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Masai Mara: Wildebeest (20 000+) Crossing and a Croc Feast
Ben’s Bulletin from Masai Mara:
Here we are with one foot in Kenya and one in Tanzania - and we are half in Masai Mara and half in Serengeti!
When we left the Lodge early this morning the skies were clear so we took a meandering drive to enjoy the early morning light, the sunrise and the magnificent scenery.
The highlight of this early drive came when we spotted a White - headed Vulture. We were delighted and immediately stopped quite a distance away to get some record shots. Then we moved a little closer, slowly so as not to alarm the bird, and when still at a safe distance we stopped again to get some ‘safety’ shots. When done we approached even closer. Now we could get really good images and our memory cards filled rapidly. We approached twice more until we were close enough to get portrait headshots. And still the compliant bird remained calm, preening itself and totally unconcerned by our ever closer presence. Finally we were just deciding that we had photographed him enough, the bird took to the wing and we were able to get amazing flight shots as he flew slowly away.
After encountering a large herd of elephant on the road with the beautiful morning light and bright blue skies creating a perfect background, we carried on, stopping again when we came across a large number of hyena enjoying the morning and their early family time. As we were photographing them we were informed that a group of wildebeest was gathering on the Mara river.
We headed toward the wildebeest but as we arrived they were beginning to disperse, delaying their crossing for another time.
We proceeded further down the river keeping a look out for any congregating congregating wildebeest. And we found them – thousands upon thousands were gathering on the banks of the Mara River. They were milling around, gazing at the river, approaching, retreating, going left then right, and generally appearing quite aimless in their direction.
This was a good time to head off for a quick lunch, hoping that by the time we returned the animals would decide to cross the river.
And this is exactly what happened.
When we returned from a rushed lunch, the wildebeest had decided to cross, and we placed ourselves in an ideal position to watch them approach the river.
For the next 45 to 60 minutes thousands of wildebeest started to cross the river. The sight was amazing. They galloped past us in single file – one after the other after the next. The column was endless. The constant flow of galloping wildebeest dashing past us at full speed was one of the most incredible spectacles one could wish to see. We estimated that at least 20 000 crossed in that time. The stream continued and each time we thought this must be the end a new group joined the chase to and through the water.
The actual river crossing was just out of sight for us – around a bend and behind very thick vegetation, but our position gave us an amazing, close, intimate view of the action.
We were so well placed that we were able to practice all kinds of camera setting – fast speeds, slower speeds, panning shots, … you name it, we tried it!
When the last wildebeest had passed us the action was not over by any means.
Now was the time for a croc feast.
We watched as the bodies of those wildebeest that had not managed to get across the river in the stampede floated down the river, and the crocs were there to take advantage of the bounty delivered right to them.
As we started to head back to the camp we saw that the typical afternoon cloud formations had formed. Huge, dramatic cumulus filled the sky, and in silhouette against them were two beautiful lions resting on a massive boulder.
We turned around quickly – this was too good to simply drive away.
As we photographed the lions against that amazing sky a lioness sauntered up to take a drink from a waterhole and then climbed onto an adjacent boulder. So we took more images of her and the other two against that glowering sky.
By now time had really run out and our return to the camp was punctuated by very short stops to capture the theatrical scenery and the heavens above.
As we enjoy our evening at the Lodge we can hear the sounds of the bush around us, this time dominated by tree hyraxes calling.
Tomorrow looks quite promising. As we were driving back this evening we noticed huge groups of wildebeest heading in our direction and on the opposite bank of the river.
Hopefully the number pressure will force them to start crossing the river in the early morning and we plan to position ourselves strategically for the coming action …