BAT-EARED FOXES

I made my first acquaintance with Bat-eared Foxes (Otocyon megalotis) during the long drive up to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park decades ago – they were all dead, having been hit by vehicles speeding along those long straight roads with nary a curve in them. Even the warning signs couldn’t prevent that. This is very sad for Bat-eared Foxes pair-bond for life and both the male and female look after their cubs.

Fortunately I have seen many live ones since, mostly in the more arid regions around the Augrabies National Park and in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as they prefer to live in areas with short grass and open ground. We have been visiting the Addo Elephant National Park on a regular basis for about three decades and never seen Bat-eared Foxes there – until a few weeks ago. We had stopped to watch a herd of zebra and, when we moved on, the sound of the engine starting flushed a pair of Bat-eared Foxes from the grass right next to where we had been parked! This accounts for the rear view.

These foxes have unusually large ears in proportion to their head, reminiscent of many bats, which gives rise to their name. You can clearly see this one’s large ears. As we assumed it was the only one, we were happily surprised to see two of them bounding away through the short grass.

Of course it would have been fun to have seen a front view of them, but beggars cannot be choosers – and the bushy tail is very evident in the photograph below. I consider myself fortunate to have seen them at all for, although they tend to be diurnal during winter and nocturnal in summer, they are not often seen during the day unless they happen to be foraging in the late afternoon.

These interesting little foxes follow a varied diet of insects – such as termites and grasshoppers, small rodents, lizards, small snakes and wild fruit. I find it particularly sad that, apart from those living in protected areas and on many game ranches and farms, their survival is threatened by a loss of their natural habitat as well as trophy hunting and the trade in their skins.

Advertisements

WATCH YOUR FOCUS

Automatic focusing is one of the most marvellous innovations that has assisted amateur photographers whether using cell phones, tiny cameras or more sophisticated ones. Before the advent of digital photography, we would wait with gleeful anticipation for either our slides or photographs to be processed, only to be disappointed by the blurry results or the “what was I meant to be photographing?” These days there are very few spoiled pictures and even then they can easily be deleted immediately afterwards and the scene re-shot. The trouble is that most of us become too reliant on the auto focus – particularly when something exciting and unexpected happens, such as the sight of a lion in the bush:

How disappointing is this! The problem comes from allowing excitement to overrule what the eye can really see through the viewfinder. I can see the lion and click away,but have not taken note that it is not in focus – instead I click, click, click at this chance encounter. How often have you tried to photograph an object only to find that your auto focus decides to home in on a leaf or twig closer than the object you want to photograph.

Look, pause, decide and remember to change to manual focus if you are not getting the results you were hoping for:

This is not a perfect picture by any means, given the distance, the light, and the vegetation in the way, but one can at least ‘see’ this lioness that was close to the lion photographed earlier. The lion below has been featured before – all three images were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park – and was photographed under more favourable conditions.

Even then I do not always succeed as I tend to get carried away by the excitement of the moment, so have to remind myself to first enjoy what I am seeing in order to fully appreciate what it is, then to take a photograph and look at it before deciding what to do to take others that are worthwhile keeping: look, pause, and look again before clicking. It’s a bit like learning to cross a road when we are young – it becomes second nature after a while.

SOUTH AFRICAN SHELDUCK

When is a goose-like bird not a goose? When it is a South African Shelduck (Tadorna cana), which looks remarkably like a goose at first glance – particularly when in flight where they could easily be confused with Egyptian Geese. The ‘shel’ of shelduck originates from the Middle-English sheld meaning ‘pied’ – a reference to their plumage. Tadorna is the French word for ‘shelduck’ while cana refers to the greyness of the head. It is the males who sport the grey head and females the white. Both sexes have chestnut bodies marked with black, white and green.

They are fairly commonly found at inland dams and rivers. These ones were photographed at the Hapoor waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park. They eat algae and crustaceans in the water and can also be seen in farmlands where grain crops are grown.

These birds form long-term pair-bond and tend to gather in large flocks to moult after breeding.

South African Shelduck

 

IT IS NOT WATTLE YOU THINK

Wattle: a fleshy carbuncle hanging from various parts of the head or neck of (in these cases) birds.

Have you ever wondered about the role played by the wattles that some birds sport?

The White Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps) is a good example to start with as it has large, pendulous yellow wattles on its face.

I have been fortunate to see these striking birds in the Kruger National Park and surrounding areas.

It is thought that the wattles serve the dual purpose of helping to regulate the temperature of the bird and to attract potential mates – which it would, if you were ‘into’ such things!

Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris) are ubiquitous in South Africa.

Their blue and red wattles contain blood vessels which, along with the bare parts on their head, apparently help to regulate their brain temperature.

A visit to the Kruger National Park would be incomplete without a sighting of the spectacular Saddle-billed Storks (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) These are the tallest storks in Africa and, while the sexes are similar in appearance, if you observe closely you might note that the females have yellow eyes, while the males not only have brown eyes but sport small yellow pendant wattles on the underside of the bill.

Perhaps these wattles are simply to look smart. I cannot find any information on any other function they may serve.

SUNDAY DRIVE

We are fortunate that we can drive only a few minutes from home and be within sight of wild animals. Their presence isn’t guaranteed for it is in their nature to move around according to the available grazing, water, the sun or the shade. Nonetheless, we often see zebra only five minutes away – they share grazing with a herd of cows on a farm – and only a few kilometers further on is a private nature reserve with a greater variety of game.

This is a scene I photographed at the weekend, showing zebra and a variety of blesbuck. The latter come in shades of their normal dark brown to completely white – why anyone would want to breed white blesbuck is beyond me. Nonetheless, these animals make a pleasant change from the Urban Herd, donkeys – and moths!

The grey logs are from Eucalyptus trees that were cut down years ago. Many of the scrubby bushes are a re-infestation of wattle, and the odd humps scattered in the background are termite heaps – there are a lot of them around here. At this time of the year the grass has been grazed down to within an inch of its life. Once again, we are sorely in need of rain – do not let that distant hue of green deceive you.

 

NOTE: Click on the photograph for a clearer view.

RED BIRDS

A number of South African birds have ‘red’ in their name, although this appellation does not necessarily refer to bright red feathers such as those of the Scarlet-chested Sunbird, this one seen in the Kruger National Park:

Or the Black-collared Barbet, as seen in my garden:

Instead, these birds have red in their name because it is a defining feature of their appearance. Among them are the African Red-eyed Bulbul, which has reddish eye-rings and is a common resident in the drier northwest region of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. This one was photographed in the Augrabies Falls National Park:

The Red-knobbed Coot, this one photographed in Cape Town, not only has two distinctive red knobs – which turn bright red during the breeding season – on its head but red eyes too. They are common resident water birds in South Africa and, interestingly, do not have webbed feet!

Delightful birds to watch are the Red-headed Finches. While they tend to live in the dry savannah areas, I photographed this one in Boksburg:

Hornbills are comical birds and the Kruger National Park hosts several varieties, among which is the Red-billed Hornbill. Although it is one of the smaller hornbills, the Red-billed Hornbill is one of the characteristic birds in the park:

While there are many more birds with ‘red’ in their name, such as the Red-eyed Dove, Red-necked Spurfowl, and the Red-winged Starling, I leave you with a particularly interesting bird, the Red-billed Oxpecker – also photographed in the Kruger National Park. This one is feasting on ticks on an impala:

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.