Africa, Birds & Birding, Books, KwaZuluNatal, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Explorers 7. Wahlberg

Johan August Wahlberg (1810 – 1856) was another Swedish naturalist and explorer. He traveled in southern Africa between 1838 and 1856, especially in Natal and South West Africa, sending thousands of natural history specimens back to Sweden.

The journals of his travels are generally brief and objective (and I haven’t been able to find them yet! So I know little about him, even though his name is honoured in many species – moths, lizards, birds, plants, etc), and his portrayal of people he met is usually reliable and unprejudiced.

Wahlberg’s elephants – in Namibia? –

Wahlberg is commemorated in Wahlberg’s Eagle, Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat and the beautiful little bush squeaker frog Arthroleptis wahlbergi. That’s my pic on top of one of the little squeakers; fully grown, he’s the size of your top finger digit. This one lives in our garden in Westville.

– Wahlberg’s eagle and bat –

‘Sport’ in those days consisted of shooting as much as possible for the tally, the ‘bag.’ These pale chaps ran amuck, trying to score a century, even though cricket was only 240 years old in 1838.

His diary in Natal: 23 August – near Umgeni river: (shot) 1 Ichneumon taenianotus (a mongoose); 1 Boschbock; 1 red-buck (red duiker?); 1 birds.

‘I was so intent on the bucks that the fall of darkness took me (by) surprise. I lost the path and so entangled myself in the thickets that I sure that I should have to pass the night in the woods. I shot six alarm-shots. I was glad to hear them answered by regular salvos from the village. Flayed the boschbock and left the carcase in the wood.’

31 August – near Umkamas river: ‘Continued hunting hippopotamus; no luck. In the evening, accompanied only by one Hottentot Bastard we came sufficiently near to hippopotamus. Two bullets went whistling at the same moment, and found their mark in the head of a young sea-cow. She came to the surface several times, spouting blood high in the air. An adult now appeared; once again our shots sounded as one; it showed the whole of its body above water, dived, a strong furrow appeared in the water, moved rapidly towards the shore, and soon the whole body of the monster was visible above the surface, in form and attitude like a gigantic pig. With incredible swiftness it hurled itself once more into the stream, and rose several times in succession, each time spouting blood. Darkness fell and we were forced to return.’

1st September – ‘We looked in vain for the hippopotamus.’

2nd – ‘Saw numerous buffalo but was unable to get near them. Clouds of locusts darken the sky. We go further afield to a smaller stream.’

3rd – ‘Lying in wait for the buffalo. Hear them approaching at full gallop through the bushes. Climb an acacia. Give the first bull a bullet, which makes him fall back upon his hind-quarters. He gets to his legs again and escapes.’

Well, at least this time Africa got its revenge! Wahlberg was killed by a wounded elephant while exploring along the Thamalakane river about 10 km northwest of Maun just south of the Okavango Delta in today´s Botswana.

– Dear Museum, I have a white rhino skeleton for you. Signed Johan August –
– books based on Wahlberg’s journals and letters –
– he was the first to collect the red-headed weaver, near Thabazimbi –

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

wikipedia; van riebeeck society; alchetron.com; aviation demography unit;

Africa, Family & Kids, Motorcars_Automobiles, Nostalgia, Travel, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Old Man’s SWA Memories

The ole man’s first visit to South West Africa was by train in 1939. The trip cost six pounds return. His father being a railway man, he probably got a good family-rate deal. He would have ‘entrained’ here. where Oupa worked:

Pietermaritzburg station – Oupa’s workplace

. . crossed all of South Africa to Upington, then passed through Keetmanshoop, Rehoboth and Windhoek:

Keetmanshoop station
Rehoboth station
Windhoek station

.. and arrived at his destination station: Okahandja. The last stretch on a narrow gauge line.

Okahandja station

He remembers a lovely wooden dining car, wooden tables, wooden carriage walls. Maybe like this?

His destination was his uncle and aunt’s farms. His aunt Isabel and her husband Theunis van Solms farmed on Engadien or Engadine. They did a lot of hunting.

‘Skiet hom!’

The farms were clustered east of Okahandja – about fifty miles east, he says.

One farm called Nooi Bremen – Was originally owned by a German Count someone – a scion of the Staedtler pencil family and fortune. Or was it the Faber-Castell pencil family? They had more counts.

