A strange November in many ways, weather-wise. It was predominantly a very dry month, sandwiched by some huge rainstorms at the beginning and end. The Mara River levels have fluctuated with the arrival and departure of these storms.
The Mara River at the end of November – photo credit Harry Blakey
The pools are currently full, meaning that huge numbers of hippo populate them, with less and less returning to the river. Tensions continue to rise in the kingdom of lions as the struggle for dominance rages. Another breathless month in the wild is at an end.
November skies – photo credit Harry Blakey
November, usually, prompts the start of the short rains in the Masai Mara. We saw glimpses of this early on, but the pattern was soon interrupted by two and a half weeks of little to no rain. Towards the end of the month, we were lucky to receive more rain and 165mm was received in total.
The washed-out muddy roads at the start of the month quickly gave way to dust as the weather dried up quickly. And, overnight, the mud has returned. It is amazing how quickly the weather can turn on a dime in this magnificent place.
Dry roads can turn into very challenging, muddy roads, overnight – photo credit Harry Blakey
There have been consistently clear, sun-filled mornings with breathtaking sunrises (at approximately 06:19 each day), giving way to stormy, dramatic evenings with great, expansive skies. Mornings after rainstorms are greeted with a bewitching mist that slowly lifts as the sun emerges steadily through the fog. A blanket of cloud sweeps over the escarpment, decorating it like a tablecloth. Sunsets took place at approximately 18:32 each day.
A low-lying mist across the Mara plains – photo credit Harry Blakey
November has been the month of elephants; a boy’s club of six huge bulls has been a regular fixture in the marsh. At the center of this group is one particularly enormous elephant, a ringleader with enormous tusks.
The Boy’s club – photo credit Harry Blakey
In the morning, like clockwork, the group gather at the edge of the forest, facing inward, looking expectantly into the trees for the arrival of their grand master. Just as your faith in his appearance dwindles, he emerges magnificently into the open, paving the way.
Photo credit Harry Blakey
The rest follow as they all stop in the middle of the ground between forest and the marsh. They tentatively begin to communicate and interact with one another. And then it starts, a mesmeric dance of trunks and tusks as the group all join together.
The sound of tusk on tusk and the shuffling of giant feet on dusty earth fills the silence. This whole magical procession lasts ten minutes or so. Once it has reached its crescendo, the elephants form an orderly line and stroll promptly into the marsh, as if nothing had happened at all.
The morning ritual includes tusk – on – tusk interaction – photo credit Harry Blakey
The marsh has also hosted vast herds of elephants. They spend the entire day there, feeding on the lush grass in great numbers before exiting simultaneously as they search for somewhere safe to stay overnight. This is a great spectacle, as they march in single-file across the plain.
There have been multiple elephant visits in camp this month, most notably, a huge bull elephant known as Blossom. No stranger to wandering these grounds, he walks straight in and out, through the front gate of each of the Governor’s camps.
Blossom leaving Governors’ Camp – photo credit Harry Blakey
Encountering an elephant of his size while on foot around camp, is thrilling, a totally different perspective to being in a vehicle. A very humbling experience indeed.
Blossom towering size is very apparent, once out on the open plains – photo credit Harry Blakey
On the topic of elephants, there was some very humbling news this month. I have been spending a lot of time with a large elephant in the marsh area, watching his behaviour and learning his patterns. He would come out of the forest every morning, usually from the same spot. This is when I would have the chance to best photograph him.
The amazing team at Mara Elephant Project had taken notice of this and reached out to me. They informed me that this particular bull was in their monitoring system as individual 668. However, not any longer. The team had decided to name this wonderful elephant ‘Harry’!
Harry the elephant – photo credit Harry Blakey
I was totally taken aback by this and couldn’t believe that they had decided to officially name this incredible creature after me. An unbelievably cool gesture and I look forward to working closely with MEP moving forwards. Hopefully there will be lots more sightings of Harry the elephant.
Paradise Plains seems particularly quiet for grazers this month. Often home to many species of antelope and the like, the landscapes are remarkably bare. Perhaps the lion activity in the area is responsible for this, with the Bila Shaka males moving between here and Musiara Marsh.
A rare sighting of a black rhino in the marsh was a highlight; although incredibly shy and only able to see from a distance, it is wonderful to know that they are out there roaming the wild.
