In mid June I returned to the Mara after the rainy season and held three private photographic safaris. Initially I have been based in Musiara Marsh and in early July I moved to the central area. When I reached there, the Mara was still extremely wet. There had been very late rains up to mid June, and the grass was very tall. Game viewing in these conditions is quite difficult. Many grazers tend to move out of the reserve to search for shorter grass, and predators often follow them. The Marsh pride for example, was almost completely absent from the Marsh. We only saw some of them a few times north of the Windmill, at the border with the Mara Conservancy.
The pride we focused mostly on was the Ridge pride, with the males Blacky and Lipstick guarding over their latest litter of one-year old cubs. The landscape on Rhino ridge is always fascinating, especially with the dark stormy sky behind and the lions walking through the grass. One evening we caught up with them as they headed north to where some herds of Zebras and Wildebeests were grazing. The last rain of the season caught them out in the open.
The next day the weather had cleared and I found the four cubs alone, looking around from a termite mound as the sun set, searching for the rest of the pride.
During the month of July the Tanzanian authorities normally burn the grass in the northern Serengeti. On some days smoke and haze fill the sky, sometimes hiding the sun completely. I was particularly enchanted by the surreal atmosphere around a herd of Elephants walking through the empty plains grazing. I took several images hoping to convey the feeling and serendipity of the moment.
Many elephants gathered in the Musiara Marsh during the month of July. In the beginning of the month we found a family already grazing in the marsh at sunrise, wrapped by a beautiful layer of fiery mist.
This year we had an early migration, as the first herds of Wildebeests appeared in the Mara in mid-June. By mid-July the herds were everywhere, and herds were crossing all the major rivers, including the Talek and the Mara.
One of the most memorable encounters I had during the month of July was with a coalition of three magnificent male Lions in the Burrungat plains one early morning just after sunrise. At first I wasn’t sure who these lions were. We were in an area slightly out of the range of both coalitions I knew of, the Notch’s sons and the Musketeers. After a few minutes I realized that these were indeed three of the four Musketeers expanding their range. They were Hunter, Sikio and Morani, walking together, stopping regularly to scan the surroundings, an unbelievably beautiful sight. I remembered seeing them for the first time in July 2011 on the Talek river, when their brother Scarface had just got his trademark scar above the right eye. Their manes had just started to develop, but it was clear they would become a force of nature in the years to come.
In the following days I also found their brother Scarface, with a limp, but as usual in honeymoon with a female along the Mara river.
Leopards were relatively difficult to find and photograph, the tall grass being the greatest obstacle. I found the Leopard Siri one evening, who was rumoured to have a new litter of cubs. And the Kaboso female’s male cub from last year. Late in July rumours spread that she also had new cubs.
We had a few Cheetah encounters as well, mostly with the female Rani with her three adolescent cubs and with Malaika, who had a new litter of cubs in the hills above the Mara River. She used to come out every day to hunt and then return to the rocky hills to nurse them.
Probably the most unusual sighting in this period was that of a Aardwolf in full daylight, walking beautifully across the plains in search for termites. It was reasonably confident and we were able to spend the whole afternoon with it, taking some interesting images in backlight as the sun set, and many portraits. A true treat for my guest who had been on safari many times without ever seeing this elusive creature.