A letter from Terry

Hi Valerie
It is more than a week since we left the farm or should I say tore ourselves away.
To write in the guest book is a great way of expressing the amazing stay we had, but I just wanted to personally thank you.
Thank you so much of allowing us to share a part of your piece of paradise. Everything was just so fantastic.
Janis (my wife) turned 60 on the day we arrived. She had no idea where we were going, only that I was taking her away for the week. I cannot tell you how excited she became when we entered the main gate and came around to the dam and saw a pair of Blue Cranes doing the dance. That was the start of our incredible stay.
We so enjoyed feeding the Lambs, the Ducks and the Alpacas! We felt like kids again! We even drank goats’ milk which was surprisingly nice.
Then there is Tsala! What a treasure you have in her. So efficient and friendly – a huge asset you have in her!  Wow!
We were sad to leave but we have tons of photos to look back on and I mean tons. Janis is an artist so she sees art in just about everything even the dew on the grass so she clicks and clicks away.
I hope when we next visit, we will meet. Please  give Tsala our regards
Warm Regards
Terry
 PS  I’ve attached a few pics
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Blue Cranes chasing Cape Fox!

We are very excited to have Cape Town based wildlife photographer, Stephen Hammer and his wife, with us in a fortnight’s time. Stephen and his wife will go on night-time and early morning expeditions to see if they can take photos of our two families of Bat-eared foxes. Yes, we’ll tell you all about them once we have photos to show you! We have also seen the occasional Cape Fox on the farm.

The Cape fox (Vulpes chama), also called the cama fox or the silver-backed fox, is a small fox with black or silver gray fur with flanks and underside in light yellow. The tip of its tail is always black.

The Cape fox tends to be 45 to 61 cm (17.7–24 inches) long, not including its 30 to 40 cm (11.8-15.75 inch) tail. It is 28 to 33 cm (11–13 in) tall at the shoulder, and usually weighs from 3.6 to 5 kg (8–11 lbs).

As most foxes, they are nocturnal and most active just before dawn or after dusk. During the day, it typically shelters in burrows underground, holes, hollows, or dense thickets. It is an active digger that will excavate its own burrow, although it generally modifies an abandoned burrow of another species, such as the springhare, to its specific requirements. They are solitary creatures, and although they form mated pairs, the males and females are often found alone, as they tend to forage separately. They are not especially territorial but will mark their territories with a pungent scent. Although a normally silent fox, the Cape fox is known to communicate with soft calls, whines or chirps. However, it will utter a loud bark when alarmed. When in an aggressive mood, the Cape fox is known to growl and spit at its attacker. To show its excitement, the fox lifts its tail, the height of the tail often indicating the measure of excitement.

Cape foxes are omnivorous and will eat plants or animals. Although they prefer invertebrates and small mammals such as rodents, they are opportunists and known to hunt and eat reptiles, rabbits, spiders, birds, and young hares. They will also eat eggs, beetle larvae, and carrion, as well as most insects or fruits. Cape foxes have been reported to be able to kill lambs up to three months of age, although this is a rare occurrence.

Enjoy these amazing photos Stephen took of Blue Cranes and Cape Foxes near Caledon. These Blue Cranes did not like the family of Cape Foxes being in the same field as them. The birds actually chased the foxes all the way to their den and kept them there for a good while.

Stephen, in his own words, has “an almost child like fascination for all creatures, both great and small. I am constantly astounded and amazed at just how intricate, ingenious and smart Mother Nature is. If we are prepared open our eyes, Mother Nature will reveal her beauty and magnificence to anybody who has the patience and desire to see and learn.

I am always amazed at how few people out there realize just how much bird and wildlife there is here in Cape Town.

I believe that if we educate and make people aware of what we have here on our doorstep,  maybe they will take more care of the environment. The more people that are aware of nature, the more potential custodians of nature we will have. I would like my grandchildren to see what I’ve seen, not in a photograph, but alive, wild and free.

We are very fortunate to have the most unbelievable abundance of both fauna and flora right here on our doorstep. We are truly spoilt for choice in that we have wetlands, forests, arid semi-desert,  mountains, grasslands, coastal marshes and beaches, all within a 150km radius of the city center.

It is with a great sense of pride that I can show the rest of the world just how beautiful and magnificent the wildlife and landscapes of Cape Town and South Africa truly are…”

Stephen’s website: http://stephenhammer.co.za

To read more about the Blue Crane, South-Africa’s national bird: https://landmeterskop.com/2014/08/10/blue-cranes-our-national-bird-landmeterskop/

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Canola-time in the Overberg!

The Cape Overberg is an incredibly diverse area of South Africa with scenes of striking beauty – a natural visual smorgasbord for amateur and professional photographers: from stunning seascapes with a backdrop of breathtaking mountains, covered in beautiful fynbos, hidden valleys and waterfalls; to patchworks of rolling hills of wheat fields in various shades of green interspersed with bright yellow canola patches in late winter and spring. In summer the colours change to varying shades of gold with the ripening of the wheat, and during harvest the fields are dotted with hay bales. After the fields have been ploughed, the scenes once again change to various shades of red and brown according to the soil. Grazing sheep and cattle, Blue cranes, and various other bird species flying overhead, or feeding in the fields add to these bucolic scenes. It is also an area with a rich history, quaint villages and their quirky characters. To whet your appetite and get you out for a weekend away on a photography outing, here are some beautiful pictures of canola fields by Jan Hendrik van Straaten of Caledon.

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Blue Cranes, our national bird @ Landmeterskop

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A pair of Blue Cranes at Landmeterskop

 

The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) belongs to the family Gruidae and is South Africa’s national bird.

