As the calendar page is turned from August to September, huge grey rainclouds roll themselves with purpose across the wide skies of the Mara and the grounds are blessed with rains made all the more conspicuous by their absence in the preceding month.
Marsh Pride lioness ‘Dada’ under stormy skies – photo credit Frankie Adamson
August’s dusty roads now squelch in September under the weight of vehicle tyres pushing through the mud and the air carries with it the vibrant scent of rainfall. Seemingly overnight the grass shifts to a radiant verdant hue, satisfying the grazers, in turn bringing plenty of opportunity for the predators.
A lone zebra traverses the open plains – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Wildebeest follow their invisible calling back into the reserve in their pursuit of fresh grass, and bellies swollen with opportunity are giving birth to new life across the Mara – much to the delight of our guides and guests alike.
Mornings were on the cooler side at the beginning of the month with temperatures of 12-13° but later rising to a slightly milder 15° from the middle of September onwards. In terms of temperature highs, the mercury remained below 30° for the majority of the month until hitting highs of 32° in the final few days of September.
September’s rainfall has been immense, making up for the very dry preceding month, with approximately 162 mm received in total. Late afternoon rainstorms have been frequent, and at times extremely heavy with accompanying strong winds, with 40 mm of rain falling on the 10th of September. Increased rainfall has also meant a noticeable drop in temperature on many evenings this month.
Grazers and their young are enjoying a flush of green – photo credit Frankie Adamson
As expected after such heavy rain, the water levels in the Mara River are now significantly higher and the previously visible mudbanks – which were a frequent sight filled with basking hippos in August – are now fully submerged. Crocodiles too, have less space to bask in the midday sun and are seen floating near the water’s shallower edges instead.
Seasonal rivers have started flowing again, and the wetlands of the Musiara Marsh and Bila Shaka areas are now teeming with life attracted by the higher water levels. Hippos have been spotted in large numbers again, at the pool near the Musiara Airstrip, as well as grouped together in the waters of the seasonal river flowing through Manager’s Crossing.
Sunrises in September have been unpredictable, some being incredibly clear and vibrant while on other days the sun has had just moments to shine in a clear band above the horizon before disappearing into persistent cloud which is burnt off toward the late-morning. On some mornings, bands of mist have hugged the grasslands making for some beautiful but fleeting photographic opportunities, if caught in time with the sunrise.
A September sunrise – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Towards the end of the month, the sun is rising at around 06:26 and setting again at approximately 18:33. Sunsets themselves have been similarly changeable, with the intense dark blue rainclouds often meaning that streaks of the sun’s rays are all that manage to break through; from a photography perspective this makes for some beautiful results that are quite different to the archetypal blood orange Mara sunset.
The fresh shoots of grass following the rainfall have brought a much-needed ‘injection of life’ out on the plains. The elephants that filled the Musiara Marsh in August are now more widely-distributed around the grasslands. Large family units have frequently been seen grazing across Paradise Plains throughout the daytime hours, including many young elephants and numerous infants. Being able to capture several generations of elephant moving together on open grasslands is such a treat for photographers.
Photo credit Frankie Adamson
Big herds of resident topi can be seen scattered across the reserve with many new additions to their families, while a small herd of Coke’s hartebeest resident on Paradise Plains, have at least four calves at present. Hartebeest are less-frequently seen these days – their numbers are in decline and each female will only give birth to one young which, given the small size of the herd, are at an increased risk from predators such as lions.
Coke’s hartebeest are also known by their Kiswahili name ‘Kongoni’ – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Thomson’s gazelles, who typically give birth to their young twice a year, are now being seen throughout the reserve rearing their newborns. Spotting young Thomson’s gazelles can often be quite a challenge as they hide in grasses or bushes in the very early stages of their lives, since they are very vulnerable to predation given their exceptionally small size.
A mother Thomson’s gazelle and her newborn – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Over the past few days, three tiny black-backed jackal pups were spotted curiously peeking out from their den underneath a hollowed tree next to the road along Paradise Plains. The mother has been seen resting nearby the tree when she is not out scavenging or hunting.
Baby black-backed jackals – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Black-backed jackal pups are said to leave the den for the first time at around three weeks of age, so this litter must still be quite young as they are a bit too shy to fully leave their safe space at present. Switching the engine off and waiting quietly a short distance from the tree has been very rewarding, as once it is quiet the pups do briefly pop their heads out to have a quick look around.
When heading out on early morning game drives, lone hippos are regularly spotted making their way back down well-worn trails to the Mara River having been grazing under the cover of darkness. Spotting a hippo at sunrise is something very special for photographers as it gives a unique opportunity to photograph these animals out of the water, so their size and scale can truly be appreciated.
