Karkloof Conservation Centre
March was a wonderful month at the bird hides with the warm and sunny weather. The birds were active and people rarely left here disappointed. Some even fell in love with the pesky Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese. The crane sightings were abundant with a pair of Wattled Cranes hanging around the Loskop pan in the fields. There were also groups of 7 or 8 seen at the pan. There was a sighting of a Blue Crane in the fields behind the Loskop pan and flocks of about 42 – 47 Grey Crowned Cranes on Gartmore farm near Charlie’s dairy. The bird of the year 2012 is the African Fish-Eagle who vocalized their presence so beautifully. African Marsh-Harriers as well as Long-crested Eagles were also present.
We had a playground full of chicks in the water, swimming in a row or learning how to forage. These included Red-billed Teal, Little Grebes, Common Moorhen, and Yellow-billed Ducks – as well as the geese. There were also a family of Black Crakes who were frequenting the area in front of Gartmore hide.
Some of the special birds seen were the African Rail, the African Shelduck, White-backed Ducks, a good number of Diderick’s Cuckoo, and a Yellow-billed Egret. We again had visitors say they saw the Lesser moorhen. There were also about 19 Bald Ibis foraging in the fields of Loskop farm. We had good sightings of the Giant Kingfisher. The Pied Kingfishers were amusing little kids who enjoy seeing them dive for fish.
On the Loskop pan, a Reed Cormorant caught a nice big fish, as it swam to the edge of the pan, a Grey Heron flew and attacked it, causing the cormorant to drop its food. The heron did not, however, steal the fish from it. African Darters are seen more often on the 2 pans. Black-headed Herons have been abundant and were seen in flocks of 6-9. There were also a few juveniles in the mix. A Common Fiscal was attacked by a White-throated Swallow. Barn Swallows and Lesser Striped Swallows were also present. Common Reedbuck and Reed Frogs were also seen by visitors. Other sightings include: Red-knobbed Coots, White-faced Ducks, African Stonechat, Fork-tailed Drongo, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Pin-tailed Whydah’s, Common Waxbills, Red-billed Quelea, Cape Wagtail, Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Red-collared Widowbirds, Long-tailed Widowbirds, Cape Turtle Dove, Speckled Pigeon, Cape Crow, Blacksmith Lapwings, Pied Crow, Southern Red Bishops and Guinea Fowl.
The bird ringing went well this month. The Barn Swallows (4) were welcomed the morning with a flying show which was a perfect start to the day. I managed to ring 100 birds with 27 of these being the Barn Swallows and 35 being Red-billed Quelea. We had some specials such as a Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-fronted Canary and a Lesser Swamp-Warbler. We had Cape and Village Weavers, African Reed-Warblers, a Little Rush-Warbler, Bronze Mannikin’s, Southern Red Bishops, Fan-tailed Widowbirds and Levaillant’s Cisticolas. A juvenile African Paradise-Flycatcher (5) was also on the list. This is the first time I have seen one at the Conservation Centre and hasn’t been sighted by visitors in quite a long time.
This photo of a Pied Kingfisher was taken at the hides earlier this week by guests of ours – Alan & Jenny Beadle from the U.K. They had a marvelous time watching this Kingfisher catch and eat it’s Sushi. We haven’t seen anything of any consequence on the farm for a while. The cranes will come back as soon as we have combined the maize which will be within the next month. I saw 7 Grey-crowned cranes fly over earlier this morning, heading towards the vleis on the top.
Charlie has been informing us of regular sightings of about 2 – 7 Wattled Cranes on his farm and on Stuart Mackenzie’s pan (Loskop pan) in the early morning and late afternoon. On Sunday, the 11 March, he saw 8 Wattled Cranes on Stuart’s pan. Later that day he saw them fly overhead from the pan towards the other side of the road.
This month I decided to fill the gap with some of my favourite pictures of the month!
Mark & Karen Crookes who farm down the hill from Benvie on the York Road have had regular sightings of 3 adult Ground Hornbills and a chick that have been around for ± 1.5 months. This is good news as a follow on from the sighting of the lonely Ground Hornbill last year. Mark and Karen have also had a Wattled Crane with a large chick hang around. At Benvie the birds have quietened down generally but the pair of Cape Parrots are back on a regular basis, both morning and evening. The Crookes’ also report seeing them down on their property but also only 2 which I presume are the same pair. Saw a large Lynx while walking my German shepherd and she would not approach it and knew what was good for her. Otherwise Bushbuck are often seen.
