July – what a month! So much happened in such a short space of time. There are stories to report on from every corner of the reserve, whether it be just a few metres from our camps or far to the south.
July in the Masai Mara – photo credit Nick Penny
The predators of the mara are having their time of plenty, taking advantage of the large herds crossing rivers and traversing the open plains. With such a sudden abundance of prey, they have certainly been spoilt for choice.
This has resulted in the most incredible wildlife sightings packed with action, for all of our guests in July. The reserve is really is bustling with life at this moment.
Elephants in the Musiara marsh – photo credit Nick Penny
This month has been extremely dry with only 10mm of rain received; this is less than normal for July and we hope to receive more. The weather in general has been very clear with the most breath-taking sunrises occurring at approximately 6:44am. At the start of the day, temperatures averaged around 13-14°C.
July sunrise – photo credit Nick Penny
Once the sun rose above the horizon, the temperatures quickly climbed to around 24-28°C, which is still a comfortable temperature especially with a gentle breeze that flows through camps. The days often ended as they started; very clear with magnificent sunsets that took place around 6:47pm. Watching the burning red ball of fire lowering gently behind the Oloololo escarpment really does make your ‘sundowner’ experience extra special.
The sun setting behind the escarpment – photo credit Nick Penny
The Mara River has remained at a decent level for most of the month which has meant that hippos can fully submerge themselves to escape the heat of the day. July is the coolest month of the year and many hippos have taken to basking on the many sand banks of the Mara River.
At the Kaburu crossing, some of our guests witnessed around 30 hippos all out of the water, basking in the late morning, which is one of those special sightings. Towards the end of the month, the river has rapidly dropped as the dry weather continues. This could start to cause issues between families and territories; if the level drops further, hippos will be forced to relocate to the deeper pools of the river which could cause tensions.
In the same way as the river, the Musiara marsh has maintained a good level throughout most of the month, but in the very last week of July it started to lose its moisture quickly. The decrease in rain has meant the grasslands are not providing fresh growth for elephants, therefore a good place to find them is wedged in the marsh, feeding on the lush vegetation and making the most of the remaining pockets of water.
The marsh is a popular feeding area for both breeding herds and solitary bulls – photo credit Nick Penny
From a photography point of view, it’s amazing to watch how the entire colour scheme of the Masai Mara can change. Only a few weeks ago, the plains were bright green whereas now, the plains are more of a golden hue which rapidly influences the types of images you can get. One thing I personally like about the drier grass, is that it does light up a wonderful orange in the early morning or late evening sun.
A young male from the Marsh Pride – photo credit Nick Penny
The magnitude of plains game we have been seeing this month has been spectacular. Like last month, we have had a continual flow of large resident zebra herds filtering into the reserve from the surrounding conservancies to find fresh grazing.
Many of these herds have continued to head south to meet up with the Great Migration. On their journey south they face one geographical challenge – the legendary Mara River. Most of these herds either end up at one of two crossing points: Main Crossing or the Kaburu Crossing. The herds start to arrive at these crossing points throughout the day and as their numbers grow, they became more confident to cross.
Thousands of zebras from the resident movement arrive at the river’s edge, feeling stronger in numbers – photo credit Nick Penny
By mid-afternoon to late evening these herds cross the river in a dramatic fashion. At the beginning of July, the river was fairly deep and some of the zebras, especially some of the younger ones whose heads would often dip under for a few seconds before bouncing back above the surface, could be seen struggling.
Photo credit Nick Penny
As the river level dropped towards the end of the month, the crossings seemed to get easier for the zebras. We witnessed a few crossings in late June, but the scale of these river crossings really picked up throughout July. By the middle of July, the zebras were crossing daily, which was quite the spectacle for our guests.
With all the commotion that ensues during a crossing, the Mara’s predators become highly alert – especially crocodiles, lions and leopards. The migration months are incredibly vital to the crocodiles; they have to make the most of it as once theses herds finish crossing, it could be months before they eat again.
A crocodile moves towards the zebra – photo credit Nick Penny
In the numerous crossings we’ve witnessed, there have been many crocodile kills. There have also been reports of guests observing lion kills at these crossings. One in particular was a male lion known as Spikey who had quite an intense battle with a zebra on the riverbank and eventually he lost the zebra to the river. Spikey used to control the East Lookout Pride with his partner Enkurroto, unfortunately Enkurroto went missing some time ago and Spikey was a nomad for a while. Most recently it seems he is bonding with the male Mrefu who also lost his coalition partner. Thanks to Leah of Big Cats of the Masai Mara for confirming his identity.
