Mom was on furlough from the home – Azalea Gardens. Sheila fetched her and Barbara, Linda, Tholo and the two terrors Mary-Kate and Dawie and I joined them at 16 Ivy Road in Lincoln Meade, Pietermaritzburg.
What a lovely day – a great lunch, fun with the kids and ending with a surprise: ancient movies from our youth taken in the sixties with Dad’s 8mm movie camera. Sheila had arranged and paid for hours of old footage to be put on a memory stick! Dad says he had a small Canon movie camera first; I only remember his Eumig camera.
As we were leaving Tholo spotted a birds nest right above the car door with two little chicks begging, and showed Mary-Kate.
After everyone left I waited till I could spot the mother: a Cape White Eye.
got a wifi-enabled camera! My cellphone can now operate the camera
remotely! I am going to set it up on a tripod and sit somewhere
comfortable and take pictures of unwitting birds. No, man! Feathered
I’ve long wanted this. Having it would have been handy to see what the hyenas and bushpigs were doing outside our hut late at night in Mfolosi game reserve last month.
Being a cheapskate I waited for the Canon Powershot SX620HS. It’s a tiny little compact camera so I can carry it easily; advantages over the phone camera: 25X optical zoom and a bigger sensor.
now I got the camera aiming at the birdbath waiting for the first
getting the camera and phone to talk to each other has taken way
longer than I thought. While I was sukkeling, two spectacled
weavers, a golden-rumped tinker, an olive sunbird, two brown-hooded
kingfishers, a fork-tailed drongo and a speckled mousebird hopped on
and grinned at me. Now that I’m rigged up, nothing so far!
sal sien what comes of this! Maybe word got out in the bird world
that the binocular pervert who always stares at them while they’re
bathing now has a camera?
Thutty long minutes later I spot a small problem: My attention span! This is not really a sport for someone who hops from twig to twig and often makes frequent forays to the fridge and/or the kettle. One olive sunbird has been photographed, small and blurry; moving fast and olive-greenish against an olive-brownish backdrop. Meantime various ostriches and vultures might have taken gulps of water while my attention was elsewhere. Even moas and dodos; I wouldn’t know.
can see I need auto-shoot with a movement detector so I can leave it
and go to sleep and then see what happened in my absence. And so the
drive for ever-more expensive equipment starts!
little challenge: Battery life! After waiting a few hours the whole
setup suddenly switches off: “Re-charge Battery” it commands.
whenever you see a great bird picture, take your hat off to the
patience and perseverance and expense required to get those shots!
I now remember the stories Neville Brickell used to tell me about how he got his bird pics. He would find a spot where his target bird was likely to be. He would give a big bag of the right seed or feed to someone living nearby and ask them to put a handful out every day for a few weeks. He would then go back and set up a hide. Later he would enter the hide and – if lucky – get his picture! His resident feeder would be rewarded for that ultimate success so he had a reason to keep up the feeding. A lot of work and patience!
Sukkeling – battling
Ons sal sien – we’ll see; time will tell
**Neville Brickell is a prominent S.A. avicultural photographer and researcher who used to get his specs from me at Musgrave Centre. He wrote books and articles and signed his duck book for me.
Geese and Swans of Africa and its outlying islands – book, 1988
to Southern African cage and aviary birds – book
The recipe: Fifteen glorious people and forty glorious kilometres of wide open sandy beaches; ten of us were walking; two were guiding – Jabulani and DC walking up and down the dunes ahead and behind to keep an eye on us; two drivers for our vehicles to pick us up at the end of the first and third days; and then there was one Shirley Carey: She plotted and arranged, cooked and drove, organised and made it all happen – well done Shirley! It was a great start to what I hope becomes a thriving enterprise: Introducing people to a magic, less-traveled part of the coast in adventurous style. Put-Foot-Shirl in her optical blur Toyota sped us around to and from the hike start and end-points, and looked after us in style!
The vistas were spectacular, the weather varied from perfect to overcast and a cool stiff following breeze to a constant ‘irrelentless’ steady headwind on the last day. Thanks to a few overnight showers and spring tide the sand was hard and we didn’t get sand-blasted. We also had no scorching hot Zululand temperatures, for which I was grateful and relieved. Anyway, we pushed on irregardless under interesting skies.
The recipe also included great meals, snacks and puddings, enough alcohol and plenty ice. Come to think of it, it was quite saintly of us to leave the kitchen and hit the beach – we could easily have lurked in comfort! Another ingredient was laughter; lots of laughter; loud peals of laughter. Some ribald humour too; you wouldn’t expect that from ladies, would you? Nor snorting with laughter! But it was all there. It would be fascinating to know how many laughs-per-kilometer there were. ‘Many’ would be a conservative estimate.
