Author Archives: de Wets Wild

About de Wets Wild

Nature and wildlife enthusiast, based in Pretoria, South Africa.

European Nightjar

Caprimulgus europaeus

The European Nightjar is a summer visitor to South Africa, mainly northern Kwazulu-Natal and the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, arriving between September and November and departing again by April. They breed over an enormous area of Eurasia and overwinter in west, east and southern Africa. According to the IUCN, which sites a total population of at least 3-million, the European Nightjar is of least concern, though it also mentions that the population is probably in decline due to habitat loss and pesticide use.

Locally, European Nightjars inhabit savannas, woodlands, exotic plantations and parks. They’re most active just after sunset and again a few hours before dawn, sleeping mostly on tree branches up to 20m high during the day (unlike local nightjars, which always sleep on the ground or on rocks). These roosts are often used continuously and for consecutive years. When they feel threatened they’ll flatten themselves and only take flight when the perceived danger gets very close to them. They feed exclusively on insects caught in flight, especially beetles and moths, and also drink in flight like swifts and swallows do. Adults are about 27cm long and weigh around 67g.

This post was scheduled to publish while we are exploring two of South Africa’s national parks during the South African winter holidays. We will respond to comments on our return. Stay safe and well!

Kudu Lily

Pachypodium saundersii

The beautiful Kudu Lily has a limited distribution, being restricted to the Lebombo Mountains and surrounds in the north of Kwazulu-Natal and the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, as well as in Eswatini, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Its natural distribution range reflects its preference for dry, hot and rocky terrain. This shrubby succulent may grow as tall as 1.5m. The extravagant flowers appear in autumn and the sharp spines can inflict serious damage.

The Kudu Lily is available as a garden plant and can be trained into a fascinating bonsai. Like others in the genus the Kudu Lily is poisonous and this is used, with caution, in traditional medicine to treat bacterial infections and cancer, and also as a poison for arrows used in hunting.

This post was scheduled to publish while we are exploring two of South Africa’s national parks during the South African winter holidays. We will respond to comments on our return. Stay safe and well!

Ant-heap White Butterfly

Dixeia pigea

The Ant-heap White is one of those confusing kinds of butterflies where the males and females look quite different, and even differ from season to season in their appearance – in general the males are more white and the females more yellow.

They fly fairly slowly and quite fluttery, and can be seen throughout the year though they may reach extraordinary numbers in late summer and early autumn when they make for quite a spectacle as they chase each other around flowering plants in the full sun.

The larvae feed on the leaves of caperbushes, and the strong association between plants of the genus Maerua and termite-mounds is where this butterfly gets their common name. The eggs are laid in groups on the underside of the leaves of these fodder plants. Fully grown they have a wingspan of about 5cm.

Ant-heap Whites inhabit moist woodland, riverine thickets and forests and are found from the coastal regions of the Eastern Cape, throughout Kwazulu-Natal and into the Lowveld and Escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Mountain Wagtail

Motacilla clara

Of the three kinds of resident wagtails that occur in South Africa, the Mountain Wagtail has by far the most limited and patchy distribution. In the Eastern Cape it occurs along the coast east of Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and in the mountains around Hogsback. In Kwazulu-Natal they’re found on the south coast, in the Midlands and in the Drakensberg, with fewer records from further north in the province. in Mpumalanga and Limpopo they frequent the mountains of the escarpment. The distribution range of this species is equally disjointed through the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. According to the IUCN, the Mountain Wagtail is of least concern. These confiding birds are found along pristine mountain streams strewn with boulders and bordered by dense vegetation, seldom venturing out into open areas like lawns like the others of its family. They feed mainly on insects and bathe regularly.

Adult Mountain Wagtails form monogamous territorial pairs that remain strong life-long, and unless one of the pair is on the nest they’re always seen together, often joined by their offspring. Mountain Wagtails nest in spring and summer, with both partners involved in constructing the cup-shaped nest in a cavity in the river bank, rock face, or among flood debris. Clutches contain 1-4 eggs which are incubated for 2 weeks. The chicks leave the nest 2-3 weeks after hatching, and then remain with their parents for up to 2 months more. Fully grown they measure about 20cm in length and weigh approximately 20g.

Convict Surgeonfish

Acanthurus triostegus

With a very wide distribution along the tropical coastlines of the Indo-Pacific, stretching from South Africa to California, the Convict Surgeonfish, or Convict Tang, is one of the most numerous and well-known of its family. Apart from the six obvious stripes on its body, its name comes from the sharp, scalpel-like spines on either side of the base of its tail that it keeps retracted until it needs to deploy them in self-defense.

