Mfolosi Aerial Dogfight

It looked like a standoff. At a small pool of water in the dry sandy riverbed of the Black Mfolosi river a male Bataleur and a Tawny Eagle contested the scarce resource. Both stood on the sand at the water’s edge and hunched their shoulders at each other.

I watched a while then scanned all around. Suddenly I heard a cry above me. Two birds circled each other in the air just above our vantage point on a bluff overlooking the river. I looked back at the waterhole. They were gone, this must be them. It was. The eagle was dive-bombing the Bataleur shouting a hoarse kraak kraak. The Bataleur screamed defiantly, dodging the move.

The eagle circled to gain height and folded its wings and took aim again, the agile Bataleur dodging with a sideways roll.

The Bataleur then landed in a tall dead tree while the eagle was climbing again. Soon the Tawny was on his way down again, zooming straight at him and knocking him off his perch. They banked and circled and strained to gain height again, the Bataleur’s wingflaps surprisingly noisy. Once again the Tawny won the climb and launched a dive.

The Bataleur folded his wings and flew away low over the tree tops away from the river.

The Tawny landed back at the pool where it all started, victorious.

High above a white-backed vulture and a Yellow-billed Kite, witnesses to the dogfight, still circled in the thermals.

Wow!! Who needs a lion kill?

Oh, Jessica. Yes, dear. I didn’t realise how long we’d been here. We’ll drive now and look for lions, honey.

pics from and – thank you!

The Photo Archives

I hardly ever carried a camera back when I was beautiful and had just the one chin. “I’m video’ing it in my head” I would say.

Of course now I’m really grateful other people carried cameras and I could get pics from them. Even in the days when you loaded a roll of film in the dark and wound it on by hand frame-by-frame some people carried cameras. I salute them!

And I admit I would grumble when they said “Stand closer together” “Smile” “Hang on! Just one more!”. Of course some people would think they had put in the roll of film when they hadn’t and all our posing (“poeseer!” remember SanMarie the game ranger’s joke?) was in vain. Yes, I’m thinking of you Taylor. He posed us in various ways on a buffalo carcase and when we eagerly asked for the photies weeks later (they had to go off “for development” of course) he had to sheepishly admit he hadn’t had a roll of film in his steam-driven camera.

Anyway, my memory of that moment was much better than his pic would have been: I remember a bloody carcase with glistening red meat still on the bone and lion prints around the sandy scene. We were posing looking over our shoulder, worried the lions might chase us off their prey at any minute. When later we did get a pic from someone better organised than Taylor the truth was far more mundane. The photo spoilt a good story.

Wilderness Walk.jpg
Intrepid non-photographer on the left with empty camera

So although I do have some slight regrets I still think I was generally more “in the moment” than many camera-occupied companions over the years – and I saw more birds. Anyway, my memories of what happened are usually far better than boring reality. Usually I play the starring role in them.

Once I met Aitch things changed of course and we had a fulltime photographer in the house. The years from 1986 are well documented. Then the kids arrived and the number of pics went through the roof. Thank goodness for digital! Even now when we drive through a game reserve Jess will say “Mom would have said ‘Stop! Go back!’ and you would have to reverse and she’d take a picture of a flower, remember?”

With cameras as ubiquitous as they now are all this smacks of days gone by. I was prompted to write this post when I read this yesterday: ‘If a millennial goes to a beautiful place but doesn’t get a photo, did they ever really go?’…

To end, some advice for Taylor:

Life like Camera.jpg

Here’s a graph showing camera sales in 1000’s since 1933:

Camera sales.jpg

Our Fisherman Tom

The first time: He found a bamboo with a line tied on the end at Kelso beach when visiting the Harveys, Margaret and Bryce.

MargBryce Kelso2005 (18)

When Trish’s Dad Gompa Neil found out he gave him two big surf rods as he had decided to give up fishing. We took them to Cape Vidal and three year-old TomTom waved them around like fly rods in the surf. The fish were quite safe, there wasn’t time to grab hold of the hook!

Cape Vidal Oct 2005 (6).jpg

Some of the other times:

Lion on the Loose

Lions have been running wild this year.

And isn’t it sad that we think that’s a bad thing? Lions escaped from Kruger twice this year, one lot was recaptured, one lot shot. Then three lionesses and five cubs ran free in KwaZulu and were captured. Today there’s talk of a lion meandering around Mtonjaneni near Ulundi, munching on cows (which I suppose is the reason we won’t tolerate them running free: Their manners).

I saw a lion on the loose outside Mapungubwe in 2013. I had left the reserve, heading east for Botswana when an old grey-haired codger in short pants hopped out of his bakkie and flagged me down, hopping up and down with excitement. “Oom, Oom!” he shouted. “Hier’s n leeu, ek sweer. ‘n Leeumannetjie, Oom!”

