Author Archives: de Wets Wild

About de Wets Wild

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

Kurrichane Thrush

Turdus libonyana

The Kurrichane Thrush is a shy denizen of open woodlands and dense vegetation fringing river courses, and have adapted to well-planted parks and gardens in our towns and cities. They feed on a wide variety of fruit and invertebrates.

Usually encountered in monogamous, territorial pairs, Kurrichane Thrushes breed from late winter to early autumn. Their cup-shaped nests are placed in the forks of large trees and often lined with mud. Only the female incubates the clutch consisting of 1-4 eggs over a two-week period. While the chicks leave the nest roughly two weeks after hatching they may remain with their parents for up to two months more before becoming independent. Fully grown, Kurrichane Thrushes measure about 22cm and weigh around 63g.

Kurrichane Thrushes occur widely over eastern, central and southern Africa. In this country they are found from Kwazulu-Natal to North West, through Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng. The IUCN considers it as being of least concern.

African Monarch

Danaus chrysippus orientis

The African Monarch is one of our most commonly seen butterflies, flying throughout the year and occurring in every corner of our country. Furthermore they’re widespread over the rest of Africa, the Indian Ocean islands, large tracts of Asia and Australia, where they are known as the “Plain Tiger”. These butterflies prefer more open habitats, are regularly seen in parks and gardens, and fly rather slowly, settling often on flowers or wilted plants.

Females lay eggs singly on their favourite larval food plants from the Milkweed family (especially the genuses Asclepias, Ceropegia, Stapelia and Huernia). Their metamorphosis from egg to butterfly takes from 4 to 6 weeks depending on the local climate. Adults are medium-sized butterflies, with a wingspan of between 5 and 8cm, and feed on nectar and alkaloids from damaged or dying plants. Their colouration serves as warning to predators that this butterfly is foul-tasting (likely resulting from their feeding on milkweeds as larvae), and as a result several other kinds of more palatable butterflies mimic the same colours and patterns. They live for up to two weeks in their adult form.

Bennett’s Woodpecker

Campethera bennettii

Bennett’s Woodpecker inhabits woodland and savanna habitats with tall trees. It feeds mainly on ants and termites and their eggs and larvae, which it will dig out of their underground nests, and thus spends a lot of time on the ground. Adults measure about 23cm long and weigh around 70g.

These woodpeckers are usually encountered singly, in pairs or family groups, and use holes in trees as nests, either chiseled by themselves or taken over from other species. Both parents incubate the clutch of 2-6 eggs over period of almost three weeks. The chicks leave the nest about a month after hatching, but will remain with their parents up to the next breeding season, which spans spring and summer. It would appear that pairs are territorial throughout the year and not only in the breeding season.

The IUCN considers Bennett’s Woodpecker a species of least concern. It occurs from Burundi and Rwanda through much of east, central and southern Africa to South Africa’s Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces, with a few scattered records from other provinces. It is a close relative of, and easily confused with, the Golden-tailed Woodpecker. Shingwedzi Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park is a very reliable spot to see Bennett’s Woodpecker.

Common Flap-neck Chameleon

Chameleo dilepis

Few people would not be familiar with chameleons, those lizards with their independently moving eyes, long, sticky tongues and slow, deliberate movements belying their amazing ability to change colour in the blink of an eye (to blend in with their environment or to communicate their mood). We have 22 species of chameleon in South Africa, of which the Common Flap-neck Chameleon is the best known.

Flap-neck Chameleons feed on insects, mainly beetles and grasshoppers. They prefer savanna, thicket, woodland and forest habitats and are mainly arboreal, though thanks to their excellent camouflage amongst foliage they are mostly only noticed when moving across open ground. In South Africa they occur from coastal Kwazulu-Natal and the adjacent interior, into Mpumalanga, Limpopo, northern Gauteng, North West and the Kalahari regions of the Northern Cape. North of our borders they occur all the way to Cameroon in the northwest and Somalia in the northeast.

Three to four months after mating in the spring, female Flap-neck Chameleons lie clutches of 25-50 (exceptionally up to 65) eggs in a foot-long tunnel she digs in moist soil in the late summer months. The eggs can take up to a year to hatch. Newly emerged Flap-neck Chameleons measure about 5cm in length but grow quickly; adults grow to a length of 35cm (half of which is their prehensile tail).

When threatened, Flap-neck Chameleons inflate their bodies and open their mouths wide in a defensive display. They’re also quite likely to bite when handled. The IUCN considers the Flap-neck Chameleon to be of least concern. Unfortunately it is popular in the pet trade and often sold by informal traders along rural roadsides. This practice should never be supported by purchasing the chameleon, despite how sorry you may feel for the poor creature, as it just stimulates the market and triggers more and more people to go catch animals for sale, most of which will die, and leading directly to the local collapse of their populations.

