Just one night with Jessie and Jordi. An emergence of flying ants saw birds in profusion feeding on them. Despite a stiff breeze I saw plenty good birds. Some birders there had counted up over seventy in their 24 hour stay. Seven Broad-billed Rollers in one tree was special – this was the furthest south I’ve seen them. Then my first-ever sighting of African Bullfrogs! Pixycephalus edulus. And some Red Toads Schismoderma carens.
Godfrey the owner came round to visit Saturday evening, having recognised my name on his guest list; we had a long chat about his trees. He is a huge dendrology enthusiast and his current project is photographing a new un-named Combretum ‘novospeciosa’ – new species. He takes daily pics as the leaves and buds unfold and has a daily conversation with ace botanist Richard Boone (now In Aussie). Fascinating. He is building up an amazing catalogue of images of the 180 tree species on his property. He soon lost me as I’ve grown rusty on the dendrology side! The purple flower below is a Vitex (I think). I didn’t get a good picture. His pictures are pin-point sharp. He tried to show me how to get better pictures, but I think the extra secret is practice, practice.
On the way home we drove through Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Lots and lots of water after seeing it dry for a long time. Lots of greenery too, so very few animals, as they didn’t need to be anywhere near the roads. Four tiny little warthogs were the only sighting of note.
I woke to a confidential sort of murmuring / chirping outside my window. What birds are those, I wondered and peered through my window, then my bathroom window. Then I went to the scullery and peered through the window. Still nothing, so I opened the top of the stable door and they scattered.
Six Banded Mongooses on the back lawn outside my bedroom window! What a lovely sight! Had I been awake I’d have taken a camera to the door! Last week Jessie had called me to the lounge: ‘Dad! What are those! Come look!’ and showed me three mongooses on our front lawn. Hope they’re here to stay.
A lovely morning so I set off early for Pigeon Valley.
Soon after I got home the rain started – lovely lazy day listening to the rain on the roof; eating TomTom’s macaroni cheese, lots of bacon; its quite dark so maybe the sun is over the yardarm, I’ll have some vino now without looking at the clock.
What luck! friends couldn’t make their timeshare for happy reasons (grandchild due) so we took over! With pleasure. Nibela is in prime Broadbill sand forest territory and I have dipped out on seeing a Broadbill, coming close a number of times, but no sighting. I was keen, so was Jess. Tom considered the fishing options and the food a la carte, but decided in the end that it was just too remote for a city slicker! ‘Enjoy your sticks and trees, Dad!’ he bid us farewell.
Jess liked the place immediately. It had cellphone reception and DSTV. Also there was wifi at the main building. What was not to like?
The food at the lodge was great. The one pork belly dish was the best I’ve had, and all their soups and veges were superbly done. We ate there three nights and I made supper one night.
We searched for the African Broadbill, but no sign was seen or heard, so it remains on the wishlist. This is what its sand forest haunts look like, where it performs its little bird-of-paradise dance to get laid so an egg can get laid:
Lovely local specials we did see were Woodward’s Batis – a pair displaying and calling two metres away in a tree; Rudd’s Apalis; Purple-banded Sunbird; all good sightings and obligingly chirping as we watched. Narina Trogon, calling each day, but not seen; Heard but didn’t see a possible Neergard’s Sunbird. Two lovely bird parties popped up right in front of our chalet: One evening Dark-backed Weaver, Puffback, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow White-Eye and Southern Black Tit; The next morning Dark-backed Weaver, Puffback, Pink-throated Twinspot, duetting Southern Boubous, Square-tailed Drongo, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Collared Sunbird.
Jessie’s Best Sighting:
In the grounds of the lodge Jess spotted something beautiful in a tree! Look! Dad! wifi! You didn’t even have go indoors to have wifi!
A drive out to where the Mkhuze river flows into the lake brought back memories of my last trip there – by boat on a bird count with the game warden nearly forty years ago. Greater Flamingos, one Lesser Flamingo, White Pelicans, a Rosy-throated Longclaw, Common Ringed Plovers, Kittlitz’s Plovers, Stilts, Yellow-billed Ducks, Hottentot Teals and many more.
Pelicans fishing in a ‘laager’ – surrounding the fish then dipping in: Heads up – Bums up.
Charles Darwin wrote The Descent of Man. I’m going to write far more briefly and light-heartedly, about The Descent of One Mans Pass. His is 900 pages long and has sex in it. Mine is one page and only has suffering.
It was Barbara’s fault, of course. She was the instigator and in a fair and just world she would have been given a heavy backpack and her kierie would have been confiscated. As it is, she hared down like a springhaas, leaving the other four of us who deserted the platoon for our ‘shortcut,’ gasping in her wake.
‘It’s steep but it’s not far,’ I said confidently, clearly remembering the last time I had descended this pass on Platberg, or Ntabazwe – only about fifty years ago when I was a fit, lightweight klipspringer. Well! The first, rocky, section turned out to be twice as long as I’d remembered; and someone had loosened the rocks:
This part ended at the sandstone cave, which meant we had ‘conquered’ the dolerite cliff section, if we remembered Leon’s geology lesson correctly.
The second section is the grassy-rocky section which I also remembered well – except it was also much longer now. Perhaps there’s been a tectonic upwelling since I last did it?
. . then a section I had completely forgotten about. A bonus section, you could say.
. . a last little bit:
. . and we were on terra firma horizontalis, on the Bloekombos site of many a happy Methodist Sunday School picnic in the ‘sixties. As Tim correctly pointed out: As Methylated Spirits, we were only allowed tea and ginger beer at our picnics.
