Author Archives: Rob

Cycle Tour of the Karoo – May 2013: Part Two

To read Part One of this tour, click here.

Day 4: Prince Albert to Calitzdorp

(Approximately 87 km with cumulative climbing of approximately 1664 metres)

Day 4 started with the climb up the Swartberg Pass from the northern side. Although it was still quite cold the day was clear and dry, allowing us to take in the spectacular scenery and spend some time pondering on the engineering skill of Thomas Bain and his co-workers in the construction of the Pass. The road is often supported by packed stone walls as it clings to the side of the Swartberg Mountains and it is amazing that the construction has remained in such magnificent condition for 130-odd years. It was deservedly declared a National Monument in 1988.

9 - Day 3 - The north side of Swartberg Pass

10 - Day 4 - The north side of Swartberg Pass

In contrast to the ascent from the south on Day 3 we all rode up the Pass this morning and stopped several times to take photographs and to drink in the magnificence of the mountain scenery. It was satisfying to look back at the road snaking up the mountainside, knowing that we had just cycled up that stretch.

11 - Day 4 - Andrew climbing the north side of Swartberg Pass

After we reached the top (marked by a sign inscribed “Die Top”) and started down the south side of the Pass it became very cold, but today it was dry and we were better prepared for the low temperature. We thoroughly enjoyed the gravity-assisted descent.

Looking back at the Swartberg from the foothills we could see how the cloud had once again descended and were pleased to have crossed the Pass when it was relatively clear.

The ride on to Calitzdorp was very pleasant, on quiet country roads with very little traffic, and with many short uphills and downhills to keep the cycling interesting.

Day 5: Calitzdorp to Cloete’s Pass

(Approximately 117 km with cumulative climbing of approximately 2145 metres)

The “Pass of the Day” today was the Rooiberg Pass, although the day would also include a tough climb up from the Gouritz River, and end with the ascent of Cloete’s Pass.

The Rooiberg Pass over the Gamkasberg was built in 1928 to provide a link between Calitzdorp and Van Wyksdorp. This Pass provides a steady climb over several kilometres, but the gradient is not too challenging and there was time for us to take in the diverse vegetation of the Rooiberg Conservancy. This conservancy forms part of the Gouritz Biodiversity Meander, a world biological “hotspot” where three biomes meet – Succulent Karoo, Fynbos and Subtropical Thicket. We stopped several times to look back in wonder at the spectacular mountain scenery behind us.

12 - Day 5 - Ken & Derrick on Rooiberg Pass

At the top of the Pass is a cairn of stones left by travellers over many, many years in thankful tribute for a safe passage up the mountain, and in the hope of an equally safe descent. The spot is marked by a plaque erected in 1984. One is inclined to overlook the challenge that these Passes presented to travellers in animal drawn wagons a century ago and the thankful prayers that were offered up for a safe arrival at this spot.

We each placed a stone on the cairn before starting the descent to Van Wyksdorp through the scrubland of the Little Karoo.

13 - Day 5 - Scenery on the road to Cloete's Pass

After a quick lunch in Van Wyksdorp we continued riding and soon reached the descent to the Gouritz River. This stretch provided still more views of the wide open country, covered with the low shrubs and grasses typical of the area. The climb up from the Gouritz River is steep and testing for legs that were growing weary from the days on the road. But there was to be little respite, as the day ended with the climb up Cloete’s Pass which we reached shortly before dusk, when the temperature was taking its usual evening plunge.

Just two kilometres into the descent of Cloete’s Pass we reached Dwarsrivier Country Getaway, our overnight stop at the end of the longest day of the tour.

Day 6: Cloete’s Pass to George

(Approximately 91 km with cumulative climbing of approximately 1164 metres)

The final day of the tour turned out to be surprisingly difficult! The day started with the easy descent of the balance of Cloete’s Pass, but we were immediately challenged by the sharp climb up from the river on a road surfaced with loose gravel and small stones. This stretch also provided what was surely the steepest descent, and the steepest ascent, of the tour. The descent was fairly short, but very steep and I was glad not to be riding in the opposite direction, only to find a matching ascent on reaching the valley.

The road continued in a series of ups and downs, not rolling hills at all, but serious ascents and descents. We by-passed Eight Bells, tempted to stop for tea, but the cycling was more urgent today, the group keen to reach the end. The stops were short and less frequent, and the pace somewhat quicker.

