11 June, 2014

Sociable weavers on the road to Kgalagadi

 - gardening for biodiversity 
in Cape Town, South Africa

In June (our winter) 2008 we headed a thousand kilometres north to the Kgalagadi. When I grew up, we spelt it Kalahari, but it still sounds the same.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Sanparks Kgalagadi Where the red dunes and scrub fade into infinity and herds of gemsbok, springbok, eland and blue wildebeest follow the seasons, where imposing camel thorn trees provide shade for huge black-mane lions and vantage points for leopard and many raptors... this is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. An amalgamation of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa (proclaimed in 1931) and the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana, the Park comprises an area of over 3.6 million hectares – one of very few conservation areas of this magnitude left in the world (From their Official Information Guide)

Travelling to Nieuwoudtville

We travelled with an overnight stop in Nieuwoudtville (September 2011 and September 2012) famed as the bulb capital of the world, with its spring display of wild flowers. A glorious part of Namaqualand’sspring performance. On via Brandvlei, and a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere. To our first night at the camp just inside the gate – Tweerivieren (two rivers, two usually dry rivers!)

on the R27 near Brandvlei

This little fellow, who might look like a chipmunk, is a ground squirrel. Mostly vegetarian, with a few insects. Their leader is a lady. They wander around the camp, collecting dinner. Some of them are unfortunately so used to people that they shared the Ungardener’s (unsalted) peanuts, from his fingers, almost from his lap! When they remember that people are dangerous, they run like hell for their burrows.

Ground squirrel at Tweerivieren

Ground squirrel hoping for another peanut

Someone thought our weavers nests were like a condo, but ours live in free standing homes with garden and views. Yes there are neighbours, who adhere to the set architectural guidelines (Gaudi or Hundertwasser maybe?) The Ungardener has always been intrigued by weavers building their nests. Especially these sociable weavers Philetairus socius.

Sociable weavers nest

Sociable weavers

As we drove along the main road north, almost every telephone pole had a humungous sociable weavers nest on it. The grass for building is there, but there are almost no trees – so use a convenient telephone pole. The nests are so big, and so heavy, that the poles often buckle under the strain. In places the authorities have been forced to bury the telephone lines.

Sociable weavers

If there are trees, they will build on lower branches to get some shade. There can be up to 300 birds (including chicks), perhaps 50 chambers. We live below, for protection from predators, and ease of access for the residents, a gated community. Due to effective insulation, in the nest, winter stays above 15C, and summer below 30C. Quite comfortable, I am sure you’ll agree. The pygmy falcon shares the nest for winter, protecting the birds from lizards and insects in return. Cape cobras can destroy the entire population, moving steadily thru the whole nest. The honey badger will tear the nest apart to get at the eggs and chicks (Facts from their Official Information Guide)

Journey on with us to see Kgalagadi gemsbok.

Appalled to read that Botswana plans to frack on the San land in the Transfrontier Park.

Pictures by Jurg Studer  
of  Elephant's Eye on False Bay 

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  1. that is amazing about the nests, do the snakes climb the pole? I know its a stupid question but I was not sure, to think the nests hold so many birds, wow, incredible!

    1. the snakes would be climbing to nests in trees.
      Perhaps snakes is part of the reason why the birds moved to poles?

  2. Those sociable weaver's nests are impressive--that would be a fascinating thing to see! And the little ground squirrel sure is tame! We have both ground squirrels and chipmunks here, too, but they aren't quite that tame, in general. What a fabulous place to explore!

    1. we shouldn't feed them, but they ask so NICEly and the Ungardener couldn't resist!

  3. The photograph of the ground squirrel is so funny.

  4. The sociable weaver nests always make for great photographs. I just haven't travelled in that part of the country to get a few for myself yet.

  5. Someday Diana I may make it to your beautiful part of the world...when I read names like blue wildebeest and camel thorn trees I conjure up all sorts of pictures in my head...such a cute squirrel and those nests are like something I would never see here...

    1. and I'd like to see autumn leaves in New England one day.