The Chairman of the Celestial Bird Club

We’re birding in Hluhluwe game reserve.

‘It’s an Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike!’

No, better! It’s actually a Starred Robin! I said excitedly.

A frosty silence descended.

‘DO YOU KNOW I’M THE CHAIRMAN OF THE HERMANUS BIRD CLUB?’ came the imperious question.

That’s very nice, I said without taking my binocs off the robin, But that doesn’t make a robin a shrike. Look at its beak.

‘Harumph’

A classic attempt at eminence over evidence. Whattahoot!

We moved on, back to our bush camp near Lake St Lucia. Things were uncomfortable, as Jess and I were actually their guests, and mine host’s ego was wounded.

Oh well.

That night I aimed my tiny little 22X Kowa spotting scope at the full moon, setting the tripod low so the kids could get a lovely look.

Again I felt the ambient temperature drop drastically. There were mutterings by Ma, sending The Chairman of the Hermanus Bird Club scuttling off to his son’s bungalow and emerging twice with two large wooden boxes and one small one. A huge tripod emerged from one of them. Unfolded, it resembled the Eiffel tower. From the other box a white tube like an Apollo rocket. The Professional Celestial Telescope! After much assembling and urgent furtive instructions the fussing codgers and the favourite son start searching for the moon. Hey! It’s not easy to find with those bazookas. You move it a millimetre right and you’ve got Jupiter; a millimetre left and its Mars. Go too far down it’s Uranus. Eventually the moon is located and focused on. Ma, Pa and favourite son step back satisfied, and invite the kids to look at THIS telescope. A real one. A chair has to be found for them to stand on.

Oh, I much prefer that one, says the grandkid and then Jessica agrees, and then the other grandkid says Yes, That one’s much better, POINTING AT MY TINY KOWA! It’s a social disaster! Their own grandkids betraying them in their moment of triumph!

I hastily step up to their scope and say Ooh! Aah! and Wow! Magnificent! Powerful! What else? All you can see is white. It’s focused on an insignificant bath mat-sized area of the moon. Whereas with mine you can see the whole moon the size of a dinner plate, this one you could see a dinner plate on the moon. Except there’s no dinner plate to see. Mine shows mountains and craters, this monster shows white.

Cast a pall on the evening it did. Gloom descended. Some went to bed early after some muttered explanation of how the better telescope WAS actually much better.

Hilarious, if a bit stressful at the time for a polite person.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mfolosi Day Trip

Jess and I have been sussing out the Zululand game reserves COVID-19 scene and phoning and today was the day. We left soon after 6am. My gauge showed how little I have driven in lockdown – I filled up on the 24th March: Less than 100km in three months!

We got to the gate before 9am where the staff were very friendly and welcoming as they gave us an arms-length welcome complete with hand sanitising and temperature measuring.

Lovely day, not a cloud in the sky but a stiff breeze. Very few animals about but we just enjoyed being there. I decided to go straight to Sontuli picnic site for lunch and then straight home so we’d be back before 5pm.

Jess made a lovely picnic lunch while I recorded a whole bunch of birds: Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Olive Thrush, Southern Black Tit, Golden-breasted Bunting, African Hoopoe, FT Drongo, Black Flycatcher, Blue Waxbill, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Red-eyed Dove, White-backed Vulture, Rufous-naped Lark, Black-crowned Tchagra, Black-bellied Starling, Dark-capped Bulbul, Long-billed Crombec, Mocking Cliff Chat bashing a gecko, Yellow-fronted Canary, Pied Crow, Red-faced Mousebird, Crowned Lapwing, Red-billed Oxpecker, Cattle Egret, Woolly-necked Stork, etc. Heard Greater Honeyguide, Green-backed Camaroptera and Gorgeous Bush Shrike up close, but couldn’t spot them.

Jess spotted eles, giraffe, zebra, square-lipped rhino, warthogs, impala, and I saw one bushbuck.

On the way out I ducked down a side road to Bhekapansi Pan at the spur of the moment. And got a flat tyre! My jack didn’t lift the car high enough to get the spare on; luckily a fellow Ford Ranger driver came along and I could use his jack on a rock to lift it up the extra 50mm I needed!

