Tag Archives: outdoors

Kittlitz’s Plover

Charadrius pecuarius

The Kittlitz’s Plover is a familiar bird occurring throughout South Africa. It is found in open areas – such as sandy beaches with washed-up kelp, salt pans, mudflats and other flat areas with short grass, like pastures, golf courses and airfields – and usually near water. It would seem that the huge number of artificial impoundments built all over our country has assisted this species to expand its range and numbers locally. They are highly nomadic and move around the south of our continent in apparent response to rainfall. Kittlitz’s Plovers feed on insects pecked from the ground.

These little plovers breed throughout the year, forming monogamous pairs of which both members take turns to incubate the clutch of 1-3 eggs in a nest that is little more than a scrape in the ground over a 3-4 week period. The chicks leave the nest within a day of hatching to follow their parents around on foraging excursions. The chicks start to fly when they’re about a month old. Adult Kittlitz’s Plover measure only about 13cm in length and weigh around 35g. When not breeding they’re usually seen in small groups of up to 20, though much larger flocks have been reported and is probably a feature of nomadic movements.

Kittlitz’s Plover is distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the Nile Valley and Madagascar, and the IUCN lists the species as being of least concern.



Cape Chestnut

Calodendrum capense

In bloom the Cape Chestnut is a beautiful tree that flourishes in montane, coastal and riverine forests, occurring patchily along Africa’s east coast from Kenya southwards to the Western Cape of South Africa. In forests it can grow to 20m tall while in gardens – where it is a very popular feature plant – it grows to only about half that height. The striking flowers are carried in early summer and is popular with butterflies, many of which – including the Citrus Swallowtail – also uses the Cape Chestnut as a fodder plant for their larvae. Primates and birds love the seeds. An oil made from the seeds is used as a skin care product, and in days past the wood was used to make wagon parts and furniture.

Curlew Sandpiper

Calidris ferruginea

The Curlew Sandpiper is another wading bird that visits South Africa during our warmer months, arriving from about August and departing again by April before winter arrives in the southern hemisphere to return to their breeding grounds in Siberia. Some immature birds will however remain behind through the winter. While here they have a patchy distribution, occurring at coastal lagoons and estuaries and inland wetlands with muddy fringes where they probe for invertebrates living in the silt. Curlew Sandpipers are gregarious and often found in large flocks consisting of their own and other species of sandpiper and numbering into the hundreds and even thousands. Individual Curlew Sandpipers return year after year to the same area for overwintering. They measure about 20cm in length and weigh around 50-60g.

The Curlew Sandpiper has a rather interesting distribution range, with their occurrence during the breeding season fairly concentrated on Russia’s extreme northern reaches while their overwintering range covers an extremely large area of Africa, Asia and Australia. Locally, at the right time of year, they can be expected at suitable habitat along the coast as well as inlandThe IUCN considers the Curlew Sandpiper to be near threatened for, despite a fairly large population estimated still at over a million, it would seem their numbers are declining at an alarming rate, caused mainly by loss of habitat.

Southern Black Korhaan

Afrotis afra

The ground-dwelling Southern Black Korhaan is endemic to South Africa’s Eastern, Northern and Western Cape Provinces. The IUCN sites a loss of habitat as the major cause for its declining population and considers the species to be vulnerable. It is very closely related to the Northern Black Korhaan and the two were previously considered races of the same species.

An inhabitant of the fynbos, Klein Karoo and Namaqualand, the Southern Black Korhaan is an omnivore that feeds on a variety of plant material (mainly seeds and shoots), insects and even small reptiles. They are usually seen alone, except for females with their latest chick. During spring and summer male Southern Black Korhaans mate with as many females as possible and play no role in the incubation of the eggs or rearing of the chicks. The female doesn’t build a nest and lays her single egg (2 eggs in a clutch is exceptional) on the bare ground in an area where she feels well hidden. Fully grown they’ll measure about 50cm in length and weigh around 700g.

Ground Agama

Agama aculeata

Ground Agamas are, as their name implies, largely terrestrial by nature, though they will climb into low bushes to bask in the sun or, in the case of breeding males (distinguished by the blue sides of their faces), to display or look out for rivals.

Ground Agamas live in a wide array of habitats, ranging from semi-desert to savanna. They feed mainly on ants and termites and the occasional beetle, and hide in short tunnels dug in soft soil, usually at the base of a bush or rock. These tunnels are also used by females for laying between 8 and 18 eggs in the summer breeding season. The eggs hatch within two months. Fully grown adults measure up to 10cm in length (excluding their tail).

In South Africa, Ground Agamas are found in all our provinces, though there is disagreement in the scientific community as to whether the population in Kwazulu-Natal belong with this species or rather with Peter’s Ground Agama (A. armata). Beyond our borders Ground Agamas occur as far north as Angola and the IUCN lists it as being of least concern.

Cape Girdled Lizard

Cordylus cordylus

The Cape Girdled Lizard is endemic to South Africa’s Eastern and Western Cape Provinces; its distribution stretching from the Lesotho border to the Cederberg and Paternoster on the West Coast. The IUCN considers it as being of least concern though it is listed under CITES Appendix II (species that could be threatened by unregulated trade).

Cape Girdled Lizards are small reptiles – less than 10cm in length without including the tail – that live in dense colonies in suitably rocky habitat, where they will lodge themselves tightly into crevices and cracks to evade predators. Within these colonies the adult males have a strict dominance hierarchy, established and maintained by frequent altercations that involve the combatants circling each other while bobbing their heads and arching their backs and erupting into an all-out brawl if neither male is sufficiently intimated by the ritual. They are diurnal and prey on insects. Females give birth to 1-3 live babies in mid-summer.

