Trip Report Part 2: Great Migration 22-28 September 2013

Morkel Erasmus All Authors, great migration, Morkel 6 Comments

Right, shall we continue with Mara epicness??

(if you are not up to speed at this stage, go and read PART 1 first…)

Day 4

The lions had been roaring since the early hours of the morning, so as we drove out (refreshed after our early morning “kahawa mzuri“) we were hopeful of spotting some lions. Sure enough, we spotted some females lying by the marshes next to the river, but there was no photo opportunity and hence we moved on.

balloon1

We hadn’t gone a few hundred meters further before we stopped to photograph some Defassa Waterbuck…and then we heard the spine-chilling roar, just around the bend ahead!

We immediately forsook any notion of spending more time with the antelopes, and as we came around the bend there were the 2 magnificent males of the Oloololo pride, one resting on a large mound next to the road. We spent the next hour or so with them as they moved on, drank water and finally came to rest again on another mound, making for some great photo opportunities.

lions_3

10531148214_f14f88c89e_c

As it looked like the males would flop down for the rest of the day, we decided to move on…moments later getting stuck in the kind of traffic jam that can only occur in the Mara!

traffic1

herds5

We were amazed at how the herds just kept coming and coming and coming, all filing in a southwesterly direction. We drove around the northern section of the Mara Triangle for a while then, looking for the elusive black rhinos. We saw elephants, olive baboons and a whole lot of vultures on an old wildebeest kill…until we received word about a cheetah sighting way back closer to camp.

Two of the vehicles decided to pursue the rhino which was sighting earlier that morning, while the other 2 headed to the cheetah. Our vehicle arrived at the cheetah first, after the others stopped to photograph some elephant bulls in nice light. Again, I was amazed at our timing here. As we arrived, I immediately saw that the cheetah was stalking and that her ears were flat to her head. There was a Thomson’s Gazelle close by, and I advised the guests who were with me to dial in specific settings in camera to capture the fast-paced action we were about to witness.

Moments later, the chase was on!

It’s always SOOO difficult to gauge which way it will go, and in this case the gazelle chose to evade in our direction, and the predator and prey shot right past our 12 and the takedown happened not 20 meters from us, much too close for my 500mm lens most of the time! Spell-binding stuff! Shutters were firing like gatling guns and buffers were quickly filled up. Our other vehicle arrived moments after this occurred…no doubt wishing that the elephants weren’t as enticing a sighting!

cheetah21

cheetah2

cheetah3

We then watched this hungry female devour a great deal of her meal (more than I would normally expect of a lone cheetah), watched intensely by a herd of zebra who were close by and not letting her out of their sight. After she had eaten her fill, the vultures came in and provided us with great opportunities to capture them flying in and landing around the kill.

What a great morning of Mara action!!

cheetah4

vulture_landing_1_MasaiMara_2013

ruppels_vulture_flight_1_MasaiMara_2013

After watching this unfold we moved back to camp to enjoy some rest, eat a hearty brunch and decide on a plan of action for the afternoon.

We eventually decided to move out to the Kiboko area that afternoon, further southwest from where we were based, to look for the massive herds that had somehow vanished from sight overnight. And boy did we find them! Spread out all over the plains from the Serena Hotel and airstrip all the way to the Tanzanian border. I have never seen so many animals in my life!

It was daunting to even TRY and capture a photo of it. I wrote a shot blog about trying to photograph these masses HERE, if you are interested. It had been raining since lunchtime, so the going was wet and muddy.

En route to the Kiboko side, we came across an interesting scene: mud-covered hyenas had wrested a kill from mud-covered lions! It wasn’t in an ideal location for photography, so we moved on towards our intended goal.

hyenas2

We soon found our first Serval of the trip, but it was very skittish and we only managed to get some photos of it crawling through the grass.

The scenery of this afternoon’s drive will sit ingrained in my memory forever…and photos will never do it justice…this drive made the spectacle of the Great Migration sink in and become very real to me personally.

herds1

At the river’s edge we found the remains of a young wildebeest, which was being attended to by a couple of vultures and other scavenging birds. A Ruppel’s Vulture shook his feathers at us indignantly.

bird1

We also found signs that a massive crossing must have taken place that morning…which was confirmed by Daryl Balfour’s Facebook update that night (he mentioned that it was one of the biggest and most dramatic crossings he’d witnessed in 30 years of coming to the Mara). There were still hundreds of thousands of wildebeest in the area, and we immediately decided that we would patrol this stretch of the river the following morning in hopes of witnessing another big crossing.

On the way back to camp, we encountered a pair of mating lions. It was quite cool watching them “doing their thing” in the midst of these big herds. It was also not difficult finding them once we knew of their general location – as their presence went hand-in-hand with a BIG gap in the wildebeest herd as the ungulates kept their distance, LOL.

lions4

A stunning sunset drive back to camp topped off an amazing day!

