Coming back from a trip like this and having to put together a trip report is quite difficult. So much happens and so many memories are made that it seems almost impossible to share them all in a single post – don’t worry, this wont be drawn out into a series of posts.
The extended Migration Safari is without a doubt the prime offering amongst our Great Migration safaris for no other reason but that it runs for 10 nights and 11 days rather than 6 nights and 7 days. The beauty of these extra couple of days is that it affords guests with an opportunity to spend more time in the field and more time to really just soak up the wildlife and cultural experience of one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth.
Gerry and I were incredibly fortunate to not only have a group of people who were clearly passionate about photography, but that were just as passionate about the wildlife experience.
That meant that we weren’t forced to continuously search for “exciting” photo opportunities and were able to really spend time at sightings. Almost without fail, spending time in what may have initially been an “average” sighting, ended up with some incredible moments and photo opportunities.
For example, stopping for a 2/10 visual of a leopard sleeping in a tree more than 60 meters away at mid day- nice but pretty average. Sitting with the animal for 10 minutes only to have the sighting interrupted by a large herd of topi and wildebeest crossing the Mara River with only 1 other vehicle in sight – magic! The fact that one of our vehicles hung around after the crossing and witnessed a small herd of about 20 buffalo cross the Mara River is a bit of a sore point but once again – magic!
Sitting and thinking about how to share as much of the experience with you all I thought an image a day (okay in some instances 2 images for the day) would be the way to go!
An early morning flight into the Mara saw us landing in the Mara Triangle just after 10am, from there it was off to our camp on the banks of the Mara River. The guests were led of by our amazing team of staff at the Wild Eye Mara Camp and after a light lunch, it was time to head out for our first afternoon drive. Our guides had already been in the Mara Triangle for more than a month by this stage and had a good understanding of where various animals had been seen and were hanging out.
With no wildebeest building up around Lookout hill, we headed straight out to a leopard who was sleeping in a tree before moving on to a pair of mating lions who were resting along one of the drainage lines in the triangle. We spent pretty much the entire afternoon watching these lions mate before heading back to camp enabling guests to get a variety of action, portrait and abstract shots under the belt.
Day 2 started off with a lot of excitement as we found a number of small groups of wildebeest along the banks of the Mara River. We sat and waited patiently for a potential crossing which was eventually disturbed by a group of 3 young spotted hyena who were playing around with a wildebeest leg on our side of the river – effectively adding to the stress levels of the herd on the other side and forcing them to turn back.
The number of wildebeest continued to grow as lines of wildebeest appeared on the horizon and made their way down to the river. Camp was just a 5 minute drive away but there was no way were going to risk missing out on getting a river crossing under the belt on just our second day of the safari. We made the call to have breakfast brought out to us as we watched the herds build on the river banks.
And then made the call to have lunch brought out to us.
Jokingly Gerry told of how in the previous week they had to abandon lunch at this very spot to rush down and photograph the crossing that they had spent the day watching build up. No sooner had we finished lunch before a cloud of dust signalled the start of a massive river crossing just 400m from where we had being eating.
Like the marching orcs of Mordor, streams of black wildebeest thundered down the steep banks of the Mara River, leaving a wake of dust in their path as they took the plunge into the crocodile infested waters. Pointing out patterns and moments to the guests as we worked together in attempt to capture what was playing out before our eyes, I was pleased to see both of the ladies in my vehicle take a moment to step away from their cameras and just take it all in.
After watching this crossing for about 30 minutes we dashed around to the peninsula where, after just 15 minutes, we were rewarded with a second even more dramatic river crossing with volumes of dust like I have never experienced. We could not have asked for more intense and dramatic river crossings on a migration safari!
The day ended with a short cloud burst and an evening photo session with two young male lions in the rain.
With two incredible crossings under the belt we left the southern section of the Mara Triangle behind and pushed up North to a region where the photogenic Balanites trees provide the perfect anchor for the backdrop of the Oloololo escarpment. Throw in an elephant shaking the tree to get to the fruits and some diffused light and our group was in heaven.
We saw a number of different lion prides this day and, on our return journey back to camp we spent a good twenty minutes watching two giraffe bulls size one another up in a delicate necking display.
Lions seemed to be the staple start of each and every day and as we headed towards the Tanzanian border we once again found our mating pair from day one – yip, you guessed it, they were still at it! After exploring a bit more of the northern section decided to follow-up on a report of two male cheetah seen near the Tanzanian border. This is where our team of guides came into their own, splitting up the 4 vehicles and driving a variety of the roads in the area, searching beneath every tree, they eventually delivered the goods – a subtle lift of a head revealed their position amongst grasses.
They were quite clearly sleeping and were not going anywhere in a hurry – and neither were we.
With a visibility of about 100m as a result of an approaching storm, it was pretty obvious as to what could be on the cards here.
