21 December 2012

after the wind

The southeaster has been howling for weeks. I've been entertaining thoughts of moving to Thailand or the Med, where decent, gentle air is taken for granted. This morning, the wind was just getting started as usual, then it just stopped. Completely. Idyllic summer appeared and I was instantly in a beautific mood.

The last two years have been unnaturally still for Cape Town. Weeks of summer wind is more like what I remember. You'd think after 42 years here I'd be used to the wind, but no, I still hate it with a passion.

20 November 2012

Poor Man's Shop

I'm pretty sure there haven't been any farm riots in Gouda. Why riot? Nobody's watching. Nobody cares. All the windows are already broken.

And yet two girls sitting at the side of the road still laugh and chat when I ask them if I can take their photo.

30 October 2012

Pooh, Leo and Pookie

The three of them have been with me since birth. I can't find a picture of Pooh, but he sits near my desk, yellow flannel for fur, with hand stitched eyes, nose and mouth radiating slightly surprised pleasure. Leo was made by my godmother in Cathcart in the Eastern Cape, and his floral green coat only gets more awesome with every year since 1970. I think he takes drugs when I'm not looking. And then there's Pookie. A life of hard loving and a couple of unpleasant encounters with family dogs has been tough on him, but he carries the scars of multiple injuries and facial reconstruction surgery with stoic calm.

It's important to have the right kind of stuffed friends. I couldn't ask for better.

20 October 2012

The cuteness continues: a baby tortoise

Just in case the baby sunbird wasn't heart warming enough, here's a tiny baby tortoise spotted in the garden this morning.

Juvenile Angulate Tortoise Chersina angulata (Schweigger 1812). Adults get to about  the size of a man's outstretched hand, but this one had a carapace barely 8cm long.

Just for the record, this is a free-roaming tortoise. We're a stone's throw from the fynbos of the extended Table Mountain National Park. Wild visitors are one of the huge privileges of living here, and a very good reason to leave the bottom of the garden mostly natural. It also makes for a very nice view across our wild olives and Rhus glauca thicket, which could almost convince you you're actually inside the nature reserve as long as you don't look to the right where suburbia sprawls.

17 October 2012

Just a baby sunbird

Fledged four days ago. At first just a tiny ball of fluff, completely out of control, crashing into the ground and cheeping plaintively while its parents fluttered around frantically . It's a miracle any birds survive their first day or two out of the nest in the hungry wild. Two days later, when this photo was taken, it was starting to fly and move through the plants confidently, even exploring flowers for nectar. But it's still very much a baby. The non-stop peep-peep-peeping makes it easy to find in the garden while its parents hurry around and bring food. I was lucky that the nest was right next to my vegetable garden, so I could watch the show from the very start, and they soon got used to me being a few feet away. Father, like all male Lesser Double-collared sunbirds, is small but spectacular, with an iridescent green head and postbox red breast, separated by a narrow band of the deepest royal blue. He seemed to spend most of his time on top of the nearby Cape Honeysuckle or the fence, showing off his disco plumage and singing his heart out. You could tell when baby hatched, because suddenly mom was around again, all businesslike, backwards and forwards between collecting insects and delivering them. Maybe, baby it will hang around long enough so that I can see it's going to be a shiny boy or a sleek grey girl.

Southern Double-collared Sunbird or Lesser Double-collared Sunbird, Cinnyris chalybeus (formerly in the genus Nectarinia).

25 September 2012

So much Spring, so little time

It's the best and longest Spring in as long as I can remember. Despite my best intentions, photo editing and this site are coming a rather poor spare time second (fifth, sixth...?) to gardening, playing in the unbelievable flowers, taking photos, rearranging my garage as a preamble to actually re-starting work on my Moto Guzzi V7 Special, and admiring some vintage red tractor lights that I intend to turn into light fittings.

Did I ever mention that I'm a chronic and unashamed junk hoarder? But really, who can resist cool old shit. Like these cast agricultural valve handles. One day they'll be door or drawer handles, but for now I'll just look at them lovingly once in a while, or include them in a Spring-themed photographic reference to the shortage of free time in my life. And by that I mean the deep inconvenience that results from having to earn a living and do useful things most of the time.

09 September 2012

burgundy magnolias picked from a forgotten and neglected tree
wild stock of Gladiolus tristis grown in pots, elegant and beautifully scented
a happy experiment for our garden, anemones in shades of pink, mauve and red (variety St. Brigid)

29 July 2012

De Mond & Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserves

A lot of my work over the last couple of months has been at De Mond Nature Reserve, probably my favourite stretch of coastline anywhere (see map at end).

The Heuningnes Estuary at De Mond Nature Reserve.

Agathosma cerefolium - this buchu has hands down the best smelling foliage of any plant anywhere. Small and inconspicuous, it's hard to see when it's not flowering, but if you just brush against it, the lemony-anise scent tells you it's there. The perfume is so characteristic of the area that the coastal ridge of Agulhas National Park is named Anysberg. Buchus are the fine-leaved Cape branch of the lemon family (Rutaceae).

