Tag Archives: crowned crane

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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Boston Tags Along

Soon after the group from Shea O’Connor Combined School arrived at Entabeni Environmental Education Centre in Hlatikulu, Boston, the Crowned Crane, wandered in to say hello.

r boston says hello

Shea O’Connor has, for the second year, ‘adopted’ Boston by contributing towards her keep at the centre. While school mates have met Boston before, it was the first time for these 32 learners.

r group photo with bostonThey were astonished at how beautiful she was, how soft the black feathers on her head were and enjoyed stroking her crown.

r boston is beautiful

Sibo Dlamini, Entabeni activity leader, thanked the school for adopting her, saying “She will lead a great, healthy life now. Thank you for all you have done for the environment.” Welile Duda, Samkelo Sikhosana, Nicholas Nxumalo (principal) accepted the certificate from Nicky Willmers (Entabeni) on behalf of the school.

r Welile duda, Nicholas Nxumalo and Samkelo Sikhosana receive Boston adoption certificate from Nicky Willmers

Welile commented “I always heard the others at school talking about Boston. Now I know her too.” Sandiso Ndlovu added “I think we must put Boston in the back of the taxi when we go home. She can live with us at school.”

r mvulani and boston

The intention of the weekend, organised by Midlands Conservancies Forum and funded by N3TC and Entabeni, was to build a really strong team of environmental activists for this school who have participated in the WESSA Eco-Schools programme for the past 10 years.

Activities and games included solving puzzles,

r nail balancing

Working together as a team,

r balancing on hands

All the while having a lot of fun and laughs and bonding as a group.

r laughing

Zafika Yengo “The staff at Entabeni really love their jobs, they are patient and have so much knowledge. The games were brilliant and educational, we had so much fun.”

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Meals were nourishing, vegetarian ones appropriate to the environmental ethos of the excursion. Everyone tucked in enthusiastically and came back for seconds.

r lunchtime

Ever the comedian, Thembelani Sithole said “I have never eaten vegetarian for three days. I am still alive and strong. I was able to adapt.”

Boston is always keen for a stroll, so joined the group as they headed off towards the wetland to learn more about the Hlatikulu environment.

r boston walk

Boston never passes up an opportunity to dance with one of the boys.

r Sboniso dancing with Boston

There they discussed the importance of rivers and wetlands for humans and other species. Learners were particularly interested as they have a small wetland in the school grounds which they are working hard to restore and protect.

r at river

Afterwards, Boston lead everyone down to the Crane Sanctuary to learn all about the two other species of South African Cranes – Blue and Wattled.

r boston at crane pens

Liisi Lehemets, Entabeni facilitator (recently arrived from Estonia) was most impressed  “These kids are really smart and already know so much. They are actually interested in what we are teaching, which is amazing. Their questions are really good. I had so much fun.”

r boston phumelelo

An Obstacle Course is an essential part of any team building experience as participants need to assist one another to overcome the various challenges. Boston and Welile checked out the obstacles.

r boston welile

The Entabeni facilitators pointed out that outdoor and adventure activities are inherently risky. However, the presence of risk creates meaning in the experience and facilitates learning by focussing the attention of the participant on the ‘here and now’, and helps them to develop an awareness of the abilities of their body and mind.

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Sbonokhule Sithole laughed “This obstacle course got my brain boiling!”

r tree

Londeka Ndlovu loved the challenges of the obstacle course “It got my body working and I enjoyed the fresh air.”

r helping one another

Then in the afternoon, there was a classic debate: the Lifeboat Scenario – who would YOU choose to come along? Fiona McCrimmon, facilitator for the Midlands Meander Association Education Project who works with this school, was really impressed at the depth of understanding and robustness of the discussion.

Mncedisi Dlamini said “We have all learnt to communicate better this weekend, to get to know people’s “other sides”, and learn to respect our differences.r boston lifeboat

Hiking is a real delight at Entabeni. Water bottles, binoculars (donated by N3TC) and cameras were gathered for the walk.

r binoculars

Heading for the mountains,

r climbing

Discussing rocks and tracks and scat along the way.

r geoff talks aboutthe mountains

Discovering underground tunnels in dry river beds

r cave

Drinking water from mountain streams

r drinking from stream

Leaving only footprints and shadows

r shadows

Taking plenty of photographs (thanks Sue Hopkins of Future Growth for the camera),

r taking photos

of the wildflowers

rr everlasting

and wild animals

r buck

and the bushmen paintings, along the way.

r bushmen paintings

Leader, Geoff Ntshangase, who has been an environmental activity leader at Entabeni for many years commented “These kids are wonderful, so respectful and asking lots of questions. I really appreciate that.”

r healthy stream

Tafadzwa Bero “it was really interesting to experience things we have learnt about at school, like the fact that the temperature drops the higher you go.”

r hiking ouhout

We felt we were on top of the world!

r on top of the world

Phumelelo  Madlala commented  “This trip was so adventurous and educational all at once!” Vuyani Mtoto observed “People have definitely grown this weekend, discovered new talents and become leaders.”

r under rocks

Chill time before supper was taken up with soccer games, dancing and chatting to Boston. Watch a short clip of the spontaneous performance here. https://vimeo.com/101422150

Around the roaring campfire in the evening, toasting marshmallows, there was plenty of celebration of days well spent.

res campfire

Phumelelo and Thembelani performed an impromptu drama in the firelight about the importance of protecting wetlands. “I am a farmer and happy to plant my crops in the wetland so I don’t have to worry about watering them.” boasted Thembelani. Phumelelo retorted “Do you have any idea about the damage you are causing? What about the other species who rely on this wetland, and the people living downstream?” Fabulous!

r phumelelo thembelani

The last morning was spent consolidating the learning, participating in the Entabeni Olympics and talking about Taking Environmental Action.

r hands

Everyone had an opportunity to talk about the weekend’s experiences, giving postive and negative feedback. Ayanda Zuma said “I have seen things with my own eyes and learnt a lot. I would suggest installing a solar geyser to improve the hot water situation.”

r tafadzwa, ayanda, mcf

Brian Mlotshwa wrote a rap poem to mark the occasion:

It is said that the first cut is the deepest

and the first taste is the sweetest

I say the first stay is the nicest.

I could see people smiling and learning while hiking

My lifestyle, my perspective on things is changing

It is Nikki and others, that I am thanking.

Unbelievable that a world can be changed by something so tiny

A word, an action, a fight

From someone whose actions are tight

Mind-set so straight, smile so bright

Makes me want to say – you are so right.

r boston and group

Before leaving, everyone had an opportunity to sit quietly for 30 minutes to reflect on the weekend. “It was great to escape from phones, TV and polluted air for a while.”

r thembelani quiet time

Sli Mhlanzi “This has been an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.” Lungelo Zondi added “It was a wonderful experience that I hope we will repeat.” Wanda Cebekhulu expressed the wish to visit again this year and is determined to do some fundraising back at school to make it happen.

Principal of Shea O’Connor, Nicholas Nxumalo, was very impressed. “The learners have grown and shown real maturity. This programme was accessible and relevant, with very professional facilitators. We are proud to be associated with Entabeni and Boston. We are not only visitors; we are part of the Entabeni family now.

r welile and nicholas

Nicky Willmers concluded “You have made our jobs as facilitators so much easier. We have learnt from you and appreciate your enthusiasiasm.” Thank you to Entabeni for their generous contribution to making this trip possible and to N3TC for funding the MCF Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme.

r bostonSala kahle Boston, sobonana futhi.

Dargle Wildlife Sightings – April 2014

Josh Dovey and Claire Weston – Rathmines Farm
Found this little chap in the Hydrangeas last week!ChameleonandInhlosane

David and Helen Mann – Knowhere Farm
Have been hearing some loud barking coming from the forest across the uMngeni river from their farm. Baboons perhaps? Somebody mentioned it might be Samango monkeys calling (Ed: perhaps we need to setup a trail cam there sometime?)

Nigel Anderson – Lane’s End

Nice flock of Crowned Cranes that are very common adjacent to Lanes End farm at the moment, feeding on the spilled maize.

