Flying to Paris

The 258km from Harrismith to Parys via Weiveld takes six hours to negotiate if you haven’t yet seen a korhaan and you need to see one.

This includes a stop for steak egg and strips at the Royal Hotel in Reitz. Instead of strips I got potato wedges crisply fried in batter. Yum!

Here’s the route for slow pokes not in a hurry:

The roads are really quite good mostly. There’s a section between Petrus Steyn and Heilbron where the ANC oke who got the pothole tender must have pocketed the money and not delivered them. It’s smooth and kinda first world! He’s gonna be in trouble. The dirt roads are also mainly fine, but can get rough, and in the dips they get more interesting, as they’ve had some rain. Mud and some deep pools.

I saw my korhaan at last. Not the Blue, which I’ve been searching for, but the Northern Black Korhaan. Also a few Namaqua Doves, a favourite. Pics from my Newman’s Birds app.

Heavy storms are predicted but I had only a few showers on the way.

The feature pic is the view from my B&B on the left bank of the Vaal (not the Seine, silly!) in Parys, Free State. Paddling mate Chris Greeff had told me about this lovely rapid in his home town. Read a bit about him here. There’s A LOT more – Greeff should write a book.

Very warm in bed in Mistique Waters guest house on the banks of the Vaal after a hot bath. Tomorrow the streets of Paris!

~~oo0oo~~

MAHEM

M.agical A.vian and H.ysterical E.xpedition to M.emel

I decided to look for elusive gentlemen farmers Des and Ian by launching a stealth visit to the Memel district, choosing the Memel hotel as my base.

I settled on the stoep with a cold beer and asked if anyone knew Des Glutz? Well, they all did and had lots to tell me. Just wait right there, said Rudi the friendly hotelier, He’s sure to pop in, it’s Friday.

Various bakkies arrived and men in khaki wearing boots or velskoens trooped into the bar. Then a Nissan parked right in front of me and under the chassis a pair of bony feet in blue slip-slops appeared, followed by a pair of bony legs in faded navy blue rugby shorts with plenty of ballroom. His face and neck were covered by beard but I could see this was my man. He’s kinda unmistakable.

– my view of the ropy Nissan –

I accosted him from my prime spot on the stoep: ‘Excuse me, what you think you doing? You can’t come in here dressed like that!’ Well, then he knew I was from far, cos he most certainly can and does go into the Memel pub dressed like that. He stopped in his tracks and stared at me with his chin tilted up and his eyes half closed, you know how Des does that. Then he kicked for touch: Wait, I’m just going to tell these fuckin old fossils I’ll be late. He ‘stuck his head in the door and cussed his three slightly older drinking pals, telling them he’d be outside; then he came back to stare at me. Took a while to see through my new beard, then he said Coppers, is that you? He always called me Coppers after a Clifton primary schoolmate oke called Copchinsky. He also called policemen copchinskys.

As people arrived everyone greeted Oom Des and he had a cussing and a slur for each of them. Except the ladies. Hello my sweetheart, I still love you but I’m worried about your heart, he says to one, Come here and let me listen to your heartbeat. She leans over him and he nestles his ear in her boobs and rubs back and forth going Mmmmmm. Hai Oom Des, she says and rubs his head affectionately. Incorrigible. No change. And no improvement. We had a wonderful evening before he left for home, late, but with a pizza for Mercia as a peace offering. I discovered a few things that Memel evening: One was that the mense of Memel love the oke.

The next day I drove around the well-known Seekoeivlei nature reserve; Des was off to pretend to buy bulls at a vendusie with one of the fuckin old fossils.

Des and Mercia have a lovely spacious home in town and Oom Des decreed that a braai would be held there. Unfortunately I hopped into his bakkie to go there, mid-conversation, so I had no beers, no car. Soon after, another apparition arrived with a snow-white beard. The Bothas Pass hermit had emerged from his cave, bearing enough beers for an army, plus a bottle of brandewyn. Ian Stervis Steele, who I had not seen for many decades. What a night. About ten people, about a thousand beers and a gallon of brandewyn; lots of mutton chops, pork ribs and boerewors, a huge pot of pap and a very lekker sous. Very good oldtime music and Des at the head of the table till WAY late. Generous hospitality and much laughter.

