The birdbaths have been quiet. Maybe the winter rain we’ve had? Yesterday was different, we had a little flurry. I heard the tirrilink of firefinches and there they were, at the dripping tap birdbath. They usually hide from me.
A Dark-capped Bulbul, A Dusky Fycatcher and Cape White-Eyes joined them.
On honeymoon in America in 1988 we saw lots of ducks! America has so much water; In the Everglades, Yosemite, the Puget Sound, Wyoming and Cape Cod we went looking for water – rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds, islands and sea inlets – and saw plenty of waterbirds, including thirty species of swans, geese and ducks. Being from Africa, the specials I was really looking out for were the swans – we saw Trumpeter and Mute – and the eider ducks – we saw the Common Eider.
But there was another special duck we really wanted to see! As huge fans of the Pygmy Goose in Africa, we noticed it had a rival: The Harlequin Duck. What fabulous little birds:
I was reminded of this by a great post on DailyKos, where I learnt (a lot) more about the Harlequin Duck:
“I remain in awe of this plucky little duck and its amazing life history. I think of Harlequins as “feathered salmon” — making these epic lateral migrations from the ocean to inland freshwater streams to breed, similar to the upstream migration of salmon to freshwater spawning habitats. After pair-bonding at the coast, the male Harlequin follows the female inland to her natal stream, just as adult salmon home to the stream of their birth. Along whitewater streams within old-growth forests, the female selects a well-concealed nest site in a tree cavity, on a stump, or on a small cliff. Once she lays her clutch of 5-6 eggs, the male departs for molting grounds on the coast, leaving the female to incubate and raise the brood alone. In late summer, the female and her brood migrate together to the coast to ride out the storms of winter. What a life!”
We saw our Harlequin Ducks off beautiful Orcas Island while lurking naked in a hot tub overlooking an inlet to the Puget Sound.
Jules Pierre Verreaux (1807 – 1873) was a French botanist and ornithologist and a professional collector of, trader in, and sometimes thief of natural history specimens.
Verreaux worked for the family business, Maison Verreaux, established in 1803 by his father, Jacques Philippe Verreaux, at Place des Vosges in Paris, which was the earliest known company that dealt in objects of natural history. The company was later run by his older brother Édouard. It funded collection expeditions to various parts of the world. Maison Verreaux sold many specimens to the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle to add to its collections.
Jules Verreaux began his training in the family business at just 11 years of age, when he accompanied his uncle, naturalist Pierre Delalande, to the South African Cape. They stayed there exploring and collecting from 1818-1820, among their achievements being the first hippopotamus skeleton acquired for the Paris Museum of Natural History. Back in Paris, Verreaux attended anatomy classes under zoologist Georges Cuvier, and began to show an aptitude for taxidermy.
Verreaux worked in South Africa again in 1825, where he helped Andrew Smith found the South African Museum in Cape Town.
No stranger to scandal in his lifetime, while in South Africa Jules Verreaux was summoned to court after a woman claimed to have borne his son. Verreaux had previously asked Elisabeth Greef to marry him, but revoked the proposal. The young mother then brought a suit against him, but lost the case as Verreaux was still a minor at the time of the proposal in 1827.
He was reputed to have set out on the trail of various already extinct and mythical creatures in the Cape, including the unicorn.
More body-snatching: In 1830, while travelling in modern-day Botswana Verreaux witnessed the burial of a Tswana warrior. Verreaux returned to the burial site under cover of night to dig up the African’s body where he retrieved the skin, the skull and a few bones. Verreaux intended to ship the body back to France and so prepared and preserved the African warrior’s corpse by using metal wire as a spine, wooden boards as shoulder blades and newspaper as a stuffing material. Then he shipped the body to Paris along with a batch of stuffed animals in crates. In 1831, the African’s body appeared in a showroom at No. 3, Rue Saint Fiacre. It was later returned and buried in Botswana in 2000.
