Based on its size, I think this is a young Jackal Buzzard (Buteo rufofuscus). However, as you can see, this particular bird was not being particularly co-operative when I stopped to check. That it was perching against a bright sky didn’t help either! Jackal Buzzards are endemic to South Africa and, as I have recorded several of them in the area over the past few months, I think it is safe to assume this one’s identity. Unfortunately, I was unable to identify the predominantly rufous chest band on this individual.

Juvenile Jackal Buzzards tend to be mostly brown in colour, with rufous on their underside and tail. This one’s tail shows the characteristic rufous colouring.

The yellow legs and feet can be clearly seen.

Readers unfamiliar with this bird may be interested to know that its name comes from the loud yelping calls it makes, which are similar in sound to those of the Black-backed Jackal, pictured below.

Jackal Buzzards hunt from the air and can often be seen perching on fence posts or electricity poles.

Apart from consulting several bird books, I have found these sites useful:



We decided to break with tradition this year and spent Christmas Day in the Addo Elephant National Park – as did hundreds of others! A long queue of vehicles developed outside the Matyholweni (meaning ‘in the bush’ in Xhosa) Gate at the southern entrance to the Park. Some people donned Christmas hats and there was an atmosphere of cheer as visitors in a festive mood greeted each other in passing. Jack’s Picnic Site was so chockful of people at noon that several families simply enjoyed a picnic lunch in the scant shade of their vehicles. Vehicles were parked as far back as the turnoff to the chalets when we reached the Main Rest Camp. The picnic site there too was filled to the brim with people braaiing or having a picnic in whatever shade they could find. Fortunately, we had booked for the 2 p.m. Christmas dinner at the Cattle Baron.

The weather was gloriously clear and a pleasantly warm 23°C when we arrived mid-morning. By three o’clock in the afternoon though the temperature had soared to 40°C and a strong wind had begun to whip up the dust, so thick in places that it was often difficult to see very far.

dusty Addo

This is a good time of the year to see the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) in bloom and we were not disappointed. The clusters of small, star-shaped, dusky pink flowers created a wonderful display from close to the ground to the trees that had somehow managed to grow tall without being eaten by elephants.


There was an abundance of the latter: we were spoiled with magnificent sightings of hundreds of elephants, mostly near the waterholes of Hapoor and at the Main Rest Camp. In the image below you can see a fraction of one herd moving away from the water. Note the paths that have been made through the bush.

Addo elephants

Other elephants were at smaller waterholes and allowed us very close-up views of them.

Zebras are such photogenic creatures that it is very difficult to pick out one image from the many photographs I took of them.


Given the heat and the prolonged drought, it was very sad to see this mangy black-backed jackal making its way through the dry grass. This disease is caused by mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) burrowing into the skin to complete their lifecycle. The condition may become chronic and eventually leads to the death of the animal in the wild.

mangy blackbacked jackal

On a much more cheerful note, we saw this very attractive mountain tortoise next to the road as we were heading home at the end of an interesting Christmas Day.

mountain tortoise

My bird list is:

Black Crow
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird
Black-headed Heron
Blacksmith Plover
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Wagtail
Cape White-eye
Crowned Plover
Egyptian Goose
Fiscal Shrike
Fork-tailed Drongo
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Lesser-striped Swallow
Pied Starling
Red-billed Teal
Red-knobbed Coot
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Stanley’s Bustard


How can one reduce the wonders of South Africa to a mere ten? I thought I would choose five, then it stretched to eight and then I knew I would have to stop at ten – even then I have had to be ruthless. So here they are in alphabetical order to save me from ranking them.

Aloes: These beautiful flowers stand out in the veld during the otherwise dry winter months and attract myriads of insects and birds at a time when food is not as plentiful as in other seasons. There are over 500 species of them – enough to warrant whole books to themselves.


Black-backed Jackal: I am well aware that small stock farmers curse these beautiful, wily creatures at times, but having watched them closely in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Kruger National Park and in the Addo Elephant National Park I regard them as one of the ‘must see’ animals on any visit.

black-backed jackal

Dirt roads: Venture onto a dirt road in this country and you know you are headed for an adventure. Kilometres of them criss-cross the land away from the main highways.


Elephants: We are so fortunate to live within easy visiting distance of the Addo Elephant National Park for we never tire of seeing these wondrous animals either on their own or in family groups. One can spend hours observing them at a water hole – meeting, greeting, drinking, mock charging, wallowing in the mud, blowing bubbles … they are endlessly fascinating.