Stervis, myself and a local couple stayed the night with Des and Mercia and their four dogs, the most notable one being a pekingese / sausage dog cross. Pitch black and chubby, about ankle-high, with that Pekingese-style smashed flat beak. Name: RAMBO. If you weren’t careful it would lick you. I got the comfy couch in the lounge.

The next day I was off-peak and had a snooze back at the hotel and booked another night. In the afternoon I drove out to Normandien and Mullers passes and then visited Des. For tea this time. Then back to the hotel where Rudi cooked me a huge T-bone and I had an early night, dank die hemel, Memel.

I saw stonechats, mountain wheatears and amur falcons; and the beautiful Klipspruit valley.

Before I left on this drive I called in at the butcher for some fatty biltong. The owner enquired what I was doing in town and I said I had been sent on a special mission to find and fix a man called Des Glutz. He and two customers in the shop roared with laughter and told me in no uncertain terms that there was no way I could ever live long enough to achieve that.

~~oo0oo~~

mahem – the sound this bird makes

mahem – grey crowned crane

bakkie – pickup; ute; status symbol

slip-slops – Glutz fashion footwear

fuckin old fossils – people slightly older than Des

Oom Des – old codger

mense – people; folk

braai, boerewors, etc – ritual burnt offerings; various animals sacrificed

brandewyn – sacramental drink served in braai ritual in tall glasses; distilled from grapes or peaches, they say

dank die hemel – Memel ‘sanks heavens’ ritual chant

~~oo0oo~~

Memel is maybe named after a Memel in East Prussia where they fought a battle in 1257, even before Des was born I’m told. The name means silence, but that has been broken since Des moved to town and since Memel joined with Zamani to become Memel-Zamani.

New Neighbours, Maybe

I heard a tap tap tapping next door. Industriousness can be very irritating, so I went to have a look. My neighbour on the other side is industrious and what a pain. There’s a lawnmower, or a leaf blower, or a high pressure hose going so often it drives me crazy. I haven’t shouted GET A LIFE! over the fence. I’m far too polite.

Turns out this tap tap tapping is a bloke building a new home. He has chosen his site for the best possible fibre access. Progress has been stopped today after his lady friend came to look at the joint. Maybe she didn’t fancy the bathroom tiling or the layout or something? I like it. It’s east-facing, gets the morning sun, and is protected from our prevailing wind and rain from the SW.

~~oo0oo~~

If he abandons it a Crested Barbet may move in. He’s been prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-ing in the yellow-flowered Cassia tree next to the pole.

Later I saw him doing some interior work – and spitting out the sawdust:

Hawaan Forest

There’s a beautiful patch of coastal forest left in Durban, hanging on as development happens all around it. Strolling around in the forest and on the fringe with sister Sheila and friend Jules, we heard a host of birds, saw a few and took pics of a few of the plants and creatures that would sit still.

– Variable Diadem on the lawn –
– Dideric Cuckoo tries to enter a Red Bishop nest –
– where’s that blerrie cuckoo? –
– alive with All Things Bright and Beautiful –
– the reed frog chorus is a delight –
Also – All things dull and ug-ga-ly
All creatures short and squat . .

~~oo0oo~~

Next visit we walked through the forest to the deck overlooking the river.

– under the canopy – the best kind of cathedral –

~~oo0oo~~

Mfolosi

Useful to top up your salt intake every so often by sticking your tongue in your nostril. Must practice that.

Mpila camp’s ‘safari tents’ are great. Comfy with all modcons, own kitchen and en-suite semi-outdoor bathroom. It’s walled in with reeds, like the kitchen wall you see here, but only to shoulder height – above that, it’s open to the outdoors under the big canvas roof. It’s a treat. A Purple-banded Sunbird sang to me as I showered. No pictures.

