March 2014

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
Bushveld Birds, Part 2 Glossy Starlings
Dung Beetles What's going on inside that poop?
Interesting Sightings Observations from our residents
Photo Gallery Great results from our photographers
A Final Word Mystery species identified!

Bushveld Birds, Part 2 - Glossy Starlings - Derek Solomon, RV254
Many feather colours in birds are obtained from pigments in their diet, but the metallic colours seen in starlings or some species of sunbirds are structural colours produced by the structure of the feather.

Three species of Glossy Starling have been recorded on the estate. The Cape Glossy is the most common starling and is a fairly uniform blue-green colour with no ear patch as can be seen on the other two species. The similar sized Greater Blue-eared Starling has dark blue ear coverts or patches and has royal blue flanks and belly. Both species have fairly short tails whereas the next species, Burchell’s Starling, is much larger in size and has a long tail. Another good ID character for Burchell’s is the dark eye – the other two species have orange/yellow eyes.

Until two weeks ago I had never seen Burchell’s Starling inside Raptors View, all the sightings before then were at the gate.

The calls of the three species are also useful ID characters particularly for Greater Blue-eared Starling. In amongst the warbling song it regularly gives a drawn-out “squeeaar, squeeaar” sound that is very distinctive. None of the other starlings do this and often this is the only sound that you hear. Burchell’s gives a range of harsh notes in amongst the other jumbled warbles.

Burchell's Starling

Cape Glossy Starling

Greater Blue-eared Starling

Greater Blue-eared Starling (squeer call)

starling starling starling
Cape Glossy Starling
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Burchell's Starling

Dung Beetles - What’s Going on Inside that Poop? - Ann Anderson, RV263

Have you ever taken the time to bend down and watch that freshly deposited warm, wet herbivore pat in the dirt road and seen the amazing diversity of insect life that takes place as the poop slowly diminishes underground or is rolled away? A variety of different coloured and sized dung beetles from the sub-family Scarabaecinae are all utilizing this food supply for sustenance and egg laying and in there with them are other beetles predating on the dung beetles themselves or on the flies, their eggs and larva within the pat. Some of these flies and beetles rely on easy transportation between droppings on the backs of the dung-beetles. Hundreds of mites also travel on the beetles and predate on the flies eggs. This cauldron of activity is known as a phoretic relationship (look that up on Google!) Augustus De Morgans old poem comes to mind, “Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em, and little fleas have lesser fleas and so Ad infinitum.” Without our lowly dung beetles to bury all the dung out there (with the fly’s eggs inside, remember) we could have a pesky fly population to exceed Australia’s problem, so we really should be more careful not to drive over dung-pats! Think about the role these busy beetles play in creating a healthy environment for us as they go about their business generating compost, fertilising and aerating the soil, while ridding us of annoying flies.

The insects responsible for most of the removal of dung in the veld are commonly known as dung beetles or Scarabs. They belong to the huge family Scarabaeidae, which can be divided into sub families, of which the Scarabaeinae are the true dung-beetles.

Dung-beetles are coprophagous, which means they eat the excrement of other organisms. Although most dung beetle species prefer the more nutritious herbivore faeces there are some species which feast on the less nutritious carnivore scats, while other beetles relish primate poop.

Depending on how dung beetles utilize poop, they can be divided into four different groups.
Endocoprids are the Aphodian dung beetles (sub-family Aphodiinae) who do not waste their energy in rolling balls away. These small, primitive surface feeders or “dwellers” simply live within the dung and their entire egg larval, pupal and adult development takes place within the pat.
The genus Onitis are the paracoprids or the earth-boring beetles who tunnel below the pat, making it easy to drag the poo dinner down the burrow. These guys have a problem when the road surface is asphalt.
Then there are the very familiar guys, the ball rollers or telecoprids. The genus Scarabaeus are a dominant group who shovel the dung from the soft pat with their spade-shaped heads, then tamp it into a ball with their specially designed paddle-shaped front legs and roll the ball away to varying distances up to a few meters, with their back legs, before tunneling under the ball and burying it. Some of these guys are amazingly strong and one species was able to pull over 1000 times its own body weight!
Last, there are the kleptocoprids who make no effort to dig, or provision a nest, for themselves but are attracted to, and parasitise the moving balls formed by other dung beetles. . . . . a mean sort of cuckoo-beetle.

