serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Trip Report: Serengeti Safari, 25 Feb – 7 March 2017

Marlon duToit All Authors, Johan, Marlon 6 Comments

There are many iconic brands that exist in the world, most of which need absolutely no introduction at all.

Think Coca Cola, Google, Apple, Toyota & Facebook to name but a few.
These brands stand out above the rest & are known to millions upon millions of people globally, many of whom have never experienced some of these brands physically.

What about, the Serengeti.

Now there’s a recognizable name all on its own. It’s a name that stands out the world over for wild African adventures, romance & incredible game viewing across Africa’s vast plains.

It needs little introduction wether you’ve actually been or not.

Moru Kopjes & Serengeti Plains

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

The itinerary of our annual Serengeti Safari – hosted by fellow Wild Eye guide Johan van Zyl & myself – changed slightly this year as we added a region best known as Moru Kopjes to our adventure. This proved to be a fantastic choice and will no doubt form a part of future safaris to the Serengeti.

Out of interest sake, Moru Kopjes inspired the Disney Classic Lion King’s “Pride Rock”.

A series of incredibly scenic rocky outcrops (kopjes) dot the landscape about 40 kilometers North of Ndutu. These kopjes are known as Moru Kopjes and are home to a great variety of wildlife, including atleast 4 lion prides.

Our main objective here was to see lions on top of these iconic rocks and we were not disappointed.

To give you a sense of scale, have a look at the pictures below. There’s a lion in each of them 😉

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Our camp in the region is roughly 40 minutes away from these rocks. We explored the region atleast 3 or 4 times in the time we spent there, and every time found lions atop the rocks. It’s simply incredible and completely lived up to its reputation.

To see lions in such a unique habitat is special, and to photograph them here even more so. It’s safe to say our guests were more than satisfied with their results.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

It’s so refreshing to see lions within a habitat as strikingly beautiful as this! They so often rely on vegetated cover as well as shade, but the open plains here make for a different type of lion.

They enjoy the vantage offered by the towering rocks, and the cool breeze & fair weather in the region makes the rocks an ideal position to spend the day within.

There’s more to the area than just the kopjes though, and as we left Moru for more open plains further North, our guests discovered a side to the Serengeti they never knew existed.

The area is far more open with patches of woodland & rocky outcrops dotted about the landscape. Stunning lush green streams run through the open plains creating havens for large groups of hippo, a wealth of birdlife & good cover for both predator & prey.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Our guests were overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the area. It was like nothing they’ve ever seen or experienced before. In fact, I am convinced that if there were real estate for sale here, atleast half would have whipped out the credit cards to invest!

Surrounding the streams were vast open plains.

It was not too difficult to find predators within these open areas as they would be naturally drawn to the few tree’s & thickets providing shade & cover.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Leopards were not hard to find at all, and on one day we found 3 different leopards separated by less than 1 kilometer. It was just a complete overload of wildlife & photographic opportunities! We could hardly believe what each safari had in store for us!

The Serengeti has a reputation for delivering exceptional game viewing opportunities, and this time was no different.

Many people imagine the Serengeti to be very open limited to grasslands & endless plains. Whilst this is the case for a large portion of it, the Serengeti is incredibly varied & is home to many different mammal & bird species! The different habitat types – hills, plains, woodlands, river, kopjes, lakes and more – create ideal habitat for many animal species.

One such incredible bird often found here is the Martial Eagle, and our guests enjoyed a magnificent sighting of one such bird!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

The eagle was well spotted by one of the guests perched on the ground next to a small stream. We immediately noticed it was feeding on something and upon closer inspection discovered that it had caught & killed a Grey Heron.

What a find!

Martial Eagles will kill anything they can overpower, and a heron will not be much of a match for Africa’s largest Eagle as they are also known to capture animals to the size of young antelope & even jackals!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

We watched & photographic this bird for the better part of an hour. He was so relaxed with our presence & eventually allowed us to get within 6 or 7 meters of him as he continued to feed on his feathery prey.