Now all we had to do was walk on the level to the Akkerbos – or Oak Forest – which I clearly remembered as being at point A:
. . but which is actually, and disconcertingly, at point B.
So we trudged. A reconnaissance patrol was dispatched to find us, but their vehicles turned out to be less capable than we’d have wished for, unable to negotiate a few fallen twigs across their path. Field Marshall Lello RSVP also seemed to have less pull with HQ than we hoped, so no helicopters were dispatched either.
So we trudged. On the way we passed some ladies packing a lovely smelling herb into bundles. We greeted them and trudged on. Luckily Gail had passed them before us and been more engaged. She told us how they had been delighted she could speak isiZulu and knew their herb was Imphepho (Helichrysum, or liquorice plant – that was the smell!). They were bundling it up for sale in eGoli, eThekwini and eKapa (Joburg, Durban and Cape Town). Imphepho is used for ritual purposes by sangomas for summoning the ancestors. According to Pooley ‘to invoke the goodwill of ancestors, to induce trances – and to keep red mites away.’
Soon we arrived at the Akkerbos to tremendous applause and a lavish spread. Well, one of those. A lesson learned: The old ‘Don’t Split The Party’ is a good principle!
kierie – unfair walking aid which well-balanced people don’t need. At first
springhaas – jumping hare; bouncing rabbit
klipspringer – petite antelope which lithely and blithely bounces from rock to rock without causing them to start mini avalanches
bloekombos – gumtree forest
akkerbos – oak forest
Weather: Light westerly breeze; gale, actually!
A bit of stopping to smell the flowers en route:
I’m afraid the conservation status of Platberg, this precious mountain, is precarious. Do read about it.
Read about how we were not the only, nor the first, holy folk to descend this mountain: ‘It was the arrival of the Prophet Isaiah Shembe at KwaZulu Natal (Durban) from Ntabazwe (Harrismith) as he was instructed by the Word of God to do so.’
This stroll was Monday. It’s Thursday and I’m still walking like Charlie Chaplin in slow motion. Tom seriously said ‘Dad, maybe you should see a doctor.’
Monday, exactly one week later and I’m tripping the light fantastic as usual – Normal gait restored.
As British birding weirdo Bill Oddie rightly said: ‘Bird-watchers are tense, competitive, selfish, shifty, dishonest, distrusting, boorish, pedantic, unsentimental, arrogant and – above all – envious’.
Driving down SinJim avenue one morning I had to brake for a Fruit and Nut Vulture perched on the busy tar road! Right here, on the way out of Westville towards the Pavilion shopping centre, where St James crosses the Mkombaan river! Looking for all the world like a lost kalkoen.
In thirty years living in Westville, seldom venturing forth without my binocs I had not seen a Palm Nut Vulture here, never mind one dodging traffic.
So I had a good chuckle when I reported the sighting to the birding fraternity. The response was immediate face palms: 1. Oh, we often see them! and 2. Everyone knows there’s a pair that nests in Westville!
Oh. OK. Um . . 1. Not. and 2. Um, not.
I sent the response to Palmiet valley doyenne Jean Senogles and we had a hearty laugh and skinner about ‘birders!’ especially newbie birders! Us birders who have birded for half a century can still allow ourselves to get excited over interesting sightings. In the competitive game, not so much! Shut up, I’ve already seen that one!
Such a pleasure to meet weirdos who prove I’m normal. Friends Petrea and Louis – speaking of weirdos – cracked me an invite to an early morning visit to Bill Oddie’s house in David Maclean Drive to spot some twinspots. To do some twin spotting.
Actually Roger and Linda Hogg’s home – what a beautiful garden! I didn’t take a picture, damn!
Now, looking at birds is normal, of course, as is drinking good coffee. Here are some of Roger’s bird pics. No, I’ll show you the weird part later. His daughters must die of embarrassment. I now can prove to my kids how normal I am.
Here’s the part that pleased me:
Here’s the real Bill Oddie, a crazy Pom. I got to know about him when Aitch bought me his ‘Little Black Bird Book’ cos she agreed with his assessment: ‘Bird-watchers are tense, competitive, selfish, shifty, dishonest, distrusting, boorish, pedantic, unsentimental, arrogant and – above all – envious’.
And here’s an embarrassing discovery: I’ve seen lots of twinspots, but I thought this one in Roger’s garden was a first for Westville. When I went to add them to my life list, I saw that I’d twin-spotted twinspots in my own garden! In 1999 at 7 River Drive!
Petrea’s response was sharp, as always: ‘How wonderful to suffer from Sometimers. Every bird is a lifer! And anyway, ‘normal’ is a setting on a dryer.’
British birding – we should realise how lucky we are!
Just a week later the twinspot occurrence turned into an infestation. The Lellos sent pictures of a female in their garden, a kilometer downstream. So now there are twinspots upstream and downstream from me, and I’m on barren bend!
For some unknown reason, Bruce Soutar thinks I know things, so he sends me stuff. Which I really enjoy! What’s this? he often asks. This was a moth on his car in Mbona, an ‘eco estate’ in the KwaZulu Natal midlands.
Of course, I immediately knew – after asking Roy Goff of African Moths. He identified it as Pingasa abyssinaria – ‘a regular from that end of the continent. It has an unusual resting posture which often makes people notice it.’
Common name: Duster. Bruce’s picture (shown) is better than any of the pictures I could find on moth websites – not bad! Maybe we can call it The Mbona Duster? Thank you to African Moths and Christeen Grant’s magic Midlands nature blog for info and the use of their pictures temporarily till I found Bruce’s pics.
Judging by the beautifully fringed trailing edge of its wings, I’d guess it flies very quietly – the better to dodge bats and nightjars and other predators.