ADDO ELEPHANTS

Elephants tend to move around in family groups led by a matriarch. These elephants in such a group were quenching their thirst at Ghwarrie Pan in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Male offspring are ousted from these closely-knit family groups once they reach the age of about twelve and they start to show a more than brotherly interest in the females. This must be a difficult period for these young bulls until they team up with other bulls or attach themselves to an older bull. This young bull had followed the family group pictured above from a discreet distance. It refrained from joining them, but constantly smelled the ground they had covered.

It waited patiently until the family group had crossed to the other side of the water before moving to where they had been drinking. It was only once his former family group began walking towards the lip of the hill that he finally began to drink from their last position at the dam.

Of course it is always exciting to get close to elephants in this park, where you often don’t really need a fancy camera to get pictures such as this:

Or this one:

Hapoor waterhole is a marvellous place to spend time watching groups of elephants greeting each other, young ones playing with each other, or simply to observe the actions of these majestic animals.

One shouldn’t become too complacent about the apparent gentleness or the tolerance the Addo elephants seem to have for tourists and their vehicles. It is best to maintain a healthy respect for them, to give way to them, and to allow them the space the need to move.

 

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FINDING A FORK-TAILED DRONGO NEST

How do you find the nest of a Fork-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis)? Close observation and caution are required. Observation, because you will need to watch where the drongos appear from and disappear to, and you will need to listen for the sound of their altercations with other birds. The latter ties in with why you need to exercise caution when looking for the nest of a Fork-tailed Drongo: they are aggressive birds that will defend their nest and young regardless of the shape, size or origin of the perceived intruder – that includes you, the human!

I may have mentioned before that for a couple of breeding seasons in a row, the main path leading towards the administration block of the school I taught at had to be blocked off with danger tape and a sign erected requesting visitors to approach via the library. This is because the drongos, nesting very high up in a jacaranda tree, would dive-bomb unsuspecting visitors innocently walking underneath ‘their’ territory – drawing blood on more than one occasion with their sharp beaks!

Finding the nest of a Fork-tailed Drongo begins with observing their courting behaviour. These birds enjoy a monogamous breeding relationship and so one can be entertained for a while by the wonderful aerobatic displays that involve swooping, diving, and chasing each other – and any interlopers – around the garden, accompanied by a variety of vocal noises. Such activity quietens down once the rivals have been dispensed with and minds focus on close family matters.

I had a fair idea that a pair might be nesting in the Natal Fig – that is where I observed a youngster being fed last summer – but peering up into the branches yielded nothing. The birds would often appear from somewhere in the canopy to hawk insects, to drink from the nectar pub, or to see what was on offer at the feeding tray, and they would disappear in the same direction. It is with good cause that they are frequently described as feisty and fearless birds. My hunch grew stronger when I heard the pair of Fork-tailed Drongos attacking the Knysna Turacos perching in the fig tree … then I saw one of them mobbing a Pied Crow until it was well past the perimeter of several gardens away – its crime had been to fly too low over the fig tree … then late yesterday afternoon both drongos loudly attacked the hapless Hadeda Ibises that have traditionally roosted in the branches of the fig tree for the past two decades at least. Their nest had to be there!

Fork-tailed Drongos build their nests where the branches of a tree form a fork. This provides a steady platform on which they can create their cup-shaped nests out of grass, roots, lichen, tendrils and twigs, all bound together with spider web. As I observed last summer, the eggs appear to be incubated by both parents, both of which certainly take turns feeding their chicks. Armed with this knowledge, I continued to scan the branches to no avail until this morning when I witnessed an altercation between a Fork-tailed Drongo and a Red-eyed Dove – another denizen of the fig tree. After a brief flurry of feathers, all was silent … I looked up once more and was rewarded by the sight of a Drongo sitting on its nest, the tell-tale forked tail hanging over the edge.

Perseverance wins in the end: I have found the Fork-tailed Drongo nest at last – and witnessed the ‘changing of the guard’, as one parent took over from the other!

