Rhinos – Rare and Poached

I’m sure that most of the folks who read our blogs are animal and bird lovers, so I guess I’m preaching to the converted here when I say that our war against rhino poachers needs all the soldiers we can muster.  We’ve recently spent time on a birding weekend in the Kruger National Park with some SANParks Voluntary Rangers (from the West Rand Region) and we heard about their fund-raising efforts for, amongst other things, the protection of rhinos in the national parks.  I should imagine that every killing must make the authorities feel like they are taking three steps forward and two steps back.

White rhinoceros

Funnily enough, in spite of the vast numbers that are being poached at the moment, we were fortunate enough to come across a number of rhinos on our short visit to Kruger.  These bulky, prehistoric-looking animals lumber around peacefully unaware of the price they have on their heads (literally) and what danger they’re in from unscrupulous poachers.  The threat comes from poachers of all nationalities, but it would seem mainly from Mozambicans who have easy access to the Park.

White rhinoceros

I’m always devastated when I hear of South Africans being caught poaching, or masterminding poaching operations, as I feel they are destroying our heritage and should know better.  The Asians who call for rhino horn are far removed from the area so are not impacted by what is going on here.  That is no excuse however.

White rhinoceros

The Rhinose Foundation that collects money for the conservation of rhinos, has decided that an effective way to tackle the problem is to get the Asians to see for themselves what their predilection for rhino horn is doing in Africa.  They use much of their funding to bring delegations from Asia to the Park to witness first-hand the death and destruction that is taking place here and to take back the message to their people that this must stop before it’s too late.  Hopefully by educating famous people, like singers or TV personalities who have large fan bases, they can spread the word and make a change back home.

White rhinoceros

Members of the South African Parliament are also being brought in to see what is happening so that they can go back and promulgate harsher laws against poachers.  One can only hope that this will be effective in the long term.

White rhinoceros

Last year 1216 rhinos were poached in South Africa.  Three weeks into February 2015 and already 166 have been killed.  Who knows if the beautiful rhinos featured in our photos here will still be alive in a month’s time.  What a sad thought that is and what a tragedy for future generations if we don’t win this battle.

Leopard Sighting in Kruger National Park

Have you ever visited a game reserve and had one of those days when you drive around for hours and see very little in the way of animals?  We had such a morning on a visit to the Kruger National Park this month.  Being early February it was oppressively hot and all sensible animals and birds were sheltering in deep shade out of sight.  After about five hours of driving along the Crocodile River Road and seeing very little other than birds, we decided to go three kilometers further and then turn around and head back to our camp at Berg-en-Dal.  It was at this point that I slowed the car right down to look into an interesting tree and I spotted a leopard climbing up the trunk.  Rob was on the passenger side where the leopard was and his camera was ready.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

What a bonus this sighting was, as leopards are nocturnal and definitely the most elusive of the Big 5 animals.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

This particular leopard was not terribly happy about us stopping so close by and only remained in the tree for about a minute before climbing down and disappearing into a thick wooded area where it was quickly lost to view.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

The whole encounter was over in a flash, but it left us very excited and feeling extremely privileged to have had the sighting all to ourselves.  All too often you have to vie with numerous other people to see an animal and sometimes you miss being in the perfect place for a photograph.  We were just so lucky!

Leopard - Kruger National Park

Leopards prefer dense, riparian vegetation, which makes spotting them rather difficult if they aren’t actually walking along the road. If they are walking away from you, it isn’t the ideal way to photograph them as you can see.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

We’ve had a few sightings of leopards in the wild over the years, but this has to have been the most exciting one yet.  Well done to Rob for capturing some lovely shots of this beautiful animal.

Bishops and Monkeys

I always feel so sorry for the birds and animals that are driven away from their habitats by urbanisation.  We take over their areas and then complain when they come into our homes and gardens foraging for food.  Fortunately Durban has some amazing parks and public gardens in many suburbs and the famous Durban Botanical Gardens is a haven for some of these poor displaced creatures.  Rob and I often go to this oasis in the concrete jungle to photograph the birds and enjoy the beautiful trees and flowers.  On a visit this month we were privileged to see Southern red bishops in their striking breeding colours.

