Trip Report: Great Migration Calving Safari

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon 10 Comments

We found ourselves winding our way up a steep pass, surrounded by what seemed to be a stunning almost evergreen forest. The Land Cruiser sang at its highest note in second gear as we approached the top of the ridge. What awaited us was something I had only dreamed of, a true bucket-list moment indeed.

All of a sudden there it was.

Sprawled out in front of us in all its known wonder and glory lay one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the Ngorongoro Crater. It was even more beautiful that what I could ever have imagined. The sheer size of the crater from our rim-side viewpoint was astounding, breathtaking and jaw-dropping, all at once!

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

Our  journey started from Kilimanjaro Airport where we were met by our friendly host & guide for the remainder of the 6 night Wild Eye Great Migration Safari.

We travelled through the bustling Arusha, looped around Lake Manyara and got our first glimpse into the heart of the Ngorongoro Crater.

The crater was only the half-way mark and from hear we continued down the rim towards Ndutu. We passed by traditional Masai villagers going about their daily lives. The sight of our Land Cruiser hardly fazed them. The kids loved it and stood by the roadside with arms waiving and pearly whites flashing back at us.
There’s no fences separating the Maasai and the wild animals, and often we saw zebra and giraffe walking amongst the Maasai cattle and goats. It was simply the way of life here, the way it used to be and still is.
It is incredibly beautiful to see, something that has been lost in our modern society. There’s very few examples of humans and animals still living side by side as peacefully as this.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

As soon as we passed by most of the villagers we encountered our first cheetah, out on the plains and on the hunt. What we did not plan on was the heavy thunderstorm that lay ahead. We decided to leave the cheetah be, and tried in vain to get through the rain and into camp.
The large downpour was too much and we got bogged down properly, about 30 minutes from camp. We made contact with camp and they sent 2 recovery vehicles to tow us out of our muddy situation. There’s hardly ever a dull moment on safari and each one of these experiences will one day make for a great story next to the camp fire.

We got to our mobile camp after dark and all we had on our mind was a cold drink and good food. We managed to get both before heading to our rooms for a shower and a good night’s rest.

The Ndutu area of the Serengeti pleasantly surprised me. There’s not only a plethora of wildlife and birds, but also a fantastic diversity of habitat. It is exactly due to this diversity that the abundance of wildlife end up calling Ndutu home, if only for a few months of the year.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

Our camp was based within a stunning acacia woodland. Birds of many different kinds would visit camp, by far the most colorful being the Superb Starlings and Fischer’s Lovebirds.
The woodland also creates a perfect habitat for leopards. Impala inhabit the woodland itself, and gazelle often graze on the fringe of the woodland. Once a kill has been made by the spotted cat they won’t be far from a suitable tree in order to hoist the kill out of reach of most other predators.

Right in the middle of the woodland is a year-round water source in the forms of 2 large marsh areas. This draw huge numbers of wildlife from all around, and is home to a number of lion prides.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

Once you leave the woodland you enter the most incredible, tree-less plains. It is exactly how you would imagine the Serengeti to be, the infamous great plains just seem to never end. As far as you can see around you, there’s open space filled!

About 25 minutes from camp and completely hidden from sight, lies the magnificent “Hidden Valley”. This area is apparently not known to many people and only recently opened for game viewing. Animals would pour in here from all directions and it is a life source to Ndutu’s wildlife during the dry season.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

A welcome surprise was Lake Ndutu. This stunning saline lake was located less than 10 minutes from where our mobile camp was based. The lake is stunning and very scenic. Lesser Flamingo’s are dotted right throughout the entire lake and makes for fantastic photographic opportunities.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

Not a morning went by without being met by lions, often right infront of our camp. The big attraction for these lions was not only the permanent water source from the marsh, but also the shade offered by the acacia’s and possible hunting opportunities as game came down to the drainage for a drink.
I was awakened one morning by a chorus of lion calls, right in front of my canvas tent. It was incredible and such a real reminder of exactly where you are, wild Africa! To have these lions this close to you on a daily basis made for fantastic and consistent lion photographic opportunities.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

Two of the guests on safari with me really wanted to see a leopard. Leopard by nature are shy and solitary, and generally keep to themselves. Their colouring make them extremely difficult to spot, even when they are right out in the open.

