We’ve had a very dry autumn, winter and spring this year in Dargle, but thankfully this weekend brought a few millimetres of rain that helped to settle the dust. Remember we are custodians of the water catchment that millions of people rely on. Besides not using water wastefully, we also need to ensure that water in our care is unpolluted and riparian areas are free of invasive plants – to allow wildlife access, as well as improve the quality and quantity of the flow. With little snow, our ground water supplies have not been replenished either. Robin Fowler, who keeps seasonal records going back many years, provided these interesting figures comparing 2013 (first column) and 2014
- June 21 0
- July 1.5 3
- August 21.5 8
- September 7.5 10.5 (only 1mm recorded before this weekend’s rain!)
- Winter total 51.5 21.5
- 11 year average (September to August) = 951.5mm
- 2013/14 = 946.5mm
- Wettest year = 2004/5 1271mm
- Driest year = 2006/7 718mm
Katie Robinson – Lemonwood
Oh how I love living in Africa. This was one of those moments which will remain with me forever. Siyabonga brought me a ‘pigeon’ in a box the other morning. He told me that he had seen it being chased by an eagle (I wasn’t there, so have no idea which variety) and flew into the kitchen window. I peered into the box and immediately recognised this frantic creature jumping up and down trying to get out as the elusive Narina trogan. So thrilling as I have only ever seen it once before. I carefully picked it up and felt that unmistakable terrified heartbeat.
I wanted to just check that there was nothing broken. In a matter of seconds, he had calmed down and I was able to examine his wings and legs. He started to sort of purr/coo at me and despite my hand being completely open, he sat there for nearly 5 minutes! Maybe it was just vanity ‘cos one of my staff had time to go and get his phone and take the pictures. When the photo shoot was over, he flew back into the forest where he belongs, seemingly completely unharmed. What a magic moment.
27 Sept Would you Adam and Eve it! I rescued the second Narina trogan which failed a suicide flight into my daughter’s bedroom window this morning! What are the chances of 2 such elusive birds needing help in as many weeks? This one seemed much younger as the colours were not quite all there and it was smaller. It stayed with me for quite a long time and then I put it on a branch in a deep bit of the garden where it remained for a further 20 minutes until flying off into the forest. Wow!
I seem to be having a very exciting couple of days. Yesterday I heard the Samangos going absolutely crazy at the end of my garden, they were screaming like banshees! As I turned around to see what was going on a huge Martial eagle flew out of the forest, swerved around towards me and sliently flew past about 20 metres away. it is only when they are that close that you fully appreciate the sheer size of these birds! Thank goodness there was not a baby Samango hanging from its talons. Wow!
Kathy Herringytn and Wayne Lourens – Aloe Ridge Farm
Being a hot September, reptiles came out quite early, and one afternoon, while repairing electrical outlets that serve our pressure-booster water pump and the new “coldroom” container, I came face-to-face with a boomslang of about 750mm, which had come to the water pump to drink – there’s a minor water leak there that no amount of clamping has been able to stop completely. We stared at each other for a few seconds, before it made its way over the cut-back granadilla stems, to the bushy areas on the other side of the dividing wall.
On the subject of reptiles, Kat & I spent a short time at the old house ruin overlooking the Hopedale Mistbelt Sanctuary dam, and were thrilled to see that the Natal Spotted Green Bush snakes that are resident in the ruin, are thriving and growing. I first saw two shed skins, each of about 500mm in length, and then 2 of the 3 known residents showed themselves, one with just a few coils, the other with its whole length along the top of the northern wall of the ruin.
Kat visited the Aloe Ridge indigenous forest on Sunday 14th, and saw ten Bushbuck in the forest, and a whole lot of Reedbuck on the grasslands around the fringes of the forest. She also heard the wild pigs fairly close by, but didn’t see them in that dense part of the forest.
It seems we’re managing the remaining KZN Midlands Mistbelt Grasslands to the satisfaction of the buck species resident on Greater Hopedale, as the Blesbuck and Reedbuck are congregating on the short-mowed grasslands and the wider firebreak we burned this year – down the watercourse feeding the main dam (the first burn of the area since 2008’s runaway fire that started higher up in the Dargle and raced across Upper Hopedale in about 10 minutes, under Berg wind conditions). On Saturday, we saw the Blesbuck grazing on the new growth on the firebreak, near a group of 3 Reedbuck, with a further 3 “reedies” not far away. The Blesbuck have been decimated by poaching over the last few years (mainly on Hopedale Portions 1 & 2), and less than half of the herd of 15 that were resident when I joined Kat on Aloe Ridge 4 years ago, remain. Similarly, the Reedbuck population has been affected by poaching on Hopedale 2 and around the fringes of Hopedale. Since buying Hopedale Mistbelt Sanctuary from Andrew Nash 3 years ago, we have established a presence on that part of Hopedale, confronted dog hunters on Aloe Ridge hill, and removed numerous snares along the Umngeni floodplain, all of which have almost eliminated poaching on our own 2 portions of Hopedale.
