Tag Archives: crowned eagle

Dargle Wildlife Sightings -April 2016

Ashley Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

Autumn is officially here with winter trying to sneak in early and this frost we had a couple of weekends ago.

Autumn frost on leaves

A very beautiful black caterpillar with red and yellow markings on the sides and blue spines on the top.

Black red and yellow caterpillar with blue spines

Some sort of brown mantis sitting on my arm. Comment from Dr Jason Londt: “It is a mantid (family Mantidae). Don’t know the species (we have over 180 species in SA). Unfortunately I am not aware of a local specialist who could give us a species name – most of the literature on the group seems to be in French! Anyway – nice twig mimic!”

Brown Mantis 1Brown Mantis 2

Flying ants inside the house which appeared after the recent rains in Dargle

Flying ants which appeared after the rains in Dargle

Junonia orithya madagascariensis or Eyed Pansy

Junonia orithya madagascariensis or Eyed Pansy

I was moving a feed tyre out of the grass and suddenly noticed a whole family of little mice scurrying around. I managed to capture a pic of this guy before they all disappeared into the grass.

Mouse running away

A beautiful Oribi ram, spotted on our farm. The first and only time that I have ever seen one.

Oribi Ram

Not the best pic, but trying to capture a Pied Kingfisher with a cellphone camera in mid dive is a bit of a challenge!

Pied kingfisher taking a dive

Wild dagga or Leonotis leonurus

Wild dagga or Leonotis leonurus

A whole field of them on Dolf Jansen’s property

Wild dagga 2

I nearly stepped on this orange and black Rinkhals, and had just 3 seconds to capture this pic before he disappeared into the long grass.

Rinkhals in the grass

A very cold, wet and miserable Black-headed Heron which I drove closer and closer to in the Landrover, before it got a little jumpy and flew away.

Very cold and miserable Grey Heron

3 Wattled crane which came to visit our little dam

Wattled Cranes 1

The Wattled crane is listed as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.

Wattled Cranes 2

A very large Puffadder which we saw crossing the tar road near Avanol.


Justin Fly – Kildaragh Farm

I have recently been hearing an African Scops owl calling in the evenings just as it gets dark. It’s an uncommon resident in this area . A couple of nights ago, the evening started with the Scops calling and later when we went to bed we heard Jackal yelping close by. They haven’t been heard for a few months . Waking in the early hours a Spotted Eagle Owl was hooting nearby. Just as sleep had come again we were woken by the raucous call of the Natal Francolin, and finally the Fish Eagle’ s lovely call at dawn, got me out of bed. Who would live anywhere else.

Mary-Anne Pridgeon – Copperleigh Farm

Found this Spotted Skaapsteker in the garden.

Spotted Skaapsteker 1

Comment by Pat McKrill: “Your diagnosis (Spotted Skaapsteker Psammophylax tritaeniatus) is quite correct, even though those occurring further north are more spotted – as the name implies – than striped. They’re a pretty common grassland snake up your neck of the woods, and because their food preference is pretty wide-ranging, some of it is not necessarily temperature dependent – rodents, skinks – they tend to ignore the hibernation rule and hunt year-round as long as the sun is shining. The concave indentation in the individual dorsal scales is a useful diagnostic. Thanks for the pics, great!”

Spotted Skaapsteker 2

David Crookes – Copperleigh Farm

A Grey Heron fishing in the very shallow Mavela dam

Grey heron

The Otter was out hunting for food too…

Otter 1

Here his head was right out the water

Otter 2

A beautiful Grey Crowned Crane paid us a visit

Grey crowned crane 1

Preening time

Grey crowned crane 2

Are you still checking me out?!

Grey crowned crane 3

A family together on Mavela Dam

Grey crowned crane 4

Pat & Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm, Lidgetton

We were blessed this month to see 7 wattled crane on the farm for a week – they would feed on our neighbours oats during the day and arrive at the dam early evening and sometimes midday to wade around the dam which is drying up daily. We could not see any tags on their legs.

wattled crane

One morning just one appeared and walked around the vlei area for a few hours and then sat down. We got very excited as thought perhaps she was thinking of making a nest there but when the cattle arrived to drink, she changed her mind. Like the plovers eggs which never hatch out as cattle always drinking around the edges of dam where they lay.

Our yellow bill ducklings are down from ten to five in number. We also have 6 Red-billed Teal who swim with them.

yellow billed duck and ducklings plus redbilled teal at sunset

Two pairs of South African Shelduck now. They did not have chicks this year as dam only started to fill late December. Our 3 Blue Crane have been here the entire month. The fledgling still with his parents. 5 months old now. Sometimes another pair of blue crane join them but they never stay long. 3 african grey crowned crane have been arriving at sunset. We love watching their antics – they always dance in and out the water and sometimes the spoonbill and plovers join them in wild abandon. At first the fledgling would run off when he saw his parents making fools of themselves but lately he joins in the prancing. They are the only cranes that I have not seen swimming. The wattled cranes love to swim and stick their long necks down underwater to see what they can forage. One day we had all 3 cranes visit us.

