Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Waiting for a tow

The @#$%^&* insurance company "only" took three weeks to authorise repairs and would only let me have a hire car for 30 days, which meant a quick trip to Boksburg to collect the bike.  By this time I'd given up the will to keep fighting and really didn't want to foot the bill for another week, so I've at least got wheels.  Been here 5 weeks now but still not tired of the view........

............and while nothing I've experienced so far can beat the west coast, some of the sunsets have been impressive.

When I hooked up with Richard and Wendy the other day they came back to share one of Suzelle's braai pies - Google it for the recipe - and Boon took a sneaky shot.

Was bumbling around the neighbourhood the other day and found this spot above the N3 looking down on the dam.

 Not much in the way of indigenous on this side as the trees were all planted in the dark ages when nurseries didn't understand the word, but they do look pretty at this time of year.

And what is it about boats that forces you to take dozens of pics and struggle to find one to use.

Went up to a local birding spot in the hills above "Maritzburg that used to be great, but is no longer.  However this lady had constructed her golden orb right across an old road.  Pity the male wasn't around to show the size difference - he's not much bigger than her head.  How do you make love to a golden orb spider?  Very,very carefully.

It's not called the "Last outpost of the British Empire" without reason.  This is the Lion's River Polo Club about 10 k's up the road from Midmar.

And: "I say we're having a spiffing game of polocrosse today what."

 Wild dagga Leonotis leonuris is currently in splendid bloom and by the way the Latin names aren't there for your benefit but rather as an intellectual spur to my fading memory.

 Riverbed grass (Pennesetum I think) has inflorescences up to 2.5 m long and looks like a local version of the pampas grass that was used to try and stabilise the mine dumps around Johannesburg.

Would appear I'm not the only one who appreciates the view - three brand new Merc's lining up for a photo shoot.

As the birdlife around here is a bit sparse I trundled down the road to Albert Falls dam in search of a more lively atlassing spot.  Naturally enough I ended up doing the scenic route which involved an unintentional 100 k detour and was heartened when dam finally came into view, even though it was somewhat obscured by a raging veld fire.

Whilst the birds were good, the butterflies were even better but they all seem to have attention deficit disorder so are virtually impossible to photograph - the exception being this Small Orange-tip which paused for all of a micro-second or two.

In the same spot where I first introduced Jo to them nearly 20 years ago was a little flock of what I assume is their descendants, the now idiotically named Black-winged lapwings.

Have been putting out scraps for a while which promptly disappear overnight and eventually located one of the three ferals that hang around here in the storm drain across the road.  As he (I'm assuming) is the smallest I've tended to favour the little fellow but he still considers me "the enemy" and scarpers under the van whenever I move.  The big brown ears and tabby pelt makes me think his DNA may be more closely linked to an African wild cat than the others.

Met up with Richard, Wendy and Bill at the Pmb Botanical gardens and Richard insisted I include this, apologies.  The avenue of plane trees was planted almost exactly 110 years ago and is quite a spectacle.


Came across these in a patch of grassland and Richard was kind enough to enlighten me that they are Pink Plumes or, get this, Syncolostemon densifloris and I had to write it down as it was forgotten by morning.  Apparently traditionally used as a love charm but it doesn't work.........

Had to get all arty with the sun giving these psychotria leaves a silver lining.

 On our return to the avenue got my own back on Boon and it's a tripod not a rifle.

Saw a tree aloe at the gate that I assumed was barberiae and was informed by my learned colleague that this particular species was now known as "whatever it was".  Next day I received an email saying he'd made a mistake and it was actually tongaensis.  Great heavens above the man is actually mortal!

Popped down to Kloof for a couple of nights (thank you Christine) and had dinner with Justine and Richard Everett.  He was doing a pelagic on the Sunday and very kindly invited me to join.  This involved rising at some unearthly hour and getting down to Wilson's Wharf before the sun had even thought about getting up, even the moon had beaten it.

A 30 km odd trip out to deep water was lively to say the least and I spent most of it chatting to the skipper.  Among many subjects covered was the fact that this little catamaran which takes 20 was locally built and acquired second hand for a mere R3.5 million. There were apparently six boat builders in Durban and this is now down to one as all the rest have headed for greener pastures.

