If you haven’t seen a river crossing during the Wildebeest Migration in person, no documentary will ever do it justice. Trust me. It’s akin to trying to capture the enormity of the Himalayas in a photograph or the feeling of flight from a video.
Crossings are unlike anything you’ve seen before. Each is unique and filled with mystery, suspense, and adrenaline-pumping action worthy of a Bruckheimer film, and all too often, the dark thrills of Jaws.
The show was about to begin.
At least I was pretty sure it was. Over the last hour, there were a few false starts. A few tentative hooves touched the edge of Kenya’s Mara River more than once, but the momentarily brave wildebeests lost their nerve and ran back to the herd, kicking up a cloud of thick dust in their wake.
In the bush, when you grow up as a potential entrée, it pays to be paranoid.
I was on a Wild Eye photographic safari in Kenya‘s Mara Triangle specifically for the great wildebeest migration, sharing a land cruiser with a couple from Australia, Paul and Elise McCulloch, and our Kikuyu guide and driver, Sammy.
A large herd was on the far side of the river and slightly upstream from where we parked. We sat behind our cameras ready, eyes glued to our viewfinders. It was the McCulloch’s first crossing (first safari too) and I was anxious to see their reaction. They loved the sightings we had in our first 24 hours: giraffe, zebra, ostrich, the elusive pangolin, but I knew this would blow them away.
What is the Great Migration?
Wildebeest crossings are one of nature’s most astonishing life and death dramas. Each year from July through October (give or take a few weeks), millions of wildebeest journey during the Great Migration from Tanzania to Kenya and back again, chasing the rain and the grassy plains that follows.
Winding through the countryside, the Mara River is a formidable obstacle to the wildebeest migration, forcing the herds to navigate steep embankments, rushing water, and opportunistic predators lying in wait. For the lions and leopards and other meat-eaters, the migration is a highly anticipated moveable feast.
From our vantage point––as if they needed any more dangers––we could see there was also a gauntlet of rock-strewn rapids. Trapped between the stones, carcasses lay, bloated and split with decay. Every now and then the wind would change and we’d get a whiff of the foul, gag-inducing stench.
The Crossing Begins!
A lone wildebeest shot through the air, its front hooves tucked neatly under its chest, its powerful, spindly legs propelling it 10 feet into the river.
That’s how it usually begins, one brave leader becomes the Pied Piper for the rest of the herd and they all follow, as if someone yelled fire.
Nearly a stampede, the herd rushed forward. The first 20 or 30 leaped into the river as if they were competing for height and form, the water splashing high into the air when they hit the surface.
But soon, it was no holds barred into the drink. A stampeding mass of horns and hooves they moved forward, next to and on top of each other. Their low, nasal honks creating one continuous deafening bee-like hum.
Twenty minutes passed but the herd kept coming, barreling through the water until every last one was on the other side. Wet and bedraggled, they plodded off to find a place to graze.
Crossings and Kills: The Great Migration’s Circle of Life
Another day, we stopped at an entry point multiple small herds were using to cross. Crocodiles, absurdly long and wide, were out in full force, callously pulling the migration’s wildebeests under the water one after the other.
We could see the massive reptiles lock on to their target. We watched their heads slice through the water like a shark’s fin. There was nothing we could do, nothing but watch with a sense of dread. It was nature in its cruelest form.
I was a mix of emotions. I hated the idea of an animal being killed in front of me, but I couldn’t deny I was also fascinated by the spectacle.
Suicide by Crocodile
“I think he’s committing suicide,” I said to no one in particular.
Between a rush of crossings, a loan wildebeest headed towards the water with a stride indicating he was on a mission. He showed no sign of the fear the other wildebeests exhibited as they approached the shoreline.
What I couldn’t figure out was why? Was he blind? Less than 10 feet from the shore a 16-foot croc at least 3 feet wide floated brazenly in plain sight.
“No. … Stop! What is he doing?”
Didn’t he see the snout filled with razor-sharp teeth hovering a stone’s throw away?
The wildebeest strolled into the water without a moment’s hesitation, the predator disturbingly close to his left.
