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.
Problem Plants and Weeds on Raptor’s View by Byron Wright
The development and changes in plant vegetation in an area is known as plant succession. During this process the vegetation of an area changes over time. This process will occur irrespective of man interfering or not. One can refer to primary and secondary succession. Secondary succession occurs when an area, usually consisting of a stable climax community of plants, is disturbed. Conditions at the soil surface are often harsh, temperatures fluctuate and the upper soil layers dry out rapidly. These conditions are suitable for plants adapted to grow in these environments, and one often finds hardy plants, such as annual plants, are best adapted to grow in these conditions.
This is often the reason why the following problem plants and weeds thrive on Raptor’s View.
Common Black Jack (Bidens pilosa)
This was introduced during the last century from South America and the fruits have tiny barbs and rough edges permitting it to burrow into clothing and animal hide. This is a very efficient method of dispersal. Black jacks germinate in dense mats and post-emergence herbicides can be used to successfully control them. Small patches can be pulled out by hand before fruits become ready for dispersal.
Khakibos (Tagetes minuta)
Also introduced from South America this plant has a distinctive and clingy aroma. It is a tall weed (1m high) and is closely related to the garden marigold. It requires sunlight to germinate, therefore germination occurs on or near the soil surface. Pre-emergence herbicides can be used, as long as they does not leach into the soil. This plant is able to germinate even without disturbance of the soil. The best long term control is achieved with a herbicide programme that incorporates a post-emergence treatment.
Redstar zinnia (Zinnia peruviana)
Yet another plant that originated from South America as a garden plant and has been known as a weed for over a century. The stems have fine hairs on them with colourful large flowers on long slender stalks, 500mm high. This plant rarely causes a serious problem, but if a control method is required, a conventional herbicide can be used. Small patches can be pulled out by hand before flowers dry out and seeds
Heart-leaf sida (Sida cordifolia)
These plants are indigenous and found throughout South Africa as well as other tropical countries. They are perennial shrubs that grow up to 1m tall. The open flowers are brightly coloured, yellow or white. it is an extremely resilient plant and is difficult to control. Mature plants require systematic herbicides which can translocate to the roots. Pulling these plants up is often difficult as they have a very strong taproot and stem.
The presence of one or more of these plants can be seen as a symptom of disturbance by mankind. Historical overgrazing, development of stands, construction of roads, lack of bulk feeders and introduction of invasive species by man and animal contribute to the overall problem. When attempting to eradicate these plants, one should be careful on how to approach the situation. By disturbing an area even more, one might aggravate the situation. Herbicides should only be used for specific purposes and the impacts thereof should be fully understood. The use of inappropriate herbicides can have a detrimental effect on untargeted plant species.
Veld management in South Africa, Neil Tainton.
Problem plants and alien weeds of South Africa, Clive Bromilow.
In the light of the final comments should we be undertaking the current eradication program along the sides of the roads or simply let nature take its course and over time allow the quality vegetation to re-establish itself? Rather than focusing on the removal of the above-mentioned weeds, perhaps we should put all our efforts into bush clearing that will promote good grass cover that will in turn provide more grazing for the wildlife. We therefore urge owners to consider making use of the offer by Bryon to send his team onto individual plots to do this for a very reasonable fee.
Night Birds, Part 1 - Derek Solomon, RV254
The sound of an owl calling is one of the most characteristic noises of the bushveld at night. Two common species are also the smallest – the African Scops-Owl and the Pearl-spotted Owlet, both of similar size (15-18cm). Their calls are used to find a mate, to advertise that a territory is occupied, or to let a mate know where they are. The Pearl-spotted Owlet may also call in duet, with the female having a slightly higher-pitched call than her partner.
The African Scops-Owl has long erectile ‘ear’ tufts that stand up when the bird is roosting against a tree trunk during the day. This, combined with its combination of grey, black and brown markings, makes it nearly invisible against the trunk and surrounding vegetation.
Its call is a ventriloquial ‘prrrup’ that is repeated over and over every 5-8 seconds for long periods during the night. Often people mistake this sound for an insect rather than a bird.
