A Full Day on the Masai Mara

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Africa » Kenya » Rift Valley Province » Masai Mara NP
February 10th 2016
Published: July 2nd 2017
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The Maasai Mara was the only place in my trip that I stayed in for two consecutive nights, so I had a full day of safari in between, and I decided to get up a bit earlier that morning to try and see some birds on the camp before heading off. I was up a little before sunrise, and it was very nice to hear the morning chorus of birds with species such as African Paradise Flycatchers, Common Bulbuls and Red-winged Starlings being common. However I did see one very nice new species – several White-winged Widowbirds. There was also a long line of my post on the ‘big year’ thread in which I list the species I saw in the Maasai Mara (as well as Naivasha and Nakuru). Additionally, there are of course more pictures in the Kenya-Wildlife Gallery
The first place we to headed that morning, with lots of stops along the way, was to a pride of lions eating a Buffalo. One particularly notable stop was to look at a pair of African Wattled Lapwings which were being disturbed by a Jackal. The Lapwings were a lifer for me, and I think they were defending a nest since they chased a Jackal away from a patch of mud near to a small pond.

We soon reached the Lions which turned out to be the same group with cubs that we saw the previous evening. The lionesses must have hunted during the night since they were now eating a freshly killed Buffalo, and it was quite nice to watch them, especially the cubs. I was more excited however when down the hill from where we were watching the lions, I saw my fourth family-level lifetick of the trip – a lone Secretary Bird walking along with its elaborate feathers on its head trailing behind (of course that is a wild lifetick, and I had seen the species in captivity before, however when I talk about animals in the wild as lifers I always mean a wild lifer which I may or may not have seen in captivity previously). The Secretary bird soon wandered off into the distance, and we continued on. The next particularly interesting bird sighting came in the form of shockingly my first hornbill of the trip! And one of only three individuals of two species seen over the whole trip – far fewer than I saw in Tanzania where I saw dozens of individuals of five species. Anyway, this was a lovely male Von Der Deckens Hornbill, and under the same tree I also got a nice view of a Helmeted (Reichenow’s) Guineafowl. A bit further on, we came to the huge herd of Cape Buffalo that we had seen from a distance yesterday. There must have been over a hundred individuals, and there were also large numbers of Yellow-billed Oxpeckersaround the herd which was nice to see. We drove along a track through the middle of the herd, which may have been slightly dangerous considered the many bulls that we passed very nearby. There was also one that refused to move off the track so we had to wait for a while until it decided to move for us. After clearing the buffalo herd, there weren’t any significant ‘big five’ type sightings for quite a few hours, however there were lots of birds and a few interesting mammals including a group of giraffe with a Vervet in a tree nearby (which turned out to be surprisingly uncommon) and a group of Topi with a pregnant female and lots of calves. The bird sightings were great though, with several Widowbird species including Jackson’s, several swallow species, a Martial Eagle watching over the plain from a perch up in a tree and we drove through one area of very long grass and saw quite a few interesting waxbill species such as a nice male Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, and a pair of Crimson-rumped Waxbills that flew along the road ahead of us and landed every once in a while just ahead. There were also hundreds of butterflies of at least 10 species amongst the grass and on the track that took off as the car approached, and butterflies were generally very numerous around the Maasai Mara, but unfortunately, I didn’t have any sort of field guide or enough knowledge to identify the species, and they were mostly too quick to photograph, but it was still nice to watch them. Within the area of long grass, we stopped for a toilet stop at a place called Keekorok Airstrip at an altitude of 5570 ft. There was nothing here apart from a toilet, and some people selling souvenirs too of course, and nesting under the roof of the toilet was a Swift (probably Little, but not completely sure) which was nice to look at. I also saw a Cisticola around there on the airstrip, however I was unable to identify it.

We soon left the long grass, and came to our next major ‘big five’ sighting which was a smallish group of African Elephants including some calves around a mud wallow area. Also around the elephants were lots of shrikes – three Grey-backed Fiscals and some Northern White-crowned Shrikes. A bit further on, we came up to yet another group of elephants with a bull in the distance. Elephants turned out to be quite common around this part of the Maasai Mara and we saw several more groups. The next place we headed to was the Mara River, and we saw a small group of two males and one female Ostrich on the way, as well as an as yet unidentified tortoise crossing the road and going into the grass by the side.

