May 2012

Thank you to everyone who sent positive feedback on the last issue; and a special thanks to those who 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 This Issue
From our Farm Manager Notes on the Estate
Tracking the Aardvark Trail There's more out there than you think!
More Flowers Some Species on the Estate
The Tortoises of Raptor's View by Byron Wright
Window Bashers! A collage of birds hammering the glass
Wild Dogs Recent Sightings on the Estate
Photo Gallery Great Results from our Photographers!
Mystery Bird Can you identify this species?
A Final Word Aloe Symposium


From our Farm Manager
February and March were very busy months as in addition to normal maintenance on the Estate, flood damage brought about additional road and fence maintenance as well as brush packing to remove a lot of the debris left by the flood.

In February an Nyala cow was seen crossing the main Hoedspruit road coming from the direction of The Safari Club. Dr Pete Rodgers was called in, and with help from GRMS staff, the Nyala was darted and relocated into Raptors.

After the flood crocodile tracks were reported along the eastern fence and tracking showed that it had come in under the fence but a short while later moved back into Khaya Ndhlovu.

Animal mortalities in February included two adult female Impala predated by Wild Dogs, while in March a Wildebeest died from unknown causes and a Waterbuck drowned.

Speeding continues to be a problem on the estate and during March 4 speed traps logged a total of 173 vehicles with 37 of them exceeding the speed limit - most travelling between 31 and 40 kmph; 2 vehicles were logged at over 40kmph.



Tracking the Aardvark Trail by Lee Gutteridge, RV164
It has been said, on occasion, that there’s not always a lot to see when walking through the Hoedspruit area’s dry savannah. In fact, in most wild places, when you walk in the bush, unless you are absolutely silent and keeping wind direction in mind, you are unlikely to see large animals as they simply flee when we approach them. That’s why I love tracking so much. Tracks are always there, and the animals don’t know how to hide them, so they are left there in the open for us to see.

However, it requires some special skills to read beyond the ordinary, and to really glean a clearer picture of the inhabitants of the surroundings you are walking through. This article should help you to see a few more things when walking down the Aardvark trail - the photos were all taken there.

Guineafowl are often found along the trail, and being so vociferous one can hardly miss them. Their feathers also adorn the trail, as these birds will often fall prey to small predators, and also lose feathers through less ominous means such as moulting and the multitude of little fights they have with one another! A favourite pastime of this large bird is sand bathing. This is done to remove ectoparasites, and also to provide a coat of dust to reduce the amount of places where these pests can bite them. These little sand pits can be seen in most of the loose soil along the trail where these birds have recently passed by.

And then there are a multitude of insects that also leave interesting signs for us, but these are often more subtle, and easily overlooked. Praying mantises will secrete a type of foamy substance, which is usually green or brown, into an egg case known as an Ootheca. These are common to see along the trail, and may be very varied. Some are beautifully formed, and nearly see through, whereas others are more like green polystyrene!

Gall wasps and midges also leave their marks on the trees along the trail, injecting enzymes into the wood of the living tree and causing small deformities and bumps on the branches. The eggs are then oviposited into these pieces of wood, where the egg will hatch into a larva, and grow, whilst being protected by the hosts bark and wood.

Porcupine signs are also commonly encountered on the trail, with frequent ‘V’ shaped diggings which usually culminate in a damaged root or tuber, which of course provides much of this animal’s nutrition. The spoor can also be found from time to time, though not easy to identify without a lot of practice, whereas its reddish brown, sausage shaped scat, which is very fibrous, can be seen at regular intervals along the trail as this is a common nocturnal animal in Raptors View.

When you are walking the trail another interesting sign is the flower of the various types of Tapinanthus mistletoe’s which occur here. When you find a flower like this on the trail, look up, and you will probably see the parasitic plant from which it fell. Interestingly, the flowers are usually split along their length, as when they are ripe and ready to be pollinated, they become almost explosive. This is to ensure that the sunbirds which use them get a good covering of pollen from the flower. Thus, indirectly, the mistletoe flowers on the ground also indicate the presence of sunbirds!

