Weather and grasslands
The weather during the month of April was fairly unpredictable. The sun rose at around 6:35am and set at 6.40pm. We mostly had clear skies in the morning and the sun was out until about 4pm each day, before dark and heavy storm clouds started to rise over the Reserve.
April sunrise – photo credit Felix Rome
Heavy rains (mainly in the evening hours), caused the river level to rise quite a bit. The hippos have lost most parts of their well-used sandbanks to the river, so they have had to look for other areas to bask in the sun.
Photo credit Simon Landolt
Total rainfall was about 82mm and humidity averaged out at around 70%. Towards the end of April, it would rain earlier in the morning and remained overcast for most of the day. Temperatures on sunny days were between 15℃ in the mornings and up to 29℃ in the afternoon – and on cloudy days between 17℃ and 24℃.
Mara River level in April – photo photo credit Felix Rome
On the plains
Large herds of Topi, approximately 200 individuals, could be seen in the early morning hours, moving in from the short grass plains of Mara North Conservancy and making their way into the Reserve towards Bila Shaka and Topi Plains. This came as welcome news for all the predators out there who are definitely happy to see good numbers of herbivores wandering into their territories.
Topis – photo credit Felix Rome
The Topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela) is a subspecies of the Common Tsessebe and prefers certain grasslands in arid and savanna biomes. Topis generally eat nothing but grass. They are selective feeders and their narrow and long muzzle together with mobile lips, are perfectly adapted for harvesting the tenderest green blades.
Topi – photo credit Simon Landolt
As long as their diet consists of juicy green grass, Topis normally don’t have to drink. During the dry season however, when they rely on dry fodder, they will drink every day or two. Topis can be found in six different African countries and are currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.
The grass on the open plains is still very long and thick and most of the herbivores like buffalo, zebras, and both Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles are still avoiding these tall grass areas. But one species is omnipresent; the African savanna elephant is being seen daily in good numbers with large breeding herds seen around the Musiara Marsh and also on the soaked plains.
Photo credits Felix Rome
Young bulls are frequently being observed testing their strength in unserious, but impressive fights. Many cows are accompanied by calves around the age of one year.
Spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) were the most frequently seen predators in April and different clans are competing for food. One clan successfully took down a Cape buffalo calf at night; we came across the sight early in the morning while hyena members were still feeding on the carcass.
A second clan, which is not as dominant as the bigger clan, scented out the fresh meal and suddenly, a spectacular clash of clans developed around the carcass! The smaller clan was defeated quite quickly and the winning hyenas were able to finish their breakfast in peace.
The sounds of the Spotted hyenas, one of the most vociferous and noisiest african carnivores, can travel far down the grassland plains. There are 11 recognisably different calls which they use for communication between clan members as well as to communicate with rival clans. The most famous hyena sound is the so-called ‘giggle’, which indicates intense anxiety or fear and is typically made by a fleeing individual while being chased or even attacked.
We enjoyed an exceptionally rare series of eight separate serval cat sightings in April. This elusive and very elegant cat (Leptailurus serval) is slender and long legged, of medium size with a short tail and large, rounded ears. Servals love tall grass and are pretty common in the Maasai Mara, although not always seen.
Serval cat – photo credit Felix Rome
Their disproportionately, black and white banded ears indicate that hearing is definitely the major sense used in locating prey in their preferred long-grass habitat. Their diet consists of a variety of small mammals, particularly rodents but even the young of small antelope. Birds, reptiles and invertebrates are also taken regularly. The serval usually hunts at night and is extraordinarily agile – famous for its spectacular jumps and pounces to catch its prey. They can jump high and far, in order to catch a wide range of smaller mammals or birds and they have a wonderful ability to swerve and change direction at full speed. A true master in its field and a highly underestimated predator, around 40% of its pounces by day and around 50% by night, are successful.
Fortunately, some of the individuals that we saw were very inquisitive and they came very close by to the vehicle to investigate us. This provided the perfect opportunity to get some close-up shots of this beautiful cat – usually only seen for a short time between dense tufts of long grass.
Big Cats of the Masai Mara
General lion sightings were a little harder for April, than March. Due to an almost empty National Reserve in terms of visitors, spotting the big cats in long grass with only one or two vehicles hasn’t been as easy as it would have been, with more guides in the field. This goes to show how easily a big pride can disappear and it takes us time to find them again.
Lioness Pamoja of the Marsh Pride – photo credit Felix Rome
The Topi Pride, however, was pretty active for April and was seen by Governors’ quite a lot. They managed to bring down a big bull buffalo and stayed with it for several days, before the hyenas arrived to clean up the remains.
The Marsh Pride Lions were successful as well. Two dominant males, Doa and Chongo, were able to kill an old buffalo bull next to the Musiara Gate and were spotted the next morning, still feeding on the carcass together with two females of the same pride. They managed to defend their property against more than twenty Spotted hyenas from at least two different clans! The Hyenas had circled the lions, but they lacked the courage to attack the hunters and drive them away from their kill entirely.
Doa of the Marsh Pride of Lions – photo credit Felix Rome
Chongo with buffalo kill – photo credit Felix Rome
Birds of the Masai Mara
Bird watching was a real pleasure in April. A massive flock of white storks, of well over 100 individual birds, has been observed roosting on tall trees and recharging their batteries at the very beginning of the month. These Palearctic breeding migrants are most probably on their way back to Europe and the Middle East where they will spend the summer months, until they finally return to the African continent from the month of October.
Somali ostriches – photo credit Felix Rome
Since the dams and water pools are brimful, as well as all the plains around the Musiara Marsh being soaked, various species of Herons, Egrets, Ibises and resident storks could be seen in large numbers, hunting and foraging. There is plenty of food around, so the birds were able to pick their preferred prey without searching for long.
A black-headed heron – photo credit Felix Rome
A Kori bustard – arguably the largest flying bird native to Africa – photo credit Simon Landolt
The Pied kingfisher is also being seen more frequently in these wetter months, performing its unique hunting show of hovering around 3 meters above the water surface – to then suddenly flash down like an arrow to catch smaller fish.
A Pied Kingfisher – photo credit Simon Landolt
One of the most frequently seen bigger raptors, has been the Black-chested snake eagle. This unique bird of prey is considered more closely related to African white-backed and Cape vultures, than to other typical eagles. The Black-chested snake eagle can attack its prey from up to 450 meters high, but often descends in stages before finally plunging onto prey – always feet first. They mainly feed on small snakes but can also take cobras up to 1.8 meters in length, or Puff adders. They also feed on lizards (including large Nile monitors), frogs, rodents or occasionally fish and insects.
A black-chested snake eagle – photo credit Simon Landolt
An African fish eagle – photo credit Simon Landolt
Masai Mara weather and wildlife for April 2021 is written by Simon Landolt, guiding intern with Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.
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