TRIP REPORT: Northern Serengeti, October 2015

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THE GREAT MIGRATION: The main purpose of this photo safari was the chance of seeing another facet of the migration—-and a more natural experience. I’ve witnessed many crossings on the Mara River in the Masai Mara (Kenya), but photographing crossing in such a circus atmosphere can be difficult, if not disheartening. I’d seen photos from nearby Tanzania that showed crossings without any vehicles visible, and wanted to experience that.


Front Row Seats

An example from 2008—-at the overcrowded Paradise Crossing on the Mara River, only 13 miles away in Kenya. On my side of the river the safari vehicles were 2 and 3 deep, with many climbing to the roof of their vehicle (not allowed) for a better view.


Wildebeest Crossing Mara River

A more civilized crossing experience in Tanzania; approximately the same number of vehicles were on my side of the river, and on several occasions, only one or two vehicles joined us.


As I mentioned in the Introduction, thunderstorms had dropped heavy rains prior to my arrival, so the wildebeest were in no hurry to head south in search of new grass. The herds wandered around aimlessly, feeding when they found fresh grass, and freely crossing the Kenya/Tanzania border, back and forth.


Wildebeest Crossing Mara River

Wildebeest Crossing Mara River

Wildebeest Crossing Mara River

Jokingly, wildebeest have been described as ‘sharing one brain’-—in other words, operating on ‘herd instinct’. So when one wildebeest decides he’d like to take a hike, the rest follow, forming long strings of plodding wildebeest with no apparent destination in mind…


String Of Wildebeest On Ridge Line

Not all the action centers around the river crossings; we encountered a band that had decided to head somewhere else fast, producing some interesting images as they crossed a dry stream bed.


Running Wildebeest

Running Wildebeest

WILDEBEEST CROSSINGS: For viewing the crossings in the Masai Mara, the safari vehicles line up on both river banks, hopefully leaving enough space for the crossing animals to pass through (which might account for so many aborted crossing attempts). But across the border in Serengeti National Park, the vehicles hold back from the river until the crossing starts, then rush to the bank for viewing (on the theory that hardly anything stops a crossing once it starts, but I saw several examples of otherwise). I guess I prefer the Serengeti method, since the crossings seemed to happen more frequently (with less false starts), but you do miss the shot of the leaders as they plunge into the river.


Waiting For The Crossing

A safari vehicle watching the wildebeest gather for a crossing, ready for a mad dash to the river bank after the crossing starts


Notice how leisurely the crossings can be when there is no urgency to find fresh grass.


Wildebeest Crossing

Wildebeest Crossing

Wildebeest Crossing

But not all crossings I witnessed were leisurely—-my observations lead me to think that the speed and urgency of a crossing is directly proportional to the number of animals, as if the press of animals from the rear helps speed up the crossings.


Wildebeest Crossing

One crossing image I’ve always wanted to capture incorporates the dust raised by large numbers of wildebeest—-lines of wildebeest emerging out of a wall of dust, with no discernible end to the wildebeest. I found the ideal setup at Crossing #4, where the wildebeest run down a high bank of fine sand towards the river, raising a wall of dust in the process.


Dusty Wildebeest Crossing

One benefit of a high megapixel camera is the ability to make decent cropped versions from the original image…and I feel that this crop best shows the image/feeling I was looking for.


Dusty Wildebeest Crossing

Every crossing has resident crocodiles, quite large and overfed, who most of the time seemed indifferent to the animals in the water. I saw only one instance of a croc catching and drowning a wildebeest—unfortunately too far away for a decent photograph.


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