Day three and we set off under overcast skies the next morning, undeterred by our lack of success in finding a wily old leopard (a young one would do) we’re still on the hunt for these magnificent creatures having had a couple of new leads. We speed, where the road will allow us, past areas we’ve already explored heading for Paradise Plains, an area of the Masai Mara delineated by the curving Mara River that runs alongside it. The area becomes boggier due in part to the proximity of the river and we have to choose our path carefully, reversing several times when our path becomes too treacherous to navigate. Hills, which have been but a distant shadow for most of our drives, are now within touching distance one one side of the river, and in what looks like the crater of an old volcano is one of the oldest lodges in the Mara, Serena Lodge which must have impressive views from its elevated aspect, of the plains laid out before it.
We’re heading, first, to a spot known to be the home to hundreds of nile crocodile and hippo. I’ve expressed a desire to see and photograph crocs in the Mara river having watched them star in a number of wildlife documentaries over the years. I’ve been up close to Salt Water Crocodiles in Australia and it’s always a thrill so the closer we get to the sheer banks skirting the river the higher I seem to be standing in our vehicle to try and catch a glimpse of one of these ancient beasts. There are a number of vehicles parked up, their inhabitants are out having breakfast whilst watching the goings on in the river. These goings on, as we find our own spot to park up, are activities in numerous distinct pods (or bloats if you prefer) of hippo, each ensuring that the others don’t encroach on their own space. What is immediately obvious is the lack of crocs, we’ve only spotted two so far, an impressively large one semi-submerged in the brown waters of the river and a smaller on, resting on the muddy banks, it’s back to us. We’ve arrived too late and these ancient reptiles have absorbed all the warmth they need and are now taking refuge in the deep waters of the Mara. I am more than a little disappointed.
Birds flit from tree to tree that line the Mara banks, Glossy Starlings hungrily take advantage of crumbs left by previously breakfasting safari groups, yellow and black weaver sing noisily from high up on top of various bushes, and then in front of me there’s a flash of green, ochre, yellow and black and my disappointment is immediately forgotten as I see my first ever Bee Eater.. in fact, this is a Little Bee Eater. It sits for a second and then is off; I’m hopeful that it will be back and set up my lens to point to the spot where it had just landed though without my tripod I’m having to rely on my beanbag and a steady hand to try and photograph this colourful bird. I try and call the rest of the party back, but they’re currently out of sight and then the bird is back, this time with a partner, and I snap away. This has more than made up for the lack of crocs.