ANGULATE TORTOISE

I was driving out of town yesterday when an Angulate Tortoise walking next to the road caught my eye.

angulate tortoise

It felt akin to seeing another dog that mimics the look of your own pet in a place where this is impossible. Of course, I am referring to Bryan – the Angulate Tortoise that has made our garden his home for the past couple of years. I saw him the other day, chomping at the weeds on our lawn – he is looking healthy and is clearly growing, so we should measure and weigh him before summer ends.

This one has an undamaged carapace and was walking surprisingly quickly to get out of the sun beating overhead.

angulate tortoise

TORTOISES AT ADDO

Not to be outdone by the Cape buffalo, leopard tortoises were also out in force during our recent visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. These tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) are often called mountain tortoises from directly translating the Afrikaans name for them, bergskilpad. They grow to be the largest tortoises in South Africa, which makes the mature ones easy to spot in the veld – if they are around.

The first one we saw was in the vicinity of the Lismore Waterhole, seemingly unperturbed by the presence of so many elephants. Although we watched it closely for some time, marvelling at its size, the wise look in its eyes and the good condition of its carapace, it was only once I was studying its image on my computer that I noticed the tick on it!

leopard tortoise

Apparently it is not uncommon to find tortoises in the wild that are infested with ticks in the soft skin of their necks and upper limbs. Notice its well-developed back legs and the pigeon-toed front legs. The row of small nails helps the tortoise to manoeuvre over rocks and to walk at speed. You would be surprised to see how quickly these tortoises can move through the veld!

Another lone tortoise appeared near the road on our way to the Hapoor Waterhole.

leopard tortoise

This is not unusual for they tend to be loners except for during the mating season. That is when the males follow females for some distance and then butt them into submission. We couldn’t help wondering if this is what was happening near Ghwarrie. We watched these two pushing each other for about ten minutes – and they had been at it before we arrived. It could equally have been an example of competitor ramming, especially as these ones were head-to-head.

leopard tortoises

leopard tortoises

leopard tortoises

By the end of our trip we had lost count of the number of leopard tortoises we had seen – some striding ahead purposefully, others munching grass contentedly, and yet others ambling across the road with the confidence of knowing that they have right of way.

We spotted one angulate tortoise and it was not waiting around for any touristy shots. Instead, it was walking as fast as its legs could carry it across the road to where it could hide in the dry grass.

angulate tortoise

MEET SAMMY

Sammy, a relatively young Leopard Tortoise, was brought to us after being found on a local junior school campus. He has already had quite a tough life as one can tell from the damage to the skirt of his carapace – doubtless stemming from the curiosity of dogs.

Leopard tortoise

He was brought to our garden on a very chilly afternoon, carefully conveyed in a beer box.

leopard tortoise

The shell pattern is very attractive – both on top and underneath.

leopard tortoise

Once Sammy had undergone the ignominy of being photographed from all angles, he found refuge under the Spekboom growing near the swimming pool.

leopard tortoise

It was a day or so later that we spotted him exploring the tangle of Plumbago before he disappeared for a while. Once the bout of cold weather gave way to warm sunshine, however, Sammy was on the move again and was last seen tucking himself away under the Van Stadens Daisies on the edge of the lawn. This is good news for Leopard Tortoises mostly eat grass – of which we have a variety in the garden. Sammy has the freedom to go wherever he pleases. I wonder when, and if, he will meet Bryan (the Angulate Tortoise) during his wanderings.

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SKUKUZA

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SKUKUZA

The Skukuza area proved to be a little disappointing after the bounty of game we had become accustomed to during our sojourn at Satara Camp. The vegetation is bushier, so the animals are not as easy to see, on some days the temperature peaked at 40°C, and – as happens periodically – perhaps luck was not always on our side. There is more to enjoy about a trip to a game reserve than spotting wild animals though. We revelled in the picturesque rocky outcrops.

kopje

On one of them we saw a klipspringer surveying its kingdom.

klipspringer

The multi-hued trees and waterholes, such as Transport Dam, are magnificent to behold.

