Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – May

Karkloof Conservation Centre

A Burchell’s Coucal greeted me one morning as I got to work. It was sitting in the small tree outside the Centre and then flew to the trees along the roadside. I have been seeing them more regularly along the roadside and near the  Centre. The Wattled Cranes were less frequent but a flock of 5 to 6 visited the pans and foraged in the fields. Towards the end of the month there were only a pair regularly seen. A flock of about 30 to 40 Grey-crowned Cranes were flying around the Karkloof and visiting the different farms. They were particularly vocal and were often seen at both Loskop and  Gartmore pans. The Fish Eagles were seen and heard again this month and filled the sky with the most magnificent sounds, reminding us all that we are in Africa.

The African Shelducks and Red-billed Teals were once again a highlight of many people’s visits. The Black Crakes are still seen at the front of the Gartmore hide. Flocks of Wattled Lapwings, Black-winged Lapwings and Blacksmith Lapwings are all running and flying around the fields in their attempt to mislead potential threats. The African Spoonbills have been seen in a group of 3 and have visited more often. We had sightings of the African Sacred Ibis, the quirky Pied Kingfishers and an abundance of the African Darters. The Jackal Buzzards and Long-crested Eagles were seen flying in the sky and perched on the poles along the road.

African Stonechats were in good numbers this month with a definite increase in their numbers and more prominent colouration. The Bald Ibis are still around visiting the different farms around the Centre. They are no longer seen in their large flock, but can be seen in varying numbers between 1 and 16. Cape Crows were also a common sighting here at the Centre and were seen sitting on the irrigation system or in the fields. Other sightings include: Red-knobbed Coots, White-faced Ducks, Yellow-billed Ducks, Common Moorhen, Egyptian Geese, Spur-winged Geese, Little Grebes, Fork-tailed Drongo, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Red-billed Quelea, Cape Wagtail, Cape Turtle Dove, Red-eye Dove, Cape Robin, Southern Red Bishops, Common Fiscal, Reed Cormorants, Grey Herons and Black-headed Herons.

May was a busy month with all the little critters around the garden at the Conservation Centre. The mouse (it could possibly be a Chestnut Climbing Mouse), was unusually calm with me poking my point and snap camera in it’s face. It seemed very weak and was sniffing the ground totally exposed in the drizzle. The tiny frog (a type of Reed frog?) was sleeping on our garbage bag, so we relocated it into a more suitable spot. The dry season form of the Gaudy Commodore has been seen around the garden, often flying into the office. We had plenty of different caterpillars roaming the paths and this one  in particular was quite magnificent.

Britt and Rene Stubbs – Denleigh and Bartersfield Farm

Ren and I were walking up the hill towards Bartersfield (in the veld) and we saw an African Grass-Owl – we watched it for quite a long time which was an absolute treat! Good to know that the condition of the veld is such that it is able to support this relatively rare owl!

Charlie MacGillivray – Gartmore Farm

On the 18 May 2012, Charlie had a flock of 6 Blue Cranes visit his farmlands. They were around for almost the entire day, walking and foraging. Close by, there were also a flock of about 32 Grey-Crowned Cranes. It is good to see our national bird in bigger numbers on the farms and to have them find refuge in the beautiful Karkloof Valley. The crane activity was once again great on Gartmore farm and it is a reward to have them utilise the area.

Peter and Gill Train

This bird sat at the edge of our dam for 2 days and at a quick glance it looks like a Coucal. It is about the size of Coucal but the head shape was different, almost the shape of an owl with fairly large eyes.can be seen it sat very upright and the habitat was not where you would expect a Coucal to be totally exposed on the waters edge. Does anyone have any ideas on what it may be?

A Palm-nut Vulture in Wartburg

I know that this sighting is not in the Karkloof, but it is truly worth the mention! On the 31 May 2012, Rudy Hillermann and his girlfriend Qualien took myself and Michael to see the Long-crested Eagle’s nest on their farm in the Wartburg. After collecting the data, we drove around and were doing a bit of bird watching on their beautiful and well managed sugarcane farm.

We saw a strange looking bird fly across the sky and sit on the tree next to the Long-crested Eagle nest. We got a bit closer and Rudy suggested that it was a Palm-nut Vulture. We were all a bit skeptical because we knew that the odds of a Palm-nut Vulture being in Wartburg was pretty slim. The Long-crested Eagle which was sitting on the nest was not too happy with the presence of this bird and made loud vocalizations to chase  it and to let the vulture know that it’s not happy – must’ve been a female!

We compared it to a picture and it was an identical match! The eye area was not as brightly pink/red as usual, and the under-belly section was slightly off white which leads us to think that it may be a sub-adult? During flight, the markings under the wing and body were unmistakable and the primary feathers on the wings were black. This was very exciting for all of us and was a perfect ending to the morning.

Tony Matchett – Benson Farming

One pair of Wattled Cranes are currently nesting and another pair (Mbeche’s parents) are walking around preparing to nest. Let’s hope we have more successful wild chicks reared this season to keep the wild population stable! There were 8 Denham’s Bustards seen this last month as well.

A Love Story about Snakes – Never kiss over the garden gate. Love is blind but the neighbours ain’t.

On the 14 May 2012, I encountered 2 snakes together at the door. I assumed they were both Natal Green Snakes, and that the one was a juvenile. I was unsure of this though, as I never knew snakes to be paternalistic, so I contacted Pat McKrill (the Snake Man) of “Snake Country cc”. I explained to him that the snakes did not leave each other’s side and that they seemed affectionate towards each other. They  eventually disappeared and when I was walking from the coffee table to the desk, I noticed some big eyes staring at me from the Trellidor. To my interest, I found them cuddled up and entangled which was a strange sight. Trellidor’s new security upgrade is definitely a winner!

Pat McKrill replied promptly with the following interesting comments:

“From what I can see, you have a Variegated Bush snake and a Natal Green snake that happened to meet up at the Trellidor (for coffee and a chat perhaps?)

The reason I say the one is a variegated bush snake is because of the ‘spotting on the anterior part of the body – something not found on the Natal green. The bush snake is ‘in the blue’ as you quite rightly suggest, about to shed. Here are some possible scenarios for the pairing:

  • One is a female, and the other is a male that has been attracted to her pheromonal output – not that they would necessarily try to mate. The entanglement you mention could possibly have even been some reptilian ‘foreplay’, so watch out for the arrival around September of a bunch of extremely rare hybrids!
  • Snakes are not generally paternalistic so the mother/child scenario is unlikely.
  •  They share the same food source (geckoes, tree frogs) so their mutual presence could be coincidental.
  • They were basking, and again their presence on the same piece of security door could have beencoincidental.

In answer to your questions, 1/ the greens (Philothamnus spp.) are oviparous, and lay about 10 or so eggs at a time, and 2/ the bigger, fatter one you saw a few days later could have been a coincidence, or it could have been the earlier Natal green after it had eaten the spotted bush snake that it was sussing out a few days earlier!

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