I was seeing a visitor off at my bottom gate – manually operated with chain n padlock – and butterflies were flitting all around us. Kept me busy for half an hour after they’d left, photographing them with my little Canon SX620HS.
Junonia natalica – Natal Pansy
Junonia terea – Soldier Pansy
Tagiades flesus – Clouded Skipper
Belenois creona ssp severina – African Common White – got the ID of this one from experts on iNaturalist.org
Whenever the Skipper flew there was a flash of pure white, but I didn’t get a shot of its underside. So I’m pleased Steve Woodhall has this pic in his field guide:
Just two nights with Jess at Hilltop camp. This time the luxury of ‘breakfast included’ in the restaurant, while for dinner we grilled big juicy steaks both nights.
Dad, you’re not taking photos of impalas, are you?! Jess likes to keep moving, looking for the Big Five and teases her friends who want to take pics of things she’s seen before! Yes, Jess, I like their bums and I like the different sizes, three Moms, a teenager, a pre-teen and a toddler. Hmph!
Omigawd! You seriously stopped for a butterfly!? she teases next. Don’t worry, it’s all a game.
Lang Dawid came to visit after decades in the hinterland. Always very organised, he sent bearers ahead of his arrival bearing two lists: Ten new birds he wanted to see; and Three old bullets he wanted to see.
We delivered thirty percent of his bird list: A Red-capped Robin-Chat, A White-eared Barbet and a Terrestrial Brownbul;
Forty percent if you count the bonus male Tambourine Dove that landed in a patch of sunlight, a lifer for Dave.
All this thanks to Crispin Hemson showing us his special patch, Pigeon Valley in urban Durban. Talk about Guru Guiding! with his local knowledge, depth, anecdotes, asides and wandering all over, on the ground and in our minds. And his long-earned exalted status in this forest even allowed us to avoid arrest while climbing through a hole in the fence like naughty truant schoolboys. Whatta lovely man.
Then Dave and I retreated home to my patch in the Palmiet valley, where Tommy had cleaned up, readied the cottage for Dave’s stay and started a braai fire. Spot on, Tom!
One hundred percent of Dave’s list of old paddling mates arrived. Like homing pigeons, Allie, Charlie and Rip zoomed in. So I had four high-speed paddlers in their day on my stoep, race winners and provincial and national colours galore. We scared off any birds that might have been in the vicinity (feathered or human), but had a wonderful afternoon nevertheless, with lots of laughs.
After they left Dave and I had braai meat for supper; This morning we had braai meat for breakfast and he was off after a fun-filled 24 hours. I sat down to polish the breakfast remains and another cup of coffee and as a bonus, a female Tambourine Dove landed on my birdbath:
A tragic consequence of their visit was an audit of my booze stocks the next day. Where before they’d have plundered, this time I ended up with more than I’d started with. How the thirsty have fallen!
Dave’s camera equipment is impressive: a Canon EOS 7D Mk2 body; – https://www.techradar.com/reviews/canon-eos-7d-mark-ii-review – and a 500mm telephoto lens and his go-to, a 70-200mm lens. His main aim is getting a pic of every bird he sees. He shot his 530th yesterday here in Pigeon Valley. So he chases all over Southern Africa ticking off his ‘desired list.’ A magic, never-ending quest: there’ll always be another bird to find; there’ll always be a better picture to try for.
Flower beds, not sleeping beds. Not that I actually have any flower beds in my jungle but just to say . . none in my bed. Just an excuse to use beds n bugs in a sentence.
So what are bugs? Well, it depends. Hemiptera or true bugs are an order of 80 000 insect species such as cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers and shield bugs. They range in size from 1 mm to around 15 cm. Many insects commonly known as “bugs”, especially in American English, belong to other orders; for example, the ‘lovebug’ is a fly; the ‘May bug’ and ‘ladybug’ are beetles. wikipedia
Again, I must add their identifications once I get around to it.
There been herds o’ butterflies mooching through my garden lately. I been shooting them, but still they come. So I thought I’d post some of those I shot for the enjoyment of them that are fond of the lil guys. Like me.
I’ve posted them – and many other creatures and plants – on iNaturalist.org here.
