Weather and grasslands
The month of March was far drier than February with a total of just 70mm of rain. Less rainfall in the Mara combined with high temperatures in the afternoons, as well as drier conditions around the Mau Escarpment (the source of the Mara River), made the river level drop dramatically.
Temperatures of up to 27℃ were not uncommon during the afternoons. Cooler nights with average temperatures of around 15℃ were greatly appreciated after a long day in the sun. High humidity in the very early mornings of up to 93% and around 55% during the course of the day, represented a normal pattern for the Maasai Mara and was very similar to last month’s humidity chart. We also experienced heavy winds as attendants to smaller thunderstorms. The sun rose at about 6:41am and had set about 6:47pm in the same spectacular manner as usual.
March sunrise – photo credit Felix Rome
On the plains
Hippo pods are gathering in the deeper spots of the Mara River as well as the smaller streams and pools out on the plains. An exceptionally large pod can be observed from Private Camp. As soon as the water level drops, hippos tend to become even more territorial and they defend their areas more aggressively. Young males are constantly being pushed out and several of them were seen roaming the plains during the hottest time of the day, in search of a new spot to wallow.
Hippos fight on the open plains – photo credit Felix Rome
The overall weather conditions have been dry, which has made game driving easier and all the areas in the National Reserve were easily accessible. There is still plenty of pockets of water about, especially in and around the marsh areas – but things are drying up very quickly. Grasses like the Hyparrhenia have grown very tall with all the rains we had, but they are quickly changing form; golden colours mixed with bright green spots has really made the Mara’s open plains look stunningly beautiful.
Large herds of elephants are visiting daily – from the main Musiara Marsh all the way towards Bila Shaka and Paradise Plains – which is a good indicator of having a lot of water and soft grass available.
Photo credit Simon Landolt
Many elephant cows have given birth and the herds are now wandering the plains with their new offspring. It’s amazing to see how even the smallest members of these families are already able to cross the Mara River from the Mara Triangle into the National Reserve and back – of course with the help of either their mothers or other relatives.
Young elephants have so much to learn; figuring out how to master around 40’000 muscles in their trunk, or how to communicate with family members over big distances, are just two examples. As one of the most intelligent land mammals, it is indeed a long journey to become a fully grown member of the herd.
A young elephant uses his trunk to spray mud across his body – photo credit Simon Landolt
Impala, topi and Coke’s hartebeest are still the most abundant of antelopes around the Musiara Marsh, which is adjacent to our Mara camps. With the grass getting longer every day, smaller species like Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelle no longer feel comfortable with these low-visibility conditions.
Impalas however are different; their numbers are high in the Mara because they have adapted well to their habitat of transitional woodland-grassland habitats called ecotones, where they are able to both browse and graze.
Male impala – photo credit Simon Landolt
Impalas have an arsenal of exceptional senses including large ears to hear the smallest noises and huge, side-positioned eyes with excellent peripheral vision. While feeding, impalas take turns to lift their heads up to watch for danger. A loud nasal alarm snort is used to signal threats and scatters the herd into flight-mode.
They are very agile, easily clearing obstacles in densely vegetated habitats with up to 12 meter high leaps and they may flick their hind legs up almost vertically while they flee. They are common prey for a variety of carnivores including lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyena, pythons, baboons, jackals or large birds of prey that can snatch their lambs.
The black metatarsal glands on the heels of an impala’s hind legs are unique to the species but their actual function is uncertain. They are supposedly activated when an impala kicks up its hind legs in flight and could play a role in re-grouping after a herd has scattered.
Impalas scatter during a cheetah hunt – photo credit Felix Rome
Large numbers of zebras were seen at the border towards Mara North Conservancy as well as on our walking safaris in Lemek Conservancy.
Big cats of the Masai Mara
Lion prides in the Masai Mara National Reserve did very well in March. The Marsh Pride females took down an ageing male buffalo just right next to Musiara airstrip. Our lucky guests were stunned to have witnessed a lion kill take place just as they disembarked the air craft.
The Marsh Pride – photo credit Felix Rome
It took the lionesses quite some time to actually kill the buffalo; an aggressive bull isn’t an easy target for them, but they are very opportunistic and will take the chance when offered. The cubs were observing and learning from their mothers, but had to be very careful not to get trampled or hit by the horns (watch video).
A hippo was killed by a non-resident lion pride just near the crossing to Little Governors’ Camp, in the Reserve. These lions must have crossed the Mara River and took the chance to fill their stomachs since the Marsh Pride has been located far more east towards Musiara Airstrip and Bila Shaka. A total of three females, four cubs and one male were present at the scene.