Why did the hippo cross the road? Photo credit Frankie Adamson
Several baby hippopotamuses have also been spotted amongst the resident pods, just below our camps, in the Mara River. One afternoon in mid-September, a room steward at Governors’ Camp alerted us to a crocodile who was holding a baby hippo in its jaws, in the stretch of river passing through the forest tents. At first it was unclear whether or not the baby was still alive; however, it transpired to be dead – whether still-born or quickly snatched from the mother by the crocodile – we noticed that the umbilical cord was still attached.
Occasionally the crocodile would lift the body out of the water and thrash it around out of annoyance, since the carcass had attracted the attention of several catfish which wriggled in the water nearby. While crocodiles steer clear of larger hippos and certainly avoid full-grown adults, this incident serves as a reminder that babies are exceptionally vulnerable to this most prolific water-based predator who can strike with lightning speed and accuracy (watch the video).
A grizzly scene opposite Governors’ Camp – photo credit Frankie Adamson
The large breeding herd of buffalos whose home range includes Paradise Plains and Bila Shaka, continue to provide ample food for the resident lions of the area such as Yaya and grand cubs, the Marsh Pride and the eponymous Paradise Pride.
Older male buffalos, that have been kicked out of the herd as they approach old age, band together and gather in the Musiara Marsh favoring the softer vegetation on account of their deteriorating teeth. Their horns are a good indicator of their age; as they grow older, male buffalo’s horns begin to fuse together in the center (aka. a ‘boss’) while female’s horns remain distinctly separate from one-another.
The rains brought about a large movement of wildebeest at the beginning of September, with herds approaching the northern side of the escarpment and others gathering at river crossing points from Serena to Lookout.
One morning in the first week of the month, a small herd crossed the river into the reserve near Kichwa Tembo airstrip and we witnessed several hyenas bring down two adult wildebeests in a particularly gruesome manner. When they hunt, hyena bring down larger pray and begin eating it while it is still alive and, although difficult to watch, some unique photographic opportunities are presented as fascinating dynamics of the group play out.
While larger river crossings were observed at Lookout, a mass wildebeest gathering was witnessed on the plains near Serena Lodge on September 13th, as thousands of individuals came pouring down the hills of the Mara Triangle for well over an hour to fill the riverside below.
One brave wildebeest appeared to take the lead and plunged into the river below before being spooked – perhaps by a crocodile – and turned back frantically to join the herd. After a long period of to-and-fro to the water’s edge and back, the herd slowly began to dissipate and move on out of sight further down the river.
Smaller river crossings of a few hundred wildebeest were observed in the first half of the month into the reserve, and the tell-tale signs of cat activity were evident from wildebeest carcasses which lay strewn across the plains. One morning, the Paradise Pride were seen by Governors’ guides to have taken down two wildebeest in quick succession near the riverside where they had lay concealed in the long grass.
In the waters flowing under Mara Bridge, countless casualties of river crossings past lay littered in the water and on the rocks with the pungent aroma of decay hanging heavy in the hot air. Scavenger birds such as marabou stalks, white-backed vultures, Ruppell’s vultures, and lappet-faced vultures in droves dined at their leisure on food so abundant that even the crocodiles had their fill.
At the time of writing, the number of wildebeests in the Mara gets lower each day as they make their way back south toward the Serengeti.
The Marsh Pride of lions has some new members; Lioness Dada brought her two new cubs out of hiding and revealed them to the world earlier this month on September 9th. They have since been very mobile, moving with Dada and the rest of the Marsh Pride members between the Marsh and Bila Shaka areas (watch video).
Lioness Dada leading the way for her two cubs – photo credit Frankie Adamson
They are extremely active in the early evenings, playing vigorously and climbing all over their relatives – in particular Nusurika, Lola’s daughter, and Kito’s young daughters. Their father has not been confirmed however the likely sires are Koshoke and Kiok who have covered the Marsh Pride for the past several months.
Dada’s two cubs – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Whispers of the increasingly-elusive Halftail travelled throughout the Marsh in the final week of the month – he was sighted briefly alone on September 22nd, only to vanish again the next day.
The remaining sub-adult male, Rembo’s son, has been given the name Oleku by Governors’ Il Moran guide, Elisha Kimtai. The name translates to ‘the last one remaining’ in Maa, since his brothers and mother have not been seen since May. After a thorough investigation as to the whereabouts of these three lions, the Mara Predator Conservation Program will release a statement in their Q3 report due in November.
Oleku – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Marsh Pride breakaway lioness Yaya and her grand cubs Pamoja Mbili and Simba have been seen sporadically in their new territory on Paradise Plains. Despite looking particularly skinny and still carrying a concerning limp, Yaya has been observed successfully hunting, bringing down a wildebeest at the beginning of the month, as well as witnessed eating at a buffalo carcass. Her grand cubs are looking in very good shape and despite Yaya’s obvious physical setbacks, she seems to still be providing for them well (watch video).