As usual, the evening’s conversation and banter and meal (don’t forget the Nutella!) was memorable. Time was spent again downloading photos and discussing some post-processing techniques and how to choose the shots that will be the real keepers from an action-packed day like this.

sunset2

Day 5

Guess what?  It was overcast again on this morning!

Anyway, we couldn’t really complain as the rainy weather was keeping the herds in the Mara for longer, and with it the predator action! We immediately set out towards the Kiboko stretch of the river in the hope of seeing some dramatic river crossings. And boy oh boy, where the masses congregating!!

herds2

herds3

Now the fun started…trying to predict where a crossing might happen.

First it seemed here, then there, then everywhere, and then nowhere! As they built up, so they dissipated again. At least these elephants provided some relief from the frustration…

herds4

Eventually, we decided to rather go across the Purungat bridge to the other side of the Mara river (the Masai Mara National Reserve).

We had hoped to get a side-on view of a crossing from our side of the river but there were so many animals and it would have been impossible to pick a spot without disrupting the herds as they were piling in for the crossing. From the other side we would at least have them coming towards us.

It was a good 20-30 minute drive to get to Lookout Hill and ascertain that the main group we’d been watching had already started to cross!

We drove down and picked a good spot to watch our first “proper” crossing – and what an experience it was!

marlon5

crossing2

We encouraged our guests to work these scenes at all possible focal lengths in their array of lenses…to try and capture the story as best they can, and to vary the shutter speed every now and then to try and convey the movement and frenzy of the action.

We also encouraged them to just sit back, take the eyes off the viewfinder and experience it – the sights and smells and sounds were overwhelming!

crossing3

This crossing eventually petered out even though there were still hundreds of thousands of wildebeest waiting restlessly on the opposite banks of the river. For the rest of the morning and early afternoon we patrolled the river and had a few more very dramatic crossings.

Breakfast and lunch were served in the field and in the Cruisers while we awaited our next piece of crossing action. It was truly a day to revel in one of the main attractions that so many people come to the Mara for. The best part is that it wasn’t at all as busy as so many horror photos make it out to be…I’m sure it can get busy, but we could choose our viewing/shooting positions comfortably at most crossings despite the presence of the dreaded white minivans (day visitors) and some of the other dedicated safari operators.

I’m not sure how many memory cards were filled up that day, but I’m sure all of us at one point thought – will I have enough memory space????

marlon3

crossing4

crossing5

Every time the herds would start building it looked like a scene from the Lord of the Rings movies – where the Orcs would swarm in from the ends of the earth to gather for the final battle.

Somewhere during the middle of the afternoon though, the herds decided that it’s time to chow down and they dispersed into the hills of the Triangle again to graze. We decided in turn to take a quick look around the area before driving back to “our” side of the river (being able to drive on both sides of the river is a privilege we have because of staying in the Mara Triangle).

We made the right choice – as it was soon “lion o’clock” again! A small pride was lying close to the banks of the Mara out in the open…and it was a knife’s edge or we had another kill as they started to stalk a warthog. Mr Pig, however, caught on to them and made sure he high-tailed it out of there.

lions5

10531100186_a61d72779d_c

The storm clouds were building again as the afternoon shadows became longer. However, the Masai Mara National Reserve still had one BIG surprise in store for us…one that will make the birders among you weep for not being there. Seyms spotted a white vulture.

An Egyptian Vulture!

It was feeding on the carcass of a small wildebeest, joined by a Hooded Vulture. We spent about 20 minutes with this very rare bird and got some great photos for our portfolios!

egyptian_vulture_1_MasaiMara_2013

gyppo2

gyppo3

As the Egyptian Vulture flew off, we also left, highly satisfied with spending time with such a rare birding treat.

Close to the Purungat bridge we came across a Serval in the kind of light we’ve been yearning for all week…and some more mating lions.

serval1

lions6

Driving over the Purungat bridge after 2 days of massive crossings has its macabre effect on you as you see the hundreds of drowned and trampled wildebeest carcasses float about and get caught in between the rocks of the river bend here.

river1

The storm had now arrived in full force and we drive back to camp in a torrential downpour.

This didn’t prevent us from stopping to photograph some wildlife in the rain!

ele_rain1

After an exciting day like this, we could only have a relaxing beverage back at camp, sit around the fire and discuss the mayhem of the river crossings we witnessed! Dinner was wonderful as usual, and we all believed that this trip could scarcely have more in store than it already did…

I was going to try and fit in the last 2 days in this episode…but alas I fear this post is already too long.

So this is morphing into a 3-part saga now!!

Morkel Erasmus

* * *

Morkel’s links:

Comments 6

  1. patricia maxwell

    I love this as it has been a life long dream of mine to go on a trip like this but never having had the chance to do so then this is the next best thing. Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful adventure with those of us around the world who will only be able to experience such a wonder in our world only through your eyes. Thank you Morkel. We love you. Give us many more adventures in our wonderous world………Patricia A. Maxwell….I will be waiting for more.

  2. Pingback: Trip Report Part 3: Great Migration 22-28 September 2013 - Wild Eye Photography

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *