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The grasslands of the Natal Midlands can be a dry and baron place during the winter months. Brown is the colour that dominates as the frost and dry air suck the remaining moisture from the grasses – the plant that dominates the high altitude regions of the midlands. Fires are common and the smoke filled air is only broken by the cold crisp mornings of a cold front as it passes through. Cold winter mornings are often silent, almost lifeless. The silence only broken by rustling leaves, the clattering of dry leafless branches or the gentle whoosh of the wind through the needle like leaves of the fur trees. Yet, despite the dry sullenness of winter, birds are still to be found on our beautiful campus. Below is a description of the some of the birds photographed during the winter months of 2020 on the Treverton campus.

WHITE-THROATED SWALLOW

This little bird has a blue back and white underparts and a complete blue-black neck band. It has a rufous coloured frontal section of the head (frons) and broad tail streamers. The white throated swallow is an intra-African migrant and has only recently returned to the campus for the start of spring. It generally makes nests out of mud pellets under an overhang. These photographs were taken at the College dam.

STEPPE BUZZARD

This is the most common brown buzzard in Southern Africa. It is distinguished from small eagles by its pale yellow legs. The plumage is highly variable ranging from pale brown (like the specimen below) to dark brown almost black. These are migratory birds and are commonly found in open grasslands or bushveld. It usually avoids arid regions and forests. It feeds on small mammals and reptiles and lays its eggs in trees. These photographs were taken on the Treverton Wildlife Area and the bird was perched on the dead branches of a gum tree.  

AFRICAN SPOONBILL

This tall slender wading bird has a characteristic spoon-shaped bill and is closely related to the ibis family. It has a pink face, pale eyes, a grey bill and pink legs. It breeds colonially in reeds or trees. It feeds on small aquatic invertebrates and fish with a characteristic side-to-side motion of the bill. These photographs were taken at the small dam on the western side of the airstrip.

MALACHITE KINGFISHER

This small aquatic kingfisher is beautifully decorated. It has a rufous face, shiny purple and turquoise body and a turquoise and black barred crown. It is commonly found around lakes, dams, lagoons and estuaries. These photographs were taken as the small dam on the western side of the airstrip. This bird is a challenge to photograph because it is so small.

RED-THROATED WRYNECK

A woodpecker-like bird with mottled feathers, a wedge-shaped bill and a rufous throat and chest region. The Wryneck is often heard before it is seen and frequents the tree tops around the College. It feeds mainly feeds on ants on the ground with jerky woodpecker-like movements but also feeds on branches of trees.

WHITE STORK

 This is a large mostly white stork with black primary and secondary feathers. The bill and legs are red. The White stork is a migrant species commonly found in open grasslands and fields. It feeds on insects predominantly, though it also eats small mammals and reptiles. This bird was photographed on a firebreak on the TWA.

#thetrevertonexperience www.treverton.co.za

Mr Shaun Robertson (Physical Science – College)

The seasonal changes on the grasslands of Natal are dramatic and each season has unique beauty. My favourite time of the year is autumn. The leaf colour changes on many of the deciduous trees is elegant and incredibly attractive. The dramatic change from the summer greens to the softer yellows and reds of autumn paint a picture that few artists are able to replicate on canvas. Indeed, few photographs do the matchless beauty of these trees justice. The reflections of the autumn leaves in the images below (taken from the College dam) attempt to capture something of this beauty.

The improved bird watching that comes with autumn is another reason why I enjoy this season so much. With the leaves falling off of the trees, it is much easier to spot and photograph birds. Since I last contributed to the Treverton blog, I have photographed a few new bird species and I am glad to be able to share these with you.

JACKAL BUZZARD

Interestingly, the Jackal Buzzard did not get is name because it resembles a jackal (obviously) but rather because its call is similar to that of a Black-backed Jackal. The Jackal Buzzard is endemic to the Karoo, grasslands and agricultural lands of South Africa. It is a large buzzard with broad wings and a short rounded tail. Most have a rufous or chestnut colour on the chest and white wing coverts on the underwing. It has a black head, back and upper wing coverts. The photographs of the bird below were taken on the rugby poles on the main rugby field.  

BLACK-CAPPED ORIOLE

The Black-capped Oriole is often heard before it is seen and is commonly mistaken for a Yellow Weaver. The Black-capped Oriole is larger than a weaver and has a distinct black head, neck and central-breast. Most of the body is a striking yellow with some olive-green on the mantle and upper-wing coverts. It is a common resident of forests, forest edges and in invasive woodlands. It is commonly heard and seen on the trees between Harland and Jonsson Housemaster’s residences.

CARDINAL WOODPECKER

A small woodpecker with a streaks on its belly and breast, and distinct bars on its back. It generally has a white face. Both sexes have a black moustache type line. The male has a red crown and the female (pictured below) has a black crown. This woodpecker has a wide distribution and is found in both forests and bushveld. The bird pictured below had chased the Southern Black Tit (pictured previously) away from its meal on a stinkwood tree near Campbell boarding house.   

SPOTTED EAGLE OWL

This is the most common large owl with a range distribution throughout Southern Africa. It is a grey bird with a finely barred belly and flanks and yellow eyes. Its features are similar to that of the Cape Eagle Owl. There is a pair of Spotted Eagle Owls living in the gums below the Treverton College dam wall. They are startled easily and are, therefore, a challenge to photograph. 

SOUTHERN BLACK TIT

This mostly black bird with white edges to the wings and tail is a common resident in forest and broad-leafed woodlands. It generally eats a variety of invertebrates, fruit and nectar.

AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK (GYMNOGENE)

The African Harrier-Hawk is a large broad-winged Hawk with a small head and clumsy flying style.  The adult (pictured below) is grey on top with fine barring on the breast and a bare yellow face. Interestingly, the face changes colour to red when agitated. The hawk uses its long legs to hang upside down and reach into cavities or nests to prey on eggs or young birds. It also eats larger birds, small mammals and reptiles. This large hawk is often seen soaring over the campus or perched in a pine tree or gum tree.

BUFF-STREAKED CHAT

The male Buff-Streaked Chat, pictured below, has a beautiful light brown breast with a striking black face, throat and wings. Some varieties have a whitish head strap and wing bar (the individual in the picture below did not have a white head strap). This is an endemic bird (found in north-eastern South Africa) and is generally found on rock strewn slopes. The individual pictured below was found near the College pool.

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Mr Shaun Robertson (Physical Science – College)