Tag Archives: wildlife

Forest Beauty

Paralethe dendrophilus

The Forest Beauty or Forest Pride is, as its name suggests, a beautiful butterfly inhabiting temperate coastal and mountain forests in eastern South Africa, from the Eastern Cape to the escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. It is a shy butterfly that flies low and fast and hides in the shade, usually against a tree trunk, when at rest or threatened. With a wingspan of up to 7cm the females of this species is a little larger than the males. Forest Beauties have a single generation annually, with adults only seen between December and May when the females scatter their fertilised eggs among grass on the forest floor. The larvae feed on various grasses and is slow growing; the full life-cycle from egg to adult takes a whole year.

Brown-crowned Tchagra

Tchagra australis

An adaptable member of the shrike family, the Brown-crowned Tchagra occurs in a wide range of savanna and woodland associations where it forages mainly low to the ground in the undergrowth. It feeds primarily on insects and other invertebrates and only very occasionally on small reptiles.

Brown-crowned Tchagras form monogamous pairs with the male being fiercely protective of their territory. The female takes most of the responsibility for the incubation of the clutch of 2-4 eggs over a 2 week period in the spring-summer nesting season. The chicks leave the nest around two weeks after hatching but stay with the parents for 5 months or more. Healthy adults weigh approximately 33g.

The Brown-crowned Tchagra is widely distributed over much of sub-Saharan Africa. In South Africa this species is found in all our provinces with the exclusion of the Eastern and Western Cape. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern.

Ashy Flycatcher

Fraseria (Muscicapa) caerulescens

The Ashy Flycatcher, or Blue-grey Flycatcher, is a very active little bird of dense habitats – forests, mature woodland, riverine thickets and densely planted gardens – where it feeds mainly on insects and other invertebrates, often moving around in mixed flocks with other small insectivorous birds.

Ashy Flycatchers from monogamous, territorial pairs. At the start of the breeding season, which spans most of spring and summer, the partners work together to build their cup-shaped nest, using fine materials, in forks, crevices or cavities in large trees. Clutches of 2-4 eggs are incubated for a period of about two weeks, with the chicks, attentively cared for by both parents, leaving the nest about the same length of time after hatching. Adults measure around 15cm in length and weigh only 18g.

In South Africa they occur along the coast of the Eastern Cape, through the bushveld regions of Kwazulu-Natal, into the Lowveld and escarpment of Mpumalanga and through most of the Limpopo Province. To our north this species is widespread through west, central and east Africa. In conservation terms it is considered to be of least concern.

Matabele Ants

Megaponera analis

Matabele Ants take their name from the Ndebele-people of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Historically known as the Matabeles and led by their fearsome chief Mzilikazi, they broke away from Shaka‘s Zulu-kingdom in the early 1800’s, warring their way through most of northern South Africa with spectacular results.

Matabele Ants are widely distributed over sub-Saharan Africa and live in subterranean nests, often more than half a meter deep and usually with multiple entrances but a single chamber in which the queen, eggs and larvae are cared for by the workers. At up to 2.5cm in length, they’re among the largest ants in the world.

Matabele Ants feed solely on termites, and the way in which they attack their quarry with military precision in regiments between 200 and 500 strong is a sight to behold. First, scout ants go out in search of termites, and when successful quickly return to the nest to get reinforcements without the termites being any the wiser. The scout then leads the army, following in a column-formation, back to the site. The army stops a foot or so from the termites, waiting for the back of the column to catch up. As soon as they are all in place, the army of ants then rush on the termites, breaking open their tunnels and killing as many termites as they can. After the raid the army assembles in the same spot where they waited to attack earlier, now with their bounty in their jaws, before setting off back to the nest in their familiar column-formation again. Even more astoundingly, Matabele Ants are known to rescue compatriots injured during the raid and carry them back to the nest to recuperate.



Giant Plated Lizard

Matobosaurus (Gerrhosaurus) validus

Surprisingly for such a large reptile, the Giant Plated Lizard is a rather shy and retiring creature. It is in fact the third largest lizard in South Africa (the Nile and Rock Monitors being the two biggest) and grows to a length of up to 75cm, excluding the considerably lengthy tail.

