A PERCHING JACKAL BUZZARD

While Jackal Buzzards (Buteo rufufuscus) cover an extremely large range throughout South Africa, around here we have seen several in the open grasslands and in agricultural areas not far from town. I more often than not see one a perched on a fence post in the distance only for it to fly off as I approach. This one obligingly posed on a branch for a minute or two:

This gives us a good view of its strong talons and beak used to tear through the skin and muscles of its prey – in this case it is eating a Scrub Hare:

These impressive-looking birds are sturdy, with the adults measuring 44 to 60 cm in length and weighing up to almost 2Kg. I always feel privileged to come across one of them for I feel that they rank among the most beautiful of our raptors.

The ‘jackal’ part of their name relates to the sound they make, which is similar to the call of the Black-backed jackal.

AT A WATER HOLE I

A young couple walk purposefully down the brick path toward a bench overlooking the water hole at the rest camp and sit down. He sports dark, closely-cropped hair and is wearing a baggy green top over tight jeans. The glistening white of his sports shoes strongly suggests they are new arrivals for he has clearly not walked far along the dirt roads and dusty paths that vein through the camp. He doesn’t notice the Cape Sparrow perched to the left of him on the Spekboom hedge.

She is wearing khaki cargo pants still stiff and showing factory creases. A blue hooded top covers her hair as she sits staring straight ahead, ignoring the cheerful calls of the Cape Weaver on her right, even though it flutters down now and then to search the brick paving around her feet.

He unfolds the coloured map they were given at reception and tries to hold it firm against the gentle tugging from an impish breeze. He turns the map this way and that before stabbing his finger on the water hole they are seated at. “We’re here,” he says with a degree of authority. He runs his finger along the patterns of roads radiating through the park. So absorbed is he in this task that he doesn’t notice the back of a lone buffalo disappearing among the Spekboom and other shrubs a little to the left of the water hole.

She picks up a pair of powerful binoculars and scans the area around the water hole. Neither the presence of a flock of Guineafowl nor the pair of Hadeda Ibises appear to hold her interest, for she quickly lowers the binoculars to rest on her lap. She leans towards her companion. “There’s nothing of interest to see here.” Her voice is flat. He is still studying the map but obligingly leaves off to raise the binoculars to his eyes. He sweeps across the landscape too quickly to pick up either the heron keeping watch over some ducks …

… or the Black-backed jackal that had come for a quick, furtive drink.

“I hope the rest of the park doesn’t look like this desert. All the pictures showed green grass and trees.” There is a whine in her voice as she strokes the binoculars on her lap with her index finger. He grunts and returns to perusing the map before looking up with an endearing smile.

“I overheard in the gents that this area has been denuded of vegetation because so many animals rely on this water for drinking.” He looks at her sulky face and pats her shoulder. “It’s early days though.” He folds the map and rises from the bench. “You hold the map,” he says, giving her a hug.

She shivers in the now icy wind. “Yes, we’ll be warmer in the car.” They walk away holding hands and so do not see the Kudu bulls emerging from the thorny scrub to quench their thirst.

ANIMALS ARE WHAT THEY EAT

How often have you come across the saying ‘you are what you eat’? The context is usually a discussion (or lecture by a newly-converted-to-the-latest-fad-dieter) about the need to eat healthy food in order to maintain our sense of well-being. What we eat is frequently linked with every aspect of our health, ranging from the negative effects of certain foods on our health (the interpretation of these depends largely on the current perspective of the speaker) to the long-term impact on our mental health.  These days we are confronted with so many different choices of foods from all over the world as well as the temptation not to cook at all, but to rely on ready-cooked take-away foods. Obesity! Too much sugar! Empty nutrients! Meatless Mondays! We are bombarded with advice, scare tactics, recipes and suggestions … what are humans supposed to eat? Plenty of red meat, say some. No meat at all, others claim. Be a vegetarian – no, veganism is the answer. What are we to do? The trouble is that we have evolved to be omnivores – take a good look at your teeth.

What about wild animals that have no recourse to food imports, refrigeration, different cooking methods, gardens, supermarkets, delicatessens or restaurants?  How come they seem to keep fit and healthy with only grass, seeds, leaves – and meat – to eat? Their teeth provide a clue, for animals can be described by what they eat. Carnivores, such as Lions, eat meat.

Not all carnivores live on prey they catch but also eat carrion. Spotted hyenas are known as scavengers for this reason. They are quick to hover around the fringes while the Lions eat their fill after a kill.

As an aside: while you might not often see this in the wild, you may notice from time to time that your pet dog eats grass only to regurgitate it later. This is part of a natural process to clear parasites from their digestive system – no trip to the pharmacy for them.

English is a precise language and nowhere more so than in the sciences. There are specific names for everything: detrivores eat decomposing material, while folivores are animals that only eat leaves. Frugivores eat fruit. Generally speaking, plant-eating animals are known as herbivores. Included in these are South Africa’s national animal, the Springbuck.

Herbivores that specifically eat grass, such as Zebra, are grazers.

Browsers, like Kudu, also eat off trees and bushes.

Animals that eat seeds are called granivores; if they eat insects they are known as insectivores; mucivores eat plant juices; mycovores eat fungi; and nectarivores eat nectar. Omnivores, such as the Black-backed jackal, eat both plants and meat.

Then we get piscivores that eat fish, sanguinivores eat blood; and saprovores eat dead matter.

These are all part of nature’s way of ensuring that nothing goes to waste. What a contrast this is to the average human beings who lay waste to the environment in order to process food and then leave so much non-biodegradable waste in their wake!

Note: This post was inspired by Trevor Carnaby’s fascinating book, Beat about the bush: exploring the wild.

A REFLECTIVE MOOD

Easter is a reflective time of the year and so I offer the following reflections that have all been photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park:

 

This Blackbacked Jackal was approaching the water at Hapoor in a very contemplative mood – it stood there very quietly for some time, possibly aware of the many elephants splashing just the other side of the reeds – before it made its way down the the water in a slow and cautious manner. It displayed patience such as few of us have when we are thirsty.

These Blacksmith Plovers (now called Blacksmith Lapwing) are standing on a barely submerged sandbank in front of the reeds at Hapoor – doubtless enjoying a respite from all the elephant activity that this waterhole is well known for.

An Egyptian Goose enjoying a drink at the Carol’s Rest waterhole.

Another thirsty visitor at Carol’s Rest is this warthog.

I will leave you with these zebra walking along the edge of the Domkrag waterhole in search of a suitable drinking place.

NOTE: Please click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger image.