BLACKEYED BULBUL (2)

I have written about Blackeyed Bulbuls before and am pleased to see and hear these cheerful birds back in our garden after a short absence. They have been re-named Dark-capped Bulbuls (Pycnonotus tricolor) and are easily recognisable by their dark head, dark eye-ring and the yellow vent below their tails. These are conspicuous birds with a lively chattering call sometimes described as klip, klop kollop with enough variations to make one look more closely to be sure that it is indeed a Blackeyed Bulbul one is hearing! I have also heard their call quite accurately described as ‘doctor-quick doctor-quick be-quick be-quick’.

I often see these birds sitting on top of the trees or bushes calling out to one another across the garden. They have probably returned to feed on the plentiful nectar provided by the aloes as well as the berries borne by several trees in our garden. They also eat insects – of which there are many in our garden.

Note: In light of the reference to Cape Bulbuls below, I include a picture of one for comparison.

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MUNICIPAL MUSCLE

Every time the strong Berg Winds blow, the areas closest to the Municipal rubbish dump get plastered with plastic bags, cardboard and other debris – the rubbish dump is full; it is an eyesore; it seldom – if ever – gets covered over with a layer of soil. The bulldozer / frontend loader is broken we are told as often as a scratched record will repeat that snatch of song until the needle is physically moved along.

When those strong winds blow the flames of veld fires in that area, there are plenty of flammable materials to burn. The dump does not only burn accidentally, it is frequently set alight deliberately by people who wish to extract metal / keep warm on a cold night / enjoy fires … parts of the town become covered in toxic smoke that has residents living in its path snatch up their telephones to complain to the the Municipality … only to have them ringing in their ears until they cut out automatically. Why answer the telephone when you have no answer to placate the irate callers?

I was attracted to my front gate a few mornings ago by the sound of heavy equipment being deployed just across the road.

A frontend loader was muscling its way into the tangle of Cape Honeysuckle and Plumbago growing on the slope edging from our street towards they bridge. A closer look revealed that it appeared to be attacking an infestation of Prickly Pear. You can see the large leaves on the ground in front of the wheels.

The odd stump got knocked over too and collected.

Everything was dumped into the awaiting trucks – doubtless to be removed to the Municipal rubbish dump.

The frontend loader went back and forth as it gouged at the vegetation … and then it and the trucks left, never to return. This is what was left in their wake:

Plenty of Prickly Pear leaves ready to dig in and grow again. So much for Municipal Muscle!

CAMO-MAN AND HIS DOG

“Dogs are not allowed in the reserve.” Leon spoke sternly to the older man wearing a camouflage-patterned hat and T-shirt, noting the shiny brass and copper bangle adorning his bony right wrist.

“Muffy won’t harm anything,” Camo-man responded. “She goes everywhere with me.” He flashed a grin of even white teeth against a deeply tanned skin, revealing a deep dimple in his right cheek.

“Not here she doesn’t.” Leon stared at Camo-man unflinchingly. “The rules clearly state that no dogs – or pets of any kind – are allowed.”

Camo-man was fondling Muffy on his lap. “Come on, man, she’s just a little dog.” Was the man wheedling or whining? Either way, Leon was in a hurry to check on the roadworks near the waterhole some distance ahead.

“Take that damned dog back to reception or leave,” he said tersely, slightly revving the engine of his 4 x 4 bakkie to emphasise the point. Why did Camo-man look so teasingly familiar? “I’ll radio through for Jonas to keep it in the yard. Are you planning to be here for long?” He was already holding the receiver to his chin.

“No, no, she wouldn’t like that.” Camo-man nuzzled the little dog’s fluffy neck. “You wouldn’t like that, would you Muffy girl?”

“Best you get going then.” Leon eyed him curiously. “I’ll radio them to expect you.”

At that point, Muffy leapt out of the car window and raced into the veld barking furiously. “Muffy! Oh Muffy! Now you’ve frightened her!” Camo-man was visibly upset and opened his door. “Muffy!” he called helplessly. “Muffy!”

Leon glared at him, replaced the receiver, switched off the engine, and opened the door of his truck in one fluid movement. “Stay there!” he ordered Camo-man and set off after the little dog trotting ahead in the long grass.

“Muffy!” Leon felt stupid calling out such a name for that floor-mop of a dog. “Muffy, come here!” The dog stopped briefly, wagged its tail furiously and tore off after a Three-striped Field mouse scampering between tufts of grass. It got away, leaving Muffy looking bewildered. “Muffy.” Leon’s voice was gentler now. “Come here, Muffy.” He sat on his haunches, extending his hand towards the dog.

