Africa, Free State, Vrystaat, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

The Descent of One Mans

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.

– Nigel Hemming’s unusual shot of One Mans Pass from directly above –

‘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:

– dancing on the dolerite down One Mans Pass – it carried on and on –

This part ended at the sandstone cave, which meant we had ‘conquered’ the dolerite cliff section, if we remembered Leon’s geology lesson correctly.

– Tim in sandstone cave where his ancestors left graffitti – J Jacobs – but couldn’t spell their name –

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?

– descent of One mans Pass – grassy slip part –

. . 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:

– Platberg – and the Akkerbos which somehow moved east in the last few decades – tectonic shift, no doubt –

. . 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!

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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 plantation

akkerbos – oak plantation

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Weather: Light westerly breeze; gale, actually!

A bit of stopping to smell the flowers en route:

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I’m afraid the conservation status of Platberg, this precious mountain, is precarious. Do read about it.

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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.’

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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.’

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Monday, exactly one week later and I’m tripping the light fantastic as usual – Normal gait restored.

Africa, Birds & Birding, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Face-Palm Nut Vultures

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!

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skinner – gossip

kalkoen – farmyard turkey

Africa, Birds & Birding, Family & Kids, Wildlife, Game Reserves

I’m, um, Normal!

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.

– Roger Hogg’s garden bird – normal –

Here’s the part that pleased me:

– Roger – how very English –

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.’

– more Green Twinspots –

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British birding – we should realise how lucky we are!

“Only around 150 people can look through the fence and see the bird at one time, so we have been organising a queue system. People can see the bird for ten minutes, then get to the back of the queue and wait their turn again.”  – Aaah! – to be born English is to have won first prize in the lottery of life – Geoffrey Caruth esq quoting that scoundrel Cecil John Rhodes –

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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!

Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Moth-Eaten Friends

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.

– what’s this on my BMW? he asked – bragging –

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.

– Bruce has a thing about moths – and he looks better all covered up –
– another Bruce moth – from their Masizi Kunene Road home in Durban –

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Africa, Aitch, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Another Garden Snake

We were happily sitting on a septic tank in River Drive when progress came rudely knocking. The municipality was putting in water-borne sewerage and the pipe was going to go through our garden and across the Mkombaan River at the bottom of it.

There would be some dynamite blasting. Deep blasting where they were going right under the river bed.

Bliksem. I was not happy. Our little wilderness was about to be badly shaken up.

Aitch arranged to meet with the high-ups and extracted some undertakings from them – We hereby undertake to minimise damage; to let you know the exact path so you can move your precious plants; to give you ample warning so you can move your dogs in time – we were still blissfully child-free – etc. they intoned solemnly. And she kept them to their word!

I asked the guys onsite to please not kill any creatures and to bring me anything they found so I could move it away safely. I would reward them. That’s how I came to receive this in a big bucket:

– Natal Black Snake – Macrelaps microlepidotus –

What a beauty! A solid-looking snake about 80cm long. Fascinating. I read up on them: They’re back-fanged, mildly venomous, not life-threatening; very reluctant to bite; slow-moving, placid; Look at the beautiful coloration and scales. 

Relatively rare, they spend most of their life underground – note the small eyes. Found under rotting logs or when doing excavations. Move about slowly on warm, overcast days; good swimmers. Natal Black Snakes feed on frogs, lizards, legless lizards and small rodents; are known to take carrion.

As I promised them, I moved it to a safe place that same evening: the other end of our garden.

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Thanks Nick Evans; Tyrone Ping; Chad Keates

Africa, Birds & Birding, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Another Friendly Garden Snake

This one on sister Barbara’s beautiful farm Umvoti Villa, on the Mispah side of Greytown. She’d seen a snake on the big homestead veranda, but then no, it wasn’t a snake. What was it? She sent some blurry pictures of the mystery serpent . .

I asked for clearer shots, but by the time she went back to try and get them, the ‘problem’ had been solved! No more snake. Barbara was happy: ‘All gone for breakfast. My problem solved . . no stomping . . no moving . . no doom!’ (spray – aargh!)

– gobbled up by the girls –

Barbara had noticed the ‘snake’ was actually a whole bunch of ‘worms’ marching in line, nose-to-tail. So had the hens and they proceeded to munch them.

Here’s the ‘snake’:

A closer look at its ‘head’:

– the ‘head’ – or the leading ‘worms’ –

. . and here’s what I found out: They’re Fungus Gnat larvae! Each one is tiny and leaves a mucousy slime trail, and they gather together to move. Here’s a single one, looking a bit like a small slug:

– fungus gnat larva – about 5-6mm long –

. . and here’s the even tinier gnat next to 1mm marks:

– fungus gnat – body about 2mm long –

Fascinating!

Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

I’m beginning to suspect . .

. . that Soutar was sold a story which he swallowed as he swallowed the fourth free sample they gave him in Ballito.

I don’t think this whisky:

. . is made in KwaZulu Natal.

Reason being they also make Cape Gins and they talk of Cape florals n shit.

But Soutar roared back: They said it is made in Mtunzini and taken to Cape Town for barrel age-ing. (then he adds unpatriotically) . . it was not very nice in comparison to the single malt Irish and Scots of which I had many. I only had one tot of this SA one  – So Waaaaa !!!

Me: Mtunzini!? I’m beginning to like it again. I can just imagine . . . the connoisseur sniffs, sips, and says ‘hmmmm – subtle hints of crocodile shit . . . ‘

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