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.

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