A week or so ago I wrote about the Longcrested Eagle expanding its range, so it was particularly exciting to find one of these “expanded” eagles last week. Some of you may have noticed that we have become “frequent flyers” to the Cavern and it was there that we saw a Longcrested Eagle last week, the first ever recorded on their bird list. It did all the right things, like flying overhead to show its great white hand patches; it landed in a nearby tree to show off the almost comic long crest; there was no chance of mis-identification here. This bird had to work quite hard to find this little haven of indigenous forest. To get to the ‘berg one passes through a lot of flat, mealie country but I suppose that there are plenty of telegraph posts along the way providing excellent hunting vantage points. I am sure that the stately rows of plumed mealies have their fair share of vlei rats and other tasty morsels bustling about in their leafy avenues. Another factor to consider is that an “expanding” bird will be a young bird, not yet fully qualified to own a nest and mate and territory, so a tall tree to build a nest in will not be a necessity for the journey, but rather the reason to travel. So a high perch from which to hunt and a safe roost for the night can be equated to a restaurant along N3 and an adequate B&B! Now we have to hope that a bird of the opposite sex follows this same route and ends up at the Cavern.

The antics of the Pintailed Whydah continue to fascinate me and I am beginning to think that their behaviour in a real wild situation is definitely different to that in our suburban gardens. In my garden, “The Punk” as he has been named, continues to chase and harry anyone brave enough to come to the feeder and still steadfastly ignores the couple of lady whydahs that feed there. Size does matter as the Speckled Mousebirds and Blackcollared Barbets are left alone to devour their apple, even though this all takes place on the same swinging feeder. But how different it was up at the Cavern. There, over a patch of damp grassland, I watched as a smart male whydah primped and pranced and when exhausted, retired to a nearby telegraph wire to rest. The waving grasses below him held an assortment of lady widows and bishops and whydahs and the different males appeared more intent on attracting their own ladies than trying to chase anyone else away. The dance routine and the length of the tail seemed more important than the ability to duff over an innocent bystander. The Pintailed Whydah’s favoured host is the Common Waxbill but I have not noticed this bird getting any special attention either. The life of a brood parasite does seem to be quite a hit and miss affair in this instance!

By Sally Johnson

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