We spent four nights in the Masai Mara while staying at Sentinel Mara Camp, located on the Mara River just west of the Musiara airstrip. One of the great things about Sentinel is their placement in the riverine forest ecosystem which provides (relatively) easy viewing for species otherwise tough to find should one stay elsewhere. Within minutes I was able to call and locate the Schalows turacos, black and white casqued hornbills, the Narina trogon (after calling back and forth with it, it was finally seen by a number of the camp staff not two minutes after I left for a drive), woodland kingfishers, African eagles, and a single Levaillant’s cuckoo…mind you, this was within our first hour of arriving.
We embarked on our first game drive around the musiara swamp and encountered lion, buffalo, and elephant within minutes. The great migration had not yet arrived to the northern side of the Mara. However, a smaller migration from the Loita Hills was present. We found a good number of African wattled lapwings amongst the more common spur-winged lapwing one was guarding an egg.
As we made our way around the various pools and marshes, black herons, yellow billed storks, courting rufous-bellied herons, African spoonbills, malachite kingfishers, marabou storks, and Adbims storks were recorded. A white-browed coucal was loudly and fiercely defending its territory from any unwanted visitors.
As we concluded the “water tour”, we ventured south just a bit to find a large herd of ellies grazing in the long grasses. This group of at least 30 individuals made the perfect company for sundowners, and a highlight was watching the youth play. As we made our way back to camp, we stumbled upon our first lilac breasted roller and grey crowned cranes (with chicks in tow).
The following morning we went out early with a packed breakfast so that we could make the long journey to cheetah country. But along the way, we encountered lions fighting off hyenas for a kill the hyenas made! What a role reversal. We saw our only saddle billed stork (a lifer for me), which was a female much to my delight because of the yellow eye. As we continued, a group of four southern ground hornbills were right next to the road. These guys are a real treat and are very endangered due to the length of time it take to rear an egg. It can be as long as nine years between hatchings.
Finally, we spotted Malaika with four juveniles lounging under the shade of a scrub bush atop a mound. After taking breakfast in the vehicle while enjoying the cats, we slowly returned to the musiara area but not before seeing three secretary birds, four ostrich, a Kori bustard, superb starlings, and red and yellow-billed oxpeckers benefiting from the large herds of zebra, topi, eland, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelles, and wildebeests.
Our evening drive was more subdued as we were a bit dogged from our long morning (which became afternoon while still in the vehicle). We meandered around the swamp once more enjoying hippos, crocs, fish eagles, and lions. The birding moments included a group of little bee-eaters, a woodland Kingfisher, and wooly necked storks.
The next few days had very little of note in the way of birds. These days were focused on the great migration crossing the Mara River just inside the southern edge of the park and seeking out a leopard (which was unsuccessful). Seeing the migration in person is a must! This spectacle is breathtaking, immense, noisy, disgusting (at times), and exhilarating.
Seeking the stragglers struggle in the water, be swept downstream into the clutches of the crocs, and pulled underwater is tough to watch, and we were all rather somber. On the other hand, watching a hippo slip down an embankment and squish a young wildebeest was met with audible moans and gasps. In the wake of the migrating masses were the casualties which from Lookout Hill could be seen by the hoarding white headed, white backed, and Ruppells vultures. Surprisingly, absent were the lappet faced vultures, but we learned they were still in the Mara North Conservancy enjoying the spoils of the Loita Hill herds. Black backed and side striped jackals were also around along with very playful bat eared foxes. Some final birding notes were the Shelley’s, Coqui and Hildebrandt’s Francolins and a family of Common Button Quail with the hatchlings following close behind.
All in all it was a wonderful trip, and once again, the Mara and Sentinel did not disappoint. We look forward to returning.