Grey Crowned Cranes

CranesCrowned in flight

Rose and Barry Downard – Oak Tree Cottage
Two sightings this month of female Flufftails, possibly the Redchested Flufftails as I have heard their calls a few times recently in our garden. On both occasions she came fairly close to me, quite unconcerned by my presence as she seemed to be more focussed on foraging for food. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera on hand either time to take any photos. No other unusual wildlife sightings this month, but lots of gorgeous sunrises and sunsets! The sunrise on Easter morning – the entire sky was a beautiful pink and golden colour, quite spectacular!


David and Alvera Crookes – Copperleigh Farm
Spectacular sunset over Mavela dam
autumn sunset over mavela dam

Pink Everlasting (Helichrysum adenocarpus)
Helichrysum adenocarpum

Senecio madagascariensis (Canary Weed)
senecio madacgascarins

Dieter Setz – Wakecroft
Saw 7 Eland at the bottom of Wakecroft towards the umngeni a few days ago And lots of autumn colours.

Saw 7 Eland at the bottom of Wakecroft towards the umngeni a few days ago And lots of autumn colours.I found this little Datura man ready to pop, the other morning

I found this little Datura man ready to pop, the other morningNoticed these 2 beetles hiding from the cold and feeding on one of the last evening primroses.

Noticed these 2 beetles hiding from the cold and feeding on one of the last evening primroses.

Evert and Malvina van Breemen – Old Furth
In April we saw a young Honey Buzzard who took up residence in the trees near our bottom dam for a while and who was very clumsy about landings, causing great consternation to the Dabchick family on the dam. The Teal seemed largely unconcerned about it. The bottom dam also saw a long residency of a Spoonbill who kept the Herons and Egyptian Geese company for a few weeks. We also had a superb sighting of a juvenile Martial Eagle in the trees alongside this dam one morning. The ever-clumsy Gymnogene is still raiding the trees around the house and down the driveway.  Spider wrapped up this moth very neatly.

A jackal was run over on the P130 outside Sagewood’s gate at the end of April. The jackal have been extremely vociferous at night and have been coming down quite low from the hills surrounding us, as have the baboon and vervet monkey troops. The plague of locusts is diminishing at last and we now have large flocks of little seed birds swarming all over the grasses on the hillside next to the house. The waxbills and firefinches come into the garden areas as well, which is a delight. The Sunbirds are also still very active in the garden.
We also had a surprise visitor in the kitchen early one evening in the form of a dark upper bodied snake with a salmon pink underbelly, who was fairly relaxed about being posted into a very large tupperware and taken outside. It behaved rather like some form of constrictor – any guesses as to the uninvited guest’s identity? We did not try to introduce ourselves

Thanks for the response from Pat McKrill about the snake sighting: “No guarantees, but it fits the description of a brown water snake, Lycodonomorphus rufulus – iVuzamanzi (Zulu) – pretty common up in that area, feeding mostly on fish, tadpoles and frogs. Just an observation, but at first glance, a relaxed Mozambique spitter making its way across the lawn can look pretty similar. Caution always urged.”

Brandon Powell – Bukamanzi Cottage

Last week I saw a genet or a serval (I don’t know which, but it was long legged and spotty with pointy ears) on the D17! Update after viewing pics of both on Wikipedia: I think a Genet, the Serval looks too big.
You can also mark me down for a couple of Duiker (D17, daytime and night-time) and Petrustroom Rd (night-time, opposite David Fowler’s) and Francolin (my house, D17) although the latter have stopped their calls now but they were going mad a few weeks ago. And a hare and a jackal (D17)  Eds note: Perhaps you saw an African Wild Cat?  that’s pretty special.

Ashleigh Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

Black Ants and eggs found under a rock  on the farm

black ants and eggs

lots of locusts still about


mom found this tiny toad in the garden.


we rescued this mole from the dogs


Nikki Brighton – Old Kilgobbin Farm

My favourite things this Autumn month of April have been:
The sound of thick billed weavers snacking on Celtis africana seeds
A purple heron rising elegantly from the reeds
Forest edges festooned with yellow Senecio tamoidesr senecio thamoidesVery early in the morning, tree dassies calling – (why so late in the season?) the occasional wood owl and jackals, of course
Athrixia phylicoides, Bushman’s tea – The muted mauve flowers and dark leaves felted grey underneath, blend beautifully with the rest of the faded colours in the landscaper athrixia phylicoidesThe shiny new leaves on Prunus africanus and the old ones swirling off in the breeze
Lots of Reedbuck in the occasional still-green fields
Birds feasting on Vepris lanceolata fruit
Many interesting spoor in the mud as the dam level recedes

r spoor
A lone Cape Parrot flying between forest patches – hope he finds his friends
A Bush Black Cap on a branch outside my window
Tiny bright purple Monopsis decipens flowering on forest fringes

r monopsis decipiensAll the little birds which frequent the water bowl on my veranda – furtively looking about to make sure it is safe. So many butterflies – mostly white, but some emerald swallowtails too.
Masses of Phymaspermum acerosum – Curry’s Post Weed – in full bloom
r phymaspermum

Bridgette Bolton – Robhaven Farm


Please can someone put to rest my curiosity, and end a debate… What on earth is this caterpillar? (in fact, is it a caterpillar???)

Does it cocoon? Does it turn into a moth or butterfly? Are those its eggs on its back?




Why do they suddenly drop dead at the bottom of the tree in a stinky pile?

mass of caterpillars

caterpillar wasp eggsEd’s note: Pretty sure those are the eggs of a wasp that lays them in caterpillars to hatch. Were the caterpillars on a Celtis africana tree?  Why not post them on this wonderful  facebook page and see if an insect enthusiast can help you?https://www.facebook.com/groups/Butterfliesandbugs/

Jason Londt, an expert in creepy crawlies tells us “The caterpillars are those of an emperor moth, and the eggs on the back of one are actually cocoons of a parasitic wasp”


Pat and Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm

Sunset - think the birds are hadedas

Pat saw 3 jackal running around the farm mid-morning. A striped pole cat on the D 18
Buffstreaked chats spent many hours bathing in our rock pool over the past hot couple of weeks.

This buff streaked chat had a lovely bath one hot morning

Buffstreaked chat and malachite sunbird in eclipse

Common bulbul mom been feeding her 3 fully grown babies with worms. They sit just outside our kitchen on a tree branch, although I think mom is getting a bit fed up now and flies off to eat her own worms.  Common Stone Chat.

Common female stonechat

Cape Robin flew into our window

This cape robin flew into our veradah door and took ten minutes to recover before flying off

I was looking for our 3 blue crane one morning and found them in a newly planted rye grass land next to the natural bush. As I watched a jackal ran out the bush and ran towards them. Thankfully they saw him and flew off. The jackal slunk back into the bush. Our crane are still around and arrive at the dam in the evenings, hopping up and down or running up and down the edge of the dam.

Blue crane dancing at sunset

A pair of crowned crane have also been here nearly every day.

the crowned crane kept flying ahead of us and landing.  They were very curious.

They do not like the Ngunis to come and drink near them and open their wings and run forwards trying to chase them away.

I took 3 pics of crowned crane flying

One evening I took the dogs for a walk. They were prancing around the dam, jumping and running for joy. As we walked on they flew ahead of us and landed in front of us on the hill. They seemed curious and kept following. Eventually when we were about 20 metres from them they flew off.

Crowned crane dancing for joy and one unconcerned spoonbill

Saw jackal buzzard on stone wall. Reed cormorant on dead tree. He sat for a few minutes and then flew into the pond. He was on the ground for a while but could not see what he was eating as grass too long. It would have been a crab or frog.

reed cormorant

4 natal francolin live in our garden somewhere where the grass is long. They are very shy and run off when approached. A black stork arrived at the dam and stayed for 2 days.

black stork
4 white breasted crows around house area. One morning, Pat saw a pair of Stanleys Bustards on lower part of farm.

A pair of Stanleys BustardsA hamerkop arrived in the garden after a storm

This hammerkop always seems to arrive in our garden after a rain.