We were extremely fortunate to find a leopard on our second day, lazing about in the high branches of an Umbrella Acacia. He had killed a wildebeest calf and had hoisted it up in to the tree. He was in no rush to move away and with a good amount of meat left I knew he would still be around in the early morning.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

We arrived the following morning about 20 minutes before sunrise and found him actively feeding on the remains of the carcass. He was perfectly positioned with the sun set to rise at any moment.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

His attention then changed from feeding to something on the horizon further east of us. I grabbed my Swarovski’s and quickly spotted two lionesses slowly moving in our direction. The seemed to have found the spot where the male leopard made the kill, and soon they found the scent trail where he would have dragged it across the ground to the tree he was now in.

Lionesses have the ability to climb tree’s and the leopard knew this. He had to decide then and there what to do. He would either have to descend from the tree in lightning speed, or stay put and hope they don’t spot him. He still has the ability to climb to thinner, higher branched compared to the lionesses. He is lighter in weight and they would have a hard time reaching him.
The air tensed as the two lionesses got ever closer to the base of the tree.

One lioness passed by entirely and the other slowly walked to the base of tree. She could smell the signs of a kill but for some or other reason never looked up. The male leopard did not dare move a muscle, and merely kept an eye on the large lion below.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

She soon lost interest and also move away towards the marsh for a drink. Incredible!

To play witness to these unplanned events is always a great experience. Our guests were beyond themselves with joy and had to pinch themselves to make sure they were not dreaming!

Surprisingly we did not see as many elephants as I had thought we would.

An impressive bull came out of the woodland for a drink one afternoon. We had been watching a lioness feeding on the remains of a zebra kill. The big bull wandered over to us, chased off the lioness and the moved down to the edge of the marsh for a drink of water.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

His presence was incredible.
He was quiet and paid no attention to us, only a few meters from him.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

Seeing as this safari was focused on the great wildebeest herds concentrated around Ndutu this time of year, we spent a fair amount of time on the open plains in search of them. As easy as this may seem, it is actually not all that easy to find a few hundred wildebeest on these open plains! Our guide had a little secret location up his sleeve though.

An area known as the hidden valley seemed to be an absolute hotspot for the large herds. The valley contained the only year-round water within this entire area, and the great herds would make long distance treks every day in order to drink here. All we had to do was to head over to this valley, and then to enjoy!

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

Literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest would arrive at the water, drink their fill and then moving on to the grazing pastures. The numbers peaked between 10am and 11am, with animals as far as the eye can see. Clouds of dust would signal the arrival of the herds long before they actually came into view.

Zebra could be seen in their tens of thousands! Sights like these I have never encountered before, and capturing the essence of it seemed near impossible to do!

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

HR2A0243 2marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

To play witness to sights like these is something very difficult to explain in writing.
It is the sounds, the choking dust and the sights. This all truly needs to be experienced, only then will the sheer scale and magnitude of this incredible spectacle of nature set root.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

The reason these large herds of wildebeest congregate around the southern Serengeti during this time of year, is to give birth. Most of the females will give birth within a short time of one another, perhaps 3 to 4 weeks. This ensured an influx of young wildebeest ensuring their ultimate survival, especially against the many predators set out against them.

Young wildebeest have the ability to walk an hour, and to run and keep up with his mother and the rest of the herd very shortly afterwards. Nature is incredible indeed.
If these young wildebeest could not keep up they would fall prey to predators very early on in their life.

 

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marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

Seeing as we were so close to one of the natural wonders of the world, we simply had to pay an official visit to the Ngorongoro Crater. We had caught a glimpse of it on our way to Ndutu, but a day trip to this incredible place was an absolute must!

The Ngorongoro Crater did not disappoint.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

The view from the rim of the crater is breathtaking! It is so much larger than what I had anticipated it to be. The drive down to the crater floor along a narrow road took about 10 minutes. Once down below the sheer size of the crater floor becomes very apparent!
This area is known for magnificent scenery and abundant wildlife. A quick scan through binoculars will reveal just how true that notion is!

We saw large herds of zebra, wildebeest and gazelle. From a distance I caught sight of a pride of lions. They were asleep within a Fever Tree forest on the edge of the crater, and not accessible by vehicle. We had seen so many lions in Ndutu and we were not too phased by that. We were here to enjoy the beauty of the incredible landmark.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

We were treated to a spectacular photographic opportunity right in the middle of the crater itself.

