BIRD BATHS AND BEES

Just as people, birds and animals seek water to drink when the weather is hot and dry, so do bees. The water in this shallow bird bath at the entrance to the Mountain Zebra National Park is edged with bees and flies taking in much-needed moisture.

Communal taps inevitably drip. Some taps in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park have simple cement bird baths placed under them which both helps to save water and provides for the thirst of bees – lots of them. One actually has to approach these taps with care.

Birds and animals have to approach these watering points with care too.

I was thus impressed to see that in the Karoo National Park not only are bird baths provided under the communal taps, but clear signs warn one to be careful of the bees that will inevitably come to share the water during the hot weather.

Or … perhaps these signs sensitize visitors to the importance of bees and the role they play in keeping our environment healthy.

Either way, it was good to see them.

LOCUSTS

One of the ten plagues of Egypt during Biblical times was known as the Plague of Darkness: millions of locusts covered the land, destroying crops and leaving nothing in their wake. A locust in the hopper stage is shown below:

Who would think that such a small creature could wreak so much havoc!

Following six years of drought, parts of South Africa have experienced unusually heavy rains this summer. Ironically, this rain has encouraged brown locusts to multiply so rapidly that some areas have been experiencing the biggest infestation of locusts in decades.

The little hoppers quickly grow into adulthood.

These began in September last year, and have hit the Eastern, Northern and parts of the Western Cape particularly hard. Apart from the moisture, strong winds have contributed to the rapid migration of these voracious creatures. Although the innocuous looking brown locusts (Locustana pardalina) are not very large, they feed mainly on grasses. Appearing in such large numbers, they spell disaster for grazing as well as crops. Over R80 million is reported to have already been spent on fighting these waves of destruction, yet the swarms of locusts keep coming.

One of the many locusts splattered against the front of our vehicle.

Brown locusts are endemic to the semi-arid Karoo and their eggs can remain in the soil for several years until they receive sufficient moisture for the embryos to complete their development. Locusts have rarely been out of the news and we regularly see dramatic photographs of swarms and of people doing their best to halt their spread. I have also either read about or listened to interviews with farmers describing the devastation these locusts cause. None of this really prepared me for experiencing swarms of locusts first hand.

A swarm of locusts.

We encountered the first of what proved to be five separate swarms of locusts only half an hour away from Grahamstown en route to the Karoo National Park. I was taken aback by the first loud thumps against the windscreen and unprepared for the thick mustard yellow smears that covered my vision of the road ahead in no time.

The first of the smears on the windscreen – later the glass was almost covered.

I instinctively knew that using the windscreen wipers was a no-no and peered through the smears as best I could. The next swarm engulfed us near Cookhouse; another outside Pearston.

The front of the vehicle bore the brunt of the onslaught.

Our windscreen was cleaned for us when we filled up with fuel at Graaff-Reinet. A clear windscreen at last proved to be a short-lived luxury for the fifth swarm of locusts hit us on the outskirts of Aberdeen. Our windscreen was cleaned again at Beaufort West, before we entered the Karoo National Park. We also encountered a few locusts during our stay there.

A brown locust.

SENECIO MACROCEPHALUS

I usually associate the name ‘senecio’ with yellow flowers, probably because the Eastern Cape hosts a variety of yellow flowers bearing this name. Senecio macrocephalus – also known as Mountain Senecio – is, however, a low-growing purple flower that shows up through the dry open grasslands and close to the edges of roads.

The flowers are attractive to flies, bees and other insects.

They mostly bloom between September and December.