Transport Dam

It was at the bird hide at Lake Panic that I was able to watch a Giant Kingfisher from close quarters.

giant kingfisher

The Water Thick-knees were easier to see there too as they were so close in comparison to my previous sightings along river banks much further away.

Water Thick-knee

It was on a circular trip from Skukuza to Berg-en-Dal and back that we saw ten white rhinos in different locations.

whiterhino

The waterhole at Berg-en-Dal attracted elephants and blue wildebeest while we were there as well as hosting at least one resident crocodile and several terrapins.

elephantsknp

terrapins

Picnic sites such as Tshokwane and Afsaal make good stopping points when embarking on a long drive. Both of these places appeared to have relatively tame bushbuck on the periphery – as well as the inevitable visits by vervet monkeys and baboons. Bearded woodpeckers announced their presence with their tap-tapping on the bark of trees.

bearded woodpecker

Having grown up in the Lowveld, I enjoyed being amongst trees so familiar from my youth: leadwood, appleleaf, jackalberry, and especially the kiaat trees. Their peculiarly shaped pods fascinated me as a child and the sight of them unlocked many fond memories from that time.

kiaat

Helmeted Guineafowl and Blue Waxbills are birds that I grew up with.

helmeted guineafowl

blue waxbill

As I usually struggle to see the African Green Pigeons in the thick foliage of the fig tree in our garden, it was interesting so see them close by and out in the open for a change.

African Green Pigeon

We saw more ground Hornbills in the Skukuza area than had been evident around Satara. The largest group we came across included young ones in various stages of maturity.

groundhornbill

young ground hornbill

Although I have mentioned them before, it was good to see how prolific the Red-billed Oxpeckers were – always clearing their hosts of ticks with no place being too much trouble for them to ‘service’.

redbilled oxpeckers

Zebras are naturally photogenic. This one sports particularly dark stripes.

zebra

Among some of the less common creatures we came across were several mountain tortoises

A leguaan

leguaan

Large fruit bats hanging from the eaves outside the shop in Skukuza

fruit bat

And the pale geckos that feasted on insects attracted to the lights outside the ablution blocks.

gecko

It was at Skukuza that I went on my first night-drive through the Kruger National Park. The spotlights showed up scrub hares, bush babies, a grey duiker and several spotted hyenas. The highlight for most visitors though was seeing three lionesses on a rock dome. They were so sated they could barely move so the multitude of camera flashes worried them not a bit. Having been on the lookout from day one, it was only on our way out of the Park that we eventually spotted a leopard lying in a dry riverbed far below the level of the road. The closely packed vehicles made it impossible to capture it in my viewfinder, so I will cheat by showing one we saw three years ago!

leopard

A morning spent at the camp afforded me the opportunity to observe some of the many birds that flitted through the thick foliage hedging our campsite. These included the rather raucous Purple Turaco and the very attractive Red-capped Robin Chat.

purple turaco

red-capped robin-chat

How can I leave the Kruger National Park without mentioning either that ubiquitous bird, the Yellow-billed Hornbill or the golden orb spiders!