African Scops Owl
Showing 'Ear' Tufts
The Pearl-spotted Owlet has a rounded head with no ear tufts and pearl-like white spots on the crown, back and tail. On the back of the head are two distinctive black false ‘eyes’. One suggestion is that these false ‘eyes’ serve to deter potential predators but no-one really knows what the purpose actually is. While the Scops-Owl is strictly nocturnal, the Pearl-spotted is often active during the day and is a rapacious hunter that has been recorded taking prey as large as Laughing Doves. Its daytime call often attracts small birds that then mob the owl, occasionally ending up as prey themselves instead!
The call of this little owl is remarkably loud for such a small bird. It is a series of shrill whistles - 'peu peu peu peu peeu peeeu' – increasing in volume and then descending in pitch. It is particularly vocal in early summer at the start of the breeding season.
Listen to the calls here:
African Scops Owl
Showing False 'Eyes'
Trees of Raptor's View, Part 4 - Lee Gutteridge, RV164
We are in a very diverse region as far as our tree fauna is concerned, and this article focuses on one of the better-known trees on the estate: Flaky-bark thorn – Acacia exuvialis
Note: The whole Acacia complex is being reclassified into Vachellia and Senegalia, for more information please visit the following site - The Acacia name change – botany and emotion by Christian Kull
Also known as the Flaky-bark Acacia, this tree can be very common in our region. Usually it is fairly small, appearing mostly as a thin, spindly looking tree. It is easily identified by the straight thorns, and excessively flaking bark. The bark is the most striking and unique feature of this tree. The flower is a small round, yellow catkin, typical of many of the Acacias. The seed pod is small, brown and dehiscent. Unfortunately there are no uses available for this tree, in spite of many references being checked. It is not always popular on the estate, but I feel that it is a beautiful tree with a unique appearance, and as long as it does not form dense thickets it should be a welcome addition to our flora.
The Seed Pod
Leopard & Wild Dog Sightings on the Estate!
There have been a flurry of reported wild dog sightings on the estate in the last month. Firstly on 25 March 5 dogs were spotted by Lawrence Morgan, RV283 early in the morning, 2 were then seen at RV254 followed by 7 or more (the same pack now together) by Keith & Penny Hartshorne, RV298 on a kill. On 9 April the dogs were caught on the camera trap outside RV180 - again on a kill; they were seen by Michelle Severin, RV240 the next day in the same area.
On 11 April Shara Barrell, RV66 reported drag marks across their driveway. On investigation a leopard was scared off a kill (young kudu female). Byron & Luan set up a camera trap and at 14.30 a male leopard came back to feed on the carcass. During the night a female and a male leopard feasted on the carcass, sometimes alone and sometimes together. Ed's note - we've heard leopard several times at night lately - so for those who are unsure of its call listen to it here:
There's a Giraffe in my Pool! - Byron Wright
On the evening of 26 March we were called out to RV158, the residents had arrived home at about 18.00 to discover a young giraffe in their pool!
We phoned Dr. Rodgers and it was decided the best approach was to try and get the giraffe out the pool without the use of tranquilizers. Luckily the steps to the pool were wide and shallow, and we eventually managed to herd the giraffe to the shallow end. With a little bit of slipping and sliding, the giraffe climbed out the pool and trotted off into the bush none the worse for wear and with its dignity intact.
These photos were taken in late February as the last of the Marula fruit were falling. This warthog family of mum, dad and 5 babies have been coming every day since the Marulas first started dropping. They were very eager to devour the fruit as fast as they could, and some of the babies found it all just too much and fell asleep many times. We even had a female Kudu eating the fruit. They are now finished and we will have to wait till next year to watch this spectacle again.
Jackie Preston, RV288
African Wild Cat
Some great home sightings from Rowena Kraidy, RV124
Ed's note - the Red Velvet Mite is an arachnid (related to spiders, scorpions and ticks) and feeds on termites, small insects and other mites (with the larval stage being a blood sucking parasite). Their distribution is wide and they spend the majority of their time underground, emerging to feed after heavy rains. In India it is believed the deep red oil holds many medical benefits, and people gather the mites during the short time they emerge from the soil to sell in the local bazaars. The harvested oil is strongly believed to be an aphrodisiac, but ours is not necessarily the same species so don't try this at home!
