I've been very fortunate to spend several weeks in the Mara Triangle for the last 8 years and one thing is for certain, this part of the world always delivers when it comes to game viewing. Regardless of whether you visit in peak season or off season, the Mara will deliver.
However, every now and then you have a day or a sighting which simply blows your mind. Even after 8 years.
For me, Johan, and our group of guests from around the world, this day was the 5th of September 2019 during one of our Peak Season safaris.
Here's a breakdown of what went down on what is without a doubt my most memorable days in the Mara.
06:20 Wheels Turn
After enjoying a cup of tea and coffee around the fire pit on the banks of the Mara River our team grabbed our gear from the dedicated media Tent and climbed aboard our vehicles. The plan was simple, we would try and find lions first thing in the morning whilst they were still active and then check the river to get an idea of what the migratory herds were getting up to.
06:53 The king Approaches
The resident Lion pride made up of two majestic males (Bob and Ziggy who have been aptly named given their dreadlocks), 3 females and their associated "mob" of 7 youngsters of varying ages were almost a sure bet each morning. There was also a female with 2 week old cubs hidden somewhere in the drainage gully known as "Maji Chafu Lugga" and on this particular morning we found the two males at rest alongside one lone lioness.
We had barely started photographing the scene when one of our guides, Jackson AKA "Action Jackson" casually asks me "Have you seen the Rhino up there?".
07:02 Black Rhino on the Horizon
Whatever Jackson. I've never seen a black rhino outside of the northern reaches of the park and once on the croton topped thickets near Serena Lodge. I followed his directions on where it was and sure as nuts he was right.
Having already spent a lot of time with the lions earlier in the week we headed uphill to see if we could capture a shot of this shy and illusive beast. I had already envisioned the shot and commented to the guests who special it would be to have this rhino on the crest of the hills with the dramatic clouds as a backdrop.
07:22 The Money Shot
It took a little bit of searching but it wasn't long before we found a rhino which apparently moves into the Mara Triangle from Tanzania from time to time. It was difficult photography and given the distance there was no way of getting a tight portraits so we opted for the shot i had envisaged whilst heading up to the sighting.
A bit of luck and some patience and wouldn't you know it, he did exactly as I had hoped he would!
07:49 Lion Silhouettes
Not wanting to put too much pressure on the Rhino we left the area and spotted the rest of the resident pride finishing off a zebra and wildebeest kill on the slopes of the Maji Chafu Lugga. As we approached the sighting I saw an opportunity to shoot silhouettes of the lions on the ride. The sun was still harsh and pretty directional from the East and the road we used provided a good, low angle. The skies were dramatic and moody and once again, everything just "lioned" up - see what I did there ;-)
Under exposing and waiting for moments where the shapes of our subjects were clearly discernible form the horizon line made for some great images.
Its always good to look around you when sitting in a sighting, you never know what you might miss and thanks to some good eyes, our attention was drawn away fro the lions (on the right hand side of the vehicle) to the Black Rhino (on the left hand side of the vehicle).
08:14 Black Rhino Passing By
Without even moving form our chosen position we were given an incredible opportunity to capture yet another animal in environment shot of the rhino bull we had seen earlier. A band of bright light breaking through the clouds slowly moved toward the rhino, eventually providing the picture perfect moment where dodging and burning was all done by mother nature.
In "big picture" images like this its important to have contrast to help guide the viewers eye to your subject, which is inevitably only taking up a small percentage of the frame. Bands of shadows and light make all the difference in scenes like this.
08:37 The Drag
Another shot for the growing portfolio of lion images came when a lioness refused to leave her zebra carcass to the vultures and jackals. We repositioned for the light and were able to captures some great images as she dragged the carcass towards some shade whilst being harassed by a young cub.
13:01 Vuka Part I
15:25 Female Cheetah
Whilst waiting for the Migratory herds to build up along the banks of the Mara River again, our team of guides received an update of a female cheetah not more the 600m away from where we were waiting. Well, we did what any self respecting photographic group would do, we had to go and check her out!
She was clearly rather full and not interested in pursuing the wildebeest that had already crossed over the river. We grabbed a couple of shots and headed back to the river. And its a good thing that we did!
15:35 Vuka Part II
Minutes after returning to our viewpoint the wildebeest and zebra erupted into an unmistakeable frenzy that signified that start of another crossing. Our second for the day and I opted to position us in a slightly different point to try and work a different angle of the steep entries and a bit of back-lit dust.
We watched for over an hour as the herds poured down the channels and crossed the Mara River. With two major crossings under the belt we opted to cross back into the Mara Triangle and head back to the lugga where we had found the lions earlier in the day. I had hoped that we may catch a glimpse of the small cubs that were undoubtedly hidden along the drainage line.
17:35 The absolute highlight of the day...
We arrived at the same spot where we had seen the two male lions earlier in the day and they had now been joined by a another female and a couple of youngsters. Deep within the thicket we could see movement and identified a lioness deep in the bush. We sat patiently and I promise you it couldn't have been 10 minutes before we caught a glimpse of the tiny cub. The lioness licked and groomed the tiny ball of fur. Her licking was so intense and the cub so small that it actually tumbled over at one point.
At this stage, everything was still very obscured but that changed in an instant as she gently grabbed a cub between her jaws and exited the thicket.
We knew that there were at least 3 cubs and, after the first pass, checked settings making sure everyone got the shot and was ready for round two. It turned out that round two was even better as she took a slightly different path and walked straight towards us with her precious treasure.
This was a very special moment for me as it represented the smallest cubs I have ever seen being moved. The emotions I felt were very difficult to describe but rest assured this moment has left a lasting impression on me and every one of our guests.
What a day.
With all that we had seen, and considering that we had spent the entire day out in the field, we felt it would only be appropriate to return to camp early and celebrate with a sundowner drink around the campfire.
This truly was a memorable day and this post by Johan will give you an idea of just how special our two weeks in the Mara were.