Masai Mara – pastel sunrises, mult-coloured balloons, golden plains and stormy afternoon skies

When showing wildlife images, I tend to focus on animals and birds which are wonderful, but the vistas across the Mara were spectacular and the quality of the light in the early mornings and storm cloud-filled afternoons were moody and compelling. In this post, I want to share some of the sights I was privileged to see.

Wonderful how completely everything in wild nature fits into us, as if truly part and parent of us.  The sun shines not on us, but in us.  The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing

John Muir

We would leave Kitchwa Tembo tented camp around 6h30. It was still dark with the soft glow of the dawn beginning to appear over the Mara. There were two reasons for leaving early. The main one was to get through the Oloololo gate into the park as soon after it opened as possible and the second was to catch the sunrise. Sometimes, if it had been raining the night before, clouds would still be hanging heavy in the morning sky. The colours were soft, saturated pastel shades and the vistas were capitivatingly beautiful.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The Desert Date trees made excellent foreground subjects for our sunrise images. The colours in the sunrise heralded a warm sun drenched morning ahead.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

As we were driving on the bumpy road out of the camp, it became a ritual to stop and try to capture the sublime atmosphere of the sunrise in an image and to take in the smells and freshness of the bush first thing in the morning. Each morning at sunrise we would see balloons preparing to or having just taken off. They wafted away on the early morning north-east to south-westerly breeze down along the Mara river and off towards the Tanzanian border. Some mornings there were as many as six balloons in the sky. In the early morning light, the valleys were still relatively dark so when the balloon pilot fired up the burners, the red flame illuminated the balloon.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

Some mornings you could hear the burners flaming hot air into the balloon canopy down in the valley.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The stillness of the early mornings created a serene atmosphere, hiding the dramas on the plains the night before. In the next image, I could not hear these Elephants, even in the stillness of the soft morning pastel light. At times you felt you were bathing in these soft colours, and almost had to pinch yourself to be sure you were awake.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

As the sun started to rise in the easterly sky, so the warm sunrise glow started to fade, by which time the balloons were busy climbing into the sky.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

By around 9h00 the sky had cleared and the heat had burned off the last clouds.  The clarity of the air enabled us to see for kilometres. The plains host a vast number and variety of game, with the Wildebeest and Zebra all around at this time of the year. One aspect I loved was the ability to look out over the vistas uninterrupted for tens of kilometres. That feeling of big sky country was liberating. The idea that these animals have vast areas of land to themselves without human beings messing it up for them or crowding them out, felt very good.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The Mara river changed mood with the colour of the sky. Despite its mood, the river flowed at about five kilometres per hour adding to the difficulty of the crossing for herbivores, which are not built for swimming. The  river was bordered by riverine forest comprising Fig Trees, Fever Trees, Quinine Trees, Magic Guarris and clusters of Crotons (very different to those seen in Mashatu).

.Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

For the most part, the Mara river had steep alluvial banks. There were many crossing points, some of which were flatter but of course they were also preferred by crocodiles and predators waiting on the West bank. Often the more popular crossing points had Hippo pools. Needless to say, the Wildebeest were easily spooked by the Hippos snorting but once the crossing started the Hippos knew to get out-of-the-way of all those paddling hooves.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The Mara river snakes through the spotted plains.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

After crossing the Mara river, most of the Wildebeest and Zebra moved north to the foot of the Oloololo Escarpment where the grazing seemed to be particularly good. This next shot was taken just below where Denys in ‘Out of Africa’  was buried (after crashing his biplane) and where those two Lions lay on his grave looking out over the Mara.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

The Mara plains rolled right up to the Oloololo Escarpment (part of the Great Rift Valley), which provided a picturesque backdrop. Many animals moved up the escarpment at night, perhaps for more protection, and then came back down onto the plains during the day.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

It was good to see gravel only roads in the Mara Triangle. The main roads in the park were relatively good. In the high traffic areas, visitors were not allowed off-road but in the less travelled areas there were many tracks into the plains.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

On our last day, Nic one of the photographers in our vehicle ,who heralded from London and who had not seen many Elephants on his last Tanzanian trip, was treated to a full showing. We came across a breeding herd of Elephant which had just emerged from the riverine forest. The Elephants in the Mara are nothing like as big as those in Etosha. The Elephant also have a different, more rounded shape to their head and their tusks are long and thin. It is almost as if these Mara Elephants were genetically half way between our southern African Elephants and Indian Elephants.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

Border post, Masai Mara style!. These bollards served to demarcate the Kenyan-Tanzanian border in the Mara Triangle. This shot was taken looking south into the Serengeti.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

One late afternoon right down at the Tanzanian border, a storm was brewing in the easterly sky. The sky darkened and big cumulonimbus clouds thrust their massive white plooms upwards. Down near the Tanzanian border you will find low flat-topped Inselbergs, volcanic remnants. These Inselbergs together with the Desert Dates and stormy skies made a distinctive background for this lone bull Elephant.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

After watching our bull Elephant for quite a while it was getting late and we still had to travel about 40 kms back to the Oloololo gate in the north of the Mara Triangle. Inevitably, in the park when you are late and rushing for the gate, you either come across really unusual sightings or fantastic sunsets which you have to stop for. The stormy sky with the late afternoon golden light created a wonderful image.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

Another shot taken when rushing back to the closing gate. These three Elephants were half silhouetted in that late afternoon light emphasising the golden Red Oat grass against a very dark storm filled sky.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

Another evening, also on our way back to the closing gate, we had to stop for this sunset. The timing of sunsets coincided with the closing time of the park gate, which made choices very difficult. This shot was taken looking westerly toward the Oloololo Escarpment just after the sun had set. For twenty minutes after the sun has set, the evening sky is usually illuminated with gorgeous saturated  yellows, reds and blues.

Photographic safari with Coetzer Nature Photography

I hope you have a sense of the scenery and vistas in the Masai Mara. The open expanses are deeply soul soothing!!

“Wilderness is a necessity … They will see what I meant in time.

There must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls. Food and drink is not all. There is the spiritual. In some it is only a germ, of course, but the germ will grow.” “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

“How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof. In such places, standing alone on the mountaintop, it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make — leaves and moss like the marmots and the birds, or tents or piled stone — we all dwell in a house of one room — the world with the firmament for its roof — and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving track.”

“The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains — mountain-dwellers who have grown strong there with the forest trees in Nature’s work-shops.

John Muir

Founder, The Sierra Club 

I hope you enjoyed the journey from sunrise to sunset in the Masai Mara.

Look, listen, enjoy, marvel and let it be.

Have fun

Mike

One thought on “Masai Mara – pastel sunrises, mult-coloured balloons, golden plains and stormy afternoon skies

  1. WOW! Mike, you really ought to publish these ramblings into a book. I recently watched a David Attenborough movie on the Serengeti floods and the wildebeest crossing amongst other things – I am finding yours more moving, more inspiring. Enchanting stuff. Thank you. Big hug, Elsje x

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