The giant’s small but colourful raiders

This is the fourth post from our trip to Giant’s Castle in the central berg which is part of the Drakensberg mountain range in the centre of South Africa. One of the main attractions is the vulture hide which is about five kilometres from the Giant’s Castle camp where the hide is located on the edge of a plateau in the middle berg. The hide is for bird watchers and photographers alike. Being in high demand the hide has to be booked, especially over weekends. One of the main functions of the hide is to put bones out in the open to feed the bearded vultures. This has become necessary because  the bearded vultures have become endangered due to humans encroaching on their habitat.

“Fascination is one step beyond interest. Interested people want to know if it works. Fascinated people want to learn how it works.” ~Jim Rohn

We leave bones out on the grass shelf in front of the hide. Raiders such as White-necked ravens and Red-winged starlings are the first to tuck into the daily feast. The Jackal buzzards and Cape vultures also come in to have a look. More surprisingly, there are an amazing assortment of small feathered visitors which come into partake in the feast. Some come in to feed on the grass seed and insects in front of the hide. For some unknown reason, there seems to be a regular routine to the visitors arrival. The Yellow bishops come in at first light to feed on the grass seed as do the Speckled pigeons. After an hour or so they leave. It makes me wonder whether the grass exposes its seed at intervals.

“I think everyone has some fascination with what’s outside our existence. It’s a constant journey to find the truth.”Nicholas Lea

A view from the west side of the hide at around 7h30 in the morning.

As the sun rises higher in the sky the light changes and the distant mountains take on a blue hue.

The hide is located high on the side of a ridge in the middle berg. There is a steep drop off below the hide. If you look carefully the hide is on the skyline of the ridge, about two fifths from the left hand side of the image. .

If all life were eternal all interest and anticipation would vanish. It is uncertainty which lends its fascination.”~ Yoshida Kenko

A female Yellow bishop puffed up as it was quite chilly first thing in the morning, being winter.

The female Yellow bishops came in twice a day – in the early morning and again around mid-afternoon. They are seed eaters and I wonder why they would visit twice a day –  it makes me wonder whether the grasses progressively expose their seeds?

The Speckled pigeons came in first thing in the morning and only foraged for seeds. We only saw one pair at a time.

The male fluffed out his neck feathers as a sign he was impressed by the female close by.

I was surprised to see a Fiscal shrike, or “Butcher bird” as we call it, at such a high elevation.  I would not have thought there were many insects  at that altitude in mid-winter. The one thing I have learnt about the hide is that my expectations are frequently confounded.

Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.” ~ Wayne Dyer

When birds are able, they carry a bit of fat to use as ‘fuel’ during their day-to-day lives. It looks like a smear of butter under their pink, almost translucent, skin.  Fat is what keeps birds going through the day and, more importantly, the night. A bird has to eat enough to make sure it has the energy it needs – not just for flying, running and singing, but also to keep itself alive overnight. Keeping warm takes a considerable amount of energy, so heavier (fatter) birds are more likely to survive a cold snap. Birds weigh less in the mornings than in the evenings before they go to roost, because of the fat they ‘burn’ overnight. Fat reserves can also see a bird through periods of bad weather when feeding is difficult or impossible, and migrating birds feed up before setting off. In this context it is understandable that these smaller birds congregate around the hide to feed on the fat on the bones put out for the Bearded vultures. Wild birds don’t get obese. They live high-energy lives, but by putting out food we give them a little more leeway.

A pair of Orange-throated longclaws, now called Cape longclaws, arrived. They  are endemic to South Africa.

These longclaws were foraging for insects but were also partial to the fat on the bones.The long claw on the back toes is distinctive but you need to see them on rocks not in the grass to see the toes. I am not sure why they have long toes other than because they forage in long grass and need to grasp the grass stems.

“For the 99 percent of the time we’ve been on Earth, we were hunter and gatherers, our lives depend on knowing the fine, small details of our world.  Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine.”  ~ Janine M. Benyus

This bird looks like a pipit but stands more upright and has a distinctive orange throat and upper breast patch bordered by a black necklace marking.

“When you realise there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lao Tzu

A Familiar chat is a drab greyish brown colour. They arrived to forage for insects but also seemed to enjoy the fat on the bones. Being small they had to wait for the larger birds to move away before they could partake. Size counts in the feast.

Chats have that distinctive three or four flicks of their wings just after they have landed.

The Familiar chat is found throughout southern Africa but prefers rocky and mountainous terrain.

A female Cape rock thrush. Like the Familiar chat this species prefers rocky and mountainous terrain.

A male Cape rock thrush. This species differs from the Sentinel rock thrush in that it does not have blue on its back. The grey-blue colouring is only on the head and neck.

“Man is not himself only…He is all that he sees; all that flows to him from a thousand sources…He is the land, the lift of its mountain lines, the reach of its valleys.”  ~ Mary Austin

The view from just above the hide in the late afternoon looking south west into the upper berg.

We were fortunate to see Greater double-collared sunbirds and Gurney sugarbirds but I was not able to photograph them. One of the more colourful visitors was this Bokmakierie. 

We heard the beautiful call of the Bokmakierie before we saw it. Birds do not have vocal chords like humans but use their tongue and mouth to create their unique calls. Birds have a syrinx, our equivalent of a voice box, but it is at the bottom of the windpipe not at the top as in humans. Bokmakieries are also known for their duets. The duet is thought to be musical rather than a visual means of bonding.

With a little patience and quiet nature will slowly reveal herself.

“Go out, go out, I beg of you!
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth,
With all the wonder of a child.” ~ Edna Jaques

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


One thought on “The giant’s small but colourful raiders

  1. Hi Mike Wonderful post. Love the scenery and the birds and the comments – the latter always pertinent and moving. Axx

    P.S. Any chance of quick snack tonight before I leave. If not not will be in touch when I get back on the 11/11. Axx


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