Yes, we are showing you a cockroach. They are actually quite interesting. Apart from their ability to withstand radiation and the murderous hatred of most of the human world, they are ancient creatures with very well-developed sense organs. In this image you can clearly the little spikes on their legs, which are so sensitive to changes in air movement that they can send messages to this bug’s nervous system to warn it of immediate danger.
An African Skimmer flies off into the sunset. In bright daylight these birds are quite handsome. Their dark back and wing feathers offset the pristine white of their bellies, and their red and yellow beaks are quite imposing. Seeing this bird is a rare treat regardless of its good looks, because they are only visible in small areas in the north-eastern parts of southern Africa. They are also quite wary of people and listed as ‘near-threatened’ with extinction. There is an estimated world population of only ten thousand African Skimmers.
This mischievous-looking critter is also known as a ‘rock rabbit’ or Cape hyrax. The name dassie comes from the Dutch word for a badger – das – because they looked to early settlers like small badgers. Dassies can be as aggressive as badgers on the odd occasion, but they are mostly to be found basking on sunny rocks throughout southern Africa. They are thought to spend up to 95% of their time snoozing.
The Okavango Delta after the rainy season. This magnificent floodplain draws an incredible concentration of wildlife and is therefore an exceptional area for game-viewing in the winter months. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. Flying over the Okavango Delta in a light aircraft is a very scenic way to view this water-world, and a number of charter companies offer short flights.
A Black Crake stalks through a chorus-line of waterlilies. Waterlilies close and open according to the movement of the sun so they are usually closed at sunrise and sunset. Black Crakes, like jacanas and gallinules, have long toes that are specially adapted to balancing on floating plants while they forage for aquatic prey. The Black Crake’s bright yellow beak and red eyes and legs are extremely distinctive and birders are unlikely to confuse them with any other wetland bird.
Ants are amongst the most industrious creatures on earth. They can be found everywhere on earth except in Antarctica which is quite ironic given the name of the continent. There are also a few islands that they haven’t yet managed to colonise. Ants are beneficial to humans because they can keep populations of pests under control. They also the aerate soil and remove and process biodegradable substances. In South Africa, humans have exploited ants’ excellent gathering skills by harvesting their stores of rooibos tea seeds, which are very difficult for people to gather manually. Up to two hundred grams of seeds may be collected from one ant-heap.
Morning light warms the chestnut feathers of an African Jacana. The Jacana’s long spidery toes are specially adapted to stalking across floating vegetation like the lily pads in this photograph. Male Jacana’s are ‘stay-at-home’ dads - they take over all parental duties once a female Jacana has laid a clutch of eggs. The Jacana’s primary sustenance is insects, molluscs, crustaceans and seeds.
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Gnarled trees are one of the most distinctive features of the Capetonian landscape - they are forced into tortured shapes by the winds that buffet this coastline. These two are growing at Cape Point, the nature reserve that lies at the tip of the Cape Peninsula. This reserve is fascinating, not only because of the biodiversity of the Cape Fynbos biome, but also because of the historical interest of its rocky promontory which was both a landmark and a threat to sailors. In 1859 the first lighthouse was built on the rugged cliffs of Cape Point to help maritime navigators avoid shipwrecks.
This photograph shows not only the brilliant scarlet head of this barbet, but also its striking red eye. This barbet’s strong beak is used to delve into trees to make nesting holes and to eat its favourite food: figs. Black-collared Barbets also eat fruit and insects, and often brighten up gardens in the eastern parts of southern Africa, where their distinctive “two-puddley” duet is well-known to bird lovers.
White rhinos are one of the largest animals in Africa, second only to elephants. They weigh as much as 2000 kilograms and stand up to 1.8 metres high at the shoulder. There is actually little difference in the skin colour of white and black rhinos. It is thought that the designation ‘white’ is a misinterpretation of the Afrikaans word ‘wyd’ which means wide - probably referring to this rhino’s wide mouth. This is one reason why the white rhino is sometimes more accurately referred to as the square-lipped rhino. The black rhino’s upper lip is much more pointed.
Trumpeter Hornbills are the size of crows and they really make their presence known, flapping about in forest canopies giving the unique braying, wailing, squealing calls for which they are named. They generally prefer to remain in lowland, coastal and riverine evergreen forests and well-wooded suburbs, where they hop from branch to branch foraging for insects and fruit, especially figs.
The caracal is a magnificent wild cat which is seldom seen because it is predominantly solitary and nocturnal, increasing its daytime activity during winter. The caracal’s name originates from the Turkish words kara kulak which means ‘black ear’. Their ears are their most distinctive feature, because of the amazing long black tufts that arc from their ear-tips. Caracals are also known as ‘desert lynx’, although they are not taxonomically classified as part of the lynx genus. They are widely distributed in the wild, particularly in arid areas, and are healthy in numbers.
A Black-headed Heron intently feathers its nest. These herons like to roost colonially with other waterbirds in trees, reeds or cliff ledges, and are conscientious parents. With their yellow eyes, and black, grey and white plumes and markings, they are one of the most beautiful and regal birds in Southern Africa. They can roost up to 30km from their feeding grounds, so they are frequently seen flying slowly and elegantly across the sky.
Cape Rock-thrushes are endemic to South Africa. Unlike many other birds, they are aptly named as they are often sighted flitting from boulder to boulder on rocky hillsides or ravines. This scene is particularly typical for this rock-thrush: they favour the low scrub vegetation pictured here and, when alarmed, will often perch on a rock in this manner. Cape Rock-thrushes feed on insects, spiders, millipedes, and centipedes and enjoy the nectar of flowering aloes.
Southern Africa is home to numerous types of geckos. Each region seems to have a gecko specie that particularly thrives in it and becomes a part of the scenery. For example, Kwazulu-Natal’s ubiquitous translucent geckos have squeaky fights at night over the prime insect-catching territory beneath electric lights. This gecko is a Bibron’s gecko, which is endemic to southern Africa, and common in South Africa where it is one the largest gecko species to be found.