YELLOW GRASS

The bleached yellow or straw-coloured grass is a striking feature of the Mountain Zebra National Park during the winter – along with icy temperatures. The Springbok in the foreground is lying down to seek respite from the latter.

So are these Red Hartebeest, with a single Springbok to keep them company.

This almost colourless grass covers the valleys and spreads up the hillsides onto the plateau. A Mountain Zebra appears to be standing guard over a small herd of Red Hartebeest.

Despite its desiccated appearance, the grass is still nutritious for grazers, as this zebra demonstrates.

As do these herds of mixed antelope on the plateau.

The early morning and late afternoon light turns the grass into spun gold.

MOUNTAIN ZEBRAS GALORE PART TWO

No two zebras look alike, which makes it compelling to photograph the different patterns they display. Apart from that, I enjoy finding an individual with something different about it. During our visit to the Mountain Zebra National Park, this zebra caught my eye as it has somehow lost the tuft at the end of its tail.

This must be a nuisance when it comes to fending off flies, for example. It was soon enjoying a dust bath in a dry dam.

Several others in the herd were doing the same.

Appropriately, the last animal we saw as we were leaving the park was a Cape Mountain Zebra walking away from us: a fine farewell to a beautiful place and these fascinating animals.

MOUNTAIN ZEBRAS GALORE PART ONE

Appropriately the first animals we spotted after entering the Mountain Zebra National Park were … Cape Mountain Zebras.

The grey sky had nothing to do with rain and everything to do with cold weather: the temperature was -6°C when we set out for our early morning drive.

Not that the zebras seemed to mind the cold. The Red Hartebeest, on the other hand, are huddling in the dry grass to protect themselves a little from the icy wind which swept through the valley.

Note the horizontal stripes that extend right down to the hooves of the Cape Mountain Zebra. You can also see the dewlap on this one’s throat.

These zebras sport a characteristically reddish colour around their muzzles.

Cape Mountain Zebras mainly eat grass, bark leaves and occasionally roots.

Here a curious herd keeps an eye on us.

One cannot help admiring the beautiful area they call home.

It is time for this foal to have its breakfast.

The foal has a woolly covering to help it deal with the icy conditions of winter.

TRAVELLING LOCAL

The COVID-19 pandemic has clipped our wings in ways we would never have imagined a year ago. Initially there was the anxiety of repatriating South Africans abroad who needed to come home as well as the hundreds of people trapped here who had to return to their homes and places of work abroad. Then we were stuck: at first confined to our homes; gradually being allowed out to exercise; being restricted within provincial borders; and now we can – still with caution – enjoy what South Africa has to offer.

With so many overseas trips cancelled – and still not possible – ‘travelling local’ has taken on a new lease of life. There is a lot of ground to cover in this beautiful country! Friends and neighbours are taking advantage of setting off to explore hitherto unvisited areas or hiving off to the familiar delights of iconic places such as the Kruger National Park.

While confined to home during the initial lockdown phase, I got to know my garden very well indeed – as well as the creatures that share it with us. Nonetheless, I would gaze through our front gate with a degree of longing, yet only ventured as far as our local supermarket on my weekly grocery shopping expeditions.

Expeditions they have been too: rising in the pitch dark to enter the shop when it opened at half past six in order to avoid the lengthy queues that gathered outside after sunrise. I still go early even though the queues have somehow dissipated, and now can enjoy the fresh air and the birdsong at the start of the day. I am home by seven in the morning and the rest of the day stretches ahead, with the worst task already behind me.

‘Freedom’ first came in the form of being allowed to exercise close to home. We have got to know our local streets very well. How’s that for ‘travelling local’?

I clearly recall our first day visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. What a rigmarole it was to get in as we had to book the visit beforehand and show proof of our residence in the Eastern Cape. Then, as now, one had to fill in various forms and have one’s temperature taken – and of course wear a mask. Even though the shop, restaurant and the picnic area were closed, this didn’t detract from the sheer joy of leaving the confines of our town and being in the wild once more.

I have visited the area a few times since then, but the Mountain Zebra National Park was ‘calling’ too – especially once overnight accommodation was allowed. For the first time ever, we eschewed camping to stay in a chalet.

Another favourite place that has simply had to be savoured once more is the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Spending four days there was restorative for my soul.

We have not yet left our home province, but the rest of South Africa is beckoning …

BAT-EARED FOX II

An advantage of staying overnight in a national park – as opposed to a day visit – is that one can spend a longer time out instead of rushing to get to the gates before closing time.  We rounded a corner late one afternoon in the Mountain Zebra National Park and came across this Bat-eared Fox in the golden grass.

It was catching ants to eat.

This was a rather scruffy individual, yet a joy to come across so unexpectedly.

The Bat-eared Fox pounced on ants here and there, circled a few times, ran off a little distance, and then snuffled around again. Even though we were staying over, our time was running out and we reluctantly left it to return to the rest camp before dark.