failed and the grass-covered plains turned to dust. In contrast to my previous years (see the 2015 and 2014 trip reports), Amboseli had received good rains this year and regions which were previously covered in short green grass were now home to an incredible array of waterbirds.
Most of our time was spent around the large Longinye swamp which, as the largest permanent water-source in the region has always delivered excellent sightings. This region did not disappoint this time around. The fact that we were able to see lions almost every day if we were so inclined was a special treat as was being able to watch them hunt in the vast open plains around the swamp.
This swamp really does breathe life into the heart of Amboseli and whilst elephant numbers may not have been as high as in previous years as a result of the good rains, the photographic opportunities were just as good if not better.
The Dum Palm Thickets | Ol Tukai Orok
This relatively small region of the park has to be one of my favourite areas for photographing wildlife. The birdlife is prolific and the texture and depth added by the deep green Dum palms just adds that little something special to every image taken here. From most of the northern areas of these palm thickets one has the unmistakeable blue backgrounds of Mount Kilimanjaro in the background, eliminating any distracting bright skies and highlights even on a crystal clear day.
If I could set up camp in this palm thicket I’d be quite happy to spend a week photographing just in this environment. I absolutely love it and I think the guests that joined me feel the same after our special sightings here.
The Fever Tree Forest
I’ve struggled to find details on the various areas of Amboseli which have been fenced off for research and rehabilitation purposes but my understanding is that these areas have been fenced off to exclude elephants from browsing on the young Acacia and from destroying older and more established woodlands. This particular zone has been fenced off for a while and supports an incredibly beautiful fever tree forest. Whilst one section of the fence has clearly been removed, presumably to quantify the impact of browsing by elephants on the woodlands by comparing it with the fenced off control site, there was a section where the fence had been broken down.
Not so good for Acacia’s but excellent news if you were a giraffe that happened to be passing by.
Even better news if you were a photographer…
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, these are the types of scenes that excite me as a photographer that really enjoys portraying animals in their environment and i was glad to be able to share these incredible photo opportunities with our guests.
“Flamingo” Flood Plain
This may not be the correct name for this particular region but seeing that we enjoyed such incredible sightings of flamingos here on this trip think I’ve coined a new name for it! This was the first time Ive seen this region covered in shallow water and hosting such an array of birdlife.
In years gone by, this is what we’ve seen.
The scene was pretty different this year…
The dry lake bed has always been a firm favourite amongst our guests. Not only does it allow one to get out and stretch the legs a bit but there are some interesting photographic opportunities all throughout the dry lake bed.
Observation Hill Flats
Again, not the official name so please do let me know what this area is called if you know it! This region has always been good for catching the elephants moving towards the Sinet swamp/canal and the Enkongo Narok Swamp. Some of the variables that make this area so appealing for photography include the vast open plains, loads of fine dust, and a slightly sunken road which positions you between the elephants and the swamp providing excellent photographic opportunities.
The Sinet Swamp/Canal
There was an incredible amount of general game in the form of zebra and wildebeest which congregated all along this canal. At one point one of the guests suggested that the migration had perhaps taken a slight detour en-route to the Masai Mara!
The Loitokitok Main Road
Say it three times in a row, I dare you…
Loitokitok is a small town situated on the border with Tanzania and this road exits the park at the Ol Kelyunet Gate and makes its way east towards the town and then on to Tsavo West, which was our next destination. Whilst in previous years we have enjoyed seeing herds moving out from these acacia woodlands towards the Longinye Swamp, we didn’t see much of that this time around. What we did see along this stretch was still very impressive.
Hopefully this post has given you an idea of what our guests experienced during our 5 nights in Amboseli.
Is five nights not too much time in one place?
Not if its Amboseli.
Isn’t Amboseli just about Elephants?
Not at all, there is SO much more!
And if this hasn’t been enough to get you excited to join me on safari Amboseli in 2017 or 2018, then perhaps the second part of the trip report covering our 4 nights in Tsavo West will help!
Oh, before I forget, we also saw a Martial eagle whilst we were there…
Pity about that mountain in the background though right?