November 2014

The Raptor is what YOU make it so please do keep sending all the sightings and information through.
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.
We're delighted with the content and 'fullness' of this issue - many thanks to all those who have contributed.

In This Issue
Bushveld Birds, Part 6 Stierlings Wren-warbler
Breeding Record of Stierlings Wren-warbler A closer look at this special bird
Beware! Dung Beetle Crossing! More on these fascinating creatures
Signs of Summer From birds, mammals, insects & plants!
Interesting Sightings Observations from our residents
Photo Gallery Great results from our photographers
A Final Word Nyala Bull & baby Impala

Bushveld Birds, Part 6 - Stierlings Wren-warbler - Derek Solomon, RV254
This little warbler is common on Raptor's View but not easy to see as it is quite secretive and more often than not is only located by its high-pitched call that is usually given from within the canopy of a tree. It is brown above and barred black and white below with a bright red eye.

What makes this bird so special is its nesting behaviour. It is known as the king of the African tailor birds, building its nest in amongst a few living leaves that are sewn together with spider web, a unique behaviour that is only known found in two other species, the Green and Grey-backed Camaroptera’s. The bird actually pushes strands of cobweb through tiny pin-prick sized holes in the leaves and ‘rivets' them in place on the inside and outside with a small knot of thread (from Roberts Nests and Eggs by Warwick Tarboton). How special is that?

We've chosen to highlight this species here to complement the great notes and photos from Hugh & Julie Marshall of a pair breeding in their 'garden'; plus more nest photos from Keith Hartshorne.

Stierlings Wren-warbler

wren warbler
Photo - Lee Gutteridge

Breeding Record of Stierlings Wren-warbler - Julie & Hugh Marshall, RV243
nest In late October 2013, a pair of Stierlings Wren-warblers nested at our house. The nest was woven & stitched together in a shrub called Pentas Lanceolata (we commonly know it as 'butterfly bush' – pink variety) – see photographs. We were alerted to the nest by the male (we think it was the male, as both sexes are alike) displaying with much 'wing-snapping' and what looked like a white fluffy feather in his beak. The mate responded and they went into the nest.

Many years ago a pair of these Wren-warblers attempted to nest in a Grewia bush close to the house but were disturbed by our presence and abandoned the nest. We have subsequently read that these birds are very susceptible to being disturbed, so now we endeavour to give them a lot of space – hence the lack of good photographs!

We estimated the incubation period to be about 14 - 16 days before we watched food being brought to the nest. Both parents appear to bring a wide range of insects especially flying ants after an eruption.
When bringing food they used an intricate zig-zag approach coming down a Sickle Bush and then dropping straight down to a branch close to the nest before going in. The feeding continued for at least 14 days before we saw the first chick up in the adjacent Sickle Bush – all fluffy & with no tail feathers. The next day the parents managed to entice two more chicks from the nest both of whom were much smaller than the first chick. All three chicks only remained close to the nest for a further two days before adults & chicks alike seemed to disappear.

A further interesting observation was that in early January 2014 the Warblers returned to this nest and began stripping and collecting the spiders’ web and other soft fluffy material. They would fly off up and over the house carrying big bundles of this material but we were unable to locate the new nest site.

Once again at the same time this year (virtually to the day) the pair of Wren-warblers have built another nest using the same species of plant (red variety – see photo) but in a different location and the female is currently incubating (27 October). We were then away for 2 weeks and thought we would not see the chicks hatch this year but on our return a quick peek has happily revealed at least one chick in the nest.

nest nest nest

These last 2 photos from Keith Hartshorne, RV298 show the intricate sewing technique of this little bird.
nest nest

Beware! Dung Beetle Crossing! - Robyn Keene-Young, RV259
dung beetles
Photo - D&S Solomon
The World According to Dung Beetles
Over 6000 species of dung beetles populate every continent except Antarctica. Adults emerge with the first rain of the season to feed and mate. At the same time, they must cheat death by birds, small mammals and speeding motor vehicles.

What’s for Dinner?
One animal’s feces is another’s feast. Dung beetles rely on smell to locate fresh excrement, and most fly to the patch after scenting it. Here, competition from other beetles drives the diners to pack their meal into a ball and roll it away. Yet most species don’t roll balls, tunneling instead beneath the dung patch, hauling food underground.
Honey, I have a Present for You
Some males use dung balls as a nuptial gift to females, others use them as their ‘wheels’, transporting their bride to the honeymoon destination. Rivals often try to steal balls. After mating, females typically lay one or more eggs inside a buried ball, or inside a tunnel, which serves as a type of umbilical cord for the hatched offspring. Some species show an incredible devotion to their unborn offspring: tending the brood-ball, removing fungus, and even stridulating to communicate with their pupae.

