December 31, 2021

Highlights of 2021

As 2021 draws to a close, I have jotted down some thoughts about this year with regard to my passion for nature and making observations for iNaturalist.

I have made more observations this year compared to last year. In part this was due to less strict lockdown restrictions, which meant more freedom of movement. Another factor was that i had more time on my hands than would be the case, as I was unemployed for the first half of the year. If you look at my calendar for 2021 you will see a big drop-off in observations from August onwards - this is due to me landing a job with the help of my friends (which is a story unto itself). In the future I hope to build a career which will allow me to have time off to observe more often.

Sightings of note this year:

Cinnamon-breasted bunting irruption to CPT - the first noteworthy event for me of this year. Cinnamon-breasted buntings are normally found only in the eastern parts of South Africa. However, in April-May 2021, there was a small irruption of this species in Cape Town. Why they ended up here is anyone's guess. Luckily for me, they chose to stay in a very accessible part of Cape Town - along the Tafelberg road that runs in front of Table Mountain, where one can park and go up in the cable car to the top. I found them after some time searching slowly and carefully along the road (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/77090532). I am glad that I got to see this species that I normally wouldn't otherwise.

Southern Elephant Seal - these seals are infrequent visitors to South African coastal waters, with a number of individuals hauling out over the years to moult. I was impressed with this seal's size (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/72084508).

It was a good day for mammals on this day at Cape Point. I also saw for the first time the Grey Rhebok (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/72105250). This shy antelope is the namesake of the famous Reebok company.

In April, I caught wind of a Olive Woodpecker pair preparing to nest at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden - so without further ado i went to see them. The male (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/73387268) and female (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/73386744) were sharing equal responsibility in drilling the hole for their breeding nest.

It was the first time I had ever seen woodpeckers in my life! It was fun watching these industrious birds at work; the way they braced themselves against the trunk, with their specially-adapted zygodactyl feet and stiffened tail feathers (as can be seen in the photos), and the robotic manner in which they moved their head from side to side, marked them as unlike any other bird I've seen.

I saw a new bird species - the Acacia Pied Barbet (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/74413881) - on a Cape Bird Club outing to Majik Forest in Bellville (this area falls slightly out of the CBC's region). I also saw African Black Duck and Black Sparrowhawk (both firsts) separately, but as they were in rapid flight I could not get photos of either of these species.

A highlight was my evening visit to Tokai at night for the City Nature Challenge. There, we saw a Puff Adder with beautiful markings (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/76300191), a tiny Cape Dwarf Chameleon that I had the luck of spotting (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/76298786), and a sleeping Nomad dragonfly (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/76296327).

The puff adder showed very clearly the true nature of snakes, even venomous ones: they are mostly shy creatures that want nothing to do with humans, and they are not the monsters that are built up in human imagination.

The dragonfly I observed was utterly motionless, and did not react at all to the light of the torches the group held; there was not an iota of movement in its body or wings. It looked for all the world like a beautiful ornament that nature had made and placed on the branch for us to behold.

It was a moment of awe for me, as I gained for myself a deeply intimate look at the otherwise hidden aspect of a dragonfly that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Leopard Seal - (2 different individuals):

Two highly unusual creatures turned up on the shoreline - both leopard seals from Antarctica! Both also ended up in the same general area. The first (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/87258678) turned up and stayed for a couple of days before returning to sea. The second, a female (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/91036609), arrived about a month later, and also stayed for a few days. Sadly she died; she was taken to be autopsied, although I never heard back what the actual cause of death was.

African Spoonbill - https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/99484908

The African Spoonbill is not a bird species that I get to see very often, so to see one up close (about 3-5 metres away from the hide) on a day in the Great Southern Bioblitz 2021 challenge (the southern hemisphere's equivalent of the City Nature Challenge) was icing on the cake.

In August, I met up with Margaret Maciver as I wanted to see a Black Sparrowhawk nest. We went through the tree plantation and found the nest without too much trouble. I was so pleased to be able to see the mother (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/91990571) and the chicks (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/91990572). The best part is that we came early enough that we found the mother feeding her chicks breakfast! After they were done feeding, the mother sparrowhawk took the carcass and flew away with it. She then returned within a few minutes. Unfortunately the father was nowhere to be seen.

While we had been walking to the nest, Margaret and her companion were discussing the Lesser Honeyguide that had been calling out, declaring his presence to potential mates. We had looked up hoping to catch a glimpse of it, but no luck. After we had spent some time observing the sparrowhawks, I saw a bird flit overhead and took a picture of it (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/91990573), not thinking much of it. Well, as fate would have it, I had inadvertently photographed the very bird that we had been talking about earlier!

As we left the Black Sparrowhawk nest, we walked back towards the side where Margaret and her companion had parked their cars. Then we heard another bird call - this time of the Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk. A male-female pair had arrived unusually early for the time of the year (they usually breed slightly later in the year). The female (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/91990580) was clearly scouting the area for prospective nest sites, flying to and fro, while the male (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/91990584) shirked his duty and simply sat in one tree, letting the female do all the work. I think he was just tired of having marital disagreements with his missus!

All-in-all, this was a particularly productive outing - three new bird species and all of them awesome. Not bad at all.

Another new bird species for me this year was the Cape Rock-Thrush, which are usually found in the mountains. However, I saw this individual (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/102863023) not during the hike my friends and I had just completed earlier that day, but in the garden of the restaurant we had chosen to refresh ourselves in!

Posted on December 31, 2021 17:15 by dinofelis dinofelis | 19 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 28, 2021

1000 Species!

I am thrilled that my species tally on iNat is now over 1,000 species!

I have been thinking of making a Journal post for a while, and having achieved the milestone of 1,000 species, thought this as good a starting point as any.

I've really enjoyed using iNaturalist for the past two years since starting in Jan 2020. Since then, I have made almost 3,500 observations covering the 1,000 species.

The 3,500 observations have mostly been made in my home region of South Africa's Western Cape province, with some made in the neighbouring countries as far north as Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. Most have been made this year and last year, with some retrieved from my saved files of trips taken in previous years, such as in 2015.

The 1,000 species are broken down as per below:

  • Birds - 221 species (Cape White-Eye, Egyptian Goose, Red-winged Starling, Hadedah Ibis and Southern Double-Collared Sunbird being most observed)
  • Mammals - 51 species (Cape Fur Seal and Chacma Baboon most commonly observed)
  • Reptiles - 16 species (Southern Rock Agama most observed)
  • Amphibians - 5 species (Cape River Frog most observed)
  • Fish - 10 species (Mozambique Tilapia most observed)
  • Molluscs - 16 species (Cornu aspersum most observed)
  • Insects - 134 species (Cape Honeybee most observed)
  • Arachnids - 10 species (orbweavers most observed)
  • Crustaceans - 11 species (Shore Crab Cyclograpsus punctatus, European Shorecrab Carcinus maenas, and the hermit crab Diogenes brevirostris most observed)
  • Plants - 494 species (Zantedeschia aethiopica, Protea repens most observed)
  • Fungi - 19 species (Port Jackson Gall Rust Uromycladium morrisii and Oak Mazegill Daedalea quercina most observed)
  • Other - 1 species (Protea Witches Broom phytoplasma)

As can be seen here, I tend to gravitate towards more easily identifiable organisms (namely, birds, mammals, and plants). This is both due to my own natural bias and the fact that many arthropods cannot be identified to species level unless their body parts are dissected.

That said, I hope to make many more observations with the hopefully realised goal of 2,000 species! With the high biodiversity here in South Africa, this should be an achievable goal.

Posted on December 28, 2021 17:00 by dinofelis dinofelis | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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