Have a look at the video below. Look at those piercing eyes, the size of the head & the power in its bill. What a fierce predator!

To give you an idea of the variety of the landscape in the area of the Serengeti, have a look at the images below.

We found lions up in trees on several occasions. As per the case of the kopjes, lions in the region are adept to tree climbing. They found cooler weather up there, less biting insects and are afforded a better view of the surrounding landscape.

The incredibly beautiful woodlands make for exceptional wildlife photography, no doubt!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

The drive towards our tented camp winds its way through hills & woodlands filled with general game such as zebra, wildebeest & waterbuck.

There’s often a soft layer of mist within the valley in the mornings & it’s easy to take advantage of this beauty. It becomes to easy to simply drive past the hundreds & hundreds of zebra & wildebeest in the area, but an animal within its beautiful environment makes for captivating photography!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Whilst on the subject of elephants, we spent time with a stunning herd one morning.

The best moment came when the herd intended to cross the road up ahead of us. Amongst them was a very small calf, perhaps only a couple of weeks old. As soon as he reached the edge of the road he stopped dead in his tracks, as if frightened by the wide expanse up ahead of him. He was so young that it was even possible that this was the first road he had ever encountered.

Mother immediately turned around and offered her helping trunk. This gave the small elephant confidence and he crossed the road along with the rest of the herd.

Enjoy this short highlights video of our time in this area.

After 4 nights in the region of the Moru Kopjes, it was time to head further south towards Ndutu.

Ndutu

Ndutu might be a new name for many readers here, but it’s not a new place for over a million wildebeest that migrate here annually. Ndutu is where the great migratory herds settle down to give birth, and its a place where all of the resident predators ready themselves for the feast that await.

It may seem “cruel” that so many calved will be lost to predators, but consider that more than 400 000 calves will be born within a month of each other. It’s impossible for predators to even dent this influx of new life!

Much to our delight though, we were fortunate to arrive at Ndutu at the very same time the largest bulk of the migratory herds did. It was simply incredible to see!

The wildebeest were literally everywhere! At every point in time you could either see, hear or smell them! It was incredible!

Our Ndutu camp is set right amidst the Ndutu acacia woodland and right in the heart of all the action! This makes for a fantastic guest experience. You are never far away from the action, and on two occasions we had lions wander right through our camp itself.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

In Ndutu, each safari outing will bring something new & exciting your way. There’s just so much happening all of the time that you can’t dare rest on your laurels or you will be likely to miss out on something special.

Without a doubt predators on the hunt are high on all of the guests’s lists.

We were fortunate to spend quality time with predators, many of whom were actively hunting!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Out in the open grasslands there’s little cover to hide something the size of a lion, but to see how “small” a lioness is capable of making herself is simply astounding! They can hide themselves in shrubs as low as a standard ruler, and this ability allows them to stay hidden from any approaching prey.

I was able to capture some hunting activity on video, have a look at the below footage to see just how incredibly well adapted these predators are, and just how beautiful the surrounding area is!

To see this in real life was just incredible, and for many of my guests it was their first active lion hunt. To be a part of such an experience is captivating!

On this occasion the lions came up empty handed but on the drive back to camp guests got to see a lone lioness catch & kill a young wildebeest calf.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

It’s not always easy to witness events such as this, but it is a beautiful raw part of nature. It’s predator versus prey, and only the strong will survive. Lions have very few successful hunts, so very often it’s the predator that’s drawn the shortest stick.

Cheetah are also abundant in the Ndutu region, and our guests got to see 13 different cheetahs in 4 nights alone. I only know of one place where numbers like this are possible – The Serengeti.

We spent quality time with these fast cats, and even got to see them hunting out in the open plains. They can reach speeds in excess of 100km/h and on these open vast plains that sure is a sight to see!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

As fast as what they are, they also need time to rest 😉

We found the female enjoying a quiet nap within view of our camp. Such is the nature of this safari, we bring you right into the heart of the action.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Cheetahs are not easy to find in many other regions of Africa, apart from the Serengeti & Masai Mara. They require vast open plains & habitat typed that suit their style of hunting, and few places offer them better hunting pastures than the area of Ndutu.