Rain plus cheetah equals wet cheetah. Cheetahs aren’t comfortable when they are wet and, in an effort to stay comfortable in heavy rain, they will often sit up and shake their coats of the cold water. After a long wait, we eventually got what we were waiting for…
With the shots in the bag and feeling rather chilly, we decided to head back to camp where we enjoyed hot showers, hot chocolate and Amarula whilst watching a lioness feeding on a wildebeest she had killed on the river bank directly opposite from camp. It’s safe to say that the “big cat connoisseurs” in our group (you know who you are) were satisfied with what we had seen so far!
With time on our hands and the pressures of finding river crossings a thing of the past we decided to dedicate this morning to finding the female cheetah with 5 cubs that had been seen regularly on the opposite side of the river. Leaving the comfort of the Mara Triangle behind we crossed over the river into the Masai Mara National Reserve. Guests immediately commented on the state of the roads on this side compared to the Triangle – just one of the many major differences of being based in the Mara Triangle Conservancy.
Again, the guides split up, covering as much of the area as possible in search of the female and her cubs, eventually the call came in that she had been seen. We arrived to a flurry of activity – this female and her 5 (initially 6) cubs had a level of fame usually reserved for the likes of Hollywood actors. Perhaps fittingly, she performed rather nicely for our group shortly after we arrived at the sighting.
Not wanting to add to the vehicle pressure accompanying the female as she moved further and further from the roadside, we opted to enjoy our packed breakfast beneath the shade of a tree before slowly making our way back to the Camp for lunch.
Our return journey was interrupted by a sighting of lions on a hippo carcass which they must have killed earlier that day. Despite being the middle of the day, there was some great activity and photographic opportunities as the males chased females around the carcass and simultaneously defended their prize from a gallery of vultures and marabou storks.
Having captured and witnessed some incredible sightings, we decided to search for a group of Black Rhino which had been seen frequently during our previous weeks safari. It wasn’t long before we had found them and were able to get some decent images despite having to deal with some pretty harsh mid-morning light.
I am always blown away by how often these primitive beasts feed on forbes out in the open marshes of the Mara Triangle. It is so different compared to the thick bush that I am used to seeing them back home here in South Africa. Our guests shared the same sentiments and enjoyed spending a good hour with a group of 3 rhino feeding peacefully in the marsh.
After enjoying another packed breakfast we slowly made our way back to camp, enjoying a large herd of elephants drinking in the marsh, spending time photographing oxpeckers on the backs of a large herd of buffalo and a leopard resting in a tree – yes the same one I mentioned earlier.
On the right hand side of the vehicle was a sleeping leopard, on the left hand side was this…
Yip, in this sudden and dramatic crossing, we saw a Coke’s hartebeest, Topi and wildebeest cross the Mara River. This looks like an easy and shallow crossing point but the exit point is very steep and many of the animals weren’t able to make it out safely. This was a sobering reminder of how each and every attempt to cross thee river was a potential life-threatening situation for these animals. The crossing was short and intense and as I mentioned earlier, was followed by a small herd of buffalo making their way across at this very same point.
Getting back to camp fairly early and agreeing that there was not much more that could top this day, we chose to relax and enjoy an impromptu Lightroom session in the comfort of the dining tent.
Day 7 of our safari was all about lions and we headed to a particular drainage line where a pride had been hanging out for the past month. Yes, a month. You can check out some of the cubs that Penny and I photographed there in the week of 9-16 August. For some reason, this pride has literally not left this drainage line in the month that it took me to get back to the Mara. they were literally beneath the same tree when we found them!
Typical of lions they spent the vast majority of the day sleeping so we hung around and waited for them to become a bit more active and we were rewarded with some great poses by 2 of the youngsters that were with the pride. Later this afternoon the entire Mara was bathed in a warm orange glow and guests were able to photograph the youngsters in some magical light.
Despite finding more lions en-route to the Oloololo escarpment, the highlight of day 8 was enjoying a quiet breakfast surrounded by thousands upon thousands of wildebeest and zebra that were grazing the lush green grasses at the base of the escarpment.
The herds extended as far as the eye could see and quite literally took our breath away.
We spent the afternoon searching the area around camp for any activity and were rewarded with a lone lioness perched upon a termite mound. We sat with her for a good half an hour waiting for the golden light before darting back to a Balanites tree where we had seen a lappet-faced vulture the previous evening.
Although we just missed the shot the night before we were all in position to capture a simple yet elegant sunset made even more interesting by the silhouette of one of Africa’s largest vulture species.
If you guessed that the day would begin with a lion sighting then you are correct. But today was to be different.
I wrote about how important it is to always look around you when you’re in the field and this morning showed exactly why. We were photographing backlight zebra when all of a sudden two beautiful male lions popped out of nowhere. We spent the next 20 minutes moving downhill from them anticipating their movements towards a lager where we had seen them a couple of days earlier.
Getting ahead of them and below them allowed us to get some great images with soft morning light and clear blue skies as our background – for me this was on of the highlights of the trip as it really showed how having a photographic guide can help you to anticipate animal behaviour and get great images!
