Tag Archives: Karkloof Conservation Centre

Finally the Falls!

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On Day 5 of the Catchment to Confluence Karkloof River Walk the team was thrilled to be joined by 2 fresh pairs of legs, Mbuso Khambule (new SAPPI Environmental Officer) and Mondli Goba (SAPPI Communications Officer), just in time to pass through some of the SAPPI Shafton plantation areas on the Karkloof floodplain.

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Team setting off. From Left: Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger), Mondli Goba (Sappi), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth) and the photographer behind the camera is Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA)

Our destination for the day was the Karkloof Falls, starting at the pumphouse on Gartmore farm, which as the crow flies did not seem all that far. But we now knew by experience that following the meanders of a river over rough terrain or tall vegetation where there is no path is not likely to be a walk in the park.

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Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA) pushing through the tall vegetation in the wetland

As we pushed through the wetland, we stopped to gaze at the distant Karkloof mountains, home to the river’s source where we had come from 5 days earlier, feeling pleased with the distance we had conquered so far.

We started up there

The team felt a sense of pride as we gazed upon the distant mountain

We were excited to see 2 Grey Crowned Cranes fly over us, with their characteristic “mahem” call, en route to one of the bird hides at the Karkloof Conservation Centre. What would Karkloof be without its treasured cranes? We had been treated to sightings of a number of cranes on the previous days as well. In total 11 Grey Crowned Cranes were seen and 4 Wattled Cranes. And it was only fitting that most of these cranes were spotted on farms belonging to “Crane Custodians”.

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Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy) excited to see these custodianship signs.

Custodians are landowners who are formally recognised by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) for their voluntary contribution to the conservation of threatened species on their farms, such as crane, oribi or blue swallows. (Download “Guidelines for Custodianship in SA” here)

By tea time, we had traversed the Shafton wetland and reached the Karkloof River bridge which crosses over the road to Cramond.

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Karkloof River bridge along the Cramond road. From left: Ayanda Lipheyana (GroundTruth), Mbuso Khambule (Sappi), Twané Clarke (Karkloof Conservancy), Sue Viljoen (WWF-SA), Nduduzo Khoza (EWT Eco-Ranger) and Mondli Goba (Sappi)

Mbuso reminded us of the extent of SAPPI plantations that had been removed from the Shafton wetland a number of years ago and allowed to rehabilitate back to natural vegetation – some 186 ha were not replanted due to the existence of this important wetland system.

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Looking back at the rehabilitated wetland beyond the bridge.

The next section of the river was slow moving, noticeably poorer in water quality and showed signs of being at the bottom of the valley’s catchment area, which ultimately receives all the nutrient rich runoff from the various activities along the way. The water colour had changed to a more murky greenish colour, there was a type of sludge on the rocks, in some quieter corners, traces of foam was seen on the surface and the sewage weed could be seen in many places along the river’s edge.

River Rockery Pano

At the first set of large, impressive rocks above the falls, we did a Mini-SASS test, which showed the water was “critically modified”, confirming our impressions that the river’s quality was now compromised. At this site, a dead bushbuck was found between the large rocks, leaving us wondering what happened here. It looks like it lost its footing while trying to have a drink.

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Doing a miniSASS before heading off on the last section to the Karkloof Falls

The condition of riverine buffer along this last stretch was also compromised due to high levels of alien invasive vegetation (such as the big clump of bamboo shown below, poplar saplings, elderflower and all the other commonly seen invasives we had seen higher up in the catchment). Pastures were unfortunately established very close to the river, and therefore without a wide section of natural vegetation to act as buffer and filter for the runoff, the river is all the more impacted.

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A clump of bamboo at the river’s edge.

Having followed every twist and turn of the river now for 5 days, we felt a certain sadness at the deterioration of the river’s health. However, the sight of the picnic site for the Karkloof falls picked up our spirits. Destination at last! Hooray for being able to pull off our boots and take a break in the shade! Here we were spoilt with orange ice-lollies by our videographer, Jayne Symes, who is putting a video clip together of the river walk. What a welcome gift! Thank you Jane!

Jane Symes

Jane Symes (Black & White Studios) was our hero that day. These ice cold treats were welcomed after a day of scorching heat and little shade.

While catching our breath over lunch, we chatted at length about the problem of litter at a public picnic site like this, and how increasingly popular the Karkloof Falls had become. Would new signage saying “litter free zone” and removing the dustbins help to change people’s behaviour so that all rubbish is taken away by visitors?

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Karkloof Falls picnic site along the river could be the perfect setting for a litter free zone

There was just 1 section left to walk down to the actual Karkloof falls viewing point and lower picnic site, our end point for the day. We said “bye for now” to the river, with the very last leg of the river’s journey to be continued the following Thursday, 6th April. A team photo in front of the falls was a fitting way to exclaim “WE MADE IT!”.

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We made it! The Karkloof River Walk team have reached the Karkloof falls

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Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – July, August and September 2015

Jul, Aug, Sep 2015 header

Karkloof Conservation Centre

We had regular sightings of up to 86 different bird species at the Karkloof Conservation Centre and nearby farmlands visible from the road. The winter months had surprisingly better lists than spring!

