Tag Archives: nature

Red-billed Buffalo Weaver

Bubalornis niger

Weighing around 78g and measuring 23cm in length, the Red-billed Buffalo Weaver is one of the largest members of the weaver-family (Ploceidae) occurring in South Africa. They occur in dry savannas and open woodlands, showing a preference for areas dominated by thorny trees and heavily grazed areas, often near human habitation. It does most of its foraging on the ground with insects and other invertebrates, seeds and fruit making up the bulk of its diet.

Reb-billed Buffalo Weavers are social birds living in colonies of varying size. In these colonies the adult males have a dominance hierarchy, with the most dominant male having the biggest harem of females. Their nests are huge constructions of thorny twigs with several nest chambers, and often times several of these “lodges” are placed together in the same large tree, utility pole or windpump. Red-billed Buffalo Weavers breed from early spring to late autumn. The females take full responsibility for incubating the clutch of 2-4 eggs over a two-week period, and also care for the chicks until they leave the nest about 3 weeks after hatching.

Being a species that is actually benefited by agriculture and overgrazing, the Red-billed Buffalo Weaver is considered of least concern by the IUCN. They occur in two separate populations in Africa – one in east Africa and the other in southern Africa. In the RSA, Red-billed Buffalo Weavers occur from the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo through Gauteng and the North West to the thorny savannas of the Northern Cape.

Common Purple Tip

Colotis ione

The Common , or Bushveld, Purple Tip is another one of our South African butterflies where the males and females look so different that it would be very easy to confuse them for entirely different species – even within each of the sexes there’s a great variation of colour combinations that become more or less pronounced in the dry or wet season, making for a very tricky identification indeed! With a wingspan of around 5cm the Common Purple Tip is one of the larger species of the “tips” butterflies (genus Colotis).

These striking butterflies are on the wing throughout the year and, being a savanna species, in South Africa occur from the southern reaches of Kwazulu-Natal into the Lowveld and Bushveld regions of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West Province. They’re also widely distributed through the savanna areas of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The larvae feed on the leaves of plants from the Boscia, Maerua and Capparis genuses.

Cut-throat Finch

Amadina fasciata

The Cut-throat Finch is a common, though inconspicuous, inhabitant of Africa’s savannas and open woodlands, occurring in a band through the Sahel from Senegal to Ethiopia and thence southwards to South Africa, where they are to be found in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and parts of the North West Province. Given its wide distribution and relative abundance, the IUCN considers the Cut-throat Finch to be of least concern though sadly these birds are targeted by the cagebird trade. Seeds and termites form the majority of this finch’s diet – they are subject to nomadic movements in response to the rains and resultant increase in their favourite foods through their range. They require access to reliable water sources.

These small finches; they weigh only about 18g, are found in pairs or small flocks, often associating with other small seed-eating birds. In the breeding season, which spans the summer and autumn months, monogamous Cut-throat Finch pairs use the abandoned nests of other birds, especially weavers, to nest in, laying clutches of 2-7 eggs that hatch after a two-week long incubation period in which both parents take part. The chicks leave the nest about 3 weeks after hatching.

Hybrids between the Cut-throat Finch and the closely-related Red-headed Finch has been recorded in areas where their distribution overlaps.

Leprous Grasshopper

Phymateus leprosus

A close relative of the Green Milkweed Locust, the Leprous Grasshopper is equally adept at making my skin crawl, especially the adults. These large and scary locusts have a wide habitat tolerance, occuring from the dry Great Karoo to the mesic east coast and into the Lowveld. Their gregarious nymphs congregate and move in colourful clusters, advertising their poisonous nature by their bold colouration. Indeed, so poisonous are these grasshoppers that human fatalities from ingesting them has been recorded. This toxicity stem from their preferred foodplants from the milkweed family, though they can be a pest in young citrus trees as well.  For an insect, Leprous Grasshoppers have a long lifecycle and are slow-growing; eggs may take 6 months to hatch after which it takes a year for the nymphs to develop to adulthood. The adults may live for up to 8 months.

Brown-headed Parrot

Poicephalus cryptoxanthus

Many people are surprised to learn that South Africa has a few indigenous species of parrot occurring within our borders. Most of these have limited distributions, some are threatened, and they’re all far less colourful than those occurring in more tropical environments. The Brown-headed Parrot is one of the more frequently encountered local parrot species and is found mainly in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, principally covered by the Kruger National Park where the population numbers approximately 2,500, and extending marginally into the north of Kwazulu-Natal with most records there coming from in and around uMkhuze Game Reserve. They’re also found through Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania to coastal Kenya.

Brown-headed Parrots inhabit woodland and riverine forests, and follow a varied and mainly vegetarian diet, feeding on fruits and berries, seeds and nuts, flowers, nectar and fresh new shoots as they clamber through the branches in the canopy and occasionally being considered a pest in orchards. They need to drink fresh water on a daily basis.

Gregarious by nature, Brown-headed Parrots keep in small flocks numbering between 4 and 12 (sometimes up to 200!) and form monogamous pairs in the autumn breeding period (some sources indicate that the pair-bond lasts throughout the year). Their preferred nests are holes in trees, usually quite high above the ground and often used year after year, in which the female incubates a clutch of 2 – 4 eggs over a 4-week period while being cared for by the male. The chicks leave the nest at about two months old, though they can’t really fly yet and hide-away in dense foliage near the abandoned nest. They only become independent from at least another month onwards. Fully grown, Brown-headed Parrots measure about 23cm in length and weigh about 140g.

Presently, the IUCN lists the Brown-headed Parrot as being of least concern. Sadly though their populations are declining through habitat loss and an escalation in trapping for the cagebird trade and they are now uncommon outside of the large conservation areas within their range.