Erythrinas: The scarlet blossoms of these trees, also known as coral trees, are also a feature of late winter and attract a wide variety of birds and insects. The red ‘lucky beans’ that fall to the ground are also beautiful.


Grass: It may sound odd to some, but I love the tawny coloured grass growing tall in the veld.


Giraffe: Not only are giraffe very photogenic, they are elegant and peaceful as they move between trees or bend down to drink.


Thorns: The long spines of the thorns of the Acacia trees have always fascinated me.


Windmills: Sadly these hardy icons of rural South Africa are becoming rarer with the more widespread use of solar-powered pumps. The clanking sound of the windmill as it turns in the wind is unforgettable.


Zebra: I cannot leave the zebra off my list – always sleek, beautiful, photogenic and very watchable creatures they are.


I wonder what your favourite things are.



Three years ago we enjoyed the two days spent camping in the Satara camp so much that this time we booked to stay there for a whole week. The game viewing in that area is excellent with a variety of drives to choose from and a bonus is that the bird life within the camp is prolific. Then we had a Scops Owl roosting in a tree right next to our tent – this time there was a resident African wild cat, but more of that later. It is a complete change from urban living and sheer bliss listening to the whoop of hyena and the chorus of the high-pitched eerie calls of black-backed jackals at night, not far from the perimeter fence.


A terrific thunderstorm broke the intense heat of our first night in Satara: sheet lightning, thunder and rain accompanied by strong wind that buffeted our tent until the early hours of the morning. The rain continued intermittently for several days after that, leaving everything from tents to birds looking sodden. The African wild cat I mentioned earlier briefly sought shelter from the rain under a trailer net to our campsite, where it leisurely cleaned itself before disappearing. It appeared sitting under our truck a few days later – this time possibly seeking shelter from the sun – then settled into a clump of bushes next to our tent. It must have made this part of the camp its home, for we later saw it lying comfortably in the dust unperturbed by the human activity around it.


We saw large herds of both elephant and buffalo soon after entering the Kruger National Park through the Orpen Gate. As the elephants here have a reputation for being more aggressive and temperamental than the ones we are more familiar with in the Addo Elephant National Park – not that we witnessed any evidence of this – we nonetheless kept our distance from them and the engine running. A few days later we watched a herd of about fifty elephants gather at Nsemani Dam on the Orpen road – they are fascinating creatures to observe.

Several groups of them seemed to merge and separate in a prolonged ceremony of greeting: youngsters tussled with each other while small babies kept close to their respective mothers in that mass of enormous legs and swaying trunks. One group eventually parted from the rest and were quickly absorbed by the surrounding bush. The others edged along the dam to drink and it wasn’t long before a number of them had waded right into the water to drink and splash about.

A sudden loud trumpeting from the matriarch caused all the elephants to leave the water obediently and in a hurry to stand on the bank – bar one that had got stuck in the thick gooey mud. My heart lodged in my mouth while the hapless elephant tried lifting first one foot and then the other without success. Its companions remained silent and watchful; some had even turned away from the distressful spectacle.

At last the elephant turned around about 90 degrees and tried again. First it managed to free the front legs, then, scrabbling for a foothold in the knee-deep mud, it pulled one back foot free. To my immense relief it broke free shortly afterwards and made for the bank. At that point the waiting elephants moved off while the now freed elephant struck off on its own on a path parallel to the herd.


Unsurprisingly, impala were the first animals we spotted on entering the park. These mixed-feeders were described by the guide on a later night-drive as “the McDonalds of the park” as they provide food for most of the large carnivores. They are beautiful animals to watch closely, being rufous-fawn in colour with white underparts and delicate markings. It is the rutting season now and we often observed the dominant male chasing after his chosen female – snorting loudly , while she lead him a merry dance by running in circles through the veld with him in hot pursuit. The ferocious sound of that snorting reminded us of a night, many years ago, when we were stranded in the veld in Botswana and – not having heard it before – were concerned that the noise we were hearing came from something that might decide to eat us!


On one occasion we watched several female waterbuck lying in the grass chewing the cud while the male gave them the once-over. Each obediently rose in turn when sniffed by the male and lay down again.


The most affectionate and amorous mating display was performed by a pair of giraffe: they seemed to caress each other by rubbing their heads up and down the neck of the other; they wound their necks around each other; put their heads close together; and even looked as though they were nuzzling in a kiss…



Nsemani Dam proved to be a wonderful place for watching hippos: blowing water in sprays from their nostrils; making their characteristic grunting sounds; squaring up to each other with their mouths open – South Africans of a certain generation will always associate that wide-mothed pose with an advertisement for Chomp chocolates. Hippos are so interesting out of the water too, when one can see how large and cumbersome looking they are. Several had small calves in tow. Like baby elephants, these look cuddly and so ‘touchable’!


