Some Spring Sightings

Palmiet Nature Reserve is ready for Spring! We’ve had a cold winter, some early rain, wind storms and today a hot ‘Berg wind.’ Nature lovers in the Palmiet Rangers group have been spotting all sorts of interesting life in our valley.

Then some Palmetians went to Roosfontein and shot a Nightjar!

Meantime, Pigeon Valley in Glenwood has also been busy, with ‘Friends of PV’ honcho Crispin Hemson keeping us all up-to-date about his patch as always:

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Oh, and babies! I forgot about the babies. When Spring springs, babies pop out . . Warren Friedman is the host daddy to these two broods. And the videographer.

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Lockdown Loaded – 2

– ConJunct- tivitis Dove – ConJunct- tivitis Dove –
– carpenter bee –
– which butterfly blue? –
– big thunderhead to the north of us –
– why we’re here –

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Then it rained and I remembered a bit late about my duvet! I had put it out to dry in the sun! So I brought it inside – wet – and stayed inside. Mistake! I shouldn’t have! ALL the neighbours showed me what I missed – a rainbow in a sunset!

– Palmiet neighbours – tonight’s sunset pics –
Palmiet neighbours pics

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Lockdown Lookback -1

An old post from my pre-marriage blog vrystaatconfessions.com

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My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!

The plot was was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries filled with racing pigeons, then later with fancy pigeons.

I was there from when I was carried home from the maternity home to when I was about five years old, when we moved into the bright lights and traffic of the 1955 Harrismith metropolis.

1955 Koos with aviaries
– those pigeon aviaries – and me – Mom Mary must have been feeling the cold –

I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch – meat and veg – and a siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1 o’clock sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2 o’clock sharp. I now know the trip was exactly three kilometres door-to-door, thanks to google maps.

Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway with big sister Barbara waving out the window – four seconds of action:

birdhaven

1. Birdhaven and ruins of our house; 2. Glen Khyber, Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit.

None of those houses on the left were there back then.

Back then the folks would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis.

Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night. Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in west-facing stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.

Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo
– me with Jacko the sulphur-crested cockatoo outside the rondawel –

Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.

Koos
– Me and Sheila on the front lawn – 1956 –

Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-now-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad in the Kitchen
– Scene of the rinkhals leap – this taken thirty years later, in 1990 –

I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.

1990 Birdhaven Mum & Dad on the front veranda
– 1990 – Mom & Dad sit on the stoep –
1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad.jpg
– fun on the lawn – and Bruno the Little Switzerland doberman –

Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilkovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave him a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.

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rondawel – pr. ‘ron-dah-vill’; circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;

spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days? Probably

stoep – veranda

donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;

bakkie – pickup truck

A newsflash the year I was born – check the cars.

Lochinvar Park in Zambia

In 1297 the Gordon family arrived at Lochinvar from Berwickshire. They established a castle on an island in the lake – or loch, as this was in Scotland. Lochinvar.

In 1908 another Scot, Mr Horne, a cattle farmer from Botswana, arrived on the banks of the Kafue river in Northern Rhodesia long before it became Zambia. The local chief, Hamusonde, gave? sold? him some land – or did Horne simply claim it? – or did the colonial government give it to him? He registered it on behalf of the British South Africa Company.

Known locally as ‘the Major,’ Horne built a big old red brick farmhouse. He called it Lochinvar and it is now known as the old Lochinvar Ranch homestead.

Previously little of this land had been used for farming because of the wild game here, including lion and leopard. To convert the land into a cattle ranch, ‘Major’ Horne set about exterminating the local wildlife in a ruthless program of annihilation. Populations of sable, roan, eland, warthog and wildebeest were wiped out, as well as all the predators he could find. The last lion in the area is thought to have been killed in 1947.

In 1966 the Zambian government claimed the land back and declared it a nature reserve.

In 2003 our little Swanie family drove past a sign that said Lochinvar National Park. As we’d never heard of it, we decided to go and explore this place. What say, Aitch? I asked. Go for it, she said, as she almost always did. Around 40km of rough road later we arrived at the gate as darkness fell.

– Lochinvar? Never heard of it – a sign on the twisty way to the park –
– a more recent pic of the gate –

‘Sorry, but you can’t go in,’ said the friendly soldier with a gun. ‘Sorry, but we have to,’ said I. ‘You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here and nor can you, so please hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man.’ Back he came – ‘Sorry, but the main man says the gate is closed.’  ‘You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough,’ I said – ‘Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping rough next to a village.’ Off he went and back he came: ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside,’ he said.

