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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 –

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

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

Gardening for Birds n Frogs n Butterflies n Goggas

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.

7 River Drive garages from Burnside (Heather & Gordon Taylor's place)
7 River Drive garages from Burnside (Heather & Gordon Taylor’s place)

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.

river-dr-jess-junge-gym-tap-for-birdbath.jpg

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10 Elston Creatures.jpg

*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.

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

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.

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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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kanniedood – hard to kill