News

Cape clawless Otters caught on camera traps by Sean Jones

09 Apr 2016

Freshwater systems are of great benefit and necessity to a diversity of animals, and are of utmost importance when it comes to a functioning ecosystem. On the Ezemvelo Nature Reserve these magnificent water bodies accommodate a variety of curious creatures; whether it be crustaceans crawling about in the sands and rocks, fish swimming from stream to stream, birds swooping in for a nice bath or meal, or even an antelope seeking to quench its thirst.

Among these interesting fascinations, the perennial rivers are also home to a more curious mammal – the Cape clawless otter. These otters are primarily aquatic and prefer the shallow waters with thick vegetation that normally provides shelter to several of their favourite prey such as crabs and fish.

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Ezemvelo-waterfalls-2

On the Ezemvelo Nature Reserve these interesting otters have been found scavenging around the streams of the reserve, and signs of their presence, such as spraints (faeces) and nests, have been detected on the rocks along the stream courses. These shy animals are easily scared off by the presence of humans, and disturbances often force them to relocate their area of occupancy, making them difficult to find. As a result, we placed some camera traps in areas on the reserve where evidence of their movements was found in an attempt to record some valuable sightings of these timid otters.

otter-on-camera Tracking-otters-3 otters-at-nightWhen on land, these clawless otters take shelter in underground burrows, or under rocks, roots or dense vegetation. Their burrows normally have a nest that is made of grass or other vegetation. They are known to be solitary animals, but occasionally there are groups made up of four otters consisting of two adults and two youngsters, and sometimes larger groups of six are formed to forage. These mammals are active mainly during dusk and early evenings and sometimes at dawn. During the day they sleep in their burrows. When they are awake the otters will spend their time swimming, playing and foraging.

otter-nest-6  curious-ottersThese large otters, weighing up to 23kg and with a body length reaching 160cm, are carnivorous mammals. The majority of their hunting is done in shallow waters of about 1.5 m in depth, whereby the otters submerge their heads in search of a favourable fish, and feel under rocks to grab a sizeable crab. They can dive for up to 30 seconds to catch their preferred target.

broken-crab-shell-9The population of these shy otters is reasonably stable and widely distributed. However, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has them jotted down as Near Threatened, because of continuous development threatening their habitats.

With these elusive otters in residence at Ezemvelo, with enough luck one can be fortunate enough to spot them running across the rocks through which the streams flow.

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Ostrich chicks in an ongoing battle for survival on Ezemvelo by Marion Gohier

25 Mar 2016

Ostriches are the largest bird in the world, but despite their stature they still need to fight hard to protect their chicks against predators. Here is the story of the ostriches in Ezemvelo Nature Reserve in Gauteng.

Around November last year, I was very happy to find three different ostrich nests on the reserve. I had never seen baby ostriches in real life before so I was quite excited to see that the nests were full of eggs!

ostrich-eggs

The male ostriches mate with many females that then share the same nest, meaning they are often brimming with eggs. One day I counted 26 eggs in the same nest! With ostriches, both the female and male incubate the eggs. Females usually look after the nest during the day and the male at night. One of the females will normally be dominant and will try to keep her eggs in the middle of the nest to ensure they will hatch while pushing the others out of the nest. As the nests are usually big, some of the eggs cannot fit under the ostrich, lowering their chances of hatching.

ostrich-nest

While ostriches are known to be aggressively protective of their nests, our ostriches weren’t very successful in fending off hungry animals.

A few weeks after discovering the nests, I saw they had been emptied out by predators, probably baboons or brown hyaenas. The eggs were scattered all around the nest and some of them were broken. After seeing this we were all really disappointed as we were looking forward to seeing the ostrich chicks hatch in the coming months.

broken-ostrich-egg

However, it wasn’t long before I discovered a new nest while on a game drive at the end of December. Almost every day during the incubation I kept an eye on the nest to make sure the parents were incubating the eggs and protecting them from curious predators. Finally in mid-February I was ecstatic to see that three eggs had hatched.

