January 2013

Thank you to everyone who has submitted articles, photos and comments for this edition.
Please do keep sending all the sightings and information through, The Raptor is what YOU make it.
In line with current eco-trends and aiming for a 'greener' lifestyle this is an e-newsletter - it does not conform to traditional page sizes and is not designed to be printed.

In This Issue
Happy New Year! New beginnings for some...
Raptor's View Mongooses A closer look at our 4 species.
Raptor's Tree Labelling Project A great new initiative.
Raptor's Tree ID Part 2 - Satin-bark Saucer-berry.
Bushveld Alarm Clocks Our game birds.
The African Wild Cat A closer look at this species.
A very Special Sighting Leopard on the Estate!
Snake and Toad Battle! A great photo essay.
It's not inside, it's on top! Ashy Flycatcher mystery revealed.
Photo Gallery Great results from our photographers!
A Final Word Acacia tortilis

Happy New Year!
It's a new year and a new start for many... baby warthog are around every corner, guineafowl chicks abound and the young impala seem to grow by the day.

warthog guineafowl impala

Raptor's View Mongooses - Derek Solomon, RV254
There are 25 species of mongoose recognised in Africa and four of them occur here on Raptor’s View. Three of them are diurnal and the other, the White-tailed, not often seen on the estate, is a nocturnal species. The Dwarf Mongoose, like its name, is the smallest with an average weight of only 200g. The White-tailed, at around 5kg, is the largest in Africa.

Fortunately our species are easy to recognise here on the estate, though coat colour does vary considerably depending on where they live, and researchers think that this may be related to soil colour. “Our” Dwarf Mongoose is dark brown or almost black in colour but it took us several seconds to recognise the same animal on a recent trip to Tanzania.

dwarf mongoose dwarf mongoose
Our 'dark' Dwarf Mongoose
'Golden' Dwarf Mongoose in Tanzania

The Slender Mongoose is generally a solitary species with a reddish-brown coat colour (here on Raptor’s) and a distinctive black tip to the tail. It is generally seen crossing the roads on the estate and dashing off into cover. Look for the long tail, usually held horizontally and flicking up the dark tip just before it disappears into the vegetation. Sometimes when disturbed, it will stand up on its back legs so as to get a better view of what has startled it. Like the other two daytime species, the Slender Mongoose doesn’t get out of bed early, only becoming active a few hours after sunrise and retiring before sunset.

slender mongoose slender mongoose
Slender Mongoose
Slender Mongoose

The other two species, the Dwarf and the larger Banded Mongoose are social species living in groups of up to 30 (as many as 75 have been recorded in a Banded’s troop). The Banded has 10-12 distinctive dark bands or stripes between the shoulders and the base of the tail that helps with identification. Both species use termite mounds as refuges and for breeding and a great time to watch them is after sunrise when the groups come out to sun themselves before moving out to feed.

banded mongoose banded mongoose
Banded Mongoose
Banded Mongoose

The nocturnal White-tailed is almost dog-like in appearance with its long legs and thick, bushy white tail. It is another predominantly solitary species although the young may remain with the mother until fairly well-grown. More often than not it is only seen well after sunset and remains active until after midnight. Like other nocturnal carnivores it has a cell layer behind the retina called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light back, causing their eyes to shine in headlights. It is not certain if diurnal species have this feature.

white tialed mongoose white tailed mongoose
White-tailed Mongoose
White-tailed Mongoose - photo L&S Gutteridge, RV164

Several species of mongoose have horizontal, elongated pupils (this could be characteristic of the family as a whole). This feature (clearly seen in these photos of a Slender and Banded Mongoose) apparently extends the visual field in the horizontal plane, which may be of advantage to short-legged mongooses. Does anyone have close-up photos of other mongoose species that we could examine?

baned mongoose slender mongoose
Banded Mongoose
Slender Mongoose

Originally mongooses, civets and genets were placed in the same family, but research has now shown that the mongooses belong to a separate family called the Herpestidae, and are, in fact, more closely related to the hyaenas than to the other two species. One of the characters that separates mongooses from the civets and genets is the anal gland (verses a perineal gland in the civets and genets) that produces a strong-smelling secretion that can be used to mark territories, den sites as well as individuals within social groups. But this, like their feeding behaviour, needs to be covered in another article.

