Epauletted Fruit Bats

Epomophorus crypturus,

Epomophorus wahlbergi

In South Africa we have two species of Epauletted Fruit Bat, often occurring together in mixed colonies and indistinguishable from each other in the field. These are Peters’s (E. crypturus) and Wahlberg’s (E. wahlbergi) Epauletted Fruit Bats. They’re distributed in the moist eastern parts of our country, with Wahlberg’s occurring from the Garden Route through to the Lowveld while Peters’s occurs as far south as the Eastern Cape coast. Both species are also found further north into central and east Africa and are considered to be of least concern by the IUCN.

Epauletted Fruit Bats are large bats, weighing around 100g with wingspans of about 50cm. They inhabit forests, riverine woodland and dense savannas in which there’s a preponderance of fruiting trees. Unfortunately their fondness for soft fruit make them a nuisance in orchards.

Epauletted Fruit Bats are mainly nocturnal though they may be seen about on heavily overcast days. They utter a frog-like pinging call, a familiar night sound in many of the wild places we visit and a personal favourite. By day they hang in deep shade in trees or under thatched roofs, often in noisy colonies numbering from a few individuals into the hundreds. They normally search for food singly, although large groups may congregate at fruiting trees. Most babies are born in early summer, with the single baby clinging to its mother’s nipples as she flies around in search of food.

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Tawny-flanked Prinia

Prinia subflava

Tawny-flanked Prinias are small birds, weighing less than 10g but (thanks to their long tails) attaining a length of around 13cm. They are usually seen in pairs or small family groups, and inhabit dense grass and shrubbery, often along water courses and in gardens. They feed almost entirely on insects and other invertebrates.

Excluding the harshest parts of winter, Tawny-flanked Prinias breed almost throughout the year. Pairs are monogamous and weave a pear-shaped nest low in a shrub, often over water. The clutch of 2-5 eggs are incubated over a period of 2 weeks by both parents, and the hatchlings leave the nest by the time they’re 2 to 3 weeks old.

With a very wide distribution across most of sub-Saharan Africa, the IUCN considers the Tawny-flanked Prinia to be of least concern. In South Africa this species can be found in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and parts of the Free State and North West.

African Pied Wagtail

Motacilla aguimp

African Pied Wagtails are always found near bodies of water, both natural and man-made and both flowing and stagnant, but with a particular fondness for wide rivers with sandy banks and boulders in and around the water. Here they feed mainly on invertebrates ranging from worms to crabs, but will also consume tadpoles, small fish and seeds. Adults weigh around 27g and grow to about 20cm in length.

Pied Wagtails are usually seen in monogamous pairs, or small family groups during the breeding season. Both parents work to build the cup-shape nest, often over or otherwise near water, using grass, leaves, hair and feathers. Their breeding season stretches from late winter to early autumn. The clutch of 2-5 eggs are incubated by both parents for around 2 weeks, with the chicks becoming independent at around 6 weeks of age.

The African Pied Wagtail has a very wide distribution over sub-saharan Africa and along the Nile River, and is classified as being of least concern by the IUCN. In South Africa they are mainly found from the Eastern Cape through Kwazulu-Natal to Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng, extending into the North West, Free State and Northern Cape along the Orange-Vaal Riversystem.

 

African Dusky Flycatcher

Muscicapa adusta

The African Dusky Flycatcher inhabits forests (mainly edges and clearings), riverine woodland and densely planted parks and gardens, and is easily overlooked. They feed mainly on flying insects but do include a little fruit in their diet on occasion. They are small birds, weighing about 11g as adults and measuring around 13cm in length.

Pairs of the African Dusky Flycatcher are monogamous and build their cup-shaped nests in holes in trees or crevices in rocks using fine plant material, feathers and spider webs. Their breeding season spans spring and summer, and only the female incubates the clutch of 2 or 3 eggs over a 2-week period while the male brings food to her at the nest. The chicks become independent within 3 weeks of hatching, often allowing the parents to raise another brood in the same season.

While noting that their populations are probably declining due to habitat destruction, the IUCN lists the African Dusky Flycatcher as being of least concern. The species is distributed patchily from east and central Africa south to South Africa, where they occur throughout our wetter eastern and southern provinces.

