27 September 2014

De Holiday

Earlier this week I got back from a short holiday trip to a nature reserve and thought I would share some of my sightings on the blog.

Early morning view from the camp site

The reserve doesn't offer a lot in terms of mammal watching, and since I wanted to relax I didn't focus very hard on game watching. Still, it was a fun trip and I saw plenty of cool things. The reserve is quite close to home (about 200km) and I'm sure I'll be back.

During this trip (and in general) I don't like to bother too much with taking "good" photographs, and rather spend some time to enjoy the experiences. So, the photographs here aren't anything spectacular. Just simple "point and shoot" attempts.

Macro photography on the tidal rocky shores can reveal a whole new world

My camera traps were at home when I got ready for the trip, for some TLC. I decided to take a few with me to the reserve. Unfortunately there were a lot of Baboons in the area, so I didn't want to take unnecessary risks with the camera traps. Especially since there is a chance that the Baboons have learnt to recognise and target human-made-stuff.

I was mostly interested in taking a break and enjoying my holiday. As a result I didn't get around to doing any real camera trapping.

I opted to book a camping site, since I haven't camped in a tent in a while and thought it would be fun. Camping brings its own charm and experiences. Thanks to that decision I managed to return home with camera trap photographs of one mammal species.

Cape Gerbil (Kaapse Springmuis - Tatera afra) putting it's best foot forward for my Birdcam 2.0

Each night, just after sunset, this little fellow would start scurrying around at the back of my tent. This would continue for a few minutes and then the gerbil would wonder off. Sometime after 12am it would return once more to scratch around in the dirt. After the second visit it would disappear until the next night. Where it went and why it visited each night, at more or less the same times, I don't know.

I had my Bushnell Trophy Cam at hand and got some video clips as well.

Video: Cape Gerbil scratching the ground at the back of my tent

I'm not sure what the gerbil is doing? I put some broken biscuits out as bait, but it didn't pay much attention to it, preferring to rather scratch around in the soil. Cape Gerbils are plant eaters for the most part, but maybe they'll also eat the odd insect? I'm not sure what this one was hunting for each night in the topsoil...

On the last night I decided to try and see the little fellow for myself (not only on camera trap photos). The scratching starting right on time and I sneaked a peak. I even managed to take some photos and video clips using my mobile phone.

As long as the gerbil didn't see my face it wasn't too stressed out about the light

Video: A video clip of the Cape Gerbil keeping me company outside my tent

All in all the rodent was a pleasure to have around the camp site and didn't cause any problems. No, it didn't chew on anything I own. People often think of all rodents as "mice" or "rats" that create unhealthy nests that stink, or as pests that destroy furniture. The truth is that most rodents are good citizens. In particular almost all wild species are shy and reclusive in nature, with specialised diets and do not ever cause any problems of any kind to us humans.

On the other end of the size scale the reserve is also famous for the Southern Right Whales that visit the shoreline during our winter and spring months.

Southern Right Whale (Noorkapper - Eubalaena australis) resting in the waves

At first I wasn't sure how easy it would be to spot a whale, but when I got to the viewing deck I easily counted at least 12 rolling on the waves. It really is a good place to visit if you wish to see some whales.

Highest on my wish list were the Cape Vultures, classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.

Cape Vulture (Kransaasvoƫl - Gyps coprotheres) souring overhead

As I started the hiking trail I only glimpsed one or two in the distance, but luckily on my way back a few more came in and I got some good views.

Video: I tried to photographs the spiralling column, but I'm not sure how easy it will be to see...

One of my favourite species at the reserve is the Yellow Mongoose. Luckily they were fairly common near the main camp area.

Yellow Mongoose (Rooimeerkat - Cynictis penicillata) doing a good job of staying out of zoom range...

I just couldn't manage to get close enough to one to get a proper photograph! They just do not sit still for long enough and the ones I encountered were skittish of humans, or maybe it was the fact that I was paying them a lot more attention the average visitor does.

An interesting thing about the Yellow Mongoose is that it is a natural reservoir for Rabies, with some individuals able to carry the disease (infectiously) for several years.

There were many other birds and animals around the camp area. The Dassie and Scrub Hare were rather tame and presented some good views.

Dassie/Rock Hyrax (Klipdassie - Procavia capensis) giving us one of those infamous Dassie smiles

Scrub Hare (Kolhaas - Lepus saxatilis) out and about well before sunset

I'll wrap up with a few photographs of flowers (and Monkey Beetles) I spotted while walking the hiking trails in search of the Cape Vultures.

