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African Paradise Flycatcher

Cable and Grain 20 Feb 2015

African Paradise Flycatchers are busy birds, often seen flitting around in forests and woodlands chattering prettily. This is either a female, or a male without breeding plumage. In the breeding season males develop long, elegant, russet tail feathers which are not visible here. Most bird-books depict the African Paradise Flycatcher with a black head and breast. This photograph captures the true blue-black colour of their heads which, along with their sky-blue eyes and beaks, forms an attractive contrast to their chestnut wings.

Red-winged Starling Female

Cable and Grain 4 Feb 2015

A female Red-winged Starling shakes herself dry after a bath. Her grey head distinguishes her from the males of this species, as they have glossy blue-black heads. The predominant call of the Red-winged Starling is a sweet, wistful whistle which is easily recognisable. They are very adaptable and they can occupy a wide range of habitats and draw on various food sources. This starling is one of the earliest African birds to have been described by the Swedish ‘father of modern taxonomy’, Carl Linneaus, back in 1766.

African Fish Eagle

Cable and Grain 2 Feb 2015

The African Fish Eagle is probably Southern Africa’s most well-known bird of prey.  Its striking white head and chocolate-brown body and its plaintive, echoing call make it easily distinguishable from every other bird of prey. Fish Eagles also nest along major rivers so they are not particularly difficult to find. Their favourite food is large fish, but they also eat baby crocodiles and snakes, and are known to snatch prey from other birds.

Thick-tailed Bushbaby

Cable and Grain 30 Jan 2015

Thick-tailed bushbabies are the largest of Africa’s smallest primates. They are nocturnal woodland-dwellers, and their huge eyes assist them to see in the dark. During the day, they curl up in furry bundles in hollow trees. They have a sweet tooth, and at night they emerge from their nests to snack on acacia gum, fruit and insects. Bushbabies are named for their plaintive, baby-like shrieks and cries.

Black-collared Barbet

Cable and Grain 28 Jan 2015

Black-collared barbets are common in the eastern half of southern Africa, and can often be seen in parks and gardens. They are somewhat weirdly named because their bright red heads are vastly more striking than their black collars! They also have a very recognisable ‘two-puddly’ call which is often heard in summer. It is a rapid duet by two birds that bob up and down as they call.

Trumpeter Hornbill

Cable and Grain 19 Jan 2015

The weird-looking Trumpeter Hornbill is a gregarious bird most commonly seen in groups of three to five birds, although they have been found in flocks of up to fifty birds. The enlarged section of beak atop their upper mandible is called a casque. Some hornbills' casques seem to be simply for beak reinforcement, while others are very hard and used for aerial jousting. It is thought that the Trumpeter Hornbill’s hollow casque acts as a resonance chamber to amplify its call.

Ocean Sunset

Erik 8 Jan 2015

When was the last time you had the opportunity to sit on the beach and watch the sun go down? 

A photo cannot do it justice, as it is a multisensory experience. First, the waves become louder, as your body reacts to the dwindling light by ramping up the sensitivity of your senses. Next, you get goosebumps, which the poetic types will ascribe to an emotional reaction to the warm embrace of the refracted light. 

More likely, this is due to the sudden cooling of the sand. Being so reflective, it does not hold its heat long after the sun stops beating it. Although likely present since the late afternoon, it is normally at this time that one notices the sea breeze, and the gulls drifting in it. Of course, all this is accompanied by the visual feast of the sunset itself.

So perhaps I should ask, when is the last time you had the opportunity to sit on the beach and feel the sun go down?

 – Erik


Erik 2 Jan 2015

These skulls washed up on the Cape coastline after a particularly big storm. Locals also reported finding several seals and penguins washed up on shore just after the storms. It is odd to think of creatures so graceful in the water being bested by its power, but I think it is easy to underestimate the true power of the ocean during a storm.

 – Erik

4 Principles of tracking

Erik 26 Dec 2014

On a recent tracking course with Bushwise Field Guides, I picked up 4 vital principles for analysing any situation.

4: Analyse the detail within the problem

Here we see a civet track… or is it a genet? Maybe a small leopard? Or a tiny lion? Maybe even a wildcat! Tracks are wonderfully detailed things, and the third step that I learnt during Track & Sign week with Bushwise Field Guides, is to look at all the little details within the problem. In a potentially confusing example like this, for example, here the shape and position of the toes lead to African Civet, and the size comparison to the Blue Wildebeest track next to it confirms this.

- Erik

4 Principles of tracking

Erik 22 Dec 2014

On a recent tracking course with Bushwise Field Guides, I picked up 4 vital principles for analysing any situation.