Game viewing was good, even during the inclement weather. Once we saw a lioness followed by six cubs cross the road and on another occasion spent nearly two hours watching five sated lions sleeping off their meals from the night before. Every movement they made, from lifting a head or drinking water, seemed an effort for they would flop down again or roll over, stretching languidly and relax once more.


Although signs in Satara Camp warn visitors to watch out for honey badgers (more commonly known as ratels in South Africa), we never came across them there. Early one morning though, we saw three of them trotting through the damp grass not far from the camp. It was a privilege too to spot two black rhinos close to the road – not for long though as they soon moved through the bush and out of sight. So much game viewing depends on the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

After the rain of the first few days, it was wonderful to experience the sunshine again and to witness some glorious sunsets.




The Addo Elephant National Park is dry: not just brown and dry – in places it looks desiccated dry.


Some Schotia brachypetala, plumbago, verbena and pelargoniums make a brave show of their blooms in the swirling dust.

From a distance too some of the grassland areas look potentially attractive for grazers until one sees the bare patches from close up.


The only vestiges of green show where there has been some water run-off from the road. Even some of the waterholes, such as Rooidam, are virtually dry.


A small herd of zebras were the first animals we encountered. Photogenic creatures that they are, they formed the subject of several photographs before we moved on. Little did we realise then that we would see hundreds more before the day was over!


Zebras are so beautiful to look at and they turned out in full splendour, giving us the opportunity to observe – from close quarters – the variations in the patterns of their stripes. Some are broad and bold, while others are paler and thinner. Some stripes are well defined all over the zebras’ bodies, while on other animals the stripes peter out to almost nothing.


It seemed to be ‘necking’ season for all over we came across zebras resting their heads on each other as if in a show of affection.


A number of foals were evident too. Their furry appearance a stark contrast to the sleekness of their elders. Zebras won the day for their dominance in the veld.


Warthogs came a close second. Family groups could be seen from far away, close to the road, in the sun, or resting from the 28°C heat in the shade.


Although we were told of a large herd of elephants at Hapoor waterhole, we saw only single ones. One elephant walked resolutely towards our car, almost brushing past it within touching distance.





Another interrupted a buffalo enjoying a mudbath. The latter got to its feet and moved away very smartly then stood and watched from a discreet distance as if to say, “What did you do that for?”



A few kudu were visible in the bush. The bulls appeared to be skittish, however, and moved into cover upon the arrival of any passing traffic.


It was a treat being able to watch a black-backed jackal drink her fill from a waterhole, taking her time before trotting off purposefully as if she had a mission to fulfil.Other animals we saw were a suricate, eland and hartebeest.



Ghwarrie dam is always a favourite place to visit and, although there were no animals other than warthogs this time, there were terrapins galore as well as South African Shelducks and Blacksmith Plovers.


Both Grey- and Blackheaded Herons showed their willingness to be photographed by standing close to the road, their eyes intent on a possible meal.



A gusty wind sprang up in the afternoon, showering us with dust and fine grit. Clouds were starting to gather and it was, sadly, time to leave. The last animals to be spotted at Domkrag? Zebras, of course!


The arid conditions together with the wind and dust are not ideal for birding. I nonetheless saw the following:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Harrier
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blacksmith Plover
Blackwinged Stilt
Cape Turtle Dove
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Karoo Robim
Lesserstriped Swallow
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Red Bishop
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Spurwing Goose
Steppe Buzzard
Yellowbilled Duck



John exhaled slowly, lowered his camera and thoughtfully watched the large herd of elephants. His patience had been rewarded at last: the herd had gradually moved towards the road and parted, giving him an opportunity to photograph the enormous bull sporting a magnificent pair of tusks. He watched the darkening clouds blot out the late afternoon sun and accelerated slightly as he headed towards the rest camp: a beer would taste good while he got a small braai fire going and downloaded his photographs to his laptop.

Frith glanced anxiously up at the darkening sky too and quickened her step along with the rest of the party on a guided walk through the forested area of the game park. Their guide, with a rifle slung across his back, jovially assured them they would be back at the camp long before any rain fell. Unconvinced, given the rising wind that susurrated through the trees, the group walked on in silence, stopping only when their guide pointed out interesting trees, birds, fungi or insects along the way. Frith listened to their footsteps crunch on the gravelly path and reflected on the play of the late afternoon light on their surroundings whenever the clouds parted for a moment. A mug of tea would taste good after this exercise, she thought wistfully as she popped a peppermint into her dry mouth.

