By Sandy Ferrar, a wordsmith and nature lover from Barberton.
The wonder of Mountainlands, for me, is the fact that such wilderness lies on our door step and yet maintains its wild integrity. Of course it does so by being generally inaccessible. Perhaps that’s why the Black stork likes it.
We first saw this shy resident a couple of years ago, while Tony was researching the area as a potential World Heritage Site. With the sort of inevitable luck that happens for old wildlife experts, he manoeuvered us into a precarious and perilous spot which—viola!—provided a utterly unexpected view of a Black stork on its nest.
There is something humbling about seeing a scarce creature, like receiving a special blessing, helped along in this case by the bird’s ecclesiastical colouring – sombre black touched with purple and a snowy bib and tucker, offset by rich red legs and beak. There is an area of red skin around the eyes too, but from this distance it’s difficult to make out, even with binoculars.
Ciconia nigra is odd; it’s both widely distributed and yet rare. It breeds almost everywhere from China to Denmark and down to Southern Africa, but they are always thin on the ground, so to speak. They prefer to live fairly solitary lives (unlike Ciconia ciconia, the White stork, which enjoys being in large groups), and in as secluded a place as possible.
This is certainly secluded. I was interested to note that this is one place where I’ve not heard baboons barking, which, it turns out, make it ideal for Black stork, as baboons are known to eat both the eggs and the chicks if they get a chance. We did see Lanner falcon, and heard what sounded like an altercation between falcon and stork—a shrill whistling screech from the Lanner and a ferociously threatening bill clatter from the stork. I was out of view of the nest, and interpreted this exchange of insults to be the result of the small raptor threatening the stork’s brood, but I’ve since learned that I had probably got it back to front; the stork is known to dine off the Lanner’s little ones, both eggs and nestlings.
Despite that one unsavoury slur on the stork’s character, it’s really good to know that this pair have now settled and produced a couple of broods. They range quite far and are picky about fishing in the best waters, so it’s a compliment to our area to have a resident pair. I know it can be frustrating to know this fact, and not be able to get there to see the birds, but there is consolation in knowing that you stand a good chance of spotting Black stork in Kruger. And you might just hit the jackpot and see this pair right on the outskirts of Barberton. Last year, in early August, Tony and I happened to take a slow drive around the sand quarry —I can’t remember why—and lo-and-behold, there were the Black storks, fastidiously patrolling a very large rain puddle in search of frogs. That’s a place anyone can get to – and it’s the right time of the year right now.