A BIRD FEEDER IN HOUT BAY

It is fun watching birds in someone else’s garden and what better way to do so than keeping an eye on the local bird feeder. Among the first visitors to arrive in this Hout Bay garden was a Southern Boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus), a familiar visitor in my own garden. There it tends to seek out anything meaty or fruity, so I was surprised to see this one tucking into the seeds:

Another familiar bird arrived, a Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra). These are beloved garden birds that eat fruit, insects and scraps of any kind. This one was combing the lawn for dried meal worms – something I have never provided for the birds in my garden:

Yet another familiar bird arrived with a loud fluttering of its wings – one of a pair of Speckled Pigeons (Columba guinea). These birds are ubiquitous over the whole country, so their presence was no surprise:

Ah, not only birds visited this bird feeder. The mystery of why the cut apples disappear so quickly was solved with the sighting of this Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in the act. These are not indigenous, having been imported by Cecil John Rhodes during the 19th century:

Mmm … there was another non-avian contender for the fallen seed below the feeder. Such a regular visitor in fact that it has made a getaway tunnel among the plants growing next to the fence. This is a Four-striped Grass Mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio):

Try as I might, I ended having to photograph these delightful visitors through the window. What an absolute delight it was to watch small groups of Swee Waxbills (Coccopygia melanotis) fluttering down from the branches to cluster around the feeder. They never seemed to be still and would fly off at a moment’s notice leaving their high-pitched ‘swee-swee’ contact call in their wake:

Now, a bonus picture that brought great joy to the pre-schooler who had made this elaborate feeder – unidentified visitors (taken through a window with a cell phone) investigating the seed therein at last!

Proof indeed that this carnival-like contraption was also attractive to birds.

SCENES FROM NATIONAL PARKS

South Africa is blessed with several national parks. It takes time and travelling long distances to visit even some of them, yet none disappoint. Today I will feature scenes from a few of them. The Addo Elephant National Park is not very far from where we live and so, every now and then, we go there for a day visit. Given its name, visitors naturally expect to see elephants there:

It is also a good place for birding, where one might be fortunate to see raptors such as this Jackal Buzzard:

The Mountain Zebra National Park is also easily accessible to us and is the perfect place to spend a few days. Visitors here would obviously expect to see mountain zebras:

However, one might also be fortunate to spot a cheetah lying in the yellow grass:

There are red hartebeest in the Karoo National Park – which makes a good stopping point between where we live and Cape Town:

One can also enjoy seeing ostriches striding along the open veld:

The world famous Kruger National Park is several day’s journey from here and hosts an enormous variety of plants, birds, insects and animals. When we consider the alarming rate at which rhinos are killed in this country, we cannot help but feel privileged to see them from close quarters here:

The name on every visitor’s lips is ‘lion’. Mention the word and people speed up and jostle for space to see even the tip of the tail of one. Equally exciting to see though are leopards:

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is the furthest away from us and – despite its remote location – is such a popular destination that one has to book accommodation about a year ahead. This is an incredible place for seeing lions:

It is also a marvellous place for seeing the very beautiful crimson-breasted shrike:

BUSHPIG

It is not surprising that during our many visits to the Addo Elephant National Park over the past thirty years we have not spotted a Bushpig (Potamochoerus larvatus) even though they are present in the area. This is largely because they are secretive in nature and tend to be nocturnal, although they are known to be diurnal during the cooler months. In June we saw the hairy rear ends of a pair that scuttled into the bushes as we neared them … a month later, we happened across a pair of bushpigs out in the open right next to the road in broad daylight! The reason for our surprise is that these animals are usually associated with dense vegetation such as scrub forests, thickets and riverine habitats, where food, shelter and water are readily available.

Bushpigs are recognisable by their blunt, muscular snouts. As you can see, the upper areas of the ears and face and manes are a lighter colour than the rest of the body.

They have small eyes and pointed, tufted ears.

Here you can see that their sharp tusks are fairly short and inconspicuous, in fact you can hardly see the upper tusks.

As they are omnivorous creatures, the varied diet of bushpigs includes forbs, roots and seeds to insects, eggs and carrion.

The thin whip-like tail of a bushpig is about 30cm long. Interestingly, while warthogs run with their tails held high, bushpigs keep theirs hanging down.

We feel fortunate to have been able to observe bushpigs in Addo at last!

 

ANIMALS EATING

Warthogs are omnivores whose diet includes roots, berries, bark, bulbs, grass and a variety of plants. Their rounded cartilage snout is hardened on the upper side so that it can act as a kind of shovel to dig up bulbs from under the ground – as this one is doing:

Elephants on the other hand often break branches in order to gain access to the leaves, roots and nutrients in the tree:

Although kudu are well known as browsers, they also eat a variety of fruit, pods, forbs and creepers as well as succulents such as spekboom and aloes. This one is taking advantage of the many forbs that have grown after a long period without rain:

Red Hartebeest are predominantly grazers. While they usually prefer medium-height grass, they also tuck into the fresh re-growth of grass growing after rain:

Like the warthogs, bushpigs are omnivorous. Apart from insects and carrion, they also eat fruit, roots, bulbs and forbs:

We tend to think of zebras being predominantly grazers, yet they also include shrubs, bark, twigs, leaves and herbs in their diet:

WATER IS LIFE

South Africans are no strangers to drought and so we can empathise with the extremely dry conditions being experienced in parts of Europe. Some spring rains have arrived here – the hope is always for more! We all need water to survive and so I share some pictures of various creatures taking a much needed drink in the Addo Elephant National Park. The first are vervet monkeys enjoying a drink from puddles in the road:

This elephant was slaking its thirst at the Marion Baree water hole:

The Woodlands water hole is where these zebra gathered for their drink:

On a different occasion a single warthog visited the same water hole:

Ring-necked doves took deep draughts of water at Carol’s Rest water hole:

This was before they were ousted by a red hartebeest: