King penguin: a long way from home

We’ll never know what influenced a king penguin to swim thousands of kilometers off course to arrive here at Buffels Bay, on the Cape Peninsula.  Spotted by surfski paddlers on Wednesday, when this regal creature waddled up the beach it was captured on video by Jasper Mocke.  It’s arrival created a flurry of excitement as the news got out on social media and birdwatchers flocked to view this unusual visitor.

Almost a meter in height and about 12.5 kgs in weight,  it’s elegant markings and dignified character had the crowds enraptured.  Inhabiting the sub-Antarctic regions, there is concern that it could be suffering adversely from the heat.  A veterinarian was called in to examine the bird, which was proclaimed to be in good health.  They breed on just a handful of ice-free islands in the Southern Ocean and presently though they are not endangered, climate change is affecting the ocean currents and impacting their prey resulting in the species having to swim further to reach the nutrient-rich stretches of ocean.

Our ‘fellow’ has a magnificent puffed-up satin white chest and what appeared to be quite a relaxed attitude, sitting back on it’s heels and propped up by a bony tail (in a position referred to as the tripod).  Another reason for adopting the raised feet position, could be a thermoregulating adaptation to avoid the transfer of heat from the tarred surface.

Showing off the stiff tail feathers, which when leaning backwards prevents the penguin from falling over.

The underside of the webbed-feet are textured for gripping surfaces and the long nails would be useful for added stability.  King penguins adopt the same brooding strategy as Emperor penguins by not building nests, instead using their feet and a folded brooding pouch to hatch eggs.

The elegant throat lines and yellow head patches look duller in colour compared to some of the species which have a more defined orange hue.  Still, this is one handsome creature.

Shot using a telephoto lens (70-200mm plus a x2 teleconverter) and a cropped view to show up the elegant details of the throat and head lines.

Though there were park rangers on hand to keep the crowds back, not everybody adhered to the request not to get too close.  A wise decision was made to move the bird to a more secluded beach so it could be kept out of harm’s way until it returns to the sea.  With the fate of so many marine creatures at risk, we can only hope that this magnificent creature finds its way home.

Angkor: Myth and Mystery

There are layers here, interwoven with mystery and symbolism, in this ancient capital of the Khmer Empire.  Set in the dense jungles of northwestern Cambodia, the Archaeological Park stretches over some 400 square kilometers across hot and torpid plains.   Wandering through the labyrinthine sites, where rampant vegetation threatens to devour the masonry, one can’t help but be cast under a spell.  The added effect of the dark, storm clouds gathering through the heat of the day,  made it feel quite atmospheric.

Historical stories are revealed through bas reliefs carved into wall panels and over pediments.  Hindu legends based on the Ramayama and the Mahabharata portray fabulous scenes: epic battles, cosmic myths, of sentinels and guardians who protect portals and the primordial conflict between gods and demons.   There’s celebration too, dancing nymphs and triumphant processions in the gathering of amrita, the ambrosial nectar that guaranteed immortality.

There are revered animal avatars too.  The king of the monkeys, Lord Hanuman, who was the son of the god of wind and who could thus fly, was sent on missions of reconnaissance; and the monkey soldiers went out to support good deeds. As did the elephant deities, Ganesha and the three-headed elephant Airavata.  They appear represented in stone carvings on pedestals and at victory gates, so tall and proud.   Depicted in a principal scene, carved into a 300 meter long terrace, elephants are hunting under the guidance of the mahouts charging through the foliage using their trunks to fight off tigers. Elsewhere they can be seen holding a cow or holding a man upside down.  Another scene shows them decked out for a Royal procession led by the King and attended by his royal court.   The three headed elephant – Airavata, flanks the stairway, representing rain and prosperity.