Living along shallow reefs (usually less than 90m deep) and rocky shores, and even in harbours, the Convict Surgeonfish feed exclusively on algae they scrape from the rocks. Young fish are often seen in rock pools at low tide. They’re social fish, living in schools numbering from a few individuals to several thousand. They breed during full moon in late winter and spring. Most grow to only about 17cm in length, though some specimens may grow to as much as 27cm.

Convict Surgeonfish are often seen in home marine aquaria, but suffer high mortality if they cannot be provided with copious amounts of fresh seaweed. According to the IUCN this species is of least concern.

Tailed Black-eye Butterfly

Leptomyrina hirundo

The Tailed Black-eye is a little butterfly – with a wingspan less than 3cm – that often goes unnoticed, despite being quite common where it occurs, which in South Africa is in the various kinds of forests and the bushveld savanna regions of the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. They’ll even visit gardens in these parts, are quite confiding and often found in close proximity to others of its kind. They fly very near to the ground. Adults are on the wing year round, but they’re most numerous in November and March. The tiny larvae feed on succulent plants from the genera Cotyledon, Kalanchoe and Crassula – many of which are popular in local gardens – and bore into the leaf to eat out the inside before leaving the “empty” leaf for another.

Giant Kingfisher

Megaceryle maxima

Africa’s biggest kingfisher, the Giant Kingfisher weighs in at about 360g and measure around 44cm in length. They feed mainly on crabs, fish (up to 18cm long!), frogs and other water-living creatures and are therefore almost always encountered at or near a source of water with adequate perches (natural or man-made) from which it can strike an attack. They seldom dive from a hovering position like many other kingfishers do. The prey is killed by repeatedly bashing it against the perch before it is swallowed.

Giant Kingfishers are monogamous and territorial, with each pair laying claim to a stretch of water up to 4km long. Pairs construct a tunnel of about 2 or 3m deep (extraordinarily up to 8m deep) into a sturdy river bank (this could take a week or even more), at the end of which a chamber is prepared for the pair to incubate the clutch of 3 – 5 eggs over a 4 week period. In South Africa Giant Kingfishers breed in spring and summer. The chicks stay in the nest for 5 – 6 weeks after hatching and remain dependent on their parents for at least another 3 weeks or so after leaving the nest.

In our country Giant Kingfishers may be found in all provinces, though in the Northern Cape they’re mainly restricted to the course of the Orange River and its tributaries. It further occurs over most of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, reflecting that vegetation type is not as important a habitat consideration for this species as is the presence of a reliable water source providing a sufficient food supply. The IUCN considers the Giant Kingfisher to be of least concern.

Cape Honeysuckle

Tecomaria capensis

The Cape Honeysuckle is a scrambling, evergreen shrub with multiple stems, growing to about 3m high and equally wide, occurring in bushveld and on forest margins along the coast from the southern Western Cape through to Kwazulu-Natal and into the Lowveld and escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. The flowers appear in masses at the end of winter and are carried through till deep in the autumn months – some even flower year-round. The flowers come in yellow, orange or red varieties.

Cape Honeysuckles are hardy, fast growing and easy to maintain and is therefore a favourite indigenous garden feature that have been exported to other parts of the world too (where it can become invasive). We have two Cape Honeysuckle shrubs in our little garden – they’re excellent for creating a screen between us and the neighbours. The bark is used in traditional medicine to treat pain, fever, diarrhoea, bronchitis and sleeplessness. The flowers are a magnet to sunbirds and insects and its dense, scrambling nature means that it is often used as a nesting site by smaller birds. Wild animals and livestock will browse on the leaves.

Vine-leaf Vagrant Butterfly

Eronia cleodora

The Vine-leaf Vagrant is a medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan of around 6cm (males are usually a bit smaller than the females). They fly fast and wandering, often settling quickly on flowers as they go. These beautiful butterflies may be seen year-round, though their numbers usually peak in spring and late summer. Their larvae feed on the leaves of the caper-bushes (Capparis).

In South Africa the Vine-leaf Vagrant is found in forests and moist savannas from the Eastern Cape coast, through Kwazulu-Natal and into the Lowveld and escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Southern White-crowned Shrike

Eurocephalus anguitimens

The Southern White-crowned Shrike is a bird that is endemic to southern Africa, ranging from Angola to Mozambique through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. In our country it occurs marginally in the Northern Cape and widely in the North West, northern Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. According to the IUCN it is of least concern. These insectivorous birds live in savanna and open woodlands with a sparse ground cover.

Southern White-crowned Shrikes live in family groups consisting of a dominant pair and 1-6 helpers which assist in the breeding process by helping to build the nest – a neat cup constructed with fine plant material and spiderwebs in the fork of a tree – and looking after the chicks, of which 2-5 hatch after a 3 week incubation period. They breed during spring and summer with the chicks leaving the nest about 20 days after hatching. Outside of the breeding season they may form larger groups of up to 20.

Adults weigh about 70g and measure around 24cm in length.