The female stayed on the nest with the chicks for a few days after that, probably waiting for the other eggs to hatch and protecting the babies that were hiding under her wings. Finally, she started to move, always escorted by the male and followed closely by the chicks. The parents were very protective and were always looking around for predators. Unfortunately for the family, as is often the case in nature the three babies did not survive the cunning jackals and were eventually hunted down.

mother-ostrich-and-chick lone-ostrich-chick protective-ostrich-father

Nevertheless, another family has been discovered walking in the reserve with nine chicks. I am now hoping that at least a few of them will make it to adulthood.

ostrich-family

If you come and visit Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, you might be lucky enough to see them while driving around or on a game drive.

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Capturing amazing wildlife shots with camera traps by Rulene Nel

21 Mar 2016

In conservation, camera traps are used for biodiversity surveys as well as to identify individuals. Scientists commonly use this method for identifying and estimating populations of nocturnal species and predators.

Camera traps aren’t only about putting a camera in the veld and leaving it there. One has to go and collect the photos, sort them and identify each species captured. It is much more labour intensive than one would think.

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buck-on-camera

At Ezemvelo Nature Reserve we started experimenting with camera traps a few months ago. Snapping nature at its finest moments, we were able to observe all forms of behaviour, from curiosity to drinking and eating.

The camera traps are fast enough to capture a bird in full flight and even lightning! In the past few weeks we have captured over nine thousand photos of different animals. We positioned one camera close to a carcass where black-back jackals where feasting.

springbok bird-caught-in-flight lighting-up-the-sky carcass-camera

As time progressed, all sorts of animals came close to the trap, looking deep into the eye of the camera. We managed to capture some weird and wonderful photos of animals, like our black wildebeest tasting the camera. There were even some animals that moved our traps while enjoying the pole as a new scratching post in the middle of the veld.

wildebeest-up-close wildebeest-tasting-the-camera wildebeest-tasting-the-camera

The reason for the camera traps on Ezemvelo Nature Reserve is to look for predators and nocturnal animals that we cannot easily see. We have not yet been fortunate enough to see predators like leopards or caracal, or nocturnal species like aardvark, but we did manage to capture images of the illusive bush pig. We are still keeping our fingers crossed and moving around the cameras to used game paths, so we hope to see these animals in the near future.

bush-pig-by-night

Visit our Facebook page for some more crazy, beautiful photos. It is truly amazing to see some of these animals so close through the camera lens.

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Pompom Weed – the Evil Beauty of Ezemvelo by Marion Gohier

11 Mar 2016

In a previous blog we spoke about the beauty of the wildflowers of Ezemvelo Nature Reserve and how some of them blossom at the same time, creating a colourful ground cover.

However, hiding between these beautiful and colourful flowers, one intruder is taking over the grasslands of South Africa. I name it the ‘evil beauty’ – the pompom weed or Campuloclinium macrocephalum is an alien or invasive plant as it is not native to South Africa but from South America.

south-africa-grassland-pompom-weed

It was introduced on the continent as an ornamental flower in people’s gardens and, due to the absence of natural enemies, the weed started to invade the land, outcompeting indigenous species. Pompom weeds then rapidly became the most serious threat to the conservation of the grasslands of South Africa, according to the Agricultural Research Council.

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Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, being mostly grassland habitat, is no exception and has to deal with this invasive plant.

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This pretty pink and purple flower is a perennial plant that grows 1.5m high. Because it retreats underground during winter, the weed survives fires and frost. Pompom also produces a lot of seeds that are easily dispersed by flower-pickers and wind.

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Besides proliferating rapidly, this invasive plant also seriously degrades the veld as its roots produce enzymes that stops natural grasses from growing properly. Aerial parts are also suspected to inhibit the growth of other plants around.

pompom-weed

To control and limit the invasion of pompom weed, different control methods can be used, and for a better treatment they can also be combined. Herbicides can be sprayed on stems and leaves, stems can be repeatedly cut back to weaken the weed, the plant can be dug up, or a biological control agent (natural insect enemy) can be introduced. The last method must be highly controlled, as we do not want the insect to kill indigenous plants.

