Weather and grasslands
Weather wise, cool temps in the early mornings often with low cloud cover and then warming up to being fairly hot later in the day. Some good sunrises on most early mornings. Rainfall patterns have been low; a total of 33.3mm recorded so far for November. Small pockets of rain have started since the 25th, often with strong winds.
Sunrise game drive – photo credit Felix Rome
Storm clouds and lightening threaten rainfall, yet the Mara needs more rain – photo credit Felix Rome
Humidity has been fluctuating between 45 – 79%. Average early morning temperatures are still low at 16°c and midday temperatures have averaged at 28°c. The grasslands are drying out with resident ungulates moving between open plains and savannah areas. The Mara River is at an all time low and almost down to bedrock level. Kenya is experiencing a terrible drought in northern parts of the country.
The red fruits of the Diospyros abyssinica, Elaeodendron buchananii and Teclea nobilis are all fruiting at the moment, these red fruits bring in many bird species such as violet-backed starlings and double-toothed barbets, to name a few. The warburgia trees still have a little fruit as indicated by baboon activity high up in the very top canopies.
On the plains
Coke’s hartebeest and Topi with young calves can be seen in good numbers, scattered across the Musiara marsh and conservancy plains; the coke’s hartebeest have the youngest calves at this moment in time. Strong herds of Topi can be seen on the east Musiara plains and also at the Malima Tatu area of the Olare Orok Conservancy.
Masai giraffes in bachelor groups or in loose breeding herds, are found within the riparian woodlands between each of the Governors’ camps. Small herds of eland can be found near Malima Tatu and also in the west marsh areas. Many young Thomson gazelle fawns are being seen on the open plains; they are susceptible to being taken by martial eagles and black-backed jackals. Two black-backed jackal den sites are being monitored as both dens have pups of similar ages (up to three months old).
Masai giraffe – photo credit Margaret Maire
Resident common zebras have been crossing back and forth on the Talek River as well as at the main crossing point on the Mara River. Resident wildebeests can be found in small herds in the Olare Orok Conservancy and also on the east side of the Olare Orok River. In the Mara Triangle, more wildebeest and zebra are being seen in some areas in quite large herds.
Zebras and Topis – photo credit Felix Rome
Elephant breeding herds keep moving through the Musiara Marsh and whilst grazing off the long drying grass of the open plains, they will be seen spread out with many young calves between them. One particular breeding herd, which has two very small calves, appears to spend more time within the marsh environs and the riverine woodland surrounding Governors’ Camp. We can expect them almost daily; they are partial to passing right through the breakfast setting, taking good care of the tables as they go.
Elephants wander through Little Governors’ Camp – photo credit Felix Rome
We have also enjoyed great sightings of elephants drinking at the main river; elephants being ‘hindgut fermenters‘ will require water to drink readily. Bathing is also a must for elephants – whether in water, mud or dust.
Elephants enjoying the rain and mud – photo credit Felix Rome
On the 22nd of November at precisely 01:00am, an elephant gave birth in the early hours at Governors’ Il Moran Camp! There was plenty of noise reported with cows and older calves trumpeting whilst also breaking branches off trees and shrubs, in an overzealous activity.
Afterbirth left on the camp pathways.
Our lucky guest, Steve Ashton, who was strategically placed in tent no. 5 remarked “an elephant maternity unit is not a quiet place. But to see that little baby at only five hours old, when walking to the vehicle for the morning game drive, was incredible”.
The newborn calf together with its mother in the early morning hours at il Moran – photo credit Steve Ashton
The following day, the mother moved her newborn calf and the rest of the herd across the Mara River, onto the west bank and passed through Little Governors’ Camp – much to the delight of our guests and staff (watch the video).
Breeding herds of Impala and olive baboons – two species which feed in similar habitats – can be seen on the fringes of the riverine woodlands that hug the winding course of the Mara River. All troops are with plenty of infants of varying ages. Baboons can be seen particularly in the early mornings while the temperature is still cool and as temperatures warm up, they become quite active and move further out into the open grasslands where they can be seen feeding. A large troop of olive baboons inhabits the east marsh riverine woodlands.
