Weather and grasslands
This March we enjoyed clear skies in the early mornings, with an orange glow that lit the open plains. Total rainfall for the month was 31.5 mm; the 3rd was a day of particularly high rainfall measuring 16mm. Average temperatures in the early mornings were as low as 15°C with midday temperatures being as high as 32°C. The Mara River did not rise during the month of March and is still at a relatively low level.
Mara River at a low level in March – photo credit Will Fortescue
On the plains
In most areas, the grass is very long at the moment – especially around the Musiara Marsh, Paradise Plains, Bila Shaka and Topi Plain areas. Buffalos like to feed on long grass; a large breeding herd can be seen daily moving from Bila Shaka towards Topi plain and back.
Buffalos like to feed on the long grass – photo credit Will Fortescue
In the eastern part of the Reserve – around Kaboso and Mara Plains – the grass is shorter and plain game species like Topi, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle can be seen in significant numbers.
In some areas the grass is much shorter – photo credit Will Fortescue
Elephant herds are still in large herds and were mostly seen within the Musiara Marsh just outside the Governors’ line of Mara camps. There are many bulls who are either travelling on their own or older ones being escorted by younger males – some of the older dominant males are in ‘musth’. There are also many young calves in these breeding herds, a good sign for the future of Kenya’s elephant population. They often spend some time in and around the river and calves have been observed having great fun while playing with each other.
Solitary bull elephant – photo credit Will Fortescue
Hippo are being more vocal as the river level dwindles and the deeper pools become more congested. Hippo have a very poor epidermal layer so they will generally suffer under direct ultraviolet light for any length of time, therefore they do need the refuge of water to cool off in and they will often fight to secure their ground.
Hippos lying on the river bank below Il Moran – photo credit Simon Landolt
An extraordinary sighting on the 22nd of the month was that of a Caracal who was seen in the early hours around the Double Crossing, east of the Rhino Ridge. The Caracal is not often seen during the day; this elusive cat is mainly nocturnal and can cover great distances at night searching for food. These medium-sized members of the cat family mainly prey on rodents like rats or mice, but can also take smaller antelope species weighing up to 40kg and they are well known for their formidable bird-hunting skills. The unique Caracal is robustly built and the ears are long and pointed – with a tuft of longish black hair at the tips. The Caracal is still widespread throughout the African continent but absent from much of the tropical forest belt and much of the Sahara.
At 09:30 on the 28th we managed to spot another of the smaller cats – this time a Serval! Native to many parts of Africa, they are not rare but they are hard to find – finding a small grassland cat lurking in thick, long grass can be a challenging task. This medium-sized, large-eared wild African cat is surprisingly strong, fast and they have an incredible capacity for jumping high enough into the air to catch flying birds.
Spot the Serval! Photo credit Felix Rome
When hunting in wetland and marsh areas, they can slap a fish hard enough to stun it! On this particular morning we had spent a morning photographing elephants in overcast light and we were preparing to head back to Governors’ Camp, when we spotted the serval walking through the long grass and into a clearing, before walking right down the road allowing us to take some incredible photos.
Photo credit Simon Landolt
Big cats of the Masai Mara
Some of the lionesses from Riverline Pride, whose territory is the Kitchwa Airstrip and plains, have been seen with a younger male lion, together with two cubs in the age of three to four months, daily around Governors’ Il Moran Camp, Little Governor’s Camp and all the way up to the Lake Nakuru and the windmill areas. We watched them in the early morning of the 23rd sitting together in the long grass which was full of morning dew, waiting patiently for an meal opportunity.
Lionesses of the Riverline Pride – photo credit Simon Landolt
Lion cub belonging to the Riverline Pride – photo credit Simon Landolt
A beautiful scene was about to develop; the sun was rising and the grass had a golden tinge, while in the background, a breeding herd of elephants was making its way from the riverine forest towards the wetland area of the Musiara Marsh. Just then, a small herd of Common Eland, Africa’s largest species of Antelope, appeared in the open and the resting lions quickly transformed into stalk mode – but the Elands noticed them as they came out of the thicket so they took off very quickly.
Photo credit Felix Rome
Since the grass has been very tall for much of March, many of the smaller plains game species like Thomson’s gazelles, Impala, zebra, Topi and wildebeest have been left the Musiara Marsh area and its environs, in favour of shorter grasses for better grazing. With an absence of these preferred food species, the Marsh Pride of has turned its attention to other kids of prey such as the older and sometimes injured solitary hippos that come out of the Mara River to graze.
Plains species prefer areas of shorter grass – photo credit Will Fortescue
The Topi pride is hunting on Topi Plain, but some members of the pride have been sighted as far as the Kaboso area. Lions are often seen mating at this time of the year; the best chance for this apex predator to successfully raise their young is during the long-awaited, Great Migration of wildebeest, when a vast number of prey species will arrive on the plains of the Greater Mara Ecosystem after travelling long distances.
The female leopard, Romi, was not seen often in March – most of the sightings we had were right at the beginning of the month. Since the cubs are still very shy, their mother is displaying all the characteristics of a true leopard – very elusive and seldom seen. On the afternoon of the 26th of March, we sighted one of Romi’s adult offspring at Paradise Iasamani – just after closing the day with a sundowner. Our guides will usually rely on the alarm calls, or on the general behaviour of favoured prey species such as olive baboons, to know whether a leopard is in the vicinity. In this case, the guide was curious when he heard an Impala alarm calling in the thicket. He followed his instincts and was finally able to present this beautiful leopard to his guests.
On the 27th, our guests of Governor’s Il Moran Camp were lucky enough to spot Tano Bora, the famous grouping of five male cheetahs, not far the Masai Mara’s Talek Gate. Tano Bora, which means ‘The Magnificent Five’ in Kiswahili, were relaxing on a big termite mound in the middle of the day, before they went down to a little pool to drink. Cheetahs prefer the open plains of the Maasai Mara where they can easily cover huge distances with a commanding view of their area of operation.
Tano Bora cheetah coalition – photo credit Simon Landolt
Cheetah will hunt medium-sized mammals, mainly antelope up to a weight of about 40-60kg. The Tano Bora however need to catch larger prey, since they are living in a coalition with many mouths to feed, so they mainly focus on Topi or wildebeest and are even capable of taking down adults of both species.
Black-backed jackals can be watched in the late afternoon roaming and jumping through the tall grass looking for rodents, hares or ground birds. They are usually seen as solitary individuals or in pairs, but family parties are not unusual. This medium-sized canid shows distinctive large and pointed ears which are their main tool to locate their prey.
A black-backed jackal – photo credit Felix Rome
Birds of the Masai Mara
March was a fantastic month for bird watching! We had many sightings of different raptor species; a male Martial eagle was observed devouring a black-headed heron in a dead Warburgia tree in front of Governor’s Camp.
Martial eagle – photo credit Simon Landolt
Pied Kingfisher – photo credit Simon Landolt
Verreaux’s eagle-owls could be seen in and around Governors Il Moran and lots of Harriers, Kites, Kestrels and other eagles like the Tawny eagle were found in high numbers across the Mara. Herons, of which we have the black-headed and the grey species, as well as different species of storks, like the African open-billed or the beautiful Saddle-billed stork, can be found all around Musiara Marsh and even on the banks of the Mara River.
Verreaux’s eagle-owl – photo credit Simon Landolt
Masai Mara weather and wildlife for March 2021 is written by Simon Landolt, guiding intern with Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.
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