The Raptor

December 2020 – The Raptor

In line with current eco-trends and aiming for a ‘greener’ lifestyle The Raptor is an e-newsletter – it does not conform to traditional page sizes and is not designed to be printed. The Raptor is what YOU make it so please do keep sending all the sightings and information through.

In this Issue

Grewias on the estate

Getting to know the Starlings on Raptor’s View

Cape Porcupine

Interesting Discoveries 

Observations from our residents

Getting to grips with Grewias part 1- Dave & Bernie Spencer

A large component of the bushy undergrowth on Raptor’s View is made up of Grewias –  Raisin Bushes. During the dry season the fruits of Grewia provide a valuable source of food for animals and birds. Baboons, monkeys, duiker and many bird species feed on the small fruits. They are also enjoyed by man as they have a sweet raisin-like taste but limited flesh. 

This article takes a closer look at three of the six Grewia species which have been identified on RV. 

Widely distributed Grewia hexamita , Giant Raisin or Reuserosyntjie, as the common name implies has large fruits, flowers and leaves.  Attractive bright yellow flowers are visible in the veld from early November. The dark green shiny leaves have distinctly asymmetrical bases and the lobed fruits ripen to a yellow brown colour. 

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The flowers and leaves of Grewia hexamita.

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The shiny leaf with a distinct asymmetrical base. 

Our second example is Grewia flavescens, Sandpaper Raisin or Skurwerosyntjie. The easiest way to identify this specie is to look for the square/fluted stem. The leaves are finely serrated and covered in rough hairs. The yellow flowers are smaller and paler than those of G. hexamita. The abundant fruits ripen to yellowish red and are loved by birds. 

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Typical stem of Grewia flavescens

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Serrated, hairy leaves and flower buds of Sandpaper Raisin. 

Our third specie is Grewia villosa, Mallow Raisin or Malvarosyntjie. This is a low growing shrub not as common on RV as the previous two species. The leaves are rounded with an obvious quilted appearance. The flowers are small and borne in clusters, the fruit may be up to four lobed and ripens to red. 

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Leaf of Grewia villosa with quilted appearance

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Typical growth form of Grewia villosa

Grewias are members of the Malvaceae family and were named in honour of Nehemiah Grew an early English plant anatomist.

Starlings - Steve Benbow

Starlings are fairly large passerines which often have glossy, sometimes iridescent plumage. Consequently, they can be somewhat difficult to identify as colour often depends on angle of sight and light. Starlings are omnivores and quite gregarious, sometimes roosting communally and foraging in small groups.

There are a number of staring species on the Raptor’s View  bird checklist however the two most-common are the Cape Starling (previously known as the Cape Glossy Starling) and in summer, the Violet-backed Starling which used to be commonly known as the Plum Starling or Amethyst Starling.

Raptor's View

Cape Starling (Kleinglansspreeu in Afrikaans)

Cape Starlings are monomorphic, meaning that the male and female look alike.

On RV, the Cape Starlings are here year-round. They have a blue sheen to their plumage and they lack the darker ear coverts of similar species. Eyes are a piercing orange-yellow which in my opinion gives them a somewhat sinister appearance. Legs are dark-grey or black. On some birds, a bronzy patch can be seen on their shoulder joint, although this isn’t always evident.

The Cape Starlings are a common resident and can be seen in flocks during winter. As stated earlier, they are omnivores, eating fruit, insects and nectar. They nest in holes in trees and can often be hosts to parasitic cuckoos or honeyguides. Juvenile Cape Starlings tend to be much duller than adults, appearing almost black until they inherit the adult plumage at around 6 months.

Cape Starlings like most starlings can appear quite tame and bold, often coming onto picnic tables for ‘left-overs’ as I’m sure most of us have observed in Kruger and other places.

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Violet-backed Starling – male

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Violet-backed Starling – female

Violet-backed Starling (Witborsspreeu in Afrikaans)

Unlike Cape Starlings, Violet-backed Starlings are dimorphic meaning that the female looks different to the male.

Violet-backed Starlings are summer migrants often appearing on our estate in late September or October and leaving in March or April. The male has an iridescent amethyst colouration on its throat, head, back and upper wings whilst his underparts are white. The female can appear as a thrush or chat at first, being heavily streaked when viewed from the front. She has a brown back which completely lacks the dramatic colour of the male.

Violet-backed Starlings are similar to most starlings in that they are omnivores, eating both fruit and insects. Like the Cape Starling, they nest in tree holes and are parasitized by other birds. Juveniles resemble the female bird until the males develop the distinctive plumage around 6 months of age.

Like the Cape Starling, the ‘Violets’ are monogamous, solitary nesters having between 2 and 4 eggs which hatch after 12 to 14 days.

