The Maasai Mara National Reserve covers some 583 square miles in south-western Kenya. It is the northern-most section of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, which covers some 9,700 square miles in Tanzania and Kenya. The landscape of the reserve is primarily open grassland with seasonal riverlets. In the south-east region are clumps of the distinctive acacia tree. Wildebeest, Topi, Zebra, and Thomson's Gazelle migrate into and occupy the Mara reserve, from the Serengeti plains to the south and Loita Plains in the pastoral ranches to the north-east, from July to October or later. We had arrived in the middle of the migration time.
We arrived at out Lodge in the early afternoon just as another rain storm passed through, fortunately this one did not last too long and we were able to set off for an afternoon drive. This was the end of our tour, and hopefully going to be the climax of trip. The famous Maasai Mara reserve, home to Big Cat Diary and endless wildlife documentaries over the years, as we headed into the reserve it was with a sense of hope and excitement.
The first thing that strikes you is the openness of the landscape, endless views of grass going on for miles, with low flat topped Acacia trees dotted about. Today this view would not be of a surprise to us, but then this was all new. As the track took us past the Acacia we could see vultures sitting on the top, probably having rested there when the rains came.
These are White-backed Vultures, getting much rarer today, as poachers use poisons to kill game for the ivory, and the vultures feed on the carcasses.
This one a lappet-faced Vulture.
And here a Ruppel's Vulture.
As we moved further into the park we started to encounter the herds of Wildebeest that are synonymous with the Maasai Mara.
There are two species of Wildebeest, the Black and the Blue. here in the Mara it is the Blue Wildebeest that makes up the huge herds.
So far on the trip we had not seen a lion. We had missed them in Samburu, the best place we could have found them, but here on the Mara we struck lucky. There was a male and female, on their "honeymoon". When a female is receptive the pride lion and her will disappear for a few days, and they undertake frequent mating. For some reason this couple had decided the best place was by one of the tracks that wind its way through the reserve.
They were both totally unconcerned with the van as we stopped alongside them.
At this point they were doing what all good lions do, sleep, then the lioness yawned.
And the male took this as a sign...no embarrassment here.
And that was that...
Leaving the lions as they returned to their dozing we continued on, pausing to allow a herd of Elephants to cross our path.
Topi, a large antelope, could be seen on the horizon, captured with an acacia tree.
While the Great Migration is seen to be about the Wildebeest, it also features considerable numbers of Plains Zebra too. They gather in herds, and their donkey like calls ring out across the plains as some engage in fights.
Looking out across the grasslands Wildebeest and Zebra for as far as the eye can see.
Another inhabitant of the grassland, and Kenya's national bird is the Lilac-breasted Roller. they would perch by the side of the track, always from a prominent position to allow them to look for disturbed insects in the grass.
The sun was starting to set when we came across a three young lionesses
A little further on we came across a couple of young Maasai boys and a herd of cows. They were taking the cattle to a pen to guard them for the night. It is part of their rite of passage from a boy to a man. Rather them than I in this park. Despite the brightness here in the picture it was pretty gloomy now.
As the sun sank in the sky it sent shards of light across the open grassland.
And as the sun settled in the west the sky turned shades of red and purple turning the now familiar shape of the acacia trees into a dark silhouette.
And so we headed back to the lodge with skies turning even more dramatic.
The following morning we were booked to take a balloon ride across the park. We were up well before dawn, and set off from the lodge in darkness. Our route took us through the park, and at one point we came across a grazing Hippopotamus, not something you want to encounter in the dark.
When we arrived at the launch site the balloons were being blown up, and the silent darkness was punctuated with the brightness of the burner flame, and the roar of the gas burner.
Not being one who handles heights very well, I must admit to being a little concerned about the flight, but as we took off into the dawn light any fear disappeared, and it felt just like travelling in a plane if a little colder.
Two Balloons took of with us, and we headed out across the grass plains together.
Looking up from the basket.
While in the east the sun was rising above the horizon
Our balloon seemed to be able to gain height better than the other, but it does show the beauty of ballooning.
At first the plains were quiet, we could pick out, what looked liked corrals on the grasslands below. Slowly the corrals unwound and Wildebeest started to spread out from them, and move across the plains.
Zooming in it was possible to see that they were all Wildebeest with no Zebra present
In places the Wildebeest were crossing rivers, but there was no danger here from predators
Being a balloon we could only go where the wind would take us, the pilot was skilled at taking us along the river ways where there was the possibility of a a Leopard sighting but it was not to be. As we approached the end of our flight we could see the famous Mara river.
And also breakfast being prepared
The landing was an experience, holding on tight as the basket hit the ground and rolled over. While we waited for Breakfast to be ready we were told we could walk to the edge of the river.
Looking down into the water there was a group of Hippopotamus, I was happy to see them there than the encounter we had early in the morning.
Tables were laid and we were served a full English Breakfast along with glasses of Champagne in the bush. As we ate noticed that we were not alone, a pair of Rothschild's Giraffes coming close to see what were doing
The Giraffes stayed close around us, their height and stature matching that of surrounding grasslands.
After Breakfast we were taken back in a truck to the lodge, stopping at any chance to see the wildlife. This group of Wildebeest.
And a bull Elephant
A Spotted Hyena, outside its den.
Maribou Storks and Lappet-faced Vultures feeding on a carcass.
And a Black-backed Jackal.
Our afternoon drive was to be our last drive of the trip, and this was delayed by a rain storm that passed through. As a result the amount of wild life present was very much reduced. We were left with the large herds of Wildebeest and Zebra across the plains
Large black lines of game stretching out across the horizon.
From the Maasai Mara we headed back to Nairobi where we were catching a flight to Mombasa. Here we spent a week in a resort on the Indian Ocean coast. In hindsight I think we would have preferred to have continued on safari, this was probably the point at which we turned away from the "beach holiday" for something more active. Still the view along the beach from our resort was quite spectacular.