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.

– 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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

dominee – preacher, pastor, pontificator

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:

Mini Frogs

Meet Mini mum, Mini scule and Mini ature, Three New Frog Species Among the World’s Smallest.

– look carefully for Mini mum –

Isn’t that beautiful? Found in Madagascar in 2019.

Mark D. Scherz, a Ph.D. candidate at Germany’s Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Technical University of Braunschweig and lead author of the new study published in PLoS ONE, said in a statement that naming the new genus was a thrill. “I have long wanted there to be pun-named reptile or amphibian species in Madagascar,” he says. “It’s great that we were able to find a funny name that is also informative; Mini is not just amusing, but also an accurate descriptor.” Scherz seems a character. Here’s his tweet announcing the publication:

“Just published in @PLOSONE!! Meet Mini, the newest genus of frogs from Madagascar!! With three new species: Mini mum, Mini scule, and Mini ature, because I am HILARIOUS.”

Read more about them at the Smithsonian mag, at mashable and at mongabay.

According to National Geographic’s Michelle Z. Donahue, the world’s smallest known vertebrate is a frog, Paedophryne amauensis, a Papua New Guinean native measuring an average of 7.7 millimeters long, or around the size of a housefly.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mtentu Paradise

Friend Rohan owns Detour Trails and arranges the most amazing bespoke mountain bike holidays all over Africa. We joined him Easter 2010 on a ride from the Mtamvuna River to the Mtentu River. At least I did. Aitch drove the kids to Mtentu in the kombi (or maybe in friend Craig’s Colt 4X4 – not sure).

Both hands on the handlebar, so no pics of the ride. I only fell off once, and no-one saw. On the way we stopped for a refreshing swim in a clear deep pool in a steep valley.

Once we got to the magnificent Mtentu River mouth (see the feature pic above) I abandoned my bike and joined the family for lazy hiking, while the keen MTB’ers rode out and back each day.

An easy stroll across pristine coastal grasslands took us to where the Mkambathi River drops straight into the sea at high tide.

At low tide the falls (very low flow here) drop onto the sand of a beautiful beach. Tommy knows there’s bait under here somewhere for his fishing!

– the little bay half full – at Spring low tide the whole bay is beach –
– the falls at high tide – another time – also low-flow winter –

Everyone loves this little bay. Aitch, Jess and Tom each had a spell where they had the whole beach to themselves: (click on pics for detail)

– our Jessie really knows how to baljaar!

Upstream along the Mkambathi River you find Strandloper Falls. The last time we’d been we said ‘Must Bring Our Diving Masks And Snorkels Next Time!’ – and we remembered.

– smaller falls on the way upstream –
– Strandloper Falls –

Then we strolled back:

Back on the Mtentu River, Rohan had kayaks for us to paddle upstream in search of another waterfall

Then back downstream to the Mtentu mouth

Paradise – three hours south of Durban. There’s a lodge there now, so it’s even easier to stay.

~~~oo0oo~~~

baljaar – frolic

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