Wayne and Kathy Lourens – Aloe Ridge Farm

We have seen the usual Reedbuck, a duiker, Giant Mongooses etc. on Hopedale in general. Early in the month, our manager, David, found an injured raptor at his off-grid house on the top-farm. Kathy took it in to FreeMe for treatment, but here are some photos David took of it…

rufous sparrow hawk2As far as we can make out, it’s a Juvenile Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk (Accipiter rufiventris)

rufous sparrow hawk3Over Easter weekend, we camped out with our caravan (called “Kat-a-Van”) on a new site above our top-farm dam, and on Sunday morning, hosted a short visit from our neighbours, Mike & Ann Weeden & their family, to be greeted by a Fish Eagle flying over the dam, & settling into one of the trees at the old ruin site. A week prior to that, while restocking our dam, a juvenile Fish Eagle gave us a regal fly-by. Its great to see offspring from breeding pairs in the valley.

While clearing the tall grass on our new off-grid campsite, I spotted an amphibian hiding in the grass, a Striped Stream Frog (Strongylopus fasciatus), as there is a stream not far from where it was seen.

On Easter Sunday, as we were breaking camp on the top-farm, our manager, David, contacted us urgently on the cellphone, to say a large black & yellow snake was in the paddock where our breeding mares & their offspring were grazing. As the pack-up was nearly done, Kathy & I asked David to keep an eye on it, as we were leaving within 10 minutes, & would sort it out when we got down to the main Aloe Ridge farm. Kathy had her quadbike, so left ahead of me, & when I’d negotiated the 4X4 route down to Aloe Ridge as quickly as was safe while towing the off-road caravan – envisioning meanwhile that I’d be dealing with a possible M’fesi (Mozambican Spitting Cobra – Naja mossambica) or Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) – then collected my snake-stick from my study at a gallop, I arrived at where Kathy was standing under one of the old Pecan Nut trees, where she pointed out the well-camouflaged culprit, which, I was relieved to see, was a rather beautiful uMbalulu (Puff Adder – Bitis arietans), about 1 metre long. With Kathy’s help I carefully snared it in my snake-stick, & put it in an empty feed sack, then took it for a ride on the quadbike to the far end of the flood plain, where I released it on the fence line.


Going out from the farm to fetch staff in Howick after one of the holiday weekends, Kathy spotted a juvenile Serval on the D.244, about a third of the way up “Hopedale Hill”. She took a photo with her mobile phone camera, but it was not at all clear. After having both our tractors in pieces, our haymaking got off to a late start when Kathy’s tractor was rebuilt.


While out baling hay, a one-legged Stork followed Kathy quite closely, hopping towards her more than once. Perhaps its injury is keeping it local when the remainder have migrated?

one legged Stork

Dargle Wildlife Sightings – March 2014

Nigel Anderson – Lane’s End Farm

14 March – The Crowned Cranes seem to like the flooding as there is a flock of at least 20 adjacent to Lanes End Farm today.


Flooding this month on the farm:

lanes end flood

at least the ducks are happy.

happy ducks

David Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus)

Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus)


Leonotis leonurus, also known as lion’s tail and wild dagga, is part of the Lamiaceae family.

leonotis leonaurus

Ed’s note: Common names: Wild Dagga (E), Wildedagga, Duiwelstabak (Afr), mvovo (X), utshwala-bezinyoni (Z) Derivation of Name : Leonotis = from the Greek leon meaning lion and otis meaning ear, alluding to the resemblance of the corolla to a lion’s ear. leonurus = lion-coloured. Leonotis has become an invasive plant in Australia.

Andrew Pridgeon – Copperleigh Farm

Spotted 3 Wattled Cranes (Bugeranus carunculatus – Conservation Status Vulnerable) near some pine trees on the farm. Caught a Rhombic Night Adder, which David Crookes photographed and Pat McKrill confirmed as a female (look at the short tale) Rhombic Night Adder because of the repeating rhomboid pattern that runs along the dorsal area from head to tail (see pic above).

Robin Fowler – Corrie Lynn Farm

Had a Black-backed Jackal trying to get into my sheep just outside my garden gate! It’s now been fenced out…  Captured with the Dargle Conservancy Trail Camera.

jackal 1

jackal 2

jackal 3


Ashley Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

I seem to be consistantly capturing locusts or grasshoppers every month, here’s a very large brown one that was on the garden paving stones.

brown grasshopper

Mike Weeden – Hopedale

Spotted this unusual bird on the lawn the other day. It had the shape of a Myna but was pure white. Anyone know what it is?


Thanks to Hugh Bulcock who provided this information: “This is an Olive Thrush with Leucism”. Wikipedia provides this information: “Leucism is a condition in animals characterized by reduced pigmentation. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in all types of skin pigment, not just melanin. A further difference between albinism and leucism is in eye colour. Due to the lack of melanin production in both the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) and iris, albinos typically have red eyes due to the underlying blood vessels showing through. In contrast, most leucistic animals have normally coloured eyes.”

Rose and Barry Downard

Lots of butterfly activity this month, including African Monarch, Green-banded Swallowtails, Acara and Garden Acraeas, Gaudy Commodores, Common Diadems and masses of tiny Thorn-tree Blue butterflies. There have also been lots of caterpillars, cocoons and pupae.  Green-banded Swallowtail (Papilio nireus lyaeus),


Acraea acara acara (male),


and a female Garden Acraea (Acraea horta) newly emerged from its pupal stage.


Flocks of swallows have been busily feeding in the surrounding fields, particularly at sunset, in preparation for their migration. Also seen: Guinea fowls with their young, Step Buzzard, Herons, Gymnogene. Heard: Burchell’s Coucal.

Other: Dwarf Chameleon, skinks, Natal green snake. A large Red-lipped Herald was discovered in our kitchen one evening and relocated.

Pat and Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm – Lidgetton

We saw a serval running down the D18 at 9 o’clock one morning. Two porcupine running up our driveway one evening – a large and  smaller one.  Not sure if mom and dad or mom and youngster. Seen Jackal and steppe buzzards, White Stork which now seem to have flown off.

white stork

We have been inundated with black snakes on our veranda which feed on moths and frogs. The dogs killed a large one (1.5 metres) in the garage one night.

black snake

Response from Pat McKrill: “The snake is a Herald snake – Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia – (it sometimes has a red or orange upper lip). The body colour is anything from olive to dark grey, almost black and it sometimes has a white fleck pattern on the back. The head is always darker than the body – as you can see in the picture – and the underside of the snake is usually a creamy white colour.

It is a venomous rear-fanged snake, but the venom is of little consequence to man or beast. Heralds mainly eat frogs, and this is probably why you thought that they ate moths – maybe the frog was eating one when it got eaten by the snake! A classic food chain – the light attracts the insects which attract the frogs which attract the snakes – which attract your dog.

Heralds display lots of ‘attitude’ when first encountered, with lots of striking out from a defensive ‘S’ shape, with the head flattened like an adder (hence its Afrikaans nickname, Swart Adder). A lovely garden snake that calms down quite quickly and quietly goes about its business of keeping the frogs honest. They grow up to about 7- 800mm in length.”

grey crowned crane nguni cow

Grey Crowned Crown with Nguni Cow


On the 22nd March I saw our three and half month old Blue Crane flying for the first time.  He flew around the dam for about a minute with his parents looking on.  Since then have seen him running up and down the edge of the dam and hopping up and down.  He is such a big “boy” now.

juv blue crane flying

reedbuck and blue crane

The highlight of our month was seeing an unidentifiable white “buzzard/eagle” sitting on a rock, on the farm on 24th March.  Rushed home and grabbed the bird book but had little success with identification.  I phoned Barend Booysen as I thought it might be a juvenile Crowned Eagle but he said they did not have Crowned Eagle babies this season.  Nikki sent photos off to Shane McPherson (Crowned Eagle Research Project) who said “definitely not a Crowned Eagle but could be a Steppe Buzzard.”  I was sure it wasn’t, so sent photos to Eve Hughes who kindly forwarded them to David Allan, Curator of Birds at the Durban Natural Science Museum.  He identified the bird as a Honey Buzzard which apparently is a rare siting in this area.  We are just awaiting some other experts opinions to confirm this but David seems very sure that its a Honey Buzzard.  So we are very excited about this siting.  We saw him on 2 consecutive days and since then he has disappeared.

honey buzzard

6 Pied Starlings appeared on the lawn one morning after a big storm the night before when we had hundreds of moths hitting the windows and coming beneath the doors.  They were all over the lawn the next morning and the birds were having a feast.  The one starling was actually picking up moths and pushing them into youngsters beak.

pied starlings

Dozens of butterflies all over the place. I’m not very good at chasing them down. Some take a while to suck out the nectar while others never seem to stay still for a second.

