I feel so incredibly lucky! Although I fell in love with safaris over a decade ago it was only in late 2010 that I picked up my first DSLR camera and became hooked on wildlife photography. Four years on and how my life has changed, with 2014 my most successful year to date on that photographic journey. I had no less than five trips to the Maasai Mara this year including in November, a month as 'photographer in residence' at Entim Camp. That's over 12 fantastic weeks on safari in Kenya and I loved each and every drive. I had both pictures published and prints sold internationally for the first time. But best of all, I also met some wonderful people from all over the world. It never fails to amaze me how a love of wildlife and photography brings together so many interesting and supportive people and I am so happy that I am able to count many new friends as a result. So to safari buddies old and new, thank you for your friendship and support this year and I hope to see you out there again sometime in 2015!
Here's my pick of my favourite photos from 2014.
It is fitting that I start this post with a new picture of my favourite leopard, a young female known as Bahati. I've known her since she was a cub (and knew her mother Olive too) and was lucky enough late this year to see her in honeymoon, so I'm very much hoping to meet the next generation in 2015! This picture was taken in November.
So here's my review of 2014, starting way back at the beginning of the year.
I've always wanted to capture a lion walking towards camera and in February with this image I think I finally cracked it. Although I've taken others since I think this will always remain my favourite.
We came across these two tussling elephants back in March. There was a young bull interested in a female who he'd managed to separate from the herd. She however was not at all interested and for over an hour she held him at trunk's length until she was able to rejoin her family. This was one of my first attempts at black and white and has become a real favourite as a result.
Talking of elephants this photo was taken on that same trip and I was over the moon recently when the charity Born Free chose to use it on the cover of their Christmas gift catalogue. I donate as many images as they request to Born Free and it is an honour to be able to support them in this way. When they recently told me I was "part of the family" I couldn't have been more happy that some of my photography is doing good in this way.
Another highlight of my March trip was spending my first proper time with a young leopard cub. I make no secret that leopards are my favourite animal to photograph so to spend time with a cub was like hitting the jackpot for me. The mother is a leopard known as Lorian and my guide and I named the cub 'Nashipae' (meaning always happy) after his daughter.
In June I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with the nearby Rekero Pride of lions who had a nursery established and three different ages of young cubs to look after. Seeing the interaction between the youngsters and also the cubs with the females brought hours of entertainment. My ambition of photographing a big male lion with a young cub was thwarted however - still one for the list in 2015!
June was also my best yet opportunity to photograph in 'dreamy' lighting conditions. One evening we had all the ingredients brewing for the perfect picture - a dark stormy Mara sky on one side and golden hour glow over our shoulders. All we needed was something to photograph and I was at one point considering even taking pictures of a bush I was so desperate for a subject! And then the heavens blessed us with a beautiful cheetah and my heart was pounding while I took a series of pictures of her. Still, I think, my most memorable photographic encounter for light and one which I know will be hard to beat. I'm also very proud to have one of those images now proudly displayed in the bar tent at Entim Camp.
Come August the migration was in full swing in the Mara and I was able to capture a number of different takes from the traditional river crossing (one of the biggest I've ever witnessed, right in Entim Camp) to the pandemonium of lions chasing wildebeest in a flurry of dust. The last image here I think though is my favourite migration one to date - wildebeest lined up facing away from a storm against an atmospheric sky.
August also afforded encounters with many youngsters including to my delight Lorian with an older Nashipae again, a newborn giraffe so young it still had its umbilical chord attached and a secretary bird feeding its young chick a snake. I found myself enjoying more and more trying to capture the special moments of interaction between mother and child.
November brought my first opportunities in 2014 to photograph the highly elusive caracal. This beautiful cat is always so hard to find and so desperately shy that it is a huge thrill to see let alone photograph one. My score of two in a month is therefore a new record for me and one I expect to stand for a long time. The second of these caracals was photographed in beautiful Samburu.
November was also once again great for leopards and I saw over 14 of these beautiful cats during my month in Kenya. I was secretly chuffed when another photographer started calling me "the leopard woman of the Mara" but the truth is I am so entranced by these gorgeous animals that I spend an exorbitant amount of time looking for them. For every great sighting there are failed sightings too of course but the thill of finally catching a glimpse (let alone a photographic opportunity) of one more than makes up for the time spent looking.
Aside from leopards, the Mara continued to deliver throughout the year as it always does with the other big cats. This picture was taken in November of a lion known as 'Sandman'.
During this month I was also in the right place at the right time on a couple of occasions, the first of which was when this little 'moment' took place. The resulting post on my Facebook page has had nearly 110,000 views, 666 shares and 3387 likes, my most popular to date. The story was also later picked up by The Daily Mail.
