Small numbers of wildebeest and zebra have held on within Rhino ridge, Emarti and Paradise Plains. The Mara River level is still flowing higher than usual for this time of the year due to better rainfall up stream.
Early on small numbers of wildebeest filtered through from the Talek River and some good crossings were seen on the 7th and 8th of September and these wildebeest moved into the open plains at Emarti and Paradise and even as far as Bila Shaka and Rhino Ridge plains. On the 17th - 20th of September wildebeest massed up for what appeared to be a determined movement. They then swept down from Paradise Plains towards the main crossing points on the Mara River leaving large dust clouds as they thundered down only to be suddenly turned back by a waiting predator. On the 20th at 4.30 pm a large herd came down to the river and were met by the Paradise lion pride and four wildebeest were taken. They then swung around towards another crossing point only to be met by a leopard that frequents the croton thickets, the majority of them moved back and only a few crossed the Mara River that evening. On the 22nd at midday an estimated 1,500 crossed at the main crossing points. On the 23rd in the morning a large herd assembled on the river and stayed around for hours but never crossed, perhaps the same wildebeest in smaller herds crossed again on the 24th in the afternoon. Since the 30th of September large scattered herds of wildebeest and a few zebra can be seen spread out across the Musiara, Bila Shaka and the Rhino Ridge plains.
The abundance of young amongst the plains game has meant that there has been lots of activity amongst the big cats.
The short grass plains support many species of ungulates and the more commonly seen are; pregnant female topi and bachelor males with territorial males holding short term leases on the green belts within the grassland verges; small herds of Cokes Hartebeest remain at the bottom end of the Bila Shaka river bed and also in the longer grass areas closer to the River.
Grants Gazelles are also abundant on the short grass plains with good numbers of bachelor males in the verges of the Musiara Marsh and Bila Shaka. Scattered loose associated herds of female Thomson Gazelles can be seen throughout the short grass areas with territorial males holding out territories or chasing one another across large tracks of ground. Numerous herds of impala with territorial males close by are regulars in the riverine woodlands between the camps. Large troops of olive baboons frequent the marsh and surrounding areas, recently these baboon troops have been travelling far out from their normal feeding grounds to look for food, and these ventures put stress on these terrestrial primates so they often stage sentries on elevated ground such as termite mounds. They are still eating the little white flowers which look like littered tissue paper which are covering large areas of the open plains. Early on in the month they were seen jumping up after brown grasshoppers especially the bigger and hairier older males who would jump up off the ground and with a loud clap would catch these grasshoppers in their hands! They have also been seen eating white mushrooms with no apparent side effects, perhaps they know something we don't!
There are lots of warthog families around each with around 3-6 young piglets, large birds of prey such as the Martial eagle and the regular carnivores such as jackals, lion, cheetah and hyena all prey on these piglets. On the 24th on the Bila Shaka plains a lioness dug out four piglets from a hole (lion are renowned for digging out warthog). Rhino have been seen more frequently again with a male on Paradise plains and a female on the west side of rhino ridge.
Giraffe move about often within the riverine woodlands on the Mara River. Trios of males spar for dominance. Older males live solitary lives and will travel great distances looking for females to impregnate. Often these large solitary males will meet up then more determined sparring or 'necking' takes places, powerful blows from the head can knock an opponent to the ground.
The African Rock Python that took the male Thomson Gazelle in August has been seen again on the north side of Bila Shaka. The large herd of Cape buffalo have now moved in to the Musiara marsh and early on in the month they were seen all along the Bila Shaka river bed. Serval cats have been sighted more frequently this month with good viewing of them in the Musiara marsh. One excellent recorded sighting on the 19th at approximately 4.15pm of a female serval taking a Coqui Francolin on the east side of Bila Shaka.
Bohors Reedbuck are being seen frequently and these are a species of ungulate that often occurs in unstable grasslands that are susceptible to flooding, but is well adapted to extremes of drought and fire. This is a medium-sized, sandy coloured antelope that possesses no outstanding physical features, instead, its loud whistles and bounding behaviour are more distinctive attributes that signify its presence in the tall grasslands it inhabits. Like many other smaller antelope, the Bohors reedbuck hides from predators rather than forming herds in defence. Due to the short grasses available reedbuck are becoming more visible and whilst grass and reeds are its preferred habitat (providing important shelter from predators), it can be difficult to communicate with each other in such dense surroundings, the Bohors Reedbuck has adopted leaping and whistling as effective forms of communication and this is very noticeable while walking amongst these animals.
Ground hornbills where seen mating near the Marsh. The hooting sound of these birds carries a long way and many people here in Kenya say it is a sign of rain when they call.
On the 24th at approximately 7.30am a young aardvark was seen on the Bila Shaka plains. It is strange to see an aardvark out during the day considering they are habitually nocturnal due to their feeding habits, they are sometimes seen sunning themselves in the early morning sun after a cold night or out feeding for a short time in the early morning when there has been good harvester termite activity. An aardvark has a strange morphology and resembles no other animal. They have large ears which fold back when tunnelling, a short neck and rounded back and long soft snout which widens out at the distal end, it is a mobile snout which twitches back and forth as they sniff along the ground for food. They eat termites and ants and draw these into their mouth with a long 25mm tongue made sticky by saliva. They have an extraordinary dentition known as Tubulidentata teeth (as the name implies) which have a number of thin tubes of dentine held together by cementum. These teeth have no enamel coating and are worn away, regrowing continuously. Aardvarks are born with conventional incisors and canines at the front of the jaw, but these will fall out and are not replaced. Only the adult aardvarks have molars at the back of the jaw.
