Boston Wildlife Sightings – July 2016

Christeen Grant of Sitamani

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Fire and Ice July, the first part of the month was characterized by smoky, hazy skies from fire-break burning. A cold front brought a sharp frost on 3 July, with very chilly temperatures and a few flakes of snow on the previous day.

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The dry, warmer, intervening weather was changed into a snowy winter wonderland on the 25 July, much needed moisture, including rain, soaked the dry soil for a few days.

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Aloe maculata have started fruiting, there are still some bright orange flowers on the hillside;

Buddleja salvifolia burst into flower after the snow;

as well as hundreds of bright yellow Gazania krebsiana;

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one or two Greyia sutherlandii flowers had opened earlier, now the tree is covered in red tipped branches;

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the Halleria lucida branches are dripping with flowers, the most I’ve seen in a long time;

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now that the soil is damp Ledebouria ovatifolia rosette, flat leaves have tightly packed buds above them.

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We have been working at rehabilitating a hillside that had a stand of pine trees growing on it. It is a very slow process, nine years since the trees came down in a tornado. Removal of the trunks and large branches came first, then regular annual burns and weeding out alien species. We are seeing indigenous pioneer species coming in. Recently we cut down and removed Acacia melanoxylon

and were happy to identify small indigenous trees that grow in a grove, Canthium (now Afrocanthium) mundianum, which will remain there.

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This last month there have been several sightings of Common Reedbuck. A very fine male, with beautiful horns, regularly wanders quite close to the house. He rests in a patch of bracken, one evening he was emerging as I arrived home.

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Male Common Reedbuck

Then on a walk to the top of our property I saw three males and four females, the largest group I’ve seen together in recent years.

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Common Reedbuck spoor

Down near the gate I found many small pieces of fur, possibly Vlei Rat, that had been discarded by a predator, possibly the Long-crested Eagle, as that gatepost is a frequent perch.

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A pile of Porcupine droppings indicated they are still around.

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Porcupine scat

A Black-headed Oriole has taken over from the Black-backed Puffback, trying to attack his mirrored image in the windows, defending his patch. His liquid song from the verandah, where he perched in between bouts was so beautiful.

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Black-headed Oriole

A Cape Robin-chat splashed in the verandah birdbath even though there was still snow on the ground.

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A flock of Cape Weavers sunned themselves in bare branches.

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Cape Weavers

The large group of Cape White-eyes are my favourite winter birds, they all keep together, moving constantly whether foraging or taking a drink and dip.

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Cape White-eyes

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Cape White-eye

The Speckled Pigeons have multiplied, there are about six living here, roosting and nesting in the carports. I regularly hear the African Fish-Eagle calling from the valley, took a flight up over the house.

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Speckled Pigeon

There are many Striped Skinks living among the wooden slats of an outbuilding. They enjoy the warmth of a winter sun, basking.

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Striped Skink

There are many bees and hoverflies buzzing in the few flowering plants.

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I found what I think is a Wasp nest on the ground and several huge ant nests in trees.

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Possible wasp nest on the ground

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Ant nest in the tree

A beautiful Painted Lady butterfly soaked up warmth from a rock on the hilltop.

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Painted Lady Butterfly

Caroline McKerrow of Stormy Hill

We are getting quite a lot of activity at Stormy Hill Horse Trails. The buck are coming to drink at our horses’ water trough on the hill, so we have spotted a pair of Bushbuck, a Reedbuck, including a ‘teenager’ Reedbuck, and our resident Common (Grey) Duiker. We have even had a Bushbuck doe eating the rose bushes in the garden, which is great as it will save me some pruning.

We were quite excited to see a pair of Knysna Turaco (previously know as the Knysna Lourie), so I’m hoping that they have decided to nest in the area.

