Friday, February 28, 2014

Drakensberg, South Africa

Hazy skies over the Central Drakensberg on our travels last month

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tawny eagle eating a snake

Yesterday Grant came home for lunch and he'd just seen an eagle killing a snake on the haul road. We checked up in the bird book and he identified it as a Tawny Eagle. After he'd had his meal, he said he was taking my camera to go back to the spot where he'd seen the eagle. Perhaps he'd be lucky and the bird would still be there. I wanted to set the camera on Manual but he reckoned he'd rather have it on Auto. (By his own confession, he's not such a good photographer)

He returned home after about ten minutes, greatly excited. The raptor was still there and at that point was eating its lunch.   When we downloaded photos onto my laptop, we were [both!] surprised to see very good images of a Tawny Eagle and the snake between its talons. 

Take a look :
 Tawny Eagle with the snake between its talons 
A regal-looking Tawny Eagle captured beautifully on the automatic camera setting! 

Photo credits: Grant Hedges

It makes me think that perhaps I should refrain from trying manual and custom settings when photographing birds in the field! But Grant maintains that he was just lucky and the bird was close enough to get good photos! 

I hope you're all having a great week.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Last birding post from South Africa

On our road trip back from Kwa-Zulu Natal to the Free State, we stopped and I took photos of several birds along the way. At a STOP/GO roadworks which are prevalent all over South African roads, Rina spotted a pair of Blue Crane in the field nearby.
Blue Crane pair seen on Oliviershoek Pass, border between Kwa-Zulu Natal and Free State 

The Blue Crane is endemic to Southern Africa. It's an all-grey crane with a bulbous head and a long, trailing tail. 

The blue crane is currently listed as vulnerable with threats  such as poisoning, illegal trade, habitat destruction, power line collisions and active persecution by landowners facing it. Although the blue crane faces many threats, many conservation measures have been put in place to protect the species by various conservation bodies like the South African Crane Conservation Program of the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Overberg Crane Group. These groups have managed to form wonderful working relationships with landowners whose property the cranes live on, their staff, as well as the general public, in an effort to protect the blue crane.

The Blue Crane is South Africa's national bird. 

After breakfast at a restaurant at the top of the mountain pass, as we were leaving, I heard beautiful birdsong. I reached onto the floor of the car where I always keep my camera handy and got out to look for the bird. Soon between me, Grant and Rina we spotted it sitting on a pole nearby.
Cape Rock-thrush

The Cape Rock-thrush is endemic to South Africa and although at first I thought it was a Sentinel Rock-thrush (the Sentinel being one of the large mountain peaks in the nearby Drakensberg) once we'd checked in our bird book (also conveniently nearby at my feet in the car!) we saw that the other bird had a grey head which extended onto the upper breast.  I thought this Robin-like bird was every bit as beautiful as his song. (This is the male of the species in my photo above) 

We were only a couple of hundred kilometers from home when we spotted a raptor perched on the wire near the road. Although Grant and I felt we should know this bird, we struggled to identify it. Only when we got home and I downloaded my photos onto my laptop, and we saw a "similar" but more striking bird (which I'd captured near the Drakensberg the day before) did we realize we were looking at the male of this species.
 Amur (Eastern Red-footed Falcon) Male

What confused us was that, in the bird world, normally the female is not as beautiful as the male in the bird. Here with this Amur Eastern Red-footed Falcon, as with its Western counterpart, the female is much more colorful and attractive than the male. (Yippee!!) 

See for yourself ...
 Amur (Eastern Red-footed Falcon) Female - isn't she a beauty?

I'm linking to Wild Bird Wednesday, a beautiful birding meme hosted by Stewart Monkton. Do pop in and see his stunning bird images by clicking here

Here's wishing you all a wonderful Wednesday!

Ok, so can we go play now?

Photo: Debbie Hedges

For more Wordless Wednesday, please click here

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Road trip in South Africa

After our bike trip to the Cape, Grant and I planned our road trip (by car, this time) to Kwa-Zulu Natal. We were off to visit Grant's mum but before that we collected our friend, Rina from a nearby town where she'd bussed in from her home in the northern Free State. She was coming along of us and also spent several days at home with us after we'd returned.

