Some of the more common skin conditions we see in dogs and cats at the Long Beach Animal Hospital
We went back to Mongolia in June of 2016 to continue the filming of our documentary called “The Twelfth Eagle”. The two main reasons we went back in the summer were to watch Ardak release his current eagle of 6 years for good, and watch him capture a new golden eagle chick to train.
The capital, Ulan Bataar, at 70 degrees F in the summer is much better than -20 degrees F in the winter!
There were three of us this time- Dr. Kennedy, Dr. Palazzolo, and Mary. Mary was our assistant photographer, and her main job was backing up our video and pictures each day, flying the drone (nicknamed Quasi), and lugging all our camera equipment half way around the world.
An early morning rise to get the right sun for photography
Just like on our winter trip, the eagle doesn’t care about our script, so filming is best described as seat-of-the-pants. When an unplanned video opportunity presented itself there was no time to grab a tripod, and I used the nearest available body.
This is Bota (it means baby camel in Kazakh), our assistant guide and part time tripod
The Mongolian countryside was just as beautiful in the summer as in the winter. Those blue skies go on and on. For this summer trip we will be in the high mountains, when the rains bring green pastures and plentiful grass for livestock grazing. We spent most of our time at between 7,000- 8,000 feet.
Even though it is June, there is still plenty of snow in the mountains
Here is the dirt road we took to Ardak’s summer home
This is the same road in the winter, when the water in the river spilled over onto the road and froze
Instead of crossing frozen river-highways we crossed rapidly flowing streams.
You need to pay attention to where you are sitting when taking these photos if you don’t want to spend the rest of your day in wet jeans.
This is horse country, and you will see plenty of them driving to Ardak’s summer home
They belong to the nomads who ride them daily
This horse will be in our documentary movie
After 4 days of travel from California we made it to Ardak’s summer home. We had not seen him or communicated with him for 4 months, so there was plenty of catching up to do regarding our documentary and his eagles.
Ardak, with eagle attached to his arm of course, was waiting for us upon arrival
He celebrated our return by immediately lighting up!
Even though the eagles do not hunt in the summer anywhere near as much as the winter, his eagle was keen to hunt
The lush grasses from the summer rains and almost constant sun gives the livestock plenty of food to fatten up for the brutal winter. It is in these high country valleys that the nomads spend their summer.
An early morning birds eye view of the area
The Yaks graze freely in the unlimited grasses
With all that nutritious grass the Yaks and cows produce plenty of milk
With the abundance of milk they would make some of their winter food.
This is their cheese drying on a rack, the cheese called kurt that we ate during our winter trip
I felt like I was on a farm with all the baby animals like this goat
We stayed in a Ger, the smaller cousin of a Yurt. There was plenty of room for the three of us, with camera equipment, a table for food, and stove for those cold mountain nights. Ardak, his family, Bek, and the cooks stayed in a Yurt, a bigger and more ornate version of a Ger. The Ger was warm and cozy, and once we got a few of the leaks plugged, we stayed nice and dry for the few days it rained.
At this elevation the nights were nippy. A wood burning stove in our Ger kept us warm.
Many nights were spent playing cards. It is quite the challenge to teach cards to people that are not card players (and falling asleep after a very long day).
We even had our own watch cat on duty to protect us
Our day started early, and we had the same wonderful cooks as last time. It was so nice to eat breakfast outside with that scenery and sunshine.
The cat loved to join us for breakfast
As a matter of fact, that lazy cat loved to join us wherever we were
We climbed a steep hill to get mobile WiFi at Ardak’s summer home. No luck this time. When we went into town during a rainy day we did get it. It was slow going, but when it finally kicked in it worked well. We were even able to Facetime with the folks back home- amazing!
No reception, was not worth the climb up
We brought a DJI Phantom 4 drone with us for our aerial video footage. This inexpensive and sophisticated piece of equipment has revolutionized documentary film making, allowing talented people the ability to make outstanding movies that are a fraction of the cost of the big guys. We want our documentary video to be professional, so we flew in a special drone pilot from Hollyweird.
She rode in from the airport on her horse , and got right to work testing the drone (affectionately named Quasi).
