31 December 2012

Happy New Year

I cannot believe another year has come and gone, but I supppose that time waits for no one.

As is my custom I will not be making any new years resolutions, but will continue to live life to the fullest. Having said that I like the following quote from Paulo Coelho and think I will give it a try this year:

kiss slowly
laugh insanely
love truly
forgive quickly

Wishing all of you out there have a truly wonderful and prosperous new year.

26 December 2012

Thumpy - a kudu's tale

In more than one post in the past I have mentioned that kudu's, especially the cows, are my favourite antelope.Whenever I see one I am compelled to stop and never seem to have enough photos of them. 

This all happened on our family farm that was situated on the Lundi (Runde) River, back in the days when Zimbabwe was still Rhodesia, when we bottle reared an orphaned kudu calf.

We had a big flock of sheep on the farm in those days, which were looked after by a shepherd. He took them out in the morning and brought the home at night. During the heat of the day the shepherd would take the flock down to the river to drink, along one of the few game paths that wound themselves through the dense riverine bush to the water’s edge. The shepherd would be careful to avoid the pools where the crocodiles lurked and find a place where the river flowed over rocky areas between the pools, where it would be safe for the sheep to drink.

On one occasion the shepherd came across a kudu cow that had been caught in a snare along one of these paths. Her calf, which was only a few days old, lay curled up next to her and leapt up and bolted into the bush, as he drew alongside her. The calf did not get very far, when she too was caught in a snare.

Fortunately the shepherd was not alone that day and while he restrained the calf from threshing about and injuring itself, his sidekick ran back to our farmhouse a few kilometres away tell my folks.

I was not in on the rescue, because I was at boarding school at the time.

It was not long before the calf was rescued and safely ensconced in a pen. The surrounding bush along the river was swept by a team of labourers and was cleared of snares.

At the first opportunity my mother set about the task of bottle rearing her latest charge. We had plenty of cow’s milk but she knew that it was probably too rich for a kudu. After a few telephone calls around the country, she managed to track down a formula for blending kudu’s milk from cow’s milk. Making a few telephone calls was easier said than done in those days. We were on a party line, which was shared with about five other users, so if you wanted to make a call; you had to wait your turn if someone was on talking. To make a trunk call you would have to dial the exchange, ask for the number you wanted and then wait anything for up to an hour for the call to come through. But mother was determined and eventually got what she wanted.

And so the task of bottle rearing an orphaned kudu calf began.

To start with my step father would have to hold her down while mother force fed her, but it was not long until she grasped the concept and would voluntarily take the bottle. This developed into something of a ritual. Before taking the bottle, she would launch herself across the pen and give her benefactor a few good thumps, before eagerly latching on to the teat. This earned her the name of Thump-Thump, or Thumpy for short.

When I finished school and returned home, I immediately volunteered to look after her and this was readily accepted by my folks. My folks who knew all about her idiosyncrasies and watched with bemused smiles while their unsuspecting son climbed into the pen, bottle in hand. My feet had no sooner touched the ground when she shot across the pen and gave me a few good thumps and then started drinking. It is quite intimidating when what seems to be a docile, but nervous antelope suddenly “attacks” you. Let’s just say I was shaken not stirred, much to the amusement of the onlookers.

I then set about capturing the heart and mind of Thumpy. The way to do that was through her stomach. This was done with a variety of treats. He absolute favourite was a particular bush, with whitish berries, that grew along the river bank. I was told that kudus were particularly fond of this bush and every day I would bring her a few branches and it was not long when she would come running when I called her name. She became very affectionate and would nuzzle me and loved having her neck and ears scratched.

This is the only photo of I have Thumpy. It was scanned from an old colour slide and was taken inside the turkey run, with her buddy the goat.

When she was over her nervousness she was moved into a large turkey run, where she had a lot more space to move about and soon had a goat for a friend. Unfortunately the goat died quite suddenly one day and Thumpy was left with only the turkeys for company.

One of the daily rituals on the farm was to release the turkeys to free range in the lands. This was always a moment of great excitement. The turkeys would gather at the gate at the right time of the day and as soon as it was opened, they would charge out and run full tilt into the fields with wings flapping and a lot of noise, before settling down to their foraging.