“I been shooting them, but still they come,” is me quoting from a book I read long ago, “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo.”** It told of settlers living in early Kenya who planted citrus trees. The elephants in that dry country loved them and they shot them and shot them, “but still they came.” Aren’t we humans delightful?
** which man-eater story, incidentally I recommend one takes with a huge pinch of salt. I don’t think lions behave that way, and I don’t think humans behave that way. But it sold like hot cakes and was imitated and frauds were perpetuated on its wave of success (at least one book had that title but the stories inside had nothing to do with the title!).
After a delightful game drive we rounded a bend and there before us was a fairyland under the acacias: Candlelit tables; white tablecloths; mounds of food and litres of grog; Dinner under the stars;
Litres of grog. We felt obliged to indulge. Wonderfully festive and everyone in expansive, friendly and bonhomie mood. Well, me anyway. I had fallen amongst thieves and was being happily led astray. Again.
Hyenas around the camp watched us just outside the circle of firelight. Every now and then someone would shine a torch round and there were those eyes, watching us and taking notes.
We drank all the bottles. We tried hard to drink all the boxes.
Landrovers left, one after the other. We drank on. Then came that fearful dirge, dreaded by all soaks: Time gentlemen please. Gotta go now. The last Landrover is leaving.
Go! we said. No Worries! We’ll catch the last hyena home. Bacchanalian Bravado. The rangers who’d drawn the short straw rolled their eyes and waited, then patiently herded us into the last Landrover and drove us home, pretending to enjoy our songs and wit. Some of us sitting on the bonnet passing the last box of wine from mouth to mouth.
Back in River Camp they resignedly open up the pub and we drank some more. Strangely enough we felt thirsty, they always say one should drink a lot – avoid dehydration. There was a bit of spillage on the bar counter due to enthusiasm and slight co-ordination challenges. But more No Worries, we dutifully mopped up the bar counter leaving it clean and tidy. Vicious rumours circulated that I played a central role, hoovering up the booze lake. Tall tales were told how I was held by the legs and torso by sundry drunkards and long-lip suctioned up the leftover moisture. I was only trying to help. One should act responsibly I feel.
Merriam-Webster says (paraphrased): German tipplers toasting each other’s health sometimes drank a brimming mug of spirits straight to the bottom-drinking “all-out.” They called it – gar aus. The French adopted the German term as carous, using the adverb in their expression boire carous (“to drink all out”), and that phrase, with its idiomatic sense of “to empty the cup,” led to carrousse, a French noun meaning “a large draft of liquor.” And that’s where English speakers picked up carouse in the mid-1500s, first as a noun (which later took on the sense of a general “drinking bout”), and then as a verb meaning “to drink freely.”
dictionary.com says: carousal – [ kuh-rou-zuhl ] – noun: a noisy or drunken feast or social gathering; revelry.
A Fierce Feathered Dinosaur took um at a Faithful Amiable Amphibian who was just doing his duty recently. The Redwing Dinos were filled with amour and nesting fervour. They had their eye on a spot on my stoep – the Black Flycatcher nest.
But le frog was on duty, determined to put them off.
The male starling pestered him
‘e chest-bumped le frog; who landed with a splash
Undaunted, le frog he say Mon Dieu and went back on duty; whereupon ‘e got attacked from le rear and landed face-down, falling on hard tiles ‘e did, shame. ‘E almost croaked
I picked ‘im up; I patched ‘im up; I gave him le pep talk. So zis time ‘e decide No More le Watchfrog! Zis time ‘e OCCUPIES!
No, better! It’s actually a Starred Robin! I said excitedly.
A frosty silence descended.
‘DO YOU KNOW I’M THE CHAIRMAN OF THE HERMANUS BIRD CLUB?’ came the imperious question.
That’s very nice, I said without taking my binocs off the robin, But that doesn’t make a robin a shrike. Look at its beak.
A classic attempt at eminence over evidence. Whattahoot!
We moved on, back to our bush camp near Lake St Lucia. Things were uncomfortable, as Jess and I were actually their guests, and mine host’s ego was wounded.
That night I aimed my tiny little 22X Kowa spotting scope at the full moon, setting the tripod low so the kids could get a lovely look.