14 - Day 6 - Ken, Derrick, Andrew, Rob at lunch in Groot Brak

After lunch in a park near the Great Brak River, we pressed on over the last, fairly flat 20km to George and the end of a wonderful tour.

Cycle Tour of the Karoo – May 2013: Part One

Originally this cycle tour was planned as a “Knysna-to-Cape Town” event, but once the planning started in earnest it was decided to opt for a more scenic and challenging circuit through the Little Karoo, taking in some of the renowned mountain passes through the Outeniqua and the Swartberg Mountains. The group consisted of five cyclists – Colin, Derrick, Andrew and Kenny, all from Knysna, and myself, from Durban. We were joined on the first day by Peter, also from Knysna. Ranging in age from late fifties to early seventies we are not as competitive as we used to be and this was to be a relaxed (but not easy!), supported tour, with accommodation in convenient B&Bs along the route. Colin has an incredible knowledge of the area and there are very few roads in the Karoo that he has not cycled many times so the route planning and logistical arrangements were left largely in his hands. And a superb job he did! Thank you, Colin!

The Karoo is a vast area of semi-desert lying in the south western region of South Africa and is separated geographically into the Great Karoo and the Little Karoo. As implied by its name the smaller region is the Little Karoo, lying to the south, bounded in the north by the Swartberg Mountains and in the south by the Outeniqua Mountains. Thus to reach the Great Karoo from the coast one has to cross both the Outeniqua Mountains and the Swartberg Mountains which can be done courtesy of some of the most spectacular passes in the world.

We set off from the beautiful seaside town of Knysna on the morning of 1 May 2012, five cyclists determined to make our way over a daunting list of passes over the next six days.

Day 1: From Knysna to George over the “Seven Passes Road”

(Approximately 90 km with cumulative climbing of approximately 1495 metres)

The Seven Passes Road was built over a period of 16 years between 1867 and 1883 and remains a glowing testament to the road builders of that time and in particular to the incredible talents of the master road-builder Thomas Bain. Although some of the original bridges were replaced in the early 1900’s and a few sections have been tarred over the years, much of the roadwork remains that of the original pioneers. The road is quiet and scenic, perfect for cycling as the modern coastal national road is the preferred route for those in a hurry and carries the bulk of the traffic.

1 - Day 1 - Rob at the top of Hoogekraal Pass

Cycling from Knysna at the eastern end of the road the first pass is soon encountered; the ominously named Phantom Pass. Although the name may conjure up images of spectres and spirits, the pass is actually named after the Phantom Moth which is fairly common in the area – I was expecting a headless horseman at the very least! The pass is only about three kilometres long and the gradient not too challenging so we reached the top without undue effort.

2 - Day 1- Ken, Colin, Rob, Derrick & Peter at Woodville

Next was the Homtini Pass, the construction of which was completed in 1882. A very sharp, winding descent led us through the beautifully wooded valley of the Homtini River and then the climb up the other side called for some effort. The name “Homtini” is said to mean “the place of the difficult passage”, and the terrain certainly provided a challenge for the original construction of the road (as it does for modern day cyclists!).

So on we rode, in splendid weather (although perhaps a little too warm for cycling), through spectacular scenery of indigenous forest, descending and climbing as the road crossed the difficult stretch of terrain, bisected by a seemingly endless series of gorges and ravines. The Karatara Pass, the Hoogekraal Pass, The Touw River Pass – crossed via the last remaining iron bridge on this road and opened in 1898 – The Silver River Pass  and the Kaaimans Pass. Each one spectacular in its own way; each one a challenge to a pedal-powered ascent.

We reached George after cycling about 90 kilometres; the distance belied the amount of effort that went into crossing these Seven Passes!

Day 2: From George to near De Rust

(Approximately 80 km with cumulative climbing of approximately 1145 metres)

Not long after the starting the day’s cycle we started climbing the famous Montagu Pass which would take us over the Outeniqua Mountains and into the Little Karoo. There were just three of us cycling this first stretch as Colin had a problem with his bike and he and Andrew went into George to have it seen to. Luckily it turned out to be nothing serious.

3 - Day 2 - Ken & Derrick at the start of Montagu Pass

The Montagu Pass was completed in 1847, using convict labour to a large extent, and was built under the direction of the Australian road engineer Henry Fancourt White. Henry Fancourt White’s legacy in the area is not just the magnificent Pass, but extends to the historical property named “Fancourt” and also to the village of Blanco (meaning white), both of which were named after him.

