Monday, 27 June 2016

Hamerkop Lunchtime

I photographed this hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) eating what I think is a guttural toad (Amietophrynus gutturalis) at the Durban Botanical Gardens' lake. Hamerkop is Afrikaans for hammer (hamer) head (kop) which is quite appropriate.

It had already stabbed the toad with its beak to kill it a couple minutes before and was throwing it in the air to align it with its beak so as to swallow it. It had tried quite a few times already so this wasn't as lucky a photo as you might think, although this was the occasion it got it right. It lowered the toad into the water each time again before trying again which accounts for the water spray off the toad.

When I was a teenager and at school my mother found a hammerkop eating my goldfish as she was walking through the garden on her way to work in the school's tuck-shop. She chased it away but it just landed on the roof and waited. So my mother got an umbrella hoping to use it as a scarecrow, but the hammerkop didn't think much of it and landed right next to the umbrella and she had to leave. I think I lost 72 goldfish. 

I learned much later to stop keeping goldfish and rather to stock fast breeding small fish I didn't care much about. Then you can rather enjoy the wildlife that come to eat the fish than trying to work against them.

My neighbour who gave me the advice also gave me the fish by scooping a bucket-load out of his pond. The fish were black and slim so they stood a decent chance of hiding in my pond which was very deep with lots of plants. The most interesting outcome was that fishing spiders started living in the foliage in the pond.

It is quite a big bird at around 50cm tall and obviously isn't shy about stabbing things, but this didn't stop my daft 9 month old cat from trying to stalk one on an open lawn while the bird was next to my fishpond. The bird wasn't even bothered with me standing fairly close by. The hamerkop turned its head to focus on the leopard crawling cat and stood there for a while as if it couldn't believe it, then walked away while looking at the cat, flying off after a bit when the cat didn't give up.

We often had hadeda ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) in our garden which are a bit bigger than a hamerkop and have equally stabby beaks. They use them to punch into the ground and grab earthworms and insects. Our cat totally ignored them so I wonder if he had become older and wiser, that they were too big or that they were rarely alone put him off.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Bar-throated Apalis

I can highly recommend it as a place to visit & stay, although you should have a car with high ground clearance.

I used to drive there in a VW Golf -- the original box-shaped one, very, very slowly with one wheel in the middle of the road and the other on the side of the road to avoid for the deep ruts. On one occasion going home from the lodge on the mountain top, after perhaps a 40 minute crawl, I reached the tarred main road which has a 100kph speed limit and accelerated. My wife shouted at me to not drive so fast ... I was only doing 60!

There is another lodge in the forest which has 4 (5?) rivers to cross. My golf happily splashed across all of them except the last one on the return journey. It always hit a rock with the underside, I could never find the rock and it never hurt the car. :-)

My next car had high ground clearance and I drove the route normally at a reasonable speed, but the first salesman lost the deal because he insisted I needed a 4x4 :-) I guess he never saw the Top Gear episode where the backup car, an old VW Beetle made it right across Botswana.

Monday, 20 June 2016

African Spoonbill in Flight

An African spoonbill (Platalea alba) in flight over the Durban Botanical Gardens.

They are commonly seen around the lake there as are:
The last three are commonly seen at the lake, while the previous ones are probably always there as they breed in the gardens. Kingfishers can be seen at the lake diving for prey, but I only saw them occasionally.

There a lot of other birds to be seen in the Garden in general and I can highly recommend it as a place to visit. 

Thick-billed weavers (Amblyospiza albifrons) used to be common as they bred in the reeds on the sides of the lake but the Garden cleared the reeds a few years ago and I haven't seen them there since. There also used to be a lot more Sacred Ibis but they pruned the trees they favored for nest building.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Spur-winged goose

I photographed this spur-winged goose (Plectropterus gambensis) having a bath in the Durban Botanical Garden's lake. They are related to geese but despite their common name they have enough anatomical differences that they are in their own sub-family Plectropterinae.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Pink-Backed Pelican Fun

In South Africa Pink-backed Pelicans (Pelecanus rufescens) are only found in Kwazulu-Natal. One of the easiest places to see them is at the lake in Durban's Botanical Gardens where they roost at night in the trees around the uphill side of the lake. This is one of only three breeding colonies of this pelican species in South Africa.

The lake is also home to African Helmeted Turtles / Marsh Terrapins (Pelomedusa subrufa). I had previously seen Sacred Ibis walk up to a turtle on land and bang its shell with its beak for a bit while the turtle waited for the indignity to stop tucked away in its shell, before marching onward.

While watching the pelicans one weekend, one of them started playing with a object, throwing it up into the air and then catching it with its beak. As the object went up it would spiral around making a Catherine Wheel of water while the pelican would paddle into place to catch it.

I couldn't make out what the toy was but it was about the size of a turtle. The pelican played around for a few minutes allowing me to get some fantastic photos, but while worrying about the poor little airborne creature.

When I got home and looked at the photos it happily turned out that the object was actually the old seed cup from a Sacred Lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera) which grow on the one side of the lake.

I was lucky to have this photo and 7 others chosen in a bird photography competition held by Birdlife KwaZulu-Natal to form part of the 30 to be displayed in an exhibition at the Durban Natural History Museum in October 2010. 

Turtle, Terrapin or Tortoise?

While reading up on the turtles/terrapins for this post I found that the turtle versus terrapin versus tortoise common name usage is far more unusual than I had thought. I had often called these turtles with someone correcting me to terrapin, although as you can see from the common names of this particular species both terms have been used. As an example of the strangeness, seemingly in Australia where there are no indigenous land-dwelling tortoises, all the freshwater turtles are called tortoises.