Since the COVID-19 pandemic sowed pandemonium around the world in the wake of borders of provinces and whole countries being closed, local and overseas flights being cancelled, and stringent restrictions being placed on the movements of citizens, the sky above our town has been quiet indeed. No local planes being flown for fun, no hangliders, and certainly no sight or sound of large aeroplanes moving between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, for example. What an unusual sight this is then:
This has not been oft repeated. There was a time when the low hum of a large plane flying overhead was ignored, now I look up and wonder where the passengers are going … and whether these flights are going to be regular once more … only to be followed by days of silence in the sky. The national carrier is still grounded, smaller airlines have had to shut up shop, and those that have opened tend to bypass Part Elizabeth – our nearest airport.
Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) was favoured for making sturdy fence-posts and even railway sleepers in the Eastern Cape from very early on as this hardwood is well known for its durability. Below is an example of a fence no longer in use, yet the sneezewood fence-post continues to carry out its duty.
There are many such abandoned fences in this part of the world. The following photograph shows a suburban fence made up of a collection of sneezewood fence-posts.
While they might look old and bent at different angles, these posts did their job very well and are still as strong as they were when they were first erected during the 1800s. The holes in them have not been bored by insects, but show where the fencing wires were threaded through them. In sharp contrast is a section of a modern fence, common in these parts where a number of game farms or private game reserves have sprung up.
These tall, multi-stranded fences are high enough to keep most wild animals from roaming – yet a kudu can sail over them with ease should it wish to!
You might remember me showing you the Atherstone Bridge supporting a now disused railway line:
Well before reaching this along the road, one passes what is left of the Atherstone Station: an almost illegible sign and a motley collection of abandoned houses. This one is the closest to the road:
It commands a beautiful view over the hills, across the valley to the hills beyond. Large stones hold part of the roofing in place. The sturdy chimney hints at meals cooked on a coal stove perhaps and certain warmth on chilly winter evenings.
Alas, no more.
The disused railway line between Grahamstown and Adelaide is in the foreground.
A little further and a few minutes later: a scene from the Highlands road a few kilometers from town.
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.