Thank you! That got us up and away – and home by 6:30pm

~~~oo0oo~~~

Mfolosi in March

Just a day trip. Late start, so it was already warm and quiet by the time we got there.

– Mfolosi March 2020 –

Bird list: Barbets, Crested and Acacia Pied; Bulbul, Dark-capped; Greenbul, Sombre; Eagles, Long-crested and Brown Snake-; Shrike, Red-backed and Fiscal; Bush-shrikes, Gorgeous and Orange-breasted; Starlings, Cape Glossy and Violet-backed; Swallows, Wire-tailed and Lesser Striped; Kite, Yellow-billed; Crow, Pied; Wagtail, Pied; Cisticola, Rattling; Lark, Rufous-naped; Petronia, Yellow-throated; Batis, Cape; Flycatcher, Spotted; Pytilia, Green-winged; Tchagra, Black-crowned; Vulture, White-backed; Lapwing, Blacksmith; Thick-knee, Water; Oxpecker, Red-billed; Heron, Black-headed; Mousebird, Red-faced; Waxbill, Blue; Kingfisher, Brown-hooded; Plover, Three-banded; – In four hours –

– Three-banded Plover –

Jess was the spotter as usual; She spotted the eles, buffalo, kudu, wildebeast, warthogs, impala, zebra, giraffe, rhino; and the dung beetles. The only animal she didn’t spot first was a crocodile in the Black Mfolosi river which I spotted while she and Jordi were making lunch!

And this was a better lunch! She remembered the mayonnaise. Forgot the tomatoes, though. I like tomato on my rolls. So – still room for improvement, Jess . .

A lovely feature this visit was four or five sounders of warthogs, with up to seven hotdog-sized hoglets trotting next to Ma, tails in the air. We say when their tails are up it means ‘they have signal.’

~~~oo0oo~~~

– Stapelia gigantea –

Jessie took the pic of the Stapelia – one of the largest flowers in the plant kingdom. This one was probably over 300mm across. Smells like something died – hence, Giant Carrion Flower. Used in traditional medicine to treat hysteria and pain; in sorcery, to cause the death of one you dislike! Take that!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Helpful people

My numberplate was hanging down on one side – yes, something clever I did – but it was secure on the other side; so just hanging vertically instead of horizontally like normal numberplates. An Ezimvelo ranger flagged us down: Your numberplate is falling off. Yes, thank you. It’s secure on one side. I’ll fix it when I get home. Nine times this happened before lunch! Four rangers and five citizens flagged me down and instead of saying ‘There are lions round the next bend’ each one of them said Your numberplate is falling off. And nine times I said Yes, thank you. It’s secure on one side. I’ll fix it when I get home.

Jeeesh! Uncharacteristically, I fixed it with cable ties at the lunch stop.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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?? No – seems it means ‘spectacular!’ I like that!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Great photos by Luke Verburgt – own work

wikipedia

World Spider Catalogue

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~~~

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.

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(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.

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)
Pink-throated_Twinspot_Mkhuze

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

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 this jet-black bird could be so BLUE! In the sunlight his ‘black’ shone a beautiful cobalt blue. This picture I found on ethiobirds is the only one that captures it well. See the difference!

– thank you ethiobirds and birdseye.photo –

Jess was our chief photographer:

Mkhuze July2017 (27)

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

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 Collage2-001

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.

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~~~

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

A Week in Mkhuze

We saw lots of bewilderbeast droppings and lots of bewilderbeasts – many with tiny calves, meals on wobbly hooves to the lions and cheetahs. The big male lion had helped himself to a giraffe calf, so fat pickings this summer. The lions were recently introduced to shake things up in Mkhuze, (four in Nov 2013 and four in 2014) so the edible animals are on high alert, muttering to each other ‘there goes the neighbourhood.’

DSCN0883
– wobbly hooves –
DSCN0888
– hmmm, I’ll have one of those! –
– impala nursery on the banks of Nsumu pan –
– ugh, I ate too much giraffe –

We watched two cheetah stalk the wildebeasts and then charge off out of sight. Friends saw the lionesses bring down a wildebeast calf right in front of them at the waterhole. Lots of square-lipped rhino and a beautiful hunting wasp, all yellow and black rugby jersey colours. Wonderful Mkhuze birdlife as always, 106 species, with cuckoo hawk, nicator, grey-headed bush shrike, wattled lapwing and pygmy kingfisher being my highlights.

