THE LOVELY RED HARTEBEEST

The Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) has been featured twice before in this blog. This is not surprising for these plains animals with a conspicuously white rump are always a pleasure to see – especially when their reddish-brown coats shine in the sun.

These two adults are standing close to a youngster in the Addo Elephant National Park. Note the different colour of the young one as well as its short spiky horns. Here is a closer view of a different lanky youngster.

A little further on, an adult picks its way over the dry stony ground towards the water at the Domkrag dam.

There are antelope droppings near its front feet and elephant droppings on the ground ahead of it. They are frequently seen alongside zebra in the plains.

These two appear to be unperturbed by the fighting zebras in their midst. The length and narrow width of the muzzle of the Red Hartebeest make it a selective feeder. Being non-ruminants, zebras are bulk grazers and have wider muzzles that help them to be more tolerant of the available grazing.

BAR-THROATED APALIS

I remember hearing this bird long before actually seeing it in my garden. I heard its call in the veld too as well as along coastal thickets. It seemed to be such a distinct sound, yet I couldn’t tell what made it. Isn’t it strange how once one is able to match a bird to its call, it seems to ‘stand out’ more than ever before. The first Bar-throated Apalis (Apalis thoracica) I identified was in our garden. It was flitting through the hedge of Cape Honeysuckle behind our kitchen while I was cooking. I saw this bird … then I heard it making that distinctive call … and the connection was made! Now I see and hear them regularly.

While they commonly occur within South Africa, these birds can be seen all along the eastern side of Africa, through Tanzania and even into Kenya. It is known in Afrikaans as Bandkeelkleinjantjie. The ‘bar-throated’ refers to the distinctive black band that separates the throat from the breast. Another distinctive aspect is its long and strongly graduated tail.

Their black bill is fairly long and slender. I usually see these birds flitting about in the foliage of the trees and shrubs in our garden, gleaning food from the bark and twigs, although they also forage for food on the ground.

They generally eat insects such as butterflies, caterpillars, bees, wasps, locusts and I have watched them catching and eating ants. The Bar-throated Apalis also eats fruits and seeds. I frequently wonder how such relatively small birds cope with being parasitized by the larger Klaas’s Cuckoo or the Red-chested Cuckoo.

These photographs were all taken during various visits to the Addo Elephant National Park.

IMMATURE MARTIAL EAGLE

It landed in a tree ahead of us, obscured by the branches of course. Later, seeing photographs of what must be the same bird taken with a far superior lens to mine, made me look at my pictures more closely and to revise my original hasty identification of it as a Booted Eagle. The more I look at them, the more I am inclined to believe that this is indeed an immature Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus).

Most visitors to a game park tend to be more interested in the animals than birds. Drivers of passing vehicles, seeing mine stopped and spotting my camera poking out of the window, would halt next to me and  eagerly ask what I was looking at … their disappointment was palpable. The phrase ‘only a bird’ scribbled itself across the faces behind the benign smiles and head nodding. It seemed an age before I could inch my vehicle forward for a better view – the occupants of the others were totally charmed by zebra and red hartebeest drinking at the waterhole on the opposite side of the road. Just a hint of the crest is visible in this photograph.

Several birds of prey can be spotted during a visit to the Addo Elephant National Park, the most common being the Pale Chanting Goshawk, Jackal Buzzard, Yellow-billed Kite and the Black-shouldered Kite. Ones with such a powerful demeanour are not frequently observed: Martial Eagles are claimed to be among the most powerful eagles in Africa.

Although there is no mistaking its barred tail and huge talons in this photograph, this immature bird is creamy-white, bearing none of the dark streaky markings so definitive in the adult birds. They reach adult plumage after about seven years.

This is what the adult looks like – the photograph was taken five years ago in the Kruger National Park.

The Martial Eagle is currently classified with the status of vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN.

BLACKHEADED HERON SWIMMING

Blackheaded Herons are commonly seen on their own in the veld or standing at the edge of water patiently waiting for something to eat. This one needed to beat the heat and have a swim.

It moved to the centre of Carol’s Rest waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park and contemplated for a minute or two before having a good splash.

The Hadeda Ibises on the edge never flinched from the drops that sprayed them generously. Then the heron straightened up.

And headed for the side of the waterhole, where it could fluff out its feathers and set them to order once more.

A PARTICULAR ZEBRA

We know by now that no two zebras are the same. This makes it particularly interesting to observe individuals in a herd and I often wonder if I would recognise any from photographs I have taken. This particular zebra stands out from the crowd as it were:

Look at the notches on its ears and the pattern on its back, where the striped pattern meets:

While several animals have notches on their ears – I imagine resulting from having been torn by thorn trees or other spiky bushes when the animals were young – I am intrigued by the hole in this one’s other ear:

I wonder what caused this puncture hole. This is a particular zebra I shall keep an eye out for on my next visit to the Addo Elephant National Park.

A TIME TO DRINK

At this time the summer temperatures can rise to over 40°C, making everyone thirsty. It is no different in the wild, where this threesome of elephants were the forerunners of a larger herd making their way across the dusty veld to drink at Rooidam in the Addo Elephant National Park. The elephant on the right has earlier submerged itself in either this or another waterhole nearby – as the darker ‘tide mark’ on its body shows. The darkened trunks also indicate that all three have already tasted the water at least and the dark ‘socks’ on the left elephant indicates how shallow the water is on the edge.

A warthog is taking advantage of the lull in animal traffic to enjoy a quiet drink of water from the waterhole at Woodlands. The water is so calm that it might even be admiring its reflection in the water while it quenches it thirst. All the waterholes in the Addo Elephant National Park are supplied by boreholes. That might be a covered pump next to the warthog. You can clearly see the concrete base of this waterhole and elephant dung in the background.

Sometimes it is not water one needs, but mother’s milk. Certainly that is what this zebra foal wanted in the middle of the day. Note how fluffy its hair is and the loving gesture of the mother placing her chin on its rump – the closest she can come to what we would call a hug, perhaps.

Birds require sustenance too and this Greater Double-collared Sunbird settled down to a good drink of nectar at Jack’s Picnic Place, quite unperturbed at being photographed in action. It visited each flower in turn before moving on to the next cluster.