Winterskloof Wildlife Sightings – Spring

The Winterskloof Conservancy’s Green Bobbies have been chopping, digging and ring-barking their way along the road verges. What a difference it has made to the verdant, lush, previously unchecked and mostly alien vegetation. The most rampant of these is ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum).  Along our stretch of road, we now have ferns peering out along the bank below the Doreen Clarke Nature Reserve and clumps of arums (Zantedeschia ethiopica) are appearing – what a contrast from just two months ago.

Where is Winterskloof ? It’s about 12 kms by road from Pietermaritzburg on the north western outskirts, between the Swartkop and Teteleku ridges and adjacent to Hilton. Whoever decided on the name, was certainly well acquainted with the area as it is always cooler than town, being about 500 metres above sea level and there is no shortage of undulations – great for fitness enthusiasts. The weather usually comes up from the south west, hits the plateau and the mist drifts in, mainly spring and summer. It has been described as a beautiful, undulating valley and covers an area of roughly 1 000 hectares. Birds are more frequently heard rather than seen due to the indigenous forest canopy and gardening can be soul restoring, if listening to the bird song or soul destroying in summer if trying to cope with weeds!  Average rainfall for the past 27 years is in the region of 1 150 mm per year. It certainly is a beautiful part of the world.

Crowned and Long Crested Eagles are often heard and seen soaring over head and perhaps the Crowned Eagle was chosen for our Conservancy’s logo, due to our close (180 metre) association with Guinevere (hatched 2011) and her brother Lancelot, who hatched the previous year.  Their names are a spot of fun and their nest in the Eucalyptus tree can be viewed clearly from two properties.  We can sit in our lounge, dining room or be out on the veranda and watch the nest.   How special is that?   Sadly Lancelot is now living at the Raptor Centre as he will never fly again, due to his shoulder being shattered by someone shooting him with a pellet gun.  What a tragedy to be caged when he should be soaring freely in the skies.  Guinevere (Guin) is just over a year old and has recently flown the nest.  She was ringed a while back and a DNA blood sample shows she is female.  Not everyone in the area is entirely happy with her attempts at food foraging – she had fresh chicken one Sunday in Devonshire Lane and on another occasion was pulled from a pet duck.  An M.Sc student, Shane McPherson, is doing his study on the urban Crowned Eagle and has about 30 nest sites he is observing (follow his work on   Guin in her early days of flying used to move between several trees on our property and on one occasion, followed our medium size female dog from behind, dropping her talons when roughly 200 mm above her back, heading straight towards my husband who was watching and she then veered up into a tree.  Shane said they will initially attack creatures from behind when moving away from them and her inexperience was evident – but what a sight to have this eagle flying towards you!  We also had the privilege of watching her hooded, being ringed, measured and flying off after release – those wings are quite a sight close-up.  This photo of the Crowned Eagle chick was taken byIsabel Johnson in her garden in Cuckoo Lane.

Tuesday 16 October 2012 ( about 9.30 am) – small Bush buck, just below Cowan House school.

Early spring: the African olive-pigeon (Rameron pigeon) which is usually found singly, in pairs or small flocks of 5 – 10 birds, came in droves of 30 or more and delighted in spending time around 8 a.m., soon after the sun appeared on the moist, dripping rock face we have on our property. What was attracting them, I don’t know but this went on for three weeks or more. They would sit on the small crags only in the morning, fly off into nearby vegetation and return. My simple camera could not do their numbers justice against the dark rock.

The Black-headed Oriole has been around and this is always my indicator of the arrival of spring.  The Brown-hooded Kingfisher is around inspecting our pond which has small tilapia and tiny mosquito fish plus a variety of different sized tadpoles.

The summer call of the Red-Chested Cuckoo is back in full monotony: “piet-my-vrou, piet-my-vrou”. I heard one yesterday and actually saw it, but could not make out detail due to the light.  We have many Cuckoo species returning to the Valley in Spring, including the Emerald Cuckoo (photo from taken by Jan Van den Broek) – follow the “Pretty Judy (sic)” call to spot this beautiful, yellow and malachite green bird. 

The Cape Robin Chat often mimics part of the call, to put the Cuckoos off his nesting area, as the Cuckoos drop their eggs in other birds’ nests for them to raise.  Lazy or clever parents, depending on how you feel about your children at the moment!

The elusive Narina Trogon (photo copied from the internet site has been seen in  the Budleigh Bends, at the forest that Rupert Jones used to maintain free from invasive alien plants.  Listen for the call in the Dawn Chorus – it sounds like someone running up a hill “huff puff, huff puff, huff puff”.  If you get to see this extraordinary bird, you will be amazed how the bright red and green colouring can be such good camouflage!

There have been multiple sightings of two Water Mongoose crossing the road on Cuckoo Lane.  This is another reason to drive gently along our narrow winding roads, to avoid colliding with wildlife, wild children and wild pets!

We now have the use of the Midlands Conservancies Forum’s game capture camera, which has been set up by Gareth Boothway in the Valley and has already taken photos (need to find a way to keep the rain off the lens!) of a bushpig, porcupine and a male Bushbuck.

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