Imagine you are a beetle, a shongololo, a worm, a spider, or anything else a Pied Starling might decide is tasty to eat: this is not the view you would enjoy at all!
… and very hot! The sun sucks the moisture from the ground and desiccates the grass. It beats down on the rocks, creating shimmers of heat waves above them. The bees and flies seek whatever water they can find.
There have been recent newspaper reports on the plight of vultures in South Africa suffering from dehydration in this drought – everything needs water to survive. A tiny leak in a pipe becomes a welcome source of hydration for Pied Starlings.
Even though we are at the height of summer, there is little in the way of green grass to be seen.
In places one can only wonder how the animals find enough food to sustain them.
Beautiful vistas of the Karoo show how yellow the grass is – what will be left for winter grazing if the rains do not come?
We have spent a few glorious days camping in the Mountain Zebra National Park. It is a peaceful wonderland with an abundance of interesting birds, animals and insects to see.
The swimming pool at the rest camp is a ‘life-saver’ though after a game drive during which the temperature has soared to 38°C.
NOTE: Click on the photographs for a larger view.
Far too many tourists drive about seeking one species of animal after the other in their quest to chalk up as many as they can – even driving past elephants, zebra and kudu because of a “we’ve seen them” attitude – with eyes peeled for the ultimate prize: the sight of a lion. We see bored faces in vehicles as the day progresses, listless looks of bafflement when a passing vehicle asks what we are looking at and we respond “birds” or even tell them what bird we might be looking at. “Birds,” one might say or simply give a nod of the head as they move on in their quest.
Watching out for birds in any game reserve adds to the enjoyment of the environment as a whole. Here are a few of the many seen on our recent trip to the Addo Elephant National Park:
A ubiquitous Common Fiscal. Note how it is holding on to the twigs to keep it steady in the stiff breeze.
A young Olive Thrush perching inquisitively on our picnic table. Notice that it is still covered with speckles.
Cape Bulbuls, such as this one abound in the rest camp.
Large flocks of Pied Starlings can be seen all over in the park.
It is always fun seeing Speckled Mousebirds fly across the road or to working their way through bushes as they look for leaves, berries or flowers to eat.
Beautiful Malachite Sunbirds show flashes of metallic green as they pass by in a flash.
Who can resist the delicate beauty of a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk?
How fortunate it was to find a Greater Striped Swallow at rest!
One can almost be guaranteed to find a Bar-throated Apalis at the picnic site.
Lastly, for now, is a Sombre Bulbul (now called a Sombre Greenbul!).
Pied Starlings (Spreo bicolor) are cheerful looking birds. There are large flocks of them both in the Mountain Zebra National Park and the Addo Elephant National Park, where they are very quick to home in on any morsel of food left behind in the rest camp.
When seeing them out in the open grasslands, one can better appreciate how well they blend in with their environment – despite the conspicuous white vent and under-tail coverts as well as the pale irises of the adult birds. We saw a number of them catching small green caterpillars in the grass next to the road.
This Pied Starling was photographed some time ago catching a spider 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 Red-eyed Bulbul
Cape Turtle Dove
South African Shelduck