Due to jackals hunting in packs having taken half of our 2013/2014 season’s Nguni calves, we now bring cows that are due to calve up into the sheep-fenced pastures just below the house on Aloe Ridge. About 10 days ago, we were woken at 2am by a cow, and, on checking, we saw that it was getting ready to calve. Feeling confident that our calving management plan was good, we went back to bed, & were woken again just before 4am with a jackal sounding off. I sprang out of bed, grabbed the spotlight torch, and saw that the beast was disappearing down the roadway. It had been in the roadway between the house and the field that the cows were in, and the cow we’d seen earlier had just calved. Since then, we’ve had 2 more calves born in that same field, but the jackal hasn’t returned, and it must have told the rest of the bunch that it had a close shave, as no others have showed up at calving time either.
Our Belgian Shepherd, Kelly has taken over the role of watchdog, and, about a week ago, at about 2 in the morning, she gave 4 sharp barks. When I went out to investigate, she sat bravely on the veranda while I scanned the area with my torch. Hearing a rustling, I shifted the torch beam in that direction …. right onto one of the biggest porcupines I’ve ever seen!! It was quite relaxed, with its “mohawk” quill-line intact. It wandered around for a few minutes before getting out of torch-beam range below our sand arena. Kelly’s braveness in staying on the veranda while I followed the porcupine across the lawn is a result of her having run full-tilt into one in the dark driveway a few years ago.
On Friday afternoon, Kat persuaded me that, since we’d worked through Heritage Day with our staff (who then had Friday off), we should take a belated Public Holiday and go to Hopedale Mistbelt Sanctuary dam for some fishing. Sitting on the boat (Kat-a-Splash), we noticed some juvenile Grebes swimming & diving not far away. Eventually, one came quite close to the boat, & I tried to get a photo with my mobile phone camera – at times like this I regret not having a good camera any more!!! Also, a solitary waterfowl that looked almost like a Pygmy Goose, flew in and did a perfect touchdown on the dam, before paddling over to the exposed rocks to sit and preen, and call. We used our “far-eyes” (binoculars) to get a closer look, and then, that evening, pulled out the ‘birder books for amateurs’ to look up what we’d seen. It turns out it was a South African Shelduck.
Nikki Brighton Old Kilgobbin Farm
Beside the dam seems the most sensible place to be in the hot, dry weather.
Along the edges here is evidence of plenty of visitors at cooler times of the day.
Obviously, there are lots of hungry creatures about, so getting your legs stuck in the mud is a risky business.
On the exposed damp banks there are masses of tiny white flowers – Limosella longiflora.
I have heard the so called “rainbird” – Burchell’s Coucal – calling lately along with Blue Cranes, Bar-throated Apalis and Crowned Eagles. Heard the first Klaas’s Cuckoo on 27 September, Piet-my-Vrou won’t be far behind! Lots of birds are seeking succour in the relative cool and damp of the garden. Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Batis and Chorister Robins are my favourites. Tree dassies are making a huge racket at night. Samango monkeys are making the most of the fresh green leaves on the Celtis trees.
This fellow enjoys the abundant fruit on my lemon tree.
There are flowers in the grassland – especially in protected rocky areas. I have spotted Rabdiosella, Teucrium, Bekheya, Helichrysum, Nemesia as well as the delightful Acalypha penduncularis which has male and female flowers on different plants. These are male.
Sandra and Pat Merrick – Albury Farm
A new visitor to our garden this month is a Southern black flycatcher.
A pair of pied crows are making a nest in a pine tree. They have been carrying grass for a couple of weeks now and fly from the Dargle side, so I wonder if its some special kind of thatch/grass. On 2 occasions 5 crowned cranes have arrived in the dry dam and have not stayed very long when no water was found. Once saw 2 blue crane on the farm but have heard them quite often. Seen the female oribi on a few occasions mostly in the long grass but once on the green burn.
Our pair of white throated swallows arrived on the 5th Sept and are looking to build a nest on top of the verandah light again. Our sparrow hawks still occupy the canopy of gum trees. Still see them sitting on the dead gum logs in the early mornings. Saw the one eating something on the log a few days ago. Not sure if they are feeding themselves or not as have not seen the adults.
Many reed buck around still and quite a few youngsters.
Malachite, black and greater half collared sunbirds have returned. The malachite is the perfect model as loves his photo being taken.
Not so the half collared which flits all over the place and never sits still for a minute. The gurney sugar birds are also very accommodating with photos.
Caught the one with a hornet or wasp in its beak, beating it on the branch of flowering peach tree. Took a while but eventually swallowed it. Never knew sunbirds ate insects but have seen them doing so lately in competition with the drongos and flycatcher.