A breeding herd of impala – photo credit Felix Rome
Warthog sows and their three-month-old piglets are plentiful at this time of year; they will be seen in all open areas of grassland. Piglets have no subcutaneous fat and are subjected to varying or rapid temperature changes so much so, that approximately 45% of a sow’s litter will perish before they are five months old. Meanwhile, lion prides, jackals and cheetah prey heavily off warthog piglets when other prey species become low in density.
The large herd of cape buffalo is in the southern and northern grasslands of the Bila Shaka area. The resident marsh lions have been kept busy – feeding off this buffalo herd. The resident older bulls will be seen quite close to our camps, or in the camps themselves; they feel safest here as do many other vulnerable animals such as lions with new cubs.
Bull buffalos in front of Governors’ Camp – photo credit Felix Rome
More of the seldom-seen, small antelope known as Oribi, were seen in the southern grasslands of the reserve during the month of November. The sole member of its genus, Oribis have been classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, although in the Musiara environs numbers have dropped considerably. Another small antelope, the Kirks’ dik dik, can be seen more readily within closed-cover habitats and riverine woodlands. Bohors reedbuck are found within the Musiara Marsh and long grass areas of old river beds.
Nile monitor lizards will be seen frequently within the marsh byways and close to any main water course; some of the male monitor lizards will reach up to 5 feet in length. Female monitors use their sharp claws to dig into a termite mound which can be a distance away from water and they lay their eggs. Inside the mound, the hard-working termites (who think they have been raided) then close up the hole, providing a secure and temperature-controlled nest for the eggs. Once the eggs hatch, they then feed on the termites before breaking their way out of the mound.
Spotted hyena clans continue to battle with lions. As the saying goes, truth be told, the spotted hyenas do compete strongly with the resident lion prides, since prey species for both predators are very similar. Should a male lion be present, hyenas are less effective with kill takeovers, although pride males do wander with lionesses who often struggle to fend off hyenas as clan members increase.
A spotted hyena nursing two pups – photo credit Margaret Maire
With the drop in water levels, hippos are restless in the rivers and dominant males are encroaching into one another’s territory – with plenty of fighting taking place resulting in deaths of losers and young males getting caught up in the action. There are many crocodiles in the Mara River, with emphasis being at the main crossing point where large numbers are congregating.
Beautiful serval cats are being seen almost daily, the southern grass plains of the Bila Shaka and also the east marsh grassland plains being ideal places to spot them. As grass levels get drier and shorter, serval sightings become more frequent. There is a female serval with a subadult cub that is often seen on Paradise Plains; both appear to be very habituated to vehicles and easy to photograph.
A serval at sunrise – photo credit Felix Rome
Big cats of the Masai Mara
Marsh Pride females: Dada, Kito, Rembo and Rembo’s adult daughter, together with their five cubs of varying ages have been feeding regularly off the resident cape buffalo and also the passing zebra as they file north east. Rembo’s three cubs are now between 8-9 months old while Kito’s two cubs are about 3 months old. The current dominant male in the Marsh territory, Halftail, is thought to have sired these five cubs.
Kito, Rembo and Dada with cubs, photo credit Moses Manduku
Halftail – photo credit Felix Rome
Halftail’s companion, Logol, (who is not his blood relative), is often seen with him. Halftail has the darker mane of the two (his mane has become increasingly darker which is a sign of age and maturity).
On the 22nd November, we welcomed a familiar face back into the Marsh territory – legendary male, Morani. This older lion is the last remaining member of the ‘Marsh Musketeers’ (aka the Four Musketeers) coalition that we all love and remember (Scarface, Sikio, Hunter and Morani). He arrived in the area with the backup of one of the Rekero pride’s sub males. After the passing on of his three companions over the years, Morani has had no option but to accept the company of the young boy who offers him some additional protection. Morani survives his male relatives, Scarface (the world’s most famous lion who passed earlier this year), Hunter and Sikio. Together they won over the Marsh pride in 2012 and after that, they covered the females and sired the cubs of many other prides in the Mara.
