Let me get confusion out of the way first: the Mountain Wheatear (Oenanthe monticola) used to be known as a Mountain Chat.
I puzzled over the name ‘wheatear’ until I discovered that this is an Old English term for a white rump – who could have guessed that. I actually prefer the Afrikaans name for it, Bergwagter, which sounds like a sentinel of the mountains – rather a pertinent name given that they are frequently seen perched on rocks. In this case it is posing on a rocky step.
Until we spent some time in the Mountain Zebra National Park, I had the impression of these being a rather shy birds for I found them difficult to photograph while driving through the veld. As they prefer a rocky and mountainous terrain, this park is a perfect place to observe them. The ones around the rest camp were actually rather inquisitive and became fairly ‘trusting’ over the few days that I observed them with camera at hand. I nonetheless almost felt I had to get to know it all over again now that its name has been changed. We should be used to that in this country by now for all over streets, airports, towns, cities and even regiments have undergone a similar process!
The male Mountain Wheatears are rather handsome looking birds sporting black upper parts with white shoulder patches and a grey crown. As is common in the bird world, the females tend to be a plain duller black to brown, although both sexes have white bellies and rumps.
While they mostly forage on the ground to feed on insects, they can also be seen hawking for insects in the air or flying down from a perch to catch their prey.
I also observed them eating seeds and dry berries.