Thursday, September 6, 2012

Day 15--The Masai Mara

We were up early again to eat a quick breakfast before driving 30 minutes to the Wilson airport to catch the flight to the Masai Mara.  While at breakfast we kept hearing a giant kingfisher calling down by the river below the lodge, but it never flew into view.

We caught our flight at 10 AM, and even had to change planes at one of the 8 Masai Mara landing strips before meeting John and our landcruiser at Kitchwa Temba where Brian had lived for nine years as a guide when he first returned to Kenya in the 1980's.  We had made the relatively short flight to the Masai Mara so that we could experience seeing the park from the air.  It was very dramatic flying over it, seeing herds of elephants and wildebeest, and groups of hippos in the river.  It was also strange to see herds of Masai cattle mixed in with all the wild animals.  Flying over the savannah in our small prop plane reminded me of flying in bush planes in Alaska.  Once on the ground, the huge open vistas of the savannah made me think of traveling thru parts of Montana.

We loaded up our gear and headed up into the hills first to look for a few birds in that habitat.  We stalked a Schalow's turaco for quite some time, but in the end only got fleeting views of it.  A trilling cisticola also proved elusive but it finally did give us pretty good looks.

We next headed down to the river, driving thru some grasslands on the way. We were looking for hippos, and soon found a few that were mostly submerged in the muddy water. We also saw more Masai cattle grazing just behind an elephant and a zebra.  At this same spot we were able to see in the distance several rufous-bellied herons flying low over the marsh area--the only place to see them in Kenya--and a little bittern also flew by. 

Since it was well past noon, we parked under one of the trees along the river to eat another less than wonderful box lunch.  While eating, a Masai warrior came up to the truck to check us out.  Stu asked John if he would talk with the man about Stu taking a photo of him wearing an Austin City Limits t-shirt in exchange for the t-shirt.  He agreed to do it, so Stu got a very memorable photo for the trip.  I got a shot of a lilac-breasted roller (click on any photo to enlarge).  Bob and I each bought a necklace for our wives, and shared part of our lunch with the man.

While driving thru the many miles of the savannah we heard from Brian about the Masai Mara, and the Masai who control it.  The Masai Mara National Reserve is in southwestern Kenya, and was initially established in 1948. It has grown in size over the years to where it now covers almost 600 sq. mi.  To the south is the Serengeti NP in Tanzania, and the animals move back and forth as the dry and rainy seasons come and go.

Roughly 2000 tourists visit the reserve each day throughout the year, each paying $80/day to be in the reserve (we each had a plastic "bank" card with approximations of our names--Thomas Hilt, Stuart Stuart, and Robert Wollners--that was used to enter the reserve).  Part of each night's lodging fee also goes to the Masai.  That means the Masai take in about $70 million a year from fees.  While it is wonderful to see the animals, it is not clear where all that money goes because the wild animals take care of the themselves, and the dirt roads are horrendous.  At the end of the day I felt like I had spent hours riding a bucking bronco, or should I say a bucking wildebeest. 

The weather was nearly perfect--low humidity, 70's and sunny.  We had the top of the landcruiser up to be able to stand and watch the animals while bouncing along, and to protect us from getting sunburned.  Our first spotted hyena of the trip showed up mid afternoon.

Other than along the river, we did not see much water, but at one small wet area we did find a greater painted snipe.

One of the unique animals in the Mara, as the locals call it, is the topi whose coloring on its legs was quite distinctive.  We did see a lioness near a partially eaten wildebeest which was pretty gross visually so we passed on taking a photo of it.

Our day seemed to end all too quickly as we had so enjoyed the magic of the Mara.  We arrived at Siana Springs Lodge in the dark where we would spend the night in large tents, each having its own bathroom facilities.  Dinner was one of the best of the trip, and included a very good bottle of 2003 Simonsig pinotage from South Africa.  We fell asleep listening to hyenas and baboons in the distance.  Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. I'm finally caught up on this saga, incredible birds and wildlife. What a journey- How funny when I returned home from my trip, the latest Living Bird magazine has a story about the eastern Musambara mountains!
    I look forward to the future installments