Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – December 2014

Tempus fugit! The older I get, the faster it seems to “fugit”! I presume everyone has made (and already broken) their New Year revolutions (sic). You got lucky this month, as several Karkloofers have sent in some interesting reports, thereby relieving the strain on my typing finger, to say nothing of the brain strain involved in producing readable matter!

Karkloof Conservation Centre

There were plenty of Common Reedbuck seen at both hides, as well as 2 Oribi on one occasion. We saw a pair of Blue Cranes and various pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes daily. There were limited sightings of the beautiful Wattled Cranes. Remember to vote for the Blue Crane as South Africa’s favourite bird on the Birdlife South Africa’s pole: http://www.birdlife.org.za/vote.

We were delighted to see 5 South African Shelduck on the Gartmore pan. They’re usually on Loskop pan, but due to the dry season the water level is drastically low. Although visitors don’t like the temporary lack of water, from a conservation aspect it has created a unique environment which may offer a home to a different variety of bird and animal species. We can only begin to imagine who the potential residents can be. It may even offer a prime nesting site for a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes who have been frequently scouting that area and dancing like their future love life depends on it!

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We have had lovely sightings of the African Paradise-Flycatchers in the avenue of trees. The Fan-tailed Widowbirds, Long-tailed Widowbirds and Red-collared Widowbirds were easily identified, as many of the males are in their attractive breeding plumage. Pin-tailed Whydahs are out in full force and we’re sure that they wake up on the wrong side of the nest each day.

Just when we spoke about not seeing the Common Moorhen for a long time, they decided to populate the Gartmore pan. We have had fewer sightings of the African Rail since then, however we still see many Black Crake.


One guest made a note that they saw a Wood Sandpiper. Our overseas visitors included healthy flocks of Barn Swallows

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and White Storks. They enjoy the farming activity with the tractors offering them a free “all-you-can-eat” buffet of insects. A little fact about White Storks is that their red legs often appear white because they excrete on them to cool down and is termed urohydrosis – a useful trick in this hot weather that we’ve been having.

We have also had good sightings of White-breasted Cormorants, Red-billed Teal, White-faced Ducks,

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Yellow-billed Ducks, the African Fish-Eagle, the   African Marsh-Harrier, Jackal Buzzards, Steppe Buzzards, Yellow-billed Kites, Giant Kingfishers, Pied Kingfishers, Diderick Cuckoos, Little Rush-Warblers, a Dark-capped Yellow Warbler and Amethyst Sunbirds.

People tend to associate the Conservation Centre with birds, and whilst our emphasis is on birds, the whole concept of conservation relates to all species, whether they are tiny insects, flowers or mammoth mammals, we have a duty to ensure a species’ survival for future generations.

Glasswoks/Old Pine Cabin – Peta and Shaun Crookes

A lady from Durban North asked permission to hunt in the bush for these elusive Velvet worms. Her first trip was unsuccessful, but on her next try she got lucky, finding this chap on the edge of the forest inside a soft rotten log. She carefully removed him and took him back to Durban where he was filmed for a National Geographic documentary.

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A week later she transported him back here in his big box of mulch and bark and placed him safely back in his home. So there you go, a little known fact in the Karkloof is that we have a movie star living right here!

Pat: My copy of The Wild Life of Southern Africa ed. Vincent Carruthers says of velvet worms ”…represents evolutionary link between earthworms and arthropods.” Did you know we also have a missing link in the Karkloof?!

Mbona Private Reserve – Richard Booth

The first picture is that of a Rain frog’s nest which I found in our forest – a bag of jelly with eggs inside it. The tadpoles apparently feed on this jelly after hatching.

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The second photograph is of a Ground Orchid, Disperis lindleyana, and is flowering in the forest.

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On the 29 December, we had a sighting of a single Cape Teal which was in the company of Yellow-billed Ducks on Lake Crystal on Mbona. This bird is not previously on our bird list, so it’s an exciting find.

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Gareth (our assistant manager) found a Steppe Buzzard with damaged wing feathers which was unable to fly. He managed to catch it and kept it in our holding pen where healthy feathers grew back enabling us to release it after 2 weeks.

