PASSING SIGNS

We are woken at least half an hour before sunrise every morning by the loud greetings of the Hadeda Ibises that roost in the fig tree overnight. Their droppings are splattered on the ground underneath their perches and I frequently find their feathers dropped all over the garden. Less easy to see are their footprints:

Although we have occasionally seen Vervet Monkeys feeding on the figs, they are not yet common in our town. We are more likely to see them along our roads and in national parks:

Of course one does not only have to rely on the spoor / footprints to indicate the passing of animals and birds. These droppings are a clear indication of a Chacma Baboon:

Moving to the coastline, it is easy to see where a seagull has been walking along the beach:

It is good to keep a close eye on the ground when walking to see what else has passed along the way before you.

 

SOME ANIMALS IN THE KAROO NATIONAL PARK

Proclaimed in 1979, the Karoo National Park is situated on the southern slopes of the Nuweveld Mountains near Beaufort West and is home to approximately fifty-eight endemic species of animals, quite apart from birds and reptiles. Even though the vegetation is sparse, one cannot expect to see them all in only just over a day. Time, as well as the luck factor, determines what one can see during a drive. The animals we saw tended to be scattered over a wide area and did not occur in great herds.

Among the animals we saw was a kudu bull peering at us from behind a bush.

Later, we were delighted to come across more kudu in the company of Cape mountain zebras.

A lone springbok seemed unperturbed by our presence.

It is always wonderful to come across the majestic looking gemsbok.

The red hartebeest shone like burnished copper in the sun.

A small troop of baboons crossed the road ahead of us and proceeded to fan through the veld where they nibbled on grass seeds and overturned stones looking for insects to eat.

There were other animals too, some too far from the road for a good photograph. Sadly, we had only one full day in the park – we clearly need to spend a lot more time there!

BABOON

Many visitors to our national parks are generally more interested in seeing the larger animals – especially lions – while others are focused on seeing as many different bird species as they can. The main attraction in the Addo Elephant National Park is naturally elephants, although one may be fortunate to spot a lion. Often dismissed by those intent on finding ‘more interesting’ animals are the smaller creatures. We have visited the park many times over decades and it is really only the last few years that baboons have become more prominent.

It is worth stopping for a moment to watch them in action. This one is picking thin twigs from a small plant and eating the leaves or seeds from it. These baboons have not (yet – hopefully never) been spoiled by visitors trying to feed them and so one can watch them going about their normal routine of finding food.

Here the baboon is reaching out for more of whatever this plant is that is proving to be worth eating. Its companions were further back from the road – if you see one baboon, there are bound to be others in the close vicinity so it is worth looking out for them.

Even whilst chewing, the baboon was on the lookout for the next tasty bite.

This part of the meal over, it was time to find something else. We left it at this point, having enjoyed observing the delicacy with which it picked out the food to eat, and the fine dexterity it employed to strip the leaves or seeds. These intelligent creatures are rewarding to watch in their natural state.

MONKEYING AROUND

The omnivorous Vervet Monkeys are curious creatures, ready to explore their environment to the full in order to source food. Like Baboons, they are at their best when seen in their natural environment.

See this Baboon yawning:

This Vervet Monkey is having a natural snack.

Unfortunately, as is the case with Baboons, the human-like features and behaviour of monkeys bring out their ‘cuteness’ factor which encourages visitors to game parks and popular picnic spots to feed them. That might be fun for humans and animals alike in the short term, but it is dangerous in the long term as the monkeys come to expect food from humans. Campers, caravaners – and even visitors staying in chalets – in wild areas have become all too familiar with monkeys raiding one’s temporary living space. This Vervet Monkey has just been chased from a caravan and is about to inspect the kitchen area in the Mountain Zebra National Park.

Their bright eyes pick up anything deemed edible – even the tiny seeds that have been scattered around a campsite to attract birds.

Once they have become used to humans, monkeys are difficult to shoo away for they lose their natural sense of caution around us. Being the opportunists they are, a group of monkeys happily walked over cars in a car park – keep your windows closed when they are around – to see what they could filch, leaving tell-tale footprints in their wake.

DESTINATION BOKSBURG

DESTINATION BOKSBURG

We braced ourselves for the eleven hour road trip across the country from the Eastern Cape to Boksburg in Gauteng. ‘Brace’ is the operative word for, until one reaches the flat Free State roads, one has to dodge one pothole after another – in one particularly bad section of the road we came across a large hand-painted sign warning motorists of a BIG POTHOLE that stretched dangerously across the road ahead!