All systems were go, so it was time to film something
When Quasi was warmed up and we were acclimated to our new digs we went looking for the eagle nest and chicks. Watching Ardak obtain a new chick is the primary reason we came in June. Ardak knew of a nest with chicks, and had been watching the nest for several weeks prior to our arrival.
We started our walk by following this stream
We followed the stream uphill for quite a while. We had to cross the stream to get to the area of the eagle nest. While crossing this stream with slippery rocks we had to keep a close eye on a few people in our party.
Even though there was one bruised butt, Quasi was not harmed in this fall, and thats all that matters, bruised ego not withstanding!
After we crossed the stream the walk became even steeper
We crossed several snow banks, giving us an idea of how high we were and why we were huffing and puffing
We took a break on the way up because our drone pilot needed to practice her snow angels
Ardak knew where the nest was, so we used Quasi to get a “birds eye view” of any chicks in the nest.
All we saw was one egg and no chicks. This is not good news.
Ardak confirmed our finding by climbing up and looking for himself
Oops, no chicks. That’s a big problem! A large part of the reason we went in the summer was to watch Ardak take a chick from the nest as his new eagle to train for the next 6 years. He thinks the parents moved the chicks to some new nest in the mountains, and left this egg. Didn’t know eagles could do that, so I am not sure we lost something in the translation.
Its time for plan B, whatever that is
While we were deciding what to do next we did some more filming of Ardak and the eagle he would soon release
We used the Canon C-100 Mark II video camera
We also used the Canon 1 DX Mark II still and video camera. This camera initially was used for still photography to freeze the eagle in flight.
With all the familiarity of constant time around the eagle, and Ardak’s casual approach due to his extensive experience with this eagle, it is easy to assume the eagle is just like a household pet. We had a vivid reminder that this is not the case. Bota was pulling a rabbit to train the eagle while we were filming. For some reason, hard to know why, and after numerous successful training runs, the eagle grabbed Bota and took her down.
Fortunately the eagle did not hurt Bota. Ardak yelled at her to sit still as he raced towards her on his horse.
He was there in no time and Bota was no worse for wear, just a bit shaken up like the rest of us
You can see the sequence in this video
We got up real early and took a few sunrise photos
We warmed up Quasi and got some nice shots of Ardak working with the eagle while riding his horse. The eagle did great with the drone flying right next to it.
There were many nomad families living in the mountain valley, so were invited to several “five finger ” feasts. This is their version of a backyard barbecue. We experienced this several times on our February trip. It was more enjoyable in the summer with the beautiful weather and with the nomads more relaxed.
They slaughtered one of their sheep for the feast. They conduct a special ceremony and prayer prior to the slaughter in honor of the sheep giving them sustenance.
The sheep is then prepared for a feast the following day for several families. As part of the feast they cook their version of pasta, which is like a big dumpling. While the dumpling is cooked the mutton is in a container below it being boiled.
A little cinnamon, and lots of butter, and they could have easily passed for Cinnabons!
Before the feast everyone drinks a tea and milk combination and snacks on their hard cheese
Even the kids drink the tea and milk
You never know who is going to crash a party when there is free food!
Before any food is eaten, another thank you is given. The eldest person present, who is the man with the red hat on the far left, is the first to cut a piece of mutton.
Once he takes the first piece everyone digs in
These ladies look much older than they are. This is due to the fact they are outside and exposed to abundant sunshine for almost all of their lives, making their skin age prematurely.
The kids are quite photogenic
We got them all to sit still long enough for this shot
A final toast to a good meal and a nice get-together
To help pass the time while Ardak looked for the eagle chicks at another nest he knew of, we had some fun with Ardak’s daughter and the young cooks. They work hard and are always behind the scenes, so it was nice to make them feel special.
We pretended Ardak’s daughter was a director, directing her dad on a script that will be in the documentary
She had no idea what this sign said or meant
She did enjoy bossing the cooks around for a few minutes though
With a little bit of coaxing she got the job done!