POPPIES AND WAR

It is almost a week since Remembrance Day so I was taken aback to be asked “Why do poppies represent the end of the war when they flower in summer and the end of the war was technically winter?” Why, indeed? Poppies are not indigenous to South Africa, although a number of gardeners sow the traditional red poppy seeds in the hope that they will bloom at this time of the year. In my own garden self-sown Opium Poppies (Papaver somniferm) begin to bloom a few days before the annual Remembrance Day parade.

We must all be familiar with that moving poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae that begins with the words:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place

Seasons notwithstanding, the crimson poppy has become associated with the armistice – largely due, it is widely acknowledged, to the popularity of McCrae’s poem. As Corn Poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are pioneer plants, they were among the first plants to colonise the churned up battle fields – surely providing a wondrous sight in contrast to the destruction wrought on the landscape by war. The sale of artificial poppies have benefited war orphans, ex-service men and women and their families over the years.

Artificial poppies are more robust than real ones, which easily wilt and fall to pieces when cut.

The artificial ones for wreaths can be fairly elaborate.

While the ones generally worn on one’s left or right shoulder come in a standard form and are made from a combination of paper and plastic – this one has been pinned to a piper’s kilt for practical reasons.

These poppies have come to symbolise hope and gratitude.

Interesting information can be found at:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/why-we-wear-poppies-on-remembrance-day

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/15492228

 

HUNGRY WEAVERS

Weavers commonly feed on grass seeds on the ground in the wild or are seen clinging to stalks of grass to nibble on the seed heads. As part of their adaptation to suburban life, however, they have learned to spy out differently packaged sources of food – such as the seeds in the hanging feeder. Their conical beaks enable them to easily extract the seeds from the narrow opening – although they are such messy eaters that a lot of seeds fall to the ground, where they are eaten by Laughing Doves, Red-eyed Doves, Speckled Pigeons, and Pin-tailed Whydahs. I have observed that no more than three weavers can eat from this particular feeder at one time, and preferably only two. This is because it appears that they do not like to share their space, in the sense of seeing another weaver eating next to them. A lot of scrapping and arguments frequently take place – causing even more seed to fall!

A Village Weaver and a Cape Weaver feed opposite each other.

 

The Village Weaver constantly looks round whilst feeding – checking on possible foes or competition?

 

A Village Weaver holding on precariously – he is probably used to this position from nest-building.

A DAZZLE OF ZEBRAS

I have probably mentioned before that the pattern of stripes on every zebra is unique, rather like the whorls of our finger prints. This is evident if we look at individuals closely instead of simply seeing a herd of zebra in passing. Look at these three zebra faces and you will see what I mean:

While they brighten up any landscape, Burchell’s zebra fill an important niche in veld management as they are bulk grazers that can eat grass of a medium to short length, although they prefer shorter grasses which are high in nutrients such as nitrogen. Themeda triandra and Cynodon dactylon are their preferred grass species. Like the Cape buffalo and the wildebeest, they have a tolerance for the fibrous grasses which many other grazers prefer to avoid.

Burchell’s zebra are water dependent and are said to drink about 12 litres per day.

This is the time of the year for foals to be born. This one is resting after having gambolled round and round his mother, chased a warthog and jumped over an ant heap a few times:

PRETTY PELARGONIUMS

Around 219 species of Pelargonium are found in South Africa, many of them with a long flowering season. The genus name is derived from the Greek word pelargos which means ‘stork’ and refers to the beak-like fruit of these plants. Here are some of these pretty blossoms seen recently in the Addo Elephant National Park.

This is possibly Pelargonium inquinans which is a soft, woody shrub that grows to a height of up to 2m. Several of these shrubs were growing in between the Spekboom hedges in the camping area, although a few scarlet flowers could be seen elsewhere in the park.

I think this beautiful flower might be Pelargonium exstipulatum. They can be seen all over the park and especially at Jack’s Picnic Site.

One really needs time (and a good guide!) to study these flowers in detail. I am guessing this is a Pelargonium botulinum, although they are more closely associated with coastal dunes in the southwestern and southern Cape.

Even if the names are wrong, the flowers remain attractive spots of colour in the veld.