Monday, 29 October 2018

Knocking about KZN

For those who have yet to meet her, this is Maralyn Robinson, a very special lady who has miraculously come into my life and who will hopefully stay here for a long time to come.

Shortly before returning to Bonamanzi to use the credit they had very kindly granted, I took a walk from the Turner's through Krantzkllof to number 28B Margaret Crescent and was pleased to see that the house and garden were unchanged.  For anyone who never visited us there this is the view that Jo and I enjoyed for around 12 years.

Early walks were the order of the day in Bonamanzi, and on one to the dam near Dinizulu Camp, I heard a familiar call and soon located old banana beak - a green malkoa. It is a difficult enough bird to see, let alone photograph as they usually lurk in the thickest parts of the canopy.

Wild jasmine Jasminum spp were in prolific flower and filled the air with their heady scent.

Dinizulu dam is full but a hunt along the shores did not turn up the hoped for Pel's fishing owl...........

.........however I guess this was a good enough second prize the near mythical Narina trogon, which is surprisingly easy to locate at this time of year as the males are overflowing with hormones and hoot constantly.

On the fringes black-winged stilt foraged for breakfast on legs that are at least as long as their body....

...........and on the shore, southern banded groundlings (dragonflies) hover just in front of you as your walk in order to snaffle any insects you may put to flight.

As reception at my campsite was poor I had to get down to Lalapanzi to chat and returning one evening found two newly fledged fiery-necked nightjars in the road.  When mom flew overhead to check on them one took off to join her but the other stayed long enough for a rather poor picture, nevertheless - Ag shaaaame.

On another morning perambulation I flushed a large raptor but as I was not carrying binoculars I could only guess it's identity.  Collecting both bins and camera from the bakkie I headed back to the site just over an hour later and voila, it was still in the same spot and allowed me to get some wonderful shots.  Again, a southern banded snake eagle is not an everyday occurence and to get photos was sublime.

Having occasion to get down to Lalapanzi to talk to Maralyn, I noticed this odd phenomenon on the way.  Can only assume the power lines had been recently replaced and hence, glowed in the late afternoon sky.

A visit to Cape Vidal provided a photo-op of another fairly unusual resident, a Samango monkey.

Separated from the main St Lucia lake is the smaller Lake Bhangazi which is refuge to a huge number of hippo, I counted 29 individuals in one pod.....

......and in the wetter areas common vlei lilies Crinum macowenii with their large, showy flowers.

I had a brief visit from an African broadbill near the camp who was very vocal and performed his little flying pirouettes perfectly but refused to allow any pictures as he only started well after sundown.  To circumvent the problem I went to a site where we were regularly able to show Natal Bird Experience guests these cute entertainers.  No-one was at home except for a bearded robin taking a late afternoon stroll.

My time at Bonamanzi unfortunately came to an end and I decided to head for the 'Berg, as I was on my way there when I had that senior moment and lost the bakkie to Midmar shitehouse.  A friend, Mark Ward Able (or Wobbly table) had recently been appointed greenkeeper at Gowrie Farm near Nottingham Road and near there, Glenshieling Caravan Park, beckoned.  Had no sooner set up than in dropped this scrounger looking for a hand-out.  Woolly-necked storks have become regulars at many resorts and old age homes as people appear quite happy to feed them.  This has led to a rather unnatural range extension and they are now found hundreds of kilometers from their former haunts.

On the way to Howick I came across this avenue of ornamental fruit trees, possibly Japanese cherries - imports are not a forte - lining the side of the road.  They were interspersed with orange azaleas and created quite a spectacle.............

.............with their densely packed flowers.

I then met up with Maralyn and spent three nights with her  friends in Umhlanga where I was pressed into service as a guide.  First up was Umhlanga Lagoon where we found a Natal Iron Plum Drypetes natalensis with it's unusual flower bedecked branches........

.........and next day at Mtunzini, just up the road, we spent time in the mangroves and dune forest where we came across these brightly coloured plate fungi..............

............and a rather cute armadillo beetle who rolled into a tight ball at our approach.

Finally Maralyn and I visited Inanda Dam as part of a round the gorge experience and located something else I'd never come across in flower, a mistletoe cactus Ripsalis baccifera.  A climber, which has no leaves (those in the background are something else) and our only species of cactus makes this one very special plant.

Then it was on to Jo'burg for a few days and finding myself at a loose end I decided to visit the War Museum that was just around the corner.  It was totally mind-boggling in it's variety and depth, but as aircraft are really my thing, herewith a selection.  An immaculate Hurricane, furtively snapped in a hall where photography is banned for some unknown reason.........

............. and this dirty great Fokker, sorry Junkers 87 or Stuka, an aircraft which was deliberately kitted out with a siren to make it sound fearsome when diving towards their target.........

..............and a Me262, not only the first jet in service but fitted with radar to track enemy aircraft.  With a top speed of around 1000 kph, the Allies were lucky they entered the fray too late to cause serious losses.

