In the week leading up to our first trip for the 2018 Migration season, I was hearing mixed reports about where the wildebeest herds were in relation to crossing the Mara River – and most weren’t positive. These reports came from guides I was meeting in Arusha, and from my own online research. “Late rains this year, the herds are already in the Mara”, “They’ve all gone East, none are crossing in Serengeti” and “The migration is already over” were the most common… it left me feeling a little queasy deep down, but I knew I had to ignore the pessimists and have faith in my own ability to find the herds.
Last year, we heard the same tales… then nailed 5 crossings in the few days we were in the Serengeti. So, I reassured my crew on arrival that we’d (hopefully) see them, and to also ignore the reports they’d heard. Thankfully, I was right…
Our adventure-packed 10-day safari begins and ends in Arusha, Tanzania. Arusha is the starting point for anyone about to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, or head off for safari into the Serengeti. Our first day and night are spent here checking out cultural experiences like the incredible Cultural Heritage Centre, Shanga Coffee Lodge, markets and local shops, before concluding at Meserani Snake Park, home to the most charismatic bar in Tanzania (maybe Africa!) as well as some of the nicest people on the planet.
On Day 2 we head west towards Lake Natron set beneath the spectacular Ol Doinyo Lengai, or “Mountain of God”, where you can see serious numbers of flamingos between August and November each year – perfect timing for us!
On Day 3 we make our final approach to Serengeti National Park, where we spend the next 6 days witnessing the Great Migration as well as enjoying all other aspects of a regular safari – getting up close to elephants, lion, leopard, cheetah, giraffe, hippo and many of the more common African animals.
Day 9 we head back out again, returning to Lake Natron, before concluding our trip back in Arusha on Day 10.
Over the 6 days/nights we spent in northern Serengeti National Park this trip, we saw an incredible 8 Great Migration crossings!! We might have seen more if we weren’t switching game drives up to also go searching for big cats, but we were here for them too – and we had brilliant sightings of lion, leopard and genet up close.
Every crossing occurred at a different point along the Mara River, so each was unique and held its own dangers and chaos.
The majority were southbound crossings, indicating the migration as a whole was moving back south again, early – though this wasn’t to be the case. The largest crossing involved between 5-10,000 animals, maybe more, lasting about 20 minutes – including one greedy crocodile taking out 2 separate wildebeests in that time!
The thing is, no matter how many crossings we saw, we never got used to them. The almost-deafening sounds of
wildebeest calling one-another, the magnificent leaps of experienced adults and naive youngsters into open air, foaming water under thousands of panicking bodies, the zebras mixing in, crocodiles
trying to snatch a feed, tramplings and staggerings, and relieved river escapes. It’s sensory overload, and one of those rare things that make you pinch yourself – to remind yourself you’re here,
actually watching NatGeo’s Migration, IN PERSON. It’s magic, and something you've got to see in person to believe.
In terms of species, we accounted for: several lion sightings, including a female with tiny 1-2 month-old cubs, and one mating pair; a serval cat; a young male leopard (really close); loads of spotted hyenas; flocks and flocks of scavenger-birds, including 3 species of vulture plus marabou storks; abundant elephant herds; hippopotamus in the river at camp, and in bigger pools of the Mara; one amazing gathering of 30 mature crocodiles devouring a wildebeest carcass, including multiple death-rolls; and an abundance of the more common East African species incl. giraffe, eland, waterbuck, Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, topi, Jackson’s hartebeest, buffalo; one sneaky male gerenuk hiding amongst a gazelle herd; rock dassies (hyraxes); an assortment of lizards, terrapins and fish; and birds incl. secretary birds, fish eagles, lovebirds, cordon-bleu, weavers, kingfishers, sunbirds, starlings and storks.
Sadly, we missed out on a cheetah sighting (the long grass limited our ability to locate them); and also black
rhinos (though only 90 remain in Tanzania at this time)... though that's safari for you! If it was guaranteed it wouldn't be as rewarding as spotting a wild animal, in it's natural habitat,
purely by chance of knowing where to look and being there at the right time/place...
The Best Bits...
Dates 7-16 August 2018
Group Members Melanie Trent Environmental professional, animal lover, aspiring photographer.
Natalia McGregor Environmental professional, animal lover, iPhone video production.
Anthony Gaggero Chef (also cooked in camp!), passionate photographer / videographer.
Key Focus Photography, adventure and the wild-camping experience.
Target Species Annual Great Wildebeest Migration plus leopard, lion, cheetah, elephant, rhino, antelope, rare and endemic birds.
Highlights 8 x EPIC Great Migration crossings, wildebeest and zebra in most, including 2 x crocodile kills on one crossing.
Young leopard at sunset (voted favourite sighting by the group).
Several lion sightings, including the passionately aggressive mating pair (to ourselves!) :P
Special sightings of serval, gerenuk, giraffe, elephant, hippo and various other Serengeti species.
Thanks from Me!
I want to extend a huge and grateful thank-you to each of you, Natalia, Anthony and Melanie, for joining me on Expedition this year!
I had an absolute ball hosting you, I'm stoked for the adventures we had and how much you’ve said you enjoyed them, and truly pleased you loved your time in Africa. I look forward to seeing you again soon, but for now thanks and take care you legends!
Best regards, Shane Ross.
* By no means is this trip report a complete summary of what happened throughout this expedition... for all those stories, follow me on Facebook www.facebook.com/shanerossphoto/ and Instagram "@shanerossphoto" for ongoing tales, photos and videos from this most epic adventure!!
You can also follow the group on Instagram for their amazing photos, videos and trip stories:
- @anthonyxgaggero (photography page) / @anthony_gaggero
Thanks for reading! I hope you loved it :D