Kalahari Blog

Adventures of a field biologist and wildlife photographer living and working in the Kalahari.


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Scorpions

Scorpions

There are quite a lot of scorpions about as they are perfectly adapted for the dry (semi) desert conditions. There are two main types of scorpion out here: the thick-tailed Paraboothids and the Cape Burrowing Scorpions. The Paraboothids are the more dangerous type.

There are four main species of Paraboothids found here and two main species of burrowing scorpion. They can all deliver a painful sting however a sting from a paraboothid is much more serious and would need immediate medical attention whereas a burrowing scorpion would merely hurt for a bit. Thankfully the two types are easy to tell apart with the paraboothids having long thick tails and small thin claws and the burrowing scorpions having small tails and large powerful claws.

All scorpions will glow under UV light and it is still unknown exactly why this happens however it does make them very easy to find at night. There are far more scorpions in the summertime as they prefer the warmer weather. Most scorpions at the moment are hiding in their oval shaped burrows or under rocks but in the summer they roam about especially on windy nights and can even be found sitting on top of bushes waiting for flying insect prey.

Scorpions appear to be the Meerkat’s favourite food item and they will dig for a good ten minutes to unearth a nice juicy one. They like them so much that injecting the scorpions and feeding them to the Meerkats is being trialed as a reliable way to give them oral doses of hormones for an experiment on the effects of anxiety on social behavior and also to administer antibiotics if necessary.

The Meerkats seem to have very high resistance to toxins from scorpions and also from snakes as quite a few have large snake bite scars from bites that would have killed a human if left untreated. However Meerkats learn at quite a young age how to handle scorpions and quickly bite off the stings before eating them.

Cape Burrwing Scorpion, Opistophthalmus capensis

Cape Burrwing Scorpion, Opistophthalmus capensis

Cape Burrwing Scorpion, O. capensis under UV light.

Cape Burrwing Scorpion, O. capensis under UV light.

Cape Burrwing Scorpion, O. capensis under UV light.

Cape Burrwing Scorpion, O. capensis under UV light.

Opistophthalmus whalbergii

Opistophthalmus whalbergii

Parabuthus granulatus

Parabuthus granulatus

Parabuthus raudus

Parabuthus raudus

P. raudus threat display.

P. raudus threat display.

Uroplectes spp.

Uroplectes spp.


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Birds of the Kalahari – Part 2.

This is a follow up to my first bird post that had some of the birds that I see on a daily basis. This post has birds that are slightly rarer or a bit more seasonal.

See the first post here: Birds of the Kalahari – Part 1.

 

Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater

There were a pair of these Bee-eaters that used to hang around the pool in the summer, picking off the dragonflies that were around. Hopefully they come back when it gets warmer.

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Pygmy Falcon

These are the smallest birds of prey in Africa, they are probably a bit smaller than a blackbird. They use unoccupied chambers in the Sociable Weavers nests to roost in so waiting by one of the weaver’s nests will give you a good chance of seeing one.

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Pearl-Spotted Owlet

Another very small bird of prey, they aren’t much bigger than the pygmy falcons. The bird books say’s that “they stare furiously at intruders” and that was definitely true of this one.

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Martial Eagle

From two of the smallest birds of prey to one of the largest, these guys are huge. Martial eagles are one of the main predators of the Meerkats but can also take much larger prey. The meerkats will run and hide in a bolt hole if one flies over or stand and bark if they see one sitting in a tree. Last week someone spotted one flying over with the dominant male of one of our groups in its talons!

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Acacia Pied Barbet

Very cool little bird, we had a pair nesting in a tree right next to the farmhouse. I sat with my camera and waited for them to return and was lucky to catch one poking it’s head out.

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Shaft-Tailed Whydah

I have only seen one of these and luckilly it was from my hide that I have set up by one of the cattle watering holes. They are a brood parasite of the Violet-Earred Waxbill (another cool bird that I haven’t managed to get a good picture of).

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Red-Headed Finch

Another bird only seen at my hide.

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Bennett’s Woodpecker

There are loads of woodpeckers around as there is a lot of dead trees. I often here them pecking however getting pictures is a little more difficult. They all look very similar but this is one of the rarer ones that happens to forage more on the ground.

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Namaqua Dove

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Birds of the Kalahari – Part 1.

I’m on holiday in Cape Town at the moment so I finally have access to some good internet! I will upload a load of pictures and prepare a bunch of posts that I have been meaning to get up for a while and hopefully all I’ll have to do when I get back to the Kalahari is to click “post”!

