Going on with the TR, January 5th 2011, on the way to Skukuza, a stop at Transport Dam. In the gravel road to the dam, we saw 1 Lilac-Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus
), 1 Southern Reedbuck (Redunca arundinum
), 1 Blacksmith Lapwing (Plover) (Vanellus armatus
), 1 Burchell's Starling (Lamprotornis australis
), 1 Cape Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia capicola
) and 1 Magpie (African Longtailed) Shrike (Corvinella melanoleuca
In the dam, in turn, we saw 5 White-Faced Ducks (Dendrocygna viduata
), 1 colony of Lesser Masked-Weaver (Ploceus intermedius
), 1 African Fish-Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer
), a group of Impalas nearby the side of the dam where we were, and 4 female Waterbucks (Kobus ellipsiprymnus
) on the other side of the dam.
In this picture we see the Blacksmith Lapwing we found by the road in the way to Transport Dam. It is an endemic bird in sub-Saharan Africa, present not only in the wild but also in sports fields, airports, and even heavily grazed areas. This is the kind of animal most likely to survive our impacts in the environment, since it can explore our own modified landscapes. It is the same with the Tamarins that I see everyday walking over the electrical wires in front of my flat. Lovely animals!
Returning to the Blacksmith Lapwing, it can be sedentary, nomadic or migratory depending on the environmental conditions. For instance, in dry years they can move from arid to more humid areas. When breeding, however, it is mainly sedentary.
This bird not only is not threatened, but its range and population significantly increased in the 20th century. The reason lies in its ability to explore human-modified areas.
As Blacksmith Lapwings search for insect larvae in dung, that was probably the reason why he was found in the road.
This is certainly true of many bird species. In the next two pictures, we can see a Burchell’s Starling dedicated to the same task.
It was also great to see one more Magpie Shrike, in this case much closer than the previous one we saw, in full singing.
When we arrived at the dam, it was great to see these White-faced ducks.
These beautiful ducks are classified as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List, showing in fact a trend of population increase, as a result of the creation of artificial water bodies (e.g. farm dams) and the growing of grain crops, which are used by them as food. However, some populations are decreasing. Its estimated global population ranges from 1,700,000 to 2,800,000 individuals.
A curious fact about this species is that it shows unpredictable local nomadic movements (Johnsgard, P. A. 1978. Ducks, geese and swans of the World. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London) related to variations in water and food availability.
It is predated by African-Fish Eagles. There was one hunting at Transport Dam when we were there. What was the eagle hunting? Guess…
This duck is hunted for local consumption and trade in Malawi (Bhima, R. 2006. Subsistence use of waterbirds at Lake Chilwa, Malawi. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 255-256. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK) and Botswana (Herremans, M. 1998. Conservation status of birds in Botswana in relation to land use. Biological Conservation 86: 139-160). It is also hunted and traded at traditional medicine markets in Nigeria (Nikolaus, G. 2001. Bird exploitation for traditional medicine in Nigeria. Malimbus 23: 45-55).
Finally, this is a bird that unites South America and Africa! It breeds both here and there. It is also found in Madagascar and Comoro Islands. In Southern Africa, it is one of the most common ducks.
A marvelous thing to see in the dam was the tree in the middle of it with a large colony of Lesser Masked Weaver. Probably many of you had already seen this colony. Tell me!
In the two pictures below we can see the whole colony and a detail of it. In the first picture, there is another bird in the tree. I just saw it now, when preparing the TR. It is really exciting to discover we photographed a bird we did not even notice back then. It is a Fork-Tailed Drongo. Moreover, we certainly see the huge structures about the weaver’s nests. They are probably hamerkop’s nests.
Lesser Masked Weavers are charming birds, aren’t they?
One incredible thing was to remember, when I was there watching the weavers, how fascinated I was with weavers (which I knew only from my books) as a small child. I had forgotten these remote childhood memories, and it was really something to suddenly remember it on the spot, watching these birds I had forgotten I loved so much. It is great to know, then, that they are not threatened: Least Concern in the IUCN Red List, with stable populations.
What fascinated me about this bird (and probably fascinates many of you) is the delicate architecture of their nests, alongside with the size of the colony. This is a polygynous species, with males mating with multiple females during the breeding season. They live together then in colonies of 20-30, rarely up to 200 nests. In this case, we counted 35 nests. It is the male that builds the nest, and it is a hard job. They kept repairing the nests while we were there. I love the kidney shape of the nest and the entrance tunnel facing downward!
Lesser Masked Weavers are also hunted by African-Fish Eagles. But what was the eagle hunting? White-faced ducks, that’s the answer. We almost got a picture but, no, they went down and we photographed just the upper part of their bodies. Anyway, it was great to follow the action.
What a beautiful bird the African-Fish Eagle is. Elegance at its outmost!
Also Least Concern in the IUCN Red List, with stable population, this eagle was observed by us several times during the trip. But this encounter in Transport Dam was the most impressive one, with the hunting action. It is a pity we will not find in Kgalagadi. I’ll miss her.
Myths also surround the African-Fish Eagle. In the Shona cultural heritage, this eagle was a sacred messenger, used by the King to communicate with the ancestors. It is also the totem of the Hungwe clan and has been the symbol of the Zimbabwe state, appearing on the national flag and on bank notes and coins, since Zimbabwe became independent in April 1980.
The waterbucks, to finish, gave us some behaviorally interesting pictures, even though they were far away, at the other side of the dam. Look how one of the females, which was laying down with the other two, raised up and called.
Then she moved to a nearby shrub…
And found another waterbuck. Oops, she is smaller. Mother and daughter, probably.