Karkloof Conservation Centre
The bird activity during February dropped a bit and visitors to the hides did not see much besides the few common birds that reside at the 2 pans. However, the lucky few got some excellent sightings. Patience often pays off! There were many raptors in the sky, but mainly consisted of Yellow-billed Kites and African Marsh-Harriers. There were also quite a few Amur Falcons around which were flying over the pans and sitting on the power lines. The Grey Crowned Cranes sightings were good, but there were very few sightings of Blue and Wattled Cranes. The pair of crownies were spotted with 1 chick by a visitor at the Gartmore hide.
On the 8 February, 19 Bald Ibis were counted on the irrigation system next to Loskop pan. This flock were seen fairly regularly throughout the month. The ducks and geese are often very amusing if you see them when they are more active. This month, Egyptian Geese, Spur-winged Geese, Red-billed Teal, Little Grebes, Red-knobbed Coots, White-faced Ducks and Yellow-billed Ducks were all seen. One visitor said that he saw a Lesser Moorhen on the Loskop pan on the 10 February. We have been keeping our eye open for it, but have been unsuccessful in finding it. There have also been a good number of Common Moorhens around. The Pied Kingfisher is still seen hovering over the pans catching fish. The Malachite Kingfisher has also been spotted sitting on the vegetation next to the Gartmore pan.
The White-throated Swallows and Barn Swallows have increased in numbers with plenty of juveniles and chicks present. The male and female Pin-tailed Whydah’s were seen regularly, as well as Southern Red Bishops with half breeding plumage making them look very scruffy. They were also seen in full breeding plumage. The amount of Village Weavers have also increased and have been thoroughly enjoying Charlie’s maize. Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Long-tailed Widowbirds and African Stonechats were also a common sighting.
Visitors always seem to enjoy seeing the Black Crakes who frequently forage right in front of the hide. A Yellow-billed Egret has also been seen at the pans. Lesley Page saw flocks of White Storks catching the thermals at different times (placing them at different heights), which looked like a tornado of White Storks which was most impressive. The Diderick Cuckoo has been seen again which makes for a nice sighting. Purple Herons, Black-headed Herons, Reed Cormorants and African Darters were also seen.
Our resident pair of Blue Cranes and a pair of Crowned Cranes were seen. We noticed a lot of Yellow-billed Kites and Jackal Buzzards. Ren saw a Green-backed Heron down at the river as well as a large flock of White Storks roosting on a gum tree. We have a Dabchick with 4 ducklings on our dam.
Yvonne McCurrach – The Story of “Slinky” the Spotted Genet
During the middle of 2011 Theo and Margie Cave (my cousin who lives at Albert Falls Dam) rehabilitated a Spotted Genet who had been abandoned by its mother. Having been wild animal rescue fundies for many years we have enjoyed seeing the results of their T.L.C. on a variety of animals and were fascinated by ‘Slinky’ the Genet. Theo asked us if we would like him to bring her to Mbona when she was ready to be reintroduced to ‘The Wilds’. We ran this past management and in due course Slinky was delivered in a cage which we were instructed to keep her in for about a week. Brent Scott (our security manager at the time) offered to take over from us as we were about to go away for a few days. As a qualified game ranger he was just the right chap to take her through the period when the cage was left open but food was still put down for her every day. Well soon after that Slinky stopped visiting and we were happy that she had become a real wild gennet.
Some 6 weeks later Willemien Verwiel found a gennet warmly tucked under the duvet in her guest room ! Next on the programme our very sociable little gennet decided to pay us a visit early one evening and enjoyed herself chasing moths on our verandah. She was also spotted by visitors to H 5 and by Margaret and Jacko Jackson and then to our absolute delight she arrived on the scene last week with a baby and pays regular visits in the early evenings. Just this week she arrived on the scene and kept our 6 dinner visitors entertained for a good 15 minutes.
We were so thrilled to get the above photo of her sitting in the basket on Ronnie Ritchie’s verandah. Needless to say we are convinced that our dear little visitor is Slinky and that she is doing the rounds visiting shareholders at Mbona. She obviously enjoys her home comforts and will come into the house, given half a chance, but that is not to be encouraged as they are not the sweetest smelling creatures and we hate to think of the results if anyone went away for a few days and Slinky was locked inside their home ? In the hope that Slinky will pay many Mbona residents a visit and will mind her manners on your verandahs.
Our pair of Cape Parrots have shown up again after not being around for a month or so. Good numbers of Tambourine Doves are calling in the early morning and I saw a pair of Green Twinspots feeding in the road through the indigenous forest going from Benvie to the Howick/Rietvlei Road intersection this morning. The Amur Falcons can be seen on the power lines along the Karkloof Road near the Conservation Centre and also hawking insects over Stuart McKenzie’s pastures.