‘You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!’ we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar. No animals, but some nightjars in the headlights.

– Aitch and Jessie’s scrapbook –
– our lovely mobile lodge –
– Aitch always had stuff to keep the kids happy – here, chalk and a rubber blackboard –
better pic of the lechwe – we saw them with binocs, but our little camera lens had them as distant specks! –

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Lochinvar National Park

Later, we found out more about the park: In 1966 Lochinvar Ranch, as it was then called, was bought by the Zambian government with the help of a grant from the World Wildlife Fund, and converted into a Game Managed Area; The extra protection afforded to the wildlife by this designation was not enough to prevent its numbers from diminishing further, and so in 1972 Lochinvar was upgraded to a National Park. Subsequently the park has been designated by the WWF as a ‘Wetland of International Importance’, and a WWF team has been working with the local people on a project to manage the park on a sustainable basis for the benefit of both the people and the wildlife.
There are a lot of settlements around Lochinvar, and local people still come into the park – as they have done for centuries. Many were unhappy with Lochinvar Ranch – and have always felt that this is their land. They still come to gather wild foods and catch fish, and drive their cattle from one side to the other; so although major conservation efforts are being made in Lochinvar, building up the diversity and number of game species here is not an easy task.

We approached Lochinvar from Monze, on the Livingstone–Lusaka Road – about 287km from Livingstone and 186km from Lusaka. Directions: The road that heads northwest from Monze, signposted for Namwala, is just north of the grain silos on the Lusaka side of town. It passes Chongo village and forks about 8km afterwards. Ask local advice to find this junction if necessary. Take the right fork, or you will end up in Kafue. Follow this road for about 10km and then turn left at another sign. It is then about 14km to the park gate. This last section of the track twists and turns, but all the tracks that split off eventually rejoin each other and lead to the park. There are also a few more signs so, if you become unsure, ask a local person and they’ll show you the way. The gate to Lochinvar is about 48km from Monze. Most of the camps depicted on the old maps are now disused, and ‘some of the roads now seem as if they were figments of a cartographer’s imagination.’

The original state-run, red-brick Lochinvar Lodge, built in the colonial style of 1912, lies abandoned. There are always ‘plans to renovate’ this dilapidated, crumbling old building, but it would take a lot of work and money. Until enough people come to Lochinvar to make a second lodge economically viable, it’s likely to remain an evocative old ruin. As the state of the park gradually deteriorated, the lodge was put up for tender to private safari operators in 1996. Star of Africa agreed to take the lodge, as part of a ‘package’ of old government properties around the country. They first planned to build a floating lodge, but settled on a luxury tented camp which they called Lechwe Plains.

Camping rough in 2003, the campsite handpump had water, but the long-drop toilet and cold shower were out of action. We were happy to be inside the park, though and were equipped to be fully self-supporting.

Although the large herds of Kafue lechwe can be spectacular, the birds are the main attraction at Lochinvar – 428 species have been recorded there! The best birding is generally close to the water, on the floodplain. We drove everywhere in our kombi, but we since read: ‘It’s probably best to walk. It’s vital to avoid driving anywhere that’s even vaguely damp on the floodplain as your vehicle will just slip through the crust and into the black cotton soil – which will probably spoil and extend your stay in equal measure.’ Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

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Shit Birders Say

. . and that I wish I had said . .

To a person uninstructed in natural history, his countryside or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall”THOMAS HUXLEY – English biologist

“Bird-watchers are tense, competitive, selfish, shifty, dishonest, distrusting and – above all else – envious. I know many who are generous, witty and delightful company – but they’re no fun!”BILL ODDIE;

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment…and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn”HENRY DAVID THOREAU, author, poet & philosopher – I once had a pigeon shit on my shoulder while collecting money for charity – shaking a tin – outside the Jeppe Street Post Office In Johannesburg; does that count?

“God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages”JACQUES DEVAL , French playwright

“If you bird, you will see stuff”THE ORACLE, birder

“A weird screechy howl, which rises in a nerve-shattering crescendo, to peter out like a cry of a lost soul falling into a bottomless pit”AUSTIN ROBERTS, original author, Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa – talking about the Manx Shearwater? or me when dipping out yet again on an African Broadbill?

