THE LOVELY RED HARTEBEEST

The Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) has been featured twice before in this blog. This is not surprising for these plains animals with a conspicuously white rump are always a pleasure to see – especially when their reddish-brown coats shine in the sun.

These two adults are standing close to a youngster in the Addo Elephant National Park. Note the different colour of the young one as well as its short spiky horns. Here is a closer view of a different lanky youngster.

A little further on, an adult picks its way over the dry stony ground towards the water at the Domkrag dam.

There are antelope droppings near its front feet and elephant droppings on the ground ahead of it. They are frequently seen alongside zebra in the plains.

These two appear to be unperturbed by the fighting zebras in their midst. The length and narrow width of the muzzle of the Red Hartebeest make it a selective feeder. Being non-ruminants, zebras are bulk grazers and have wider muzzles that help them to be more tolerant of the available grazing.

A REVEALING REFLECTION

The lake Høvringsvatnet is located about 10 kilometres northeast of the village of Evje in Norway, which my son photographed in December.

As you can see, the surface was as calm as a mirror rendering a perfect reflection.

You know what modern cell phones are like, especially if you have the auto rotate function switched on. When I first looked at the picture above, the screen showed it turned around, like this.

I was astounded by what I saw. Perhaps you can take a moment to look at this version more carefully too and see what you can make out in it. My first thought was that this was akin to an intricately carved totem pole of sorts. Can you see the bearded face at the top wearing an elaborate helmet? I can see another, perhaps a sadder, face below the broad brown band. Above that is a black and white skull … there may be an eagle and an owl …

What can you see?

A TIME TO DRINK

At this time the summer temperatures can rise to over 40°C, making everyone thirsty. It is no different in the wild, where this threesome of elephants were the forerunners of a larger herd making their way across the dusty veld to drink at Rooidam in the Addo Elephant National Park. The elephant on the right has earlier submerged itself in either this or another waterhole nearby – as the darker ‘tide mark’ on its body shows. The darkened trunks also indicate that all three have already tasted the water at least and the dark ‘socks’ on the left elephant indicates how shallow the water is on the edge.

A warthog is taking advantage of the lull in animal traffic to enjoy a quiet drink of water from the waterhole at Woodlands. The water is so calm that it might even be admiring its reflection in the water while it quenches it thirst. All the waterholes in the Addo Elephant National Park are supplied by boreholes. That might be a covered pump next to the warthog. You can clearly see the concrete base of this waterhole and elephant dung in the background.

Sometimes it is not water one needs, but mother’s milk. Certainly that is what this zebra foal wanted in the middle of the day. Note how fluffy its hair is and the loving gesture of the mother placing her chin on its rump – the closest she can come to what we would call a hug, perhaps.

Birds require sustenance too and this Greater Double-collared Sunbird settled down to a good drink of nectar at Jack’s Picnic Place, quite unperturbed at being photographed in action. It visited each flower in turn before moving on to the next cluster.

 

BIRDS AND WATER

Birds need water. I have mentioned the need for Lesser-striped Swallows to source mud in order to build their nests and expressed the need to provide clean water for birds to drink and to bathe in. Bathing helps to remove dirt from the feathers, making them easier to preen. Different birds drink water in different ways, making it interesting to observe them doing so. Here are three pictures to illustrate the interaction between birds and water. The first shows a Cape White-eye sourcing water to drink from an overhead irrigation pipe in the gardens at !Gariep Dam:

The next is a Red-eyed Dove drinking deeply from a bird bath in a Boksburg garden:

Then we move to Tsitsikamma, where these Kelp Gulls are enjoying the swimming pool at the camping area:

TEA AND SCONES

Tea and scones are a common request. What is not common is how your tea and scones will be presented. At some establishments you may have to remove your soggy tea bag from the cup yourself; you might be given a tiny teapot with no access to hot water to top it up; or you may simply be presented with your ready-made cup of tea and a minute jug of milk.

The scones can vary too, from over large crumbly ones to small, rather mingy looking ones. I have been served open scones already spread with jam and a dollop of cream; scones with separate small packaged squares of butter and jam that need to be peeled open; cold scones; warm scones that have clearly been warmed in a microwave straight from a freezer; scones accompanied with butter that is so hard it is un-spreadable.

Tea and scones might be a commonly requested refreshment, but the expectation one might have is not always matched with the reality. This archive photograph is a reminder of a time when the reality far exceeded our expectations:

We had wanted to break a long journey and stretch our legs and so ordered tea and scones for three. As we had confirmed that we all wanted the same tea, it arrived in a large pot. What a pleasant surprise: the scones were of a generous size, the butter balls were soft enough to spread easily, and the quantities of jam, cream and grated cheese were generous. So was the jug of milk. Notice the quilted cover for the handle of the tea pot too.

These factors combined to turn what might have been an ordinary stop along the way into a memorable occasion. It was a delight to sit back and enjoy perfectly warm scones along with piping hot tea. The scones were firm enough to hold their toppings, yet light and filling – just right for peckish travellers. Our teapot was topped up with boiling water so that we all ended up having two cups – such a refreshing break it turned out to be!

 

TRAVEL BY ANY MEANS

We can all walk – travelling by Shanks’s Pony it is called – which is a wonderful way of exploring an area, watching birds, looking out for plants, and – if you are fortunate – animals. I was walking alone in the bushveld when I happened upon this waterbuck – truly a special moment.

The desire to move faster and be more mobile is strong. So it is that one of the first modes of transport children get to master is riding a bicycle.

I used to long for a bicycle and was delighted when I was allowed to use the ‘farm bike’ when we stayed on the family farm for extended periods while I was in primary school. This was a heavy, men’s bicycle (with a cross bar) which was far too large for me to ride whilst sitting on the saddle so I rode standing up, with one leg through the cross bar – not the most comfortable position, yet it gave me the freedom to cycle around the farm and later to explore the dirt road that led to the farm. The wind in my hair, the dust on my face, the sheer wonder of being able to cover distances faster than I could walk made up for any awkwardness of posture. Speaking of dirt roads, they conjure up images of ‘the road less travelled’ and exciting expectations of out-of-the-way places. I think this picture sums up the anticipation that dirt roads bring.

Looking up at a vapour trail in the sky can create a yearning for travelling ever further and faster.

Whether one is flying between cities in South Africa or to continents far away, the sight of aeroplanes parked on runways takes the desire to travel up a level – the possibilities are endless.

 

JUST AROUND THE CORNER

According to the National Roads Agency the total proclaimed roads in South Africa cover approximately 535 000 km, then there are 366 872 km of non-urban roads and 168 000 km of urban roads. This doesn’t take farm roads into account. The Kruger National Park alone has a road network of about 1 800 km and there are several National Parks and nature reserves. This means there are a lot of roads to explore! South Africa is a country where there is bound to be something interesting ‘just around the corner’. The Franschhoek Pass in the Western Cape is such an example.

Beautiful flowers take root in the smallest of niches on the rocky sides of the pass.

Each corner opens up another vista.

More attractive flowers growing on the verge.

Looking down the way we have travelled.

There are folded mountains to wonder at.

With more folding bearing witness to a more tumultuous geological past.