June has been a month both of excitement and anticipation within the Masai Mara Reserve. A lot of change is starting to happen as we edge ever closer to ‘the great migration’ arriving.
Photo credit Nick Penny
The reserve has been bustling with life; huge herds of elephants have been in the marshes, the forests, on the plains as well as in all of our camps.
Elephants in between riverine forest and the Musiara marsh – photo credit Nick Penny
All the while, great numbers of zebras and topis have arrived in the reserve to graze on the fresh long grass which has, in turn, drawn the attention of the big cats. It has certainly been an action-packed month.
June received an interesting mix of weather – each day seemed to be quite different. For the most part, it has been cloudy and we received 70mm of rainfall which is normal for this time of year.
We have also had days where it has been beautifully clear and sunny, with some stunning sunrises (taking place at roughly 06:40am) and sublime sunsets (at approximately 18:44pm). The ideal combination of rain and sunshine has been great for the grasslands and as a result, there is fresh growth everywhere.
A classic Mara sunrise – photo credit Nick Penny
The Musiara marsh has a very high level of water at the moment, therefore it is looking very green and plentiful. The iconic marsh and its environs are a vital habitat for so much wildlife such as elephants, buffalos, hippos, waterbucks, impalas and reedbucks – as well as a plethora of bird and reptile species.
A herd of female impalas – photo credit Nick Penny
The Mara river has maintained a decent depth overall – it has only increased or decreased by minimal amounts throughout the month. The river level is deep enough so that hippos can fully submerge themselves in order to keep cool, but not too deep so they can’t stand on the bottom.
The cloudier mornings have meant that it has been a little chillier (around 13℃) so a fleece or jacket has been very welcome to keep warm for the first hours of a morning game drive. The days soon warmed up to a comfortable 24/25℃. This time of year is actually Kenya’s ‘winter’ and although it can’t be compared to a European winter, it is actually the coldest time of the year for the Masai Mara.
Most of the rain we received this month came in the early evenings, which meant that our guests got to witness some of the Mara’s spectacular storms, where the sky comes alive with dark detailed clouds. With rumbles of thunder and flashes of lighting, it really is a spectacle to observe.
The open plains surrounding our mara camps have been filling up over the month. Some wonderful herds of resident zebras and topis have been filtering into the reserve from the Loita Hills and plains, as well as the surrounding conservancies.
The resident movement of zebras during June – photo credit Nick Penny
During the months of June and July, these herds tend to come south into the reserve in search of fresh grass – which they certainly have found this month. They will spend a few weeks grazing on this fresh growth before heading even further south to meet up with ‘the great migration’. This smaller scale movement of animals is known as the ‘Loita migration’.
At the Kaburu crossing point – photo credit Nick Penny
At the moment, the vast majority of these Loita zebras and topis are very content grazing in the open plains due to the fresh grass, but there have been ‘breakaway’ groups which have decided they need to head further south.
These breakaway herds start running once they reach the the Bila shaka area and do not stop until they reach the Mara river, which is quite a distance. When they do reach the river, they often do not wait around and seem to cross very quickly. Over June, our guests have witnessed some lovely crossing in the early evenings – one herd of zebra was even joined by four giraffes as they crossed the river!
Resident zebras gather at the Kaburu crossing point – photo credit Nick Penny
When the ‘Great Migration of wildebeests and other plains game’ starts to head back into the Serengeti, the resident zebras and topis will stay in the Masai Mara and slowly head back north to the Loita hills region; they generally arrive there as the rains start.
We have had an influx of elephant herds this month in and surrounding the camps. The elephants are crossing the Mara river daily between the Mara Triangle and the reserve. The first elephant herds are generally spotted coming out of the riverine forest that hugs the Mara river, at first light. They then make their way to the Musiara marsh or the open plains to feed.
Photo credit Nick Penny
From late morning to the early afternoon is when most herds cross the river. Therefore, afternoon game drives are the best time to witness hundreds of elephants scattered across the marsh and the surrounding plains – it truly is a sight to behold.
Early on in the month, guests were treated to a very special sighting of giraffes; just outside Governors’ Camp, there was a tower of 28 individuals! These giraffes were first spotted at the Bila shaka area before they started making their way slowly over towards our Mara camps.
A magnificent ‘tower of giraffes’ – photo credit Nick Penny
There are reports that large herds are heading north towards the Mara, so it is only a matter of time before their eagerly awaited arrival.
As usual, there has been plenty to report on for the big cats of the Mara. The most ‘local’ lion pride we have to our camps is the Marsh Pride. They have been very active this month moving between the Bila shaka, old windmill and marsh areas.
The Marsh Pride – photo credit Nick Penny
Over much of this month, we have seen eight of the pride regularly. Very worryingly, lioness Rembo and two of her male subs have not been sighted in the Marsh for over a month now. We are liaising with the Mara Predator Conservation Programme on their possible whereabouts.
The group of eight are often quite active in the early mornings, which has been great for photographing them. They have been observed by our guests a couple of times this month attempting to hunt some buffalo.
