HAEMANTHUS ALBIFLOS

Every year I look forward to the blooming of the Haemanthus albiflos, commonly known as the White Paintbrush Lily. These usually appear from the beginning of May until sometime in July.

This is an evergreen plant that occurs naturally in forest and thicket – that tells you something about parts of my garden – and occur in the southern and eastern South Africa. As you can see in the picture below, the stamens protrude conspicuously beyond the tips of the flowers and their anthers turn bright yellow or orange when ripe. Notice the ants on the flower head!

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CROWNED HORNBILLS (2)

For the past two days we have had up to six Crowned Hornbills (Tockus alboterminatus) [known in Afrikaans as Gekroonde Neushoringvoël] visiting our garden.

‘Crowned’ is a word which I initially assume has something to do with the head. Look at the picture of a Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus coronatus) and you will see what I mean:

Crowned Hornbills nonetheless have a flattish crest on their heads and sport a large casque on their upper mandible, which you can see clearly in the next picture:

These birds are known to eat insects, frogs, lizards, seeds and fruit. This morning, however, they were finding the flowers of the Erythrina caffra tasty:

Shortly before they flew off, this one had a good scratch:

KAROO SCENERY

The Mountain  Zebra  National  Park  is  situated  on  the  northern  slopes  of  the Bankberg mountain range, near Cradock in the Eastern Cape. Apart from seeing animals, birds and appreciating the natural vegetation, it is worth visiting the area for the scenery alone: the high peaks and plateau provide unparalleled views across the Karoo; then there are the ridges, wonderfully shaped rocky outcrops, and deeply incised valleys caused by the Wilgerboom River.

Generally, the dirt roads are in good condition, with some sections either tarred or have had concrete strips laid down.

It is while driving along some of the steep winding roads that lead down to such valleys from the plateau that one becomes aware of the underlying geological  formations  consisting of  sandstone,  siltstone  and  mudstone  of  the Beaufort  Group  of  the  Karoo  Supergroup,  with  dolerite  plates  and  dykes.

SPOTTED THICK-KNEE

The poor Spotted Dikkop (Burhinus capensis) having been re-named the Spotted Thick-kneewhat an undignified name that is for a bird, and all because of the bulging tibio-tarsal joint midway up its legs! ‘Thick-knee’ indeed! Then, Trevor Carnaby in his wonderful book entitled Beat about the bush: birds, informs us that that is not the knee anyway, but the bird’s ankle! He also maintains that the new name is “far better than the old name of dikkop, an Afrikaans name literally translated as ‘thick-head’” – referring to the dorso-ventrally flattened head that bulges to the sides. I beg to differ: no-one has ever suggested that dikkops are stupid in any way – in fact their amazing ability to stand stock still and to blend into their surroundings is anything but stupid! The renaming of birds does not always make sense to many of us, who remain more comfortable with the old nomenclature.

We do need to move with the times though and so I will share with you the only reasonable picture I have of the Spotted Thick-knee that recently paid us a visit during the gloomy crepuscular time of the day, once the sun was well set and the last of the light was beginning to lose the battle against the creeping dark.

Note the large eyes that are suited to their nocturnal activities as well as the cryptic colouring of its plumage. This is the first time I have seen one so close to home, although they occur all over the Eastern Cape and elsewhere in the country.

CANNON ROCKS

Cannon Rocks is one of several coastal villages between Port Elizabeth and East London.

The name is said to derive from cannons retrieved from the wrecks of Portuguese sailing ships that sank in the area – some of the many ships that have come to grief along the shore over the centuries.

After a short walk below the mounted cannons, one is met by water gushing out of this pipe – the origin or purpose of which I cannot tell, although the water looks clean.

The beach is a haven for peace.

SHARDS FROM THE PAST

When our forebears travelled from their countries of origin – initially by sea – to South Africa and then – by ox-wagon – to settle in various parts of the country, they had to be completely self-reliant. That meant packing for the future: clothing – and the means to make more; tools (so many initially unsuited to this part of the world); seeds; furniture; basic domestic goods and so on – including all their crockery and cutlery.

Now when we go camping we take unbreakable plates, cups, and even wine ‘glasses’ – these people travelled with the real McCoy: real glassware, and real crockery. Imagine packing those precious, breakable things for a journey into the unknown with the knowledge that they would not easily be replaced!

We have visited sites all over the country where early settlers would have made their homes, be it farm homesteads or early fortifications. A careful survey of the veld around these areas generally reveals some shards of the domesticity of those days.

This first example comes from Fort Willshire, in the Eastern Cape, which was erected by the British military in 1818-1819 and abandoned in 1836. Left to the elements, it is now a ruin that has become overgrown by natural vegetation.

The next comes from an area close to the old stone homestead at Hell’s Poort, a farm not very far from Grahamstown.

These shards of crockery have been picked up from various places in KwaZulu-Natal.

With the exception of the pink piece, the others all show various patterns of blue and white. Notice how thick they are. These shards are typical of the porcelain brought to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company and by the early settlers and give us an inkling into the domestic lives of those who came before us.