Drongo sidekicks

A bit of bushveld comedy

A number of days ago while out on safari, my guests and I spent a few moments enjoying a sighting of a spectacular giraffe bull picking away the tiny tasty leaves from a very thorny Acacia-tree with his long and dexterous tongue. Beside him, swooping back and forth from perch to perch around him, a fork-tailed drongo quickly took center stage.

These little black birds have discovered that it is far easier and energy-efficient to follow larger animals than to actively search for food themselves, so they have evolved a symbiotic relationship with many herbivores, tagging along as they move through the bush and catching the insects they flush out.


Giraffe and drongo bird

This feisty fork-tailed drongo dipped and hovered from perch to perch, pausing between swoops to watch for his next treat. He was so intent on catching insects that he didn’t notice the giraffe’s big tail swishing to and fro, so as he took off towards his intended target he met the hard flick of a hairy tail coming the other way.

He didn’t seem to know what had hit him! Stunned, he floated very slowly to a nearby branch to gather himself. Unaware of the accident he had just caused, the giraffe carried on nonchalantly through the trees, munching leaves and disturbing more insects his poor sidekick was too dazed to notice.

Despite feeling a quite sorry for our little drongo, and even after all the sightings of much bigger, more charismatic animals, the comical moment with this mismatched pair was easily the highlight of my guests’ trip.

Written by: Garry Bruce
Kapama Southern Camp

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A family affair


Appreciating Africa’s largest hornbills

Since many of our guests at Kapama are from outside South Africa and often first time visitors to our gorgeous country, most game drives start off by being about finding the big stuff, like elephants, rhinos, buffaloes, and big cats. Giraffes, zebras and other general game make the list too, so there’s seldom a dull moment, but sometimes you come across something you didn’t even think to hope for.

Ground hornbill

Ground hornbill

One morning, after a few very successful drives in which we spent a lot of time with most of the Big Five, we left a particularly good lion sighting and came across one such surprise sighting: three ground hornbills foraging in the road.

Ground hornbill in the road on Kapama

Ground hornbill in the road on Kapama

Ground hornbill through the grass at Kapama

Ground hornbill through the grass at Kapama








Anyone who’s ever come across a ground hornbill will tell you they’re fascinating birds, not just in appearance, but also in their habits. They’re large (nearly 4 kilograms heavy and up to a meter tall), black and heavy looking, with adult birds boasting bright faces and wattles. If you’re lucky enough to see them it’ll probably be when they’re ambling unhurriedly through the bush, rooting out goggas (bugs), rodents, lizards and just about anything that takes their fancy. Up close (they’re sometimes inquisitive enough to approach vehicles) they have large, intelligent yellow eyes, and long dark eyelashes that would give the Kardashian sisters a run for their money. Even if you haven’t seen them, it’s possible you’ve heard their deep, reverberating booming call early in the morning, like a distant lion roaring at the rising sun.

Sunrise at Kapama

Ground hornbills are critically endangered, mainly because they’re so picky about where they nest – big, natural holes in old trees are hard enough to come by even in protected areas – but also because they have very specific requirements for successful breeding. Every pair mates for life and needs at least one other pair of helpers to help them keep a handle on things, even though only one chick from every brood survives. This chick is dependant on his/her team of caregivers for over two years, which means that even those who find a suitable tree and have responsible helpers can only raise one chick every three years. You might be justified in thinking it serves them right for being so difficult, but perhaps the fact that they’re the only bird species believed to play with their chicks might redeem them.

So every ground hornbill sighting is one to cherish, and whenever I get the chance to share those sightings with guests from home or abroad, I hope they’re if not more, then as memorable as all the big stuff.

Written by: Janri Olivier

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The wise old owl

Spotted eagle owl sitting in the road

Spotted eagle owl sitting in the road

While driving back to the lodge at the end of a great afternoon game drive we came across a spotted eagle owl sitting in the road. We stopped to enjoy the presence of this wise old owl.

We noticed that she was holding something in her talons and on closer inspection saw see that she had a dung beetle in her grasp.  She held it down and did not seem very interested in her prize.  All of a sudden she hopped into the air leaving the beetle behind and flew to the other side of the road where we could see some movement on the road.

As we continued watching her we saw that she was dancing around a large scorpion, trying to get the scorpion into a position that would suit her. The whole time the scorpion kept up its defence by lashing out with its tail, trying to sting the owl. This didn’t deter the owl as she pounced on the body of the scorpion and in a flash had bitten the sting off the tail of the scorpion, rendering it harmless.

How wise of the owl as now the spotted eagle owl could take her time and just stood on the scorpion for a few moments before picking it up in her beak and swallowing it alive.

She proceeded to spread her wings and fly off into the night.

Mark Burns
Kapama Karula

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Lilac Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus)

As summer arrives, we have many new visitors in the form of feathers. With their beautiful colours and impressive flying skills, we have quite a few keen birders coming through the lodge. I enjoy watching all our summer migrants, but one of my favourite to photograph is the Lilac Breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus). I have sat for some time watching, and waiting for them to fly away to get the perfect action shot.

They usually prefer open woodland and savanna, sometimes alone or in pairs, it perches conspicuously at the tops of trees, poles or other high vantage points from where it can spot insects, lizards, scorpions, snails, small birds and rodents moving about at ground level.

They have quite a distinguishable lilac colour on their breast, and a unique set of tail feathers which separate out into two distinct ends, quite different (but often confused with) to the other roller in their family, the European Roller.
If you enjoy your birds, whether looking at to appreciate or to take photos of, summer is a good time for birds, especially all the colourful ones we don’t see during the winter months.

Story by Kevin (River Lodge)

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Appreciating the Smaller Things

This afternoon, we had one of those drives that some people would consider being very quiet as we didn’t see any of the big 5 animals. This was fine, however, as we had already seen them the day before. This drive turned out to be a whole new experience all together.

We saw quite a number of different raptors – including the tawny eagle, wahlberg’s eagle, steppe buzzard and black shouldered kite. We also came across a tree that housed 2 breeding pairs of grey heron, both pairs with a chick in the nest.

Before you think this was a birding drive, we also saw a number of insects. There was a female spider-hunting wasp, zooming around us as we talked about her; bark spiders building their nests, and all other kinds of creepy crawlies making Kapama their residence. We talked about animal tracks and traditional uses for trees and other plants, really paying attention to the smaller things around us. The African bush can be even more exciting when we pay attention to everything surrounding us.

It was a very enjoyable drive and for sure one that I will easily repeat again.

Story by Jacques (River Lodge)

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The nesting habits of the southern red/yellow-billed hornbill

Birds are such fascinating creatures… for example, the male hornbill would first attract a female by singing to establish his territory, thus after a certain period of advertising, he would find a suitable mate.

The female will then select a hole in a tree for the nest in which she will be laying the eggs. When the female is ready to lay eggs she will go into the hole, pull out all her feathers to make it safe and comfortable for the hatchlings and then the male would then cover the hole with mud. He makes with saliva and soft sand to protect the female and the young. He will leave only a small hole through which he will be able to feed the female.

This continues for a certain period of time until the hatchlings are ready for first flight. This will only happen once the female’s feathers have grown back. As cruel as nature might be, if the male somehow dies while the female is in the hole then the female and the young will unfortunately perish too due to the fact that they cannot break out and there is no way of being fed. This is the unfortunate fate of some of our interesting creatures.

Pieter – Kapama River Lodge

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