Birds and Wildlife of Clarendon
by John Carlyon
Although humans have constructed and landscaped suburbia to suit their needs for shelter; comfort and security, the environment thus created becomes a unique habitat for birds and animals.
Clarendon is no exception and many regulars and favourite birds will come to mind. In most parts of our suburb, the calls of Cape Robin-Chats; Olive Thrushes; Kurrichane Thrushes; Cape White-eyes; Dark-capped Bulbuls; Fork-tailed Drongos and – dare I mention them – Hadedas, will herald the dawn. African Goshawks may be heard “chipping” as they fly high above their territories. In some gardens the beautiful songsters, Chorister Robin-chats, may call from dense foliage. This is but a small sample of the birds that inhabit our suburb. Later in the day, we are likely to enjoy more spectacular and interesting species such as Black-headed Orioles; Brown-hooded Kingfishers; Green Wood-hoopoes; Black-collared Barbets; Purple-crested Turacos; sunbirds of several species and, occasionally, Grey-headed and Olive Bush-shrikes and, in some gardens, Woolly-necked Storks. The observant may see raptors such as Little Sparrowhawks; Black Sparrowhawks; African Harrier-hawks and Long-crested Eagles circling overhead. Pietermaritzburg is one of few cities in the world where you can enjoy the sight of a large and powerful eagle, the magnificent Crowned Eagle, in the skies daily. These endangered raptors breed close to our suburb, and the thrill of watching their midday displays overhead never fades.
One of our most-loved avian residents are the Spotted Thick-knees that regularly nest on the common at the top of Roberts Rd. Recently tragedy struck with one of the pair being killed, but it is hoped that the lost mate will be replaced and they will continue to delight community members with their confiding roosting habits. These are nocturnal birds – at night they are out feeding while the city sleeps.
In spring, the first migrants arrive and, in August, Yellow-billed Kites arrive to breed here, as do Lesser-striped Swallows and others. From September, we can expect our bird population to be boosted with a number of migrant cuckoos including Red-chested (Piet-my-Vrou), Klaas’s, Diederik, the strident Black Cuckoo and even the gorgeous African Emerald Cuckoo. Violet-backed Starling is another beauty that graces our environment in summer. Some gardens with dense undergrowth may attract Buff-spotted Flufftails with their ghostly calls during this time.
The list does not end there. At night Wood Owls may be seen or heard especially in well-wooded gardens close to forests or plantations. Barn Owl and Spotted Eagle-Owl are also occasionally heard. A typical garden bird list in Clarendon can have up to 120 species!
It is difficult to imagine that a fair number of mammals can also inhabit our area. However, this is indeed the case, and the most conspicuous of these are the controversial Vervet Monkeys. Also a mixed blessing for some, are Rock Hyraxes (dassies), which may delight many of us with their habit of popping in and out of culverts. Much less often seen, but often around, are small carnivores including Slender Mongoose, and nocturnal predators such as White-tailed Mongooses and Small-spotted Genets. Porcupines and even Bush Pigs may appear at night in gardens at the edge of the suburb. That pinging through the night from the trees in your garden is thanks to Epauletted Fruit Bats that look a little bit like Chihauhaus with wings! They may be attracted to fruiting figs and other indigenous tree species. Moles in the garden? Yes, but there are two very different species. The typical mounds of earth pushed up in the middle of the lawn are due to Rodent Moles. The raised tunnels criss-crossing the lawn that may puzzle some gardeners are made by the rarely seen Natal Golden Mole.
Mention should also be made of reptilian and amphibian inhabitants… best-known of which are Tree Agamas or Blue-headed Lizards, geckos and various skinks. Harmless garden snakes include Brown House Snake, Natal Green Snake, Spotted Bush Snake, Red-lipped Herald and Common Slug-eater. Almost all our garden snakes are non-venomous but Rhombic Night Adders may be encountered. Read here for more information and advice on snakes in Clarendon. The delightful Midlands Dwarf Chameleon and even Flap-neck Chameleon may occur in some gardens. Toads of various species may disturb sleep in the rainy summer months and some garden ponds attract good numbers of Painted Reed Frogs with their deafening cacophony of sound at night. Other species may appear from time to time – sometimes needing to be rescued from swimming pools!
Although hunting is innate behaviour for our pets, dogs and cats should never be allowed to catch or kill wild animals and birds. We share our suburb with a whole spectrum of fauna, and it is important that we are aware of these creatures which are so much a part of our daily lives. Indeed, they deserve our protection and conservation.
Click here for a list of bird sightings compiled by Clarendon resident, Kevin Joliffe.