Pic of the week: Cape Leopard….camera trap

Camera Trap Cape Leopard Trust

Cape Leopard Trust Camera Trap

This is the closest I’ve come to seeing a Leopard in the Cape… While riding in the Palmiet river valley on Sunday I came across this camera trap, a vital piece of equipment for the Cape Leopard Trust’s research on this very elusive predator. Cape Leopard (the smaller cousin of the larger bushveld variety), is extremely shy and practically impossible to see, hence the use of camera traps. Here’s an excerpt from the Cape Leopard Trust’s website on camera trapping:

How do you find such a secretive animal in such a vast and untamed area? The short and general answer is: You don’t! Cape Leopards are notoriously shy and elusive; extremely few people have been lucky enough to see one – and when they do it is usually only a short glimpse. Fortunately, there is a solution – digital cameras, containing an infrared sensor triggered by motion and heat (referred to as a “camera trap”). Camera-trapping has proved to be a very effective way of estimating the numbers of elusive and nocturnal animals such as large carnivores (e.g. tigers in India). It is a non-invasive and comparatively affordable option, since it does not require the capture, handling, or immobilisation of animals. Photographs of leopards are an exceptionally useful tool, since each leopard has a distinctive spot pattern – almost like our fingerprints – by which it can be identified. Camera traps can be deployed singly, but ideally a camera station should consist of two cameras opposite each other. Such double stations are used to compile “leopard identikits” – photos of both an individual’s left and right flanks – which are crucial in estimating the number of individuals in an area. [more here]

The thought that leopards roam the Kogelberg certainly gives the area a distinct charm. Apart from the infamous “Betty’s Bay Leopard” of the 1980’s, which was well known for being decidedly un-elusive and its penchant for African Penguins, the only recent local reports I’m aware of are unconfirmed sightings from Hangklip. Does anyone else perhaps know of other sightings from the area?

Do visit the Cape Leopard Trust website, it’s a fascinating project.

David Winter

Pic of the week: Sentinel Rock-Thrush

Rock Thrush, Sentinel by Patrick Cardwell

Sentinel Rock-Thrush

Patrick Cardwell took this excellent shot of a male Sentinel Rock-Thrush at Sir Lowry’s Pass, Cape Town earlier last year. Sentinel’s can be difficult to find in the Cape, but Sir Lowry’s Pass, Rooi Els, Cape Point and even Table Mountain have been turning up the goods of late.

Cape Clawless Otter in Betty’s Bay

Not exactly a passerine, but I’m always thrilled when I bump into Cape Clawless Otter. My latest otter experience was in Betty’s Bay at “Big” or “Main” beach, one of the busier beaches in the area. It wasn’t picking it’s way between beach towels, but it was about 500m from the busy swim area.

Cape Clawless Otter

We first spotted it swimming about 20m offshore, pretty close to a fisherman, before it slowly made its way onto the beach.

Cape Clawless Otter1

What surprised me was how slowly it moved up the beach. I would have expected it to make a dash for cover, but it took about 4 minutes for it leave the water and finally disappear over the dune.

Cape Clawless Otter2

What was most striking was its rather rotund belly! We suspected it may be a pregnant female; I remember otter being a lot slimmer and streamlined than this portly individual. Any otter experts have an opinion on this?

Cape Clawless Otter spoor

The tail and “clawless” paw prints make for a distinctive spoor.

Cape Clawless Otter spoor1

Chatting to a Betty’s Bay resident, Cape Clawless Otter is a regularly seen along this stretch of beach, but usually at an earlier hour in the morning.

Birding in Cape Town: Table Mountain and Lions Head

One of Cape Town’s greatest attractions is that it is located on the boundary of the Table Mountain National Park – in fact the park is surrounded by Cape Town! The city centre is located in a bowl flanked by Table Mountain to the south, Lions Head and Signal Hill to the west, and Table Bay (and Robben Island) to the north.

table mountain1

From the centre of Cape Town one can be standing at the foot of Table Mountain or walking up Lions Head within 10 minutes. The fynbos covered slopes do not yield high numbers of birds, but this is certainly made up for by the quality of the species (ie. endemics).

Karoo Prinia

On Saturday evening I popped up Lions Head for 45 minutes to stretch the legs. This Karoo Prinia (above) responded very quickly to some spishing as did a Grey-backed Cisticola (below).

Greybacked Cisticola

Apart from these two LBJs, Cape Grassbird’s melodic song is also commonly heard, particularly on the north-facing slopes. Other good endemics that one can catch up with are Orange-breasted Sunbird (listen for their metallic chinking call), Cape Siskin (a nasal “siskiiiiiiin”), Cape Sugarbird (check the protea bushes on the entrance road to Signal Hill) and the colourful Bokmakierie is also resident.


When not watching your footing, keep an eye out for Rock Kestrel (breeds on the cliffs), Black Sparrowhawk (love feasting on lazy Feral Pigeons), Peregrine Falcon (breed on Table Mountain), Booted Eagle (summer) and Steppe Buzzard (summer).

Don’t be put off climbing Lions Head in summer if there is a strong south-easterly wind blowing; the mountain lies in a wind shadow and can be breathless when the rest of Cape Town is blowing a gale. As for winter, the adage goes that if there is cloud around Lions Head and a north-westerly wind is blowing, one can expect rain within 24 hours. Enjoy!

Recent Namibia Kaokoveld trip photos

The images below are from a recent (September 2009) trip to the Kaokoveld in north western Namibia. It wasn’t a birding trip, however with so much to see I soon had the other trip participants caught up in the birding. Apart from birds the area is renowned for desert elephant, black rhino, lion, cheetah and many other exciting mammals.

Damara Rockrunner

Ruppels Korhaans

African Scops-owl

Desert ele stretching

Spring has sprung down south!

Southern Double-collared Sunbird by David WinterMale Southern Double-collared Sunbirds (Cinnyris chalybeus) only reveal their yellow “epaulettes” when trying to impress females in spring. This male bird was trying his hardest to attract a mate at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens this past weekend. Happy spring (or autumn for the northeners)!