We have noticed that the crowned cranes have been chasing the blue crane away from the dam – we are not sure why this is as they both have one fledgling. Shame, the 3 of them stand on the hill looking forlornly down at the dance show.

crowned crane showing off and juvenile taking to the hills 1crowned crane showing off and juvenile taking to the hills 2

The gymnogene has been arriving early in the morning hunting amongst the rocks in front of the house – one morning there were 2 of them flying around.

When we woke early one cold overcast morning we found a Herald snake trying to swallow a large toad on our front verandah.

herald snake trying to eat bull frog 1

herald snake trying to eat bull frog 2

He just could not swallow it and regurgitated it. He then lay next to it. This did not go down well with me as everyone by now knows how terrified I am of snakes. Pat put snake and frog in a box and released them at the bottom of the farm.

herald snake trying to eat bull frog 3

Went down to the dam one hot day and saw thousands of dragonflies.

darner dragon fly

There were also a few red ones but I couldn’t get a pic of them as would not perch for long. There were also hundreds of brown ones but don’t know their name.

We saw a black shouldered kite eating a huge rat one morning on our dead tree – took him one and half hours to finish eating.

black shouldered kite eating rat 2

He kept stopping for a few minutes and would then continue to feed for awhile.

black shouldered kite eating rat 1

Found a new ant bear hole in kikuyu paddock near the dam. There was a Barn Owl on our verandah early one morning and on my approach he flew off. Not sure if this was a fledgling learning to fly. There are a couple in our chimney now which is very awkward if wanting to light a fire. A few years ago one was suffocated from the smoke and fell into the fire. It was horrible and I don’t want that happening again. A bokmakierie visited us for the first time. He sang to us for a good ten minutes. Beautiful start to the day.

There have been dozens of butterflies each day. Citrus swallowtail, Green-banded Swallowtail, Gaudy Commodore, Garden Commodore and for the first time a Blue Pansy.


garden commodore – dry season formcitrus swallowtail

We have seen a couple of Reedbuck around the dam and in the hill behind us and a female sleeps in our garden each night in the long grass.

reedbuck in a hurry

Also a couple of duiker eating the acorns from the oak trees. Pat has seen 7 Reedbuck and one duiker eating rye grass and veld on our neighbours farm across the stone wall. On our walks in the evening we have seen signs of a Common Fiscal in the area with the surprises left along the fenceline. A small snake

fiscal shrikes larder – snake

and a dung beetle on the barbed wire fence.

dung beetle on wire

I received a lot of comments on the identification of my raptors last month – Dr David Allan said they were European Honey Buzzards – female adult with juvenile – very rare in this area. I have not seen them again. The Steppe Buzzards have left, not seeing any Jackal Buzzards, but still see the Long-crested Eagle. Often hear the African Fish-Eagles.

André Stapelberg – Crab Apple Cottages (sent in by Helen Booysen)

The photo of the Drakensberg Prinia was taken at Whispering Waters in its usual Leucosidea-habitat.

Drakensberg Prinia photographed at Wispering Waters

Terrestrial Brownbul

Terrestrial Brownbul

African Crowned Eagle

Crowned Eagle Electrocuted

We received bad news from Shane McPherson of Crowned Eagle Research this weekend regarding the Crowned Eagle chick born in the Winterskloof nest in October 2011.

She was electrocuted on an Eskom transformer at her release site in the Albert Falls area and died.

She was one of the chicks ringed by Shane following her hatching and was named Guinevere by Eileen Rasmussen who monitors the nest for the research work undertaken by Shane. Eileen took this beautiful photograph of Guinevere in Winterskloof.


Once she left the area, she was found at the children’s animal farm at Ballito on the KZN North Coast. She was eating the tame animals, so was captured for her safety and taken to the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary at Ashburton.  She was released on 28 March at Albert Falls in the vicinity of a 3 year old male Crowned Eagle – Theo and Margie Cave were Guin’s release hosts. It was hoped they would pair up to help increase the numbers of this rapidly declining species.

Release report: The door to her release enclosure was opened in the evening. She fed and flew up into the gum tree above her release enclosure where the local male Crowned Eagle  joined her.  She flew off and spent the night in another gum tree not far from her release enclosure. On Saturday morning both birds were seen in the gum tree above the release enclosure, but they flew off together and spent time exploring the neighbourhood and disappeared out of sight. On Sunday morning Guin was seen back in the gum tree above her hack enclosure, but there was no sign of the male.

Christine Theron took these gorgeous photos of Guin.

Guin grown up

Towards the end of April, Guin and her new male companion had been seen and heard together a lot. Guin was still returning to the hack enclosure for food, but the gaps between meals was growing – a really good sign. guin face

After finding her dead this weekend Theo and Margie Cave are understandably very distressed. “Her mate spent the whole day circling and calling for her. It was heartbreak for us.”

eagle dead eskom transformer

This is the second chick from the Winterskloof nest to die. In 2010 her sibling was shot and killed by local children with a pellet gun.

