March 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
Almost Autumn! A cooler time ahead.
The Early Bird White-browed Scrub Robin.
Tracking the Aardvark Trail - Again Another look at the small things.
Frogs! Common frogs on the estate.
Raptor's Tree ID Part 3 - Dwarf Bush-cherry.
More Special Sightings! Leopard & Wild Dogs.
Cobra & Monitor Lizard Battle! A lucky escape.
Mystery Insects Species in the last issue now ID'd.
Photo Gallery Great results from our photographers!
A Final Word Dwarf Coral Tree




Autumn - and the start of cooler days!
Autumn is just around the corner, signalling cooler times ahead and in another month or so the start of the migrants leaving our shores.

European Roller Yellow-billed Kite Barn Swallow
European Roller
Yellow-billed Kite
Barn Swallow



The Early Bird - Derek Solomon, RV254
In the last issue of The Raptor Sarah Gutteridge wrote about Bushveld alarm clocks, and around our house it is definitely the little Crested Francolin (with the loudest voice) that gets us going just before daybreak. But if you were to get up even earlier and go outside, then listen for the soft, melodious but rather repetitive call of the much smaller White-browed Scrub Robin. It starts calling while it is still completely dark and its call is the best ID character. What is interesting is that it seems to choose a song for the day and will call continuously for several hours. Then the next day it may select another repertoire. We already have 10 different songs on record from the pair that live around our house.

It is not the easiest bird to see as it prefers to call from the middle of the tree canopy where it is usually well camouflaged but occasionally does come up to the top of the tree giving us the opportunity to confirm its identity, although once you can recognise the song or call you shouldn’t go wrong even though it may differ from day to day – just focus on the repetitive melody.

White-browed Scrub Robin

(Emerald-spotted Wood Dove & Crested Barbet in the background)

We have produced spectrograms of these 10 calls. Spectrograms provide a visual representation of the frequencies in a sound and are used to analyse animal sounds, particularly birds. The horizontal axis represents time and the vertical axis is frequency. The spectrograms below clearly show just how different each call of this little bird is.

Robin Chat Sonogram



Tracking the Aardvark Trail - Again! - Lee Gutteridge, RV164
The trail has once again yielded some very interesting tracks and signs! For me, reading the signs left behind by the creatures which share our homes is a wonderful pastime, which both my son (8 years old) and daughter (6 years old) thoroughly enjoy. The following are a selection of signs we have seen on our walks together.

Mammals often leave the most obvious spoor, and amongst these the tracks of a giraffe may be amongst the most prominent. However, on one of our walks we found the track of a baby giraffe, one of the young ones from early winter, and its track was not much bigger than that of a wildebeest!
Giraffe print

Some mammal signs however are much less obvious. The smaller mammals do not leave such easily found tracks, for the obvious reason that they are much smaller and lighter, leaving less of an imprint. An example of this would be the spoor of the African tree squirrel. The best way to identify the spoor of this small rodent is to use the general pattern of its foot arrangement as seen here. Two front feet close together, two hind wider apart. This type of jumping motion is called a bound, and the next track will usually be far ahead. The wider spoor indicates the direction of motion, in this case the animal was moving from left to right.

squirrel track

Another tiny sign, which is very hard to see, is the pasting of the dwarf mongoose. These remarkable little creatures leave a strong smelling but quite colourless fluid on small trees, which they often mark by performing a handstand, as seen here!

Mongoose Mongoose paste

Another mongoose spoor we found was that of the slender variety. This little creature is solitary by nature, and diurnal. Its track has prominent claws, and tiny oval toes. The plantar pad has one lobe which is larger than the other. This is a trait common to all of our mongoose species.

print

Some nocturnal creatures were also milling around on the trail, and at one point we found the spoor of a porcupine and a civet, which literally passed one another like the proverbial ships in the night!

In the insect department, an interesting little feature was noted on the silver raisin bushes. These tiny, white shell-like structures puzzled me for a while, until a colleague mentioned that they were in fact the homes of a type of juvenile aphid!

spoor Aphid
Civet & Porcupine Tracks
Aphid Homes

leaf track Another non-animal sign we saw plenty of was that of leaves being blown by the wind. These trails in fine dust are sometimes very similar to that of various insects!

In the dung department we found the dung of a blue wildebeest, which my daughter Savannah kindly pointed out for me, and also a dropping of a porcupine, one of the most common dung types I have seen on the trail.

Anyway, until next time I hope this helps you to solve a mystery or two!

Wildebeest Dung Porcupine Dung
Wildebeest
Porcupine


Frogs on the Estate - Derek Solomon, RV254
The recent rains have really got the frogs going, whether at the causeway or at the various dams. An evening with the Gutteridge family at the causeway and another with Byron Wright and his mother at the dam on the western boundary gave us an excellent opportunity to record the various calls and collect frogs for photos before releasing them back into the water or muddy edges.

We were particularly pleased to catch a Common Platanna as this species lives its whole life in the water and is virtually impossible to photograph there.



platana

The delightful Foam Nest Frogs were everywhere and we were able to photograph one pair busy making their foam nest. These are probably the most common frog on the estate being visible throughout the year even when not breeding - these are the frogs often seen in the houses taking refuge in cool places. They are sometimes also referred to as Grey Tree Frog.

foam nest frogs foam nest

Despite their very loud calls, it took some time to actually locate both the Plain Grass Frog (what a poor name!) and the plump Russet-backed Sand Frog.

