Monday, February 25, 2019

Kenya Day 3 - Porini Amboseli

Today started with a 6:15 AM breakfast.  We were headed to Amboseli National Park for the day so we all loaded up with food to keep the energy level high.  Karen wasn't feeling up to an all day trip so she decided to take a rest day and hang out around the camp.

Here is a map from the Porini website that shows the distance between the Selenkay Conservancy and Amboseli National Park to the South:

At 7 AM the three of us climbed into the Land Rover eager for a day of adventure.  We didn't have to wait long for a sighting because our guides said a Cheetah and cub were seen on the conservancy by another vehicle.  This got me really excited because Cheetah was the #1 animal I wanted to see.

We were quickly able to find the other vehicle and saw that they were looking at something.  It was the mother Cheetah!  She had become separated from her cub and was calling it. Hearing her call out was absolutely amazing:
Cheetah Calling Cub

Cheetah Still Calling

Before coming on this trip, cheetah was my favorite big cat even though I had never seen one before except on TV of course.  Seeing one in person was way better than I even hoped.  What a beautiful cat!


With such great camouflage.  If you didn't know she was there you might miss her.  I don't think these Guineafowl saw her at all:
Where's the Cat?

After about 30 minutes or so, mama found her yearling so all was good but they were hanging out in bushes and it was really hard to get any photos.  This is the only one I managed of the two:
Cheetah and Cub

Since we still had a drive ahead of us we headed out towards Amboseli but I didn't care if we saw anything else the rest of the day since those cheetahs had already made my day.

As we were driving along we startling something on the right side of the road.  "Bat-eared Foxes!" our guide yelled.  We all turned to see them running away:
Run Away!

Then one stopped for a second and looked at us giving me a chance for one photo.

Bat-eared Fox

After retreating further one more fox looked back at us before that all disappeared.

Bat-eared Fox

What an awesome, but brief, encounter.  I secretly hoped to see a Bat-eared Fox on this trip and now I had.  Karen was going to be sooooo jealous...

Not much farther down the road we had another cool sighting.  We saw a bunch of small animals running through the bush.  They made it to an old termite mound that was likely their home and stopped to look at us.  It was a large family of Dwarf Mongoose:

Dwarf Mongoose

The rest of the drive was through more populated areas and it was interesting to see real villages and real people living out their lives.

Right after we reached the border of Amboseli NP the scenery changed dramatically.  It was much more open and you could see water and trees off in the distance.  Unfortunately, Kilimanjaro was covered by clouds so unless things changed we wouldn't be getting that view today.

Unlike in the conservancy, you have to drive on the roads in the National Parks.  You also have to check-in and check-out since we didn't go through an official entrance gate.  On the way to the airstrip for check-in we stopped by a Spotted Hyena den and there was one lounging around above ground.

Spotted Hyena

Next, we encountered a bird I had hoped to see.  The Grey-crowned Crane.  It's so elegant looking.

Grey-crowned Crane

After checking in at the airstrip and making a pit stop, the rest of the morning consisted of us driving around to see what we could see.  Right off the bat we could see that elephants were everywhere and that birds were everywhere as well.  So, those would be the themes of the day with a few other surprises sprinkled in.

Spotted Hyena:
Spotted Hyena


Greater Flamingos:
Greater Flamingos

A feisty African Spoonbill who didn't like the ducks wading around it.
Just a quick nibble

Boy the "crown" on the cranes certainly was impressive.
Grey-crowned Crane

Three-banded Plover:
Three-banded Plover

Next we came upon a rock out in the water.  With the naked eye it was obviously a big rock with a Cormorant on it.  But, our guide said it was a hippo.  A small debate ensued and the picture below is really cropped big time.  What do you think?  Hippo or Rock?

Rock or Hippo?

Lesser Flamingos in Flight:
Lesser Flamingo Flyby

Amboseli Waterbirds

We saw lots of baby Wildebeest:
Newborn Wildebeest

Frolicking Wildebeest Part 1

Frolicking Wildebeest Part 2

Hippos (Definitely NOT rocks):
Hippo Bookends

Saddle-billed Stork:
Saddle-billed Stork

At one point, this Warthog family came towards the road to get from the dusty side to the wet side.
Warthog Family

Once they got a drink, they hustled back across the road with wet legs and bellies.
Warthog Youngsters

While we had seen elephants at a distance all around us, it wasn't until a few hours into driving around the park that we saw some close up.

Elephant Herd

Huddled to protect the babies

I didn't know it at the time, but our future lunch spot was on the hill behind these eles:
Follow Me

One of the species that I knew could only be seen in Amboseli NP was the Yellow Baboon.  Luckily, they weren't hard to spot since they had taken over an abandoned lodge.

Yellow Baboon

Yellow Baboon Baby

Another new species we spotted was the Bohor Reedbuck.  This was the only place we saw them the entire trip.
Bohor Reedbuck

As I mentioned before, herds of elephants could be seen in all directions.  It was really quite amazing to see them everywhere near and far.  Luckily, more started to come closer to the roads.


Elephant Grazing

But, eElephants weren't the only big mammals out grazing.

Big Hippo

We spent so much time driving around that we didn't end up eating lunch until around 3PM and Alan was getting hungry!  But, on the way to our hilltop lunch spot, there was more to see.

Malachite Kingfisher:
Malachite Kingfisher

African Fish Eagle:
African Fish Eagle

Finally, when the destination was in sight we had one last delay thanks to this elephant chomping away right next to the road.

