Tuesday, 28 May 2019


From Timbavati it was off to a a stunning flat in Ngwenya which overlooked the Crocodile River and ellies by the dozen feeding peacefully below.

A stroll around the extensive gardens turned up a species of millipede, new to me, handsomely striped with yellow.

Sun-downers on the deck were accompanied by a rather special sunset.

With the gate at Crocodile Bridge a 20 minute drive away, the vast reaches of Kruger beckoned and a late afternoon drive provided excellent views of black-backed jackal...........

.........and a pride of over-stuffed lions sleeping off their massive lunch.

On an early foray the following morning we stopped to ask what another carload of people were looking at and they pointed out this strange spectacle, a smallish python pretending to be a branch in the hope of attracting an unwary bird.

Maralyn's nephew works in Kruger and is doing a long term study of yellow-billed ox-peckers and is always happy to receive information regarding sightings.  Though normally associated with buffalo we found this chap working on a giraffe - note that the beak is not wholly yellow.

Most areas of the park have been blessed with rain, so the veld is looking really good and the animals likewise, are glowing with health from the bounty.

As I have a fascination with all things winged I was drawn to the Nelspruit Airshow and while most of the big guns from the circuit were absent there were large numbers of private aircraft such as this gaggle of Vans RV's

As it's not exactly blessed with a brilliant climb rate this old Antonov AN2 took off at least 20 minutes before.......

.........it dropped of a bunch of skydivers to open the show.  Last man down was this fellow trailing an enormous flag.

The old girl then hooked up with an assortment of others for a slow flyby in formation, then did a break just in front of the crowd line.

Next up a magnificently restored Boeing Stearman took off to do a solo display.

Nothing quite like the roar of rotary engines of Harvard T6's with veteran Scully Levine leading the pack.

The aforementioned private planes took off to form an extraordinary nine ship display............

......which then split into five and four man teams who each did their things, plus numerous others.  The whole thing was somewhat spoiled by an over-enthusiastic DJ pumping out incredibly loud music.

After a stint of house/pet sitting, I moved up to Hazyview to a site that had a lovely view but was too close to the R40 for comfort, so I escaped to the peaceful quiet of Pretoriouskop in Kruger.                           

As the grass is as high as the proverbial elephant's eye, game sightings were fairly rare but a family of giraffe allowed me the opportunity to show another difference between males and females, he has pattern baldness on his "horns".............

............while she, as befits a lady, has a full head of hair!


Came across several magnificent kudu bulls sporting full sets of horns.  Apparently they grow one full twist a year until they reach three and a half turns.  It is a rare, though unfortunate, occurrence that competing males sometime become inextricably entwined when fighting and both eventually die of thirst.

One thing that was very noticeable was how relaxed all the elephant were - obviously a result of the abundance of food resources.

An enormous conk does tend to give yellow-billed hornbills a down-in-the-mouth look but according to some recent research the beak acts as an air-conditioner allowing them an alternative cooling mechanism that is unique. They are also rather comical when a pair gets together for a chin-wag and bob and bow to one another while calling.

Dropped in to Skukuza for coffee and noticed droppings under the eaves of the shop and on looking up found these flying chihuahuas or epauleted fruit bats roosting.  The epaulets are the little white patches in front of the ears.

Bateleur eagles take 6 to 7 years and 4 moults to reach adulthood and this female is almost there.  Why is it a female?  The white primaries on the wings which in flight result in a much thinner black trailing edge than the males.

Here's Pretorious' kop (head) which leads me to believe that he had the same problem as I have!

Just to prove that you never stop learning, I watched this lady doing a staccato drum-beat on a hollow branch in some amazement as I'd always assumed it was only the males that indulged in this behavior.  Not so, the infallible Mr Robert's informed me, both sexes are aspirant Charlie Watts.  A few days later I was also astonished to learn that they are not the only species in SA to do this.  A cardinal woodpecker flew into a tree above me and proceeded to make a noise like a mini-jackhammer, something I've never before witnessed.

Try as I might there's just no way I can make this pile of rocks resemble it's name - Ship Mountain, but that is what the wagoneers of yore referred to it as - good old Sir Percy Fitzpatrick included - and by the way he wasn't knighted for his book about Jock.

A close-up reveals that's exactly what it is, a giant rockery and the bits that appear to be slathered in lime green paint, actually sport coats of lichen.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Wakkerstroom and other wanderings

Wanted to try and get pictures of an very elusive lark that's found in the Wakkerstroom area so spent a couple of nights at the very comfortable and reasonable Birdlife facility on the vlei just out of town.  The surrounding area is a rather spectacular combination of mountains and grasslands.