The blue crane is currently listed as vunerable in the Eskom Red Data Book of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland and the 2010 International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List.  There are many threats facing the blue crane such as poisoning, illegal trade, habitat destruction, power line collisions, active persecution by landowners and many more.

Although the blue crane faces many threats, many conservation measures have been put in place to protect the species by various conservation bodies like the South African Crane Conservation Programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Overberg Crane Group. These groups have managed to form wonderful working relationships with landowners whose property the cranes live on, their staff, as well as the general public, in an effort to protect the blue crane.

DISTRIBUTION

The blue crane is a near-endemic to South Africa with a small isolated population of about 60-80 birds occurring around the Etosha Pans in Namibia and a few isolated birds in Botswana and Swaziland.  It is the most range restricted of all the cranes in the world and is abundant in limited areas of its range, but is rare in most areas of South Africa.

Within South Africa there are three main strongholds of this population.  The first is in the Overberg/Swartland regions of the Western Cape Province, the second is the central Karoo population of the southeastern region of the Northern Cape province and the western regions of the Eastern Cape province extending into the southern regions of the Free State, while the third is situated along the eastern section of the country and includes the southern parts of Mpumalanga, the northeastern Free State and parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

Historically, blue cranes occurred mainly in the grassland biome along the eastern section of the country.  The loss of the natural grasslands in the Free State, Northern Province, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, and the replacement of the natural vegetation with wheat and dryland pastures in the wheat producing regions of the Swartland and Overberg in the Western Cape, changed the distribution and demographics of the blue crane population.

Today the largest numbers of blue cranes can be found in the Western Cape (± 12 000 birds), with a smaller population in the Northern/Eastern Cape (± 5 000 birds) and the rest (± 5 000 birds) occurring in the remainder of its current distribution range.

HABITAT

Blue cranes are mostly independent of wetlands and this allows them to be more widespread than the other crane species within South Africa.  With regards to natural vegetation, within South Africa the species can be found in the open grasslands and the grassland/Karoo ecotone, while in Namibia it occurs in the grasslands and dwarf shrublands fringing the pans.  The species is frequently found in agricultural fields and in the Western Cape it is restricted to cereal crop fields and dryland pastures.

FEEDING HABITS

Evidence suggest that the blue crane is primarily vegetarian and eats small bulbs, seeds and roots.  They do, however, eat a variety of insects (locusts, termites, caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, etc.), worms, crabs, fish, frogs, reptiles, and small mammals.  The blue crane is often reported doing damage in various agricultural crops, like wheat, barley and lucern.  In most cases the birds are feeding on spilled grain.  In the Overberg, they regularly feed from feed bins set out for sheep and ostriches.  Birds feed mostly by pecking, but they do dig using their bills.

BREEDING HABITS

Blue cranes only pair with one mate (monogamous), and despite being very social animals are extremely territorial while breeding, driving any other blue cranes from the breeding territory.  They nest in summer and the laying date can be anytime between August and April. Non-breeding birds form non-breeding flocks during this period.  After the chicks have fledged, they together with the adults join the non-breeding flocks to form large over-wintering groups.

Blue cranes nest in wetlands, open grasslands, Karoo and agricultural areas, where all-round visibility is good.  The birds often return to the same area and nest in the vicinity of the previous year’s nest.  Generally the nest is a scrape in the ground with a few stones and sheep dung scraped together.  In wetlands, however, they usually nest on a pad of vegetation.

A pair of blue cranes is said to mate for life and display a wonderful courtship dance which comprises of the two individuals jumping up and down with their wings extended. The birds are mature at about three to five years of age.  They usually lay two eggs with an incubation period of 30 to 33 days and both male and female incubate the eggs. Both chicks are frequently reared with each attempt and are fed on an initial diet of insect larvae and worms. The chicks are able to fly at about three to five months. The parents are very protective of their young and will guard them aggressively.

Mortality of chicks is high during the first year and is caused by a variety of disturbances. The following breeding season, the young juveniles will join the large flocks of non-breeding birds.

MIGRATION

Blue cranes are migratory only within South Africa and only within certain regions.  Little is known about the migratory habits and published statements are often contradictory.  In the Western Cape, evidence from satellite tracking and colour ringing suggest very localised movements within this region.

MOULTING

Blue cranes are known to go through both a partial moult as well as a complete moult, when they become flightless.  On the Agulhas plains, blue cranes go through a synchronised moulting during the second half of summer.  Birds going through flightless moult form large flocks in areas where disturbance is less frequent and close to water bodies into which they can escape when threatened.  Birds going through a complete moult tend to be skittish and move away at the first sign of disturbance.  The cranes seem to use specific sites for moulting and these sites need to be identified and conserved. The time needed to re-grow flight feathers could take up to two months.

Information and photo of egg,  directly taken from: www.bluecrane.org.za

How can you get involve and help save our cranes?

The Endangered Wildlife Trust has discovered that putting markers on power lines can help, but in order to know which lines to mark, they need to know more about the cranes’ movements. This is where you come in!

This valuable GPS data can be crowd-sourced by the general public using the Tracking the Wild platform. And it’s really pretty simple; this is what you need to do:

1. Download the Android app or create a free account on trackingthewild.com

2. Upload your sighting of the blue crane and mark the GPS location on the map. If you’ve taken the photo with your smartphone or a GPS-enable camera then the location will populate automatically. If you didn’t manage to get a picture then don’t worry, the sighting is just as important!

3. Mark how many birds you saw as well as the date and time.

4. We’ll automatically submit the data to the Endangered Wildlife Trust so that they can use it for their research.

Although July has been dubbed ‘blue crane spotting month’ in the Western Cape, all sightings – new and old – are important. We can all play a part in conserving this magnificent bird for future generations to come.