The male African Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) is fairly easy to identify in grassland and areas with short scrub. Its combination of a black head, white neck patch and the bright chestnut breast and flanks is remarkable.
These active little birds feed mainly on small insects and other invertebrates. Thus, one sees them perched on twigs or grass on the lookout for their prey. This one was photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park – what now seems like a very long time ago!
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.
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.
Two visits to the Addo Elephant National Park, in December and again this month, tell the tale of drought. In this photograph elephants crowd around the Hapoor waterhole.
The veld around this waterhole is almost completely bare of vegetation and so it is not surprising to see dust devils such as this one nearby.
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 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.
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.