Monday 31 October 2011

Graaff-Reinet trees


After we left Clarens it took us 2 hot days on the road to get to Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape. It was our choice destination because David’s family from his mother’s side comes from here. And as we got out of the car to check our location on a map; we realised that we were on Market Square and just across we could see that number 12, David’s grandfather’s house, had a beautiful jacaranda tree in bloom right next to it. However the house is now in great need of repair and in a run-down part of the town...
12 Market Square
For those who don’t know, jacaranda trees Jacaranda mimosifolia are native of South America, have bunches of deep blue flowers on leafless branches. Last year’s round seed pods were still on the trees.
Jacaranda tree flowers and seed pods

 There were other exotic trees that had not produced any leaves yet, for example the flamboyant trees Delonix regia with their huge boomerang sized pods were quite striking.

Flamboyant tree in early summer

These trees are also planted all over the tropics as ornamentals; however in their native range, Madagascar, they are endangered. Their bark is smooth and somehow has folds that remind me of an elephant's skin.

Delonix regia bark

 There were plenty of evergreen trees from Australia; for example, lots of kurrajong bottle trees Brachychiton with discrete white flowers and plenty of boat shaped pods from last year and some huge itchy powder trees Lagunaria patersonia. Best of all were the silky-oak trees which were covered with yellow blossoms.

Grevillea robusta in bloom

 Others like the coral and pepper tree were also familiar to me; not to mention the oaks and the American ash trees from the northern hemisphere. But there were many new ones: the beautiful small bauhenia trees with their white or pink flowers were very delicate. Jenny Grant, who lived in Hong-Kong told me that these flowers are the emblem for Hong-Kong.

Bouganvillea, left, and bauhenia tree blossoms

Also, one could see some very tall palm trees, I believe the Canary palm Phoenix canariensis. Apparently, about one century ago a couple of these palm trees used to be planted by a new house: one for peace and the other for prosperity.  Eira Maasdorp who runs Reinet Antiques told me that this is one of the ways to spot old houses. 
Eira gave me a tour of this historic Karoo town, which has beautifully well kept old houses, mostly single storey with verandas, painted white. The streets are lined with trees, some of the original cypresses are still standing. I found them a bit gloomy though.
She showed me lots of other trees that were new to me, mostly the native African ones with names like yellow wood, stink wood, karree and many others. A lot to learn! 

Karoo violet

Aptosimum procumbens

Sunday 30 October 2011

Weaver birds

Weaver bird colony on reeds

We spotted our first weaver birds on the margins of the dam at the end of our Kloof Mountain Trail. With the binoculars we could just see loads of their nests on the reed stalks; some were greener than others; see top photo. Yellow birds were very busy in and out of the nests. 
As luck would have it could have a closer look at an isolated one by the path, see below. It was freshly made.

Fresh weaver bird nest made out of grass 

Soon after that someone told us that the birds do that to be safer freom snakes, their worse enemy. 
He also showed us their nests on an American ash tree right by their house. And we were even luckier to see a male at work, see below.

Male Spectacled Weaver bird building a nest     

The females just watch and if they don't approve of it, then the males have to start again.
Note the nest is at the very end of a branch.

When it comes to feeding the babies it looks as if the females work hard at it. In Graaf-Reinet and later in a antique cum coffee shop in Willowmore we had the opportunity to see that.

Female Southern Masked-Weaver bird feeding their young.
Note how the nest nearly touches the antique underwear on the line; the later was part of the quaint decor but the birds stole the show!

Grasshopper on the Kloof Mountain Trail

Clarens, 18.11.2011

It was huge, ~6 cm, mostly yellow, but also vivid green and even purple patches.
Relatively frisky and somehow climbed on to my camera bag, see below.

Later we have been told that they are rather common; indeed we have spotted some more since. They don’t seem to fly much though.
Must find out more about it...

PS: I have now found out that it could be a Bush Locust Phymateus viridipes.  Bush Locusts are sluggish...

Surprising flowers on the Kloof Mountain Trail

Clarens, 18.11.2011

High up the trail we were delighted to see tall blue flowers growing out of cracks in the sandstone rocks. They had sky blue flowers at the end of a long stem, ~75 cm long.

At first I thought that they were a medium sized foxtail lily. But later I’ve found out that they were Scilla metalensis. Stunningly beautiful!

Later on we saw some growing horizontally out of a cliff. Strange. If anybody has an explanation to this, please comment!

Saturday 29 October 2011

Clearing cotoneaster

Clarens, 18.11.2011
I have already mentioned the non-indigenous trees in Clarens’ streets. Cotoneaster is another non-indigenous species which established itself very successfully along the dry river bed at the bottom of our street.
This morning, when we were starting for our mountain hike, we met some people doing conservation work: they were cutting it away.
I told them that where we lived we also had it and the birds loved it. At which point one of the guys opens his hand and show us several berries. He was doing just the same.
What a splendid idea! We must do the same because our fruit intake has plummeted since we arrived.  

