FARM GATE

I am fascinated by farm gates: what stories lie behind them – and what a variety of fastenings they have. This metal one is of a modern design and it is kept locked with a metal chain. I suspect the wooden fence posts have shifted with the seasons for there is not longer the ‘neat fit’ that would have been intended when the gate was hung.

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ECHINOPSIS

The Sea Urchin Cactus (Echinopsis oxygona), which we came across in the Hellspoort Valley the other day is not indigenous to South Africa. Its presence in the midst of the dry veld, thorn trees, aloes, rocks and stones is a clear indication, however, that it was once part of a garden.

This is borne out by three factors:

It does not spread – there were no other plants of this nature anywhere else in the vicinity.

There were ruins of an old homestead nearby.

Even though these cacti are grown all over the world as ornamental plants, they originate in South America. The name Echinopsis is derived from echinos (hedgehog or sea urchin), and opsis (a reference to the dense coverings of spines on these plants).

They grow in clusters of globular heads in sandy soil, on the sides of hills and in rock crevices. The different colour of some of the heads here might indicate stress of one sort or another. Old plants can grow into large clumps measuring more than 60 cm in diameter – this one is at least that large. They should flower in spring or early summer.

BIRDING IN THE GREAT FISH RIVER NATURE RESERVE

The dry winter is not the best time to observe birds in the Great Fish River Nature Reserve – certainly not from within the confines of one’s vehicle over very rough roads which jolt one from side to side, along with having to be extra vigilant about avoiding being scratched by the Vachellia thorns on the branches that protrude well into the road in places. Birding is often an adventure waiting to happen.

This is the reed-lined entrance to the Kentucky Bird Hide overlooking the Khwalamanzi Dam.

Given the prolonged drought in the Eastern Cape, we should not have been surprised to be greeted by this:

In February 2015 the dam looked like this.

Then we saw a flock of Yellow-billed Ducks.

And a pair of Egyptian Geese were nesting on a mound in front of the bird hide.

At least there was a small herd of kudu to see this time!

A careful scrutiny of the surrounds and much patience revealed a Brown-hooded Kingfisher waiting to catch – who can tell what?

I later spotted another one at the picnic site adjacent to the Great Fish River.

On our way out, I saw a Cape Wagtail posing on a fence.

My bird list for this visit is as follows:

Bar-throated Apalis
Black-eyed Bulbul
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Wagtail
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood-dove
Fiscal Shrike
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Wagtail
Speckled Mousebird

MOUNTAIN DRIVE

The road up Mountain Drive is narrow and rocky.

In places it is very rocky.

Yet, it so worth the trip for the magnificent views across town from the top!

There were butterflies aplenty skimming the top of the grass, chasing each other, or landing briefly on flowers, trees or even on the stones – where I photographed this orange beauty.

Other insects were burrowed into some of the flowers waving in the wind.

Several termite mounds show signs of repair – note the different coloured mud.

The Cussonia spicata (Cabbage) trees are in bloom, their greenish-yellow terminal double umbels of 8-12 spikes per unit dominant on the skyline.

Other interesting flowers are the bright red Burchellia bubaline (Wild pomegranate)

As well as the beautiful orange of Leonatis leonurus (Wild dagga / Lion’s tail)

 

EARTH DAY IN ADDO

What better place to celebrate Earth Day than to spend time away from a built-up environment: we chose to visit the nearby Addo Elephant National Park. Some visitors had close-up views of lions, spotted hyenas and even a black rhino. We didn’t draw that card, but observed a number of interesting things nonetheless.

It is the rutting season for kudu. Large herds of kudu does accompanied by one or two males appeared in several sections of the park we drove through, especially around Rooidam. Our attention was drawn to a loud hollow-sounding ‘thunking’ noise close to the road: two kudu bulls were sparring; kicking up dust as they locked horns and pushed each other this way and that.

What magnificent horns they sported. This is the victor of that encounter.

The heat drew herds of elephant to the bigger waterholes. We watched a group of four adults and two youngsters approach the small Marion Baree waterhole. They sprayed themselves with water on arrival.

They then moved to the mud hole next door, where the elephants scooped up balls of thick mud to throw over their backs.

By then the water in the concrete-lined dam had settled so a few drank before watching patiently as a youngster claimed the shallow dam for its own fun.

One has to watch out for dung beetles crossing the road at this time of the year.

Zebras with their painted faces did not disappoint.

Several came to quench their thirst at Domkrag.

A large flock of Pied Starlings came to join them.

A Karoo Scrub Robin came to investigate.

An inquisitive Egyptian Goose approached our vehicle at Hapoor.

Several Fork-tailed Drongos kept an eye on us at the Rest Camp water hole.

As did some Cape Glossy Starlings, looking magnificent in the late afternoon sunlight.

My bird list for the day:

Redwinged Starling
Barthroated Apalis
Fiscal Shrike
Speckled Mousebird
Southern Boubou
Common Moorhen
Redbilled Teal
Backsmith Plover
Redknobbed Coot
Spurwing Goose
Karoo Scrub Robin
Pied Crow
Common Ringed Plover
Egyptian Goose
South African Shelduck
Bokmakierie
Black Crow
Cape Sparrow
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Robin
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Korhaan
Helmeted Guineafowl
Crowned Plover
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Cape Wagtail
Grey heron
Forktailed Drongo
Cape Glossy Starling
Laughing Dove