Morani on the right – photo credit Moses Manduku
Rekero male on the left and Morani showing affection – photo credit Moses Manduku
Lionesses Yaya and Pamoja were often found hunting in the west marsh, for most of November. Yaya has one remaining cub and Pamoja has two cubs. They have also been seen close to Governors’ Camp on many occasions, feeding off the resident warthogs and piglets in the area.
Yaya and Pamoja with cubs – photo credit Moses Manduku
The Topi Pride, which is made up of five lionesses and eleven cubs of varying ages, are seen residing on Rhino Ridge and hunting in the lower Olare Orok riverine woodlands. On the 23rd November they were seen moving into the croton thickets at the end of Rhino Ridge. This is a well-supported pride with strong bonds between themselves; a few years earlier, this pride was down to just three lionesses and two subadults.
Another well known grouping – the Paradise Pride – has five adult lionesses (one of which can be easily identified as she has a torn ear) and nine older subadults. They are being seen at the main crossing point and and generally the lower paradise areas. The paradise buffalo herd is constantly harassed by this pride and likewise, the resident zebras that cross over. The male lion Koshoke is often with this pride and the cubs of varying ages are most likely his offspring.
The Paradise Pride – photo credit Steve Ashton
A female cheetah called Kisaru has two young cubs estimated between three-four months old. She originally had five cubs and came all the way from the conservancies in the north east, down to the Musiara Marsh in the Reserve and was last seen near the Talek River.
One of Kisaru’s cubs on the move – photo credit Steve Ashton
Another female cheetah called Neema, has three older cubs; she is from the Olare Orok area and will cover large distances with all three cubs. She is active and the subadult cubs are very playful, indicating good health.
The female leopard Kaboso and her one-year-old female subadult, are most often wandering along the Olare Orok River banks. Kaboso herself looks pregnant and is often seen panting; she has been feeding off warthogs and piglets and on the 21st she had the remains of an Impala carcass, stashed high up in a warbugia tree .
Resident leopard Romi has two sub-adult cubs that are estimated over 15 months old now; the subadult female is often seen hunting with Romi while the male is mostly seen on his own – although he will comfortably hunt in his mother’s home range.
Romi had an open gash on her left thigh, just above the knee cap; she is improving slowly and walking does not impede her in any way. We suspect that perhaps she had a tussle with a warthog, or something similar with a sharp horn which caused the wound. Romi has taken many Impalas and warthogs and a miscalculation or misjudgment in timing is often understandable. On the 18th she was seen calling to her subadult cubs at the lower reaches of the Bila Shaka and on the evening of the 24th, Romi was seen below Governors’ Private Camp with a female Impala kill – she is an active cat.
Romi was wounded earlier in November but has healed well – photo credit Felix Rome
Birds of the Masai Mara
A good month for raptors in the Masai Mara, with strong numbers of long-crested eagles being seen for November 2021; these eagles were seldom seen in previous years. One particular individual could be seen perched or flying to and from the same tree every day, near the entrance to Governors’ Camp. On the 23rd, this crested eagle had caught a large grass rat.
A long crested eagle – photo credit Margaret Maire
African fish eagles both immatures and adults (with good sightings of them feeding off catfish), martial eagles, Bateleur eagles, tawny eagles, Steppe eagles, black-winged kites feeding off cisticolas, kestrels and harriers have all been seen this month. Many of these raptors are within the Musiara marsh environs and also close to the Mara River. A few common terns have been seen in the marsh this month as they fly low over water.
Tawny eagle in flight – photo credit Felix Rome
A kestrel flies overhead – photo credit Felix Rome
Lilac-breasted rollers have been seen feeding off reed frogs while black-headed herons eating grass snakes (of which one was identified as the green night adder) were sighted during the month of November. Barn swallows continue to fly and hunt over the open plains, or following buffalo or elephant, guides have reported barn swallows even following lion prides. Dense flocks of white storks have been seen congregating in the southern part of the Reserve while smaller flocks have started coming into the Musiara area below Bila Shaka.
A beautiful lilac-breasted roller – photo credit Margaret Maire
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for November 2021 is written by Patrick Reynolds, for Governors’ Camp Collection. Read other blogs by Governors’ HERE.
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