John Kani Street, Port Elizabeth:
No, I do not mean that literally – that is the last kind of behaviour I would encourage! Rather, stone the crows is a phrase generally understood to be an exclamation of incredulity or annoyance. Although this is not a term widely used in South Africa, it occasionally springs to mind when crows squawk and gurgle as they fly over my garden or settle in one of the tall trees before being mobbed by some of the smaller denizens of the area.
Until about five years ago, crows of any kind were more often seen in the area known as Burnt Kraal and around the municipal dump, both on the outskirts of our town. Now I see both Cape Crows and Pied Crows daily in the suburbs – occasionally even a White-necked Raven.
The Pied Crow (Corvus albus) is the most common and widespread all over the country.
It is easily recognised by its white breast and neck, both while flying or when it is on the ground. They have been recorded as being on the increase in South Africa, partly because of the availability of nesting sites on electrical poles coupled with roadkill as an available source of food. Any traveller along our network of roads will attest to this. The Pied Crow is highly adaptable in terms of the food it eats, which includes an omnivorous diet of fruit, seeds, small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. They are known to raid the nests of birds for either eggs or nestlings, so it is no surprise that the Fork-tailed Drongos nesting the fig tree regularly chase one off the property. I wonder if they say stone the crows, wishing they could do this literally!
Pied Crows also remind me of a song we used to sing in primary school. It began:
Aai, aai, die Witborskraai!
Hiervandaan na Mosselbaai
–Oompie wil na Tannie vry,
maar Tannie trek haar neus opsy.
You might find this an interesting site to visit:
The Cape Crow (Corvus capensis) used to be called (and is still widely known as) the Black Crow – perfectly understandable as it is a glossy black all over.
It is a common resident in grasslands as well as in the drier regions of the country. They are ubiquitous in the Addo Elephant National Park, where we saw flocks of close to fifty scattered across the veld in the vicinity of Carol’s Rest and elsewhere. They too are omnivorous birds, feeding on insects, small reptiles, birds, frogs, seeds, fruit and carrion.
It is almost a given that camping at one of our national parks will involve at least one encounter with Vervet Monkeys. Seasoned campers keep their food out of sight and lock their caravans or tents when they are away from the camping area – be aware that if you do not have a built-in groundsheet, your food remains a target as monkeys know all about crawling underneath the canvas! Visitors are warned not to feed them – as ‘cute’ as they might look – and rubbish bins have been designed with a rolling lid to make it difficult for monkeys to pull anything out of them in their quest to find something to eat.
These bins are emptied regularly and every morning someone visits the campsites to clear away the remains of any braai fires from the night before. There is not a great deal more that the authorities can do. Yet, there must be enough pickings around to make it worthwhile for the monkeys to systematically comb the rest camp for food during the course of the morning and the early afternoons, when the rest camp is very quiet. That is when many visitors are driving through the wildlife area, sitting in the bird hide or … resting.
During such a lull one afternoon, I heard of someone’s car keys being snatched away by a monkey; our neighbours found moneys had entered their open vehicle while they were chatting to other neighbours nearby; and I watched as one by one monkeys would alight on our trailer parked next to a Spekboom hedge.
They used the roof of the neighbouring caravan as a lookout point.
One of the monkeys had stolen a muffin and sat on the caravan roof to enjoy his booty. It was quickly joined by two others. The first monkey was unwilling to share, so leapt up into the tall branches of the adjacent fig tree to eat it in solitude.
Seasoned camper that I am, I too fell victim to the monkeys whilst we were breaking camp and the trailer lid was left open for ease of packing: away went a bunch of bananas … away went the remains of the vanilla biscuits I had baked for the trip – they dropped my plastic container though.
A blessing – yes, because they are fun to watch; a curse – yes, because nothing is safe from their inherent inquisitiveness!
Farmers do not regard these wily creatures as friends, yet they are a delight to observe in their natural habitat.
Black-backed Jackals tend to mate for life and so, should you see one in the veld, you can virtually be certain there is another in the vicinity. A pair of them trotted purposefully along the edge of Ghwarrie Pan shortly after sunrise one morning. It was at Carol’s Rest though that we observed an interesting altercation between a Black-backed Jackal and a Pied Crow.
The latter had already experienced an unsuccessful attempt to share the small waterhole with an Egyptian Goose that had arrived out of the blue – with no intention of sharing the water with anyone!
Once the Egyptian Goose had drunk its fill and flown off, the Pied Crow was in no mood to be ousted from its drinking spot again and made sure the approaching Black-backed Jackal was aware of this. Doubtless, the jackal was thirsty too and so it kept trotting purposefully towards the water. The crow opted to make a pre-emptive strike.
It continued to harass the jackal until it gave up and moved away to drink from the overflow a little further down the slope.
I have probably mentioned before that the pattern of stripes on every zebra is unique, rather like the whorls of our finger prints. This is evident if we look at individuals closely instead of simply seeing a herd of zebra in passing. Look at these three zebra faces and you will see what I mean:
While they brighten up any landscape, Burchell’s zebra fill an important niche in veld management as they are bulk grazers that can eat grass of a medium to short length, although they prefer shorter grasses which are high in nutrients such as nitrogen. Themeda triandra and Cynodon dactylon are their preferred grass species. Like the Cape buffalo and the wildebeest, they have a tolerance for the fibrous grasses which many other grazers prefer to avoid.
Burchell’s zebra are water dependent and are said to drink about 12 litres per day.
This is the time of the year for foals to be born. This one is resting after having gambolled round and round his mother, chased a warthog and jumped over an ant heap a few times:
The day began before 6 a.m. while the morning mist still hugged the hills around Grahamstown and the sun was struggling to break through the cloud cover.
This was when a group of four pipers and two drummers gathered at the 1820 Settlers’ Monument that overlooks the town to join in a world-wide commemoration of the signing of the armistice a hundred years ago.
The annual Remembrance Day Parade took place in Church Square later that morning:
The mournful calls of Emerald Spotted Wood Doves wafted across the Spekboom from around four in the morning. By first light several birds had begun methodically combing the camping area for bits of food that may have been dropped during suppers the night before. Among them were:
A Southern Boubou looking quizzically at the camera before resuming its search between the gravel stones.
An adult Olive Thrush that seized upon a baby tomato at the base of the Spekboom hedge, crushed it in its beak, and then fed it to the spotted juvenile following it around.
This Laughing Dove looks as if it has just woken up!
A more alert Redeyed Dove stretching to pick up a tiny seed lodged between the gravel.
This brightly coloured Cape Weaver flew down to see what may be hiding behind the leaves.
As did a sharp-eyed Southern Masked Weaver. You can tell the sun had risen by then!
While a curious Cape Bulbul watched the proceedings from on high.
Of course there were many more, but we had poured a warm drink and gone off to explore …