She was a tough taskmaster, and made us look at the video every night before we could go to bed
My mom made hats again
This time it was put on a 3 week old
While we were doing all this filming (and eating) Ardak’s son Alpus was searching an area of known eagle activity according to Ardak. Alpus rode his vintage Chinese motorcycle (it has no neutral gear, you need to keep the clutch in for neutral) around looking for it. It is a clunker for sure.
I took it for a short ride, and decided it was best not to go too far, so I parked it against the Ger and got away while I still could
I don’t know how he did it, but Alpus found a nest on this mountainside a few miles away from our Ger
The eagle nest is in the circle. Can you see it?
Our director loaded up the van and off we went with Quasi to see if there were any chicks before we climbed up the very steep slope to the nest
Conditions were windy so we didn’t dare get the drone too close to the cliff the nest was perched on
An adult eagle was present, so we assumed the chicks were there
This picture gives you perspective on the eagle nest circled on the right, and where we did most of our filming at the circle on the left 50 yards away
This mountain is longer, steeper and more precarious than is apparent on the above photo. We carried lots of camera equipment on the 30 minute hike to the top almost every afternoon once the nest was discovered.
While I trudged along…..
The guides would patiently wait for me at the top. They were mountain goats, and carried most of the heavy camera equipment.
We set up multiple cameras, and moved our locations several times to get the best vantage point based on cover and the changing afternoon light.
The C-100 Mark II video camera with 400mm lens, the 7D Mark II with 70-200 lens, a walkie talkie and swarvoski binoculars
At another vantage point we used the 400mm and 500mm lenses
The 500mm lens stable on a rock outcrop
Conditions we usually quite windy. This made filming problematic with our extreme telephoto lenses.
The adult eagle would watch us with interest, and then eventually fly away. This was our chance to approach the nest.
Golden eagle parent leaving the nest
We peeled our eyes with our binoculars while the adults were gone so we would not be at the nest when they returned. Our guides have various and interesting ways to use the binoculars
Some liked the prone position
Bek held them vertical and used one eye only
Our ground crew 1/4 mile away was supposed to stay in touch with us and use the walkie talkies to give us an update on the eagles from their different vantage point.
Ardak kept calling them, and could not figure out why they did not answer?
We pulled out the binoculars and found out why- they were fast asleep!
Ardak went first to check on the chicks and determine which one was the female, the one he would eventually take
He demonstrated what he would do a few months later when the 3 week old chicks were old enough for him to take
Video of Ardak demonstrating how he will remove the chick
After Ardak went we all went there to see the chicks up close and personal
While some of us were at the nest the rest of us were scanning the skies for the return of the adults. We learned how to identify them from far away and we alerted those at the nest to get back in plenty of time.
Before they would land they would circle the nest many times to make sure it was safe
Here she is returning to the nest in slow motion
After we left Ardak and Bek went back to the nest several times to make sure everything was ok.
This is the smaller of the two chicks 2 months later
The chick has grown substantially over the last 2 months
Back at the fort Ardak prepares to release his eagle of 6 years now that he knows where he will obtain his new chick. He releases the eagle at this time in her life so she has many years to find a mate and produce offspring. Other nomads keep them longer. She is well trained and will survive well on her own.
He gives her a full meal before releasing her so she has a good start on her new life
Her release was very unceremonious. Ardak took her to the hillside and just let her go.
She took off like usual
She flew away as he rode back to his Yurt
She landed on a rock and looked at him for a while, and then just flew away to her new life
Ardak has another adult eagle he will be using to hunt with and also to train the new chick. She will now get all of his attention and will become an accomplished hunter in a short time.
Here she is on the alert and keen to hunt
Everyone did a great job, so as a treat I brought out the chocolate covered almonds from Trader Joe’s I had been hiding until our last night. The nomads liked them, although I don’t think they quite understood when we tried to explain they were from Belgium.
The managers at Trader Joe’s back home got a kick out of this picture
After a final night of celebration with our chocolate almonds it was time to say good bye to these very hospitable and warm people. We will miss them, and hope to go back!