In response, the croc shifted his position parallel to the wildebeest’s path. He was gargantuan. I could see him a couple of hundred yards, how the wildebeest didn’t is beyond me. He was the oblivious pedestrian unaware that a speeding car was about to mow him down.
At first, the croc moved slowly, sadistically allowing his prey to believe the other side was almost within reach. Then, at the last second, he propelled himself forward quickly closing the space between them.
“Da-dum. Da-dum, Da-dum, Da-dum.”
The soundtrack from Jaws thoughtlessly escaped from my lips and I cringed with embarrassment. Within seconds, the croc submerged, grabbed hold of its quarry and with barely a splash, the wildebeest vanished.
For a long moment, I stared at the circular ripples in the water where the wildebeest had been. My hands were cramped and sweaty from clutching my camera too tightly. My heart pounded in my chest.
I chose to believe he took one for the team—one less hungry crocodile—and not just an idiot.
“There’s more coming,” said Paul, pointing to the herd that had wandered in to our left. Adrenaline shot through me. I sat my camera on a bean bag and prepared for the next drama to unfold.
Here’s How Can You Enjoy the An Amazing Wildebeest Migration Crossing
There are many ways you can enjoy a safari in Kenya. For this trip, I was on a wildlife photographic safari with Wild Eye Destinations and Photography. It’s a great team I’ve worked with on multiple occasions in Kenya and South Africa. For other photo-safari options my post: “The 10 Best Photo Safaris Tours in the World,” of which Wild Eye is a part, is a good place to start.
Read this post if you’re curious as to whether a safari is right for you.
Check this post out if you want to know the questions you should ask yourself before choosing a photography tour.
This post will tell you how to create amazing wildlife photos during your own great wildebeest migration adventure
Read this post if you want a comprehensive guide to planning a safari in Kenya.
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263 thoughts on “A Tale of a Crossing During the Great Wildebeest Migration”
Wow! Impressive! 😲 I’ve never been on a safari (yet). Your African Safari articles made me realise I want to see the wildlife of Africa too. Btw, Wildebeest migration looks unreal! Woooow!
A safari is a life-changing experience. Seriously. I’m so glad you enjoyed the work.
I never get tired of safaris. My husband is a fabulous tour operator in Tanzania.Karibu.
I know how you feel. I love safaris.
Hi Susan. Thanx for this is great article. The photography is beautiful, you almost can feel the wild life 🙂
I’m so happy you enjoyed it! Thank you for letting me know.
Hi Susan. We “met” a couple of days ago at Bex’s showing of 2040, and zoom party. What a wonderful gathering.
The Great migration has long been a dream of mine. At least with your fabulous photos and storytelling I get to experience it a little tho I believe you when you say it’s like trying to capture the feeling of flight from a video. I would love to see it one day. When we can travel again I dream of returning to Africa.
Thank you for checking out the blog.
The migration is a worthy endeavor. It’s awe-inspiring and overwhelming in the best of ways. It was great to chat with you and the rest of the gang. I hope we’re all able to meet again on zoom in the future.
Love your post. My best trip ever was witnessing the great migration in Tanzania.
I bet. I’d love to see it there too. Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the post.
Thank you so much! I appreciate you letting me know.
I hope you do! It’s incredible.
One of these days I am going to witness the migration.
Fantastic Post, You Are The best
Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed the post.
Wow – beautiful pictures and description. I have been fortunate enough to visit East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) and see the migration in Tanzania. It was nowhere as chaotic and desperate as this spectacle. Visiting Africa is a life-altering experience, at least it was for me! Your posts and pics bring back wonderful memories and make me want to pack my bags and go again. Thanks for this wonderful blog and travel stories.
thank you theinsatiabletraveler
good luck to you
Thank you very very much!
We went just before the crossings began and got the pleasure of the wildebeest massing, without the mayhem of the croc carnage (or the jockeying for pole position by countless people). Although your evocation of the chaos is evocative, I’m not sure I’d ever want to experience it first hand.
I was really worried about how I would feel seeing a kill during a crossing. I’d seen many crossings without one. On this trip I saw a lot of kills in and out of the water and surprisingly, I wasn’t as horrified as I thought I would be. They all happened at a distance that I had to watch through my long lens. Something about that numbed the experience a little. Almost like watching it on TV in a documentary. It’s thrilling and sad but not as disturbing as I thought. Maybe that says more about me. I don’t know.