yellow-billed hornbill

spider

Just for the record, here is my bird list for April- May:
Acacia Pied Barbet
African Fish Eagle
African Green Pigeon
African Grey Hornbill
African Hawk Eagle
African Jacana
African Mourning Dove
African Yellow White-eye
Amur Falcon
Arrow-marked Babbler
Barn Swallow
Bataleur
Bearded Scrub Robin
Bearded Woodpecker
Black Crake
Black-backed Puffback
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Heron
Black-headed Oriole
Blacksmith Plover
Black-winged Stilt
Blue Waxbill
Boubou Shrike
Bronze-winged Courser
Brown Snake Eagle
Brown-headed Parrot
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Burchell’s Coucal
Burchell’s Starling
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Turtle Dove
Cattle Egret
Chinspot Batis
Collared Sunbird
Common Moorhen
Common Ringed Plover
Crested Barbet
Crested Francolin
Crowned Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
European Bee-eater
Fork-tailed Drongo
Giant Kingfisher
Golden-tailed Woodpecker
Goliath Heron
Great Egret
Great Sparrow
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Green-backed Camaroptera
Green-backed Heron
Grey Heron
Grey Lourie
Grey-billed Hornbill
Grey-headed Sparrow
Ground Hornbill
Groundscraper Thrush
Hadeda Ibis
Hamerkop
Helmeted Guineafowl
Hooded Vulture
Hoopoe
House Sparrow
Kori Bustard
Laughing Dove
Lazy Cisticola
Lilac-breasted Roller
Little Bittern
Lizard Buzzard
Magpie Shrike
Malachite Kingfisher
Marabou Stork
Martial Eagle
Namaqua Dove
Natal Spurfowl
Open-bill Stork
Ostrich
Pearl-breasted Swallow
Peregrine Falcon
Pied Kingfisher
Pied Wagtail
Purple Roller
Purple-crested Turaco
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver
Red-billed Firefinch
Red-billed Hornbill
Red-billed Oxpecker
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-capped Robin Chat
Red-faced Mousebird
Red-winged Starling
Saddle-billed Stork
Scarlet-chested Sunbird
Secretary Bird
Sombre Bulbul
Southern White-crowned Shrike
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Spoonbill
Spotted Eagle Owl
Squacco Heron
Steppe Buzzard
Swainson’s Spurfowl
Terrestrial Brownbul
Three-banded Plover
Water Thick-knee
Whalberg’s Eagle
White-backed Vulture
White-bellied Sunbird
White-browed Robin Chat
White-browed Scrub Robin
White-fronted Bee-eater
White-headed Vulture
White-rumped Swift
Wire-tailed Swallow
Woolly-necked Stork
Yellow-bellied Greenbul
Yellow-billed Hornbill
Yellow-billed Stork
Yellow-breasted Apalis
Yellow-fronted Canary

LUCKY LUKE

LUCKY LUKE

As I have mentioned before, January has turned out to be ‘rescue’ month.

An acquaintance brought round a tiny tortoise rescued from the unwelcome attention of dogs while she was walking in the veld not far from where we live.

It looks in a pitiful state and has obviously been subject to sharp jaws before as the damage to its shell is old. We know from Bryan’s experience (see DAISY’S ESCAPE FROM CRUNCHING JAWS 18th May 2014 – yes, Bryan was Daisy back then!) that no amount of sticking plaster is going to help. He remains perfectly healthy and ambles about the garden busily every day while munching this or that.

shell damage

For C it was love at first sight and so the tortoise spent the night in an apple box at her house next door. Water as well as grass and other leaves were provided to tide it over.

Yesterday morning the apple box containing the tortoise was brought into my kitchen with great solemnity and I was informed that this tortoise is to be known as Luke. I could photograph it, but it would have to be released into her garden once she was home from school.

Lucky Luke for, according to the Field Guide to the Snakes and other Reptiles of southern Africa by Bill Branch, he is a male Parrot-beaked Tortoise (Homopus arealatus) – so called because of its strongly hooked beak – and is endemic to South Africa. It is also known as the Common Padloper.

underneath

Given the small size of this tortoise it is unsurprising to discover it is commonly eaten by secretary birds (safe here) and crows (hopefully Luke will remain hidden when they come cawing overhead) in the wild and, closer to human habitat, by dogs –  as his old wounds bear testimony.

wartorn

They do not do well kept in a confined space. Luke is fortunate to have two secure adjoining gardens to roam in that contain very similar vegetation to what is available where he was found. Among the available food items he favours are: couch grass, dandelions, Echeveraia elegans, Echeveria pulvinate, Kikiyu grass, Mesembryanthemums, Wandering Jew and wonderlawn.