A black rhino looks across the Musiara marsh – photo credit Harry Blakey
Most antelope and plains-dwellers seem to have moved to the Bila Shaka area. Great numbers of topis, eland and gazelles congregate there. They seem to have found a safe haven between the lion territories of the Marsh and Topi Prides.
Topis and other grazers have lots of calves at the moment – photo credit Harry Blakey
It’s great to see such large numbers, with many giving birth to young ones. They are enjoying their freedom although they still have to watch out for the numerous hyena that also call this place home.
The Marsh Pride is in a complex state; the struggle for dominance has created a problem with the need for growth within the pride. Continued ‘take over’ efforts from the Bila Shaka males, mixed with fleeting visits from Halftail, have resorted to a strange stalemate.
Halftail during one of his visits to the Marsh territory – photo credit Harry Blakey
Cubs produced by any males are sadly not surviving, as each is killing the other to establish dominance. This behavior is normal from male lions but it becomes increasingly challenging for the rest of the pride.
We are at a stage where it appears that the pride cannot expand. A conflict to determine who is the dominant force of the pride is likely, and possibly needed, if the pride is to thrive once more. Lola has had a particularly busy month.
Lola relaxing just in front of Governors’ Camp – photo credit Harry Blakey
Seen early on in November with a newborn cub, it is presumed that the cub was lost as she has since been seen mating with Chongo of the Bila Shaka males, and a breakaway Rekero male (Morani’s son).
Lola follows Chongo past one of our vehicles – photo credit Harry Blakey
Elsewhere, the Paradise Pride has been busy with young cubs. Sightings have been limited as the mother looks to conceal them for their safety.
Mama kali still has her older cub who is growing day by day and looks healthy and settled within the pride. Again, the Bila Shaka males are dominating this pride as well, however, relationships seem to be more stable here.
Mama Kali’s cub – photo credit Harry Blakey
Yaya continues to provide the greatest platform for Pamoja Mbili and Simba to thrive in the Mara. Seen numerous times on buffalo kills throughout the month, they are eating well and looking as strong as ever. Often referred to as Yaya’s ‘grand-cubs’, they are cubs no more.
Yaya is a truly heroic lioness having raised her grandchildren all on her own – photo credit Harry Blakey
Simba has fluff developing around his neck and head – the start of a mane forming. Both have grown significantly and are maturing into independent lions in their own right.
Pamoja mbili and Simba – photo credit Harry Blakey
The three were even seen sharing a kill with members of the paradise pride, as well as Yaya sharing a buffalo meal with Bila Shaka male Koshoke. Yaya’s physical health continues to be questioned as she is often seen limping however, she is incredibly tough and we remain hopeful that she will get through this uncertain period.
Koshoke lets Yaya share a meal of buffalo – photo credit Harry Blakey
The huge amount of game in the area drew in the beautiful female cheetah known as Nagol – thank you to Cheetah Enthusiast for helping us ID her. She was seen one evening at Manager’s Crossing, appearing to be on the hunt. She stayed around the Governors’ camps for a few days before heading out towards Bila Shaka, probably towards the gazelles.
Nagol is Neema’s daughter – photo credit Harry Blakey
Despite this being perfect hunting ground for her, the sheer numbers of hyenas meant that she could do nothing of the sort. She was even seen being pursued by no less than four of them, before managing to escape expertly across a lugga.
As ever, bird life has been vibrant this month. Noticeably, there have been a significant number of grey crowned-cranes. They can be seen flying gracefully over the crown of the forest in the early hours, the morning light accentuating their impressive unfurled wings. The sound of them gliding through the air is something to behold.
Grey crowned-cranes fly across the marsh – photo credit Harry Blakey
Vultures of all kinds lurk on trees above kills, waiting eerily for their turn to feast, the all-seeing eyes of the wilderness watching over. Unfortunately, vulture populations across Africa are at an all time low due to incidental killings such as mass poisonings in herder – predator conflicts, therefore it is always special to see an assortment of vulture species on a carcass.
A white-backed vulture dries out his wings after heavy rain – photo credit Harry Blakey
Meanwhile, the very recent rain has brought a hive of bird activity to the marshland. Pied kingfishers swoop and swerve above the water, waiting for the perfect time to strike, the hum of frogs and insects piquing their interest. The pied variety are sociable birds, usually found in pairs or small family groups and form large roosts during the night.
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for November 2023 is by Harry Blakey. To see other amazing wildlife imagery by Harry, please follow him on Instagram.
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