4 - Day 2 - Ken on Montagu Pass

The Pass is in excellent condition and the scenery quite spectacular. The gradient is fairly manageable on a bicycle, although the climb is unrelenting and taxing on aging legs. Near the start of the climb is the old toll house, apparently in the process of being restored. Early travellers were required to pay a toll for the privilege of using the pass (toll roads in South Africa are NOT new!) – three pence per wheel and a penny for each animal drawing the wagons. Would that be sixpence for the bike and a penny for the pedal-pusher, one wonders.

5 - Day 2 - Rob & Ken on Montagu Pass

Nearer the top of the Pass we passed under the railway bridge and then reached Moertjieklip, a large rock that was apparently dislodged during the building of the railway line and which rolled down the hill, crushing and killing one of the workers.

From the top of Montagu Pass we were in the Little Karoo and the terrain was pleasantly undulating as we passed through attractive farmlands with large flocks of ostriches.  After passing through Dysselsdorp, we ended the day’s journey after about 80km at the Oudemoragie Guest Farm, which provided quite spectacular views of the Spitskop mountain as it peered through the low lying cloud.

6 - Day 2 - Colin & Derrick

In terms of cycling, this was a much easier day than the first day, and was, in fact, to be the easiest day of the tour.

Day 3: Near De Rust to Prince Albert

(Approximately 84 km with cumulative climbing of approximately 1741 metres)

This was a day of two halves! The morning ride was very pleasant, with relatively easy, rolling terrain in pleasant, sunny weather. The kind of morning casual cyclists dream of.  Cycling in our shirtsleeves, heading westwards through the foothills of the Swartberg with the sun on our backs. Wonderful!

7 - Day 3 - Scenery on the road near Oudemoragie

Then came lunch time and with it the foul weather.

As we turned to the north and the approach to the Swartberg Pass it started to rain, the wind picked up from the north and the temperature plummeted. The group of cyclists was quickly reduced to two as the prospect of tackling the Pass under these conditions drove the others to the (relative) comfort and warmth of the support vehicle.

The Swartberg Pass is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular mountain passes in the world. From the Little Karoo the Pass climbs the magnificent slopes of the Swartberg, populated with groves of watsonias and proteas, climbing steadily for seven kilometres to crest at 1568 metres above sea level and more than 1000 metres above the Little Karoo from whence it started. The Pass, constructed by Thomas Bain between 1881 and 1888 (this was to be the last Pass that he would construct in South Africa), rises in a series of switchbacks and  hairpin bends, providing breathtaking views at every turn.

But today these views were hidden from us by the thick mist and pelting rain as we cycled up the unrelenting gradient. Looking over the edge of the road toward the valley below revealed nothing but milky-white mist. The gravel road became muddy and small streams developed in the roadway as the water spilled down off the mountainside. The mud and the water and the gradient conspired to retard the rotation of the wheels of the cycles and to destroy any lingering remnants of our good humour.

8 - Day 3 - Rob climbing the south Swartberg Pass, 2km from top

Picture courtesy of Andrew Finn

Climbing, though, generates a fair amount of warmth and being somewhat protected from the wind on the southern side of the Pass meant that we were not unbearably cold on the ascent. I planned to meet the support vehicle at the top of the Pass and put on some warm clothing before the descent, but unfortunately I reached the top ahead of the vehicle. The wind on the northern side of the Pass was very strong and although it was not raining on this side, it was savagely cold. I started the descent, but within a very short time I was so cold that I could not continue. I waited for the support vehicle and when it arrived I donned some warmer clothes and completed the descent to Prince Albert. The last few kilometres of tarred road were a welcome reprieve from the clinging gravel of the Pass itself.

The hot shower at Dennehof B&B was one of the highlights of the tour!!

To read about Part Two of this tour, click here.

Bird of the Week – Week 144 – Common moorhen

There are at least twenty-two birds in the southern African region that have the adjective “Common” in their name, and some of them are not common (in the sense of plentiful) at all. The Common moorhen, though, is. It is found throughout the region, save for the dry central Kalahari, occurring on most bodies of fresh water with appropriate vegetation. Outside the region they have quite an extensive worldwide distribution, although they are absent from Australia.

Common moorhen

The male and female Common moorhen are alike in plumage colouration and the male is a little larger than the female, with a length of approximately 34 cm. They are predominantly black, with an olive-brown rump; white flank stripe and red frontal shield. The bill is red with a yellow tip; eyes are red; legs and feet are yellow.

