FRIEND OR FOE?

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.

Advertisements

BLACK-BACKED JACKAL

The Black-backed Jackal (Canus mesomelus) counts among my favourite animals to see in the wild. I have spent hours watching their social behaviour in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and enjoy spotting them in the Addo Elephant and other National Parks. These omnivores have a special character about them: they look bright, alert and trot in the veld with a rather jaunty air, like this one in the Kgalagadi.

One of my favourite things when camping in the wild is to listen to the high wailing calls and yelps of the Black-backed Jackals from early in the evening through to the dawn. Sometimes you can make out the calls of one being answered by another and then another until there is a chorus of them. This, along with the call of the African Fish Eagle, is one of the iconic sounds of the South African bush. The one below was photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Black-backed Jackals are often regarded as cunning, intelligent scavengers which are quick to arrive at the scene of a lion kill, for example. One can see them darting in and out to get whatever they can of the feast – all the while keeping a wary eye on the lions and hyenas! The kill featured below – in the Kruger National Park – was already a day old and the main feeders had already left it. Only an old and sickly lion was there to ineffectually defend it, with vultures, spotted hyenas and Black-backed Jackals ready to pick the carcass clean.

AN UNCO-OPERATIVE BIRD

Based on its size, I think this is a young Jackal Buzzard (Buteo rufofuscus). However, as you can see, this particular bird was not being particularly co-operative when I stopped to check. That it was perching against a bright sky didn’t help either! Jackal Buzzards are endemic to South Africa and, as I have recorded several of them in the area over the past few months, I think it is safe to assume this one’s identity. Unfortunately, I was unable to identify the predominantly rufous chest band on this individual.

Juvenile Jackal Buzzards tend to be mostly brown in colour, with rufous on their underside and tail. This one’s tail shows the characteristic rufous colouring.

The yellow legs and feet can be clearly seen.

Readers unfamiliar with this bird may be interested to know that its name comes from the loud yelping calls it makes, which are similar in sound to those of the Black-backed Jackal, pictured below.

Jackal Buzzards hunt from the air and can often be seen perching on fence posts or electricity poles.

Apart from consulting several bird books, I have found these sites useful:

http://bryndekocks.com/blog/the-buzzard-problem-differentiating-steppe-jackal-and-forest-buzzards/

https://www.sa-venues.com/wildlife/birds_jackal_buzzard.htm

CHRISTMAS IN ADDO

We decided to break with tradition this year and spent Christmas Day in the Addo Elephant National Park – as did hundreds of others! A long queue of vehicles developed outside the Matyholweni (meaning ‘in the bush’ in Xhosa) Gate at the southern entrance to the Park. Some people donned Christmas hats and there was an atmosphere of cheer as visitors in a festive mood greeted each other in passing. Jack’s Picnic Site was so chockful of people at noon that several families simply enjoyed a picnic lunch in the scant shade of their vehicles. Vehicles were parked as far back as the turnoff to the chalets when we reached the Main Rest Camp. The picnic site there too was filled to the brim with people braaiing or having a picnic in whatever shade they could find. Fortunately, we had booked for the 2 p.m. Christmas dinner at the Cattle Baron.

The weather was gloriously clear and a pleasantly warm 23°C when we arrived mid-morning. By three o’clock in the afternoon though the temperature had soared to 40°C and a strong wind had begun to whip up the dust, so thick in places that it was often difficult to see very far.

dusty Addo

This is a good time of the year to see the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) in bloom and we were not disappointed. The clusters of small, star-shaped, dusky pink flowers created a wonderful display from close to the ground to the trees that had somehow managed to grow tall without being eaten by elephants.

spekboom

There was an abundance of the latter: we were spoiled with magnificent sightings of hundreds of elephants, mostly near the waterholes of Hapoor and at the Main Rest Camp. In the image below you can see a fraction of one herd moving away from the water. Note the paths that have been made through the bush.

Addo elephants

Other elephants were at smaller waterholes and allowed us very close-up views of them.

Zebras are such photogenic creatures that it is very difficult to pick out one image from the many photographs I took of them.

zebra

Given the heat and the prolonged drought, it was very sad to see this mangy black-backed jackal making its way through the dry grass. This disease is caused by mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) burrowing into the skin to complete their lifecycle. The condition may become chronic and eventually leads to the death of the animal in the wild.

mangy blackbacked jackal

On a much more cheerful note, we saw this very attractive mountain tortoise next to the road as we were heading home at the end of an interesting Christmas Day.

mountain tortoise

My bird list is:

Black Crow
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird
Black-headed Heron
Blacksmith Plover
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Wagtail
Cape White-eye
Crowned Plover
Egyptian Goose
Fiscal Shrike
Fork-tailed Drongo
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Lesser-striped Swallow
Ostrich
Pied Starling
Red-billed Teal
Red-knobbed Coot
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Stanley’s Bustard

TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA

How can one reduce the wonders of South Africa to a mere ten? I thought I would choose five, then it stretched to eight and then I knew I would have to stop at ten – even then I have had to be ruthless. So here they are in alphabetical order to save me from ranking them.