Members of the Marsh pride take on a buffalo – photo credit Nick Penny
Around the middle of the month, Marsh pride female Kito was spotted mating with Kiok of the Bila shaka coalition, right on the road from the airstrip to our camps, which made for quite a spectacular first sighting for many of our guests.
Towards the end of the month Kito had left the rest of the pride and was spotted mating with Halftail in the long grass towards the Musiara gate. Females sometimes mate with more than one male in order to protect their cubs, since males have been known to kill offspring that aren’t sired by themselves.
Halftail is the dominant male in the Musiara Marsh territory – photo credit Nick Penny
We have had a couple of sightings of Yaya and her grand cubs, Simba and Pamoja mbili, in the reserve this month. Our sightings of this trio have sadly been few and far between, we suspect this due to there being such a high density of strong lion prides and coalitions in the areas surrounding our camps, that they could be finding it hard to establish their own territory.
Young ‘Pamoja mbili’ is the daughter of the late lioness known as Pamoja – photo credit Nick Penny
We continue to have good sightings of the Topi Pride which was actually started by some ‘break aways’ from the Marsh Pride in 2018. The pride is extremely successful with around 25 lions and always growing – this is the largest group in the Masai Mara and is now clearly one of Africa’s ‘super prides’. Our guides have reported that the pride might have recently split in two, since just 14 of them were spotted without the others, during the last week in June.
The Topi Pride – photo credit Nick Penny
The Paradise Pride has been spending a lot of their time around the main crossing point on the Mara river – with good reason. As the resident zebras head south, many of them end up arriving at the main crossing point, where this pride is often waiting patiently in the bushes. A few of our guests were lucky enough to witness two paradise lionesses ambush a zebra on its way down to the river.
Paradise pride male sub – photo credit Nick Penny
We are also seeing more of the Paradise Pride’s very young cub as it becomes stronger and more confident. The mother Nado has been seen carrying the cub around in her mouth. The cub has also been seen playing with numerous other individuals of the pride as they were resting, which is a truly special sighting to witness (watch the video).
Paradise Pride female and cub – photo credit Nick Penny
The male lion coalition known as the ‘Bila shaka boys’ have been very active this month and they have been spotted in a few locations. All four of the male lions spent a few days with the Paradise pride near to main crossing, which was great to see, as all four hadn’t been seen together for a few weeks prior.
Koshoke is one of the Bila shaka males – photo credit Nick Penny
Only a couple of days later, two of the boys, Chongo and Koshoke were spotted very early in the morning by the Musiara gate, which is over 20km from where they were last seen at main crossing. This shows that these big male lions will walk staggering distances, mostly overnight.
Double trouble – Koshoke and Chongo – photo credit Nick Penny
We had a wonderful cheetah spend a couple of days around the Bila shaka area in the middle of the month, unfortunately we were not able to identify this particular individual. In its time around Bila shaka, it managed to kill a Thompson’s gazelle late one morning. It then relaxed for the next 24 hours, presumably sleeping off the large amount of food it had consumed! We also spotted Winda, one of the two males of the Mbili Bora (previously Tano Bora) coalition.
The cheetah seen at Bila shaka – photo credit Nick Penny
The male cheetah known as Winda – photo credit Nick Penny
There have been a couple of sightings of a male leopard in the forest right next to Governors’ Il Moran Camp and he has been identified as Romi’s son. We believe the leopardess Romi is now living on the other side of the Mara river (in the Mara Triangle) as one of our guides did spot her near the Kichwa Tembo airstrip early on in June.
The birding opportunities of the Masai Mara have been as plentiful as ever this month. The various calls of different birds throughout our camps can be heard at first light and their songs continue all day until darkness falls. It truly is a beautiful soundtrack to have in camp.
We’ve had wonderful sightings of a juvenile martial eagle. This young but extremely large eagle has been spotted around the riverine forest that surrounds each of our Mara camps as well as a few locations in the Musiara marsh. Martial eagles are the largest eagle in Africa with a wingspan that can reach up to 2.6m. They hunt other birds and reptiles as well as young impalas.
A juvenile martial eagle – photo credit Nick Penny
There has been a flock of grey-crowned cranes near the Musiara airstrip for pretty much the entirety of the month, with their numbers reaching nearly 30 on some days. It is thought that these young cranes are coming together to find a mate, which is of major importance to this species since they mate for life with their chosen partner.
A larger than usual flock of grey-crowned cranes – photo credit Nick Penny
The large sized herds of zebras and topis have been accompanied by strong numbers of cattle egrets and oxpeckers. The birds have a deep symbiotic relationship with these grazing animals as both parties benefit from living together.
Cattle egrets removes ticks and flies from a range of mammals in the Mara – photo credit Nick Penny
The grazing mammals often stir up insects in the grasses which the birds eat and the birds eat ticks and other parasites on the grazers, helping to keep their skin clean.
Yellow-billed oxpeckers keep a mammal’s parasite load under control as well as warn them if danger is nearby – photo credit Nick Penny
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for June 2023 is by Nick Penny. To see other amazing wildlife imagery by Nick, please follow him on Instagram.
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