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.

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Mr Shaun Robertson (Physical Science – College)