Southern red bishop

The Lotus plants growing in the little lake provide a lush backdrop for photographs, as well as a perfect place for the bishops to build their nests.  I could sit here for hours just watching these busy little birds as they go about their business.

Southern red bishop Southern red bishop

If you want to read more about them, click here for Rob’s post which gives details about the birds.

Southern red bishop

It’s not only the Southern red bishops that are the attraction at the Durban Botanical Gardens – we also quite fancy visiting the charity kiosk to indulge in tea and scones or crumpets after watching the birds.  We had an audience as we relaxed with a cuppa – this monkey and her baby were looking for an opportunity to grab a scone if they could.

Mother and baby monkey

Feeding the monkeys is forbidden, but that doesn’t prevent them from trying to look cute enough to win you over enough to break the rules.

Swee Waxbills at Kirstenbosch

When we lived in Namibia we were fortunate enough to come across a number of different kinds of waxbills and were always delighted when the colourful Blue and Violet-eared waxbills came to feed in our garden.  We don’t see enough of these sweet little birds in our garden here in Durban for some strange reason, so imagine how pleased we were to have a chance to photograph Swee waxbills (Coccopygia melanotis) during our visit to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town in December.  We also saw Common waxbills whilst we were there, but, as their name suggests, they are fairly common, so our focus was on the Swees.

Swee waxbill

We followed a happy pair flitting about in the flowers, calling to each other with gentle ‘swee swee‘ sounds.  They are easy to tell apart as the male’s cheeks and ear coverts are black, whilst the female has a pale grey face.  Both have reddish orange tail markings and distinctive black upper and red lower mandibles.

Swee waxbill Swee waxbill

They are mainly seed-eaters, but also forage on the ground or on plant stems for small insects and larvae.  They’re mainly found in small groups or pairs, which are monogamous and territorial.  When they are ready to breed (between October and April) the building of the nest is a team effort, with the male bringing in the material.  According to Roberts Birds of S A, larger clutches of eggs are sometimes laid by two different males (between three and nine eggs) at one day intervals.  Both parents are involved in the incubation and the feeding.

Swee waxbill

It certainly was a treat to see these lovely little birds in such a nice setting and to be able to add a few more photos to our collection.

Southern double-collared sunbirds at Kirstenbosch

Last week I posted some photographs of the Orange-breasted sunbirds that we saw at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.  This week their cousins take centre stage; the beautiful Southern double-collared sunbirds, which flit amongst the Proteas and Ericas of Kirstenbosch gathering nectar and doing their bit for pollination.  Also known as the Lesser double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) this little sunbird has a wider habitat than the Orange-breasted sunbird and, not being restricted to fynbos, is found further afield in the Karoo, and in the forests and gardens in the eastern parts of  South Africa.

Southern double-coloured sunbird

The sunbirds that we photographed here don’t have the familiar broad red breast band as they are in their eclipse plumage The adult males in the Western Cape moult in October to December, so we were probably just a little early to see these beautiful birds in their full finery.  We often find birds quite a puzzle to identify when they aren’t dressed in their full colours.

Southern double-coloured sunbird Southern double-coloured sunbird

Their diet mainly consists of nectar, which is drawn up after inserting their long curved bill into the corolla tube of the flower.  If there is no tube, the bill is used to pierce the base of the flower.  During this feeding pollen sticks to the bill and tongue and is transported to the next flower, allowing the bird to perform its pollinating function without any effort.  These sunbirds don’t only rely on nectar for their nourishment, but also eat small invertebrates like beetles, insects, spiders and larvae.

Southern double-coloured sunbird

Breeding pairs are monogamous and quite territorial during the breeding season.  The female lays between one and three eggs that she incubates over a period of thirteen to sixteen days.  The eggs are oval and vary enormously in colour.  Nests are occasionally parasitised by Klaas’s Cuckoo, which, as you can imagine, must have these little sunbirds worn out finding food for their ever-hungry and much larger adoptees!

Southern double-coloured sunbird

The flowers at Kirstenbosch certainly provide a beautiful backdrop for enjoying these happy little birds.  Next time I’ll blog about the waxbills that we saw in the same area.

