Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Kenya #4 - Masai Mara

I have visited Masai Mara before. It is always a true highlight of any visit to Kenya. This visit wasn't different. The multi-sensual experience of being within a sea of animals, with the sounds, smells, action, diversity, action - is unparalleled in Kenya, IMO.

Our location in Masai Mara wasn't ideal actually. Due to low availability of accommodation options at central locations, we stayed at Mara Sopa Lodge, located at the far northeast corner of the park. The lodge itself is lovely, but it's location is less ideal, from a classic 'safari' POV. It's a rather long drive through sub-optimal habitat to reach the heart of the park where the large numbers of animals are. That said, there were good birding opportunities in the open forest/bush on the hills surrounding Sopa Lodge, a habitat that we spent insufficient time in. The track heading up from Mara Sopa Lodge towards Sekenani Gate, and down towards Oloolaimutia Gate provided poor photos depicting enjoyable encounters with good birds.

African Penduline-Tit - ON (Occupied Nest)

Brubru and Tabora Cisticola

Usambiro (D'Arnaud's) Barbet - C (Courtship, Display or Copulation)

Riechnow's Seedeater


Not my best photo of the trip, fantastic bird - White-headed Sawwing:

Nice numbers of stunning Violet-backed Starling

How wonderful the birds were at Masai Mara, the most powerful wildlife experience there was the mammal spectacle . The farther west we drove, towards the heart of the park, away from the overgrazed eastern section of the park, the habitat looked better and we started seeing more and more animals. 

We approached Talek Plains, beyond Keekorok, and headed closer to the border with Tanzania, where we connected with a mega herd of Wildebeest and Zebra. It was impossible to count how many. 100k? 200K? There were animals stretching from horizon to horizon, in high density, moving, grazing, drinking, resting, it was really mind-boggling, an almost super-natural experience. It is impossible to transfer these feelings through images or even videos. If you haven't been there to feel that sensation, you must.

With so much potential food, many predators and scavengers circled the mega-herd, on the lookout for opportunities to utilise this enormous resource. Everyone loves big cats, and indeed they were popular among visitors. This is an amazing Cheetah we saw! For a while it crept slowly towards a small group of Thompson's Gazelle, but they detected the cat and it lost interest, understanding that the chances for a successful hunt are close to zero.

This is how a Thompson's Gazelle fearing its life looks like. He was watching the Cheetah creeping towards its mates very anxiously. BTW, when looking at those animals from a distance, they all look so pretty and soft and lovely. However, if you enlarge the image and zoom in, note the crazy parasite load, and so many cuts and bruises and dents - we saw this on every zoomed-in individual animal. 

We also had 'only' one single leopard. It was spotted just after killing a Wildebeest and dragging it high up a tree. It was obviously very full and ready to go to sleep and digest. Amazing animal to watch from so close we could hear it breathing.

One less friendly incident that happened there goes like this: When we approached the spot where the Leopard was, a Kenya Wildlife Service vehicle was parked, on the track heading to the exact spot where one could watch the Leopard. Every vehicle that went past had to stop by the rangers, and pay them! Of course there was nothing to do other than pay (or not see the animal). It wasn't a huge amount (500 KS, about 5 USD per vehicle) but it was obvious that the corrupt rangers identified the opportunity and took the money for themselves. Very disappointing.

Back to the joy of nature and wildlife. It is funny how after few days in Kenya Lion became almost boring, 'Oh, another Lion...'. We encountered Lions 3-4 times every day during our three day stay in Masai Mara. 

Other, smaller predators were present:

Black-backed Jackals

Spotted Hyena

Banded Mongoose

Dependent on the mega Wildebeest herd were many vultures too. Vultures were perched on scattered trees, waiting for a kill or for a natural death, watching over the herd.

We came across a Wildebeest carcass, that held tens of vultures of three species. It was grotesquely awesome.

Mostly Rueppell's Vultures

Incoming White-backed Vulture

Marabou enjoying the little bits flying off when the vultures squabble

Hooded Vulture

Lappet-faced Vulture, too full to stand up

Another powerful side-effect of the huge concentration of mammals was the clouds of insects on and around them. This lead to a cloud of insect-eating birds hanging over the herd - swallows, swifts and many many starlings. It was wonderful.

Banded Martins

And a single Plain Martin

Thousands of Wattled Starlings

They must be gathering in large roosts and shit on each other at night

Some more cool, regular mammals

Masai Giraffe and Common Zebra



And a few more cool birds to end this post with

White-necked Raven - check that beast of a bill

Black-winged Lapwing

Common Ostrich

Gray-crowned Crane

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse

Gray Kestrel

Gray-crested Helmetshrike - funky birds!

Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike


  1. Gorgeous pics! Reminds me that I need to get back to the Afrotropics at some point. Btw I think that's a White-necked Raven; Thick-billed Ravens are endemic to Ethiopia and (somehow) have even bigger bills than that

    1. Thanks for spotting this typo! My bad... I know, I saw Thick-billed Raven in Addis Ababa airport en route