Crystelle Wilson of Gramarye

Birds have evolved very efficient ways to regulate their body temperature, but in winter it is hard not to think they are feeling the cold when they are sitting all huddled up like the Speckled Pigeons on the roof of a barn

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Speckled Pigeons

or facing into the cold wind like a group of Helmeted Guineafowl

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Helmeted Guineafowl

Black-headed Herons also appeared to huddle together in supporting companionship

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Black-headed Heron

The atlas list for the Elandshoek pentad 2935_3000: Cape Weaver, African Sacred Ibis, Spur-winged Goose, Blacksmith Lapwing, Red-knobbed Coot, Yellow-billed Duck, Egyptian Goose, Red-winged Starling, Lanner Falcon, Rock Kestrel, Denham’s Bustard, Green Wood-hoopoe, Bokmakierie, Forest Canary, Pied Starling, Buff-streaked Chat

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Buff-streaked Chat

African Firefinch, Sentinel Rock-thrush, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, House Sparrow

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House Sparrow

Cape Wagtail, Grey Crowned Crane, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Levaillant’s Cisticola

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Levaillant’s Cisticola

Black-shouldered Kite, Long-crested Eagle, Black-headed Heron, Cape Sparrow, Jackal Buzzard, Cape Robin-Chat, Cape Crow, Cape Turtle-dove, Fork-tailed Drongo

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Fork-tailed Drongo

Cape White-eye, Speckled Pigeon, Village Weaver (the males beginning to practise their building skills)

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Village Weaver

Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Longclaw, Yellow Bishop, Little Grebe

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Little Grebe

Drakensberg Prinia, Red-eyed Dove, Hadeda Ibis, White-necked Raven, African Stonechat, Dark-capped Bulbul, Cape Canary and Southern Boubou (which appreciated having water available in the bird bath).

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Southern Boubou

Winter Frogs

– Article by Nick Evans of KwaZulu-Natal Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

Frog activity is relatively low-key during the winter months, as it’s generally too cold for any frogs to be out and about, catching insects or calling for mates.

There are, however, two frog species which may be heard during the winter months, namely the Striped Stream Frog, and Common River Frog. Both these species can be heard during the day and at night, and they both have a similar body structure, but their colour and markings allow you to easily differentiate between the two.

The Striped Stream Frog (Strongylopus fasciatus), is a pretty little frog. It has a golden-yellow colouration, with dark stripes going down the body. These agile frogs have an exceptionally long toe on each of the back feet!

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Striped Stream Frog (Strongylopus fasciatus)

Striped Stream Frogs favour wetlands and open grassy ponds, or any body of water in fact. They’re not too fussy when it comes to habitat. They have a fast, high-pitched chirping sound.

The Common River Frog (Amietia quecketti), grow to be much larger than the Stream Frogs. Their colour can vary. They’re often a dark, patchy green colouration, and sometimes brown. They have a stripe running along their back. In the more brown specimens, their stripe colour varies too, between orange and yellow.

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Common River Frog (Amietia quecketti)

 

Their back toes are more webbed than the Stream Frog. These frogs (along with the Grass Frogs, usually found in more Northern parts of S.A) could go to the animal Olympics, if there was such an event. They are incredible jumpers and powerful swimmers. You can tell they’re good at that by looking at their large, powerful legs.

Common River Frogs can be seen and heard alongside rivers and streams. They make a strange, croaking sound, followed by a few clicks!

Common River Frog

Common River Frog (Amietia quecketti)

Spring is almost upon us, and some other frogs have started to wake up after the much needed recent rains. Let’s hope we get a lot more rain in the very near future, the land desperately needs it, and those keen on frogs need it too! Once we get a bit more rain, and the temperature starts to increase, frog season will be in full-swing!

 

 

Kamberg Wildlife Sightings – July 2016

Pamela Kleiman of Connington Farm

 

 

The month started off with freezing weather and frost to the top of the Oaks the first weekend. After some lovely rain a few weeks later – we recorded 74mms – it was time to burn the veld

 

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We were surprised when the farm dogs found a very young Duiker in the farm hedge. Fortunately it managed to escape and ran into the fields where we later saw a pair of Duiker – he trying to mate and she just not interested.

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The only other mammals seen on the farm were a striped Mouse – ? Xeric four-striped Grass Mouse ?

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the occasional Reedbuck and Jackal called most early evenings

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Not too many insects around, but I did manage to capture a single African White butterfly female.

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Early in the month I took a trip to the western area of the conservancy and was happy to discover the Cape Vulture roosting site near Kamberg.

