Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 04/07/2012

Lion around…




African Lion, originally uploaded by http://andrewskelton.net.

We’re on the move again, making our way over the uneven surfaces that make up our routes through the Masai Mara, long grass surrounding us on all sides (well, not all of course.. there’s the road.. but there is grass in the middle of some of the tracks) until, slowing down, we approach a thicket of tall bushes interspersed with the familiar trees that dot the plains and which are perfect cover for Leopards. The tracks are less well defined through the scrubland and we have to retreat from our lofty vantage point back into the safety of the Land Cruisers’ enclosure as overhanging branches or twigs batter the vehicle. Several times the foliage is just too much for us to penetrate, and Sammy (the driver) has to reverse and find a new way through the woodland. Despite crossed fingers and toes, the elusive leopard remains elusive and with hopes dashed again we move off to see what else we can find. We negotiate the river that feeds its refreshing waters to the neighbouring cover we’ve explored and head to a new part of the Mara and as we do, I spot a number of large birds in the air.

There is one iconic sight I’ve wanted to see when visiting Africa, one you see in all the films, documentaries, even cartoons.. that of vultures gathered hungrily around an abandoned carcass; in fact, such is the frequency that it’s featured that I expected to see this spectacle wherever I went. This wasn’t the case, until now that is. We’re now alongside the bloated remains of a hippo, killed not by lions but by his own kind probably a disagreement over spilling the other hippos’ pint of grass, and there’s already around twenty birds bickering with each other on and around their ill gotten gains with yet more heading towards the throng. With the sun behind us, we have the perfect opportunity to photograph these large birds in flight, and switching to AI Servo mode I fire off shot after shot. The camera effortlessly keeps its side of the bargain, however some of my framing, in all the excitement, is slightly off, and I have a number of great shots ruined by clipped primary feathers.

A few phone calls are made and received after which we’re then moving off with purpose and direction at speed. Although we’ve had two good photo opportunities, we’ve also spent more time hunting for wildlife encounters… this is the nature of Nature Photography so the possibility of a sure thing has us all speculating as to our intended target. Of course there is but one word in our collective minds (Leopard), but we discuss other possibilities, our hosts keep their lips tightly closed throughout our conjecture. Driving deeper into new areas of the Mara, our path peaks on the apex of a hill and we see a number of vehicles moving apparently aimlessly around the valley below us. They’re searching for the same thing we’re there for but as of yet, no-one has located the quarry… it’s down to us again to find the creatures hidden in the long grass, a family of lions… lying around. The grass is perfect cover for them, even with our superior viewing angle they are not immediately obvious, but they are there and we are able to get within feet of these apex predators. They’re unimpressed with the click of our cameras, and move deeper into cover, but there are enough of them to allow us to take some passable photos though the grass is still hampering our chances of some really great shots. Not a bad afternoon’s work, we retire back slightly early to sift through the plethora of photos we’ve taken, and to have our thirst quenched with a couple of cold Tusker Beers.

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