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Omg my heart was pounding at the end! What an amazing experience. Great photos
Thank you! I’m so thrilled you got into it. Thanks for letting me know.
Oh I did so much so I would love to experience it myself!
Amazing. I felt like I was there. Can’t wait to see this for myself one day. You’re right…Nature’s Great Events did not do this justice.
Oh good. That’s what I was hoping for. Thank you! I hope you get to see it too some day. Welcome to the blog, I hope you return. 🙂
Definitely will. Thanks
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Thanks for sharing!
Reblogged this on winsblogkenya and commented:
Nature…one of the wonders of this world!!!!
Thank you very very much!
Reblogged this on gaciumia and commented:
That’s true am a Kenyan i know that
Reblogged this on cool232wonder.
What a beautiful piece.. Enjoyed the virtual ride into the wild..
Thank you so much. I am really glad you liked the piece
The post really took me to the scene. Fantastic writing skills.
Thank you so much!
These pictures are beautifully stunning! Love your post!
Reblogged this on nowthatsstylish.
Nice blog I like ur blog though I don’t know u yet
I’m glad. Thank you!
THANKS FOR SHARING!
Stunning! Exciting! Thank you!
You’re most welcome! Glad you liked it!
wat an amazing pic ….!!!!!
your moooooost wlcm..
pls follow back.!!
but pls follow back….pls….pls..pls:-(
Hij niks doot
This post was totally amazing! It was almost like being there. I really liked the photos. Thanks.
Thank you, Andrew! I’m really glad you liked the piece. Welcome to the blog and I hope you return. If so inclined, please share with your friends. 😀
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Your opening line says it all. There is absolutely nothing like seeing this in person. I watched the migration while in Maasai Mara in 2014 and the images are still so vivid in my mind. Your post has by far the best shots I’ve seen of the crossing. Thanks for sharing
It will stay with us a lifetime I think.. Glad you liked the post.
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hello susan you are really an amazing writer who brings all emotions truly on a paper . Being a begineer i want u to help me and give suggestion so pls do follow me nd go through my 1st post
Great post and photos. I clung to each word wondering what would happen next, esp with the suicidial wildebeest. I can’t imagine the emotions of watching this happen.
I’m so happy you enjoyed it Paula! Thank you for letting me know.
Very professional blog post. The 20-second video didn’t play for me but I have functionality discord often.
Sorry to hear about the second video. I will see if there is anything I can do on my end. Glad you liked the post and hope you return. I just got back from Cuba and will be writing about that shortly. : )
Fantastic post! So descriptive, I felt like I was right there. One day, I’m sure I’ll witness it myself. And such luck at spotting a pangolin too!
So glad you liked it! Thanks! I hope you do go some day. It’s extraordinary.
Wonderful post – it made me feel like I was there 🙂
Thank you so much!
AMAZING! Which camera do you use? Your pics are incredible!!!!
Thanks! I used a Cannon 1DX
Thanks a lot. I also write a wordpress blog about our experiences during travelling through different countries (“travelnotes360.com” in german). I started with a system camera (Olympus) which is good but not good enough. That’s why I’m interested in a SLR, either Nikon or Canon. Are you happy with your camera or can you give some advice, because you have experience with your Canon?
It’s truly a sight to behold.
Absolutely amazing. We waited 3 hours for a crossing, but the wildebeest didn’t play ball (too many crocs about), so unfortunately didn’t get to see it. Your photos are incredible.
Thank you! It’s definitely not a given. The first year I went I saw 7 crossings of varying sizes. The second year, two small ones. This last year had the most carnage. I think part of what makes it special is the wait and anticipation. It can be a pain to wait in the heat, but in reality, it’s all pretty great.
Amazing article Susan!! Love how you described the thrill. It’s added to my bucket list!!
Yay! I’m glad you liked it! Thank you.
I love the wild,river,rocks,mountains,water…..the nature .this is life .
Like the pictures
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Such a wonderful event of nature. I think we as people could learn alot from the animal kingdom still
I totally agree Mick!