Jules’ brother Édouard delivered a consignment of collections back to Paris in 1831, and returned to South Africa with the third Verreaux brother, Alexis. Alexis remained in South Africa for the rest of his life, while the course of Édouard and Jules’ lives over the next decade is somewhat confused. Some sources say that both travelled to China and the Philippines and remained there until 1837, but it is also possible that Jules stayed in South Africa during this time. He seems to have returned to Paris in 1838, in which year a large number of his collections were lost in a shipwreck while being transported back to Paris.
In 1864 he took over as assistant naturalist at the Paris Museum. In 1870 he left France at the start of the Franco-Prussian War, seeking refuge in England. He remained there for the concluding three years of his life.
Jules Verreaux left a particular legacy in ornithology. Verreaux’s Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) and Verreaux’s Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus bear his name; More a trader than a scientist, his specimen labels often give only the country of provenance and are sometimes attributed to localities incorrectly, perhaps to make them more commercially valuable, but diminishing their scientific value.
Sources: JSTOR; wikipedia Anon., 1874, Ibis, 16(4): 467-469 M. Gunn and L.E.W. Codd, 1981, Botanical Exploration of Southern Africa M. Molina, 2002, “More notes on the Verreaux brothers”, Pula Botswana Journal of African Studies, 16(1): 30-36.
Pierre Antoine Delalande (1787 – 1823), French naturalist, explorer, and painter from Versailles, was the son of a taxidermist in the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. He worked for the museum from a young age, and became the assistant of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. He was also a painter who had trained in the studio of animal painter Jean-Baptiste Berré, situated in the Jardin des Plantes, and who exhibited landscapes and animal paintings in the Salons de Paris.
As an employee of the Museum, Delalande travelled to southern Africa in 1818, accompanied by his 12-year-old nephew Jules Verraux. They made three journeys into the interior between November 1818 and September 1820: eastward along the coast from Cape Town; northward to Olifants River; and northeastward from Algoa Bay as far as the Keiskamma River.
On their return in 1821, they took back an astounding 131,405 specimens, among them the museum’s first complete whale skeleton (from a 23 metre beached whale he dissected in situ over a period of two months), as well as giraffes, rhinoceroses, a hippopotamus, and human remains (some of them unearthed (i.e stolen) from an old cemetery in Cape Town and from the Grahamstown battlefield). He also brought back a mineral collection, 10,000 insects, 288 mammals, 2205 birds, 322 reptiles, 265 fish, 3875 shellfish, and various human skulls and skeletons from a Cape Town cemetery and from the 22 April 1819 Battle of Grahamstown between the invasive British forces and the local Xhosa. All the living plants in their collection were abandoned in Cape Town and many specimens of their extensive herbarium were lost in transit.
He returned to France with his health badly damaged by tropical infections. For his efforts he received the Légion d’Honneur but no financial reward. Shortly before his death, he published an account of his expedition in the museum bulletin.
He is honoured in the specific names of a swallowtail butterfly, Papilio delalandei ; three birds, Delalande’s sand frogTomopterna delalandii in the picture above, three lizards, a gecko and a snake.
Sources: JSTOR; wikipedia; M. Prevost and J. Balteau, 1933, Dictionnaire de Biographie Française: 662-663.
Just two nights with Jess at Hilltop camp. This time the luxury of ‘breakfast included’ in the restaurant, while for dinner we grilled big juicy steaks both nights.
Dad, you’re not taking photos of impalas, are you?! Jess likes to keep moving, looking for the Big Five and teases her friends who want to take pics of things she’s seen before! Yes, Jess, I like their bums and I like the different sizes, three Moms, a teenager, a pre-teen and a toddler. Hmph!
Omigawd! You seriously stopped for a butterfly!? she teases next. Don’t worry, it’s all a game.
Lang Dawid came to visit after decades in the hinterland. Always very organised, he sent bearers ahead of his arrival bearing two lists: Ten new birds he wanted to see; and Three old bullets he wanted to see.
We delivered thirty percent of his bird list: A Red-capped Robin-Chat, A White-eared Barbet and a Terrestrial Brownbul;
Forty percent if you count the bonus male Tambourine Dove that landed in a patch of sunlight, a lifer for Dave.
All this thanks to Crispin Hemson showing us his special patch, Pigeon Valley in urban Durban. Talk about Guru Guiding! with his local knowledge, depth, anecdotes, asides and wandering all over, on the ground and in our minds. And his long-earned exalted status in this forest even allowed us to avoid arrest while climbing through a hole in the fence like naughty truant schoolboys. Whatta lovely man.
Then Dave and I retreated home to my patch in the Palmiet valley, where Tommy had cleaned up, readied the cottage for Dave’s stay and started a braai fire. Spot on, Tom!
One hundred percent of Dave’s list of old paddling mates arrived. Like homing pigeons, Allie, Charlie and Rip zoomed in. So I had four high-speed paddlers in their day on my stoep, race winners and provincial and national colours galore. We scared off any birds that might have been in the vicinity (feathered or human), but had a wonderful afternoon nevertheless, with lots of laughs.
After they left Dave and I had braai meat for supper; This morning we had braai meat for breakfast and he was off after a fun-filled 24 hours. I sat down to polish the breakfast remains and another cup of coffee and as a bonus, a female Tambourine Dove landed on my birdbath:
A tragic consequence of their visit was an audit of my booze stocks the next day. Where before they’d have plundered, this time I ended up with more than I’d started with. How the thirsty have fallen!
Dave’s camera equipment is impressive: a Canon EOS 7D Mk2 body; – https://www.techradar.com/reviews/canon-eos-7d-mark-ii-review – and a 500mm telephoto lens and his go-to, a 70-200mm lens. His main aim is getting a pic of every bird he sees. He shot his 530th yesterday here in Pigeon Valley. So he chases all over Southern Africa ticking off his ‘desired list.’ A magic, never-ending quest: there’ll always be another bird to find; there’ll always be a better picture to try for.
A Fierce Feathered Dinosaur took um at a Faithful Amiable Amphibian who was just doing his duty recently. The Redwing Dinos were filled with amour and nesting fervour. They had their eye on a spot on my stoep – the Black Flycatcher nest.
But le frog was on duty, determined to put them off.
The male starling pestered him
‘e chest-bumped le frog; who landed with a splash
Undaunted, le frog he say Mon Dieu and went back on duty; whereupon ‘e got attacked from le rear and landed face-down, falling on hard tiles ‘e did, shame. ‘E almost croaked
I picked ‘im up; I patched ‘im up; I gave him le pep talk. So zis time ‘e decide No More le Watchfrog! Zis time ‘e OCCUPIES!
No, better! It’s actually a Starred Robin! I said excitedly.
A frosty silence descended.
‘DO YOU KNOW I’M THE CHAIRMAN OF THE HERMANUS BIRD CLUB?’ came the imperious question.
That’s very nice, I said without taking my binocs off the robin, But that doesn’t make a robin a shrike. Look at its beak.
A classic attempt at eminence over evidence. Whattahoot!
We moved on, back to our bush camp near Lake St Lucia. Things were uncomfortable, as Jess and I were actually their guests, and mine host’s ego was wounded.
That night I aimed my tiny little 22X Kowa spotting scope at the full moon, setting the tripod low so the kids could get a lovely look.
Again I felt the ambient temperature drop drastically. There were mutterings by Ma, sending The Chairman of the Hermanus Bird Club scuttling off to his son’s bungalow and emerging twice with two large wooden boxes and one small one. A huge tripod emerged from one of them. Unfolded, it resembled the Eiffel tower. From the other box a white tube like an Apollo rocket. The Professional Celestial Telescope! After much assembling and urgent furtive instructions the fussing codgers and the favourite son start searching for the moon. Hey! It’s not easy to find with those bazookas. You move it a millimetre right and you’ve got Jupiter; a millimetre left and its Mars. Go too far down it’s Uranus. Eventually the moon is located and focused on. Ma, Pa and favourite son step back satisfied, and invite the kids to look at THIS telescope. A real one. A chair has to be found for them to stand on.
Oh, I much prefer that one, says the grandkid and then Jessica agrees, and then the other grandkid says Yes, That one’s much better, POINTING AT MY TINY KOWA! It’s a social disaster! Their own grandkids betraying them in their moment of triumph!
I hastily step up to their scope and say Ooh! Aah! and Wow! Magnificent! Powerful! What else? All you can see is white. It’s focused on an insignificant bath mat-sized area of the moon. Whereas with mine you can see the whole moon the size of a dinner plate, this one you could see a dinner plate on the moon. Except there’s no dinner plate to see. Mine shows mountains and craters, this monster shows white.
Cast a pall on the evening it did. Gloom descended. Some went to bed early after some muttered explanation of how the better telescope WAS actually much better.
Hilarious, if a bit stressful at the time for a polite person.
Green beetle bugs have little bugs upon their heads to bite ’em, And little bugs have lesser bugs, and so ad infinitum. And the great bugs themselves, in turn, have greater bugs to go on; While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
In the cottage while Jess was being ridiculously fussed over a hawk moth in her bedroom, she spotted a snake under her bed. This didn’t faze her, it was the moth that bothered her! She watched me catch it, photograph and remove it and carried on gaan-ing aan about the moth on her wall! I said Jess! You’re my field ranger! Relax! It’s a moth, f’gdnis’sake. After releasing the snake we couldn’t find the moth, so Jess went to bed warily, one eye open . .
Birds Seen: 1. Ostrich Grey goway bird Loerie Speckled Mousebird Red-collared Widow Long-tailed paradise Whydah Pintail Whydah Southern Boubou Dark-capped Bulbul 10. Stompstert Crombec Arrow-mark Babbler European Roller Lilac-breasted Roller Rattling Cisticola Zitting Cisticola White-brow Scrub Robin Yellowbill Hornbill ForkTailed Drongo Lesser striped Swallow 20. Barn Swallow Black belly Starling Redwing Starling Blue Waxbill Grey head Sparrow Buzzard common Crested Barbet Scimitarbill Southern black Tit Palm Swift 30. Southern masked Weaver Lesser masked Weaver Village Weaver Spectacled Weaver Golden-breasted Bunting Village Indigobird Dusky Indigobird Whitebellied sunbird Amethyst Sunbird female Scarlet chest Sunbird female 40. White-throated Robin Chat Blue grey Flycatcher Spotted Flycatcher Black Flycatcher Crested Francolin Helmeted Guineafowl Redbill Firefinch Striped Kingfisher Brownhooded Kingfisher Magpie Shrike
50. Red back Shrike Black crown Tchagra Green Woodhoopoe Bronze wing Courser Tawny-flanked Prinia Cardinal woodpecker Emerald spot wood Dove Cape turtle dove Laughing dove Redeyed dove 60. Burchells Coucal (fukwe) Woolly neck Stork Black belly Bustard Redbill Oxpecker Cardinal Woodpecker Bearded Woodpecker YellowBreasted Apalis Diderik Cuckoo Hoopoe Rufous-naped Lark 70. Gorgeous Bush Shrike Pytilia Yellow-fronted Canary Cape Batis Natal Spurfowl Sombre Greenbul Wahlbergs Eagle Golden-tailed Woodpecker Little Bee-eater Chinspot Batis 80. Black collared Barbet Pied Barbet White helmet Shrike .. 82 species Heard calls only: Grey headed Bush Shrike Orange-breasted Bush Shrike Camaroptera Black Cuckoo Piet my vrou European Bee-eater Brubru Woodland Kingfisher
ca.1996 my good friend Larry sent me a Magellan hand-held GPS after we had hosted him for parts of his trip to SA that year. I didn’t know what to do with it. It was fun, we’d stand outside while it took its time finding up to nine satellites; it would give us our location (about 300 South and 300 East); and we could re-trace a path we had driven, but we didn’t really see much use for it at first. I kept playing with it, fascinated, thinking ‘Oka-ay, now what?’
Then came frog atlassing! We were active in bird atlassing in quarter degree squares, but frogging was different. Easier! All we had to do was tape-record the frog calling, add a few details like weather and habitat, record the location on the GPS and send in the “sighting” (hearing). That was really cool. No maps needed.
For recording we had a directional mike and a cassette tape recorder. My first one had a fold-out parabola mike, the new one looked more up-to-date, just like this:
Although we felt like early adopters in 1996, much had been happening already. The GPS project was started by the U.S Department of Defense in 1973, with the first prototype spacecraft launched in 1978 and the full constellation of 24 satellites operational in 1993. Originally limited to use by the United States military, civilian use was allowed from the 1980s.
In 1989, Magellan Navigation Inc. unveiled its Magellan NAV 1000, the world’s first commercial handheld GPS receiver. These units initially sold for approximately US$2,900 each. We had the 2000 – wonder what Larry paid!?
In 1990 Mazda made the first production car in the world with a built-in GPS navigation system.
Garmin seemed to become the most commonly-seen GPS units in SA, as I recall it. Now cellphones – smartphones – have it all built in, no need for a separate GPS. No need for a separate anything, almost.
Camera, TV, map, compass, email, music player, music library, PC, internet browser, scanner (paper, credit cards, barcodes), fax, bank, credit card, remote control (for TV, DVD, games, drones, model cars, cameras, etc), business card, airline ticket, light meter, spirit level, distance measuring tape, calendar, guitar tuner, recipe book, library, e-reader, field guide, tune recogniser, advice columnist, demonstrater of how to fix anything and build anything, video phone, video camera, live streaming camera, plant, insect and animal identifier, newspaper, photo album, photo editing, notepad, book writer, dictionary, online shopper, timer, watch, alarm clock, walkie talkie, data store, games (board, active and interactive), keys (house, car), torch, voice recorder, calculator, radio, ANYTHING. Everything!
One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist helps you identify the plants and animals around you. Get connected with a community of over a million scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature! What’s more, by recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature. iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
Boy, we had weather! Bright sunshine, then wind, then a massive ongoing thunderstorm at night, with the thunderclaps within a second of the bright lightning flashes. Then long flashes followed by bangs and long rumbles receding into the distance. Followed by really soaking rain. Then a cool cloudy day, less wind, but a stiff breeze.
Jess did her usual : ‘Dad, come look. What’s this?’
Lots of birds: I was fooled by a call I racked my brain for and then thought Ha! Goddit! A kingfisher: Woodland Kingfisher. Well, it was the Striped Kingfisher – a call I know so well, but I really am rusty!
Birds heard but not seen: Gorgeous Bush Shrike; Grey-headed Bush Shrike; Brown-hooded Kingfisher; Chinspot Batis; Boubou; Brubru; Camaroptera; Fiery-necked Nightjar; Purple-crested Turaco; Red-fronted Tinkerbird;
Seen: White-browed Scrub Robin; Cape glossy Starling; Black-bellied glossy Starling; Violet-backed Starlings – very active, lots of males chasing each other and investigating tree cavities; Scarlet-chested, Purple-banded, White-bellied Sunbirds; Lesser Striped, Barn and Red-breasted Swallows; Squacco Heron; Jacana; Cattle Egret in breeding plumage; Oxpeckers; Willow Warbler; Yellow-breasted Apalis; European Bee-eater; Bulbul; Sombre Greenbul; Golden-breasted Bunting; Crested Francolin; Crested Guineafowl; Yellow-billed Kite; Black-shouldered Kite; Rattling Cisticola; Yellow-fronted Canary; Yellow-throated Petronia (beautiful view of his yellow throat in sunshine, but me and my camera too slow to catch it!); Hoopoe; Wood Hoopoe; Scimitarbill; Reed Cormorant; Anhinga; Coucal; Ashy Flycatcher; Pied Crow; Red-chested Cuckoo; Cape Turtle Dove; Emerald-spotted Wood Dove; FT Drongo; Spurwing and Egyptian Geese; Hadeda; Grey Heron; Trumpeter Hornbill; Red-faced Mousebird; Oriole; Pytilia (Melba finch); Blue Waxbill; Red-billed Quelea; Red-backed Shrike; Black-crowned Tchagra; Grey-headed Sparrow; Woolly-necked Stork; Little Swift; Olive Thrush; Pied Wagtail; GT Woodpecker; Bearded Woodpecker;
Animals: Grey Duiker; Red Duiker; Kudu; Impala; Nyala; Wildebeest; Zebra; Lots of giraffe; No eles; No rhinos; No warthogs; No predators – Oh, one Slender Mongoose; One Monitor Lizard (water); Hippo;
We saw Patrick the Ezemvelo Field Guide and he recognised us again. ‘Where’s the boy?’ he asked and expressed astonishment that ‘the boy’ now prefers the city to the bush! ‘How long (this aberration)?’ he asked, probably remembering how he and Tommy had tickled scorpions all those years ago. 2009, that was!
Re-post from 1992 when Mike & Yvonne Lello kindly lent us their Isuzu Trooper 4X4 for a breakaway (OK, another breakaway) where I knew we’d be on soft sand and needing 4X4.
Aitch was impressed with out first stop: Luxury with Wilderness Safaris at Ndumo, grub and game drives laid on. Ice in our drinks. Boy! For an oke who usually sought compliments if the ground she had to spread her sleeping bag on was softish, I was really going big! In our luxury permanent tent on a raised wooden deck with kingsize four-poster bed, she had fun with the giraffe’s dong, saying what a decent length it was – implying something? I dunno. ‘It’s his tail,’ I said, spoil-sportingly. ‘Or her tail.’
Magic walks among Sycamore Figs and drives among Fever Trees.
So where are we going next? she asks. ‘You’ll see,’ I said airily. Hmm, she said, knowingly, raising one eyebrow but saying no more . . .
This Isuzu Trooper was magic – just the right vehicle for our Maptuland Meander. Leaving Ndumo, we drifted east to Kosi Bay and inspected the campsites, then drove on to Kosi Bay Lodge. ‘I’ll just run inside and arrange things,’ I said, optimistically.
So I walked into the lodge and came out and said, ‘We’ll just camp outside the gate, I brought a tent!’ Ha! You hadn’t booked! I knew it! Aitch announced triumphantly. She’d known all along. She actually loved it. She didn’t really mind the roughing it and the uncertainty and she LOVED catching me out and teasing me about my disorganisation.
Afterwards, Aitch would tell people there had been a bit of muttering and a few mild imprecations erecting the unfamiliar tent, which I’d also borrowed from the Lellos. It had poles that seemed unrelated to other poles and it was dark. OK, she actually told of some cursing. Loud cursing. The air turned blue, she would exaggerate.
The next night we camped in a proper Kosi Bay campsite. They are very special sites, we love them.
We drove along the sandy track to Kosi mouth:
Then onward, southward. Where are we staying tonight?, she asked sweetly. ‘You’ll see,” I said airily. Hmm, she muttered knowingly, raising one eyebrow. Well, let me just say ONE thing: We are not staying at Mabibi. The newspapers have been full of stories about bad guys at Mabibi. ‘Izzat so?’ Yes. We can stay anywhere but Mabibi.
Through bustling KwaNgwanase town . .
Now we were on my favourite road in all of South Africa: The sand roads through our vanishing coastal grasslands. Some kids shouted Lift! Lift! and hey! ubuntu! and anyway, it’s Lello’s car . . .
Well, Rocktail Bay Lodge was also full and we drove on as evening approached. The fire watchtower man had knocked off and was walking home. We stopped to ask directions, then gave him a lift so he could show us the way. He settled down into the bucket seat, pushing Aitch onto the gear lever, taking us left then right then left – straight to his village. As he got out he pointed vaguely in the direction of Mabibi. ‘You can’t miss it,’ I think he implied.
You are going to Mabibi, aren’t you? I knew it! said the all-knowing one. ‘Well, there’s nowhere else,’ I mumbled. When we got there she surprised me by saying Let’s just sleep under the stars, I’m too tired to pitch the tent. So we did. My brave Aitch! Here she is next morning.
Soon after we arrived a night watchman came to see us. His torch beam dropped straight out of the end of his torch onto his toes, so I gave him new batteries. He was so chuffed! A torch that worked! Those bad guys better look sharp tonight!
The next day we drove the best part of this perfect road, past Lake Sibaya.
One more night, in relative luxury, if the little wooden cabins at Sibaya camp can be honoured with such a flattering description! I think they can, but I was over-ruled.
Then we hit the ugly tarmac highway home. A very special place, is Maputaland.