Shake your feathers – wishing Planet Earth a Happy New Year!

This red-billed teal shaking its feathers, lifting its wings in the early morning light, seems to me a fitting way to say to you all – family, friends, readers, colleagues – may you have a wonderful New Year, filled with peace, light, grace, happiness, health, good fortune and the company and friendship of those you love.

May the New Year see a lessening of hatred and division, a restoration of decency and justice, the dignity of all, tolerance and inclusion.

We are all of us a mere speck, hurtling through space on Spaceship Earth, so let’s take care of our planet, too, okay?! It’s the only one we’ve got, and preserving it intact is the biggest responsibility we have to our children and grandchildren.

Happy 2019!

Madikwe Magic

It is hard to describe our experience at the Madikwe Game Reserve up near Botswana – Rob and I have been on many other game-viewing trips, in the Kruger Park, the Pilanesberg, Marakele, the St Lucia Wetlands and more, but never anything like this.

Two examples will suffice, at least for now. On one of the afternoons when we did not go on a game drive, we were entertained for hours at the waterhole right in front of our (unfenced) lodge at Mooifontein, by buffalo, giraffe, impala, kudu and – most thrilling of all – a standoff between a rhino and a herd of elephants. The elephants were at the waterhole, drinking, when the rhino emerged from the tree-line, stage right, and headed in their direction. As he saw, or smelled, the elephants, he hesitated, and in a moment the herd took off in a cloud of dust, almost like a flock of birds, if you can imagine elephants as birds, while the largest of the elephants turned to face the rhino, and charged him down. The rhino backed away, and backed, and backed, until finally it turned tail and ran. It was hours before it returned to the waterhole, and then only with extreme caution.

On the last of our morning game drives – this is the second story – we spent maybe two hours waiting and watching as a pair of male cheetahs carefully worked their way around a zebra herd, approaching through the long grass, pausing and moving on, as the herd drew closer and closer. At one point two healthy-looking young zebra came into range and we were sure the cheetahs would make a run at them, but they didn’t, and we feared they had given up. And then, from the left, came a female zebra with a foal – exactly what the cheetahs were waiting for. You could see the sudden stiffening and attention, the sense of sinews coiling, as they watched – as we watched with them – the foal suckling. And you knew, as you watched, that the foal had only minutes to live – and then the mother trotted on, and the foal trotted behind it – and the two cheetahs took off.

Our game ranger, Lucas, yelled at me to sit, and threw the LandCruiser into gear, flinging it at a mad, careening, crashing pace in an arc through the bushes – over thorn trees and logs, bouncing and lurching, until we came, within a matter of minutes, upon the cheetahs with their prey – jaws clamped upon the zebra foal’s throat, paws draped almost lovingly across its neck, pinning it down, holding it fast. It was already dead, but they were taking no chances.

That’s enough, perhaps, at least for now, to give you a sense of Madikwe magic. Except of course for the photos.

There will be more of those, photos I mean, a series of series – an elephant series, a lion series, a cheetah series, a rhino series, a series of images of a black-shouldered kite hovering, poised in the air, over the next weeks, and possibly months, as I find time to work on them. And some text too, perhaps.

Burchell’s Coucal

Thanks once again to the very helpful and knowledgeable folk in the BirdLife South Africa Facebook Group, who within seconds of my posting let me know that this gorgeous bird is a Burchell’s Coucal.

I can assure you, on my own, I’d never have figured it out.

Burchell's Coucal.jpg

Squacco Heron, Marievale

Once again, I had to call upon the distributed knowledge that resides in the heads of the many birders and photographers who are part of the SA Birdlife FaceBook page for help with identifying this Squacco Heron, spotted in the reeds beside the road at the Marievale Bird Sanctuary this Easter Friday.

Hopefully, in time, I will improve my own knowledge and become less of a nuisance to others….

Nikon D500, Nikkor 70-300mm f4.5/5.6 G ED VR, processed in Lightroom and Colour Efex Pro.

Spotted thick-knee, Marievale

We saw this Spotted thick-knee, otherwise known as a Dikkop, standing behind the car park at the Visitors Centre at Marievale around 10am on Easter Friday; it was still there, but lying down this time, when we left several hours later.

Sharp in tooth and sharp in claw – Marievale Otter

We were standing on the side of the road that bridges the vlei, looking up and looking out – not down – at the birdlife when someone standing nearby on the back of his bakkie called out, ‘have you seen the otter?’

We hadn’t, but we did, and here are pictures to prove it.

Amur Falcon Female

You knew at once, didn’t you, that this was a female Amur falcon? Of course you did.

Well, I didn’t, and though I paged up and down and sideways through Roberts and the SASOL guide I couldn’t figure it out. Until, of course, I posted the image on the SA Birdlife Facebook Group page, with a cry for help, and with minutes had my answer, from some far more knowledgeable soul who took pity on my ignorance.

It is, as above, a falcon, female, which I spotted on the fence just past the Visitor’s Centre, as we entered the Marievale wetland.

A good start, auspicious, to a perfect day.

And I rather liked the composition, too.

Nikon D500, Nikon 70-300mm. Processed in Lightroom and Colour Efex Pro.

Female Amur Falcon.jpg