Working Where the Sun Does Shine
Ancient Egyptians took one look at ball-rolling dung beetles and decided that they pulled the sun across the sky. Ironically, a few thousand years later, a team of scientists discovered that dung-rolling beetles navigate by our solar system.

In sunny Australia, generations of dung beetles have been raised on the dainty pellet-like droppings of wallabies and kangaroos. But over the decades, as imported livestock invaded their landscape, the overworked beetles simply could not keep up with the business end of the country’s expanding cattle industry. Flies bred in the manure that littered the land, giving rise to the Cork Hat and the ‘Aussie Salute’.
In the spirit of global economics, Australia began to import migrant labour to do the dirty work. Tens of thousands of dung beetles, skilled in bovine waste removal, were flown in from Africa and Europe. Today, dung beetles are big business Down Under, where thousands of beetles are bred, sold and released into pastures. The little beetles have done a brilliant job of reducing the country’s fly population. Not only that, their appetite for dung reduces pollution of land and waterways, aerates and fertilizes soils, conserves nitrogen and, by sequestering carbon, may even help in the fight against global warming.

And you thought they just ate poop!
dung sign
Photo - D&S Solomon

Signs of Summer
Summer is upon us (although, at the time of writing (17 November), one would be forgiven for thinking not - as we seem to be in the midst of an overcast, windy and really rather chilly time!) and the birds are certainly letting us know, as are the new plants popping up, the baby mammals - some born and some imminent...

Bearded Scrub Robins and Red-chested Cuckoos
Bearded Robin
Bearded Scrub Robin
D&S Solomon
When we moved to Raptors View 11 years ago, the common robin around our house was the White-browed Scrub Robin. We set about planting and nurturing many different trees and shrubs and three years ago we started seeing a pair of Bearded Scrub-Robins visiting our patch.

As of last year, a breeding pair has made our house part of their territory. The range of calls from these birds is amazing – mostly singing at first light and then again each evening. They now spend hours defending their territory against other Bearded Scrub-Robins that they see reflected in windows all around our house. Enter – the Red-chested Cuckoo!!

We have noticed that the robins stop singing as soon as a 'Piet-my-Vrou' starts calling. Once the cuckoo moves away, the robins start up again.
Knowing that Bearded Scrub Robins are host species for this cuckoo, we are convinced that the robins deliberately keep quiet when the cuckoo is around to try and avoid detection and possibly having an egg laid in their nest.
Hugh & Julie Marshall, RV243

For the non-birders - cuckoos (and several other species - Indigobirds and Honeyguides to name a few) are brood parasites meaning that they lay their eggs in other birds' nests and leave it up to that host species to raise their chicks. Sometimes the brood parasite has evolved to produce eggs that are identical to whichever host they highjack; with the Indigobirds the chick has the same palate markings as those of the host's chicks - ensuring that they are fed. Often the intruder's egg hatches out into a much bigger chick than that of the host and it soon uses size to dominate the nest and in that case is usually the only chick raised - Eds
Red chested cuckoo
Red-chested Cuckoo
D&S Solomon

Black-backed Jackal Pups
A pair of Black-backed Jackal with their five playful pups seen off my deck on 11 November.
Lawrence Morgan, RV283

Fireball Lily
A week after the mid-October rain this Fireball Lily (also known as Royal Shaving Brush or Pincushion Lily) sprung up on Snake Eagle just after Bataleur.
Rob Severin, RV240
It is one of the Scadoxus species and with the conspicuous yellow stamens we believe it is Scadoxus puniceus - Eds.
flower flower flower

Woodland Kingfisher Arrival
When did you hear the first Woodland Kingfisher of the season?

In our experience, they typically arrive in Raptor’s in November, usually after a good storm. For two years in a row - 2009 and 2010 - they arrived on the exact same day: 11th November. The following year they were a week late, calling for the first time on 18th November. We’re always so excited to hear them for the first few days, but after that the constant 'chip chirrr' can drive you a bit crazy! Spare a thought for these long-distance migrants, they have likely travelled all this way from the Sudan to find mates, breed and raise chicks before heading all the way back there in April.
Robyn Keene-Young & Adrian Bailey, RV259
woodland kingfisher
The first sighting (of a silent Kingfisher!) came in today - 17 November, from Hugh & Julie Marshal, RV243. - Eds

Red Velvet Mites
A typical sign of summer and the arrival of the rains is the emergence of hundreds of tiny Red Velvet Mites.
Rob Severin, RV240
photo - Martin Severin aged 8
photographing mites

This was mentioned in a previous issue of The Raptor but is worth repeating here for new readers.
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! - Eds.