The Mara River itself was pretty spectacular and large with a few Hippos in the water, and I saw one big impressive Nile Crocodileon an island in the middle of the river near to two Spur-winged Lapwings, though the slides indicated that there were more crocs about.

There were also quite a few birds around, including two Rueppell’s Long-tailed Glossy-starlings, some Little Bee-eaters, and a male Yellow Bishop. Also near to the river, we found some Lions sleeping under a bush, including a male lion – the only one of the trip.
We then headed away from the river, and found a nice big tree out in the open plain where we could get out and stop for lunch. I didn’t think people were allowed to get out of their cars in the Maasai Mara at any old place, but never mind… Amongst the grasses around were lots of Topi, Zebra, Thomson’s Gazelles and Impalas, as well as a few odd Coke’s Hartebeest and there were also a few birds of prey around, including two impressive Lappet-faced Vultures flying overhead.

After lunch, it was time to head in the general direction of the park gate because it was quite a few hours’ drive away so we got back into the minibus and headed into to the long grass and almost immediately spotted another mammal – a Spotted Hyaena poking its head out of the long grass, and then walking across the road in front of us. The next significant bird sightings were of several ground birds. I had been disappointed so far of the lack of ground birds and small ground mammals (especially mongooses and ground squirrels) due to the very tall grass that was pretty much everywhere, but while we were driving along, I spotted a nice group of four White-bellied Bustards in the long grass with just their heads sticking up, and not too much later I spotted a single Black-bellied Bustard also in the long grass, and to top it all off, not too much further down the road was a lovely Red-necked Spurfowl in the grass by the side of the road which then ran rather comically down the road.

I recognised this species instantly, as it was one that I had wanted to see for a while, especially after missing it by not too long at Plzen zoo. This may have been my favourite sighting of the day, at least until another fantastic sighting just up the road. We were going through a little area of low forest with thick scrub below when I saw a large bird crashing about in one of the trees. I asked the driver to stop, and it turned out to be a Black-faced Go-away Bird. It was quite difficult to see deep within the branches, but I had particularly wanted to see some Turacos, so it was nice to see at least one. And just to top it off, in the same tree was a flock of Violet-backed Starlings which landed and almost immediately took off, but one male stayed in the treeallowing me to photograph it and admire it at length.

I got many more fantastic bird sightings over the next couple of hours, these included a spectacular male Pin-tailed Whydah, a Hildebrandt’s Starling that I managed to identify amongst the many common Superb Starlings, a few Weaver and Widowbird species, lots of Larks, and a Kori Bustard under a tree with two Lappet-faced Vultures in it (three Bustard species in one day isn’t too bad!). Around 4:30 ish however, it started to rain which meant we had to pull to roof down. This did restrict the view slightly, but views out of the windows weren’t too bad, and I still got a few more interesting sightings including a Yellow-throated Longclaw singing happily in the rain, seeming undisturbed by a camera lens pointed at it, some Wire-tailed Swallows, and yet more Elephants, this time amongst the trees by a stream bank, and another group of lionesses. As we neared the exit of the park a little after 5, I also saw my second hornbill species of the trip – an African Grey Hornbill.

After getting back to camp, we had a few minutes rest, and then had a choice of whether to do an optional cultural activity as a break from the wildlife. Not that I needed a break from the wildlife, but I chose to go on the activity which was a tour of a nearby Maasai village with the Maasai people themselves showing us around. We paid $15 US per person for the tour to the village chief himself, and this money apparently goes towards the running of the village school. We were then shown a Maasai dance, and told about various traditions such as marriage traditions, and the killing of a lion by boys when they turn 15 as a rite of passage. We were also shown how they make a fire with different sticks, and taken to see the inside of the house of one family. It was a traditional basic mud hut with almost no light, and was quite smoky due to the fire. And then we were pretty much told we had to buy a souvenir each. These were small bracelets or necklaces with a (fake) lion tooth and were $35 US each! We managed to avoid purchasing them by citing a lack of money, and we declined the offer to stay in the spare room of the Maasai hut. Staying there would have been free, but of course dependant on the purchase of one of the souvenirs…

After the village tour, we walked back to camp and went for dinner which would be ready in ten minutes or so. Then after dinner, I went pretty much straight to bed with just a brief look for any nocturnal things because by that point I was exhausted, and we had a 5:30 get up the next morning for a final dawn safari in the Maasai Mara.


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