This time of year is like food from heaven for the resident cheetah and they can be found daily & with relative ease. To see these speedsters so comfortable & at ease within this incredible habitat so well suited to them is fantastic!

Another predator relatively easy to find here in Ndutu but more troublesome elsewhere, is the elegant Serval.

It’s a predator few of our guests have seen before, and boy were they treated to several of the best quality serval sightings I have ever come across.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

All of the servals were came across were on the hunt, and we spent the better part of an hour with each of them. They were completely at ease with the safari vehicles and did not mind us following along.

Have a look at the video highlights below to see just how stunning their movements are, and just how close they allowed us to come to them.

At times the cats were too close for any of us to even photograph, and it was well worth just watching them as they moved through the vegetated undergrowth.

If these small cats are something you’d love to see & capture, few places can offer them us like Ndutu can.

Ndutu received a fair amount of rain before our arrival, and this brought much needed water to the surround and in particular to the Ndutu Swamps. The swamps are located on the western side of the acacia woodlands, not more than 5 or 8 minutes from our camp.

Many animals wander down to the swamps daily in order to drink, and the lions know this very well. Many of the lions will spend the bulk of their day within the swamps itself, and this allows them stalking opportunities once the large herds arrive to quench their thirst.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Have a look at the image below. Look at how perfectly this lioness blends into the swamps.

We found ourselves on an elevated position, but at eye-level it will be very difficult for prey to spot her amongst that kind of vegetation.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Every shadow will hide her form, every movement she makes will be masked by the grasses swaying in the wind. In here she becomes invisible and to see this from our vantage point was incredible!

The excess water also meant that navigating the swamplands would be a little more challenging for the lions.

It’s no secret that lions are not fond of getting their paws wet.

We used this to our advantage & waited for the lions to move from the open sunny marsh into the shade. Our guests got to see lions crossing the small channels on more than one occasion and the photography was awesome!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

To see a massive male lion walk through a channel of water in a place as beautiful as Ndutu, is something my guests and I will remember for a long time!

The video below captured some of the highlights from our Ndutu lion sightings. It will also give you an idea of just how close they come to the vehicles, such an incredible experience!

We found lions one morning before the sun broke over the horizon. The light was simply incredible and we positioned ourselves in such a way as to make the most of it.

The carcass was still warm and the steam rising off of it as the lions fed added incredible mood to the scene infront of my guests.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

What incredible photography this was!

We spent more than two hours with the lions as they fed their fill and played around the carcass. They were young energetic lions & this gave our guests the opportunity to capture some action too.

The great thing about Ndutu is that our camp is right in the heart of the action, and this allows us to see sights like this within minutes of our camp. We can also leave the roads and get into the very best positions for photography, we can create the angles we want & use the sun to our advantage!

There’s also no pressure on us to leave, and we spend great amounts of time within the sightings.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

As much as I love seeing lions in great early morning sunlight, seeing them in the rain can be equally as riveting, if not more!

The rains in Ndutu during this time of year provide fresh short grasses for the masses of wildebeest, zebra & gazelle. I absolutely love photographing in the rain & we introduced the guests to this exciting form of photography in emphatic Wild Eye style!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Many photographers will pack up their bags and make for the camp, but that’s the biggest mistake one can possibly make when wet conditions arrive. The vehicles we use on this Serengeti Safari ensures that the guests & equipment will be kept dry during thunderstorms, and this allows you the freedom to photograph & capture exceptional mood-filled imagery.

With Johan & I giving out settings & firm instructions, the guests were able to capture incredible images, in particular of this lioness pictured above. It bucketed down provided incredible raindrops which added dramatic effect to the scene.

As the rain kept pouring down we were forced to make our way out of the wet swampy area and on to higher, more solid ground. Just as we left I spotted a last incredible photographic opportunity. I lined my guests up and made sure they captured this scene below, one of my favorite from the safari as a whole.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Have a look at the video below to get an idea of just how hard it was raining during the righting above.