Orange-breasted Sunbirds at Kirstenbosch

One of the fun things about being a bird lover is that it gives you an opportunity to seek out places where you know certain birds are found.  This happened to us this Christmas when we visited Cape Town for a couple of days.  We knew that Kirstenbosch (our national botanical garden), with its beds of colourful Proteas and Ericas attracted a variety of birds, so a plan was made to brave the crowds to photograph the local feathered residents.  We were mainly on the hunt for Sugarbirds (which alas proved elusive on the day) and Sunbirds that are endemic to fynbos, and what a delightful few hours we spent there.  I will focus on the Orange-breasted sunbird this week, as this beautiful bird is extremely photogenic and fortunately not too camera shy.

Orange-breasted-sunbird-Kirstenbosch

I photographed their detailed information board which saves me from writing about them myself – how clever was that!  Just click on the photo to enlarge it for reading.

Detailed information on sunbirds Orange-breasted-sunbird-Kirstenbosch

The flowers at this time of the year are quite beautiful and are obviously full of nectar for the birds.

Orange-breasted-sunbird - female

The females are rather drab compared to their gorgeous male counterparts.

Orange-breasted-sunbird-Kirstenbosch

 

Next week I’ll put up pictures of the Lesser double-collared sunbirds – also very sweet and quite active in the fynbos.

A Stitch in Time

Wilkinson’s World has been somewhat neglected for the last six months, I’m afraid.  It’s not that we haven’t been on any exciting adventures, although these have been few and far between with Rob’s workload, but I have been very preoccupied with my latest hobby – quilting.  At the end of a busy year, or the beginning of a new one, it’s always a good idea to think about that very precious commodity called Time.

Time piece

I read somewhere (I think the author was Seneca) that people are quick to guard their personal property and spare no expense to do so (especially those of us who live in South Africa), but when it comes to squandering their time, folks are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.  We tend to live as if we are destined to live forever, never sparing a thought to our own frailty, and it never occurs to us how much time has already passed.  We also don’t think that the hours and days we are devoting to somebody or something may very well be our last.

Cat-quilt

And on that sombre note, I am reminded of the hundreds of happy hours that I have spent this last year absorbed in making quilts and items for family members.  It has been a real labour of love.  There’s always that gut-wrenching time before they open the gift when I wonder if they will love it and whether all those (sometimes back-breaking) hours were worth the effort.  Then the satisfaction on seeing their happiness and gratitude when they set eyes on it and I know that each stitch was worthwhile after all.

Foggerty

My lovely sister, Franky, has written and illustrated three children’s books about the adventures of a frog called Mr Foggerty.  I decided to surprise her by making cushion covers depicting the front covers of all three of her books.  Her tears of gratitude when she received these gifts made every minute meaningful.

Foggerty-2 Foggerty 3 in the making

I made this sweet little cot quilt for my grand-daughter, Kyra, who has been given strict instructions by her mom to look after it as it is a family heirloom.  It was hardly a masterpiece, but what a lovely thing to call it a family heirloom!

Kyra's quilt

Months in the making was a colourful quilt with lots of pictures so that our twin grand-daughters could play “I Spy”.  They are still a bit young for that, so will have to rely on Mom and Dad to play “Find a …” until they know their alphabet.

I Spy quilt

I ended the year off making a Christmas table runner to be donated to Hospice.  My friend loved it so much that she ended up buying it off me and I donated the cash to Hospice instead.

Christmas runner

So, was my time wasted?  Hopefully not.  I know I brought a lot of joy to my immediate family and gave a lot to myself in the process.

Neil Diamond ends my blog off, with the fourth verse of his song “Hell Yeah” in which he sings :

“If you’re asking for my time,  Isn’t much left to give you, Been around a good long while, So I gotta say it fast, Time is all we’ll ever need, But it’s gotta have a meaning, You be careful how it’s spent, Cause it isn’t going to last.”

Happy new year!!

