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In this Issue
Green Season Grasses - Dave & Bernie Spencer
After the wonderful rain this season grasses are once again abundant. We are surrounded by them but seldom make time to take a closer look and appreciate their value.
From a human perspective the grass family is the most important one on Earth. Major crops such as wheat, rice, maize, sorghum and oats are all grasses. Species of grass were probably the first plants to be cultivated. Many domesticated animals, wild mammals, birds, rodents and insects rely on grass as a source of food. Some utilize the leaves, others consume the seeds or grain.
Other practical uses are thatching, manufacture of basketware, mats, brooms, hats and of course brewing. All products made from grass readily biodegrade thus returning organic matter to the soil. Birds and small animals also often utilise grasses for nesting material.
From an ecological viewpoint grasses are very important soil stabilizers, binding the soil and protecting it from wind and water erosion and the effects of hot sunlight. Grass plants slow the rate of rainwater runoff improving infiltration. Sadly, we see the consequences of removing vegetation particularly at times of heavy rain when water rushes down bare slopes washing away valuable soil, often referred to as a non-renewable resource.
Grasses have the advantage of having some growth cells at the base of the leaves close to the ground. This enables regrowth after grazing, fires and cutting. Pioneer species of grasses are often the first plants to come up in degraded areas, holding the soil and covering it with their spreading growth forms of stolons and rhizomes.
The easiest way to ID most grasses is to examine the inflorescence or flowering head and now is a good time as lots of species are flowering. Here are five common species on Raptor’s View.
South Africa has 967 grass species, about 10% of the world’s total belonging to the family Poaceae.
Tragus berteronianus, Carrot-seed Grass, (the spikelets of this grass often stick to your socks and shoelaces when out in the veld!)
Melinis repens, Natal Red Top the attractive inflorescence makes it easy to recognize.
Chloris virgata, Feather-top Chloris.
Perotis patens, Cat’s Tail a pioneer species common along roadsides in RV.
Aristida adscensionis, Annual Three-awn grass, fairly widespread on RV at present.
Bee-eaters (Meropidae) - Steve Benbow
I thought that for this issue of The Raptor I would do an article on one of my favourite group of birds, the bee-eaters. There are three species of bee-eater on the Raptors’ bird checklist: Little Bee-eater, European Bee-eater and Carmine Bee-eater. Surprisingly, the White-fronted Bee-eater hasn’t yet been recorded on RV, although there is no reason that it shouldn’t, as they are fairly common on the surrounding farms.
Bee-eaters are colourful, aerial insectivores. They generally have long, slightly de-curved bills and hunt from static perches for prey. They look ungainly on the ground but have superb aerial ability. The sexes are alike (monomorphic); however, the juveniles have generally duller plumage than the adults. Unfortunately, bee-eaters are somewhat persecuted in southern Europe due to their propensity to decimate commercial bee hives.
Little Bee-eater (Kleinbyvreter in Afrikaans)
As the name suggests, the Little Bee-eater is the smallest of the Southern African bee-eaters, averaging 15 – 17 cm. They are predominantly green with a yellow throat, black collar and rufous underparts. They also have a blue ‘eyebrow’ and in flight, show conspicuous rufous flight feathers with a dark trailing edge. Little Bee-eaters are fairly common residents in bushveld and around wetlands, usually found in pairs which remain together all year round. They nest in tunnels in either a low bank or occasionally in aardvark burrows, laying between 2 – 6 eggs in the un-lined nest cavity.
Little Bee-eaters can often be seen in and around Guineafowl Dam on the estate.
European Bee-eater (Europese byvreter in Afrikaans)
The European Bee-eater is a long-distance non-breeding migrant to southern Africa, often arriving on RV in August or September. It is a large, colourful bird showing brown, blue and green hues. Often heard before it is seen, it is a gregarious bird, hunting and nesting among its own kind, in flocks of between 20 – 100 birds. European Bee-eaters occupy a wide-range of woodland and shrub land but are absent from the really dry and wettest regions. Despite their name, European Bee-eaters (like most bee-eaters), do not solely predate on bees, but will take a wide-range of flying insects including wasps, flying ants and termites.
Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Rooiborsbyvreter in Afrikaans)
The largest bee-eater in the region, the Carmine Bee-eater is a beautiful bird when in pristine breeding plumage showing a bright, pinkish colouration. It has a black eye-stripe, blue crown, rump and belly and displays dark tail streamers. It is an intra-African migrant coming to SA in Aug/Sept and leaving for central Africa in March or April. A monogamous bird, Carmine Bee-eaters breed in large colonies in tunnels excavated in river banks. Juvenile bee-eaters are much duller than their parents, often appearing brown rather than pink. The wide habitat of the Southern Carmine Bee-eater tends to be open, wooded and bushy savannahs as well as dry, grassy plains and flood plains as well as lake shores. When capturing stinging prey, Carmine Bee-eaters can be seen de-venoming their prey by beating and rubbing the insect against the perch they have taken it to. This bee-eater has also been known to dive into water, possibly in pursuit of fish or aquatic insects.
Common Animal Signs, Aardvark - Ken Farnsworth
Aardvarks are typically nocturnal reclusive animals that are rarely seen, even by many safari guides who have spent years in the bush—but that’s not the case on Raptor’s View!
They are seen regularly along the roads and even along the aptly named Aardvark trail in the late afternoons in winter. And at least one myth has been proven false here! Scientists assumed the Aardvark didn’t drink water, that they got all their moisture from their ant and termite food or from a rare fruit known as the Aardvark Cucumber. Yet many residents have caught them on their camera traps readily drinking from water containers.
Males tender to wander more than females which tend to stay in an area, especially when they have young. When an Aardvark leaves its burrow it does so in a unique way; it always stops at the entrance to test the air for predators, before exiting and jumping around repeatedly before casually strolling off.
The Aardvark is a scratch-digger; its nostrils are covered in hair to protect them from dust when digging. They use their forelimbs to dig, with their rear legs pushing the excavated soil back, whilst using their thick tails as the main support for its body.
This digging activity, burrows and characteristic spoor give away their presence.
Typical digging sign, claw marks on the sides of the excavation and tail mark in the excavated soil.
Right hind front and on top of front foot.
Left front foot.
Spoor sequence showing tail drag mark.
Latrine scrape; characteristic hollow where soil was scraped to bury the dung.
The dung; typically a mix of sand and ant bodies and heads.
A typical old Aardvark Burrow now used by Warthog.
This would also be used as an escape burrow by Aardvark foraging in the vicinity. Aardvark usually bury themselves in their sleeping burrows and fresh soil can be seen back up the entrance with just the top left open for air. Often flies can be seen on the walls of the burrow if it’s in use.
Interesting Sightings on the Estate
Jones’ Girdled Lizard (Cordylus jonesii). A new species for RV – Steve Benbow
Rock Monitor – Henk Voster
December sunset – Denis & Michelle Blewett
Rough-scaled Plated Lizard (Broadleysaurus major). Another new species for RV – Steve Benbow