Bila Shaka/ marsh now numbers 20 including four breeding females, six sub adults, three older cubs and two males Romeo is younger and Claude who is quite old now. Joy's four cubs are now seven months old. One of the older females had two young 4 month old cubs, approximately mid month one of these cubs went with the mother towards Rhino ridge and has not returned she left one other cub behind and it has now joined up with Joys older cubs making a total of five. The young female with the tip of her tail missing had one cub early last month; this cub is now sadly missing.
On the 10th of this month at approximately 2.30pm in the Musiara Marsh three sub adults caught up with an Egyptian Mongoose that was foraging about in the grass, out of typical feline curiosity the lion started to play with it. This species of mongoose are very tenacious and its tenacity got the better of them by biting one of the young lions on the nose!! It quickly swiped it off with its left paw and left it well alone.
News On the 30th in the early morning 4 new males turned up at the Lake Nakuru area of the marsh and one of the males was seen mating with the young female who had the one cub. The two resident males Claude and Romeo kept a low profile and were seen slowly moving up the slopes of Rhino ridge. The five cubs and two females have also moved into the woodlands towards the river. Then on the 3rd there was an almighty fight which left Claude badly injured and lying beside the airstrip and Romeo also injured up towards rhino ridge, with the rest of the pride scattered. This could be the start of a pride take-over which would add some much needed variety into the pride's gene pool.
The Paradise pride of four adult females more often seen and their four sub adult cubs; that are over 2 years old. They have been seen feeding off warthog. One of the old females has not been seen recently.
Notch and the four males can still be seen in the double crossing area of Ongata, Oldoruroi and also below Emarti hill, the last time they were seen was on the 25th at the double crossing area.
The three males have been seen between Rhino Ridge and Paradise plains. On the 26th and 28th they were seen on Rhino Ridge, young wildebeest and impala are their preferred prey. A female cheetah has been seen at Paradise and she is suspected to be pregnant she has been preying on Thomson Gazelle and young warthog. Another female has been on Rhino ridge; on the 26th she caught a Thomson Gazelle fawn near Bila Shaka and on the 30th she had killed a Thomson fawn near the Miti ya Nyuki area of Rhino Ridge.
Olive, her 9 month old cub and her two year old son are now being seen more frequently near the TalekRiver. 'Olive' has still been feeding off young wildebeest and warthog A large male leopard has been in the river bed south of Bila Shaka looking towards Rhino Ridge. The female with two cubs who are about eight months old now have been seen again in the riverine tree line at the bottom end of the Bila Shaka river bed. On the 28th she was eating a young Wildebeest.
Walking in the Koiyaki Conservation Area
Walking this month has been quite busy. Early mornings have been generally overcast with occasionally clear skies. There has been a little intermittent rain in these areas of Koiyaki and this has left green pastures with shallow grass growth. Wildebeest and zebra in small herds remain on the open plains. The small breeding herd of Cape Buffalo is often below the salt lick with a few solitary bulls lurking in the Euclea Divinorum thickets and croton thickets closer to the Olare OrokRiver. There are a few young calves in this breeding herd. Giraffe in loose herds are throughout the acacia woodlands wherever stands of Acacia are to be found there will be giraffe browsing. The two main species of Acacia woodlands are the acacia Gerrardii which has a white flower and lightly scented and acacia Nilotica which has a lovely and strong scented yellow flower, these woodlands are heavily browsed and some individual trees are literally stunted. The Elephant also like the Gerrardii and so do the Masai for the inner bark fibres are high in sucrose and strong smelling often reminding one of garlic. The Gerrardii are one species of acacia that release a chemical known as tannin K through the leaf rachis which taints the browsing value and giraffe being the more common browser tend to move on. Elephant have also been passing through and have showed great interest in the Acacia and many stands of them show the feeding habits of elephant. There have been a few large bulls seen recently and both these were solitary individuals. On two occasions walkers have seen a female Grey Bush duiker and these quite often frequent the croton thickets, being a shy species it is important to keep quiet as they are seldom seen. In 1686, the German scientist Dr. Hermann Nicolas Grimm first described the common duiker as Capra sylvestra africana after wood (Silva) and a female goat (Capra). In 1758, Linnaeus named it Capra grimmia in honor of Dr. Grimm, Capra being the genus of the domesticated goat. The popular name 'duiker' is derived from the Dutch 'dike-er' for dive, as the animal dives for cover when alarmed. The ewe is larger than the Ram and will weigh out at approximately 12kg.
Lion have been seen on some occasions and more often the three lionesses of which two females have five cubs with them which are about 2 months old. The male has been seen mating with two other females. There has been one sighting of a leopard close to the Olare OrokRiver that came down from a Warburgia tree.
On the 25th at 9.30am there was a good sighting of a martial eagle that swooped down and took a fleeing scrub hare, just to watch the agility of the scrub hare and the persistence of such a large eagle was phenomenal.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
Governors' Camp Game Report, Masai Mara, September 2011
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