Crocodile Bridge was calling

The September school holidays presented the perfect opportunity to visit the Kruger National Park again, this time basing ourselves with family and friends in the south-eastern corner of the Park at Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp.

Camping at Crocodile Bridge, Kruger National Park, September 2019

Crocodile Bridge is located in one of the Kruger’s most game-rich areas, and even inside the camp there’s an abundance of wildlife that I found quite distracting from camping chores… From blossoms to butterflies and birds, bats to bushbuck, all placed themselves in the cross hairs of our camera lenses, and when we were quite certain we got enough shots of them we could peer just over the fence (or through it, in Joubert’s case) towards the Crocodile River flowing in front of the camp for even more subjects.

Despite being right at the southern border of the Kruger Park, Crocodile Bridge offers a multitude of drives to choose from when heading into the Park. Heading in a northerly direction towards Lower Sabie is a selection of different routes making for comfortable excursions and providing great sightings along the way. Whether you choose the main H4-2 road or one of the gravel S28, S130 or S82 routes, you are bound to arrive at Lower Sabie excited with what you’ve seen. You can then return to Crocodile Bridge along an entirely different option, getting a glimpse at different habitats and having all new wildlife encounters to boast about too!

Whether you stop in Lower Sabie for a simple body break, an ice cream from the shop or a meal at the Mugg & Bean restaurant overlooking the river, don’t miss the chance to stretch your legs with a walk on the lawns along the river in front of the bungalows. From the deep shade of enormous trees you can gaze over the river, perhaps being lucky like we were to see a pair of lions hunting right there, and revel in the songs of a multitude of birds flitting about the branches above you.

Quite literally a stone’s throw north of Lower Sabie is the Sunset Dam, one of two wonderful wildlife magnets no visitor to this part of the Kruger Park should miss out on. There’s a constant stream of wildlife coming and going at Sunset Dam at anytime of day, and the resident crocodiles and hippos (including these boisterous buddies) are easily among the most habituated of their kind anywhere in Africa, making for excellent photographic opportunities.

Just on the other side of Lower Sabie, the causeway over the Sabie River is another highlight. Here too there’s always crocodiles (like this one having fun in a cascade), hippos, terrapins and all manner of wading birds in attendance, often accompanied by elephants, buffaloes, antelope, baboon and giraffe, while the elevated vantage point provided by the bridge offers excellent views into the clear water of the Sabie below.

Because there was so much to see around Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie, we didn’t really feel the need to venture farther, and only took two extended drives to other parts of the Park. One of those excursions was to Skukuza, roughly a four hour drive from Crocodile Bridge along the most direct route past Mpondo Dam. After spending the midday hours at Skukuza’s nursery and a delicious buffalo pie at the golf club, we headed back to Crocodile Bridge via Lower Sabie again.

We only wandered north of the Sabie River once, putting a full day aside to traverse the routes between Lower Sabie and Tshokwane Picnic Spot – where we had to contend with a dusty, blustery wind of note while trying our best to enjoy our picnic lunch! Our rewards for sticking to the planned route despite the deprivations of sand and dust on our ham-and-cheese sandwiches was the little leopard cub and flashy hornbill we showed you a few days ago, so you’ll hear no complaints from us!

Sad as it was to return to Pretoria at the end of a fantastic week, we could at least console ourselves with the knowledge that the December holidays aren’t that far way… Guess where we plan to be heading?

 

You don’t ALWAYS find lions behind EVERY bush, you know..?

When we visited in September, there appeared to be a convention of Lions around Lower Sabie Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park. Whether you were following the river in an easterly or westerly direction from camp, you would have been very unlucky not to encounter at least one pride of lions within the first 4 kilometers of your drive.

On one occasion we even saw two lions right in front of camp while we were taking an afternoon stroll on the lawns! They spooked a herd of fleet-footed impala, alerting us to their presence as well.

Finding Lions in Kruger is not always this easy. With the dry season now coming to an end, surface water is hard to come by, and the lions take advantage of this by ambushing herbivores coming to slake their thirst from the Sabie. We also found lions in other parts of the park while we were driving around, and in all instances they were close to or at a water source, lying in wait.

Jostling Hippos

When we visited in September, Joubert had great fun photographing these young hippos testing their strength and skills against each other in the Sunset Dam just outside Lower Sabie in the Kruger National Park.

(All these photos were taken by Joubert, and are dedicated especially to you Lois!)