WORLD WILDLIFE DAY 2021

It is becoming increasingly important to be aware of, and to celebrate, the diversity of species of flora and fauna that inhabit our world. Expanding human populations with the consequent need for land, homes, factories and warehouses are making large inroads into sensitive habitats that support our diverse wildlife – in whatever form. I offer these photographs in celebration of World Wildlife Day:

The Erythrina humeana or Dwarf Lucky Bean tree occurs along the coastal belt and the midlands of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga into Mozambique. There is one growing on a pavement in one of the suburbs where I live.

Blue Cranes are South Africa’s national bird and prefer open grasslands, where they forage for food while walking. Their numbers have been decreasing in the Eastern Cape and so I was delighted to come across these birds not far from town.

Cabbage trees occur in the bushveld, along forest margins, in mixed deciduous woodlands and among rocky outcrops. This one is growing in my garden.

While the Leopard Tortoise – the largest tortoise in South Africa – is not considered a threatened species, predators of the juveniles include rock monitors, storks, crows and small carnivores. Veld fires and passing traffic are also a danger to them.

Black-collared Barbets occur widely across Africa and are always welcome visitors to our garden.

It is difficult to choose between the many flowers, birds, butterflies, reptiles, trees, grasses and so on that occur here and so I will leave you with this magnificent pair of Kudu walking through the bushveld.

BLUE CRANE

The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) is South Africa’s National Bird as it is endemic to this country, barring a very small population in Namibia. Despite its name, it is actually a grey crane. Because its status is vulnerable, I become very excited when I see Blue Cranes in the wild, as I did on a recent trip to the Addo Elephant National Park where a pair of them were scouring the veld for food.

In this photograph you can get a good view of its bulbous head with the conspicuously paler grey patch on the crown and forehead. The long, darker tail feathers (actually the inner secondaries and tertials) show up well too.

From a photographic point of view, I missed the action every time, for it was interesting to watch how these birds would systematically turn over every elephant dropping in their path and eat whatever they found underneath – I presume insects.

This one paused for a scratch. Click on the photograph in order to get a clear look at its claws in the larger view.

“I can stand on one leg too!”

Note: Click on the photographs for a larger view.

SIX BIRDS IN THE MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK

Only six birds? No, there were many more for the montane grasslands of the Mountain Zebra National Park is an interesting environment for bird watching. I have featured birds in previous posts and so have chosen only these. Within minutes of passing through the entrance gate I was enchanted to spot a flock of Scaly-feathered Finches perched in the low bushes.

White-browed Sparrow-Weavers flocked around us in the camp site while we pitched our tent and kept us company throughout our stay: their cheerful calls were evident from first light until the last and they were so tame that they would happily hop between our feet to peck at tasty crumbs of anything that might have fallen from our laps.

Their untidy nests are evident both in the camp and in the veld.

The camp site is an interesting place to see birds, among which was this Pied Starling feeding its youngster:

It was along the Rooiplaat Loop that we spotted our first pair of Blue Cranes, and saw at least two other pairs elsewhere in the Park. This pair was happy to wander among a herd of Black Wildebeest.

I found it difficult to photograph the Rock Kestrels perched atop trees in the valley next to the Wilgerboom River for the light always seemed to be wrong. This is the best of a poor bunch:

This is the area where I found a very co-operative Brown-hooded Kingfisher:

The weather was overcast and dull; the temperature was cool, and a fairly strong breeze blew for much of the time. Given that this two-day stay was not focused on birding, I am pleased with my list:

African Darter
African Red-eyed Bulbul
Ant-eating Chat
Barn Swallow
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-shouldered Kite
Blue Crane
Bokmakierie
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Cape Sparrow
Cape Teal
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Common Fiscal
Common Moorhen
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood-dove
Fork-tailed Drongo
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Laughing Dove
Namaqua Dove
Ostrich
Pearl-breasted Swallow
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-knobbed Coot
Rock Kestrel
Scaly-feathered Finch
Secretary Bird
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spur-wing Goose
Verreaux’s Eagle
White-breasted Cormorant
White-browed Sparrow-weaver
White-necked Raven
Yellow-billed Duck

NATIONAL BIRD OF SOUTH AFRICA

The Blue Crane (Grus paradisea) is the national bird of South Africa, which is why I was so excited to see this pair next to the road on our way to Bredasdorp.

Although their numbers have declined due to habitat loss and power-line collisions, the most robust populations are found in the Overberg region in the Western Cape. I first mentioned seeing them there in 2014.

Sadly, their numbers have been decreasing in the Eastern Cape, although I have seen some, both near Adelaide and, more recently, in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Blue Cranes have featured on South African stamps.

For years they were also featured on our 5 cent coins.

The Blue Crane population appears to be stable, but is still listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.