A small herd of cows were grazing peacefully in an open park of our suburb when we set off on our journey shortly after six in the morning.

cows

The narrow, potholed tar road wound out of our valley, twisting and turning ever upwards, taking us through troughs between steep hills while cutting its way perilously through the side of them. Itwould gradually flatten out for a stretch then provide an undulating ride up and down the folds of the landscape. For much of this early section there is no verge to speak of. Instead, the road is flanked by tall grass, clumps of blue flowering Plumbago, and stands of spekboom or scrubby bushes of Acacia karoo. In several places a perilous precipice is separated from the edge of the road only by stones or grass – no safety barriers or rails in this part of the Eastern Cape!

grass

acaciakaroo

The sun rose as we were winding up the hills, highlighting the tall wooden poles of the first of many game fences we would come across, some early blooming aloes, the ripening fruit of the ubiquitous prickly pears, and the interesting shapes of cabbage trees – many of which are in bloom. As we drove up the steep, winding, Hellspoort Pass, we came across small troops of baboons ambling across the road and vervet monkeys sunning themselves from every vantage point, be it a rock, a fence post, or a tree.

baboon
The sky clouded over as the landscape flattened out benignly en route to Bedford. We passed the entrances to several farms, some of which were names Dikkop, Dikkop Flats, Salisbury Plain and Goba’s Hope.

cloudysun

A herd of springbuck stretched across a grassy plain as the road descended towards Carlisle Bridge. This once thriving farmer’s club, now lying in a broken ruin, used to boast tennis courts, a cricket pitch and a friendly brick clubhouse. In a sense this epitomises the breaking up of close-knit farming communities as farms have become absorbed into the myriad private game reserves, nature reserves and hunting lodges in the area, causing people to move away.

The open, grassy veld was livened up with splashes of yellow flowers here and there. We spotted herds of blesbuck, hartebeest and zebra grazing behind tall, trim game fences. On the opposite side of the road farmland stretched to the horizon behind a tired-looking, slack, rusty fence – the only barrier for the goats, sheep or cattle grazing in the veld.

rustyfence

An albino springbuck stood out among a herd of normal coloured ones on a farm near Bedford. A little further on a duiker paused on the verge of the road to observe our approach before turning to run into the veld in the opposite direction.Swallows were gathering on telephone lines, perhaps waiting for that mysterious signal that will send them on their migratory journey northwards.

To our relief, the surface of the road improved on the way towards Cradock along the N10. Some of the farm names we passed along this stretch of the road included Uitsig, Mount Prosper, Daggaboer, and Voordag.Game farms gave way to maize, lucerne, cattle and sheep farming. Road signs, however, continued to warn of the danger of wild animals, especially kudu, along the road. This is particularly true of the crepuscular times of the day.

Having passed through Cradock, we found !Gariep Dam a good place to stop for a leg stretch. I watched several birds there, drinking from the drips coming from an overhead irrigation hose. These included Cape White-eyes and Redeyed Bulbuls.

capewhiteeye

redeyedbulbul

 

The dam itself twinkled in the heat of the bright sunshine.

Gariepdam

It was on the N1 towards Bloemfontein that we began experiencing a build-up of traffic – especially large haulage trucks. Closer to Gauteng the more cars, trucks, boats, caravans and trailers jostled for positions (at speed) on the highway. In sharp contrast, it was a delight to see communities of mud swallow nests clinging to the undersides of several bridges that cross the highway at various intervals.

Having seen large herds of cattle in the open grasslands near Bloemfontein, once we were through Kroonstad we saw vast lands of maize, sunflowers and what looked like groundnuts. More cattle country followed. Some early cosmos flowers made their appearance in patches along the road verges.

sunflowers

We entered Gauteng just before four o’clock in the afternoon, the roads now filled with busy, fast-moving traffic that required more focus than any other attractions there may have been in the countryside. A number of isolated thundershowers were easily seen in the distance though – so typical of the Highveld weather. An hour later saw us arriving in Boksburg at last. A shower of rain had sweetened the air and the clouds lifted to make way for the sunset at the end of a long day.

It isn’t easy watching birds whilst on a journey such as this, with no time to dawdle. Nonetheless, the birds I could identify in passing were:
Barn swallow
Black crow
Black harrier
Blackbellied korhaan
Blackshouldered kite
Blacksmith plover
Cape glossy starling
Cape robin
Cape sparrow
Cape wagtail
Cape white-eye
Cattle egret
Darter
Fiscal shrike
Forktailed drongo
Greater double-collared sunbird
Greyheaded gull
Hadeda ibis
Helmeted guineafowl
House sparrow
Jackal buzzard
Laughing dove
Lesser kestrel
Lesserstriped swallow
Longtailed widowbird
Namaqua dove
Ostrich
Pale chanting goshawk
Pied crow
Pied starling
Red bishop
Redeyed bulbul
Redeyed dove
Sacred ibis
Speckled mousebird
Village weaver
Whitebrowed sparrow weaver
Whiterumped swift
Yellowbilled duck