View from the Crowned Crane Hide in Winter

View from the Crowned Crane Hide in Winter

On the 21st August, Karin Nelson reported a sighting of the first Steppe Buzzard of the season in the Karkloof as she was travelling back from her visit to Benvie Gardens. On the 2nd September, we had our first sighting of the Yellow-billed Kite here at the Centre. It’s always exciting to see the migrants return, understanding that many of them have endured a tough journey.

The Wattled Crane Hide was full of life as the sun rose to greet the day. By the time the light was good enough for a photo, the Blue Cranes and Grey Crowned Cranes had already flown off. These three Wattled Cranes stayed around for a little while though.

The Wattled Crane Hide was full of life as the sun rose to greet the day. By the time the light was good enough for a photo, the Blue Cranes and Grey Crowned Cranes had already flown off. These three Wattled Cranes stayed around for a little while though.

We have had great sightings of all three crane species (a perk of having them breed in the area), which is something members of the Karkloof Conservancy can be proud of, as this indicates suitable wetland and grassland habitat allowing a healthy environment.

The Wattled Cranes were extremely active and even gave us a rendition of the "Can-Can" dance.

The Wattled Cranes were extremely active and even gave us a rendition of the “Can-Can” dance.

We must not be complacent though, as there are a number of threats we face, which can be of detriment to these stately birds, as well as other fauna and flora. Threats include but are not limited to drainage of wetlands (no matter how big or small), fracking, developments that put pressure on an already sensitive environment, and not to forget the dreaded N3 Bypass.

A typical winter scene with Wattled Cranes amongst the White-faced Ducks in the foreground and a Common Reedbuck grazing in the background.

A typical winter scene with Wattled Cranes amongst the White-faced Ducks in the foreground and a Common Reedbuck grazing in the background.

Adam Riley, of Rockjumper Birding Tours, brought visitors to the hides on the 15 December, who were thrilled to see 4 Wattled Cranes at the Loskop pan. Two of the birds had rings and stayed there for the remainder of the day looking a lot like a couple. The one on the far left is Mbeche’s sibling (Mbeche is our adopted Wattled Crane that was collected in the Karkloof as a second egg after being abandoned) and the one next to our charmer is its assumed partner that was colour ringed as a chick by Brent Coverdale and Tanya Smith in October 2013 at Impendle Nature Reserve. This is the first re-sighting of the Impendle bird since it fledged.

Wattled Cranes by Adam Riley

Wattled Cranes by Adam Riley

Other sightings included: African Black Duck; African Black Swift; African Darter; African Fish-Eagle; African Hoopoe; African Jacana; African Marsh-Harrier; African Olive-Pigeon; African Pipit; African Sacred Ibis; African Snipe; African Spoonbill;

African Spoonbill

African Spoonbill

African Stonechat; African Wattled Lapwing; Amethyst Sunbird; Black Crake; Black-headed Heron; Black-shouldered Kite; Blacksmith Lapwing; Black-winged Lapwing; Blue Crane; Brown-throated Martin; Buff-streaked Chat; Burchell’s Coucal; Cape Canary; Cape Crow; Cape Robin-chat; Cape Shoveler; Cape Turtle-dove; Cape Wagtail; Cardinal Woodpecker; Common Fiscal; Crowned Lapwing; Crowned Lapwing; Dark-capped Bulbul; Drakensberg Prinia; Egyptian Goose; Fan-tailed Widowbird; Forest Buzzard; Fork-tailed Drongo; Giant Kingfisher; Green Wood-Hoopoe; Grey Crowned Crane; Grey Heron; Hadeda Ibis; Hamerkop; Helmeted Guineafowl; Hottentot Teal; Jackal Buzzard;

A Jackal Buzzard caught some rodent salad.

A Jackal Buzzard caught some rodent salad.

Lanner Falcon; Levaillant’s Cisticola; Little Grebe; Little Swift; Long-crested Eagle;

Long-crested Eagle

Long-crested Eagle

Long-tailed Widowbird; Malachite Kingfisher; Natal Spurfowl; Olive Thrush; Olive Woodpecker; Osprey;

This Osprey was seen daily. This sighting was out of season for inland distribution.

This Osprey was seen daily. This sighting was out of season for inland distribution.

Pied Crow; Pied Kingfisher; Pied Starling; Pin-tailed Whydah; Purple Heron; Red-billed Quelea; Red-billed Teal; Red-eyed Dove; Reed Cormorant; South African Shelduck; Southern Black Flycatcher; Southern Boubou; Southern Grey-headed Sparrow; Southern Red Bishop; Speckled Mousebird; Speckled Pigeon; Spur-winged Goose; Village Weaver; White-breasted Cormorant; White-throated Swallow; Wood Sandpiper; Yellow-billed Duck; and Yellow-fronted Canary.

Orange Ground-Thrush Project @ Benvie – Karin Nelson

Under the guidance and supervision of Prof. Colleen Downs of UKZN, I have started an exciting project on the Orange Ground-Thrush. These birds are uncommon residents of the KwaZulu-Natal Mistbelt Forests. These forests are classified as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, IBA’s, as they have important bird, tree and flowering plant species.

Orange Ground-Thrush by Karin Nelson

Orange Ground-Thrush by Karin Nelson

Benvie lies within these Mistbelt Forests, hosting a healthy population of Orange Ground-Thrush. With the support and enthusiasm of John and Jenny Robinson of Benvie, I have started catching and colour-ringing some thrushes.

