It’s been a while since i last posted and since returning home after some months of travel, it is heartening to be back in the rainy season. And rain we have, buckets of it. The dams are filling nicely and it looks promising that the harsh drought conditions are behind us.
My travel adventures begin to dim as i hook up again into the language of the familiar, but i’d love to share some of the experiences once i’ve got the photos sorted. There are so many aspects when travel unfolds, from the hubbub of major cities to the quiet of the backroads. Nature delivered some drama too, a bruising from the ‘Beast from the East’ to the unfurling of an exuberant Northern Hemisphere spring. I had a lucky encounter with a Falconer and a Red kestrel working King’s Cross Railway station; stumbled across the Richmond deer herd in a snow storm, met “Cheddar Man” at the Natural history museum; rambled over hill and dale where meadow flowers bloomed in profusion. All the while discovering new habitats and learning to read the landscape – from bluebell glades, acidic uplands, limestone pavements, salt marshes and water, water, water! But most intriguing was seeing how nature finds it’s footing within eco-niches in densely populated urban areas. Who’d have thought that a visit to Tate Modern would also bring a viewing of peregrine falcons nesting high up in the very same building or of foxes roaming boldly through some of the inner London suburbs?
Settling back again into a Cape routine, the dawn chorus comes rustling in with a guttural cacophony of Egyptian geese, hadedah ibis and raucous gulls. I watch in delight as furry creatures scurry across the lawn (green and verdant now) – a mongoose scampers by with two pintsized, energetic juveniles, the baboons make quick unannounced visits, and so too, the nocturnal porcupine family with it’s gorgeous, prickly little baby. Further along the road, the penguin nursery is in full swing attending to the raising of young. This wild bevy of beauties makes my heart soar – here is a natural world right on the doorstep. The wagtails and sunbirds are searching for nesting places and down below on the rocks the dassies sun themselves after the rain showers. A single otter comes often, mud-bathing in the wet black soil. My next door neighbours describe exciting sightings of two caracals, an adult and a youngster, and the opportunity to observe these secretive wild lynx at close quarters.
The charismatic African penguins living in my neighbourhood are back in the news. A notice was put out last month by the South African National Parks board that a strain of avian influenza virus (H5N8 strain) has been detected in the colony at Boulders Beach. So far penguin eighteen deaths have been noted. The state veterinarians are working to contain the outbreak. Let’s hope they succeed.
Playing tour guide, my first stop is this vantage point overlooking the splendid vista of False Bay. Simon’s Town lays at the foothills, and way in the distance on the opposite side is Cape Hangklip. The small town bustles with a distinct naval ‘air’ having been established as a naval base by the British in 1799 and where today the SA Navy is stationed. We’ll pass through it, as we’re on our way to visit Boulders to see the African penguin colony.
The Boulders area is dotted with impressively sculpted granite rocks sheltering discreetly placed sandy coves. Here a colony of African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) have found a comfortable nesting area. From just two breeding pairs in 1982 the population numbers have increased to about 2200 in recent years.
We will venture down the boardwalk to see the main nursery.
As you will note the houses are quite nearby – this is as close to an ‘urban’ colony as can be imagined. The area is fenced off, but often the penguins stray beyond the boundaries and care must be taken driving or parking to check if all is clear.
Sadly the African penguin is listed in the Red Data Book as an endangered species, and the birds are in considerably more trouble than rhinos. With the decline in shoal fish such as pilchards and anchovy they could be heading for extinction in the not too distant future.
To end the tour, a nod to the eminent granite Rock Stars, all of 540 million year old. A pathway follows along the coast for a nice leisurely stroll and swim to top off the experience.
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.
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.
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?
Further along the road at the penguin colony the chicks are looking quite bedraggled in various stages of growth:
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.