After leaving Uganda our photography safari led us to the Kenya savanna. Seeing the big cats in the wild, up close and personal, was to be a high point, culminating with the wondrous wildebeest crossing of the Mara River. Someone forgot to tell the wildebeest. There was no crossing. None, nada.
We visited the spot of this amazing annual event which has gone on for thousands of years before and saw only a couple of crocodiles swimming aimlessly about. This video link from YouTube shows what I missed…. I would not have known whether to take action photos, a movie or both. By the way, here are no crocodile killing scenes in the linked video for those of you opposed to gore. Wildebeest Crossing the Mara
Lions in the Savanna of Kenya
This was one of our first lion encounters and one of the more enjoyable. No other photography groups had yet found these lions. We had not traveled very far through the savanna before we found this pride of lions finishing off an oryx. During such a scene each photographer takes literally hundreds of photos. With each burst of the high speed camera shutter we are hopping for something special to happen. Not much does. But in the photo above, compared to the many other photos, the lion appeared not too happy and was staring directly at me. All of these animals are completely oblivious to the vehicles that will surround them at times. They see so many on a daily basis, they ignore all vehicles. We watched as a brave, lone jackal in the background was darting in and out stealing some tasty morsels.
There were two more cubs and other adults walking around in the area, apparently very satisfied after a successful kill. The lions at this particular kill were extra good for another reason. Their faces were not covered with flies. From the above photo, it is obviously not blood that attracts the pesky flies. Other lion photos were completely unusable due to all the flies on their faces.
Many of my photos are zoomed or cropped for the detail, but this one shows a lion in his environment. I was often struck by how well the animals blend into their surroundings. The trees behind the lion show some of the weaver bird nests pictured in my prior blogs. Weaver Birds The life on the savanna is difficult for all, as you can see wounds on this lions legs. I’m sparing you some of the other photos which show what seemed like life threatening gashes from narrow escapes for some poor zebras still grazing normally.
Crowded with Tourists
In recent years, the Instagram popularized landscapes and crowded US National Parks were something to avoid for my photography. They are simply much too crowded with many aggressive photographers chasing the same photos and the same light. The crowds are one contributing reason I have explored macro photography and prefer abstracts I find and create myself. Out of 120 members in our local camera club, no more than three do much with macro lenses. Here is a link to one of my blogs on macro photography. Macro Photography Blog
At this stop we likely saw over 15 lions. Judging from this cub’s full tummy, the whole pride had a successful evening. As we were arriving, these lions were wandering into the bushes, out of sight.
To better show you the overall scene in this wild remote part of Africa, check out all the many Land Rovers in the photo below. Can you see the mound of dirt where the above cub was sunning himself encircled by 30 tourist packed vehicles? We had to wait our turn in this long line for our turn in front of the cub.
Where is the Creativity?
With all the drivers sharing information with other drivers about the good photography spots, many of the scenes we encountered had 30 other tour groups encircling the lions or cheetah all jostling for position. If 30 jeeps average 5 people each, there are 150 photographers crowding around the same scene. Some of the jeeps had a single family inside with iPhones while others were serious photographers with large, expensive 600mm lenses poking through the rooftops. Regardless, each driver is cutting in front of or around other jeeps and jostling for the best position for his group of tourists.
In my opinion these are not photos that I found, created or had any control over. Rather I paid enough money to be led by the hand to them and snap photos when it was my turn. Seems to lack creativity. For a photographer’s first visit, capturing the typical iconic photos is the first step. Only after capturing the basics does a photographer start to experiment and possibly get a bit creative. Until then it seems to be mostly documentary photographs. While serious nature photographers get some beautiful and extraordinary photos, they are documentarists of natural scenes. Such scenes are not captured on a single first trip to Africa.
When we first encountered this cheetah, it was almost too dark to take photos. We watched him drag his fresh kill into some low bushes, then moved into position for our photos. As the sun rose we would make exposure adjustments such as turning down the ISO and increasing the shutter speed for better photos. For early morning situations such as this, it pays to have the most expensive glass possible, capable of the widest aperture. I did not possess the best lens….
This guy ate most all his kill, then drug it further into the bushes out of sight. The success of such a trip is largely dependent on the skill and communications of your driver. At this kill, we were fortunately the only group of photographers.
Get Off My Back
As described in my prior blogs, food is found from beneath the dirt, in animal droppings and in the highest of tree branches. Even ticks on grazing animals provide some kind of nourishment for flocks of ox peckers.
I was very happy to get these ox peckers back lit in the mane of a giraffe. To clean up the photo from distracting blurs, I erased the many black streaks of insects darting about.
Ox Pecker, Friend or Foe
It is not clear if the ox pecker is benefiting these grazing mammals or are themselves a parasite. Some studies have noted the birds pass over smaller ticks, wanting to only eat the much larger blood bloated ticks already near the end of their life cycle. These birds will also reopen animal wounds to get more blood. In the end, it does not matter much. A symbiotic relationship or not, both have co-existed for thousands of years.
Thompson’s Gazelle Scent Marking
Sometimes you do not know what you have captured until you get home and study your 20,000 photos in detail. I was surprised to have actually captured a Thompson’s gazelle poking a grass stem into a scent gland located near their eyeball. Seemed a bit risky to me. But it is well documented they use these preorbital glands to scent mark their territories. As shown below, they mark a lone obvious plant which will be easily smelled by any intruding gazelle.
While researching this topic on the Internet, most articles had only drawings of scent marking. I’m thinking it is fairly rare to photograph such an event.
Goodnight from Kenya Savanna
Here are three of those very ugly marabou storks, depicted in my last blog, settling in for the night. Ugly marabu stork
Creative, none the less for me. Love to photography and the adventure as seen from your camera lens.
Thank you for your continued support, Lou.
Thank you for another much admired blog of your journey in to Africa.
I think you may have been there as well. Thank you for looking.
Thank you for your photos and insight. Crowds are an unfortunate reality.
Harold Thx for posting, always enjoy your photos & commentary.
Always thought of Africa as Magic Land.
The last time we were there was 2007 & the crowds then were getting. Larger than the previous trips , so it’s not surprising what you experienced.
Thank you for taking the time to look, Jeff, I appreciate it.
Love that Ox pecker backlight on the Giraffe 😍
My only time in Africa we were lucky to avoid most of the safari vehicle traffic jams and as Margie will tell you the times we did not I was not a happy camper.
I guess why I like to go sparrow hunting by myself so much 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to look. At most I’ll have one more Africa post and if so, there will be some birds in it for you…