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January Game Report Masai Mara



3 February, 2015

Weather and grasslands: 

Over the last month the Mara has seen moderate to warm conditions generally leading to hot midday temperatures of around 36c. Days have begun with clear skies with pastel sunrises at 6.50am. There have been some cool mornings for this time of year averaging at 15c while some early morning temperatures were as low as 13c. The grasslands are drying out with water levels in the Mara River and Musiara Marsh also receding. Poor rainfall last season has not helped. Total rainfall for the month was 40mm, with most of this falling in the first days of the month.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds 


General game


 

Elephant have been arriving back into the woodlands and Marsh area. There are Scattered herds of Elephant across the grasslands, here the grass levels here are not very long, but the predominate species have come to seed. Sodom apple (Solanum incanum) are also being eaten along with shoots of Balanites Aegyptica, Sida Schimperiana and Acacia. The Warbugia trees are also in fruit which draws the Elephants into the riverine forest. Some bulls are also in Musth and can be seen passing through. Amongst these Elephant that have come through are in loose maternity herds, there are many calves. In the woodlands there is a breeding herd of twelve cows one of which has a calf that appears to be stunted, he has short legs and trunk but is incredibly energetic. Two black Rhino were often seen at Paradise Plains, also one male Rhino was often seen near to IL Moran camp early in the morning. 


Photo courtesy of Harrison Nampaso

 

There are many Olive Baboons and Black Faced Vervet monkeys in the woodlands, the Vervet monkeys tend to spend their time close to the camp surrounds. Baboons are feeding off the fruit from the Warbugia trees and can be seen thoroughout the forest edges and grasslands. The Musiara troop is large and well over 110 individuals and infants. Impala are also resident here in the Marsh, Paradise Plains by the river are also good places to see them. Many of the fawns will spend time in crèches particularly those of a similar age. Grants Gazelles are also within the Musiara Marsh, Bila Shaka and Paradise Plains. Grants Gazelles are a varied feeder similar to that of impala and will readily browse on shrubs and trees. Thompson's Gazelles are seen more readily on the open plains, fawns are also being seen born, a female Thomson may have two fawns a year. Mortality rate with all the predators that are on the plains is high when rain fall patterns are poor and grass levels are short. The same mortality loss affects warthogs piglets with temperature variations also taking effect. Sounders of sows on the grassland plains will be seen with an average of three piglets that are four-five months old and a female or two from the previous litter, on average here in the Musiara regions mortality rate is over 50% particularly due to predation on them is greater than those within the Masai conservancies. The resident lion prides are the main vectors here.


 

Giraffe are also being seen with breeding males passing through looking for oestrus females, Giraffe calves will crèche and these crèches are common sightings in the riverine woodlands verges and Paradise Plains. Topi and females with 4 month old calves and Cokes hartebeest will be seen on Rhino Ridge, Topi flats at Paradise and Topi Plains. With grass levels short and drying up some species of ungulates that would prefer deeper grass cover are being seen visibly like Bohors reedbuck. Good places to see Bohors reedbuck is the Bila Shaka river bed which is not far from the airstrip. Within this very area there is water in the Bila Shaka and also pools in the Silanga river bed, the African rock python is often seen sunning herself close to these pools. She has been seen swallowing a female Thomson gazelle in the evening of the 14th. 


Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

 

Crested cranes are displaying with the males and females performing an elaborate dance which is rather is typical of cranes, with good light the actions can be caught nicely on film. Southern Ground Hornbills are being seen in all areas of the Musiara and Paradise Plains, the marsh areas are perhaps the easiest environs to see trios of Ground Hornbills.


 

Spotted Hyena clans are large within the Musiara grasslands, Paradise Plains and Rhino Ridge. Having three large dens sites within a small area is putting pressure on the resident lion prides, Hyena and Lion compete and is known as predator competition which in turn can quickly be reversed to predator aggression with one killing the other. On Paradise Plains and Musiara east marsh large numbers of Hyena will turn up at Lion kills thus often causing Lion to eat quickly or lose out, with males being present at a kill sight Hyena will often hold back tentatively. 


Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

 

Two Aardwolves have been seen again on Rhino Ridge with early mornings being good times to see them. Bat Eared Foxes are also being seen in the early mornings while they sun themselves, Bat Eared Foxes in the Mara/Serengeti ecosystem will spend 85% of their time awake at night feeding on insects and other arthropods. Bat-Eared Foxes are found in arid grasslands and savannahs, preferring areas where the grass is short. They are capable diggers and live in dens that can be dug by the foxes themselves or those left by other animals such as Aardvarks. Dens will have multiple entrances and chambers. A family of Bat Eared Foxes may have several dens in its home range. Side Striped jackals are also being seen again on Paradise Plains, the female with the two cubs who are three months old have moved closer to Rhino Ridge. Side-striped Jackals are more omnivorous scavengers than any other type of jackal. Their diet generally varies depending on which area they habituate; due to their narrow muzzle they are generally known to feed mainly on insects, fruits, small vertebrates, carrion, and plant material. Black backed Jackals are also being seen more readily due to their extremely competitive feeding habits. The Black- backed Jackal is a versatile and successful feeder, and will alter its diet according to availability or interspecific competition. Black backed Jackals typically feed on small to medium sized mammals, reptiles and birds. It will also scavenge on carrion and human refuse. Other food items include invertebrates, plants, fish and seals and beached marine mammals.


Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

 

Hippo are beginning to get noisy in the Mara river as pods encroach onto one another, this is typical when water levels drop and dominant pod males begin to fight one another as pods merge into each other. They are also travelling further out while foraging and this often means they leave earlier in the evening and come back later in the morning. Understandably under these situations hippo will get stressed and lose condition. Resident Lion prides work on these stressed animals particularly as they come back to the river from feeding sometimes up to five kilometres away.


 

Banded and dwarf Mongooses are present within the camp grounds and on the grass plains foraging for insects close to termite mounds which they use as a shelter or housing to rear young and breed. The banded and dwarf mongoose are a diurnal animal, but on hot days they are only active during the morning and evening. Both species are a gregarious family of herpestidae that roam in family groups of about 30 animals. Of them both the dwarf mongoose is more an insectivore than the Banded mongoose which will take more invertebrate species.


 

Some larger swallow tail Butterflies are being seen in the woodlands and open habitats. Mocker swallow tail are commonly seen in the riverine woodlands, Nobel swallow tail which is often seen in open habitat, the citrus butterfly and the narrow green banded swallowtail.


 


 

Larger Cats

 

Lion


 

News flash


 

The Marsh Pride within the Musiara Marsh are of 16 lion - Bibi, Charm, Sienna, two sub- adult males' Red and Tatu, six sub-adult lionesses, Sienna's three 13 month old cubs and Charms two six month old cubs. The Marsh Pride have been feeding off buffalo and hippo, warthog are also taken. For a pride that has no present pride male have done very well in adapting to killing buffalo and hippo. On the 19th they had killed and eaten a young bull hippo close to the BBC campsite on the Mara River. On the 25th the Marsh Pride trapped a buffalo in the east marsh lagoons and killed it the following evening. Charm and Sienna are often at apposing ends of the marsh and will pool together when socialising and hunting large prey. 


 


Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

 

Sila the breakaway lioness with her two five month old cubs moved across the river at the rocky Kichwa crossing and into the Trans Mara on the 22nd of this month. She has joined up with the 2nd breakaway pride which numbers 5 lionesses Kini, Sila, Musiara, Jicho and 11 cubs. Then on the night of the 31st January or early in the morning 1st February the 2nd 5 of the breakaway lionesses and their nine cubs have arrived back in the north end of the east side of the Marsh. Four of these lionesses had been on the other side of the river for some months now and we thought they had moved over there permanently, howver shortly after Sila's move that way, they all came back. Two cubs of Lippy's are not here so perhaps in a few days we should shed some light. They all looked well and it appears they had eaten something earlier this morning. We are all wondering if Scar now will come back over. We are also trying to get information if the Oloololo pride lionesses came back to the area that the 2nd Breakaway's took over? 


Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

 

Of the four Musketeers Morani, Sikio and Hunter are the three males that can be seen mainly in the Paradise Plains areas. The iconic male Scar has not been seen this side of the Mara for some time now. Earlier on in the month Morani was seen mating with one of the Paradise's lionesses and also latterly Sikio. The Paradise Pride on Paradise Plains have six cubs who are five months old, three lionesses and three sub adults of which two are males. The six cubs of the Paradise Pride were sired by one of the Musketeers and Morani shows strong altruistic behaviour.


 

The Madomo pride of four lionesses, four cubs two are four months old and two are five months old and the two sub-adults one of which one is a male with a disfigured lower right jaw, we would like to call him 'Pengo'. This pride reside on Rhino Ridge and the silanga depression. On approximately the 15th of December 2014 in the Bila Shaka river bed Madomo gave birth to four cubs that were being seen within the first week of this month. Who sired these cubs is only a guess and we first suspected Blackie or Lipstick but these two males moved away quite quickly, it is also presumed that it was the same nomadic male that was seen mating with Bibi, for he spent much of his time close to Madomo while she was nursing cubs. On the 19th these cubs were not to be seen, Madomo looked bitten and scratched up and was seen later that day far up the Silanga depression with her sister and sub female. Early that morning four of the Marsh sub females were seen a little further down from where Madomo had her cubs, one of the sub lionesses Yaya who is Sienna's daughter had also been scratched up, both Sienna and Yaya have been known to kill cubs of the Madomo pride and also Jicho of the 2nd Breakaways pride lost all her three cubs. During the last weeks of the month Bibi was seen up the Silanga and was being mated with a nomadic male whom we have not been seen that often. Whether Bibi will conceive is to be seen, she was being seen in the marsh area recently and was with Sienna. The Madomo Pride have been feeding of Topi and Warthog, latterly Madomo wounds appear to be healing well and on the 29th a Topi at midday had been killed and eaten with her sister and sub lioness on Topi Plains. There were no hyena present at this time of day, for three lionesses are at stake when large Hyena clans are nearby. 


Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Three nomadic young male lion and a lioness were seen on Topi plains and Rhino ridge, where these lion have come from we suspect perhaps Masai conservation areas. They had killed a buffalo on the top end of Rhino ridge on the 22nd of the month. 


Photo courtesy of Patrick Reynolds

Leopard

 

Siri the female leopard with her one seven month old male cub is still within the Serena pump house area of the Mara River. This cub is very active and was photographed on the 26th stalking a male buffalo only to be faced off and realising this is large prey! They both are being seen feeding off Impala and Thomson gazelles.


 

Romi's male offspring is being seen within the woodlands from IL Moran to Governors Private Camp. Romi herself is also seen in the same areas she had killed a bushbuck near the BBC campsite on the 15th.


 

A male leopard was seen near the Paradise copse of trees he is resident here in this area. He was seen on the 18th and 22nd near the riverine tree area of the Mara river.


 

Another male was seen on the Talek River west of the double crossing, a female and her one cub near the rocky crossing is also being seen upstream from the rocky crossing, there are many fig trees along the river banks and she is often seen here.


 


 

Cheetah


 

The female cheetah Malaika with her four cubs who are six months old will be seen near the double crossing areas, she is feeding off Thompson fawns and scrub hares. This is the age that mothers will bring back small prey such as fawns and hares for cubs to learn the art of killing and surviving. Malaika has been seen feeding off Bohors reedbuck.


 

A young female was seen on paradise plains during mid-month, she had killed a Thompson gazelle. A few days later she was seen on Topi plains hunting Thompson gazelles again, unfortunately she came across the many Hyena here she moved away quickly and gave up. The plight of Cheetah and Hyena of which the Hyena is the aggressor. 


Photo courtesy of Collins

 

Another younger males is being seen on Paradise Plains and he also jumps into vehicles and using them as vantage points, the two male brothers were being seen on Rhino Ridge and as far as the Mara North conservancy, these two males will cover large distances. They have been seen hunting Impala, Bohors reedbuck for they are becoming easier to see as their habitats are thinning out due to lack of rain.


 


 

Why we love February in Masai Mara


 

6 February, 2015


 

February is marked by cool mornings, hot days and scattered rain showers. Mornings start around 14 degrees Celsius, moving to 30 degrees Celsius by midday. The grass on the open plains begins to dry out causing the red oat grass to turn golden brown.