While photographing these ‘acacia’ flowers (must get the real name – maybe Senegalia?) this biggish weevil or snout beetle dropped into my hand. I’ll ask iNaturalist.org to identify both the plant and its weevil. Otherwise it would be like I saw no weevil.

There you go! iNaturalist.org says it’s a Foppish Weevil Polyclaeis equestris

– a Wahlberg’s Eagle and a Yellow-billed Kite share a perch –

A slender mongoose made a breakfast appearance at a waterhole. If anything was nesting in there, they were egg and toast, as she inspected every nook and cranny.

Driving along, an oft-heard sound and a not-often-seen sighting:

– a very obliging Black Cuckoo calls ‘I’m So Sick!’ –

At the hide (must add the name – Bhejane?) I saw the lovely Mocking Cliff Chat, Lesser Striped Swallows, Village Weavers building nests and a Hadeda Ibis pulling down their new nests around its nest! A Diederik Cuckoo was calling, probably waiting to get into those weaver nests. This hide looks out over a waterfall – dry today:

At another waterhole a bird flew past as my little Canon snapped a 3-shot burst:

I took a new route home, exiting the Cengeni gate in the south-west of the park and heading for Ulundi, Melmoth and Eshowe. Right outside the gate exiting the Umfolozi Big Five Game Reserve there’s this puzzling sign:

– or turn around and go back fifty metres! –

I asked the man at the gate, How far to Ulundi? 37km. I asked him, And how is the road? and he got all coy, hummed and hah’d a bit, then blurted, “but it is a tar road.” It wasn’t too bad. A fairly normal look-sharp neglected tar road as we’re used to.

If I still had Marguerite Poland’s book on the isiZulu descriptive names of Nguni cattle I’d tell you how this beast on the way to Ulundi would be described:

– something like ‘she lifts her black dress to cross the river, revealing her white petticoat’ –

I’ll go back to Mfolosi. Soon, though. Before it also loses all its grasslands to bush encroachment.

~~o00o~~

Hluhluwe Grasslands

Gone.

I enjoyed my stay in Hluhluwe. I stayed in Hilltop camp in the old rondawels that were built in the fifties or sixties. About sixty years ago.

– same view – 1966 and 2021 –

They’re very comfy now, with a ceiling fan, big cupboard, fridge, cutlery and crockery and cooking utensils, power points, lights, washbasin with hot water, kettle. And aircon. The bed linen was luxurious, fresh and clean and seemed brand new. The kitchen and ablution building is shared by all. The shower had hot water.

I spent both days there in the camp, no driving. The bushy hills where once there was grassland is not a good sight, so I elected to walk the camp forest – much of which was also once grassland!

Top right the Tassleberry tree has the most tassles I ever saw. Bottom right the Grewia shows why its called a crossberry. Click on them for a better look.

A beautiful old paperbark Commiphora had an interesting hole-in-the-bole, so I zoomed in: Bees, honeycombs and a butterfly that went back again and again despite the bees buzzing her.

Some flowers I lazily havent yet identified:

– crested francolin – beautiful feather patterns –
– one European Roller on an interesting branch –

As I said, I enjoyed Hluhluwe, but I don’t think I’ll go back in a hurry. The disappearance of the grasslands ruins it for me. I wonder if there’s an eco management plan for Hluhluwe?

~~oo0oo~~

Mkhuze Mini-Break

Lovely three nights in Mantuma Camp at Mkhuze game reserve in Zululand. Nothing much happened, animals were not plentiful, the grasslands are still sadly bush-encroached, but the birds, insects and plants more than made up for that. So as not to moan about Homo sapiens vaaliensis polluting the lovely hides with farting, phone calls, smoking and loud shutter clicks of the cameras with more computing power than their owners, I have politely refrained from commenting and instead played some games with the rather ordinary pictures I took with my phone and my pocket Canon. Enjoy!