Ardak and Bek know their stuff and cannot do enough for you. I will be going back, probably in the summer, in the near future. You are welcome to join my group, even if you are not a photographer. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
To say it was cold was an understatement. The early mornings, when the natural light was good for our photography, hovered around -20 F. Thank goodness there was no wind and the sun was out to help warm us up.
Mornings were so cold that glasses were frosted and not usable
Ardak’s horse had some frost also
I dressed in 5 layers on top and 4 on the bottom. The boots I purchased in town worked great.
I filmed the full moon one evening, and it was just as cold as the morning
My breath at minus -20 F illuminated by my headlamp
While filming the moon my tripod froze to the lens base, and I had to bring it inside to thaw out so that I could take the lens off
Driving out to our filming spot each morning was just magical with the clear skies, snow, and beautiful mountains. The morning views made the cold more bearable.
The setting moon
It took lots of equipment and peeps to get just some of the footage we need for the movie. We are going back in June, when Ardak might release his current eagle forever, and obtain a new one. Will show those pictures when we return.
Setup prior to filming
How we obtained some of our video and photos
We used a GoPro for some of our video. Its light weight and small size allowed us to mount it where needed.
Sometimes we mounted it on Ardak’s horse
It took a little ingenuity and trial and error to get the GoPro to work when mounted on the eagle.
Click on the picture below to see the result of our efforts
Action shots of golden eagles do not come easily. They don’t feel obliged to follow the script for our movie most times, so filming them can be seat-of-the-pants. My experience with wildlife photography in general was a big help. The biggest help was Ardak, the master eagle falconer we stayed with. Without his significant help and cooperation, along with Bek and his assistant guide Jupar, we we not have obtained any pictures or footage for our movie.
Our two great assistants in action.
Oops, wrong photo, sorry about that!
Bek up early, making sure all of our equipment was in the car and we were ready to find Ardak. That is the fox that Ardak killed one day prior to be used for filming and to train the eagle.
Bek helping put the GoPro on the eagle
Bek being the decoy to get our proper angle for filming. You can see the GoPro on the eagle’s back.
Bek helping get some shots when I was busy getting video footage
Jupar helping set up the tripod
Jupar helping with the eagle at the end of the day’s shoot
Bek and Jupar helping film an interview with Ardak in his house
Once we identified the place to film by the angle of the sun (all pictures and video for the movie are with natural light) and Ardak’s input, he let the eagle loose.
Before it was released the eagle would chirp excitedly knowing it would be hunting
The following set of photos give you an idea of how the eagle approaches its prey. Enjoy!
Slow motion video of Ardak releasing his eagle as it flies past us
We put a GoPro on the eagle’s back and obtained some great footage for the documentary
Flying into a rabbit
Soaring after a rabbit
None of this would have happened without the master eagle falconer named Ardak. Click on his picture below to learn more about him.
Ardak’s skills were taught by his father, a tradition that goes back thousands of years. The female eagle lives with him literally, and he takes it out almost every day. It is a major commitment of time for a nomad that has grazing livestock to attend to.
Our first view of his eagle when we first arrived and it was outside sunning
The neighbor has an eagle also, and they would both be outside at times
The eagle lives in the house with Ardak and his family. It sits there calmly with all the action of cooking and visitors going on around it
The eagle knows when it is time to eat though!
Ardak mixes rabbit meat with water before feeding
Eagle dinner time!
The eagle is a voracious eater
We had a chance to get up close and personal
The eagle is used to hunt rabbits and fox. To be able to film it in the actual hunt for a rabbit is difficult due to the small size of the rabbit, the distance, and speeds involved. We did most of our photography with a rabbit and fox that were recently killed by Ardak for the pelts and meat like he does routinely. He saved them as training for the eagle, and we used them in our filming.
Ardak would ride off with the eagle in the morning to a place that most likely would have rabbits or foxes to hunt. We would leave early in the morning for good photography light. He went first on horseback, and we would drive ahead to set up our filming.
We would start early in the very cold morning since we were using natural light and the best light is when the sun is rising or just before setting
Off he would ride to our pre-arranged rendezvous point
Ardak would climb to a good vantage point and scan for rabbits or foxes. He used some very old binoculars, but he had eagle eyes (excuse the pun), and nothing would escape his gaze.