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Generally found in small groups, or as solitary birds, they forage while swimming, walking on floating vegetation or on land. They feed on plants and berries as well as on insects, tadpoles and the like. Common moorhens utter a range of clucking sounds, and call in a high-pitched “krrrik”.

Common moorhen

Common moorhens are monogamous and they build a shallow bowl nest of plant material, which is usually well concealed in the reeds or other vegetation near the water’s edge. The female lays a clutch of between four and eight eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 21 days.

Common moorhen

The scientific binomial for the Common moorhen is Gallinula chloropus; Gallinula from the Latin for “a small hen”; and chloropus from the Latin for a “green foot”. Thus the name describes a little hen with green feet; a little odd as its feet are more yellow than green. It does have a relative, though, the Lesser moorhen that really does have green(ish) feet.

Common moorhen

Bird of the Week – Week 143 – White-fronted bee-eater

The bee-eaters are a delightful family of birds and the White-fronted bee-eater is one of the few members of the family that can be found fairly commonly within its territory throughout the year. Its preferred habitat is along riverbanks in the north-east of the southern African region, where it is gregarious and usually to be found in groups of varying size.

White-fronted bee-eater

With a fairly average size, as bee-eaters in the region go, with a length of approximately 23 cm, the sexes are similar in both size and  plumage colouration. They have predominantly green upper parts; white forehead; a red throat with an upper band of white; brown under parts and a blue vent. Eyes are dark brown; legs and feet are dark grey and the curved bill is black.

White-fronted bee-eater

White-fronted bee-eaters forage predominantly from a perch, and feed almost entirely on insects such a honey bees, flies, moths and butterflies. They may hawk the insects in flight, or take them up from the ground or foliage without alighting. They return to the perch to feed, carefully removing the sting from the honey bees before consuming it.

White-fronted bee-eater

White-fronted bee-eaters are monogamous and pairs appear to mate for life. Their nest is in a burrow up to one metre long that they excavate in river banks. The female lays a cluth of between two and five white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 21 days. The nests may be parasitized by the Greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator).

White-fronted bee-eater

The scientific binomial for the White-fronted bee-eater is Merops bullockoides; Merops from the Greek for the bee-eater, and bullockoides from the Latin for resembling Merops bullocki, the Red-throated bee-eater which in turn was named after William Bullock. Thus the name tells us that this bee-eater looks similar to another bee-eater, which is singularly unhelpful.

White-fronted bee-eater

Bird of the Week – Week 141 – Crested barbet

The Crested barbet is fairly common in the north-eastern parts of the southern African region, where it favours drier woodland especially areas with plenty of acacias. They also seem to be quite comfortable in camp sites and in parks and gardens. (Check out our blog about a silly Crested barbet at Kalizo Lodge in Namibia.)

Crested barbet

The Crested barbet is the largest of the barbets in the region, with a length of approximately 24 cm. It has a yellow head, speckled with red and surmounted by a black crest. Underparts are yellow, save for a black chest band spotted with white. Wings and tail are black spotted with white; legs and feet are grey-black; bill is pale yellow with a black tip; eyes are brownish-red. Males and females are similar in size, but are less brightly coloured.

Crested barbet

The Crested barbet’s loud and sustained trilling “tr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r” is often heard before the bird itself is sighted. Both the males and females sing, and on occasion this rather unmusical song takes the form of a duet.

Crested barbets forage mainly on the ground, feeding on termites, grasshoppers and other insects as well as snails, but it is omnivorous and also feeds on fruit and nectar.

Crested barbet

These barbets are monogamous and generally make a nest hole in a dead tree stump or other convenient place, but may also take over the nests of other hole-nesters such as Red-throated wrynecks (Jynx ruficollis). In suburbia they may nest in nest boxes. The female lays a clutch of two to five eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 17 days. Their nests may be parasitized by the Greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator) or the Lesser honeyguide (Indicator minor).

Crested barbet

The scientific binomial for the Crested barbet is Trachyphonus vaillantii; Trachyphonus from the Greek for a “rough voice”; and vaillantii after the ornithologist Francois Le Vaillant who travelled in South Africa in the late 1700’s. I don’t know about the “rough-voice” in the case of the Crested barbet, but it is nice to see the earlier pioneer ornithologists honoured in this way.

Crested barbet

Bird of the Week – Week 140 – Montiero’s hornbill

The Montiero’s hornbill is a near-endemic to Namibia and its range is limited to central and north-west Namibia, spilling outside the southern African region only into the southern part of Angola. It is the largest of the seven Tockus hornbills in the region, with a length of approximately 54 cm; the males being slightly larger than the females and having a larger bill.

