WATCHING A CAPE ROBIN-CHAT

One of the best places, other than in my garden, to watch Cape Robin-Chats (Cossypha caffra) in action is Jack’s Picnic Site in the Addo Elephant National Park. There they have become so accustomed to the regular ebb and flow of human visitors that they happily perch in the shrubbery – and even on the picnic tables – while they watch out for a morsel of food. Here is a sample of some of the many photographs I have taken there of these absolutely delightful birds.

Occasionally a Cape Robin-chat will alight next to one’s vehicle as soon as the doors are open – quite ready to inspect the picnic fare.

Indeed, it has already found what may be a sunflower seed among the gravel – left by a previous visitor to the picnic site.

This one is perched on a wooden step leading down to a picnic site. Its gaze is quite intense.

You can tell that this Cape Robin-chat has a wary look about it.

This youngster is already learning the ropes and is keenly watching the ground on the off chance that some food might appear.

LOOKING AT GIRAFFES

Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) count among my favourite animals in the wild. You would think that their long legs and necks would make them stand out yet, despite them being the world’s tallest mammals, they can easily ‘disappear’ into their environment.

They prefer to inhabit open woodland and wooded grassland, although have also adapted to the desert conditions in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, for example.

When you spot a single giraffe, do take a careful look around for they often occur in small groups.

Naturally enough, their height allows giraffe to browse on leaves and pods above the range of ‘normal’ browsers.

The long prehensile tongue is used to pull food into the mouth which is then stripped from the stems with spatulate incisor teeth. They are exclusively browsers, with most of their feeding confined to the foliage of bushes and trees. Like cows, giraffes spend some time regurgitating their food and chewing the cud.

As you can imagine, it is not easy for a giraffe to drink water. In order to reach the water, they have to spread their legs and bend down in an awkward position that makes them vulnerable to predators such as lions.

Fortunately, giraffes satisfy most of their water needs from the plants they eat and so they do not need to drink water every day.  Giraffes have elastic blood vessels and uniquely adapted valves that help to offset the sudden build-up of blood when their heads are raised, lowered, or swung quickly – as when drinking or fighting.

Both male and female giraffes sport skin-covered knobs (ossicones) on their heads. Female ossicones have a small tuft of fur on top, while male ossicones are bald. These knobs protect the head when males indulge in a ritualized form of fighting known as ‘necking’.

This involves swinging their necks at each other in a show of strength and is carried out during the time a female is in oestrus. They also intertwine their necks, which, to the casual observer, looks like a courtship ritual.

THE COLOUR OF DROUGHT

This is the colour of drought:

The green thicket in the background has bare ground between the trees. The ‘grassland’ in the centre of the scene looks like this:

How can this sustain life, one cannot help wondering. Yet it does. Here a pair of Helmeted Guineafowl look out for something to eat:

While a Common Fiscal keeps its sharp eyes open for an insect or two that dares to move in its presence:

These photographs were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park.

WOODLANDS WATERHOLE

The Woodlands Waterhole is very close to the Main Camp in the Addo Elephant National Park. While it is not very big, it is always worth slowing down when approaching it for more often than not there is something interesting to see. We watched an encounter between a buffalo that had been wallowing in the muddy pool and an elephant arriving for a drink.

A warthog took advantage of a quiet moment to slake its thirst.

An elephant family took over the waterhole for a while.

Once they had ambled off, a herd of zebra that had been waiting patiently in the wings arrived for their share of the water.

This and other waterholes are artificial watering points within the park – all greatly sought after during this long drought.

DRAWN TO WATER

As we are experiencing the heat of summer, it seems fitting to draw attention to the attraction of water for birds and animals. I start in my garden then travel through my archives to a wonderful time spent – oh so long ago – in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

An Olive Thrush chooses a quiet moment to step into the shallow bird bath tucked into a shady section of the garden, where there is plenty of cover nearby to duck into should the need arise. It glances around whilst standing stock-still, as if it is assessing what dangers might be lurking around before it takes a few sips of water then splashes itself liberally in the bird bath.

Five Cape White-eyes gather for a communal drink and bathe at a different bird bath in a sunnier spot – still with plenty of cover to dive into if necessary.

This Speckled Pigeon casts a wary eye upwards before settling into the same bird bath for a drink.

Further afield, a lioness slakes her thirst at a water trough in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

So does a Gemsbok, accompanied by a trio of Cape Turtle Doves.

Lastly, a Yellow Mongoose ignores a swarm of thirsty bees to drink at a bird bath set underneath a communal tap in one of the rest camps in the Kgalagadi.