Africa, KwaZuluNatal, Wildlife, Game Reserves

New Spider !

A beautiful new button spider was found in Tembe Elephant Park and Phinda private reserve recently. The 32nd known button, or widow spider in the Latrodectus genus, of which eight are found in Africa; and – the first new one in 28 years.

And she’s a beauty:

Discovery

A single female was first found in 2014 in Tembe Elephant Park in Zululand. It was observed until its natural death two years later, when it was collected and sent to a laboratory. Way to go! More and more we should be observing before collecting! In 2017 a number of live specimens were collected from the Phinda reserve. They and their offspring were studied until 2019 when it was confirmed to be a new species.

– female hanging from her web –

Habitat

The species is only known to occur in the critically endangered lowland sand forest biome of northern KwaZulu-Natal. These forests are threatened by illegal clearing for farming as well as wood collection. The females build nests in trees and stumps more than 50 centimetres above ground, which is higher than most other members of the genus.

– tiny little male –

I haven’t been able to find out where the specific name umbukwane comes from. Will keep looking. isiZulu.net doesn’t have it as a word. Maybe the name of the person who first pointed it out?? Maybe a local place name??

~~~oo0oo~~~

photos by Luke Verburgt – own work

wikipedia

World Spider Catalogue

Africa, Birds & Birding, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Sand Forest Again

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.

– bottom, 2nd from left – African Bullfrog Pyxicephalus edulis –

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.

– Sand Forest Lodge Nov 2019 collage –

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.

– African Bullfrog, Pixycephalus edulus, bottom middle – Red Toad, Schismoderma carens, top middle –

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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;

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

– Richard Boon and Abraham van Wyk’s pics of D. revoluta –

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

Adventure in Deepest Darkest Zoolooland

I must tell you about a wonderful trip we went on recently (well, back in 2015 actually) to Deepest Darkest Zoolooland.

It was actually a rugged and challenging course in which we were required to survive under tricky conditions, with carefully thought-out obstacles and challenges put in our way by the amazing outfit called:

Ngoye with Ski_7


who led us astray boldly into the back roads of wild Zooloo territory where we watched and learned as he reached out to locals to see if they knew where they were.

Ngoye with Ski_6
Don asking perplexed local villagers for directions

This capable and entertaining master tour guide dropped us off at the beautiful Ngoye Forest for the next phase, handing us over to our next capable leader:

Ngoye with Ski_5


Fully equipped, this part of the course led us carefully through:
– Correct equipment
– Packing for an expedition
– The use of snatch ropes and tow ropes
– Handy stuff to always have in your 4X4 (axes, bowsaws, forest vines & lianas);

You had to be really young and superbly fit to survive, and we WERE and we DID! Covered in the mud and the blood and the beer, we emerged smiling from the forest, much the wiser.

Both tours were excellently victualled, lots of sweet and fortified coffee, sarmies, fruit, biscuits, biltong and more. Those who brought deckchairs thinking they would sit back and gaze serenely at the tree tops were optimists in the mist.
Someone came up with an idea as we were leaving to go on a completely different kind of trip next time with this sort of outfit:

Ngoye with Ski_4

But NAH! – we enjoyed the first two so much that we’d book with them again. Unforgettable (and NOT, as Don muttered “unforgiveable”)!!

It was amazing and a whole lot of fun with great people.

=======ooo000ooo=======

(Slightly) more boring version:

We did go to Zoolooland on a birding trip ably guided by Don Leitch. He did get us a wee bit off-course, and he did stop to speak to some local people, for which he got some leg-pulling.

We did get blocked by fallen trees in Ngoye forest and here’s the thing: Among all the rugged pilots, 4X4 experts and farmers among us, NOT ONE had brought along a tow rope or any decent rescue equipment! It took an accountant with a pocket knife to fashion a tow rope out of a liana that eventually saved our bacon. ‘Strue.

I will stand by my story and I will protect my saucers, even if they were in their cups. Here Sheila shows the total rescue equipment we managed to rustle up; and there’s the tow rope fashioned from a forest liana that saved the day.

