Monday, 29 September 2014


Bushbuck (Antelope)

Having a few days off this week, we headed into the Kruger National Park (South Africa). As is most times we enter the gates we wander on the first bird and or animal we will come across. More often or not its the common Impala (Aepyceros melampus) and this this got me thinking, although the most widespread antelope in the Kruger National Park by far, how did it fair in Sub-Sahara Africa? I must admit I was shocked to learn in fact in was the Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) and (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) that are the most widespread of the Sub-Saharan antelope.
I was further to learn that the Bushbuck were in-fact split into two species (as detailed above) which was something new to me. They are the kéwel(Tragelaphus scriptus) and the imbabala (Tragelaphus sylvaticus). The imbabala is related to the Bongo and the Sitatunga, and the kéwel to the Nyala. Here then in South Africa, the Bushbuck we refer to are (Tragelaphus sylvaticus related to the Bongo and the Sitatunga,  which occur from the Cape of South Africa through to Angola and Zambia.
That over with, other information about the Bushbuck. This antelope is found virtually in all habitats from woodlands to montane forest and rain forest. The Bushbuck found here are slightly bigger than the other species found further North and the colour differs quite substantially with difference in the spots and the stripes in both species but both species have light brown coats, with up to seven white stripes and white splotches on the sides in a variance.
The Bushbuck stands about 90cm (3ft) to the shoulder and depend on male or female weighs between 40-80 Kg (88-176 lbs) as their is sexual dimorphism.

Bushbuck (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) Female - Kruger National Park
South Africa

Monday, 22 September 2014


Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) – Boys Bigger Than Girls

The gregarious Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a medium sized ‘wading’ bird that is about to grace our shores again here in the North Eastern part of South Africa again shortly. Being a summer visitor to these shores the Ruff is what as known as a Paleartic Migrant a bird which visits from outside the African continent, in this case from Eurasia where it breeds in the marshes and wetlands.
The Ruff over winters here in Southern Africa but does not breed, which is a shame as we in Southern Africa are unable to see that magnificent breeding plumage (or Ruff) of the male bird, that also includes brightly coloured head tufts, bare orange facial skin, extensive black on the breast, and that large collar of ornamental feathers which no doubt gave way to it its name.  The male Ruff also shows a marked sexual dimorphism (size) over the female which are known as ‘Reeves’ and has three different plumage types which includes the rare mimicking of the female bird. The male carries out these courtship displays at a ‘Lek’ and is thus known as ‘Lekking
While breeding it primarily feeds on aquatic insects it forages for in the soft mud of the wetlands it inhabits, however during its winter migration to Southern Africa it has been known to also feed on plant materials like maize.
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
Female Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) - Male
Male Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) (non breeding) with white head and neck

Monday, 15 September 2014


Hamerkop (More than one in a million)

The Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) is more than one in a million, its unique in the avian or bird world due to its extraordinary physical characteristics. The direct Afrikaans translation is Hamer (hammer) kop (head) and its not difficult to see why this bird is named as such with its 'hammer' like head, long bill an crest.  Feeding on amphibians like frog's, fish, shrimp and most aquatic insects as you would expect for one that lives its life in the 'wetland' areas.

The Hamerkop is a drab brown medium sized bird about 56 centimetres (22 in) in length and  found in all in Sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar and South West on the Arabian Peninsula like rivers, dams and streams where it lives a sedentary life.

One of the most interesting and quite frankly outrageous aspects of a Hamerkop's life is its breeding and nest building habits. Quite frankly this birds loves building nests, they build nests even though they are not breeding and what a nest considering the size of these birds. Usually built in the 'fork' of a tree over looking the water these Hamerkop nests are quite spectacular in size with nest easily reaching 1.5 meters (5ft) in size. Made from thousands of sticks and mud the Hamerkop builds its nest with a bottom entry which can be quite long which the parents can pass up into the nest and stay with the young.

