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  • Writer's pictureHalleria

Connecting with Bat Hawk in White River Mpumalanga

White River might be the best place to see in South Africa to connect with the rare and elusive Bat Hawk. If you are a birder, lister or have a naturalist interest, don’t miss out on this opportunity while visiting White River or Mpumalanga.

A pair has been nesting at various White River locations over the past 10 years. The current nest is very accessible being just outside town on the Plaston Road next to the church.

Bat Hawk on in White River
Bat Hawk on in White River

Unfortunately the White River Bat Hawk pair have not been very successful in raising a chick with most breeding attempts aborted due to lightning strikes, the nest being blown down and even disturbance from Egyptian Geese. If you do visit the Bat Hawk site please minimise any disturbance.

Where is the Bat Hawk Location in White River?

Here is the location of the Bat Hawk nest: -25.32142, 31.04135 next to St George's Anglican Church. Drive out of town on the R538 Plaston Road, past Karula Hotel. Turn right just after the church.

While here the White River St George's Anglican Church is worth a stop to see the building.

A project funded by WESSA is monitoring the White River Bat Hawk pair. Their website lists interesting information about the history of Bat Hawk in White River. Some of the behaviours recorded include pairs displaying, nuptial gifts and lining the nest.

Bat Hawk site & nest in White River
Bat Hawk site & nest in White River

When is the best time of day to visit the White River Bat Hawk site?

Bat Hawk are crepuscular with peaks of activity around 0400 in morning and 1900 at night. The best time to see some activity would be 0400-0600 and 1730-2000. Outside of these hours you’ll most likely find the birds roosting in the tree.

When is the best time of the year to visit the White River Bat Haw site?

Bat Hawk breed between August to January, with the peak being September to November. Visiting during breeding increases your chance of seeing the birds, with one likely to be incubating.

Outside of breeding the birds should still be roosting in the same tree. Scan the large blue gum tree carefully. If you don’t see the birds make sure to scan the nearby large trees.

Bat Hawk Roosting in Eucalyptus tree in White River
Bat Hawk Roosting in Eucalyptus tree in White River

Where can Bat Hawk be found in Mpumalanga & South Africa?

Ornithologists estimate there are only 75 to 100 pairs in South Africa. Their distribution includes Pafuri, Makuleke, Shingwedzi, sometimes Letaba (all in Kruger National Park), Tzaneen and the Crocodile River.

River bridges holding colonies of free tailed bats are good places to look for Bat Hawk. The birds roost and nest in large light barked trees, notably Sycamore Fig trees perennial river frontages and Eucalyptus / Bluegum trees even in alien forestry plantations.

Viewing decks, looks like large falcon, but distinctive silhouette. Sycamore figs on. Alien forestry areas.

Bat Hawk Pair Roosting in White River
Bat Hawk Pair Roosting in White River

Other Bat Hawks in Nelspruit and Nearby

Local ornithologists estimate 3-4 pairs present in the White River & Nelspruit area, with sightings in Malelane and Marloth Park. The Lowveld National Botanical Garden with its large trees and Crocodile River waterfront might also hold Bat Hawk.

Nelspruit also held Bat Hawk in the past. Unfortunately the last 2 known sites have the Eucalyptus trees destroyed by fire. Another pair was nesting in a Nelspruit caravan site, but breeding efforts were aborted probably due to human disturbance.

The large-scale transformation of bluegum plantations in the area to Macadamia will most likely negatively affect local Bat Hawk populations by reducing the number of suitable trees for roosting & nesting. The use of insecticide may reduce bat populations and egg viability.

About the Bat Hawk

The Bat Hawk (Macheiramphus alcinus) is a bird of prey that is native to sub-Saharan Africa, south east Asia and New Guinea. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List due to its wide distribution, but in South Africa, it is considered an Endangered species due to its rarity. Seeing Bat Hawk in South Africa is tricky due to their habitat requirements and crepuscular behaviour.

Bat Hawks have a home range of about 400km2 in South Africa. Bat Hawk have a specially adapted long toe to hook bats in flight. Their prey is mostly bats, but also birds and insects. All caught and swallowed in flight. Bat Hawks may be the most efficient predator with 7 bats caught per night on average during 18 minute feeding binges!

If you are interested in Bat Hawk behaviour and this project, LC Africa has a video sharing some of the discoveries about this project.


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