Masai Mara’s Great Wildebeest Migration with Penny Robartes
In August 2022, I led my Kenya – Best of the Mara Migration Photo Tour which took my guests and I to Kenya’s Masai Mara for a week of wildlife photography and a whirlwind of sightings and experiences. As calendar months go, the annual Great Migration typically reaches the plains of the Masai Mara from the end of June to mid-October. That being said, we know that wildlife do not function via calendar months and instead, these beasts movements are dictated by the rainfall patterns and the lure of fresh, nutritious grass that comes from it.
This tour was a particularly exciting one for me. All my tours are, but this one in particular was filled with repeat guests of mine that not only do I get along with incredibly well, but I knew that they would all get along with one another as well. And I was so right! From the moment we flew into the Mara, we looked out the plane’s window and there we saw the Mara in all it’s glory. The Mara River is a sight unto itself. The giver and taker of life, it winds its way from the western sector of the greater Mara to the south east. Hippos lined the sandy beaches that banked certain places along the river, Elephants and Giraffe slowly walking to their destination off choice, and then of course, the stars of this season’s show; a large group of migrating herds of Wildebeest & Zebra in large numbers, walking in a long row towards the river.
Upon arrival in the Mara, within a minute of sitting in our game drive vehicle and starting our drive to camp, we were welcomed by a Serval cat on the hunt. Crossing the roadie open view, this cat was not caring about us at all as it continued cross the road, half pounced into the thick and tall grass, and continued its hunt. We were already excited by that special sighting, and this excitement only intensified when we arrived at the river to a buildup of Wildebeest. We didn’t have to wait long before they crossed. What a treat! As we were meant to have lunch at camp, the staff brought lunch out to us and after the crossing, we found a lovely Acacia Tree and had our first lunch of our Mara Migration Photo Tour out in the open grassland plains. Click here to watch a short clip on the river crossing.
We had two vehicles assigned to my group so that each guest had their own row in the game drive vehicle to photograph from. The only time a guest shared a row was when I joined their vehicle for that particular day or drive. Deciding to continue on our game drive and not head straight back to camp rewarded us with a Leopard on the move. Both vehicles positioned with intent on the photographic opportunities as well as prediction on the Leopards behaviour. Sharing this wildlife sighting with a good handful of other vehicles made my and our local guides knowledge of the highest importance in order to ensure that we could get as best a position for our guests as possible for engaging images to be taken. We were all rewarded and made our way to camp with some light still left in the sky which my guests thoroughly enjoyed as they were able to see their exclusive-use home for the next week.
As always, the Mara was in full show for us as every day brought something new and exciting for us to view, photograph and create memories from. The first 2 full days we were in the Mara we spent out in the field. With a packed breakfast and lunch, and a cooler box filled with cold beverages, we explored the many offerings the Mara had in store.
During the migration season especially, it is not uncommon to spend full days out in the field. If there is a potentially Wildebeest and/or Zebra river crossing, one can wait a minute, to hours for them to cross the river. The Masai Mara National Reserve is a land filled of breathtaking vistas and home to some of Africa’s most loved and sought-after wildlife species. The Reserve itself covers an area of 1,510 square km (583 square miles), so a full day game drive can also easily occur depending on how far you have driven from your camp in search of different species and wildlife individuals to what you may have already seen closer by your camp. For the most part, our full days were spent pre-lunch waiting at the river for Wildebeest and Zebra who had gathered and looked eager to cross. If there were no Wildebeest in the vicinity of the River, we focused on the predators such as the many Lion prides, Hyena, Cheetah and Leopard as well as the Wildebeest herds that were grazing and other plains game that are so well-loved and iconic.
Over the week, we had some truly special sightings that will long be remembered. We watched 3 Lioness stalk a herd of Wildebeest resulting in two of the females making a kill (Click here for a short video), to a Cheetah with two juvenile cubs feasting on a Thompson Gazelle ram. As they finished the kill, the mother moved off and killed a Duiker! While they were feeding on this small creature, a young male Lion was silently stalking them. It was an incredibly intense situation! We quickly moved our vehicle away and requested a different vehicle to do the same so that it opened up the scene for the Cheetah and her cubs. As soon as all the vehicles moved back, the Cheetah saw the Lion. Straight away the cubs ran away out of the bushes and into the open grassland, quickly and in haste. The mother stalked towards the male Lion, growling and she stopped and started. It seemed she knew when her cubs were out of danger and she then turned and ran after then. The Lion trotted to where the kill was and then walked out onto the open grassland and kept his gaze trained on the Cheetah who had stopped. Too far away for him to catch and muster the energy to chase after. The wild is wild!
Our phenomenal encounters with Lion continued with each new sighting. One morning we were following a male as he was patrolling and scent-marking his territory. He was a large male and while he was not walking fast, he certainly was covering ground quickly. As he made his way onto the road, we positioned our vehicles further up the track which allowed my guests to steadily capture his movements as they paid attention to the male’s eye contact and walking stance. As the only vehicles at the sighting for a long time, we had multiple opportunities with him and some pinch me moments! Click here for a short video to get a better understanding of what we were working with. Back on the road again with our vehicle positioned in front, he looked as if to pass us behind our vehicle when he quickly changed directions and moved to the front of the vehicle. He didn’t pass but instead, crouched down and waited… Click here to watch what he did! It was an experience we will never forget!
The abundance of wildlife is truly breathtaking and there are many times where you just need to slow down at a sighting, take it all in and let encounters unfold. We did this such thing with a small breeding herd of Elephant which had 2 young calves. We were all laughing at their antics as they flapped their ears, threw their trunks around, raced here and there. Spending time with Elephant was certainly a high spot on my guests goals, and we were able to do just that.
On our way back towards camp, our local guides spotted a herd of Wildebeest and Zebra making their way to the river at a very steady pace.We waited to see which way they would head before positioning the vehicle and getting an idea on the visuals that could be ahead of us. Amazingly, we did not wait long at all! The Wildebeest and Zebra clearly wanted to cross and without a lot of walking to the river’s edge and back, they crossed.
As we had already bagged 2 river crossings by this point (click here to look at the video with huge crocodiles!), I decided to play around it a slow shutter speed to enhanced the sense of panic and movement.
It was a phenomenal week in the Masai Mara for my guests and I. Fast friendships were built and are being nurtured, species of interest were seen, spent time with and photographed, we witnessed 3 great river crossings that all my guests had great viewing and photographs of. Each day brought something so special, but that is what nature is.
Join on from the 1 – 8 August 2023 on my Kenya – Best of the Mara Migration Photo Tour to witness and photograph the Great Wildebeest Migration and the Mara’s predators and plain game!
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Your Senior Photo Tour Leader and host,