Boulders Beach, South Africa

Boulders Beach is an sheltered beach on the Cape Peninsula which is home to a large colony of African Penguins. It is surrounded by massive granite boulders which gives it the name Boulders Beach.

The Boulders Beach penguins started from one pair which appeared in 1983 then gradually increasing. Soon numbers soared due to the area having plentiful food as it was closed to commercial fishing.  However, competition for space and and decreasing fish stocks have meant a decline in numbers over the past couple of decades. Now tourism and peoples fascination for penguins are helping their survival.

Boulders beach became protected in 1998 when Table Mountain National park was put in place.

Wooden walkways guide visitors through the colony meaning you can be up close to the penguins without disturbing them.

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As soon as you walk down on to the first walkway the smell and noise of the penguins hits you. On this sunny and windy day many penguin chicks, with the scruffy remains of their fluffy feathers, were scattered in between sand dunes and artificial nests.

August is the end of the breeding season and by September or October the beach will have few remaining penguins as many go out to sea to feed.

From the walkway the sight and sounds of the crashing waves is mesmerising. Some of the waves were so strong even a few penguins were caught out as the waves broke, causing a couple of penguins to somersault in the foaming white water.

After spending a lot of time bathing and grooming in the water, one by one the penguins exited the sea by surfing up on to the beach, they seemed to quickly change from an agile swimming, fishing machine to a black and white torpedo shape lying on its stomach as the wave receded. They then had a little shake and clumsily waddle off up the beach to groom some more.

Wooden walkway on Boulders Beach

African Penguins average 60cm in height

They weigh in at 2.4kgs to 3.6kgs

They can dive down to 130m and can hold their breath for 2.5 minutes

Their life span averages at 10 years

African penguins are now considered endangered by IUCN’s Red List. This means there is a high risk they may become extinct.

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Cape Town – South Africa

Up on Cape Point a troop of Chacma Baboons mingle amongst the tourists. Dodging in and out of the cars and coaches on the look out for food. As groups of visitors enjoyed the sights, struggled against the wind and browsed the gift shops, these baboons were waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

Chacma Baboon

These Baboons are the fourth largest African primate at 100cm to 180cm in height and weighing in between 12kg and 45kg. They have special protection up on the Cape Peninsula.

When not stealing food from tourists the baboons eat fruits, plants, seeds, roots and bulbs, insects and scorpions. Unlike many primates these baboons also forage on the beach at low tide for shellfish and sand hoppers.

It was interesting to watch a particularly large baboon follow a group of tourists as they emerged from the cafe. It sat at a distance until one girl took a paper bag out from her rucksack, then it ran across, grabbed a bread roll from the bag and settled up on a wall to eat it.

Some of the baboons have become extreme opportunists and climb in to cars through open windows or even open car doors to scavenge for food.

Chacma baboon on Cape point

Chacma baboon on Cape point

Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope are the most Southerly points of the Cape Peninsula, with Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town being the Northern End.

View on the way to Cape PointView over Cape Town

For the first few days in South Africa our base was Cape Town. Opposite the Hotel was Company gardens, a local park and heritage site.

We spent quite a few hours here watching the local wildlife, some that were familiar to the UK, but also many new bird species for me.

 

One of the highlights was watching a African Harrier Hawk hunting pigeons in the Company gardens. We watched as it startled the pigeons up in to the air and circled them over and over again until the pigeons were flying overhead in a ball. As it identified one individual, the Hawk separated it from the group and dived in to catch it.

African harrier hawk

Down at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town many Cape fur seals either gracefully swim around the boats in the harbour or lounge on many of the platforms.

Fur seals differ from true seals as they have external ear flaps and larger front flippers that they use to propel themselves along in the water, unlike true seals who use their back flippers.

Cape Fur seals

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Little owl

Over the last six months I have been on the trail for Little Owls.

At the beginning of the year I heard a call that I had heard regularly from a distance but this time it was much closer. After going home and researching the sound I found out it was a Little Owl.

I tracked down where the sound was coming from and started seeing glimpses of a Little Owl on some hay bales. Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo or the hedge was always blocking my view. Sometimes I could hear the call coming from the hay bales and a reply coming from over on the farm.

Most evenings throughout March I spotted a Little Owl sat on the side of the barn or on the tree stump.

During May the Little owl could be heard making contact calls early evening and it even came to our garden.

For about another month I didn’t see any signs of Little Owls until one evening I spotted one sat on a pile of logs. From then on, each night around 8pm to 9:30pm it sat there just as the sun disappeared behind the horizon.

