Great Excitement!

I 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 ones.

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.

So now I got the camera aiming at the birdbath waiting for the first exciting shot.

Remote camera on tripod

Hmm, 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!

Ons 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.

Steep learning curve ahead!

I 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!

Another little challenge: Battery life! After waiting a few hours the whole setup suddenly switches off: “Re-charge Battery” it commands.

So 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!

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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.

Ducks, Geese and Swans of Africa and its outlying islands – book, 1988

Introduction to Southern African cage and aviary birds – book

The Cuckoo Finch Anomalospiza imberbis – Avicultural Magazine Vol.116 No.4 2010

Maputaland Beach Walk

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.

Sodwana to Lala Nek – 40km of beautiful beaches and rocky shores
Jabulani scouts our route from up high

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.

A whiff of sulphur as the breakfast eggs are unveiled leads to gales of laughter

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:

Shopping Sodwana, complete with photo-bombing shop assistant, plus prêt-à-porter frocks
Panoramas, some with people
Beach Walk Small Stuff, plus cows, which are larger

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.

Forest small stuff
Flies at Mabibi – still to be ID’d

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.

That Beautiful Road along Lake Sibaya shoreline – pity the lake was so low

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!)

Di Fabricius, Lizelle Ramaccio Calvino, Mal Bell, Michelle Pace, Shirley Vorster, Joni Kirkland, Lou Kelly, Michelle Graven, Koos Swanepoel, Sheila Swanepoel – pic by Shirley Carey
Another Lou pic with internet-borrowed pics of Sanderling and Kittlitz’s plover

The Cherries in Ficksburg . .

. . were delightful. But they were all chaperoned by big ugly old males:

Ficksburg_Hysterical_Tour_2018[1].jpg

Oh well, I made the most of it by looking for Vrystaat poppies. At least some of them were unaccompanied:

Hysterical Tour Ficksburg-002.jpg

And the local birds were also obliging:

Ficksburg Hysterical Tour 2018_3

Ficksburg Hysterical Tour 2018_2

Ficksburg flower & mountain

Saturday Supper was delicious. Cafe Chocolat hidden in a massive pile of priceless collectibles:

Hysterical Tour Ficksburg Junkyard
Barbara’s pic of the treasure

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.

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Meanwhile, back at home some life lessons were being learned:

20181104_224930.jpg

 

Wilderness Walk – Mfolosi: The Gentle Art of Lurking

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 . .

Supper, great food, great wine, comfy chairs.       Story (and snory) time now

. . 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!Mfolosi Wilderness walk 1999 & 2005.jpg

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?”

Dizzi seeks HER bongolo

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:

Mfolosi Wilderness walk 1999 & 2005 waterhole collage

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:

Wading the Mfolosi

The walks end with a last night back at base camp. We had left celebration supplies there in anticipation.

Mfolosi Wilderness walk 1999 & 2005-002

Then a champagne breakfast kombi drive before we left the park.

Champagne all round! And there's a shot of Aitch the photographer at last!
At last photographer Trish is in a photo – behind Jon’s champagne glass

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imbongolo – donkey

Denyse took most of the lovely animal photos

Sanity Break

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.

Palmiet Picnic.jpg

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:

Bird Pics internet

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!

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waai – bugger off

Oddballs, Then and Now

Its gone wimpish! Actually Oddballs is still a wonderful, more affordable way to see the Okavango Delta and this post must be taken with a pinch of salt; My tongue is in my cheek;

This is classic “The Good Old Days was better” bulldust.

When WE went ca. 1990 we had to take our own food! But because there’s a 10kg limit on the Cessna 206’s and because one has to take binoculars, a telescope, a tripod, a sleeping bag and books:

Jess Zululand Course Books

I exaggerate, these were Jessie’s books for her field guide course last year, but still: weight. So we took very little food. At Oddballs we bought their last potatoes and onions and then we pitched our tent. Not like these wimpish days when the tent is pitched for you on a wooden deck with shower en-suite!! We were like this:

OddballsOkavango (14 small)
Good Old Oddballs

Communal showers:

Yes, actually, Oddballs IS a luxury lodge!

Nowadays New Oddballs is soft and squishy:

New Oddballs
New Oddballs

Here’s Aitch in the Old Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge – and the wimpish new arrangement!

 

Luckily, the rest is still the same! You head out on a mekoro with a guide who really knows his patch:

OddballsOkavango makoro

You pitch your own tent on an island without anyone else in sight:

OddballsOkavango Squirrel Camp

And you enjoy true wilderness. When you get back, Oddball really does seem like a Palm Island Luxury Lodge:

Oddballs (5)

There’s a bar, there’s ice and cold beer, gin and tonic. You can order a meal! And – NOWADAYS! – a double bed is made up for you, ya bleedin’ wimps!

Go there (or here) NOW!!

Durban Nightlife

Nightjars are fascinating birds.

One night in my first own home, Whittington Court in Marriott Road on Durban’s Berea, I heard a strange sound. It was like a small dog barking, but not quite that and I remembered from all my reading and re-reading of Roberts and Newmans bird books: Nightjar!

Aitch! I shouted, a nightjar! Luckily she knew I was weird so she joined me and we peered out from our first floor window and a nightjar flitted past. I was over the moon with excitement and discovery. A Freckled Nightjar right outside my flat!

Freckled Nightjar
Thanks stellenboschbirds.com – Chris Krog

Investigation revealed it to be a well-known one, roosting on the roof of the residential hotel nearby. Eden Gardens, now a retirement home. It had been discovered by Philip Clancey, famous birder and splitter and Durban Natural Science Museum ornithologist and author and artist, who lived in the hotel.They usually roost on rocks and the roof was a good substitute. Their camouflage is impressive:

Freckled Nightjar_africanbirdclub
africanbirdclub.com

A previous “discovery” of a nightjar also had me hugely excited.

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Durban museum ornithologist Philip Clancey took numerous expeditions into Zululand and Mozambique, discovering several new subspecies as well as one new species to science, the Lemon-breasted Canary in 1961. Clancey was a prodigious publisher of papers and books including “Birds of Natal and Zululand”, all lavishly illustrated with his excellent and distinctive bird paintings.