This Familiar Chap

I was moaning how Cape Wagtail numbers seem to have diminished and wondering if lawn poison did it.

Well, to be fair we also have to mention the apparent increased influx of a new (ish) city and suburban bird: The Familiar Chat. Years ago I used to look for them around old cattle kraals and other rural places, and occasionally big suburban gardens on the edges of towns.

Lately I have seen them in my garden in Westville, in my ole man’s garden in Lincoln Mead, Pietermaritzburg – where they’re nesting under the eaves – and now also on the roof of my shopping centre in Montclair – where I was bemoaning the missing wagtails.

Welcome, chaps!


pic: wikipedia ( I see it was taken by Frenchman Bernard DuPont in Camdeboo national park – love the pinpoint focus – detail you would easily miss – thank you Bernie!)


African Greybeard

I’m coming down to Durban to buy a parrot. Where’s Overport? asks the ole man.

Ole lady phones, all worried as ever. Can you tell us how to get to West Road in Overport, Koosie? I say I’ll try, phone you back. I need to hatch a plot. I phone back and say Come to my place for lunch, I’ll leave work early and I’ll take you, it’s not easy to find. She sounds dubious but she’ll try that.

Ole lady phones back, amazed. He saw sense. We’re coming for lunch, she says, relieved. She can’t see, he can’t hear, so she was dreading looking for a small parrot in a strange haystack.

When I get home they’re on my stoep and Jess has given them tea and Tommy is busy cooking pasta carbonara for lunch for all. My children! Bless them! I had told them I’d love it if you’d give them a polite hello, but you needn’t stay, just make your excuses and go. They decided to completely exceed all expectations and charm the old bullets. Proud of ’em!

Off we go to meet Sumie who has three baby African Grey parrots in a box. His grandfather breeds them in Utrecht. Dad had said he wanted to choose his own. We check them out on the tailgate of my bakkie in West Road Overport. Dad picks one and now I think, Here comes the bargaining. R2500 says Sumie. No way says the ole man and shuffles off to the front seat of my bakkie. He comes back with the bird magazine and shows Sumie his own ad: R2300, moaning how he has wasted his time coming all the way from Pietermaritzburg. Fine, R2300 says Sumie.

And the food, says the ole man. That cost me R100, Uncle Pieter, I’ve just fed them, so give me R80, says Sumie. It’s my birthday on Friday (true), counters the ole man, you should give it to me as a gift. How old you’ll be? asks Sumie. Ninety Five says the ole man (true) so they settle on R50.

Now they debate who’s box is better. Sumie has a shoebox – it’s wider – and ole man has a box some electronics came in – it’s deeper. Ole man realises if he takes Sumie’s he gets both, so he settles on Sumie’s shoebox.

We go back home for our delicious pasta lunch, followed by ice cream and coffee, and off they go back to PMB. The ole man changes into second too soon up the steep hill. He would have hated it that I heard that.


And I didn’t take a single photo! Damn! Well, here they are with great-grandkids:

Gogo Mary & Great_Grandkids (2)

And I just thought: When last did I post a recent pic of my favourite children? Here they are willingly posing for me:

Return of the Wagtails?

For years I would watch a large flock of Cape Wagtails settle down for the night on a low tin roof above the parking area on the roof of my shopping centre, Montclair Mall south of Durban. They would gather in a long line under a roll of security barbed wire. Its just visible, arrowed next to the little grey lift tower far right in picture. True, its a long shot, but I wanted the clouds to show.

Montclair mall roof barbed wire.jpg

The ugly wire gave them a safe place to roost. The most I counted was sixty six of the lil guys.

Then they disappeared. For the last six years or more I saw none of them. Not one. My guess is poison on people’s lawns have put paid to them. Poor buggers do such a good job cleaning up people’s lawns but we humans are impatient! We prefer mass murder to waiting for little feathered tuxedo-clad workmen to neatly pick off the offending insects and grubs one-by-one.

This week one lone waggie made a comeback on the roof! Let’s hope a recovery is starting!


Cape Wagtail – Mocilla capensis

Wally Menne – R.I.P

Dammitall, I can think of a lot of people whose death would be good for the environment. Wally Menne is not one of them. His is a seriously sad loss for our environment.

