Amboseli - African Spoonbill preening in the Marsh
African Spoonbill preening

Our visit to Amboseli was scheduled to take place in advance of the hosted safari in the Mara. It was a fact-finding visit first of all, but two of our Mara guests decided to come along too. We were due to spend three nights at Zebra Plains Amboseli because we were advised that was the optimum duration.

The flight from Nairobi departs around 7:30am and takes 45 minutes. Looking back at my files, we were photographing birds certainly less than half an hour after landing. The marsh area adjacent to the airstrip was busy with birds and in no time at all we had photographed 14 different species. It was around 90 minutes before we moved out of the marsh and almost immediately spotted our first Elephant.

The daily trek to the marsh for the Elephant herds was well underway, so we kept moving. We needed to be in position around the time we had landed to get the best shots; hence the plan for next day was set. Our next target had to be our other reason for visiting Amboseli, big tuskers. It wasn’t long before we had our first ever sighting of one either, the magnificent Craig.

Time was now getting on and we needed to motor to the camp in time for lunch. We were surprised at how close to Mount Kilimanjaro the camp is situated. The view from the public areas and above all, the guest tents, is directly at the mountain. We were captivated.

After lunch and once settled in our tent, we were anxious to get another game drive done. Being our first visit to Amboseli we were eager to get back out there. Hopefully, this time we would find the most famous big tusker, Tim.

After a short drive, we located another big tusker, this time it was Primo. At a nearby watering hole, there were Zebra, Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest and also Defassa Waterbuck. We carried on looking for Tim and found a Black-backed Jackal den beside the track.

It was mid-afternoon and as a result, the Elephant herds were heading back from the marsh. At this time of day, it was only possible to photograph rear views of the herds with Kilimanjaro in the shot, so the iconic picture would have to wait for another day. So would a sighting of Tim.

Our first full day meant an early start if we were to get pictures of the herds heading to the marsh. We made a quick visit to the watering hole, but only found Zebra drinking. So after a few quick shots we headed off to get in front of the Elephant herds on their daily trek.

Unfortunately, the summit of Kilimanjaro was completely shrouded in cloud, so no iconic shot today. But what followed was breathtaking. A whole two hours photographing large Elephant herds heading to the marsh, kicking up the dust as they went.

Amboseli - Elephant herd heading to the marsh
Heading to the Marsh

Once we had left this sighting, we headed off for a well-earned breakfast. On the way, we came across a troop of Yellow Baboon with a mum and endearing baby catching our attention.

After breakfast, taken in the marsh area, we took the opportunity to photograph birds. There appeared to be more around than there had been the previous day. We had particularly close sightings on Goliath and Squacco Herons, also African Spoonbills and Grey Crowned Cranes.

That took us right through to lunchtime and also saw us back into the area where we were likely to see Tim. It turned out we were in the right place, but it was late afternoon before we finally got lucky. What a magnificent animal, it was worth the wait and consequently we saw the day out in his company.

Rising at 5:30am on our final Amboseli day, as dawn broke Kilimanjaro was clear and boded well for the iconic shot. Naturally we headed straight for the prime location, but as we were driving, Kilimanjaro disappeared into the clouds. It was a pity, because the light was excellent and the results were even more impressive than the previous day.

Breakfast was taken at Observation Hill, and then followed by photographing a variety of mammals. Most notable among them were Hippos, Eastern White-bearded Wildebeest and Spotted Hyena. Bird-wise there were large numbers of Squacco Heron and a pair of African Fish Eagles.

Following a break for lunch, we decided to head back to ‘Tim territory’. We were running out of time and wanted more pictures of him. On the way, we passed a few solitary Elephants, but by 3pm we were in position. First of all, we spotted Craig, an impressive big tusker, but not the star we were after.

We spent an hour with him before we repositioned slightly to the watering hole. Suddenly a small group of Elephants approached and we were witness to some high jinx as more and more arrived. Then Craig appeared and the fun really started as he sprayed water from his trunk. It was highly entertaining, but again it wasn’t Tim.

At this point word reached us of Tim’s whereabouts and within ten minutes, we were with him. He wasn’t alone either, he had Primo for company. It was overcast when we arrived with them, but within ten more minutes we were bathed in evening sunlight.

What followed was probably the highlight of the three days as they moved around kicking up the dust. It was beautifully illuminated by the low light and created some wonderful images to end our stay in Amboseli.

Amboseli - Tim kicking up the dust in the late afternoon light
Tim kicking up the dust

That evening there was a rainstorm of almost biblical proportions that flooded parts of the camp. It made for a difficult transfer to the airstrip next morning. First our vehicle got stuck fast within 200m of the camp and we had to transfer to the second vehicle. It wasn’t long before that vehicle got stuck too, but thankfully we got it out. Even though we had left with plenty of time to get to the airstrip, it needed a white-knuckle ride to get us there on time. We made it, but then learned that the plane was delayed. Phew!

Footnote to this post

As I write this we learned a few days ago that Tim has passed away. He was 50 years old. It appears to be through natural causes, the post mortem revealed a twisted gut. Without that he could probably have lived another ten years. We’re so thankful we were able to see and photograph this wonderful Elephant.

Comment: 1

  • Tony (tickspics)
    February 14, 2020 7:24 pm

    Lovely write-up Ian – reads well.

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