An immense green backdrop of trees rise like giants on the landscape.  Stunning silk cotton trees (Ceiba pentandra) grow to heights of 30-40 meters and tower above with magnificent spreading crowns.   Strangler figs (Ficus gibbosa), ensnare the temples in terrific coiling root systems, looking more like enormous reptiles than plants.  The Chheuteal trees (Dipterocarpus alatus), colloquially known as Resin trees, dominate the Angkor forests.  They grow up to 50 meters tall, a true species of tropical evergreen forests.  They also often occur gregariously along river banks.

Against this evocative backdrop, other characters appear, shape shifting into view – the monkeys scaling temple stones, posing like gods.  An elephant carrying sightseers, a shadow passing by as his long gone ancestors would have done crossing the parade ground in front of the elephant terrace.  Avatars moving in temporal shifts.

Primate One-Upmanship: The Sunglasses Heist.

Well blow me down!  Half a world away from the wiley baboons of the Cape Peninsula, (South Africa) here in South East Asia,  Cambodia – the Angkor Wat troop of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) have similar tactics, grabbing an item and waiting for the gullible human to offer decoy food in exchange.


Co-conspirators waiting for the right break…..
Here they are: the gullible people, who dished out the biscuits and note the sunglasses worn by Mr.                                           “Oh, I am so cute, you will feed me….”, says Little Miss Long-Tail.
“There now, here’s the biscuit …. give me the glasses?”
“The handover; got the glasses, here have some more food…..”

There you have it.  Feed wild animals, habituate them to receiving food, they become pests and then they “steal” items in exchange for food.  Clever creatures.

Baboons in fynbos

Baboons play an integral role in the ecology of Fynbos vegetation and their diet is so varied within this plant system that it may be easier to note what they don’t eat rather than the extensive list of what they do!  I’ve been fortunate to sight a couple of the troops recently in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve while out cycling and have been able to observe their foraging.  After good rainfall this winter the vegetation is green and succulent and the animals are in good condition.  The temperature has also been colder than usual so it’s interesting to note their thick ‘winter coats’.

A confident posture and bearing marks this alpha male. He is in peak condition and commands respect from the ranks.
Layers of thick hair serve as protection from winter’s chilly temperature.
Foraging on the fruit of wild olive trees, Olea europaea subsp. africana.  
They tuck in with gusto feasting on the ripe black olives. I too sampled a couple curious to test the flavour. Pleasant enough, the initial bite was grape-like, and then with a bitter after taste.
It was most surprising to see this plant on the menu: Cullumia squarrosa, or snake thistle. It’s a prickly little number! I had in the past seen them eating the flowers, but not the the needle like leaves. Reading a description of the plant, the inner involucral bracts are without prickles and I noted that they were only plucking off the top most growth.
They certainly get a good portion of fiber in their diet.  This plant is endemic to the Cape Peninsula – a coastal bush found only in the extreme south western Cape.

The Perilous Sea around Cape Point _ Part II

The Atlantic Sea is rough and powerful on the western side of the Cape Peninsula coastline and it speaks of failed and doomed fishing exploitation.  Evidence of discarded fishing gear is everywhere, fishing nets, bundles of rope, plastic, gut lines, anchor weights, lobster traps.  Plastic detritus is in fabric of the sand, in the dried kelp line, between the rocks.  How did we get to this tipping point, how can we ever reverse the damage?  The despondency of it all is so overwhelming that it makes me want to curl up and weep.

In the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve there is a coastal path along the western side of Cape Point to Olifantsbos.  It is the wild side, a place of sea birds, baboons, seals.  There is no way to get close to this wild Cape fur seal and free it of from that line of rope so deeply embedded into its neck.

Fishing net hazard on beach Fishing nets hazard on beach Nylon rope discarded fishing gear Plastic sack degrading on beach Discarded fishing net on beach Discarded Cape lobster trap Discarded Cape lobster trap half buried in sand Discarded lobster trap washed up by sea Piles of discarded fishing rope washed up on the shore Cape lobster trap washed ashore Discarded fishing net on beach Mound of discarded fishing rope on beach