EARTH DAY IN ADDO

What better place to celebrate Earth Day than to spend time away from a built-up environment: we chose to visit the nearby Addo Elephant National Park. Some visitors had close-up views of lions, spotted hyenas and even a black rhino. We didn’t draw that card, but observed a number of interesting things nonetheless.

It is the rutting season for kudu. Large herds of kudu does accompanied by one or two males appeared in several sections of the park we drove through, especially around Rooidam. Our attention was drawn to a loud hollow-sounding ‘thunking’ noise close to the road: two kudu bulls were sparring; kicking up dust as they locked horns and pushed each other this way and that.

What magnificent horns they sported. This is the victor of that encounter.

The heat drew herds of elephant to the bigger waterholes. We watched a group of four adults and two youngsters approach the small Marion Baree waterhole. They sprayed themselves with water on arrival.

They then moved to the mud hole next door, where the elephants scooped up balls of thick mud to throw over their backs.

By then the water in the concrete-lined dam had settled so a few drank before watching patiently as a youngster claimed the shallow dam for its own fun.

One has to watch out for dung beetles crossing the road at this time of the year.

Zebras with their painted faces did not disappoint.

Several came to quench their thirst at Domkrag.

A large flock of Pied Starlings came to join them.

A Karoo Scrub Robin came to investigate.

An inquisitive Egyptian Goose approached our vehicle at Hapoor.

Several Fork-tailed Drongos kept an eye on us at the Rest Camp water hole.

As did some Cape Glossy Starlings, looking magnificent in the late afternoon sunlight.

My bird list for the day:

Redwinged Starling
Barthroated Apalis
Fiscal Shrike
Speckled Mousebird
Southern Boubou
Common Moorhen
Redbilled Teal
Backsmith Plover
Redknobbed Coot
Spurwing Goose
Karoo Scrub Robin
Pied Crow
Common Ringed Plover
Egyptian Goose
South African Shelduck
Bokmakierie
Black Crow
Cape Sparrow
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Robin
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Korhaan
Helmeted Guineafowl
Crowned Plover
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Cape Wagtail
Grey heron
Forktailed Drongo
Cape Glossy Starling
Laughing Dove

KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK

The yearning is swelling within to make another long trek to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: to experience the space, the silence, the starlit skies you can almost touch, and the complete lack of connectivity with cell phones and the internet.

It can be hot and dry; the wind can whip up clouds of desert sand; it can also be icy cold. It is a remote place that has crept into my heart and tugs at me every so often. Here are some examples of why this is one of the places I love to visit:

Gemsbok are endemic to this arid region – they are such regal animals.

Springbuck appear in large herds, reminiscent of what it must have been like before senseless European hunters bagged as many as they could in the name of fun.

Spotted hyenas help clean the veld of bones and so help prevent the spread of diseases.

Blue wildebeest gather around the small, concrete-lined waterholes and seek the shade of scrawny trees during the hottest part of the day.

What a privilege it is to see a ratel / honey badger out in the open like this.

Then, of course, everyone keeps a sharp eye out for lions!

CAPE GREY MONGOOSE

This was no April Fool’s joke: as I was about to open the French doors leading to the pool area I halted at the sight of a Cape Grey Mongoose (also known as the Small Grey Mongoose) snuffling around at the base of the tree housing the bird feeding tray. I watched in awe as it picked up titbits dropped by the birds while it circled the tree.

There was little chance of it waiting for me to fetch my camera from upstairs, so I opened a window from above as quietly as I could – hence the photographs are not as clear as I would have liked – to get photographic evidence that these creatures are indeed residents of, or visitors to, our garden.

