When I was a lot younger, I watched wildlife programs on the BBC. There was a film maker that was on my local BBC region called Simon King. He graduated to working in the Maasai Mara where he was on with another photographer and film maker who had been there for many years. His name is Jonathan Scott. He still lives in Kenya and, with his wife Angela who is also a photographer, can be seen out and about in the Mara covering the animals. I was really pleased when we came across the pair of them. He was driving their Land Rover with his wife in the back shooting out the side. He had a camera mounted close but too. I waved at him at one point and he smiled and waved back. Had a bit of a fanboy moment!
We came upon a few filming crews while we were in the Maasai Mara. There were professional photographers but more of the video teams. National Geographic had a crew out working and there were others filming too. You would sometimes find vehicles that were scouting crews for the filming. The thing I found funny was that they often had signs saying that they were filming crews and not to follow them. I might never have paid attention to them until I knew that they were filming crews and might well have good intel about where animals were!
Modified vehicles which allow the camera operator to sit outside the vehicle and shoot looked like just the sort of thing I would like to have. They weren’t always in use, though. I did see one operator sitting inside the vehicle with his feet up while checking stuff on his phone. Looking at the very pricey lenses attached to the camera rigs was almost as fun as looking at the animals. Nat Geo also had a vehicle with a gimbal mount out on the front of the vehicle. It would have been fun to see that in use!
One thing that occurred to me as I watched these teams at work was the volume of material that they would collect that would be culled down to make a TV show. Sure, this would be a vast amount of data to store and sort but how different this must be from the days of wet film. Those crews shooting things like the early Big Cat Diaries must have been carrying a ton of stock and then had to manage all of it through processing and cataloging. That must have been a very time consuming and expensive proposition.
At the end of our first day in Amboseli, we came upon a bunch of vehicles that were sitting near some trees. There was nothing apparent to me about what was going on, but the word passed around that a cheetah had been seen near the trees. We sat and waited for a while. The sun was rapidly going down and that meant that any vehicles that weren’t staying in the park, had to be out by the deadline. They had to leave so the remaining vehicles were only those staying inside the park. There were still quite a few trucks but not too many.
Before too long, the cheetah came in to view. It was walking away from the trees but quite far away. Still, it was great to see it. Then a second appeared and the two of them started walking. At first, they seemed to be paralleling the road but soon it was clear that they were converging with it. We would drive a little way down and wait for them to come towards us and they were getting closer and closer. Occasionally they would stop and sit, almost in formation. Then they would start again. We would let them walk past us then drive a little further and wait again. Vehicles were leapfrogging each other as we all did the same thing.
The light was fading fast, and the ISO was really cranking up, but it is incredible what a modern mirrorless camera can do. Meanwhile, the two cheetahs were getting closer and closer to the road until they eventually decided to cross over the other side. Being so close to them was an incredible end to our first full day.
Our next cheetah encounter was a surprise. We drove out towards a tree in some open space (admittedly an area known for cheetahs). There was a truck near the tree but only as we got there did we realize that there was a mother cheetah and her cub sitting in the shade. They were quite relaxed with us there and the cub was sitting next to mum albeit with some long grass making a clear view a touch tricky.
We left them to it but, an hour or so later, as we came along a road, they were walking towards us along the road. Mum was in front with the cub trotting along behind. They went off the road into the grass to pass us but then resumed using the road once they had passed us. It was so cool to see them moving by as if we weren’t there.
Our last cheetah encounter was entirely down to Nancy. We were bouncing along a road at speed as the third of the three trucks. The side of the vehicle was covered in mud as a result of the heavy rains we had been experiencing. Somehow, through a tiny gap of clear window, Nancy spotted a cheetah and called out loudly. We ground to a halt and did a U turn. Sure enough, a cheetah was alongside the road eating what remained of a Thompson’s gazelle. The others turned around to join us as this animal finished its meal. The stomach was looking very full.
The cheetahs are just glorious looking animals. They are small and sleek compared to the larger leopards and the even larger lions. Speed is their thing, and they look so fast even as they are walking. The markings on their face are really interesting too and the cubs look almost sad with the facial lines. There were many high points on this trip, but they were definitely up there.
A combination of a travel image and the job stuff today. We were driving from Nairobi to Amboseli on our first full day in Kenya. The road we took initially is the main road to Mombasa which is the principal port for not only Kenya but some of its neighboring countries. Parallel with the road is a railway and, as we headed southeast, a train was coming the other way. A pair of diesel locomotives were pulling the train, and they had a message on the side about their role. I understand they were built by CRRC in China. One for the rail fans who read my blog, I think.
Kenya and Tanzania have many small airstrips scattered around the countryside including in the national parks. These provide quick transfers between locations if you are willing or able to pay and don’t want the long and bumpy road trips. There are a variety of types that are used for these services and I shall show some others in upcoming posts. However, one type does dominate.
The Cessna Grand Caravan is everywhere in the region. It has the right size for many of the trips, it has sufficient capacity for luggage with the baggage pod beneath he fuselage, it is fine with the rough surface strips that are in most places and it is PT-6 powered so very reliable. We saw tons of them during the trip and also got to experience a flight on one. I was surprised to find it was a 1×2 configuration. I had assumed that they were 1×1 but not in this case. It got a lot of us in there but getting in and out was not an easy process. The aisle was minimal!
I have no idea how many Grand Caravans there are in use in rural Africa but I imagine that Cessna has delivered a ton of aircraft from Wichita to the region. I suspect that the best replacement is another Caravan. The Islander might once have been this sort of workhorse but the efficiency and reliability of the Caravan must be what has made it so ubiquitous.
For the first of my animal related posts from our trip to Kenya and Tanzania, I am going to go with the apex predator – the lions. When we saw our first lion, I was so excited. It was off in the distance that a bunch of lions from a pride were hanging out. A young cub was running around but everything was far away. However, this was just a taster. Before too long, we were right in amongst a pride of lions. They were youngsters one the whole and playing around. One was resting and it turned out to be nursing an injury.
From this point on, we just saw more and more lions. Sometimes they were far away but often they were very close. Usually they were doing nothing. Sleeping during the day is a regular occupation and hunting is something that they prefer to do at night. We came across a solo male (surprisingly close to the spot we had stopped for lunch) and he was quite injured after a battle of some sort. He could look either imposing or vulnerable depending on the moment.
We also came across mating pairs on a couple of occasions. One of these pairs was out on the grass on a sunny day with the light making the male look totally serene. Their lack of interest in us was hard to get used to. (Step out of the vehicle and things would change rapidly!). I liked getting shots of them sleeping too as they often looked like they were in uncomfortable positions. However, a quick opening of the eye would transform the shot.
It was easy to get a bit blasé about the lions after a while. We saw so many and in a variety of locations that it was easy to forget that these were lions for goodness sake! Don’t ever forget that. Now, as I look back through the shots, I am reminded of just how lucky I am and how amazing this was.
We undertook a big trip this year. Years of thinking about it but doing nothing were replaced with finally heading on a safari. We started and finished in Kenya and spent a good chunk of time in Tanzania too. This was a pretty photo heavy trip. I have pictures of wildlife, scenery, people, you name it. However, I suspect I would become rather unpopular if the blog for the next few months was nothing other than safari posts.
Consequently, I am going to try and moderate my use of those images in the coming weeks and months. There are definitely going to be some posts on various animals and scenes but, the goal is to try and not overdo this. I don’t want people rolling their eyes at yet another safari post. There will be some safari related aviation too, of course. In the meantime, here are a few shots from the trip to start the ball rolling. I will say, it was a truly amazing trip and one I am so glad we made.