I have been listening to the cry of the southern boubou lately and decided that I would track it down. Unfortunately the pair of them live in a dense thicket of cassia bushes, so I sat one morning waiting for the special moment when they would appear. One eventually hopped around the branches – first got a tail, then a face and that was it. I know they are solitary and elusive so I was determined that one day it would happen and it did. Watching the Springbok/All Black rugby match one Saturday morning got too much for my nerves, so took the camera out to the verandah and stood looking for a few minutes. Saw a movement in the bushes and took a few photos. Thought it was the olive thrush. It was only when I checked out the pics after the rugby match that I howled with delight, my Southern Boubou at last. I was at a friends house looking out of her sliding doors late one afternoon, when I saw several Southern boubous hopping around her lawn quite happily, socially mixing with the olive thrushes, and I had no camera with me. I will take it with me next week when I revisit and hope to see them once again.
The cape wagtail is nesting once more in the jasmine creeper but no eggs as yet. Male red shouldered widow is getting new feathers.
Pat and I checked the two hollow poles where the redthroated wrynecks hop in and out of. No eggs there either. She is still calling lustily, probably looking for a mate. The barn owls have still not returned. The jackal are still very active at night. The secretary bird flew over the farm this morning but landed out of view unfortunately. Pat saw it striding out on the other side of the dam. Due to the hot weather at the beginning of the month, saw a number of beautiful butterflies and some very bedraggled and torn ones too.
An African hoopoe also visited the garden on morning. They have nested in the wattle plantation for years, so seldom see them here.
Scilla flowering in the rocky grassland
and this Morea – might it be albicuspa?
Neville van Lelyveld on Iain Sinclair’s – Benn Meadhon Farm
Oribi During weekend of the 5th we observed 5 Oribi in the usual Oribi paddock. This is fairly normal as occasionally some of them stay on Howard’s property and don’t come across. On the weekend of the 8th we observed all 8 Oribi in the normal paddock, however on the Saturday night of the 9th we also observed another 6 Obri on the hay Paddock at the back of the maize fields on the plains above the valley that leads down to the Umgeni River. This is the first time that we had observed this “new” group of Orbi. It was the high light of our visits this month. Where they came from remains a mystery to us but we are delighted to have them on the farm as they could possibly improve the gene pool of the Oribi on the farm. This now brings the total Oribi population on the farm to 14 with 2 groups one of 8 animals and one of 6 animals. All the animals in both groups appear to be in an excellent condition.
Bush Buck During this month’s visits a total of approximately 20 bush buck where sighted with an even balance of male and female. This is good news. All the animals seen both male and female are in good condition. Reedbuck During our July and August visits we observed an average of 30 Reedbuck. During our September visits we have only observed an average of 7 to 9 Reedbuck. The animals are surprisingly in a very good condition. Grey duiker Once again there were 14 duiker sighted during each of the September visits. The duiker population seems to be stable at this time and they appear to be in a very good condition. Most of the does seen seem to be pregnant.
Vervet Monkey A small troop of 5 animals were sighted in the Valley near the Umgeni River. This troop has been there for a while now and it is great to see them again on the farm as the bush buck is dependent on them particularly during this dry period. Porcupine A very large ± 20kg porcupine was seen on the night of the 13th Jackals There was a lot jackal activity during both weekends of our September visits. Jackals were seen every evening during our September visits. Antbear Once again we saw the Ant bear hole in the back jackal / hay paddock. There appears to be a second ant bear hole down on the plains down by the Umgeni River. This was very exciting to see and to possibly have the second ant bear around on the farm. We will continue to monitor these holes and hopefully see both of them at some time.
Blue Crane Several blue cranes were seen during both weekends. Spurwing Geese Over last few visits we have noticed that this year there has been a dramatic increase in the Spurwing goose population. A flock of 10 geese is not uncommon now. It is very nice to see that their numbers have finally increased. Egyptian Geese The Egyptian geese population on the farm has also increased over the last few months which was also very pleasing. Several flocks of geese can be seen flying around almost all day. Herons Several Herons were seen all over the farm during this month’s visits. Guinea Fowl It is pleasing that the guinea fowl population has increased dramatically over the last few months. During both weekends we saw a flock of some 50 birds. This is the most we have seen in many years. Their population seems to be stable at this stage with a similar number of birds counted during the visits last month. Grass Owl During both visits this month we had the amazing privilege to see a grass owl as these are endangered. Francolin During this month’s visit no Francolin were seen, but many were heard. This is not uncommon as they do tend to stick to forested/wooded areas and are masters of camouflage. Pigeons There appears to be a reduction in the number of pigeons and doves around at the moment, but this is probably normal considering that the maize crops have all been harvested now and there is a clear reduction in food around for them. Owls A few barn owls were seen near the top end of the cross road forests. As a whole the owl population does seem to be on the increase at the moment. Olive Thrush There are a lot of olive thrushes around on the farm at present.
Once again several jackal buzzards and crown eagles were seen and an overall increase in raptors was seen. A large population of swallows were seen almost everywhere on the farm.