We have seen glimpses of a mongoose from time to time over the past year or two. Once I even caught sight of a mongoose sunning itself on the bricks at the end of the swimming pool. It disappeared into the thicket of aloes so quickly that it was difficult to identify which mongoose it was. A year or two ago, a neighbour reported seeing a mongoose running across the street to scuttle into our property …

From the storey above I could see the mongoose sniff the air cautiously before leaping up into the fork of the tree to remove some bread that had been left there for the birds. At that point the neighbouring Hound came lumbering along to see what he could find below the bird feeders and the mongoose disappeared in a flash!

The Cape Grey Mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta) is a solitary creature and I imagine our garden must be a comfortable site for it as they prefer bushy areas and feed on insects and small rodents – perhaps it is the mongoose presence that is keeping the rat population at bay – fruit and birds. Although the Cape Grey Mongoose is diurnal, it prefers to rest in the shade during the hottest part of the day – which may explain why the birds tend to visit the feeders later in the day.

AFRICAN BUFFALO

The very name Addo Elephant National Park conjures up images of elephants and that is what most visitors expect to see when they arrive. While it is true that on some visits we have literally seen over a hundred elephants, there have been times when we have been fortunate to see the odd one here and there – and even times when not a single elephant has made an appearance!

One has to be patient though and simply driving around the park from one water hole to another is not likely to yield the best results. Be prepared to wait and keep your mind open for other possibilities. I find that African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) – also known as Cape Buffalo – are worth watching, whether you come across a single one or a herd.

Occasionally we have been fortunate enough to observe a buffalo encountering an elephant at a waterhole.

Or cooling off in one on its own.

These bulk grazers bear interestingly shaped horns with those of the males being characterised by a heavy boss.

Their heavy-set bodies and thick legs carry no particular markings, yet I find their faces are fascinating to observe.

R IS FOR RHINOCEROUS

The rhinocerous species is under siege in this country for they are being decimated by unscrupulous poachers who kill them for their horns. The demand for these is fuelled from markets abroad. Local inhabitants were delighted when two rhino poachers were caught virtually red-handed in our town last year – we continue to hope that more will be brought to book.

rhinocerous

Many schools and organisations around the country are involved with raising funds for the protection and care of rhinos along with creating an awareness of both their importance and their vulnerability. Here is an example of one of them.

dsg-rhino

On a more personal level, this birthday cake is a fine example of how youngsters are taking the message of rhino conservation to heart.

rhinocake

HORSE MEMORIAL – PORT ELIZABETH

It was in March 2016 that I wrote about the role of horses in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and I have been taken aback by the number of times that particular post has been read since then.

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To refresh your memory, or if this is your first visit on the subject, I quote from that entry:

Only three years after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, the first Horse Memorial was unveiled in Port Elizabeth on 11th February 1905 to commemorate the horses which had suffered and died during that war. The inscription on the base reads:

THE GREATNESS OF A NATION
CONSISTS NOT SO MUCH IN THE NUMBER OF ITS PEOPLE
OR THE EXTENT OF ITS TERRITORY
AS IN THE EXTENT AND JUSTICE OF ITS COMPASSION

ERECTED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION
IN RECOGNITION OF THE SERVICES OF THE GALLANT ANIMALS
WHICH PERISHED IN THE ANGLO BOER WAR 1899-1902

I mentioned then that the purpose of the memorial seemed to have been missed by the group of people – supposedly members of the EFF – who vandalised the memorial on 6th April 2015 by toppling the kneeling soldier in front of the horse, who is offering it water from a bucket.

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Near the end of last year I had the opportunity to visit the Horse Memorial after students from the Art Department at the Nelson Mandela University had restored it. By being able to look at it closely – instead of driving past it in the flow of traffic – I was struck by the attention to detail of the memorial and wish to share these with you.

The leather satchel at the rear of the saddle would typically have been used for keeping spare horse shoes.

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The blade of this sword has been missing for a number of years.

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At the time it was erected, the Horse Memorial included a trough that was filled with water for horses to drink from. That need fell away with the widespread use of motor vehicles. The memorial has since been moved to what is now a traffic island and the trough has been filled in.

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