Category Archives: The World around Us

Over the Rainbow

My meandering walk on Freedom Day holiday took me down the road to the end of the cul-de-sac, then further down into the conservation area that runs along the coast to the south of Mossel Bay.

There is always something to see and at this time of year many of the fynbos shrubs are covered in delicate, tiny flowers.

The fynbos attracts very specific birds and several of them were flitting from bush to bush, enjoying the bounty that nature had provided – Karoo Scrub-Robins and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds the most prominent.

Karoo Scrub-Robin

After exploring the area and headed up the trail which I have nicknamed Sugarbird alley – there are just about always Cape Sugarbirds present and today was no different. I often hear Terrestial Brownbuls along the trail and true to form I could hear their familiar krrr-krrr-krrr call that I have come to know well, but as usual they remained hidden in the depths of the dense bush.

As I turned back towards home, I saw a small but perfect rainbow had formed, looking as if it was balanced on the cliff edge. It was unusually low and flatly curved, almost inviting me to come and leap over it at the end of the trail….

I’m told by those who know about these matters that the higher the sun is, the lower the rainbow will be and I believe the rainbow’s height is also dependent on the height of the moisture droplets in the sky – either in cloud or mist or even rain form. My walk was around midday when the sun, albeit partly hidden behind clouds, was at its highest and there was a fine mist low over the sea, so this combination of factors produced this low rainbow

Pretty cool as they say…..

Mossel Bay – The Point

Mossel Bay, like most coastal towns, has many weather moods, from sunny and bright to overcast and stormy

These photos were taken during one of our regular visits to The Point at the western end of the bay, our favourite place for a take-away coffee which we enjoy while sitting in the car and soaking up the calm that the scene brings to us. It also happens to be a great spot for seabird watching, which is dependent on the prevailing winds, ocean currents and tides as to what may pass by, but that is a subject for another day…

These photos are straight from my iphone without any cropping or editing

Hermanus – Flowers on a Hill

Hermanus

And now for something different …. well, we all need a change sometimes.

In January this year, before the restrictions of lockdown descended on us in March, we travelled to Hermanus from Mossel Bay for a short break after the busy Christmas and New Year period, when Mossel Bay bulges at the seams. Hermanus lies about an hour and a half’s drive south east of Cape town – for us it was a bit further coming from Mossel Bay but still a comfortable half-day’s drive.

The town is famous for its whale-watching opportunities, particularly Southern Right whales, but also other whale species. The whales can be seen from the cliffs all along the coast from as early as June and usually depart in early December. It’s hard to believe that these magnificent creatures were once hunted in the nearby town of Betty’s Bay.

On our first day in Hermanus we explored the town, including a quick visit to a small complex of boutique type shops – on a whim we popped into a wine shop and ended up being persuaded by one Roetter Smit (a born salesman) to do a gin-tasting session under his personal guidance. Well, it was fascinating and Roetter had us tasting all kinds of interesting combinations, fortunately with just the tiniest sips so that we weren’t incapacitated for the rest of the day.

The Rotary Way

After a lunch at Lizettes restaurant – delicious Asian flavoured fish and chips – and a quick stop at Voelklip beach to refresh our memories of this lovely spot, we headed back through town until we found the turn-off signposted Rotary Way.

We remembered driving up the Rotary Way scenic drive during a previous visit to Hermanus, perhaps 20 years ago, and recalled, rather vaguely, the views of Hermanus from the top, so we decided to take a drive up this scenic route, which winds its way up the mountain overlooking the town.

Hermanus is in the Cape Floristic Region and thus has one of the highest plant diversity levels in the world. The principal vegetation type of this region is Fynbos, a mixture of evergreen shrub-like plants with small firm leaves (Info courtesy of Wikipedia)

Hermanus Rotary Way

We soon realised that the drive was a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the beautiful, delicate, flowering fynbos shrubs that lined the road higher up and we stopped frequently, under Gerda’s guidance, for closer views and photos of some of the more distinctive species. Here is a selection of the photos that I took – for the time being the flowers will have to remain nameless as our reference books on Fynbos remained behind in Mossel Bay when we returned to Pretoria (well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it}

And the view of Hermanus? We almost had to tear ourselves away from the flowers to see if the views down to the town were as good as we remembered – the verdict – definitely

Hermanus Rotary Way

Furry Caterpillars Congregating

I went for my usual walk this morning, accompanied by Saartjie (pronounced Sarkie) the Border Terrier that is almost like another grandchild when we visit Mossel Bay, being the darling of our daughter’s family and right across the road from our house in the golf estate where we are spending the lockdown period.

Saartjie loves a walk around the estate and insists on hugging the perimeter of the fairways which are mostly lined with dense bush – she has power in her little legs that defies belief, dragging me across open stretches to the closest bush, then sniffing and poking her nose into the bush as we walk.

On the way back, passing yet another bush, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a twig that seemed unnaturally hairy and on closer inspection saw it was covered in a layer of small hairy caterpillars – clearly some form of lepidoptera but I have not been able to put a name to it.