Unknown (to Governors’) male lion – photo credit Simon Landolt
The Topi Pride of lions was spotted almost on a daily basis; it is absolutely fascinating and special to spend time with such a large and healthy pride of lions.
The Topi Pride – photo credit Simon Landolt
On the 14th of March we set out to specifically look for cheetah; we passed the double-crossing and not much further along we were rewarded with the Tatu Bora coalition of three males. This famous coalition, originally known as Tano Bora (meaning the Magnificent Five), is now sadly down to just three individuals after expelling their own leader ‘Oldapan’ and then losing a second member, ‘Olarishani’, just a fortnight later.
Tatu Bora – photo credit Simon Landolt
We had a second cheetah sighting around the Kaboso area; an unknown solitary male was heading towards Mara North Conservancy.
Tatu Bora member – photo credit Simon Landolt
Romi, who is the resident leopard around the Governors’ Mara camps, was seen out in the open, several times during the month of March. Her wound is totally healed and she is in very good shape. A sighting of Romi is on the top of every ‘wish list’; she is strong, beautiful and regal and will often pose for photographers.
Romi photographed by Governors’ guide Moses Manduku
Differences between leopards and cheetahs
Leopards have a more stocky, muscular body and shorter, powerful limbs that are adapted to a stalking and pouncing hunting technique – where the prey is overwhelmed with sheer brute force. The larger head and neck are essential for holding, subduing and hoisting prey up trees.
Romi’s son hides his prey high up in a tree – photo credit Moses Manduku
The more slender tail, although white-tipped, is not usually ringed in black towards the end. Leopards, unlike cheetahs, have the entire face spotted (except a narrow band on top of the nose) and they lack the black line that runs down from the eyes. The coat on the sides of the body, back and upper tail of a leopard, is made up of three to six spots grouped into circles called rosettes. The fur inside the rosettes is usually darker than that on the outside.
Cheetahs however, although being less robust than leopards in terms of size and mass, usually stand taller. Their longer legs enable greater strides to run prey down and the general body shape is streamlined for speed. They have a more pronounced chest area and a smaller head than their larger cousins.
The broader, rudder-like tail is usually white-tipped with the spots forming black rings towards the end. Cheetahs have a characteristic black line (called a ‘tear mark’) that runs from the inside corner of the eye to the outside corner of the mouth. The whiskers are shorter and the eyes more amber than those of a leopard. Cheetahs have single black spots across the body.
Birds of the Masai Mara
Bird watching during March, was as impressive as any other month in the Mara. White storks, who arrived in the Mara around the middle of March – most likely from southern Africa – have started to migrate back to Europe where they will breed and spend the summer.
During a walking safari one morning in Lemek Conservancy, we were lucky to observe these magnificent birds using thermals in order to gain height without a lot of effort, before they all disappeared over the horizon, flying north.
A (possibly) once-in-a-lifetime-sighting took place on top of a Warburgia tree inside the main Musiara marsh area. When we arrived at the scene, we found a pair of Martial eagles mating. The Martial eagle is a magnificently large raptor and very powerful hunter. It hunts on the wing, spending many hours of the day engaged in exploratory soaring, covering areas extending 100-1’000 km2.
Mating pair of martial eagles – photo credit Simon Landolt
They can spot prey as far as 6km away and will drop upon it surreptitiously, by making use of cover in its approach. Although they specialise in eating monitor lizards and to a lesser degree, other birds like herons, Martial eagles will take larger animals including hares, rabbits, warthogs, impalas, baboons, jackals, caracals, pangolins and mongooses. They can lift up to 8kg of prey although typically, they only lift prey between 1 – 4kg.
Other birding highlights discovered out on the open plains in March were the marsh owl, four long-toed lapwings, European bee-eaters, Kori Bustards, Temminck’s courser, European rollers and a fierce secretary bird who was harassed by hyenas while searching for food.
An inquisitive marsh owl chick – photo credit Simon Landolt
A European roller – photo credit Simon Landolt
A pied kingfisher with baby catfish – photo credit Simon Landolt
The secretary bird successfully scared off some younger hyenas by kicking them in their faces. Secretary birds have a very powerful kick, which is usually used to kill snakes, rodents and other prey but apparently also quite useful to defend themselves against some half-grown hyenas.
A secretary bird fends off hyena youngsters – photo credit Simon Landolt
Wonderful birds like the colourful Narina Trogon, the very well camouflaged but very vocal African emerald cuckoo, an African goshawk, common waxbills and crowned hornbills were the camp highlights in regards to bird watching.
African goshawk – photo credit Simon Landolt
A crowned hornbill – photo credit Simon Landolt
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for March 2022 was written by Simon Landolt, wildlife guide with Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.