CONTEMPLATION

I associate herons with patience – lots of it – and elegance. Look at this Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala) standing at the edge of a waterhole. Ardea = heron, whilst melancephala = black-headed in Greek.

It barely moves for minutes at a time and then one has to be observing very closely to even notice the change in stance. Even its wing beats are slow to watch and it stalks its prey with a sense of deliberate action, as if each step is carefully considered before the next one is made; it makes no ‘wasted’ movements and appears to be languid in nature – until it spots a potential prey for then it seems to ‘freeze’ before striking it powerfully with its dagger-like beak and impaling or seizing it.

It makes a thorough job of preening itself too.

PERSISTENCE COULDN’T PAY OFF

Persistence describes continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. An interesting meme I came across the other day reads a river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence. We are frequently told that willpower/persistence pays off in the end. Sometimes it doesn’t – and there are times when it simply cannot. While a Speckled Pigeon dominates the photographs below – as it dominates Morrigan’s feeder meant for smaller birds – I want you to observe the actions of the Speckled Mousebird in the background.

Here you can see the Speckled Mousebird eyeing the end of the string tied to Morrigan’s bench feeder, which has tilted under the weight of the Speckled Pigeon. A Laughing Dove is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to eat any grains that the larger bird may have left. The Speckled Mousebird is not interested in food, but the tuft of string.

Even though there has been no rain here for months, leaving the surrounding country looking dry and no fresh shoots of leaves on the trees, spring is in the air and breeding must happen willy-nilly. It is nesting time. The only Speckled Mousebird nest I have seen was built high up in the Natal fig tree a few years ago. Mousebirds build an untidy nest from grass and stems and then line it with softer materials – I have watched them break off fronds of new leaves, collect feathers and even bits of paper for this purpose before.  I am not sure if the string was intended for the construction or lining of the nest.

I have to tell you that the tufted end of this string has softened over the years as a result of being pulled and tugged at by weavers especially. Anyway, this mousebird was going to give it a try. It got a strand in its beak and pulled and pulled and pulled.

It was hard work. We all know that persistence is the key to success and this mousebird had plenty to spare. I watched it working at the string for nearly fifteen minutes, tugging it this way and that without success.

I haven’t seen it back at the string, so assume it found more suitable material with which to either build or line its nest.

ELEPHANTS UP CLOSE

You already know we have to be wary of the elephant in the room [an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about] and you may even have been advised to eat the elephant one bite at a time when dealing with a stressful situation or are facing a number of obstacles.

Let us take a much closer than usual look at elephants, starting with the face. This elephant has covered its face with mud, a form of protection against the sun as well as parasites:

Elephants have incredibly long eyelashes – up to 12cm long:

The large surface of their ears can help to keep the elephants cool:

While it is difficult for the average person to imagine an elephant sans tusks, elongated incisors, many elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park do not have them:

Elephants drink water through their trunks:

Their tails are hairy:

African elephants have wrinkled skin:

 

A SPRINGBOK …

… that is no more.

The SADF livery introduced in 1958 was a leaping Springbok inside the outline of the Castle of Good Hope. It has been replaced with a golden African Fish Eagle clutching a laurel wreath in its claws. On it is the motto PER ASPERA AS ASTRA – “Through Adversity to the Stars”.

CHEVAL-DE-FRISE

Who would have thought that events from the 1600s would give rise to a name still used today as part of a defence mechanism?

A cheval-de-frise was originally a movable obstacle covered with spikes attached to a wooden frame that was used to obstruct cavalry. Such objects were apparently first used in the Siege of Groningen that took place in 1672 during the Franco-Dutch war, when that city was besieged by the troops of the Bishop of Münster, Bernhard von Galen, who wished to push deeper into the Netherlands. The Frisians lacked cavalry and so the name is a French reference to these ‘Friesland horses’. The victory is still celebrated as a local holiday in the city of Groningen on 28th August each year.

These days the term cheval-de-frise can also refer to a row of nails, spikes, barbed wire, or broken glass set on top of a wall or fence to deter intruders. This is a typical modern version:

While this version would not fit into the above description, it is also a form of deterrent for ‘intruders’, only in this case these electrified strands have been employed around certain waterholes in the Addo Elephant National Park to prevent the domination of the water by elephants so that other animals can get a fair chance to drink too.