Its awesome photography…..i liked it very much….
My self kalpesh Bhanushali from India:-)
Thank you very much!
Your most welcome!!
You are from which country???
I’m in the USA
Ohhh thats nice!!!
Can i get your cell number???
Hi- I don’t give out my cell here but you’re welcome to contact me via the site’s Contact page. 🙂
If i contact you from this site then all the comments will b show publically, thats why i asked for your cell number???
Not true.. The contact page goes to my email.
But i am didnt got any contact page???
In the navigation bar under “About”.. 🙂
But i am didnt got any contact page???
What is the whole name of you blog so i can directly google it???
My contact number is +918080388054
I will be happy to talk with great people like you…it will be my pleasue…
You can contact me on above number…
Thank you for checking out the blog, but I am afraid I cannot call you. Happy to speak with you here if you have a question or via the contact page. 🙂
Dear you dont be afraid…i am also a human being like you…treat me as your good friend or your elder brother… I wont harm you, rather i will be so happy to talk with you…because your blog is very nice, thats why….
You can call me freely…
I’m sorry Kalesh. I truly appreciate your kind words and interest in my blog, but I am unable to speak with you on the phone. All the best to you.
Ok dear no problem….agreed we cant talk on phone but atleast we can talk on whats app???
That contact page is a too longer process to conact you, thats why i asked you for a number???
Very Interesting. Like it.
I’m glad. Thank you for taking a look.
I am from Kenya and I never miss the opportunity to watch the drama whenever I’m home. Nice read!
How wonderful! I would love to spend some a whole season in the Mara. What a wonderful experience that would be. You’re very lucky to have grown up with such a spectacle. 🙂
Hmmmm, the picture looks awesome
Thank you, Luther. 😊
Nature is wonderful everytime thanks for post
You’re most welcome. Thank you for reading!
Thank you for kindly
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The wonders of the world! Always amazed!
Great you have done here Susan. Very good! To see the crossings are you located in Tanzania or Kenya? Is this easy to spot? Safe travels!
Hi! I’m based in the United States. All the crossings I’ve seen have been in the Mara Triangle in Kenya. Crossings are a toss up. You can go during the migration and see a lot or none at all. It’s a coin toss and part of what makes each one so special. I went with a Photographic Safari company called Wild Eye. Their team has close relationships with the community there so they have a good network of info coming in about crossings. If someone spots the wildebeest congregating or “building” at a crossing point, they get notified.
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This is drama! Well written piece… And the photography! Well done! Please follow my blog?
Thanks for the kind words. Will definitely check out your blog. 🙂
Thanks Susan 😉
This is insane. i wish i could see this one day in real life.
I haven’t seen that exact thing but I’ve witnessed other chases with lions and wildebeest and cheetah and Impala. They were heart-pounding to say the least.
Well told and photographed. I still shiver.
Hi Elen! Thank you so much. 🙂
Some of those images look like the most beautiful paintings – the way the dust kicked up and those sweeping movements. Absolutely incredible.
It’s true, it definitely had a ethereal quality to it, much like a painting. I just love the dust. 🙂
Reblogged this on Raumzeitwellen Blog and commented:
Auf der Flucht vor der Dürre
Amazing photographs – perfectly described https://twemoji.maxcdn.com/36×36/1f60f.png
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Really good writing. The photos really make your subject matter come alive.
Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. 😏
Hi Susan, your post was impressive ! I really enjoyed reading it ! i’m not a native speaker so I don’t have much word to describe what I feel but I just want you to know that your post keep me stunned while I was reading it. I’m currently studying “International Cooperation” because I love travelling and helping people and I wish I will be able to live the same things and your post gave me more motivation to reach that dream ! Thank you and have a great day 🙂
I wish you so much luck in your endeavors Anyal! I hope you are able to see all the wonderful things you dream of. I’m so glad you liked the post and I hope you return to the blog in the future. 🙂
First post I’ve read of yours and your writing and photos are perfection!
Hi Claudia- wow.. Such a lovely compliment. Thank you. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it. I hope you return tithe blog. 🙂
Great read. I have watched the wildebeest thrill
You’ve done a great job. Kudos
Many thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Thank you so very much. Hope you return.