Trish worked with Wally at BotSoc and at the big annual plant fair he was so instrumental in organising. The indigenous plant fair was huge in getting more indigenous plants out into gardens all over KZN and in spreading the word and popularising the planting of plants for a reason other than looking pretty. Azaleas are pretty but we all started to need to plant things that fit better into the local soil, insects, birds, etc biosphere.

We all knew that plantations are sterile and suck up water, but Wally gave me this book and taught me the real dangers of plantations:

Wally Menne gave me this book and taught me about the plantation industry

He told me about the plantation industry’s influence on governments and their insidious PR calling themselves “forestry people” and representing themselves as the stewards of forests when they were in fact the enemies of forests and grasslands. They sponsor bird books and create little nature reserves while destructively expanding into precious biodiverse areas, ruining them forever. They “capture” prominent environmental bodies by sponsoring them and wining and dining their representatives. Insidious. “State Capture” is old hat to them. Wally as always said it exactly as it was: He likened their use of  the word “forestry” to the Nats’ use of terms such as “separate development” or “mother tongue education” to put a pretty face on apartheid.

We miss you Wally and we need someone to stand up in your huge shoes. Ain’t gonna be easy. Most of us are easily swayed by persuasive bullshit and a book launch or a ribbon cutting at a new little nature reserve (which incidentally has no real protection).

Tonie Carnie wrote a stirring obituary for Wally in The Daily Maverick.

Lloyd’s Camp, Savuti

We flew on from Oddballs east out of the green delta across the dry Kalahari to Savuti:

We flew on to Savuti

The flight was a bit bumpy in the hot clear air and Aitch started to go green about the gills but we landed before she resorted to any lumpy laughter. At the strip we were met by pink-cheeked Emma the Pom in an open game drive vehicle. She was the camp chef – and the airstrip fetcher that day. She drove us right up an ele’s bum at a waterhole en route.

Just three of us in the vehicle. The last time I had been to Savuti was in 1985 when I’d arrived in a crowded old Land Rover full of Kiwis, Aussies, a Pom and a Yank on a budget overlander. We pitched our tiny tents in the public camping area and the eles bust the water tank.

Sixteen years later, luxury! Emma took us on to camp and fed us overlooking the famed Savuti channel. After Oddball’s roughing it: YUM!!


Jenny and Lionel Song hosted us. She was a honey, he was lion-obsessed. And we had Texans with us, so we did a lot of lion-chasing. ‘Myomi’s pride’ was the focus. Gotta have names.

So first thing in the morning we’d hare off to where the lions had last been seen and at last light (its a national park, so you can’t be out after dark) we’d hare back to camp. Once on the way we saw two ratels (honey badgers) skoffeling around and at least we did slow down to watch them awhile.

In Lionel’s defence he was doing his job, the Americans were repeat guests who worked for Southwest Airlines based in Dallas – world’s biggest carrier at the time. They were delighted when he gunned the Cruiser after a lioness as she started sprinting at a giraffe. She and five others brought down the giraffe and that was it, we spent the rest of the day watching lion lunch.

The good thing is a vehicle is a great hide so I could scan around for birds too. While doing so I saw two ears above the grass some 100m off. A cub watching and waiting. It stayed right there till the pride leader looked up and made a funny high-pitched bark and they (three of them) came running straight onto the carcase and started making a nuisance of themselves. When we left they had hardly made a dent in the huge female giraffe.

Next morning we drove straight back at first light and all that was left was a blood stain on the grass, a chewed head nearby  and scattered bones! Two males had arrived and they were lying there the size of dirigibles. Eight round lions and three bloated cubs. They looked like the animals from Rollin’ Safari:

Roolin Safari

Botswana Oddballs Savuti (7)

Savuti Botswana (1)

In camp Lionel, teasing, said to a guest who asked about the Lloyd of Lloyd’s Camp: ‘You should meet Lloyd, pity he’s not here. He’s 6ft 4in tall with long black hair tied back in a ponytail”. Yeah, right! Lloyd Wilmot’s a legend in deeds, but not in stature.