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

Mkhuze in Winter

Jess and I spent two nights at Mkhuze. Looking very dry and animals were few and far between. Still, we saw lots of the usual dependables: giraffe, zebra, impala, hippo, nyala, wildebeest and – at last! – one elephant. A young bull right next to the road. Jess, who watches too much youtube of eles goring and flipping cars, did not want to hang around, so we drove past him.

Also Banded and Slender Mongooses. One band of Banded and two individual Slenders.

But lots of birds. I won’t give the boring – to me exciting – list (78 species) but I will tell this story. In Mantuma camp – here:

Mkhuze July2017 (3)

I went looking for pinkspots (pink-throated twinspots). Like this:

Pink-throated_Twinspot_Mkhuze

I followed their high-pitched trilling cricket-like sound and found them and more:

There they were, in a bird party in the grass! Blue waxbills, green-winged pytilias, grey-headed sparrows, yellow-throated petronias, yellow-fronted canaries, red-billed firefinches pecked alongside the pinkspots on the sandy soil. And in the tree directly above them a small flock of red-billed woodhoopoes, a dark-backed weaver and a golden-tailed woodpecker. Just that one bird party made the whole trip worthwhile. I stood twenty metres from them and watched through my Zeiss’ for ages. ‘Saturation Views’!

On my way back to the chalet I watched a black cuckoo-shrike give a full, relaxed display all round me. I didn’t know his black was so BLUE! In the sunlight his ‘black’ shone a beautiful royal blue. A picture doesn’t fully capture that:

Black-Cuckoo-shrike

bird pics off the ‘net

Jess was our chief photographer:

Mkhuze July2017 (27)
Birds & Birding, Family & Kids, Travel, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Softie

I’m off on a four-day weekend to Ndumo, abandoning the kids. Charles and Barbara Mason have very kindly invited me on their regular annual trip.

Leaving for school today, Tom spots we’re alone, no-one in earshot.

Gives me a big hug, leans his head against my chest, “I’m going to miss you Daddy. Don’t get hurt.”

Then he looks me in the eye with a grin, “Don’t get drunk, don’t get high, don’t get the munchies” he says and saunters off to school.

Ndumo was great. Dry but lots of birds around camp and the pans walks beautiful as always.

20150817_064220

Special sights:  Skeins of gyppos and spurwing overhead; A thermal of pelicans soaring; Retz’s & white helmetshrikes, nicators, tinkers, honeyguides and honeybirds, a trogon, robins, apalii, ‘peckers, spoonbills wading, glossy ibis, lots of others.

A glimpse of a suni in the sand forest was special too. Lots of crocs, heard the hippos but didn’t see them.

There are seven huts at Ndumo and there were 14 people plus me, so friends Charles and Chris moved an extra bed into their bungalow, shipped their wives off to the next door chalet and there I was, the newly-minted pensioner among the established pensioners. And probly the best-behaved. This lot had known each other for far too long and were teenagers all over again. Dermott Beck from Bergville in the 50’s knew the Reitz’s and had been operated on under chloroform by Dr Frank Reitz in Harrismith – as had I some 12yrs later!

Luckily a lone lady camping in a pup tent on her way to Mocambique joined us – making me only the second-youngest in camp.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Pre-launch instructions

We are able to do

I finally managed to contact Ndumu main office on 035 591 0058 and spoke to Bongani as Mr Chris was off.

Also cell numbers (never answered!!!) 072 672 8508 and 082 799 1491

Bongani suggests that we bring our own water 5 – 10 litres per person / couple as they do not always have enough for sale – we are able to boil water for drinking if supplies run out.

We are able to do a Pongola bird walk, a pan walk to Shokwe or Njamithi, the rhino walk area has been very dry but depending on the rain situation we may be able to walk there.

Take comfortable shoes, hats, water bottle, sweets, binoculars, camera, bird, tree or flower books, reading matter

Cost of Landrover trip: R240

Cost of walks R120

Cost of trip in own vehicle with game guard +- ????

In the past we’ve tried to do at least an early morning and an evening game drive during our stay, but it is optional (usually one a day) or however many you wish to.

Enjoyable to do a walk a day.

It is also lovely to just sit in the camp and watch the birds.

Please bring your OWN TORCHES

Can stop at an Ultracity / or Mkuze for lunch if you wish on the Friday