I don’t GO birding. I AM birding!”– FAANSIE PEACOCK, birder – (always! I agree with Faansie, an amazing birder with the best possible name for one!)

Use what talents you possess: The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best”HENRY VAN DYKE, American author – who hereby gives me permission to sing in the shower and while driving . .

Xudum in Okavango

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.

– . . . 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. 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

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Later Xudum was taken over by &Beyond. Super luxury: R15 000 per person per night! Very different to the lovely rustic tented camp it was when we were there. I hate the way ‘conservationists’ use miles of wooden decking and flooring!

In May 2019 it burnt down.

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Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge

Getting into Botswana’s Okavango Delta can be awfully expensive.

A cheaper way is to fly in to Oddballs Palm Island Luxury Lodge, get on a mokoro and disappear off into the wild with a guide who knows where he’s going and what he’s doing. In 1993 Aitch and I did just that, spending a night at Oddballs, where you are given a little dome tent to pitch on the hard-baked earth.

You get visitors:

The name is ironic, see (“contrary to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this” – I made a quick check; don’t want to get ‘ironic’ wrong). While in camp you stock up on the meagre supplies available in their shop, like potatoes and onions; a tent, a braai grid; add it to the 10kg you’re allowed to bring in on the high-wing Cessna 206’s and you’re away! 10kg doesn’t go far when you’re a books, binocs and telescope junkie!

The next morning we pushed off in our gentles S-shaped tree trunk mokoro to enjoy six nights out on the water in the care of a wonderful man named Thaba Kamanakao. He rigged up the seats so they were really comfy, the backrests enabling you to fall asleep at times!

Thaba said we could choose where we wanted to camp – anywhere. Soon after lunch we saw a magnificent jackalberry tree on an island and said ‘there!’ – my guess is he knew that! We set up camp – our tent and two deckchairs and a ready-made campfire spot which he’d likely used many times before. The rest if the day was given to lurking, loafing, listening, lazing. Thaba set his gill nets, gathered firewood, pitched his smaller tent and set his chair at the fire. We were all quiet most of the time, listening and loving as night fell. After we’d eaten we sat talking and listening some more. Then Thaba played his mbira – his ‘thumb harp’ – and sang to us; I’ll never forget his introduction as we switched on our tape recorder: ‘My name is Thaba; Thaba Kamanakao; Kamanakao is surname;

– shady jackalberry camp –

We chose not to move camp each day, electing to sleep three nights under a jackalberry and three nights under a mangosteen, both giving welcome shade and birdlife. We had little food, but Thaba provided us with the fish he caught in his gill net each night.

I ate the barbel and he and Aitch the bream. Lucky me, it was delicious! He also loved barbel, but his lifestyle advisor – a sangoma? a shaman? a nutritionist? – had told him he wasn’t allowed it! So a myth robbed a man of a useful source of protein. The first night we were joined by newly-qualified Pommy doctors Louise and Richard and their guide “BT.”

When we moved camp from the camp Aitch named Jackalberry Camp, to her new chosen Mangosteen or Squirrel Camp, we decided we needed a bath on the way, so Thaba took us to a stunning clear lagoon, carefully checked for big things that could bite and then stood guard on the mokoro while we swam and rinsed – no soap, please! Anyone going to this beautiful inland delta: Pack some small swimming goggles and an underwater camera if you can. The clarity of that water is awesome.

Beautiful underwater pic by David Doubilet – to show the clarity.

OddballsOkavango Camp

Squirrel Camp nights were again spent cooking and sitting around the fire; talking and listening to Thaba playing his mbira and singing;

Days were spent birding the camp, hiking the island and an daily foray in the mokoro. Once we we were ‘moved off’ by an impatient ele, Aitch getting mildly reprimanded for turning round to get a fuzzy picture as we retreated. Another time Thaba – scouting ahead – spooked a herd of buffalo, who thundered in a tight mass towards us. We climbed the nearby termite mound – Thaba had told us to stay next to or on it – and they thundered all around us;

– our ‘buffalo hide’ termite mound –

We would sally out daily on short mokoro trips,

– colourful dragonflies, lilies and reed frogs at eye level –

Back before the sun got too high so we could loaf in our shady camp, where the squirrels and birds kept us entertained for hours. Six lazy, wonderful, awesome days.

