TRIP REPORT: Northern Serengeti, October 2015
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Onward to Page 3 or return to Page 1