Tree Labelling Project - Dave & Bernie Spencer, RV276
Raptor’s View supports a diverse animal and plant life. Most of us are familiar with the large Knob Thorns and Marulas which predominate in the veld but there are many other fascinating trees and shrubs which can easily be overlooked. On Sunday 11 November we continued the tree labelling project on the Aardvark trail. Some species have been labelled with a standard tag whilst others have a larger “story" tag, giving interesting facts about the species. Look out for these on your next walk.

In selecting the trees to be labelled we didn’t always choose the largest specimens. Smaller trees lower to the ground, enable us to study the leaves, flowers and fruits and show the variability within a species from young plant to mature tree. This will be an ongoing project that is being extended to the Lion and Buffalo trails. Maps of the trails and a comprehensive list will be produced in the future.

Whilst on the trail we were distracted by lots of lovely flowering plants and again intend to make a full list for Raptor’s View. Thanks are extended to Hugh, Ron, Jeff and Charlie who came along to help and shared their knowledge.

Also a big thanks to Roz for issuing the invitation to residents wishing to assist with the labelling project as well as overseeing the ordering of the labels.

tree group tree label

This is a great project and we echo the following comments as we're sure do many others - "Just a big thank you to the people involved with the tree identification initiative. What a fresh breeze, it adds to a new dimension to walking on the trails, stimulates new or renew existing interests to young and old".
Johan de Villiers, RV260

Trees of Raptor's View, Part 2 - Lee Gutteridge, RV164
We are in a very diverse region as far as our tree fauna is concerned, and this series will focus on some of the less well known trees on the estate.
Satin-bark Saucer-berry, Cordia ovalis

This is a small tree which can grow to a height of around 3 to 4 metres. It usually has many stems which are greyish and flaky in appearance. The alternate leaves are quite rounded and may be toothed. They are dull green on top, but often a little lighter below. It often grows in association with termite mounds. The yellow flowers have curved back petals, and grow in small clusters. The fruit of this species is edible, but may be quite bitter!
Reference: Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park (Schmidt, Lötter, McCleland)

bark fruit
Cordia ovalis bark
Cordia ovalis fruit
leaf flower
Cordia ovalis leaf
Cordia ovalis flower

Bushveld Alarm Clocks - Sarah Gutteridge, RV164
We are all used to being woken up bright and early on our beautiful estate in the summer months by raucous calls and cries, but do you know who the guilty parties are? There are many game birds that frequent our gardens and houses and below are some of the common culprits!

crested francolin swainsons spurfowl
Crested Francolin: this bird can be distinguished from other francolins by the broad white eye-stripe and white throat, it has a black beak and orange legs. It also has a habit of cocking its tail. These francolins are abundant on the reserve. Swainson’s Spurfowl: this bird is easily distinguished from our other spurfowl’s by the combination of a naked red face, a red throat, a black upper bill and greyish legs. Males and female have similar plumage and in young birds the face is pinker.

natal spurfowl guineafowl
The Natal Spurfowl: this bird does not have the white eye stripe but does have orange legs like the Crested Francolin, it has an orange beak with a yellow base.
Its plumage is mainly brown.
Helmeted Guineafowl: this is a unique and unmistakeable bird, it is a beautiful grey and white spotted bird with a bright blue neck and face, red tipped blue wattles and a horn coloured recurved helmet on top of its head.

All of these species will eat seeds and insects, and are seen regularly around our houses at Raptors View.

Listen to the calls here...
Crested Francolin Swainson's Spurfowl Natal Spurfowl Helmeted Guineafowl

The African Wild Cat, Lee Gutteridge, RV164
wild cat This small cat, correctly known as Felis silvestris is common throughout most of its range, and yet in spite of this it is listed as an endangered species. You may wonder how this can be, but the problem is simple. These cats may in fact be the fore runner of the domestic breeds of cat which we have today, and due to this they are capable of interbreeding with the domestic tabby cat. This hybridisation is resulting in mixed breed cats, and literally deleting this species kitten by kitten!