We hope that he will settle down and that he will end up being as content as Bryan seems to be in our garden.

camouflaged

NOVEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

NOVEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

November has been a fulfilling month for watching birds in the garden, with an average of twenty or so birds making it to my list all while I am enjoying a pot of tea!

There has been a lot of activity too in the avian world: the number of Laughing Doves has swelled with a new generation of paler youngsters and the Rock (Speckled) Pigeons have increased from the regular two to six. Apart from the breeding pair in the roof above my study, another pair quickly moved in above the bathroom when a gap appeared in the eaves after a storm.

I have observed a pair of Olive Thrushes following a circuitous route around the garden while taking food to their young in a nest hidden in some bushes only metres away from where I usually sit.

The pair of Lesser-striped Swallows have changed the direction of the tunnel entrance to their mud nest this season. So far there has been no dislodging of their building material and I note, from the increasing frequency of their use of the entrance, that they must be raising their young.

While many Village Weavers and Cape Weavers are kept busy feeding their young, others continue to build nests in the fig tree.

The Hadeda Ibis chick in the fig tree has progressed from flexing its wings while perching on a sturdy branch to walking all over the garden in search of food.

A pair of Cape Wagtails were the first birds to be noted this month as they pranced around the edge of the swimming pool and chirrupt from the edge of the gutters on the roof. I regard them as a cheerful asset to any garden.

It has also been fascinating to watch the Fork-tailed Drongo dive-bombing the swimming pool. At first it was obvious that this canny hunter was after an insect floundering on the surface of the water. Later, as this behaviour was repeated several times in a row, we couldn’t help feeling it was literally taking a bath ‘on the wing’ – unless what it was after was microscopic.

Two Redbilled Woodhoopoes serenaded me from the bathroom windowsill last week. Who says one has to be outdoors to appreciate birds?

The regular dawn chorus includes the Bokmakierie, Blackheaded Oriole, Black-collared Barbets, and the Sombre Bulbul. What a delight it has been to see Paradise Flycatchers flitting through the trees these days.

A newcomer to my list is the White-necked Raven that has appeared a few times over the past fortnight. Three Black (Cape) Crows hung around for a while recently too, often perching on the telephone wires. A few days ago they caused a consternation in the garden when they raucously settled into the fig tree. Their harsh calls and various gurgling notes caused the other birds to scatter, only to regroup once the dark trio had left. This same scattering for cover has been repeated every time a Black Harrier was seen for several days in a row.

The Barthroated Apalis was the last on my list after an absence of over a month. I saw it working its way through the shrubbery after I had heard the return of its familiar call earlier. I read that it is regularly parasitized by Klaas’ Cuckoo – that is still around, as is the Red-chested Cuckoo. The latter is vociferously calling ‘Piet-my-vrou’ as I write.

By the way, Bryan the tortoise, has been seen more regularly too. He chomps at the grass and nibbles some of the broad-leaved weeds, drinks from the bird bath set on the lawn, and seeks shelter in a shady patch during the hottest part of the day.

My November list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Black Harrier
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Darter
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
White-necked Raven
Whiterumped Swift

MEET BRYAN

MEET BRYAN

Daisy the tortoise is no more.

No, this is not a sorry tale about Daisy meeting a sticky end, instead …

We have so enjoyed watching Daisy moving around the garden since the advent of spring. She now regularly leaves her wintering-over place in the nest of leaves near the pool pump to wander across the lawn while eating grass and nibbling at broad-leaved weeds along the way. She is then in the habit of sunning herself on the bricks for a while before seeking shelter from the sun by hiding under the ivy leaves or crawling under a lavender bush.

Daisy has, happily, survived the winter and is doing well … well, Daisy was doing well …

Until a close inspection of Tortoises Terrapins & Turtles of Africa by Bill Branch revealed that counting scales is not a reliable method of sexing Angulate tortoises – which are endemic to the Eastern Cape, by the way. It is easier and more reliable to turn the tortoise over.

tortoise diagram

We did and have thus discovered that Daisy is actually Bryan.

Welcome to our garden, Bryan!