Garden Commodore (Presis archesia archesia, summer or wet form)

Garden Commodore (Presis archesia archesia, summer or wet form)


Gaudy Commodore (Presis octavia sesamus, dry or winter form)

Gaudy Commodore (Presis octavia sesamus, dry or winter form)


vanessa cardui

Vanessa cardui (is a well-known colourful butterfly, known as the Painted Lady, or in North America as the Cosmopolitan)


Our wild hare has left us.  Strangely it was over the period while we were on holiday!

Our swallows still seem to be feeding young outside our study window.  The barn owls are still screeching each night.  The rock pigeons, chats, sparrows, wag tails and starlings still occupying our roof, gutters, chimney and verandah. The chats are making an awful mess on our verandah couches – they are very social birds. Have had a couple of sunbirds and swallows flying inside the house. Fortunately managed to save them from the cats and dogs.

malachite sunbird in eclipse

malachite sunbird in eclipse

Jean Cunniliffe – il Postino

Early one morning in late March, I noticed our little resident swallows and lots of others lining up on the power lines. I watched for ages as more and more gathered in a long stripe. They were fluttering and twittering as if to check “Is everyone here? Are you all ready?”. Then, as if there was a signal they all flew off at once in a v formation. It was absolutely wonderful to watch and I felt quite emotional saying goodbye to them.

Nikki Brighton Old Kilgobbin Farm

I adore autumn. Especially watching the grasslands change and forest canopy start to open up. Amongst the late flowers there are so many interesting seed heads

farm late summer seed head

This Brunsvigia has probably ‘tumbled’ away by now

farm brunsvigia seed pod

Berkheya multijuga is still flowering but this species (possibly speciosa) just has fluffy pompoms waving in the breeze

autumn seedhead

This month there have been masses of mushrooms popping up everywhere. Bright yellow cow boletus, tiny orange clusters and many more. This copper coloured one looked delicious, but I couldn’t identify it, so didn’t have it for breakfast. Anyone have an idea?

mushroom country life 003

I was sad to find this cuckoo dead on my veranda one afternoon. I could see the ‘feather print’ where it had flown into the window.

cuckoo 003



The Wisdom of Cranes

Wisdom Tales – Crane Stories from Southern Africa, a book celebrating the ethos of cranes, was launched recently by the KZN Crane Foundation (KZNCF), beautifully illustrated by David Wheildon Oosthuizen.crowned crane dancing

Jenny Stipcich, lead author, said “My love affair with cranes began when I met the remarkable Ann Burke and realised how our South African cranes could be used as inspiration for learning about good values.”  David added “I am ashamed that I did not even know we had three crane species and it took an American woman (Ann) to teach me about them!”

r blue cranes dancing

Wisdom Tales fosters the proud tradition of African storytelling. Its lively stories, written for children and adults alike, reflect the embodied qualities of cranes highly valued by human cultures such as faithfulness and courage. The book also celebrates other creatures that share wetlands and grasslands with the cranes, including the cautious oribi, wise chameleon and watchful black-backed jackal.

r wisdom tales

Local authoress and educator, Jenny Stipcich and her sister, Viv Stacey, poet and spiritual teacher, combined efforts to write four of the tales. What wisdom can be learned from the Wattled Crane’s scarred face? Why do cranes live longer than most birds? What spiritual attitudes can be learned from the crisis caused by the destruction of our priceless wetlands? Author Gamalihle Sibanda’s delightful story illustrates the importance of patience and adaptation. Artist David Weildon Oosthuizen’s illustrations add vibrancy and warmth to the spirit of the stories with his inspired attention to detail.

david ann jen res

At the launch of the book at Fordoun recently, Ann (Project Manager KZNCF) said that the book was the result of long standing collective caring for these Midlands birds, since the establishment of the KZN Crane Foundation 24 years ago. “I believe this is due to recognition that cranes have lived with us for thousands of years – since we were hunters and gatherers and nowadays alongside us in human-transformed agricultural landscapes. When we spend time getting to know the cranes, we discover a deep-rooted respect for their beauty and grace and we begin to understand that cranes reflect some of our most valued human qualities –including parental nurturing and care, faithfulness, and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.”

r fun at fordoun

The book was made possible through the assistance of Intrepid Printers in Pietermaritzburg and a grant from N3 Toll Concession (N3TC).

r david ann con fordoun

Andy Visser, N3TC’s Marketing Manager said, “We are privileged to be a part of this wonderful project and thrilled that by the end of this year, five hundred copies of Wisdom Tales will be distributed to local schools and environmental organisations. This resource should enhance awareness of South African children to their natural heritage and equip them with an understanding of the importance of wetlands not only for all the wild creatures, but for the fresh water they provide to human communities.”

r Andy and N3TC Board. JPG

Copies of Wisdom Tales are available for R150 at Lazy Lizard Books in the Greendale Acres Centre in Howick and at Fordoun Hotel and Spa, Nottingham Road. All proceeds from the first edition will benefit the KZN Crane Foundation.

Continuing the celebration, In ART Gallery in Nottingham Road will host the Spirit of the Crane Art Exhibition from 12 – 22 September. Hilary Grant Curie, Owner and Curator said, “When my husband and I first moved to Nottingham Road, I heard about the work of the KZNCF and their efforts to build a Nursery to rear endangered Wattled Crane chicks. I can remember flocks of Blue Cranes sharing the veld with my father’s cattle. It was a common sight and annual occurrence…. It saddens me that this is something my own children will likely never experience.”

r thami and monty

The KZNCF is currently constructing a Nursery to rear critically endangered Wattled Crane chicks for release into the wild in an effort to bolster South Africa’s remaining wild flock of 260 individuals. For the past 30 years, conservationists in North America have successfully released human-reared cranes into the wild using a technique called “costume-rearing.” This technique, consisting of human caretakers dressed in costumes and puppets, will be used to encourage young cranes to obtain skills necessary for survival in the wild. The Nursery is situated on the Bill Barnes Nature Reserve in Nottingham Road. The first chicks are expected in 2014. Proceeds from the Spirit of the Crane Art Exhibition will go towards the completion of the Nursery.

r crane nursery

The KZNCF is a non-profit conservation organisation established in 1989 to combat the causes leading to the decline of South Africa’s three crane species. The foundation is successfully fostering awareness of cranes and their dependence upon wetlands and grasslands through educational outreach and is currently preparing to rear and release Wattled Crane chicks back into the wild. The KZNCF owns and manages the Bill Barnes Crane and Oribi Nature Reserve (BBCONR) in Nottingham Road. To learn more, visit: www.kzncrane.co.za

Hand rearing a crane chick

Dargle Wildlife Sightings August 2013

Sue Robinson – Ivanhoe Farm  I enclose a couple of photos of the more than 150 Cape Vultures which visited our Vulture Restaurant after we put a cow there which had to be destroyed after being attacked by jackals while giving birth.


Cape Vulture in Flight


Vultures Gathering


Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres), also known as Kolbe’s Vulture. It is endemic to southern Africa, and is found mainly in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and in some parts of northern Namibia. It nests on cliffs and lays one egg per year.

Rose & Barry Downard – Oak Tree Cottage 

Birds:  Two grey crowned cranes are seen and heard regularly on Moyeni farm next to us. On 30/8, four cranes were seen flying towards Finchley. Three grey crowned cranes were also seen earlier this month over the Sinclair’s farm. Grey herons, yellow-billed kite, amethyst sunbirds, prinias, sparrows, black and pied crows, olive thrush, southern boubou, hoopoes, fiscal shrike. The Egyptian Geese who took over the crows’ nest last month have been sitting on eggs, but have needed to guard the nest from another pair of keen Egyptian Geese. A Cape Robin has become a daily visitor inside our house, and occasionally flies off with some of our cat’s dried kibble in his beak!

Also seen:  Duiker, Natal green snakes, bees, butterflies. Heard:  Fish Eagles, Cape Parrots, Jackals. In flower:  Scadoxis, Freylinia, Kniphofia, Strelitzia, Proteas, Watsonias, Clivias

Nigel Anderson – Lane’s End Farm

There were about 40 Crowned Cranes on Laurie Boshoff’s farm in Lion’s River vlei on Petrus Stroom road

Cranes and farm 009

Gaudy Commodore Butterfly (This is the winter form of Precis octavia sesamus)

Gaudy Commodore  (3)

I have just photographed a Spotted Bush Snake on Lane’s End


Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus) is a non-venomous snake in the family Colubridae, distributed from South Africa to Sudan and Guinea. Mostly found in trees in bush and forest areas, where it hunts lizards and Treefrogs. They are excellent climbers and swimmers, and have very good eyesight. Very common and completely harmless to humans.

Craig Cameron: Swallows are back at the Dargle Store!

 Andrew Pridgeon – Copperleigh Farm:  Saw a Red Duiker in the gum trees near La Bon Vie, as well as a Civit Cat in the same spot earlier in the month.

 Ashley Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

The usual array of Yellow Billed Duck, Red-Knobbed Coot, Spurwing Geese, and a pair of Egyptian Geese on our dam. We were also visited by the African Harrier-Hawk or “Gymnogene” which was busy trying to catch something in the Bottle Brush tree. Other birds we spotted included: Starlings, Cape Weaver and sunbirds.

We also had a gorgeous sunset the one evening, we had visitors from up country staying with us and they called me to have a look. I only had about 5mins to capture a few before all the colours disappeared.

sunset mavela

Whilst doing the rounds on the farm, I stopped off at a smaller dam and captured the pic below. Mavela Dam with Inhlosane in the distance

mavela dam inhlosane

Large moth found one night


Wild Aloes flowering in the veld


Malvina van Breemem – Old Furth

We had a Spoonbill here and saw an Otter pair with a youngster on our road.nLots of reedbuck, duiker and bushbuck, plenty of Owl calls, and we heard some Jackal pups in the one plantation near the gate, they must have been calling for their mum.  We have also had numerous sightings of water mongoose.

Nikki Brighton – Old Kilgobbin Farm

Birds: A big group of Spurwinged Geese flying North early in the month. Yellow billed kite spotted on 28 Aug.  Bush black cap, Thickbilled weavers, masked Weavers, Southern Boubou, Olive Thrush, Ring-necked dove, Chorister Robin Chat, Cape Robin Chat, Mousebirds, White Eyes, Sombre bulbuls, Bulbuls,  Cape Parrots, double collared sunbird, amethyst sunbird, Stone chat, fiscal shrike, Grey heron, yellow billed ducks, Jackal Buzzard, Egyptian geese, Cardinal woodpecker, Rock pigeons, ring necked doves, Bronze mannekins.

Mammals: Duikers, reedbuck, bushbuck, scrub hare, Samango monkeys. Lots of vervets along the D17. Other creatures: Gaudy commodore butterflies, frogs starting to call in wetlands, lots of tiny black caterpillars hatching.

Plants: Leucosidea sericea, Halleria lucida, Nemesia (below), Apodolirion buchananii, Cyrtanthus breviflorus, Ursinia tenuiloba, Senecio speciosus, Morea modesta.

nemesia res

Pat and Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm

Took photo of a fiscal shrikes larder on the barbed wire fence (a snake and a frog) and a decapitated bird staked at the end of a pin oak branch.

Steam train 20.7.13 152

Fiscal Shrike Larder (Remains of other birds)

Steam train 20.7.13 151

The chats are busy nesting as have not seen them around the garden for awhile.  A pair of orange throated longclaw arrive now and then. Malachite sunbirds, Olive thrush, cape robins are all in the garden. The yellow bill kites arrived a few days ago.  One had a fight with a jackal buzzard just near our house, probably about territory as the buzzard has been here for some time. Saw a few swallows around the house this morning.

We have a pair of black sparrow hawks nesting in the fork of a very tall gum tree in our avenue.  This is the 2nd year that they are nesting there.  Very hard to see them as the trees are dense and the light not very bright.  When we walk around the area, they fly out and make a lot of screeching noises, so have found it difficult to get a photo. 4-5 spoonbills in dam everyday. 1 sacred ibis arrived a few days ago at the dam.  They never come up to this part of the valley. 4 blue crane at the dam most days, mornings and evenings.  They are eating mielies on the neighbouring farm after combining.  Also saw 3 crowned crane there yesterday.

Sunset in all it’s Glory

August Sitings 2013 028

Many reedbuck on the hills. A few days ago, a ram spent hours chasing a doe around the hill next to the house. A female oribi is seen about twice a week on our boundary. A number of duikers daily.  Coming home one evening we saw 3 duikers and a beautiful bush buck ram about a km from our house on the D 18. A jackal on our private road at noon.  We have seen jackal hunting through the day quite often lately and of course lots of noise at night. The bush pig are digging up large sections of kikuyu on neighbouring farm.

August Sitings 2013 020

I saw some Nguni calves trying to chase a crow off an old cage in our land.  The crow would not budge and seemed to be eating something on top of the cage.  Then as the ngunis got closer, he bent down and it looked either that he was giving the calf some of his food, or just a good morning kiss.  I thought it so special,then mom arrived to see what all the fuss was about.

August Sitings 2013 009

My most exciting moment this month was when we were driving up our road on way home, we saw a reed buck doe suckling a fawn. This was about 5pm and I did not have my camera, and the dogs were on back of bakkie. I raced home, threw the dogs off, grabbed my camera and raced back down the road, thinking what chance of them still being there?  Well they were there, but the fawn had finished feeding.  I got out the bakkie and they stood frozen, looking at me for 10mins. Eventually the doe decided that everything was okay and turned around and walked away. The fawn looked at her for awhile, disappearing in the distance. She then started eating the green shoots for awhile and then lay down next to a rock and long grass. She was so well hidden that I battled to find her in my lens.  I stayed there for half an hour until dark but mother did not return. It was a special sitting for me and I have not seen them since.

August Sitings 2013 016

Éidín Griffin – Witsend

This month has been rather busy at Witsend with a natal green snake in the garden and two puff adders on the veranda. The green snake slid off into the undergrowth and the puffys were caught and relocated up the mountain near indigenous forest with lots of rocky outcrops…nowhere near anybody’s homes or livestock!  Juno very carefully helping to untie the sack with a Puff Adder inside…


Also spotted were the olive woodpeckers, some duiker and a mongoose out hunting (he should have come to the veranda…) A gang of mousebirds made a dramatic appearance, demolished my peas and left. Not at home but in the Dargle neighbourhood I saw 3 crowned cranes below Lemonwoods and two blue cranes at Ivanhoe. What a gorgeous sight.

Mike and Anne Weeden – River Run

We have been fortunate to see two serval, one quite large one which we spotted on a Sunday morning quite close to the house and which I managed to photograph.


We also had a porcupine walking in front of the car for a few hundred metres before it disappeared into the grass. This is the first one we have seen since buying in the Dargle six years ago. The reedbuck and duiker have again been plentiful this month while the swallows which nested under the eaves of the house last year returned on the 21st August; hopefully they are not too early.


Kevin & Margi Culverwell – The Wallows

Lots of bushbuck on our rye pastures in the evenings, with youngsters at foot. We have a male “melanistic” black sparrow hawk spending a lot of time chasing pigeons around the farm. “Our” small flock of 7 Spoonbills has returned to nest in the driveway again, which is delightful. The pair of Spectacled weavers busy building their very tidy long tunnelled nest. All the normal garden birds very busy with their spring activities.

Graham & Vicky Griffin – The Dargle Farm

Some recent sightings with pictures taken by our trail camera. First there was a dead Dassie that we found which we then put down in front of the camera hoping to see something exciting taking it.  We had seen a Serval take a Dassie the week before.  We think it’s a mongoose taking the Dassie.  Otherwise some Jackal, a bush pig and lots of bush buck.