One night a herd of eles moved in and we lay listening to their tummy rumbles. We kept dead quiet and just peered at them in the moonlight through the tent flap, as they had a little baby with them and we didn’t want to upset mama.

Botswana Oddballs Savuti (2 small)
– still life with Sausage Tree flowers & leaves – Aitch saw the beauty at her feet –

Then we headed back reluctantly for a last night at Oddballs. Warm showers under the open sky; cold beer & gin’n’tonics on the deck, ice tinkling in the glass; watching spotted-necked otters in the lagoon, lounging in comfy chairs. Topped off that evening by a big hearty hot meal prepared for us and plonked onto a table on the deck. We ate watching the sunset turn the water .

And suddenly it dawned on us that, even though we did have to pitch our own tent again, Oddballs really IS a Luxury Lodge!

Oddballs (5)
– chandeliers of sausage tree flowers hang over the lagoon –

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Oddballs is fancier nowadays.

mokoro – dugout canoe; one mokoro, two mekoro

sangoma – shaman? traditional healer? medicine man? says he communes with the ancestors

mbira – thumb piano or thumb harp musical instrument

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postscript 2018: This post was found by Thaba’s son, who informed me in the comments below that Thaba the legend had passed away. Damn!

R.I.P Thaba Kamanakao; You made our trip unforgettable.

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Read an account of another 1993 trip to the Okavango Delta – Delta Camp right next to Oddballs) by Bill Keller, a US journalist for the NY Times based in Joburg.

Limpopo-Lipadi

Private Game and Wilderness Reserve

I joined Jenny & Tabs Fyvie for a lovely week in the bush at their luxury lodge in Botswana. Right on the banks of the Limpopo river – a wonderful setting. Their friends Johan and Elsa from their days in the lowveld were there, plus other friends and fellow shareholders from the Eston KZN district where they farm now.

Wonderful wildlife, including two leopards; Great birding including a lifer: a White-backed Night Heron hiding out in daytime. The bird pics are all off the internet.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-31.png

Weather changeable, hot and dry or warm and wet. Cool nights. October 2013.

We had a wonderful time, with only one minor catastrophe: The bread was not completely square; it was slightly buckled and squashed from being thrown in the back of my bakkie. Tabbo survived that thanks to Jenny’s laughter.

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I sent these images – pinched off the ‘net – to interested friends after I got back. Some of the birds that fluttered down to drink at iMbuzi waterhole in Limpopo-Lipadi reserve in the two hours we sat there. What a feast for the eyes!

Plus, some of the nyonis seen in and around camp:

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I drove back from Botswana in just under 12 hours. It’s been a long time since I did that. Pressure from the kids to get home, so I resolved to keep moving, but overnight with Pierre in Harrismith, or with my folks in Pietermaritzburg if I got sleepy. But I didn’t. I just kept trucking, stopping regularly for a walk and a bite and hot black coffee.

Got a huge welcome when I got in! “Daddy we MISSED you!” No cellphone comms in the bush!

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I wrote to Dave Hill: I haven't told you yet that we had a 
long discussion about you (rolling cars, Hartebeespoort dam, etc)
He replied: Hi spekkies. I knew it would be dangerous letting you loose with those rubbishes. I bet they were full of heinous lies 
about me. You of course were mum.
.
Me again: No! I had nothing but praise. Which they laughed at.
Trevor, Pete, Butch and Bruce. Pete and Butch dishing the dirt on you about rolling cars and choking Linda Lovelace. Funny how some things stick in your throat memory.
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photographersdirect.com (this site has since disappeared)
shutterstock.com (royalty-free thumbnail pics)
https://limpopo-lipadi.org/

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Gardening for Birds n Frogs n Butterflies n Goggas

Aitch learnt the joy of indigenous plants on the Bluff in 1985 when doing her cardio-vascular perfusion-ing at Wentworth hospital. Ian Whitton, friend and cardio-thoracic surgeon, indigenous gardener and nurseryman extraordinaire, piglet-producer, protea grower, pigeon-fancier, erythrina expert and all-round good friend took her under his wing. She needed it as a Capie new to KwaZulu Natal. She phoned me breathless one day to describe a new bird she had in her binocs: ‘Koos!

