Thursday, September 2, 2021

Photos of The Great Migration: Wildebeests, zebras, crocodiles and more!

I have taught photography on many safaris in Africa, and when we visit Tanzania this time of year, it is to photograph (amongst many other things) the Great Migration. This is an annual occurrence where millions of wildebeests (and a spattering of zebra) cross the Mara River in their migration to follow the rains for fresh grass and water.

As we drove around the Serengeti, we could see endless lines of wildebeests.

Early one morning we saw a bunch of these crazy looking animals on the horizon with great clouds in the background, and I taught the group how to use exposure compensation to take a proper silhouette shot.

Some people come to Tanzania and Kenya hoping to see a river crossing and end up never seeing one. We met a small group of people who had been in Kenya for eleven days and never got to see a crossing. We were lucky enough to see many when we were in Tanzania. This was a photo from our first sighting.

Our last crossing was just amazing, with wildebeests coming down from all angles. This event lasted for at least 20 minutes, with thousands of the animals making their way from one side of the river to the other.

Our vehicle was parked in the perfect location, as the wildebeests came up the bank right in front of us. 

This reminds me to tell you how we get into a good position to see the crossing. Here is how the craziness works:

There are 10 turns of the Mara River where the animals typically cross. Our guides are on their radios and hear that there is a large group of animals at a certain turn. We drive over to the turn and wait to see if any of the wildebeest will cross. This wait could be anywhere from 5 minutes to many hours. All vehicles have to stay away from the edge of the river until the animals start their crossing. Typically the vehicles are 150 yards back. As soon as the first 10 or 20 animals commence the crossing, it is a free for all! All the guides start their vehicle engines and drive as fast as they can across bumpy terrain to beat the others and get into the best position to see over the edge. Trust me, you need to be seat belted in and it still is not easy holding on to ourselves and our camera gear during this short drive. Then you hope you got a good spot and start shooting!

At one point I turned around and saw the mass of wildebeest that was behind us. I reminded everyone to turn around and get this shot showing the mass amount of animals who had crossed in front of us.

Towards the end of the crossing I decided to try and motion pan some of the wildebeests that were running in front of us. I quickly rolled my ISO to 100 and my aperture to f/22, giving me a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second. Then I followed the animals as they passed by, trying my best to keep one of them sharp. This was my best photo. I just wish I had tried this with all the mass of animals coming down on the other side of the river.

Some people might find these next images disturbing, so consider this my warning to you all.

Part of doing a safari in Africa is seeing the circle of life. The need for animals to prey on others as a food source is just part of life here. You might think that it would be difficult to watch live, but honestly it is not. One of the cool things to watch during a crossing is the crocodiles. This is their chance to get a meal.

We were watching many wildebeest as they made their way across the Mara when our guide notified us that there was a crocodile in the vicinity. Before I could even react, the crocodile pulled this young wildebeest under water. It was struggling to stay afloat when this second croc appeared and grabbed it by the head.

We watched as the two crocodiles worked together to take this poor thing under water.

It did not stand a chance...

At another crossing, we watched as another crocodile went for the kill...

...but it was unsuccessful and then looked to see if it could find another potential meal.

We watched as these two zebra crossed right next to the crocodile. But the croc did not strike, waiting for a smaller and easier target.

We saw this young zebra crossing behind the adults and saw the crocodile as it made it's move. It came out of the water and appeared to grab the front leg of the small zebra. The good news is that the young zebra got lucky and did get away, making the crossing unscathed.

It is something to see in person! And we will be back here next year to see it all again. If you are interested in joining us, reach out to me.


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1 comment:

Larry Brandt said...

Fantastic! I grew up in South Africa but never went on any kind of safari there. The third water crossing photo is my favourite, perfect balance of close up and further away animals, filling the frame from edge to edge