The engraved colour ring used to identify the birds from a distance using binoculars or photographs

The engraved colour ring used to identify the birds from a distance using binoculars or photographs

I have also taken blood samples which will be analysed by UKZN staff for genetics, relatedness, population and sex. In the future, we will also be assessing breeding biology to determine factors such as nest success, fidelity, sites used, and threats.

Bird Ringing @ Gartmore – Karin Nelson

Winter proves to be a difficult time to do bird ringing at the Gartmore hide, as the mealies have been turned into silage, causing the mist nets to be fairly exposed. Karin was, however, grateful that a large flock of Red-billed Quelea did not fly into her nets. Despite the slow morning, she managed to catch 10 birds, with 3 of these being re-traps:

  • 4 Levaillant’s Cisticola
  • 2 Southern Red Bishop
  • 2 African Stonechat
  • 1 Cape Robin Chat
  • 1 Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

Karin also managed to list 43 different species during the morning, which includes this Giant Kingfisher which was a highlight to the day.

Giant Kingfisher by Karin Nelson

Giant Kingfisher by Karin Nelson

Mbona Private Nature Reserve – Richard Booth

An Orange-breasted Bush Shrike which we have had in our garden at Mbona. They are not on our bird list and have never heard them calling here. SABAP2 does show this is the edge of their range, but probably more down towards Albert Falls dam. I saw this little one outside our bedroom window and then again one week later when he flew into a window stunning himself. Fortunately not too bad, but we were able to pick him up for a photo shoot before he/she flew away. Beautiful colours!

Orange-breasted Bush Shrike by Richard Booth

Orange-breasted Bush Shrike by Richard Booth

I’ve included a picture of one of the lovely orchids that grow in our COOL forest: Polystachya pubescens.

Polystachya pubescens, an orchids that grow in the cool forest at Mbona

Polystachya pubescens, an orchids that grow in the cool forest at Mbona

“Twitching bug” bites the Campbell’s – Lisa Campbell

The Campbell family are becoming real bird watchers of late, and they were very excited about a “lifer” for them and for their garden.

Groundscraper Thrush photographed by Lisa Campbell

Groundscraper Thrush photographed by Lisa Campbell

This Groundscraper Thrush had the Campbell paparazzi snap its good side for the rest of the community to enjoy. Well done and we look forward to future contributions!

Crane Custodian – Tony Matchett (Agric. Manager of Benson Farming)

There is no better reward for a crane custodian than stumbling upon a Wattled Crane chick that has been smartly hidden by its parents.

Wattled Crane chick playing "hide-and-go-seek" in the veld.

Wattled Crane chick playing “hide-and-go-seek” in the veld.

Tony luckily had his camera on hand and took a few photos before he left promptly, limiting the stress levels of the birds, and allowing the chick and parents to reunite. This was attempt number two for the pair of Wattled cranes this last breeding season, as they unfortunately lost their first chick. Let’s hope we see this one flying amongst the 311 others.

The Wattled Crane parents feeding in the burnt veld.

The Wattled Crane parents feeding in the burnt veld.

Tony took this photograph which represents part of the floater flock of about 50 Grey Crowned Cranes (they couldn’t all fit in the frame!) that were enjoying the safe lands that are provided by the Benson family.

Part of a flock of 50 Grey Crowned Cranes with a Common Reedbuck in the background.

Part of a flock of 50 Grey Crowned Cranes with a Common Reedbuck in the background.

This flock were seen daily for almost 2 months and spent the whole day there, only splitting up to find a place to roost for the night. A Common Reedbuck seemed to enjoyed their company, while grazing on the lush cover crop planted as part of the no-till farming technique which plays a significant role in preventing soil erosion.

Grey Crowned Cranes are the only cranes that can perch in trees.

Grey Crowned Cranes are the only cranes that can perch in trees.

Capturing the Moments – Chris and Ingy Larkin

Chris and Ingy managed to capture these gorgeous photographs during their visit to the bird hides.

Purple Heron well camouflaged. Photographed by Chris Larkin

Purple Heron well camouflaged. Photographed by Chris Larkin

African Snipe on the cold and frosty vegetation. Photographed by Chris Larkin

African Snipe on the cold and frosty vegetation. Photographed by Chris Larkin

Levaillant’s Cisticola in flight. Photographed by Ingy Larkin

Levaillant’s Cisticola in flight. Photographed by Ingy Larkin

Grey Crowned Crane in flight. Photographed by Chris Larkin

Grey Crowned Crane in flight. Photographed by Chris Larkin

Ingy Larkin photographed this White-breasted Cormorant with a fairly large fish in its beak.

Ingy Larkin photographed this White-breasted Cormorant with a fairly large fish in its beak.

Chris Larkin photographed this special sighting of the Osprey emerging out of the water with a meal fit for a king.

Chris Larkin photographed this special sighting of the Osprey emerging out of the water with a meal fit for a king.

White-breasted Cormorant and an African Darter having a squabble. Chris Larkin captured this typical book club scene.

White-breasted Cormorant and an African Darter having a squabble. Chris Larkin captured this typical book club scene.

Grey Crowned Crane puffed out after a bath. Photographed by Ingy Larkin.