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)
Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) with its peculiar shaped 'hammer' head
Nest of the Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)
The huge nest of the 'Hamerkop'

Monday, 8 September 2014


Steenbok (Dwarf Antelope of South Africa)

Steenbok (Raphicerus campestris) are one of South and Southern Africa’s smallest of antelope but what it lacks in size the Steenbok makes up for in its looks.
Being a beautiful reddish brown in colour, male Steenbok only stand between 40-60 cm (16-24 in)  high and weight in between 10-16 g (22-35 lbs) with the females being slightly smaller. In comparison to the rest of their bodies Steenbok have very long legs, other defining characteristic of the Steenbok is its very large ears and a black triangular patch on the bridge of the nose. You can further distinguish males from females as only males posses short straight black horns  or spikes really which stand about 150cm (6in) in length from the top of its head, large dark eyes, give way to preorbital glands.
Steenbok are solitary antelope and only really come together to mate, although breeding does take place throughout the year, births tend to peak in November and December each year which coincides with ‘Mother Natures re-birth’ (Spring) here in the Southern Hemisphere.
As with a few African antelope Steenbok are primarily browsers, (pick from trees and shrubs) feeding at or near ground level, occasionally they scrape the ground with their sharp hooves for roots and tubers. Water is not essential as moisture can be taken from the food they eat.
Steenbok have many different predators, including Leopard, Caracal and even Pythons, in the presence of danger, Steenbok first hide, crouching with the neck pressed against the ground and ears retracted to avoid detection. If the threat persists or approaches the animal will flee, with fast zig-zagging flight interrupted by attempts at concealment by lying down flat.
In South and Southern Africa the Steenbok’s distribution is wide and varied and can be found in various environments throughout South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Zambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Swaziland, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Portrait of a Male Steenbok
Male Steenbook (Raphicerus campestris) showing his horns
large ears and 'preorbital glands'

Monday, 1 September 2014


Springbok one of natures supreme athletes

Living in South Africa I could not continue to post about the wildlife and all that's offered in the natural world here without posting about one of South Africa's most famous animals synonymous with the country; the Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis).  The South African ruby union team, called the 'Springboks' have the Springbok emblem of this most agile of animals, along with another well known part of the flora and fauna of the country the 'Protea' flower sewn into their shirts.

The 'Springbok' like the national rugby team are athletes of note. These medium sized antelopes have colouring which consists mainly of a pattern of white, reddish/tan and dark brown, with adult males or 'rams' standing about 80 cm tall (30 in) and about 190cm (72in) in  length. Springbok can reach speeds of up to 100km/h (60mph) and leap 4m (13 ft) through the air which I think you will agree is quite a feat for such a small mammal. Unlike many antelopes, Impala for instance, both the ram (male) and the (ewe) female Springbok have horns which average about 35cm (14 in) in length.

Springbok are also well known for what is known as 'pronking' or 'stotting' which comes from the Afrikaans meaning to 'boast' or 'show off'. The Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) with Marsupialis (Latin: marsupium, meaning "pocket") this word being derived from a pocket-like skin flap which runs along the middle of the Springboks back from the tail onwards. This 'marsupium' is best demonstrated when the male Springbok perhaps wants to attract a mate or to ward off any predators, he starts off with a stiff-legged trot, jumping up into the air with an arched back every few paces and lifting the 'flap' along his back.  Lifting the flap causes the long white hairs under the tail to stand up in a conspicuous fan shape, which in turn emits a strong scent of sweat.

Springbok are inhabitants of the mainly dryer parts of south and south western Africa notably in the 'Kalahari' desert in Botswana and the 'Namib' desert of Namibia but also the vast grasslands of South Africa's Free State. Interestingly Springbok are 'mixed' feeders switching between 'browsing' and 'grazing' and by doing this Springbok can meet their water needs and can survive without the need for water over long long periods.

Sprinkbok (Antidorcas marsupialis)
Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park