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Summer Birds in Southern Africa

February 6, 2012 by  


Below’s summer birds is the courtesy of the photographic talent of Ranger James Hobson. In particular the images below take a look at some of the more colorful, migratory Summer birds that frequent southern Africa in the warmer months.

Comb Duck by James Hobson 

Here you can see the prominent and enlarged knob on the bill of the male comb duck (Intra-African migrant) during breeding season. It is not uncommon for birds to grow tail feathers in breeding season but I’m not aware of too many birds growing appendages. Also visible in this photo are the iridescent (literally means ‘showing rainbow-like colours’) wing feathers which mostly appear dull greyish black.

Red Billed Hornbill by James Hobson 

A strange looking red billed hornbill perches with a scorpion held firmly in its beak. You’ll notice the short tail which is abnormal for this bird. A possible explanation lies in the fact that females voluntarily incarcerate themselves within a cavity in a tree to lay their eggs, thereafter undergoing a feather moult. This female may be regrowing her tail feathers and the scorpion is potentially food for her chicks. Incredibly, the lack of tail feathers didn’t appear to affect the bird in flight.

Yellow Billed Oxpecker by James Hobson 

Two red-billed oxpeckers display to one another on the back of a rhino. The red-billed with its all red bill and yellow eye-ring (eye-ring absent in the less common yellow-billed) and the yellow-billed are both monogamous and co-operative breeders.

Yellow Billed Oxpecker by James Hobson 

An oxpecker seen in action on the back of a giraffe (they have a very high concentration of ticks given their body structure). The bill is designed for a ‘scissoring’ action for solid prey in longer fur, ‘scooping’ for fluids such as blood and mucus and ‘plucking’ for solid prey on exposed skin.

Bee Eater by James Hobson 

Below follows a collection of photo’s of some of the bee-eaters found at Londolozi. Carmine Bee Eater above.

Bee Eater by James Hobson 

Juvenile White Fronted Bee Eater by James Hobson

Bee Eater by James Hobson 

Little Bee Eater by James Hobson

Carmine Bee Eaters and Storks 

A flock of southern carmine bee-eaters feed on insects that the white storks are flushing as they walk. This is a good example of commensalism; symbiosis where one species benefits by the presence of the other (the bee-eaters) and the other (the storks), neither suffers nor benefits.

White Stork by James Hobson 

White Stork by James Hobson

Marabou Stork by James Hobson 

A marabou stork in all its glory! Contrary to belief, an inflated pouch is not an indication of food consumed, but rather the need to thermoregulate. They expand the sac to expose more blood to the cooling or warming influence of the air or sun.

Vultures Feeding by James Hobson 

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen quite a lot of vulture activity and on inspection there never seems to have been any predation involved. We’ve witnessed vultures descending on young impala lambs which have died of natural causes. Here a bunch of white-backed vultures squabbled over the remains.

White Backed Vultures Feeding by James Hobson 

A white-backed vulture comes into land amidst a feeding frenzy.

White Back Vultures at Sunset by James Hobson 

A white-backed vulture perches on a dead tree at sunset. Diagnostic of all vultures (with the exception of the bearded and palm-nut vultures) are the bald or lightly feathered heads and necks. This is an adaptation for probing around in dirty carcasses, the grime and body fluids being much easier to wash off than if the bird was fully feathered.

African Pygmy Kingfisher by James Hobson 

Slightly smaller than the malachite kingfisher, the violet-washed ear coverts are also diagnostic of the African pygmy-kingfisher. Interestingly, 5 of the 10 local species of kingfishes (despite their name) don’t actively hunt at water sources, the pygmy included. These birds mainly eat invertebrates and small vertebrates, captured away from water.

Malachite Kingfisher by James Hobson 

Unlike the pygmy above, the malachite is certainly aquatic. We were fortunate to have this one nesting in the bank next to Camp Dam for a while. Amazingly, these small tunnels can be dug up to a distance of 3 meters into banks. The point of the bill does get worn as some excavations can take up to 3 weeks or more, but because the keratin of the bill is ever-growing, the damage is quickly corrected.

Malachite Kingfisher by James Hobson 

Malachite Kingfisher by James Hobson

Photographed by: James Hobson

A Tribute to An Educated Friend Who Isn’t So Educated

November 11, 2011 by  


Elmon is an elderly, wise, shangaan man who was born and bred on the land. As a young boy he was taught to track by his father while herding cattle amongst lions. I am half his age and have spent a lot of my life in cities. Yet, as different as we are, we choose to spend at least 8 hours of every day in each others company. The common denominator you may wonder? A profound love of the bush.

Despite not having being schooled in the traditional sense, Elmon is an educated man. ‘The bush is my classroom and the animals, my teachers.’ he said with his stern, yet friendly expression. Throughout his lifetime he has undergone a ‘schooling’ which very few humans have ever been fortunate enough to have, and even fewer will in time to come. On watching a lioness pawing at a male to wake him from his slumber to mate yet again, Elmon turns to me, chuckles and says “It’s the 1st time I’ve seen that. In the bush, I will learn until I die!”

James and Elmon 

James and Elmon out on Game Drive

Animals are an example to us, he explains. Despite not talking our language they’ll warn us if we come too close or intrude. How come humans don’t always warn us? “What’s the most frightening experience you’ve had in the bush?” a guest enquires from the back row. “Wild animals aren’t dangerous”, he goes on to elaborate. “Humans are the most dangerous creatures.  The world is turned upside down. Living in the city makes you weak; Computers are bad for your eyes and you don’t get the exercise you should. You need to eat natural things like Marula nuts, fresh fruit and meat from the bush, not Macdonalds with hormones in it.”

He is a true naturalist.

Chasing after a pack of Wild Dogs 

Chasing after a pack of Wild Dogs

My best time in the bush have been walking alongside him, hot on the trail of a leopard and seeing the merriment in his eyes as we finally catch a glimpse of the beautiful cat. After 40 years as a tracker and hundreds if not thousands of leopard encounters, his excitement is as obvious as it must have been those 30 years ago when he and John Varty found the 1st leopard to be seen at Londolozi – The Mother Leopard.

This special man has seen and done it all. He’s chased lions away from a kill as a child to ‘share’ some of their quarry; cutting off a piece of meat so man and beast could share the spoils. He’s raised a lion cub, Shingalane, starred in a movie called Running Wild alongside big names like Brooke Shields and Martin Sheen. He’s had a documentary, The Tracker, made about his life. And yet he still takes the time to teach a stranger he has nothing in common with and is also as excited about every game drive as the last.


Elmon Mlhongo in his early days as a tracker and filmmaker with John Varty

Those that have sat in the game drive seats behind him know that he cuts a dignified, regal image on the front of the vehicle. There’s never any doubt as to who is in control of our game drives. Although he doesn’t say too much, his presence is tangible.

It’s been such a privilege to work with Elmon for the last 2 years and have him pass on his knowledge to me. A debt I’ll never settle and struggle to thank him enough for.

Elmon Mhlongo 

Elmon Mhlongo – ‘Mjonzize’

Initially I called him Nduna, the big chief. Once we got to know each other a little better and I realised what an impact he was having on me and I started calling him Mjonzize, teacher. Our bond has strengthened yet again and I’m proud to now be able to call this incredible man, Mfo. My friend.