Aloes: These beautiful flowers stand out in the veld during the otherwise dry winter months and attract myriads of insects and birds at a time when food is not as plentiful as in other seasons. There are over 500 species of them – enough to warrant whole books to themselves.

Aloes

Black-backed Jackal: I am well aware that small stock farmers curse these beautiful, wily creatures at times, but having watched them closely in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Kruger National Park and in the Addo Elephant National Park I regard them as one of the ‘must see’ animals on any visit.

black-backed jackal

Dirt roads: Venture onto a dirt road in this country and you know you are headed for an adventure. Kilometres of them criss-cross the land away from the main highways.

dirtroad

Elephants: We are so fortunate to live within easy visiting distance of the Addo Elephant National Park for we never tire of seeing these wondrous animals either on their own or in family groups. One can spend hours observing them at a water hole – meeting, greeting, drinking, mock charging, wallowing in the mud, blowing bubbles … they are endlessly fascinating.

elephants

Erythrinas: The scarlet blossoms of these trees, also known as coral trees, are also a feature of late winter and attract a wide variety of birds and insects. The red ‘lucky beans’ that fall to the ground are also beautiful.

erythrinas

Grass: It may sound odd to some, but I love the tawny coloured grass growing tall in the veld.

grass

Giraffe: Not only are giraffe very photogenic, they are elegant and peaceful as they move between trees or bend down to drink.

giraffe

Thorns: The long spines of the thorns of the Acacia trees have always fascinated me.

thorns

Windmills: Sadly these hardy icons of rural South Africa are becoming rarer with the more widespread use of solar-powered pumps. The clanking sound of the windmill as it turns in the wind is unforgettable.

windmill

Zebra: I cannot leave the zebra off my list – always sleek, beautiful, photogenic and very watchable creatures they are.

zebra

I wonder what your favourite things are.

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SATARA (1)

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SATARA (1)

Three years ago we enjoyed the two days spent camping in the Satara camp so much that this time we booked to stay there for a whole week. The game viewing in that area is excellent with a variety of drives to choose from and a bonus is that the bird life within the camp is prolific. Then we had a Scops Owl roosting in a tree right next to our tent – this time there was a resident African wild cat, but more of that later. It is a complete change from urban living and sheer bliss listening to the whoop of hyena and the chorus of the high-pitched eerie calls of black-backed jackals at night, not far from the perimeter fence.

SONY DSC

A terrific thunderstorm broke the intense heat of our first night in Satara: sheet lightning, thunder and rain accompanied by strong wind that buffeted our tent until the early hours of the morning. The rain continued intermittently for several days after that, leaving everything from tents to birds looking sodden. The African wild cat I mentioned earlier briefly sought shelter from the rain under a trailer net to our campsite, where it leisurely cleaned itself before disappearing. It appeared sitting under our truck a few days later – this time possibly seeking shelter from the sun – then settled into a clump of bushes next to our tent. It must have made this part of the camp its home, for we later saw it lying comfortably in the dust unperturbed by the human activity around it.

africanwildcat

We saw large herds of both elephant and buffalo soon after entering the Kruger National Park through the Orpen Gate. As the elephants here have a reputation for being more aggressive and temperamental than the ones we are more familiar with in the Addo Elephant National Park – not that we witnessed any evidence of this – we nonetheless kept our distance from them and the engine running. A few days later we watched a herd of about fifty elephants gather at Nsemani Dam on the Orpen road – they are fascinating creatures to observe.

Several groups of them seemed to merge and separate in a prolonged ceremony of greeting: youngsters tussled with each other while small babies kept close to their respective mothers in that mass of enormous legs and swaying trunks. One group eventually parted from the rest and were quickly absorbed by the surrounding bush. The others edged along the dam to drink and it wasn’t long before a number of them had waded right into the water to drink and splash about.

A sudden loud trumpeting from the matriarch caused all the elephants to leave the water obediently and in a hurry to stand on the bank – bar one that had got stuck in the thick gooey mud. My heart lodged in my mouth while the hapless elephant tried lifting first one foot and then the other without success. Its companions remained silent and watchful; some had even turned away from the distressful spectacle.

