Weather and grasslands
The month gave us pastel sunrises with cool mornings and hot dusty days; although some early morning were as low as 10°C particularly on the 15th of July. Evening temperatures were averaging 24°C. There was a little rainfall in the latter half of June which kept the dust down. The Mara River has gone down tremendously and likewise many of the tributary rivers that flow into the Talek and finally into the Mara River. Grasslands within the reserve are now showing signs of drying out although in some areas of Paradise Plains and Rhino Ridge grass levels are still long. Cloudy mornings with a north easterly wind would bring the temperature down on morning drives. July was dry of rain, although there was a smitten of rain in last week which had no consequence to the environment. ( Photo Courtesy of Patrick Reynolds)
Towards middle of June some large herds of wildebeest and common zebra were filtering in from the eastern plains near the Loita Hills. Due to rain patterns, movements of these hoofed mammals can from vary from year to year, on the 24th more wildebeest and zebra were seen coming down through the Masai conservation areas. Good numbers of zebra can be seen across the Musiara and Marsh Plains areas of the Reserve. Large columns of zebra were seen across the Topi Plains and into the conservation areas. Good numbers of wildebeest were seen scattered across the short grass plains in the conservation areas and as far into the Mara North Conservancy.
Three leopards can be seen within reaches of the camps. Romi with her 8 month old male cub and another male have been seen within the woodlands that hedge the Mara River.
The Marsh pride with the four Musketeers can be seen within the Bila Shaka riverbed, the Marsh and Windmill areas.
Long days spent out on game drives with picnic breakfasts and lunches. With the Wildebeest movement throughout the reserve there has been some very good river crossings at Paradise. In the first week of July huge numbers were congregating on the Burrangat plains and within the Ronkai depression. Thousands have been crossing the Talek River since the last week of July; at the main crossing points at Paradise first it was the zebra mainly the resident Loita herds. In the afternoon on the 10th July at 1.30pm approximately 1,500 zebra were seen crossing from East to west at the main crossing point at Paradise. One foal was taken and eaten by crocodile. Three others were snatched at but swam free.
Elephant in family units are being seen spread out across the grassland plains. There are many young calves within these family herds which is very nice to see. Large bulls, some of whom are in Musth can be seen moving from herd to herd. Giraffe are seen within the riverine woodlands and also as far as the conservation areas where they favour the acacia woodland species.
Two large buffalo herds can be seen between Rhino Ridge and Topi Plains, the one herd frequents the Bila Shaka river bed depressions and the Marsh verges or tey can be seen in the Marsh itself. The large numbers of wildebeest and zebra that are passing through have put pressure on buffalo and elephant who have moved away. The Marsh Pride in June had taken many buffalo within the Marsh and also Bila Shaka.
Serval cats have been seen now that the grasslands are receding, on the 28th guests saw a serval near the Calvert within the marsh catch and eat two grass rats; their disc shaped ears can pinpoint sound effectively.
Spotted Hyena are well spread out and many are competing with lion for the latest Gnus!! On the 19th near Topi Plains hyena killed two young gnus, on the 23rd east of the Musiara Marsh hyena have been taking an average of one wildebeest a day. Spotted Hyena are effective and successful predators, running their prey down like a wolf or wild dog, Spotted Hyena have a large heart and thus tremendous stamina. Up to 85% of what they are eating they have killed themselves.
Hippo are coming out earlier in the evening to graze, some are even going back to the river late in the morning. Hippo crops the grass with their lips and need an average of 60-70kgs of grass fodder per night, they are pseudo ruminants and digest while in the water. With the grazing is getting shorter and thinner, the hippos are having to travel further afield and leave earlier to look for grass. Hippopotamuses are primarily folivorous, mainly grazing on grasses growing along the banks of their river habitats. Like many other herbivore species, they will consume other plants if presented with them, but their diet consists almost entirely of grass, in some areas of Africa minimal consumption of aquatic plants has been noticed. Hippos have rarely been filmed or seen eating carrion, this action has generally been seen in the water, this could be due to nutritional stress. Hippopotamuses may very occasionally eat small animals or consume carrion.
Eland in small breeding herds remain on Topi, Paradise Plains and the Masai Conservation areas. On the evening of the 8th an Eland Bull was killed by lion on the east side of Rhino Ridge, by the morning there were three lionesses left, a large clan of spotted hyena arrived and drove the three lionesses off quite quickly.