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Some of the special birds I encountered:

Drakensberg Prinia,

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Drakensberg Prinia

Southern Black Tit that was very active in the garden this month.

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Southern Black Tit

A Fork-tailed Drongo that was trying to devour a mouse it had caught – a very unusual sighting.

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Fork-tailed Drongo

During the last week of the month the Yellow-billed Egrets started appearing.

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Yellow-billed Egret

Purple Heron eyeballing a cow

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Purple Heron

A Dark-capped Bulbul discovering the suet I had just put out in my new bird feeder – available from the RNR Conservancy stand at the Rosetta Market.

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Dark-capped Bulbul

As an Atlasser based on Connington Farm in the Kamberg Conservancy, I get around to various areas in the district. I discovered the Hlatikhulu Conservancy sign the other day so have decided to add my bit. Unfortunately I am not sure of the boundaries of this conservancy, so I have only incorporated sightings near and west of the sign.

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Some of the species I saw were Jackal Buzzard, Southern Red Bishop, a group of about 10 Pin-tailed Whydahs, a distant male Mocking Cliff-chat, Sentinel Rock-thrush,

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Male Sentinel Rock-thrush

Red-capped Lark,

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Red-capped Lark

Male Anteating Chat showing his white shoulder,

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Anteating Chat

2 Secretarybirds in 2 different areas, this is a photograph of a young Secretarybird with a damaged wing,

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Young Secretarybird with a damaged wing

Pied Kingfisher,

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Pied Kingfisher

African Sacred Ibis, Egyptian Goose, Black-headed Heron, African Stonechat, Pied Starling, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Vulture and a Barn Owl that must have died an awful death.

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Barn Owl

It had just caught a few wing feathers on the barb of a barb-wired fence and was unable to free itself.

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Barn Owl caught in a fence

As it is midwinter and very dry I look forward to Spring and Summer to discover other gems in this area.

Boston Wildlife Sightings – June 2016

Crystelle Wilson of Gramarye

Winter truly arrived in June and we regularly had temperatures of -6ºC in the mornings.

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A Cape Longclaw tried its best to warm up in the first weak rays of the sun at the edge of a dam

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Cape Longclaw

A sad sighting was that of a dead Spotted Eagle-Owl lying on the path to the river. We couldn’t work out why it died, but it appeared as if its neck was broken.

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Spotted Eagle-Owl lying dead on the path

Very welcome sights were that of Denham’s Bustards on a few occasions

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Denham’s Bustards

In the frost in a maize field (above) and ponderously taking to the air (below)

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Denham’s Bustard in flight

The atlas list for the Elandshoek pentad 2935_3000: White-breasted Cormorant, Long-crested Eagle, Common Moorhen, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-knobbed Coot, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Brown-throated Martin, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Starling, African Stonechat, Little Grebe, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, African Spoonbill, Black-shouldered Kite (carrying out its pest control duties)

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Black-shouldered Kite

Red-winged Starling, African Sacred Ibis, Bar-throated Apalis, Jackal Buzzard, Cape Crow, Common Fiscal, Spotted Eagle-owl, Green Wood-hoopoe, Red-necked Spurfowl, Olive Woodpecker, Speckled Pigeon, Cape Glossy Starling, Sombre Greenbul, Black-headed Heron, Dark-capped Bulbul,

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Dark-capped Bulbul

Amethyst Sunbird, Fork-tailed Drongo, Hadeda Ibis,

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Hadeda Ibis

Southern Boubou, Helmeted Guineafowl, Olive Thrush, House Sparrow, Cape Robin-chat, Village Weaver (making the most of hospitality on offer at the feeding station)

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Village Weavers

As did the Cape White-eyes

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Cape White-eyes

Bokmakierie, Drakensberg Prinia,

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Drakensberg Prinia

Red-eyed Dove, Cape Turtle-dove, African Firefinch. The Grey Crowned Crane family continued with their daily routine, the youngster is still with the parents and roost with them at night.