They have definitely not heard about the need for social distancing!

Fun in the Forest – Fungi, Frogs and Fangs

You would think that a walk in the forest, with the intent to do some casual birding, would be a safe, relaxing pursuit …. despite having grown up with fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and the like where all kinds of monsters lurked among the trees. Well, that’s what I thought when we went on a day trip in January this year to the Woodville “Big Tree”, near Hoekwil in the southern Cape and I persuaded Gerda to walk the trail through the pristine forest that surrounds the Tree.

Alert readers (that’s all of you, I’m sure) may remember my story of the ghostly dove in this same forest -(https://mostlybirding.com/2018/02/06/into-the-wilderness-a-forest-a-big-tree-and-a-ghostly-dove/) – I was expecting a similar experience of secretive birds with soft calls, but as it turned out, the birds were scarce. And yet there were plenty of other interesting, even exciting things that had us stopping frequently along the trail ……

Fungi

The forest holds a remarkable variety of fungi of different shapes and colours, some of which I photographed – unfortunately I have no idea of their names as this is one part of nature that I have no expertise in at all (and I don’t own a field guide). Nevertheless I was fascinated by their variety

Here are two in one photo – the whitish ones shaped like funnels and the large flat brown one to the left of the photo.

Another photo of the whitish funnel shaped fungi, this time with my hand included to give an idea of size

Another example of a large disc shaped fungus – about the size of a large dinner plate

And lastly this delicate umbrella shaped fungus – it has the appearance of the mushrooms we eat, but this one could easily be of the poisonous variety. It was about the size of a large mug

Frogs

Well, frog singular, actually – it leapt into the undergrowth as we approached and I was just able to get a partly concealed photo as it did its best to remain hidden from view. I am hesitant to put a name to it (but we can call it Freddie the Frog if you like) as my frogs reference book is under lockdown in Pretoria while we are likewise under lockdown, but in Mossel Bay. However an App that I downloaded points to it being a Raucous Toad (Sclerophrys rangeri) based on colour, markings and distribution

(Possible) Raucous Toad

Fangs

The major excitement of the day was provided by none other than a dark green, almost black, snake that slithered across the track a few metres in front of us. It was a Boomslang – known to be docile rather than aggressive – but scary nonetheless. It was around 1,5m long and I was happy to grab a photo or two from what I felt was a safe position on the opposite side of the track to where it was weaving its way through the leafy green undergrowth. After a couple of heart-pumping minutes trying to follow its progress, it disappeared from view and we continued on our way along the forest path, now a tad more alert for any movement around us.

Feathered friends

Birds were scarce, other than in the vicinity of the Big Tree itself and, as expected in forest habitat, it was all about the calls – as we commenced the walk, there were some calls that I could not immediately identify, but I eventually decided it had to be Olive Bushshrikes, which have a variety of calls.

On the other hand, the shrill “Willie” calls of Sombre Greenbuls were more obvious, their calls following us all the way along the walk. Black-headed Oriole and Terrestial Brownbul each called once during our walk and the cry of a distant African Fish-Eagle confirmed its presence – probably at a dam beyond the forest perimeter. On the way out, at last, a Cape Batis hopping about in the branches actually showed itself, making our day in the forest just a little more pleasurable.

Flora

And for good measure (and the chance for one more alliterative heading) this flower caught my eye – I believe its name is Scadoxus puniceus, commonly known as the paintbrush lily

Which all goes to show that birding just has to be the best pastime – you never know what is around the next corner.

I hope that the current lockdown period finds you in a safe and comfortable place …….

Shelldon Goes on Holiday

My name is Shelldon and I’m a tortoise who loves travelling – slowly, it has to be said, but I get there in the end.

This past holiday season I managed to get to a few places, mostly in the Western Cape – funny thing though, I kept bumping into an older human who seemed to be following me around, but I guess that was just a coincidence. I knew it was the same person because of the binoculars he had around his neck every time – I mean, who walks around with binos hanging from his neck all day?

Anyway here are a few of my holiday photos ……

Here I am in Karoo National Park, on my way to have nap. Not sure who this is following me ……

Karoo National Park

I made it to Mossel Bay after a long trip and was pleased to find a tasty and colourful lunch laid on – very considerate of these humans to plant such delicious fare

Mossel Bay

I found my way to Gamka Eco-Estate near Calitzdorp and took a late afternoon walk alongside the river, albeit dry at that time

Calitzdorp

And here I am west of Mossel Bay, just pottering about at the side of the road

Mossel Bay west

Same spot and there’s the car of that older human with the binos that I mentioned earlier – guess he was looking for something as he wandered around for a while aiming his binos at goodness knows what. I mean what could be more interesting than a lively tortoise?

Mossel Bay west

Here’s looking forward to my next trip ….