‘Spikey’ battles it out with a zebra before losing him to the Mara River and it’s crocodiles – photo credit Nick Penny
With many herds of zebras, topis and buffalos traveling around the Mara at the moment, there have been several kills made by larger predators – which in turn attracts the attention of the scavengers. Jackals are wonderful animals to watch; they are very opportunistic and are regularly seen at kill sites, trying to sneak in and collect a mouthful of meat at a time.
The omnivorous black-backed jackal – photo credit Nick Penny
What’s amazing to note is that they are small enough and fast enough to sneak in quite close to the kill even if the predators are around to quickly scavenge some food, unlike hyenas who have to wait until the predators are finished.
We are very sad to report the death of a well-known, older female elephant who had been named as ‘Nalangu’ by Harrison Nampaso who is our longstanding Manager at Governors’ Camp. She had been roaming around and passing through each of our four Mara properties for many years and was finally given the Maa name of Nalangu which means ‘to cross over again and again’ in March this year.
She was certainly aged and had begun to graze and feed within the camp grounds – it is possible that she felt safer around us. We had the pleasure of her company in camp on the 16th July and on the 17th July, she was discovered just outside Little Governors’ Camp, in the Mara Triangle, having passed away of natural causes.
Nalangu was a much-loved elephant who had a wonderfully calm personality and was very habituated to people. She was definitely one of the Governors’ cast of characters and we shall will miss her. “Rest in peace Queen” ~ Harrison Nampaso, Governors’ Camp Manager.
It’s exciting to report that the Great Migration of wildebeests and other plains game arrived in the reserve in spectacular numbers. This is the largest mass movement of animals in the world and is often referred to as the Greatest Show on Earth.
The Great Migration is the movement of approximately 1.3 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebras as well as some antelope species. The migration is a continuous mass movement of these animals that occurs year-round. They travel between the Serengeti and the Masai Mara in search of food.
Wildebeests launch themselves into the Mara River – photo credit Nick Penny
They first arrived in the Sand River area around the middle of the month and large herds have since headed even further north to the Lookout hill area. The Lookout area is quite a common place for the wildebeests to cross the Mara River, as they move from the reserve to the vast plains of the Mara Triangle. As the wildebeest go thundering down the river’s steep dusty banks, large clouds of dust are created and from a photographer’s point of view, it is certainly an atmospheric scene.
The Marsh Pride started the month spending most of their time around the Bila Shaka area and they were also seen at the Musiara airstrip a few times. Halftail, the male that controls the Marsh Pride left the territory for about a week and there were reports that he was possibly chased away by Chongo and Koshoke of the Bila Shaka coalition. It is reported he went back to Mara North conservancy for a few days.
The Marsh Pride in July – photo credit Nick Penny
The very handsome Halftail – photo credit Nick Penny
In his absence, ‘Bila shaka boys’ Koshoke and Kiok both started mating with Marsh Pride females. On the 13th July, Halftail was seen returning from the conservancy and only spent a day or two around Bila Shaka before leaving again. It seems as though Halftail is sadly losing his dominance and power within the Musiara marsh territory, especially since he lost his coalition partner, Logol, in October last year.
Kiok – photo credit Nick Penny
When the core pride females were spotted around the Musiara Marsh area later in the month, the last remaining sub adult male (son of Rembo) was spotted trying to mate with Kaleo. Koshoke was also seen mating with Lola which is has caused concern as the Bila shaka males are the fathers to Lola and Kaleo. Both situations are not good in terms of inbreeding for the pride.
Koshoke demonstrates his strength by clawing a tree trunk – photo credit Nick Penny
Towards the end of the month the pride is still quite split up; females have dispersed to mate with the Bila shaka boys, Halftail has been coming and going from the territory while lioness Rembo and her two sons are still missing. On the 31st July, our guides reported that all four of the Bila shaka males (Koshoke, Kiok, Chongo and Kibogoyo), were in the marsh and Halftail was away in MNC. It is (sadly) safe to say that the Marsh Pride have not had the easiest of months due to pressures on the pride.
Chongo is the most dominant male in the coalition – photo credit Nick Penny
The Paradise Pride have spent spent their time between main crossing and the Kaburu crossing point on the Mara River. They are taking full advantage of all the zebras that come to cross over into the Mara Triangle.