Respite from the pandemic; Rietvlei 18 June 2020


Under South Africa’s current “COVID-19 lockdown restrictions” our nature reserves and national parks are allowed to open their gates to local day visitors, and so Joubert and I used the opportunity to visit Pretoria’s Rietvlei Nature Reserve this past week (Marilize is back at work at the local Primary School). It was our first time out in natural surroundings since our visit to the Royal Natal Park in March and, despite all the new formalities of temperature checks and health declarations at the entrance and the constant aggravation of face masks fogging up the lenses of my glasses in the crisp winter’s air, still an experience to be treasured – perhaps even more so now that it is clear how easily freedoms like these are forfeited in a time of crisis. Being just 13km from our home and surrounded by development in South Africa’s most industrialised province, it is easy to underestimate the value of Rietvlei as a place where tired souls can find a temporary reprieve from the onslaught of seemingly ever escalating bad news.


Southern Black Tit

Melaniparus (Parus) niger

One of the trickiest birds to photograph in South Africa in my personal opinion, owing to the seemingly tireless fashion with which they move while foraging through the trees, is the Southern Black Tit.  It is a bird most closely associated with woodlands dominated by broad-leaved trees and less commonly found in Acacia savannas, forests, plantations and gardens. These tits feed mainly on insects, even pecking open seeds and thorns to reach larvae inside, though they will also consume fruit and nectar given the opportunity.

Southern Black Tits are usually encountered in small groups, consisting mostly of a territorial and monogamous breeding pair and up to four helpers, and often in association with other small insectivorous bird species. They breed during spring and summer, when the dominant female in the group furnishes her nest in a cavity in a tree using grass, lichen, hair and soft leaves and lays a clutch of one to six (usually 3) eggs. The female also takes sole responsibility for the incubation of the eggs over a two week period, during which she occasionally leaves the nest to go foraging. When the chicks hatch they are fed by all the group members, and although they fledge when they’re about 3-4 weeks old they don’t start feeding themselves for another two weeks or so afterwards. The chicks are fully independent at between 2 and 3 months of age. Adults weigh approximately 21g, measuring around 16cm in length.

In South Africa, Southern Black Tits can be found from the Eastern Cape, through Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng to the Limpopo and North West provinces. They are also found in parts of eSwatini (Swaziland), Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and MalawiThe IUCN considers the Southern Black Tit to be of least concern, estimating the South African population alone at around 10-million.

Geranium Bronze

Cacyreus marshalli

The Geranium Bronze butterfly is a tiny (wingspan ≈2cm) but very well known inhabitant of most South African gardens, occurring in a wide range of natural and man-made habitats all over the country except in the driest parts of the Karoo and Kalahari. Their major larval food plants are from the geranium and pelargonium families, many of which are popular garden plants too – the species was inadvertently introduced to Europe and the UK with garden plants exported from here and are now considered a pest in those parts. Adults are weak fliers, seldom going higher than a meter above the ground, settling regularly for extended periods and often remaining in the same general area for days on end. Geranium Bronze butterflies are on the wing throughout the year, but they are most abundant in summer.

Lesser Masked Weaver

Ploceus intermedius

The Lesser Masked Weaver inhabits thorny savannas, usually near water, feeding on insects, seeds and nectar. They’ve also become more common in suburban parks and gardens of late. In South Africa they are found from northern Kwazulu-Natal, through Mpumalanga and Limpopo to Gauteng and marginally into North West Province, and, as far as the rest of the continent is concerned, patchily from our northern neighbouring states through to Ethiopia. While it is less numerous and widespread than the other two similarly-looking weavers in South Africa, being the Village and Southern Masked Weavers, the IUCN lists the Lesser Masked Weaver as being of least concern.

Lesser Masked Weavers nest in small colonies of up to 200 meticulously woven nests, usually fewer, built in trees and reedbeds, usually over water, during spring and summer. Sometimes they formed mixed colonies with Village Weavers. Males are polygamous, weaving nests for and mating with as many females as possible. Females are solely responsible for the incubation of the eggs (clutches number from 2-4 eggs) over a 2 week period, as well as rearing of the chicks, which fledge about two weeks after hatching. Adults Lesser Masked Weavers measure about 14cm in length and weigh around 21g.

African Wild Cat

Felis lybica cafra

The African Wild Cat is probably our most numerous small felid, occurring in every corner of South Africa and widely into the rest of the continent. They occur in any habitat that offers shelter and prey, which mainly includes rodents and other small mammals (up to the size of hares), birds, reptiles, frogs and invertebrates. They are independent of drinking water.

African Wild Cats are nocturnal and solitary by nature, except when mating or when a female is accompanied by her young. Both sexes defend territories, with those of males much larger and encompassing the areas of three or more females. Wild Cats are excellent climbers, though they do most of their hunting on the ground. Females give birth to litters of 1-5 kittens at any time of year, using burrows, holes in trees or crevices in rocks as dens. The kittens become independent when they’re around 5 to 6 months old, and have a life expectancy of up to 20 years.

Distinguishable from domestic tabbies by their relatively longer legs, shorter tails and rufous backs of the ears, the African Wild Cat stands about 35cm high at the shoulder and weigh around 4.5kg. It is estimated that African Wild Cats were first tamed about 10,000 years ago and is the direct ancestor to the our present day domestic cats. So closely related are they that hybridization with domestic cats is the single biggest threat to the continued survival of the pure African Wild Cat. The IUCN considers the African Wild Cat to be a subspecies of the European Wild Cat (Felis silvestris), a species it lists as being of least concern throughout its wide distribution.