What’s on the Menu?

This is another post on the theme of baboon foraging  – whether a seafood repast, or vegetarian delight, the baboons here on the Cape Peninsula are masters at sourcing a varied diet.  Though at times there are opportunities to raid for ‘human derived food’, for the most part they’re out foraging in the natural environment.

I came across this scene in the late afternoon when this troop of baboons was making it’s way to an overnight sleep-site.  Most had well stocked cheek pouches but a few were still adding to this stash with a last snack or two.  Of interest was a mother with a baby riding jockey-style, confidently perched atop her back, munching on a clutch of succulent grass roots.  Suddenly she veered off into the bush.  Aha!  She’s spotted something of interest, i thought and stopped to watch.  Up she jumped and junior had to react quickly, but for the arched tail (Chacma baboons belong to the Old World monkey group and do not have prehensile gripping tails), he may have slid off ignominiously.   What was the prize up there in the shrubbery ….. ?

Confident baby riding on mother’s back supported by the arched tail.
Up she jumped into the shrubbery
Scrabbling in the shrubbery, baby and all.
The prize is a rain spider’s (Palystes superciliosus) egg nest!
Baby baboon might not be so interested.
Discarded rain spider’s (Palystes supercilliosus) egg nest.

It was a surprise to find that she’d discovered a rain spider’s (Palystes superciliosus) egg sac.   It appeared she was after the eggs, as I examined the image in close-up view and couldn’t make out any hatchlings.  The mystery was where did Mother Rain Spider lurk, as they have a reputation for aggressively guarding their egg sacs until the spiderlings hatch?!    Now where were we with that menu?  A couple of weeks ago I observed this same troop sucking on condom wrappers –  this incident left me wondering about the dangers of spiders and whether baboons suffer from spider bites as we humans do?

Butcher birds: stocking the larder

Don’t know if you’re like me and always root for the underdog?   With the nesting season in full swing, the birds around the garden have adapted to wary vigilance – there are raptors about, and smaller more common birds of the prey, the fiscal shrike.   They too have chicks in the nest and we watch as they stake out an area and then swoop down to catch their prey.  Commonly known as ‘butcher birds’ for their custom of spiking their live prey onto sharp thorns or barbed wire.

We regularly sight the little four-striped field mice and i’ve been lucky to grab photo opportunities when they’re out sunning themselves or at times raiding our kitchen.  There’s no harm done (other than the loss of cotton tassels from the carpet runners used for nesting material) as we shoo them out sometimes with an added bit of encouragement with the use of a broom.

A far cuter species is the dainty Cape pygmy mouse – about half the size of a field mouse but a most engaging and agile creature.    My neighbours have a policy of catch and release when these little fellas pitch up in their kitchen and for some years we’ve been relocating them in a custom designed box to an open patch of vegetation on the other side of our houses.

The smallest of the mice species, the pygmy mouse.

Imagine then, while we were quietly enjoying a beer at sunset, a butcher bird flew in and spiked a mouse on a sharp thorn at the top most reaches of the bougainvillea creeper.  Brutal!  But was it one of the relocated pygmy mice?!  Or was it more likely to be a ‘stripey’?   Darn it’s cruel out there.

A quick look around the neighbourhood

It’s been a while since i last posted and since returning home after some months of travel, it is heartening to be back in the rainy season.  And rain we have, buckets of it.  The dams are filling nicely and it looks promising that the harsh drought conditions are behind us.

My travel adventures begin to dim as i hook up again into the language of the familiar, but i’d love to share some of the experiences once i’ve got the photos sorted.  There are so many aspects when travel unfolds, from the hubbub of major cities to the quiet of the backroads.  Nature delivered some drama too, a bruising from the ‘Beast from the East’ to the unfurling of an exuberant Northern Hemisphere spring.  I had a lucky encounter with a Falconer and a Red kestrel working King’s Cross Railway station; stumbled across the Richmond deer herd in a snow storm, met “Cheddar Man” at the Natural history museum; rambled over hill and dale where meadow flowers bloomed in profusion.  All the while discovering new habitats and learning to read the landscape – from bluebell glades, acidic uplands, limestone pavements, salt marshes and water, water, water!  But most intriguing was seeing how nature finds it’s footing within eco-niches in densely populated urban areas.  Who’d have thought that a visit to Tate Modern would also bring a viewing of peregrine falcons nesting high up in the very same building or of foxes roaming boldly through some of the inner London suburbs?

Settling back again into a Cape routine, the dawn chorus comes rustling in with a guttural cacophony of Egyptian geese, hadedah ibis and raucous gulls.  I watch in delight as furry creatures scurry across the lawn (green and verdant now) – a mongoose scampers by with two pintsized, energetic juveniles, the baboons make quick unannounced visits, and so too, the nocturnal porcupine family with it’s gorgeous, prickly little baby.  Further along the road, the penguin nursery is in full swing attending to the raising of young.   This wild bevy of beauties makes my heart soar – here is a natural world right on the doorstep.  The wagtails and sunbirds are searching for nesting places and down below on the rocks the dassies sun themselves after the rain showers.  A single otter comes often, mud-bathing in the wet black soil.  My next door neighbours describe exciting sightings of two caracals, an adult and a youngster, and the opportunity to observe these secretive wild lynx at close quarters.

All in all it’s good to be back!

 

 

Biodiversity

Being aware that we’re in an era of the “Sixth Extinction” let’s pay tribute to this the 25th annual International Day of Biodiversity.  The Western Cape region is known as a hotspot for biodiversity particularly for it’s fynbos ecosystem.  No better way to describe it’s rich heritage is Cape Nature’s latest biodiversity report in this Vimeo link below.

On the move

Dear Readers,

I’m on the move again and apologies if posts and replying to comments becomes a bit haphazard over the next few weeks.

Leaving Cape Town the scenes from the plane window show a grim picture of the drought stricken and parched land.  In complete contrast are the rich agricultural fields of the South Downs, East Sussex in England where we are based for the next few days.   Hiking on the Wealdway and South Downs trails brings a new vista of awe at every turn!