In the past week I have noticed that not only is the adult sat on the top of the logs but just below, extremely well camouflaged, about half way down is one of this year’s young.

If I stand and listen carefully I can hear its raspy begging call.

Little owls aren’t native to the UK, they have been here since the late 19th Century.

They can been seen on farmland, hedgerows, often where cows or sheep have been grazing, and parkland. They eat mostly beetles, worms, moths, small mammals and birds and can sometimes be spotted running along the ground after prey. This is something I’d like to get a photo of next.

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Juvenile Little Owl

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During March

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During March

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During May

 

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End of June

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End of July

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Very well camouflaged

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Butterfly walk

Sunday morning we walked around the wood and the fields on the edge of the wood looking for butterflies.

It wasn’t a great morning for looking, at 10am the weather was cloudy, only about 16 degrees C with a slight wind.

On the walk down to the woods from the church there were plenty of Gatekeepers low in the long grass, with a few tatty Meadow Browns.

Once in the woods we stopped at what I call Dragonfly corner and spotted a Purple Hairstreak (no photos) which must have been settled until we walk past, then it flew up to the top of an oak tree and disappeared.

Walking up the main ride through the woods we looked out where White Admirals have been spotted, but we may have been too late for them.

Reaching the top of the ride we walked out in to the field and checked along the field edge in patches of nettles, thistles and ragwort. Here there were lots of Gatekeepers, a few Common Blues, a Brown Argus, Ringlets, a few Whites and a Silver-washed fritillary.

Not many butterflies through the back edge of the wood as it is quite over grown and shaded so we headed out towards the next open patch to where Purple Emperors were spotted a couple of weeks ago. We did spot another Purple hairstreak and again lots of Common Blues, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns but no Purple Emperor.

Back in to the wood and not many butterflies until we reached Dragonfly corner again where there is a sunny patch. Another Silver-washed fritillary and a couple of Gatekeepers.

Thank you to Richard for pointing out many butterflies that I would have missed, especially the Purple hairstreaks.

We plan to repeat the walk later on in the week.

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Cumnor Pond inauguration

Yesterday I attended the inauguration of Cumnor Village pond by Philip Pullman.

I pass Cumnor pond every day while on the school bus and love to visit there whenever I can.

The pond has recently had plenty of work and surveying done by a group of volunteers, including the addition of a new floating wetland to help absorb the nitrates and coir rolls planted with vegetation to provide food and cover for water voles.

The improvements will hopefully encourage a lot more wildlife to the pond.

There is plenty of tradition and superstition linked to Cumnor pond. The tradition of dunking the mock major of Cumnor in the pond dates back to the 1950’s

The Ghost of Amy Robsart apparently haunts the village pond.

Amy Robsart was married to Robert Dudley and they lived in Cumnor Place. There was much speculation about Robert’s relationship with Queen Elizabeth I.

Amy died on 8th September 1560, under suspicious circumstances after ‘falling’ down the stairs at Cumnor Place and breaking her neck. It was said her ghost then haunted Cumnor Place and parts of the village.

The story goes that nine parsons came from Oxford to lay her restless ghost in the pond. It is said that since this the pond has never frozen.

During the hour we were at the pond we didn’t see Amy’s ghost but instead, Moorhens on the pond, water boatmen and Mayfly larvae while pond dipping, swallows overhead as well as damselflies and dragonflies.

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Evening walk end of term

It was really nice to go for an evening walk in the sunshine now it isn’t so hot and sticky.

Many animals seem to have appreciated the few days of rain, the badgers have been busy with lots of new tunnels through the undergrowth and pathways through the meadow.

I’m still convinced that this badger is one of last years cubs, it seems to have no scars or damaged ears and I don’t recognise it as one of my regulars.

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The Roe deer have separated and rather than being in a group they are scattered individually around the fields and woods. I’ve seen a few fawns this year but mostly they are good at hiding.

We saw one of the fox cubs in the wood and the vixen resting in a sunny patch.

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Plenty of Cinnabar moth caterpillars munching their way through leaves.

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Back in our garden I found two different black beetles. A lesser stag beetle and another beetle that looked similar but what I think is a Black Sexton beetle

 

Posted in Badgers, garden, mammals, nature, Oxfordshire, photography, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Wildlife photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Questions from some budding young naturalists

This week I’ve been really honoured to hear that a local primary school have been using my blog to help them learn about ‘living things and their habitat’ during their science lessons.

