The Raptor

December 2021 – 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

Common Star-Chestnut

Waxbills

Leopard

Observations from our residents

Common Star-Chestnut - Dave & Bernie Spencer

An attractive, easily identifiable tree of the Lowveld landscape is the Common Star-Chestnut, Sterkastaiing, Sterculia rogersii. Characteristically low-branching, the thick trunks of this species give it a squat appearance, whilst the sparse canopy of thin branches and twigs seem disproportionally small. 

Small flowers, red green on outside and yellow green inside with distinct red veins on the inner surface, emerge from late winter onwards. These develop into the unusual star-shaped fruits giving rise to the common name. A single fruit is made up of three to five carpels, velvety to the touch, each carpel tapering to a beak-like point 

 Fruits ripen on the tree and split along the upper surface to reveal about ten dark grey seeds. The seeds are edible but surrounded by irritating hairs which is somewhat off-putting!

Leaves with lobes only appear after the flowers and turn yellow and fall early in autumn, leaving the tree bare for many months of the year. Young shoots and leaves are browsed by kudu and duiker on RV. 

One of the most beautiful features of this tree is its distinctive bark. As the tree matures the purple brown outer bark peels away, in papery flakes, revealing a yellow green under bark lending a mottled effect to the trunk. Fibres of the bark may be made into string for use in securing roof structures, in fishing nets and sewing sleeping mats.

Although not common on Raptor’s View look out for fine specimens on the Lion Trail close to the bird hide and towards the bottom of Bateleur.  S. rogersii usually grows on rocky outcrops or along rocky drainage lines. The specific name honours Archdeacon Frederick Arundel Rogers an English missionary and an avid plant collector who worked in southern Africa in the early 20th century. 

Star Chestnut

Typical growth form of Sterculia rogersii.

Star Chestnut flower

Flowers of the Common Star-chestnut.

Star Chestnut Fruit

Fruit of the Common Star-chestnut.

Star Chestnut leaf

Lobed leaves. 

Star Chestnut Bark

Distinctive peeling bark of Sterculia rogersii

Waxbills - Steve Benbow
Three for the price of two in this issue as I usually compare and contrast two similar species. This time I have decided to cover the three species of waxbills that we find on the Raptor’s View Bird Checklist.
 
Waxbills are small, often colourful, granivores. They are commonly seen in flocks and more often than not, form ‘bird parties’ with other similar-sized birds.
We have three species which are seen on RV, some more regularly than others; the ubiquitous Blue Waxbill, the Violet-eared Waxbill and the Common Waxbill, which despite its name is not so ‘common’.
Blue Waxbill
Blue Waxbill
(Gewone blousysie in Afrikaans)  
 I’m sure there aren’t many of us on the estate who aren’t familiar with this small pale-blue bird. It is gregarious, seen in small flocks of its own species as well as with other species. Preferring arid and semi-arid savanna, the Blue Waxbill is a granivore, meaning it eats seeds, but will also take insects and eat fruit. It needs to drink regularly and so is a frequent visitor to our bird baths.
Blue ‘waxies’ are monogamous, building a ball nest made of grasses, often in thorn trees. Their nests are occasionally parasitized by whydahs. 
Waxbill Violet-eared
Violet-eared Waxbill (Koningblousysie in Afrikaans)
Not nearly as prolific as its blue cousin; I’ve found the best place to see these stunning birds is near Guinea Fowl Dam. Like a lot of birds, the male is more-colourful than the female, displaying reds, blues, russets, greys and of course the violet ears (and cheeks) from which the bird gets its name.
Preferring a similar arid savanna habitat to the blue waxbill, Violet-eared Waxbills are also granivores, but will also eat insects and nectar when available. When breeding, Violet-eared Waxbills are monogamous and will raise broods of up to 7 in grass nests. The fledged youngsters are not as colourful as the parents, being a nondescript light brown until their adult plumage develops. 
Common waxbill
Common Waxbill (Rooibeksysie in Afrikaans)
Not as colourful as their cousins, Common Waxbills are recognised by their red bills which extend as a red ‘mask’ across their eyes. They also have a reddish belly which is not always evident. Common Waxbills are regionally common but not so much on RV in my experience. Gregarious, Common Waxbills prefer vegetation alongside watercourses as well as around agricultural fields. Another monogamous species, Common Waxbills build a pear-shaped nest on the ground and they incorporate a false nest as part of the structure which incorporates animal fur and even scat to reduce the risk of nest predation. Like most waxbill, Common Waxbills’ nests are often parasitized by whydahs. 
Common Animal Signs, Leopard - Ken Farnsworth

Leopards are considered the most mysterious, and least social of the big cats. They can exist undetected for years in suitable country due to their secretive and adaptive nature. Sadly, leopards are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List IUCN’s Red List, and the population is currently decreasing.

Each leopard has its own territory and signals other leopards to stay away by leaving scratch marks on trees, and strategically urinating or defecating in the area to leave a scent signal. This member of the big cat family spends most of its life living alone. But there are two occasions when they can be seen socialising—when they are ready to mate and sometimes in a group of a mother with her young.

Even here on Raptor’s View there was a time when leopards were more often heard than they were seen—their rasping, sawing-like cough common in the evenings and mornings. Both sexes make this call but the male call is deeper and not as prolonged as the female. However of late there have been many sightings early in the morning , mid-afternoon and late afternoons along our roads and at drinking troughs at many residences. Leopard are also regularly caught on camera traps throughout the estate. It appears that there at least 4 individuals that have portions of RV in their territory. They have been encountered on walks and such sightings tend to be simultaneous with the leopard seeming to be the more surprised! It then gives an explosive angry (embarrassed ?)  growl then quickly disappears.

Leopard scat – often seen on trails and roads.  Note the segmentation and colour – dark greenish when fresh.

Scat turns white with age often ending up as a pile of hair.

Remnants of prey often seen in the form of bone, hooves, even the remains of a tortoise carapace. 

Spoor Leopard spoor is typically cat like!  It has a round shape, the main pad has a double indentation at the back. 

Scratch marking on trees plays a role in territorial boundary marking and is typical behaviour of cats keeping their claws in good condition.  

A Leopard will drag its prey a long distance if harassed by Hyena and Jackal etc., stopping along the way to pluck off hair or remove intestines before eating the prey in a thicket or hauling it up a tree.  The spoor is often seen straddling the prey which leaves the drag marks.

This Nyala bull was killed by a female Leopard who was then joined by a male as they mated and ate the remains! 

Note how high up into the Tamboti tree this Duiker kill was hauled! 

Interesting Sightings on the Estate

Jones’s Girdled Lizard, also known as Limpopo Girdled Lizard.  It has a distinct dark dorsolateral stripe running from the head to the hips. The belly, throat, and lips are cream to yellow. The tail is very spiny and about 45% the total length of the animal. The maximum total length (including tail) is about 16cm. (Source: Wikipedia). Photo by Steve Benbow.  Not a common sighting on Raptor’s View.  

Frog food 1

Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus)
This attractive and completely harmless snake is quite a common sight on our estate, being alert and active during the day, often seen climbing walls and trees, and frequently found up in the ceilings of outside areas where it hunts for geckos and frogs.

Mike King of RV 204 was fortunate to witness and record on camera the successful capture and consumption of breakfast by this specimen!

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