Then at last: A hook-lipped rhino! He stood obligingly while we took pictures.

He just stood there as placid as anything. I had told Jess if we were lucky enough to see one we’d probly just get a glimpse, so she should be ready with her camera! So there’s another reason to take everything your parents say with a great big sack of cerebos.

20141229_183644

We had lovely weather, including rain, wind and too hot, but mostly perfect, as all the others were short duration and actually pleasant. It’s dry again, so the waterholes were busy. Three of the lady lions launched a run on a wildebees calf at the waterhole as I watched and the other voyeurs (among whom friend Geoff Kay) told of watching them kill and eat one the day before. Geoff had it on his camera. Old Geoff just the same: ‘You saw what? I saw better. You got what telescope? Mine’s longer. You saw an elephant? Last year I was here with Jurgen and we got charged by one.’ etc.
Actually we dipped on eles. Not one; and not a single turd neither. Not one. We drove 450km over the six days and the reward I offered of an ice cream to she who spotted an ele turd (not a whole ele, just a turd!) went unclaimed!
Reminded me of a Free State Reed-ism: “Not a leaf stirred. Not an elephant’s turd.”

~~~oo0oo~~~

– giraffe stereo –

~~~oo0oo~~~

My Namesakes in Mkhuze

A few of my namesakes at Mkhuze this weekend.

DSCN0716

Spot the two old rhinos in the shade under the tree? ** Click on the pic **

Then you’ll also see how dry it was – the “water” is pure mud with a rich dose of dung mixed in.

– the pan had good water –

Sharing Meals

We shared a meal in Vwaza Marsh National Park, Malawi.
On the way there we delayed stocking up with food, thinking surely the next market will be better, but each town was the same: A big market square with lots of stalls, but only a few occupied, and those only offering a few oranges and sweet potatoes, arranged in neat little pyramids. Eventually we arrive in camp not having bought anything. We resolve to fast and go back to Rumphi for some oranges and sweet potatoes before moving on to Nyika Plateau.

Malawi Vwaza
– shower on the boil and a plate of hot food – shower top right –

The Vwaza game guard comes over to hear if we want to shower and when we’ll be eating. He will light a fire for us. On hearing we won’t be, he brings his own sadsa/phuthu/maize porridge on a tin plate! We have a vacuum-sealed sausage of salami, so we add that and share the meal. Everybody wins! He heats the shower just right and carries it up the ladder and pours it into the bucket with a tap on it so we have a hot shower. Luxury! I spoilt that woman!

In the Comores we shared a meal
We delivered a book on Bruce Lee martial arts to well-known Comoran beach guide “Bruce Lee” in the Comores Big island (a gift from a previous guest who heard we were going there). He invites us for supper at his humble palm-frond thatched home in the nearby village where his wife cooks for us. A number of plates with porridge various veges, and one plate with four tiny fishes – which they put on our plates. We say we must share them, but “No. You are our guests!” they insist.

Comores Supper Bruce Lee
– Comores Bruce Lee shares with us –

In Jozini, Zululand we shared a meal

Whenever I visit Tobias he and Thulisiwe treat me to a lovely meal in their home. This time it was curried chicken and phuthu. As always Thulisiwe gave me a bag of her home-grown roasted and salted peanuts to take home.

DSCN8127

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Five Forests

Just back from a Five Days, Five Forests birding trip to Zululand: Nkandla, Entumeni, Dlinza, Ngoye forests; and St Lucia coastal forest.

My highlight was Ngoye, about which I’ve heard so much over the years. Especially after Aitch went without me: “Have you been to Ngoye Koos? Oh, no, I remember, you haven’t. So you haven’t seen the Woodwards Barbet then? I HAVE!” Only about a hundred times, she rubbed it in!

I hadn’t planned anything but once I’d walked in Nkandla, I said to my Zululand birding guide Sakhamuzi Mhlongo, “Forget the coast and the vleis and farms – we’re sticking to forests, and so the Five Forests © & ™ idea came about. I think it’s a winner! Stay in the forests so dawn finds you right there with nowhere to drive.

