Wild Baboons, Buck and Ostrich at Olifantsbos Beach, Cape of Good Hope

Winter at the Cape Peninsula can be petulant: wild and stormy with the Atlantic sea crashing in with dramatic drift and flow contrasted with the calmest sheerest-whisper-of-wind days.  Returning after months away traveling to tropical countries, this for me is the best time of year to be in Cape Town.  Though home is in the southern peninsula – away from the city lights where nature shows her untrammeled face.  I have written quite a few posts on Olifantsbos Beach, here , here  and here. This working beach with it’s natural processes attracts diners to a veritable feast.   Seabirds flock here and recently i visited hoping to photograph the African Black Oystercatchers but instead got totally distracted by a gaggle of Egyptian geese in mating mode. Their strut and ‘necking’ stole the show.  Then the ostriches showed up, the buck and the baboons …..

Matching the colours of the kelp, Egyptian Geese gather into a gaggle.
The Egyptian geese spectacle.

A wobble of ostrich.

 

This Chacma baboon troop is one of the wild troops living within the park. There are only two troops which aren’t habituated to raiding anthropogenic food sources and forage only in natural fynbos and the rock pools for shellfish.  The rest of the troops are under threat one way or another, either through being attracted into residential areas or through poor conservation practice.  Generally there is an overlap into their home range where human recreational facilities feature vineyards, restaurants, picnic and campsites.  If baboons know they are going to get easy rewards and when residents and property owners do not secure garbage bins or adequately baboon-proof their properties / homes, baboon raiding patterns become entrenched as they will return over and over.  If they learn to rely on human food it voids their inherent role in the ecosystem and disrupts their social relationships.  They can become aggressive and when they have to be euthanised there is much outrage often from the humans who are the cause of the entrenched raiding patterns in the first place.  While SANParks recognise the ‘res nullius’ free roaming status of baboons, there is a lack of law enforcement for fining people who feed the animals nor are there enforceable by-laws for securing garbage so ultimately it’s the baboons which suffer the consequences.

Earth Day: For Whom the Bell Tolls?

 

Today we’re marking the 49th Earth Day after it’s inception in 1970.  Celebrations?!  It should be a wake up call, an urgent clarion call to action right round the globe!  Let us not kid ourselves the environment is in a deteriorating state and we’re killing Earth’s creatures.

Scenes are pictured at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve where beaches are littered with plastic and storm strewn fishing gear from nets to piles of rope, fish traps.  Recent whale carcasses washed up near Buffels Bay and another on the Atlantic side near the Tommy T Tucker shipwreck.

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