Saturday, October 11, 2008

Warning Signs

Since I'm away on tour again from today until 7 Nov, I won't be "in contact" until then - BUT I should return with a great collection of photos, because this tour starts at the Victoria Falls (Zambian side), then 2 days in the Chobe National Park (Botswana), before we tour South Africa for 12 days and last but not least, 9 days in the northern part of Namibia. Although this tour is almost 4 weeks long, it is one of my favourite tours as tourist guide. I like to think of it as adventurous and hope the guests in my group will experience it in this spirit.

For today - some "warning" signs found across our country, some amusing and some to be taken "literally".

This one (left) is from the Addo National Park (Eastern Cape Province).

Another sign (right) from Addo, where the BIG 5 (see a previous posting on this) can be found - some guests will think twice before alighting at this spot from their cars or buses.

Everybody who has been to the Mpumalanga Province in our country, is aware of this sign (left) in the Hazyview area. Although the hippo isn't one of the BIG 5, it still is viewed as the most dangerous animal in the whole of Africa!!

Did you know that the hippo is responsible for more (human) deaths in Africa than the crocodile or any one of the BIG 5?

Another warning sign (right) found in the Augrabies Falls National Park (Northern Cape Province).

This one (left) can be found at Langebaan (Western Cape Province) !!??

I guess Dassies (Rock hyrax) can't read??!! Or it wouldn't have "parked" right here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Large Water Birds

Although I've posted a similar photo of this Goliath Heron with its "catch" before, I believe its so special that I'm adding it again today. Larger than all the other herons (about 1.4m), it also tends to hunt in deeper waters than most of the other herons. The Goliath heron tends to stand motionless for long periods of time - waiting patiently for prey to appear - or otherwise is seen walking about slowly.

Even if the Blackheaded Heron isn't as large as the Goliath heron (just under 1m), I still think of it as an imposing water bird. It is known as a more commonly found resident than the Goliath heron, yet I've seen the former more often than the Blackheaded heron. The Blackheaded heron isn't only found near water, but also frequents grassland/pastures/farmlands.

The Grey Heron is similar to the Blackheaded heron (size-wise & profile), but differs in that it has a white (instead of black) crown and a yellowish bill. The Grey heron also tends to stand motionless for long periods or creeps stealthily forward in a crouched way whilst skimming the water for prey.

Another large water bird that tends to crouch stealthily whilst hunting, is the Great White Egret (similar in size to the above-mentioned herons), otherwise its also found standing motionless in shallow water. The Great White egret's habitat is rivers, dams, estuaries and flood-plains, and it's distinguished by its entirely black legs and feet. This egret's normally orange-yellow bill turns black during the breeding season.

Did you know that egrets are herons? The "secret" is in the colour - the white ones are know as egrets.

At approx. 64cm, the Little Egret is much smaller than the birds mentioned above. This egret is a slender and fairly common resident with a black bill and legs - but yellow feet. The Little egret is always found near water and is known as an "active" hunter - darting, twisting and turning to catch its prey. When food is aplenty, Little egrets sometimes gather in hundreds, although otherwise known as solitary feeders.

I tend to think of the most commonly found Cattle Egret as a "chameleon" heron/egret because of its variable form - it's "buffed" during the breeding season whilst more slim and appearing taller at other times. The iris is yellow (> red during breeding season) and the bill is yellow (> red-orange when breeding). Immature Cattle egrets can be similarly classified as "variable" in that they have black legs and feet - in contrast to the adults with yellow or coral-coloured legs. Although the Cattle egret tends to feed on insects disturbed by grazing animals, they are also often seen perched on the backs of large animals (mammals) - yet it's also a water bird and and sometimes fishes in shallow water. Large flocks of Cattle egrets are known to gather during evenings around dams and pans, where they drink before roosting.

Did you know that although the Cattle Egret is often thought of as a "tick-bird", ticks are seldom part of its diet? Instead the Cattle egret feeds mainly on other insects like grasshoppers, earthworms and caterpillars, other than spiders, scorpions, lizards, frogs and even nestling-birds.

Other, larger birds found near water include cormorants - known as mainly fish- and frog-eating waterbirds. The Cape Cormorant is an abundantly found resident along our coastal regions which, like all cormorants, habitually stands perched out of the water with its wings outspread to dry. Cape Cormorants habitually fly in long lines over the sea and tend to fish in flocks.

Did you know that cormorants hunt their prey under water and then surface to swallow it?

When seen from afar, I've often overheard people (to my silent amusement) identifying the Whitebreasted Cormorant as a penguin. This confusion doesn't occur though when this cormorant is standing perched statue-like, spreading its wings to dry (now don't confuse this cormorant - on the right - with an eagle = "Reichs-Adler" in German!! ha-ha). At approx. 90cm, the Whitebreasted cormorant is the largest of the southern African cormorants, frequenting coastal areas or large inland waters.

Last (but not least) today is one of my photos of a Darter, which can be distinguished from cormorants by its longer and thinner neck with its characteristic "kink". A Darter's bill is also straight (> hooked) and it has a more slender appearance than cormorants. Darters swim with only their heads and necks visible above water (> parts of their back) but like cormorants, also perch with outspread wings to dry after swimming.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Gem in the Karoo

The picturesque town of Graaff-Reinet is often referred to as the "Gem of the Karoo" - and I certainly think this term is spot-on.

Graaff-Reinet is situated amongst the foothills of the Sneeuberg mountain range in the Eastern Cape Province and is "tucked" into a horse-shoe bend of the Sundays River. It is said that this town contains more proclaimed national monuments than any other town in South Africa. It was established in 1786 as the most important trading centre in an otherwise barren and by then, still untamed country. To this day, Graaff-Reinet has retained much of the character of a a typical, 19th century, rural town.

The imposing Dutch Reformed Church is situated at the centre of the old town and was built in 1886 along similar lines to the Salisbury Cathedral (UK). I think it is the most attractive church building in our country.

The cottages in Stretch's Court were once occupied by emancipated slaves (after 1834). Once renovated, they now form part of the Drostdy Hotel complex.

A true gem and interesting example of Cape-Dutch architecture is Urquhart House with its unusual gable. It now forms part of the Reinet House period-museum- complex. It houses a collection of Victorian furniture and the peach-pip floor in the kitchen is rather unusual.

This old and enormous grapevine in the garden of the Reinet House museum complex was apparently planted in 1870 - and is still growing!

Also in this garden is an old water-wheel/mill next to the wagon house, still in a working condition.

Standing sentinel over the charming town is Spandau Kop - part of the Karoo Nature Reserve, which surrounds Graaff-Reinet.

Also in the Karoo Nature Reserve is one of Nature's wonders - the unique Valley of Desolation. The precariously balanced columns of rocks/formations originated during geological events occurring many millions of years ago.

Did you know that Karoo means "land of thirst"?

Many visitors specifically come to The Valley of Desolation with the specific goal to experience what the region (the Karoo in general) is also famous for - its magnificent sunsets. This photo of such a sunset is definitely one of my most "prized" photos.