Common Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus

The Common Whimbrel is another wading bird that visits South Africa only during our summer months, with most birds arriving locally after an arduous trek from their breeding grounds in Russia at the start of spring and staying until early autumn. During their time in this country they’re seen quite commonly along the coast and (much less frequently) at inland bodies of water. Our largest single population is probably found at the Langebaan Lagoon in the West Coast National Park. A fairly significant portion of their local population, probably youngsters, overwinter in South Africa. The Whimbrel is found, for at least part of the year, on the shorelines of and at large lakes and wetlands on all the continents except Antarctica though some authorities consider the Hudsonian Whimbrel that lives in the Americas to be a separate species. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern.

The Common Whimbrel feeds on aquatic invertebrates, found by probing the wet sand and mud in lagoons, estuaries and marshes with its exceptionally long bill. The bill is in fact 2-2.5 times longer than their head! Fully grown Whimbrels measure about 43cm long and weigh around 400g. They’re usually seen singly or in loosely associated flocks, often in the company of other wading birds.

Blue Duiker

Philantomba (Cephalophus) monticola

The Blue Duiker is the smallest antelope found in South Africa, standing only about 30cm high and weighing about 5kg. It is found only in moist forest habitats with a permanent canopy and alternating pockets of open and closed underbrush. They feed on a wide variety of leaves, twigs, flowers, berries, fruit, pods and fungi, often following birds and primates to feed on the fruit they drop from high up in the trees, and drink water regularly.

Blue Duikers are usually seen in pairs that occupy a small shared territory, marked by both sexes using the prominent pre-orbital scent glands and dung heaps. Single individuals are usually newly independent youngsters in search of a mate and territory. They are usually most active from the afternoon, through the night (resting up during the night) and into the mid-morning, usually venturing into more open areas only under cover of darkness. They regularly use the same paths to move through their territory, making them vulnerable to predators (anything from leopards to pythons and crowned eagles) and poachers.

Blue Duiker ewes give birth to single lambs at any time of year, probably with a summer peak in South Africa, after a 6 month gestation. The lamb weighs only about half-a-kilogram at birth and is weaned at 3-4 months old, though it stays with its mother until her next lamb is born – ewes can lamb every 7-9 months under optimal conditions. In the wild they can live to between 6 and 10 years of age.

In South Africa the Blue Duiker is found in isolated pockets from Kwazulu-Natal to the Garden Route, and considered to be vulnerable. Overall though the IUCN lists it as being of least concern, given an extensive distribution throughout Africa’s equatorial forests, stretching from Nigeria to Kenya and from the DRC to Zambia, conservatively estimating a population of 7-million animals.

Crowned Cormorant

Microcarbo (Phalacrocorax) coronatus

The Crowned Cormorant is a coastal seabird endemic to the Atlantic coasts of Namibia and South Africa, with vagrants occasionally venturing as far east as Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth). They frequent rocky shores and offshore islands, where they forage for slow-moving fish, crustaceans and molluscs in the rock pools and among the breakers and rarely in estuaries. They can stay submerged for up to a minute and usually fly and forage alone.

Crowned Cormorants breed in small colonies of less than 30 monogamous pairs in locations inaccessible to terrestrial predators, like offshore islands, sea cliffs and shipwrecks, and often in close proximity to the nests of other kinds of birds. Females construct the platform nests using sticks, seaweed, feathers, bones, guano and, sadly, garbage found drifting in the ocean. They may breed at any time of year, though mainly in spring and summer. Clutches of 2-3 (sometimes up to 5) eggs are incubated by both parents for approximately 3 weeks. The chicks can fly by the age of about 7 weeks and remain with their parents for about 3 weeks thereafter before dispersing, often a considerable distance of several hundred kilometres away. Fully grown they measure about 54cm in length and weigh around 750g.

The IUCN updated the conservation status of the Crowned Cormorant from near-threatened to least concern in 2020, siting the population being apparently stable despite being rather small at less than 4,500 mature individuals. Threats to their existence include disturbance by humans at their breeding sites, pollution, and predation by an increasing Cape Fur Seal population.

Bank Cormorant

Phalacrocorax neglectus

The Bank Cormorant is an endangered species restricted to the Atlantic coastlines of Namibia and South Africa’s Northern and Western Cape Provinces, where an abundance of kelp (sea bamboo) occurs. It has a population estimated at only 2,500 breeding pairs (7,500 individuals), declining from an estimated 9,000 breeding pairs in the 1980’s due to human and seal disturbance at breeding sites and a reduced food supply. Away from the breeding colonies (where they often occur alongside other kinds of cormorant) they’re usually only seen alone or in small groups.

While the Bank Cormorant is strictly a marine species it seldom ventures further from the coastline than 10km seawards, where it catches fish, octopus, lobster, shrimp and other invertebrates by diving up to 30m deep and staying submerged for up to 80 seconds.

Bank Cormorants form monogamous pairs, breeding in small colonies of 20-100 pairs at any time of year. The pair works together to construct the large platform nest of seaweed, sticks and feathers glued together by guano on inaccessible rocks on the shore or on islands. The parents take turns to incubate the clutch of 1-3 eggs over a month-long period. The chicks take flight for the first time when they’re 8-10 weeks old but remain dependent on their parents until they’re about 6 months old. Fully grown they weigh about 2kg, measuring around 76cm in length.