The vast majority of bird species prefer to breed during the more plentiful summer months. There’s more food around during this time of year which provides the adults with more energy to breed and raise their young as quickly as possible. The fact that they are breeding isn’t always obvious though as the birds construct their nests in hidden places, sometimes high up in the branches of trees and usually use a great deal of camouflage so as to give their offspring the best chance of surviving.
Unfortunately, for a pair of greater blue eared starlings who were nesting in the cavity of a branch of a weeping boerbean tree, their disguise was blown when a rarely seen African rock python discovered the nest, early one recent morning.
We were drawn into the area by the panicked alarm calls of a herd of impala quite close to camp. We circled the area to see if we could find any signs of a predator but, because of the thick vegetation, couldn’t see much. We switched the vehicle off to reassess whether the impalas were still alarming and immediately noticed a flock of greater blue eared starlings clearly also distressed about something in the tree alongside us.
They were dive-bombing in the direction of the one branch and frantically calling at the same time. It was then that we spotted the python wrapped around the branch with its head dangling below. Pythons are not often seen and this was only the second time I had laid eyes on one at Londolozi.
As we raised our binoculars to have a closer look we saw that the python was in fact finishing off a small meal and still had a few small down-feathers stuck to the side of its mouth. Slowly, it lifted its head back onto the branch and into a natural cavity from which it had already come, based on the fact that its tail-end was still inside. Knowing that the starling’s peak nesting period is in the early summer months and that they build their nests in tree cavities; we pieced the evidence together and figured that the python had just raided the starling’s nest.
We sat for a few moments longer as the python explored the inside of the nest before it re-emerged again, this time with no catch. Presumably, the starling chicks that were inside had all been devoured. The python slowly began to move on, up the branch still seemingly undisturbed by the adult starlings who were continuing to mob it. With that, we received a call on the radio that tracker Terrence Mhlaba who had been assisting us in investigating the impala alarm calls from earlier had successfully found the Ximungwe Female leopard with a fresh impala ewe kill in the thicket just in front of us. We finished watching the python disappear into the higher branches and moved on to join Terrence and ranger Alfie Mathebula and their guests with the Ximungwe female. A morning not t0 be forgotten!