One of the multitude of species had seed-heads that were glinting like icicles in the sunlight.

Later in the afternoon billowing storm clouds were lit up in golden glory by the setting sun.....

...........and a stop on the road over the vlei heading towards Amersfoort early the next day provided a peaceful pre-sunrise scene.

Near the spot where I was hoping to locate Botha's lark, which I've only every seen once before, I happened upon a small group of spike-heeled larks, one of whom struck up this picture perfect pose which displays all the characteristics of the species to a tee - even down to the spike on the heel.

Having no luck in the valley, I climbed a small hill and was delighted to become reacquainted with a mini-euphorbia Euphorbia clavicaroides species that grows in these highveld regions forming a densely packed mass of cactus-like tufts that would look more at home in the sea. (Car keys by way of size comparison.)

Late afternoon on the causeway, looking back across the massive vlei to the Birdlife facility hidden in the trees on the left with the sun's reflections causing shimmering ripples was a delight to the eye...........

...........and a pair of shelduck completed the picture - he sporting the grey head and her the white.

While looking for another local special the following morning, I was left puzzling over this chap which try as I may refused to become a yellow-breasted pipit in winter plumage and remained resolutely an African - though I'm hoping some boffin will let me know the error of my ways!

Some minor compensation was provided by this wonderful little Amur falcon female intent on breakfast.....

........and one of many red-capped larks that were foraging in the road for goodness knows what.

Time came for the Dundee departure and I headed for Nelspruit once more to take up residence at the Lakeside Resort some way out of town on the Kaapsehoek road.  There are a number of majestic kapok trees in bloom all around town and their pink splendour goes some way to ameliorating the fact that they are aliens.

On a quick jaunt to Boksburg to sort a few niggles, I was once again assailed by the beauty of another alien species in the form of cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus, though they are a rather more insidious invader.

On a day visit to Kruger, I was particularly chuffed to find one of the smaller raptors of which there appear to be fewer and fewer even in the large reserves and this dark chanting goshawk certainly qualifies as one of the rarer species.  Although very similar to their pale chanting cousins, their range and overall darker grey plumage differentiates them though there are a number of other species that could cause confusion.

It has been a long held contention of mine that grey plumage just makes for a spectacularly smart appearance, take this lesser grey shrike as a stunning example.

Just down the road in Whiteriver, Maralyn introduced me to Dr Jeremy Anderson, a noted local naturalist who had a secret to divulge - a nesting pair of what is probably the most elusive raptor in SA, the secretive and odd looking bat hawk.  As a mostly crepuscular hunter with a taste for bats it is rarely seen unless you happen to know where a nest is located and as Jeremy has been keeping track of this particular pair for many years - bingo.  The female was sitting tight on a nest and not visible but the male was - most unusually - roosting in a dead eucalypt close by.

Note this brilliant piece of deception, the eyelid is white so even when sleeping he appears to be on guard.

And I finally managed to catch one of the white-browed robin-chats that frequent Maralyn's garden with it's guard sufficiently down to allow a reasonable photograph - will keep trying though.

After driving the R40 between Nelspruit and Whiteriver more times than I can count I suddenly noticed this magical piece of artwork near Bundu Lodge - look out for it if you're ever on that stretch.

An invite from Maralyn's friends Sally and Graham Kay saw us heading for Timbavati Private Reserve for Easter where the two of us were accommodated in this magnificent old farm house, rather unkindly referred to as "The Barn".

Once famous for it's white lions, the removal of the fences between it and neighbouring Kruger Park have resulted in the sad disappearance of the white race in their natural environs, but the recessive gene may well reappear in some future progeny. The garden around the camp buzzed with birds which included four species of woodpecker though I only managed to get a picture of a female cardinal.

Graham was our extremely capable and knowledgeable guide and chauffeured us to all corners of this incredible reserve with most of the birds and animals very relaxed and happy after good rains.  Some of the 106 birds recorded included Natal spurfowl....................

............a jewel in the form of little bee-eater and a night sighting of a white-backed night heron which may not be as rare as it appears but is infrequently seen because of it's totally nocturnal habits.

As Easter coincides with full moon, a sundowner spot provided a perfect picture.............

....... and was followed very shortly thereafter by a full moon rising - sometimes it really is tough in South Africa.