The wild cat has typically got a grey coat, with some black flecking and faint stripes. There are small markings in black on the fore head, reddish markings on the eye brows and either one or two prominent
cheek bars. The upper lip may be white, and the nose is often a pretty pink colour. The legs have crosswise black bands from just above the tarsal-joint. The tail also has black rings along it, thickening towards the tip. A feature which is often mistakenly used to confirm whether an African wild cat is pure is the presence of a red-brown colour on the back of the ears, but in young animals and even in some adults there may be black markings, so this is not reliable. They eyes are typically grey in colour.

There have been many sightings of these cats on Raptor's, including a little group of kittens and their mother. These kittens are still seen regularly at the time of writing, but have been abandoned by their mother. One of them may be seen in the picture in this article. The mother has left these little ones now to find their own way in life, and although they are still social with one another right now it is unlikely that this will persist into maturity as these cats are solitary in habit. I expect that as soon as they become sexually mature they will disperse, and go to seek out a habitat in which they can develop their individual territories.

Domestic cats are still seen on the estate however, and I have caught camera trap pictures of a black cat wandering around near RV164. These cats, if not neutered may spell the demise of the wild cats on the estate in the future, and I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen, as these special little creatures are rarely seen throughout most of their range in spite of good numbers!

Leopard Sighting on the Estate! Rob Severin, RV240
On 16 December I was driving home and came across 2 leopards crossing the road. It was 18h00 and still light. They crossed the road just after the causeway on Grey Kestrel. Sitting about 25m in from the road edge the smaller leopard appeared to be flirting with the larger putting its rear in the face of the larger and flicking its tail in the air. They looked at me for a while and then moved off.

What a privilege to see a leopard - but two is particularly special!
leopard leopard

Snake and Toad Battle, Lawrence Morgan, RV283
We were driving on Snake Eagle in mid-December and saw this Boomslang by the side of the road. Suddenly a Guttural Toad hopped into the road, pursued by the snake. A quick chase and the toad was caught and carried off into the brush beside the road.
snake snake snake and toad

snake and toad snake and toad snake and toad

Ashy Flycatcher Mystery - Keith Hartshorne, RV298
Earlier in the year we had a pair of flycatchers that were busy going in and out of an old Red-headed Weaver's nest. We had a confirmed Ashy Flycatcher ID from several birders and as they normally build a cup nest we were intrigued. We watched the pair and in time all was revealed - they were no longer going into the entrance tunnel but flying in under the thatch eave to the top of the nest.
On closer inspection we saw that they had in fact built a cupped platform on top of the nest. They produced a pair of chicks and have now flown the coop, although we do see the adult pair around now and then.

ashy nest ashy flycatcher

Photo Gallery

bug bug2
Mystery insect! Any ideas on the ID?
Lawrence & Ly Morgan, RV283
Mystery insect! Again an ID would be welcome!
Michelle Severin, RV240

19 giraffes at Hamerkop Dam
Mirjam Elbertse, RV 206

tree squirrel long horn
Tree Squirrel.
Lawrence & Ly Morgan, RV283
Short-horned Grasshopper
Lawrence & Ly Morgan, RV283

duiker red headed weaver
Common Duiker
Lee & Sarah Gutteridge, RV164
Red-headed Weaver
Derek Solomon, RV254

warthog wild cat
Tranquillity - 2 young warthogs fast asleep in a mud wallow next to the grey water sprinkler
Michael Brooke, RV200
African Wild Cat
Lawrence & Ly Morgan, RV283

hornbill snake
Red-billed Hornbill
Derek Solomon, RV254
Marbled Tree Snake
Keith Hartshorne, RV298
Lawrence & Ly Morgan, RV283
We think this is most likely the larger female in front
pursued by 2 ardent males - Eds
Lee & Sarah Gutteridge, RV164

Tree Agama
Lawrence & Ly Morgan, RV283

A Final Word - take time to smell the roses!

acacia Well, not the roses exactly.... has anyone else noticed the beautiful flowering Acacia tortilis (Umbrella Thorn) at Osprey Dam?

Thanks to Penny Hartshorne, RV298 for pointing it out (and the photo).

Sometimes we all need a nature appreciation reminder!