 

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Grey Crowned Crane family

Caroline McKerrow of Stormy Hill

There were three Mountain Reedbuck on the hill. The Common (Grey) Duiker was seen a few times and the Vervet Monkey troop have been visiting. An African Fish-Eagle cruised around overhead. An African Harrier-hawk landed in one of the trees and flew off with one of our resident Weaver birds. A Common Reedbuck was seen while out on a ride. Jackals have been heard a lot with the dogs barking to let them know that they are not welcome near the house.

Christeen Grant of Sitamani

June and fire-break burning are synonymous, tracer lines burnt earlier in April hold the fire when the breaks are burnt. A damp day preceded our burn day so fortunately we had an ideal cool burn, that doesn’t damage the plant life as severely. Jackal Buzzards, Drongos, Long-crested Eagles and Cape Crows wheeled around looking for rodents displaced from their homes. The fires are dramatic, particularly in the late afternoon.

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Despite the very dry and cool conditions some of my favourite flowers found here were blooming, bright golden yellow and orange Aloe maculata on the hillside;

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Aloe maculata

snow white, delicate Buddleja dysophylla;

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Buddleja dysophylla

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Buddleja dysophylla

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Buddleja dysophylla

Buddleja salvifolia buds are swelling, almost ready to bloom;

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Buddleja salvifolia

tiny, cheerful Euryops laxus have popped up in the short grass around the house; in the tracer-lines,

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Europs laxus

early Gerbera ambigua;

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Gerbera ambigua

Halleria lucida is flowering profusely and creating a magnet for birds and insects;

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Halleria lucida

a neon coloured Ipomoea bolusiana plant took advantage of the shelter along the warm east side of the house.

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Ipomoea bolusiana

The male Black-backed Puffback is still persistently trying to attack his mirrored image in the windows, defending his patch. When resting he is starting to display his courtship puffback. The birdbaths are very sought after and often up to 30 Cape White-eyes splash and drink together, the shy Southern Boubou, Cape Robin-chats and Dark-capped Bulbuls take their turn in the verandah birdbath. The Fork-tailed Drongos, Olive Thrushes, Canaries and Cape Sparrows prefer the birdbath under the trees in the garden. Also seen were a flock of Common Waxbills, African Stonechats, Buff-streaked Chats, Amethyst Sunbirds, a Spotted Eagle-Owl and a Cape Batis. A Fish Eagle can be heard regularly calling from the valley.

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Black-backed Puffback (male)

The Lesser Savanna Dormice, Grahiurus kelleni, are still very much in residence, though seen less frequently, particularly in cooler weather. The young Duiker has moved off on it’s own, we still see all three around, but separately.

A few butterflies seen are what I think is a Common Hottentot male,

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Common Hottentot (male)

and a Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli.

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Geranium Bronze

An unusual Katydid perched on the backstep.

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Kaytid

A spider I hadn’t seen before and rescued from the bath, was identified as a Funnel web wolf spider, Family Lycosidae.

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Funnel web wolf spider

Dargle Wildlife Sightings – June 2016

Jen Fly – Kildaragh Farm

All wildlife seems to be hibernating and as per usual, the Red-lipped Heralds are snugly coiled in the wood pile. We noticed 2 Common Reedbuck on our property – an unusual sighting these days! Good to see. They ran off onto Iain Sinclair’s farm.

Interesting birds have been seen in the garden: Green Wood Hoopoe, Wryneck, Oriole, Golden Tailed Woodpecker, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Malachite and Amethyst Sunbirds. A small flock of about 20 Helmeted Guineafowl scratch round in our pastures with numerous young. With the drought, it has been a good breeding season for them. We regularly see Black-winged Lapwings flying over on their food seeking missions.

In the veld we have noticed Natal Spurfowl, Cape Longclaw, and have heard the Common Quail with their gentle call.

An old Aloe arborescens, the Krantz aloe, that grows on one of our hill slopes is particularly beautiful this year. If you are frustrated with your garden in this season of drought, here’s what to plant!

Aloe tree

Andrew Pridgeon – Copperleigh Farm

Spotted a Secretarybird whilst driving past Selsley farm. We also spotted one on Knowhere farm earlier in the month whilst moving some cattle.