What was really amazing was the variety of questions and thought that has gone in to each question they have sent me to answer.

To the Children of Years 1 and 2 from Woodstock Primary School, here are my answers.

1. How do you photograph animals that move so fast?

With difficulty.

I use a setting on my camera that takes lots of photos, one after the other really quickly. Sometimes I have to guess where an animal is going to run to, then focus on one place and hope that the animal will pass that spot.

Hares can be quite hard, but insects like dragonflies can be impossible to take a photo of in flight, sometimes it is easier to film them.

You would be amazed at how many photos I have to delete. Like the one below.

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2. Why do you like nature?

Nature is absolutely fascinating, there is always something new to learn and something new to discover, a species or a behaviour that you have never seen before.

Just this week I learnt all about the journey that Swallows take when they migrate to South Africa.

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3. Where is the best place in Oxfordshire to watch wildlife?

My favourite place is my local patch. If you spend the time to learn where each animal lives or is likely to appear, then an area you know well is always the best place to see wildlife.

Other than my local patch, the Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves such as Dry Sandford Pit, or RSPB reserves like RSPB Otmoor are great places to visit.

Starlings and Beckley mast at Otmoor

One of my favourite places in Oxfordshire is Wytham woods.

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4. Is it difficult to reach the right places to see animals? Do you climb over trees and rocks?

Sometimes I have to climb over and around things. I think Brambles are probably the thing that gets in the way the most when I am trying to take photos, lots of animal use brambles for shelter and hiding in.

5. How many peregrine falcons are living and have you seen any?

According to the RSPB there are 1,500 breeding pairs in the UK. I have been lucky enough to see two Peregrine falcons at RSPB Otmoor. I also took a quick photo of one flying over my house a couple of years ago and I’ve seen one on a cliff in Devon.

6. How many animals are getting extinct at the moment? What animal has the lowest number?

When we think about extinction we normally think about White Rhino’s, polar bears and Cheetahs, the big mammals, but Scientists estimate that 150 – 200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours, or between 200 and 2,000 species each year depending on which study you read.

Many of these are from ‘natural extinction’ and would have happened even if humans had nothing to do with it, but humans do effect lots of animals and their survival.

Animals such as the White Rhino and the Vaquita porpoise have very low numbers.

 

7. What is your favourite animal and why?

Badgers are my favourite animals, with Hares coming a close second.

I have been watching my local badger sett for over 10 years and each badger has its own personality, some are playful and cheeky. Others are bossy and push other badgers around. I admire how powerful and strong they are.

Hares are fantastic to watch, they are so fast especially when they are chasing each other before they start boxing.

Sitting hare Alex White - 300 dpi

8. How many hedgehogs are living?

It is very difficult to know how many hedgehogs there are in the UK, some think only around 1 million hedgehogs are left which is shocking when in the 1950’s there were 36.5 million hedgehogs.

There is lots you can do to try and help hedgehogs and encourage them in to your back garden. Have a look at Hedgehog Street.

Hedgehog Street

The hedgehog in my garden loves slugs.

9. How long have you been looking for animals?

I have been looking for animals since I was 3 years old when my parents had to carry me down to the woods to see the badgers, as it was too far for me to walk. I’ve always been interested in animals especially mammals.

10. How many different types of animal have you seen in Oxfordshire?

Wow, that’s a hard question. I have no idea. I have probably only seen a very very small percentage of all the mammals, birds, insects, fish, moths and butterflies in Oxfordshire. That is why nature is so fascinating because there is always something new to find even in your own back garden.

The mammals are easy I have seen Badgers, hares, roe deer, fallow deer and muntjac, rabbits, different types of mice, voles and shrews, rats, hedgehogs, grey squirrels, mink, stoat, weasel, polecat and foxes, bats and moles.

I have seen Otters and water voles, but not in Oxfordshire. I would love to see a wild boar and a beaver.

There are 294 types of birds in Oxfordshire, although some of those just visit or have only been seen once and some not for a very long time.

My favourites are the birds of prey and I’d love to see a Red-footed falcon. One was seen this week in Oxfordshire.

11. How do you look after nature?

You can look after nature by respecting it. We all have to share this planet and we all have the right to have somewhere to live and grow.

There are plenty of things each one of us can do every day such as not dropping litter, putting out water in the garden and little actions like not killing that spider you find in the bath, but picking it up and letting it go.

The best way to look after nature is to learn more about it, the more you know the more you will care about it.

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Thank you for such interesting questions. Good luck with your science lessons.

Alex

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