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Want to know if summer’s here | Listen for a Cuckoo

They may have a bad rap in literature (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Midwich Cuckoos for example) but there are few more fascinating birds than cuckoos. In Southern Africa, cuckoos are all migrants, except for the Klaas’s Cuckoo which is a resident in some lowland areas. This means that they are absent from the region for most of the year, only moving down from further north in Africa and Asia during the rainy season.

While cuckoos tend to migrate from as early as September, typically most arrive in late October to November. Most of the 15 species we have in South Africa are intra-African migrants, which means that they come down from countries further north within Africa, down to the south of the continent. There are also a few Palearctic migrants, namely the Common (European) Cuckoo and the Lesser Cuckoo, with the Common Cuckoo coming from China, Korea and Japan and the Lesser Cuckoo coming from Afghanistan and the foothills of the Himalayas. These Palearctic migrants are, however, much less common than the intra-African migrants.

One of the reasons cuckoos migrate down to our neck of the woods is to feast upon the vast insect numbers that come to life after the early summer rains have fallen – specifically to eat the processionary worms (hairy caterpillars) that you will often see huddled together on tree branches, particularly on the Velvet Corkwood tree (Commiphora mollis). In fact, cuckoos are specialised in eating the hairy caterpillars, which are – for good reason – avoided by most other birds. For their meals, cuckoos smash the caterpillars against branches and other objects to remove the caterpillar’s irritating hairs. These caterpillars are the larval stage of the reticulate bagnest moth (Anaphe reticulata).

In spite of their dark reputation (see the books mentioned above and the saying “you’ve gone cuckoo”!), cuckoos are renowned for having very musical songs. That said, not all species are known for holding a tune with the Clamator cuckoos (Levaillant’s, Jacobin and great spotted cuckoo’s) have more of a chattering, unmusical call. But a few have such characteristic songs that it has resulted in their actual common name. For example, the red-chested cuckoo is called the Piet-my-vrou in Afrikaans, which is an onomatopoeic rendition of the distinct “quid-pro-quo” sounding call it monotonously sings. The Diederick cuckoo is called a Diederikkie in Afrikaans which is also a reference to its call which sounds like “dee-dee-deederick”.

Most cuckoos that migrate to Southern Africa breed during their stay here. Their breeding behaviour is very interesting and unlike that of most other birds. All of the locally occurring cuckoos are what we call “brood parasites”. A “brood parasite” is a bird that lays its eggs or egg in another bird’s nest, in the hopes that their clutch will outcompete the host’s eggs and the host bird will incubate and raise the cuckoo’s chicks. This is done for a few reasons: the cuckoo expends less energy as it does not need to raise its own chick and by laying eggs in a few different nests, the risk is spread and therefore the chances of the chicks being successfully raised is increased. To achieve this parasitism, cuckoos have developed techniques to trick their host birds: most cuckoos have developed what is called “egg-mimicry” in which their eggs look similar in size, colour and shape to that of the host’s egg. Typically, the cuckoo will also evict an egg from the host nest, for each one she lays. When they hatch, some cuckoos – like the African emerald cuckoo and the Diederick – will even evict unhatched host eggs. After hatching (and while still blind) the hatchling will back up to the host’s egg, collect it in a special cavity and then toss it over the edge of the nest. They may do this to the host’s young chicks as well. Alternatively, the cuckoo chick will hack and peck the host chicks to death once they have hatched – and which might just help explain their reputation in popular culture! However, in some cases, the parasite and host chicks are raised together without any hostility.

Another interesting point to add is that males often perform “courtship-feeding”, in which they feed caterpillars to females in an attempt to court them. This often leads people to believe that the cuckoo is feeding one of its own, yet this is not true as no local cuckoo species raises its young.

Cuckoos are amazing birds and are fascinating even to non-twitchers, particularly for their long-distance travel, nesting behaviour and beautiful melodic calls. Unfortunately, however, catching sight of a cuckoo is not easy as they are only seen – and more often just heard – in the rainy season.

This, however, just makes their presence more special as they are here to tell us that summer has well and truly begun!

Are you keen on birds or learning more about them, have a look at our Birding in the Bush course we offer.

Still want to learn something more today, have a look at the bird quizzes we have available:

Birds & Birding

Animal Eyesight 

Bird Challenge

 

Women's Day

Women’s Day 2019 | Today and everyday we celebrate you

The field of guiding is attracting more women into the industry every day. This August EcoTraining celebrates those women who are dedicating their lives to making our natural world a nurturing one.

Jennifer Palmer, is the founder of Women for Wildlife, an organization that seeks to empower local communities and at the same time, work towards the goal of conserving wildlife. She recently spent time at all of the EcoTraining camps and was part of several courses that were running in those camps at the time.

Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer, who has a Masters Degree in International Applied Ecology and Conservation, was able to immerse herself in both the ethos of EcoTraining and the roles that women play in the South African guiding industry.

Her work and passion has taken her to more than 40 countries including in Latin America, the South Pacific and now Africa.

Her goal she says “is to bring people together with compassion to make a difference in the world”.

As a solo traveller, she shared some tips for other women who might find themselves in similar situations, listen to what she has to say on her solo travels.

She also shared her thoughts about her time at the EcoTraining camps.

Jennifer Palmer

Jennifer Palmer

Another incredible initiative is called Rise of the Matriarch have a look at their YouTube channel and follow the incredible journey all these remarkable women are on.

In honour of Women’s Day, we’ve put together a video of some of the EcoTraining Women who show us that being brave, strong and independent has never looked so good!

Women's Day

EcoTraining TV – Women’s Day 2019

There are so many women out there that are making a difference every single day. We want you all to know that we appreciate your drive and dedication to the industry.

