Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bird Highlights

Other than wild animals in the Kruger National Park or Hluhluwe Game Reserve [SEE: previous blog-entry] we also encountered many birds during the last tour - amongst them this Pied kingfisher, which is usually found near rivers, lakes, dams, estuaries & coastal waters, where it hunts from a perch. Its food consists of fish weighing 1-15g, or crustaceans & insects.

Although classified as rare or as an uncommon bird, I feel privileged because I've regularly encountered the (Southern) Ground hornbill (in the Kruger National Park) - about the size of a turkey. But this time it wasn't only a case of 1 bird . . .

. . . or 2 Ground hornbills . . .

. . . or 3 Ground hornbills - no, the one flying up isn't the 3rd, because a juvenile has already joined the adults on the dry tree-stump, so there are 4 . . .

. . . as one can see more clearly in this photo. A Ground hornbill's pure white primary feathers (as seen above) are hidden from view when walking, whilst the otherwise vivid red patches of bare skin on an adult's face & throat are said to be yellow or greyish-blue in juvenile birds.

At the last count there were 5 Ground hornbills. A group of these birds usually consists of a dominant breeding pair with up to 9 "helpers" - usually adult males & juveniles from previous breeding seasons, which mostly provide food to the breeding female. However adult birds only raise 1 chick on average every 9 years, whilst they live till about 50 years of age.

We encountered a similar "numerical" scenario when visiting the bird-hide at Lake Panic (near Skukuza) in the Kruger Park, where we were arrested by a noisy bunch of birds - which at first I wasn't able to identify, because all we saw was fluttering wings.

When it all calmed down, I was surprised to identify a usually "silent" Greenbacked heron and 4 (!) chicks - also unusual because this bird's clutch customarily consists of 2-3 eggs [just click on photo to enlarge]. In contrast to most herons, the Greenbacked heron is short-necked & its status is uncommon to locally abundant.

Whilst many storks are migrant & rarely breed in southern Africa, the Woollynecked stork is one of the "exceptions", because it breeds (Aug - Nov) in the Kruger National Park, parts of KwaZulu-Natal & in Zimbabwe. Usually solitary or in pairs, these storks are often found at the edge of water - walking slowly or standing still for long periods.

We often saw vultures - in this case Cape vultures - sitting on trees or circling in the air, a clear indication that a carcass or carrion was in the vicinity. As the scavengers they are, vultures have a keen eyesight, whilst the head & neck of most vultures are bald - allowing them to "cleanly" reach inside a carcass.

Last but not least, we also "visited" the breeding colony of African penguins (formerly known as Jackass penguins) at Boulders Beach along the Cape Peninsula - 1 of only 2 colonies, which settled on the mainland (> penguins being island "residents").

Amongst many penguin chicks I detected one, which "fitted the image" of yet another main character in 1 of my books planned for the future: Penny the Penguin - as was the case with Impi the Impala, which I mentioned in my previous blog-entry (the book = already available). The penguins that day were panting, because it was pretty hot - especially the youngsters still "clad" in their protective fur-coats.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Animal Highlights

I think of these images (of young Chacma baboons) from the last tour as:

"Every picture tells a story"

But in a world "shared by others", danger often lurks - here in the form of a (young) Nile crocodile.

In the same (reptile) category = a Rock agama - not a dangerous but instead an "interesting" animal.

When travelling in the wilderness (in this case the Kruger National Park) occassionally checking one's rear view mirror might reveal an "unexpected" image . . .

. . . an old & single elephant bull "appears" . . .

. . . whilst ahead & just around a corner, you've missed an elephant herd crossing the road - but you still feel lucky when you see the "stragglers" - an elephant cow & her tiny calf.

I'm feeling similarly lucky/happy when I spot a young impala antelope, which has the "look" = reminds me of the main character in my book "Impi the Impala" [SEE: blog-entry below].

And as the sun sets and you leave the park, images like these impala grazing peacefully before the night settles, "create" a lasting image.