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Bird ringing at Gartmore Hide – Karin Nelson  Pat: This article is from Karin Nelson who once a month arrives at “sparrow’s” and spends a considerable amount of time erecting her mist nets and then ringing, weighing and measuring the birds she catches before releasing them back into the wild. I have often been asked why birds are ringed, and I think her account of the Red-headed Quelea should answer any questions.

On the 22 December, we had a great morning ringing in cool,   heavily overcast weather. I was accompanied by Shane McPhearson (PhD candidate working on Crowned Eagles), Tim van der Meer, and Kate Beer, students from Holland and New Zealand respectively.

We managed to ring 42 birds, which included 15 different species and 8 recaptures. New ringing species for Gartmore were the Spectacled Weaver and the Long-crested Eagle.

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The Red-headed Quelea is a recapture and was initially ringed at Cedara by the late James Wakelin on 3 January 2006! Awesome.

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Shane is a registered raptor ringer, so we decided to add to our capture diversity by trying for a bird of prey. Thus, the Long-crested Eagle was added to our ringing list. Handsome young fellow he was (the bird I mean!). Probably a sub-adult male as can be seen by his older dull-brown plumage on his back beginning to moult into dark brown adult plumage. After being measured and weighed he was safely released back into the green pastures where he had been captured.

Pat: I drove back to Howick soon after his release, and, sitting on a telephone pole near the release site was a Long-crested Eagle examining his leg.

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Other birds ringed included:

  • 8 x Common Waxbill
  • 6 x Red-billed Quelea
  • 5 x African Reed-Warbler
  • 5 x Southern Red Bishop
  • 4 x African Stonechat
  • 3 x Fan-tailed Widowbirds
  • 2 x Village Weavers
  • 2 x Levaillant’s Cisticola
  • 1 x Yellow-fronted Canary
  • 1 x Cape White-eye
  • 1 x Cape Wagtail
  • 1 x Amethyst Sunbird.

The forest (UCL) – Twane Clarke

In December, Carolyn invited me to join Dave and Sally Johnson and a couple of others on an expedition through a patch of forest on UCL property in order to identify various trees. Dave and Sally are passionate botanists and shared a wealth of knowledge on how to identify the myriad of trees. What fascinated me the most is that they don’t need any reference books, so their backpacks were much lighter than mine!

We started off with an incredible sighting of a Cicada shedding its exoskeleton and emerging as an adult. This Cicada would have just surfaced as a nymph from underground where it would have spent most of its lifespan feeding on xylem sap from roots. The name is a direct derivation of the Latin cicada which means “tree cricket”. Most cicadas go through a life-cycle that lasts from two to five years and some have a much longer life cycle of 13 to sometimes 17 years!

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We were shown the difference between the 3 different Yellowwoods, namely the Henkel’s, Outeniqua and and Real. We experienced the pungent smell of Clausena anisata (Horsewood), suitably named by the     Afrikaaners as “perdepis”, compared to the lovely citrus fragrance of the Zanthoxylum capense (Knobwood). We became fluent in Latin by the end of the outing, as Dave and Sally have the strict belief of learning the scientific names, which often give away the characteristics of the trees and therefore assisting the identification process.

We also used our binoculars to view leaves on trees (something new to me and my traumatised binoculars, as we’re both used to spotting animals and birds). To ease the shock of the incident, we, together with Peter and Anita Divall who had a similar experience, managed to sneak in some forest birding and spotted some great feathered friends: African Paradise-Flycatcher, Black Cuckoo, Black-backed Puffback, Black-headed Oriole, Cape Batis, Chorister Robin-Chat, Collared Sunbirds, Dark-backed Weaver, Drakensberg Prinia, Dusky Flycatcher, Forest Canaries, Knysna Turaco, Red-chested Cuckoo and the Southern Double-collared Sunbirds.

Gartmore Farm – Charlie McGillivray

On the 18th December there was great excitement at the MacGillivray homestead. A Boomslang found out that Charlie was fond of protecting birds and decided that there must be some juicy eggs available for an omelette!  They discovered this long, robust and magnificent reptile when they heard a commotion by birds (similar to that of a dispute in parliament) outside and decided to see what the fuss is about. Surprise, surprise!

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