Pat Cahill – We’re not just about birds
As a photographer, I was delighted (like the glow worm who had her tail cut off!) when the Karkloof Conservation Centre bird hides opened. This is an ideal site to photograph birds, particularly such beautiful species as the cranes. Most visitors tend to associate the Karkloof Conservation area with cranes, and I have heard some express their disappointment when they haven’t seen any. Unfortunately we can’t guarantee what birds visitors are going to see, we provide a protected area with conditions which should attract birds and most of the time there is a fair selection of water birds, waders and sundry smaller birds. We provide well fitted hides where one can watch the birds in comfort and enjoy a picnic or braai next to the office. What you see depends on unpredictable factors such as the weather, food availability and a host of other matters.
My time as a volunteer in Umgeni Valley introduced me to the insect world where there are also some beautiful smaller creatures. If there are no birds to be seen, try looking at some of the insects – they form a very important part of Nature. Without them, the insectivorous birds would starve and with them the raptors, pollination by insects provides seeds for the seed eaters. I’m always surprised by gardeners who love butterflies but hate caterpillars! The old saying about “Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em, Little fleas have lesser fleas, And so ad infinitum!” is a very poetic way of summarising the Food Chain in the environment. I enjoy watching birds, but not to the exclusion of other creatures. Dragon- and Damselflies are sometimes more colourful than butterflies and I have attached some pictures below taken during birdless visits to the Karkloof. They are equipped with large eyes amazing manoeuvrability (2 pairs of wings) and their legs have a row of bristles so that they can lock around an insect. Damselflies seem to spend most of their time waiting for their prey to arrive whilst Dragonflies are very active hunters patrolling their territory on regular flights. Try watching them for a while next time there aren’t any birds around!
Charlie informed us that there was a flock of about 28 Grey Crowned Cranes that were hanging around on his fields regularly. He has also had sightings of Wattled Cranes near his dairy.
On Saturday, 18 February, Karin Nelson was leaving the Karkloof Country Club, after the Birdlife KZN Midlands AGM, and saw a Forest Buzzard dive-bombing a Crowned Eagle which was sitting on a pylon along the way to the Karkloof Road. This is a wonderful sighting of these 2 raptors.
Karkloof Conservation Centre
There were many Common Reedbuck seen drinking at both the pans. These sightings included juveniles who were accompanied by both parents. A terrapin was seen on its usual rock at the Gartmore hide. The Crane sightings were average with about 2-6 Grey-crowned Cranes seen on the 7,8,12,14,16,20. The Wattled Cranes were scarce with a sighting of 2 on the 8th. There were plenty of White Storks seen on the fields at Loskop hide, but not as many as in January 2011. There were also sightings of Cattle Egrets and Sacred Ibis. Marsh Harriers, Long-crested Eagles and Jackal Buzzards were in their usual abundance. There were also sightings of Steppe Buzzards. Yellow-crowned Bishops were seen during this month again. There were also interesting sightings of Brimstone Canaries which have not been seen in a while. Barn Swallows and White-throated Swallows were dominating the perches at the hides and there were fun sightings of the parents feeding their young.The Malachite, Brown-hooded and Pied Kingfishers were all seen this month. Many visitors saw the Hammerkop flying, the shy Black Crakes, an African Jacana, many Black-headed herons, Purple Herons and Reed Cormorants. An African Darter was also on this months checklist.
Little Grebes, Southern Pochards, Red-billed Teal, White-faced Duck, Spur-winged Geese, Egyptian Geese, Yellow-billed Ducks, Common Moorhen and Red-knobbed Coots were all seen swimming in the 2 pans. An African Black Duck was also seen.
Common Birds seen: African Reed-Warbler; African Stonechat; Southern Red Bishop; Pin-tailed Whydah; Cape Wagtail; Red-collared Widowbird; Fan-tailed Widowbird; Long-tailed Widowbird; Levaillant’s Cisticola; Fork-tailed Drongo; Common Fiscal; Village Weaver; Blacksmith Lapwing; and Common Waxbills.
Global Skimmer / Wandering Glider – Pantala flavescens
There are many different types of species from the order Odonata at the Conservation Centre. This dragonfly is quite interesting and I found the following information from Wikipedia about it: As its name suggests, the Globe Skimmer has a very wide distribution area, between about the 40th parallels of latitude or within the 20 °C isotherm (areas of the world where the annual mean temperature is above 20°C). Observations suggest that they migrate from India to Africa across the Arabian Sea. It is the highest-flying dragonfly, recorded at 6,200 m in the Himalayas..It was also the first dragonfly species that settled on Bikini Atoll after the nuclear tests there.