Having showered and changed into fresh clothes, Frith approached her pale blue domed tent with a sense of satisfaction even though she hadn’t met anyone particularly interesting on the walk. She appeared to have been the only obviously unattached person in the group, yet the experience of walking in the forest and seeing so many interesting things had left her feeling fulfilled. Despite of the threat of rain, she was already looking forward to her early morning drive through the grasslands. Frith ran her eye over the map of the game reserve while sipping her scalding tea.

That evening, John flicked through the collection of photographs on his laptop: birds were a lot more demanding to capture effectively than the elephants had been, he reflected. He paused to admire the photograph of the lithe, powerful yet elegant leopard he had taken early the previous morning. On a whim, he e-mailed it to his friend Michael who had been based in Switzerland for the past two years. “Worth coming home for?” John smiled as he pressed the send button: that picture was worth sharing and he knew Michael would appreciate the combination of luck and good photography.

He joined the scheduled guided walk along the river bank the following morning, more for the company than the experience, he realised, allowing the general chatter of his companions to wash over him. The large Melissa dressed in strong hiking boots, black jeans and the requisite beige hooded jacket was proving difficult to shake off. He wasn’t looking for her kind of company! John picked up his pace and moved towards the front of the group strung out along the sinuous path next to the sluggish river.

Frith looked at the photographs on her camera while eating the salad of chopped apple, cheese and nuts she had made for her picnic lunch. Earlier that morning she had marvelled at the way the golden grasslands seemed to wrinkle into the hills and changed colour according to the sunshine and the clouds. She had come across several attractive wild flowers along the way, but found them difficult to photograph well from the confines of her car. She pressed the delete button several times: she had to be ruthless if she was to build a worthwhile collection of photographs. The close-up shot of a zebra made her smile for it had seemed at the time as if the zebra had deliberately posed for her before joining the rest of the herd grazing a little distance from the road.

She looked up as a private game-viewing vehicle drew up near her at the communal picnic site. Several tourists tumbled out and immediately made for the ablution block behind her, while their guide hauled a large wicker basket to the wooden table close by. The tourists tucked into their lunch with gusto; all seemed to be foreign and most spoke English with some difficulty on the few occasions when they addressed their guide directly.

“I wonder if he ever feels lonely in a situation like this,” Frith thought idly as she listened to the on-going chatter through the thorny hedge that separated the picnic sites.

As night fell, a chorus of frogs started up along the river bank. John listened to them as he walked towards the fence edging the camping area to where he had earlier seen a wooden bench overlooking a sandbank fringed with tall reeds. When he looked up a while later, he wondered if it was only in his imagination that the stars seemed to shine more brightly in the rain-washed sky after the brief shower shortly before sunset.

Frith was also listening to the frogs while sitting in the dark outside her tent and watching the thin clouds drift lazily across the moon, still low in the sky. She could hear the faint calls of black-backed jackals in the distance and wondered what kills would take place while she was sleeping. She shivered in the rising breeze and acknowledged the loneliness that enveloped her with an increasingly heavy mantle with each passing day: she had not had a meaningful conversation with anyone for days.

The next day, John sat alone on a rock at a viewing site at the top of a kopje in the morning sunshine. “Look there!” he heard someone say excitedly. Following the direction of the various pointing arms around him, he managed to pick out a rhinoceros in the veld way below them. Scanning the wide open vista, he could see no sign of any roads nearby and so shifted into a more comfortable position from which to watch the animal from a distance. These days is was a privilege seeing these increasingly endangered animals.

Several visitors came and went during the course of the morning; few stayed for more than ten minutes at a time as most seemed restless and eager to get on with seeing what other game could be spotted before lunch. The exception had been a young woman whose dark hair blew around her face while she sat patiently in the dappled shade of a nearby shrub. She appeared to be held spellbound by the undulating landscape stretching away from them and was clearly focused on the rhino too.

Having covertly watched her closely for over an hour, John was about to approach her when an elderly man in a pale golf shirt stretched across his pot belly sidled up to him with “Anything worth seeing here?” It was a question John had answered several times over the past two hours. He pointed to the rhino, now half obscured by the shade of an acacia tree well below them. While doing so, he noticed the young woman smiling at him sympathetically as she picked up her binoculars and notebook before making her way to her vehicle parked next to the rustic wooden fence posts.