When he first arrived to his vantage point he would wait for us
The eagle would be anxious to hunt
He would scan for several minutes at a time
When he found a rabbit he would shoot it and bring it back to feed and help train the eagle. I have no idea how he shot this rabbit using a very old 22 caliber rifle with iron sights.
Ardak was very cooperative, and would repeat any action so that we got the footage we needed. It gave us the opportunity to get some good still shots and some great footage of the eagle in flight.
Click on the photo below to see our page of the eagle in action
We filmed under some pretty challenging conditions. Click on the picture below to see what it was like.
Dr. Palazzolo and Dr. Kennedy went to Mongolia in February of 2016, when it was bitterly cold, in order to watch a master falconer use his golden eagle to hunt foxes and rabbits. It was a preliminary trip for an indie movie we are making on the relationship between a Kazakh nomad and his golden eagle.
We stayed with a nomad (and his family, including eagle) named Ardak
We had a wonderful time with Ardak and his family, and can’t wait to go back!
We are going back in June of 2016 to continue filming (we are bringing a DJI Phantom 4 aerial drone this time). After the June trip we are going back again for the eagle festival in October. When we return we will start editing the documentary.
Many nomads congregate in early October at the eagle festival to reinforce their unique bond, celebrate their culture, keep this tradition going, and put on a show for visitors
Dr. Kennedy went there in the fall of 2015 for preliminary work and to lay the groundwork for our video work in February of 2016. She made a connection with a great travel company called Back -to -Bek Travel (http://www.backtobektravel.com) run by a Kazakh named Bek that speaks fluent English and sets up tours. A trip to Mongolia with him is highly recommended, especially for the eagle festival in October.
Dr. Kennedy knows how to ride a horse, so Ardak let her ride along when they took the eagle out hunting
When I first mentioned to family and friend we were going to Mongolia the response was never lukewarm. Most people asked “are you crazy”? A small percent said “I would love to go”!
When I called my mom and told her I was going to Mongolia, and for her to start knitting hats for the kids we would encounter, she asked “are you crazy”?
Before we begin, let’s go over some anatomy and see where Mongolia is on the big map. It’s between Russia and China. There is no more Outer Mongolia. What used to be called Outer Mongolia is now just called Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is the part of China that is just below the Mongolian border.
We spent most of our time in far western Mongolia, which is the land of the semi-nomadic people called Kazakhs. Their possessions are few, and usually consists of their horses and livestock (and of course, their golden eagles).
We flew from South Korea to Ulaanbatar (large red circle on right), then flew to far western Mongolia, to a town called Olgi (smaller red circle on left). After spending the night in Olgi we drove 5 hours south to Altai, marked as X on the map below. It is here we stayed with Ardak and did our filming.
Bek will do anything to make your trip a success. In this short video he mentions this in regard to getting the footage we wanted for our documentary. It was taken during a birthday celebration for Dr. Kennedy as we were toasting to her health with vodka.
Wildlife documentaries are unscripted, and take hundreds of hours filming to produce a 2 hour movie. Golden eagles don’t tend to know their lines all that well, so patience is the most important piece of equipment to pack into your bags.
Before we left we worked on a script for the documentary in order to give us an idea of the video we needed. Dr. Kennedy has trained in this area at UCLA’s film school, and with the help of a professional editor, we had a framework on what we needed to film
By the time we came back from the February 2016 trip we threw half the script out the window and went to plan B. After we return with footage from the June, 2016 (woohoo, it will be warmer then) we will probably be at plan C. When we finally get down to editing its probably plan D. Such is the life of a wildlife documentary.
We took lots of camera equipment and cold weather gear. The cameras and lenses consisted of the following Canon gear:
In addition we had 3 tripods, lots of batteries, two computers, and several external hard drives. Now all we had to do was to figure out how to get all the camera gear, clothes, presents, (and cheerios) to fit into our bags.
My living room several days before our trip. The pictures speak for themselves.
We were able to stuff all of this into our 8 pieces of luggage.
The airport in Seoul, Korea is called Incheon. Like many Asian airports, it is large, busy, spotless, and beautiful. There are people in the restrooms that spend their day cleaning from one end to the other, back and forth.
