WARTHOGS

The Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) has successfully expanded its range in the Eastern Cape since its introduction to various game farms and reserves during the 1970s. The name refers to the warts carried by the boar, while the Afrikaans name, Vlakvark (Plains Pig), points to its habit of roaming plains as well as in open savanna woodland and sparse shrub land.

Warthogs are fond of mud baths and are found along watercourses and marshlands, preferring to be close to water sources.

It is always interesting to watch warthog kneeling to dig out roots – up to a depth of 15 cm – with their tusks and muscular snouts. They also have an endearing habit of trotting off into the bush with their tails held erect like an aerial.

Here is a warthog family resting in the shade.

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NATIONAL GRAZING STRATEGY

On the 5th May 1989, the South African Post Office issued a series of stamps to highlight the National Grazing Strategy. Internal postage for ordinary letters at the time was 18 cents and the image, designed by Denis Murphy, is a frightening one titled Mensgemaakte woestyn (Man-made desert).

The 30 cent one is titled Die aarde breek (The earth breaks) and depicts the same scene some years later, when most of the earth has been eroded away to form a deep donga (a steep-sided gully formed by soil erosion – an Afrikaans word that originated in the nineteenth century from Nguni donga, meaning washed out gully).

Here is an example of such a donga in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Before you blame the National Parks for negligence, bear in mind that this donga would have been on one of the original farms purchased to create this park.

Much is being done on farms, nature reserves and in national parks to curb the adverse effects of soil erosion. Examples include:

Planting Spekboom in the Great Fish River Nature Reserve:

The provision of gabions on top of and next to culverts under the road in the Great Fish River nature Reserve:

Breaking the flow of storm water run-off from the roads in the Mountain Zebra National Park:

A land rehabilitation project in the Mountain Zebra National Park:

Getting back to the stamps: I do not have copies at hand, but the 40 cent stamp, titled The helping hand, depicts a dam that has been built in that deep donga. The 50 cent stamp moves on by several years, by which time the dam is full and the area is grassed over – there is even a leafy tree growing in the foreground – I can’t help thinking this is wishful thinking combined with artistic licence! This one is aptly titled The land rejoices.

Let us all take care of the soil and the vegetation that covers it!

ERYTHROS

Erythros is the Greek word for red. The genus Erythrina is derived from this word – an allusion to the colour of the flowers, such as this Erythrina lysistemon, photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park.

I have often mentioned the Erythrina caffra that towers over our back garden. Collectively, Erythrinas are known as coral trees these days, although some also refer to them as ‘lucky bean trees’. This is a reference to the bright red seeds that split from the black pods. These can be found scattered on the ground below the trees and are often collected simply to look pretty in jars, or to be made into necklaces or bracelets.

Combine erythros with phobia to form erythrophobia and you have the word to describe an extreme fear of blushing, or a hypersensitivity to the colour red. My dictionary also gives me erythrocyte, which is a blood cell of vertebrates that transports oxygen and carbon dioxide combined with haemoglobin.

Given all this information, could we then (just for fun) describe a particularly red sunset as an ‘erythrostic’ sunset? I present two examples, both taken in the Kruger National Park, for you to look at while you decide.

WILD FOXGLOVES

The Wild Foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba) reminds me of summer and early autumn in the Lowveld. Ceratotheca refers to the horned capsules and originates from the Greek kerato (horned) and theke (a case), while triloba refers to the plant having three leaves.

It might not be as ‘showy’ as the exotic ones favoured by gardeners, but it has a beauty of its own – especially when seen growing in clumps, as we did in the Kruger National Park.

The bottom flowers bloom first and form fruits while buds are developing higher up. Here a plant is being given a thorough going through by a Baboon.

This process left many of the tall spikes stripped of their blossoms and the stems bent and broken.

It is always pleasing to see them on our infrequent visits to KwaZulu-Natal too.

Here it is easier to get a closer look at the trumpet-shaped lilac flowers with their characteristic dark streaks at the throat. The latter are easier to see from close up as the flowers hang in clusters – hiding this beautiful aspect from the average passer-by.

They tend to grow in disturbed soil and so are commonly seen along the side of the road and in grasslands. Despite its name, this ‘foxglove’ actually belongs to the ‘sesame’ family!

