Lovely three nights in Mantuma Camp at Mkhuze game reserve in Zululand. Nothing much happened, animals were not plentiful, the grasslands are still sadly bush-encroached, but the birds, insects and plants more than made up for that. So as not to moan about Homo sapiens vaaliensis polluting the lovely hides with farting, phone calls, smoking and loud shutter clicks of the cameras with more computing power than their owners, I have politely refrained from commenting and instead played some games with the rather ordinary pictures I took with my phone and my pocket Canon. Enjoy!
this tiny little spider on my rearview mirror elongated himself to look like a mini octopus when I came too close –
At last an ele in Mkhuze! I was beginning in the last few years to think there weren’t any left. There must be very few, anyway.
At Kumahlala hide, after an hour of being alone and quiet, the Foam Nest Frogs started up a chorus. Took a while, but I found one up on a twig just outside the hide and got a pic of him. I wish I had thought to tape their call – a lovely loud chorus – I’d guess about four of them doing a fine barbershop quartet! Here’s a shy soloist:
Found a new frog! I went through my frog calls: A Rhythmic Caco – Cacosternum rythmum. I must look for a picture of one. I couldn’t find him in the flooded grass in the waterhole. He is little over a centimetre long, mind you. Another name for them is Dainty Frogs.
Sunset at Masinga Waterhole: The sun sets behind the big old Boerbean tree that was probably already there when I first visited ‘Mkuzi’ in 1965. The hide wasn’t here then. The famous Bube hide was the ‘in place’ then, just a few hundred metres away (north, I think).
Driving out of the park to go home, a bushveld scene: Stripes and horns and a few egrets hanging around, hoping for some disturbance to happen. I ”shopped’ in the lily into the foreground, as it was lonely in its own picture with nothing around it. And it was nearby . .
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
Just one night with Jessie and Jordi. At Sand Forest Lodge. An emergence of flying ants saw birds in profusion feeding on them. Despite a stiff breeze I saw plenty good birds. Some birders there had counted up over seventy in their 24 hour stay. Seven Broad-billed Rollers in one tree was special – this was the furthest south I’ve seen them. Then my first-ever sighting of African Bullfrogs! I’ve seen the Giant Bullfrog in Botswana – once – but had never seen the African.
Godfrey the owner came round to visit Saturday evening, having recognised my name on his guest list; we had a long chat about his trees. He is a huge dendrology enthusiast and his current project is photographing a new un-named Combretum ‘novospeciosa’ – new species. He takes daily pics as the leaves and buds unfold and has a daily whatsapp conversation with ace botanist Richard Boon (now living in Aussie). Fascinating. He is building up an amazing catalogue of images of the 180 tree species on his property. He soon lost me as I’ve grown rusty on the dendrology side! The purple flower below is a Vitex (I think). I didn’t get a good picture. His pictures are pin-point sharp. He tried to show me how to get better pictures, but I think the extra secret is practice, practice.
Godfrey showed me a number of his trees and they’re all beautiful, but I am so rusty and he knew mainly the common names of the ones he isn’t actively studying at present, so I couldn’t place them easily. One I do remember is the Forest Iron Plum, Drypetes gerrardii. I’ll slip in a little post about young Mr Gerrard after whom it was named.
On the way home we drove through Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Lots and lots of water after seeing it dry for a long time. Lots of greenery too, so very few animals, as they didn’t need to be anywhere near the roads. Four tiny little warthogs were the only sighting of note. Hot dog-sized.
PS: On the way up I told Jess the Lodge owner’s names are Godfrey and Cary and she refused to believe me! There’s no such name as God-free she insisted. She’s heard of sugar-free and gluten-free but she just knew I was pulling her leg about God-free. When I introduced him to her she went wide-eyed and quiet like only my Jess-Jess can!
I now call them God-free and Care-free and that reminds me of Frank and Gretel Reitz who Sheila, Bess and Georgie used to call Frankful and Grateful.
Bird list: Broad-billed Roller – seven of them, most I’ve ever seen together; Crested, White-eared and Black-collared Barbets; Yellow-rumped Tinker; Klaas’, Diederik, Red-chested and Emerald Cuckoos; The Emerald only heard, the Red-chested put on a big display and I got saturation views. He / She was being mobbed by a drongo and a __ (forget); Square-tailed Drongo; Red-eyed, Emerald-spotted and Tambourine Doves; Long-crested Eagle; Three dark sunbirds – I think Marico, Neergaards and Purple-chested, but I can’t claim them all for sure. The other birders had long lens cameras and were trying to get pics of all three to prove it; Scarlet-chested Sunbird; Lesser Honeyguide calling all day – didn’t spot him; Yellow-breasted and Rudd’s Apalis; A big flock of European Bee-eaters; Spectacled and Dark-backed Weavers; Dark-capped Bulbul; Yellow-bellied and Sombre Greenbuls; Terrestrial Brownbul; Purple-crested Turaco; Southern Boubou; Orange-breasted and Gorgeous Bush-shrikes (heard both only); Green-backed Camaroptera; Rattling Cisticola; Yellow-fronted Canary; Tawny-flanked Prinia; Long-billed Crombec; Crested Guineafowl; Natal Francolin; Pied Crow; Egyptian Goose; Paradise and Black Flycatchers; African Goshawk; Striped and Brown-hooded Kingfishers; Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills; African Hoopoe; Green Wood-hoopoe; Rufous-naped Lark; Black-and-White Mannikin; Red-faced Mousebird; Black-headed Oriole; Yellow-throated Petronia; Red-capped Robin-Chat; Cape White-eye; Fiscal Shrike; Black-bellied Starling; Lesser Striped Swallow; Palm Swift; Kurrichane Thrush; Southern Black Tit; Heard the Nerina Trogon often on both days; Pied Wagtail; Golden-tailed Woodpecker;
Godfrey was excited by something about a new tree in his sand forest: Dovyalis revoluta. I couldn’t quite get what was new; something about Richard Boon and Abraham van Wyk and a new discovery. So I went looking and found it. Dovyalis revoluta is a separate species, not just another Dovyalis zeyheri. So we have a new tree in the ‘Wild Apricot’ gang. My garden has plenty Dovyalis caffra surrounding it as a thorny hedge and bird and creature refuge.
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 taeching her about Natal trees and birds. 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! Its beautiful! It has a yellow beak, its purply-brown with a black head and it has a bright yellow face. (see bottom of post)
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.