 

In the forests around the Governors family of camps the Warburgia trees continue to fruit, drawing in elephants and baboons to feast. There are young calves amongst the elephant herds. Elephant families go back and forth between the grasslands and forests around our camps. There is much trumpeting as young males come of age and are pushed out of the maternal herds to live on their own, increased testosterone levels lead these young males to misbehave and be raucous, behaviour that the matriarchs do not tolerate. One February we were incredibly privileged to witness an elephant give birth right next to the bar tent at Little Governors Camp, the mother elephant wandered into camp followed by a group of other elephants, the mother settled herself close to the bar tent and the other elephants disappeared, after much trumpeting and effort she gave birth right in front of a group of newly arrived guests! The other elephants reappeared, surrounded the mother and calf, there was much excitement in camp and throughout the month mother and calf were frequent visitors to camp. On windy days or after a storm elephants come into camp to pick up the Warburgia fruit that has dropped to the ground.


Photo courtesy of Will Fortescue

 

If the rain has been good we begin to see the arrival of the herds of wildebeest and zebra from the Loita plains and hills outside the Mara. They graze inside the reserve during the day and move out of the reserve at night where lions are scarcer and they feel safer. As the month progresses huge herds begin to move across the plains, coming to the Musiara marsh to drink during the day and moving up to the Mara River where they attempt to cross often put off by the numbers of waiting crocodiles. Sensing a change in the seasons the wildebeest begin to calve most of them moving outside the boundaries of the reserve where pressures from lion are less.


Photo courtesy of Michael Poliza

 

Families of giraffe are seen throughout the woodlands close to the Governors family of camps feeding on the leaves of Warburgia trees. Often these families will spend days within the Governors Camp grounds. Eland herds are scattered across the plains. Defassa waterbuck occupy the grasslands around the marsh feeding on grasses and herbs. The big Cape buffalo herd of around 500 individuals occupy the Bila Shaka grasslands and slopes of Rhino ridge where the coarse grasses they like to feed on grow. There are many claves amongst the herd and calving often happens in February. Topi and Cokes hartebeest are found in all areas of Musiara, the male Topis expend much energy protecting their Leks and get tired and often doze off during the day, lion and hyena have learnt to exploit this and often hunt Topi during February. Bushbucks are seen in the early mornings and at dusk in the fringes of the forest.


 

Crocodiles are seen basking on almost every bend of the Mara River. They are opportunistic waiting for an animal to come to the water to drink.


 

We have good sightings of Serval Cats with many seen on the grasslands and flats of Paradise Plain. Servals feed on mice and grass rats, often leaping into the air to catch ground birds and doves. Spotted Hyena with young cubs in their dens are seen where concentrations of plains game are good, they group together in large clans able to compete aggressively with lion over food, often chasing lionesses off a meal in large numbers. Male lions will kill hyena when they get the opportunity.


Photo courtesy of Will Fortescue

 

Martial eagles, a large savannah bird of prey fly above the plains preying on banded mongooses and Thomson Gazelle fawns. Warthogs with young piglets are seen in many areas where there is open ground, they leave their burrows early to forage but remain cautiously close to boltholes for safety. Banded and Dwarf mongooses make their home in the Governors Camps grounds each family sleeps together in a communal underground den (in our camps they like the drainage pipes), they emerge from their dens at sunrise spending the days foraging together until sunset when they return to their dens. Females synchronise their births to the same day and families raise the young communally.


 

The Marsh Pride of lions often has cubs within the pride, who are often very playful. The pride feeds off waterbuck calves, buffalo and warthog.


 

Cheetah often climb on the game drive vehicles to get a better vantage of their surroundings, they stalk and catch Thomson Gazelles, mother cheetahs often teaching their sub-adult cubs to hunt. They move around large distances trying to avoid lion and hyena. We have good sightings of leopards close to our camps some guests even treated to sightings of leopard on arrival before checking in to camp. Leopard often have cubs at this time of year and they have to work hard not to lose their kills to hyena In February 2014 we had an amazing sighting of a leopard sharing its kill with a pack of hungry hyena.