MONITOR LIZARDS

There is a game for four players printed on the reverse of the map of the Mountain Zebra National Park. Photographs of the animals, a few prominent birds, and a Rock Monitor Lizard have been allocated various points – adding to the fun of totalling one’s views at the end of the game drive to see who spotted the most animals first along the way. It is a great way of keeping younger members of the family interested for longer than they might else be.

Looks can be deceiving, especially when something is seen in haste and the ‘proof’ is a small photograph worth eight points! Thus, while we were parked next to Doornhoek Dam watching the antics of various water birds, the youngest member of our party looked down and called out triumphantly “I am watching a Rock Monitor Lizard!”

She must have had a good view of it from her window; I had to twist around and then try to focus with my telephoto lens in a hurry – not very successful with the grass in the way! In two ticks it had slipped into the water from where it kept a beady eye on a pair of Red-knobbed Coots swimming nearby. They must have been aware of its presence too as they immediately swam out a little further from the grassy bank.

‘It’: upon reflection, this was not a Rock Monitor Lizard, but a Nile Monitor Lizard (Varanus niloticus), also known as a leguaan or waterlikkewaan in South Africa. I am grateful for the beautifully clear photographs that Chad Keates has published of the two types of monitor lizards in his blog https://nextgenherpetologist.co.za/2016/12/23/the-monitor-lizards-of-southern-africa/ which easily clarified the identification as my own photograph is ‘waterlogged’ as you can see:

This one, photographed at Transport Dam in the Kruger National Park was more co-operative:

A Rock Monitor Lizard (Varanus albigularis) kept us entertained one late afternoon in the Satara Camp of the Kruger National Park, sending doves and glossy starlings flying as it made its way across the ground:

Then climbed a tree!

SIX BIRDS IN THE MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK

Only six birds? No, there were many more for the montane grasslands of the Mountain Zebra National Park is an interesting environment for bird watching. I have featured birds in previous posts and so have chosen only these. Within minutes of passing through the entrance gate I was enchanted to spot a flock of Scaly-feathered Finches perched in the low bushes.

White-browed Sparrow-Weavers flocked around us in the camp site while we pitched our tent and kept us company throughout our stay: their cheerful calls were evident from first light until the last and they were so tame that they would happily hop between our feet to peck at tasty crumbs of anything that might have fallen from our laps.

Their untidy nests are evident both in the camp and in the veld.

The camp site is an interesting place to see birds, among which was this Pied Starling feeding its youngster:

It was along the Rooiplaat Loop that we spotted our first pair of Blue Cranes, and saw at least two other pairs elsewhere in the Park. This pair was happy to wander among a herd of Black Wildebeest.

I found it difficult to photograph the Rock Kestrels perched atop trees in the valley next to the Wilgerboom River for the light always seemed to be wrong. This is the best of a poor bunch:

This is the area where I found a very co-operative Brown-hooded Kingfisher:

The weather was overcast and dull; the temperature was cool, and a fairly strong breeze blew for much of the time. Given that this two-day stay was not focused on birding, I am pleased with my list:

African Darter
African Red-eyed Bulbul
Ant-eating Chat
Barn Swallow
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-shouldered Kite
Blue Crane
Bokmakierie
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Cape Sparrow
Cape Teal
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Common Fiscal
Common Moorhen
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood-dove
Fork-tailed Drongo
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Laughing Dove
Namaqua Dove
Ostrich
Pearl-breasted Swallow
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-knobbed Coot
Rock Kestrel
Scaly-feathered Finch
Secretary Bird
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spur-wing Goose
Verreaux’s Eagle
White-breasted Cormorant
White-browed Sparrow-weaver
White-necked Raven
Yellow-billed Duck

ANTELOPE IN THE MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK

Naturally enough, we expect to see Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra) in the Mountain Zebra National Park situated on the northern slopes of the Bankberg near Cradock.

While we saw a lot of them, a variety of antelope populate the area too. Among these are Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus caama):

This is a predominantly grazing species that prefers medium-height grass and so are plentiful in the plateau area of Rooiplaat and Juriesdam.

It is wonderful to see large herds of South Africa’s national animal, the Springbuck (Antidorcas marsupialis), grazing in the veld all over the Park.

We did not see as many Gemsbok (Oryx gazelle) as we have on previous visits. This one was bounding across the grassland with considerable haste.

It was very interesting to happen upon a small herd of Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula) and to watch how quickly and nimbly they could run up the steep, rocky, mountain slope!

The Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) were scattered here and there. They are mainly browsers rather than grazers.

Sizeable herds of Black Wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) as well as individuals abound in the Park.