The previous times we’ve been at Ndumu we worked in pairs overseeing the catering etc per day which enables us all to have ‘time out’.

We used to buy the food for everyone and costs were shared – but the past two times we allocated meals to the 4 people overseeing the catering per day and we all took different items. It worked well as we each have a fridge in our unit to store food.

There is a cook and washer up who are quite adequate – Jabulani and Ginger. If you prefer you could do some pre-cooking at home and the cook could do the rice / potatoes / vegetables / salad or whatever.

Those on duty need to give the cooks the meat / vegetable etc before we go off for walk or landrover trips in the afternoon. They need to be requested to make a fire on the ‘braai night’

Whoever is providing the dinner for the evening also provides the serviettes, dessert or chocolates and candles if so desired.

Lunches – simple – suggest either cold meat or tuna mayo / salad / rolls / cheese or whatever (can use ‘heat and eat’ breadrolls or ciabatta)

THANKS FOR PAYMENT RECEIVED AGES AGO

For 1 chalet for 2 people: Fri and Sat night R700 per night x 2 nights = R1400

Ditto Sun and Mon nights R560 per night x 2 nights = R1120

Total = R2520

ie per person for the 4 nights R1260 or per couple R2520

The cheaper 2 nights are with pensioners discount.

Not sure if anyone has arranged to go to Tembe Elephant Park after Ndumu or for a game drive whilst we are at Ndumu – distance from Ndumu probably 35 minutes travelling

Tel: 039 – 9732534 0826 512 868

Spoke to Claudette (Westville) 031 – 2670144 who does the accommodation bookings.

Info R35 per vehicle R30 per person if in 4 x 4 able to do a ‘self drive’ otherwise to book at least 24 hours before with Claudette –

Cost R800 for landrover / for 8 – 10 persons and R100 per person – would be met at the gate. Drive 11am – 2pm

HAVE A LOOK AT TEMBE WEBCAM OR ZULCAM ON THE INTERNET – BEST TIME BETWEEN 11AM AND 3PM WHEN THE ELEPHANTS ARE AT THE WATER HOLE.

Please – none of the above is cast in stone and we are all flexible and open to any other suggestions.

Many thanks,

Chris

Birds & Birding, Family & Kids, Travel, Travel Africa

Sand Forest

Sand Forest is a rare, very distinctive forest type with a unique combination of plant and animal species. As far as is known, this vegetation type is more or less restricted to ancient coastal dunes in northern KwaZulu-Natal and the extreme southern portion of Mozambique (together: Maputaland). Sand forest harbours many rare and unusual plant and animal species.

Sand Forest Lodge just east of Hluhluwe village on the road to Sordwana Bay is a lovely spot. We spent two nights there this week, the kids each taking a friend along.

Sand Forest Lodge Collage2-001

More:
Sand forests are thought to be relics of coastal dune forests, which have been separated from the ocean for more than a million years as the shoreline has shifted slowly eastwards over the millennia. Dunes have accreted on the southeast African coastal plain since the Pliocene (around 5 million to 2.5 million years before present) and frequent sand mobilization events during climatic changes have resulted in some reworking of the dunes. The geological history of the region suggests that the current ecosystems here may be of recent derivation and many endemic plant taxa comply with the concept of neo-endemics (recent locally evolved species), and biological evolution (notably speciation) is still in an active phase.

Sand forest harbours many rare and unusual plant and animal species, including several Maputaland Centre endemics. Because of its restricted occurrence and unusual species complement, sand forest is perhaps the most unique plant community in the Maputaland Centre. Of the 225 Maputaland Centre plant endemic species, 30 are associated with it and 20 restricted to it. In the case of birds, Neergaard’s sunbird is strongly associated with it.

Sand Forest Lodge Lungelo Jordi (1)

Plant species that characterise sand forest (licuati forest) are Drypetes arguta, Uvaria lucida subsp. virens, Cola greenwayi, Balanites maughamii, Psydrax fragrantissima, Hyperacanthus microphyllus, Dialium schlechteri, Pteleopsis myrtifolia, Ptaeroxylon obliquum, Croton pseudopulchellus and Newtonia hildebrandtii. The protruding crowns of many of the larger species are usually covered by epiphytes, such as the wiry orchid Microcoelia exilis and various lichens including Usnea spp. (Thanks wikipedia)

Sand Forest Spider big
Jumping spider on my shoe

And boys will be boys:

Sand Forest Boys GIF

 

~~~oo0oo~~~

Aitch, Birds & Birding, Travel Africa

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)

Map Thanda-001