In wildlife photography, the more elements and “layers” you can add to a scene, the better. It makes for a 3-dimensional image & will evoke more emotion from you viewer. Rain, wind, dust and more will add these layers to your images. Never shy away from it, it’s these moments that wildlife photographers live for!

One of the most memorable sightings for most of our guests on this safari, was a lioness in Ndutu with her very small cubs, 3 of them in total. We found them on our very first outing and got to spend time with them on a few other occasions. The cubs were small, perhaps 4 – 6 weeks of age. The lioness kept them well hidden within a thicket and she was always present whenever we spent time with them, a very good & attentive mother.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

On one occasion, a cub grew curious and ventured out towards us. It was so small & a chorus of “ooh’s” and “aah’s” emanated from our vehicle. Very soon though the lioness walked up to the cub, and nudged it back towards the rest of the cubs & the safety of the den.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

At this very young age lion cubs can fall prey to a variety of predators. The mother lions would try as best she can to keep them undetected. That said, in the event of a threat I have no doubt that she would risk her life to protect her cubs.

It’s so special to see lion cubs of this age. In Southern Africa they would be well hidden in an area likely inaccessible by vehicle. On the plains of the Serengeti though there’s far less cover and this allowed our guests a special glimpse of very young lion cubs rarely seen elsewhere.

Enjoy this short video of some of the den-site antics we got to enjoy.

Ndutu is without a doubt one of the best photographic destinations in Africa! The sheer variety & abundance of wildlife will leave any visitor jaw-dropped! I have been here several times and every visit leaves me wanting for more!

There’s a massive variety of landscapes on offer, and action and drama is never far away!

There’s just so much here to experience and guests always leave wanting to return.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

Enjoy this video documenting some of the highlights from Ndutu safari portion.

The last destination awaiting our guests was a modern-day Garden of Eden, it’s beauty & splendour rivaled by few other places on our planet.

The Ngorongoro Crater

Oh to have been the first Westerner to lay eyes upon such a creation. It the world’s largest intact caldera, a fallen volcano with crater walls over 600 meters in height.

It’s vast, it’s grande & it takes your breath away.

I still vividly recall the first time I lay eyes upon this place. I could not believe what I saw! The sheer magnitude of the crater and the fact that it was filled with so much life & beauty, how incredible!

We would spend 2 nights on the crater rim itself, and we spent two full days exploring what lay in waiting on the crater floor.

What I love about the Ngorongoro Crater, is that with a good pair of binoculars you are able to spot wildlife from some distance away. Animals like elephant, buffalo, rhino and lion stand out pretty well against a blanket of short grass. We often stop simply to scan, and this has proven very successful in finding great sightings.

There’s a vast lake on the crater floor, and it’s filled with saline-rich waters & attracts massive flocks of flamingo’s. Predators such as jackal & hyena also often frequent the edges of the lake.

There’s a series of smaller lakes and without fail zebra can be found occupying these smaller lakes. It makes for incredible photography with telephoto lenses!

There are two Fever-tree forests along the edges of the crater, and on opposing sides. The tree’s here have been growing for a very long time, and the size & scale of the older yellow Fever-trees are simply incredible.

We spent a fair amount of time combing through these forests for photographic opportunities, and were very well rewarded.

It’s just so incredible different & varied within the Crater. If you’ve spent enough time out on the open plains, the wooded forest is a pleasant change of scenery & opens up a whole new world to explore & discover.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

To drive through a forest such as this really does leave you with a sense of wonder.

It’s so different to many parts of Africa and reminds you of what a beautiful & varied continent this is.

The Crater also has a thriving lion population. Atleast 4 prides call this area home, and a large coalition of 5 male lions call the Western half their territory. The entrance & exit to our camp was located right within their territory, and I had high hopes that our guests would have the opportunity to photograph these lions during the best light.