The neon-green foliage of another buchu, Agathosma collina is much easier to see - it's dominant on the dune fynbos in this part of the Overberg, and in full flower at the moment.

The Pink Orchid Satyrium carneum, just starting to flower now. Regionally considered Near Threatened (redlist.sanbi.org) it's actually locally common in many coastal sandy areas.

De Mond and Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserves are separated by about 5km of private land, but like anywhere else in South Africa, the beach below the high water mark is Admiralty Zone public property and makes for a delightful wild walk.

Waenhuiskrans - the wagon cave. Presumably named for its size, rather than it actual ability to shelter wagons, since it is very wet at high tide. The neighbouring town was named Waenhuiskrans before being renamed to Arniston to commemorate the ship wrecked here in 1867. 

Huge numbers of Southern Right Whales gather every year between June and November to mate,  calve and nurse their young in the shallow, warm coastal waters of the Overberg.

common terns

Oystercatchers, once in decline, are now locally abundant, and commonly seen.

View over the sea from cliffs above Waenhuiskrans

Crowned cormorant. Just before I took this photo a couple of years ago, my GPS fell into the sea. I went back at low tide just after dawn the next morning and actually found it wedged between two rocks, sadly the battery seal had failed and it was full of sea. A long bath in distilled water, then pure ethanol, brought it back to life long enough to retrieve a weeks worth of work before it died forever.

Beach at Waenhuiskrans Nature Reserve.

And for those of you who don't know the Cape well, that's where the reserves are, just along the coast from Cape Agulhas, the southern tip of Africa.

26 June 2012

Angels come in all shapes and sizes

My father and I both love old motorbikes. He mostly loves old British motorbikes. While I admit that they have a certain rustic charm, I prefer bikes that are reliable and don't leak oil everywhere. Unfortunately I'm also lazy, and my incomparable 1971 Moto Guzzi V7 Special is still distributed as disconnected bits all over my garage. So a couple of months ago I was forced to use his 650 BSA to join a vintage motorcycle rally he was helping organise. Half way to the venue, in classic British fashion, the BSA managed to vibrate loose every bolt holding the headlamp nacelle and speedometer. I pulled over on a highway overpass near the lower edge of the Voortrekker Road industria and investigated my pockets and backpack: one screwdriver, a couple of spanners, and a pair of pliers. No use at all with the bolts lying somewhere on the road behind. I was just staring at the sky and cursing having gotten out of bed early on Sunday morning when this apparition on a black Kawasaki appeared. Black leather, dirty faded jeans and work boots. Old-fashioned blue ink tattoos on his hands that may or may not have been done professionally. And kind eyes. We got talking and I found out that he was the mechanic for the crankhandle club. I also discovered that he'd owned the exact same model BSA. We did not immediately come up with a solution for my problem. I was about to turn around and head home when I stepped on a strap hanging from my backback. I'm not sure what it was originally intended to hold, but since it had not been used in ten years, I turned to my guardian angel and asked if he had a knife. He pulled out a retractable craft knife. The kind with disposable carbon steel blades that snap off in sections. Except this one had been resharpened to a narrow point and razor edge. He said "Be careful" as he handed it to me. Ten minutes later I was on my way, motorbike held together with nylon strap, glad that I'd gotten out of bed early on a Sunday morning.

08 June 2012

fishing for a living

Giant Kingfisher (Megaceryle maxima) doing its thing.

Being botanically inclined, I tend to forget how damn hard it is to photograph birds, especially without long telephotos that cost as much as a luxury car. This guy helped a lot by deciding that the edge of the bridge an arm's length away from my car window was a great spot to base his morning's fishing.

Ten plunges over a half hour yielded a 60% success rate. Possibly assisted by low winter river levels, but still impressive. Only three misses and one extremely unimpressed look when a submerged root was hunted in error. I didn't realise quite how amazing it is that they just fly out of the water.

03 June 2012

Kruger National Park

Imagine a scattering of conservation officials from all over South Africa. Yes, with two-tone khaki. Now also imagine lots of conservation planning professionals. You know, the kind of people that simultaneously worry about where to conserve representative plant and fish and everything else habitat, complex spatial modelling using GIS, and how to influence policy, law and politicians, preferably using maps. Stir in a cupful of provincial and national environment department staff, a pinch of NGO, and season with a few eccentric consultants. This is the nicest, most passionate collection of misfits and nerds you could hope to meet. Every year we get together, talk about technical innovation, triumphs, failures and strategies. And every year we go away ready for another year, feeling a bit less like we're beating our heads against a wall. Last month we gathered for four days in Kruger National Park for the ninth annual Biodiversity Planning Forum. We started at 8 every day and with workshops and meetings often running past 7 pm, ironically there was little chance to get into the reserve. Only by gettting up well before dawn and staying an extra day did I get any bush time  at all. Nothing particularly special, but since I never get tired of sleek impala, Acacia and Terminalia trees, and the scent of earth and potato bush, that's OK.