Grass frog sand frog
Plain Grass Frog
Russet-backed Sand Frog

Finally, calling fairly high up in the spiny Phragmites reeds next to the causeway we collected a tiny Painted Reed Frog together with some rather painful stabs from the reeds!

Several other species are still on our list to record and photograph - but this is (hopefully) for another issue.

See more photos in the gallery below from Christopher Brooke and Byron Wright on their frogging expedition.
painted reed frog
Listen to the calls here:
Plain Grass Frog

Foam Nest Frog

Painted Reed Frog

Russet-backed Sand Frog




Trees of Raptor's View, Part 3 - Lee Gutteridge, RV164
We are in a very diverse region as far as our tree fauna is concerned, and these articles will focus on some of the less well known trees on the estate.
Dwarf Bush-cherry, Maerua parvifolia

This is a small, woody shrub which has the appearance of a very small tree. The hairy, leather leaves grow along the woody stems, typically singly or in small clusters. The petiole or leaf stalk is very short, usually only half a millimetre to one and a half millimetres long giving the impression of the leaf coming straight out of the bark. Typically the tree does not exceed a metre in height, but can achieve two metres in some circumstances. It may be associated with termite mounds and the bark is greyish in colour. The flower is distinctive, with a little cluster of stamens, which are long and white. They look almost star-like in appearance. The fruit is a small, downward hanging pod, which is green or dark red when more ripe, about 5cm long. It may develop small constrictions between the seeds, giving a bumpy appearance.
Reference: Trees and shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park (Schmidt, Lötter, McCleland)

Dwarf Cherry Dwarf Cherry
Dwarf Bush-cherry Stem
Newly Developing Fruit

Dwarf Cherry Dwarf Cherry
Dwarf Bush-cherry Flower
Dwarf Bush-cherry Flower



Leopard & Wild Dog Sightings on the Estate!
On 28 January @ 11.30 we saw this pair of mating leopards from our office window!

Unfortunately photography was tricky with lots of vegetation in the way and the angle of the window glass. We saw the male first, looking intently through the bush and then the female arrived and presented herself to him. They then moved across the dry stream bed and up the slope and disappeared from view. All work was forgotten in the excitement of the morning!
Derek & Sarah Solomon, RV254
leopards

leopard Wild Dogs
We were totally oblivious to the fact that this leopard walked right past whilst we were having dinner outside on the deck! It was only discovered when checking the camera trap the next day.
Janine Scorer, RV299
This pack of wild dogs was photographed on 12th December 2012 @ 17:30.
Karusjka Olivier, RV236





Cobra and Monitor Lizard Battle - Hanna Camelas, RV215
A great sighting along the main road in December - the cobra latched onto the monitor's head and battle commenced! The monitor managed to free itself and the cobra tried again by grabbing the tail but was unsuccessful in the end. With the cobra beating a hasty retreat into the bush the monitor walked away down the road - certainly a little worse for wear!
cobra cobra
cobra cobra



Mystery Insects Identified
In the January issue of The Raptor we published 2 unidentified insects and had a reply from Johan Cleuren a (retired) biologist from as far afield as Belgium!

bug bug
This is Pephricus, probably Pephricus paradoxis as
this species is the most common in South Africa.
This is far more difficult, it is some kind of slug moth caterpillar, probably of the family of the Limacodidae.



Photo Gallery

cockroach spider
Gregarious Cockroaches
Lee Gutteridge, RV164
Araneus apricus, green hairy field spider
Simone Braun, RV255

This spider was kindly ID'd for us by The Spider Club of SA and they had this to say: - "It is in the very large orb-web weaving family the Araneidae and at certain times of year and in some places they can be very numerous with their orb webs all over the place. Of course, like the majority of spiders they are harmless to people." Eds.

Snake Gecko
Stripe-bellied Sand Snake swallowing a skink
Derek & Sarah Solomon, RV254
Wahlberg's Velvet Gecko - a new one for us.
Derek & Sarah Solomon, RV254

bushbuck ground hornbill
A seldom seen male Bushbuck
Earl Alsworthy-Elvey, RV12
Another uncommon sighting - Ground Hornbills
Ron & Geoff Strike, RV112


monitor mongoose
Baby Monitor Lizard
Lawrence Morgan, RV283
Dwarf Mongoose feasting on a toad
Lawrence Morgan, RV283

zebra nite heron
Spooked Zebra
Lawrence Morgan, RV283
White-backed Night Heron (immature)
(a very unusual sighting - feeding on a barbel at the causeway)
Christopher Brooke, RV200

waterbuck
dove
Waterbuck
Lawrence & Ly Morgan, RV283
Albino Cape Turtle Dove
Earl Alsworthy-Elvey, RV12

frogs
frog
Mating Russet-backed Sand Frogs
Christopher Brooke, RV200
Foam Nest Frog
Christopher Brooke, RV200

frogs
frog
Painted Reed Frog calling
Christopher Brooke, RV200
Plain Grass Frog calling
Christopher Brooke, RV200


A Final Word - Dwarf Coral Tree

coral tree Has anyone else noticed the beautiful Dwarf Coral Tree - Erythrina humeana - partly hidden in the bush on the bend near RV53?

Thanks to Hilda Cavill-Taylor , RV233 for pointing it out.