Whilst not as bold as the Cape Starlings, the Violet-backed Starlings are a welcome ‘splash’ of colour amongst the green foliage at this time of year.    

Common Animal Signs, Cape Porcupine - Ken Farnsworth

The Cape Porcupine is a long lived (up to 30 years) nocturnal rodent. Encountered all over the estate. Quickly habituates to humans.

Raptor's View
Raptor's View

Showing all four feet imprints. Averages 70mm in length. Note the 2 prominent wrist pads or proximal pads, (this separates the spoor from that of Honey Badger which has a single wrist pad). Has 5 toes but usually only 4 toes seen on front feet and sometimes 5 on hind feet. Also visible are the scratch marks made by the rump quills where the animal crouched to eat (note the drag marks from the tuber (Ipomea bolusiana) that it had dug up to eat).

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Showing quill marks where the Porcupine has left a deposit from its anal gland—often seen on paths where there is a prominent stone, root or such. Damp urine matches are often encountered along with such quill marks as territorial markers

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Feeding sign: Basal bark gnawed (Peltophorum africanum) Tamboti is also commonly eaten in winter months

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Dung pellets, very fibrous, cigar shaped (reminiscent of date stones), dropped in clusters.

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Porcupine live in family groups in disused Aardvark burrows. Often seen sun bathing in Winter or in Summer on very hot days cooling off outside the burrow.

Artefacts found on RV – Ken Farnsworth

TWO FACTS MUST BE STATED UP FRONT: FIRSTLY, I am no archaeologist—just a someone with a curious nature—a naturalist interested in and observant of my surroundings!

SECONDLY, IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT ACCORDING TO THE South African Heritage Resources Act Archaeology, palaeontology and meteorites Section 35(4) with regard to archaeological artefacts:

  • NO PERSON MAY, without a permit issued by the responsible heritage resources authority:

(a) destroy, damage, excavate, alter, deface or otherwise disturb any archaeological or palaeontological site or any meteorite;

(b) destroy, damage, excavate, remove from its original position, collect or own any archaeological or palaeontological material or object or any meteorite;

(c) trade in, sell for private gain, export or attempt to export from the Republic

Knowing this NO artefact should be removed without a very good reason! Those shown here were collected from my own site after building work commenced at Raptors View and off 2 other sites after excavations had been made for foundations (otherwise they would have been lost or damaged). In addition all the pottery sherds shown can still be found on their original sites (either disturbed by erosion or wild animals).

Like much of the Lowveld, Raptor’’s View has a human history going back hundreds if not thousands of years and the farm is littered with surface potsherds. Many are notably exposed on old termite mounds. From a desk-top study of licenced archaeological digs done on Zandspruit in 2008 it is logical to conclude that these pottery remains date from around 700-850 A.D.

As to why they largely appear only on termite mounds is anybody guess—opinions range from:

  • That’s where the clay was obtained to manufacture the pots (not always the case as studies have shown—the clay in the pot does not originate on the termite mound; and also there are no signs indicating a firing/mixing set up)
  • The pots were stashed with water in them for hunters, wood gatherers or honey collectors (if so then many forgot where they left them!)
  • They may have been used to catch termite alates (a practise still done in Zimbabwe and Zambia/Malawi—this sounds plausible)
  • They are used for burial purposes (none found have anything inside them let alone human remains)
  • They are used for cultural purposes eg. Offerings to ancestors (likely as this practise is still done today)
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Clay pot exposed by Aardvark digging into a termite mound

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Large potsherds of a complete broken pot eroded out of a termite mound.

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Close up of markings on the pot (this might be EILAND or herringbone pattern from 17th Century).

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A collection of stone tools (probably cleavers/axes).

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Typical profile showing bifacial edges.

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A core stone from which chips are removed to work into tool.

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An assortment of either arrow heads, scrapers or spear points.


Interesting Sightings on the Estate
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Osprey Dam after the rain (20 October) – Simone Braun

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Arrow-marked Babbler eggs and chicks – a successful hatching and rearing in October.  Hugh & Julie Marshall

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A November evening Leopard sighting – Derek Andrews.

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Snakes Alive!

On 4th October, we were startled to discover not one, not two, but three spotted bush snakes on our front deck. These beautiful, harmless snakes are usually solitary, but during the spring breeding season, a female will leave a trail of pheromones to attract males. Often more than one male will follow the scent trail, and it’s not uncommon to see three, four or even more snakes in an area at the same time. When a pair of them crawled alongside a sliding door, Adrian managed to capture this photograph through the glass, without disturbing them.
Robyn Keene-Young & Adrian Bailey

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