Red-headed Weaver Breeding Photo Journal
We've had a pair of industrious Red-headed Weavers that we have so enjoyed watching through the breeding process. Starting with the nest design and construction - built by the male and inspected for workmanship by the female; lining the nest with soft leaves, egg laying and incubation - with 2 discarded pretty pale blue egg shells as proof of 2 hatchlings and finally endless feeding of the demanding chicks.
Penny & Keith Hartshorne, RV298
red headed weavers
red headed weavers

Interesting Sightings on the Estate
Gecko 1: Spotted Bush Snake NIL
gecko On Sunday, 26th October, at @ 13.30 we noticed a commotion at the end of the carport...on closer inspection it turned out to be a Spotted Bush Snake trying to devour a feisty Wahlberg's Velvet Gecko. The gecko had already lost his tail in the fracas, but was mounting a strong resistance. In these 2 photos the gecko appears to have the snake's bottom jaw clenched in his.
The snake was making loads of twisting and turning movements trying to break the gecko's hold, but he dug in his pads (see photo below) and the snake eventually had no alternative but to let go. Defeated, it slithered away further into the carport up into the wheel rim of the car.

The gecko was absolutely exhausted! He lay there panting for about 10 minutes and then went on his way.
Roz & Brian Saverton, RV304

gecko battle

gecko foot This photo of a Tropical House Gecko's back foot shows the amazing rows of pads and minute hairs that allow geckos to 'stick' to very smooth surfaces - Eds.

Common Cuckoo
This Common (formerly European) Cuckoo flew into our lounge window in late October and lay on the deck, stunned, for about 10 minutes and then gathered itself together and flew off. On looking it up in the bird book for more information we learnt that at this time of year it is a common non-breeding visitor, departing in April. It is a solitary, shy and secretive bird and is silent in South Africa but in the breeding season in the Northern Hemisphere the call is a loud, unmistakable 'cuck-oo'.
Jackie Preston, RV288.
common cuckoo

Drimia altissima
One can't but notice the beautiful indigenous Drimia altissima (Tall white squill) that has popped up all over the estate. It is a member of the hyacinth family, and is a geophyte (perennial plants that have an underground food storage organ, such as a bulb or tuber. The parts of the plant that grow above ground die away during the dry season, and grow again from buds that are on or within the underground portion when conditions improve.) and the whole plant is highly toxic. Apparently it was once used as a rat poison in Europe and is the cause of acute and often fatal poisoning in livestock although the leaves and bulbs are browsed by nyala and duiker without any apparent ill effect. Monkeys have been seen eating the flowers.
D&S Solomon, RV254
drimia drimia

Bushveld chincherinchee
flower Spotted this lovely Ornithogalum seieri near RV37.

It is a fairly common bulbous herb of @ 40cm named after Franz Seiner - an Austrian journalist and traveller of the early 1900's who explored Zambia and Namibia during this time. Are there different and more numerous flowering plants this year or are we just being more observant?!

Warthog have been recorded feeding on the underground bulbs.

D&S Solomon, RV254

Barn Swallows in Trouble
On 17 November there were droves of Barn Swallows settling on the roads on the estate (and apparently on several other farms and estates in the area) - it was a particularly cold day with a very strong wind. Were they trying to warm up or was there so little insect life due to the cold wind coming off the mountain that all that was available was on the ground? Their flight was slow and laboured which sadly resulted in some fatalities by passing vehicles.
D&S Solomon, RV254
swallow swallow

Photo Gallery
Milkweed Locust - Martin Severin (aged 8), RV240

kingfisher bushbuck
Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Bushbuck ram - Keith Hartshorne, RV298

hog hog
Warthog enjoying the mud wallow - Jackie Preston, RV288

mantis grub
Perky Praying Mantis - Jackie Preston, RV288
Mystery Grub in the roots of a Red Bush Willow
Richard Braun, RV255

fly tit
Fly on the Wall
an as yet unidentified fly - Kevin Dickinson, RV252
Southern Black Tit removing a fecal sack from
the nest site (inside a leadwood pole)
Derek Solomon, RV254

A Final Word - Nyala Bull & Baby Impala

nyala This photo was recently released in the News Bulletin earlier in the week but is such a shocking image that we feel it needs to be repeated here.

He appears to have been shot with a paint ball gun and if this is the case it is beyond comprehension and is totally unacceptable behaviour.

baby impala
To end on a much happier note - the first baby impala have, at last, been seen on the estate!