Grey Crowned Crane puffed out after a bath. Photographed by Ingy Larkin.

Munching breakfast together. Photographed by Ingy Larkin.

Munching breakfast together. Photographed by Ingy Larkin.

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – April, May and June 2015

White Faced Duck

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Patrick Cahill:

When Twané gave me her personal list of sightings, she said that she had seen 14 Wattled Cranes on April the first. I thought this was her idea of an April Fool’s, but she was being serious!

Wattled Cranes

Wattled Cranes at the Loskop Pan by Twané Clarke

Pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes have been hanging around the Loskop Hide, but their nest building appears to have come to an end.

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes by Patrick Cahill

I recently saw a Natal Spurfowl (aka Natal Francolin before the taxonomists started messing with our glossaries) and several visitors have reported them during the month.

Natal Spurfowl

Natal Spurfowl by Patrick Cahill

A big thanks to the Karkloof residents who assisted with the NguniTV team to produce the excellent documentary for 50/50 on our Cranes. Congratulations to Charlie and Twané for their performance on the box. They are prepared (for a small fee) to autograph your TV sets. It will be a great loss to the Karkloof if they are tempted to forsake us for a career on the screen! Watch it here: https://youtu.be/9Cb_Tddm0ng

Many visitors have reported regular sightings of Black-winged Lapwings and Malachite Kingfishers, whilst a pair of African Jacana appear to have taken up squatters rights on the Loskop Pan. A Pied Kingfisher was spotted recently saying grace before taking the plunge to get lunch.

Let us prey. Pied Kingfisher by Patrick Cahill

Let us prey. Pied Kingfisher by Patrick Cahill

Other sightings included:

Southern Red Bishop, Dark-capped Bulbul, Forest Buzzard, Jackal Buzzard, Yellow-fronted Canary, Familiar Chat, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Zitting Cisticola, Red-knobbed Coot, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Black Crake, Blue Crane, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, African Darter, Cape Turtle-Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Fork-tailed Drongo, White-faced Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, African Fish-Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Great Egret, Yellow-billed Egret, Common Fiscal, Southern Black Flycatcher, Egyptian Goose, Spur-winged Goose, Little Grebe, Helmeted Guineafowl, Hamerkop, African Marsh-Harrier, Black-headed Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, African Sacred Ibis, Hededa Ibis, Southern Bald Ibis, Giant Kingfisher, Black-shouldered Kite, African Wattled Lapwing, Blacksmith Lapwing, Brown-throated Martin, Common Moorhen, Barn Owl, African Olive Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon, Three-banded Plover, Drakensberg Prinia, Red-billed Quelea, African Rail, Cape Robin-Chat, Secretarybird, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, African Snipe, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Spoonbill, African Stonechat, White Stork, Amethyst Sunbird, Barn Swallow, White-throated Swallow, Hottentot Teal, Red-billed Teal, Cape Wagtail, Common Waxbill, Village Weaver, Pin-tailed Whydah, Fan-tailed Widowbird, and Cardinal Woodpecker.

Bird Ringing @ Mbona – Karin Nelson:

I was recently privileged to do some bird ringing in Mbona Private Nature Reserve upon invitation by Richard Booth. Forest edge birding is always very special, as you never know what you may catch. This day being no exception!

Bush Blackcap by Karin Nelson

Bush Blackcap by Karin Nelson

We caught, ringed and released 27 birds, representing 19 different species which included:
Bush Blackcap, Orange Ground-Thrush, Barratt’s Warbler, Lemon Dove, Cape Batis, Forest Canary, White-starred Robin, Swee Waxbill, Sombre Greenbul and Dark-backed Weaver.

Orange Ground Thrush by Richard Booth

Orange Ground-Thrush by Richard Booth

A great ringing morning for me with 2 species that I’d never ringed before. It was also good to meet some of the Mbona residents who came to see what bird ringing is about. We plan to have further ringing sessions, possibly once a season at Mbona.

Barats Warbler by Karin Nelson

Barratt’s Warbler by Karin Nelson

Thanks to Richard for the invite and a great morning.

Cape Batis by Richard Booth

Cape Batis by Richard Booth

Mbona Private Nature Reserve – Richard Booth:

The Greater Double-collared Sunbirds are in our garden where they spend much of the day feeding in the Pink Plumes (Syncolostemon densiflorus) which are in bloom, a real favourite of theirs.

by Richard Booth

Male Greater Double-collared Sunbird by Richard Booth

by Richard Booth

Female Greater Double-collared Sunbird by Richard Booth

Some happy news from Mbona is that we have a pair of Cape Parrots nesting high up in a dead eucalyptus tree on our Reserve. We first discovered them in April and were then seen regularly at the site during May.

Nesting Cape Parrots by Richard Booth

Nesting Cape Parrots by Richard Booth

Nesting Cape Parrots by Richard Booth

Nesting Cape Parrots by Richard Booth

Mt. Gilboa Nature Reserve – Richard Booth:

During the walk at the Mount Gilboa Nature Reserve in April, which was organised by the Karkloof Conservancy and lead by Kevin McCann of the Wildlands Conservation Trust, as well as Donna Lay who is the manager of this reserve.