Afterwards, John found that even close views of eland standing in the tall yellow grass failed to elicit much interest. Instead he concentrated on scanning other tourist vehicles, hoping to catch sight the compact silver car he had seen the woman drive away in. The only distinctive thing about it, that he could remember, was a sticker of an aloe on the passenger side of the windscreen.

Frith photographed silhouettes of interesting shaped trees against the setting sun, then she glanced at her watch, terrified as always that she would arrive after the rest camp gate had closed. A feeling of relief surged through her as she joined a gathering convoy of vehicles following the bend of the river. Soon the bird hide built on stilts came into view, reassuring her that there was more than enough time to return.

Now that she felt more relaxed, Frith allowed herself to ponder about ‘the Rhino Man’. He had appeared to be so self-contained, so patient, and spoke in such a pleasant manner to those who had approached him that she had found herself covertly watching him more often than she had intended. What was his background? Why was he so obviously on his own?

“She obviously appreciates nature,” John mused as he drew up next to his tent. He had listened to other tourists talking about leopard sightings while he was purchasing bacon and beer at the camp shop. He knew it was almost impossible to predict their movements; he was fortunate to have bagged such a clear photograph of one on this trip. With his attention focused on producing a supper good enough to make up for his missed lunch, he failed to notice the dark-haired young woman scanning a poster of frogs outside the shop as he hurried back to his tent.

Frith was packing the last of her camping kit into the back of her car two days later when she heard a voice exclaim behind her. “You can’t be leaving now; I’ve just found you!”

The Rhino Man, wearing a hat and holding a pair of binoculars in his hand, approached her with a broad grin on his face. “I’ve been searching for you for days and you’ve been under my nose all this time!”

“How have I been under your nose?” Frith couldn’t help smiling in response.

“You have been camping only a few hundred metres away from me!” He rubbed the aloe sticker on her windscreen. “This is the give-away.” He stretched out his hand. “John Andrews,” he said warmly.

“Frith Ferguson.” They eyed at each other awkwardly for a moment before John pointed to his 4×4 truck parked nearby.

“I see we are from the same province at least,” he said, smiling. “Have you far to travel? I was planning to do a stint of bird watching in the hide before leaving. Would you have time to join me for a while?”

Frith watched the river water flow below them and noted little eddies appearing on the surface now and then; nothing dramatic, but enough movement to catch the eye. Her bird list had expanded considerably while in John’s company. She smiled contentedly, feeling the choking mantle dissolving as she listened to John’s voice next to her. They planned to meet up at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in April to do some trail running. In between now and then, however, there would be several weekends of bird watching in some local haunts.

“A few hundred metres away,” John laughed softly, photographing her with his cell phone. “I travel half way across the country to meet someone who lives only three streets away from me!”

Frith smiled while packing away her camera. “The call of home remains strong and I must return.” She pulled a face. “It’s back to work for me on Monday. At least meeting you will make the memory of this holiday last longer.”

“There is still so much to discover.” John looked at her earnestly. “Have you ever considered putting together a portfolio of those insect photographs of yours?”

“What, like rhino beetles and stick insects?” Frith laughed out loud. “With you, anything is possible!”



“We could make a good team then.” He shouldered his camera bag. “Let’s drive home together.”



You must remember singing the counting rhyme of

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddy whack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

and so on until reaching ten:

This old man, he played ten,
He played knick-knack once again;
With a knick-knack paddy whack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

It came to mind during our recent trip to the Addo Elephant National Park when we came across the remains of an elephant that must have died several weeks before our arrival. All that was left near the road was some dried up skin and a scattering of enormous bones. The rest of the carcass had already been cleared by various predators and scavengers in the Park. We were not surprised, however, to find a pair Black-backed Jackals sniffing around for they always seem to be on the lookout for something tasty.

Pictures of pet dogs gnawing at bones that are ordinarily far too large for them – all for the amusement of their owners – are common.

Here though were jackals giving what was left of an enormous feast a good look over for titbits that may have been overlooked in the feeding frenzy. Each sniffed the air cautiously as it approached the carcass. The second to arrive approached the first with its ears back and lowered its head. The two sniffed each other before making a close inspection of the surrounding area together. The jackals then circled the bones lying in the grass and, with heads down, surveyed the skin together before one found something tasty to gnaw on a bone, while the other – much to our amusement – stuck its head right into a large bone, presumably to get at the marrow inside.

jackal getting marrow

We left them to it, musing at the efficient way nature has of disposing of the dead while sustaining the living.