SPOTTED THICK-KNEE 2

It is almost a year since I came across a lone Spotted Thick-knee (Burhinus capensis) in the road close to our house. Despite listening out for its distinctive rising and falling call, especially at night, and looking out for it at dusk, I have had no sign of its presence again.  The Addo Elephant National Park has proved to be a good place for seeing these birds, where it is best to look out for them in the late afternoon, or in the early morning. This one was photographed at Ghwarrie Dam shortly after sunrise last year.

Of course you may see one during the middle of the day, such as this one at the Spekboom Hide the year before.

They can stand so still that they aren’t always easy to see as their cryptic colouring helps them to blend into the background very well. I have read that their nests are simply a shallow scrape in the ground and so I have always imagined this would be well out of the way of foot traffic – never mind vehicular traffic. Imagine my surprise then at finding a Dikkop (I love its old name!) sitting right next to the edge of the gravel road called Harvey’s Loop.

It couldn’t have been closer to the edge of the road if it tried. I reversed to get a better look and was astounded to realise that it was sitting on eggs. As both parents sit on the nest alternately and the sexes look alike, I cannot tell whether this is Mr or Mrs!

You can clearly see the scrape in the ground containing two cryptically coloured eggs – with only the parent for protection. The incubation period for the eggs is about 24 days, with both males and females involved in the rearing of the chicks.

I felt I had disturbed it enough and drove away slowly, still marvelling at this wonderful sighting.

NOTE: Click on the photographs if you wish to get a larger image.

ELEPHANTS APLENTY

Despite its name, one cannot be guaranteed to see a lot of elephants – or even any elephants – whilst driving around the Addo Elephant National Park. Sometimes one feels fortunate to see a lone elephant, such as this one, wading through the shallow water in the Ghwarrie Dam or drinking quietly with only water birds for company at first.

Note the thick, dark mud sticking to its tusk. It was later joined by a lone Cape buffalo that wasted no time in wallowing in the mud.

The situation at Rooidam was different, for here a small herd had gathered, waiting patiently while a young one found a deeper hole in which to wallow. It sometimes submerged itself so completely that only the tip of its trunk showed above the water. You can see, from the elephant on the right, how shallow the water is for some distance from the edge.

You will notice that most of the other elephants have already covered themselves with mud or sand, which helps to protect their skin from the harsh rays of the sun (as we would use sunscreen) as well as from parasites.

At Domkrag another elephant cut a lone figure as it drank thirstily from the dam. You can tell from the shadow beneath that the sun was high. A strong hot breeze was blowing too which added to the discomfort of the thirty plus degrees heat.

No single photograph can capture the hundreds of elephants gathered at the popular Hapoor waterhole. Far too many vehicles were parked cheek-by-jowl along the edge of the main watering place for another to get in, so these two photographs show a small section of the hundreds of elephants gathered on the other side of that waterhole where, presumably, there must also be access to watering points.

Note: you can double-click on these images for a larger view.

FRIEND OR FOE?

Farmers do not regard these wily creatures as friends, yet they are a delight to observe in their natural habitat.

Black-backed Jackals tend to mate for life and so, should you see one in the veld, you can virtually be certain there is another in the vicinity. A pair of them trotted purposefully along the edge of Ghwarrie Pan shortly after sunrise one morning. It was at Carol’s Rest though that we observed an interesting altercation between a Black-backed Jackal and a Pied Crow.

The latter had already experienced an unsuccessful attempt to share the small waterhole with an Egyptian Goose that had arrived out of the blue – with no intention of sharing the water with anyone!

Once the Egyptian Goose had drunk its fill and flown off, the Pied Crow was in no mood to be ousted from its drinking spot again and made sure the approaching Black-backed Jackal was aware of this. Doubtless, the jackal was thirsty too and so it kept trotting purposefully towards the water. The crow opted to make a pre-emptive strike.

It continued to harass the jackal until it gave up and moved away to drink from the overflow a little further down the slope.

ADDO ELEPHANTS

Elephants tend to move around in family groups led by a matriarch. These elephants in such a group were quenching their thirst at Ghwarrie Pan in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Male offspring are ousted from these closely-knit family groups once they reach the age of about twelve and they start to show a more than brotherly interest in the females. This must be a difficult period for these young bulls until they team up with other bulls or attach themselves to an older bull. This young bull had followed the family group pictured above from a discreet distance. It refrained from joining them, but constantly smelled the ground they had covered.

It waited patiently until the family group had crossed to the other side of the water before moving to where they had been drinking. It was only once his former family group began walking towards the lip of the hill that he finally began to drink from their last position at the dam.

Of course it is always exciting to get close to elephants in this park, where you often don’t really need a fancy camera to get pictures such as this:

Or this one:

Hapoor waterhole is a marvellous place to spend time watching groups of elephants greeting each other, young ones playing with each other, or simply to observe the actions of these majestic animals.

One shouldn’t become too complacent about the apparent gentleness or the tolerance the Addo elephants seem to have for tourists and their vehicles. It is best to maintain a healthy respect for them, to give way to them, and to allow them the space the need to move.

 

YOU CANNOT BOOK THE WEATHER

The camp sites in the Addo Elephant National Park are so popular – even during the week and out of the traditional ‘holiday seasons’ – that one has to book way ahead. As the time approached we scanned the expected weather daily: cold and rainy … cold and rainy … then our day of arrival was forecast to be warmer and dry: good for pitching the tent at least. The day before we left the temperature had risen to 46°C and all signs of rain had disappeared.

We had not bargained for either the strong wind or the smoke and dust-laden air that filled the sky at least from Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown. What should have been a twenty minute job of setting up camp became longer: the ground was so hard that we had to drill holes to get the tent pegs in; the wind whipped every corner of the tent and flysheet and shook it; the tent billowed and guy ropes were whipped out of our hands even as our eyes filled with dust and grit and the smoke from veld fires assailed our nostrils. Thank goodness for the thick hedges of Spekboom planted between the camp sites: they not only provide a degree of privacy for campers but afford some protection from the wind.

At Domkrag the reeds swayed and bent in the strong wind which shook the carefully woven nests without mercy.

A Red-knobbed Coot (Fulica cristata) battled its way through the water weeds as the wind swept down the hill and buffeted all the water fowl that dared to be out on the open water.

Others, like this pair of Yellow-billed Ducks (Anas undulata) sat on the bank with their heads tucked well in.

The late afternoon air was thick with smoke and dust.

With the bonus of a dramatic sun approaching the horizon, casting its golden glow on the surface of Ghwarrie Pan.

ZEBRAS WIN THE DAY

ZEBRAS WIN THE DAY

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

dryAddo

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

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

zebradust

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.

Rooidam

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!

zebraherd

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.

stripes

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.

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.

zebrafoal

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.

warthogs

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.

ele1

ele2

ele3

ele4

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?”

elephantandbuffalo

eleandbuffalo

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.

kudubush

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.

bbjackal

suricate

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.

terrapins

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

ghheron

bhheron

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!

Domkragzebras

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
Bokmakierie
Cape Turtle Dove
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Karoo Robim
Lesserstriped Swallow
Moorhen
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Red Bishop
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Spurwing Goose
Steppe Buzzard
Yellowbilled Duck