The grass on the open plains begins to dry out causing the red oat grass to turn golden brown.
In the forests, Warburgia trees continue to fruit, drawing in elephants and baboons to feast. On windy days or after a storm, elephants come into our camps to pick up the Warburgia fruit that has dropped to the ground.
There are young calves amongst the elephant herds and the families move back and forth between the grasslands and forests. There is much trumpeting as young males come of age and are pushed out of the maternal herds to go and live on their own. Increased testosterone levels lead these young males to misbehave and be raucous – behaviour that the matriarchs do not tolerate.
One February, we were incredibly privileged to witness an elephant give birth right next to the bar tent at Little Governors Camp. The mother elephant wandered into camp followed by a group of other elephants. The mother settled herself close to the bar tent and the other elephants disappeared. After much audible effort, she gave birth right in front of a group of newly arrived guests!
The other elephants reappeared, surrounding the mother and calf. There was much excitement in camp and for the rest of the month, this mother and calf were frequent visitors.
If the rain has been good we begin to see the arrival of the herds of wildebeest and zebra from the Loita plains and hills outside the Mara. They graze inside the reserve during the day and move out of the reserve at night where there are fewer lions and they feel safer.
As February progresses, huge herds begin to move across the plains, coming to the Musiara marsh to drink during the day and moving up to the Mara River where they attempt to cross, often put off by the numbers of waiting crocodiles. Sensing a change in the seasons, the wildebeest begin to calve, with most of them moving outside the boundaries of the reserve where pressures from lions are less.
Families of giraffe are seen throughout the woodlands, feeding on the leaves of Warburgia trees. Often these families will spend days within the Governors’ camp grounds.
Eland herds are scattered across the plains. Defassa waterbuck occupy the grasslands around the marsh feeding on grasses and herbs. The big herd of Cape buffalo which consists of around 500 individuals, can be seen on the Bila Shaka grasslands and slopes of Rhino ridge, where the coarse grasses they like to feed on grow. There are many calves amongst the herd and calving often happens in February. Topi and Cokes hartebeest are found in all areas of Musiara.
The male topis expend much energy protecting their ‘leks’ and get tired and often doze off during the day. Lion and hyena have learnt to exploit this and often hunt topi during February. Bushbucks are seen in the early mornings and at dusk in the fringes of the forest. Crocodiles are found basking on almost every bend of the Mara River. They are opportunistic waiting for an animal to come to the water to drink.
We have good sightings of African servals, with many seen on the grasslands and flats of Paradise Plains. Servals feed on mice and grass rats, often leaping into the air to catch ground birds and doves – an amazing spectacle to witness. Spotted hyenas with young cubs in their dens are seen where concentrations of plains game are good. They group together in large clans able to compete aggressively with lion over food, often chasing lionesses away from their kill, in large numbers. Male lions will kill hyena if they get the opportunity.
Martial eagles, the largest eagles in Africa, fly above the plains preying on banded mongooses and Thomson gazelle fawns. Warthogs with young piglets are seen in many areas where there is open ground. They leave their burrows early to forage but remain cautiously close to boltholes for safety.
Banded and dwarf mongooses make their home in all of the Governors’ campgrounds; each family sleeps together in a communal underground den (in particular, they like drainage pipes). They emerge from their dens at sunrise and spend the days foraging together until sunset when they return to their dens. Females synchronise births to the same day so that families can raise the young communally.
Some of the lionesses of the Marsh Pride are pregnant or have cubs in February, who are very playful. The pride feeds off waterbuck calves, buffalo and warthog.
Cheetah stalk and catch Thomson gazelles, with mother cheetahs often teaching their sub-adult cubs to hunt as they do so. They move around large distances trying to avoid confrontations with lions and hyena.
We have good sightings of leopards close to our camps – especially that of ‘Romi’ – who can often be seen poised on a fallen tree. Leopards also tend to have cubs at this time of year and they have to work hard not to lose their kills to hyena. In February 2014, we had an amazing sighting of a leopard sharing its kill with a pack of hungry hyena.
The birding in February is fantastic; we have good sightings of ground hornbills travelling in trios as they feed on large grasshoppers and scarab beetles. A lot of the European migratory birds are still around and the abundance of life in the Musiara Marsh draws a variety of water birds such as storks, herons and hammerkops which can be seen hunting frogs and catfish.
With food a-plenty, many birds have nested and either have eggs or chicks. The weavers build their nests overhanging the riverbanks; some are busy building and some are looking after chicks. Plovers, longclaws and other ground-nesting birds have eggs and chicks hidden in their nests in the long grass.
Occasionally the caterpillars in the forest surrounding our camps turn into the most brilliant display of thousands of different kinds of butterflies and moths that flit from one wild flower to another. We have a beautiful butterfly garden at Governors’ Camp, be sure to visit it while you are with us.