I thought “Who’s Your Fokkin ‘Oom’, you Old Goat? You look Sixty in the Shade and Rather Weather-beaten and Ancient to me”, but I’m polite so I just said “Waar?” and he said “Volg my, sommer hier naby” and he got back into his bakkie to show me. Just then a big male lion sprinted across the road toward the Mapungubwe side. On both sides of the road high ‘game-proof’ fences keep animals in, inside the Oppenheimers’ private reserve on the left (southern) side and Mapungubwe National Park on the right, so he was trapped in an unfriendly corridor and he was not happy.

The poor lion was a lovely specimen but he looked anxious as hell and panicky and ran as though he was trying to make himself invisible. When he saw us he dived under a little green bush in the dry grass, laughably small but Hey! He disappeared under it! He lay motionless and nothing would entice him out.

This bush (look carefully, he’s in there!):

There's a handsome escaped male lion hiding in that bush, poor bugger!!

Then he ran eastwards, to the right in picture along this fence and I left him. A gate to the De Beers Venetia Limpopo reserve had a phone number and I phoned to let them know one of their lions was running free.

Then on a sudden hunch I turned the rearview mirror to look at myself. OMG! I saw now what the old codger had seen. No wonder he ‘Oom’d’ me.


Beautiful area:



“Oom! Hier’s n leeu, ek sweer. ‘n Leeumannetjie, Oom!” – Uncle! A male lion, I swear!

Mkhuze in Winter

Jess and I spent two nights at Mkhuze. Looking very dry and animals were few and far between. Still, we saw lots of the usual dependables: giraffe, zebra, impala, hippo, nyala, wildebeest and – at last! – one elephant. A young bull right next to the road. Jess, who watches too much youtube of eles goring and flipping cars, did not want to hang around, so we drove past him.

Also Banded and Slender Mongooses. One band of Banded and two individual Slenders.

But lots of birds. I won’t give the boring – to me exciting – list (78 species) but I will tell this story. In Mantuma camp – here:

Mkhuze July2017 (3)

I went looking for pinkspots (pink-throated twinspots). Like this:


I followed their high-pitched trilling cricket-like sound and found them and more:

There they were, in a bird party in the grass! Blue waxbills, green-winged pytilias, grey-headed sparrows, yellow-throated petronias, yellow-fronted canaries, red-billed firefinches pecked alongside the pinkspots on the sandy soil. And in the tree directly above them a small flock of red-billed woodhoopoes, a dark-backed weaver and a golden-tailed woodpecker. Just that one bird party made the whole trip worthwhile. I stood twenty metres from them and watched through my Zeiss’ for ages. ‘Saturation Views’!

On my way back to the chalet I watched a black cuckoo-shrike give a full, relaxed display all round me. I didn’t know his black was so BLUE! In the sunlight his ‘black’ shone a beautiful royal blue. A picture doesn’t fully capture that:


bird pics off the ‘net

Jess was our chief photographer:

Mkhuze July2017 (27)



From: pete swanepoel home

Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2014 7:03 PM

Subject: Lepidopterists lead exciting lives!

This from my LepSoc newsletter:

Hi everyone

We will be doing a day trip to Tswaing crater, just north of Pretoria, on the 24th September, where special butterflies such as Brown-lined Sapphires, Saffron Sapphires, Hutchinson’s Highfliers, etc. can be seen.

Us lepidopterists see not only these but others such as Skollies, Nightfighters, Pirates, Policemen and Admirals. Playboys and Pansies are also sought-after! One can go prancing after them wearing a pith helmet and waving a net! What’s not to love?

There’s even one called swanepoelii and one called brauerii

Lepidopterists lead exciting lives!

Soutar wrote:

Keep your net stockings on.

We off to Karkloof today. Will try to bring back a dead Karkloof Blue.

That and a Pink Elephant.

Pete wrote:

¶¶ . . and a Stuffed Delegorgue’s Pigeon, a Dead Parrot (rare Cape) and . .

¶¶ Planks from a Yellowwood Tree . . ¶¶

Hey! We could write a song like that . . .

steve reed wrote:

When we lived in Clarens, we had an annual visitation by what must have been the self same Swanepoel. Khaki clad solitary figure, fleet-footing round the village with his net like something out of Peter Pan. Regarded by the locals with great interest ( and a good level of suspicion ) …



Real-Life Lepidoptometrist

Hilton Pike is a nimble fella who darts around lithely with a butterfly net, holding it rather like Obelix doesn’t hold his menhirs. A talented lad, young Hilton, he built fancy speakers for hifis, refurbished phoropters and mounted butterflies on polystyrene in glass cabinets. Lovely chap, I miss him. Where is he?