On one signboard, for a 2 hour period of time, departures only, there were 150 flights from the main terminal. This gives you and idea of how busy these Asian airports are.
As we walked to our gate we passed a classic music concert in the airport
After a long layover at Incheon, and another 4 hour flight, we landed at Chinggis Khaan International airport in Ulan Bataar. Notice how they spell what we could call Genghis Khan.
Its not quite the same thing as the airport in Seoul
The temp when we landed (yes, that is in F). Ulan Bataar is one of the coldest cities in the world.
We stayed at a hostel called the Golden Gobi. It is a meeting place from travelers all over the world. It cost $28 per night for two people. Most everything in Mongolia is inexpensive compared to other countries.
It came as a nice surprise that the Ritz-Carlton had a hotel in Ulan Bataar
The proprietors were friendly, it was clean, and most important, the heater worked
We decided to eat authentic Mongolian food our first night, so off we went in search of local eats. We bundled up and walked the streets until we found a restaurant that fit the bill for authenticity- Round Table Pizza!
After the long time it took to get here a little comfort food from back home seemed like a better idea than authentic
This is your first chance to practice your Mongolian
After a glamorous night at the Ritz it was off to the airport again for our 4 hour flight west to Olgi in far western Mongolia. It was a turbo prop filled with people.
On this flight we had a chance to view the landscape that would be our home for over a week
When you land at Olgi you get your bags while they are still outside
As you can see by the size of this police station, Olgi is not one of the world’s larger cities
At Olgi we met Bek and his assistant Jupar, purchased some winter boots (for $60), and had lunch. After lunch it was time to go over camera equipment with the guides. Dr. K would be spending her time with the GoPro, I would be splitting my time with the still cameras and the Canon C-100 Mark II video camera. We needed the guides to help take still shots to make sure we had all the camera angles we needed of the eagle while on Ardak’s horse and in flight.
Bek and Jupar were fast learners, and soon were able to put the equipment together and mount the gear on a tripod
Off we went to teach them how to use all this stuff we brought. First we started on static objects like people, then moving objects, then finally we used a surrogate eagle to simulate what they would be shooting at Ardak’s.
Japar and Bek, our two budding photographers, in their Nat Geo poses
An example of one of their shots on static subjects. You felt like you were in Russia with the way the people looked
We then moved to a moving object and they did great. Notice how bundled up the people need to be in this below zero weather.
Once they had their moving shot skills down pat we moved on to our practice eagle shots (they did not pay this guy enough to run around pretending he was an eagle). I really only did it to keep warm, but I never told them that.
We took Bek, Jupar, and his family to dinner that night. This dinner was our first exposure to how cute and well behaved the children were in Mongolia. We found all the kids, including the kids of the nomads, to be well adjusted and happy.
The next day we drove 5 hours south to Altai where Ardak’s winter house was located and our home for the next week. It was Dr. P, Dr. K, Bek, Jupar, and Bek’s two nieces, who would be our cooks, for the next week.
We loaded up Bek’s magic bus with Jupar and the two cooks inside, along with our food and hay for Ardak’s lifestock
Bek, Dr. P, and Dr. K jumped into Bek’s Russian made Patriot SUV
Off we went through the beautiful Mongolian countryside. These low res pictures for the web do not do justice to the scenery. The sky was this blue throughout our trip.
We encountered groups of camels along the way. They are all part of a herd that is owned by a nomad.
Do you know what two flavors camels come in?
We also encountered nomad families moving their meager belongings to the high country
Their calf was in the bed of this old Russian truck
Satellite dish on top
Grandpa and grandma were in the front seat
Along the way to Ardak’s we stopped at the house of a master falconer named Mana. Dr. K stayed with him in October of 2015, and she wanted to say hi to him and bring him gifts and pictures she took during that trip. We were guests for lunch.
The porch in front of Mana’s house
Mana and his wife were great hosts and put out a big spread for us
Their grandkids were super cute
This was our first opportunity to see a golden eagle. This one was hanging out in the kitchen.