Thumpy would usually stand by and nonchalantly look at the daily spectacle, until she too was suddenly infected by all the excitement and also made a break for freedom. In her case she did not exit through the gate, but managed to break a hole through the wire mesh fence, with the full force of her charge and kept running until she disappeared in the bush.

I immediately went looking for her but she was nowhere to be found. It was a devastating time for us as she had become such a part of the family. I thought that being a wild animal she would go back to her roots. How wrong I was.

Thumpy was gone for several weeks and during that time we received more than one report about a mad kudu that kept chasing the people from the communal lands, who used to take shortcuts through our farm. Thumpy saw people as friends and a source of food. They only saw her as a kudu that was doing what no wild kudu had done before and so when she approached then, they assumed she was mad and fled in terror.

Then came the day when our shepherd arrived out of breath to let me know Thumpy had joined the flock of sheep. I rounded up some help and quickly collected some of the branches of her favourite berries and headed out in the Land Rover to hopefully bring her home.

Sure enough, she had joined the sheep, but she was already very thin and extremely nervous and it was only after a lot of coaxing and bribery with the berries that she came to me. Looking at the state she was in, I knew she would never survive on her own in the bush and as soon as she was sufficiently calm I quickly tackled her around the front legs and brought her down. The labourers and I loaded her into the back of the Land Rover and returned her to her original pen. 

She was never the same after that experience but I am sure that given enough time she would have overcome her new found nervousness, but that would have meant keeping her in a small fenced off area. As a family we decided that would not be right, wild animals are meant to be free. We had given her life and it was now time to give her freedom.

We gave her to a neighbour who had developed a small game park that was well fenced and where we knew there was plenty of space she would be safe. I made sure that her new owner knew which treats to give her and the last time I heard she had become a firm favourite with him and had returned to her affectionate ways.

23 December 2012

Life with Suzie - T'is the season to be jolly

Metal thieves have been stealing the cast iron manhole covers around our city for a while now and we knew it was just a matter of time before they hit Richmond Hill. For the sake of a few rands these thieves have no qualms about putting the lives and property of their hapless victims at risk. And what contributes to the problem is that there is always an unscrupulous scrap metal dealer who is willing to buy these ill-gotten gains.

Whole streets have been left with gaping holes that could cause serious damage to car tyres. Residents have been up in arms because of the slow pace at which this problem was being attended to.

Then in a matter of a few nights Richmond Hill was missing 28 manhole covers and warnings went out via our Facebook neighbourhood watch page to watch out for these new hazards in our roads. All sorts of impractical temporary solutions were suggested, like filling the holes with gravel - "Hello, what happens if there is a fire and you have to connect a hose to one of the fire hydrants?"

This was not problem for a creative soul like Suzie, who comes up with ideas and is prepared to carry them through.

"Let's plant trees in the holes," she suggested, "that will provide a good warning to motorists and get the attention of the municipality." No sooner were the words uttered and she had sourced a good supply of pine saplings and some willing helpers, took my bakkie (truck, ute) the next day and set about her mission with her usual verve.

The result was that by that afternoon every open hole in the streets of Richmond Hill had its own Christmas tree. Not to be out-done the local residents and shop owners captured the vision and started decorating the trees....and the neighbourhood  was looking very festive for a few hours.

By the next morning, much to our indignation, reports started coming in that many of the trees had gone missing,  but on closer inspection we found that the manholes were covered with new plastic covers. Within less than 48 hours there was not an open hole in any of the streets in our neighbourhood.

"How did you get it right so quickly?" residents from neighbouring suburbs wanted to know after passing through Richmond Hill.

"Easy," came the reply from all and sundry, "just plant a tree."

That is the power of a fun and creative protest. One person with a vision and the passion to carry it through and a bureaucrat who does not like the embarrassment of being shown up.

19 December 2012

Flower power - Jacaranda

One of the exotic trees that South Africans love is the jacaranda with its magnificent display of mauve flowes and the mauve carpet it puts down.

The few jacarandas of Richmond Hill have just past their peak, but if you want to see a really spectacular display, Pretoria is the place to be.