Giant Plated Lizards live in loosely associated groups on rocky outcrops in savanna environs, where it makes good use of crags and crevices in the boulders to hide in – even to the point of inflating its body to jam itself firmly in and thus preventing predators from extracting it. Females lay clutches of 2-5 eggs in rock crevices during the mid-summer. These lizards follow an omnivorous diet that includes leaves, flowers and fruit, insects, spiders and scorpions, amphibians and other reptiles up to the size of baby tortoises.

The conservation status of the Giant Plated Lizard hasn’t been assessed by the IUCN as yet, but it is generally common in suitable habitat throughout its range, which extends over Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, eSwatini (Swaziland), Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and the South African provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the extreme north of Kwazulu-Natal.

Common Dotted Border

Mylothris agathina

The Common Dotted Border occurs in a range of habitats, from fynbos to woody grasslands, savanna and forest, with their larvae feeding on an equally diverse range of food plants. They’re also quite often found in parks and gardens throughout their range. Adults can be seen year-round, and have a wingspan of 5 – 7.5cm. They fly slow and high. Females lie clusters of 40 to 70 eggs.

In South Africa, the Common Dotted Border is commonly seen along the southern coast and adjacent interior from the Cape Peninsula to Kwazulu-Natal, and inland through Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, Gauteng and the Free State. They’re also widespread north of our borders, being found as far as Cameroon and Ethiopia.

African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)

Polyboroides typus

With uniquely adapted double-jointed knees that allows it to search for prey inside deep holes and cracks, the African Harrier-Hawk or Gymnogene is a formidable predator of reptiles, small mammals (like bats) and birds, captured in flight or even snatched from inside their nests (which goes for the eggs and nestlings too) or hiding places. Another intriguing feature of Gymnogenes are that they can “blush” – the skin on their faces, normally yellow in colour, flushes bright red when the bird is agitated and turns pinkish in the breeding season. It is a medium-sized raptor, weighing about 750g and measuring about 65cm in length.

African Harrier-Hawks inhabit forests, dense woodlands, ravines, riverine thickets and savannas, often in close association with hilly or mountainous terrain, and are usually seen singly or in monogamous, territorial pairs. They breed in early summer, when they build their stick nests in tall trees and palms. Clutches contain 1-3 eggs and are incubated by the female over a 5 week period. The first hatched chick often kills younger siblings. The chicks fledge when they’re about two months old and don’t stay with the parents for much longer after that, perhaps two weeks at most.

Found over most of South Africa with the exception of the largely treeless central and western parts, the Gymnogene is being seen in increasing numbers in our towns and cities where buildings, well-planted gardens and exotic plantations offers excellent breeding and hunting habitat. It is also known from most of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The IUCN considers the species as being of least concern with a stable population.

On our recent visit to the Dullstroom Bird of Prey and Rehabilitation Centre we were treated, amongst others, to a wonderful encounter with Chewy, one of the African Harrier-Hawks that find shelter at the centre.

Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve

With it being a short school holiday we had the opportunity to visit the privately owned Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve for a day this past week.

The reserve was established in 1990 and is located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site northwest of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. It covers approximately 1,600 hectares of undulating terrain at the transition between the open grasslands of the Highveld and the savannas of the Bushveld.

Going by the name, clearly pride of place at the reserve goes to two species. The first is the white rhinoceros, which are heavily guarded on the reserve to keep them safe from poachers – in fact, several of the reserve’s rhinos arrived here as orphans after their mothers were poached. Furthermore the horns of the rhinos at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve has been infused with a toxin that makes it unfit for human consumption to further deter the unscrupulous syndicates supplying the traditional medicine markets in Asia.

In a corner of the reserve are four large camps through which visitors are allowed to drive to view two prides of lion, African wild dogs and cheetahs in natural surroundings. Whenever we consider visiting a destination where large predators are kept in camps and enclosures we are always very careful that it is not in any way linked to the absolutely abhorrent canned hunting fraternity, cub petting or the lion-bone trade. The owners and management of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve have publicly undertaken that the animals on the reserve will not be subjected to such inhumane practices.