Early on Sunday morning we left home and headed south. We collected mum-in-law from the retirement home in Durban and drove up the north coast road to spend the morning with Grant's brother, Charles. 
 Family gathering: MIL, Pam, Grant's brother, Charles; Rina and Grant

After Grant had treated us to a delicious lunch at an authentic Portuguese restaurant nearby, we bid farewell to Charles and set off for the Guest House which I'd booked for the night. 

This was no ordinary overnight stay. Earlier this year I searched online for a suitable guest house where we could book a double room for me and Grant and a single room (same size room, with two single beds  instead of one double) for Rina and MIL. Grant spotted an establishment called Nalson's View and realized it belonged to a couple whom we'd known in our youth. Calvin (also known as Kelly)  had been the General Manager of the Chevrolet garage in Greytown, where he - Grant - did his apprenticeship in the seventies. Although I'd booked under our names, Wendy, who confirmed the booking by e-mail, didn't recognize that we were the same "Hedges" from way back when. 

When we arrived at their  Guest House in Salt Rock, Wendy came out onto the patio to welcome us. As Grant introduced himself, she said: "You're Grant Hedges from Greytown! " After much hugging and laughter, Wendy told us not to let the cat out of the bag when Calvin arrived. He duly came out and when Wendy said: "Do you remember this man, Calvin?" he was none the wiser, until Grant said: "Afternoon, Kelly!" From then on the two men sat and reminisced and we all caught up on the forty years since leaving Greytown.
The view from the deck of Nalson's View Guest House 

 The Guest House deck where we sat and caught up with all the news from the seventies! 

Later that afternoon, Calvin told us that one of the elderly residents in town had passed away the month before. While his estate is being wound up, his beach house and a large Ridgeback called Rex is left in the care of his house-man of many years. Between Calvin, his son and several other Salt Rock residents, people take turns to check on, and walk, Rex on the beach. Although Rex had already been walkies that day, Calvin wanted to show him to us. He also suggested we enjoy sun-downers on the lawn of the beach house which afforded a spectacular view over the ocean. The men packed some refreshments into cooler bags; the women took towels to sit on (I took my camera!) and we drove over to the other side of town to say hi to Rex. 
 Rex, resting on the veranda of his deceased master's house 
The house behind Rina and my mother-in-law will be sold as the owner's heirs live in Johannesburg. There are many Salt Rock homes willing to take Rex when this happens. (Rex's ultimate fate was the first thing I asked about when we got to the house!)
The view from the beautiful old beach house
Eager fishermen casting off from High Rock which is one of the Heritage Sites in Salt Rock

The next morning before breakfast, Calvin, Grant and I walked to the beach - Grant collected seawater for Emily which I posted about yesterday. Calvin also wanted to take us to High Rock, one of the many heritage sites in Salt Rock.  (Go read it on the link - it's quite creepy very scary what the old Zulu king expected of his warriors and how he treated his enemies). There were many fishermen casting off the rocks. Grant and Calvin wandered in between chatting to them. They were obviously remembering their times together when they fished from a ski-boat off these very shores. 
 Calvin and Grant mingling with the fisherman on the rocks
Grant, his mum, Pam and Rina on the deck before we had breakfast at Nalson's View

The previous evening while Grant and Calvin chatted up a storm,  I was in our room transferring recent photos from my laptop onto Pam's digital photo frame. I do this every time we spend the evening with Pam to encourage her interest in our life in Tanzania: Grant's mining activities, our birding trips in the bush, as well as photos of the cats and now also Princess the pup.  I also add photos of her seven great-grandchildren so that she can see them growing up. Doing this little job normally means I "neglect" mother-in-law.  Although there's not much that you can do to entertain an older person, afterwards they're inclined to say that you took them out of the home for the night and then left them high and dry in a strange place. Rina was an absolute star in keeping MIL Pam happy that night! 

From Nalson's View, we headed back into Durban where we dropped MIL off at the retirement home. 

We headed towards Howick where we popped in and had tea with Grant's maternal aunt, Gill and husband, Neville in a retirement village. Neville has just turned 80, but Gill is only a few years older than Grant, and we always have a lovely catch-up with them en route. 