Again I felt the ambient temperature drop drastically. There were mutterings by Ma, sending The Chairman of the Hermanus Bird Club scuttling off to his son’s bungalow and emerging twice with two large wooden boxes and one small one. A huge tripod emerged from one of them. Unfolded, it resembled the Eiffel tower. From the other box a white tube like an Apollo rocket. The Professional Celestial Telescope! After much assembling and urgent furtive instructions the fussing codgers and the favourite son start searching for the moon. Hey! It’s not easy to find with those bazookas. You move it a millimetre right and you’ve got Jupiter; a millimetre left and its Mars. Go too far down it’s Uranus. Eventually the moon is located and focused on. Ma, Pa and favourite son step back satisfied, and invite the kids to look at THIS telescope. A real one. A chair has to be found for them to stand on.
Oh, I much prefer that one, says the grandkid and then Jessica agrees, and then the other grandkid says Yes, That one’s much better, POINTING AT MY TINY KOWA! It’s a social disaster! Their own grandkids betraying them in their moment of triumph!
I hastily step up to their scope and say Ooh! Aah! and Wow! Magnificent! Powerful! What else? All you can see is white. It’s focused on an insignificant bath mat-sized area of the moon. Whereas with mine you can see the whole moon the size of a dinner plate, this one you could see a dinner plate on the moon. Except there’s no dinner plate to see. Mine shows mountains and craters, this monster shows white.
Cast a pall on the evening it did. Gloom descended. Some went to bed early after some muttered explanation of how the better telescope WAS actually much better.
Hilarious, if a bit stressful at the time for a polite person.
We have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )
OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more? Indeed – Pikkie reminded me of Johann Lodewyk Marais and Anita van Wyk Henning.
He has published it as an eBook – and I have now received my hard copy too.
I had the privilege and fun of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote it, as one of his proof-readers. It was a blast! I climbed his mountains without getting breathless – except occasionally from laughing, as we relived the olden daze..
Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here: ‘
. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you:
And this is the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more to come!
Those of us who climb Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drive to within an hour or two’s leisurely walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And there’s way less oxygen available up there! After reading some chapters I had to go’n lie down for a while.
Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get the book on takealot.com – )
Riposte and Touché:
Pikkie appointed a fellow-mountaineering Pom John as another of his proofreaders. This John asked ‘What’s it with you Saffers and exclamation marks?’ I puffed myself up and replied the problem was not that we use too many; the problem was that Poms use too few!
John’s rejoinder was, “Not true. We use our national quota. It’s just that we allocate almost all of them to teenage girls.”
Green beetle bugs have little bugs upon their heads to bite ’em, And little bugs have lesser bugs, and so ad infinitum. And the great bugs themselves, in turn, have greater bugs to go on; While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
I thought they were ticks, but iNaturalist soon put me right: They’re mites.
In the cottage while Jess was being ridiculously fussed over a hawk moth in her bedroom, she spotted a snake under her bed. This didn’t faze her, it was the moth that bothered her! She watched me catch it, photograph and remove it and carried on gaan-ing aan about the moth on her wall! I said Jess! You’re my field ranger! Relax! It’s a moth, f’gdnis’sake. After releasing the snake we couldn’t find the moth, so Jess went to bed warily, one eye open . .
