The odd couple

22 12 2019

One I recognized immediately – it was a crowned crane. I’ve never seen one in this area so was more than a bit taken aback but they are very distinctive birds. Quite tall, elegant as cranes always are and the distinctive yellow gold crown of feathers on the head adding a touch of glamour. It did a little bow to its companion, an attempt at a courtship ritual perhaps, but the companion was certainly not a crowned crane! “Stupid bird” I thought, “she’s not even one of yours”. I passed the binoculars over to Marianne and pointed out the characteristic “crown” of the crowned crane. “And the other one’s a white stork” I added. But there was a niggling thought that there was something not right about its colouring. There was too much black on it for a start and I didn’t often see white storks up close through binoculars. Anyway, we needed to press on – the dogs were getting bored and I didn’t want them to get the idea of chasing the birds.

I was still bothered by the bird I’d identified as a white stork when we got home so I got out the oracle, actually an app on my iPad for Roberts Birds, when I got home. There, on the same page as the crowned crane, was a bird that looked remarkably like the one I’d identified as a white stork – except it was a wattled crane. I was intrigued and more than a bit excited. I hadn’t seen one of these since I was a teenager growing up in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe.

I decided to be cautious; rather than announce to the electronic world that I’d seen a rare bird (they are listed as critically endangered in southern Africa), I’d go back and try and get photos with a good camera and telephoto lens. I was certain about the crowned crane so decided to ask Ant Fynn, who knows about birds, if they were common around Harare. He said no, not at all, since we’d lost a lot of wetland around the city. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself by mentioning the wattled crane as I’m no expert and haven’t seen one for 40 years. So after a brief executive meeting with the managing director of my company, me, we decided that decisive photographic evidence of these birds was far more important than work and I headed out with my trusty Nikon and not-so-big telephoto lens.

Crowned crane on the left, wattled on the right. Despite the size and species difference they did appear to be a pair.

I found them easily enough on a small stock dam some 600m from the morning’s sighting. It didn’t take a moment to positively identify the wattled crane. This time I contacted Ken who is a semi-professional birder and he was as excited as I was. I got the photographic proof, which showed the limitations of my telephoto lens at its limits (I did know that it’s not the best on the market but didn’t realize it was THAT limited), and had to be satisfied with that as the cranes would just not let me close. Curiously they appeared to be behaving as a couple.

Ken was as pleased as I was though he thought they would soon be moving on. The pairs of wattled cranes that bred on the dams of my youth returned for many years to the same site and often used the same nest. They were not often successful; I can still remember the excitement of my parents when a chick hatched and the disappointment when it disappeared prematurely. I think that often otters were responsible for raiding the eggs and any number of other predators could have got to the chicks.

Several of the birding community contacted me over the following days wanting to get the wattled crane on their check list. Asher was particularly pleased as he’d not seen one either since he was a youngster and also commented on their pair-like behaviour as did some others. Was it choice or happenstance? We’ll never know. We didn’t seem them again on Friday’s dog exercising so I guess they have moved on now.

Majestic in flight too. They have moved on. Wattled cranes need around 300ha of suitable foraging area to breed successfully.

Good intentions

13 09 2012

There are a number of new publications on offer in Harare. I’m not sure how they all manage to keep going. They list local news, have articles on wildlife and gardening what’s on for entertainment and have a lot of adverts in them. They are not the sort of thing I would buy but I do have a look at them when waiting in waiting rooms and in the magazine piles next to the toilet. There’s a monthly newspaper too called The Suburban (or something like that). It’s free so I do pick up when I see it. There is a lot of news on, well, goings-on in the suburbs and the last one was heavily focussed on the issue of informal suburban cultivation of which there is plenty at the moment. Anyone who can claims a piece of unused land at this time of year and cultivates it in preparation for planting maize when the rains arrive in November. It really is an eyesore but nobody until now has done anything about it.

It seems that the Minister for the Environment has taken it upon himself to pass a law making cultivation on the wetlands around Harare illegal. I didn’t give it much thought until today when driving past a local wetland, or vlei as they are known locally, when I saw a number of signs up in already cultivated land proclaiming NO CULTIVATION. Good intentions indeed but I will keep an eye on this to see if it is ever enforced. I suspect the signs will disappear and it will be business as usual.

A few weeks ago when driving back to work around midday I came across a fire that had just started by the local golf course. It had jumped the road and was well into the old maize land around my premises. It raged through that and was  so fierce that thermals were ripping off around my house some 800m distant. I heard later that the golf course had been fined some $200 even though they denied having anything to do with it. A small sawmill on the same premises as my nursery had timber burnt and they too were fined for not having a fire extinguisher even though it would have been utterly useless against that sort of blaze.  So maybe the environment lot have some teeth. Or maybe it’s just a case of catching whom they can.

Two days ago the smoke was so dense from all the bushfires that I could look at the sun at 4.30 p.m. quite easily. There is a lot of room for improvement.