Wednesday, April 29, 2015

26 May-26 April

As the dry season sets in the 'autumn' colours begin.
A busy month at the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation. There were some significant sightings and developments for the project.

The period saw the last days of summer and the beginning of the cold nights of winter. This a beautiful time of year, the trees begin to loose their leaves and before they drop them the leaves begin to change colour and the result is a landscape washed in warm autumn colours.

European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) preparing to depart.
This time year sees a spike in reptile observatons. As the weather begins to cool, many reptiles are out basking. This month we saw a lot of Mozambique Spitting Cobras.

Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica). One of the most commonly seen snakes in the area.
Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus). Beautiful arboreal snakes.
The Stripe-bellied Sand Snake, Psammophis subtaeniatus, this is the snake which is most often seen.
Crested Guineafowls grow rather tame in the dry season.
It is always exiting to add a new species to one of our growing lists and this month saw two new mammals, a new bird and a new reptile. For me the highlight of the month was seeing a Nile Crocodile, Crocodylus nilotica, for the first time in the area. The animal was spotted in a large pool to the North of the property. Unfortuanately I was not fast enough to get a picture. As soon as I manage to photograph the animal it will be a good record for the Soutpansberg and Greater Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. Another new species was the White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike, a good record for our bird list. In terms of mammals we were lucky enough to get two new records this month. The first was an African Wild Cat caught on Alan Carr’s camera trap. The second new mammal, something that has been under our noses this whole time, was a Yellow-spotted Hyrax. Every time I had seen this species in the past, and they are common, I assumed that they were Rock Hyrax. That was foolish as they are quite different looking.

South African Rock Python (Python natalensis).

There were also some amazing sightings/encounters with animals. Namely a porcupine sighting that was very unusual. These animals usually leave the area at the slightest disturbance, but we had one that allowed close approach before slowly moving off.

Damon variegatus, these arachnids are perfectly harmless and common in the area.

As far as infrastructure at the Soutpansberg Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation is concerned, we finally managed to get our solar power system up and running. At the moment we are able to charge a computer for data entry and also batteries. The system is modular, so as our needs grow, we can grow the system to accommodate the needs.

As for conservation activities, there were some developments in our nursery – finally I have managed to germinate Baobab seeds. All horticultural activities are for conservation, be it selling trees for fund-raising or planting trees out into the veld. The next month will see path clearing for ecotourism taking place and also alien invasive clearing. The illegal sand mining operation has begun its activities again and the fight to stop them will have to continue, hopefully there will be some developments soon.

Boaedon capensis, known as the Brown House Snake. This juvenile was consuming a gecko.

Participant Report

Recent participant Melissa Petford from London recently visited the SCBC. The following is an account of her impressions of the programme. 

"I was at the SCBC for three amazing weeks over March and April 2015. The SCBC is located in a stunning area of the Soutpansberg next to the sand river. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful and never ceases to amaze; whether it be the picturesque mountains reflecting in the river with the everlasting sunlight, or the Milky Way stretching between the mountain ranges in the night-time sky.

The fauna and flora in the area are extremely diverse. You are guaranteed every day to see amazing things from the typical vibrant flat lizards basking in the sun, to the shiny dung beetles battling over the latest excrement. One of the most notable sightings of the three weeks was an amazing porcupine sighting at night; we were able to get to within 5m of the animal without disturbing it and it was a very rare and exciting view.
The day-to-day activities included biodiversity hikes and setting up camera traps. Often we went on croc duty; one day we saw a crocodile in the sand river but were unable to capture a photograph, therefore we frequently went back to look for it. Croc duty involves walking along the train track adjacent to the river, which often feels like a scene out of “The Railway Children”, and hope that you catch a glimpse of a dark shadow under the water.

To sum up the SCBC offers a great opportunity to actively learn about South African wildlife in a remote and picturesque area whilst also allowing you to take part in the conservation efforts in the area which are extremely important in the Soutpansberg region.

The trip has definitely been an amazing experience and I hope to return soon.  "

Namaqua Doves (Oena capensis) can occasionally be spotted in the dry area south of Medike.
The familiar chat, Cercomela familiaris. Delightful little birds.