Yaya stops to drink water from the roadside – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Pamoja mbili – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Bila Shaka male Chongo has been very active on Paradise Plains, generally keeping nearer to the Mara River. He’s been observed in courtship with at least two Paradise Pride females at the start of the month, maintaining his strong grip on the pride. Bila Shaka male Kiok was also witnessed mating with a Paradise female around the same time, as well as travelling with Koshoke between the Paradise and Marsh Prides.
Chongo – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Their coalition partner Kiboyogo has been sighted several times in September, once having made a baby zebra kill on September 11th. He was seen eating the majority of the kill from the waist down, before picking up the carcass by the neck and carrying it across the plains to a hiding place within some croton bushes.
Kibogoyo – photo credit Frankie Adamson
That same morning, Paradise Pride females successfully brought down a wildebeest but they must not have been so hungry given that they ate for a relatively short while and then abandoned a nowhere-near-finished carcass.
A Paradise Pride female – photo credit Frankie Adamson
In the third week of September we were treated to some superb sightings of male cheetah Oloti, who was seen on Paradise Plains. This is, however, dangerous territory for him given the abundance of lions in the area, so it is unsurprising he didn’t stick around too long.
Oloti stands on an old termite mound for a better vantage point – photo credit Frankie Adamson
One morning he was witnessed by Governors’ guides having a too-close-for-comfort encounter with a Paradise Pride lioness who chased him – luckily, he escaped unharmed. Female cheetah Nashipai revealed four new cubs when they finally emerged from their den in the second week of September. This 8-year-old female cheetah has had a difficult time in the past raising cubs, having lost litters before.
Nashipai and cubs – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Cheetah cubs are unfortunately known to have very high mortality rates, with only a very small percentage reaching maturity. According to the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the mortality rate of cheetahs in national reserves can reach levels of 90%. We wish Nashipai the very best in raising her active litter of four, and she seems to be giving them a great start in life by successfully hunting regularly.
Nashipai’s cubs – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Extremely sad news emerged from the Mara Triangle on September 27th: one of Risasi’s newly-independent adult males was found dead of an injury sustained while hunting. The male cheetah was found with a puncture wound to his spine which penetrated all the way to his thoracic cavity which contains the heart and lungs.
This sadly resulted in lung collapse leading to his untimely death, which now leaves his brother fending for himself. It is a major feat for Risasi to have raised her male cubs to the point of independence; they had just left their mother two weeks prior to this incident – and we only hope that her last remaining son can make it now he is fully alone.
A male leopard thought to be Romi’s son, was spotted close to Governors’ Camp this month, although he is exceptionally shy. Romi herself has not been sighted for a long time now, although it is thought that she has found a new home in the forest on the other side of the Mara River, away from the baboons that had been hounding her and her cub earlier in the year.
Along with the rains, the seasonal wetlands and Marsh areas around Governors’ Camp and Little Governors’ have continued to attract a wide variety of birdlife and it can be so rewarding to sit and watch the action unfold. Yellow-billed storks look for food alongside sacred ibises, great egrets and grey herons, and multiple species of kingfisher: Pied, woodland, malachite and pygmy varieties have all been seen regularly.
The Musiara marsh is a hot spot for water birds – photo credit Frankie Adamson
The two-juvenile saddle-billed storks are still very active out of the nest near the road to Little Governors’ Camp crossing. They are now almost fully-grown in size. The saddle-billed stork is the largest stork in the world at around 60” in height. These youngsters do not yet have their distinctive adult colouring or plumage, and are currently largely blackish-brown, white and grey in color.
There have been multiple sightings of Masai ostriches mating (or attempting to!) at various parts of the reserve in the month of September. The males put on quite the appearance, with their heads, necks and legs turning a very vibrant shade of pink.
Masai ostriches perform a mating dance – photo credit Frankie Adamson
In pursuit of the female, he will chase her and then drop down into a ‘dance’, swaying his neck side-to-side while flapping his wings. If she accepts, he will then proceed to mount her. It can often be a very amusing sight to witness on a game drive, especially if the female plays hard-to-get, which is very often the case!
A pair of secretary birds were observed building their nest atop of a tree on the plains above Rekero crossing. One bird would wait atop of the tree building the nest whilst the second flew down to the ground to collect more materials in the form of twigs and sticks. Once the collector’s beak was full, they would switch duties. Occasionally both birds would remain at the top of the tree, which made for a beautiful sunrise image.
The secretary birds perfecting their nest – photo credit Frankie Adamson
Our Masai Mara weather and wildlife for September 2023 is by Frankie Adamson. To see other amazing wildlife imagery by Frankie, please follow her on Instagram.
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