Weather and grasslands
Another fantastic month in this prolific wildlife reserve has come to an end and it was a great success. The Great Migration of wildebeest and other plains game has officially started and big herds are thundering across the river and dispersing on to the open plains of the Masai Mara.
Photo credit – Nick Penny
Weather-wise, July was very dry. With a total of 59mm of rain in the course of the whole month, the water levels have gone down quite rapidly not only in the Mara River, but also in other wetland areas like the Musiara Marsh and the seasonal marsh in front of Little Governors’ Camp.
Photo credit Simon Landolt
There are still enough ‘deep spots’ in the Mara River for the hippos to wallow and territorial fights have been rather rare this month. Good numbers of large Nile crocodiles can be observed from each of our Mara camps, floating downstream or sunbathing on one of the many sandbanks below.
Hippo pools are congested as they wallow in the remaining pools – photo credit Nick Penny
Crocodiles are ectothermic which means that they control and regulate their body temperature through external processes, for example, basking in the sun. Most of them can be seen relaxing in direct sun, with jaws wide open, from around 9am in the morning until afternoon.
Due to clear nights and some winds coming from the east, temperatures as low as 10℃ were not unusual. As the sun gets stronger during the course of the day, temperatures can soar as high as 30℃ by the afternoon and the layers of clothing start to come off.
The most beautiful Masai Mara sunrises were enjoyed in July at around 6:43am and stunning sunsets at around 6:47pm. Most of our gusts love to end the day with a cold drink and an exquisite view of the sun disappearing behind the iconic Oloololo escarpment – made famous in Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa memoir.
July sunrise in the Masai Mara – photo credit Nick Penny
July sunset over the Oloololo escarpment – photo credit Simon Landolt
On the plains
Dry conditions on the plains have affected the habits and movements of resident wildlife; more herbivores are congregating in the remaining wetlands like the Musiara Marsh where there is still a lot of water available.
Elephants favour the Musiara marsh – photo credit Simon Landolt
Many elephants can be observed playing, drinking, eating and simply enjoying the cooling effects of the water. Cape buffalo, plains zebra, common eland, Defassa waterbuck and lots of other antelope species are presently seen in good numbers, in and around the marsh.
Common eland – photo credit Simon Landolt
The Great Wildebeest Migration
Thousands of common zebras are filing into the reserve from the conservancies and perhaps even from the Loita plains. We watched them traverse the plains around Musiara, heading past our Mara camps and on towards the Main and Kaburu crossing points, where they eventually made it over the low level of the Mara River and into the Mara Triangle.
Photo credit Nick Penny
They are most likely on their way to meet up with the migratory zebras and wildebeests which are heading north from the Serengeti.
A zebra cautiously contemplates crossing the Mara River – photo credit Nick Penny
Some dramatic scenes unfolded and were luckily witnessed by our guests and guides. Due to the low water level, the zebras didn’t have to swim and the crossing itself wasn’t too difficult but, ruthless crocodiles, lions and leopards (the masters of disguise), managed to blend in with low rocks next to rapids, or behind tall grass and bushes on the other side which proved to be the perfect ambush.
Humongous Nile crocodiles swallow the remains of a zebra – photo credit Nick Penny
The main herds of migratory wildebeest, arrived in Kenya by the middle of July. Thousands upon thousands have already crossed at the Sand River which is down towards the Tanzanian border.
Wildebeest crossing at Sand River – photo credit Moses Manduku
Our guests who opted for a full-day game drive, with a picnic breakfast and lunch, were able to observe one of the world’s last mass terrestrial wildlife movements and returned to camp later each day, thrilled with the turn-out of events.
Dust and drama as the herds climb the banks of the river – photo credit Tom Seph
The Great Migration is a continuous mass movement of millions of animals that is always occurring throughout the year. The wildebeests are constantly on the move accompanied by many other herbivores, such as zebras and Thomson’s gazelles, following an ancient route in search of fresh pastures and water.
The most popular months to experience the sheer chaos and mayhem of the wildebeest migration are July, August and September, as this is when the most sought-after moment takes place – the dramatic river crossings.
By late October, the animals are on their way back into Tanzania’s Serengeti where they will spend the rest of the year, although they are always moving. The herds are so large and dense (up to 1’000 animals per km2) and they file along in lines so wide that they can even be seen from space!
Herds of wildebeest on the plains of the Masai Mara – photo credit Moses Manduku
The Mara’s predators benefit massively from the bountiful supply of food during these months; lions, leopards, cheetahs, wild dogs and crocodiles are vital to the ecosystem by making sure that only the fittest and strongest animals survive what is considered to be the greatest wildlife show on earth.
From mid-July onwards, large numbers of wildebeests have crossed the Mara River and pushed their way into the Mara Triangle. At the end of the month, a large herd known as the spearhead, was seen south of the Serena Lodge in the Mara Triangle making its way towards the main crossing. Significant river crossings have also been witnessed around the Lookout area. Currently, there are more herds in the northern Serengeti heading towards Kenya – which is an amazing sign for this year’s Great Migration!
