Photographing Kenya’s Great Wildebeest Migration
In August 2021, 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.
For many of my guests, this was their first time travelling internationally since COVID hit the world in early 2020. Some of my guests were return guests, some new, some having experienced the Mara before, some never having set foot in Kenya. It was a stunningly diverse group whose different cultures, experiences of wildlife photography and African safari experiences kept the energy high and conversations engaging throughout the tour.
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.
Our photo tour commenced in the month of August, and we were treated to sights and sounds of massive herds both in the Masai Mara Reserve as well as in the Mara Triangle.
But there really is so much more to this season than just witnessing these astounding numbers. Let me take you through a daily visual breakdown of what we saw and photographed:
Our morning started off with overcast skies with the sun peaking through on and off. We spent time with the Black Rock pride; a coalition of 4 large males. We came across 3 of the males walking on the plains, calling one another, and clearly fixated on a destination in the distance. There was a kill which the other male was already on, and which the 3 brothers made their way towards.
From there we waited a good few hours at a river crossing point for a potential Wildebeest crossing. Once they finally started crossing, we quickly positioned our vehicle with our local guide and myself tucked behind the bushes so that my guests could get as best a view as possible. They got the images and viewing, which is what matters!
Heading back to camp in the early evening, we spent some time with a semi active Lion pride of sub-adult cubs and Lionesses.
This day was about Cheetah and another Wildebeest crossing. Our morning began with 2 sub-adult Cheetah cubs that were keeping an eye on 2 African Wild Dog that were in close proximity to them. In all my years of traveling to and leading photo tours to the Masai Mara, this was my first ever sighting of African Wild Dog here! It was incredibly special for all witnesses and photographers. Heading towards the Mara River, we photographed a female Cheetah with 2 very young cubs.The light was pretty harsh by this time so while photographic opportunities weren’t necessarily the best, it was a beautiful sighting to experience and witness. This was a classic example of a great wildlife sighting but a poor photographic one. But, we all understand that this is nature, and what a privilege to even pay witness to a scene like this.
We spent time back at the Mara River as we saw Wildebeest creating lines and moving towards to river. Patience paid off and another crossing unfolded before us. Yet again, our local guides and myself positioned the vehicle so that my guests could get as best a vantage point and photographic opportunity as possible.
The Mara had one last send-off for us as we made our way back to camp that evening; a Lioness relocating her cubs.
Another spectacular day in the Mara! It started off with our first actual sunrise before the sun was enveloped behind the low-lying clouds. To go from there? Well, we wen’t straight to a Leopard sighting of a female with her sub-adult cub on a kill. Yes. This really happened.
We watched the female and cub eating the kill in dense bush until the female dragged the kill out and into the tree. A phenomenal experience for my guests to witness and capture.
But that is not where the magic ended. Oh no. Off to the Mara River we went for another Wildebeest river crossing, but this time we were photographing it from the Mara Triangle side as the Wildebeest had been crossing from the Reserve into the Triangle for the last handful of times we had seen this action-packed occurrence.
Rounding off the pretty action-filled day by another Cheetah sighting and watching her hunt successfully, to an evening thunderstorm with a mating Lion couple mere minutes from our camp.
Hearts and memory cards full, we wen’t back to camp for another delicious dinner and great company.
Today my guests decided to forgo the chaos that reigns from river crossings and instead, focus on the multitude of other wildlife and sightings that abound in this special area. We were spoilt by our decision! We spent a good portion of the morning looking for a male Leopard that we heard mating in the forest thicket, but unfortunately to no avail. Heading out towards the open grassland plains, my guests and I were treated to an insane Serval sighting. All to ourselves! The Serval was on the hunt and so calm around us. We were able to follow the cat and stay on the dirt road while it stalked in the grasses mere meters from us. Looking like it was getting ready to pounce, I confirmed camera settings with guests and we waited for the magic to unfold.
This day ended with another “pinch me” moment, and honestly by this stage, my guests and I could not believe the magic the Mara was producing for us on a daily basis. It was wonderfully exhausting!
As the sun started setting, we happened, purely by chance and with no other vehicles around, to see a Lioness coming down from a rocky outcrop.”She’s carrying a cub!” said our eagle-eyed guide. It was one of the top most special sightings I have witnessed and I was so thankful that it too, as a photographic sighting too! 2 different females relocating cubs. These sightings aren’t one that is ever really expected nor thought too much of as they are rare and infrequently seen by us, but we saw not one, but two, and not shared with the vehicle numbers this season is so well known for.
Day 5 & 6
Our second-last morning began with the same Leopard female and sub-adult cub we saw a few mornings back. They were on the move which allowed us to position our vehicle at different angles as we navigated other vehicles and looked to achieve the best visuals and photographic opportunities for my guests.
We bagged another large Wildebeest river crossing, spent time with a 2-week old Giraffe calf, saw the first Lioness with her young cubs, another female leopard…It just kept on going, and so did our enthusiasm, learning, creating and camaraderie.
Our time in the Masai Mara National Reserve came to an end. On the way to the airstrip, we met up with part of the famed Marsh Pride and had our last bush-breakfast under a gorgeous tree in the forest thicket along the Mara River with our local guides; aka, The Dream Team.