– Aitch with TC & Bella; She sure loved her hounds (especially Bella, hey TC!) –

She also learnt from Kenyan, indigenous guru, horticultural landscaper, author, visionary and gardener Geoff Nichols; She collected seeds and swopped them for plants for and from horticulturalist Enver Buckus at Silverglen nursery; She worked for noted colonist, author, canoeist, British apologist, acrylic painter and Last Outpost historian Geoffrey Caruth Esq Duke of Bhivane at his Geoff’s Jungle Indigenous Nursery enthusiastically selling shade plants; She joined BotSoc (now the Biodiversity Society) and got very involved, especially in the annual big plant sale, working with Sandra, Wally Menne, Jean Senogles, Dave Henry, Diane Higginson, etc; She spent fifteen years ‘botanising’ (as they called it) with Barry Porter on his and Lyn’s Hella Hella game farm. We went there at every opportunity. It became our second home. They would roam the farm spotting and photographing plants and flowers with their posteriors pointing at the heavens, occasionally digging up one for culture with Porter’s Powerful Patented Plant Pincher**, a handy device Barry had welded together to make extracting small plants easy and less destructive. Barry taught us to use Eugene Moll’s tree-ID book using leaves to ID the trees of Natal.

Our first property was 7 River Drive Westville, already mostly indigenous thanks to Mike and Yvonne Lello. On the banks of the Mkombaan River, it was paradise unfenced. We rooted out invasives and aliens and planted the right stuff as directed by Geoff Nichols. On his first visit he told me sternly, pointing ‘over there’, to ‘Get rid of that inkberry.’ You know how Geoff is. Right! Sir! A month later on his next site inspection he said ‘You haven’t got rid of that inkberry!’ Oops! True. So I undertook to do it that week.

A few days later I set to with my bow saw, sawing off all the branches and then cutting down the 100mm trunk just above the ground, Then I garlon’d that and composted the bits n pieces. Phew! Done! Finally!

A month later Geoff was back. ‘Who the hell cut down the tassleberry?!’ he bellowed. ‘And you STILL haven’t got rid of the inkberry!’ I never lived that one down. We planted five tassleberries to make up for it. They have male and female trees, so that was best anyway. I am pleased – relieved – to report they did well over the next fifteen years!

Aitch didn’t mind a bit of attention, so when our garden was chosen to be on display for Durban Open Gardens she blossom’d n preened and was in her element! She LOVED showing people around the garden and re-assuring them that it was quite safe* even if it did look a bit wild. In fact she would keep the entrance and pathway to the front door and pool very tame, civilised and trimmed so as not to scare people and put them off wild gardening. The hidden parts of the garden could go wild and host the 112 species of birds we recorded in the garden over the fifteen years we lived there. For 32 of those species we saw nests or fledglings.

7 River Drive garages from Burnside (Heather & Gordon Taylor's place)
– 7 River Drive garages from Burnside (Heather & Gordon Taylor’s place) – the exotics are mostly not ours –

We put in a bird bath outside our bedroom window and plumbed it to a high tap I could reach from my bedroom window to fine-choon as water pressure fluctuated; and left it running with a fine little spray of water for fifteen years. The birds loved it. Me too. The tap is visible against the far wall on the left; the birdbath is hidden behind Jess.

river-dr-jess-junge-gym-tap-for-birdbath.jpg
– there’s the high birdbath tap outside my bedroom window –
– the bank above the Mkombaan river –

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*In fifteen years we saw one Natal Black Snake, two Brown Water Snakes, a few Herald Snakes, a resident House Snake, regular Spotted Bush Snakes, tiny Thread Snakes, a couple of Night Adders, and that was all. None of them really dangerous.

One year we decided to make a large pond by damming a little stream that flowed though our garden into the Mkombaan. It came to be called (by Aitch) ‘Koos’ Folly.’ In my defence, Nichols was involved in the planning. We built a substantial dam wall next to the Voacanga on the bank, covered in bidim felt and strong and long-lasting, creating a deep pond about 8m X 4m in size.

scan0133
– briefly a pond –

Which the very first flood filled it up to the brim with silt. One shot. Pond now a shallow little mudflat with most of the flow passing under it underground. I learnt: Don’t mess with watercourses.

– should be easy – right? – nope! silted up –

Some murdering had to happen. There was a mango tree in the grasslands and a fiddlewood behind the house. I bow-saw’d and de-barked and felled. Then I garlon’d. That would sort them out. Well, only years later did I finally get rid of the last shoots that kept sprouting. I developed a genuine respect for their kanniedood properties! A massive syringa on the banks of the Mkombaan I just ring-barked and garlon’d. No cutting. Two years later it crashed down across the river, bank-to-bank, forming a bridge you could walk across.

