The combination of sunshine and rain brings on a burst of growth in the Masai Mara. Grasses on the plains grow long and lush, the Marsh reeds begin to flower and there is a profusion of wild flowers amidst the savannah grass. Cycnium Tubolosum or the “Tissue Paper Flower” covers the grass verges and the forest edges nearby. Abutilon Mauritanium (a bright yellow flower), Ipomoea Cairica (a beautiful blue flower with a dark center) and the magnificent red and yellow Flame lilies – aptly named Glorosia Superba – all burst into flower around the same time. Out on the plains you can see red Klennia Abysinnica flowers, hidden between the grasses.
With the arrival of the rains, males of the resident Marsh Pride of lions spring into action by patrolling the boundaries of their territory and continuously scent-marking the area as each rainstorm washes the previous scent marks away. Long grass makes their prey more difficult to find and they must roam further in search of food. The Marsh Pride lionesses and their cubs tend to spend a lot of the time near the Musiara Marsh and airstrip, feeding mostly off warthog – a staple food source at this time of year. As the males spend more and more time away from the females, patrolling the boundaries of their pride lands, we often see new males appear at this time of year; hovering on the edges in anticipation of a moment of weakness to exploit and challenge the resident dominant males.
We see large numbers of elephants throughout the Marsh and Bila Shaka plains. . New growth on the grasslands draws elephant families out of the forests and it is common to see large herds with up to 30 members of related family units with very young calves. They enjoy feeding on the tender young grass shoots on the plains, whilst males in ‘musth’ wander from one family herd to another mating with females in oestrus. The abundance of new grass keeps the elephant herds well fed, providing them with a much needed change of diet and a wealth of necessary minerals. This in turn gives the riverine forests and acacia woodlands time for regrowth.
On the ground between the elephants legs, cattle egrets are busily feasting off the rich pickings of insects disturbed by the elephant’s mighty round feet, as they trudge along the marsh edges and grassy plains.
Topis congregate on the short grass plains. There are heavily pregnant Impala with new fawns as well as eland and waterbuck resident in the Musiara Marsh grasslands and plains. Thomson Gazelles also give birth at this time of year and we see lots of female warthogs with two or three piglets (warthogs also begin to mate at this time of year). As the ground gets wetter, the resident buffalo herd will move to higher ground where there is better drainage and coarser grasses which they love.
The April rain fills up the Musiara Marsh and causes the Mara River to rise significantly. Hippos are drawn out from the river with the abundance of water in the Marsh areas; they can be seen basking in shallow water holes and many hippo calves are born at this time of year.
With the rain comes a profusion of insect life, as well as a revival of frogs and catfish – therefore the birding in April is extraordinarily good. The Musiara Marsh is an important area for many bird species and in April they come out in force. Tens of thousands of European barn swallows on their migration to Europe, roost in the swamp every evening and at dusk, we witness huge clouds of them diving and swooping over the grasslands, hunting grass-hoppers, crickets and small insects.
African Fish eagles perch high in the trees surrounding the Marsh and can be seen swooping into the waters to catch their prey. Lesser Kestrels fly in large flocks over the plains hunting grasshoppers and mice. European white storks and cattle egrets comb the fringes of the Marsh, hunting for insects and frogs. Ground hornbills are out on the plains feasting on frogs and grass snakes while yellow-billed storks, saddle billed storks, grey herons and sacred ibis’ prefer the wetter areas in the swamp.
The first rains of April bring on a growth of new grass which then matures and produces seed; drawing in the ‘seedeaters’ to feed and breed. The abundance of nutritious food heralds the mating season and the chances of conception are increased. We have been privileged to witness red collared widow-birds, fan tailed widow-birds, pin tailed whydah’s and yellow bishop all transformed from their dull plumage into their magnificent breeding plumage.
With the growth of the long grass, the village weaver birds begin hastily building their new nests. If the hen does not like the new nest she dismantles it and the male is forced to rebuild it, until she is satisfied and agrees to be his mate. The widow birds do the same when building nests and the females will inspect the male’s long breeding plumage tails to identify a good mate.
We often see a solitary European roller, a migrant from Europe and Asia; they visit this area between October and April before beginning their long migration north. This small bird has a magnificent bright blue head, throat, belly and wings.
The ants and termites begin to reproduce. The king and queen will mate and then the queen lays the eggs; some of which will be winged ‘reproductives’, some soldiers, and the rest will be workers for the colony. The reproductives have wings and when they are ready they fly out of the nest, find a partner and then dig down into the ground to start their own colony.
During the rainy season the ground is softer and for this reason the ants fly out during a rainstorm and then dig down into the soft earth. This whole reproductive cycle provides a feast for the birds, and we see lots of Sooty Chats parked on termite mounds waiting for these ants and termite reproductives to emerge.
The butterflies come out and we have had lovely recent sightings of the narrow green-banded swallow tales and citrus swallowtails, whilst back in camp, fireflies light up the night.