Spider webs are also very common on the trail, including those of various Orb, Funnel-web, Kite and Tent spider species. One which we will often see long after the inhabitants are gone is the untidy ball nest of the Community-web spiders. These spiders live in little colonies of several hundred individuals, and will actively cooperate in the hunting of prey which gets tangled in the knockdown strands spread out around their untidy ball shaped home. These spiders are harmless to us, and very small in size.


Of course there are also the tracks and signs of larger mammals on the trail, the kind of animals we seldom see on walk (unless we are lucky). Zebra spoor (pictured above) can be found on the trail, along with its droppings, as well as the frequent middens of impalas. These middens are not specific territorial markings as many people think, as several adult males, females and young will all utilise the same midden, and impalas are not really territorial anyway. It is believed that they may be markers for a group to use when fleeing a predator, and you may note they are almost always in open areas or on a game trail, so this would make sense. However, ethology, or the study of animal behaviour is always difficult for us to interpret, because no one has asked the animals...so I will stick to tracking!



More Raptor’s Flowers
Another 6 species. Derek & Sarah Solomon, RV254
Aptosimum lineare  Carpet Flower. This tiny, beautiful blue flower is very common on the estate and throughout the Lowveld flowering mainly between September and June each year. It grows close to the ground hence its name. It is sometimes called the Veld Violet or the Bushveld Violet. Chamaechrista mimosoides  Fishbone Dwarf Cassia. This little herb is widespread in both Africa and Asia where it is known as Tea Senna or Japanese Tea.

Evolvulus alsinoides  Blue Haze. This common herb is a member of the Morning Glory family and occurs in India, Africa and the Philippines. It is used to cure fever, coughs, venereal diseases and depression. Gomphrena celosioides  Bachelor’s Button. This plant was particularly evident on the estate after the floods and is actually a low-growing weed that was introduced from South America. It is now a weed of disturbed places throughout the tropics and subtropics and is particularly toxic to horses. One wonders if it would affect zebras.

Pavonia burchelli  Dainty Pavonia. This soft, shrubby plant is a member of the cotton family and prefers to grow in the shade of trees, bush clumps or boulders. Solanum panduriforme  Poison Apple. Also known as Deadly Night Shade, this plant is a member of the potato family. It is used to treat various problems including toothache, rheumatism and haemorrhoids but if incorrectly used can cause death in humans.



The Tortoises of Raptor’s View, by Byron Wright
When driving or walking on the farm I always enjoy finding a tortoise and when time permits I’ll stay with it, because watching these odd shaped reptiles always fills me with wonder for the special creatures found in this little piece of paradise.

Although tortoises are slow and many a good joke’s punch line depends on this trait, they can as easily as a bulky elephant slip away into the bush, without you being the wiser of where it has gone off to. They are also very capable of scaling steep inclines, though you would not believe it by looking at their build. I once saw a Leopard Tortoise (on Raptor’s View we also have Speke’s Hinged Tortoise) kicking into 4x4 mode as it went up the steep side of low road, hardly ever loosing its footing and reaching the top and over within less than a minute. Before then I wouldn’t have guessed them to be so agile! Then again, I once rescued a thirsty tortoise from a slippery bird bath from which it was unable to climb out of over the high edge.
This time of year you should keep a sharp eye when walking in the bush for baby Leopard Tortoises as they mostly hatch during March and April. Interestingly, incubation is generally slow and can take up to a year. Females use their keen sense of smell to select the appropriate soil conditions for a nesting site. Once they have located it, they will urinate on the spot to soften the soil in order to dig a 25cm deep hole with their hind legs in which to lay the eggs.

Although Leopard Tortoises are not threatened, all hinged tortoises, including Speke’s Hinged Tortoise, are listed on CITES Appendix II. This means that they are not necessarily threatened with extinction but may become so unless the trade in these species is closely controlled.

Veld fires are a major cause of mortalities for tortoises, but luckily on Raptor’s with our no-burn policy this farm offers a relatively safe haven for these creatures. Leopard tortoises (I have not yet found a Speke’s in this situation) however often get stuck and are electrocuted in the fence line as they try to enter or exit the property. Daily fence checks have saved a lucky few individuals.
Speke's Hinged Tortoise
Speke’s Hinged Tortoises occur in very low densities, with only about two individuals per hectare, which explains why you will more often see a Leopard Tortoise than one of these. Amazingly though, Leopard Tortoises can have home ranges exceeding 80ha in extent! Tortoises also enter a period in which they are dormant or inactive, also resulting in fewer sightings. They will spend this time under thick vegetation or in crevices.

