Weather And Grasslands
Weather has been hot and often humid this October with some scattered showers during early and mid-month, on the 8th we received 17mm, this bit of rainfall certainly cooled the air down and brought on some cool mornings. High north/easterly winds have prevailed and, on some occasion, raising dust swirls into the air like rooster tails. The water level in the Musiara Marsh has subsided with Hippo moving out back to the main river, the Mara river is also on the low, on the 16th we had 16.5mm of rain which was more or less throughout the northern areas of the Mara and its environs, and hence the river had risen approximately two feet on the 18th after a few days the level soon subsided. A total of 45mm of rain was received in the Musiara areas with relative humidity fluctuating between 72-86%.
Grass levels are drying out although still quite long in certain areas of Bila Shaka, East marsh grasslands, Paradise plains and the west marsh. The west Rhino ridge plains were burnt in the last week of the month since Grass levels here were long.
On The Plains
Resident Wildebeest have been residing in the trans Mara and the Mara Triangle areas, many of these grassland plains areas were burnt in the early months of the year. Rainfall in April and May had induced good coverage of residual grasses. The Mara Triangle conservancy have a regular yearly burning program.
On the 12th and 13th at about 9.30am approximately 400-500 crossed from west to east at the main crossing points in the Mara reserve and many of these wildebeest and a few Zebra moved onto the short grass plains in the east of the reserve and as far as the mara conservancies. On the 12th at the Kichwa crossing point which is upstream of Little Governors’, an estimated 200-300 crossed from West to East. These are resident wildebeest and a point to note, is that the majority of bovines will always return to their natal breeding grounds – we often wonder that some of them may end up on the wrong bus!!
On the 14th of the month in the Trans Mara Triangle side there were some large herds at least 150,000-200,000 animals congregating in and around the Serena Hill, Ngiro-are and Olpunyata Plains. Again many of these are resident ones who will at some stage return back, there is certainly rain about and this may induce movement for the resident herds to cross back over. Much of the Ngiro-are grassland plains were burnt in the early months of the year. The larger herds that were here in the Trans Mara Triangle in early days of the month have since gone back to the Tanzanian side with wildebeest crossing the Mara River on a regular basis as they move further into the Serengeti ecosystem. In the last few days of the month large herds of resident wildebeest have been seen in good numbers around the open plains of malima Tatu and on the Olare Orok side of the Reserve and conservancies. In the north at Musiara Marsh there have been many wildebeest filing down from the conservancy’s short grass plains – these wildebeest have been grazing within the west marsh and lake Nakuru areas of the Marsh.
Wildebeest herds in October, photo credit Moses Manduku
On the 25th and particularly on the 27th large herds of wildebeest who were still in the Mara triangle had crossed the Mara river and headed towards the Serengeti, those of the Loita herds have crossed back into the Mara Reserve and many more have moved into the conservancies in the north east of the reserve.
On the 28th of the month large herds of Wildebeest were seen filing down from the Mara North conservancy towards the Mara reserve. The grass levels in Mara North are still long and now dry and dense, wildebeest do not palate this density of grass and have moved out into the north east marsh areas where grass levels are short. Wildebeest are site selectors and will move in large circles looking for the correct foliage.
In the morning of the 17th at 10.30 am an estimated herd of 25 Thomson Gazelles were seen crossing downstream from the main crossing points going from East to West, two were taken by hungry crocodiles.
Resident common Zebra are well scattered with good numbers are being seen on Topi plains, Malima Tatu, and the Olare Orok conservancy. Good numbers can be seen in the west marsh, Bila Shaka and Musiara plains to the north east of the reserve.
Many warthog sows are now with one to two-month-old piglets an average birthing is 4-6 piglets, some warthog sows gave birth towards the end of last month, in the camps warthogs for some years now have taken up residency and have since been breeding well with sows and piglets being seen throughout the camp grounds.
Topi females have also been giving birth with many young fawns being seen out in the open plains. Early in the morning of the 17th, guests who were out on an early morning drive in the west marsh grasslands saw marsh Lioness Dada take down a young Topi fawn, it is not uncommon to see Topi give birth out in the field whilst on game drives. Coke’s Hartebeest will be seen in smaller herds, since they are the same tribe as Topi coke Hartebeest cows are also calving at this time of year. Topi numbers have increased in the west marsh, earlier this herd of approximately 300 animals were feeding in the south areas of the Marsh and have since moved up to the north west marsh grasslands. Topi are quite similar to that of Wildebeest in their feeding habits and prefer a grass with a good leaf structure, the little rain we had during mid-month has induced this growth favoriting Topi.
Thompson and Grant’s’ gazelles are abundant on the short grass plains. Thompson females have also been seen giving birth as well, also on these open plains Impala breeding herds will be seen. Impala will readily habituate wooded areas, the riverine woodlands between the camps are good places to see Impala herds. Defassa Waterbuck are plentiful in the west marsh grasslands – these waterbucks are more water dependent than the common waterbuck who can be seen in more dry and marginal areas of Africa.
