The old adage that the eyes are the windows to the soul seems especially profound when you are looking into the eyes of an elephant. They seem very wise old souls, and their slow, ponderous grace deepens your impression of meeting a venerable elder. This elephant’s delicate long lashes protect its eyes from dust and debris. The white ring around its iris is called the arcus lipoides and is a sign of ageing in elephants, like the circles in a tree trunk.
Barn Owls are the most common owl in the world, appearing on every continent. Western Barn Owls occur throughout southern Africa and often nest in abandoned human-made structures such as old buildings and mines. They are particularly endearing because of their pretty dark eyes and their heart-shaped, gold-framed faces. Many African stories associate owls with death and in some parts of Africa they are still killed because of this. However, South African municipalities are now encouraging owls to live in and around cities as a natural means of controlling rodent populations.
Warthogs are often a favorite with visitors to the bush because of their charming ugliness and their predilection towards making adorable babies. Warthogs are usually involved in some or other interesting pastime: on their front knees drinking water; enjoying mud baths which stifle parasites and keep them cool; or mating, with blissed-out faces, as their youngsters wander around them. Other times they can be seen streaking across the bushveld in an anxious line demonstrating what ‘hightailing it’ really means.
An insect hovers close to a Gurney’s Sugarbird, potentially becoming its breakfast. Sugarbirds are so-named because of their diet of nectar, which they gather from flowers using their long, curved beaks. Gurney’s Sugarbird predominantly feeds from protea, aloe, Watsonia and Eucalyptus flowers, but they also snack on insects. These sugarbirds do not have tails as splendidly long as the Cape Sugarbird, but they make up for it by having a more melodious song. Gurney’s Sugarbirds are endemic to southern Africa and are mostly found in montane areas.
Cuddles and curiosity. Ground squirrels spend at least 10% of their waking hours socialising. The rest is spent feeding and keeping an eye out for predators such as snakes, jackals and monitor lizards. These ground squirrels are native to Africa, unlike the tree squirrels found in the Cape Town Company Gardens, which were imported by Cecil John Rhodes.
A group of lechwe surge through a swamp. Although these handsome antelopes are grazers, they feed on aquatic plants and are far better at running and swimming through water than at running on land. Lechwe are found in Botswana, Zambia, and in parts of the DRC, Namibia, and Angola. They are commonly seen in the Caprivi, Okavango, Kafue and Bangweulu Swamps. This antelope is sometimes referred to with more specific names such as southern or red lechwe.
This intense-looking juvenile Amur Falcon was most likely born in eastern Asia, and flew a long journey through India to enjoy the southern African summer. It is difficult to tell the sex of this bird at this stage. If it’s female, it will not change substantially, but if it’s male, its feathers will darken to a slaty grey. This kestrel-like falcon is often seen with Lesser Kestrels, perching on telephone wires or fences.
This beady-eyed, alert stance is typical of the Cape Longclaw. These birds often crane their necks to identify possible dangers, showing off their exquisite butternut-coloured throats in the process. Longclaws are fun to watch because they often hunt on the ground by bounding through low grass or fynbos on their supersized feet. It is especially rewarding for overseas birders to spot these birds as they are endemic to southern Africa.
A Greater Kestrel devours a snake. They also eat insects, scorpions, spiders, birds and other reptiles, and have a slightly unusual habit of storing their prey under a tuft of grass or a stone. Greater Kestrels may be mistaken for juvenile Rock or Lesser Kestrels, but their cream-coloured eyes are distinctive. These birds of prey are at home in dry grasslands, cultivated land, and arid areas, and this is a typical sort of perch for them to alight on.
The extraordinary Grey Crowned Crane is a very gregarious bird outside of the breeding season, and has been known to gather in huge flocks. These birds perform extravagant mating dances in which they dance, bow and leap around, pumping their blonde afros up and down to woo their chosen mates. They are also identifiable by their loud, honking call - ‘ma-HEM’ - a sound they have been named for in IsiZulu (uNohemu), Afrikaans (i), Sesotho (lehehemu), and in isiXhosa (Ihem).
The White-backed Vulture has the widest geographical range of southern Africa’s vultures. It is common in savanna areas but not in healthy numbers, so it is listed as a near-threatened species. It is both exciting and macabre to see a vulture in the wild, as these birds are always on the lookout for a kill. It’s fascinating to witness them wheeling majestically on wind thermals. In flight they are easily distinguishable from other birds of prey because of the fringe of feathers on their wingtips which is splayed like outstretched fingers.
A white rhino mother and calf graze peacefully in the setting sun. Mother rhinos are extremely protective of their young, which may suckle for up to twelve months. Rhinos can live for up to fifty years, and it takes six to seven years for them to reach sexual maturity. They only have one calf every two to three years. This slow reproduction rate is one of the major reasons why poaching has such a devastating effect on rhino populations.
This exquisite little Orange River White-eye was once classified as a Cape White-eye, however their blushing peach flanks are clearly dissimilar to their Cape cousins, and the two birds occupy quite different territories. The Orange River White-eye has a higher-pitched song than the Cape White-eye earning it the alternative name of the Warbling White-eye.
All’s fair in love and war, and this is a bit of both. This male and female lizard are not fighting, they are mating. The exquisite bright yellow spots on this male lizard’s back indicate that it is breeding season for this reptilian pair. This photograph was taken in the Drakensberg mountains which are home to many fascinating varieties of lizards.
A female kudu browses on a thorn tree. Kudu have the ability to digest plants that other animals may avoid, but they can succumb to tannin poisoning. When kudu nibble at acacias, the tannins in the leaves increase. This makes them unpalatable and discourages browsing antelope from denuding a whole tree. The nibbled leaves also release ethylene into the air which stimulates nearby acacias to increase their tannins within a few minutes. This means kudu have to be free to roam over a large area to avoid being forced to eat toxic levels of indigestible tannins.
A grey-beaked juvenile Greater Flamingo flies with the same gangling grace as his five adult companions. The flamboyant pink, coral and black colouring of these flamingos is outmatched only by their smaller cousins, the entirely coral-pink Lesser Flamingo. Flamingos prefer water so salty and brackish that it is abhorrent to most creatures. They deal with this by excreting salt through glands in their nostrils.