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A good method, and the one we use on our reserve, is a combination of spraying herbicide onto the leaves, as well as cutting the stems and flowers that are later burnt.

pompom-weed-grassland-south-africa

If you see the pompom weed on roadsides, please do not pick it up even if it looks pretty, so you don’t help its invasion through the country.

pompom-weed-purple

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The Woodland Kingfisher of Ezemvelo by Sean Jones

04 Mar 2016

“It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.” – Aesop

Among all of the aesthetically pleasing aspects of nature is a facet of gracious beauty – birds. There are over 850 species of birds in South Africa, and more than 240 of these species occur in the Ezemvelo Nature Reserve. Thanks to their great abundance, these birds make for spectacular viewings.

Gliding through the treetops of the Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, the striking woodland kingfisher looks to find a branch on which to perch. This blue-backed bird, ranging between 20 and 23 centimetres in length, can be seen surveying its prey from above, waiting to catch the next insect, fish or even bird that it finds appealing. A view from the reception area will allow you to see this elegant bird diving down to the swimming pool to catch whatever interesting insects that are lingering on the surface of the water.

woodland-kingfisher-in-tree

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This kingfisher is widely distributed in Africa – from Pretoria to south of the Sahara desert. The tranquil sound of this beautiful bird will often have you scanning the treetops to catch a glimpse of the marvellous colours it beholds. If you are lucky enough to gain a sight of this ‘Bosveldvisvanger’, as it is called in Afrikaans, be sure to look at it in graceful flight. With its trilling song, it tempts people to return its call in such a serene environment.

woodland-kingfisher-in-tree-ezemvelo-nature-reserve woodland-kingfisher-in-flight

This stunning bird enjoys its open woodland savanna habitat and can often be seen along rivers and other water bodies. It nests in old barbet, woodpecker or even natural tree holes.

On Ezemvelo Nature Reserve there is often the chance to watch these birds catch fish in the dam close to the reception. The woodland kingfisher is masterful in its technique, as it competes with the fishermen stationed along the embankment of the dam. Diving down from its perch, it soars across the dam looking to swoop up a fish in its red-and-black bill, before enjoying its sumptuous meal.

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Elands of Ezemvelo Nature Reserve by Rulene Nel

29 Feb 2016

The eland is the largest of the 72 species of antelope that occupy Southern Africa’s vast habitats. There are different types of eland, but on the Ezemvelo Nature Reserve we have the common Cape eland. The other different subspecies of eland are distributed all over Africa, but this species is a magnificent creature by its own right.

As the largest antelope in Africa, male elands are taller than buffalo bulls and sometimes even heavier. A male eland weighs between 700kg and 840kg while buffalo bulls weigh between 690kg and 800kg.

Eland live in herds with females, their young and sub-adults and smaller herds join together in summer time. The more mature bulls can be found in bachelor herds where they prove their dominance each year for the mating season. On Ezemvelo Nature Reserve we do not have a large enough predator species that can kill the magnificent eland, so the eland herd thrives and can live out their lives to the full on the reserve.

herd-of-eland eland-and-zebra

The egrets like to follow the eland herd due to the fact that the herd disturbs the insects on the ground, thus making it easier for the egrets to catch and eat these insects.

eland-and-egret

Eland prefer to browse but they do eat green grasses, especially in the night when the grasses have more moisture. The eland can live independently of water, so can move over the vast terrain that Ezemvelo Nature Reserve has to offer.

The large herd at Ezemvelo Nature Reserve consists of about of about 160 animals and is enough to make any hiker’s heart pound with excitement. Not only after seeing the incredible size of these animals, but from hearing the distinctive clicking sound that they make when they trot away.

eland-in-ezemvelo

You can see the spectacular herd of eland on Ezemvelo Nature Reserve while hiking, driving or mountain biking, and it is truly a must-see.

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Butterflies of Ezemvelo by Marion Gohier

26 Feb 2016

“Nature’s message was always there and for us to see. It was written on the wings of butterflies.” – Kjell B. Sandved

When we talk about animals, we do not refer only to mammals and birds. Much smaller creatures also belong to the animal kingdom, such as insects. Insects are usually poorly regarded because people think about bugs, mosquitos, ants and spiders (that are actually not insects but arachnids).

