Mammal Guide of Southern Africa

Over the years many people and institutions have shown a keen interest in our website, particularly in the photos that we’ve included with our blogs.  We’ve had requests from all over the world for our pictures to be used in books, on posters, magazines and as logos for products.  One publishing house in Namibia uses our photos regularly in school text books to show learners the wonders of their beautiful country.  We’re always happy to allow folks to use our photos, but we don’t usually get to see where they have been published.  It was with great delight and appreciation therefore, that we received a copy of Burger Cillie’s latest book – Mammal Guide of Southern Africa – in which three of Rob’s photos featured (two of a Striped Polecat and one of a Black Mongoose).

Book cover

This is an excellent handbook to take into the bush, even if you think you already know all about the animals you are seeing.  It gives comprehensive information about markings, sex, behaviour, distribution, habitats, etc.  But what brings this book into the twenty-first century is that it makes use of advanced technology as many of the photos are able to be scanned by a Callfinder* to play the sound made by a particular animal.  What a valuable tool for identifying those mysterious sounds in the night!  At the moment only about fifty calls can be activated, but as new ones are added, updated versions can be obtained.

Black Mongoose

We have blogged previously about the brilliant Callfinder* and how well it works for identifying bird calls.  If you already own one you will be pleased to hear that you can download the sound track of the Mammal Guide of Southern Africa directly onto your device from the Briza Publication website at a fraction of the cost of a whole new Callfinder*.  We will definitely be doing this to get the full benefit out of our lovely new book.

Striped Polecat

We wish Burger well with his latest book and look forward to seeing many more of his books being published.

The Wild Cats of Tenikwa

There are a number of nocturnal animals in South Africa that are very difficult to see in the wild.  Unless you live on a farm, or are willing to pay exorbitant prices to take a night drive in a game reserve (which is actually not a problem for foreign tourists with our favourable exchange rate), your chances of seeing them are very slim.  Rob and I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time out in the bush and have been on a number of game drives at night so we have seen a few of the nocturnal cats.  However, it is not ideal to photograph them in the dark.  It was therefore with great delight that we received a gift from family members, Mick and Jo ( of a photographic safari at Tenikwa, a local wild cat rehabilitation centre.  Situated a few kilometers east of Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route, Tenikwa is about forty kilometers away from our home in Knysna.


Not only were we given the opportunity to see many beautiful animals in daylight, but it being a photographic tour, we were privileged to have our own personal guide.  He went out of his way to ensure that we were able to get the best shots of the cats by removing obstacles and coaxing them out of their hiding places with food.  Obviously this isn’t the best way to see wild animals, but it’s a close second and it gave us a chance to add their pictures to our portfolio.

Walking the big cat!

Our tour started off with an opportunity to take a cheetah for an early morning walk.  We were given instructions on how to handle the animal so as not to startle it in any way and to keep up with him if he picked up his pace.  I never imagined that I would one day walk a cheetah on a lead – definitely an unusual experience for me!


We’ve yet to see a Carakul in the wild, so it was great to be able to photograph this magnificent animal in a decent setting.  This is the largest of the small cats and has a somewhat strange-looking body, with hind legs that are slightly longer than the front legs and a shortish tail.  This is the only cat that doesn’t have any spots at all.  Farmers don’t like Carakuls as they prey on livestock and can be a nuisance.


This Serval chased after a stick in a kitten-like fashion when our guide tried to get it into a position for photographs.  Servals are hunted mercilessly by our indigenous folk for tribal customs and practices, which is such a shame as they are so beautiful.  We couldn’t photograph the African Wild Cats, because, unlike the Serval, they were very shy and wouldn’t budge from their cosy spot in the bush (isn’t that just typical of a cat!)

White Lion

The white lion is not a nocturnal animal, but it is unusual and this was a particularly beautiful young male specimen.  He almost looked like he could have been the family dog – part Labrador!  I must admit that a white lion is not my favourite.  Rob and I love to see lions in the wild, especially the gorgeous black-maned ones that lie in the red dunes of the Kalahari.  Many legends abound about the white lions though, and if these myths are to be believed, then these lions are very special.  They don’t do well in the wild and will mainly be found in private reserves or rehabilitation centres.


