Weather and grasslands
For the month of May, we experienced some interesting weather patterns in the Masai Mara. After a rather cool and wet first week, we had a dry period in the middle of the month with no rain at all, for about two weeks.
At the very end of the month, the late afternoon rains came back in full force and topped up the Musiara Marsh area, the little streams and the Mara River once again. Total rainfall for the month, recorded at Governors’ Camp was 147.88mm .
The Mara River in front of Governors’ Camp – photo credit Felix Rome
Temperatures averaged at around 13℃ in the early mornings and up to around 26℃ in the afternoon. With the rain comes humidity; up to 95% during the night, around 85% in the morning and on average, 60% humidity was measured in the afternoon. Wind speed during the day did not exceed 15 kph. Our famously beautiful Mara sunrises took place at around 06:34am and the sun had set each evening at 18:38pm.
A perfect Mara sunrise – photo credit Felix Rome
Due to heavy rains at the beginning of the month, the level of the Mara River was rather high – especially for the first half of the month. The Mara River originates from the Mau Forest as well as the Southern Ewaso, Sondu River, Njoro River and the Ng’iro; all of these rivers play a vital role for East Africa’s lakes system as they feed into Lake Victoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Natron.
The Mara River as seen from above with Governors’ Balloon Safaris – photo credit Felix Rome
Due to overall wet conditions in the past weeks, the grassy plains of the Masai Mara still appear to be a blanket of green, especially when marvelling the unique landscape from above, from either a plane or one of our hot air balloons.
The Masai Mara landscape as seen from above with Governors’ Balloon Safaris – photo credit Felix Rome
A lucky sighting from aboard our balloon safari – photo credit Felix Rome
On the plains
During dry periods, hundreds of elephants will descend upon the Musiara marsh – a huge wetland on the doorstep of our Mara camps. During the rains however, there is plentiful food for larger herbivores and elephants are rather seen widely dispersed across the open plains.
Blossom (our favourite elephant) enjoys the Musiara marsh – photo credit Simon Landolt
Nevertheless, the Musiara Marsh is still a wonderful place to visit with lots of animal activity. This is a good place to see hippos, Cape buffalos, shy antelope like Bohor Reedbuck or Oribi and a plethora of bird species. With a pair of endangered martial eagles breeding in the heart of the marsh, it has become a place of major importance.
Our balloon passes over a female Bohor reedbuck – photo credit Felix Rome
Very little attention is given to the beautiful and elusive Bohor reedbuck. Their preferred habitats are suitable floodplain and the drainage-line of grassland found throughout savannas, which is tall enough to hide in.
They are active throughout the day, with grazing taking place during the night. Males are territorial while females occupy home ranges. Male territories are usually larger of around 25 – 60 hectares while home ranges of females span over 15 – 40 hectares.
A male Bohor reedbuck – photo credit Simon Landolt
Large aggregations of Bohor reedbucks can usually only be observed during the dry season, when swamps and wetlands start to shrink. Many predators including lion, leopard, spotted hyena and Nile crocodiles, will prey on them. A threatened reedbuck may whistle intermittently for as long as half an hour, especially at night, after getting wind of a predator.
Once spotted, they usually remain motionless or retreat slowly into cover but if the threat is too close, they will dash into a flat run interspersed with long bounds, whilst whistling shrilly to alert the others.
Big cats of the Masai Mara
The Masai Mara is famous for its high number of apex predators, especially lions which can be found in almost every corner of the reserve itself and its protected areas such as the Mara Triangle or in the surrounding conservancies.
Marsh pride male ‘Logol’ – photo credit Simon Landolt
We are particularly worried about the wellbeing of Marsh Pride lioness Pamoja, who is the daughter and companion of Yaya. During the night of 20th May, lions could be heard fighting on the plains not far from our camps. Three male lions from the Bila Shaka coalition were sighted with two lionesses at the ‘hippo pool’ near the Musiara airstrip. A county ranger who was positioned by the Musiara airstrip also reported seeing a hyena carrying what looked like a lion’s tail in its mouth, on the morning of the 21st May.
One of our last good sightings of Pamoja – photo credit Felix Rome
Logol, who is one of the two Marsh Pride males, was seen the next day by our guides, with what looked like fresh injuries on one of his rear legs and slightly limping. Ever since this incident, we have been on the lookout for Pamoja but each passing day gives us more reason for concern. Yaya and Pamoja were inseparable and never ventured far from their territory of the Marsh and its environs, so we feel it is unlikely that she headed out into the conservancies or away from this area and her family, on her own. Of course, without a carcass, no one can be entirely sure of what happened and Pamoja’s fate unfortunately remains unknown.
Yaya in full chase mode – photo credit Felix Rome
The Topi Pride is the strongest pride in the Masai Mara with an impressive 24 members and so the success story of this formidable group continues. In total there are 10 females and 14 cubs which are all in great condition and appear to be well fed. During May, the pride was mostly seen on Topi plains or on the northern slopes of Rhino Ridge, where they frequently hunt Cape buffalos, topi and warthogs.
