An Armrest Kink

You need to kick back with Binocs, Beer, Telescope on Tripod and – lately – Camera to do your front porch birding justice, and I have just the chair for it on my porch – a Lazy Boy thingamiebob. Newish . .

An Argentine-African United Nations veterinarian writes a lovely blog he calls A Bush Snob Out Of Africa. In it he has a feature called Spot The Beast in which he shows a picture of a cryptic or camouflaged creature and invites you to find it. Then he zooms in to reveal an insect on bark, or a mantis, a leaf butterfly or moth, a frog, even a cheetah hidden in grass. I love it.

So go back to the picture above and see if you can spot the dragon or dinosaur sharing my chair today. Only then scroll down:

.

.

A Striped Skink waits for flies to approach

While I’m at it, I may as well mention some other lizards I have seen . .

A snake?

No, a Legless Skink, on the road in Hluhluwe Game Reserve

A snake?

No, A Grass Lizard – The Cavern, in the Drakensberg
Spot three of his tiny legs

A snake? About the size of an earthworm . .

Yes, a Thread Snake at home in Westville. The sharp tip is his tail

Maybe Peters’ Thread Snake Leptotyphlops scutifrons – known to be found in the Durban area.

——-ooo000ooo——-

Here’s the birding spot in full operational mode:

Hluhluwe Day Trip

One sane and sober adult and three girls. Yikes! Man, they were full of nonsense. And rude!? Ha! Ha! We played ‘I Spy’ and you can imagine what they were guessing for B and P and F and all. We laughed till the tears ran. I reminded them of the days we played with Tommy. Whenever A came up he would immediately say ‘anus’ and Aitch would say “Tom!’

The only animal that came close to us in the park caused Jess to burst into tears ‘Dad! Reverse!’ and so we didn’t get what would have been frame-filling shots of a calm, peaceful elephant.

Luckily the camera did its surprise unknown video trick. I’m growing to like it! It records video without you knowing it while you’re focusing on taking stills.

While making lunch the girls spotted this tiny larva moving with his house on his back. The cone-shaped shelter was 10mm long and about 1mm diameter. He was like a hermit crab or a caddisfly larva, but on dry land:

At a pit-stop on the N2 highway on the way there I saw a lovely mushroom trail across the lawn. Is it along a termite track, I wonder?

Cockroach Thermidor

Oh, I do love this! When you do careful examination of DNA you find out where animals – and all living things – fit in the Tree of Life. You’ll also find the old tree we learnt with ‘humans’ proudly at the top as the crowning glory, was done before we knew much about DNA.

And it is sometimes very surprising. For example, when Charles Sibley and Jon Ahlquist started classifying birds according to their genetic code, they found this bird on the right:

American wren – Australian wren

. . is more closely related to an Australian crow than it is to the bird on the left! They look and behave the same due to convergent evolution. Same with the next two: Look the same; only distantly related in the bird world:

Great Auk – North Atlantic – – – Penguin – South Atlantic

So for decades and centuries ornithologists knew the two birds were related as they had the same beaks and the same habits, so you can imagine some of them were none too pleased to be told in 1988 by relative newbies that what they thought – heck, what they ‘knew’ – was wrong!

Just like zoologists had known for a long time that mammals in Australia had evolved to fit various niches. These two are more closely related to each other than they are to dogs or squirrels:

thylacine and sugar glider – both marsupials

And so we come to the even more recent discovery: That cockroaches are crustaceans.

Not only should we eat insects as a better way of producing protein, we should charge higher prices for them! The menu at my new restaurant will feature in future – Cockroach Thermidor SQ

crustaceans

——-ooo000ooo——-

An Old Friend Returns

I heard this call in River Drive Westville KZN in 2002 and went looking.

And I found a new bird to add to the long list in our first home: An Olive Bush Shrike!

This year on the other river in Westville, the Palmiet, I heard the call again and got that ‘I know what that is, but I can’t put my finger on it’ feeling. So I recorded it and posted it to the Friends of Pigeon Valley whatsapp group. Jonathan Hemson came back promptly with the answer. A new addition to the list in Elston Place.

Olive Bushshrike – Chlorophoneus olivaceus

——-ooo000ooo——-

Thanks xeno-canto for the recording; wikipedia and africanbirdclub for the pics..

First Cuckoo in 1913

I was thinking about the seasons and how we look out for our first Yellow-billed Kite every year around Spring. We also love hearing the first Piet-My-Vrou and other cuckoo calls.

Richard Lydekker (1849 – 1915) was an English naturalist, geologist and writer of numerous books on natural history. In fact, about thirty books in thirty years, some of them multi-volume tomes – up to six volumes!

Lydekker attracted amused public attention with a pair of letters to The Times in 1913. He wrote on 6 February that he had heard a cuckoo, contrary to Yarrell’s History of British Birds which doubted the bird arrived before April. Six days later on 12 February, he wrote again, confessing that “the note was uttered by a bricklayer’s labourer”.

We have all been caught out by a tape recording, a cellphone audio clip – and a mimic like our Natal Robin, so we feel for poor Lydekker over a century later!

After the mirth subsided, letters about the first cuckoo became a tradition every Spring in The Times.

Dawn Chorus

Woken this morning by the ringing call of an African Fish Eagle in the Palmiet Valley. Well, a Palmiet Right Bank Undershrub Minnow Eagle really, giving a beautiful rendition of the fish eagle cry from under a bush just outside my window. Five forty four ay emm.

To claim ownership of the talented mimicry, this was followed by the Natal Robin’s signature descending preep-proop preep-proop, immediately followed by a medley of crowned eagle-fish eagle repeated three times, both calls done really well, just like the originals, but quiet and close. So you might say more a ‘Ground Eagle-Minnow Eagle’ piano diminuendo medley.

Here’s a robin recorded by Mick Jackson at Bazley doing the crowned eagle and more:

This was rudely interrupted by a squadron of nasal flautists – Westville Pterodactyls launching themselves off my roof and receding down into the valley. No piano here; this was forte crescendo. All except one with a fear of heights who was rooted to the roof apex going Ma! WHY!!?

A herd of gumbooted elephants then thumped onto the roof right above my head, leaping off the strelitzias and the Aussie camelfoots and gallumphing across as only vervets do, causing the pterodactyl straggler to lose its fear of heights and baleka.

Now all that was left was a different, ascending proop-preep proop-preep. The softer chirp of a bladder cricket or katydid in the shrubbery.

——-ooo000ooo——-

Natal Robin – Red-capped Robin-Chat

piano diminuendo – soft and getting softer

forte crescendo – loud and getting louder

Westville Pterodactyls – Hadeda Ibis

baleka – bugger off; fly away; fluck, as in ‘where’s that bird?’ ‘It flucked’

bladder cricket – bladder grasshopper really, but maybe a katydid?

The recording is from Xeno-Canto – sharing bird sounds from around the world.

A Bird Book in Brasil

When Aitch said ‘Come with me to Brasil’ in 1988 I shouted ‘Hell, yes!’ over my shoulder as I rushed off to a bookstore to buy a book on the birds of Brasil.

There wasn’t one. I asked everywhere and searched everywhere, but no luck. Then I asked Hardy Wilson, who reached up to one of the many shelves in the library in his lovely home in Hollander Crescent and brought down his only copy of Aves Brasileiras and said ‘You can use this.’ I think he said it was the only field guide to Brazilian birds that he knew of and that it was out of print. Something along those lines, anyway. Wow! Are you sure? I asked. ‘Sure. Go. Enjoy.’

In Rio de Janeiro we found another copy – a hardcover. When we got back I offered Hardy his choice of either, in case the soft cover had sentimental value, but he preferred the hardcover, so I still have Hardy’s soft cover book Aves Brasileiras.

Using it made us realise how lucky we were in South Africa to have Roberts and Newmans field guides. I thought the book was probably Brasil’s first, but today I found this post by Bob Montgomerie of the American Ornithological Society’s History of Ornithology site. That’s what reminded me of Hardy’s book and his generosity thirty years ago.

Marcgraf1
Jacana from Marcgraf 1648

Bob Montgomerie: The first work of this genre (“Birds of – name of a country”) to be published was probably Georg Marcgraf’s section on birds, Qui agit de Avibus, in Piso’s Historia Naturalis Brasiliae published in 1648. Several other books about birds were published in the 16th and 17th centuries but this is the only one I could find that was specifically about the birds of a particular country or region, at least as indicated by the title.
Marcgraf’s bird section is a masterpiece that was THE authority on South American birds for the next two centuries. Even the paintings are pretty good given the quality of bird art in books by his contemporaries, and each species gets a separate account. Unfortunately for most scientists today, Marcgraf’s work is in Latin and relatively inaccessible.

Well, Hardy’s book was in Portuguese, and relatively inaccessible to us! But without it we would have been lost.

I found a pic of Hardy on the History site with Jane Bedford and a chap dressed funny. Jane has appeared in one of my stories before, in another world, long ago.

not that I’m saying Jane’s not dressed funny . . .