COMFORT
This trip was just me and my guide. Sakhamuzi was lovely quiet company. Nights at the B&Bs and the Birders’ Cottage we cooked up a red meat storm, washed it all down with frosties and early to bed. On walks I took my binocs, telescope, rucksack and deckchairs. Mostly we simply found great spots like forest edges and parked. My guide Sakhamuzi was great and said (well, he would, wouldn’t he?) that he enjoyed sitting still. Said mostly birders want to rush from one spot to the next, talking all the time! I said he should get deckchairs and specialise in khehlas and gogos. ‘Charge a premium, carry a hebcooler and you’ll make your fortune, young man,’ was my advice to him! Call it Gugile Ancient Avian Gadabouts (GAGA) © & ™; Find a fruiting tree, and let the birds come to you.

I took plenty snacks and drinks in my rucksack, so the waiting was comfy, luxurious and munchy. Next time I’ll take some poncho or dark sheet to break the human outline – see if that fools the voëls.

We stayed two nights in the Birders Cottage in Ngoye. Perfect for getting up at five every morning and getting straight into the forest at first light. Saw and heard lots of birds which I’d seen before but had written BVD next to them (“better view desired”) and one great lifer. Yes, Aitch-In-The-Clouds, I did the see the barbet, so I laid that bogey-bird to rest!

Barbet green
– thanks ebird.org –
– beautiful 1897 illustration of a pair of Woodward’s barbets, by J.G. Keulemans

– the Green barbet Stactolaema olivacea used to be called Woodward’s Barbet – our sub-specoies is Stactolaema olivacea woodwardi

Ngoye Forest
– grass- and rocklands above the Ngoye Forest – and the silver and blue Mitsubishi –

WHEELS
Craig Naude’s magic silver and blue Mitsubishi Colt 4X4 V6 3000 was superb. I needed first gear low ratio in places in the forest where the rutted tracks changed to slippery clay, and steep drops into stream beds meant equally steep climbs out of them, starting at snail’s pace. Boy heaven.

COASTAL FOREST
At St Lucia we got into the forest at dawn, too, then walked on to the mouth of the estuary by 6.30am and low tide. Waders and terns remain confusing to me, and the sooty tern Sakhamuzi hoped to spot had trekked back to Mozambique. Pity, as it’s one of the easier ones to ID. Oh, well, as the baby tern said to the mother tern: Can I have a baby brother? Certainly, said the mother tern: ‘One good tern deserves another.’

Five Forests Heron
– St Lucia estuary with a grey heron in the surf –

On the way back we spotted a dwarf chameleon; then we sat in the forest in comfort again and a Green Malkoha (old green coucal) obligingly flew into a tree and leisurely displayed his banana beak in full sunlight.

Green Malkoha
– thanks Johann vd Berg – beaut pic!! –

Driving back to the B&B a Lemon Dove (old cinnamon dove) sat on a track at the side of the road for so long we eventually drove off! First time I’ve ever done that. Usually you just glimpse them flying off at speed.

Great break – the first real birding since before Aitch and I became child-infested. I’d forgotten what early mornings without scarecrows was like! We spent 32 days on our trip up to Malawi when the kids were 5 and 1 and only saw one bird, and that was a Zambian nkuku whose cousin was deliciously on our plates at a shisanyama at the roadside in Livingstone. I exaggerate. Slightly.

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Bruce Soutar wrote: Pete – eye think this is a compliment – from Rooooth Garland: Please tell Piet I LOVE his stories and want to see more . . . He makes me smile, even though he’s a drunkard and no good at flying. Does he have a blogspot I can sign up for? Xx

PS: Sakumuzi is a huge Twinstreams fan . . . Lovely man.

Ruth Garland – Sydney Australia

Ruth’s Dad was the legendary Ian Garland, whose exploits at Twinstreams in Zululand did heaps to save, propagate and teach about indigenous plants. Ruth’s exploits at Mbona in a low-flying kombi were a different chapter which also did heaps to save and teach, but not propagate.