Giraffe are being sighted readily, young males will be often be seen sparring amongst one another and they can be seen in small groups of 4-8. Older males will wonder looking for oestrus females while older more dominant males will eat the leaves of the Warburgia trees so much so throughout the riverine woodlands one can see the Warburgia tree line level has been pruned to the height of the last tallest giraffe, they will also browse on the leaves from the aromatic Croton dichogamous. Older males will also become darker in color. Young calves are also being seen in female herds; on the 22nd a female giraffe in the paradise plains area had died from a breached birth, this was very unfortunate and is not uncommonly seen by visitors.
Elephant herds are also being seen within the Musiara marsh and adjacent grasslands, much of the elephant’s diet here comprises of grasses and a smaller percentage of more fibrous foliage taken whilst feeding in the riverine woodlands or acacia woodlands outside of the Reserve. There are many calves, two breeding herds will often come into the camps, individual herds are often recognized from their social habits and will leave large traces of their presence. Cape Buffalo herds are breeding well with many young calves amongst these herds, individual and solitary males can be seen particularly within the west marsh and often close to the camps, as these bulls get older, they put on condition and slow up since they are not competing with the up and coming younger bulls within the breeding herds.
Mara elephants, photo credit Moses Manduku
Hippos are becoming restless with the dominant males fighting amongst themselves or other invading males, since water levels are lower and the Musiara marsh and other outlying water holes are drying up Hippos will look for other watered areas to reside in. Pods are being seen in large numbers throughout the river courses and will often be seen sunbathing out on the sand banks – as they get hot and pink they will rush back into the river. Hippos release a secretion that turns red when subjected to the sun’s rays. At IL Moran Camp there is a cow hippo with a young calf that is approximately two months old – in past years this female has lost her calves to the resident crocodile.
Spotted Hyena are very active in hunting and killing their own prey, the spotted Hyenas have a ‘big heart’ so we cannot say they are generous!! They have tremendous stamina and can be distinguished as a cursorial predator similarly what describes a wolf or the African wild dog, this describes a mammal with stamina to run. They also are competing with the resident lion prides – they are progressive hunters in the Mara ecosystem and 85% of the time will kill their own prey. It is not uncommon for hyenas to rob lionesses of their prey and will keep clear of pride males or large male lion in general. There is a large clan near the Musiara Gate in the east marsh plains; these hyenas will hunt towards the Musiara airstrip and also within the Marsh itself. They have been feeding off resident wildebeest and hippo from the north Marsh mud flats. There is another clan that is very active on Topi plains and malima tatu area. Since many resident wildebeest are grazing here, these are good places to see Hyena hunting in the evening and early mornings. Serval cats have also been seen frequently with one female in the Bila Shaka river bed area who has one cub that is approximately three months old. Black Back Jackals are also abundant with many have pubs of varying ages from three to six months old. The males of the Black Backed Jackal play an equal role in rearing of the pups.
On the 25th on an afternoon game drive guests were lucky to see an Egyptian Vulture in the west side of topi plains, this sighting is the first for us for many years. Another vulture that is becoming less seldom seen is the white-headed vulture, these vultures were often seen in the Paradise plains area. Southern ground Hornbills are also being seen on the grassland plains and have been calling avidly, superstition amongst many tribes in east Africa relate to when the Ground Hornbills call it is a sign of rain.
Marsh Lioness Yaya and her two six-month-old young cubs – one male one female – are still in the Bila Shaka river bed areas and have still been actively hunting and feeding off the resident Zebra, Topi and wildebeest. Yaya has similar traits to her mother who was an equally hard-working lioness and a good mother. Lioness spot is also in Bila Shaka area – her two cubs a male and a female are three months old. On the 16th Lioness Spot and her two cubs had caught a warthog piglet and were seen playing with it before eating it.
Yaya and cubs, photo credit Moses Manduku
The other marsh lionesses Rembo, Kito and Kabibi will often be seen hunting or resting on their own or when there is a kill, they can sometimes be seen feeding together with Lioness Dada and her three sub-adults, a male and two females; these lionesses are being seen hunting in the east marsh and west marsh environs. There have been good wildebeest here as well as Topi, Buffalo and waterbuck. On the 18th in the north west marsh reeds the Marsh lionesses and a male had killed and eaten a wildebeest. One or two of the six male coalition Baba yao and Chongo, the one-eyed male lion, will be seen see often with the Marsh lionesses. Baba Yao is more dominant of the six males although Chongo is smaller and younger – he has an aggressive nature. On the 28th Baba Yao was seen with a lioness under the culvert and appears to be mating. The six male lion pride often split up and will be seen in the east marsh and as far as the Topi and malima tatu plains. They have mated with the Madomo/Ridge Pride and also the Marsh Pride lionesses – they have taken the Marsh and Musiara areas over.
Lioness Rembo with her Scrub Hare, photo credit Moses Manduku
The Madomo/Ridge Pride of over 20 lions and sub-adults of varying ages have still been seen in the south Topi plains areas; they have split up with some of the older lionesses namely Madomo, her sister and daughter with tier sub-adults have been seen below Emartii hill – they have been feeding off Topi and warthogs. Of the two original pride males, Lipstick died and Blackie was chased away by the new six males that have taken over the the two prides in the Marsh/Topi plains areas. The arrival of the six male coalition has caused a rift with lionesses separating, this is not uncommon within the Marsh lion lineage.
