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This Week at Angama #184

The Great Migration is predictable in its unpredictability. No year is like the one before and this season is no exception as the mega herds continue to gather, taking a route less travelled straight into the Mara Triangle
Above: Two of the many threats that the migrating herds face

There is so much going on in the Mara Triangle right now that it can be difficult to know which way to turn. As wonderful and dramatic as the river crossings can be, for us the most impressive aspect of the Great Migration is the mega herds. 

The amount of zebra in the Triangle is incredible, some would even say dazzling f. 10.0, 1/800, ISO 400
Stretching further than just two eyes can see, one needs another set f. 18.0, 1/125, ISO 640, -0.67

Driving into the heart of the Triangle, you are greeted by hundreds of thousands of migrating wildebeests and zebras. It is absolutely spectacular.  I gave up trying to estimate their number a long time ago. After all, how can one possibly try counting individuals in herds as vast as these? 

How many wildebeest can you count? f. 13.0, 1/160, ISO 640, -0.67
Our best guess is a confusion f. 13.0, 1/125, ISO6 0, -0.67

It is hard to convey in images, or words, the feeling of driving into the midst of a mega herd as you sit silently and gaze out across the plains. Black dots, like a massive colony of ants, spread out for as far as the eye can see and in every direction.

The wildebeest become part of the landscape as they sweep through f. 18.0, 1/250, ISO 500, -0.67
Columns of gnus march in from Tanzania f. 9.0, 1/500, ISO 400, -0.33
The colours of the Mara are a beautiful contrast to the black and white of the zebra f. 10.0, 1/1000, ISO 400, -0.67
Wildebeest are always amusing creatures to watch, and it seems they think the same about us f. 6.3, 1/320, ISO 800, -0.67

The combination of low-pitched bleating, together with the drumroll of thousands of wildebeest hooves is one of the greatest sounds in Africa. I often find myself sitting quietly, almost in a trance-like state, gazing out across the herds. After a while, the sound embeds itself within and echoes throughout your soul.  It is a remarkable experience that must surely be on the bucket list of every nature lover.

They might have slightly odd proportions but when under pressure, wildebeest can run up to 80km/h

The unpredictability of the Migration is one of the reasons it’s such a special event. To some degree, there is a rhythm to it; a general movement that we are able to track. However, each year produces subtle nuances, differences and changes. 

The view from the basket is truly spectacular – from any angle f. 6.3, 1/1000, ISO 1250, -0.33
From the ground, the balloons bring interesting colour and perspective to a photograph f. 7.1, 1/500, ISO 640, -1.0
Especially if you are able to capture them with animals in the frame f. 7.1, 1/250, ISO 400, -1.0

This year’s Migration appears to be shaping up rather differently than the last few. Usually, the herds arrive in constant batches, piling into Kenya through the Sand River and into the eastern side of the Mara River, into the Greater Maasai Mara Nature Reserve. Here the numbers build and build, until they have no option but to move into the Triangle via the dusty southern crossings, and then a few weeks later via the central crocodile-infested waters. This year, however, it is looking like the herds are coming directly into the Triangle from the Serengeti. We are not seeing the big numbers accumulating along the Lookout Area, but instead, we are seeing the formation of mega-herds along the base of the escarpment. Dare I say there are more wildebeests already in the Mara Triangle than there were at the peak of last year? 

The sheer number of wildebeest in the Triangle is extraordinary f. 6.3, 1/200, ISO 640
It's stripes and more stripes in the Mara these days f. 5.6, 1/1600, ISO 500, -0.33

Of course, the actual river crossings are special and a spectacle in their own right. There are few wildlife events that can compare in terms of drama and excitement. Even just the collective energy pulsating from the visitors sitting in the cars lined up along the river bank is often just as contagious and exciting as the river crossing itself. 

Safety in numbers seems to be the name of the game as they dash across f. 4.0, 1/5000, ISO 400, -0.67
Sadly, they can't swim as fast as they run f. 5.0, 1/4000, ISO 500, -0.33
Breathing a sigh of relief, these lucky ones have made it across unscathed f. 6.3, 1/1600, ISO 400
The wildebeest dive into the water like a competitive swimmer launching themselves off the block
The danger in crossings is just one of many f. 6.3, 1/2500, ISO 400, -0.67

We'll wait to see how it will play out in the days and weeks ahead. And whilst the Migration continues to move further north, consuming the nutritious grasses of the Mara, so it impacts the lives of all the other animals in the region. No creature, big or small, can escape the effects of the arrival of such big numbers of animals.  

A Bila Shaka male focuses in on a lioness from the Angama Pride f. 4.0, 1/1250, ISO 400, -0.33
The lions have had a banner few weeks, with plenty of morsels to choose from
The lead lioness from the Egyptian Pride takes a little rest after the start of a busy Migration season f. 5.6, 1/2000, ISO 500, -0.67
Introducing Milly, the longest tusked matriarch of the Maasai Mara f. 6.3, 1/800, ISO 800, -0.67
She is, without a doubt, one of the most memorable elephants that you can encounter on a safari in the Mara Triangle f. 5.0, 1/640, ISO 640
Vultures fight over the scraps of a wildebeest carcass f. 9.0, 1/1000, ISO 320, -0.33
A Ruppell’s griffon vulture comes in to land f. 4.0, 1/5000, ISO 320
A marabou stork makes off with the spoils f. 5.6, 1/320, ISO 1600, -0.67
The ever-majestic long-crested eagle looks on at the chaos f. 5.6, 1/500, ISO 640, -0.33
The Mara is brimming with new life, including this darling zebra who is just hours old f. 6.3, 1/1000, ISO 800, -1.0

This Week One Year Ago

A leopard watches the endless stream of wildebeest [f 7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, -0.67] – Mwikali Ndambo

Last year we had a scene reminiscent of one we had this year; a leopard looks out over a herd of wildebeest which had just crossed the Mara River. 

This Week Two Years Ago

Solids and stripes, the migration has many different moving parts [f 8.0, 1/320, ISO 800, -0.33] - Adam Bannister

Two years ago, by this stage we had daily crossings in the central portions of the reserve at both Main Crossing and Cul-de-sac. Neither of these sites has seen big crossings yet this year.

This Week Three Years Ago

Looking death in the face [f5.6 ISO 560 1/1000] – Graham Wood

Three Years Ago we invited Graham Wood to be a guest contributor to the blog. He had a number of dramatic crossings and scenarios during his week-long stay at Angama Mara. 

Filed under: This Week at Angama

Tagged with:

Angama Mara , Maasai Mara , Wildlife , Wildlife Photography

About: Adam Bannister

A South African-trained biologist, safari guide, author, filmmaker and photographer, Adam is, above all else, a gifted storyteller. After spending the past 10 years working in some of the world’s most beautiful wild places – the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa, Rajasthan in India, Brazil’s Pantanal, and the rainforests of Manu National Park in Peru – he is delighted to share his stories of one of the loveliest game reserves of them all, the Maasai Mara.

Browse all articles by Adam Bannister Meet the angama team

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