A REVIEW OF 2018

The statistics provided for our blogs make interesting reading, particularly as I look back on another year of posting about this or that. That most of my viewers are from South Africa pleases me, for it is my home audience after all. The United States of America and the United Kingdom provide the next most viewers – although the spectrum of viewers from all over the world is exciting, for it is good to know that what I post has a broad appeal.

I am intrigued that the top search term remains black jack plant.

It is thus not surprising that the most popular post is Weeds with a History, which was first published in 2015. It received seven views then and 323 views this year! This post came about as a result of a trip we did through the Free State at a time when the Cosmos flowers were blooming; we had walked through the veld to view military graves and returned covered in Black Jack seeds; and had inadvertently crushed Khakibos underfoot, which released a particularly fragrant aroma I have always associated with my childhood in the Lowveld.

All three of these weeds came to this country as a result of feed brought in for the British horses during the Anglo-Boer War.

The next most popular post is War Horses: the role of horses in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). This was posted in 2016 after a trip to KwaZuluNatal during which we visited the horse memorial at the Weston Agricultural College. Even though I was familiar with the well-known horse memorial in Port Elizabeth, I found this a particularly moving experience and felt compelled to research and write about the role horses played during this war.

It was viewed 49 times in 2016 and 297 times this year, which encouraged me to conduct further research and to write about this topic in greater detail to present as a talk to three very different audiences.

What has taken me by surprise though is the popularity of the post on Flying Ants, which was also published in 2016, gaining an initial nine views then and garnering 233 this year – simply an observation of what was happening in my garden!

What about the posts published in 2018 then? Blackjacks tops the list – this is a more in-depth exploration of these weeds which came about as a result of the popularity of the search term. My short story, Poor Uncle Kevin couldn’t go to the party – based on my son’s dog which died this year – came second, with National Bird of South Africa – the Blue Crane – coming third.

Thank you to everyone who has taken time to read my posts, to those who have become followers, and especially to those who have liked and commented on my posts. This has been a wonderful way to connect with readers and has enriched my blogging experience enormously.

I hope you will all enjoy a happy festive season.

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BIRTH IN SUBURBIA

This cow, a member of the expanding Urban Herd, gave birth unaided in the middle of a patch of Senecio flowers growing on some open ground outside some houses in the middle of a suburb.

In no time at all, two local dogs came sniffing around.

The cow was still raw.

Her udder was distended.

While she must have already eaten her placenta, the dogs seemed to be particularly interested in something in the patch of flowers once the cow and her calf had moved away.

By then she had endured enough of their unwelcome attention and nudged her calf towards the relative safety of a nearby park.

We saw them elsewhere in the town a week later: cow and calf appear to be thriving.

A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

It is almost a given that camping at one of our national parks will involve at least one encounter with Vervet Monkeys. Seasoned campers keep their food out of sight and lock their caravans or tents when they are away from the camping area – be aware that if you do not have a built-in groundsheet, your food remains a target as monkeys know all about crawling underneath the canvas! Visitors are warned not to feed them – as ‘cute’ as they might look – and rubbish bins have been designed with a rolling lid to make it difficult for monkeys to pull anything out of them in their quest to find something to eat.

These bins are emptied regularly and every morning someone visits the campsites to clear away the remains of any braai fires from the night before. There is not a great deal more that the authorities can do. Yet, there must be enough pickings around to make it worthwhile for the monkeys to systematically comb the rest camp for food during the course of the morning and the early afternoons, when the rest camp is very quiet. That is when many visitors are driving through the wildlife area, sitting in the bird hide or … resting.

During such a lull one afternoon, I heard of someone’s car keys being snatched away by a monkey; our neighbours found moneys had entered their open vehicle while they were chatting to other neighbours nearby; and I watched as one by one monkeys would alight on our trailer parked next to a Spekboom hedge.

They used the roof of the neighbouring caravan as a lookout point.

One of the monkeys had stolen a muffin and sat on the caravan roof to enjoy his booty. It was quickly joined by two others. The first monkey was unwilling to share, so leapt up into the tall branches of the adjacent fig tree to eat it in solitude.

Seasoned camper that I am, I too fell victim to the monkeys whilst we were breaking camp and the trailer lid was left open for ease of packing: away went a bunch of bananas … away went the remains of the vanilla biscuits I had baked for the trip – they dropped my plastic container though.

A blessing – yes, because they are fun to watch; a curse – yes, because nothing is safe from their inherent inquisitiveness!

