THE LOVELY RED HARTEBEEST

The Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) has been featured twice before in this blog. This is not surprising for these plains animals with a conspicuously white rump are always a pleasure to see – especially when their reddish-brown coats shine in the sun.

These two adults are standing close to a youngster in the Addo Elephant National Park. Note the different colour of the young one as well as its short spiky horns. Here is a closer view of a different lanky youngster.

A little further on, an adult picks its way over the dry stony ground towards the water at the Domkrag dam.

There are antelope droppings near its front feet and elephant droppings on the ground ahead of it. They are frequently seen alongside zebra in the plains.

These two appear to be unperturbed by the fighting zebras in their midst. The length and narrow width of the muzzle of the Red Hartebeest make it a selective feeder. Being non-ruminants, zebras are bulk grazers and have wider muzzles that help them to be more tolerant of the available grazing.

TO FALL OFF ONE’S PERCH

To fall off one’s perch is a rather irreverent way of saying that someone has died. It is a rather old-fashioned idiom which, believe it or not, is meant to be humorous. Another meaning I came across for it is to fail, or suffer damage to your status or position.

I have mentioned before that during this drought a number of doves especially seem to have died inexplicably not only in our garden, but in neighbouring ones. Someone suggested a cat may be responsible, having punctured the birds with its claws. It is awful to think of birds dying a slow death as a result. There has been no evidence on any of these birds of obvious marks of an attack or of the deaths resulting from them having flown into the windows.

Yesterday morning, we were enjoying a cup of tea in the shade of the trees on the lawn while watching a few Bronze Mannikins enjoying a meal at one of the feeders, when we heard the sound of something falling through the branches of the tree in front of us. I looked up, expecting to see a twig, and was taken aback by the sight of a bundle of what looked like fur. The object dropped with a thud onto the ground – it was a Speckled Mousebird. It landed on its back, its claws twitched briefly and the long tail feathers lifted slightly then fell back. The bird was dead.

It had literally fallen off its perch! We scanned the tree and the sky for any sign of a snake or a raptor – nothing. Again, there is not a mark on the bird to suggest it had been attacked by anything untoward. Intriguingly, there were no other mousebirds in the area – they are most frequently seen in groups. According to https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/bird-life-expectancy-speckled-mousebird the lifespan of a Speckled Mousebird is eight to ten years. Had this bird simply reached the end of its life?

When I went out this morning, thinking to dispose of the dead bird, all signs of it had disappeared! What took it away during the night? I see no feathers or any sign of it having been eaten on the spot. A trail cam would have been useful.

A REVEALING REFLECTION

The lake Høvringsvatnet is located about 10 kilometres northeast of the village of Evje in Norway, which my son photographed in December.

As you can see, the surface was as calm as a mirror rendering a perfect reflection.

You know what modern cell phones are like, especially if you have the auto rotate function switched on. When I first looked at the picture above, the screen showed it turned around, like this.

I was astounded by what I saw. Perhaps you can take a moment to look at this version more carefully too and see what you can make out in it. My first thought was that this was akin to an intricately carved totem pole of sorts. Can you see the bearded face at the top wearing an elaborate helmet? I can see another, perhaps a sadder, face below the broad brown band. Above that is a black and white skull … there may be an eagle and an owl …

What can you see?

GLADIOLUS MORTONIUS

It was while driving around the outskirts of town that I came across two plants with beautiful pink flowers growing amidst the grass on the verge.

These look like a Gladiolus and have the typical sword-shaped leaves of that species, but I have never seen such a lovely pink version before. The blooms are salmon-coloured with attractive streaks of red – could they have come from someone’s garden, I wondered, even though we were far away from the nearest houses.

It appears from my Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa by John Manning that they might be Gladiolus mortonius, commonly known as the Small Salmon Gladiolus that grows in open stony grassland in the Eastern Cape. I saw these flowers two years ago and, although I often drive along this particular stretch of road, have not seen them since. I will keep a careful look out for them as they might bloom after the recent rain we have enjoyed.

PICKWICK

What springs to mind when you read or hear the word PICKWICK?

Would it be The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens? Correctly titled, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, this was the first novel that great writer published – not in novel form but initially as a series of monthly instalments published by Chapman and Hall. This is an excerpt from the trial, which I have selected for the delightful drawing alongside.

If you click on this picture you will find the text easier to read.

It comes from an anthology of my mother’s entitled Humorous readings from Charles Dickens by Peter Haworth and published in 1939. Such connections interest me, so forgive my digression: I see he was the Professor of English at what was then known as Rhodes University College – now Rhodes University – in Grahamstown, which my mother attended as a student and where I now reside. I am guessing it was one of the texts she studied at the time.

If reading Charles Dickens is not your cup of tea, would the word PICKWICK ring any tea bells in your head?

Pickwick seems such an English name that I was taken aback to discover that this blend of mostly Sri Lankan teas actually comes from the Netherlands! Not only that, but it was originally known as Douwe Egberts – a name I readily associate with delicious instant coffee that we can purchase here. The mystery was solved when I read that it was the wife of one of the directors at Douwe Egberts, who suggested this very English name after having enjoyed reading none other than The Pickwick Papers, so there is a connection after all!

Note the dew drops (freshness) and the picture of a tea clipper on the cover of the tea bag. In their day these were the fastest trading ships to ply the oceans, so there is a suggestion of speed to underscore the freshness of the product within.

As with so many of the teas I have had the privilege to taste, this was a gift – sadly I have not seen it available in this country for, if it was, I would have no hesitation in purchasing some. This Earl Grey tea was delicious!

BAR-THROATED APALIS

I remember hearing this bird long before actually seeing it in my garden. I heard its call in the veld too as well as along coastal thickets. It seemed to be such a distinct sound, yet I couldn’t tell what made it. Isn’t it strange how once one is able to match a bird to its call, it seems to ‘stand out’ more than ever before. The first Bar-throated Apalis (Apalis thoracica) I identified was in our garden. It was flitting through the hedge of Cape Honeysuckle behind our kitchen while I was cooking. I saw this bird … then I heard it making that distinctive call … and the connection was made! Now I see and hear them regularly.

While they commonly occur within South Africa, these birds can be seen all along the eastern side of Africa, through Tanzania and even into Kenya. It is known in Afrikaans as Bandkeelkleinjantjie. The ‘bar-throated’ refers to the distinctive black band that separates the throat from the breast. Another distinctive aspect is its long and strongly graduated tail.

Their black bill is fairly long and slender. I usually see these birds flitting about in the foliage of the trees and shrubs in our garden, gleaning food from the bark and twigs, although they also forage for food on the ground.

They generally eat insects such as butterflies, caterpillars, bees, wasps, locusts and I have watched them catching and eating ants. The Bar-throated Apalis also eats fruits and seeds. I frequently wonder how such relatively small birds cope with being parasitized by the larger Klaas’s Cuckoo or the Red-chested Cuckoo.

These photographs were all taken during various visits to the Addo Elephant National Park.

TAKING A BREAK

The year has started with its usual nonsense of having to be here, do that, go there, pull this, load that. We need a break – a real one – albeit out in the open. This pile of sand left over from some or other building operation is not only warm, it is soft and good to roll around on. Hey! We almost blend into our background – no-one will take much notice of us!

And so it was that I happened upon this pair of donkeys fast asleep on a pavement in the suburbs. When I stopped to look at them they opened their eyes, looked at me then fell back. The one on the right then bestirred itself to have a good back scratch while it rolled – then they both had more shut-eye.