Montiero's hornbill

The sexes are alike in plumage colouration, with dark grey head, neck and upper breast; brown back and tail; wing coverts spotted with white; and white belly and vent. The large curved bill is red; eyes are brown; legs are black.

Although the Montiero’s hornbills track the rain within their range, they occupy a drier habitat than any of the other hornbills. Their preferred habitat is the usually dry waterways through the stony escarpment and the flatter areas of central Namibia. Their call, sometimes taking the form of a duet, consists of a series of deep clucking sounds.

Montiero's hornbill

Montiero’s hornbills feed mainly 0n insects and other invertebrates, chameleons, lizards, bird’s eggs and fledglings. They also eat fruit, seeds and flowers, and use their large bills to dig for roots and tubers.

Montiero's hornbill

Montiero’s hornbills are monogamous and as with most other hornbills, the female seals herself into a cavity in a tree or rock face when breeding, remaining in this chamber until the young birds are ready to leave. The male is kept busy ferrying food to the nest throughout this time. The female lays a clutch of between two and eight white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 25 days.

Montiero's hornbill

The scientific binomial for the Montiero’s hornbill is Tockus monteiri; Tockus being a Latin-derived imitation of the call of the Southern yellow-billed hornbill; and monteiri after Joachim Monteiro who collected specimens of birds in Angola in the 1860’s and 1870’s. So it is just a name, really, and reveals nothing about the bird itself.

Montiero's hornbill

So, what could YOU get for a bread crumb?

Quite often when we are camping we toss a few bits of bread into the grass around the campsite to see what local  residents we can attract. Usually we get a few sparrows, weavers, bulbuls, finches, starlings, and hornbills dropping in for a feed; the more precocious of the local birds. Perhaps an occasional squirrel. And usually it’s a bit of a bun fight. Fly in (well, the squirrels run), gobble as much as you can and scram. Grab a beak-full before your neighbour gets it all.

But just sometimes the plot unfolds differently.

Coppery-tailed coucal

Our campsite at Xakanaka in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana was close to the thick undergrowth at the edge of the Okavango Delta, and we tossed a few bits of bread nearby. The usual birds were quick to arrive (and also a group of less usual birds – Yellow-throated petronias). But then, at a few minutes after four o’clock in the afternoon, out of the undergrowth strode a majestic Coppery-tailed coucal (Centropus cupreicaudus), one of the usually shy, skulking birds that is heard more often than it is seen, and when it is seen, it is most often glimpsed through a thickness of reeds or bushes into which it vanishes by magic.

But after a cautious initial look around, this fellow strode out into the open with supreme confidence. Ignoring us totally, he picked up a piece of bread, but instead of eating it as we expected him to do, he paraded with it in his bill along the edge of the bush.

Coppery-tailed coucal

Now we know that many courting rituals involve food, (even human rituals – many a courting couple’s first date is at a restaurant), but we were still surprised when a female coucal emerged from the dense undergrowth and joined him and his trophy in the relative open.

Her appearance brought the male’s display to an abrupt end. Without any further ado he proceeded, bread in bill, to mount her, handing over the bread mid-way through the performance. She accepted the bread and held it in her bill until the deed was done, after which she disappeared back into the bush from whence she had come, still clutching the bread.

Coppery-tailed coucal Coppery-tailed coucal Coppery-tailed coucal

The male walked a little way through the campsite, not quite as haughty as he had been earlier, and presumably his appetites were satisfied for the moment as he showed no further interest in the bread.

Coppery-tailed coucal

Bird of the Week – Week 139 – White-tailed shrike

The White-tailed shrike is a pretty little bird and one of the few that is near endemic to Namibia. The males and females have similar grey, white and black plumage, which, together with a very upright stance, makes them look as though they are wearing very formal waistcoats. The females are slightly larger than the males. They are usually found in pairs or small groups and are often quite tame.

White-tailed shrike

The White-tailed shrike is quite small as shrikes go, with a length of about 15 cm. It has a black head with a white forehead. It has a grey mantle and waistcoat; a black breast band separates the white throat from the white under parts; wings are black with large white patches; the short tail is white. The eyes are yellow; bill is black; legs and feet are black.

White-tailed shrike

The preferred habitat of the White-tailed shrike is dry woodland such as acacia and mopane, especially that which includes rocky outcrops or steep hillsides. It feeds mainly on insects, caterpillars, and spiders, which it obtains mainly through gleaning in trees or foraging on the ground. It is not a shy bird, and will often visit campsites, parks and gardens.

