BLACK-BACKED PUFFBACK

I once had a fleeting glimpse of a Black-backed Puffback (Dryoscopus cubla) in our garden and got a very poor photograph of it, so was delighted to see this one in a different garden recently.

A member of the Bushshrike family, these birds are commonly found in woodland, thickets as well as in forest canopies – descriptions that both suit parts of our garden and make photographing them difficult. Nonetheless, apart from the characteristic reddish eye, you can see the soft-looking white rump plumes that the males erect when displaying – hence the name ‘puffback’. They mainly feed on insects gleaned from leaves and branches, although are also known to eat fruit.

Their scientific name is an interesting combination of Greek and Hottentot: Dryoscopus comes from the Greek word for ‘the watcher from the trees’ and cubla is said to be derived from a Hottentot word which incorporates the click that imitates the call of the bird.

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CHURCHES THAT REMAIN

The Eastern Cape is not only home to numerous forts, battle sites, graves and monuments that attest to its turbulent past, but there are a number of churches dotted about the countryside – many no longer in use but which remain as a testament to spiritual succour as well as on occasion providing shelter in times of need.

One of the two focused on here is a stone church at Burns Hill, a site where, in 1846, the Xhosas attacked a British wagon train, capturing and destroying half of the 120 wagons and carrying off the wine and regimental plate of the Seventh Dragoon Guards. The whereabouts of the latter remain a mystery.

The corrugated iron roof is rusted, the windows are broken, sections of the guttering have disappeared and the down-pipes have fallen off. A tall tree shades one side, otherwise its surroundings are bare except for some cactus that has taken root in recent years.

Another church that probably dates from sometime after 1856 is St. Mungo Church, situated in the Beanfield Location outside Alice. The rear of the church provides evidence of the ravages of time: a hole in the wall, sun-baked bricks exposed where the plaster has fallen off, a large crack in the wall, and evidence of broken guttering.

These images reflect the state of this church building.

The pile of bricks in the corner suggest a desire to repair some of the damage to the church.

The dusty and torn Xhosa Bible and collection plate hints at a congregation still using this place of worship, if not regularly then at least now and then.

Outside the church is a simple monument erected by Toc H which reads IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO FELL IN THIS VALLEY ON CHRISTMAS DAY 1850. This being the Tyumie Valley, where the Gaikas under Chief Sandile attacked military settlers.

You can read a reference to this in http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/?inventory/U/collections&c=A182/R/6046

YELLOW PANSY

It was a very travel-worn Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta) that landed at my feet in the middle of the drought-stricken veld the other day.

These attractive butterflies occur over much of South Africa in grasslands and scrub as well as in gardens, where they tend to fly low and rather fast. Judging by the tattered wings of this specimen, I am surprised it could still fly at all! Their habit of returning to more or less the same spot meant that, having spotted it fluttering about, I could wait – fairly patiently – until it returned for a photograph.

I am fascinated by the naming of species and in http://www.dispar.org/reference.php?id=14 discovered that the Juno part of the scientific name comes from the Roman goddess, Juno, who possessed a chariot drawn by peacocks.

These birds were sacred to her. For those interested in Roman mythology, she was the wife of Jupiter and was the goddess of marriage and childbirth. Her son was Mars, the god of war. You can read more about her in https://www.ancient.eu/Juno/.

Back to the butterfly, the wing patterns of which resemble a pansy – hence the common name. You cannot miss seeing these butterflies, which fortuitously often settle on the ground with their wings open. This one still looks beautiful despite its tattered condition.

THE UNIVERSITY OF FORT HARE

I really did not have an idea of what to expect when we entered the Alice campus of the University of Fort Hare, founded in 1916 on the site of what had been a British stronghold in the previous century. Signs of the latter can still be seen on the campus in the form of both a cemetery and a replica of Fort Hare.

Julius Malema had obviously addressed the student body on the 16th June this year – a public holiday known as Youth Day (which commemorates a wave of protests commonly known as the Soweto uprising of 1976). I imagine the sports complex was chosen as a venue in order to accommodate a large number of students. The scratch marks across his face pose an interesting question: if you don’t like him, why not remove the poster – after all, it is nearly two months old!

While the campus was looking reasonably well kept, given that it is winter and we are still experiencing a drought – there are still numerous signs of student unrest that led to the burning of buildings in the not too distant past.

A military cemetery/garden of remembrance on the campus is the final resting place for British and colonial soldiers who died during the 8th Frontier War, fought in 1850.

The names of those interred there have been inscribed on a monument erected by the South African War Graves Board in 1973.

There are nonetheless a number of graves of soldiers marked ‘unknown’.

Among the few elaborate graves is this one:

There is a brightly painted indication of where to find the Department of Fine Arts:

A replica of the original Fort Hare is also on the campus.

The Eastern Cape is criss-crossed with graves, remnants of forts, sites of ambushes and battles. Each provides an insight to the past that has forged the people who inhabit the area today. There is something very sobering about each site, particularly those out in what we call the ‘bundu’ where one is compelled to contemplate such events while surrounded by thorn trees, boulders, the wind, and bird song – signs that nature continues despite the human turmoil of the past.

DRIVING THROUGH THE CISKEI

The pale flecks on either side of the road is litter, mostly plastic bags blown about by the wind.

One encounters a lot of goats along the road too.

LOTS of goats!

A typical DYI fix-it job on a bakkie – one of several seen out in the country.

A ‘bakkie’ is a typical South African word for a light delivery vehicle.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you would like a larger view.