Returning to the Mara after the first week I hosted with Johan, I was excited to see what was in store for a new group of guests I’d be hosting with Grant Marcus.
If you’ve ever chatted to me about the mara you would have heard me say that no two weeks or even seasons are ever the same. This season has been very different to years gone by and, after seeing very few wildebeest on the flight in, I knew we would have our work cut out for us in terms of witnessing the dramatic river crossings that so many people want to capture.
Our local guides had already been in the Mara for the previous 6 weeks and they had a very good idea of what was happening where. With a couple of large groups of wildebeest close to camp and the Mara River it was an easy call to focus on crossings for the first couple of days just in case these were in fact the last of the herds.
With all of the groups moving east away from the Mara Triangle we opted to cross over the river onto the “dark side” of the Mara where we managed to witness a pretty amazing crossing early one morning. This particular crossing point is not a particularly good one as the steep and rocky exit creates a pile up of horns and hooves, forcing those still in the river to tread water.
Many animals tire and eventually drown, their carcasses left to float peacefully downstream as the rest of herd moves on in search of green pastures.
The aftermath of these crossings wash up on the rocky areas around the Purungat Bridge and this rather gruesome scene provided some excellent opportunities to photograph birds in flight. It was also the perfect opportunity for Grant and I to help our guests master some of the finer camera settings such as back button focus and being able to assign AF area modes to custom function buttons.
The fact that river crossings were few and far between meant that we were free to explore further a field and not be locked into concentrating our efforts along the Mara River (although we did dedicate one vehicle to river crossings on one of the morning and they were successful). What became immediately obvious was that the movement of the herds out of the Mara Triangle had left the big cat population having to work a b it harder for their meals than they may have been in previous seasons – this was good for us!
Almost without fail we were treated to lion sightings right outside of camp. One of the highlights though was watching a group of 4 young lions being harassed by the resident hyena clan.
I was amazed at just how close the lions would allow the hyenas to get to them before reacting but, when the lions did react, it was with pinpoint accuracy.
We saw in excess of 50 lions in just about every environment imaginable in the Mara and were lucky enough to witness quite a bit of interaction and behaviour aside from the usual “flat cat”.
Grant and I used some of the sightings where the lions were very close to our vehicles as opportunities to help our guests understand how to shoot and process for panorama’s in Lightroom (like the image below). This is a great technique which almost all of the guests used at one point or another during the safari (more on that in a future blog post though!).
We also saw a number of cheetah during the week. The highlight of the cheetah sightings was sitting watching a group of 4 young lions when we noticed that they were staring rather intently towards the horizon.
Scanning the area with binoculars revealed two male cheetah who were staring right back at the lions. We made our way over to where we had last seen them and managed to relocate them just as it started to rain.
The rain and strong wind had forced a nearby herd of wildebeest to turn their backs to the wind and approaching cheetah and, what started off as a great sighting got even better as we witnessed a successful stalk, chase and kill right next to our vehicle.
This was an incredible sighting as it showed just how opportunistic predators can be, had it not been for the rain and the wind, I don’t think these two males would even have shown an interest in the wildebeest herd but, since their attention had been diverted and their backs turned, they took the opportunity to grab a meal.
Even without the massive numbers of wildebeest, there is loads to be seen in the Mara. A morning hot-air balloon flight revealed herds of elephant, journey’s of giraffe, eland, zebra and a host of other general game species.
What made photographing these species even more interesting was the fact that we had rain almost every afternoon. Storms in this part of the world are often rather intense and brief in nature, leaving a window of spectacular light in which even the most common of species become photographic gems.
Of course, big stormy skies themselves add that little something extra to a scene and one could not ask for a better place to photograph subjects on a clean horizon than in Mara.
Most of our guests comment that they join us in the Mara for the wildlife at first, but they return to the Mara for the people and no Wild Eye Great Migration safari is complete without the incredible team of camp staff and guides that work so hard to ensure that our guests have a memorable safari experience.
So, no two weeks or even seasons are ever the same in the Mara. This particular week was quiet from a crossings point of view but we were certainly treated to some incredible photographic opportunities.
Thank you to the incredible group of guests who joined us for week 6 of 9 in 2017!
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