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khehlas and gogos – Old men and Old ladies

gugile – ancient, as in buggered; decrepit; you know; don’t pretend you don’t know

nkuku – chicken

shisanyama – red meat on red hot coals restaurant; not teetotal joints; licenced to sell alcohol, ‘Which’ – as Ian Sinclair said – ‘I’m licenced to drink’

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My Bird List in Nkandla Forest: Lemon Dove; Dusky Flycatcher; Blue-Mantled Flycatcher; Knysna Turaco; Red-eyed Dove; Redbilled Wood-Hoopoe; Greater Double-collared Sunbird; Grey Cuckoo Shrike; Rameron Pigeon; Black-headed Oriole; Cape Batis; Black Saw-wing; HEARD: Dark-backed Weaver; Emerald Cuckoo; Chinspot Batis;

My Bird List in Entumeni Forest: Narina Trogon; Cape Batis; Olive Sunbird; Terrestrial Brownbul

My Bird list in Dlinza Forest: Woolly-necked Stork; Grey Cuckoo Shrike; Spotted Ground Thrush; Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon (peach view calling in full sunlight on dead tree) – Delegorgue’s; Puffback Shrike; Cape White-eye; Green-backed Cameroptera; Sombre Greenbul; White-eared Barbet; Paradise Flycatcher; Olive Woodpecker; Black-bellied Starling; Black&White Mannikin; Collared Sunbird; Lesser-striped Swallow; Trumpeter Hornbill; Red-fronted Tinker; Yellow-rumped Tinker; Crowned Eagle juv; Yellow-bellied Greenbul; Redcapped Robin-chat; Scaly-throated Honeyguide; Purple-crested Turaco; Square-tailed Drongo; Terrestrial Brownbul; HEARD: Yellow-breasted Apalis; GT Woodpecker; Olive Bush Shrike; Southern Boubou; Black-headed Oriole;

My Bird list St Lucia and in St Lucia coastal forest: Woodwards Batis; Rudd’s Apalis; Yellow-bellied Greenbul; Green Malkoha – LIFER in South Africa for me – full sunlight saturation view; Grey Sunbird; Livingstone’s Turaco; Burchell’s Coucal; Whimbrel; Osprey; Grey Heron; Fish Eagle; Spoonbill; Yellow Weaver; Green Pigeon; Speckled Mousebird; Swift Tern; Black-winged Stilt; Avocet; YB Stork; Pink-backed Pelican; Little Tern; Three-banded Plover; Blue-cheeked Bee-eater; Lemon Dove – saturation close-up; Crested Guineafowl; Pied Wagtail; Cape Wagtail; Goliath Heron; Great White Egret; Little Egret; Thickbilled Weaver; White-breasted Cormorant; Palm Swift; Brown-throated Martin; Black or Common Swift; Chorister Robin-chat; Crowned Hornbill;

My Bird list in Ngoye Forest: Green Barbet – LIFER for me (yes, I know, Aitch); Yellow-streaked Greenbul; Tambourine Dove; Delegorgue’s Pigeon; Crowned Hornbill; Olive Woodpecker; GT Woodpecker; Orange-breasted Bush Shrike; Mountain Wagtail; Red-eyed Dove; Hadeda Ibis; Narina Trogon; HEARD: Wood Owl; Diederik Cuckoo;

Other creatures on the trip: Samango monkey; Red Squirrel; Thick-tailed Bushbaby (heard at night); Rainbow Skink; Banded Forester Butterfly;

Seen on the roads and roadside stops: Jackal Buzzard; Pied Crow; White-naped Raven; Red-collared Widow; Fantailed Widow; Stonechat; Barn Swallow; YBK; Dusky Indigobird; Fiscal Shrike; Dark-capped Bulbul; Palm Swift; Long-crested Eagle; Black-headed Heron; Hamerkop; Pintailed Whydah; Black-chested Snake Eagle; Common Quail; Rufous-naped Lark; Croaking Cisticola; Wing-snap Cisticola; Mocking Cliff-chat; White-bellied Sunbird; Amethyst Sunbird; Brown-backed Honeybird; Black-collared Barbet; Black-crowned Tchagra; Neddicky; Yellow-throated Longclaw;

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bird pics from hbw.com, wikipedia and Johann vd Berg stellenboschbirds.com – thank you