Wendy de Waal – Honeywood Cottage

Snake
Pat McKrill, Snake Country: “I’d go with your i.d. Ashley – Spotted Skaapsteker – although it’s not that clear. There’s a slim possibility of it being a Short-snouted Sand snake (grass snake, whip snake – I wish they’d make their minds up!) but we’d need a better pic. Still some activity on the warmer days. Yay.”

Pat & Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm, Lidgetton

A very quiet month. At the beginning of June we saw the Black Sparrowhawks hunting and eating pigeons every couple of days. We saw the female at the old familiar nest in the gum trees. She was either adding more material to the nest or feeding young we thought. Well that’s the last we have seen of them, so no idea what happened. With the dry dam we have seen no waterbirds – the crane have disappeared. Only hear the Jackal occasionally.

Black-backed jackal

Black-backed Jackal

We see the secretary bird and gymnogene now and then.

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Secretarybird

The odd Common (Grey) Duiker seen during the day. We saw a very small Reedbuck on one of our walks. When I drove around the farm today I saw 4 Common Reedbuck sitting in the pine trees away from the wind. Two were young females and 2 were young rams.

Sunrise

Sunrise

There are still a number of sunbirds about, feeding off the aloes and proteas.

Malachite male sunbird in eclipse

Malachite Sunbird (non-breeding male)

I think this could be a female malachite or juvenile sunbird

Malachite Sunbird

Greater double-collared sunbird in bush

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

I think this is a amythest male or female in eclipse or juvenile – not sure

Amethyst Sunbird

In the past few weeks about a dozen Weavers arrive at about 9am and descend upon the aloes in front of the house.

Weavers en masse

They have been destructive in the defoliation of the aloes – they pull off a petal,

Weaver pulled off aloe petal

place it beneath a foot, and suck out the nectar and then drop them on the ground.

Weaver holding aloe with her foot

They are also feeding off the tecomas,

Weavers eating the tecoma flowers

bottle brushes and pig ears.

Weaver feeding from pigs ear flowers

I think they are the non-breeding Masked Weavers but am sure someone will be able to identify them for me? So we only see the sunbirds very briefly as they get chased away by the weavers which is rather sad.

Weaver sitting on aloes

Another surprise is that the Sparrows are collecting feathers and going into their nest under the eaves of the house.

Sparrow carrying feather

Surely they are not thinking of breeding now? Perhaps they are just making it warmer!

Southern Boubou enjoying the sun – seldom seen on the lawn – they prefer to be hidden among the shrubs.

Southern bou bou enjoying the sun – seldom seen on the lawn – they prefer to be hidden among the shrubs

Southern Boubou

Well that’s all there is to report this month. It would be wonderful to get some rain or snow soon.

Nikki Brighton – Old Kilgobbin Farm

While I hear Spotted Eagle Owls and Wood Owls at night, I never come across the Barn Owls that moved into the owl box in the shed earlier this year. I do hope they have not eaten a poisoned rat. As last month, Jackal calls are still very scarce. Where are they? Very early one morning I met a big Porcupine while out walking and have come across lots of quills on various paths. I wonder, do they shed them more during Winter?

I found a Samango monkey skin and skeleton in the grassland,

winter monkey skin

and this dead Scrubhare beside the road.

winter dead hare

Not a lot in flower, but these little yellow daisies are so cheerful! The hairy, maroon coloured stems should have made it easy to identify, but I can’t find it.

yellow winter daisy

An unusually coloured Leonotis leonarus blooms beside the D707.

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Grassland streams have stopped trickling altogether. Planted aloes are looking splendid.

winter aloe

David Schneiderman – Carlisle Farm

We went out on our farm Carlisle yesterday and we found 2 Waterbuck and 2 Reedbuck.

Ashley Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

The water is still receding in Mavela Dam. The ducks, geese and other wildlife are walking through the mud and making little trails.

Mavela dam is very low and ducks and geese are leaving spoor in the mud

A very cold frog I found in one of the water troughs – aren’t they supposed to be hibernating?!