On the 12th July, some of our guests witnessed a Paradise Pride female take down a zebra all on her own just as the last of a large herd were crossing the river. Throughout the rest of the month there were reports that they ambushed plenty more zebras along this same stretch. These areas are great for hunting as there is long grass and bushes surrounding the water’s edge, so they can hide and wait for the perfect time to pounce on unsuspecting prey.
The Riverline / Kichwa Tembo Pride crossed the river into the reserve from the Mara Triangle towards the middle of the month and on their first morning in the reserve, it was apparent that they were in need of a good meal.
They quickly killed a waterbuck which is quite unusual for lions and is often seen as a ‘last resort’ for them. The pride has since been roaming through the riverine forest that hugs the Mara River for a few weeks before being chased away by the marsh pride
On the 1st July, we noticed a new female cheetah on the outskirts of the Bila shaka area. She spent nearly 3 weeks between Bila Shaka and our camps. On occasion she would come patrol right next to the camps. On the 11th July, she spent all afternoon and evening trying to hunt between Governors’ Il Moran and Little Governors’ Camp where she had two failed impala hunts. Thank you to Dr. Elena Chelysheva of the Mara-Meru Cheetah Project for identifying this cheetah as Nagol, daughter of Neema, granddaughter of Rani and great granddaughter of Shakira.
The female cheetah – photo credit Nick Penny
She was often seen first thing in the morning on the move, trying to hunt just as guests had left the camp for a morning game drive. On the 18th guests watched her attempt to stalk some Thompson’s gazelles but that also resulted in a failed hunt.
On the 10th of July, a big male leopard was spotted walking within the Musiara Marsh – just a few hundred metres from Little Governors’ Camp and Il Moran. It was reported that he was then chased up a tree by some lions of the Marsh pride and he went right up to the very top branches where he was incredibly well hidden. He spent the whole day up there and must have come down under the cover of darkness, to evade the lions.
Male leopard in a tree – photo credit Nick Penny
This male leopard is thought to be Romi’s son and unlike his mother who would happily pose for ages on a fallen tree trunk, he is quite a shy and often slips into thick undergrowth quickly. He is also quite a vocal leopard and we have heard him calling at night a few times throughout the month.
Birds of the Masai Mara
With the numerous kills that have been made by the predators of the reserve this month, it’s been great to see decent numbers of one of nature’s most important scavengers – the vulture.
A typical and furious feeding frenzy in the Masai Mara – photo credit Nick Penny
They are impressive at cleaning up a kill and making sure nothing is left. Generally, there are certain species that can be seen on a carcass: hooded vultures, Rüppell’s vultures, white-backed vultures and lappet-faced vultures are all part of the feeding frenzies that occur after predator have abandoned the meal.
Scavenging is a critical part of the ecosystem and yet each of these vulture species are either endangered or critically endangered on ICUN’s red list. Vulture populations are rapidly declining over recent years which is incredibly serious, because losing these species will have huge ramifications for the rest of the ecosystems that they live in.
A white-backed vultures tears away the remaining flesh from a rib cage – photo credit Nick Penny
When driving across Paradise plain, there is a lone tree where a secretary bird has just started to make its nest. It is often seen there in the early evenings, very carefully organising sticks so that they are in the perfect position. It is a great opportunity to see this bird a bit closer up as when they are on the ground, they’re generally quite shy and often turn their backs on you!
A secretary bird lays between one to three blue-green eggs; sadly this bird is endangered – photo credit Nick Penny
With the Musiara Marsh having less water at the moment, wading birds have concentrated around the deeper areas; yellow-billed storks, spoonbills, open-billed storks, sacred ibises and even a few marabou storks can all be seen. Fortunately, the Musiara marsh is a well-supplied marsh and will be able to sustain these birds until the rains arrive in November.
The usually thick vegetation of the marsh thins out during the drier months, which has allowed for excellent sightings of the beautiful but minuscule malachite kingfisher. These tiny birds only weigh around 12-19 grams and are 13cm long. You have to be camera ready and quick to spot a flash of blue, as they flit around the marsh looking for fish.
A malachite kingfisher is a wetland kingfisher and they are fiercely territorial – photo credit Nick Penny
The Nubian woodpecker is endemic to eastern Africa and can sometimes be spotted in the canopy above our camps – photo credit Nick Penny
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for July 2023 is by Nick Penny. To see other amazing wildlife imagery by Nick, please follow him on Instagram.
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