Tag Archives: puffadder

Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 1

Our six night stay at Rooiputs turned out to be the highlight of our Botswana 2010 trip.  This idyllic spot is less than 30 kms from the Twee Rivieren border post and sits on a hill just above the Nossob River.  One has to take a detour to this camp but the road is no challenge and it doesn’t take long to reach the six well-appointed campsites.  The sign maker either had a sense of humour or didn’t know how to spell!

Crazy spelling

Within hours of settling in we had dramas unfolding before us that had us grabbing our cameras to catch the action.  We were sitting in the wooden A-frame having some tea when Hillary noticed an animal movement behind us.  It was a mother polecat carrying her baby to a new hiding place.  Rob and I positioned ourselves next to the hole, cameras in hand, and had rather a long wait until she briefly popped her head out to see what was happening.  After doing that once or twice she decided to remain in hiding until she could get away under cover of darkness.


Back in the A-frame we heard a scratching noise above us and were excited to discover a big barn owl in the broken rafters.   Birds are always a priority for us so Hillary filled a pan with water and attracted some of the many sociable weavers in the area,

Sociable weavers

but she hastily had to move it away from their van area when she realized who else was partial to a drink.  Check out the trail that the puffadder left in the dirt leading to the pan.

Puffadder visits our camp
Puffadder trail

That evening we took a drive along the road to the Kij  Kij waterhole and saw our second lion of the trip – a very emaciated cub that didn’t look like it would survive very long.

Emaciated lion cub

Back at the campsite later we were having a braai when we saw a Cape fox sniffing at the hole where the polecat and her baby were hiding.

Cape fox smells polecats!

Hillary was most upset and wanted to intervene to stop the baby polecat being eaten.  The mother, who had been very wary of us in the afternoon, suddenly decided that we could help her protect her baby and , acting as a decoy for the fox, she ran right into the A-frame where we were standing.  Soon we had fox and polecat running around us totally oblivious of our presence.  Funnily enough the Cape fox wasn’t interested in eating the mother polecat – his main aim was to get the baby.

Mother polecat in the open

This went on for quite a while until the polecat decided it would be safer to deposit her baby in a burrow right next to our braai fire, which she duly did when the fox was distracted.  We never knew the outcome of the polecat saga, whether the baby was moved safely during the night or eaten, but the Cape fox came back to our campsite night after night.  These were both truly magnificent animals and all the more pleasing to see because they are not so common.

A short stay in the bush makes one very aware of the food chain and how every animal is in danger of being eaten.  One soon understands why the animals are so nervous, or  alternatively, relaxed around other beasts that don’t pose a threat to them.

Our stay at Rooiputs had certainly started on a very positive note – we looked forward to what the next few days had in store for us.

Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 1 | Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 2 |
Botswana 2010 : Rooiputs Part 3 | Trips

Bird of the week – Week 18 : Secretarybird

We were driving slowly along the road from Polentswa to Nossob in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park when we saw a Secretarybird in the distance. Although we had seen many Secretarybirds over the previous few days, we stopped to take a closer look. Next to the Secretarybird was a brown bundle that morphed into a Tawny eagle as we watched. It took to the air and quickly flew to a nearby tree. Had we disturbed it? The Secretarybird immediately took a few steps forward and picked up a snake – it looked like a puffadder – that had been abandoned by the eagle. We watched in amazement as the Secretarybird swallowed the snake whole in great gulping movements, dipping forward and throwing its head back to facilitate swallowing. Had the Tawny eagle killed the snake and abandoned it to the Secretarybird, or had the Secretarybird killed the snake and been temporarily robbed of it by the Tawny? Whatever the course of events, it was the Secretarybird that enjoyed the spoils in the end. Its meal complete, it stalked off in the regal manner of its kind. Amazing! The photos are not of very good quality due to our distance from the scene, but well worth looking at.
We drove on and came upon the waterhole at Polentswa in the late morning to find a group of fourteen Secretarybirds gathered together. These magnificent birds are classified as “near threatened” and this is the biggest group that we have seen in one spot.
They are very large birds, up to 150 cm in length and weighing up to 5,000 g. They are pale whitish-grey with a drooping, conspicuous crest of feathers that gives them their scholarly “secretary” appearance; the tips of their wings, tail, and thighs are black. The bare parts of their long legs are pinkish-grey and the orange patches around their eyes is quite striking. They are therefore easily recognizable and very unlikely to be confused with any other species. The sexes are alike, although the males have slightly larger crests that the females.
Secretarybirds are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara, except for the more thickly forested areas. Although they are uncommon through most of their range, they are conspicuous birds that are not easily overlooked. They are usually found in pairs or in small groups, but, as indicated in the second paragraph, they may gather in larger groups at waterholes, especially in arid regions. Although they can fly well, soaring to great heights, they are usually seen on the ground. They take off after a short run and when landing will also run a short distance with their wings spread wide.
While feeding they walk, nay, stride, slowly across the veld catching their prey on the ground. They may catch prey in their beaks, or, when hunting a larger rodent or a snake, they may stamp on the unfortunate creature with their feet. Smaller prey is swallowed whole. In spite of their reputation as snake-killers, they eat mainly insects, lizards rodents and the like, with snakes making up a very small proportion of their diet.
The Secretarybird is monogamous and the nest of is a large, flat platform of small sticks up to 2,5 m in diameter, with a central depression that may be lined with grass, usually located on the top of a thorn tree. The female lays a clutch of 1 to 3 while or pale blur-green eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately 42 days.
They are mostly silent when away from their nests, but when roosting they utter a croaking korr-orr-orr.
The Secretarybird appears on the coat of arms of both the Sudan and South Africa.
The scientific name for the Secretarybird is Sagittarius serpentarius, Sagittarius from the Latin for an archer, perhaps referring to the fact that the “quills” dangling from the back of its head resemble a quiver of arrows and serpentarius from the Latin meaning pertaining to a snake, probably relating to the birds diet.