Pat Cahill – REVERSE FLIGHT!
Many years ago I attended the annual air show at Virginia in Durban North and was very surprised to hear the commentator, who must have been an SAAF Officer unused to speaking to crowds announce that “we will now see the Hercules transport plane demonstrate how it can fly backwards”. The plane on show then proceeded to taxi backwards which it then did for a short distance with its propeller pitch reversed. I can’t imagine anything other than a helicopter or VTOL aircraft being able to actually fly in reverse and even the latter would be limited to descent and not horizontal flight.
I have however seen a bird flying backwards! A few years ago, I was in the Gartmore hide, and watched a male Pin-tailed Whydah in his best courting plumage with a tail at least twice his body length fly directly into a howling gale from Charlie’s maize to one of the trees where he sat for several minutes. I started wondering how he would cope with his tail if the wind were blowing from behind him. He answered my unspoken question by taking off facing into the wind and flying at a slightly slower speed and allowing it to carry him backwards! I consider male Pin-tailed Whydahs interesting birds – for most of the year they are cross dressers, being indistinguishable from the females, but come the breeding season they throw out their drab unisex plumage, and invest in a brand new set of black and white feathers with a bright red beak. Their black tail feathers grow to about three times their body length and they become extremely bossy, interfering in the lives of all their family and other birds. They also have a strange way of hovering as if they were hanging in mid-air with their wings folded against their body. The little fellow on the right may have been trying to impress a young female, or to chase off another male who couldn’t afford any courting clothes!
I was busy photographing these Southern Bald Ibises. This picture was taken from the road and I moved up to the fence to get closer. I was steadying my camera on a fence post when I accidentally touched the wire, forgetting that it was electrified. My close up picture was a write off as I used some words to which the birds obviously objected as they took off rapidly!! I haven’t seen Bald Ibises for some time, so it’s nice to have them around again.
One fine day, Charlie was visiting us at the office and he bumped into the strangest creature. He managed to identify it as the Greater-bearded Panga-wielding Posthumous Pat. This is a common sighting at the Centre and both the bird hides.
Peter, updated us regularly on the fact that there were a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes who seemed to have chicks with them. This was later confirmed by Heidi and Xanthe of the Wildlands Conservation Trust who saw them along the fence on their way to Bushwillow Park during the 3 Cranes Challenge preparation
Bird ringing at the Karkloof Conservation Centre bird hide got off to a great start in Jan 2012. 87 birds were caught, of which 10 were retraps.15 different species. The most prevalent birds were Red-billed Quelea, Southern Red Bishop and African Reed-warblers. Some of the other species were Village Weavers, Cape Wagtail, Yellow-fronted Canaries, Common Waxbill, Malachite Kingfishers, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Drakensberg Prinia, Amethyst Sunbird and African Stonechat.
The ‘catch’ of the day were 2 breeding male Red-headed Quelea. Fairly uncommon, unlike the Red-billed Quelea. These were the first breeding males I have seen in 2 years of ringing at Gartmore Farm. What’s also great at this time of year are the juvenile birds! I watched an adult Southern Black Flycatcher feeding a fledgling along the roadside. Interesting thing about the Black Flycatcher is that it is often found in close proximity to the similar looking, but larger and more aggressive, Fork-tailed Drongo. They apparently chose to ‘hang-out’ near the drongo as a protective mechanism, in that potential predators may confuse them with the aggressive drongo and leave them alone.
On 4th January 2012 Richard Booth from Mbona saw an Osprey over Pateric and Crested Guineafowl with chicks in Holbeck forest. The Antrobus’ from Mbona let us know about a leopard they saw crossing the tar road to Howick between the dam at Waterford and Caroline Gemmell’s (Harrow Hill) entrance whilst driving to golf in the morning. They said that there was a runner just beyond who would have bumped into this beautiful creature had she been 5 minutes earlier. There have been leopard spoor spotted at the nearby SAPPI plantation as well as a sighting of a leopard taking down a Wildebeest at Kwawula Estate within the last 6 months. This is a wonderful sighting and we hope to have more of them.
Zoe Goble (my grandchild) spotted 3 Wattled Cranes in the grasslands below their house this morning – Sunday 15th Jan – 2 adults and their fairly grown up chick. I think that the chick had rings on it but it was a bit far to see colour. Looked like white rings. I thought that she had seen white storks but on looking with the bino’s I saw that her sightings were correct!