This alpaca, whose job it is to protect sheep, is safely behind another kind of razor wire:

Sometimes spiked railings such as these are used as a deterrent:

These spikes appear to be more decorative than useful:

Here is a serious obstacle to deter intruders!

Sadly, this type of cheval-de-fries is becoming all too common around both businesses and homes:

CURROR FAMILY

My maiden name is CURROR, which has an Anglo-Saxon origin. It is a Scottish surname that is not only French in origin, but is descriptive of an occupation for it was given to a person who was either a messenger or who dressed tanned leather. The name is derived from the Old French words corëor or courreour, meaning courier or messenger. The family motto is Merite, which is the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.

First names are always an interesting link when delving into family history and I have been fascinated to discover how far some of the recurring names in our family go back:  a William Currour was assizer (a juror) in Edinurgh, 1402; William Currour has been recorded as a charter witness in Edinburgh, 1425; and it is thought that William Curroure held lands near Edinburgh in the same year. There are several variants in the spelling of the name, as surnames were only standardised with the advent of Poll Tax between 1694 and 1699. William Currour or Courrour, then a merchant of Scotland, had safe conducts into England, 1408 and 1410. A George Currour was charged with “trublance of the toune” of Aberdeen, 1512, and William Currour was factor for the abbot of Jedburgh, 1560.  Much of this information comes from https://forebears.io/surnames/curror

The original Curror to settle in South Africa was my father, William David Curror, who sailed on the City of Hong Kong from London to Cape Town en route to the then Southern Rhodesia, where he was to be a Premium Apprentice on a tobacco farm. This was in about 1932. He later moved into the mining industry in this country. My father, who could speak English and a bit of Welsh, would be surprised to know that his family now encompasses Afrikaans- and German-speakers too!

In his memoirs, my father wrote: “We do not know the exact time that we [the Curror family] came to Dunduff [Scotland], but we can assume that it was sometime before 1715. As far as I am able to calculate, the first Robert Curror, shown on the [family] tree, of Dunduff and Craigdookie, was born in 1715. It is extremely probable that he was born in Craigdookie; his son was. He, also Robert Curror, was probably born in 1745.”

My father was keen on farming and always wanted to restore the name Dunduff, the original family farm in Scotland, to the Curror family and eventually did so in the De Kaap Valley near Barberton.

That farm has been sold and another generation has continued the name in another part of the country.

RELICS OF A FARMING PAST

Farming is an obvious way for early inhabitants moving into an area to make a living off the ‘untamed’ land and it was no different in this country. Different people choose their own ways to utilise the land: some we could call free roaming pastoralists, who move their animals according to where the grazing and water is best, whilst laying claim to a property and fencing it in is best for others. This reminds me of the westerns I read while growing up in which there always seemed to be a conflict between the cowboys and the increasing number of sheep farmers – the latter were always associated with fences. This pattern of settlement has probably played itself out in many countries. Our visit to the Ciskei area reveals relics of similar conflicting ideas of landuse.

Early farmers in the Eastern Cape would use Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) to make their fencing posts to demarcate their farms and protect their stock. Ptaeroxylon comes from a Greek word meaning sneeze and wood; obliquum refers to the oblique leaflets of the tree. I have written about these fences before as I am in awe of the fact that so many of these Sneezewood fence posts still remain well after more than a century. These bear testimony to the hardness and durability of the wood, which is also termite-resistant.

When the Ciskei was declared a ‘homeland’ in 1972, private farms were turned into communal grazing areas. Many of the existing fences were removed and the wood used for other purposes. The photograph above shows the relic of one such fence. Near it is another relic of farming that is no longer used in this area: a cattle grid.

As you can see, there are cattle grazing in the open – the low fencing you see in the background is that of the public road – with no restrictions. There is no longer either a fence or a farm gate to keep the cattle within the confines of a designated grazing area. A young tree is pushing its way through the heavy metal grid and the earth on one side has worn away over the past thirty odd years. There may even come a time when people might wonder what this strange contraption is. I wonder what will happen to the tree.