This Cape Robin-chat is puffed up against the cool breeze. It has an inquisitive look about it.

Quite willing to pose for a photograph though: “This is definitely my best side.” Note the Spekboom in the background – fortunately it remains fresh looking and green despite the drought!


When is a goose-like bird not a goose? When it is a South African Shelduck (Tadorna cana), which looks remarkably like a goose at first glance – particularly when in flight where they could easily be confused with Egyptian Geese. The ‘shel’ of shelduck originates from the Middle-English sheld meaning ‘pied’ – a reference to their plumage. Tadorna is the French word for ‘shelduck’ while cana refers to the greyness of the head. It is the males who sport the grey head and females the white. Both sexes have chestnut bodies marked with black, white and green.

They are fairly commonly found at inland dams and rivers. These ones were photographed at the Hapoor waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park. They eat algae and crustaceans in the water and can also be seen in farmlands where grain crops are grown.

These birds form long-term pair-bond and tend to gather in large flocks to moult after breeding.

South African Shelduck



A group of us were walking through the ruins of Castle Eyre – a fortified tower built by a body of Royal Engineers in 1885 and named after Colonel John Eyre – in Keiskammahoek, when there was a flurry of wings as a Barn Owl (Tyto alba) flew up and out of one of the rooms.

It was clearly unimpressed at having its sleep disturbed and perched in this tree for only a few moments before flying off in disgust.


I once had a fleeting glimpse of a Black-backed Puffback (Dryoscopus cubla) in our garden and got a very poor photograph of it, so was delighted to see this one in a different garden recently.

A member of the Bushshrike family, these birds are commonly found in woodland, thickets as well as in forest canopies – descriptions that both suit parts of our garden and make photographing them difficult. Nonetheless, apart from the characteristic reddish eye, you can see the soft-looking white rump plumes that the males erect when displaying – hence the name ‘puffback’. They mainly feed on insects gleaned from leaves and branches, although are also known to eat fruit.

Their scientific name is an interesting combination of Greek and Hottentot: Dryoscopus comes from the Greek word for ‘the watcher from the trees’ and cubla is said to be derived from a Hottentot word which incorporates the click that imitates the call of the bird.


It was a very travel-worn Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta) that landed at my feet in the middle of the drought-stricken veld the other day.

These attractive butterflies occur over much of South Africa in grasslands and scrub as well as in gardens, where they tend to fly low and rather fast. Judging by the tattered wings of this specimen, I am surprised it could still fly at all! Their habit of returning to more or less the same spot meant that, having spotted it fluttering about, I could wait – fairly patiently – until it returned for a photograph.

I am fascinated by the naming of species and in discovered that the Juno part of the scientific name comes from the Roman goddess, Juno, who possessed a chariot drawn by peacocks.

These birds were sacred to her. For those interested in Roman mythology, she was the wife of Jupiter and was the goddess of marriage and childbirth. Her son was Mars, the god of war. You can read more about her in

Back to the butterfly, the wing patterns of which resemble a pansy – hence the common name. You cannot miss seeing these butterflies, which fortuitously often settle on the ground with their wings open. This one still looks beautiful despite its tattered condition.