Photo courtesy of Mke Toone

 

Birds

 

The birding in February is fantastic; we have good sightings of Ground Hornbills travelling in trios they feed on large grasshoppers and scarab beetles. A lot of the European migrants are still around, the abundance of life in the Musiara Marsh draws a crowd of water birds; Storks, Herons and Hammerkops hunt frogs and catfish. With food a plenty many birds have nested and either have eggs or chicks. The weavers build their nests overhanging the riverbanks some are still building and some are looking after chicks. Plovers, Longclaws and other ground nesting birds have eggs and chicks hidden in their nests in the long grass. A white backed Vulture likes to nest close to the laundry in Governors Camp she often raises a scruffy single chick in this nest. 


Photo courtesy of Dave Richards

 

The invasion of caterpillars we had in the forest in the last few months has turned into the most brilliant display of thousands of different kinds of butterflies and moths who flit from one wild flower to another.


 


 


 

A trek to see the Hirwa Gorilla Family


 

9 February, 2015


 

Today I was given the group Hirwa which is one of the gorilla families which lives on Sabyinyo Mountain which is the one the lodge sits at the foot hills of. This family is made up of 17 members, the silver back who originally came from the Susa family which was the one studied by Dian Fossy, 6 females, 2 black backs, 3 adolescents and 5 babies under 3 years of age.


 

The hike from the area where you parked the cars to the edge of the mountain forest takes you up an incline through fields of potatoes which makes up a large part and is a staple of the local people's diet, then through a eucalyptus forest which was being harvested for the production of charcoal. Yet on speaking to the people harvesting the trees they showed me all the saplings they were planting, which was 2 saplings for every tree which they remove which is a very encouraging sign for the future.


 

After about half an hour we reached the buffalo wall which is the barrier between the mountain reserve habitat and the farm area. This wall is more of a visual marker to stop the farmers encroaching into the forest with the cultivation of land for crops and it also acts as a deterrent to the forest buffalo and elephant to not raid the farmer's crops. We had a short break and were joined by 2 rangers and a tracker who was going to take the 8 of us up to see the Hirwa family. This is one of the harder treks with a constant medium to sever incline so be warned this one is for the fitter amongst us. But as usual a bit of luck happened and as we started into the forest we heard that the gorilla family were actually moving down the mountain towards us so after only trekking for about an hour down came the gorillas which what seemed like to meet u in the middle of the bamboo forest which is generally the lowest part of the mountain gorillas habitat. It stretches from approximately 8000ft above sea level to around 8800ft and with bamboo shoots being the gorillas favourite food source during the rainy season through March to End of June this is the area they are most commonly found in. During the dry season when the shoots are less plentiful they climb up the bamboo to eat the leaves at the top and also move higher up the mountain to obtain there other favourite food sources such as wild celery. We left our walking sticks and bags with the porters and with cameras in hand spent the next hour watching the gorillas climb up the bamboo, roll around playing and grooming each other. This is also the group which has a pair of 2 year old twins. In the total time that people have been studying mountain gorillas only approximately 7 sets of twins have ever been born and of these only 3 have both twins survived past the age of 1. They are identical as far as I could tell apart from what they call the nose crease which is like a finger print in humans and is totally unique to each gorilla.


 

The trek out was much easier and after about an hour we were back at the cars.


 


 

News from Loldia House


 

29 January, 2015


 

Still no respite from the drought on Loldia Ranch but Naivasha town has received a few showers. The baby Hippo is still on its own but appears to be surviving OK. The fact there are no Crocodiles in the lake is probably one factor, but when it is feeding at night it must be very vulnerable to being attacked by Spotted Hyenas.


 

A large male Eland has been spending a lot of time near the House/Lodge and has become very tolerant and allows very close approaches. Eland are normally very shy animals. There are a number of lone male Elands on the ranch, the Eland herds, consisting of a male and several females have moved up into the hills.


 

Kirk's Dikdiks are very common on the ranch and can easily be seen now the vegetation is so sparse.