The first and most expansive of the predator camps at the reserve is allocated to the tawny lions. We arrived there just minutes before feeding time, and found the lions up and very active indeed!

The next camp visitors enter houses a sizable pack of the highly social African Wild Dog, also known as Painted Wolves for their beautifully blotched coats.

A pride of White Lions is to be seen in the third predator camp (regular readers of our blog will remember how excited we were to have seen one of only three known wild white lions back in January during a visit to the Kruger National Park).

In the fourth camp visitors can try and spot cheetahs, though these lanky cats use their camouflage to great effect and finding them may be neigh impossible if they don’t want to be spotted!

Another positive feature of the reserve is the vulture restaurant – a feeding station where carcasses are regularly laid out for the endangered birds. Throughout our day on the reserve we had regular sightings of the impressive but endangered Cape Vultures overhead, and many other kinds of birds were also in evidence.

Other kinds of mammals, aside from the rhinos and large predators, thrive on the reserve and roam freely over most of it. We were especially impressed by the large herd of eland and beautiful sable antelope, and we also saw black-backed jackal, black and blue wildebeest, blesbok, buffalo, gemsbok, grey duiker, impala, roan antelope, springbok, warthog, waterbuck and yellow mongoose.

Special mention needs to be made of the reserve’s population of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra. Being not at all indigenous to this part of the country visitors are provided an opportunity to see the least well-known of the three kinds of zebra found in South Africa.

The main visitor centre of the reserve offers an extensive picnic site and playground, restaurant, swimming pool and the wildlife centre – a collection of endangered and mostly non-indigenous reptiles, birds and mammals, obviously well taken care of and displayed in well maintained terrariums and enclosures, among which visitors are allowed to stroll at their leisure.

Visitors can overnight on the reserve in chalets and log cabins, the latter overlooking a portion of the lion camp. Given the rather small size of the reserve the road network, all dirt, is not very extensive but the majority of roads can at least be fairly easily traversed in standard passenger vehicles while there’s also additional routes available to 4×4’s. Unfortunately the Wonder Cave which as adjacent to the reserve was closed at the time of our visit.

Location of the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve (Google Maps)


Patrician Blue

Lepidochrysops patricia

With a wingspan of 4.5cm, the Patrician Blue is one of the largest members of the family. Patrician Blues are rare in the Western Cape and occurs only in the eastern-most reaches of the Northern Cape, but otherwise occur commonly all over our seven other provinces. They have a wide habitat tolerance, occurring from mountain grasslands to the edges of forests but are most common in savannas. Adults are only seen between spring and autumn, reaching a peak in numbers in November and December.

Like other butterflies of the genus Lepidochrysops the Patrician Blue employs a most interesting breeding strategy. Their larvae feed on the immature seeds of Salvia– and Lantana plant species in their first two developmental stages and then exude a pheromone that prompts Carpenter Ants (Camponotus spp.) to carry the caterpillars into their nests, where they feed on the larvae of the ants until they pupate. After emerging from the chrysalis the adult butterfly then crawls out of the ants’ nest.

Spectacled Weaver

Ploceus ocularis

Looking very much like a masked bandit, the Spectacled Weaver is a species preferring moist, dense habitats ranging from riverine forests to forest edges and occasionally well-wooded parks and gardens. They are omnivores, feeding on insects, seeds, fruit and nectar.

Although they are not very social with birds of their own species, only ever being seen either in pairs or small family groups, Spectacled Weavers often join foraging groups of other birds. Contrary to most other weavers, Spectacled Weavers form monogamous pairs, possibly for life. The male weaves the characteristic nest with a long downward-facing entrance tunnel, most often hanging from the tip of a branch over water. They breed during spring and summer, raising clutches of up to 4 chicks that hatch after a two week incubation. The chicks leave the nest at about two weeks old and become independent around a month after hatching. Adults are about 15cm long and weigh around 30g.

According to the IUCN, Spectacled Weavers are considered to be of least concern. They have a very patchy distribution over east, central and southern Africa. In South Africa they occur in a band along our eastern borders and adjacent regions from the coastal Eastern Cape to the Limpopo Valley.