ANT-EATING CHAT

The Ant-eating Chat (Myrmecocichla formicivora) makes up in character for what it might lack in looks – although I think it is rather a handsome bird. As it is sooty brown it blends into the environment and may easily be dismissed if one is driving past while on the lookout for birds with brighter colours or more striking features. As with so many creatures, look closely and the beauty will be revealed.

Ant-eating chats are common residents in the drier parts of the country, which is why we often see them in the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock as well as in the Addo Elephant National Park. They often like to perch atop a rock, a shrub or bush to look for food. Ants are obviously on the menu, although they are also known to eat caterpillars, butterflies, bees and wasps.

I suspect this one is a female as it lacks the white carpal patch that is visible in males. You can just make this out in the following photograph.

The white carpal patch is more clearly visible here.

Here is another female for comparison.

Their pale wing panels can be clearly seen in flight.

It is interesting to observe the way they can perch so still and then take off in flight and hover, diving down to catch their prey. They can also be seen foraging on the ground: we once watched a pair of Ant-eating Chats gobbling up flying ants as they emerged from the ground.

Note: Double-click on the photographs if you want a larger image.

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VACHELLIA KARROO

This is the time of the year when the Vachellia (formerly Acacia) karroo comes into its own. Also known as the sweet thorn (soetdoring in Afrikaans), this beautiful tree brightens the drought-stricken environment in the early summer with its bright show of fragrant yellow flowers shaped like tiny pompons which attract numerous insects.

The common name, sweet thorn, comes from the gum which is exuded from wounds in the bark. Although I have not tried it, the gum is reputed to taste pleasant enough to be eaten both by people and animals.

The trees are characterised by sharp white thorns that can grow to considerable lengths.

Here an Ant-eating Chat uses a Vachellia karroo as a handy perch.

A Vachellia karroo (which will always be an Acacia to many of us!) in its glory: