Karkloof Conservation Centre – Pat Cahill
Usually one visits a bird hide to watch birds, but on a visit to the Gartmore Hide last month, I found this dead fish on the boardwalk about twenty metres from the water. An authority on birds (Roberts non-field guide) suggests that this is the result of the Kingfishers practice of beating their prey on a branch to stun it and to orient it so that it goes down the birds throat headfirst. The practice was started by Kingfishers in South America to avoid swallowing an active piranha!
My theory though is that it was cast up by a mini tsunami caused by tectonic activity under the Karkloof. I read recently that the Great Rift Valley is expanding, and eventually the land between the valley and the East Coast of Africa will eventually become an island. If you extrapolate a line down from the Great Rift Valley, you will find that it passes through Gartmore, so we may perhaps one day be able to divorce ourselves from the Government’s corruption and declare the Island Republic of KZN!
I often see Pied Kingfishers at both hides with three being the maximum I have seen together. This group of females (Could this be a “Hen’s Party”) surprised me as they flew off in unison and hovered over the pan in fairly close formation returning to this perch several times before flying off .
When I parked my car at the path to the Gartmore Hide I saw an African Fish-Eagle perched in the tree closest to the hide. Thinking I had a chance to get really close to it, I moved slowly along the path, taking a picture every 3 metres. They really do have “eagle eyes” and this was as close as I could get!
Anyone who has raised children knows how demanding they can be. Pity the poor avian mothers though who don’t have the convenience of bottles or dummies to pop into babies’ mouths to shut them up. This White-throated Swallow was seen at the Crowned Crane Hide on Gartmore Pan. One can imagine the chick on the left screeching “Feed ME, Feed ME”, whilst mother sticks her beak halfway down the throat of the sibling! Both of the bird hides have several swallow nests under the eaves, and there is much activity around them with parents busy feeding their offspring.
Twané feels that as Karkloof residents are an extended family, everyone should have a vicarious share in the joys of being guardians to two Robin-Chatchiks! Providing accommodation in a public bathroom for a family of Cape Robin-Chats is quite a responsibility.
When the eggs first appeared in the nest, I was worried that loo users would disturb the nest. My fears were groundless though – whilst incubating the eggs, the parents always made a beeline for the open window as soon as anyone walked in the door. I don’t think that many people who saw it actually realised that it was a nest, thinking that it was part of a dried arrangement from the vase with which it shares the shelf.
After a multitude of flights by the parents between the loo and the worm garden, their eyes eventually opened and they started looking more like chicks. A diet of insects seems to contain some secret growth hormone, as it seemed to be a few weeks and their feathers started forming from fluff.
We weren’t there to witness their first flying lessons, but Twané went in one morning for their daily check-up and found the nest empty. She heard a faint chirping coming from the rubbish bin and found a chick inside it. Obviously the chick had decided that “litter” wasn’t the collective term just for baby pigs, but also applied to birds! It must have landed on the swing lid of the bin, which swung down, precipitating junior into the bag.
The nest is now standing empty and management has decided to put it on the market to be let. It has been put into the care of Wakefields Estate Agency. The rent is egg-otiable and includes lights and water with an en suite toilet.
If you have a Goldfish Pond, beware of uninvited guests who may take it as being an open buffet, like this Black-headed Heron seen fishing at the Crookes’ goldfish pond. The picture solved the mystery of where their goldfish were disappearing to. They have subsequently covered their pond with some netting to protect the remaining few.
A highlight is this sighting the Midlands Dwarf Chameleon – it’s not always easy spotting these quirky reptiles. Living along the edge of the indigenous Mistbelt forest certainly has its benefits. “Many chameleon species are endangered due to loss of habitat and the international pet trade. By conserving forests and woodlands, and protecting the grasslands that they need to survive in nature, we contribute to the health of entire ecosystems“(http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/madaboutc.php). Thanks Peta and Shaun for sharing this great sighting with us!
This male Baboon was seen on the Sappi camera trap earlier this year, after presumably being kicked out by the members of its troop and taking refuge in the tranquil forests and plantations of the Karkloof hills. Outcast baboons can be quite aggressive, and unfortunately it was killed by homestead dogs after a possible territorial dispute (not poaching). A big thank you to Edward Naidoo of UCL and Dave Everard of Sappi for supplying the photos and information.