He's not awol, this is the downstairs stateroom con and there's another above it.

 Once properly at sea Richard and David Allan deployed the chum which has the most vile odour but does a good job of attracting some of the species called tube-noses who have an extraordinary sense of smell.  The guy from ISIS is Richard and the bandanna is not to keep out the stench but to prevent sunburn from reflections off the water.

10 species from an eight hour trip may not seem productive but most of them would never be seen from land.  The big gee-whiz things like Indian yellow-nosed albatross are really amazing and always create a stir no matter how often you see them.

Going through the list the next day I was amazed to find three lifers among them, two of which I have seen before but never noted and a delicate little Black-bellied storm petrel, not much bigger than a swallow.  It gets it's name from the black stripe which is odd and as I'm still waiting on a picture from Richard I had to lift this from the web.

As it was still quite dark when we left things like this monster car ferry went unnoticed ...........

 .........and this is what you get for 3.5 million.

As I'd never been before I found myself drawn to Hilton College and found another piece of England dumped in the Midlands...............

...............and on the way back noticed that the berg had been dusted overnight - can't wait to get back to sane temperatures closer to the coast.

Took a drive to a far corner of the dam for a stroll and on the way met this fine fellow, a Long-crested eagle.  Hard to look regal when when wearing a jester's hat.

Another alien which looks good at the moment is the swamp cypress,  a large slab of which ended up as our veranda table at Rivendal and it is soon off to Australia with the Everetts 

Some mornings are so perfect you just want to make a puzzle of them.

 Termites are rather fascinating creatures who harvest grass and wood to provide nutrients for the fungus gardens that they grow in their mounds for their own nourishment.  Every now and then they carry in vegetable matter that has spoors of much bigger fungi attached and results in something that returns the favour by busting out of the roof.  Called, I believe, Lawyer's wigs they are every bit as heartless as their namesakes.

Very early a couple of Sunday's ago people started arriving to punish themselves with a biathlon of varying distances dependant on age.  Watched the smallest doing a 1 km run and a 5 km cycle but interest soon waned.

Then last Sunday a familiar overhead roar had me leaping out of bed to see this majestic beast serenely floating by.  The one type of flying I haven't yet tried - perhaps if I'm still around next weekend.........

Having the BM here has been edifying as soon after I bought it I noticed a leak on the left cylinder.  After removing and replacing the exhaust manifold six times I finally figured out that that wasn't were the leak was.  Fortunately I had access to one of the finest workshops on the planet and the assistance of a very old and dear friend Alan Jones.  I'd convinced myself that it was a blown head gasket and was busy stripping it down when he commented that the leak was a long way from the base of the head.  Some seconds later I stuck a finger down the spark-plug hole and discovered that it was loose which was probably the most welcome thing that has happened to me in a very long time, thanks buddy.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Meandering and maundering

Pete and Brigid Turner kindly agreed to my parking the Beast in their garden and use of the still being completed conference/retirement venue which had a toilet and shower.  Fantastic site and free, thanks people.  This allowed time to revisit Krantzkloof from the Uve Road entrance.........

..........and from the Nkutu River side via the Splash picnic site for a view back towards the Uve Road falls just visible in the middle left of the picture.  This involved walking past the front of 29 B Margaret Crescent which I wasn't looking forward to, but it appears totally unchanged, which was comforting.

The watsonias were not as prolific as they can be but provided splashes of pink here and there........

..........while the crassulas were a magnificent magenta with tiny white stars at the centre of the flowers that cram the head of the plant.

Took an early stroll along uMhlanga's beach front and idly wondered where the inspiration for this pier came from - a dead whale perhaps.  A few nights later I was chatting to my next host and the topic of cremation arose which reminded me of the time I scattered my mother's ashes very close to the lighthouse.  There was a howling onshore and as I didn't have much experience of these things I grabbed a handful, flung it and of course the ashes came straight back into my face.   After much spitting and spluttering, I remembered reading that Keith Richard's once bragged of smoking his dad, but I doubt that many can top eating his own mum!