Now one would think if you went to a remote Maputaland beach, sallied forth in a 4X4 then walked fourteen km without seeing another soul on a deserted beach, that Retail Black Friday would have been escaped and no – zero, none – purchases would have been made. But one would be wrong. These ladies set off after a sweet potato and bought a dress! It’s a mysterious and powerful force, retail:
I find beaches fierce and exposed; trudge, trudge; I find forests peaceful and protective; peer here, peer there. On the Zululand Beach Waddle you get both: Wide vistas of sand and water with moving clouds, trudge trudge; balanced by the green peace of the forests and all the little things hiding in them; even a Jan’s Shovel-snout, a seldom-seen nocturnal burrower who lives just below the loose sandy surface, eating gecko eggs; he was dead; we wouldn’t have seen him alive, he’s shy like me; and also polite.
This expedition was supremely relaxing, but there was one very tough part of the trip: Driving out on the last day with four outspoken, astute, well-read and opinionated ladies as ballast in my non-4X4. I made the mistake of telling them we were going to drive on the Most Beautiful Road in Africa. When we finally got onto it and it was a little bit bumpy, swervy, twisty, sandy and their ballast started shifting, they twisted the story to say I had said “The Best Road in Africa”! So with every spin and rock and roll and wobble it was “Oof! So this is the best road in Africa? I’d hate to see the worst!” and other helpful comments.
There’s Put-Foot-Lizelle in the bottom pic disappearing into the distance in her Landrover which – amazingly – didn’t get stuck. Oh, hang on, it did once. We had to dispatch Musa to find her.
And here’s that demanding committee in my poor Ford Ranger, discussing tactics:
Usually I’d end with a sunset pic, but we were drinking Cactus Jack, Six Dogs Blue Gin, Bubbly, Red, White and Rose wine, genuine Italian-made Lemoncello Ramaccio Pace and other stuff by then, so the sun had to set all by its own self. Here’s a rock pool pic instead: Oh! I’ll follow that with a bird pic by Lou. You’d think with my binocs, telescope and bird book that we would have seen more than a few Sanderlings and a handful of Kittlitz’s plovers! – (BTW, the pics are from everyone – thanks!)
. . were delightful. But they were all chaperoned by big ugly old males:
Oh well, I made the most of it by looking for Vrystaat poppies. At least some of them were unaccompanied:
And the local birds were also obliging:
Saturday Supper was delicious. Cafe Chocolat hidden in a massive pile of priceless collectibles:
We had a hilarious mixed message, crossed wire and different-planets outcome when I enquired about birders who might know where to watch birds around Ficksburg. The only ‘bird guy’ they knew was Johan and he replied to my sms asking where we could watch birds in the Ficksburg district thusly (translated):
Hey! Jong, in Ficksburg it’s only me and Martin and Willie. But its breeding season now and I don’t take people through my cages now, only end-January again.
Meanwhile, back at home some life lessons were being learned:
Our two walks in the wilderness with the Taylors, Foggs, Janice Hallot and Gayle Adlam blur into one and I have got the photos all mixed up, so here are some more memories from 1999 or 2005.
On the drier of our two walks there was little surface water about, so around the campfire one night . .
. . when my companions were suitably lubricated, I put one of my (many) pet theories to them. Tomorrow, instead of walking about scaring the animals, let’s go to that waterhole we saw where a stream joins the Mfolosi river and get comfortable and simply lurk there till lunchtime! Let the animals come to us. Who’s in favour?
To my surprise and delight they were all so mellow and agreeable they voted in favour and we did just that. It was wonderful! We got comfortable a nice distance from the water and watched as all sorts of birds and animals came to drink. My idea of heaven: Lurking with telescope, binoculars and books!
These were slackpacking walks, so our kit was carried to the outlying camp by these handy bongolos. Here you can see Dizzi looking for her luggage, saying “Where’s my bongolo? Why don’t they have number plates?”
On the wetter walk it got hot one day and we asked our Rangers if we could swim. They said they knew just the spot. Miles later we got to the river at their swimming hole. But it was occupied:
Two buffs, an ele and a lioness had all had the same idea. We didn’t argue with them, we trudged on. Miles later we crossed the river again, and had a swim. Sort of. Luckily no pictures were taken. These were of a shoes-off river crossing, footwear and footprints:
The walks end with a last night back at base camp. We had left celebration supplies there in anticipation.
Then a champagne breakfast kombi drive before we left the park.
Kids – six of them! – driving me crazy so I pack a flask of coffee, some buttermilk rusks, grab my binocs and waai. Three minutes away to the Palmiet Nature Reserve on my doorstep.
Two hours later off to Pigeon Valley in town for another two hours. Palmiet is only 90ha in size and Pigeon Valley a tiny 10ha, but they’re rich in plant and birdlife. These collages are just some of the birds I saw and heard today in the two reserves:
I spotted an old landsnail shell in a tree hollow. New life sprouting out of it.
I pinched the pics from all over the internet, and some from Friends of Pigeon Valley‘s Crispin Hemson and Sheryl Halstead. Thank you!