Nerine pancratioides (White Nerine) by Richard Booth

Nerine pancratioides (White Nerine) by Richard Booth

What stood out most in this grassland and wetland habitat, was a gorgeous display of these special White Nerine, Nerine pancratioides. One picture is enlarged to show a fly with a long proboscis coming in to feed and pollinate. Spoiler alert: This is the flower chosen for April in the Midlands Conservancies Forum calendar which will be on sale from September!

Nerine pancratioides (White Nerine) by Richard Booth

Nerine pancratioides (White Nerine) by Richard Booth

Loskop Dairy Farm – AJ Liebenberg (bestuurder):

On the 16 April, AJ was fortunate enough to see a Serval catching mice or rats in the maize lands near the Polo grounds in the early hours – 00h30! He watched it jump around as it tried to pounce on the little rodents.

Common Duiker by AJ Liebenberg

Common Duiker by AJ Liebenberg

He has also been seeing a variety of buck around Loskop, which includes Common (Grey) Duiker, Common Reedbuck and a female Bushbuck that came into the garden.

Reedbuck ram by AJ Liebenberg

Reedbuck ram by AJ Liebenberg

Bushbuck doe by AJ Liebenberg

Bushbuck doe by AJ Liebenberg

Something he has been noticing more often are about 4 Warthogs in the cut maize lands near the club.

Warthog by AJ Liebenberg

Warthog by AJ Liebenberg

Warthog by AJ Liebenberg

Warthog by AJ Liebenberg

Another interesting offering were photographs of the Black-winged Lapwings which he noticed around the farmlands, especially under the irrigation systems. There are easily over a hundred of them that gather in an area. Shortly after his sighting, Graham and Trish McGill, from Umtentweni KZN, popped into the Conservation Centre and was desperately looking to photograph some of these birds for his website.

Black-winged Lapwing by AJ Liebenberg

Black-winged Lapwing by AJ Liebenberg

Black-winged Lapwing by AJ Liebenberg

Black-winged Lapwing by AJ Liebenberg

AJ was quite happy for us to point out their location and allow him to get a little closer. Much to our amusement, he set up a portable bird hide under the Centre Pivot and waited patiently for them to get closer. This got all the locals driving by quite excited, as they all thought that someone was illegally hunting and immediately got on the phone to warn AJ. A good exercise to check if your neighbours are vigilant! Graham popped back to the Centre to excitedly show us his superb photographs. You can see his photos here:
SA Birding Photography

This is a great website to use when confirming the identification of a bird species.

Taking a Closer Look – Vicki Street:

Vikki, a regular visitor to our Conservation Centre, took these magnificent photographs in April of Damselflies, Ladybugs, Spiders, Flies and Butterflies. These creatures are often the food source for many of the birds that you see from our hides. At a recent talk at the KZN Midlands Bird Club meeting, David Johnson spoke about “50 ways to eat an insect”, which was not only humorous, but a wonderful insight into the many adaptations of insectivorous birds. Next time you’re birding, keep your eyes open for the little wonders.

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Photograph by Vicki Street

Wattled Crane – Andrew Cairncross:

Spent a very pleasant morning at Karkloof and was lucky enough to capture a Wattled Crane. It really is a superb place to visit.

Wattled Crane by Andrew Cairncross

Wattled Crane by Andrew Cairncross

Sociable Sundowners with the N3TC Birds

On Tuesday 11th August, MCF was privileged to host a visit from N3 Toll Concession in the form of Andrea (Andy) Visser and Thandiwe (Thandi) Rakale. The aim of their visit was to give MCF support and encouragement, so all MCF’s member Conservancies were invited to attend.

Representatives from Balgowan, Beacon Hill, Curry’s Post, Karkloof and Lion’s Bush Conservancies flocked to the Karkloof Conservation Centre where they enjoyed sundowners, snacks, and fruitful discussions with Andy and Thandi in the Crowned Crane Hide.

Front: Andy Visser (N3TC) and Roy Tabernor (Lion's Bush). Back: Karen McGregor (Curry’s Post), Thandiwe Rakale (N3TC), Yvonne Thompson (Balgowan), Eve Hughes (Beacon Hill) and Charlie MacGillivray (Karkloof)

Front: Andy Visser (N3TC) and Roy Tabernor (Lion’s Bush).
Back: Karen McGregor (Curry’s Post), Thandiwe Rakale (N3TC), Yvonne Thompson (Balgowan), Eve Hughes (Beacon Hill) and Charlie MacGillivray (Karkloof)

The N3TC funded projects discussed were:

  • The schools’ projects, in particular the new schools that have been included this year;
  • River walks in 2015: the Indezi River Walk completed in April, as well as the planning for the two river walks in the Karkloof. The latter have a new dimension as landowners and partner organisations will be taking part in the walks;
  • Capacity building for clearing Invasive Alien Plants: This new project was the subject of considerable discussion, particularly in the light of our scarce water resources. N3TC is excited about the MCF strategy of capacity building prior to the implementation of a clearing programme.

There was general discussion on the need to achieve a sustainable balance between human activities (such as development) in Conservancies, and ensuring the preservation of wildlife habitats. The need for partnering between different conservation organisations to maximise efforts was also mentioned.

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes flew by during our casual discussions.

A pair of Grey Crowned Cranes flew by during our casual discussions, reminding us of what we’re working towards.