A very cold frog I found in the water trough - aren't they meant to be hibernating

Whilst doing our mandatory firebreaks with the neighbours, I quickly snapped a few pics of the aloes in the area

Aloes that were photographed on neighbours farm whilst we were doing mandatory firebreaks

Aloe 1

Aloe 2

Some burnt aloes, I’m sure by next year they will be looking beautiful once again.

Aloe in fire

Burnt aloes

Fires in the Dargle with Inhlosane watching from a distance

Firebreaks with Inhlosane in the background

We had a very cold weekend this past week, with bits of snow and sleet falling. Sunday morning we woke up to lots of ice on the edges of the dam, and beautiful little icicles forming and coming up through the mud.

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Ice 009

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Ice 006

Kamberg Wildlife Sightings – June 2016

Pamela Ellenberger Kleiman

Being new to the district I hope to be able to contribute sightings occasionally from the Kamberg Conservancy.

A view from the D450 across the hill where 2 farmers regularly put out carcasses for the Vultures. As an atlasser I have seen a group of up to 40+ individuals flying in the area.

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During the first 2 weeks of May I was privileged to see a large flock of Southern Bald Ibis in 4 different areas, the main one along the D450

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I see this pair of Grey Crowned Cranes regularly along our valley which has a series of farm dams in it.

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I love the name Groundscraper Thrush. The only time I have seen them they have been calling from the top of the tallest trees!

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Red-throated Wryneck, a permanent visitor to my garden.

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During May the Black-headed Oriole was often in the garden. Now in June I no longer hear it.

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African Harrier-hawk is often seen in the Oak trees along our valley much to the annoyance of many of the small birds.

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Just a picture of a Long-crested Eagle giving the eye to two Hadedas.

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On the 23rd May there were still White Storks around despite the fact that we had already had a few mornings of quite heavy frost.

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Hottentot Teal that were a new atlas recording for our area.

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On the road to Fairview farm I recorded 2 pairs and 2 individual Secretarybirds last week.

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Buff-streaked Chat. This is a Species I am delighted to be finding more and more often in our area.

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There is an ever present flock of White-faced Whistling Ducks on ponds on one of our dairy farms.

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Another new atlas recording – rather a bad shot, unfortunately of a Black Crake on Connington’s small dam.

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This Denham’s Bustard was also another new atlas recording which I saw along the main road to Kamberg.

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It is such a pleasure to have a pair of Lanner Falcons on Connington. They give me the occasional fly-past.

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High up on grass veld last week I was surprised to find 6 Wattled Crane – such beautiful creatures.

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A very skittish and unexpected visitor to my garden on Connington this week was a Black Sparrowhawk, only just managed this record shot before it flew off.

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Great to be back in the country and be able to see Duiker wandering across the fields in front of my cottage.

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June 21st. Full moon breaking through the cloud.

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Threatened Plant Species – Curtisia dentata

CORNACEAE: Curtisia dentata (Near Threatened)

Curtisia dentata, from the family Cornaceae is one of KwaZulu-Natal’s Near Threatened trees, occurring from Ngome Forest to KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. This tree is commonly known as Assegai, and threatened by over-exploitation and bark harvesting.

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The tree grows between 15m and 20 m tall with leaves that are leathery, shiny and dark green in colour. The leaves are opposite, 120mm long and 75 mm wide, with dense bunches at the base. The under leaf is pale green with noticeable veins.

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The stalks are about 25mm containing fine red hairs. The flowers are small, cream-coloured and velvety, with about 10-25 flowers per umbel, varying from yellow to brownish red.

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The fruit are drupe, one or two seeded, and white to red in colour.

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REFERENCES:

  • Notten, A. (2004, July). Curtisia Dentata. Available on: http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantcd/curtisdent.htm [Accessed on 2 June, 2016]
  • Pooley, E. (1998). A field guide to wildflowers KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Williams, V.L., Raimondo, D., Crouch, N.R., Cunningham, A.B., Scott-Shaw, C.R., Lötter, M. and Ngwenya, A.M.(2008). Curtisia dentata (Burm.f.) C.A.Sm. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2015.1. [Accessed on 2 June, 2016]
  • Images by A. Rebelo; D. Turner; C. Lochner and A.E. Symons