I love the one guest comment after yet another exciting Wilmot Safari: “While the Lloyd is my shepherd I Wilmot fear…”

It was 2001 and the Savute channel was dry, so the only waterholes were supplied by boreholes. The Savute flows with water from the Linyanti river. It apparently flowed in Livingstone’s time, around 1845, then was dry in 1880 and remained dry for over 70 years. It flooded again in 1957, dried up again in 1982, flowed again in 2008 and the marsh flooded fully in 2010. This was documented by Dereck and Beverley Joubert in their films Stolen River and Journey to the Forgotten River. Mike Myers tells how the whole dynamic of the region changes depending on what’s happening with the water. I heard in Maun how Lloyd Wilmot had found a crocodile (crocodile carcase?) high up in the rocky hills above the marsh around 1982 after the channel ceased to flow.


skoffeling – rummaging

Xudum in Okavango

Another trip to the Delta!

Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in 2001 when Janet & Duncan were running the show for Landela Safaris. We landed on the nearby bush strip.


After a few days in camp they had business in Maun and we accompanied them on the drive out of the Delta to Maun in the Land Cruiser. Rickety bridges, deep water crossings with water washing over the bonnet onto the windscreen.

On the drive back to camp after the day in the big smoke of the metropolis of Maun we entered a Tamboti grove and saw two leopard cubs in the road. They split and ran off to left and right, then ran alongside of us on either side for a minute calling to each other before we moved off and let them be.

We enjoyed mekoro trips, game drives & walks and afternoon boat trips stretching into evenings watching the sunset from the boat while fishing for silver catfish or silvertooth barbel – I forget what they called them. Later, wading in thigh-deep water sorting out the pumps. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.

Xudum (5)

Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where we first heard the now-common salute before starting a meal: “Born Up a Tree”.

Janet moved us from camp to camp as guests arrive, filling in where there were gaps in other camps. We transferred by boat, mekoro or 4X4 vehicle. One night we stayed in a tree house in Little Xudum camp.

Okavango Xudum Camp

Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s

Word Wakkerstroom

Wakkerstroom, but that’s actually a sunset.

‘Wakkers’ is a lovely little dorp in the high grasslands above the Drakensberg escarpment. The town has its quota of interesting mense. Early Sunday morning I was waiting to go on our drive when a sleek dark Jaguar sedan eased up the road very slowly> when he drew level with me outside the Inn the tinted window wound down and the driver peered at me intently. He looked of an age so I asked him ala 1965 Springbok Radio Squad Cars “Are you prowling the empty streets at night?” He gave me a long look and said mysteriously “I’m on a mission” and wafted off. Obviously undercover.

Maybe the mystery Celtic house was his abode?

One of those thirteen Celtic Commandments is “Semblance Of Evil Allow Not Near Thee”. Ri-ight!

Wakkers has a large wetland area which is fairly well-preserved. These areas are scarce as they’re usually drained and ploughed, so Wakkers is a special refuge and has become a famous birding spot.

We stayed in the Country Inn, which apparently has been bought by HuntEssentials, who have a big game farm outside town. That might account for all the dead beasts on the walls.

Wakkerstroom (8)

My highlight this weekend was a mammal, not a nyoni for once! Two otters frolicking in the water at 4pm on Friday and Saturday afternoons. I think they were spotted-necked. They were swimming and diving and baljaaring. Every now and then they would hold their heads high and shake them. Once one kept its head above water for a minute or so while it ate something. Their tails were flattened vertically like an eel’s – the main reason I thought they were spotted-necked as I think clawless’ tails are round – are they? The last time I saw otter was in the Okavango Delta at Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge (which isn’t).

Wetland hide (Getaway pic, M vZyl – thanks)

We didn’t see the special birds, it was very windy a lot of the time. Next time . . .

We had two excellent guides. David Nkosi who knew his way around the distrik, and Mike Spain who knew the full text of Monty Python’s King Arthur sketch! We scanned the lake and the forest but no watery tart proffered us no sword . . .

Wakkerstroom Trip_forest

word wakker – wake up; literally, become awake

dorp – village

mense – people

nyoni – bird

baljaaring – frolicking

distrik – district