MCF is indebted to N3TC not only for funding, but also for their ongoing support and encouragement. The intention is to give all Conservancies the opportunity to host future meetings so that N3TC can meet all our members, and get a feel for the entire MCF area.

Siyabonga N3TC

“Siyabonga” from the bottom of all our hearts N3TC!

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – February 2015

Besides being a short month, February was also a busy one in the Karkloof – the maize which stood “as high as an elephant’s eye” was harvested, so Gartmore hide is now surrounded by bare fields (filled with lots of Spur-winged Geese, Egyptian Geese, Blacksmith Lapwings, Speckled Pigeons, Red-eyed Doves, Cape Turtle-Doves, Grey Crowned Cranes and Wattled Cranes), Karin Nelson had a bird ringing morning, and the Three Cranes Challenge saw a host of volunteers assembling to cater for the ‘maniacal‘ marathon runners.

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Patrick Cahill

We had a new visitor to the Gartmore pan who is now included on our bird list – a Hottentot Teal.

Hottentot Teal

Hottentot Teal

It was much easier photographing their relatives, the Red-billed Teals, as their bills don’t get camouflaged against the reflection of the blue sky in the water!

Red-billed Teal

Red-billed Teal

The local rodent, frog and reptile populations must have experience a rapid decrease in February with all the raptors that were out and perched on the centre-pivots.

Amur Falcon

Amur Falcon

These included the Amur Falcon, Jackal Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kites, Steppe Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Black-shouldered Kite, African Marsh-Harrier and the African Fish-Eagles.

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard

Please remember to avoid using poisons to control your rat populations and seek “raptor-friendly” options!

Other sightings included: White Stork, Cape Crow, Hadeda Ibis, African Sacred Ibis, Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Red Bishop, Barn Swallow, Pin-tailed Whydah, Red-collared Widowbird, Long-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Cape Weaver, Woolly-necked Stork, Diderick Cuckoo, Black-headed Heron, Hamerkop, Wattled Lapwing, African Stonechat, African Black Swift, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Fork-tailed Drongo, Black Saw-wing, Dark-capped Bulbul, Village Weaver, Zitting Cisticola, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Common Fiscal, South African Shelduck, White-throated Swallow, Whiskered Tern, Common Moorhen,

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

White-breasted Cormorant, Reed Cormorant, Bronze Mannikin, Cape Wagtail, African Jacana, Common House-Martin, Common Waxbill, Red-billed Quelea, Black Crake, Blue Crane, Yellow-fronted Canary, Cape Shoveler, Little Grebe, Lesser Striped Swallow, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Levaillant’s Cisticola, White-faced Duck, Amethyst Sunbird, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-winged Lapwing, Little Rush-Warbler and Burchell’s Coucal.

African Jacana

African Jacana

It’s all about the little things – Hugh Watson

Hugh Watson, a regular visitor to the Karkloof Conservation Centre bird hides took these breathtaking photographs during his recent visit. Can you spot Wally, the yellow spider?

KK Feb 7 KK Feb 10 KK Feb 9 KK Feb 8

Spitzkop Farm – Tim Hancock

My sighting is very vague – it looked like an Eurasian Hobby – from the falcon like head and very curved back wings and thin tail (just like a big swallow) repeatedly dive bombing what appeared to be a Steppe Buzzard – too far to actually be definite.

Cricket vs.Twitching – Johnny Bouwer

On Saturday morning the 28 February, I was faced with the choice of lying in bed and watching the Kiwi’s thrash the Auzzies in the WC or head out to the rainy & wet Midlands to the Karkloof Conservation Centre.

KK Feb 14

I was rewarded with a some awesome sightings, so I believe I made the right call. At first I thought the birds were probably all snuggled up in bed watching the cricket.

KK Feb 13

White-throated Swallow

KK Feb 11

Pied Kingfisher

These photographs are of a White-throated Swallow, Pied Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Ducks and a pair of intimate Brown-throated Martins.

KK Feb 12

Yellow-billed Ducks

KK Feb 18

Brown-throated Martins

The 3 Cranes Challenge – John and Linnet Crow

Friday was a day in Fairyland, after a beautiful sunrise and being situated in the forest at Karkloof Canopy Tours.

KK Feb 19

The sunlight reflecting off the wings of the butterflies and dragonflies could have been glimpses of fairies.

KK Feb 20

The Samango monkeys and Loeries (now known as a Turaco) watched the show as the competitors enjoyed the canopy tour. The floor moved as the bright yellow crabs and finches carried on with their activities.

KK Feb 21

The troll that I heard turned out not to be a troll, but Kai from the canopy tours coming to check how everything was going.

Saturday was a day of watching runners appear from and disappear back into the mist

KK Feb 22

and looking for some of the little things.

KK Feb 24

A juvenile fiscal shrike kept us company for a while.

KK Feb 25

Sunday did not show us the same spectacular sunrise as last year, but the surface of the dam displayed an incredible reflection.

KK Feb 28

The signs were there that the caracal had departed not long before we arrived.

KK Feb 29

The dam at Bushwillow Park was a welcome sight at the end of the 3 days.

KK Feb 30

Bird Ringing @ Gartmore Hide – Karin Nelson

On the 11 February, Karin Nelson hosted a bird ringing day at our Conservation Centre. The day was well attended and we were pleased to see all the homeschoolers that made use of the activity as part of their studies.