As if this wasn’t already good enough our group would watch this impressive male take down a wildebeest all by himself. In a tactical move by our guides who had anticipated the kill, our vehicles all made a decision to hang back and not interfere with the sighting by getting in-between the lion and its prey. Our guests once again showed just how much they appreciated the wildlife experience by commending our team of local safari guides for having this consideration for the wildlife and not simply rushing in and jeopardising the lions chances of success.
We were rewarded by being able to spend the next hour watching as the two males fed before breaking away for a breakfast of our own.
It was during this breakfast that our local guide Tim was handed one of our guests cameras to try his hand at photographing with a DSLR (you can check out more about Tim and his passion for photography in this post by Gerry) on vultures who were fighting around a nearby wildebeest carcass.
En-route back to camp we took a slow drive along the banks of the Mara River where the Kiboko female Leopard who we had seen earlier in the week revealed herself for a brief moment.
The afternoon drive was pretty quiet but again, photo opportunities were all around us and we made the most of the good light on a Kori Bustard feeding in the grasslands near the Tanzanian Border.
The second last day of our safaris are always a special and emotional one as we near the end of the trip. By now guests have experienced just how special the Mara is and, as is always important on a trip of this nature, we like to give people some time to reflect and digest what they have seen and experienced. And there is no better way to do this than to enjoy a breakfast overlooking the plains of the Mara triangle from the edge of the Oloololo escarpment.
After enjoying a sumptuous breakfast we slowly made our way back to camp, stopping only to watch a massive crocodile make a number of failed attempts and catching a zebra who was quenching it’s thirst along the banks of the Mara River.
We witnessed two attempts and, amazingly, the Zebra’s need to drink seemed to override the fact that beneath the muddy waters lay a hungry, agile beast of a crocodile. I have no doubt that this behemoth eventually succeeded…
A short afternoon drive was followed by sundowners and some image processing before guests settled in around the flames of the campfire ahead of the cultural evening hosted by our Maasai staff. There are many features of our safaris which make them unique but this has to be one of my favourites.
This is the real deal. Not a show put on for guests but a conversation and experience driven by the guests. The Maasai are an incredible people and being able to sit around the fire and ask them questions about their culture and lifestyle before sharing in a meal prepared in the traditional way by them is something that I look forward to on each of the trips I host.
Whilst the Kenya Airways flight timetable may seem a bit crazy to some, this is where you really reap the benefits of the midnight flight out of JHB and the evening flight out of Nairobi. We literally spent the whole of the last day out in the field before catching our internal flight back to Nairobi at 16:15.
This means that there is no rushing around on the last day and guests are still able to enjoy a full morning drive and make the most of the last morning of golden light in the Masai Mara.
And it’s a good thing that we were able to do this as we had yet another incredible lion sighting before enjoying breakfast beneath a MASSIVE fig tree near the Tanzanian border.
Looking back and reading this post again I wish I could include more of the magical moments that we enjoyed. Remember that this is just from my perspective and is by no means a comprehensive report of what we saw or experienced. Rather than try to cover everything I’ve shared some of the highlights and I’m going to be asking our guests to share their highlights in the comments section below.
Gerry and I will also be sharing a video blog of the trip report and hopefully be able to put together a guest gallery to share with you in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are some of the comments we received from our guest feedback forms:
We feel this was one of our best trips ever (we’ve had many). The chemistry of this particular group was excellent, and the opportunity to spend long periods at interesting events was especially rewarding. The accommodation and food were simple but more than adequate and enhanced the bush experience. The staff were delightful and helpful in every way. We were genuinely sorry to leave at the end of the trip.
You guys were amazing! After 50 yrs of photography, I felt I still knew nothing! I wish there had been a bit more time for immediate photo review so that I could more effectively put new ideas into practice, but I realise its difficult in the circumstances. As I review my pics now, I see errors I made (which is great) but wish I could have corrected earlier. Looking forward to coming and chatting. Thank for sharing your knowledge!
I really reached a stage where I do not just want to take another photo of an animal. Both of you gave me so much more perspective into different aspects of photographing which I can explore further. Thank you for your eagerness to share your knowledge.
What an experience! With the abundance of animals in the most idyllic setting in the world, it produced ample photographic opportunities – a trip to remember and to be recommended. Under the excellent guidance of Andrew and Gerry, with very competent staff, every moment was to be treasured and worth every cent.
WOW WOW WOW, I was expecting something totally different, I suppose some hovel in the bush. We are there for the animals and experience but my word the accommodation and quality of food was just fantastic, complete with a flushing loo. Loved the vehicles modified for photography and the staff just rocked my world for 11 days, back again next year, I am in love with the Mara. Wildboys you have changed my world for the better and it is showing in my Images, much love.
In closing, I want to thank everyone who joined us for making this a truly memorable safari in which great images were captured, incredible memories made, and friendships forged.
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