My group safari to the Southern Serengeti plains started on February 5th from Arusha. We drove along the Ngorongoro Crater rim and down into the plains teeming with wild animals. In Ndutu we found a lot more wildebeests than the previous week and calving had started in full swing. As the herds emerged from the woodlands one morning we saw several newborn babies still learning to walk and we saw a couple of them being born right in front of us. It was amazing to see the mother walk back and forth and then lie down several times before finally delivering the baby. Not even five minutes went by before the baby was up on its feet and following the herd travelling across the plains.
As usual predators abounded around the migrating herds. The Cheetah female I had seen on the previous trip around the marsh was still keeping her babies in the reeds. Quite a dangerous area with all the Lions around, but apparently she was succeeding in keeping them safe. Every day she would walk out of the marsh into the surrounding plains to hunt. One particular afternoon we were thrilled to see her during a thunderstorm, and catching a wonderful rainbow behind her as she traveled in the grasslands.
Also on the same afternoon with the rainbow we found two male Lions of the Marsh pride, and one was in honeymoon. The other one looked on from a distance, hoping that his brother would get tired and abandon the female.
In Ndutu Leopard sightings are not very common. Sometimes you can see them in the woodlands around Lake Masek and Lake Ndutu, but it is quite unusual to find them out in the open plains. But on this trip we were lucky to find a shy young male on a solitary tree in the middle of the plains. We caught a glimpse of him as he rushed down the tree when a few other vehicles approached. Interestingly, a couple of days later on the same tree there was an old male, much more relaxed, but he was always in thick of the tree and could not get a decent image.
Always in Ndutu we had more Lion sightings and deep south into the endless plains we came across four young Cheetahs, just separated from their mother. We also encountered a rare albino Nubian Vulture, something I had never seen before.
After three great days in Ndutu we moved to the Serengeti NP, in our private camp in the middle of the plains. From there we explored the magnificent kopjes scattered throughout the Southern Serengeti. We followed an honeymooning couple of Lions and were surprised to find a fourth male had moved into the area. I am not sure who this male is, but there didn’t seem to be too much tension between him and one of the three dominant males who was courting the female. The backdrop and setting here is just amazingly beautiful. Capturing images of Lions on these rocky outcrops is extremely exciting. Furthermore, we have been alone for the vast majority of the time spent here with the animals, which is a real treat, especially in the high season.
The rest of the pride was some distance away, feeding on a dead Eland. On closer inspection we noticed that the Eland had a wire around its neck. Probably a victim of bush meat poaching in areas surrounding the park. After feeding they rested on a nearby outcrop, posing for some beautiful images in this extraordinary setting.
One day in the plains we came across one of the male Lions. While walking on the plains he found a dead fetus of a baby Thomson’s Gazelle. He picked it up and took it to the shade of one of the rocky outcrops to feed on it. As we watched him walk into the distance with his prize, we realized that a Cheetah mother with two subadult cubs was resting just in that same place. She saw the Lion coming and walked away from the area before he even realized they were there. But as they walked into the open plains a single Lioness spotted them and started stalking them. We held our breath as the Cheetah finally spotted the predator and ran off in the opposite direction from her cubs, trying to lure the Lioness to follow her. She was successful. After a few attempts the Lioness gave up and returned to rest. The Cheetahs walked up the ridge and immediately after disappearing from the Lioness’s view they made a Gazelle kill. I have seen this happen before with Cheetahs. They can shift from prey mode to predator mode in a glimpse. We also spotted another Cheetah family resting on the side of the track one early morning, this time a mother with three almost fully grown cubs.
We ended our trip with a couple of days in the Ngorongoro Crater. Descending into the Crater before sunrise is a key factor in taking good pictures of this amazing place. On the second day in particular, we found a beautiful mist on the marshy areas inside the Crater floor, and it was great to find one of the few remaining big tuskers ambling around among the Zebras and Wildebeests. We found Lions hunting on baby Wildebeests as well, before retreating to rest in the shade. We saw many Black Rhinos, including a mother with her calf, and more Elephants descending from the slopes to the marshes to feed.
On the safari we also encountered a huge variety of interesting birds. Some of my guests were really keen bird photographers so we were happy to see three different species of Owls, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Verraux’s Eagle-Owl and African Marsh Owl, along the rare Denham Bustard.