 

Bat-eared Foxes are also regularly seen near the airstrip. Leopard sightings have been good both near the house and on night drives. On one night drive two different Leopards were seen. On night drives the strangely named Zorillas (Striped Weasel) are often seen as well as African Spring Hares which look like small Kangaroos as they hop about. Near the house is a small colony of Rock Hyrax but looking at them more closely they appear to be, more likely, Bush Hyraxes. Both species are very similar and live in similar habitats. The main difference between them is that in the middle of the back is a small patch of a different colour than the rest of the body. Rock Hyrax have a pale brownish patch while Bush Hyrax have a yellowish coloured patch.


 

With most of the fruiting figs eaten, bird life in the garden has been a little quieter. The resident Little Sparrowhawk still preys on the small birds but the Great Sparrowhawk has moved away. The resident pair of Fish Eagles are building a new nest and occasionally an Augur Buzzard visits the garden and European Marsh Harriers can often be seen patrolling along the lake shore. A resident in the garden, but a very difficult bird to see, is the Red-throated Wryneck. Wrynecks are very uncommon and rarely seen, but there appears to be several pairs on the ranch. 


 

Another Eleonora's Falcon was seen on the ranch on the 8th, sitting on top of an acacia tree. Suddenly a Great Sparrowhawk flew into a nearby tree carrying a small bird and, much to my surprise, the Falcon immediately attacked the Sparrowhawk. The Sparrow Hawk is a larger bird and just carried on feeding, virtually ignoring the Falcon as it swooped at it several times. Helmeted Guineafowl are very common on the ranch and the remains of them (feathers) are often found under acacia trees. I was wondering which bird of prey is responsible and it appears that Fish Eagles are the culprits. Although I have not actually seen them kill a Guineafowl I have found them eating Guineafowls on several occasions. Fish Eagles are well known to prey on Flamingos at lakes Nakuru and Bogoria so perhaps it is not unusual for them to hunt Guineafowl.


 

On the 6th I visited Crescent Island along with 2 of Loldia House Safari Guides, Juma and Samuel. One of the first birds we saw was a Black Heron, commonly called the 'umbrella bird'. Nearby was another Black Heron using its unusual fishing technique of spreading its wings over the water, forming an umbrella. This technique has a dual purpose, one it attracts fish into the shade of its wings and two it shades its eyes from the sun. The walk on the island is very rewarding as you can walk with safety very close to Wildebeest, Masai Giraffe, Zebra, Impala, Defassa Waterbuck and both Thomson's and Grant's Gazelles.

Birdlife was equally good with close views of a Giant Kingfisher, Bearded and Grey Woodpeckers, Hoopoes and several Black-tailed Godwits, which are uncommon migrants to Kenya.


 

The following day we decided to visit Mt Longonot which is the mountain that you can see across the lake from Loldia. This time we were joined by Gilbert the Chef and Elias the Waiter. Mt Longonot is a dormant volcano and it and the surrounding area is a National Park. After paying our fees at the entrance gate we started the climb to the Longonot's rim. It was a hard climb in places but in just one hour we reached the rim which is at an altitude of 2560m. Interestingly, written on a sign board on the rim is the Masai name for Longonot, Oloononot.


 

There was a lot to see on the climb, birds such as Yellow-crowned Canaries but, the big surprise, was to find fresh male Leopard tracks on the path. The Leopard must have been hunting around the rim at night. 


Leopard prints

 

After a brief rest our staff members decided to walk around Longonot's rim. They walked along a narrow path clockwise around the rim and after a 2 hour walk they scrambled up to the summit, which is at 2780m. On their walk they noticed more Leopard tracks. Another half hour walk brought them back to the starting point. While they were away I explored along the rim and was pleasantly surprised to find a variety of wild flowers and 2 different butterflies.


The crater

 

I also discovered what the Leopards may have been hunting, Klipspringers. Klipspringers are very special antelopes and are unique for walking on their toes. They have dense, hollow-shafted fur, which insulates them in hot daytime temperatures and are able to withstand freezing temperatures at night. Their habitat is steep rocky hillsides and kopjes, even so, to see them on the steep slopes of the inner wall of Longonot's crater was a surprise. 


 

Climbing down from the rim was in places difficult but we were soon back at the car park, where we enjoyed a late but well deserved lunch.