We’re always excited to see leopards and the one at Tenikwa was very photogenic.  We were grateful that our guide was able to bring him out into the open as he was fast asleep when we arrived.  One can’t help feeling sorry for these animals being kept in captivity – the ideal is always for them to be able to enjoy the freedom that they were born into.

All in all a super morning enjoying God’s creatures and getting some nice photos for our collection.  Thanks again, Mick and Jo, it was great!

An Obliging Cuckoo

Birds are difficult to photograph.  They are, with a few exceptions, small and nervous, and they move quickly.  They fly.  They hide in thickets.  They can disappear in a flash.  Just sitting still they can become invisible.  From a photographer’s point of view, when they perch they are usually too high or too low.   99 times out of 100 they are too far away, regardless of what lens you have on your camera.  Rob has a theory that birds can read the focal length engraved on the front of a camera lens and know exactly how far away they must be to taunt the photographer, so it’s no use changing the lens for a longer model!  To add to a photographer’s woes, so many birds are most active at dawn or dusk when the light is approaching its worst in the deep thickets and under the forest canopy where birds spend so much of their time.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

But there are exceptions and it is for these special times that photographers spend their days behind their cameras.  Days of waiting for a split second exposure.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

Recently the Kruger National Park delivered such an exception.  We came upon a Levaillant’s Cuckoo perched in the open, reasonably close to the road and, at 5.30 in the afternoon, in fair light – and he (or she; the sexes are alike) didn’t fly.  He had located a patch of sparsely vegetated veld rich in hairy caterpillars and was not leaving!

Levaillant's Cuckoo

For several minutes we sat and watched his antics as he feasted, downing a dozen or more caterpillars in half as many minutes.  From the car the angle for photography was not ideal, but just watching him was enthralling.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

Typical of what happens in any national park, several folks stopped to see what we were watching and moved on disappointed when seeing that it was “just a bird”.  The cuckoo was not offended.

Levaillant's Cuckoo

Levaillant’s Cuckoos are not rare;  they are fairly common breeding migrants to Southern Africa, where obliging Bulbuls and Southern Fiscals generously raise the next generation for them, but we still felt privileged to witness this little feeding frenzy.

The identification of this particular bird has caused some head-scratching in our circle.  We were undecided whether it was a Levaillant’s Cuckoo or a Jacobin Cuckoo.  The Jacobin has a pure white breast, however, the streaking on this cuckoo’s chest is not very heavy.  If any of our readers feel strongly that we have misidentified this bird, please feel free to drop us a line.  We would welcome your input.

Tour Guides – A Curse in the Parks?

I often think that the blogs I’ve written for Wilkinsonsworld make me sound a bit like Pollyanna – always enthusing about the fabulous times that we’ve had and the wonderful birds and animals we’ve seen.  I do see our adventures like this, but today I’m going to remove my Pollyanna cap and have a gripe about the manners of some folks in game reserves.  As I said in my previous post, we have recently visited Kruger National Park where we had the good fortune to come across a brilliant leopard sighting.  Sadly, the selfishness and bad manners of some people was evident here.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

We happened to drive up to an area where a tour guide in a safari vehicle had taken up pole  position (on the wrong side of the road) in front of a leopard.  We have no problem with that at all.  Other vehicles had also driven up to the site from both directions.  The tour guide had three guests in his vehicle who spent over forty minutes photographing and videoing the animal.  Cars were backing up and still the guide did not move off giving everyone else a chance to see the prized animal.  He was not parked in and could easily have reversed away.  Eventually someone else had the foresight to make a bit of space so that four vehicles ahead of us could edge forward slowly, take some photos and move on.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

After a long wait we got in front of the leopard and were then totally parked in so that we didn’t have the option to either move forward or backwards to allow others to enjoy the spectacle as well.  The safari vehicle remained put blocking our way.  Eventually the driver reversed, turned his vehicle around and proceeded to block the road again as he pulled up alongside a colleague in another vehicle and showed off his photographs with no thought to anyone behind him trying to get past.