We found the lions lazing about on the first afternoon, very close to the road we would use to enter & exit the crater floor. We left camp early the following morning & were well rewarded when we found the entire pride right on the road even before getting to the crater floor itself.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safariserengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

The lionesses & cubs left the road and took to rest up on a rocky outcrop, well within view of the road. The males followed behind and found themselves, much to our delight, in an incredible beautiful scene. The green grass & blue-grey backdrop put huge smiles on the faces of our guests as they photographed the males walking up towards where the females settled down.

This is exactly what we had hoped our guests would experience, the Ngorongoro delivering at its very best!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

The image above gives you another idea of just how vast the crater floor is. Have a close look at those rocks and you’ll see the lionesses & cubs enjoying a view many would envy. A herd of buffalo bulls grazed below, and the scene infront of us was just jaw-dropping.

Lions, buffalo & the Ngorongoro Crater. Pure bliss!

Once we enjoyed the Fever Tree forests and the lions, there was a whole new world awaiting our guests. When you move into the center of the crater floor you find yourself within a vast open grassland. The backdrop created by the hazy crater wall makes for incredibly striking wildlife photography.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

It’s a photographer’s paradise. It’s the kind of imagery one always dreams of, the kind of stuff you see in magazines.

To add to this experience, there’s a very special animal found within the Crater, one that has come under intense pressure from poaching and one that’s protected 24/7 by armed guards here in the Crater.

The Black Rhino.

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

To see a Black Rhino anywhere in Africa is incredibly special. Their typical habitat is thorny scrubland, largely not accessible and added to this, the rhino’s are mostly shy & never leave you with much of a sighting.

Here in the crater you’ll find them right out in the open feeding on small shrubs and in a sea of grass! They are also far more accustomed to the presence of vehicles and allowed our guests some incredible photographic opportunities.

On this particular safari, seeing rhino also allows you to complete your viewing of the famed Big-5!

A visit to the Ngorongoro Crater after 8 nights in the Serengeti completes a majestic safari experience. It’s the cherry on top of a delicious cake!

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

serengeti, wild eye, marlon du toit, wildlife, photo safari

The resident crater wildlife are also very relaxed around the presence of vehicles, and allow you some great portrait photography. This is something usually amiss from a wildlife photographer’s portfolio as animal rarely allow you close for an extended period.

I am always pleasantly surprised that, despite rumours, there’s very few other vehicles on the crater floor.

Enjoy the video below of some highlights captured in this remarkable safari destination.

Please enjoy some iPhone moments captured throughout the safari experience.

The Serengeti is iconic for many different reasons. I could write an entire blog describing these on its own.

As with anything in life, these places are best experienced for yourself. It’s never purely about the images. There’s far more on offer here.

This safari experience is crafted to deliver to you more than just a glimpse of the region. You’ll feel like you’ve connected with the iconic reserve on a deeper level, and I have no doubt you’ll leave wanting more.

Please have a look at the link below to find more information on the safari in 2018 and all that it offer. Get in touch for more questions, we’d love to host you on safari in what could be called, the heartbeat of Africa.

Thanks for reading along and till next time,

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.

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Comments 6

  1. Ken Haley

    I followed you guys there a couple of weeks later and can only support everything you say about the area, it’s totally stunning and the level of wildlife interaction is incredible. Loved the drama of the terrain the Crater offers and it’s incredible backdrop for photography. So pleased we included Ndutu as the big cat opportunities it offers are outstanding. Would happily go back in heartbeat.

    1. Post
      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Hi Ken, what great news that you were too & got to see what we experienced for yourself! It’s a destination of epic proportions. I know you’ve been to the Mara with us, and it’s great to see the diversity between the two regions of the same park.

    1. Post
      Author
      Marlon duToit

      It’s tough to compare the two. Zambia is incredible in it’s own right. That said, the game viewing in the Serengeti will have your shutter button working overtime! Hope we can make our 2018 PVT safari to Serengeti happen 😉

    1. Post
      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Mark absolutely! The Serengeti should be on everyone’s bucket list, no doubt! It’s simply incredible! Let us know when you are ready to join us here 😉

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