Photos By Trail Camera

Photos By Trail Camera

Boston Wildlife Sightings for August 2013

Christeen Grant- Sitmani 

August has been typically windy and dry, despite a few showers and snow glistening on the Drakensberg in the distance. Amazingly a few spring flowers are appearing. Apodolirion buchananii, sweet scented if you bend down low and sniff;

Apodolirion buchananii CGrant

Aster bakerianus scattered in the grass;

Aster bakerianus CGrant

Nemesia caerulae, miniature snapdragons waving wildly in the wind; cheerfully sunshine yellow, clusters of Gazania krebsiana

Gazania krebsiana CGrant

and bright red Cyrtanthus tuckii glow in burnt fire-breaks;

Cyrtanthus tuckii CGrant

Anemone fanninii flourish white flags (on the observation list for CREW),

Anemone fanninii CGrant

The Leucosidea sericea are covered in yellow blossom

Leucosidea sericea CGrant

and only noticed for the first time last year the minute Helichrysum caespititium is flowering, the individual flowers only mm’s in diameter.

Helichrysum caespititium CGrant

Common Reedbuck and Black-backed Jackal are heard most nights and the Duiker have nibbled away the leaves from violets near the house.

On the 19 August I saw my first Yellow-billed Kite of the season. Red-collared Widowbirds have started to congregate and courting plumage beginning to show. A Cape Eagle-owl calls particularly loudly on moonlight nights and just before dawn. A lovely sighting of a Drakensberg Prinia flitting in the branches of flower laden Halleria lucida.

Wizz and David Lawrence of The Willows: Black-headed Oriole; numerous Sacred Ibis after block burn; Black-headed Heron; up to forty Helmeted Guineafowl; Village Weavers coming into full breeding plumage; Red-billed Quelea; Cape Robin-Chat; Boubou Shrike often in garden; Olive Thrush, African Hoopoe.

Bruce and Bev Astrup of Highland Glen:  Yellow-billed Kites continuously flying about, searching the ground for prey; Pied Crow; Helmetted Guineafowl; Cape Turtle-Dove, Black-headed Heron, surveying aftermath of runaway fire


Juvenile Long-crested Eagle in tree overhanging Elands river


Wonderfully camouflaged Toad


Wendy Arnott of Keswick: Gurney’s Sugarbird; Mocking Chat

David Clulow at The Willows: Grey Crowned Cranes at “Melrose”; Darter on dam with Egyptian Geese behind “Calderwood”; Black-shouldered Kite on R617; African Shelduck at pan on “The Willows”;

Gordon Pascoe of Keswick: Seen on Edgeware near one dam: 2 Adult Grey Crowned Cranes with 3 Juveniles, all able to fly.

Caroline McKerrow of Stormy Hill: Four Grey Crowned Crane on “Forset Dew” on 19 August; Village Weavers nesting on “Stormy Hill”; two jackal Buzzards overhead; Speckled Pigeons nesting in box near house; two Vervet Monkeys; one Duiker; one hamerkop.

Ian and Jenny Lawrence of Endeavour: Two groups of Blue Cranes: one of three birds, the other of a pair; Yellow-billed Kites; one Denham’s Bustard with leg problem – limping; African Shelduck; four Grey Crowned Cranes, two being juveniles. On 26 August saw the first White Stork of the season

Peter and Karen Geldart of  Coquidale: Five Southern Ground Hornbills

Crystelle Wilson – Gramayre

It is always exciting when a bird list submitted to the SABAP2 atlas project throws up unexpected out-of-range or rarity sightings. We had one in August when my Boston neighbour David Clulow and I went birding at Nzinga in the vicinity of the Brooklyn and Mt Le Soeur farms, 2930_2940. A “little brown job” which I photographed on a hillside was listed as a regional rarity. The African Rock Pipit is endemic to South Africa and Lesotho and its habitat is mountains and escarpments, open areas with rocky outcrops. Trying to identify the bird from my pictures I was initially thrown by its black feet, which isn’t shown in any of the images in the bird books, but then I twigged it must’ve been walking through burnt grass.

African Rock Pipit_0672

Other pleasing sightings were of Cape and Bearded Vultures

Bearded Vulture_juv_0688_s

and Blue and Wattled Cranes.

Wattled Crane_0864_s

Our list for the Nzinga_Mt Le Soeuer pentad was: Dark-capped Bulbul, Cape Wagtail, Pied Crow, Cape White-eye, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Turtle Dove, Hadeda Ibis, Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Glossy Starling, Common Fiscal, White-necked Raven,

White-necked Raven_0656_s

Red-eyed Dove, Cape Canary, Cape Weaver, African Firefinch, Cape Robin-Chat, Red-throated Wryneck, Rock Martin, Black Saw-wing, Fork-tailed Drongo, Speckled Mousebird, Cape Vulture, Alpine Swift, Buff-streaked Chat,

Buff-streaked Chat_0707_sSouthern Boubou, Red-winged Starling, Cape Longclaw, Bokmakierie, Cape Rock-Thrush, Jackal Buzzard, African Stonechat, African Rock Pipit, Cape Grassbird, Wattled Crane, Blue Crane, Blacksmith Lapwing, African Spoonbill, Denham’s Bustard, Lazy Cisticola, Yellow-fronted Canary, Ground Woodpecker,

Ground Woodpecker_0686_s

Lanner Falcon, Bearded Vulture, Malachite Sunbird, Cape Crow, Speckled Pigeon, Black-headed Oriole, Village Weaver, Amethyst Sunbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Olive Thrush.

Back in my own home pentad at Boston I was very pleased to come across a string of Orange-breasted Waxbills again. They are shy birds, apparently on the decline in the Midlands. I sometimes see them in the wetlands at Gramarye, but was concerned about their whereabouts after we burned the area in August. The waxbills have moved up the hill along the stream on The Drift farm and they seem to hang out in the rye grass. Families of cranes are still doing well with the juniors growing up and stretching their wings now.

Grey Crowned Crane_0234convert

The list for Elandshoek pentad 2930_3000: Cardinal Woodpecker, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Burchell’s Coucal, Black-headed Oriole, Red-eyed Dove, Hadeda Ibis, Cape White-eye, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, Egyptian Goose, Jackal Buzzard, Helmeted Guineafowl, Common Fiscal, Spur-winged Goose, South African Shelduck, Southern Boubou, Rufous-naped Lark, African Pipit, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Burchell’s Coucal, Southern Red Bishop, Cape Turtle Dove, Red-necked Spurfowl, African Stonechat, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Le Vaillant’s Cisticola, Little Grebe, Cape Longclaw, Village Weaver, Cape Robin-Chat, Olive Thrush, Speckled Mousebird, Cape Wagtail, Blacksmith Lapwing, African Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Drakensberg Prinia, African Firefinch, Giant Kingfisher, Cape Batis, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Grey Crowned Crane, Southern Greyheaded Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Cape Canary, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cape Glossy Starling, Long-crested Eagle, Black-headed Heron, Bokmakierie, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-billed Quelea, House Sparrow, Pied Starling, White-throated Swallow, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Lanner Falcon, Sombre Greenbul, Bar-throated Apalis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Amethyst Sunbird, Grey Cuckooshrike, African Hoopoe, Long-billed Pipit, Wattled Crane, Secretarybird, Cape Weaver, African Rail, Common Waxbill, Common Moorhen, Cattle Egret, Red-chested Flufftail, Pied Kingfisher, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Red-throated Wryneck.

On the way home after a pre-wedding supper celebration I saw a porcupine crossing the R617 near The Pickle Pot.

Farming for Conservation

Britt and Rene Stubbs moved to the Karkloof valley in 1986. Britt describes the changes on their farms over the years.

Denleigh was a beef and maize farm at the time, but we developed it into a dairy farm, planting maize, soya beans, potatoes and carrots using conventional tillage methods. It soon became clear that this type of land use was leading to severe erosion, increased soil pests, proliferation of weeds on contour banks and serious wear and tear on equipment. Seventeen years ago we decided to convert to No-Till for the maize silage, cover crops and autumn pasture establishment.