Suddenly, a couple of retired white volunteers appeared on the scene. They told us all kinds of interesting things about the area. Practically all the trees along that river bed were non-native species: poplar, cypress, robinia pseudo-acacia, oak, willow and even pampas grass. The latter has been introduced deliberately to stabilise mine dumps! This plant is really adaptable; it has run hammock in the Iberian Peninsula and I’ve even seen it in the Hilly Fields, Colchester, and Japan.
Also, I’ve spotted an unusual buddleia which has turned up to be indigenous.
The commonest indigenous plant was oldwood Leucosidea sericea, a rather nice small tree hawthorn size. Funny enough, I spotted some harlequin ladybird larvae on the spent blossoms. See below.

Back to the volunteers, the Kgubetswana & Clarens Village Conservancy were trying hard to keep the area under control and had even made a brochure. At which point one of the young men fetched it from his rucksack. It had a splendid map with the trails in the area; just what we needed for our walk. Another gem! 

We carried on chatting with the retired couple while the young men went back to their tasks, discretely.
There seems to be an unspoken barrier between these two sets of people. They just don’t mix. This place is definitely run by the whites.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Thunder and lightning

Clarens, 18.11.2011

We set out as early as possible after breakfast for the Kloof  Mountain Trail (moderate, 2 ½ hours, 4,5 km).  We took a couple of bars and our windcheaters. The sky looked a bit threatening.
It turned out that we had the perfect hiking weather. As soon as we arrived back at our cottage there was a funny rattling noise: rain drops on our metal roof. Hardly any though…

The real show started when we got back from town before sunset. The noise of the rain hitting the roof was horrendous. Great rush closing all the windows. Hail was falling! As I called David to come and have a look at the water gushing out in a huge spout on the next door cottage, he jumped up and shouted “Raining inside!”
Great rush covering up the laptop, with the map, and shifting the camera away…

Water gushing out of next door lodge.

This phase didn’t last long and soon it was dry again inside. But outside the thunder with intermittent rain lasted throughout our candle lit evening meal. Yes, the electricity never quite gave up.
We had a romantic meal to the sound of a Nana Mouskouri CD, cobbled together (the meal, I mean) from our emergency rations and superb loaf of bread cooked specially for us at our favourite restaurant:
At one stage the thunder joined in on cue with the drum accompaniment.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Clarens, Free State

Mountain resort nestled among beautiful sandstone hills – the Rooiberg. Altitude 1,700 meters, we have been told.
Lots of trees mostly non native: oaks, poplars, birches, London planes, maples, apricot, peach, etc; avenue lined with cedars.  Rather strange, if it weren't for the birds we could have been anywhere in Europe.
Our self-catering lodge has the most stunning view of the said hills. I doubt if we will ever match such accommodation! Plus, the price is rather affordable.

We have been incredibly lucky ;-)

Drive South

Very hot and sunny outside, quite a shock after being cocooned in the airport.
Landscape absolutely desolate, no trees, very dry; sparse black townships in the middle of no-where. People hitchhiking/walking by the road. No sign of buses or bus stops… but it was a Sunday. Spotted some odd ostriches, flocks of guinea fowl…Herds of cows grazing in what seemed to be yellow dried up grass...

Picnic lunch out of the car [bits and pieces bought at the airport shops] at a place called Heidelberg in what could pass as a public garden, no where to sit but very welcomed shade under a tree. Hardly anybody around… Later, another car turned up: SA touring couple about our age. They recommended that we should go to Clarens, a scenic place surrounded by sandstone hills. This was, in fact, a bit further south to Bethlehem where were where meaning to get to… And very kindly they got on their phone to make a reservation to their favourite place. Three to four hour drive and it was already 14.30 hrs. Must hurry…

After that the scenery improved a great deal, much greener, and by the time that we reached Bethlehem it was getting rather beautiful in the late low light, flocks of swallows and house martins behaving exactly just like they do at home. Also saw, several times, a rather charming small back bird with double very long tail feathers waving its way into a very strong wind.  
By sunset, around 6 pm, the temperature had dropped a great deal and the people by the road were wearing their colourful blankets. 

Johannesburg Airport


Landed on schedule after a 10.45 flight, a sleeping pill for D and a sleepless night for M… 
Spotted house martins as we walked along on our sea legs [we travelled at the back and it really was bouncy].

However, David has been energetically sorting out our shopping list: car, maps, money changing, SIM card for the Android, phone call to Gavin Maasdorp and an adaptor for all the rechargers. Mostly done, fuelled by a huge coffee/ Rooibos tea.

Shocking weight!

Heathrow Airport_Terminal 5

Hold: M’s rucksack – 11.6 kg [clothes, shoes, medicines, etc.]
Wheelie suitcase -16.6 kg [camping equipment]. Yes, we are going to do it mostly in NZ, but must get rid of it afterwards…No fun travelling in Bangladesh & India with such a cargo.

Cabin: M’s rucksack – 4.9 kg [camera equipment, etc.] D’s wheelie – 9.6 kg [various gadgets: laptop 1.650 kg, binoculars 750 g, Kindle, Android, and various chargers.

Total: >40 kg. Absolutely shocking!

The Kindle doesn’t weigh much; it is a replacement for Peter’s Kindle that shattered suddenly. Amazon replaced it promptly free of charge but we didn’t want to pay for the postage to Dhaka. And possibly a customs surcharge... The Latitude at the top of the blog is courtesy of the Android, a hand-me-down from John. David is in charge of making sure that the system is going to respond accordingly to wherever we are. But for that we must get a SIM card…