Away from wildlife for a moment but still in Kenya, I think the best thing I did (with help) all year was to build on the relationship I'd helped Entim Camp establish with Molibany Primary School back in 2013. At the start of the year a number of friends made donations to the school after reading about the Pack for a Purpose initiative that I'd written about on Facebook. From school friends I'd not seen for years to wildlife photographers I've not even had the chance to meet yet, so many contacted me with donations they wanted to send that I ended up personally delivering over 100kgs of blank text books, pens, paper, office supplies and even footballs to the school. During one of these deliveries I discovered how desperately the school needed toilets and set about fundraising the £1500 needed. In the end through the generosity once again of so many we managed to raise £1850. I was able to visit the school during August to see the building underway (see picture of the toilets under construction) and though I didn't make it back in November as the school was closed for the holidays, the camp has visited and signed off the finished toilets. And I will be back to check on them early in 2015. This year we've also managed with the camp to get text books donated for every pupil and I couldn't be prouder of what we've achieved. If you are visiting Entim Camp in 2015 and would like to bring a few items for the school please click here to read more about how you can help. Thank you to everyone who donated and supported me in these efforts in 2014, I'm amazed and touched by your generosity.
Back to publishing, in October I had my best moment yet when the excellent Wild Planet Photo Magazine published a portfolio of my work including this picture, another favourite black and white elephant.
2014 also brought a few sad goodbyes along the way too. In November I was thrilled to catch up with that little leopard cub Nashipae I'd first spent time with in March and then heart-broken when she was discovered dead. No-one knows exactly what happened to her, likely lions or hyenas but it was particularly tough for me considering the bond I felt with her. And then on Christmas Eve came the news that the Mara's oldest rhino Karanja has passed away of natural causes. Over 40 years old, he had lived to a ripe old age but I am still sad I won't be seeing him again.
On a happier note another well known character in the Mara, a cheetah known as Malaika, seems to be doing well with her latest litter of cubs. Although she had six initially and now just four remain, they are getting bigger and stronger every day. I personally caused a bit of a storm regarding her back in November when I posted that my guide and I had been involved in an incident protecting those cubs from chasing hyenas and some reacted with disapproval over human intervention in nature. It was much discussed on my Facebook post at the time and in the end I think most people came out in favour of our actions. The cheetahs in the Mara are persecuted enough by visitors in my opinion and the odd moment of intervention to redress the balance is no more than they deserve.
In late November I left the Mara and travelled on to Laikipia and Samburu. It was my first visit to the latter and it more than lived up to expectations - I don't think I've ever seen so many elephants in one place! In October 2015 I will be leading a dual-centre photographic safari to Samburu and I look forward to showing others how beautiful a place this is. Please do get in touch if you are interested in this safari that will also visit the Mara.
My final few pictures of this blog post are from my most memorable encounter this year and another of those 'right place, right time' moments I mentioned. I was in Ol Pejeta for this sighting and we were looking for a mating pair when instead the most vicious fight between two adult male lions ensued that I've ever seen. The whole fight was out of the blue, took less than a minute and thankfully I managed to keep my head together enough to keep photographing during the whole incident. Once again The Daily Mail picked up the story subsequently. The good news is that apart from a few more scars and bruised egos, I think the lions felt no long term effects.
So that's it, looking back at it in this way I am amazed even myself at everything I've had the chance to see and photograph in 2014. I'd like to thank a few notable people including my guides Henry and Daniel at Entim Camp, who I think I've spent more time with than my family this year! Additionally I'd like to thank both Azim Jiwa and Keith Wilson for their support and encouragement. And Angie Scott for her mentoring and love, you're a special lady. And finally for her belief in me and for her cunning plans I'd like to send a big hug and squeeze to Kathrine Webb.
I can only hope that 2015 is as busy and successful as this year. I already have two stints as 'Photographer in Residence' lined up in June and November at Entim Camp once again. During these periods if you come and stay at Entim Camp you can take advantage of the chance to meet and go on a few game drives with me and get advice on how to improve your wildlife photography. And if you'd like to ensure you drive with me every day during your stay that can also be arranged for a small extra fee. Click here for more information.
And there are also two guided tours led by me in the offing too - one to Samburu and the Mara in late October (as mentioned earlier) and one to Tanzania in early December. Keep watching my Facebook page for more information on those early in 2015 or join my mailing list to be the first to hear more.
And finally for those of you on Instagram, I started a new account there in February and am now proud to have over 8000 followers! You can find me there at http://instagram.com/margotraggettphotography.
All that's left to say is to thank each and every one of you who's made the effort to read this far, liked or commented on any of my pictures this year, donated items or cash to the school and/or indeed dropped me a message at some point. I love to hear from people so if you have any questions, comments or suggestions (or would like to order prints!) don't hesitate to get in touch. Happy New Year! Margot x