Mana’s son fired up the stove and the feast began
When the food came out Bek explained what we were eating.
Khurt is hard cheese
They mix cow and yak milk with their tea
Everyone joined in the feast and the stories started. Bek interpreted everything perfectly since his english is excellent (he learned a few new slang words from us), and he is intimately familiar with the nomads.
They were thrilled to see themselves in the pictures that Dr. K brought them
They appreciated the presents we brought them
And loved the hats my mom made for the children
They gave us presents in return
They even gave us eagle feathers. These feathers are illegal to bring back into the U. S.
After lunch we took some pictures with the eagles and hawks (the bird on the left is actually a buzzard).
We drove a few more hours, past a Mongolian army checkpoint, through the town of Altai, and finally to Ardak’s.
No pictures are allowed at military checkpoints, so don’t look at these
The town of Altai. We felt like we were in Siberia.
Rush hour traffic in Altai
When the Lakers are in town this is where they play
After 5 days of travel from the U.S. we finally made it to Ardak’s. These nomads are master horsemen, and their lives revolve around their livestock. In the winter they set up a permanent home with an area for the livestock. In summer they move and go into the high country to let their cattle, yaks, goats, and sheep, graze.
Ardak’s saddle just outside his house
The livestock pen where the animals spend the night, protecting them from the elements and also the wolves
This is a yak. They can tolerate the extreme cold better than a cow, but produce less milk.
The cows are given blankets to help them get through the cold nights. To get the best of both worlds they breed the yaks and cows.
Ardak’s family welcomed us like old friends. The food never stopped, they could not do enough for us, and the kids were entertaining.
Our first encounter with Ardak
Ardak with his daughter
His daughter was our entertainment for the week with her nonstop curiosity about us
Ardak’s wife and Bek’s nieces started the cooking as soon as we got there, and kept us well fed at all times. We ate traditional food at times, ate the American fare that Bek brought for us, and nibbled on our own snacks brought from the U. S. (usually that meant Cheerios and dried mangoes).
The ladies cooked up dumplings made with lamb and cow meat
A typical breakfast was an omelette, bread, and of course, cheerios
A typical lunch was fresh vegetable soup with some meat
The table at the room we stayed in was never devoid of food and drink
Dr. K had a birthday while there, so they made a special birthday cake. Can you guess the ingredients?
After they sang happy birthday we had a toast. The nomads are not drinkers, and only drink on special occasions. The heavy Russian influence in the area means we will be toasting with vodka.
All this time the Ardak’s eagle waited in the kitchen for her turn to eat. Click on her picture below and you will learn much about her and see just a few of our thousands of pictures and video of her hunting with Ardak for our documentary.
In September of 2005 Dr. P joined an Earthwatch group headed by Dr. Bruce Patterson of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. His team helped gather research data on the maneless lions of Tsavo National Park in Kenya. These lions are the descendants of the lions that killed 140 railway workers in Kenya in 1891.
Tsavo is a huge National Park in Southeast Kenya made up of two segments, Tsavo East and Tsavo West. Technically, our research poject was located in a private reserve called Taita Ranch located in between the two Tsavo segments.
To get to Africa from the U. S. most airlines connect through a European city. Dr. P used British Airways through London on a 10 hour flight landing at Heathrow airport. Heathrow is mammoth, and is truly an international airport. You will see airplanes from all over, especially Asia and the Middle East.
After an overnight in London there is an 8 hour flight to Nairobi. Upon arrival in Nairobi at 9 PM we went directly to the Fairview Hotel. It goes back to the colonial times and is quaint and comfortable. Security is an ever-present part of life in Nairobi.
The next morning you join your Earthwatch group for the 7 hour car ride down the Mombassa Highway to Satao Camp at Tsavo. This ride is probably more dangerous than being in the bush with the wildlife. The road is poorly maintained in most areas, the traffic is bogged down by the number of trucks going to and from Mombassa, and there are overturned trucks and problems all along the highway. It was par for the course to drive on the shoulder as we passed an overturned truck or some other obstacle. The pollution from the trucks is not something we are used to.