16 December 2012

Life with Suzie - Bling in the bush

Suzie and I can go on a jaunt to the same place and when you look at the photos we have taken you could be excused for wondering if we had actually been to the same place.

I tend to see the big picture and include as much of the scenery in my pictures as possible. For many years my pictures were typical holiday snapshots. If there is a bird or insect in the vicinity I will find it and photograph it.

"Where did you see that bird?" she will ask when looking at my photographs.

"It has a nest above the first door we entered," I reply.

"Oh," she says as she shows me the picture of a subtly back-lit stained glass window that she was photographing at the time I found the bird, "I never saw them.".

Suzie has an artistic eye and will find subjects that I miss every time. She focusses in on interesting details and sees things from a different angle to most people. She gets high on colour and interesting patterns. When we are travelling  she will always be the first to see the sun beams radiating through the clouds.

All I can do when I see her pictures is scratch my head and wonder how I missed that.

Then recently when we were on one of our many trips to the Addo Elephant National Park I noticed that she was stopping to photograph birds. "This is unusual," I thought, but said nothing until we rounded a corner and with great enthusiasm she exclaimed, "Look at that bird!"

At the same time I said, "Wow, look at the sun beams coming through the clouds!"

We looked at one another and laughed. There had been a role reversal.

"Since when did you develop an interst in birds," I asked.

"I don't mind birds," she replied, "As long as they have bing on them. I am still not interested in little dull grey and brown birds."

The result of that encounter is that the name of the cape glossy starling has been changed to "bling bird" aka the LBBB or the little blue bling bird.

13 December 2012

Skywatch Friday - A patch of sky

I had some difficulty this week finding a suitable Skywatch picture, but after some searching I came across one with a patch of clear blue sky showing.

This was about all I could capture of this elephant it was so close. I do so enjoy the intimacy of the Addo Elephant  National Park.

Visit Skywatch for more great skies from around the world.

12 December 2012

Flower power - Zantedeschia

Zantedeschia, or the arum lily as it is known in South Africa is neither a lily nor an arum. If you use them as cut flowers just remember that beneath the outer veneer of beauty they are poisonous, because of the presence of calcium oxalate.

My one field guide says that it does have medicinal uses. The leaves are warmed as a poultice for sores and boils and warmed leaves are placed on the forehead for headaches. Not being into traditional medicines, I have never tried it and don't recommend that anyone does.

09 December 2012

Ticks on the hoof

With the onset of summer and after the good rains the ticks at Addo started to flourish and it did not take long for the game to be invested with these parasites. But one animal's misery is another's opportunity. 

This warthog stood around contentedly for ages, while the Cape Glossy Starlings picked away at the ticks that covered his body. They provided a feast for these enterprising birds.

06 December 2012

Skywatch Friday - Bleak skies and hadedas

It was a bleak afternoon at Addo, when I came across this hadeda ibis sitting on the branch of a dead tree. They are very common in this part of the world and very noisy when they take off and let rip with their raucous cry.

Visit Skywatch for more great skies from around the world.

05 December 2012

Flower power - Gazania

Gazanias occur naturally throughout the Eastern Cape and put on a glorious show at this time of the year - when the sun is shining.

02 December 2012

Felis leo - the king

Coming across lions in the wild is always a thrill. I don't know what it is. Maybe its their size or their raw power, or the fact that they are just plain dangerous. But whatever it is these big cats do have a certain aura about them.

There are nine of them in the Addo Elephant National Park and if you know more or less where they hang out, you may just see them. But they spend about sixteen hours of the day sleeping or just lying about and if they are in the thick bush you will never find them.

This is one of two young males that lives in the Southern part of the Park that happened to be walking along the road we were driving along. On this occassion he was on a mission. The sighting was a fleeting before he and his brother disappeared into the thick bush.

01 December 2012

Flower power - Morning glory

I arrived at the conclusion a while back that I needed to change the way I photographed flowers, because I felt I was missing something. Flower pictures are good and I will still capture them in the conventional way, when I want a botanical record. But what do you have to do to capture the essence or soul of a flower?  How do you bring in the wow factor - this is what I will be exploring in my latest series "Flower power."