03 June 2017

Spying On The Bathing Birds

I'm starting to get a feel for when to use my new SecaCam HomeVista, and when to use a different camera trap instead. I had a feeling that the SecaCam HomeVista will be amazing when used at a birdbath, and I was right! The wide field of view is excellent for covering the entire area. The camera is also pretty good at handling close-ups and the final images have very little motion blur.

SecaCam HomeVista monitoring the birdbath 24/7

I had the camera monitoring the birdbath for 12 days. In total the camera recorded 140 observations. In total 20 bird species, one mammal species, one unknown reptile species and the local Clicking Stream Frogs showed up. I suspect that many bats also came to drink, on the wing, but I didn't get a clear enough photograph to be sure.

 

On the one hand I feel OK about the 20 bird species. My personal bird count for the property is currently at 66 species, so camera trapping about a third of the species at the birdbath sounds like a pretty good start.

However, I don't feel good about the only mammal species, especially considering the species in question: The bringer of destruction, the Domestic Cat...

Southern Boubou (Suidelike Waterfiskaal - Laniarius ferrugineus) on the left, and Laughing Dove (Rooiborsduifie - Streptopelia senegalensis) in the back

There were at least two different cats frequenting the birdbath. These cats are new on the scene. As a result I've noticed a major decrease in animal activity on the property. I heard talk that one of the cats a few houses down the road recently spawned new young and that there are now something like 9 cats roaming around, destroying everything in the area...

In the past Small Grey Mongoose and Large-Spotted Genet would frequent the property but this time around they stayed away. I don't think they avoid the cats directly, but instead the cats have likely killed to many of the small prey animals in the area. As a result the wild predators likely prefer to hunt in areas with more prey, and thus with less cats... (As proof of the decrease in the amount of prey available I've noticed a drastic decrease in the number of Clicking Stream Frogs at the birdbath.)

Sombre Greenbul (Gewone Willie - Andropadus importunes) coming for a bath

The Sombre Greenbul are common in the area, but they are secretive and like to hide in the thick vegetation. Seeing one out in the open like this is a nice treat.

I don't often see the African Firefinch, and this one below visited the birdbath only once.

African Firefinch (Kaapse Vuurvinkie - Lagonosticta rubricate) coming for a drink

Interestingly some species, like the sunbirds, are very common on the property, but almost never seem to visit the birdbath.

Some time after I bought the birdbath a Brown-Hooded Kingfisher started frequenting our property. I think it happened shortly after I installed the pipe to redirected the rain water from the roof into the birdbath, to help keep the water fresh and maintain the water level better.

Brown-Hooded Kingfisher (Bruinkopvisvanger - Halcyon albiventris) bathing on the wing

I'm fairly sure the kingfisher wasn't trying to catch anything, but was rather bathing - by diving into the water repeatedly. Like many other Kingfisher species this one is not restricted to catching fish for a living. Instead they catch all sorts of insects and other small critters, not just fish.

The Unknown Reptile waving us farewell...

06 May 2017

Slimy Surprises

I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some holiday time at the coast in the Eastern Cape. One of the things I wanted to make time for on my trip was to visit the rock pools during low tide.

A Triton snail (maybe Ranella Australasia gemmifera) at the Woody Cape

My exploration started off with a bang! One of the very first creatures I saw was this amazing Four-Tone Nudibranch.

Four-Tone Nudibranch (Godiva quadricolor) gliding along the edge of a small rock pool

From what I understand the nudibranch is basically a kind of predatory sea slug-like animal. It feeds on sea anemones and other nudibranch-like animals.

This encounter inspired me to try and return to the rocks at low tide on subsequent days in search of more interesting sea slug-like-things.

Blue-Speckled Dorid (Dendrodoris caesia) hiding under a rock
I turned over many rocks in search of interesting creatures. At first I didn't notice the Blue-Speckled Dorid under the rock, but when I dropped it back into the water it magically transformed.

The Blue-Speckled Dorid unfolded in the water

The little dorid feeds on sponges. I believe the fluffy bits at the rear of the animal is are the external gills.

Another, even smaller, sponge feeder is the Lemon Pleurobranch.


Lemon Pleurobranch (Berthellina granulate) hiding under a boulder

The animal below might seem artificially similar to the sea slug-like animals above, but this beautiful little critter below is actually a tipe of Flatworm.

A species of Carpet Flatworm (Thysanozoon sp.) found along the intertidal shoreline at Cannon Rocks

I was fortunate enough to be able to view one of these flatworms under a field microscope on a recent visit to De Hoop and my breath was taken away by just how beautiful they are.

I found another tipe of flatworm on the rocks, but this one looked a bit like a living blob of slime...

Gilchrist's Booger ergmm I mean Gilchrist's Flatworm (Planocera gilchristi) under a boulder

The Gilchrist's Flatworm feeds on tiny animals found in the tidal pools, such as worms and crustaceans.


Video: Flatworms moving about at Cannon Rocks

My attempt at filming a flatworm swimming failed, but trust me that it is something to behold. Luckily there is always next time. I'm already looking forward to visit the rock pools again and again, in the years to come.

Turban Shell (Turbo cidaris) heading back to the water

There is still plenty more to share from the Cannon Rocks coastline, even some camera trapping, so stay tuned.

08 April 2017

The Goose Mysteries

Back in November I placed my old Cuddeback camera trap amongst some boulders at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve.

Camera trap at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

When I first came across the boulders it really struck me as an atmospheric place. Naturally I wanted to see what animals visited this place.

Common Duiker (Duiker - Sylvicapra grimmia) checking out the camera trap

It turns out that boulders can be tricky places to camera trap.

It is hard to find a good spot that does the landscape justice. Then the next problem is that the animals can come from any direction, because there isn't really a clear path in and out of the boulders.

As a result I got rather few photographs at this location. There was however two photographs that made it worth the effort.

Large Grey Mongoose (Grootgrysmuishond - Herpestes ichneumon) sneaking past the camera trap

The Large Grey Mongoose visited the boulders at 10:31 am. I don't camera trap these guys often, so it is always a pleasant surprise when one shows up. It is also a valuable addition to the reserve's species list. I saw one in person a few weeks before this photograph was taken, but having a camera trap photo is much beter for record keeping.

Precisely 24 hours later, on the dot, I got another unexpected photograph.

Spur-Winged Goose (Wildemakou - Plectropterus gambensis) mother with chicks well in line

Those chicks look awfully young to me. They must have recently hatched, very close by. This makes me wonder about two things.

Firstly, was the mongoose in the area because it knew the chicks where busy hatching?

Secondly, what are they doing so far away from water? These boulders are almost 1.5 km away from the nearest farm dam, and even further from the larger catchment dams. I did some reading and apparently the Spur-Winged Goose is know to breed up to 1 km away from water, so 1.5 km sounds plausible.

They will have a long walk down to the water and some might not make it if that mongoose is still in the area.