The Topi Pride uses a termite mound as a vantage point over the long grass – photo credit Nick Penny
The Paradise Pride hasn’t been seen (by Governors’ guides) in the Reserve for a good while now. However, we have had confirmation that they are doing well and are currently in the Mara Triangle; they are very well known for crossing the Mara River.
At the beginning of May, a hippo was pushed out of the Mara River – possibly as a result of a territorial fight. The hippo was seen heading towards the plains in hope of finding a water body to heal and recover from its injuries in. Not long after, a sizeable clan of spotted hyenas noticed the hippo tightly wedged into a waterhole that was not much bigger than the herbivore itself.
The hyenas discover the vulnerable hippo – photo credit Simon Landolt
They started eating the exhausted animal alive and making a lot of noise, while the hippo attempted to fight back on several occasions. It was clear that it wouldn’t stand a chance however.
The hippo attempts to fight back – photo credit Simon Landolt
The next morning, we revisited the same spot; the hyenas had been pushed out by lions who were heavily feasting for most of the morning and wouldn’t let go of the carcass – even as the day began to heat up. The lions took turns resting underneath a Balanites tree but at least one lion (at times a subadult) always remained present at the carcass, ready to defend it against the hungry hyenas.
A grizzly sight the next morning as muddy lions take hold of the carcass – photo credit Simon Landolt
Hyenas and lions surround the decaying carcass – photo credit Simon Landolt
We had several leopard sightings in May; not only of Romi, our resident leopardess whose territory spans the riverine forest surrounding our Mara camps, but also her independent adult daughter from her last litter.
Romi relaxing in the long grass – photo credit Nick Penny
Towards the end of the month, some of our guests were lucky enough to witness a rare sighting of two mating leopards. Leopards are capable of breeding from two years of age, but most of them start at around three years old. One to three cubs are born at intervals of around 25 months, after a gestation period of 90-100 days.
Romi spotted in the early morning hours – photo credit Simon Landolt
The cubs are born blind and their eyes open between 6-10 days old; at around six weeks old they start to venture out and make short excursions with their mother. Even though the young become independent at about 22 months, the mother may continue to share kills with her offspring until they become totally self-sufficient.
Cheetahs were seen also often during the month of May. As these cats prefer shorter grass with bushy patches to hide and successfully stalk their prey, most sightings took place in between or after the double crossings, on the way towards the town of Talek.
Most of our guests took the opportunity to head out with a packed breakfast and spend the whole morning on a game drive, enjoying the changing landscapes, rolling hills and exploring different areas of the National Reserve. Our guests were ecstatic to see Tatu Bora (formerly Tano Bora), a famous coalition now consisting of three male cheetahs, on several hunting attempts during May.
Two of the Tatu Bora coalition – photo credit Simon Landolt
Birds of the Masai Mara
The Masai Mara is one of the most important birding areas in Kenya and never fails to impress. As a wildlife region recognised more for its big game rather than bird watching, the Mara nevertheless offers a great opportunity to see lots of different bird species, including many raptors and water dependent birds.
A southern ground hornbill – photo credit Nick Penny
A pair of grey crowned cranes – photo credit Nick Penny
The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem provides a critical food source and breeding ground for big raptors like the martial eagle, tawny eagles and some vulture species such as the critically endangered hooded vulture, African white-backed vulture and white-headed vultures. Most of these vultures are breeding on top of Warburgia ugandensis trees, which form part of the riverine forest that lines the banks of the Mara River.
A white-headed vulture – photo credit Simon Landolt
The white-backed vulture population is decreasing – photo credit Simon Landolt
The martial eagle, considered to be one of the largest and most powerful eagles, is an inhabitant of wooded belts of otherwise open savanna and has unfortunately shown a sharp decline in the past years. Currently, the martial eagle is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Therefore, we are thrilled that a pair of these iconic raptors have chosen the heart of the Musiara marsh as their breeding ground and are now most likely sitting on an egg. We will gladly keep you updated on their progress.
A breeding pair of martial eagles have settled in the marsh – photo credit Simon Landolt
Sightings of smaller raptors included Gabar goshawks, an African goshawk, Ovambo sparrowhawks, black-winged kites or grey kestrels – just to mention a few. Bateleur eagles as well as augur buzzards were seen regularly during May.
Gabar goshawks (the one on the left is a melanistic morph) – photo credit Simon Landolt
An Ovambo sparrowhawk is a species of sub-Saharan African bird of prey – photo credit Simon Landolt
Black-winged kites – photo credit Simon Landolt
A grey kestrel – photo credit Simon Landolt
The remarkable birds in and around our Mara camps were frequent and stunning as always – from a closeup encounter with a brown parrot (formerly called Meyer’s parrot), to purple grenadiers foraging on the ground in search of grass seeds.
A brown parrot enjoys the drip-feed bird bath at Governors’ Camp – photo credit Simon Landolt
Purple grenadiers – photo credit Simon Landolt
Other birds found within the campgrounds during May include white-browed robin-chats, double-toothed barbets, different species of weavers such as the baglafecht or the Holub’s golden weaver, Schalow’s and Ross’s turacos or a flock of speckled mousebirds.
Baglafecht weaver – photo credit Simon Landolt
Speckled mousebirds – photo credit Simon Landolt
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for May 2022 was written by Simon Landolt, wildlife guide with Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.