10 Elston Garden

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**Barry also made us a bird feeder, which he called Barry’s Bizarre Balancing Bird Bistro. More about Barry and Lyn here.

– Kiza spoils Jessie – Barry Porter’s Bizarre Balancing Bird Bistro in the background –

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kanniedood – hard to kill

Birdfest

Since the new year rains the garden has been bursting with noise and activity.

Overhead the fish eagle and crowned eagle, the goshawk and the YB kite; In the trees the trumpeter and crowned hornbills; In the garden toppies (black-capped bulbul), yellow-bellied bulbul, GT and cardinal woodpeckers, brown-hooded kingfisher and FT drongos dipping into the pool for a bath and after drowning insects. black and dusky flycatchers, the first paradise flycatcher, golden-rumped tinker, scaly-throated honeyguide, black-collared barbet, white-eared barbet, black-headed oriole, white-eyes, cameropteras, TF prinia, bar-throated & yellow-breasted apalis, black-bellied, redwinged and glossy starlings; Hadedas probe the lawn, hamerkops inspect the pool; Pied crows and gippo geese sit on the high office building above us. Black, Klaas’, Diederiks’ and piet-my-vrou cuckoos.

In the shrubbery the natal robin (red-capped robin-chat) calls and mimics and a trilling noise tells me there are firefinches or (hopefully) twinspots around – haven’t been able to spot them yet. Boubous and puffbacks lurk. Red-eyed doves, mousebirds, Indian ringneck parakeets screech as they whizz past overhead.

Amethyst, collared, white-bellied and olive sunbirds. Bronze and black-and-white (redbacked) mannikins and YF canaries love the seeds in the long grass, swaying on the thin stalks; Loud louries arrive and chase each other around before stopping for a drink; The woodhoopoes are also loud; Spectacled and spotted-backed weavers compete with the sunbirds (and the vervet monkeys!)  for the nectar in the strelitzia flowers; Forest (dark-winged) weaver sings his lovely high-pitched squeaky song; The streaky-headed canary also sits and sings happily; At night (late, 3am) the wood owl calls pondo, pondo no-shilling and earlier the nightjar says good lord deliverr us as the francolin settle down noisily.

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Gotta have jungle and scrub and hideaways for birds. And a dripping tap.

Rain and Meals on Wings

At last some good rain. And the flying ants are out in force! Wings and scurrying bodies everywhere, clustered around our lights.

“We’ll have fat geckos and I hope the owls and nightjars have a feast, Tom! Even the monkeys will love it if they’re still around tomorrow”

Grumble grumble I don’t like them he mutters. Then Why don’t the monkeys come out at night? Are they too scared of leopards? he asks.

“I think so”, I say. “I think its bred into them that night-time is dangerous and it’s not their time to eat.”

20151114_072256 10 Elston hornbill (2)

wings and bougainvilla ‘petals’ – this guy is lovin’ it

Hwow! Hwange is Hwonderful!

One of Aitch’s list of ‘things to do’ once we knew she had cancer, was to visit her twin sis in Botswana. Janet quickly mustered her network and arranged a trip to Hwange, Zimababwe’s world-class national park. We’d been once before. Her friends Beks and Sarah Ndlovu of African Bush Camps own a concession and run a very special camp at Somalisa in the eastern area,  Linkwasha I think they call it.

Beks calls it his Hemingway-style camp. We called it bliss. Unpretentious tents from the outside, luxury inside.

Hwange, Somalisa Camp

The weather was amazing! Bright sunshine, then huge gathering clouds, then pouring rain and back to sunshine in a few hours. Repeated daily. Enough rain to bring out the bullfrogs – the first time I have seen them, not for lack of looking. They were out for their annual month of ribaldry: Bawdy songs, lewd & lascivious pixicephallic behaviour. Also gluttony. Then back underground for 11 months of regrets.

HwangeSomalisa2010 (70) Hwange Cloudburst &  Nightdrive (20) Hwange Cloudburst &  Nightdrive (36)

The rain was spectacular!

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After the rain there’s sunshine, and the bush telegraph page is wiped clean: New spoor becomes clearly evident. Aha! The lions have cubs!