At last the elephant turned around about 90 degrees and tried again. First it managed to free the front legs, then, scrabbling for a foothold in the knee-deep mud, it pulled one back foot free. To my immense relief it broke free shortly afterwards and made for the bank. At that point the waiting elephants moved off while the now freed elephant struck off on its own on a path parallel to the herd.

elephantstuckinmud

Unsurprisingly, impala were the first animals we spotted on entering the park. These mixed-feeders were described by the guide on a later night-drive as “the McDonalds of the park” as they provide food for most of the large carnivores. They are beautiful animals to watch closely, being rufous-fawn in colour with white underparts and delicate markings. It is the rutting season now and we often observed the dominant male chasing after his chosen female – snorting loudly , while she lead him a merry dance by running in circles through the veld with him in hot pursuit. The ferocious sound of that snorting reminded us of a night, many years ago, when we were stranded in the veld in Botswana and – not having heard it before – were concerned that the noise we were hearing came from something that might decide to eat us!

impala

On one occasion we watched several female waterbuck lying in the grass chewing the cud while the male gave them the once-over. Each obediently rose in turn when sniffed by the male and lay down again.

waterbuck

The most affectionate and amorous mating display was performed by a pair of giraffe: they seemed to caress each other by rubbing their heads up and down the neck of the other; they wound their necks around each other; put their heads close together; and even looked as though they were nuzzling in a kiss…

giraffe1

giraffe2

Nsemani Dam proved to be a wonderful place for watching hippos: blowing water in sprays from their nostrils; making their characteristic grunting sounds; squaring up to each other with their mouths open – South Africans of a certain generation will always associate that wide-mothed pose with an advertisement for Chomp chocolates. Hippos are so interesting out of the water too, when one can see how large and cumbersome looking they are. Several had small calves in tow. Like baby elephants, these look cuddly and so ‘touchable’!

hippos

Game viewing was good, even during the inclement weather. Once we saw a lioness followed by six cubs cross the road and on another occasion spent nearly two hours watching five sated lions sleeping off their meals from the night before. Every movement they made, from lifting a head or drinking water, seemed an effort for they would flop down again or roll over, stretching languidly and relax once more.

lions

Although signs in Satara Camp warn visitors to watch out for honey badgers (more commonly known as ratels in South Africa), we never came across them there. Early one morning though, we saw three of them trotting through the damp grass not far from the camp. It was a privilege too to spot two black rhinos close to the road – not for long though as they soon moved through the bush and out of sight. So much game viewing depends on the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

After the rain of the first few days, it was wonderful to experience the sunshine again and to witness some glorious sunsets.

satarasunset

ZEBRAS WIN THE DAY

ZEBRAS WIN THE DAY

The Addo Elephant National Park is dry: not just brown and dry – in places it looks desiccated dry.

dryAddo

Some Schotia brachypetala, plumbago, verbena and pelargoniums make a brave show of their blooms in the swirling dust.

schotia
From a distance too some of the grassland areas look potentially attractive for grazers until one sees the bare patches from close up.

zebradust

The only vestiges of green show where there has been some water run-off from the road. Even some of the waterholes, such as Rooidam, are virtually dry.

Rooidam

A small herd of zebras were the first animals we encountered. Photogenic creatures that they are, they formed the subject of several photographs before we moved on. Little did we realise then that we would see hundreds more before the day was over!

zebraherd

Zebras are so beautiful to look at and they turned out in full splendour, giving us the opportunity to observe – from close quarters – the variations in the patterns of their stripes. Some are broad and bold, while others are paler and thinner. Some stripes are well defined all over the zebras’ bodies, while on other animals the stripes peter out to almost nothing.

stripes

It seemed to be ‘necking’ season for all over we came across zebras resting their heads on each other as if in a show of affection.

affection

A number of foals were evident too. Their furry appearance a stark contrast to the sleekness of their elders. Zebras won the day for their dominance in the veld.

zebrafoal

Warthogs came a close second. Family groups could be seen from far away, close to the road, in the sun, or resting from the 28°C heat in the shade.

warthogs

Although we were told of a large herd of elephants at Hapoor waterhole, we saw only single ones. One elephant walked resolutely towards our car, almost brushing past it within touching distance.

ele1

ele2

ele3

ele4

Another interrupted a buffalo enjoying a mudbath. The latter got to its feet and moved away very smartly then stood and watched from a discreet distance as if to say, “What did you do that for?”

elephantandbuffalo

eleandbuffalo

A few kudu were visible in the bush. The bulls appeared to be skittish, however, and moved into cover upon the arrival of any passing traffic.

kudubush

It was a treat being able to watch a black-backed jackal drink her fill from a waterhole, taking her time before trotting off purposefully as if she had a mission to fulfil.Other animals we saw were a suricate, eland and hartebeest.

bbjackal

suricate

Ghwarrie dam is always a favourite place to visit and, although there were no animals other than warthogs this time, there were terrapins galore as well as South African Shelducks and Blacksmith Plovers.

terrapins

Both Grey- and Blackheaded Herons showed their willingness to be photographed by standing close to the road, their eyes intent on a possible meal.

ghheron

bhheron

A gusty wind sprang up in the afternoon, showering us with dust and fine grit. Clouds were starting to gather and it was, sadly, time to leave. The last animals to be spotted at Domkrag? Zebras, of course!

Domkragzebras

The arid conditions together with the wind and dust are not ideal for birding. I nonetheless saw the following:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Harrier
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blacksmith Plover
Blackwinged Stilt
Bokmakierie
Cape Turtle Dove
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Karoo Robim
Lesserstriped Swallow
Moorhen
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Red Bishop
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Spurwing Goose
Steppe Buzzard
Yellowbilled Duck