From Howick, we traveled through Karkloof towards Greytown and ultimately, Muden. We had phoned ahead and booked accommodation with friends, Brian and Gene who have a beautiful lodge on the Mooi River. Grant, Gene and I were at school together in Greytown. She grew up on the farm which is where she now runs her lodge and Grant and I often visited here while at school.  Gene and Brian have been married for 37 years, so we four have known each other this long as well! 
 Ivala Lodge which used to be Gene's family home, is now a successful Guest House in Muden, Kwa-Zulu Natal
Gene and Brian have three Alsations (German Shepherds) and a ginger cat called Max. They also have two black-foot cats which are classed as wild cats. I hope to post about these later. Above Rina relaxes on a stone bench near the river with two of the dogs and Max the Cat! 

The next morning after breakfast we took our leave of Brian and Gene and set off towards the Drakensberg. We stopped in Estcourt to say hi to my brother, a teacher/librarian at Drakensview Primary School. Phillip has a lovely blog about his passion: fly-fishing, walking the dogs on the farm and taking photos of the 'Berg in the distance, and birds in the bush nearby. 

Our last overnight stop was in the Drakensberg with Debbie and children. (John had not yet returned from him stint in Mozambique) We had a wonderful afternoon, evening and time together. Grant took Eryn and Joshua fishing on the dam just below the guest cottage he'd booked for the night. The younger ones, Elijah and Bethany played with their toys on the veranda. Once again, Rina proved that all who meet her, love her. The children migrated towards her to help with winding up their aeroplane toys and the girls stood in line wanting their hair "put up" like ladies do.

We arrived home mid-week having been on the road for four days and having met up with family and friends along the way. We spent another five days in and around our Marquard home before it was time for Rina to return home to Parys.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Drinking sea water

WARNING: don't' try this at home! Seriously, it's potentially dangerous!

Every time we go to the coast, my house-lady at home asks if we'd bring back sea water for her to drink. I have grown up with this request from our house-help and we've been doing it for that many years. People upcountry don't often get to the sea (I don't think Emily has ever seen the sea) and because it's a remedy that's been passed down through the generations, we're always asked for seawater when we merely mention going to the coast. When we return from a trip, we always bring a memento of our travels to Emily. She accepts this with gratitude. Yet, you cannot imagine the jubilation when Grant hands her a five-liter container of seawater.

To find out why this commodity is so sought after, I decided to Google it. I found a rather long-winded  loquacious account by a photographer who was seeking for authentic stories with a cultural idea behind it. He made a video of a young Eastern Cape gentleman who explains exactly why people drink seawater. (Yes, you guessed it, it's primarily for health reasons) 

Please click here  and read all about it.

The holiday before last, we stayed over in the Oyster Box Hotel. Although the beach was directly below our bedroom balcony, the weather was very bad that weekend and we didn't get to stroll along the shore. On the morning of our departure, I phoned reception and told the young Zulu man my needs. (He knew exactly why I wanted seawater to take home) He came to our room and collected the car keys.  I also explained that if he entered the underground garage parking, he wouldn't have a problem locating the large silver SUV with number plates which said "HEDGES". Inside the car, he'd find an empty five-liter water bottle  etc etc. 

After he'd completed this task, he placed the container of seawater in the car and returned the keys to me. I  tipped him for doing this very important job for me.  BTW The Oyster Box is a five-star establishment and nothing is too much trouble!(Think Beverley Hills Hotel in the movie, Pretty Woman)

When we were at the sea in January, we walked down to the beach from our Guest House early on the morning of our departure. Grant filled the bottle to the brim with seawater and added about an inch of seasand. This is apparently very important. I wondered if this was because innocent people have previously been duped by being given "salt water" and not genuine seawater or was there another reason. The young man in the video above explains this as well!

Unfortunately I only focused on Grant collecting seawater, which he says is not as easy as it looks! There were at least a dozen people in the waves near him also collecting water but I missed that! 
 Grant collecting seawater for Emily  
 Mission accomplished! (Wet shorts, gritty legs and all!)

