👣 In summer I always enjoy an early-evening walk on our smallholding. No need to get in my car to find nature, I have 8.5ha right here to explore, hoping to see the Barn Owl or some Guinea fowl, but always enjoying the Bluegum trees and beautiful grasses and wild flowers along the way.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Farm talk - The Crowned Plovers have hatched!

Crowned plovers - Vanellus coronatus

After the big to-do of the Crowned Plover stopping my husband's 5-ton truck from destroying her nest, I kept on checking on their nest, from a distance, and Saturday morning at 8.30am I was rewarded by seeing two of the three eggs hatch, hopefully the third will follow soon. Luckily it was warm and sunny and the parents were keeping a close eye on the proceedings.

Trying to take these pics of them was an ordeal in itself, as I once again was dive-bombed mercilessly and one of them even almost got tangled up in my hair! 

They are so well camouflaged, I almost missed them 

Breeding occurs in the spring months from July to October. The nest is in a shallow depression in the soil with a lining of vegetation and other debris. There are normally 3 eggs, sometimes 2 or 4. Incubation requires 28 to 32 days and is done by both sexes. Immediately after hatching, the young leave the nest while both parents look after them. Egg-laying is timed to precede the rainy season and most incubating is done by the female. The male assists only on hot days, when he either incubates or shades the nest. 

The one on the right is still wet, with some egg shell sticking to its feathers 

Pretending no-one can see it!

 Eyes tightly shut...

Bare-part colours of males brighten in the breeding season. Different types of display flights lure the female to the defended territory. A female accepting the male and territory will follow the male during his display flight. Mates may be retained for life. 

 Still wet from hatching out the egg

Although generally outnumbered by Blacksmith Lapwings, they are the most widespread and locally the most numerous lapwing species in their area of distribution. Their numbers have increased in the latter part of the 20th-century after benefiting from a range of human activities. They live up to 20 years. 

After the photographic session, I left them in peace and 3 o'clock that afternoon I returned to find that the two hatchlings had moved about 3 meters away from the nest, hiding close to a clump of grass.

Their colours are absolutely gorgeous and perfectly suited to their surrounds. They both kept their eyes tightly shut, barely breathing as they tried to blend into the surrounds.

Those typical long legs are already apparent!

The third egg seems to have been abandoned. I returned early evening but couldn't find the babies anywhere. The parents were about 100meters further down the plot and I presumed the babies were there with them. I am totally thrilled to have witnessed this happening and now just hope and pray the next door neighbour's dogs keep away from my property!


Saturday, 1 October 2016

Farm talk - The wrath of a Crowned Plover

... or, the love of a mother....
Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.

Yesterday my husband had to pull the truck out of the workshop to deliver a tractor to a customer and as he got a couple of meters from the workshop gate, he was confronted by a very angry Crowned Plover, standing in front of the approaching truck, wings spread and loudly proclaiming her intent on not moving.

Perplexed, my husband got out of the truck to look what was going on, upon which both parents flew at him in attack mode, swooping and screaming loudly, trying to get him to move. Suspecting that there might be some babies, he called me to see if I could see what all the pa-lava was about.

As soon as I arrived, I was dive-bombed in the same manner and as I carefully walked around slowly, looking out for any babies, the one parent would flap around in the grass, feigning injury and, as I approached, move on a bit, trying to lure me away from the spot. This is a strategy they use, pretending to be injured and easy prey, so getting a predator to follow them away from the nest. So I knew there definitely was something around there.

Both parents kept up this behaviour, alternating between dive-bombing us, flapping in the grass and screaming at the top of their voices.

 and this is what all the raucous was about!

Eventually, taking my cue from where they were at their most frantic, I found the nest - three beautiful speckled eggs so well camouflaged that it took me ten minutes to find it! The eggs were within meters of the truck's front wheels, my husband has stopped just in time! If it wasn't for this brave little bird stopping a 5-ton truck, the nest might have been destroyed.

After taking some photographs and enduring a lot more abuse from them, my husband reversed the truck and did a wide berth around the nest. Now that we know where they are, we avoid that area and hopefully will be able to see the birth of these little wonders.

The Crowned Plover (Vanellus coronatus) occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa it is common in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, northern and south-western South Africa and southern Mozambique. It generally prefers dry, open grassland, sparse woodland, open areas in Karoo scrub and man-made habitats, such as open fields, short pastures, airports, golf courses and roadsides.

They build their nests totally in the open and only after the grass has been cut on our smallholding. No trees, long grass or any other sort of cover for hundreds of meters around them. It always amazes me that they face the elements this way, with no cover whatsoever, but understandably it gives them a wide range of sight to see any predators approaching.

They mainly eats termites (which make up approximately 80-90% of its diet), using the typical foraging technique of plovers, running, stopping then searching for prey on the ground. It often forages in groups, sometimes alongside Black-winged lapwings, moving in a regularly spaced line.

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