Sunday, February 20, 2011

A friendly Reminder

Since I'll be away again for 3 weeks - just a friendly reminder about my book, Impi the Impala, which can be ordered via the internet or bought directly in various bookstores throughout South Africa OR "check it out" on 1 of my blogs:

Just click on the photo above (to enlarge) - to read the back "blurp" (= a synopsis)

With a little Help

"With a little help from a friend" comes to mind when watching a Redbilled oxpecker "at work" - in this case checking an impala for ticks = this small bird's "dining-room table".

An oxpecker's principal food is ticks, which it pulls from the hides of wild game and domestic cattle with it's strong and heavy bill. Whilst "snacking", an oxpecker feeling "at home" on a wild animal can result in a comical-looking image.

However impalas are the only hoofed animals not only dependent on "outside" help to remove often life-threatening parasites, because impalas are "blessed with" canines and incisors specifically adapted to grooming. As a result one often sees these particular antelopes partaking in mutual grooming.

Strangely and erroneously, Cattle egrets are often referred to as "tick-birds" whilst instead, that term should be "reserved" only for oxpeckers - because Cattle egrets feed on insects, not ticks!

In the wild, Cattle egrets are often seen accompanying or "resting" on the back of a bovine or ox-look-alike buffalo - again giving the impression that like oxpeckers, they assist with the grooming process.

Another "error" occured when originally a "true" antelope was called a "Wildebeest" (direct translation of this Dutch/ Afrikaans name = "wild cattle", & NOT "wild beast") - although its head looks ox-like whilst its mane & tail appear horse-like. As is the case with cattle and buffalo, herds of wildebeest are also often accompanied by cattle egrets, because a grazing herd "flushes" up/out insects (an egret's principal food) from the grass.

When we talk about grooming we usually think that it's a primate "occupation" (in contrast to impalas = SEE above). Watching Vervet monkeys grooming each other is probably one of the most endearing moments one can experience when in the wild - whilst from a primate "perspective", grooming or the removal of ticks is "high on the list" of survival skills.

Mutual grooming amongst baboons (or other primates) doesn't only serve the obvious ourpose of keeping their fur clean, but also "promotes" harmony within a troop = "keeping the peace". Only 1 species of baboon is native to southern Africa, but these Chacma baboons are the largest baboon species world-wide.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Historic Date

"Up, up & away" - I can't believe that officially, today's entry on this blog is the 200th!! It feels like yesterday when I "celebrated" the 100th entry :)

However of greater importance is that today is a historic date because 21 years ago, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was finally released from a cruel prison sentence, lasting 27 years!! After his recent health-scare, I also want to "add my voice" in wishing him many more hours, days, months & yes, also years, to enjoy his hard-won freedom amongst his beloved family & friends.

Last year - after 20 years of freedom - this monument of who South Africans fondly call Madiba, was erected at the entrance of the Groot Drakenstein (formerly known as Victor Verster) prison in the Franschhoek area, from where his "walk to freedom" started on 11 February 1990.

So: I feel honoured that in a way, I'm now "sharing" this historic date with Madiba.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Water related

When I did some research on the title of today's blog entry, I came across a few quotes which "resound" with how I feel about nature when I e.g. look at this beautiful water-lily: "plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man (by Stewart Udall); OR: "we forgot that the water cycle and the life cycle are one" (by Jacques Cousteau); OR: "we live by the grace of water" (from the National Geographic Special Edition, 1993).

Water-related to me also means admiring the bird-life found close to water - like this hamerkop, with its "truly" Afrikaans name. This water bird is distantly related to herons & storks, but is quite distinctively in a family of its own & found near freshwater. However to some Africans, the hamerkop is the "ultimate" bird of ill omen.

As is the case with most storks, the Yellowbilled stork is known as a nonbreeding, intra-African migrant to South Africa. Although found all over Africa south of the Sahara & in Madagascar during various times of the year, it's mainly a breeding resident in Zimbabwe. Most stork species are silent or simply rattle their bills, but some can vocalise with guttural croaks & squeaks.

