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Grysbok Environmental Education Trail

A total of 128 bird species have been sighted in the reserve, of which many can be seen at the bird-hide that overlooks the dam along the trail. Eighteen of these species have been recorded breeding on campus. A complete bird list can be viewed at the bird-hide, and we would appreciate any additional sightings of species that you may make.

Southern boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus)
This bird ranges in size from 21 to 23 cm long (including the tail). It has a highly variable call, ranging from bell-like notes to buzzing notes. Two birds will often call antiphonally, each bird alternating with the other. They prefer to stick to dense scrub or overgrown areas of the trail, although they can become less wary around human habitation. They eat almost anything, from insects to fruit to fledgling birds.
Whitebreasted Cormorant (Phalacrocorax lucidus)

These birds are often seen next to the pond at the main entrance to NMMU. They seem to enjoy fishing for titbits in the shallow water. Whitebreasted cormorants will eat fish, frogs, crabs and water snails. They are large birds, growing to about 90 cm (including tail). They are common residents in Port Elizabeth, and can be seen throughout the year. Often the smaller Cape cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis) can be seen sunning themselves alongside their whitebreasted cousins.

Spotted Thick-knee(Burhinus capensis)

The spotted thick-knee relies on their excellent camouflage for protection and will not budge unless approached quite closely. They have a high pitched piping call, and will emit growling alarm notes when distressed. They prefer open areas interspersed with bush clumps or trees, and can be found in the main car park in the evenings. Thick-knees are crepuscular (active at twilight) or nocturnal (hence the big eyes), but will also be active on cloudy days. They are more vocal at night, on heavily cloudy days and just after rain. They eat mainly insects, crabs, snails, grass seeds, and sometimes even frogs. The nest is usually a shallow scrape on the ground, but once the female sits down, she virtually disappears from view, so good is her camouflage!

Laughing Dove(Streptopelia senegalensis)

This pretty little dove is found throughout Africa. They become very tame near human habitation. Their call is a bubbling phrase of 6 to 8 notes, sounding like a gentle chuckle. They do not call on landing, as do most doves of this genus. Laughing doves eat mainly seeds, although they will take insects and snails. The females tend to take more animal food than the males, as they have to build up protien reserves in order to lay eggs. They breed at all times of year, except mid-summer. The nest is an untidy affair of twigs, and the clutch averages two eggs.

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus)

The Egyptian Goose is known as a Kolgans in Afrikaans. The "kol" refers to the dark spot in the centre of the chest. Their distribution covers most of sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt and the Middle East, and south-east Europe. On the Trail, they are often found at the main pond, and also at the new pond. They seem to spend most of their time loafing on the shoreline, but they can be pests in grain farming areas when their numbers are very high. They are mainly herbivores, feeding on grain and other seeds, seedlings and aquatic rhizomes.

Yellowbilled Egret (Egretta intermedia)

The Yellow billed Egret is often seen near the main pond, up to its knees in the water, quietly stalking fish and frogs. These birds are shy and wary, and will fly off when approached. They can be distinguished from Little Egrets by their black feet and yellow bill, and from Cattle Egrets by their yellow bill. They have a short period during which they show their breeding coloration of an orange to red bill, red upper legs and a bright green eye ring.

Rednecked Spurfowl(Pternistes afer)

These delightful fowl are often seen picking their way through the undergrowth on the trail. They are best seen in the early morning. Rednecked Spurfowl tend to be very shy and run off into the bushes when they spot danger. They are omnivores, and will take seeds, shoots, roots, bulbs, snails and insects. They lay about 4 to 7 seven eggs, and can be seen leading their chicks about during late winter and early spring. Unlike the northern hemisphere, many birds in Southern Africa will prefer to breed during the wetter mild winters than during the harsh dry summers.

Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash)

The Hadeda Ibis is often seen and heard on the Trail. They are common all over campus and do a good job of aerating the lawns with their long probing beaks as they search for insects and worms in the soil. They occur often in twos and threes near the start of the trail, but avoid the more bushy areas.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)

This is an immature Grey Heron. When it matures, it will display a black stripe above the eye, and a floppy black crest. It will also acquire a darker grey body colour, a whiter neck with black speckles down the front, black shoulders and a bright yellow bill and legs. Grey Herons are fairly uncommon; the more common species in South Africa is the Blackheaded Heron. Grey Herons spend most of their time near the water, and will eat most animals associated with water, even small mammals and reptiles.

Fiscal Shrike (Lanius collaris)

This dapper little fellow is a common sight on the trail. These attractive looking birds have the less attractive habit of spearing their prey on thorns, thus building up a tidy larder of dried snacks. Fiscal Shrikes have a mixed call of harsh churring and piping notes. They sit perched high on some conspicuous vantage point and pounce on insects and small rodents. They are quite small birds (between 31 to 58 g), and yet will take quite large prey such as Laughing Doves, small Guinea Fowl chicks, snakes and lizards.

Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus)

These are quite large owls, measuring between 43 and 47 cm in length. They are often seen perched on top of the buildings, and have the habit of sitting next to building spotlights at night. It is thought that they watch the spotlight area to increase their hunting success. They also perch on street lights. Spotted Eagle Owls have a typical mellow hooting call. They may have day roosts in nooks and crannies of the building ledges, as they prefer to roost on rock (or cement) than in trees.

Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus coronatus)

Crowned Lapwings prefer the lawn areas of campus, but are sometimes seen on the trail. They are common throughout southern and eastern Africa, and have the status of common resident in South Africa. They are often gregarious when not breeding. They like to eat insects and earthworms. The young are precocious and will melt into the vegetation in response to an alarm call from the parents. The parents are valiant defenders of the nest and the young, dive-bombing and shrieking at intruders. Often neighbouring pairs will join in the attack on predators.

Cape Robin-chat(Cossypha caffra)

This pretty little bird is a good mimic, and can imitate the calls of over 20 other birds. It is generally common in South Africa, but is scarce in this area. It keeps mostly to dense undergrowth, and is thus more often heard than seen on the Trail. It feeds on insects, spiders, worms, small frogs and fruit. It breeds during spring in the east Cape. The nest is built by the females, who lay a clutch of 2 to 3 eggs in it.

Redwinged Starling (Onychognathus morio)

These birds are very common on campus and are often seen on the Trail. They tend to prefer the easy pickings of the campus waste bins, where they can often be seen attacking apple cores and dragging potato chips out of their packets. They will also take insects, lizards and aloe nectar. They form flocks of a few birds for most of the year and pair up when breeding. They have a sweet mellow whistled call which can be heard almost all the time on campus.

Southern Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus)

These birds reach a length of 11 to 13 cm. The brightly coloured male is shown here. The females are brownish grey, and pairs of birds are often seen foraging together. These birds do not feed exclusively on nectar, but will also eat insects and spiders, and the juice of overripe fruit.

Cape Wagtail (Montacilla capensis)

Dainty little Wagtails are found all over southern Africa, and the Trail is no exception. They have a sharp tweeting call. They wag their tails when landing, and when standing still, especially if they are nervous (which seems to be all the time!). These little birds feed on insects, small crabs, little fish (up to 2cm in length) and food scraps. They seem especially fond of cheese. They breed right through the year, and can have up to four broods.

Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus)

These are noisy and gregarious birds. They descend on one tree and nest in bustling flocks. Their call is a harsh swizzling, rasping sound, and they enthusiastically give voice when they display. Both males and females will hang beneath their nests and raise a tremendous clamour during the breeding season. They weave their neat oval nests out of grass and reed leaves. The nest has an entrance tunnel of about 8 to 12 cm, which hangs down vertically and discourages snakes from stealing their eggs.