Big cats of the Masai Mara
The Paradise Pride of Lions are back in the reserve; they have been very active and successful although they are clearly waiting for the congregations of wildebeest to build up on this side of the Mara River.
The Paradise Pride – photo credit Simon Landolt
They have mostly targeted the large herds of zebras coming through their territory before crossing into the Mara Triangle and have made kills regularly. The adult members and subadult cubs in this pride are looking strong and very healthy.
Unfortunately, the core group of the Marsh Pride, which includes the leading females Rembo and Dada, hasn’t been seen (by us) in the Reserve during July. The Marsh Pride males, Logol and Halftail also haven’t returned to the Reserve from their visit to Mara North Conservancy.
With sufficient numbers of topi, wildebeest and zebra to be preyed on in Mara North, we can only hope that they are doing well and will be drawn back to their territory of the marsh and its environs, with the arrival of the Great Migration.
There are three very young cubs, which were born at the beginning of the month, to the Rekero Pride. We were lucky enough to spend some time with them at a buffalo carcass. The cubs, only a few weeks old, were extremely playful and seemed relaxed out in the open, allowing us to observe them and get some good shots.
The new cubs of the Rekero Pride – photo credit Simon Landolt
There is no fixed breeding season for lions in general, but the Mara lions have adapted to giving birth as the wildebeests are moving into Kenya. With plenty of food around, the cubs are not left on their own for long periods of time while the mothers hunt. After a gestation period of about 110 days, one to four cubs (rarely up to six) are dropped, each weighing about 1.5kg. Adult females of the same pride will often conceive around the same time, with the advantage that cubs can suckle from any lactating lioness within the pride.
Rekero Pride cub – photo credit Simon Landolt
We were treated to phenomenal sightings of the Tatu Bora coalition of cheetahs; these three cats were seen regularly and in many different places within the Masai Mara throught July. Sadly, this famous grouping of what originally consisted of five formidable males, formerly and famously known as Tano Bora, has now been reduced to just two members after Leboo’s body was found close to the Mara River at the end of the month – a suspected mauling by lions perhaps. This leaves the final pair of Winda and Olonyok.
Tatu Bora coalition in July, just before they lost ‘Leboo’ – photo credit Simon Landolt
Sometimes referred to as the “greyhound of cats”, cheetahs are the fastest land mammal on our planet. The cheetah is the only cat that does not have fully retractile claws; instead their claws work like the spikes on a runner’s shoe to give the animal plenty of extra traction when running after prey at high speed.
Photo credit Nick Penny
Another sighting that is high up on the checklist of the Masai Mara’s wildlife is the leopard. Romi, our resident leopardess who lives in the riverine forest surrounding our Mara camps has been seen regularly. She is quite the ‘poser’ and seems to know when she is being photographed, leaving many of our guests absolutely thrilled with their shots of her.
A classic sighting of Romi, resting on a fallen tree – photo credit Simon Landolt
With the days being very hot and dry at the moment, the best time to see this member of The Big Five is either very early in the morning or just before getting back to the camp in the evenings. Whether you happen to spot one up a tree protecting its kill, relaxing on a fallen stump or just walking across an open area, a sighting of the elusive leopard never gets old.
Romi on the move – photo credit Simon Landolt
Birds of the Masai Mara
July was another amazing month for bird watching; the marsh, small streams and remaining water holes are currently packed with many different water-dependent birds like herons and ibises as well as yellow-billed and woolly-necked storks and the African openbill.
A black-headed heron – photo credit Nick Penny
One bird that really stood out this month was the African spoonbill. On many occasions we found a small flock of spoonbills foraging together in the Musiara Marsh as well as in and around the marsh in front of Little Governors’ Camp. This intriguing bird has slightly decurved, spatula-shaped bill and a distinctive red face with white plumage. They are usually found in flocks of just three to thirty birds and can often be seen congregating with herons and ibises.
African spoonbill – photo credit Simon Landolt
In order to catch small fish and different aquatic invertebrates, the African spoonbill wades through shallow water with the bill wholly or partly submerged, sweeping from side-to-side, snapping up prey in their ‘spoon’.
Other birding highlights around our camps in July included several sightings of the double-toothed barbet, narina trogons, brown parrots, both Schalow’s and Ross’s turacos as well as a few sightings of a western banded snake-eagle, a Verreaux’s eagle-owl and a dark-chanting goshawk.
African harrier-hawk – photo credit Simon Landolt
A Verreaux’s eagle-owl – photo credit Simon Landolt
Unfortunately, it was sad news for the breeding pair of martial eagles as we discovered the dead chick on the ground not far from the nest. Whether it fell out of the nest on its own or whether another raptor pushed it out or killed it inside the nest, is hard to say.
It’s a known fact that Verreaux’s eagle-owls, which are quite common along the riverine forests between our camps, don’t like competition at all and are known to readily kill chicks from other raptor species. This is of course a great loss for the Masai Mara and for the species as well; the martial eagle is classified as “endangered” by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) due to habitat loss and persecution by local farmers due to their habit of taking livestock.
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for July 2022 was written by Simon Landolt, wildlife guide with Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.