WATCHING A CAPE ROBIN-CHAT

One of the best places, other than in my garden, to watch Cape Robin-Chats (Cossypha caffra) in action is Jack’s Picnic Site in the Addo Elephant National Park. There they have become so accustomed to the regular ebb and flow of human visitors that they happily perch in the shrubbery – and even on the picnic tables – while they watch out for a morsel of food. Here is a sample of some of the many photographs I have taken there of these absolutely delightful birds.

Occasionally a Cape Robin-chat will alight next to one’s vehicle as soon as the doors are open – quite ready to inspect the picnic fare.

Indeed, it has already found what may be a sunflower seed among the gravel – left by a previous visitor to the picnic site.

This one is perched on a wooden step leading down to a picnic site. Its gaze is quite intense.

You can tell that this Cape Robin-chat has a wary look about it.

This youngster is already learning the ropes and is keenly watching the ground on the off chance that some food might appear.

ELEGANT ELEPHANT

There must be few visitors who remain unmoved at the sight of an elephant in the wild.

This one has already spent time in the relatively shallow waterhole – see the dark areas on its front legs are higher than those on the back. The darker shade of the trunk shows that it too is still damp from having been in the water. Notice how flat its feet are. This is because there is a large pad of gristle under each heel. Given their size, it is incredible how quietly and elephant can walk – there is hardly a sound in their wake.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) have four toes on their front feet and three toes on their hind feet. Think of the enormous weight these feet must support. That subcutaneous cushion plays an important role in distributing forces during weight bearing as well as acting as a shock absorber. The photograph above illustrates the angled foot structure which causes elephants to actually walk on their tiptoes while their body weight is evenly distributed across the fatty/connective tissue at the heel.

One of the most interesting aspects of elephants is their trunk, which is really an extension of its upper lip and nose.

An elephant’s trunk has multiple uses such as the obvious ones of breathing, drinking, and grasping their food. If you observe elephants for a while, you will notice they also use their trunks to dust themselves, splash mud over themselves, to smell – it fulfills an important sensory function – as well as producing sound. With all these functions and more, there comes a time when the trunk needs to rest.

THE COLOUR OF DROUGHT

This is the colour of drought:

The green thicket in the background has bare ground between the trees. The ‘grassland’ in the centre of the scene looks like this:

How can this sustain life, one cannot help wondering. Yet it does. Here a pair of Helmeted Guineafowl look out for something to eat:

While a Common Fiscal keeps its sharp eyes open for an insect or two that dares to move in its presence:

These photographs were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park.

THICK DARK MUD

Regular readers do not get excited for it hasn’t rained enough here to soak the ground, let alone form rivulets and mud. Yet, the thickest, darkest, stickiest mud I have seen for a long time was evident at the Ghwarrie waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park – where it hasn’t rained much either. Look at this family of elephants churning up the mud on the edge of the waterhole as they move forward to get to the clear water to drink.

One of them clearly desired a mud bath and spent some time squirting this thick, sloshy black mud over itself.

The results of this mud flinging can clearly be seen as they turn to move away from the water.

Some of the elephants looked as though they were wearing dark boots as they made their way along the edge of the waterhole to seek food further afield. Then I looked down at a strange dark object nearby.

On closer inspection I realised it was a terrapin!

This one had obviously decided not to burrow into the mud.

WOODLANDS WATERHOLE

The Woodlands Waterhole is very close to the Main Camp in the Addo Elephant National Park. While it is not very big, it is always worth slowing down when approaching it for more often than not there is something interesting to see. We watched an encounter between a buffalo that had been wallowing in the muddy pool and an elephant arriving for a drink.

A warthog took advantage of a quiet moment to slake its thirst.

An elephant family took over the waterhole for a while.

Once they had ambled off, a herd of zebra that had been waiting patiently in the wings arrived for their share of the water.

This and other waterholes are artificial watering points within the park – all greatly sought after during this long drought.