I wonder if there are any unwritten rules of etiquette in game reserves whereby people look at animals for a reasonable time, take their photos and then move on to allow others the same privilege.  A “stuff you” attitude is really not in the spirit of the game, as everyone there is dying to see something special.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

There is a 50km speed limit in the park and we often found that when tour guides got radio tip offs about where game is, they drove off at break-neck speed.  We thought we would follow one, but had to give up as he was going at over 70km and we weren’t prepared to drive that fast to keep up with him.

Another problem that we often experience (and here I am not referring only to safari vehicles), especially as Rob is a photographer, is that he can be photographing a particular scene, like a mother bird with eight chicks crossing the road, and someone will ride up and pass without any thought that they are going to scare the birds off while someone is in the middle of taking photographs.  This applies to pictures or sightings of animals as well.  It is really inconsiderate.

Here’s an interesting video on a safari guide being attacked by a leopard in Kruger National Park.  The poor animal lost its life because of him.

Is this just me, or do other people have the same frustrations in the game reserves?

Meet Stoffel Two – Honey Badger in KNP

We have recently returned from our annual visit to South Africa’s flagship game reserve, the Kruger National Park.  What an incredible experience awaits those who visit the park for the first time – and an equally wonderful time for those of us who go back year after year.  This year proved to be even more outstanding than usual (for January), mainly because of the drought, as the animals were much more visible without the typical long grass of summer.  Unfortunately the downside was that the animals were very hot, thirsty and, in many instances, hungry. There were some heartbreaking sights, but I will blog about those another time.  Today belongs to Stoffel Two – our nickname for a honey badger (Mellivora capensis) that caused quite a stir in our camp at Satara.

Honey badger on the prowl

As you can see from the photo of our chalet, the kitchen is situated on the outside of the building, with the fridge enclosed in a metal cage (to keep out thieving monkeys and honey badgers!)

Our chalet at Satara

We had the foresight to lock our fridge gate with a padlock – something that our neighbour omitted to do.  Stoffel Two arrived one hot lunch time and proceeded to tackle the unlocked gate.  He deftly pulled back the dead bolt, opened the gate and then opened the fridge with absolute ease.

What's on the menu

Unfortunately he had rather lean pickings as the meals for our group were mostly catered for, which meant that there was very little in the way of tasty food to sink his teeth into.  It didn’t stop him examining every nook and cranny of the fridge in search of something edible.

There must be something here

Honey badgers are quite dangerous when confronted, as we saw when one of our group tried to chase Stoffel Two away.  He was cornered on the verandah, and feeling threatened, he immediately bared his teeth and growled ferociously, making her quickly pull back out of harm’s way.

Leave me alone!!

Once he had checked out the entire contents of the fridge, the honey badger made his way past all the photographers in search of the next easy target in the camp.

Stretching into the fridge

Do yourself a favour and watch this short video.

You will be amazed and amused by his Houdini-like ability to escape from his enclosure. For more information on these fascinating and incredibly intelligent animals, read our blog about them written after our trip to the Central Kalahari.

Hitting the bottle

Rob and I have been feeding birds in our garden for years – a pastime that has given us both so much pleasure and the opportunity to observe the local avian communities closely.  In Namibia, where we lived for almost seven years, the birds were extremely colourful and the variety was staggering.  Here in our new hometown of Knysna in the Western Cape, we have continued to feed them.  Although not as brightly coloured as their Namibian cousins, the birds here are plentiful and word has spread that there is a constant source of food for them in our yard.  We’ve now added a nectar feeder to the menu to attract those birds that prefer liquid nourishment.

Greater double-coloured sunbird

It took all of ten minutes after hanging the bottle up outside our kitchen window for our first guest to arrive.  Since then we’ve had a steady stream of birds eager to sip the sweet water.  If you can get your hands on a good nectar feeder you will have a wonderful time watching the antics of the birds as they vie for position.