 

Four frogs, a cricket and a snake

So let’s assume you’re a young man who’d like to attract a partner.  What would you have to do to make yourself appealing?  I guess you’d probably opt for personal grooming and fancy clothes and jewellery to enhance yourself, then you’d add an accessory like a smart car and you’d flash your credit card around.  Unless you’re really ugly and arrogant you’d probably catch the eye of some eligible female pretty quickly.  This sort of mating behaviour isn’t peculiar to homo-sapiens – birds have to do it as well in order to attract a mate.  Obviously they don’t have the same tools as humans, but they do have to be quite well equipped to prove their capabilities of providing for the needs of a mate.

Southern ground hornbills

Most male birds have lovely plumage to make themselves attractive to the rather dowdy females of the species.  They often have beautiful long tail feathers or are brightly coloured, like the Southern ground hornbill.  Sometimes they even have their legs adorned with jewellery!  This hornbill is quite a heavy bird that looks rather like a turkey, with a gorgeous red face and a red inflatable throat.  It uses a deep booming call to advertise its territory and then struts around gathering food to show that it’s a good hunter.

Southern ground hornbills

It’s always exciting for us to come across Southern ground hornbills in a game reserve.  They are not often found outside protected areas and are listed as vulnerable in southern Africa, so we feel quite privileged when we see them.  They’re usually found in pairs or in groups of up to five birds and because they spend their time foraging, it’s not uncommon to see them with loads of food in their beaks.   This must make them very appealing to the opposite sex – what mate wouldn’t like to be presented with a number of crickets, frogs and a snake to snack on or to feed her young with.

What a mouthful!

Good providers they may be, but when it comes to feeding babies, they don’t measure up at all.  They usually have two little ones and the firstborn, being stronger, is fed all the food.  The second young one usually dies of starvation within a few days.  Perhaps this is why there are so few of them around.

Mealtime

They are excellent foragers and spend their time gathering insects and small reptiles and mammals, often co-operating with each other in the quest for food.  Once they find it, they keep adding more to the collection, often putting the food down on the ground and then gathering it up again until they have full beaks.

Look out for them next time you’re in a national park – and check out what they’re having for dinner!

Callfinder© – A winner from SAPPI

What would life be like if we were unable to get out into nature to rejuvenate and restore our minds and spirits?  I can’t imagine actually.  For me, getting out into the garden or into the bush and watching the birds and wildlife is an integral part of my life.  So imagine my delight when my family (thanks Pete and Lauren) gave us a wonderful tool as a Christmas gift.  Not just any garden or household tool, but a nature tool!  An innovative tool that teaches you about the birds and their calls and actually helps you call them to you.  Let me tell you more …

African Paradise Flycatcher

SAPPI (originally South African Pulp and Paper Industries Ltd) is big in conservation in South Africa and they are a major contributor to education and knowledge in the field of birds.  Together with other sponsors they have collaborated with birding experts to bring out the amazing Sappi Birds of South Africa Callfinder©.

Sappi Birds of SA Callfinder

Not only did we get an informative bird book with beautiful photos, but it came with an electronic device that communicates with the photo of the bird and plays its call.  How neat is that!  This of course adds an entirely new dimension to birding and should be an absolute boon to beginners and experts alike.

A nifty device - Callfinder

We tried ours out in the Kruger National Park with mixed results.  We had seen an Indigobird on a tree in the distance and couldn’t make out the colour of its beak and legs, which obviously is key to identifying it.  We decided to play the Callfinder© to see if we could match the call it was making.  Rob pointed the device at the photo of the Village Indigobird and its call rang out.  Imagine our amazement when the bird flew right up to our vehicle.  We were able to identify it immediately.  We unfortunately thought that we’d be able to call all birds with the device, but the majority weren’t quite as obliging as the Indigobird.

Magpie Shrike

We have by no means tried every photo in the book, but on our trip we found quite a few birds that came closer on hearing a call, and they were :  Magpie Shrikes, the African Paradise Flycatcher, White-crested Helmet Shrikes and a Grey-headed Bush Shrike.  The Magpie Shrikes were most successful – we were trying to photograph one, played the call and about twelve flew up to our car.  So it looks like the Shrike family is the most curious of the lot.  The Grey-headed Parrots shrieked back at us on hearing the call and we were able to locate them in the tree above us.  Such fun!