Birds Seen: 1. Ostrich Grey goway bird Loerie Speckled Mousebird Red-collared Widow Long-tailed paradise Whydah Pintail Whydah Southern Boubou Dark-capped Bulbul 10. Stompstert Crombec Arrow-mark Babbler European Roller Lilac-breasted Roller Rattling Cisticola Zitting Cisticola White-brow Scrub Robin Yellowbill Hornbill ForkTailed Drongo Lesser striped Swallow 20. Barn Swallow Black belly Starling Redwing Starling Blue Waxbill Grey head Sparrow Buzzard common Crested Barbet Scimitarbill Southern black Tit Palm Swift 30. Southern masked Weaver Lesser masked Weaver Village Weaver Spectacled Weaver Golden-breasted Bunting Village Indigobird Dusky Indigobird Whitebellied sunbird Amethyst Sunbird female Scarlet chest Sunbird female 40. White-throated Robin Chat Blue grey Flycatcher Spotted Flycatcher Black Flycatcher Crested Francolin Helmeted Guineafowl Redbill Firefinch Striped Kingfisher Brownhooded Kingfisher Magpie Shrike
50. Red back Shrike Black crown Tchagra Green Woodhoopoe Bronze wing Courser Tawny-flanked Prinia Cardinal woodpecker Emerald spot wood Dove Cape turtle dove Laughing dove Redeyed dove 60. Burchells Coucal (fukwe) Woolly neck Stork Black belly Bustard Redbill Oxpecker Cardinal Woodpecker Bearded Woodpecker YellowBreasted Apalis Diderik Cuckoo Hoopoe Rufous-naped Lark 70. Gorgeous Bush Shrike Pytilia Yellow-fronted Canary Cape Batis Natal Spurfowl Sombre Greenbul Wahlbergs Eagle Golden-tailed Woodpecker Little Bee-eater Chinspot Batis 80. Black collared Barbet Pied Barbet White helmet Shrike .. 82 species Heard calls only: Grey headed Bush Shrike Orange-breasted Bush Shrike Camaroptera Black Cuckoo Piet my vrou European Bee-eater Brubru Woodland Kingfisher
One of the world’s most popular nature apps, iNaturalist helps you identify the plants and animals around you. Get connected with a community of over a million scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature! What’s more, by recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature. iNaturalist is a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
Boy, we had weather! Bright sunshine, then wind, then a massive ongoing thunderstorm at night, with the thunderclaps within a second of the bright lightning flashes. Then long flashes followed by bangs and long rumbles receding into the distance. Followed by really soaking rain. Then a cool cloudy day, less wind, but a stiff breeze.
Jess did her usual : ‘Dad, come look. What’s this?’
Lots of birds: I was fooled by a call I racked my brain for and then thought Ha! Goddit! A kingfisher: Woodland Kingfisher. Well, it was the Striped Kingfisher – a call I know so well, but I really am rusty!
Birds heard but not seen: Gorgeous Bush Shrike; Grey-headed Bush Shrike; Brown-hooded Kingfisher; Chinspot Batis; Boubou; Brubru; Camaroptera; Fiery-necked Nightjar; Purple-crested Turaco; Red-fronted Tinkerbird;
Seen: White-browed Scrub Robin; Cape glossy Starling; Black-bellied glossy Starling; Violet-backed Starlings – very active, lots of males chasing each other and investigating tree cavities; Scarlet-chested, Purple-banded, White-bellied Sunbirds; Lesser Striped, Barn and Red-breasted Swallows; Squacco Heron; Jacana; Cattle Egret in breeding plumage; Oxpeckers; Willow Warbler; Yellow-breasted Apalis; European Bee-eater; Bulbul; Sombre Greenbul; Golden-breasted Bunting; Crested Francolin; Crested Guineafowl; Yellow-billed Kite; Black-shouldered Kite; Rattling Cisticola; Yellow-fronted Canary; Yellow-throated Petronia (beautiful view of his yellow throat in sunshine, but me and my camera too slow to catch it!); Hoopoe; Wood Hoopoe; Scimitarbill; Reed Cormorant; Anhinga; Coucal; Ashy Flycatcher; Pied Crow; Red-chested Cuckoo; Cape Turtle Dove; Emerald-spotted Wood Dove; FT Drongo; Spurwing and Egyptian Geese; Hadeda; Grey Heron; Trumpeter Hornbill; Red-faced Mousebird; Oriole; Pytilia (Melba finch); Blue Waxbill; Red-billed Quelea; Red-backed Shrike; Black-crowned Tchagra; Grey-headed Sparrow; Woolly-necked Stork; Little Swift; Olive Thrush; Pied Wagtail; GT Woodpecker; Bearded Woodpecker;
Animals: Grey Duiker; Red Duiker; Kudu; Impala; Nyala; Wildebeest; Zebra; Lots of giraffe; No eles; No rhinos; No warthogs; No predators – Oh, one Slender Mongoose; One Monitor Lizard (water); Hippo;
We saw Patrick the Ezemvelo Field Guide and he recognised us again. ‘Where’s the boy?’ he asked and expressed astonishment that ‘the boy’ now prefers the city to the bush! ‘How long (this aberration)?’ he asked, probably remembering how he and Tommy had tickled scorpions all those years ago. 2009, that was!