Black-headed oriole

I particularly like watching the Speckled mousebirds that clamber on, sometimes six at a time.  Some sunbirds can be quite territorial and chase away anyone small enough to be intimidated by them.  At the moment we are enjoying a wide variety of birds, as can be seen from the photos in this blog.

Speckled mousebirds

The formula for the feeder is 600ml of water to which a third of a cup of brown sugar has been added.  After stirring well we add a few drops of food colouring to give the liquid a nice red colour.

Cape weaver

I must warn you not to add any aritificial sweeteners to your water.  A while back someone who lived near Hermanus inadvertently (and tragically) killed about thirty Cape sugarbirds (Promerops cafer) when it was found that the sugar in his nectar solution contained Xylitol, which is deadly to birds and some animals.  The nectar found naturally in flowers usually contains either fructose, glucose or sucrose.   Some garden and pet shops sell the nectar solution, but it’s expensive, so it is easier to make it at home.  Please just make sure that your food colouring does not contain any artificial sweeteners.

Amethyst sunbird

I’m not sure if this method of feeding birds is harmful to the environment (I sincerely hope not), as birds do a marvelous job of pollination when they flit from flower to flower to sip nectar.  We have noticed that in spite of our bottle of nectar, the days when our hedges and garden flowers are blooming, the birds go au natural and don’t spend as much time at our bottle as usual. When the flowers die off they come back.  Perhaps readers could comment on this aspect – it would be interesting to hear other opinions.

Cape white-eye

Obviously I can’t show photos of all the birds that come to the feeder, but the list we’ve had so far is as follows :  Cape white-eyes, Black-headed orioles, Speckled mousebirds, Amethyst sunbirds, Southern and Greater double-collared sunbirds, Fork-tailed drongos, Cape bulbuls and a variety of weavers.

Gannaga Pass – Tankwa Karoo National Park

It has been a while since I wrote my last blog – a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then – but now that we have our house move out of the way and we are settled in our new retirement home in beautiful Knysna in the Western Cape, it is time to resume my writing.  I promised that I would write about our visit to Gannaga Pass on the eastern side of the Tankwa Karoo National Park, so here goes.

Up the pass we go

There aren’t too many animals to look at in this rather arid park, so one has to appreciate the stark beauty of the area, and by driving up Gannaga Pass you will be able to take in the vast expanse of landscape from a high vantage point.  The drive up the pass is about six kilometers long and there are a couple of places along the way to stop and enjoy the beauty as it unfolds below you.

Ruin of a stone cottage

At the foot of the pass the vegetation comprises mostly of Gannaga bush and succulent plants like the botterboom trees, which faintly resemble baobabs with their bulbous bases.  Scarce as animals are, one has the chance to catch a glimpse of kudu and eland here as they feed on the Gannaga bushes.  Before ascending the pass, one drives past the remains of a stone cottage let go by humans and grabbed hold of by Mother Nature.  Who lived there, one might ask, in this harsh environment, and why and when did they leave?  What was it like living here all those years ago?  There are more questions than answers.

Beautiful vistas

As the road snakes up the Roggeveld Mountains the air gets thinner and cooler and the sky somehow looks more blue.  We stopped often to drink in the scenery and to watch the landmarks and insulbergs below getting smaller and smaller.  Rob commented that it would be amazing to cycle this pass, so I knew what was occupying his mind as we drove slowly higher.  Quite near the top of the pass is a viewpoint where one can relax with a cup of coffee and meditate on the peace and silence.  From here you can trace the course of a long-gone river by the ribbon of trees that hug the dry bed, and gaze on the Cedarberg Mountains on the horizon that look both blue and very far away.

A rare appearance by yours truly

As one climbs higher the vegetation changes until one reaches the top of the pass where it flattens out and grasslands prevail.  What an experience it is to scale these dizzy heights and absorb the beauty and silence of this magnificent pass.  The way down is best taken slowly lest you meet an oncoming car on the narrow road.  We descended reluctantly, not wanting to end the experience too quickly.  All too soon, however, the road deposits you back on the flat plains where the occasional Springbok was caught grazing in the morning sun.