(Possibly) Kirby's Dropwing
Monitor Lizard, RV286
Hump-backed Net-casting Spider, RV286
Ed's note - the spider was kindly ID'd for us by Astri Leroy from The Spider Club of southern Africa and the scientific name is Menneus camellus in the spider family Deinopidae. An amazing species that actually casts a net (web) to catch their prey but apparently once the males are mature they no longer make the casting webs as they only have one thing on their minds, and it's not food!
Lacewing, Lawrence Morgan, RV283
Jumping Spider, Lawrence Morgan, RV832
Trapdoor Spider, Simone Braun, RV255
Horned Baboon Spider, Michelle Severin, RV240
Ed's note - The Trapdoor Spider was again kindly ID'd for us by the Spider Club of SA, and the Horned Baboon spider was caught, removed from the house and released nearby.
Snouted Cobra, Keith & Penny Hartshorne, RV298
Striped Kingfisher, K & P Hartshorne, RV298
A stoic Foam Nest Frog being devoured by a Spotted Bush Snake, Keith & Penny Hartshorne, RV298
A great series of shots from bud to open bloom of Giant Stapelia or Carrion-Flower from Jackie Preston, RV288. The common name is derived from the stench of the flowers which attract carrion flies and act as pollinators.
A Final Word - Of Crocodiles and Green Mambas at Raptor’s View - Desiré Wright
with illustrations by Anne Watt
As do all jobs, being a wildlife estate manager has its challenges and that person is more often than not required to be a diplomat rather than to be a conservationist or a farm manager, as the job title describes. Working with people is a gift that Byron definitely has down to a T, in my opinion of course. Often I watch him taking calls late at night or early before the start of the work day, only to hear him answer in a friendly tone of voice and “killing them with kindness”. Call outs are one of the special challenges attached to being the farm manager of Raptor’s View. Here are some memorable examples.
Gate Crashers Some nightly call outs are serious, others less so but they still need Byron’s attention. Two fond memories come to mind here. For many a RV resident Safari Club is located very conveniently as you needn’t worry about traffic cops when driving home, only those pesky trees lining Snake Eagle that sometimes go for a starry stroll and jump in front of unsuspecting drivers on their way home… For those who need to drive further than RV to get home, or to get to their next party destination, they sometimes tend to get stuck at RV nonetheless.
On both these occasions the guard house called Byron late at night, the guard on duty in a slight state of panic and talking incoherently. In the first incident it turned out that a student in dad’s car misjudged the location of the gate and ensnared himself and his car in the fence. Not uncommon behaviour for unruly wildebeest or impala trying to escape a wild dog chase. With little delicacy, and an inclination to teach the young man a lesson – Byron left the guy hanging, literally, until the next morning when he was sure that the hapless fence victim’s mates and superiors would pass and have a good laugh. The other incident involved a visiting barfly who had come to Hoedspruit to pub crawl. After Safari Club closed he unintentionally did some gate crashing, again literally, by suspending his expensive new bakkie on the gate rail housing. When Byron arrived and yanked his vehicle off the brick structure rather roughly, the man asked Byron unperturbed “So where can a guy find a dop in this town?”
Criminal Creepy Crawlies
In light of regular sightings of leopard, wild dog and hyena on the estate, I would also be wary to wander outdoors late at night. One never knows when one of these may have the inclination to take a better look at a sleepy bloke in pyjamas… Living on Raptor’s View though you would know that the “hairy scaries” usually steer clear of us humans who reek of soap and perfume. It’s the creepy crawlies that get the blood pumping and adrenaline rushing. For me the sun spiders are the worst, just because of their looks! They are much too hairy and run way too fast to be allowed indoors ever! And when they run, oh boy, it looks like there are three of them instead of one!