The positive results have been overwhelming! We have enjoyed increased yields from healthier soils due to an increase in earthworms and a decrease in soil pests.  There have been significant fuel savings as well as reduced wear and tear on equipment. In addition to the commercial advantages of converting to No-Till we have also observed positive environmental changes: improved water quality and availability; increased food sources and cover for wildlife; the return of indicator species and reduced erosion. We now enjoy regular sightings of all three crane species on the farm and have a resident pair of Blue Cranes which have been breeding here for a number of years. We hardly ever saw cranes when we first arrived in the valley, but now, with most of the large-scale farmers having converted to No-Till, the increase in crane sightings has been significant.


We took a conscious decision not to plant trees on veld which had been granted a timber permit. Choosing instead to rehabilitate 200ha of contiguous mistbelt Themeda veld to regain its biodiversity and secure the farm’s water supply. Livestock was taken off the predominantly Aristida veld and a carefully managed burning regime was introduced. 26 years later there is a significant increase in Themeda cover and many other plant species have re-appeared. This area now hosts many wildlife species, including cranes, grass owls, Natal red rock rabbits, porcupines, ant bears, mongooses, genets, cervals, oribi, reedbuck and duiker.


Six years ago, we bought a neighbouring farm Bartersfield, also a beef farm which we have converted to dairy.  As oribi occur here, we leave one of the four veld paddocks unburnt every year to provide cover for them. We have found that if the paddocks are not burnt in regular rotation the veld becomes moribund and overgrown, which prevents the healthy regeneration of Themeda and other plant species. Late autumn block-burning (particularly after rain) has proven to be the ideal time to burn the veld. This ensures that the fire is not too hot and doesn’t damage the Themeda. Burning in spring (in the absence of early spring rains) can destroy the growing tips and seeds of the Themeda which then sets the plants back.


We have found that the reedbuck, bushbuck, duiker and, to a lesser extent, the oribi have adapted very easily to feeding on the ryegrass pastures which we have established. The quality winter forage which is available to them has resulted in year-round breeding amongst the reedbuck. The oribi still only breed on an annual basis.  We believe that the increase in jackal activity in recent years (as well as caracal and dog hunting to a much lesser extent) has had a major impact on the oribi population.

britt stubbs crane custodian

What a privilege it is to farm in harmony with the Midlands wildlife.

Charlie MacGillivray, adds: There is no doubt that in my 39 years of farming on Gartmore, the advent of No-Till farming has been one of the most gratifying experiences.

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With it has come better yields with the use of less diesel, apart from the fact that the spectrum of birdlife has expanded, and this has included the return of the Wattled Crane flocks which had been absent for many years.

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The food availability that results from following maize silage crops with a cereal “cover crops”, the build up of biomass in the soils, and the resultant micro-organisms and naturally the earthworms, has attracted many avian predators with rodent, insect and seed eaters all benefitting from there being a crop cover throughout the year. Whilst we are not organic farmers as we do use specific chemicals and fertilizers, these are carefully selected and specific to the intended purpose.

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Being blessed with high soil clay contents has made it possible to draw on natures’ wonderful system, where with the organic matter build up, has enabled the more judicious applications of bought Nitrogen, according to the crop needs.  The “storage” of this highly necessary nutrient in an insoluble form (organic matter) augments the crops needs through mineralization and helps avoid acidifying the sub soils by over application of soluble “N”, which inhibits rooting depth of the maize crop limiting the water reservoir. Soil moisture is also better managed with cover crops and the presence of the organic build-up in the soils.

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Our scoreboard is not only yields, but the variety of bird sightings and sustaining BIODIVERSITY, which is the recipe for sustainable agriculture. The Biodiversity status accorded us (through the KZN BIodiversity Stewardship Programme, facilitated by Midlands Conservancies Forum) merely endorses the practices that many fellow farmers also follow.  I encourage as many farmers as possible, to engage in the Stewardship programme. It is, after all, going to ensure that our custodianship provides those that follow us, a better platform from which to harness the bounty of nature whilst still being able to utilize the land and produce at high levels. This has become a compelling imperative as more people are fed from the same sized world and Water is increasingly scarce and of poor quality.

HIDEFISHEAGLE2009_0619(010) (Small)It is our privilege to share the beauty and integrity of our piece of paradise with others and the Karkloof Conservation Centre – the hides are merely the start of making possible. Whether you twitch or tweet, there is something for everyone on Gartmore!

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Sizinyoni thina

“We are all birds together’ sang the environmental educators gathered for a day of learning and sharing at the KZN Crane Foundation (KZNCF), last week.  The morning began with a story – a tale of Mama and Baba Indwa, a nasty snare, a dramatic escape, absolute devotion and a happy ending.

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Cranes pair up for life, both parents build the nest and feed and raise their chicks. This story honours their loyalty and courage, important values to impart to young people, and storytelling provides the ideal vehicle to do this.

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With funding from N3Toll Concession, KZNCF has produced a set of learning materials called “Cranes in the Classroom” to assist local educators to include lessons about cranes, wetlands and grasslands in the curriculum. “The materials are aimed at Grades 4 – 6 to supplement the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS). They provide inspiring, practical lessons and activities for teachers to use in the classroom” said Jenny Stipcich, creator of the resources.cranes in the classroom worksheet 012 res.

Each activity is designed to teach in numerous ways.  “Most children learn through action and creativity” said Jenny, a follower of the Rudolph Steiner threefold learning method which includes willing (action), feeling and thinking.    Participant, Nkanyiso Ndlela commented “The most interesting part of the workshop was the theory about how learners learn. I can see that limps, heart, head lessons will be effective in the classroom.”

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An energetic spiral dance, accompanied by a song to attract a mate, had everyone laughing out loud! Sam Rose of the Impendle Eco-Schools node particularly enjoyed them, saying “I had such fun learning the songs, dances, playing the games. I was imagining how much I’ll enjoy sharing it with teachers and students.”

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Then participants settled down to create crane puppets using simple materials.

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With their fantasy puppets in hand,

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everyone acted out an amusing drama called The Sneeze. This involved a snoozing farmer who doesn’t pay attention to the plight of the cranes on his land, unconcerned about fires, snares, poison and habitat destruction. They awake his conservation consciousness by ticking him with a feather.

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Fun, action filled memory games at the end of the day ensured everyone remembered details from all segments of the workshop.  Three species of cranes occur in South Africa: the Blue Crane, South Africa’s National Bird who features on the 5 cent coin; the Southern African Grey Crowned Crane who is loved by people around the world for its beauty and the African legend of how it obtained its regal crown; and the critically endangered Wattled Crane who once occurred throughout South Africa, but now numbers less than 250 in the wild and resides mainly within the sheltering wetlands and grasslands of KZN.

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“It will be an honour to do the lesson about cranes” concluded Ntombenhle Mtambo of the Midlands Meander Association Education Project, colleague Eidin Griffin added “I am looking forward to integrating the wonderful crane values into our lessons.”

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All this is very positive news for Midlands cranes.  Conservation of cranes highlights the importance of protecting the Midlands fresh water resources. South Africans rely upon wetlands for clean water, flood control, recreation and tourism. Efforts to protect cranes bring the need for conservation and environmental education into sharp focus – the crane’s reliance on wetlands is a reflection of our own survival. The human need for clean water cuts across race, gender, age and religious affiliation and connects us to all living things.cranes in the classroom bobbing res.

Sophie Gough an intern at Entabeni Environmental Education Centre commented afterwards “A very engaging workshop which created a nice learning environment. Games were very useful and appropriate. I loved the puppets.”  A follow up workshop will be held at the Entabeni Environmental Education Centre in Hlatikulu soon, where participants will meet real live cranes, practice their crane dances and focus on CAPS in more depth. Contact Ann Burke burke@kancranefoundation.gmail.com if you are interested in working with these resources.