Here's wishing you all a wonderful week ahead.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hedges Kitty household update

Hi Bozo and mum's blog readers; it's Ambrose here again posting while she and dad are out watching a funny game on the television. 
 It's rainy season and this week has been either wet or overcast. Dad Ginger, me and Unca Shadow spend most of our day on our day bed on the veranda 
 Our friend, Princess is growing up fast, mum says. She brought her a pullover from that F A R place and it's too small for her! 
Princess likes to sleep near her "aunt" Toffee. We cats are very, very afraid of Toffee because she almost caught Unca Shadow once before! 

 We, the Tanzanian Trio have decided that we really like Princess

Isn't she sweet?

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Breakfast Run reflections in South Africa

This dam between Fouriesburg and Clarens in the Free State is a perfect photo opportunity and we always stop for this when on a breakfast run

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Shadow Shots in South Africa

That's me at the back !

Riding through Meiringspoort
The unnamed bridge over the Orange River (the name has been taken off since we last rode over here)

Shadow shots taken from the back of our bike during our recent tour in South Africa.

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Sharing Saturday Critters with Eileen

Continuing to post on our biking tour in South Africa last month, I'm joining Eileen in her Saturday Creatures Party Meme. 

Just below Lesley and Derek's seaside home, I watched as a colony of Dassie (Rock Hyrax or Rock Rabbit) frolicked on the vegetation. While they are cute critters, I think they wreak havoc to any serious gardener's efforts. Interesting fact about the dassie is that its closest relative in the elephant!

The dassie (Rock Hyrax or Rock Rabbit) 

Down at the Sanparks Ebb and Flow Nature Reserve, Wilderness, in between spotting lbj's (little brown jobs/birds,) I also photographed other wildlife.
A pair of Helmeted Guinea fowl intent on showing me what they thought of me and my camera! 

Later that afternoon, as we had our coffee on the teeny deck of our cabin, we watched a family of Egyptian geese near the pond below. I was fascinated to see that the male took over babysitting duties while the female relaxed on the grass nearby.

 The male Egyptian Goose (Gander) watches over their brood of goslings while mum relaxes nearby

Although the sexes of the Egyptian geese are almost identical, you can normally tell the male by his larger body and thicker neck

The next morning before dressing in our bulky-ish biking gear, Grant and I walked around the camp once more. I was in search of a good photo of the local iconic bird: The Knysna Turaco (Previously known as the Knysna Lourie) 

Although we saw many of these birds around, they flew into the heavily leafed trees where they seemed to be gorging themselves on certain berries which were ripe at the time. Turacos hop from branch to branch and make it very difficult for a novice photographer like me to get a decent photo  a photo at all! 

I did console myself with a photo of a tortoise whose slow traverse across the lawn, gave me ample time to snap it at leisure!
Angulate Tortoise at Ebb and Flow Park, Wilderness

We later loaded the bike, and set off up the road to Knysna. As this is only about forty minutes drive away, we ended up arriving just after Mart and Pete had served their guests with breakfast. We subsequently spent two wonderful days with these dear friends, lunching in local restaurants, enjoying Pete's BBQ's on the Guest House deck and generally catching up on news.

While having tea on the deck on the first day, Susan  one of Mart's house ladies called Pete to come and "kill the snake". Of course, we all dashed out to the back garden where Susan had seen the snake. I had my camera ready and took a photo of it before Pete placed it in a pillowcase. He and Grant walked out of the Guest House property to a nearby nature reserve and released this almost harmless reptile. (It's vital to remove the live snake far away and release it in a safe place - i.e. the bush. Unfortunately the local people kill all snakes on sight!)
A young night adder sunning itself on Pete and Mart's sunny patio behind the Guest House. If this snake bites you, and you don't attend to the wound, you can end up in serious trouble

From Knysna we rode up the N2, stopping over at friends in Port Elizabeth for lunch. We left the windy city shortly after 1pm as was a storm brewing; being on a bike in inclement weather is nothing new to us, but we didn't feel like enduring it this day.

We arrived in Port Alfred to sunny skies and booked into a Guest House which we always patronize when in this beautiful town.