Byron’s favourites though are the monster scorpions and criminal dung beetles in particular… I’ll mention her name here, because I know she can also see the humour herein. Jen Duncan once called Byron (and a few times called Chris Brooke too) in hysterics about a “massive scorpion” that had invaded her house. True to his nature of never failing to rescue a damsel in distress, Byron rushed over to remove the offending creature and pacify the lady of the house. When being shown the monstrous scorpion though, Byron had to look carefully to spot the three centimetre long, sand coloured little bugger on the floor! Being a city girl all her life before coming to Hoedspruit, we will let Jen slide on this one (and the others!)…
While scorpions can be a real hassle, would you believe that an unassuming dung beetle can cause even more uproar? Indeed they can, as Byron recounted to me one evening. Byron had just got into his pyjamas when a very concerned RV resident called him from the gate house. The homeowner’s house is very near the boundary fence and he had been hearing it crack for a little while before he decided he had to get Byron to come and check it out. Arriving there in PT shorts and t-shirt, Byron had no idea what to expect but with Security only a radio call away, he investigated. Byron followed the cracking noise and found... a poor little dung beetle that had been navigating by the moon on his merry way to bury a sizeable dung ball to sustain his sons and daughters. Normally the beetle would have been able to pass through without incident, but on this night its life ended shockingly as the moist dung ball touched the earth wire while the insect was climbing over the live wire! Good to know that your neighbour at the fence is a responsible man, don’t you agree?
Now these creatures probably account for most of the call outs Byron receives. Snakes big and small make their way into homes and seem to have a particular liking for that bit of thatch added to make the nock neat (nock spray). Of course the highly venomous snakes often find their way into houses, but many of the call outs are for less dangerous but equally scary specimens.
Did you know that green mambas occur on RV? Well, not really but nonetheless Byron has been called out to more than one such a home invasion when the culprit has always turned out to be a spotted bush snake! And then there are also crocodiles on RV! On one occasion a highly distraught domestic worker told Byron that there is a “crocodile” in the bathtub. Being curious, Byron couldn’t wait to get a better look at it…a photo of a bathing croc would look so impressive on his pin-up board in the office! Alas, the “monster” croc turned out to be an arm length monitor. Not so very imposing, if you discount an adult’s slapping tail, scratching claws and foul smelling pooh!!
Ladies of the Night
On both these occasions Byron returned home white faced and speechless. I had to coax the details out of him with hot chocolate and a back scratch.
The first event took place in bright daylight, but Byron being sweet and innocent (ahem…his words!) was still white faced. Arriving at RV*** the lady of the house rushed out in nothing but a towel barely covering the girly parts to explain to Byron the problem with her electricity. I have since met Ms Towel and really can’t see why Byron was fussing so much!
The other call out in this category was a nightly adventure though and had me in stitches!
On a stormy Saturday night, well past 10pm Byron was called out to switch off the water supply valve at a widow’s house. He could have said no, as RV is only responsible for water problems before the water metre, but again… damsel in distress here, Byron to the rescue! Upon arrival it turned out that the lady had already had a few and was now fussing over a broken tap leaking all over. Still learning the location of the cleverly hidden water metres on some stands, Byron set out in the pouring rain with Ms Leak in tow. Trying but failing to leave her indoors where it’s warm and dry, she insisted on coming along to see exactly where the shut-off valve is, so that she can switch it off in future herself. All went well the first ten metres, until she got a flip flop stuck in thick mud. After some fruitless digging, the flipflop was left buried.
On the search went, for a good half hour, as Byron tried to find “that flipping knob thorn” that marks the spot of the metre. Ah, found it at last!! Switched off. Now back to the house. Ms Leak was of course as sopping wet as Byron and decided she didn’t want to soak her car as well. Right there, sweet and timid Byron was made to watch as Ms Leak stripped to her undies, with only a bra and bright red g-string remaining…
To top all of this, the widow’s car battery had run flat, so the damsel’s car had to be jumpstarted too. Well, to get this story out of Byron took an hour’s back scratch and two mugs of hot chocolate!!