There are cubs about . . HwangeSomalisa2010 (40)

 

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After a good soaking the animals would have to drip-dry. We could get under cover and have hot showers, hot drinks and warm dry clothing.

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Hwange, Somalisa Camp

Hwange has become my favourite of all Africa’s big parks. It is simply fantastic.

Hwange Somalisa Camp

Those sand roads are very special, as were the breakfasts out on the pan.

—-oo0oo—-

Prologue:

I had dashed off an email to Aitch in February 2009:

Hi Aitch – As ‘they’ so crudely put it, we need to ‘sh*t or get off the pot’ as far as a decision to get to Okavango (and to Beks Ndlovu’s camps) this year. Either soonish (March), or September / October (very hot). We must decide yes or no, and if yes, who could we leave the kids with? Dilemma – K

—-oo0oo—-
So glad we stayed on the pot! The kids were fine; We got to Botswana eleven months after that email, in January 2010, then trekked on to Zimbabwe for Aitch’s last – great, unforgettable – Hwange trip.

We’d been before in 1997.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Luxury Birding

Bird Collages

Finally got round to making a collage of some of the birds we saw up in Zululand a few years back. Aitch and I went for a breakaway luxury weekend. It was dry – very dry – and the lodge had a water feature running right under the sundeck. Every bird from miles around (as well as all the animals) had to come here to drink.

It was perfect! Aitch was not so strong, so we chose to skip the game drives and ensconced ourselves comfortably on the deck, binocs, camera and telescopes handy. Tea or beer or coffee or gin would arrive at regular intervals. Mealtimes we walked ten metres back into the dining room!

Thanda Zulu (birds) (2059)

Thanda Zulu (birds) (1346)

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Early Morning Aerial Dogfight

Today’s the third morning I’ve watched an urgent, furious ruckus in my front garden. A bird screaming its head off while furiously chasing another like a fighter jet in hot pursuit. So fast that I couldn’t get a good view as the target dashed in and out of the copse of trees and shrubs. I was facing into the sunrise which meant even when I got a half-decent glimpse it was of a silhouette with his beak open, screaming like a banshee. Interesting! Made me late for work!

I figured it was a black-collared barbet, and if so that would be a hole-nest parasite he’d be chasing – which would be a honeyguide. But I needed to see. Yesterday I got a good view of the pursuer: Red face and throat, stout beak. That was him alright.

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Today I got a glimpse of the suspect: White outer tail feathers. Most likely a Lesser or Scaly-throated Honeyguide. I’ll try to make sure, but I don’t think he’ll be sitting still in plain view anytime soon. I wonder if it’s the male, and while the barbet is doing his over-zealous patrol, his lady friend is plopping her egg in the hole nest?!

I’m on their side – I hope they lay their egg in the barbet’s nest so a luta (the struggle) can continua!

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scaly-throat and lesser (all internet pics)

Minding Father

Tom is at Lungelo’s but he has to be at Kip McGrath extra maths at 8am so I call him and remind him to be at the gate at 7.15 sharp. Lungelo stays in the Westville Prison grounds.

He’s not that wide awake when I get there and protests at having to wake early AND do work IN THE HOLIDAYS! Do I understand the concept of “HOLIDAY”?
We’ll stop at Spar and get you something to drink and eat and you’ll be OK once we get there, my boy.
Well, I’m going to sleep straight afterwards and can I have a Monster energy drink please?
OK, fine.

Outside Kip he eats his smoked beef slices and sips his Monster. I watch a black-headed oriole and a golden-rumped tinker in the trees around us.
When its time to go in he says Please don’t let anyone finish my Monster. Put it in the fridge for me. (He’s going to walk home).
Take it with you and sip on it while working, I suggest.

No, he says, They’ll think you’re a bad Dad.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Bliss

I heard a cry on high as I parked on the roof at work. Glancing up I saw two crows cartwheeling, freewheeling, locking claws and spiralling like a propellor high above me. What a magnificent display of flying excellence!

Buzzing around above and below them was a drongo, divebombing and harrassing them, cheeky little blighter. They ignored him and carried on exuberantly showing off. Wow!

Isn’t that amazing!? I said to my 74yr old carguard as she shuffled up asking “And now?“.

I pointed out the birds.

“Yes”, she says off-handedly, “Those two parents are teaching the young one to fly”.

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The evening sky from my rooftop parking spot