“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
Aitch and I flew from Maun to Xudum in 2001 when Janet & Duncan were running the show for Landela Safaris. We landed on the nearby bush strip.
Maun airport heading for Xudum
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.
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.
Visited Rann’s camp for lunch 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.
Lazy days in camp drinking G&T’s
Later Xudum was taken over by &Beyond. Super luxury: R15 000 per person per night!!
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!
We enjoyed six nights out on the mokoro in the care of a wonderful man named Thaba Kamanakao. We chose not to move 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? – had told him he wasn’t allowed it! The first night we were joined by 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: Pack some small swimming goggles and an underwater camera. The clarity of that water is awesome).
Squirrel Camp nights were again spent cooking and sitting around the fire; talking and listening to Thaba playing his mbira – ‘thumb harp’ – and singing; I’ll never forget his introduction as we switched on our tape recorder: ‘My name is Thaba; Thaba Kamanakao; Kamanakao is surname;‘ Days were spent birding and hiking. We we were ‘moved off’ by an impatient ele, Aitch getting mildly reprimanded for turning round to get a fuzzy picture as we retreated. When Thaba – scouting ahead – spooked a herd of buffalo we climbed a termite mound and they thundered all around us;
We would sally out daily on short mokoro trips,
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.
Then we headed back reluctantly for a last night at Oddballs. Warm showers under the open sky; ice cold beer & gin’n’tonics on the deck watching spotted-necked otters in the lagoon, lounging in comfy chairs. Topped off by a big hearty hot meal prepared for us.
And suddenly it dawned on us that, even though we did have to pitch our own tent again, Oddballs really IS a Luxury Lodge!
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 from their days in the lowveld Johan and Elsa were there, and other shareholders from the Eston district, Pete & Bruce.
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.
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.
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 camp:
Drove back from Botswana in just under 12 hours. 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 coffee.
Got a huge welcome when I got in! “Daddy we MISSED you!” No cellphone comms in the bush!
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.
photographersdirect.com (this site has since disappeared)
shutterstock.com (royalty-free thumbnail pics)
Aitch learnt the joy of indigenous plants on the Bluff in 1985 when at Wentworth hospital. Ian Whitton, friend and cardio-thoracic surgeon, indigenous gardener and nurseryman extraordinaire, pig-farmer, protea grower, pigeon-fancier, erythrina expert and all-round good friend took her under his wing. She also learnt from indigenous guru, horticultural landscaper, author, visionary and gardener Geoff Nichols; She collected seeds and swopped them for plants for and from Enver Buckus at Silverglen nursery; She worked for noted colonist, author, canoeist, British apologist, acrylic painter and historian Geoffrey Caruth Esq at his Geoff’s Jungle Indigenous Nursery; 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, occasionally digging up one for culture with Porter’s Patented Plant Pincher**, a handy device Barry had welded together to make extracting small plants easy and non-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.
We put in a bird bath outside our bedroom window and plumbed it with a fine hose and left it running with a fine little spray of water which ran constantly for fifteen years. I could control the fine trickle from a specially fitted high tap from inside the bedroom. The birds loved it. Me too. The tap is visible against the far wall on the left; the birdbath is hidden behind Jess.
*In fifteen years we saw one Natal Black Snake, one Brown Water Snake, 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. Which the first flood filled 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.
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.
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.
Gotta have jungle and scrub and hideaways for birds. And a dripping tap.