Kgalagadi Transfrontier PArk

Magic!

I thought that for a change I will treat you to a bit of bird magic.

The sociable weaver (Philetairus socius), is a bird endemic to Southern Africa but mainly found within the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and, way before arriving to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, their nests start to appear by the side of the road in their hundreds of shapes and sizes.

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Sociable weavers drinking.

They are compound community nests and, as such, one of the unique and rather spectacular nests build by any bird! Nests are built around large and sturdy structures like acacia trees or sometimes even telephone poles.

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A large nest.

They can house several hundred birds that use the central -warmer- compartments to spend the nights while the peripheral ones are used to obtain shelter from the heat of the day as they are several degrees cooler than the outside.

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The many entrances to a nest seen from below.

Some of the nests can weigh several tonnes and are built over many years, sometimes even over one hundred! However, their size and weight are sometimes their doom -particularly during the rains- as they collapse as the tree branches/support cannot cope with their immense weight!

The nests offer shelter and vantage points to other birds such as the pygmy falcon and goshawks while red-headed finches and rosy-faced lovebird use them for breeding . Other bird species such as pied barbets and scaly-feathered finches, among others may use them for roosting while larger birds such as owls and vultures can build their own nests on top of the sociable weavers’.

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Pale chanting goshawk on a nest.

As it can be imagined, such nests are targeted by many predators including snakes (black mambas, cape cobras and boomslangs), baboons, rats and genets. To avoid their natural enemies, sociable weavers build their nests on electricity poles or trees with long naked trunks.

However, some of the birds near the Kgalagadi have taken their precautions much further: they build them on thin air!

 

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In this way they clearly avoid a lot of the usual predators!

 

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Well, in fact some birds have skillfully built their nest hanging on the electricity wires but, I am afraid, that was probably not such a good idea as it surely will be taken down by the maintenance team of the electricity company while it is possible thar their neighbours on the right may still be there next year!

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Spot the beast 35

We found this beast while driving from Twee Rivieren to Nossob while heading towards the Mabuasehube area of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Although we did not have time to spare, we stopped and watched.

See if you can find it and identify it…

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A zoomed version looks like this:

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We found four African wildcats (Felis lybica kafra) that morning. Here is another one, also quite difficult to see as it moved away from us through the tawny grass.

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A close-up.

It is the second time we see these interesting cats. Earlier last year we had a fleeting encounter with one while staying at Mopane rest camp in Kruger National Park.

Of interest is that these cats are threatened not by poachers or poisoning but by their tendency to interbreed with domestic cats anywhere near human habitations threatening the genetic purity of this subspecies!.

 

Smart cats

Before we even got to Twee Rivieren in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park last October, for some reason, Lola and Frank had convinced their Spanish friends that we were good at spotting lions! Although my wife is good at spotting any game -including lions if they are around- I was somehow taken aback by being attributed such a fame that generated baseless expectations… maybe I oversold myself…

So, when we arrived at Twee Rivieren there were anticipations and I was overwhelmed by the responsibility that had landed on my shoulders…

Luckily for me, it was the visitors themselves that found the lions. Well, at least they overheard the whereabouts of the lions! So, all we needed to do was to follow our visitors’ advice to find them and in this way avoid a sure embarrassment!

The lions in question (two males) were, of all places, about one hundred metres outside the camp gates and, according to our night safari guide, these pair come to this area every few weeks so we were fortunate to see them.

The predators were near the camp’s waterhole where they had killed a gemsbok a few days back so we set off to find them as soon as we had an opportunity.

It was not hard to find them as, in addition to the gemsbok that we did not see, the night before they had also killed a wildebeest and the latest kill was rather obvious!

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The kill happened very near the camp. Behind is Twin rivers staff accommodation on the Botswana side of the park.

Apparently, the cunning cats have learnt to use the strong camp fence in their favour by cornering their prey against it. Clearly this had happened in this instance as the victim was still somehow entangled in the fence where first one and soon both were seen feeding.

Easy pickings

Last September, after a few early morning drives at the Kalahari Transfrontier Park, we took it easy for a couple of days, visiting the waterholes late in the mornings and afternoons. The day before our departure from our last camp, Twee Rivieren, I suggested to go for an early drive but my wife preferred to continue relaxing so I went on my own. It was a bad idea as, somehow, the whole camp shared this thought and the only road out of the camp was a dust cloud, despite the 50kph speed limit.

Aware that the morning had not started as I dreamt, I drove slowly until I found a waterhole to stay and wait for the travelers to quiet down as it usually happens. I stopped after about 20km at the Rooiputs waterhole. I was alone there and, as expected, soon the traffic died down and I could enjoy some dustless tranquility.

Apart from a few gemsbok staying a couple of hundred metres from the water and a lone jackal that was clearly mice-hunting in the dunes at the back, the waterhole had been completely taken over by birds. I spotted a good number of Namaqua sandgrouse on the ground and decided to take a few pictures of them.

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The trees around the water were laden with small birds, mainly red-billed queleas, sociable weavers and red headed finches among others.

There were also a great number of laughing doves and ring-necked doves. The latter were in such numbers that it was like a curtain of moving birds that often obscured the water source as they flew in and out.

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Hundreds of doves were “queuing” on the nearby trees to get to the water. Most of the time the available water was literally covered with birds and every now and then an explosion of birds flying in all directions followed a perceived threat. Often these were false alarms and the scared birds returned to drink immediately.

It was following one of these bird explosions that I saw a tawny eagle in the midst of the doves. When I spotted the eagle it had already caught a dove and it soon landed to eat it. “This is incredibly easy”, I thought and decided to stay there and wait for more action. When it finished eating it flew away but I was sure that it would come for more. It did.

Unexpectedly, the eagle did not return at great speed, just flew above the doves, lost altitude and then it entered the “dove cloud” and, almost effortlessly, grabbed another dove with its talons and landed to pluck it and eat it!

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It all happened too fast for me and I only managed to take pictures of the raptor feeding about twenty metres from me. After eating, the eagle flew away again and landed on top of a nearby tree followed by a large retinue of small birds busy mobbing it.

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I continued watching the birds’ drinking dynamics when, after about ten minutes, the eagle (or another one?) repeated the operation and, again, caught another dove! After its third dove, the eagle flew to the same tree and then I saw a second eagle. Further inspection revealed that the clever eagles were nesting about fifty metres away, taking advantage of the easy pickings that the waterhole offered them!

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As they only need to fly a few hundred metres a day to get a full crop and feed their fledglings, I started wondering -like with the Scottish pigeons of my earlier post-about eagle obesity!

Luckily, my fears were dispelled as the next time one came for another pigeon it looked really mean and I did not detect any accumulation of fat round its waist!