ROCKY LANDSCAPE

There are no soft, rolling green hills here, instead this part of the Karoo is noted for its rocky landscape.

A White-browed Sparrow Weaver blends into the stony environment as it looks for seeds to eat.

These tiny grains of sand have been used to build an entrance to an ant nest.

Enormous smooth boulders swell out from some of the hills.

As barren as this might seem, a Cussonia has found a foothold between the cracks of the rock.

Survival is everything here. On the valley floor a tree has a tenuous hold.

For, as you can see, the rocky substrata is friable.

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PELOMEDUSA SUBRUFA

A quite unexpected find along a dirt road far from the nearest water source: a Pelomedusa subrufa. I am not being highfalutin here, but sticking to the name that is common to the variation of common names I have come across, such as: Helmeted Turtle, Marsh Terrapin, Side-necked Terrapin, and Waterskilpad. We nearly didn’t see it as it blended so well with the gravel on the road and the shadows as it sought shelter under a bush.

Seven hours later another one crossed a different road in front of us.

According to the reference below, although these freshwater turtles/terrapins live in water they make terrestrial excursions during the rainy season. The rainy season? Perhaps these two were out and about because this particular area of the Karoo had experienced a heavy downfall of rain the day before our arrival. There were still a few muddy puddles here and there in the veld – none that would remain for more than a day or two.

What is particular noticeable about this terrapin is that its flattened shell is oval to circular and that the head and neck withdraw side-ways into the shell. The carapace and plastron are brown to black in colour – both of these terrapins are also covered in dust and what could be the remains of mud. They are occur through most of South Africa except in the western regions.

This is a useful identification guide:

http://www.rsgplus.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/tortoise_identification_guide.pdf

IT IS DRY

… and very hot! The sun sucks the moisture from the ground and desiccates the grass. It beats down on the rocks, creating shimmers of heat waves above them. The bees and flies seek whatever water they can find.

Bees and flies seeking water.

There have been recent newspaper reports on the plight of vultures in South Africa suffering from dehydration in this drought – everything needs water to survive. A tiny leak in a pipe becomes a welcome source of hydration for Pied Starlings.

Pied Starling

Even though we are at the height of summer, there is little in the way of green grass to be seen.

Black Wildebeest

In places one can only wonder how the animals find enough food to sustain them.

Springbuck

Beautiful vistas of the Karoo show how yellow the grass is – what will be left for winter grazing if the rains do not come?

Mountain Zebra National Park

We have spent a few glorious days camping in the Mountain Zebra National Park. It is a peaceful wonderland with an abundance of interesting birds, animals and insects to see.

Cape Mountain Zebra

The swimming pool at the rest camp is a ‘life-saver’ though after a game drive during which the temperature has soared to 38°C.

NOTE: Click on the photographs for a larger view.

SPOTTED THICK-KNEE 2

It is almost a year since I came across a lone Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis) in the road close to our house. Despite listening out for its distinctive rising and falling call, especially at night, and looking out for it at dusk, I have had no sign of its presence again.  The Addo Elephant National Park has proved to be a good place for seeing these birds, where it is best to look out for them in the late afternoon, or in the early morning. This one was photographed at Ghwarrie Dam shortly after sunrise last year.

Of course you may see one during the middle of the day, such as this one at the Spekboom Hide the year before.

They can stand so still that they aren’t always easy to see as their cryptic colouring helps them to blend into the background very well. I have read that their nests are simply a shallow scrape in the ground and so I have always imagined this would be well out of the way of foot traffic – never mind vehicular traffic. Imagine my surprise then at finding a Dikkop (I love its old name!) sitting right next to the edge of the gravel road called Harvey’s Loop.

It couldn’t have been closer to the edge of the road if it tried. I reversed to get a better look and was astounded to realise that it was sitting on eggs. As both parents sit on the nest alternately and the sexes look alike, I cannot tell whether this is Mr or Mrs!

You can clearly see the scrape in the ground containing two cryptically coloured eggs – with only the parent for protection. The incubation period for the eggs is about 24 days, with both males and females involved in the rearing of the chicks.

I felt I had disturbed it enough and drove away slowly, still marvelling at this wonderful sighting.

NOTE: Click on the photographs if you wish to get a larger image.

SCHOTIA BRACHYPETALA

I recently mentioned the Pied Crows perched on a stunted (or severely browsed) Schotia brachypetala. Given that my original post on this tree has been accessed regularly since it was published in 2015 – see https://somethingovertea.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/huil-boer-boon-weeping-boer-bean/ – I thought I should provide an updated photograph of a particularly attractive example of these blossoms, which overflow with nectar – hence the ‘weeping’ part of its name. Not surprisingly, these scarlet flowers attract a wide variety of insects, birds and butterflies.

You can see a cluster of green pods on the right-hand side of the picture. This is what the more mature pods look like. They too have an attractive quality about them.

The tree, also known as a Tree Fuschia, has been named in honour of Richard van der Schot (1730-1790), the Dutch Head Gardener at the imperial Gardens at Schönbrunn in Hietzing, Vienna.

Note: Click on the photographs for a larger image.

ANT-EATING CHAT

The Ant-eating Chat (Myrmecocichla formicivora) makes up in character for what it might lack in looks – although I think it is rather a handsome bird. As it is sooty brown it blends into the environment and may easily be dismissed if one is driving past while on the lookout for birds with brighter colours or more striking features. As with so many creatures, look closely and the beauty will be revealed.

Ant-eating chats are common residents in the drier parts of the country, which is why we often see them in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock as well as in the Addo Elephant National Park. They often like to perch atop a rock, a shrub or bush to look for food. Ants are obviously on the menu, although they are also known to eat caterpillars, butterflies, bees and wasps.

I suspect this one is a female as it lacks the white carpal patch that is visible in males. You can just make this out in the following photograph.

The white carpal patch is more clearly visible here.

Here is another female for comparison.

Their pale wing panels can be clearly seen in flight.

It is interesting to observe the way they can perch so still and then take off in flight and hover, diving down to catch their prey. They can also be seen foraging on the ground: we once watched a pair of Ant-eating Chats gobbling up flying ants as they emerged from the ground.

Note: Double-click on the photographs if you want a larger image.

PREENING PIED CROWS

Usually one only sees the white breast of a Pied Crow (Corvus albus) as it flies overhead. In fact, I mostly see Pied Crows when they are on the wing and so it was interesting to watch this pair sitting on top of a stunted Huilboerboon (Schotia brachypetala) preening themselves despite the wind rocking them to and fro.

Double click on these pictures to get a larger image.