Other than showing little personality and being rather shy, tortoises make very bad pets for a far more serious reason. Salmonella is found in their digestive
tracts and when children keep getting sick all the time, the first question the doctor should ask is whether there is a pet tortoise at home! A lack of sunlight can cause carapace (shell) deformation – another good reason to rather leave the tortoise in the bush where he belongs.

Tortoises seem to play a very important role in African folk lore as a quick search through some books containing African stories revealed no fewer than six different tales. They are very entertaining and worth the while to read as they make for great material to entertain visitors around the campfire.



Sources:
• A guide to the reptiles of Southern Africa. Graham Alexander    and Johan Marais.
• Donald Strydom, Khamai Reptile Park.
• The guineafowl’s spots. Dianne Stewart.
• When lion could fly and other tales from Africa. Nick Greaves.
Leopard Tortoise



The Window Bashers of 254 Martial Eagle
The large windows in our office are particularly attractive to a variety of “window bashers” who often attack their reflections in the glass. The second most popular window is in the spare bathroom, a favourite of the Natal Spurfowl. The White-crested Helmet Shrikes move past as a family group with two (possible the alpha pair) that spend several minutes having a go at the windows.
Red-billed Hornbill
Kurrichane Thrush
Chinspot Batis
Natal Spurfowl
White-crested Helmet shrike
Yellow-billed Hornbill



Wild Dog Sightings
On 10 March we woke to the screams of an antelope. On investigation there was a young kudu that had been killed lying in the riverbed. We suspected wild dog and set up our camera trap - only one dog was seen. Interestingly it appears warthog ate most of the carcass as they appeared daily. Finally I got the shot I was hoping for - a leopard investigated the kill on the third night but did not appear to eat much.
Rob Severin, RV240

The waterbuck that drowned in March (mentioned in Byron's report) was dragged into the bush and a camera trap set up to record the resulting action. It wasn't long before it was discovered by the pack of ?? wild dogs. Once they had their fill the vultures took over, joined by jackal and a civet was spotted investigating the carcass at night.



Photo Gallery
White-crested Helmet Shrike attacking Dark Chanting Goshawk, Warren Cary, RV287
Female Tree Agama, Warren Cary, RV287
Porcupine - Peter Hartley, RV296
Woodland Kingfisher with scorpion - the Wilcox family, RV277
Rusty-spotted Genet the Wilcox family, RV277
Civet - Peter Hartley, RV296
Porcupine & baby - Ron & Geoff Strike, RV112
Spotted Flycatcher - David Golightly, RV275
Pangolin - Johan de Villiers, RV260
This story does have a happy ending, the electricity was turned off and Dr Peter Rogers took it in for adrenalin and observation and it was released after a few days.
Giant Plated Lizard - the Wilcox family, RV277
This creature came to drink at the occupied outdoor shower, he/she was quite relaxed and in no hurry to leave!



Mystery Bird
This raptor was our last mystery bird from Peter Hartley, RV296. Only one resident submitted a suggested ID of juvenile Bat Hawk - perhaps we'll have better luck with the bird in this issue?!
Our ID is juvenile African Hawk Eagle - Editors.
This mystery bird is from Ron & Geoff Strike, RV112.
What do you think it is? To help you with ID, the birds are feeding on minute insects in and around the nest and are not actually breeding or even roosting in the nest.



A Final Word
Inhlaba Indaba
An International Conference on Aloes will be held over 19 - 21 June 2012
at the Forever Resorts, Blyde Canyon.

The title of the conference is derived from 'inhlaba', isiZulu for 'aloe' and indaba' which means 'meeting" or 'gathering' in isiZulu. 'Indaba' can also refer to 'story'; this is very appropriate as this gathering will look at the Story of Aloes.

In addition to the conference there will be a number of exhibitions are planned during the conference, they will include an exhibition of botanical art with aloes as theme, a book exhibition, a display of aloe products, and obviously, an aloe plant expo. Artwork as well as books (new and antiquarian) will be for sale.
See www.inhlabaindaba.co.za or email info@inhlabaindaba.co.za for more information.