I dunno what he saw in there, but he was making an awful racket for a long time – snake maybe?
  • this tiny little spider on my rearview mirror elongated himself to look like a mini octopus when I came too close –

At last an ele in Mkhuze! I was beginning in the last few years to think there weren’t any left. There must be very few, anyway.

– Chiromantis xerampelina –

At Kumahlala hide, after an hour of being alone and quiet, the Foam Nest Frogs started up a chorus. Took a while, but I found one up on a twig just outside the hide and got a pic of him. I wish I had thought to tape their call – a lovely loud chorus – I’d guess about four of them doing a fine barbershop quartet! Here’s a shy soloist:

Then I heard a new sound:

– thanks, Cliff and Suretha Dorse on biodiversity focused website

Found a new frog! I went through my frog calls: A Rhythmic Caco – Cacosternum rythmum. I must look for a picture of one. I couldn’t find him in the flooded grass in the waterhole. He is little over a centimetre long, mind you. Another name for them is Dainty Frogs.

Sunset at Masinga Waterhole: The sun sets behind the big old Boerbean tree that was probably already there when I first visited ‘Mkuzi’ in 1965. The hide wasn’t here then. The famous Bube hide was the ‘in place’ then, just a few hundred metres away (north, I think).

– very little water – full of green algae –

Driving out of the park to go home, a bushveld scene: Stripes and horns and a few egrets hanging around, hoping for some disturbance to happen. I ”shopped’ in the lily into the foreground, as it was lonely in its own picture with nothing around it. And it was nearby . .

~~oo0oo~~

1988 Albums

The big old album is hitting the recycling bin. I have recorded all the pictures.

Home after our lo-ong honeymoon and some surprise welcomes:

Also in 1988 we had a big optometry conference in Durban. As part of the hosting committee I produced a daily newsletter. Then I became president of the optometric association at the end of the conference.

Friends at the conference – and an induction (Brauer says they induced me):

I dragged some non-canoeing friends out to the Umgeni Valley. I wanted to see the valley for a last time before Inanda Dam drowned it forever. The river was rather shallow – um, VERY shallow! We dragged for miles!

We visited the folks in Harrismith, clambered the slopes of Platberg and sang around the piano:

Bernie & Karen Garcin got married in Empangeni – George Stainton and I were his best men.

In between all the scurrying we lived in our lovely Whittington Court one-bedroom apartment in Marriott Road, and I think I occasionally did a bit of work. Sheila reminded me that she lived there for two years after we bought our house in Westville.

Another of our frequest visits to Hella Hella. And a visit to the Hills on Melrose farm, Mid Illovo.

~~~oo0oo~~~

The Art of the Game Drive

I gave a talk in the Kruger Park once called The Art of the Game Drive. It was magnificent, complete with exciting sightings and livestreaming. Pity was, I had an unappreciative audience. Well, they were from behind the boerewors curtain, so . . you know how they are.

It almost sounded like they had a pet monkey with them, as they kept muttering Ari Aap as I drove them serenely in quiet splendour and exquisite comfort in my VW Kombi 2,1 in subtle camouflage blue and white. But you won’t believe this, when I stopped to examine old poo there was audible sighing. Philistines. The talks are still wildly popular* but I notice none of that particular batch were ever repeat guests. And I mainly have repeat guests.

*Jessie has been a repeat guest dozens – scores – of times. She can appreciate the Art of the Game Drive. Specially if she has her phone, her music and noise-cancelling earphones with her.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Xudum in Okavango

(A re-post with added pictures, as I throw out paper photo albums after copying and uploading. Major un-cluttering happening as I prepare my home for the past sixteen years for sale. Next chapter about to begin!)

Another trip to the Delta!

Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in August 2001 when Janet & Duncan were helping Landela Safaris run their show. We landed on the nearby bush strip. We had been before, in January 2000. This post has pictures from both trips.

– . . . in the Xudum area, east of the Sandveldt Tongue –
Xudum airstrip (2)
– Xudum landing strip in high water – a 2020 picture –

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.

Xudum drift

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, earning my keep as a guest of the lodge managers. Only afterwards did I think hmm, crocs.

Xudum (5)

Visited Rann’s camp for lunch where Keith and Angie Rowles were our hosts. That’s 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

Here’s Trish’s paper album – photographed and discarded:

~~~oo0oo~~~

Later Xudum was taken over by super-luxury company ‘&Beyond.’ OTT luxury, and R15 000 per person per night! Very different to the lovely rustic – but still luxurious – tented camp it was when we were there. Should ‘conservationists’ really be using miles of glass and wooden decking and flooring in the bush!? Methinks rich spoilt children are doing the designing for Daddy’s company and perspective has flown out the canvas-zip window and crashed into the plate glass floor-length picture window.

In May 2019 it burnt down. Had it been canvas there’d have been less pollution from the fire and the re-build.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Breeding Afoot

Here’s hoping the Black Flycatchers breed on the old stoep again, Last time was in a cycling helmet; before that in the bougainvillea creeper that has been removed. This time a plastic flower pot modified and mounted for the purpose.

They have filled the pot with nesting material and the female is starting to spend more time in it. She’s there in the the top right close-up pic, you can just see her tail.

Here are the nests from years gone by, in the creeper and in the helmet:

Late Lunch?

That’s different, I thought. Something had zoomed into the Albizia at speed and the birds had scattered.

A juvenile Little Sparrowhawk. She sat for a while peering around and up and down intently. To me it looked like she was on the hunt. Then she darted off in a flash. I hope she got something to eat.

Meanwhile the Hadeda was unfazed, gathering nesting material.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Spring Sprung

Spring birding has been great. Some poor but fun pics of what’s been buzzing about.

– Cardinal Woodpecker – only one, but I inserted him three more times using FastStone –
– three birds in one shot! – top Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Spectacled Weaver and female Black Cuckooshrike bottom – I added in a clearer pic of the cuckooshrike –
– Yellow-bellied Greenbul – left one is same bird added in (a bit small!) – insert was nearby – there were three of them –

Above: Cape White-eye and African Firefinch – Spectacled Weaver – Olive Thrush

– the Lodders came to visit and Louis casually shot a Grey Waxbill while we were talking – see in the inset how she flashed her scarlet rump lingerie at Louis –

Below: A Pegesimallus robber fly; The tail hanging down from the branch? A vervet monkey; Temnora marginata (a sphinx moth); Ceryx fulvescens (yellow sleeved maiden moth); and – the white moth possibly a citrus looper? Thanks, iNaturalist.org for help with identification.

The female Black Cuckooshrike returned and I got a better view. Pics are poor as I took them through my dirty window rather than open up and spook her. One bird, I compiled this montage with FastStone again.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Lifer at Home!

Blustery day with a warm wind after the cold of the last few days. Rather unpleasant outside, so I sat in the lounge and re-read my Damon Runyon.

– the view from my couch – thank goodness for Zeiss binnies! –

What’s that in the birdbath copse? Just Cape White-eyes. And that? Ah, a Yellow-bellied Greenbul in the afternoon sunlight. I took a couple shots for the record with my little Canon compact with its lovely 25X zoom.

What’s that behind him? Two canaries, No, next to them. A mannikin. Now two of them. Wait, they look bigger. Thank goodness for my binocs. I’m sure . . . I’m not twitching, am I?

Must take pics. One from the lounge with the little Canon on full zoom:

Then some from much closer, on the cottage deck using my tripod. Upper beak silver, not black? Check. Chest white, less dark below the chin? Check. Dark shoulder flash? Check. That broad orange bar on the flank? It is! It’s a Magpie Mannikin! Bogey bird of mine for decades; and after searching all over for it, up and down the east coast, I nail it in my own front garden!