The eels in the Palmiet River down the road lead an interesting life. And there’s still lots we don’t know about them. Especially me, so know that this is a story of our eels written by someone who’d like to know more.
Firstly, there are about four species. I say ‘about’ as the number is likely to change as we find out more. So this is a composite of the interesting things I have found out. OK?
The thing about being an eel is you should never have children. Never. This is good advice for other species too, like Homo sapiens, but especially for eels, cos once you spawn, YOU DIE! You’ve been warned. Ask yourself, eel: Is that single orgasm worth your life? Usually eels can spawn after seven years, but if they don’t, they can live to eighty five years of age! Child-free!
Parts of this story won’t actually pertain to our Palmiet eels, but to other Anguillidae eels world-wide, especially European and American eels on which most research has been done. They are fascinating river fishes who go to sea at the end of their lives to spawn.
The eels we actually see in the Palmiet River are usually adults. They could leave on vacation at any time, downstream to the confluence with the Umgeni River of Duzi Canoe Marathon fame near the Papwa Sewgolum golf course; then on downstream to the famous / infamous Blue Lagoon; then out into the Indian Ocean and the inshore counter-currents heading north; I would warn them they should think twice about leaving our beautiful valley, but you know how these primal urges are.
All the way up between Mocambique and Madagascar, past Beira, past the mouth of the Zambezi River, to where Africa bulges eastward around Mocambique Island, and into the open ocean where they spawn. Once. The larger females laying up to twenty million eggs, the males emitting their sperm onto the eggs. This is likely done in very deep water, as it has never been observed. And maybe they’re shy. Because it has never been seen, scientists speculate about ‘mass eel orgies.’ You know how people are when speculating.
The tiny larvae hatch and drift with the current back to Southern Africa; the southward currents which flow east and west of Madagascar and join to form the warm Agulhas current flowing away from the equator. They’re now often called ‘Glass Eels’ for obvious reasons:
They drift southwards, and by the time they get the mouth of the Umgeni they can also swim – they have grown quite a lot. As they approach, they lift their snouts and say Hey! Listen! and Smell! They recognise Blue Lagoon at night by the pumping music and the whiff of bluetop and dagga drifting to sea; so up the Umgeni they go, till they can taste industrial pollution in the water; then the offspring of our Palmiet clan hang a left up the Palmiet River. Others carry on up the Umgeni. All the while going through larval stages and getting more pigment as they go.
There they live their river fish lives until, one day, seven to eighty five years later, they may get an urge, just as their parents did before them (you know that feeling, right?) and head for the ocean again. ‘Again,’ in our story, but for the first time for each of them. Each one only does the homeward journey once, as a juvenile, and the spawning one-way journey once, as an adult.
The well-known story of the salmon migration has been told and shown so often it helps to explain the eel migration; Just the opposite of the salmon, our eels are freshwater river fish that spawn in the sea; Ours spend most of their lives in the Palmiet, just taking this incredible, Every-Vaalie’s-Dream vakansie by die see to spawn.
We might be thinking what a hard journey. But ours have it easy. If an eel needs to get back to where Mom and Dad lived on the Zambezi it has to bypass Cahora Bassa and Kariba dams! Is that even possible!? Indeed it seems to be. They move overland if they have to!
Of course with everything in nature the story includes Homo sapiens. What we do. We transport eels, elvers and eggs to where they shouldn’t be; We introduce parasites from one area to another; We farm them, chopping up other fish to feed to them; We catch them to sell as sushi or jellied eel by the ton – so much so that catches are down to 10 to 14% of what they used to be in Europe. When the scarcity became known we stopped catching and eating them, right? No, the price just went up, businessmen offering over R20 000 per kilogram. Don’t eat eels; Don’t buy eels! Please. They’re endangered. Never eat anything if you don’t know how many there are.
Next time I see an eel in the Palmiet I’m going to tell him or her: Stay put! It’s a minefield out there! That vacation has no return ticket!