Just before our first Duty in Pilanesberg in 2018 (second weekend in January), a lightning strike had started a fire in the west of the park, and the fire was left to burn naturally. It should be remembered that the roads usually act as firebreaks, and fire is a necessary part of the environment, which helps to promote diversity of plant species, which in turn helps to preserve the total biodiversity. It is important to have random burning, and there is no better random burn than a lightning strike! Also, at this time of year, the grass is not too dry and so a fire is unlikely to burn too hot, which only burns off the older grass and does not damage the trees too much. Grass stores its nutrients underground, so it can grow again after the fire.
On Sunday morning, we were patrolling along Tlou, and Errol noticed the huge flock of large birds. These were White Storks, together with the smaller Abdim’s Storks, and well over a hundred of each, circling near the fire. Later, we saw White Storks in front of the fire, waiting for anything trying to escape, which is a typical trick of theirs. We saw at least three Steppe Buzzards flying over the fire, as well as some Fork-tailed Drongos, and some Barn Swallows flying through. All of these were taking advantage of the feast.
First view of the flock…
White Storks waiting for escapees…
A Common Buzzard (where Steppe Buzzard is now lumped back in) waiting for prey…
Closer view of the flock: smaller Abdim’s Stork behind, and a larger White Stork in front.
More Abdim’s Storks!
The storks must have fed well, because we later saw them loafing at Batlhako Dam, where they also preened and drank. Initially, they were mainly a mixed flock, but the later arriving White Storks were separate on the other side of the dam. I was puzzled to see a younger Abdim’s Stork (it was duller) which has been defecated on. It made me think of the “management tree cartoon” where the top birds roost at the top, and everyone else roosts below… but presumably this happened while it was flying in the flock. Surprisingly, it did not attempt to preen or bathe, perhaps it was just too inexperienced, or too tired from feeding?
Loafing around, but why didn’t the “Poo-ey” bird clean itself?
Other reports of smaller numbers of the White Storks and Abdim’s Storks were made, and so there were probably around 150 Abdim’s Storks in Pilanesberg that weekend, and a similar number of White Storks. Although the White Storks are fairly common in our summer, there are not usually that many, and this was the first time I had seen more than a few Abdim’s Storks in Pilanesberg. In our summer, they are not breeding (they do that further north, in our winter), and so they can be much more opportunistic and free to look for food. Being in a flock means more eyes to look for food, and also safety in large numbers. (A large eagle could probably tackle a stork). The storks were probably attracted by the fire, which had been burning since the Friday, because the smaller creatures either try to escape in front of the fire, or get caught and can be “collected” later on. Secretary Birds often are attracted to fires too, but usually after the fire has mainly finished burning, and then they pick up the casualties. We did see some Secretary Birds, but there were a few kilometres from the fire.
Synchronised drinking, just the thing after flying around the fire.
Another Abdim’s Stork comes in…
This was an example of the effects of a fire on the birds, and the smaller numbers, and not just the plants.