Four chicks, standing in the middle of the laterite track looking helpless and vulnerable brought our drive across the Vera Plaines savannas to a stop on Sunday afternoon. Lisa, Tina and myself were returning from an early morning walk along the Kachimba trail on the far eastern side of Vera Plaines. The track was rutted with washouts, the ditches eroded deeply and choked with vegetation. African Crakes are drawn to habitat like this, seldom used tracks where rainwater collects in pools and overgrown vegetation provides shade and cover for the birds. Crakes resemble Rails, perhaps the size of a small chicken. The adults are black and brown mottled above, grey face and breast, barred black and white below. The chicks are charcoal black. Unfortunately for the Crakes, predator snakes also find this habitat attractive, the eroded ditches, thick vegetation and water pockets attracting many of the critters snakes find appealing.
Two adult Crakes were fussing on the side of the track, one would fluff up and charge off the track into the vegetation, another would try to gather the chicks. Soon the concern became evident as a large snake crawled onto the track.
The snake was possibly a File snake, approximately 1.5 meters in length. It appeared to be interested in the chicks, but the adult Crakes were effective in driving it away. First crossing the track with a Crake in pursuit, it then reappeared in the bordering vegetation, attempting to strike the nearest Crake before recrossing the track into the ditch. Another Crake appeared farther up the track trying to shepherd the chicks to cover and hopefully out of danger. The chicks were last seen scuttling into the vegetation under the watchful eyes of the three adults.