19 December 2014

Meeting The Francolins

Some scenery from Koeberg Nature Reserve

The Cape Francolin is by far the most common animal camera trapped at Koeberg. Its range is mostly restricted to the Fynbos zone at the South-Western tip of Africa, but inside that range it is fairly common. Other similar Francolin species fill the gap throughout the rest of Southern Africa.

Cape Francolin (Kaapse Fisant - Pternistis capensis) also known as the Cape Spurfowl

Amongst the torrential flood of  Cape Francolin photographs at Koeberg hides another Francolin species: The Grey-Winged Francolin.

Grey-Winged Francolin (Bergpatrys - Scleroptila africanus) at Koeberg

Both of these species are part of the Phasianidae (Pheasant) family and shares that honour with the infamous Chicken (one of humanities primary food sources).

For those wondering: The Helmeted Guineafowl is not grouped in the same family, although apparently the American Ornithologists' Union don't agree with this.

We often forget that, as with almost any form of science, describing and grouping organisms into species isn't an exact science.

A little bit too close to the camera for good focus

As is often the case with common names, the Grey-Winged Francolin is another victim of having an odd common name.

The "grey-winged" part seems to refer to the wing tips having a greyish look while the bird is in flight, which supposedly helps to tell it apart from the similar looking Red-Winged Francolin. There are much easier ways of telling the two species apart, but somebody decided to go with a feature only visible when in flight...

The Afrikaans name isn't much better either. At least they stayed away from the wing colour, but the "berg" part of the name indicates a mountain, and as you can clearly see Koeberg is not mountainous at all. The "berg" in the name refers to the fact that this species is most commonly found in mountain grassland 1800m above sea level. Unfortunately because of the common name one would not expect to find the species in coastal scrubland 1.8 m above sea level...

Keeping an eye on something to the left, outside the view of the camera trap

The above photograph was taken by an old Bushnell Trophy Cam. The Bushnell usually does OK with lighting a scene, but at this location it was placed in the shade of a tree and severely overexposed the backdrop which was being hammered by the summer sun. The bright and reflective sand / dead grass doesn't help much either.

The Cape Francolin photos (top and bottom) were taken by the Bridcam 2.0.

Is this that "Internet" thing they said I'm going to be on?

08 December 2014

The Owner Of The Hole

I spotted the hole a few months ago but didn't have a camera trap at hand. Now, almost a season later I decided to return.

The hole at Koeberg is under a bush at the top of a small dune

I didn't have the exact GPS co-ordinates and at first had some trouble finding it again. When I eventually tracked it down a slight sinking feeling fell over me... It looked very much abandoned. But then again it looked fairly abandoned the first time I saw it as well.

I decided it can't hurt to try my luck, and slapped the camera trap into the sand next to the hole. Two weeks later when I collected the camera everything still looked more or less the same: abandoned.

But when I checked the SD card I was pleasantly surprised by a familiar face, although more often than not the face that greeted me back didn't look very pleasant at all.

Small Grey Mongoose (Kleingrysmuishond - Galerella pulverulenta) master of the stink-eye!

The Small Grey Mongoose was the only animal species photographed during the two weeks at the hole, but what was lacking in variety was made up for in reliability. On average the mongoose was photographed once every day, usually just before or after mid day.

Is this what a Small Grey Mongoose looks like when it is in a good mood?

I think it is safe to assume the mongoose uses the hole in some way, but I'm not sure how exactly...

Some of the books mention that although these mongooses are active during the middle of the day, on warm summer days they like to rest during the hottest parts. It looks like a decent spot to take a siesta?

Oi! You talkin' about me, punk? I dare yous to say it to my face!

Another possibility is that this is a potential den site. They are known to sometimes have their pups in holes in the ground and these photos where taken during the middle of the breeding season. I haven't camera trapped many animal den sites, and none for extended periods of time, but I would assume to see more than one visit per day if this was a den site? And won't the visits be closer to sunrise and sunset? Then again I was using a Cuddeback which is notorious for missing a lot (most) of the action...

I don't have plans to camera trap at Koeberg again this year and I have other plans for the first half of next year. So, at least for now the mystery remains.