THE ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK

Having mentioned the Addo Elephant National Park in my previous post, I delved into my folders to find a selection of photographs from a 2017 visit to give you an idea of some of the interesting things you can see there – apart from lions, hyenas, caracal and aardvarks that is. There are a number of carefully managed waterholes dotted about the park where, while exercising a degree of patience, one has the opportunity to see a variety of animals and birds. The Domkrag Dam is a favourite place to stop, for one is allowed to get out of one’s vehicle for a better view of the water over the low Spekboom hedge. On this occasion we were able to watch a small herd of Burchell’s zebra approaching from across the plain to drink.

Domkrag Dam is named after an enormous mountain tortoise that used to live in the area. What is significant about this tortoise is that it had the strange habit of walking underneath cars and lifting them up with its enormous strength! The shell of this famous tortoise is on display in the Interpretive Centre at Main Camp. Burchell’s zebra are frequently seen sharing the grassy plains with herds of red hartebeest.

Jack’s Picnic Site provides a welcome stopover for a comfort break and is well equipped with picnic sites, each containing a wooden table with benches as well as a place to braai if one wishes to cook one’s own food. Each site is well hidden from the one next door by a thick hedge of Spekboom and other indigenous bushes. It is a particularly good place to photograph a variety of birds from close up as most of them have become used to the coming and going of people throughout the day – and are always on the lookout for a fallen crumb or two! Something else that are a special delight to see there are the odd millipede or two, which we call songololos in South Africa.

The Spekboom Hide is also an interesting place to stop. Again, one can leave one’s vehicle here and enter a Spekboom thicket to peer through a strong elephant-proof fence to see what might be drinking from the waterhole on the other side. On this particular occasion a baby elephant caught my fancy even though it was part of a small family group of various ages.

Apart from animals, I am keen to watch birds in the Addo Elephant National Park. While waterholes are a good place to see waterfowl especially, there are often some interesting surprises along the roads too – such as this Spotted Thick-knee peering at us from the bush.

Much more easily visible are the Red-necked Spurfowl, the sight of which always brightens my day.

BIRDS WITH STRIPES

The Bar-throated apalis has a distinctive narrow black collar.Sporting a much broader collar is the Black-collared barbet. Its bright red face and throat is bordered with a black stripe.

The head of a Crowned lapwing sports a black cap interrupted by a white stripe that creates a halo effect.

Often overlooked is the Grey-headed sparrow that has a charming little white stripe on its wings.

Then there are the Lesser-striped swallows with prominent black striping on their white underparts.

The last in this group of birds being showcased today is the delightful Red-necked spurfowl. Look at its dark underparts and you will see there are two white stripes on each feather.

WELCOME TO OUR GARDEN …

I have been saying this to a small flock of  Red-necked Spurfowl (Pternistis afer) since I first sighted them in the long grass over the road from our home over a year ago. Would they ever cross the street and come into my garden? They sometimes came tantalisingly close yet seemed reluctant to cross from the freedom of the wild into the relative confines of a garden. Then I noticed them scrabbling among the thick layer of leaves and twigs on the bottom terrace I call my ‘secret garden’. Nothing happens there: I leave the mulch to thicken and the trees to grow as they please – it is meant to be a haven for birds and small creatures that wish to dwell therein.

My welcome has, over the months, included putting out crushed maize down there – mostly consumed by the Laughing Doves and Speckled Pigeons. Now and then I have been rewarded by three or four very skittish spurfowl that scatter at the slightest sound or movement from me. When I saw them hopping over our front gate several weeks ago, I began to sprinkle maize along the path and at the base of the trees that skirt the front lawn.

Imagine my delight when I was alerted by their distinctive calls and looked out of an upstairs window to see at least six of them vying for seed at the feeding area! This meant that they had obviously explored the garden in full and had come around the edge of the swimming pool – I counted six, including some juveniles. Here is one escaping through a hedge of Crassula ovatum in our garden.

Their red legs and bare throat make them easily identifiable. Males have a spur on the back of each leg, which you can see in this photograph. Females lack spurs.

The adults are generally a darkish brown above and sport black-streaked grey or white underparts. The cryptic downy pattern of chicks assist the birds to blend in with their habitat and develops through the juvenile period towards the less cryptic plumage of the adult birds. Even though they are smaller, juveniles can be identified as they still lack the red throat and have chestnut edging on the feathers.

Here you can see the full beauty of the colouring of the adults. Apart from the first photograph, the others were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park. Jack’s picnic place never fails to provide one with wonderful opportunities to get close to an interesting variety of birds.

I welcome the Red-necked Spurfowl to our garden and hope their visits will become frequent enough for them to feel at ease here.

DECEMBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

December has been a frantically busy month during which bird watching in our garden has often had to take second place to other activities – as wonderful as they were. I need not have worried though for one of the dubious benefits of the drought has been the attraction of a greater variety of birds to the garden. A Chin-spot Batis was a welcome newcomer that worked its way through the remaining ivy leaves in a more sheltered spot and it has been pleasing to see the return of Yellow-fronted Canaries. This one is inspecting the new feeder I received from my family in Norway.

The most wonderful sound to hear outside since 2018 was the bubbling calls of a Burchell’s Coucal. It paid the garden a very fleeting visit though. These camera-shy birds tend to take refuge in the bushes and the call of one was particularly exciting to hear for they are colloquially known as ‘rain birds’ – said to predict rain, which we need so desperately in the Eastern Cape. Perhaps its prediction was accurately short for we received a whole millimetre of rain not long afterwards! Although I hear their high-pitched calls daily and frequently see them working their way quickly through the remains of the dry Cape Honeysuckle hedge, I was pleased to photograph this Bar-throated Apalis on the ground near our wash line.

A pair of Red-necked Spurfowl have been making more frequent forays into our garden to seek out the crushed maize I scatter for the doves. This is not a good photograph of one for they are still very skittish and move off very quickly should I approach too close for their comfort. I am hoping they will become regular visitors.

The number of Black-eyed Bulbuls gathering around the fruit has increased from the usual three or four to up to seventeen individuals this month! This must be related to the paucity of naturally available food in these drought conditions. I love watching their antics and listening to their cheerful calls. Despite them being sociable birds, they can be fairly aggressive towards each other at times. I have observed, for example how a bird may spread its tail feathers and raise its crest when confronting another in order to protect its turn at an apple.

Male Pin-tailed Whydahs are generally aggressive towards other birds. This one is an exception for, as I have seen no females, I am guessing that my garden is not his territory to defend and he only comes here to feed. He is sporting a magnificent tail at the moment.

My December bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Chinspot Batis
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow-billed Kite
Yellowfronted Canary