A Swim to Remember

It was going to be just another late afternoon swim at Santos beach, a favourite in Mossel Bay for the visitors that stream into the town over the holiday season, stretching its resources to the limit. Late afternoon is usually when the crowds have thinned out, the sun is less fierce and you can actually swim without bumping into others.

By the time we got to the beach on this particular afternoon, it was cloudy with a cool breeze and a light spatter of rain – driving there, the usual comments of “it’s raining, we are going to get wet” were being bandied about, raising a few chuckles. It all worked in our favour as, by the time we had parked and walked across the cool sand to deposit our towels and gear near the water, there was but a handful of people in the water and we joined them eagerly.

The sea was calm, quite chilly, but we were soon in and enjoying the refreshing conditions, not expecting the natural extravaganza that was to unfold before us.

I noticed some terns gathering further out and plunge diving, so I guessed that there were fish around. Soon a few gulls joined the terns, settling on the sea in the same spot. Then we saw dark forms in the water quite close to where we were swimming, the forms changing shape as we watched, moving about like black ghosts.

Kelp Gull

Suddenly, a large, black, shiny seal surfaced nearby, causing a missed heartbeat or two….. it’s well known that these waters are favoured by large sharks which have a predeliction for these meaty creatures. We watched it move about nearby, then swim into deeper waters, half expecting a shark to rise out of the water and grab it with mighty jaws.

There was clearly food available for predators and seabirds alike – the numbers of terns and gulls was increasing by the minute, literally as we watched from our waist-deep position in the water. Moving closer to shore, until we felt a tad safer, we watched enthralled as the bird numbers grew further. Terns were plunge diving less than 10 metres from us and when the dark shapes we had seen earlier rose to the surface and magically turned into a mass of tiny silver fish, the terns took it in turn to fly in, dip down gracefully to scoop a fish or two, then fly off and let the next bird in line repeat the process.

Swift Tern (Thalasseus Bergii)

The Swift (Greater Crested) Terns were so adept at this that many emerged with 3 or 4 of the fish held sideways in their bills – much like the famous Puffin images that one sees. A fisherman informed us that the fish were anchovies – something was causing them to rise to the surface, creating a brief maelstrom of silver bodies and turning the surface of the sea into a frothy jumble. The terns were queueing up to take part in the bonanza, like tiny planes coming in to land on an aircraft carrier.

Swift Tern (Thalasseus Bergii)

By now the shoals of anchovies were so close to shore that some were being caught by the small waves and washed up onto the sand, where they were left in tiny desparation until kids came to scoop them up and throw them back in the water – their lucky day, except if they were taken in the seabird feeding frenzy of course.

As we slowly left the water, picked up our belongings and headed to where the car was parked, there were perhaps a couple of hundred seabirds filling the sky above the sea. More proof, if needed at all, that amazing experiences happen when least expected – this one will remain with me for ever.

Footnote : I did not have my camera with me, something which I initially regretted as I could have taken some memorable shots, but thinking about it I decided it was for the best – not everything has to be recorded digitally – that’s why we have a brain…

Fire Lily

Nature is full of surprises – more so when you come across something amazing when you least expect it. We were on a holiday season outing from Mossel Bay with friends Koos and Rianda, which included a lunch at one of our favourite spots – Eight Bells Mountain Inn. This is an old-fashioned family resort located in the lower part of the Robinson Pass between Mossel Bay and Oudtshoorn, with well-developed gardens and a very peaceful ambience.

After a filling lunch of Ostrich burgers and apple pie, we ventured further up the pass, stopping at a few spots where the gravel shoulder widens to allow you to pull off and enjoy the views across the hills and down to the coast in the distance. At each stop we checked the surroundings for any sign of bird life, hoping for some of the special species that inhabit the mountain slopes, but were a little disappointed to find very few birds.

At the last stop before turning around to head back down the pass, we had a good look around and found a few birds but nothing too unusual. However, while scanning the lower mountain slopes in the distance, I noticed what looked like red flowers standing out against the green growth and my binoculars confirmed this.

We just could not resist getting closer for a better view and perhaps a photo, even though we had only our cellphones with us, so Koos and I set out across the slopes through the low bush, more or less following the path of the baboons we had seen a few minutes earlier. The results of this effort were certainly worth thetrouble as we reached the first of the flowers – bright red in colour and beautifully shaped.

Later, Gerda consulted her fynbos books and was able to identify the plant species as one of the Fire Lilies – so called due to their rapid flowering response to natural bush fires. This particular plant species is commonly known as the George Lily (Cyrtanthus elatus) with a limited natural distribution along the southern coast of the Western Cape, but is now grown world-wide for its cut flowers.

So here’s a photo or two – one of the flower and one of the incredible view from the same spot.

The view with Mossel Bay in the distance

As a bonus we found the sought after Victorin’s Warbler at a spot further down the pass, the same place where I have found it on two previous occasions. As usual, it played hide-and-seek amongst the bushes while calling loudly and constantly, frustrating our attempts to get a decent view of the bird despite being about 3 metres away from us!