Wow!…An adventure in the bush!..

Our photo of the black sparrowhawk when it took a break from devouring its kill.

Who’s in the garden this morning?

  • 1 warthog
  • 8 bushbuck
  • 8 kudus
  • 1 impala

(Based on the fact that most holiday homes in Marloth Park are occupied this weekend, and the guests  feeding the animals (hopefully appropriate pellets, not dangerous human leftovers), less wildlife is visiting us this morning. In a few days, things will go back to normal.

Yesterday morning, as I was wrapping up the post, a situation occurred in our garden that was a first for us and left us reeling in awe and wonder about nature. Even here is relatively safe Marloth Park, where very few apex predators roam the bush for food, we witnessed a kill right before our eyes.

We were seated at the table on the veranda with nary a care in the world, with dozens of mongoose, 40 or more helmeted guinea-fowl, two warthogs, and no less than four bushbucks, hovering in expectation of further treats from us, of which we’d already offered many.

Whether it was seeds for the birds, meat for the mongoose or pellets for bushbucks, they all hovered in the garden in eager anticipation of what was yet to come. Suddenly, in a race for safety, like none other we’d seen in the bush, in a matter of a few seconds they all ran to the right in a mad flurry of squawks, squeals, snorts and chirps, including the bushbucks, all looking as if they were experiencing sheer terror.

What could it be we wondered aloud? And there it was, swooping through the garden, in plain view, in a wild frenzy for a “kill” was a black sparrowhawk, eyeballing all the small creatures in our garden, particularly the guinea-fowl and mongoose, all appropriate fodder for the hawks desires and diet.

If you enlarge the photo and look carefully at the middle left of this photo, inside the garden fence, you can see the young guinea fowl hovering in sheer terror. With the feathers we had seen in this area, we knew that the hawk would soon capture him and she/he did it in the blink of an eye.

Without a doubt, it was a stampede. Many of the guinea-fowls took to the air while many ran as they often do. The mongoose followed suit, chirping in a pitch we’d never heard before. The bushbucks, certainly too large to be fodder for the hawk, followed in the mad dash for safety.

We heard screaming sounds from the guinea-fowl and watched as the hawk headed toward the front of the house. We opened the front door to see his chosen catch, a young guinea-fowl, perhaps only months old, cowering near a tiny bush as shown in the above photo, feathers everywhere, indicating it had already been attacked. The hawk swooped in to captured the bird from the enclosed garden in the front of the house, so quickly, but Tom saw it. It was impossible to take a photo and not scare off the hawk.

The hawk must have dragged the bird to the rear side bush area as we saw it flying up into the air intermittently as it devoured its prey. It was during that period that we were able to quickly snap the above main photo when the hawk paused for seconds on a branch.

The guinea-fowls have yet to return to our garden and may not do so for a while. As for the mongoose, we have no doubt, we’ll see them again soon when they know there are tidbits of meat always awaiting their arrival. Of course, the bushbucks returned shortly after the incident and actually showed up on our trail cam photos throughout the night, leaving us with over 250 photos to go through this morning with nary a sighting of any other species.

Black Goshawk
A black sparrowhawk in flight.  (Not our photo)

Yes, it’s sad to see the kill of the young bird, but it’s all a part of the cycle of life of animals in the wild. Over the years when visiting Africa and then India we conditioned ourselves to be less emotional when witnessing a kill. Although we both cringed when Tom reminded me it could have been Frank and The Misses. This would have been a huge loss for us when they so easily are a vital part of our everyday life and enjoyment in the bush.

Here is some information about the black sparrowhawk from this site:

“Typically, both sexes of the black sparrowhawk have a predominantly black plumage with a white throat, breast and belly. These white-breasted individuals are known as “white morphs” which are in the majority over most of the birds’ range. The “black morph” variety is generally rare, except along the coastal regions of South Africa, including the Cape Peninsula where they constitute 80% of the population. (Black sparrowhawks do not occur more than about 200–300 km north of Cape Town along the South African west coast, where there are almost no trees.) These “black (or dark) morphs”, when seen perched, can be black all over, but more commonly have a few white spots on the breast or a white throat of variable size. In flight both morphs show white and black barring on the underside of the wings and tail. The black morphs are not melanistic, as commonly alleged, as their plumage is not completely black, nor are they black as chicks or juveniles

There is no noticeable difference between the plumage of mature females and males, which can only be distinguished by size. The tails are cross-barred with about three or four paler stripes, and the undersides of the wings with perhaps four or five. The legs are yellow, with large feet and talons.

Not our photo.

Size

The black sparrowhawk is one of the world’s largest Accipiters, only the Henst’sMeyer’s and northern goshawk can match or exceed its size. As is common in the genus Accipiter, male black sparrowhawks are smaller than females. Typically the weights of males lie between 450 and 650 g (0.99 and 1.43 lbs) while that of females lies in the 750 to 1,020 g (1.65 to 2.25 lb) range. The typical total length is about 50 cm (20 in) and wingspan about 1 m (39 in). As in most Accipiters, the tails are long (about 25 cm (9.8 in)), as are the tarsi (about 8 cm (3.1 in). The features of the black sparrowhawk (and Accipiters in general) are reflective of the necessity to fly through dense arboreal habitats, although this species does most of its hunting in open areas (usually from a concealed perch in a tree).”

Later today, Rita and Gerhard will arrive and meet us at Jabula for dinner, time unknown at this point. We’ll arrive at 5:00 pm, (1700 hours), and wait for them to arrive. How exciting!

That’s it for today, dear readers. Be well.

Photo from one year ago today, May 16, 2020:

This banded albatross in Kauai, Hawaii in 2015, appeared to be a parent when she or he was hovering near a chick. For more photos, please click here.