Beautiful vistas

This is an area to explore if you want to get far away from the madding crowds and think about what it means to be disconnected from society for a while.  Don’t bother to go there if you want to be entertained, need animals to fill your time or are looking for lush vegetation.  This spot is arid and Zen-like.  Enjoy it if you dare!!!

Quilting – For the love of cats

My latest quilting project was a labour of love from day one.  I decided to make a throw for my son and daughter-in-law, who, like me, are both cat mad.  My obvious choice was a cat theme, but I thought I’d go one further than just a cat theme and make them a quilt featuring photos of their own three cats.  What fun this turned out to be, but I didn’t realize what a labour-intensive design I had chosen.  I only had a few weeks in which to make the throw as they were coming out from the UK for a visit and I wanted it ready for them to take home with them.

Fabric photos

Step one was finding nine photos to use – three of each cat (I only learned much later that one of the cats was actually a fourth cat, but that’s another story!)  Our local quilting supply store printed the photos onto suitable fabric for me and with their help I selected some amazing material – six different fabrics in matching shades.

Chain piecing

I framed each picture in a brown fabric and then followed a log cabin design around each block until I had built up a square.  Chain-piecing made the sewing go faster and of course I pressed each seam as I went.  It was great seeing the blocks come to life with each new fabric that I added.

Quilt as you go

I don’t have a terribly big sewing machine, so opted for the ‘quilt as you go’ technique to make the quilting part easier (using ‘stitch in the ditch’ for all the seams).  For those of you who don’t know what ‘quilt as you go’ means, each block is completed, quilted and then sewn together.  I love the ‘quilt as you go’ method and this was my first attempt at it.  Thank goodness for YouTube tutorials – they were amazing – as was the help I received from my friend, Liz, who uses this method a lot as well.  My joins were pretty good, even if I say so myself, and with my choice of backing, they were difficult to see.

Joined in rows

Liz also told me to join the blocks in rows going down first, and then match them going across. This was a good tip and I had few problems in actually getting all the blocks to line up.  I have to confess that as the quilt progressed I grew more and more fond of those darling kitties gazing at me all the time.  I could have adopted the lot of them right there and then!

Ready for the borders and binding

Finally the central joining pieces went in and then the outside borders were added.  What a dream it was to see the whole throw quilted and finished as I went.  The backing was the perfect choice as it blended in well with the fabric on the front.  Liz embroidered a label for me – I called the quilt “Three’s Company” because all three cats are great friends that curl up together all the time, as well as being great company for my son and daughter-in-law.

All done!

All that remained was to bind the quilt and it was done.  It sounds like it went quickly, but it took weeks and weeks of work.  As I said before, it was a labour of love and I can honestly say that I loved every minute of the time I spent working on it.  I hope that Tamsyn, Whisky and Bailey enjoy sleeping on the throw – perhaps some of the love that went into it will ooze out into them and they will know how much I grew to love them all.

Birding in Tankwa Karoo National Park

Last week I blogged about our camping trip to the Tankwa Karoo National Park.  As I said, we were blown away by the beautiful scenery, but that isn’t the only charm of this tiny arid park.  The bird life is also exciting and Rob was able to get some nice photos of the local avian residents.  So, before I start, let me ask you this – when is a tent not a tent?  When it’s a bird hide, of course!  Rob took his camera and wandered off along the dry river bed near the campsite, hoping to get photos of birds and animals, while I sat reading in our tent.  Imagine my surprise and delight when loads of birds came into our camp.  They didn’t see me and I had a wonderful couple of hours watching them unnoticed from our tent.  When Rob came back he immediately set up his camera and captured the shots that follow.

Southern double-collared sunbird

Most campsites have resident birds that are relatively tame, and this site was no exception.  A beautiful Familiar chat was quite at home around the tent, as was his constant companion, a Cape bunting.  They seemed to hang out together which was rather nice to watch.

Familiar chat

At times they were joined by two other buntings and happily pecked around on the ground for crumbs and insects.

Cape bunting

Two of the more colourful visitors were a Bokmakierie and this female African paradise flycatcher.  She came back often and wasn’t put off by the clicking of Rob’s camera at all.

