BLOUKOP KOGGELMANDER

Well, that is what I grew up calling the Blue Headed Lizard or Southern Rock Agama (Agama atra). Actually, we simply called it a ‘bloukop’ whenever we saw one in the Lowveld where I grew up. As exotic as they look, they were simply part of our environment as far as we were concerned: nothing out of the ordinary. I feel very different about them since moving away from that part of the country, for I have not seen any in the Eastern Cape.

Only the males sport a bright blue head; the head of the female is smaller and paler in colour. This photograph was taken at Satara Camp in the Kruger National Park some time ago.

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PETER PIPER

Do you remember tripping your tongue over

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

It came to mind when I noticed several red shapes scattered across the road … and then some more.

A closer look revealed them to be pepperdews that had already been de-seeded.

They must have fallen off a loaded truck travelling over our potholed roads. All but the flattened ones had disappeared by the following day: someone found a bounty of peppers ready for pickling!

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!

ANIMAL SPOOR

It is interesting to note that the word spoor, commonly used in South African English, originated c. 1823, from the Afrikaans spoor, which developed from Middle Dutch spor, which has the same linguistic derivation as the Old English spor, all meaning a ‘footprint’ or a ‘track’ which can be traced. Here spoor refers to the visible tracks of animals that allow us a glimpse of their presence even though they may have left an area.

These are tracks of an unidentified bird on a beach:

Snails and other creatures have created a veritable highway on the sand:

It is exciting to come across the tracks of animals, such as this antelope, while driving through a game reserve.

Of course this generally means that one cannot get out to look at them more closely or even to measure them, but with time, one can learn to tell one animal from another.

This is the spoor of a Cape Mountain Zebra:

Because we had seen one nearby, we can reasonably assume that this is the track of a Black-backed Jackal:

Selecting these images from hundreds of photographs of birds, animals and insects, has made me realise that photographing animal tracks, or spoor, may be a worthwhile activity in the future.

KAROO SCENERY

The Mountain  Zebra  National  Park  is  situated  on  the  northern  slopes  of  the Bankberg mountain range, near Cradock in the Eastern Cape. Apart from seeing animals, birds and appreciating the natural vegetation, it is worth visiting the area for the scenery alone: the high peaks and plateau provide unparalleled views across the Karoo; then there are the ridges, wonderfully shaped rocky outcrops, and deeply incised valleys caused by the Wilgerboom River.

Generally, the dirt roads are in good condition, with some sections either tarred or have had concrete strips laid down.

It is while driving along some of the steep winding roads that lead down to such valleys from the plateau that one becomes aware of the underlying geological  formations  consisting of  sandstone,  siltstone  and  mudstone  of  the Beaufort  Group  of  the  Karoo  Supergroup,  with  dolerite  plates  and  dykes.

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.