Bird List

Natal Spurfowl; Crested Francolin; Crested Guineafowl; Eqyptian Goose; African Black Duck; Golden-tailed Woodpecker; Bearded Woodpecker; Black-collared Barbet; Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird; African Grey Hornbill; African Hoopoe; Green Wood-hoopoe; Common Scimitarbill; Malachite Kingfisher; Brown-hooded Kingfisher; Giant Kingfisher; Pied Kingfisher; White-fronted Bee-eater; European Bee-eater; Red-faced Mousebird; Speckled Mousebird; Red-chested Cuckoo; Burchell's Coucal; Alpine Swift; African Black Swift; Little Swift; Purple-crested Turaco; Barn Owl; Cape Eagle Owl; African Wood Owl; Fiery-necked Nightjar; Freckled Nightjar; Speckled Pigeon; Laughing Dove; Red-eyed Dove; Emerald-spotted Wood-dove; Tambourine Dove; African Fish Eagle; Cape Vulture; Brown Snake Eagle; Little Sparrowhawk; Black Sparrowhawk; African Goshawk; African Harrier-Hawk; Verreaux's Eagle; African Hawk Eagle; Rock Kestrel; Lanner Falcon; Goliath Heron; Grey Heron; Green-backed Heron; Hammerkop; Hadeda Ibis; Black-headed Oriole; African Paradise Flycatcher; Fork-tailed Drongo; Black-back Puffback; Southern Boubou; Tropical Boubou; Orange-breasted Bushshrike; Gorgeous Bushshrike; Grey-headed Bushshrike; Retz's Helmet-shrike; White-crowned Helmet-shrike; Cape Batis; Chinspot Batis; Pied Crow; White-breasted Cuckooshrike; Southern Black Tit; Wire-tailed Swallow; Barn Swallow; Rock Martin; Dark-capped Bulbul; Sombre Greenbul; Yellow-bellied Greenbul; Long-billed Crombec; Cape White-eye; Rattling Cisticola; Tawny-flanked Prinia; Bar-throated Apalis; Yellow-throated Apalis; Grey-backed Cameroptera; Kurrichane Thrush; Ashy Flycatcher; Grey Tit-Flycatcher; White-throated Robin-chat; Red-capped Robin-chat; White-browed Robin-chat; White-browed Scrub-robin; Familiar Chat; Mocking Cliff-chat; Red-winged Starling; Collared Sunbird; White-bellied Sunbird; Spectacled Weaver; Red-billed Quelea; Swee Waxbill; Blue Waxbill; Red-billed Firefinch; SouthernGrey-headed Sparrow; African Pied Wagtail; Yellow-fronted Canary; Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

African Pied Wagtail (Motacilla aguimp). Nice little birds.
The huge Goliath Heron, Ardea goliath.

Reptile List
Crocodylus niloticus                               Nile Crocodile
Afroedura broadleyi                              Flat Gecko
Chondrodactylus turneri                      Turner’s Gecko
Hemidactylus mabouia                         Common Tropical House Gecko
Homopholis wahlbergii                         Wahlberg’s Velvet Gecko
Lygodactylus capensis capensis          Common Dwarf Gecko
Smaug warreni depressus                    Flat Dragon Lizard
Platysaurus relictus                               Soutpansberg Flat Lizard
Gerrhosaurus flavigularis                    Yellow-throated Plated Lizard
Afroablepharus maculicollis                Spotted-Necked Snake-Eyed Skink
Mochlus sundevallii sundevallii          Sundevall’s Writhing Skink
Trachylepis margaritifer                      Rainbow Skink
Trachylepis striata                                 Striped Skink
Trachylepis varia                                   Variable Skink
Scelotes l. limpopoensis                        Limpopo Dwarf Burrowing-Skink
Varanus niloticus                                   Nile Monitor
Agama armata                                       Northern Ground Agama
Python natalensis                                  Southern African Python
Boaedon capensis                                  Common House Snake
Psammophis subtaeniatus                  Stripe-bellied Sand Snake
Naja mossambica                                  Mozambique Spitting Cobra
Philothamnus semivariegatus           Spotted Bush Snake
Leptotyphlops species                          Thread Snake
Myriopholis longicauda                       Long-tailed Thread Snake

The Cape Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis). Massive rodents.

Mammal List
Bushveld Senghi
Lesser Bushbaby
Thick-tailed Bushbaby
Chacma Baboon
Vervet Monkey
Cape Porcupine
Tree Squirrel
Spiny mouse
African Wild Cat
Cape Clawless Otter
Large Spotted Genet
African Civet
Banded Mongoose
Dwarf Mongoose
Water Mongoose
Yellow-spotted Hyrax
Rock Hyrax
Bush Buck
Sharpe’s Grysbok

Camera Trap in remote Ochna woodland.

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