African paradise flycatcher

Acting as if they owned the place was a pair of Cape spurfowl.  They wandered around and at times even got under our feet.  What beautiful feather markings these birds have.

Cape spurfowl

It being the Karoo, it wasn’t surprising that we were visited by a Karoo prinia.  These rather shy birds are not that easy to photograph as they flit about restlessly and hardly seem to sit still for a moment.

Karoo prinia

We placed a bowl of water on the ground hoping to see the birds drinking or bathing, but in spite of the heat and the desert-like conditions they weren’t interested in it at all.  It wasn’t in vain though, as we were soon visited by a field mouse that spent ages slaking its thirst.  It was so enchanted by this unexpected new water source that it disappeared into the bush and came back later with three more of its family.  They all drank as if they hadn’t seen water for years.  We tried this in the Central Kalahari once and our generosity had unintended consequences.  We had lots of birds drinking and bathing, but we also had a visit from a puffadder that wanted some water as well.  Not wanting to encourage snakes, we moved the water a long way from the campsite itself.

Karoo lark

Karoo larks, robins and batis’s were also spotted from out tent.  Later in the day we took a drive to a rather large dam where there was an abundance of waterbirds, but we couldn’t stay there for very long as there was no shade and the heat was a bit over-bearing.  If SANParks wanted any suggestions for improvements at Tankwa, I would happily recommend they erect a small shelter at the dam where people could sit in shade and watch the birds.

Next week I will chat about our drive up the stunning Gannaga Pass.

Time Out in Tankwa

You know when you pass a sign that reads “Absolutely Nothing From Here” that you’re heading into a remote area.  Rob and I had a chuckle when we saw that, but instead of putting us off we were eagerly anticipating the vast empty plains and vistas of the Tankwa Karoo National Park that sits on the border of both the Northern and Western Cape.  We’ve always loved the arid Namibian landscape, so as the trees and houses gave way to barren wide open spaces we really felt like we were being welcomed by the silence and the beauty of this region.

You've been warned!!

We drove in from the Oudtshoorn area, taking the R46 and then the R355 towards Calvinia.  It was hot and we looked forward to camping in dry conditions over the Easter weekend.  The campsite that we were allocated was perfect for our ground tent and we had good shade the whole time that we were there.  A bonus was having our own ablution block with piping hot showers, thanks to a nearby solar panel.  Water tanks high on the hill above us gave shade to a troop of baboons and their calls serenaded us at all times of the day.

Our campsite in Tankwa Karoo Nat Park

Tankwa Karoo Park is not for folks who need to be entertained by animals or gadgets.  There is no electricity or cellphone reception in the park and very few animals, apart from the odd Eland, Gemsbok or Zebra.  This area, known as the Succulent Karoo, is for pure nature lovers, especially those interested in rare, endemic and endangered mammals, plants and birds.  In Spring the when the wild flowers bloom they cover the plains with a welcome mat of amazing beauty.

Amazing scenery in Tankwa

Previously home to the San/Bushmen, the Tankwa area gets its name from the Tankwa River, and is thought to mean “thirstland” or “place of the San”.  Apart from many crumbling old houses that were once occupied by trekboers (farmers), we came across some forlorn looking graves that had been taken over by Nature – their markings worn away by the sand, wind and time.

Deserted graves in Tankwa

Many would find this landscape bleak, but it is actually a photographers paradise with photo opportunities aplenty, especially if one heads up the beautiful Gannaga Pass (which I will write about separately).

Lonely road

It’s not only the scenery that is dramatic and exciting, the sunsets and stars at night are incredible.  Tankwa is only 140kms away from Sutherland, home to SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) one of the largest telescopes in the world.  This alone tells you how clear the skies are in this area at night.

Evening in Tankwa

Besides camping and birding, we were on a mission to find an elusive Aardvark, but apart from seeing some abandoned holes, we were out of luck.  I will blog next time about the birds that we saw.

Needless to say, this soul-expanding area is amazing and one that will definitely see us again – most probably when the flowers are in bloom.