3: Look at the whole scene for additional information

In the bushveld, one always has to be aware of one’s surroundings. For example, a tracker following a pride of lions for his guests would do very well to look at the shadows underneath the trees before he ends up on the menu – but when you are inexperienced, it it hard not to focus entirely on the problem instead of looking around. Thus, the final ingredient that I learnt during Track & Sign week was to always take a step back and look at the entire scene as well. You will often find extra information that can make all the difference, and as a bonus you get a chance to appreciate how beautiful the bushveld is!

- Erik

4 Principles of tracking

Erik 18 Dec 2014

On a recent tracking course with Bushwise Field Guides, I picked up 4 vital principles for analysing any situation.

2: Evaluate the direction of the problem

Unfortunately, there are no “footprint marshals” instructing our wildlife to politely step around each other’s tracks, and to only step neatly and firmly in soft soil. As a result, tracks can become muddled, and in order to identify the one you are investigating, it helps a lot to be able to gather extra information, such as a matching track from the other foot, or a clue about the behaviour of the animal. To do any of this, it helps tremendously to know where to look. Thus, determining the direction of the animal is invaluable, and this was the second thing I learnt to do during Track & Sign week – after making sure the light is coming from a good angle.

- Erik

4 Principles of tracking

Erik 14 Dec 2014

On a recent tracking course with Bushwise Field Guides, I picked up 4 vital principles for analysing any situation.

1: Optimise your lighting

Tracks are delicate, intricate things beyond belief. The amount of detail that a patch of earth, slightly disturbed, can convey to an experienced reader, is astonishing. When looking at tracks then, external factors such as casting your own shadow over the track you are investigating, can make your efforts at interpreting the sign significantly harder. Glare can also be very influential. Thus, the first thing I learnt during my track & sign week was to be aware of my location and position myself appropriately when approaching a problem.

- Erik

Golden Tailed Woodpecker

Cable and Grain 10 Dec 2014

From a distance, the Bennett’s Woodpecker and the Golden-tailed Woodpecker have similar colouring, so it can be hard to tell the difference between the two. Both of these woodpeckers inhabit roughly the same woodland territories in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and the northern parts of South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique. Luckily, the Golden-tailed Woodpecker has a striped throat, breast and cheek, which is clearly visible in this photograph, while the Bennett’s has clearly-defined white areas on its throat and cheek.

Bat-Eared Fox

Cable and Grain 5 Dec 2014

It’s hard to be objective about the bat-eared fox. This small canid is pretty adorable with its densely furred body, fluffy tail, and oversized ears. However, bat-eared foxes are remarkably adaptable creatures. Fossil remains indicate that the bat-eared fox first appeared on earth 800 000 years ago! They are predominantly insectivorous and they get all their water from the insects they eat, so they can survive harsh desert climates. Their large ears assist them to avoid danger and find food.

Lilac Breasted Roller

Cable and Grain 27 Nov 2014

Lilac-breasted rollers are often very easy to see because they sit atop telephone poles or tall branches, and as they swoop down to catch their prey, their wings and forked tail feathers flash an incredible electric blue. In the dry winter season they are often amongst the only brilliantly-coloured things in their savannah and woodland habitats, so seeing this bird is sometimes a bit like seeing an ice-cream shop in a desert - their pastel loveliness is truly breathtaking.

Part 2 - How not to Hike

Erik 25 Nov 2014

Alas, there was one more upset to come... but as I indicated earlier, all three girls are still my friends, so allow me to tell you how it all ended!  We were all pretty eager to get a good night's rest, and spend the next day enjoying being so far up in the valley - I guess we were hoping to reap some reward from having pushed so hard on day 1.

Now, in the 'Berg you will often end up having to compromise when it comes to choosing where to pitch your tent, and on this particular instance, the only flat ground we could find that wasn't too close to the valley floor (and thus at risk of flash flooding), was on a ridge.  I knew this would present a risk of unpleasant wind during the night, but failed to notice that we were actually now camping at the meeting point of two valleys, and would therefore face double the wind if it did blow... which it did.

Now, I've had windy nights in the 'Berg before, but this was the first time I've actually had to brace the frame of the tent!  Needless to say, we woke up pretty much as exhausted as when we went to 'sleep'!  At this stage, my girlfriend staged a grumpy mutiny, and we had a group re-evaluation of the plan, after which things went more smoothly.

So how did I not end up in everyone's bad books?  Well, actually I have no idea... the only pleasant thing about the hike was the scenery!  Or maybe that's the secret... the Drakensberg is one of the most spectacular places in South Africa, and despite all the odds, the majority of our stops involved the frantic whirring of shutter mechanisms, and a lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing.  And waking up on a ridge, 2500m above sea level, in the vast empty chasm at the confluence of those two valleys, with the whole world stretching out before us, and watching the sun dust off the mist, is a memory that I will treasure forever.

So, in short, do a bit more research than I did before you transition from hiker to hike-leader... because although the 'hardcore' badge is appealing, the enjoyment of the hike is a much better prize!  Oh and take the right friends!!! 

 – Erik