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Boston Wildlife Sightings September

Barry and Kirsten Cromhout of “Highland Glen

Three African Spoonbills at small dam; Giant Kingfisher at larger dam

Ian and Jenny Lawrence of “Endeavour”

Pairs of Blue Cranes and Grey Crowned Cranes, often, near the farmhouse

Rob and Gail Geldart of “Boston View” and “Watershed”

September 17 – flushed a pair of African Snipe on Watershed! Cape Parrots in the Yellowwoods this morning on Boston View, near old house.

Sept 29 – a Grey Duiker in grounds of Boston Country Club – often seen

Barbara and David Clulow of “The Willows”

Last month, the snow; this month, the floods on 7th September: The Elands river burst its banks

It was chilly, but some birds thrived: the Pied Kingfisher, the Yellow-billed Ducks, the Sacred Ibis, Spoonbill, all the Geese, occasional Black-head Heron, and the Blacksmith Lapwing were very active.

Sept 9 – Crane ballet: two Grey Crowned Cranes flew low over our heads and landed next to a pool, formed by the floods in the pastures on Netherby; we stood on a hill and watched below as they danced and waved their wings; then another two Cranes a few hundred meters away started dancing too; so the first two walked over a joined them and they stood together till we departed and at 18h00 they were heard, calling & flying their various ways.

Sept 30 – two Mongoose across the lawn from the verandah on The Willows

Birding on 16 Sept after the rains:

Southern Black Tit, Malachite Kingfisher.

Speckled Mousebirds, huddled up to keep warm

Mike and Carol Fynn of Tillietudlem Game Lodge and Nature Reserve

Four different Oribi weekly, 6 Blue Cranes in the vegetable fields, pair of African Fish-Eagles with a possible chick- we can hear an occasional nearby Fish-Eagle cry coming from the nest area! Carol saw a Leopard crossing the road near the drift by Rainbow Lakes.

“Tillietudlem” Outing on 25 September 2012

view towards Grand Lodge

Blue Cranes at dam

Denham’s Bustard on hills

early on, Elands stream

Ledebouria ovatifolia

Tillietudlem Cascades on Elands river

28 Sept – Evening light, mist on the hills, a storm brewing.  From a hillock on Gramarye, watching two Grey Crowned Cranes and two Spur-winged Geese. Suddenly the thunder rumbled, the lightening flashed and the Cranes flew. Starting across the wetlands, where the Reedbuck ewes bound so often, I stopped short – there ahead at 100 meters, the most elegant Reedbuck ram ever seen, full-horned, and stately. Taking another route, not to make him flee, as he watched intently, but with no sign of fear. His wetland, not mine. Like 180 years ago.

Pete and Debbie Nel of “Twin Rowan”:

Duiker on the Dargle road outside “Gramarye”; three Jackal Buzzard in tall Gum tree seen from house.

Graeme and Claire Hudson of “Kia Ora”

Cape Crows chasing Egyptian Geese at the dam; Bushbuck male on Dargle road.

Long-crested Eagle research in Boston:

On Sept 27 – Twane, of the Karkloof Crane Centre, also compiler of the Karkloof Sightings, and Mike Keefer tracked down a Long-crested Eagle nest in a stand of tall gum trees on the Elands river, as part of a data build-up of knowledge relating to this poorly-researched bird. While Mike was busy with nest photographs, another opportunity came his way – a male Bushbuck appeared on the banks of the Elands river in the Eucalyptus forest.

Bruce and Bev Astrup of “Highland Glen”

Two African Fish-Eagles heard calling; increase in Vervet Monkeys at Elands river; two Giant Kingfishers

Crystelle Wilson of “Gramarye”

Red-winged Francolin, Thick-billed Weaver, Black-headed Oriole, Cape Glossy Starling, Long-crested Eagle.

EVEN after five years of regular checks for birds for the atlas project one can still find birds not listed before. Exciting finds in the Elandshoek pentad 2930_3000 this month were Red-winged Francolin (at the Geldarts’ cottages) and African Grass-Owl (on Gramarye) which I haven’t noted here before, but have been reported elsewhere in the district. This brings my tally for the pentad to 232 species. Migrants are returning after winter and among them were African Paradise-Flycatcher, Greater Striped Swallow and Dark-capped Yellow Warbler.

The SABAP2 list for the pentad is:  Olive Thrush, Amethyst Sunbird, Village Weaver, Cape Robin-Chat, Hadeda Ibis, Cape Turtle Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Black-headed Oriole, Helmeted Guineafowl, Dark-capped Bulbul, African Firefinch, Speckled Mousebird, Cape White-eye, Fork-tailed Drongo, Common Fiscal, Southern Greyheaded Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Grey Crowned Crane, Red-billed Quelea, Cape Crow, Egyptian Goose, African Sacred Ibis, Southern Boubou, White-breasted Cormorant, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Red-necked Spurfowl, Long-crested Eagle, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Blacksmith Lapwing, Spur-winged Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, African Spoonbill, African Stonechat, Cape Wagtail, Pin-tailed Whydah, African Rail, Jackal Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk, Cape Longclaw, Red-chested Flufftail, Giant Kingfisher, Black-headed Heron, Green Wood-hoopoe, Reed Cormorant, African Pipit, Bokmakierie, Little Grebe, Cape Weaver, Cape Grassbird, Red-throated Wryneck, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Glossy Starling, Common Waxbill, House Sparrow, Brown-throated Martin, Black Saw-wing, Cape Canary, Forest Canary, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-knobbed Coot, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow-billed Kite, Sombre Greenbul, African Hoopoe, Bar-throated Apalis, Thick-billed Weaver, Yellow-throated Petronia, Wattled Crane, Cape Parrot, Malachite Kingfisher, Southern Black Tit, White-throated Swallow, Southern Red Bishop, Red-winged Francolin,Cape Batis, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Greater Striped Swallow, African Grass-Owl.

Pete and Frances Nel of “Four Gates

A huge troop of Baboons near the Lancaster’s turnoff on the Dargle road on Thursday, 27 Sept., round midday. Ten Helmeted Guineafowl in paddock next to house for the last week or so.

More than 10 poacher dogs attacked a bull at 1 in the morning on the 25th Sept. Huge commotion as they were chased by staff. They ran up our driveway right past the house. . No damage to the bull. Saw a Grey Duiker in the forest this morning at 9am The Greater-striped Swallows are back at the front and back door, making their nests.

Terry and Vivien Cawood of “Edgeware”

Dramatic incident as Jackal Buzzard killed a Helmeted Guineafowl, as food for their juvenile. The parents watched as the third bird dined.

Porcupine was caught and effort was made to persuade it to return up Edgeware hill, dissuade it from eating in the garden. It escaped before lessons were complete, but hopefully learned enough.

Barn Owl lives in garages and is seen every now and again, on the lawn outside or inside on its chosen roost on a low wall.

Philip and Christeen Grant of “Sitamani”

September Spring green is lush this year, after the snow and rain in August. Many of the little wildflowers are showing their faces, Moraea graminicola, Gladiolus longicollis, Apodolirion buchananii, Nemesia caerulea and Aster bakerianus are a few I’ve spotted on my brief wanderings and driving in and out; but for me a wonderful new sighting here has been the smallest little Helichrysum I’ve seen, mat forming on hard sparsely vegetated ground, semi shaded by trees. The flower heads are only 2mm in diameter.

One very special evening stands out for me, after a hot clear day, just after sunset, I walked out beyond the house. An Eagle Owl was perched on a rock in the golden glow; he hooted, I replied and we exchanged a few more hooted greetings. A male duiker strolled into view, perambulating his marked perimeter, stopping frequently to sniff and mark as he went. A young female reedbuck, who sleeps amongst the rocks, Buddleja salviifolia and Leucosidea sericea that have grown up there providing cover; stood, stretched and preened before setting out for her evening meal. Then a bat flittered past into the night air. So very special, a magical few moments, that we are so privileged to have right on our doorstep.

Caroline McKerrow of “Stormy Hill”

One Serval cat, one Bushbuck, several Duiker and Reedbuck. Adolescent Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk) taking baby Weaver birds out of their nests in my bird tree. He was big and all brown but after discussions with some learned folk in the area we put him down to a junior Gymnogene. My poor Weavers went all quiet for a few hours. They probably needed trauma counselling.