A water bird found in most parts of the world is the Blackcrowned Night heron found near fresh as well as salt-water (mangrove) wetlands. Its scientific name, Nycticorax, means "night raven" - referring to its nocturnal habits & harsh, crow-like calls.

During a recent visit to the World of Birds near Plettenbergbay with our daughter & son-in-law, we admired this pair of Whitefaced (Whistling) ducks & their ducklings. However our daughter soon pointed out that something was "amiss".

The tiny ducklings "represented" a mixed bunch! = they appeared to be 2 different species.

Since Whitefaced & Fulvous ducks often share the same habitat . . .

. . . I remembered taking this photo of a Fulvous duck & tiny ducklings at the same "venue" a couple of years ago. So voila - that was the answer! The above Whitefaced ducks were rearing their own as well as a few Fulvous ducklings.

Since we were visiting a Bird-park (= "controlled" conditions), not only did the Whitefaced ducks become "adoptive" parents, but many exotic birds are also on "display" - like this Caroline Wood duck (from the northern parts of America) . . .

. . . or this similarly beautiful & colourful Mandarin duck (from eastern Asia or migrant of southern China).

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beware Wild Animals

Daily, many visitors - foreign or local - arrive at Cape Point (at the "tip" of the Cape Peninsula /Cape of Good Hope) mostly to enjoy the magnificent scenery. Although mainly known as a Nature Reserve, certain wild animals do move around freely in this park, including Chacma baboons - who appear tame, in stark contrast to what the warning sign proclaims!

When many visitors ignore such warnings, they "suffer" as a result - if they are lucky, they don't get hurt in the process, but often, their food gets stolen.

Through the years & after actually being "fed" by visitors, which these days is totally prohibited, the Cape-Peninsula-baboons have "learnt a trick or 2" - if they smell food, they "attack", meaning they have learned to become thieves - other than "remaining" dangerous. This is rather tragic, because it means that these wild animals have become dependent on food they steal from humans, instead of surviving "naturally" in the wild.

Not only did these baboons learn to steal, but also how to "outwit" human guards, who are specifically employed to keep the visitors safe = to chase away any "annoying" baboons. From a vantage-point, this female baboon, cuddling a youngster, has a good look around: where are the guards - or who could be her (next) unsuspecting victim?

About that trick or 2 the baboons have learned through the years: if the guards are elsewhere "occupied" or not enough visitors carrying food are around, there's another option - "raiding" a rubbish bin, actually designed for the sole purpose of preventing this! Now who would have thought that supposedly primitive primates can "work out" how such an otherwise clever design functions?

Unfortunately the Cape Peninsula isn't the only area, where baboons have learned to steal - this thief "posed innocently" in the Tsitsikamma National Park after raiding the grocery stock of visitors, who hadn't closed the door of their chalet.

However baboons (other than humans!!) aren't the only primates, who tend to steal food. This Vervet monkey managed to get hold of food from a table at an outside restaurant in Sun City (Northwest province).

And what about this Vervet monkey appearing to "adopt" the role of a waiter? In actual fact it's examining the contents of a table setting for "available" food at the Skukuza Camp in the Kruger National Park.

Looking rather innocent - even cute - this monkey's behaviour is part of a "learning process", which doesn't bode well for natural survival in the wilderness.

And what about this monkey youngster watching "procedures" - is it busy "memorising" how to become a thief in the near future?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Birds Bath

There's a place at the Lower Sabie Camp in the Kruger National Park, where I could stand for hours watching colourful birds - like these weavers - enjoying a bath during hot summer days.

What fun! A Black-eyed bulbul has joined the weavers . . .

. . . but then is replaced by a Glossy starling . . .

. . . which similarly enjoys cooling off.

It's non-stop action as the birds "rotate" . . .

. . . while some birds really look funny when "shaking off" water.

Not all birds use a bird-bath when "feeling in need" of cooling off - any water will do!

Even water birds - like this Whitefaced Duck - don't just "glide" across the water but appear to also have fun doing so.

Or this Greater flamingo having a real good "dip".