Maun n Surrounds

Kaziikini camp

Boteti River Bridge

Out on the Makalamabedi road south of Maun the Boteti river is flowing nicely. Three or four of the pipes have a swift current and the birds are loving it. And I only got two pictures, none of the lovely scene!

Chilling in the Mopane

Zena said We must go to Kruger, my man Martin is a fabulous guide. I said Let’s Go!, and when August rolled round there we were, chilling in the mopane woodlands around Mopani Rest Camp in the famous Kruger National Park, drinking gin and tonic, gazing out over Pioneer dam from our under-thatch bird-watching stoep.

– seek out chalet 43 in Mopani Camp –

Martin runs Laughing Hyena Safaris, and his experienced Kruger Park nose soon led us to great sightings – big ones, feathered ones and little ones too.

Suddenly! We spotted some spots in the mopane shadows! With great skill we tracked the shadowy spots through the dappled sun and shade of the mopane woodland. What could it be?

Hey, it was! It was a . . a . . leopard! Kruger’s holy grail. With great tracking skill, we had found it:

– Martin showed us how to tell that it was a boy leopard –

. . . ‘course, we actually found it the traditional Kruger Park way:

– check the Sharkie going offroad to shove in front of us – I’m guessing his name was probably Richard –

To celebrate we had lots more gin & tonic, which improved our sightings even more:

A keen photographer and Canon ambassador, Martin aimed his long lens out the window and later let us have some of his pics:

. . and he made us a video:

and he taught us a new bird species: the Burchell’s Poupol

~~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.

Mannikins High on Grass

. . and then low on grass as they sway downwards. Then HIGH again if one flies off a stalk and the stalk sways upward under less weight. I confess I am endlessly fascinated by little seed-eating birds swaying on grass stalks in the morning light, so here are some more Red-backed Mannikins performing for us in my garden:

The Bronze Mannikins followed today, with juveniles; Yellow-fronted Canaries come often; and every now and then I get a Grey Waxbill as a rare treat.

~~oo0oo~~

Meantime, on the surface of my pond, a gruesome scene: skimmers doing what skimmers do: feeding on some poor creature that landed on the surface. My water-surface hyenas doing their job.

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:

End-Days Elston Place

I forgot to get the camera out – or rather, aim my phone at people – so that’s the setting for my farewell meals without Petrea, Louis, Charles, Barbara, Jules, Gayle, Grant, Ziggy, Tom, Mbono, Geoff, Janet, Heather or Bruce. A people-free zone before they arrived.

And I didn’t suffer all of them at once, are you mad? I only have five chairs left, so that’s my max guest number. And I sub-contracted out all catering – to Petrea, Louis, Ziggy and Checkers.

Some of these soirees were evenings, some were lunches. The evening ones were interrupted by le frogs calling loudly. Guttural Toads loud BRAAAP! and the gentle creak (that’s creak, not croak) of the River Frog – all in my sparkling blue-green pool. Here’s a guttural toad who scored – managed to entice a svelte young lady. The noisy one is the little guy on her back. He’s quiet now cos he doesn’t want any interruptions while theyr’e makin’ whoopee – and long strings of black fertilised eggs.

We’d have to get up every now and then and shurrup the toads, but you know what its like when you’re horny – they would only shut up for less than a minute. You do know what its like when you’re horny, right? Here’s one of them belting out a number:

Oh, hang on!? Anyway, Fats sounds better.

Here’s the polite lil chap:

Here’s his cousin from Petrea and Louis’ place down the road with a much showier ventral stripe:

One morning I called in expert help to deal with the noisy toads. I don’t know if he manage to relocate any of them. Hope so. He looks like he needs the protein.

I’m told my end-of-days is now only at at the end of February, so more to come.

~~oo0oo~~

A-Frogging We Will Go!

Old English nursery rhyme song:

A frog he would a-wooing go,
Heigh ho! says Rowley,
A frog he would a-wooing go,
Whether his mother would let him or no.
With a rowley, powley*, gammon, and spinach,
Heigh ho! says Anthony Rowley.

Like all good nursery rhymes, they all came to a bloody end. Dead, the lot of them, by the end of the rhyme. And they’re for children, of course, so there’s mention of spinach! See all the words here.