We didn't feel like a heavy meal that night, so we popped into the local supermarket and bought a variety of strong, cheeses, a small bottle of figs in syrup and a packet of savory biscuits. This we enjoyed on our small veranda while watching the birds and other [wild]life in the garden.  
A pair of Hadeda Ibis kept us entertained (and me focused - LOL!) while we enjoyed our light supper of cheese and biscuits

And as I take photos of cats wherever I travel, I just had to post this lad.  (Apparently he's a visitor - not a resident cat)

For more interesting posts of bloggers joining Eileen's Saturday Critter party, please click here

Friday, February 21, 2014

Seagull and blue skies

Cape Gull at Brenton Beach Knysna, South Africa

For more beautiful skies, please click here
Many thanks to Gattina of Writer Cramps, for my beautiful new header, depicting our recent summer holiday in South Africa. Do pop over and visit Gattina's blog. She writes beautifully and her descriptions often always have a humorist twist to them.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Biking and Birding in South Africa (Continued)

On the second day of our biking tour, we arrived at our next stop from Victoria West (traveling through Meiringspoort), to spend the weekend with Derek and Lesley at their weekend home on the Breede River Mouth. Grant and Derek spent the days fishing off the boat on the lagoon, while Lesley and I chatted, relaxed and watched the birds in and around their garden. 

At first Lesley said they were worried about a very aggressive bird, a Pin-tail Whydah who seemed to be monopolizing their bird feeder. It seemed to be chasing the drab brown birds also trying to feed. On closer inspection, I told her that the little brown jobs (birds) were actually the Pin-Tail Whydah's harem of females! He also seemed to chase the Common Waxbills from feeder. Then again,  the Pin-tail Whydah is a brood parasite and the female uses the Common Waxbills nests to lay it's eggs. 

The Common Waxbill whose nest is used by the Pin-tail Whydah to lay its eggs in

 Pin-tail Whydah 

Pin-tail Whydah (Female)

While relaxing on the deck, we heard the mammal-like call (wee-ah-ka-kaa) of the Jackal Buzzard overhead. I swung my camera up to the sky (not my forte at all!) and managed to capture this graceful raptor in flight. 
 Jackal Buzzard so named because its call is similar to that of the Black-backed Jackall

Leaning over the railings watching the men wash down the boat, I noticed a flurry of activity on the street below me. A Fiscal Flycatcher endemic to Southern Africa, so we don't see it in East Africa, was feeding its young.  Of course, I snapped it! 
 Fiscal Flycatcher and Juvenile to which it brought a meal!

The men returned from fishing with a lovely sized Grunter which they ultimately grilled on the fire. Meanwhile Lesley had seen on Face Book that there was a flock of Whiskered Tern on the fresh-water dam at the entrance to the town.  Grant, Derek and I drove up to the spot where the men waited patiently while I tried to capture this Palearctic migrant bird. 
 Whiskered tern, very difficult to capture over the reeds in which it hunts 

 The Whiskered Tern breeds in South and East Africa; hence the dark grey rump and black head in comparison to the non-breeding bird which is lighter grey and has a white head

As mentioned in my biking tour post on Tuesday, we left Derek and Lesley on Monday and rode up coast (heading eastward) to Wilderness. As we parked the bike next to our appointed log cabin, I heard a familiar bird call but which I couldn't place. After unloading the luggage, Grant and I walked around camp trying to locate this rather loud, yet elusive bird. 

Eventually we spotted it calling from the branches of tree near the Sanparks offices. 
 A Sombre Greenbul ... full cry!

 This bird has a specific call which I should have recognized (I been outta SA too long, LOL!) It was one of the first birds my sister-in-law, Shelley taught me to identify by sound. Its call: "weewee", which is followed by a liquid chortle, has been translated by birders as: "WILLY, quickly run around the bush and squeeeeeze-me"  

While enjoying "Willy" singing this lovely song, we also spotted a variety of other birds. 
 Common Fiscal 

 Spotted Flycatcher (Juvenile)

 Unidentified Sunbird (Female)

I hope you've all enjoyed our bird sightings as we biked through the Cape and back home again last month. The next birds I will blog about are about ones seen here in Tanzania since we returned a week ago. I was also blessed with a new camera which I'm learning to use here!