Just when lunch was soooo close

We had a nice lunch at the lookout on top of the hill.  But, it was small and would have been really crowded if we had been there at the normal time I think.  The views from the top were spectacular though.

View from Lookout

View from Lookout

Notice all the small groups of elephants around.
Amboseli Elephant Herds

While most of Kilimanjaro was still hidden, we could see its base and the storms that were starting to form there:
Kilimanjaro Rain

The Amboseli scenery was really diverse.  Depending on where you were you could look one way and see dry desert with dust devils twisting away.  Then you could turn the other way and see fields of green grass, ponds and big trees.  It was something else.  This photo is the best I could do to show this diversity in one shot.

Dirt Devils

After lunch, we came upon a herd of elephants having a "spa day".  It started with a nice mud bath...

Mud Bath

"Boy this trunk is heavy..."
First the Mud Bath

And it finished with a nice dust bath.
Then the Dust Bath

Just Another Day at the Elephant Spa

This group was so happy with their "spa day" that they marched away with trunks held high.

Raise Your Trunks!

African Buffalo with young one.
African Buffalo with Baby

"Do I have something on my face?"
Do I have something on my face?

"Is that better?"
African Buffalo

"Oh, yeah..right there."
Oh yeah...right there.

It was at this point that the rain caught up to us.  It was hard but brief and took place right as we showed up at the airstrip to check out.  They must have known the guides because they just waved at them and checked them off the list so Amos and Daniel avoided having to get out of the truck in the rain.

Luckily, the rain stopped about the time we made it to the hyena den that we had visited earlier.  This time lots of hyenas were out and about including some pretty small pups.

Spotted Hyena with Older Pup

Spotted Hyena

Hyena Peeking out

Hyena Den

Then, we saw some movement and a tiny head peaked up at us.


And then, a second one.
Tiny Hyena Pups

These tiny hyena pups were so young.  They were dark brown with no spots and didn't even fully have all their hair yet.  They were quite cute...


In a wrinkly sort of way...

Hyena Pup

Someday I will have hair too

One of the younger adults spent time playing with them.  At the time we thought this might be a creepy Uncle.

Nope, that's a female

But, we learned that the genitalia of the Spotted Hyena is quite unique.  In fact, the hyena in the picture above is likely a female and the...ahem...penis like thing hanging down is a clitoris.   The Spotted Hyena can have a 7 inch clitoris.  I hope male Hyenas have no problems finding that!  However, it does have to be retracted during mating.  How's that for some interesting trivia?

Anyway, we took a few last looks and were on our way.

Hey, we're nursing here.

As we were zooming along home, Andrea yelled out "Jackal!".  The driver stopped and backed up.  It turned out to be the newly describe African Golden Wolf (renamed from the Golden Jackal) and was the only one we saw the whole trip.  Nice spot Andrea!

Golden Jackal

It was right about this time that two big things happened at once.  First, a beautiful male lion was strolling along about to cross the road. Second, the heavens absolutely opened up.  It rained hard and fast so our guides quickly dropped the sides down on the vehicle to shield us from the rain.   We waited there a few minutes and the cell passed over as quickly as it started.

"No more rain" our guides said confidently so they rolled the sides of the vehicle back up.

By then, the lion had made its way across the road and was lying down in the brown grass.

Hidden Lion

What happened next reminded me of the old 90's movie "Twister" with Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton.  Remember that one?

Anyway, another storm cell could be seen coming our way and it was coming fast.  It was large and blocked the views to the right of the vehicle.  Our driver saw it too and decided that we needed to out run it. So, he hit the gas pedal and had us moving along as fast as possible given the conditions.  Slowly, the darkness crept closer though and the wind out in front of the cell suddenly reached us.  It was kicking up dust and debris a little bit too. I had to shield my face to keep the dust at bay. Luckily, we didn't see any cows fly by (Twister reference).  For a good 10 minutes we barely stayed ahead of the rain but eventually the wind subsided and I looked up to see the cell behind us and partly sunny skies ahead of us.  That was fun!

Back in the conservancy and away from the sparsely populated land, the wildlife returned.

Kirk's Dik Dik
Dik Dik

Grant's Gazelle
Grant's Gazelle

Big Tusker
Nice Tusks

Warning Display

Elephant Closeup

And, we had another great gerenuk sighting.  They are just so sleek and powerful.  Look at those leg muscles.


Gerenuks Looking for Food

Every time they would start eating we would whisper "Stand up...stand up...stand up" and when they did we would let out hushed cheers.

Gerenuks Feeding

This one is playing the "tree flute".  I wonder if it knows the solo to Locomotive Breath by Jethro Tull?
Gerenuk playing the

Mmm...this one looks tasty.

We even saw a mother with some little ones
Gerenuk with Fawns

Phew, that was one full day.  I was totally wiped out by the time we got back to camp around 6:30PM.  It was a great day full of fantastic wildlife sightings but it was also really long and tiring.  We only had two bathroom breaks (I only saw two restrooms in the whole park) and a really late lunch.

So, while Karen did miss out on some good stuff she was not that sorry that she missed the full day outing.  Hopefully, we would see most of the new species again for her later in the trip (spoiler alert...we do).

PS - That rock earlier in the day...  I still didn't believe it was a Hippo until I got home and zoomed the picture way in.  The guides were right, it was a flat-sided Hippo but it really didn't look that way with the naked eye.

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