THE URBAN HERD CLOSE TO HOME

The Urban Herd often passes by our home – so often that we actually name individual animals we easily recognise. Here is the Mud Cow, for example, so named because she looks as though she has been splashed with mud. This photograph of her was taken in November 2021 when she was grazing on our pavement.

Late yesterday afternoon she was on the pavement in front of the house next door to ours – this time with a skittish calf in tow.

She was one of a larger group of the Urban Herd we had not seen in the gathering gloom until our return. A few of them are caught in the headlights through the windscreen. There were many more dark shapes in the background that we had to wait for before we could proceed.

From time to time we come across a new-born calf. This one was nestled in the grass while its mother grazed nearby on the hill above our home.

At other times we can hear the mournful bleating of a calf that has become separated from the rest of the herd, like this one a short distance below where we live.

Here is a part of the Urban Herd resting in the park below our house. For some reason – apparently a new mower has been purchased – the municipality recently mowed the grass there for the first time in months. The Urban Herd still pays it regular visits though for there is water from a leak that has been untended for years and plenty of shade for them to lie under while they chew the cud.

APRIL 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

Not only is this post woefully late, but this is probably the shortest bird list for a long time – mainly because I was away from our garden for half of the month! Once again, photographs have been sourced from my archives.

A pair of Southern Boubous creep out from the thicket behind the bird feeders once they have established that the coast is clear. The first port of call is the birdbath on a stand before one or other ventures down to inspect the feeding tray. Laughing Doves still congregate in the trees or on the telephone cable, but are a lot more wary about fluttering down to feed on the ground. Perhaps they too wish to make certain there are no cats around before they do. It is very pleasing to hear the happy chirps from the weavers after their absence. Southern Masked Weavers were the first to return and now Village Weavers are making a come-back.

Several Speckled Pigeons keep watch on proceedings from the roof – one roosts on our bathroom window every night!

Olive Thrushes still call from within the trees and shrubs, yet have become shyer about coming out in the open since the neighbouring cats appeared. By contrast, it is lovely to both see and hear Red-winged Starlings in ever-increasing numbers as the figs begin to ripen on the Natal fig tree. It is always a pleasure to see a Black-headed Oriole.

Several Black-eyed Bulbuls chatter merrily in the foliage before tucking into the fruit put out for them.

There is plenty of natural fruit and seeds around to attract Cape White-eyes as well as the Speckled Mousebirds that are such fun to observe.

I will round off April’s round-up of garden birds with the real stalwarts, the Bronze Manikins, that arrive daily to flit about the feeder – always shifting up to make room for yet another one to join them there.

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Common Fiscal
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

GRAHAMSTOWN HISTORICAL CEMETERY

A large number of our principal citizens gathered in Church Square yesterday afternoon, with the many immediate friends of the bereaved family, in order to follow to the grave the funeral of this lady, whose decease was recorded by us on Monday last. The ceremony took place in the Wesleyan Cemetery, the neatness and beauty of which bear testimony to the kindly care of Mrs. FLETCHER, with whom (as well as with other members of her family since her illness) it has long been a labour of love to attend to the adornment of the last resting place of so many of our early colonists and their descendants.

Extract from The Grahamstown Journal Wednesday 5 April 1882.  [Bolding of words is mine].

The Wesleyan Cemetery forms a part of the larger cemetery in Grahamstown that is often referred to as the ‘old cemetery’ as the ‘new’ one is situated much further away. Look on in horror at what this historical cemetery looks like today:

This overgrown unkempt cemetery filled with historical graves that provide a capsule of the history of the town is not only scattered with litter, but has been vandalised and it is in fact unsafe to clamber through the weeds and bushes on one’s own. Ironically, a strong metal fence, fancy gates and a sturdy lock guard one roadside frontage, whilst the fence has been torn down elsewhere as people have made a path through it – a shortcut into town.

Most of the rusty metal railings surrounding graves have either been broken or removed – doubtless to sell as scrap metal. This is one of the few that has survived such an onslaught. For how long?

We had visited the cemetery with out of town friends who were looking for graves with a family connection – a very difficult task under the circumstances. Not many graves were still upright and in a fairly good condition like this one:

An astounding number of gravestones have been deliberately pushed over:

Given the climate and the age of the cemetery, it is probably natural that some of the sun-baked bricks would erode – although we felt that some were being deliberately gouged out:

Even the marble lion atop a memorial honouring men from various regiments who had died while serving during various Frontier Wars has had part of its face smashed:

Sadly, this is the fate of many cemeteries, especially those in rural towns.

GOODBYE TO ALL THIS

We leave this morning for an adventure into the Western Cape. As we head out of town we will be saying goodbye to:

A herd of goats in Graeme Street, crossing the road from a private school to test out the lawns further down on the Rhodes University campus.

The Urban Herd of cattle making their way along Somerset Street.

And farewell to these donkeys walking along African Street.

I wish you all well over the Easter weekend.

OLD FOUR LEGS

It was on 20th February 1939 that the world found out that a Coelacanth had been caught off the Chalumna River mouth near East London. What made this headline news is that until then the Coelacanth was thought to have been extinct for nearly 70 million years. The fish had actually been brought ashore on 22nd December 1938 by the trawler Nerine, skippered by Captain H. Goosen. He was unable to identify this enormous fish measuring 1,5 m in length and weighing 57kg.

The Curatrix of the East London Museum, Dr Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, had the fish treated and mounted by Mr R Center, a taxidermist, and sent sketches of it to Prof. J.L.B. Smith of Rhodes University in Grahamstown, who was able to identify it as a Coelacanth on 16th February 1939 and named it Latimeria chulumnae. The name is both a tribute to Dr Courtenay-Latimer and an acknowledgement of where the fish had been found. The scientific significance of the Coelacanth relates to it being the longest surviving species of a group of fishes known to have become extinct millions of years ago – the oldest known coelacanth fossils are over 410 million years old. It is the closest living relative of Rhipidistia, which emerged from water onto land and which may have given rise to higher forms of life.

After a fourteen-year search, Professor Smith and his wife Margaret found a second Coelacanth off the Comoro Islands. It is this specimen that is displayed at what used to be called the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology in Grahamstown – one of the first exhibits we visited on our arrival in this town. Since then a number of other Coelacanths have been caught off the Comores. Divers have since come across Coelacanths near the iSimangaliso Wetland Park off the KwaZulu-Natal coast. There are two species, the Indonesian and the West Indian Ocean coelacanth, of which the latter is found in South African waters.

16c stamp depicts a Coelacanth in its natural habitat.

30c stamp depicts Prof. J.L.B. Smith and Dr Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer with a Coelacanth.

40c stamp shows the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology which was established in Grahamstown in 1946 and which still plays a role in marine fish research. It is now known as The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity.

50c stamp shows another view of the Coelacanth, along with a two-man research submarine, highlighting the need for marine research into conservation measures to protect this rare species.

The stamps were designed by A. McBride and the First Day Cover was issued in East London on 9th February 1989. It shows an outline of South Africa with the position of East London clearly marked and the trawler featured alongside. A painting of a Coelacanth features prominently below it.

The JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology issued their own covers, as shown below.

The nickname, Old Four Legs, relates to the paired fins that gave rise to an initial thought that the Coelacanth may have ‘walked’ on these leg-like pectoral fins. Prof. Smith published a book, Old Four Legs about the discovery of this fish and subsequent research on it.