Breathtaking! (author of “Blasphemy: The Incident”)
This is awesome… U had good descriptive technique and very impressing communication.
Its really great, I have learnt a lot from this piece e.g We don’t give up when we see others fall but we persevere. I only felt a bit emotional and pretty sad about the crossing ; crocs feed on them to preserve life..that’s the design of God though.
I love this and will want to say well done. Keep moving.
Thank you very much, Mathias!
What a great view
It was pretty amazing. 🙂
Amazing work!! What a great experience to share!
Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
We’re nice post
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these photos seem to capture just how amazing it must’ve been! great article too 🙂 i just wrote my first post on happiness, i would love some (kind) feedback http://www.araresyzygy.wordpress.com
Thank you! And I will definitely check out your post. 🙂
Great read. I have watched the wildebeest thrill. Am proud to be Kenyan. Please check out my blog, https://danixkamau.wordpress.com/
Feel free to share your thoughts.
Thank you. 🙂 I will check out your blog.
Fantastic.. I have always loved watching this on TV but would love to see it up close like you have. Brilliant photos.. I cant quite believe how big those crocs are in comparison to the wildebeest
I know! They’re absolutely huge! It’s astonishing. Thank you for the kind words.
Thank you! Glad you liked it.
Fantastis post …..,thank you very much!
Thank YOU! 🙂
Very well captured!!
Very good post…. Nice work
Thank you very much!
I would love to see this in person! I’ve watched so many documentaries and this is always exciting and terrifying to watch….
So true! I watched both fascinated and a bit freaked out when the crocs got involved. It’s truly an incredible experience!
Amazing!!!! Wow!! You are courageous and this is surely one of the best set of images ive seen here. Great work!
Wow! Thank you so much!!
Thank you! Which one?
Ok, but you anthropomorphized the animals. Crocodiles are not actually “sadistic” and you know that right? Your photos are wonderful but your projections of the human on to the nature of the animals belongs in “myth”.
Yep.. I own it. I do anthropomorphize animals. I am telling the story as it revealed itself to me. The way the croc hung back though it was obviously stalking seemed a little sadistic. Do I think it was consciously trying to be so? No, but at the time, the idea of it being sadistic came to mind. Thanks so much regarding the photos. 🙂
Nice. Thanks for explaining your approach.
I like to write legends using animals, so I do something different but related.
As well as I like to document nature to preserve the integrity of earth sciences.
Thanks for sharing your work and touring me. Incredible place.
It is my pleasure. I hope you come back to the blog again. 🙂
I surely will. Thanks much. 🙂
Thank you very much!
wow.. awesome.. i would die to get such an experience.. 😊
Reblogged this on careemclinichomeandonline and commented:
I love safaris too. This is a great moment to capture 🙂 well done
Thank you so much!
What a cool adventure and one I’ve always wanted to witness – although I admit I might turn my head now and then when the crocodiles come… but it’s part of the plan! Love the photos.
I’m adore safaris. The daily adventures are addictive
As vivid and beautiful as the pictures. Thank You for sharing
Wow! My eyes just kept adoring your writings and those pics! I was lost in there! Enjoyed reading it! Great post! Be a Wildbeest in life too! 😉 FRENZY!
Lol… Be a wildebeest but hopefully no one else is a croc! So glad you enjoyed it.
o. the world
After this, i don’t need to watch this on tv ever. Just amazing…
Wow! I’m giddy. What a wonderful compliment- thank you!
Oh.. its After reading this… sorry.. and you’re welcome..
Stunning photos and words. Your writing had me feeling like I was there beside you. Thank you I look forward to reading more of your works.
Thank YOU for spending the time with my post. I’m very happy you enjoyed it.
Amazing post! As I have always loved the wildebeest migration, this post is a great treat for me. Thank you. 🙂 Fantasy of Africa is still in me!!! 🙂
Yay! I understand that fantasy well. 🙂 Thank you very much for the kind compliments. I am very happy that you liked the post. I hope you return.
The photos are excellent!
Thank you very much!
Choice narrative and pix! Thanks for a brilliant post!