Grants and Thompsons Gazelles will be seen on the shorter grass plains, the Musiara marsh holds a good numbers of Grants Gazelles with many of them close to the marsh grasslands.
There are many Dik Dik in the Riverine forest and close to the river bank, they stay in monogamous pairs with the female being a little bigger than the male. The males use a dung midden and will religiously mark his territory on a grass stem nearby by using his pre-orbital gland beneath his eye. Pairs spend about 64% of their time together. Males, but not females, will attempt to obtain extra-pair mating when the opportunity arises.
Black Rhino have been seen seldom seen although the older male was sighted on Paradise plains twice in the last few days of July.
Marsh pride – the four Musketeers, Siena, Charm and Bibi with their 10 cubs of varying age groups are being seen between Bila Shaka the airstrip and the Marsh. One cub is 8 months old, three cubs are now ten months old and the other six cubs are 14 months old although one of them is a little younger which was abandoned by Bibi. The huge numbers of wildebeest that have been passing through have kept them going with two or even three wildebeest being killed and eaten at a time. The pride has remained on Bila Shaka and the Musiara plains. Scar, Hunter, Sikio and Morani are often spread apart with two or three of them together at any one time.
In the afternoon of the 11th July at 5.15pm a new male leopard whom we strongly suspect is the same male that is often seen associating with Romi, was near the large fig tree at the lake Nakuru area of the marsh and he had just killed a yearling wildebeest close by to some cubs belonging to Jicho, she saw the Leopard there and came over, there was a fracas and Jicho got scathed on the left side of her neck.
This new male Leopard has been seen again in the wooded tree line close to Little Governors camp, he was seen in the late evening on the 27th with a Dik Dik that he had quickly snatched.
Romi and her 9 month old male cubs are being seen frequently in the woodlands near the BBC camp and also within the wooded areas near the Marsh. There are two dead Warburgia trees within the woodlands near the BBC campsite and both a very fond of lying up on these tree trunks with the evening light on them.
Another large male leopard has been seen in the same area, on the 29th he was seen with the female and two cubs about 100 meters apart.
At the mortuary crossing point there is another male that has been seen often this month; this leopard has taken many young Wildebeest in the croton thickets as they come down to cross the river, last year he took two in three days.
Sightings of Cheetah have been rather slim this month.
Malaika and her 15 month old male cub were seen near the Ronkai depression and Lookout hill area. She has been in this area for quite some time now and we hear that she is feeding Impala and Thomson gazelle.
A young female has been seen on the northern fan of Rhino Ridge, she shows that she is lactating so we presume that she has cub’s somewhere.
A female with two cubs a male and female who are over one year old have been seen near the salt lick on the Ntiaktiak River. These are the three that have more than likely come down from the Mara north conservancy. On the 31st at 10.00am near the Murram pits in the Fig tree conservation areas these three cheetahs effectively killed a young Wildebeest.
Walking in the Mara North Conservancy.
Earlier on the month we had some nice warm weather with bright early mornings.
Large numbers of Wildebeest have been filtering through into the conservation areas, with large numbers on the eastern plains. Spotted Hyenas have been feeding off wildebeest on a daily basis, large clans congregate and run down the wildebeest like wolves, as the wildebeest disperse individuals are singled out, by the hungry hyena. Often all that is left are a few bone splinters and matted hair.
There are zebra in good numbers across the open grasslands. Topi and cokes hartebeest are in the longer grass, while Topi move throughout the shorter grass areas too.
We have had good sightings of Giraffe as they move between the Acacia woodlands and riparian woodlands, males will travel great distances looking for breeding herds and oestrus females. Acacia Gerrardii release tannin in the leaf rachis which gets stronger as the more it gets browsed upon, with this the Giraffe move from tree to tree. Some large males are very recognisable often by pattern and colour; they can be seen as far 30 kms away in a few hours.
July has been good for Elephant sightings particularly close to the river and also in the Acacia woodlands. There are many young calves some of which are very young. There is a bachelor herd of bulls that have been seen lately on the river, one of whom has a good pair of tusks, for a savannah elephant this is quite good going. With the wildebeest scattered over the open plains elephant feel pressured and tend to spend more time feeding in a wooded habitat.
On the 23rd a Martial eagle was seen to take a young Thomson fawn on the Eastern grassland plains, these savannah Eagles are large birds of prey hunting in the grass and woodlands.