Voila! After days of travel we finally made it to our camp called Satao. It is literally built on a rock outrcop, and offered a great view of the bush and a local waterhole. There were permanent tents, hot showers, and our own personal kitchen built into the rock.
We stayed on a vigorous schedule for our two week stay. The first week we observed lions and wildlife from 4 PM – 8 PM, then again from 10 PM – 2 AM. The second week we kept the 4 PM – 8 PM run, but in the evening we did a 3 AM – 8 AM run. Needless to say we were exhausted at the end of our stay (and we actually paid to go through this?).
So, every day at 4 PM we climbed into our open Land Rovers and bounced our way through the Africa bush until dark.
Everyone had a job to do for an hour, then we rotated to a new job. Here is Dr. P taking a break from his telemetry tracking of radio collared lions.
One morning after the 3 AM to 8 AM run, somebody went to Starbuck’s for our morning java fix. After a long day (or was it night?) in the bush we came back to nice hot meals, then off for a nap!
To keep the wildlife out of camp our security fence was some large tree trunks strung in front of our campsite. It was called “the psychological barrier” for the wildlife because it wouldn’t hold back much of anything. This is a view of the barrier in the daytime and on a beautiful night with the lights of the camp on the barrier. Luckily we had an armed guard on call all through the evening.
This is what we came for, the maneless lions of Tsavo! Since lions are mostly active at night in this area this is the first view you get of a lion. Our million candle power light reflects off an area in the back of the retina called the tapetum lucidum. It is this structure that enhances night vision for animals. A little flash added to the scene verifies it is a lion, but you could tell from the picture on the left of course, couldn’t you.
We have much more to show you about the camp and our research. If you follow this link you will see nocturnal Africa at its best, and learn how we observed and sedated lions while observing the African bush up close and personal. When you are finished come back here and we will continue on to the wildebeest migration.
After 2 weeks of hard labor (oops, I mean research) at Tsavo we took our last pictures and headed off to the Masai Mara to see the tail end of the wildebeest migration
We flew from Satao to the Mara, via Nairobi, on one of those bush planes you see in the movies
We never got a good view of Kiliminjaro from Satao camp. We made up for it on this flight.
We stayed at the Mara Bush camp at the far north end of the Masai Mara. It was a very comfortable tented camp with all the amenities and then some. This is the way to see Africa!
The permanent tents have hot bucket showers, flush toilets, and comfortable cots.
Our hats are off to the men that took care of us at this camp
The Masai were our camp guardians, and would escort you to your tent from the dining room each night
Paul and Gillian run the show and really know how to make you feel at home. They continually surprise you with their ambiance and class, and an occasional story or two. Hmm, I wonder if we really were eating what he told us it was.
A primary reason many people go here is to watch the wildebeest cross the treacherous Mara river as part of their annual migration. You never can predict when it will occur, so plan on spending several hours waiting, with numerous false alarms. Some people have elevated their waiting techinique to a fine art!
One day our big chance finally came. The wildebeest were congregating, the crocodiles were waiting, and our camera’s were ready (we even remembered to take the lens caps off)!
The congregation started milling around the water’s edge. Even the zebra were ready to go.
First to cross was a lone zebra mare
She made it all the way, right in front of a crocodile
She then turned around and started ninnying towards the other side
And believe it or not, after a few minutes she went back!
On the return trip she went much faster!
As it turns out, she had a foal that wouldn’t cross, so she stayed with the foal
While all of this was transpiring the wildebeests just stood and watched. Those darn wildebeests had no interest in crossing whatsoever. So, our big chance to watch the spectacle did not materialize. Guess this means we have to go back soon…..
Several prides make the Mara their home, so if you enjoy observing lion behavior you have found your spot. Here they are, doing what they do best.
There are cubs to entertain you
Males with beautiful manes
And females on the prowl
We have many more lion pictures, including mating lions….
The Masai are a fascinating people that live off the land. You will see them off in the distance tending their animals. Their primary possession is their cattle and goats. They live a very simple life in huts with their animals.
Almost everyone that goes to the Mara goes on a balloon ride. They leave very early in the morning to catch the currents.
We leave the Mara with a nice sunset over the plains