Walvis Bay salt pans: jackal and pup

Walvis is situated on a lagoon and is a designated Ramsar wetlands site.  It teems with coastal shorebirds and waders and is regarded as the most important coastal wetland in the Southern African sub-region in terms of bird numbers and is one of the three most important coastal wetlands in Africa.

Mornings are agreeably foggy, due to the cold Benguela current lacing the Atantic Ocean, until the land mass warms up and the fog lifts.  Included in the wetland area are the saltpans where many bird species congregate including greater and lesser flamingoes.  Among the common Paleartic migrants are curlew sandpipers, sanderlings and little stints.  It supports nearly two-thirds of the southern African population of chestnut plovers – the smallest of the true waders and as the name suggests it has a chestnut coloured breast band.

The birds come in to feed at low tide and there is an air of social comradeship as the various species band together to feed.  The flamingoes wade through in an elegant style, the pelicans are solid and squawk in gutteral tones, the small waders dash here and there.  Set to this background we photographers lurk trying hard not to be too intrusive, invisible.

I notice the spoor along the saltpan tidal edge before spotting the jackal.  It surprises me to see it in such an inhospitable environment.  I guess though that it would be an ideal place for hunting birds.

It turns out to be a young female and her behaviour appears furtive.  I notice her anxious looks peering back to an area where there are pipes and a pumping station.  She in beautiful condition.

Panning carefully with the binoculars i spot movement and there near one of the pipes is a small pup in front of an open cut pipe.   “Hey mum, wait for me …. ”   The little pup appears to be signalling.   So well camouflaged it’s difficult to spot the pup – for the reader, look just to the right of the road sign.

Mum is not responding, so pup opts for security and dives back into the pipe ‘den’.

Isn’t it fascinating how animals find an ‘eco-niche’ in transformed environments?   On the edge of the saltpans there is a thriving bird population and an obvious steady source of food – but fresh water is scarce.

Judging from the spoor tracks in the area there are a number of other animals, yet they blend so well into the back ground and on the beach side sandy hummocks stretch towards Pelican Point.

What a wonderful sighting, although we’d come to observe birds, what a bonus to spot a carnivore ‘seeing the gap’ and adapting to this rich area.

The unexpected visitors

Living by the coast has it’s drawbacks sometimes – the seasonal wind and sea fret can impact the hardiest of coastal dwellers.  Just when we thought spring had settled a couple of low frontal weather systems had us scurrying to get out the winter layers again.  On the Atlantic side the seas were huge, and one of the unexpected visitors to our rocky beach was an exhausted young Cape fur seal. It hauled out of the water and spent the day on the rocks recuperating.  Seal pups are only weaned when they are about nine months old.  Baleful eyes warily watched as I attempted to remain discreetly hidden.

Rough seas at Scarborough
A young Cape fur seal.

Generally the dassie (Rock hyrax) colony commands rights over the rocks and sandbathing facilities, little seal was the first intruder and then up popped a Cape clawless otter.

The otter stayed for a nap, sandbath and returned to eat lunch after hunting down a pyjama shark.

It was all action for this photographer, as the next to appear (out at sea) were Southern right whales.  Their sheer size and tonnage have us entranced and the trick is to figure what is happening out there by trying to piece together the body parts which randomly appear – a ventral fin, the size of the flukes –  is it adult or newly born?  Or perhaps the cavorting of mating rituals?

The Southern right whales come to calve and mate  in the bay from June to November.

Further along the road at the penguin colony the chicks are looking quite bedraggled in various stages of growth:

African penguin chicks losing their fine fluff and showing their “blue” coats.

 

A juvenile African penguin accompanied by an adult.

Looking sleek and probably almost ready to fledge and make off on it’s own, this juvenile’s plumage will soon change to adult colouration.

False Bay is sometimes referred to as the “Serengeti of the seas” for it’s rich marine life and influx of seasonal species. Though there is the fear that many species are decreasing in numbers and little is being done to protect the resources.

Red Tide

Pools of toxic algal bloom which sometimes occur when there is an upwelling of nutrient rich phytoplankton, turn the water an unusual  reddish brown colour.  These red tides cause depletion of oxygen in the water which is harmful to filter feeders and crustaceans.    Tons of of rock lobsters and other shellfish become casualties and the beaches fester with the die off of many of these species.

WPC:  Unusual

Winter seas in False Bay

It’s calmer on the False Bay side when the nor’westerly Atlantic swells push onto the coast; though the wave height may not be as high as along the western edge of the Cape Peninsula there is still power in the break.   We watch with great anxiety for the otters and penguins as they exit the surging waters.    Fortunately the Boulders’ penguin colony is sited in a sheltered sandy cove, with a defence of boulders breaking up the force of the water.  Still these sturdy little creatures risk being tumbled in the surf.   Once on land they head for shelter from the strong winds.   Interesting to see the Cape cormorants happily hunkered down amongst the penguins. (Note the little penguin with the missing foot.)

Close by the Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis) maintain secret holts on land where they can hole up out of the rough seas.  We’ve been fortunate to observe a pair which have returned to the area near our garden since the vegetation has regenerated after the devastating fires.  Unlike the penguins’ sandy beach landing, the otters negotiate a rocky shore and often suffer from  injuries.  Pyjama shark is the catch of the day. If you’d like to read more details about the otters Wilf Nussey’s enthralling stories are here.

 

 

The storm brings a feast for Cape baboons

Two days have passed since the storm and the sandy beach where I photographed the galloping zebra has altered in the aftermath. Today it is strewn with huge piles of kelp,  dislodged by the powerful waves and borne in on the spring high tide.

The kelp brought with it a bonanza for the baboons, a feast of  mussels still attached to the fronds.  The baboons living along the coast supplement their diet with this highly nutritious resource which is rich in omega oils.  They tucked in with gusto, and I noticed that some of the older females had packed their cheek pouches until they bulged into hanging pouches.  There was a lot of ‘chatter’ as they sucked and chewed and a delightful sound of ‘hiccups’ as one greedy adult male gulped down the morsels far too quickly.