Aitch and I enjoyed some lovely frogging outings in our courting days and pre-children days. Sometimes with Barry & Lyn Porter at their three main ‘patches,’ Hella Hella (Game Valley Estates), inland of Port Shepstone (the litchi farm) and Betty’s Bay (which Barry’s father donated to the nation for a nature reserve), but the two of us ‘frogged’ all over the place, filling in data for the frog atlas by ADU at UCT’s Fitztitute. We had a lot of fun doing that. We felt lucky, we had an early GPS.

– me and Barry frogging inland of Port Shepstone on ‘the litchi farm’ –

Top ‘feature’ pic: A red-banded Rubber Frog I caught in me underpants on Malachite Camp – a shortlived venture in Zululand by the Mala Mala crowd. Here’s the frog again, and the tuft he was calling in:

Sonderbroek frogging as sometimes the vlei was quite deep. Whistling catcalls would emanate from the Landrover. That woman!

~~o00o~~

sonderbroek – sans culotte; trousers off

vlei – marsh; wetland

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~~

Like a Bucket of Prawns

I’m off!

Or I thought I was. Packed the hebcooler, the book box, the camera bag – now huge with two tripods and a new spotting scope (the main toy to be tested out at Mkhuze’s hides!). Food. Ice bricks from the freezer, the lot. Having been a critic when Jess forgot things, I went through my mental checklist. Nah, I’m sure I have it all.

Oh, clothes and toiletries. OK. Coffee. Right. Charcoal. First aid kit.

Loaded the whole lot in the car then remembered I had undertaken to get my will signed, witnessed and courier’d today. Did that, then had to arrange a locum optometrist to work for us – quick! before he changes his mind! Did that, then remembered I’d arranged to meet the lady who sold all my furniture for final payment. Did that. Then Gugu texted me: Can the girls come for a swim this afternoon in my newly cleaned sparkling blue pool? That did it.

I unpacked, back in the deep freeze and fridge. I’ll leave tomorrow. Early start. The three young ‘uns had a noisy, fun swim, chips and red cooldrink. Perfect day.

~~o00o~~

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~~~

Micro-Hippos (or tardigrades)

I’ve had to re-post this 2017 post cos there’s been a wonderful new discovery! At the end of the post, DO click over to the CBS News site – a great article ending in a quirky song by a quirky tardigradologist! Here’s a sneak peek at the new 16 million-year-old discovery:

– we are talking microscopic –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Americans call tardigrades ‘water bears’ and Europeans call them ‘moss piglets’. I think Africans should call them micro-hippos. They’re obviously more closely related to hippopotamuses than bears or pigs. Just look at them. Anyone can see that’s a microscopic hippo wearing his old wrinkled khaki safari outfit.*

Anyway, they live in water, like bears and pigs don’t. Microscopic, blobby-bodied tardigrades measure mostly between 0.3 to 0.5 millimeters in length. The tiny creatures have endearing features if you have a good enough microscope: fat, lumpy bodies; oblong heads, sometimes with a tubular mouth; four pairs of chubby legs tipped with grasping claws like a sloth. The word tardigrada is Latin for ‘slow stepper’.

They are famed for their ability to survive in extreme conditions, even appearing to come back from the dead. They’re found around the world on damp moss and algae, but you can’t really see them with the naked eye. Yet somehow German dominee-zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze discovered them back in 1773. I love it. Back in the days when dominees were useful! I hope he mentioned them in his next sermon on fortitude.

Researchers have found that tardigrades can withstand searing heat up to 149 degrees Celsius and freezing cold as low as minus 200 degrees Celsius. They emerge unscathed after exposure to boiling, high pressure, and the radiation and vacuum of space.  They expel the water from their bodies and enter a suspended state. In this state they’re called ‘tuns’. They retract their limbs and shrink into tiny, desiccated balls, emerging only when life-threatening conditions have passed. OK, so that’s not like hippos, but nor is it like piglets. Bears do their hibernation thing, true.

They come in various kinds. Here’s another one and a cute micro-hippo embryo:

Scientists are studying how these amazing beasts do what they do. One is Thomas C. Boothby of the University of North Carolina. He grew up in Africa, so I hope he calls them micro-hippos!

More here and here and here

*Matt Simon on wired.com called them something like “cannons in wrinkled khaki”

– a MicroHippo (or tardigrade) –

Once again, go see the new fossil discovery here. And here’s one in action, posted by Neil De Grasse Tyson on twitter in Feb 2022:

~~~oo0oo~~~

dominee – preacher, pastor, pontificator