11 September 2014

Grey Matters

I like to use my old Phablet in the mornings while eating breakfast, before going to work, to catch up on some nature blogs and "light-weight" news that might interest or entertain me. (I find "real" news to be just too depressing to waste my time on it.)

Yesterday morning the news article about a mongoose and lion having a confrontation caught my eye. It is actually fairly entertaining and you can see the full story and video over here.

Now, the reason for this post isn't to comment on the behaviour shown in the video itself, but instead triggered by the following statement from the article: "... the terrified marsh mongoose".

A Marsh Mongoose? Really...? Riiiight, sure, OK... ummm... I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with that. Unless the Marsh Mongooses in Kenya differ a lot from the ones over here in South Africa (and I'm pretty sure they don't), then I would not call that particular mongoose a Marsh Mongoose.

Sadly it is true that most people really do not care what kind of mongoose it is, or even whether the face of this earth was ever blessed by the pitter-patter of tiny mongoose feet at all. But since this is a nature blog I feel that I can get away with kicking up a bit of a fuss about the misidentification, to my hearts content. :)

If you are still reading this then you are one of the elite, the special few, that do care about knowing and appreciating nature, even if only ever so slightly. (If I am mistaken and you don't care then I don't know how you ended up on this blog, but I'll save you some trouble by informing you that you can safely stop reading now and continue to catch up on the "personal" "lives" of people being famous for being famous.)

Right, back to business. The Marsh Mongoose (aka Water Mongoose) has a huge distribution range. As a matter of fact they are also found all the way down here at the southern tip of Africa, roughly 4000+ km away from Kenya.

Lets first have a look at a real Marsh Mongoose. The photograph below was taken at Koeberg Nature Reserve just outside Cape Town, near Melkbosstrand.

A real Marsh/Water Mongoose (Kommetjiegatmuishond - Atilax paludinosus) at Koeberg

Ok, so to an untrained eye the mongoose in the video might look similar, but if you spend just a little time comparing the two you will notice many small differences.

The most obvious (and key) difference is the tail. The tail on the March Mongoose is rather short and "thick".

For more examples of a Marsh Mongoose have a look at some of my old blog posts over here.

I believe the true star of the video clip to be a Large Grey Mongoose. The Large Grey Mongoose (aka Egyptian Mongoose, aka Ichneumon) also has a huge distribution and can also be found from Kenya all the way down along the coast, right to the tip southern of Africa.

An old photo of a Large Grey Mongoose (Grootgrysmuishond - Herpestes ichneumon) from Tygerberg

How can I be so sure about the mongoose in the video? Well, the Large Grey Mongoose has a characteristic black brush at the end of it's tail, as can be seen from this photograph below which was recently taken at Koeberg.

The presence of longer black hair at the tip of the tail is a good sign that you are dealing with a Large Grey Mongoose

If the visual clues aren't enough then the behaviour can help to confirm the species. My books state that the Marsh Mongoose is mainly active at night, whereas the Large Grey Mongoose is largely active during the day. I fired up WildLog and pulled a quick report for both species. Yep, my camera trapping data confirms this as well.

The habitat can also be a good tool for identifying species. In this case both species like to hang around near streams and small ponds, but the Large Grey Mongoose tends to readily wander far away from water.

Now, I must admit that I'm not familiar with all the mongoose species found in eastern Africa, but over here in southern Africa the Large Grey Mongoose is the only large, greyish, diurnal mongoose with a black tipped tail.

For more examples of a Large Grey Mongoose have a look at some of my old blog posts over here.

Thus the Marsh Mongoose and Large Grey Mongoose are actually rather easy to tell apart. A much trickier matchup is the Small Grey Mongoose and Large Grey Mongoose. This old blog post over here covers both species.

My most recent batch of camera trap photographs from Koeberg contains a couple of photographs at one particular set which still have me scratching my head. There seems to be photos of a normal Small Grey Mongoose, then some of a very large Small Grey Mongoose and then some of a very small Large Grey Mongoose... I'm starting to think it might be a juvenile Large Grey Mongoose, but I'm not sure yet.

To be honest I'm still not 100% sure whether this is a small Large Grey Mongoose or a large Small Grey Mongoose

I enjoy trying to identify species and can spend hours staring at camera trap photographs of small mammals, trying to figure out what species they are most likely to be.