A small group of Zebra found themselves within a small waterhole. There was absolutely no breeze at all, and the water’s surface was mirror-like. As the zebra walked through the water their reflections caught my attention and I knew we had to capture this surreal moment in time.
The results was astonishing and unique.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

There were also many other great opportunities within the crater to capture images unique in nature. The space found here with the stunning backdrop set the scene for incredible images.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

After a quick stop for coffee and breakfast within a beautiful Fever Tree forest, we left the crater and made our way back to Ndutu for an afternoon safari in the woodland.

Cheetah were undoubtedly the stars of the show!

Over the 7 days spent on safari in Ndutu, we came across 20 different cheetahs! Can you believe that? I have never before encountered such a rich concentration of these elegant cats.

Only 1 male was seen, and the rest were made up of 6 adult females and their cubs.

Almost all of the sightings, apart from one female, took place within 4 kilometers of our base camp! Unbelievable!

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

On one morning we found a mother cheetah and her 3 cubs only 3 minutes from camp. They had come down to the marsh for a drink and were sitting next to the waters edge. Cheetah are notoriously weary of all happenings around them, and even more so in the case of a mother and her cubs.
She had spotted two suspicious objects in the grass about a hundred meters from them. They turned out to be two Verreaux’s Eagle Owls, but instinctively she felt uncomfortable and the family decided to move on.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

They are not as large and powerful as lion and leopard, and will find themselves in dangerous situations whenever they encounter their large feline relatives. They need to be alert and vigilant at all times in order to ensure their survival.

We followed this family of four for most of the morning and enjoyed amazing sights of them on the move and at play. Cheetah cubs love interacting with each other and also with their mother. This made for great photographic opportunities and ensured our guests were kept both busy, and happy.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

On our last afternoon in Ndutu, we saw 11 cheetahs in total!

As we followed a family of 4 they encountered another mother cheetah with 3 tiny cubs likely less than 3 months of age. The mother with the young cubs quickly chased off the other cheetah family, and we proceeded to stick with the young cubs. It was already late in the afternoon and the cubs had full bellies.
The mother led them out in to an open area and on top of a slight rise. Here they lay down and would likely have settled for the night. The sun was golden and our guests enjoyed some incredible photographic opportunities of her and her precious cubs.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

We spent a little more time with them and then meandered back to camp, ending our last afternoon on an incredible high note.

Spending time in the Ndutu area of the Serengeti was an absolute experience of massive proportions! The game viewing here and consistency thereof will rank right up there with any of the destinations I have visited in the past! There simply are no words available to do it justice.

Our guests had a magnificent time and enjoyed every second on this safari.

 

marlon du toit, serengeti, ndutu, photosafari, tanzania

 

They captured moments that will likely never come by again.

They witnessed sight few have laid eyes on before.

A visit to Ndutu will undoubtedly have you coming back for more, time and time again.

Marlon

About the Author

Marlon duToit

Passion, enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst to explore and introduce you to our natural world’s wildlife perfectly sums up my ambitions. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Through my African adventures I kept my photographic passion alive. Behind a camera aimed at a lion or a leopard is where I am most at home, my heart skipping a beat at the mere thought of it. My intention has never been solely for recognition but for the plight of what’s left of our natural recourses. Using my love and understanding of wildlife I am able to convey to the viewer more than an image or a fleeting moment. I aim to tell a story, to bring that moment alive to you and to capture your heart through it.

Comments 10

  1. Nancy Anderson

    Matlon,
    Another very inviting blog by you! Did you have a family on this safari? How old were the children? Do you feel they got a lot out of the experience? Did you see any wildebeests giving birth? Your viewing of cheetahs was amazing. I enjoyed your blog very, very much!
    I am looking forward to seeing you in the US!
    Nancy

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      Marlon duToit

      Hey Nancy! Great to hear from you! I had 4 guests with me, not a family on this occasion. We had a great time and the sightings were incredible indeed!

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      Author
    1. Post
      Author
  2. Susanne Krüger

    Wooow… sounds so amazing. You beautiful images had me on a safari there too. Thank you for sharing, Marlon.

  3. Pingback: Guest Blog: Highlight from Ndutu Calving Safari - Wild Eye

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