Village Weaver waiting to be collected. The netting gently captures the bird. Qualified bird-ringers know all the tricks so that they may safely remove the bird without any injury. Photograph by Richard Booth.

There were also some visitors who were curious about how ringing impacts the birds, but were very pleased to see how gentle and competent Karin is and that the birds were so calm during the process. Karin caught a total of 75 birds with 5 of these being re-traps.

Red-billed Quelea being measured by qualified bird-ringer, Karin Nelson. Photograph by Richard Booth.

These included: 47 x Red-billed Quelea; 7 x African Reed-Warbler; 6 x Village Weavers; 4 x Southern Red Bishop; 2 x Drakensberg Prinia; 2 x Yellow-fronted Canaries; 2 x Levaillant’s Cisticola; 2 x Fan-tailed Widowbirds; 1 x Pin-tailed Whydah; 1 x Dark-capped Bulbul; and 1 x African Stonechat.

Pluviophiles in the Karkloof – Twané Clarke

“Pluviophile: (n) A lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days.”

One afternoon when I noticed a build up of dark clouds, I decided to hightail it to the Gartmore hide and see what’s out and about during the rain.

KK Feb 33

Firstly, I noticed a Yellow-billed Duck wandered the pan alone,

KK Feb 34

Yellow-billed Duck

then I saw a flock of Barn Swallows flying in the distance with two breaking away to rest on a branch,

KK Feb 35

Barn Swallows

and the last bird I saw was a lonely little White-throated Swallow.

KK Feb 36

White-throated Swallow

These birds all weathered the storm and remained there the entire time. I arrived back at the office a drowned rat, but a happy one indeed!

Karkloof Wildlife Sightings – January 2015

I apologise for the delay in issuing this edition, I had a short break down the South Coast.  We have a real pot pourri (or should I say an Irish Stew!) this month, with flowers, birds and a toad. 

Karkloof Conservation Centre – Patrick Cahill

For several years after the Karkloof Conservation Centre opened I had the mutters because I had only once seen a Giant Kingfisher and when I did it was so camera shy I couldn’t get a good picture.  Last month a much braver bird put in an appearance and gave me the chance to take too many shots – that’s the problem with digital photography!

Giant Kingfisher

Giant Kingfisher

Twané had some great sightings in January. She managed to get a photograph of a Common Sandpiper that was a regular visitor to the distant muddy shore of the Gartmore pan.

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Twané was lucky to get this shot of a male Diderick Cuckoo feeding a female – the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. The male fed her 3 juicy caterpillars and offered them to her with a gentle bobbing motion. They flew off into the sunset after the third one.

Diderick Cuckoo

Diderick Cuckoo

The butterfly that is photographed looks like it could be a male Window Acrea (Acrea oncaea). We would appreciate the correct ID from any Lepidopterists that might have a better idea of what it is.

Window Acrea

Window Acrea

On a recent frogging expedition by the EKZNW Kids Club, the kids found plenty of these little Painted Reed Frogs in the wetlands and mealies.

Painted Reed Frog

Painted Reed Frog

We have often had queries from visitors about the effect of the centre pivots used by local farmers for irrigating crops on the wildlife in the area and particularly on the cranes. The pictures of the Wattled Cranes and the Grey Crowned Cranes taken this month show that they do not impact the local fauna negatively.  They act as excellent perches for  raptors while they keep the rodent population under control. Centre pivots are also an extremely water efficient method of irrigation.

Grey Crowned Crane

Grey Crowned Crane

Wattled Crane

Wattled Crane

Denleigh – Ren and Britt Stubbs

We received some exciting news from Britt about a pair of African Grass-Owls that are nesting in their  grassland. They have seen a pair hang around before, but have finally confirmed that they have decided to breed on their farm. They have reported this sighting to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife who keep an active record of nest sites of various species.

According to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the African Grass-Owl (Tyto capensis) is a habitat specialist and is mainly restricted to the open, grassy  habitats of marshes, wetlands and floodplains. It is estimated that there are less than 5000 of these birds left in southern Africa.

 The need for farmer co-operation centred on grazing densities and burning regimes, as well as alien plant control and no longer ploughing up native grassland areas no matter how small is extremely important. 

Well done Ren and Britt on a fantastic sighting and for taking on the role as custodians of your land.

Gartmore Farm – Charlie and Robyn MacGillivray

Charlie and Robyn were very excited about this pair of Lesser Striped Swallows that decided to build a nest outside their kitchen window.

Lesser Striped Swallow

Lesser Striped Swallow

Lesser Striped Swallow Nest

Lesser Striped Swallow Nest

During Robyn’s monthly walk, we found a few of these beautiful Asclepias albens (Cartwheel) flowers which seemed to be a favourite amongst the group.

Asclepias albens

Asclepias albens

Karkloof Roadside – Sears from Hillcrest

Geoff and Iris Sear from Hillcrest recently drove through the Karkloof Valley and sent us the following interesting sightings.

We passed by on our way to Rietvlei a few weeks ago when we were in search of the Forest Buzzard, which we saw just past the New Hanover turn off. We couldn’t get a good photo sadly. We also saw 9 pairs of Grey Crowned Cranes in the farmlands before we passed by your centre. There were also plenty of White Storks.