FRIEND OR FOE?

Farmers do not regard these wily creatures as friends, yet they are a delight to observe in their natural habitat.

Black-backed Jackals tend to mate for life and so, should you see one in the veld, you can virtually be certain there is another in the vicinity. A pair of them trotted purposefully along the edge of Ghwarrie Pan shortly after sunrise one morning. It was at Carol’s Rest though that we observed an interesting altercation between a Black-backed Jackal and a Pied Crow.

The latter had already experienced an unsuccessful attempt to share the small waterhole with an Egyptian Goose that had arrived out of the blue – with no intention of sharing the water with anyone!

Once the Egyptian Goose had drunk its fill and flown off, the Pied Crow was in no mood to be ousted from its drinking spot again and made sure the approaching Black-backed Jackal was aware of this. Doubtless, the jackal was thirsty too and so it kept trotting purposefully towards the water. The crow opted to make a pre-emptive strike.

It continued to harass the jackal until it gave up and moved away to drink from the overflow a little further down the slope.

ADDO ELEPHANTS

Elephants tend to move around in family groups led by a matriarch. These elephants in such a group were quenching their thirst at Ghwarrie Pan in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Male offspring are ousted from these closely-knit family groups once they reach the age of about twelve and they start to show a more than brotherly interest in the females. This must be a difficult period for these young bulls until they team up with other bulls or attach themselves to an older bull. This young bull had followed the family group pictured above from a discreet distance. It refrained from joining them, but constantly smelled the ground they had covered.

It waited patiently until the family group had crossed to the other side of the water before moving to where they had been drinking. It was only once his former family group began walking towards the lip of the hill that he finally began to drink from their last position at the dam.

Of course it is always exciting to get close to elephants in this park, where you often don’t really need a fancy camera to get pictures such as this:

Or this one:

Hapoor waterhole is a marvellous place to spend time watching groups of elephants greeting each other, young ones playing with each other, or simply to observe the actions of these majestic animals.

One shouldn’t become too complacent about the apparent gentleness or the tolerance the Addo elephants seem to have for tourists and their vehicles. It is best to maintain a healthy respect for them, to give way to them, and to allow them the space the need to move.

 

A DAZZLE OF ZEBRAS

I have probably mentioned before that the pattern of stripes on every zebra is unique, rather like the whorls of our finger prints. This is evident if we look at individuals closely instead of simply seeing a herd of zebra in passing. Look at these three zebra faces and you will see what I mean:

While they brighten up any landscape, Burchell’s zebra fill an important niche in veld management as they are bulk grazers that can eat grass of a medium to short length, although they prefer shorter grasses which are high in nutrients such as nitrogen. Themeda triandra and Cynodon dactylon are their preferred grass species. Like the Cape buffalo and the wildebeest, they have a tolerance for the fibrous grasses which many other grazers prefer to avoid.

Burchell’s zebra are water dependent and are said to drink about 12 litres per day.

This is the time of the year for foals to be born. This one is resting after having gambolled round and round his mother, chased a warthog and jumped over an ant heap a few times:

SCRUB HARE

It is always worth waiting for a while at a waterhole, even when there appears to be nothing of interest there at first. A lot of visitors ignore the birds and terrapins that frequent these places. They park, scan the surroundings, see no animals and leave. Having watched the interaction between Egyptian Geese and South African Shelducks for a little while, I turned my attention to the surrounding veld – we had already watched two Blackbacked Jackals passing along the edge of Ghwarrie Pan and so I was curious to see if anything else might be approaching the water from behind us.

Nothing. Or so I thought. Then my attention was caught by a slight movement in the grass – a very slight movement without a shape or form to identify it at first. There it was again, only this time I could make out ears – long ears at that!

Scrub Hares rely on their long ears to detect danger. For how long had that Scrub Hare been foraging not far from where were parked?

Scrub Hares (Lepus saxatilis) tend to be solitary animals. Their fur is a grizzled grey colour with blotches of small black areas in between – colouration that enables them to blend in with their environment and so escape detection.

Apart from their size, the pure white underparts of the Scrub Hare easily distinguishes them from the Cape Hare.

Although they are found all over South Africa, they are not always that easy to see as they tend to hide during the middle of the day. They are typically nocturnal animals, coming out at night and in the late afternoon on overcast days. I think that is why we were fortunate enough to come across this one shortly before sunset. Their large eyes are indicative of their nocturnal habits.