Shongweni Dam is always worth a visit and still manages to be a bird haven even though it is nearly surrounded by low-cost suburbia and at one of my regular stops close to the dam wall it was a great pleasure to find................

...............both Cape rock thrush and mocking chat still in attendance.

Also of interest was that the by-pass tunnel, that was originally used to divert the river when the dam was built, was open and flowing strongly, a sure sign of heavy rains in the catchment as..........

.............the dam was also spilling.  The structures on top of the wall are called fuse gates and are designed to drop over the edge when various stages of flooding occur, as a safety measure to prevent catastrophic failure and protect the downstream population.

Mark Ward-Able is the greenkeeper at Howick Golf Club and was my host for the next week or so.  Torrential rains made maneuvering the Beast on his lawn an interesting exercise that required a plank to prevent the nose-wheel bogging.  He generously invited me to a braai with vegetables and an interesting gravy that required slicing rather than pouring.

Very nearby the uMngeni River was creating a major spectacle at the close on 200 m Howick Falls.....

...........while Midmar was spilling for the first time in ages............

.........and is currently just over 100% full.

In August 2010 Jo found what turned out to be the 700 th species on my list, a forest buzzard.  Though I'd seen something that may have been one 10 years earlier I wasn't sure as they can be confused with juvenile common buzzards.  The way to be sure is to find a bird before the commons arrive from their sojourn on the steppes.  Which was why I headed for Karkloof where the event had occurred in the hope of seeing one for a second time.  Wasn't to be so had to make do with a dear little dusky flycatcher, which I've always described as 'sitting fat' from the poem about cats that says.......they sleep long and sit fat.

Here the Karkloof river drops over a fall that just pips Howick in height and creates a lot more mist.

Near the falls a couple of Cape honeysuckles, now Tecoma capensis, were flowering and one had such deep orange flowers that I suspect it originated in a nursery.

Was headed for Wagendrift near Escort when I got the news that there were problems renewing my licences.  This now has to be done in Gauteng as in spite of the umpteen billion rand eNatis system they are still unable to do it anywhere other than where the vehicle is registered.  They also no longer send out notifications that licences are due, so we now have to their job for them by filling in a new form every time.  Net result is my poor sister galloping around fruitlessly and vast costs of ferrying documents back and forth as you daren't use the Post Office.  Hence I ended up at Midmar Dam and now have to endure this view - tough in Africa.

Just down the road is Nelson Mandela's capture site which now sports a grand sculpture that merely appears to be a bunch of rusty poles with bits of scrap welded to them.....

until you take the metaphorical Long walk to freedom and hit the spot......  Very creative and original.

The other prolific species in flower now is the captivating Gladiolus dalenii just one of the many flowers the country has given to the world.

The Midmar dam side of the reserve has no animals but across the other side is Thurlow which is accessed by another gate.  It is well known for grassland species and a visit turned up this quaint little banded martin with quizzical eyebrows and a barn owl!  It was hunting over the grasslands at 11 am -obviously didn't have a very successful night.

Wendy and Richard joined me on my next visit to Thurlow and, while I'd seen one on my previous visit, we encountered no less than three stunning Denham's bustards.  However they were so skittish that a photo was impossible, so I borrowed one.  At over 7 kg they are one of the heaviest birds capable of flight.

Make of these what you will they are actually a fungus called a puff-ball, about the size of their golfing (or human) equivalent.

One stop produced a group of broad bordered grass yellow butterflies taking refreshment at a damp patch - probably urine.  Their name is far bigger than they are!

Then Bishop had a senior moment.  I parked on the verge and set off on a walk when I heard a vehicle approaching and looked round in time to see my bakkie hurtling down the hill, straight into the ladies loo - and I mean literally INTO.  I went to report it and phone the insurance company and by the time I got back there was a roll-back on site very competently removing it from where I thought a skyhook would be required.  Doesn't look too bad, does it?  Initial quote R127 000, thank heavens for insurance.  They've also given me a hire car for two weeks but as it's minute and hitchless I'm stuck until the repairs are done.  What an idiot, you may laugh as much as you like now..