Thank you for the kind words! I appreciate you spending your time on the blog. 🙂
Your post made me remember myself being a kid and watching “tele-encyclopedia”, a cultural program based on history, wild life and nature documentaries…and I seeing myself crying every time i saw an animal being caught by another. Fantastic post Susan! Very educational, nice use of words…and of course, the pictures fit perfectly! So to sum up a very good post! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for spending time with the post. I’m very happy that you liked it and hope you return. 🙂
Great photos and a fascinating account.
Thank you! Glad you liked it.
You definitely captured the drama and frenzy there! Absolutely adore that first photo. Brilliant 🙂
Thanks! That image is one of my favorite. 😊
I can totally see why 😀
This is beyond cool!!!! Such an amazing experience you had. So happy you got to be right in the middle of it! Just happen to see this post and had to immediately read it. Love, love, love this.
Yay! Love that you enjoyed it. It was truly an amazing experience.
Your words kept me glued and the wonderful photography added to the charm of your post. Brilliant! 👍🏻
You’re incredibly kind. I’m so happy you liked it. Thank you for taking the time to check it out.
The pleasure is entirely mine.
Good luck. 😊
Thanks a million!
The photos are excellent! I can’t help but remember the tragic scene in The Lion King where Simba loses his father.
Thank you! It’s so true. Watching any animal die is tragic and I’m often conflicted when I see it, knowing it’s part of nature but inside, wishing it weren’t the cast. 🙂
Very well put Susan
Thank you so much!
Another set of fabulous images and a great post Susan
I’m so appreciative of your good favor, Mark. Thank you. 🙂
You’re welcome and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it 😊
Fascinating experience and photos… Love it!
So glad you did! Thank you for the kind words. 🙂 Hope you return to the blog.
Remarkable photos and narrative. Your posts are a pleasure! One question – why don’t the crocs clean up the carcasses?
Thank you, Lyle! In re: to your question. I’m going to ask a few experts but my gut is that during the migration the crocs are literally stuffed to the gills. In addition, the water was pretty low this year and more were visible I think. Since crocs can’t chew, they typically lodge their kills under rocks and fallen trees until they’ve decayed enough to pull apart with a good shake. Those corpses may have just been left there to tenderize.
After having seen wildebeest run like the wind on land it’s hard to believe they also swim with such gusto. Guess I would too if a croc, lion or leopard was in the sidelines waiting to tackle. Your images and story have captured the frenzy superbly. Still on my to do list.
They are so tenacious, wildebeest. I’ve seen them try to scale a slippery, rocky slope, fall countless times back into the water and still find their way out. I’ve really come to appreciate their place in the world. Thank you very much for the kind words about the piece. I’m glad you liked it.
I can barely comprehend the scale of this mass migration but your photography and writing helped. Your text was gripping and your photography really captured and conveyed the drama and the behavior and the action. That first shot of the wildebeest leaping is stellar and I also love the shot of the open mouthed crocodile bearing down on the wildebeest. And I also love that shot of the wildebeest and zebra running uphill. Yes, I love them all. My 8 year old has a thing for wildebeest so I will need to show him your post. Thanks for the sensory detail about the smell. I had never considered that element before.
Hi Laura! I wish I had ability to really bring the crossings and the migration to life in a way that really captured it. I think it’s impossible. It’s the difference between watching the Superbowl and being their on the 50 yard line. So funny that your 8-year old has a thing for wildebeests. Usually it’s the classics: lions, elephants, leopards. What does he love about them? What caught his attention?
He likes that they are peculiar looking, to be honest. He’s also a big fan of naked mole rats. He finds ugly to be adorable.
Hahaha… Naked mole rats. That’s hilarious
He has a cuddly naked mole rat named Super Dude.
Wow..it must have been so great to actually see the entire drama unfold in front of your eyes. I remember as a kid I always used to watch the national geographic channel and the wildebeest crossing always used to intrigue me. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post!
Thank you for taking a little of your valuable time to spend with my blog. Welcome. I hope you visit again. And thank you for the kind words. 🙂
Yea.I agree with u
Fantastic post… compelling writing, great action photography. I so enjoy your work Susan!
Thank you so much. It means a whole helluva lot that you continue to enjoy it and find value. 🙂