Mbona Private Nature Reserve – Richard Booth

Richard Booth from Mbona is a regular contributor and avid photographer. He sent us a picture of a Red-winged Francolin which had read about Chicken Licken’s phobia about the sky falling on her head and was keeping a weather eye on the stratosphere just in case.

Red-winged Francolin

Red-winged Francolin

Having gone through medical school, Richard doesn’t believe the ridiculous myth about frogs giving you warts, and he bravely photographed this Guttural Toad!

Guttural Toad

Guttural Toad

The Brunsvigia undulata, a rare threatened species, was found on Mbona and is a cousin to the more widely spread Brunsvigia radulosa or Candelabra flower.

Brunsvigia undulata 2

Brunsvigia undulata

Brunsvigia undulata 1

Brunsvigia undulata

Ringing at Gartmore Hide – Karin Nelson

Error correction: In the December 2014 Karkloof Sightings newsletter, we had incorrectly labelled this gorgeous Red-headed Quelea (photographed) as a “Red-headed Weaver”. Many thanks to Pam Nicol for pointing this out for us. We, Karin, Pat and Twané, will all need to go for an eye test!

Red-headed Quelea

Red-headed Quelea

Karin Nelson’s January ringing session produced 33 birds, with 8 re-trapped birds all ringed within the past 2 years, mostly African Reed-Warblers (7).  Karin read up on the Reed-Warblers and found that they spend their non-breeding time in drier vegetation, away from water. Some birds further north than KZN do move south.

At first glance, we had assumed one of the birds to be a Bronze Mannikin, however, it was too big and Karin had noticed a prominent gape. It turned out to be a ‘baby’ Pin-tailed Whydah. It was very interesting to see how similar it looked to the Mannikin.

Other birds ringed included:

  • 14 x African Reed-Warbler
  • 6 x Southern Red Bishop
  • 3 x Pin-tailed Whydah
  • 3 x Cape Weaver
  • 2 x Fan-tailed Widowbirds
  • 2 x Amethyst Sunbird.
  • 1 x Barn Swallow
  • 1 x Levaillant’s Cisticola
  • 1 x Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

They Are All Frogs

Last night, a barefoot and gumbooted group of frog fans gathered at the Karkloof Conservation Centre for an evening of sploshing about in mud and finding frogs. “African Bullfrogs are my favourites” said John Robbins. “In Grade R a friend brought one to school and I have liked frogs ever since.”  One of the first questions asked was what the difference between frogs and toads is. “They are all frogs” said Charlene Russell who was leading the excursion.  She explained that the confusion had arisen long ago in Britain where only two frog genera occur naturally – Rana (frogs) and Bufo (toads).  Toads are types of frogs.frogging 162 res.

Zoe Goble had been reading a book about frogs and asked about poisonous ones. All frogs secrete a toxic substance from glands on the back of their neck, but in most cases the concentration is small and they are not very poisonous. It is the brightly coloured ones found in the rainforests which are dangerous.

frogging 166 res.

Everyone was interested to hear about the Platanas (African Clawed Toads) which were used to test pregnancy until the 1960s.  Unfortunately, Platanas have a fungus on their skin which other South African frogs are immune to, but because they have been transported around the world, the fungus has spread to other frogs and is thought to have caused the decline of many populations.

We began by listening to recordings of frog calls so we’d be able to identify them more easily once in the wetland.  Frogs are more often heard than seen. None of the frogs we heard were calling “Ribbet”, because very few do. Apparently, there is a species of frog which does make that sound in the wetlands around Hollywood, so because we always hear that call in movies, we now say frogs go “Ribbet”!

frogging 165 res.

Margaret and Barry Neuborn admitted to listening to frog calls in the car, rather than music!  “We hear lots of frogs at might in Mbona because a small stream runs next to our house,” said Margaret. “Often tiny frogs sit on the outside of the window and we can see their hearts beating. ”  Charlie McGillivray lead the way around the vlei so we could hear the real frogs.   We identified six by their calls:  Bronze Caco, Painted Reed Frog, Tinker Reed Frog, Guttural Toad, Platana and Yellow Striped River Frog.

Much splashing about and shining of torches followed.

frogging 199 res.

The first frog we caught was a Guttural Toad.

frogging 173 res.

We also found a number of pretty little Painted Reed Frogs.  Their markings are completely different in different areas of the coutry which causes confusion.  They also fade in sunlight, probably as a defence against the sun. We popped what we caught into plastic bags to observe them for a while. As their skins are porous, they will absorb any substances we had on our hands and we didn’t want to harm them.

frogging res.

John held this one gently by it’s pelvis so we could all have a look before it leapt away. Zoe tried to photograph hers in the plastic bag.  The children were definitely the best at finding and catching the frogs!

FROG Zoe Goble, John Robbins, Carolyn Goble res.

We also caught a Tinker Reedfrog and a Yellow Striped River frog.  frogging 189 res.

Great fun was had by all. We headed back  for coffee in frog themed cups which Twane Clarke had created especially for the occasion, and a braai at the Nick Steele picnic site.

frogging 157 res.

A thoroughly interesting and enjoyable evening, celebrating wetlands and the special creatures which inhabit them. Thanks to Karkloof Conservancy for arranging it.  see: http://www.wwf.org.za/what_we_do/species/sa_frogs/