However, among the class of insects, we can find pretty ones like butterflies. In South Africa it is currently summer and flowers are blossoming. With them come the butterflies, displaying their beautiful colours and feeding on the nectar of the flowers.

Ezemvelo Nature Reserve in Gauteng currently has a wide range of wildflowers blossoming that are attracting these beautiful flying insects, and I was recently able to practice my butterfly identification abilities.

I first spotted the African monarch (Danaus chrysippus) which is one of the most well known butterflies in South Africa. This medium-size butterfly has tawny colour wings with some black and white on the edge. It can be admired flying from flower to flower, and sometimes two individuals can also be seen copulating. The copulation takes place tail-to-tail and may look as if the two butterflies are stuck together, resting on a flower or even flying together.

african-monarchafrican-monarchs

Another butterfly called the brown-veined white (Belenois aurota) is also reasonably well known in South Africa thanks to its migratory patterns. This butterfly migrates in summer from Cape Town to Madagascar, and we were lucky here at Ezemvelo to have been able to see that migration over the course of two days. Thousands of these butterflies crossed the reserve from west to east like a big white wave over the grass.
brown-veined-white brown-veined-white-on-flower

Other butterfly species have an appearance that confuses predators. Most of the adults of the Lycaenidae family have spots at the base of their hind-wings as well as hairy antenna-like tails to resemble a false head. This confuses predators as they are unable to recognise which way the actual head is, so their approach can be easily detected. This is the case of the Pea Blue (Lampides boeticus).

pea-blue

And also the Mozambique Bar (Cigaritis mozambica) found on Ezemvelo Nature Reserve.

mozambique-barSo next time you are out in nature, stop and appreciate the smaller creatures like butterflies and try and identify them for yourself!

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Flowers of Ezemvelo by Marion Gohier

14 Feb 2016

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them” – Henri Matisse

Animals should not be the only thing that springs to mind when someone mentions South Africa’s biodiversity. Plants are also very important and define South Africa’s habitats and biomes. And they are important for many of the big burly mammals that everyone is attracted to.

Among the different biomes that we can find in South Africa, grassland is the largest of them and its biodiversity level just follows that of the Cape Floristic Kingdom. As you may already know, grassland does not only consist of grass species, but this biome also includes a large diversity of wildflowers.

Summer is actually the best time of the year to see these wildflowers as it is the time during which most of them flower. The grassland on Ezemvelo Nature Reserve in Gauteng is no exception, and bursts of colours have already started showing amidst the green grass.

One of my favourite flowers is Cleome maculate, which is also known as ‘Pretty Lady’ in English. This purple flower with yellow markings started to cover the ground in some areas of the reserve, making a very beautiful purple cover.

pretty-lady

Pretty Lady
Ezemvelo Nature Reserve is also very lucky to be one of the few nature reserves that has a viable population of the rare and endangered Frithia humilis species, which is also commonly referred to as ‘Fairy Elephant’s Feet’.

This succulent species is endemic to South Africa and only occurs between Bronkhorstspruit in Gauteng and Witbank in Mpumalanga. This beautiful small flower does not grow more than 30mm above the ground, and during winter, which is the dry season, the plant withdraws beneath the soil to avoid desiccation, thanks to its contractile leaves. It is a very small white and pink flower, so keep an eye out for it on the ground.

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Fairy Elephant’s Feet
As we are not a Big Five nature reserve, guests can go hiking freely on Ezemvelo Nature Reserve to enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the different flowers blossoming there. These include African wild potato (Hypoxsis iridifolia), narrow-leaved morning glory (Ipomoea bolusiana), baboon’s tail (Xerophyta retinervis), and Matabele violet (Clerodendrum triphyllum).

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African wild potato

baboons-tail
Baboon’s Tail
matabele-violet
Matabele violet

narrow-leaved-morning-gloryNarrow Leaved Morning Glory

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