The call of the male White-tailed shrike is a loud “pie-ouuww” which may be repeated several times and which is often answered by the female calling a single “tshrrr”.

White-tailed shrike

White-tailed shrikes are monogamous and they build a deep cup-shaped nest, usually from strips of bark interwoven with spider webs. The female lays a clutch of two to three whitish-grey eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 15 days.

White-tailed shrike

The scientific binomial for the White-tailed shrike is Lanioturdus torquatus; Lanioturdus from the Latin for “shrike like a thrush”; and torquatus from the Latin for “collared”. Thus the name describes a thrush-like shrike that has a collar, which is not a bad description, although it really looks more like a batis in a waistcoat than a thrush with a collar.

White-tailed shrike

 

Bird of the Week – Week 138 – Marabou stork

Not wishing to be unkind, but the Marabou stork is surely one of the ugliest birds that you are likely to see in southern Africa, reminiscent of a mournful undertaker stalking slowly through the veld!

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It is a large bird, with a length of approximately 1.50 metres and the males are slightly larger than the females although they are alike in plumage. The head and neck is largely without feathers, being naked pink skin with just a few thin black plumes. The mantle and back is bluish-grey; the ruff and under parts are white and the large, bulbous air sac is pink. Eyes are brown, bill is pale horn mottled with black; legs and feet are black. The black legs and feet are often rendered white by a coating of the bird’s excrement.

Marabou stork

Marabou storks are fairly widespread in the southern African region, with populations found in fairly arid areas as well as wetlands and well watered areas. They are absent from deserts and forests, but often frequent rubbish dumps on the outskirts of towns.

Marabou storks are mainly scavengers, feeding on a wide variety of animal carcasses – we have seen them on carcasses as large as that of an elephant, but also hunting and killing a range of fresh food. It is a competent fisherman, walking in shallow water with its bill partially submerged as it searches for fish. On land it hunts rats and mice, other small animals and birds. Perhaps surprisingly, it will eat the eggs of crocodiles and even young crocodiles.

Marabou stork

Although they are gregarious birds, often seen in flocks, Marabou storks are usually silent when away from their nests. When at their nests, they may utter a series of squeals, whistles and grunts.

Marabou storks are monogamous and build a large stick platform-nest, usually placing it in a tree over water. The female lays a clutch of between one and four chalky-white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 30 days.

Marabou stork

The scientific binomial for the Marabou stork is Leptoptilos crumeniferus; Leptoptilos from the Greek for “thin plumes”; and crumeniferus from the Latin for a “leather pouch”, presumably referring to the bulbous air sac. Thus a bird with thin plumes and a leather pouch, which may be accurate, but is hardly descriptive of this solemn-looking stork.

Marabou stork

Bird of the Week – Week 137 – Swamp boubou

The range of the Swamp boubou in southern Africa is restricted to the northern river systems of Namibia and Botswana, and within this area it is very likely to be heard before it is seen. Although it is fairly common, it is a shy, skulking bird and occupies well-vegetated areas along rivers, streams and flood plains.

Swamp boubou

The Swamp boubou is very vocal, the distinctive call is usually a duet initiated by the male calling a whistling “whhaww” to which the female immediately responds with a rattling “kiki-kaka-krrr”. The two birds call so closely together it sounds almost as though it is a single bird. The pair will often sit close together on a fairly exposed perch while calling.

Swamp boubou

The Swamp boubou is quite a big shrike, having a length of approximately 25 cm and the sexes are alike in both size and plumage coloration. The upper parts and the tail are glossy black, the under parts are white, and they have a distinctive white wing-stripe. Eyes are dark brown; bill is black; legs and feet are bluish-grey.

Swamp boubou

Swamp boubous feed mainly on insects, which they hunt on the ground or glean from trees and other vegetation, and also on fruit.

They are monogamous and make a nest in the shape of a shallow bowl, constructing it from twigs and roots. It is usually placed two or three metres above the ground in quite dense vegetation. The female lays a small clutch of as few as two greenish, speckled eggs and the incubation period is not known.

Swamp boubou

The scientific binomial for the Swamp boubou is Laniarius bicolor; Laniarius from the Latin for “butcher”; and bicolor from the Latin for “two coloured”. Thus the name describes a two coloured butcher, of which at least the two colours is totally accurate.

Swamp boubou