Daantjie’s farm Uitkyk – original name Onjombojarapati (meant ‘giraffe fell in a hole’)

Sarel’s farm Hartbeesteich – he left his father (or got kicked off the farm?) when he couldn’t stand the abuse any longer. Was sent away with nothing, but rounded up 600 cattle and drove them off to a widow’s farm near the village of Hochveld, 70 miles ENE of Okahandja, where he farmed for her and with her. When she died he bought the farm. Hartbeesteich. ‘teich’ = German for pan.

Japie’s farm was a dry farm; he drilled eighteen holes but never struck water. Dad can’t remember ithe name of the farm.

——-ooo000ooo——-

Africa, Aitch, Birds & Birding, Travel, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Namibia Birding Trip

Geoffrey Kay, birding optometrist, put together a trip to Namibia in 1986.

We landed in Windhoek, picked up a VW kombi and rigged it up with a nice big hebcooler in the back. Ice, beer, gin & tonic. Now we were ready for any emergency.

West to Daan Viljoen game park where a lion’s roar welcomed us that first night. On through the Khomas Hochland into the Namib Desert. Then on to the Atlantic Ocean at Swakopmund. On to Spitzkoppen; Usakos; Erongo Mountains; Karabib; Omaruru; Otjiwarongo; and Outjo;

Then up to Etosha: Okakuejo, Halali and Namutoni camps. In Etosha we saw a very rare night ‘bird‘;

Then on to Tsumeb; the Waterberg; Okahandja; And back down to Windhoek.

1986Namibia Birding Scopes.jpg

Geoff Kay, Jurgen Tolksdorf, Jill Seldon, Mick Doogan, Me & Aitch; Three optometrists and three normal people.

Spot the kombi at the foot of the Spitzkoppen
Spot the kombi at the foot of the Spitzkoppen

Okakuejo camp
In Okakuejo camp

Spot the kombi at the foot of the Spitzkoppen

1986 birding trip. Geoff, Jurgen, Mick, Jill & us two in a kombi

We spotted 200 bird species that week! Also a new mammal for me: The Damara DikDik.

Jurgen Tolksdorf newbie birder spotted many birds for us with his keen eye. “What’s that?” he’d say. In Etosha one night we woke up to the b-b-b-b-bhooo of a white-faced owl near our tents. We shook everyone awake and grabbed our torches and binocs and went to look for it. Except Jurgen. He said “A WHAT?” and rolled over and went back to sleep. We searched in vain and got back to bed very late, disappointed.

Next morning after a short night’s sleep, on our way back from breakfast we met Jurgen who had risen late after a long night’s sleep and was now on his way to eat. While we chatted he looked up in the tree above our heads and said “What’s that?”.

It was this!

white-faced owl

Africa, Birds & Birding, Travel, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Celestial Birding in Namibia

While we were birding in Namibia in 1986, a comet buzzed past us.

Englishman Edmond Halley, in his 1705 Synopsis of the Astronomy of Comets, used Newton’s new laws to calculate the gravitational effects of Jupiter and Saturn on cometary orbits. He realised that a comet that had appeared in 1682 was probably the same one that had appeared in 1531 (observed by Petrus Apianis), and 1607 (observed by Johannes Kepler). Halley concluded they were the same object returning every 76 years and predicted its return for 1758. He died in 1742 before he could observe this himself, but his prediction of the comet’s return proved to be correct! It was seen on 25 December 1758.

And then – significantly – again by us in Namibia in 1986, thus conclusively proving Halley was no poephol even if he was an Engelsman. We lay on our backs in Etosha on a beautifully clear night with our birding binocs and telescopes and had a good look at a tiny little fuzzball* far away while a white-faced owl went b-b-b-b-bhooo in the near distance. If the truth be told our view of Halley’s looked more like on of the tiny dots in the right of this picture.

Halley's Comet.jpg


*Even the keenest astronomers said the view of Halley in 1986 ended up being underwhelming in observations from Earth. When the comet made its closest approach it was still a faint and distant object, some 62 million km away. However, we humans did send a few spacecraft up which successfully made the journey to the comet. This fleet of spaceships is sometimes dubbed the “Halley Armada”. Seven probes were up there looking, with the European Giotto craft getting closest – to within 596km. The Challenger space shuttle would have been the eighth but it blew up two minutes after it launched.

challenger explodes 1986

The Giotto got this pic of the 15km X 8km X 8km rock:

halleys-comet-giotto-photo

Halley’s is due again on 28 July 2061. I’ll be keeping an eye out.