SAFETY IN THE KITCHEN

There are no handy hints here. However, as a change from our usual mode of camping, we spent a few days after Christmas in one of the delightful Forest Cabins in the Addo Elephant National Park. Each of these log cabins is tucked between hedges of Spekboom and other indigenous plants to ensure one’s privacy.

This is a typical path leading to one of these cabins.

You might wonder what these pictures have to do with the title of this piece. While each of these cabins is equipped with a pleasant braai area, they also have a fridge, kettle, toaster and a microwave. There is also a camp kitchen containing two-plate stoves and the sinks for washing up. I am probably not the only visitor not to look up when I enter the communal kitchen to either cook or clean the dishes. That is, until I kept seeing this pair of Lesser-striped swallows preening themselves nearby throughout the day.

What a wonderful opportunity to photograph them from so close, I thought as I passed by them yet again. They didn’t seem to mind the attention.

It was late on the second afternoon of our stay that I spotted one of them flying out of the communal kitchen. Curious, I at last looked up to see this sturdy, well-constructed mud nest against the ceiling of the kitchen.

Safety in the kitchen indeed. Here their nest is safe from the elements; it is high enough not to be disturbed by any human visitors; and has probably been used year after year.

ROADS OUT OF TOWN

Those of my readers more used to tarred highways, fast traffic and concrete bridges might like to pause a while to come on a journey with me to see some of our roads. We will start on the corner of the tarred road below my home (hidden behind the trees) where, having crossed over a bridge we are halted by part of the Urban Herd taking a rest from grazing pavements and any shrubs or flowers they find during their daily trawl through the suburbs.

If we were travelling during December, we might wish to stop in at the local supermarket to buy some refreshments. As we drive out of the parking area we would halt again to admire the street and pavement strewn with jacaranda flowers.

We would have to cross over a disused railway line that once carried good and passengers to Alicedale and on to Port Elizabeth.

You may prefer to eschew the highway and drive through some of the farming areas. We would be travelling along the dirt road, but you may wonder at some of the tracks, such as this one, on some of the farms we pass by.

Occasionally, on what you think of as a good tarred district road that will give us a clear run to our destination, you might be surprised at having to halt once more by this typical rural scene.

At last we reach the Addo Elephant National Park where we turn off some of the main tarred roads to explore the dirt roads – one of which will lead you to the well-known and much photographed waterhole known as Hapoor. The spectacle of hundreds of elephants milling about drinking, bathing, or enjoying each other’s company will cause us to halt again. They are so interesting to watch that more than an hour could easily pass before I could persuade you that we should drive on for there are other animals to see.

DAGGA BOY

This might seem a strange description for a lone African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) seen wallowing in the mud, walking ever so slowly towards a waterhole or grazing in the veld. The double ‘g’ in dagga is pronounced as you would the ‘g’ in ‘gold’ or ‘glory’. The term ‘dagga’ in this context most likely has its origins in the Zulu word udaka (meaning mud or clay). In fact, you might frequently see remnants of mud caked on the hide of these lone buffalo. This is because they seem to spend a lot of time either rolling in mud or immersing themselves in muddy wallows.

These solitary old buffalo are past their prime – you can usually see how their covering of hair has thinned so that bald spots appear. By wallowing in thick mud the buffalo ensure they have a barrier against both the sun and the parasites that might infest these bald spots. Here two of these old dagga boys have teamed up in the Kruger National Park to seek water. Note the Red-billed Oxpeckers on their backs – they too help rid these animals of pesky parasites.

This lone dagga boy is grazing in the Addo Elephant National Park – not far from water, yet with no other buffalo to be seen in the area. He is possibly staying in this area with soft green grass because his teeth have worn down with age and so it is easier to eat. Note his heavy boss and upward curved horns – he must have been a formidable bull in his prime.

Now he lives away from the herd. He might team up with another dagga boy. Either way, as he weakens with age – and without the protection of the herd – he will become a target for predators.

Rest well old chap.

SHINING RED HARTEBEEST

Although Red Hartebeest do not have to drink water every day as long as there is sufficient moisture in the grass they eat, these ones are having a rest at the Woodlands Waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park. These striking animals are all facing in the same direction, looking relaxed and at peace. They are naturally social animals that occur in herds that look beautifully graceful when seen in motion on the open plains.

I think that they look particularly beautiful in the sunlight that picks out their coppery sheen. You can see their shiny reddish brown coats with a distinctive white rump more clearly in this closer view of them. It is thought that these white rumps may help to reflect heat or, act as a warning or when the darker tail is moved across it.

Both sexes have heavily ringed horns on a pedestal base and point backwards. These complex curving horns are used both for fighting with other males and defending themselves from predators.  A fellow blogger told me once that once they have been cleaned and buffed, these horns make excellent Biblical shofars. It is also interesting to note that the length and narrow width of the muzzle of the Red Hartebeest make it a selective feeder and that territorial bulls mark their territory with dung heaps.