Grey-headed Bush Shrike

I doubt whether it was the developers’ intention to call the birds to one, but it does happen and great care has to be taken not to distress the birds by playing their calls repeatedly. The calling of birds needs to be done judiciously at all times.  This is a wonderful tool for identifying their calls and committing them to memory for your field trips.

This fabulous book and Callfinder© will really help folks learn more and aid them in identifying all those birds that have previously been labelled as Unidentified Flying Objects!  And I certainly hope that my blog helps boost their sales – they really have brought out a winner in my humble opinion.  Well done Sappi!

KNP – Punda Maria and Pafuri

Punda Maria, on the north-western edge of the Kruger National Park, is definitely worth a visit if you’re into bird watching.  We’d heard many times that it was a bird lover’s paradise in summer and our long drive north certainly proved worthwhile for this very reason.  According to the guide book this remote little camp that was built in the 1930’s was named Punda (meaning striped donkey or zebra) and Maria after the wife of the ranger, J J Coetzer, who founded it.  I doubt whether the ranger meant any disrespect by linking his wife’s name to a striped donkey!)

African Hawk Eagle

It’s a pretty camp set in rows on a hillside.  There’s a magnificent camping area overlooking a waterhole, which must be amazing in the dry season.  The only fault that we could find with our comfortable little chalet was that the thatched roof extended right down over the verandah and we managed to bump our heads on it a lot.  But as I said to Rob, if we bash our heads once or twice it’s an accident – after that it’s our stupidity.  After that comment we both kept our stupidity to ourselves.  There are some nice walks around the treed camp and lots of birds to be seen without even going for a drive.

Beautiful Baobab

We’d read that nearby Pafuri, on the border of Mozambique, was a must-see place for birds so we packed up a picnic basket and headed off slowly in that direction.  The vegetation in the area is somewhat different from the rest of the Park, which is probably what attracts the variety of birds that you don’t find further south.  Our first ‘lifer’ of the day was an African Crake that was wandering along the edge of the road.  Too fast for our cameras unfortunately, but we did manage to get a positive identification before it disappeared into the long grass.

Sharpe's Grysbok

I might have been unfair in a previous blog when I said that animals were few and far between in this area.  I’ve subsequently read blogs by folks who raved about all the game they saw in winter.  I guess the rainy season isn’t the time to see many animals as they don’t frequent the waterholes like they do in the dry season.  We were therefore grateful to catch a sighting of a shy little Sharpe’s Grysbok which isn’t common in the rest of the Park and was also a lifer for us.

Fiery-necked Nightjar

There are loads of raptors in the area and we ticked off an African Hawk Eagle, an Osprey and numerous Bataleurs and Peregrin Falcons.  The Bee-eaters and European Rollers provided lots of colour, as did the Violet-backed Starlings, Grey-headed Parrots, Red-headed Weavers and African Green Pigeons.  I learnt a new trick – focus about a meter off the ground when driving slowly and you could pick up a nice photo of a Nightjar taking a nap!  You have to have good eyes as they blend into the bark so well.

Rob on the Luvuvhu Bridge Pafuri

At Pafuri our next lifers were Lemon-breasted Canaries and Green-capped Eremomelas that were nesting right next to the Luvuvhu Bridge.  Unfortunately the river was about to come down in flood, as we found to our dismay when we drove to Crooks Corner.  The water was already lapping over the road when a police vehicle raced up to warn us to get away before we were trapped.  That was quite disappointing because the scenery along the river is probably the best in the entire Park.  Beautiful woodland picnic areas with lots of birds to be seen.

Woodland area along Luvuvhu River

We spent three days at Punda Maria and enjoyed every minute of our time there.  The Mopane Woodland and enormous Baobab trees make the scenery lovely and you never know if you’ll round a corner and come across an elephant munching on the leaves or rubbing up against a tree.  I definitely want to go back there in winter even though the summer migrants will have left.  It’s a place in Kruger that deserves a lot more of one’s time.  I only hope that it isn’t modernized too quickly so that the visitors pour into the place.  I think it would lose a lot of its charm if this happens.