Cape Rock Thrush

Cape Rock-Thrush

Monticola rupestris

As their name suggests, the Cape Rock-Thrush occurs only in rocky habitats, especially steep hills and mountain sides and deep valleys in grasslands and heathland with a sparse covering of trees, and it sometimes ventures into villages and reserve rest camps in such areas. They follow a diverse, omnivorous diet including insects and other invertebrates, small vertebrates like lizards and geckos, fruits, seeds and aloe-nectar. At a weight of around 60g and a length of about 21cm, the Cape Rock-Thrush is the biggest member of the family occuring in South Africa.

Cape Rock Thrushes are usually encountered singly or in pairs. Their breeding season spans spring and summer and their nests are untidy, shallow platforms built in crevices or on ledges which may be used for several consecutive breeding seasons. The male is very protective of the pair’s territory, while the female takes most of the responsibility for incubating the clutch of 2-4 eggs over a 2-week period. Both parents take care of the chicks, which become independent before they’re a month old.

The Cape Rock Thrush occurs only in parts of Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern.

Honey Badger

Mellivora capensis

Infamous for its tenacity and downright cantankerous disposition, the Honey Badger may only stand 30cm high at the shoulder with a weight up to 16kg (males are much bigger than females), but that doesn’t deter them from tangling with buffaloes, elephants and lions (or anything else for that matter) daft enough to cross swords with them.

Honey Badgers inhabit a wide range of habitats, from deserts to mountains to forests, though they prefer more open habitats. They even occur in some of our cities and towns. They are equally catholic about their diet, feeding mostly on insects, eggs and rodents as well as fruits, berries, bulbs and carrion, but also including anything else they can overpower – snakes, young crocodiles, fish, amphibians, birds and mammals up to the size of small antelope have all been recorded. Although it isn’t a major part of their diet, their penchant for honey and the lengths they will go to in order to gorge themselves on it has earned them their English common name.

These tough creatures are usually seen alone or in pairs, and may be active by day or night. They are excellent climbers and rest up in crevices or holes in the ground (dug by themselves or taken over from other animals). This is also where the females give birth to litters of 1-4 pups (usually 2) at any time of year. The female raises the pups alone, moving them to a new den every few days until they can start moving around with her at around 3 months old. The pups are fully grown by the time they’re 8 months old but may remain with their mom until they’re as old as 18 months.

The IUCN considers the Honey Badger to be of least concern. It is distributed widely over Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, but usually occurs at low densities. Honey Badgers are found all over South Africa.

Drongo

Fork-tailed Drongo

Dicrurus adsimilis

One of our most cosmopolitan and abundant bird species, the Fork-tailed Drongo inhabits a wide range of habitats ranging from grasslands with a sprinkling of trees to forest edges, favoring open woodlands and savannas. It has also adapted very well to exotic plantations, suburban parks and gardens. They feed mainly on insects and other invertebrates, but have also been noted feeding on small lizards, fish, eggs and birds. Adults measure ± 25cm long and weigh around 44g.

Fork-tailed Drongos are feisty birds, often mobbing large raptors and mammalian predators much bigger than themselves. They’re often seen at veld fires catching insects trying to escape the flames, or following large mammals around to catch the insects disturbed into flight while the big herbivores are moving around – even using the backs of these animals as perches from which to launch an attack. Fork-tailed Drongos are excellent mimics – they will even imitate the alarm calls of other birds or small carnivores, like meerkats, to startle them into dropping whatever food they might have found in order to steal it.

Fork-tailed Drongos form monogamous pairs. The breeding season in this species spans spring and summer. Their nests are small cups built of fine plant material and spiderweb, usually suspended like a hammock between two twigs in a tree or shrub. Clutches of 2-5 eggs are incubated by both parents for between 2 and 3 weeks, with the chicks leaving the nest around 3 weeks after hatching.

The Fork-tailed Drongo is very widely distributed over sub-Saharan Africa and is listed as being of least concern by the IUCN. In South Africa they can be seen in all provinces, avoiding only the mostly treeless central grasslands and the western arid scrublands.