All the jacarandas around Jo'burg are in full bloom and this one was offset by a bougainvillea - it's just unfortunate that a picture never quite justifies their remarkable colour.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Bonamanzi and beyond

With my time in Durban drawing to a close, a walk in Ktantzkloof was called for and the chosen route was from Uve Road up to the beacon and back.  This involved crossing a stream that shortly after this spot plunges about 30 m into the Molweni Gorge and was pictured from the opposite side of the gorge in a previous blog.

Up at the beacon I came across this gorgeous brute who was manfully defending his territory from all comers. The aptly named gaudy commodore has two totally different morphs and what emerges from the chrysalis is dependant on ambient temperature, this being the winter version, while the summer ones are scarlet.

I believe it was Ian Fitzpatrick, the man in charge of the reserve in the 90's, who showed me what must have been used by bushmen in eons gone by. As visitors are not encouraged there is no path to the site and you need to know which tree guards the entrance.

A narrow squeeze between a rock and a hard place...............

.............leads to a spacious ledge with an ample overhang for protection against the elements...........

...........and a sheer drop of around 50 m to the bottom of the gorge!

A very special bedroom but if you roll around in your sleep.............

As I still had some nights left from my previous visit it was back to Bonamanzi where I managed to get a rather fuzzy shot of a purple-banded sunbird who actually sat still for a microsecond or two.  Very handsome in the early sun.

Though still very dry spring had begun in the area and an African dog rose Xylotheca kraussiana was absolutely covered.... delicate white blossoms that were a magnet for carpenter bees by the hundred.

Though I've met the tree before it was a novelty to see a Swazi ordeal tree Eryhtrophleum lasianthum in flower.  Parts of the tree are poisonous and it was used to determine guilt by the rather brutal method of administering an infusion to the suspect and if he or she died, good riddance and if not they were obviously innocent.

Also in copious bloom the caper bush Capparis tomentosa has a particularly powerful, sweet-smelling scent and it surprises me that no-one has ever used it for perfume - business opportunity anyone?

Managed to get a slightly better shot of the elusive lemon-breasted canary, but only the female, oh well if at first...........

Have been keeping an eye out for the pygmy geese that used to frequent a dam near the gate but actually found them on the big dam at Lalapanzi and managed to sneak close enough for a picture of the female............

...........and her very handsome mate.  Though there are three species of birds called geese in southern Africa, none of them are true geese, merely ducks that look similar.  Think of one of those large honking horrors that frequent barnyards - that's a goose.

My beauty sleep was interrupted by much twig snapping followed by thunderous branch cracking and belly rumbles the other night.  I didn't dare investigate in the pitch black but the following morning it was clear who the nocturnal visitor was, the broken branches............

............and oversized foot prints - with my puny foot as comparison pointed to something big and wrinkly.  Ah yes, said Andre (who rescued the Beast from a sand trap when I first arrived) that's the big bull elephant, did you get to see him?  You've gotta be joking.

My lovely lady returned from a 3 week stint in Croatia and Italy and as it was a long weekend I took a drive up to Whiteriver - getting to be a habit! The Botannical Garden in Nelspruit is probably second only to Kistenbosch and the clivias were in majestic bloom.

 Not sure who mentioned it but as Graskop was just up the road I managed to fold myself into the bright yellow Mercedes SLK that she had repurchased 20 years after owning it from new.  Unfortunately the roof refused to fold down but it was still an entertaining ride to the Gorge Lift.  This drops one 51 m to the bottom............


.........where a 600 m boardwalk winds through the forest.  Unfortunately there is also a bungee swing and the silence was periodically shattered by screams as various loons did a 60m free fall before the swing took over.

A massive fig had madea natural arch by dropping an adventitious root to prevent it from toppling.

Right at the bottom of the cliff a little waterfall trickled into a natural swimming pool.

Although the weekend turned into a week I was eventually forced back to Bonamanzi as the site my van was on had been booked and I needed to move.  When I arrived at the other site, I was greeted by a massive bush absolutely laden with tiny, white, sweet-pea shaped flowers.  A quick consultation with the book and voila a species I'd never come across previously a glossy flat-bean Dalberia nitidula.

Also in luxuriant bloom currently are the weeping boer beans Schotia brachypetala - and that's shottia not scotia as it was named after Richard van der Schot, head gardener of Schonbrunn (not Sconebrunn) in Vienna.

Had to go to St Lucia to get laundry done and returned via the Western Shores section. I carefully maintained the speed limit but at the exit was told that the minimum amount of time to traverse the park was and hour and a half so was basically held hostage for another 40 mins, ridiculous.  However it allowed time to pop up to Charter's Creek and it was great to see the extent of the water in an area that was dry for many years.

Have mentioned before the ever changing scenery outside the van windows and currently these two huge Zulu pod berries Dialium schlechteri fill the frame and provide wonderful shade.