All these dung beetles have to move quickly to minimize competition amongst themselves where frequent, violent fights break out as they compete for possession of the feast.

dung beetles

Interesting Sightings on the Estate

This Reticulated Centipede Eater (Aparallactus lunulatus), was found on Black Harrier road in November last year . It is a partially burrowing, and therefore seldom encountered, species. It is olive brown above with dark-edged scales giving it a reticulated effect and feeds on centipedes (and occasionally scorpions)- hence its name. This inoffensive snake is back-fanged and mildly venomous but seldom bites. It is supposedly fed upon by other snakes (e.g. Mozambique Spitting Cobra/ Southern file snakes). This record on Raptors View would constitute one of the most southerly records of its distribution/ range.
Rael Loon, RV38

bulbul eggs
A Dark-capped Bulbul pair started building a nest, early in November last year, on the platform of chicken wire wrapped under the eve of the thatched roof just outside our shower. We watched the female incubating the eggs for about 2 weeks hoping to see the chicks arrive but in vain. We had a violent lightning storm one night and the next morning found the broken eggs on the ground (one missing) and no sign of chicks or adults.
Keith Hartshorne, RV298

caracal caracal
A Caracal caught on our camera trap on 1st February in the middle of the afternoon.
Brian & Roz Saverton, RV304

baboon spider bug
Male Horned Baboon Spider
Simone Braun, RV255
Giant Broad-headed Bug (Hypselopus gigas)
Dirk Lourens - Assistant Estate Manager

On enquiry we received some interesting information on the male Horned Baboon Spider - Eds

This is a sexually mature male and this means that his life will be over by the end of summer. Males only live 2 or 3 years and once they have reached sexual maturity their life is over in about 3 months.
Patrick O' Brian, Timbavati Ranger.

Females can live well into their teens (in human years) in captivity but males generally mature in 2 - 4 years, reach sexual maturity, use up stacks of energy running around looking for females, mate as many times as they can then expire - or get eaten by the female if they are too slow extricating themselves after the act! Of course in nature they are very much more vulnerable than females because they have to wander to find mates. The ladies are inclined to stay put and only venture out of their burrows to hunt at night. If they are disturbed when out and about they will make a bee-line back home, so they are less likely to become prey.
Astri Leroy, The Spider Club of Southern Africa.

Photo Gallery

nyala warthog
Nyala Portrait
Lawrence Morgan, RV283
Thirsty Warthogs!
Lawrence Morgan, RV283
A group of 7 Black-backed Jackal. Anthony Cavill-Taylor, RV301

bulbul bulbul
Dark-capped Bulbul enjoying a bath. Lawrence Morgan, RV283

shikra oxpecker
Immature Shikra or Little Banded Goshawk.
Simone Braun, RV255
The streaking on the upper breast and broad banding on the belly plus no white markings on the tail are good ID characters - Eds.
Red-billed Oxpecker
Jackie Preston, RV288

warthog nyala
Marula hunters enjoying the feast. Lee Gutteridge, RV164

Lesser Bushbaby residing in bird nesting box. Lawrence Morgan, RV283

A Final Word - Mystery Species Identified!

bug We were delighted to receive this response to the mystery insect n our January newsletter - Eds.

I believe this orange flier is a Cremnops desertor or another species of a braconid wasp. I didn’t find any information on the distribution of Cremnops in Africa, but it’s found worldwide.

In Belgium and the Netherlands there are more than 1000 species of braconid wasps, so you will probably also have a lot of them in South-Africa.
Johan Cleuren (biologist) from Belgium.