In the background he could hear Camo-man still calling his floor-mop. “Come here girl.” Leon eased his way forward. “You’ve had enough adventures for one day.” The dog edged closer until Leon could just fondle its ears. “That’s it, Muffy. This is no place for you.” He could stroke the floor-mop’s back now and watched the fluffy tail wagging at full speed. With a quick movement, Leon scooped up the dog and, holding it firmly against his chest, he strode back to the car.

“How can I thank you enough?” Camo-man was standing next to his car as they approached. “Muffy! You were a bad dog. A very bad dog,” he remonstrated as soon as he had taken charge of his floor-mop once more. “You could have been eaten by a lion or a leopard – or even a hyena!”

“See why dogs aren’t allowed in the reserve?” Noting the obvious attachment between Camo-man and the floor-mop, he spoke more kindly. “You’re welcome back at any time – but without the hound!”

As Leon settled back behind the steering wheel he became aware of Camo-man asking softly, “Do you ever come into town?”

Leon stared at him in surprise. “Of course, why?”

Camo-man held out a card. “Man, I owe you a meal. Join me at the Ball and Beetle sometime for supper. I’ll be there for the next ten days.”

Leon nodded, stretched out to take the card and waved to Camo-man who was driving away with his windows rolled up. What an odd-ball Leon thought, slipping the card into his shirt pocket. He drove off to check on the repairs being done to the road ahead, still wondering if he had ever seen Camo-man before.

Much later that afternoon, Leon halted to watch two black rhino emerge from a mud bath in a pool next to a road not yet open to tourists. He marvelled at their steady, myopic gaze in his direction and at the patterns of the mud drying on their hides. He guzzled the last of his water and wiped the back of his hand across his brow: another day without lunch, he thought grimly as he headed for home.

It was four days later that Leon wearily entered his house as the sun sank behind the hills, tossed his sweat-stained hat onto a chair and opened the fridge: not even a beer greeted him – a clear reminder that it had been a while since he had purchased supplies in town. He sniffed at the contents of a closed container on the bottom shelf, wrinkled his nose and tossed it into the bin. Now what?

He idly picked up the card Camo-man had given him and turned it over, then he smiled broadly: Camo-man was actually Philip Redfern, the country and western singer whose music had kept him company on the many long trips he had made between the Eastern Cape reserve and his parents’ farm in the Lowveld. Philip Redfern! That’s why Camo-man had such a familiar look about him. Impulsively Leon dialled the number on the card.

“I’ve missed lunch again,” he said bluntly after introducing himself. “Any chance of that dinner tonight? I could do with some company.”

“Sure thing.” Camo-man – Philip – sounded oddly pleased. “It gets lonely on the road too. Stay for the show, or at least a part of it. I start singing at around eight.”

It takes all sorts to make the world, Leon mused as he changed into a clean khaki shirt and trousers.

BIRDS OF BOPHUTHATSWANA

Before you ask “Where is that?”, Bophuthatswana was one of the so-called ‘homelands’ within South Africa that was declared a self-governing state in June 1972. Five years later, on 6th December 1977, it was granted independence by the South African government, although this was only recognised by South Africa and the other independent state known as the Transkei. We lived in the capital city, Mmabatho, for eight years – from the time it was a motley collection of houses plonked on the open veld with no streets to speak of until it had grown into a recognisable city with all the amenities one might expect. The country was reincorporated into South Africa on 27th April 1994 and is now part of what is known as the North West Province.

Politics aside, there were a number of interesting birds commonly found in that part of the country, of which this commemorative cover shows five. The stamps were designed by the artist Dick Findlay, who was well-known for his ornithological paintings. He also designed South African postage stamps and coins.

The birds depicted here are, from left to right, the Pied Babbler – small flocks of these dove-sized birds make a harsh babbling sound while they hunt for insects.

Carmine Bee-eaters are beautiful summer migrants that gather in large flocks at their roosting places at dusk. They too feed on insects.

The Shaft-tailed Whydah is a seed-eater that does not build its own nest. The female lays her eggs in the nests of other birds, such as the Violet-eared Waxbill (which is shown on the left-hand side of the commemorative cover).

Meyer’s Parrots are commonly found in small groups in the dry thornveld near a water source. Their diet consists of fruit, berries and seeds.