Tag Archives: Ant-eating chat

As tough as …. a Honey badger

I thought I would lighten up a bit after blogging twice about the killing and culling that takes place in nature in Africa.  Time for a change and something different.  We traveled extensively in Botswana in August/September and spent a few days in the Central Kalahari revisiting Passarge Valley for a couple of days.  When we were there last we had fantastic lion sightings and were lucky enough to see lions again on our way into the area.  This blog is not about lions, however, but the fabulous sightings we had of Honey Badgers (Mellivora capensis).

Beautiful specimen of a Honey Badger

On our first visit to Passarge Valley, our companions, Jon and Hillary, boasted about all the Honey Badgers they’d seen there on a previous visit.  Unfortunately for us it was the wrong time of the year for them and we came away disappointed because we didn’t see any.  Our timing on this trip was perfect though and we saw literally dozens of Honey Badgers.  We were fortunate to come across this magnificent fellow very early one morning and spent an enjoyable hour or so watching him scratch for food.  It was interesting to see how he rested his head on the ground as his front feet worked furiously at the ground.  It must have helped him maintain his balance and keep a very close eye on whatever he was unearthing.

Digging furiously for a meal

Honey Badgers are normally solitary animals, but they do also forage in groups of two or three.  One is most likely to see them at dusk or shortly after dawn as they are nocturnal and sleep during the daylight hours.  Their coats are quite beautiful – black on the lower half and silver/white on top – it almost looks like a cape draped over the back and head.  They are sturdy and stocky animals and have really powerful claws that are put to good use when digging for spiders, scorpions, ants and the occasional reptile.

Check out those claws

In southern Africa they are also known as Ratels and have the dubious honour of having an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) named after them.  These robust vehicles are designed to withstand landmines and are heavily armoured – implying that they are just as tough as the animal.  Honey Badgers, as their name suggests, love honey and often form alliances with Honeyguides,  little birds also known as Indicator Birds.  They move along together until the Honeyguide finds a bee’s nest, which the tough ratel then rips open and they both enjoy the feast.  We didn’t see any Honeyguides, but this little Ant-eating chat followed our badger around and managed to scrounge some insects from the diggings once the badger moved on.

Honey Badger followed by an Ant-eating Chat

The Honey Badger is impervious to bee stings and because it is quite aggressive it doesn’t have many predators.  The main ones are lions and, funnily enough, pythons!  Females usually give birth to two young ones after a gestation period of about six months.  Honey Badgers can live for over twenty years.

Beautiful specimen of a Honey Badger

If you’re keen to see one (or many) in the wild, be sure to visit the Central Kalahari during August and September.  And do stay in your car as they can be very dangerous.  We saw some foreign tourists, out of the safety of their vehicle,  trying to photograph one about a metre away from where he was foraging.  Not a good idea!!!

Honey Badger - Passarge Valley

 

Bird of the Week – Week 122 – Ant-eating chat

The Ant-eating chat is endemic to the southern African region and within the region is fairly widespread, although it is absent from most of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland in the east and from the Namib Desert in the west. Their preferred habitat includes areas of open grassland and savanna and they are fairly common throughout the semi-desert of the Kalahari. They are usually found in pairs or in small groups of less than six birds.

Ant-eating chat

Adults are approximately 18 cm in length and the males are slightly larger than the females. Although the sexes are similar in plumage, being a dark brown overall, the females are a little lighter in colour and the males have a white shoulder patch which is not always visible. Eyes are dark brown; bill, legs and feet are black.

Ant-eating chat

As their common name would suggest, the Ant-eating chat feeds mainly on ants, but also includes termites and other insects in its diet. Although it feeds mainly on the ground, insects such as butterflies, bees and wasps may be hawked from the air.

The call of the Ant-eating chat is a plaintive “peeeeek” and the song, which may include snatches of mimicry of other bird calls, is a pleasant “tee-a you, tee-a you” uttered in flight or from a prominent perch.

Ant-eating chat

The Ant-eating chat is monogamous and excavates a tunnel, often in the roof of an Aardvark burrow, in which a cup-shaped nest of dry grass and roots is constructed. The female lays a clutch of up to seven white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about fifteen days.

Ant eating chat

The scientific binomial for the Ant-eating chat is Myrmecocichla formicivora; Myrmecocichla from the Greek for an “ant chat” and formicivora from the Latin for “ant-eating”. Thus we have an ant-eating ant chat which is as close to the common name as makes no difference.

Ant-eating chat