If you have a passion, a dream and a drive for conservation then take a look at the courses or careers available at EcoTraining.

 

Kate Ochsman

To all you future female guides, you can do it!

Kate Ochsman took an EcoTraining one-year Professional Guide Course and she wanted to share to all the future female guides or those who are thinking about joining this industry that you can do it and here is why…

A message from Kate:

When you think of Safari, conservation, being a field guide, a ranger…the first thing that comes to mind is, “He must be living the life”. Surrounded by wildlife each & every day, getting to drive an awesome 4 x 4 vehicle, being submerged by the ruggedness of the bush, fixing things with his hands, living a simple lifestyle with only pure nature as his surroundings.

What a man!

Mwambe Pan Makuleke

Overlooking Mwambe Pan

“But wait…WHAT?

You are a woman!

This is a man’s world!

You don’t belong here!

This is far too tough for you to handle!”

EcoTraining Trails Guide Course

Kate on Trail

“Tell me, lady, can you even handle a rifle?

What if there’s a big animal encounter?

Will you be able to handle that situation? If it arises?

Not even to mention all the hard labour you have to do!”

Well my fellow fella’s, that time is long gone.

On Safari

Kate on Safari with an Elephant

Me myself also coming in with that mind-set taking my first steps into the Safari/Wildlife industry. But I must admit there was a rude awakening that lurked around the corner for me.

A man will be a man and there is always this little “macho-man” temperament that will surface every time the boys get together.

“Who can do it the quickest?”

“How close can you get?”

“Who can shoot the best?’’

And the list goes on…

It is here where I saw, not some, but all the ladies stepping up and showing the guys how it’s done.

Being in this industry but more so being part of a company who provides training to the future of this industry, I can write this with great pleasure and excitement that the future looks bright. Especially with all our female counterparts joining this magnificent, exciting wild world.

What I came to see is that they CAN do it.

Better

With elegance

Confidently

Gracefully

And with so much enthusiasm, knowledge and power.

On Safari

Kate Ochsman

Still being the feminine you.

And still, feel beautiful and sexy as hell.

Ladies, You CAN do it…and you are welcome to.

Your skill, knowledge and elegance will leave this industry empty if you are not part of it.

You are strong.

You are confident.

You are powerful beyond all measure.

Here I am leaving you with a classic but oh so powerful quote from one of my favourite movies…Cool Runnings.

“Look in the mirror and tell me what you see!”

“I see Junior”

“You see Junior? Well, let me tell you what I see.

I see pride!

I see power!

I see a badass mother who doesn’t take no crap off of nobody!” To all you future female guides, you can do it!

Kate on Safari

Kate on Safari with another Elephant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to know more about Kate?

In the video below, we have Kate Ochsman. An American woman from Los Angeles who is not trying to but showing us all that it can be done. Showing everyone that you still feel like a lady or listen to Kate’s interview on Sound Cloud. You can also follow Kate’s journey and her life after EcoTraining on Instagram.

America to Africa

EcoTraining TV – America to Africa

Matabele ants at Karongwe Camp

Matabele ants get their name from the mighty Matabele tribe as they equally go to war with termites the same way the Matabele tribe use to overwhelm their adversaries.

David Batzofin (cc)

The participants on the EcoQuest course at Karongwe Camp came upon this Matabele Ant raiding party setting out. Also known as hissing ants because of the sound they emit, they live on a diet comprised solely of termites.

David Batzofin (cc)

Although the Matabele raiding party featured extensively during the morning drive, there was time to focus on other interesting interactions that were taking place close by. Like this African Harrier Hawk and Fork-tailed Drongo.

Equipped with long scaly legs and a long neck for getting into the cracks and crevices, the large grey raptor also known as a gymnogene was busy searching in this tree as to where chicks and eggs might be concealed.

In this scenario, it is possible that the Drongo did have a nest it was protecting. This relatively small bird will dive-bomb large raptors that are intent on killing their offspring or just out of defense.

David Batzofin (cc)

When first discovered, the participants watched as the raiding party set out in a very organized manner. Then, one of their scouts took a wrong turn, leading to total confusion within the party until the issue was resolved and they could move off with confidence.

David Batzofin (cc)

Another diversion, this time to take a moment to look at some of the flora that we can observe during morning activity. The Black Stick Lily is known as the Monkey’s Tail, derived from its Afrikaans name ‘Bobbejaan’s stert’ (Baboon’s Tail).

This is a resilient plant that can withstand extreme conditions and can also go for long periods of time without water. Their medicinal properties include the treatment of asthma and as an anti-inflammatory.

David Batzofin (cc)

Instructor, Michael Anderson, wondering what the result would be if he stuck his fist into the path of the returning raiding party. The bite of this ant, although not toxic to humans, can be very painful and can cause swelling.

David Batzofin (cc)

This particular species of ant is the only one that look after those that get injured during a raid. Much like the US Marines, they try not to leave anyone behind and will tend to the wounded on the site of the battle. The treatment is only carried out on individuals who have lost one or two limbs.

David Batzofin (cc)

From the time they left their nest until they returned with their spoils, less than an hour had elapsed. As they were not under constant surveillance, it is not certain as to how far they had to go to reach the termite mound.

David Batzofin (cc)

The returning raiding party with their spoils. As their diet consists only of termites, they returned with as many as they could carry. Interestingly enough a raiding party will not return to an already raided termite mound immediately. Thus giving the termites a chance to replenish their losses. These ants do not forage individually, but only as a large coordinated party.

David Batzofin (cc)

The successful and victorious raiding party disappears into the grass to share and enjoy the fruits of their labour with the rest of the colony.