Luvverly! Lonchura fringilloides

Nailed at Last II

A while ago I spotted an Ashy Flycatcher in my garden and wrote about ‘nailing it at last!’

This morning I got up at 5.40am, made a cup o’ coffee and settled on my lazyboy chair warmly dressed and covered in an old sleeping bag, binocs in hand. Lovely windless, cloudless morning.

And boy, what a parade!

I saw the Tambourine Dove above; More listed below.

Two drongos chased a Mother-of-Pearl butterfly over the grass and meadow, over the pool towards me and then right under my patio roof, where one of the drongos nailed it. It flew off to that same tree you see below and ate it, shedding the wings. Pieces of wing spiralled down slowly in the still air.

– collage of another Mother-of-Pearl I found dead near Durban Botanic Gardens –

And then to top it off, for the first time here, I saw this at last – I’d heard of sightings down the valley, but I hadn’t seen him in my garden yet. Now I have!

– a silhouetted Grey Cuckooshrike, Coracina caesia

Sunrise was behind them, so poor pics but nice and clear in my binoculars.

A Grey Cuckooshrike! Louis in the valley had been crowing and I’d been fuming. Now I’m his equal! Ha!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Saw: Weavers Spectacled and Thick-billed; Starlings Red-winged and Black-bellied; Sunbirds Olive and Amethyst; Greenbuls Sombre and Yellow-bellied; Dark-capped Bulbul; White-eye; Red-eyed Dove; Olive Thrush; Hadeda; Yellow-billed Kite; Purple-crested Turaco; Flycatchers Black and Dusky; Fork-tailed Drongo; Yellow-fronted Canary; Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird; Egyptian Goose; Speckled Mousebird; Barn Swallow; Barbets Black-collared and White-eared; Lesser Honeyguide; Black-backed Puffback; Black-headed Oriole;

Heard: Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Crested Barbet, Southern Boubou, African Firefinch, White-bellied Sunbird, Klaas’ Cuckoo

The Pirates of Palmiet

Hauling out the garbage early this morning a screeching drew my attention to the sky in the SE and there they were: Four pirates in jinking flight heading my way.

Luckily a Kite flying across their path drew their attention; they immediately launched an attack, buzzing him and strafing him and really getting ‘in his face.’ He dodged lazily but kept heading due east towards the rising sun. Four sorties they launched, wheeling round, gaining height, then flying straight at him again.

Then they broke off and laughingly resumed their journey NW, up the Palmiet valley.

Aargh! Me hearties, I heard ’em shouting as they flocked off.

https://www.xeno-canto.org/explore?query=rose-ringed%20parakeet

~~~oo0oo~~~

pics: In flight: thumbnail from nature picture library – Right – wikipedia – thanks.

Rose-ringed parakeets originally come from India and North Africa, but have spread far and wide. Their spread has various adverse effects on the ecology:

The ring-necked parakeet is one of the most successful invaders. A gregarious Afro-Asian parakeet, it has now been recorded in over 35 countries outside its native extent of occurrence. Despite being one of the most introduced bird species throughout the world, its interactions with native biodiversity and environment are not completely known and rely mainly on anecdotal evidence. Future researchers are therefore required to fill these gaps. Trunk cavities represent the preferred breeding sites of these alien parrots and indicate potential routes of direct and indirect competition with native hole-nesting bird species, such as nuthatches and starlings (woodpeckers, barbets, etc). Interactions with tree squirrels, bats and insects are rarely reported but may be more severe than currently known. Droppings by ring-necked parakeets may alter the herbaceous vegetation under the roost but direct cause–effect relationships for this phenomenon are hard to assess if no data about floral composition before the time of invasion is available. The ring-necked parakeet is a potential reservoir of a plethora of diseases transmittable to humans and wildlife. No data concerning ecosystem recovery after the removal of ring-necked parakeets is available, as eradication and numerical control programs are often hampered by the emotional affiliation which links humans to these bright birds.

~~~oo0oo~~~