ELEVEN EGRETS

Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are a common sight here, especially since the occasional appearance of the Urban Herd became permanent. Interestingly, Bubulcus is the Latin word for ‘herdsman’ – they certainly do appear to keep a close eye on their ‘charges’ and their relationship with cattle, buffalo, and even zebra are interesting to observe. Each animal appears to have an egret in attendance, ready to pounce on insects flushed by these large animals as they move through the grass. I have occasionally seen an egret pecking at ticks on the tip of a cow’s tail. They are also known to feed on frogs, small mammals, worms and eggs.

These are elegant looking birds, both on the ground and especially when they catch the late afternoon sun when in flight home to their communal roosting spots. I see them flying over our garden singly, in twos or threes, and sometimes many of them together. The tree in which many of them used to roost in town was cut down in an effort to get rid of them, so I am not sure where they go, although they have been recorded as flying up to 20km to their feeding areas.

These ones appear to be resting from their labours. If you look very closely, you may count more than the alliterative eleven basking in the late afternoon sun.

LOCAL CATTLE

We have become so used to finding scattered herds of cattle – what I call the Urban Herd – all over town that it was most surprising to find they had all disappeared over the festive season. Where could they have got to? My guess is that the owners may have rounded them all up to count them – so many calves have been born since the end of November that it wouldn’t surprise me if it was time to take stock. Of course there were no roaming cattle when we first arrived here; the first ones were a curiosity, a nuisance, and were regarded as a danger to traffic and destroyers of gardens and public parks. Perhaps the drought or simply familiarity softened our collective stance – we actually missed their presence! Wherever they went, the Urban Herd is slowly returning to our suburbs and to the so-called industrial area (there is virtually no industry here) on the outskirts of town.

We have dubbed this the Forest Herd as they frequent the old golf course and the hillside below the army base, only occasionally venturing down as far as the open ground below our home. I have taken a few head shots. The first is of a cow I last saw at the old golf course before Christmas.

She is easily recognised by her distinctive facial pattern and the shape of her horns. Notice the notch in her ear, which must indicate who her owner is. The horns of this one are admirable.

She too has a notch in her ear. I am rather surprised by the grey flecks on her face – another dark cow also looked grizzled, as if they were showing an advanced age. One cannot forget a pair of horns like this:

This one appears to have slight notches in both her ears – another subtle indication of ownership.

Driving along the Highlands road towards the stone bridge I have featured, we pass several cattle farms. These two Ngunis (a breed of cattle indigenous to southern Africa) caught my eye:

The patterns on their hides are incredibly beautiful.

CATTLE HORNS

As the Urban Herd has become entrenched in our community, one can other love them or loathe them. Far better than the latter is to observe them closely so that you can recognise and even admire individual beasts in terms of their size, colouring, relationships to each other – and their horns.

Symmetry in motion:

Short, yet powerful:

Sweeping horns:

Black-tipped horns:

A BULL ON MY DOORSTEP

We soon got used to goats and cattle sharing the beach with us during our brief sojourn along the Wild Coast.

One afternoon, however, I heard a soft banging against the wooden deck attached to our rondavel. Bang, bang, bang. Who could it be? I looked out:

Before long this bull moved to the bottom of the wooden steps and really looked as though he would like to mount them!

“Good Afternoon, Bull,” I said, “Are you hoping for a cup of tea?” He blinked his moist eyes at me, shook his head, and went to munch on some grass instead.

SWELL ECO LODGE

The Swell Eco Lodge is tucked into such a quiet area along the Transkei Wild Coast that if it hadn’t been for intrepid members of my family I wouldn’t have heard of it – and what a tranquilly beautiful place it is!

This self-catering accommodation is situated within a peaceful rural Xhosa village in the area of Mngcibe, with spectacular views of the rolling hills, the sea and the nearby Mdumbi River – which is great to swim in.

This corner of paradise is definitely off the beaten track, so just getting there is an adventure of its own as one has to follow a series of ever-deteriorating roads to reach it. As we left the last of the towns and the tar behind, the dust became thicker and the roads more populated with livestock.

These included cattle, goats, pigs and even geese.

Once there, we were able to enjoy the pristine beaches mostly on our own, sharing it with goats and cattle – which didn’t bother us at all.

I highly recommend this as a place for complete peace and a recharge of the soul.