It is extremely distressing to know that these magnificent creatures may soon be extinct as they seem unable to thrive in this transformed world. They are essential in managing the numbers of monkeys, hadedas and dassies. The Winterskloof’s monkey population has ballooned recently due to a ready supply of food and a lack of predators.

Let’s hope the parents we hear calling at the moment get to hatch another egg in June and this one is able to live a long and healthy life.

Guin claw

Shane Mc Pherson adds: “I’ve worked with many raptors before, but these Crowned Eagles have something truly special.  It takes a huge investment from the parents to produce just one chick every year or two.  Each loss weighs heavy on their future, particularly because we assume that we only discover a small portion of the moralities, and so many more must just vanish without a trace.  The more I see them and learn about them makes every loss all the greater, but I have been able to learn so much (intimate observations from 900,000 photos at 11 nest sites) over the last two years of research.” 

shane and guin

Thanks to Judy Bell and Crowned Eagle Research for copy for this story. https://www.facebook.com/CrownedEagleResearch

Another Crowned Eagle Shot

Crowned Eagles are close to the heart of Winterskloof Conservancy, so members were very distressed read this report prepared by John Carlyon and Shane McPherson, especially as one the eagles nesting in Winterskloof was shot in 2011 and never able to fly again.

amera trap photo of Crowned Eagle

On the 12th of December I, Shane, answered a phone call from the SPCA in Pietermaritzburg. They had just received the still-warm body of a Crowned Eagle from a distraught resident. I arrived at the SPCA soon after to collect the remains, my heart sank. The bird seemed in fine condition, mottley with new feathers moulting through, powerful and clean talons, and plenty of muscle on its breast. A little blood oozed from a tiny hole near the lower jaw. We surmised it was shot and immediately sought to open an investigation with the police.

This bird was ringed. I identified it as a juvenile that I caught near its Clarendon nest site on the 25th of July 2012. That day, we waited until the kids in the park left the area, then set a trap and quickly had her. I restrained the eagle while Minke ringed it, and we had assistance from the Clarendon Veterinary Clinic staff. This was the second only to be ringed for the entire study, we were full of nerves and excitement and looking forward to following this character on a long life laid out ahead of her. I released the bird once we’d ringed and measured, and the photos were featuring on the UKZN homepage for a while.

This photo was taken in July 2012, at nine months of age.

beautiful 9 month old crowned eagle

A beautiful juvenile eagle in her urban home, she became accustomed to the presence of people – these young people respected that.

crowned eagle's urban home

It is the first ring recovery from my study and casts a dark shadow over the impression that these eagles are thriving in the city. Shot in the head with an air rifle.  John Carlyon, Clarendon Vet Clinic, extracted the pellet.

john carlyon vet eagle

During the winter of 2011, the resident adult pair repaired their nest and laid their egg. The residents around the Clarendon nest site watched with anticipation. Hatched in October 2011, the chick flourished on prey the adults brought to the nest, mainly hyrax and Hadeda Ibis. It became extremely well known and popular among the residents and visiting photographers. Nearly four months later, on the 12th of December, the youngster made its first flight. It then stayed in the immediate area for another seven months, as these large eagles take a very long time to learn the techniques to hunt for themselves. Its insistent calling for food from the untiring parents made it a conspicuous and much-admired bird.

This eagle was one of the first to come to my attention, two months after arriving in South Africa to start the research. After ringing it in July, I kept my ear to the ground, phoning to receive the latest sightings and reports on the birds behaviour It started to wander, apparently hunting successfully for periods before returning to the nest area occasionally to try its luck begging for more food.

Eventually, on the 14th September 2012, this young eagle was heard calling from its usual spots for the last time. It was time to move out to a life of independence, to fend for itself and ultimately establish its own territory. This is the most dangerous time in a Crowned Eagle’s life, finding a place of its own, with enough prey to master the skills of hunting to avoid starvation. Indeed, as we now know, the young eagle succeeded in overcoming this obstacle to its survival – it had a full crop, probably a hadeda, and a long bone extending from its crop that it was apparently still in the process of swallowing.

The autopsy was performed recently, in the presence of South African Police, photographers, and an honorary officer of the Ezemvelo Wildlife Crime Investigations Unit. The ballsitic extraction revealed a .177 airgun pellet, a shamefully tiny projectile, lodged right below the first cervical vertebra. This was a well-placed shot, a consolation that the bird did not suffer a painful and slow death, as many do when they have pellets festering in non-lethal parts of the body and limbs.  Lead shows up in an x-ray as a bright white blotch, the bone in the throat also shows on the x-ray.

crowned eagle x-ray

She travelled just seven kilometres from her place of birth, and survived just 15 months of what could have been a full 40 years of life. Her life was wantonly destroyed in an act of criminal stupidity. Parents who provide children with dangerous weapons such as pellet guns should be made accountable for their actions. It is essential that these actions are met with the full force of the law.

Follow Shane’s blog about the local Eagles at: http://www.kzn-ce.blogspot.com/

Winterskloof Wildlife Sightings – Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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