There is quite a high diversity of birds around the reserve and this post is a collection of photos showing just some of the birds I see on a daily basis. It is by no means an exhaustive list as there are many more birds I see daily that I have not managed to get a good image of. I will have another post showing some of the rarer birds I have photographed very soon.

Yellow Hornbill

These Hornbills tend to hang around in pairs or small family groups, there is a family of them that hangs around the farmhouse and they tap on the kitchen window demanding bits of bread that people sometimes feed them. I have seen them use their large beaks to dig in the sand for insects and this one somehow managed to catch a bat in the tree next to the farmhouse! It was trying to kill the bat before swallowing it by bashing it against the tree but was having difficulties due to a lack of hands with opposable thumbs!

Yellow Hornbill

Yellow Hornbill

A Yellow Hornbill eating a bat.

A Yellow Hornbill eating a bat.

Cape Glossy Starling

There are lots of these starlings around and they are just as common as blackbirds in the UK but with the iridescent plumage and bright orange eye they are better looking. The often follow the Meerkats around (as do many other birds) waiting for them to uncover ants and other small insects.

Cape Glossy Starling

Cape Glossy Starling

Lilac-Breasted Roller

Rollers are some of the most colourful of all African birds. They get their name from the display flight they have where they fly up high and tumble back down. Whilst they may have pretty plumage, they also make a pretty awful noise. They are quite common but quite difficult to get pictures of because they tend to sit right at the top of trees and don’t let people approach very closely however they don’t seem to be too afraid of cars so you have to be lucky enough to get one close to the road.

Lilac-Breasted Roller

Lilac-Breasted Roller

 

Fork-Tailed Drongo

The Fork-Tailed Drongos are one of the most interesting and most intelligent birds in the Kaklahari. If you watched the Kalahari episode of the BBC’s Africa you will have seen the Fork-Tailed Drongo’s kleptoparsitising (stealing food from) the Meerkats. The footage from that segment was actually filmed at the KMP. The Drongo’s have several false alarm calls which they use to scare the Meerkats enough so they can steal their food. The Meerkats only tend to react once to each particular alarm call however the Drongos have several calls that they cycle through when the Meerkats don’t react. Apart from the Meerkats the Drongos also kleptoparsitise other bird species and have a sentry call which attracts social weavers, this is believed to be a mutualistic behaviour as the Drongos snatch up any insects that the foraging weavers flush out and the weavers gain an extra pair of eyes to look out for predators. The reserve is also the base for researchers working on the Drongos.

Fork-Tailed Drongo

Fork-Tailed Drongo

Fork-Tailed Drongo.

Fork-Tailed Drongo.

Sparrow Weaver

These weavers build small round nests you see hanging from trees out of grass, they are quite loud and also follow the Meerkats about looking for unearthed insects. Like many species in the Kalahari (including Meerkats) Sparrow weavers are cooperative breaders.

White-Browed Sparrow Weaver in evening light.

White-Browed Sparrow Weaver in evening light.

White-Browed Sparrow Weaver.

White-Browed Sparrow Weaver.

Social Weaver

These weavers build huge tent shaped nests in which colonies of up to several hundred weavers live. They often choose to build their nests on telegraph poles and are responsible for power shortages when the nests get too heavy for the poles to handle. Many other species also used the abandoned compartments of the weaver’s nests such as Pygmy Falcons. Cape Cobras are often found in them looking to eat the weaver’s chicks. Like the Sparrow Weavers they are cooperative breeders.

Sociable Weaver at the nest.

Sociable Weaver at the nest.

Sociable Weavers being sociable.

Sociable Weavers being sociable.

Pied Babbler

The Pied Babblers are yet another cooperative breeder and live in groups of 5 to 15. In many ways they behave much more like Meerkats than other birds for example they have a sentry system and inter-group conflicts happen in a very similar way to Meerkats. There is also a project running on these birds based at the KMP.

Pied Babbler.

Pied Babbler.

Kalahari Scrub-Robin

Very curious but quite shy little birds with a characteristic tail flick they will hop right up to you sometimes if you sit very still but will retreat into dense bushes if you move.

An inquisitive Kalahari Scrub-Robin.

An inquisitive Kalahari Scrub-Robin.

Red-Eyed Bulbul

These guys hang around in the trees around the farmhouse eating the berries.

A Red-Eyed Bulbul eating a berry.

A Red-Eyed Bulbul eating a berry.

A pair of Bulbuls looking for insects.

A pair of Bulbuls looking for insects.

Namaqua Sandgrouse

Large flocks of Sandgrouse fly over everyday when I’m out with the Meerkats but catching them on the ground is far more difficult. They make a very distinctive noise which I will forever associate with being out in the field collecting data.

Namaqua Sandgrouse pair.

Namaqua Sandgrouse pair.

Namaqua Sandgrouse female.

Namaqua Sandgrouse female.

Marico Flycatcher

Seemingly quite boring plumage but these guys have a lot of character and watching them hunting small insects on the wing is very cool.

Marico Flycatcher

Marico Flycatcher


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More Meerkat Pictures!

 

 

 

 

 

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A cute group shot.

It’s been a while since my last post and it’s getting into winter here in the Kalahari with the nights and mornings getting very cold, days are still quite warm as long as there is no breeze blowing. The internet here is as bad as ever making uploading photos very difficult, it has taken at least a couple of weeks to get this one done.

The Meerkats are getting up much later these days as they don’t like the cold so the time we have to get up for “field o clock” is an almost reasonable 7:00am whereas in the summer it is more like 4:30am!

Due to the cold there are are a lot of Bat-Earred Foxes, usually only seen at night, foraging in the daytime. I still haven’t seen an Aardvark yet but as it gets colder they should also start appearing in daylight so hopefully I will be able to post some Aardvark pictures soon.

Anyway here’s a few of my best Meerkat pictures of the hundreds I have taken so far, I have plenty of pictures of the other wildlife as well so hopefully if the internet is ok I’ll get a post about birds, another with some more reptiles and hopefully one with some Bat-Earred Foxes and an Aardvark!

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The “ring of fire” technique.

 

 

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A Meerkat with a tasty Scorpion snack.

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An early morning yawn.

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A standard Meerkat portrait.

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On guard duty.

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Playtime.

 

 

 

 

 


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Kalahari Landscape

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As it is too dry to rot dead trees stand for quite a long time.

The Kuruman River Reserve, which is the land owned by the KMP, was previously a farm and the surrounding area is all farmed. The habitat ranges from arid savannah to bushveld to overgrazed scrub.  Even though the Kalahari is generally called “The Kalahari Desert” it isn’t technically a desert as the long-term average rainfall is above 250mm per year. Although there are rippled dunes and a lot of sand there is a lot more vegetation than I was expecting.

Until a couple of weeks ago there had been almost no rain and it was looking like the rains were going to fail completely this year. The livestock on our reserve and surrounding farms was dying, there was a regular smell of decomposing animals and the place was starting to look like a boneyard. The Meerkats were also looking very skinny and very few pups from this year have survived.

Too late for the rains.

Too late for the rains.

Fortunately we had about 100mm of rain in a week and now things are starting to look greener, small plants have started to emerge and flower, the Drie Doring (small bushes that are just twigs for most of the year) have started to grow leaves and the grass has started to grow shoots. All these pictures were taken before the rains but I will get some more of everything at it’s greenest however it may not rain again and we have only had a third of the yearly rainfall. The Meerkats are looking much healthier, are putting on weight and showing more interesting behaviours although there probably won’t be any more pups until next year.

 

These bushes are all looking green now. This photo shows a rare bit of cloud.

These bushes are all looking green now. This photo shows a rare bit of cloud.

One of the benefits of having to weigh the Meerkats at dawn and dusk each day is that I get to see two “golden hours” each day however I don’t generally take out my wide angle and tripod each day so I haven’t really got too many landscape photos. The sun comes up pretty quickly here so although there is almost guaranteed to be good light for photography each morning and evening it is generally too harsh for good photos 20-30 minutes after the sun comes up. Also as clouds are a rarity the sky in landscapes can be slightly boring, however when there are clouds it is nice to get some picture with nice soft light and also clouds almost definitely result in an epic sunset.

The KMP cows in the riverbed.

The KMP cows in the riverbed.


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Finally Some Meerkats!

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I have been out in the Kalahari for just about two weeks now and am starting to adjust to the heat and antisocial fieldwork hours. I have been very busy with training and have been going out with the other people here who have been showing me how to tempt the Meerkats onto the scales with hard-boiled egg, how to use the handheld computers we use to store ad lib behavioural data and how to enter the data into the database.

Not been taking my camera out quite as much as I would like as each Meerkat group has its own bag with its own set of scales (so the Meerkats don’t get the scent of other groups and to limit the spread of tuberculosis) unfortunately these Continue reading


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Visa And A Fellow Kalahari Blogger

My visa has finally arrived! I’m now all set with everything I need, all I have to do is pack and get on the plane!

I will be posting a photo packing list in the next couple of days.

Also I found Adam’s blog. He will be arriving the same time as me and is also interested in photography so if you want a different take on things check it out and follow him as well!

Welcome to Adam’s Kalahari Blog..

Adams photo of a Meerkat licking it’s balls:

Adam's photo of a Meerkat licking its balls