The Monica Pride lionesses and their four 9-month-old cubs have been in the double-crossing areas of the Ngiatiak river, they will often be seen crossing into the conservancy side of the Ngiatiak. The two males Olbarnoti and the other Lolparpit are often with them – these two males are between 9-10 years old.
The Paradise pride with seven adult lionesses and their cubs of varying ages have not been seen often this month since the long grass in many of the paradise areas, although earlier on in the month these lions were seen to monitor the crossing points and earlier on in the month, they were seen eating a wildebeest close to the main crossing point.
Scar and the other three musketeers were in and out of the Mara river basin area in the latter days of last month and the first week of this month, Scar has still been seen in the Trans Mara recently whilst Hunter and Sikio have been seen with some of the Paradise females beyond the Chinese hill. These four Musketeers originally came from the outside conservation areas and passed through via Rhino Ridge and since early 2012 they sired many of the Marsh Pride lineage. Scar was the more dominant of the four and showed positive altruistic behavior towards his sired offspring. In 2014 Scar was treated twice for the wound on his right eye and eventually lost the eyelid although his eye was still present. While looking at his teeth he was estimated at 8 years old at the time – he has been through many wars and that is life of a powerful pride male.
The female leopard Saba/Kaboso of the Olare Orok area and her two 14-month-old cubs have been active in this region. She has been actively feeding off Thomson Gazelles and Impala; these three leopards are the most photographed large cats this side of the Masai Mara. There have been some good sightings of the young female and the male walking close by to vehicles as they move from one river bed thicket to another.
The more dominant male is also being seen in the lower Olare Orok riverine woodlands and as far the double crossing. On the 16th he was last seen clearly in the lower Olare Orok river area with the remains of an Impala up a wild olive tree.
Romi the female leopard of the Riverine woodlands by the old BBC campsite area, has been sighted and seen more frequently. She has two cubs that are estimated at 2-3 months old. On the 24th at about midday she had killed a large impala male, her cubs at this age would be eating red meat as well as suckling less frequently.
Romi the female leopard, photo credit Moses Manduku
The five male cheetah coalition have been seen in the Double Crossing and within the Ngiatiak short grass plains. These Cheetah are very active and have taken yearling wildebeest and Topi with ease, they have also been feeding off Thomson gazelles and also Impala. They will hunt and move into the Hammerkop area of the southern Reserve.
The single female has been seen hunting in the Bila Shaka area and also on the open short grass plains of the double crossing and Ngiatiak river. She has to work harder to make a successful kill whereas the five males in a coalition have more of an advantage.
A female cheetah in the lookout area of the southern Reserve has three cubs that are estimated at 1-2 months old – she has been feeding off Thompson Gazelles and young fawns of Impala.
The female cheetah Selenkai who has four cubs estimated at five months are being seen hunting in the Ol Kiombo murram pit area, or now being seen latterly in the short grass plains of the Olare Orok conservancy. She has been hunting and feeding of the resident Thomson gazelles.
Selenkei with her 4 sub-adult cubs, photo credit Moses Manduku
There is a lone male also being seen in the double crossing and south paradise plains grasslands. He moves about a lot and was seen recently in the shorter grass plains in the higher areas of the Bila Shaka river bed.
Walking Safaris in North/East Masai land
We have walked less frequently this month perhaps due to that fact there is always the threat of wildebeest crossing down on the Mara river. Many resident wildebeest are here on short grass plains yet earlier on in the month large numbers were seen filing down to the lower Mara north conservancy. These wildebeest would have crossed into the Trans Mara and have now come back again. In the early morning of the 28th large herds of resident wildebeest were seen filing down from the Mara north conservancy and by 11.30 am were seen grazing on the short grass areas of the north east Musiara marsh.
The Local Spotted Hyena clan has been actively feeding off the Wildebeest here – much of this feeding habit appears to be in the early hours of the morning. On the 6th and 8th of the month, two wildebeest males were taken down and eaten – these males are territorial hence are more likely to be targeted.
Topi are also in good numbers with many young calves being seen now – the eastern plains are good place to see Topi and their calves. The resident Cape Buffalo herd are frequenting the east riverine thicket. There was some interaction with them recently while they moved out from the thicket and onto the open plains – they followed us for some time before settling down to feed on the longer grass that is on the eastern side.
Warthogs and their piglets are plentiful with the western plains being good places to see them. Giraffe have been very obliging, they travel in wide circles and seemingly every morning the female herds walks across the southern plains before settling first in the croton thickest whilst slowly making their way down the riverine thickets. The sight of Giraffe walking on the horizon in the early mornings is a good sight to see.
Elephant have also been seen in the same riverine thickets whilst breeding bulls will travel long distances looking for females in oestrus. Giraffe bulls do the same.
Walking and game report by Patrick Reynolds – October 2018
Post courtesy of Governors Camps