Friday, 31 August 2012

Hopper


Today after kayaking (and falling in) I spent the heat of the day on a riverbank reading a good Durrell book. I sat in the shade of a tree with the water lapping gently at the bank beneath my feet. It was all very pleasant. The birds had stopped singing with the heat and all was calm. The only things moving where the grass hoppers. They would scatter at any movement from me such as turning a page to see what Gerry was up to.


       Then one ginormous grasshopper made himself present. He for some reason could not or would not jump or fly away. He would walk around seeing what I was up to. He held my attention and so I placed him on a stick in the bushes for two reasons. First I liked this hopper and didn't want him eaten up due to his reluctance to fly. And secondly he was a good subject to photo on a stick. I took my photos and left him to enjoy the sun.



Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Monkeys!

So as I make my way round the coast up into KwaZulu Natal the climate is noticeably different. It is very hot and humid. A walk on the beach at 8am had my sweating from the humidity. Its a little different to the drier (except for the floods) and hot Western Cape. The wildlife is different too. Birds are popping up which I am unable to identify as my guide book is up in the Blue Hill. Monkeys are become more common too. They are in parts of the Western Cape but here they are everywhere. 

The monkey species I am seeing are the vervet monkeys and are very playful. Below are just a few that I spotted in peoples gardens around Port Shepstone. They are not afraid of humans here so I was able to get quite close. Thankfully they are not as vicious as the baboons either.

Popping out the hedge

Meditating 
Keeping an eye on me

Monday, 27 August 2012

Of Dodos and Coelacanth


East London has been a place I wanted to visit for a while due the history behind the discovery of the coelacanth, a fish thought to be extinct for over 70 million years. Imagine the surprise when one was caught off East London in December of 1938. It is like finding dinosaurs are not extinct.  The fish was put on display and on the first day of showing over 1000 visitors saw the exhibit. I went to see the fish and also the worlds only dodo egg.


Original sketches from the discovery.

So I went to the museum heading straight for the natural history section finding a whole room dedicated to the coelacanth. I keep myself from looking at the specimen in the center of the room and instead read all the signs and saw the original drawings of the specimen. When I could no longer hold my excitement I headed to the center of the room and wow! It was preserved amazingly. I have seen a coelacanth in London and Cape town natural history museums but they where white and faded, only just recognisable as the fish. But this one was preserved amazingly. I stayed looking at the specimen for at least 10 minutes before searching for the other item which had drawn me in, the dodo egg.

The coelacanth
Imagine my disappointment then when the egg on display was just a replica. The original is kept locked away behind the scenes. I then decided to use my newly acquired qualification and a bit of truth stretching by saying I was a zoologist from the U.K and had come to East London specifically to see the egg (which was true it was why I came to East London, but I made it sound as if I had come all the way from the U.K just to see it). After a bit of thought the receptionist called one of the behind the scenes team who where only too happy to show me the egg and much more.

I was taken behind the locked doors and told to wait while the egg was fetched from a locked room. Then all security measures where forgotten and I was able to see the egg for as long as I wanted and snap some photos. I was told the history of the item too.

Coelacanth (head cut away to see skull)
A few people doubt its a dodo egg and just an irregular ostrich egg. The previous curator Miss Courtenay Latimer, who also first saw the coelacanth after a fisherman brought it into the museum (and who the latin name is also honoring) was in possession of the egg from her great aunt, Lavinia Bean. She herself got the egg from her father, Mr L.O Bean who got it from a friend, Captain van Syker. The captain got the egg as payment for a debt from a man from Mauritius, the Dodos home island. The man supposedly had two eggs but only paid with one. The other eggs whereabouts is unknown.

Incidentally Lee Durrell, Gerald Durrell’s widow, saw the egg and told the staff that while in Russia they had heard about two dodo eggs which where in existence. Ones whereabouts was unknown probably in a private collection in Russia. The other however was traded as payment for a ferry ticket the owner couldn't afford, in Mauritius. This ties in nicely supporting the story of how the museum got the egg.

The dodo egg
The egg cannot be confirmed as dodo until the owners, the descendants of miss Latimer, who are loaning it to the museum allow a DNA test. I believe it to be dodo as do most people. There is plenty more information out there to why it is likely to be a dodo egg not an ostrich.

Lastly I was shown footprints made by early homo sapiens which are the oldest in the world out dating Eve from Langebaan by 7,000 years! These new prints are believed, from tests, to be 124,000 years old. They where found in the dunes 5km from East London and the originals are on display in the museum, not casts. The staff where very nice and I would like to thank them for allowing me this rare glimpse.

This is a long post as I was impressed and wanted to get that across and give some information I gathered to you. No idea as yet what the next post will be on but keep an eye on here as I am heading North now towards Durban and new territory for me so plenty of exploring.




Friday, 24 August 2012

Def(initely) Leopard


So in my last post was a film about setting up a camera trap and included some footage of a leopard. The leopard stayed around for three films. I think it is a male from the shape of the head and the muscular form. It is most likely one of the resident males, Big Boy. The other male, Butch, has a radio collar on his neck so it is definitely not him.  The video I like most is when he sniffs the camera trying to work out what it is.

video


The other he walks past still checking out the camera.

video

In the third he is a bit more difficult to spot as he lies in the grass after scent marking. You can see his eye shine towards the end.

video

It is great to know that the leopards are still holding on in the mountains of the western cape even if it is just a small number. Figures suggest there could be fewer than 20 left in the Baviaanskloof Mega reserve which borders Blue Hill Escape where this footage was captured. Lets hope they hang on and increase in numbers.


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

How to Set up a Camera Trap.

Over the last few days I have put together a short film on how I set up my camera trap. The video includes a few hints on sighting the camera as well as the settings which I most often use. All the footage was captured at Blue Hill Escape. There is some new footage from the camera trap in the film, a few very special species. A quick hint as to what it is, it is a predator. Watch the video to see what it could be. I enjoyed making the introduction which I am quite proud of. I hope you enjoy the short film.


More footage of the secret species in my next post (although if you watched the video it wont be secret anymore).

Friday, 17 August 2012

Spiders!

So my last post was a snake, now for the other venomous creatures here, the spiders. There are plenty of them but I have only got pictures of the non venomous guys. One of which gives a nasty bite though.


The spider I see mostly is the rain spider or huntsman spider. This guy can grow quite large for a spider,  over 3 inches. They are called rain spiders as they generally come out after the rain. He can give you a nasty bite but nothing with venom. They can still give you a shock when you find them. 



The other guy is a velvet spider of species i'm not sure, there are over 100 of them. I have only see the one. He was on the underside of a log when we turned it over during some alien tree clearing.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Boom Slang

The other night we stayed in an old building which is a national monument. It is called Ou Tol on the Garcia Pass just outside of Riverdale in the Western Cape. The building is over 140 years old and was used as a toll house for one of the roads Thomas Bain built. Today it is used as overnight accommodation with just beds and a fire area, no electricity or water. It was very nice.

Leaving the property I had to lock one of the gates. It was a chilly morning so I was a fast as I could be. On returning to the car I Almost stepped on a juvenile boom slang.

Boomslang
A boom slang is a venomous snake which translates as "Tree Snake". Drop for drop it has the most potent venom of all the african snakes, it just doesn't have much to inject. It also does not bite readily and a special antivenin is required if bitten.

Defence mechanism
This guy was suffering from the cold so Alan with a stick lifted him off the road and into the dense bushes to warm him up. He was very sluggish so the chance of being bitten was low, but still there. As he was picked up he inflated his throat, a defence mechanism. you can see from the previous photo what I mean.


We left him in his tree to hopefully warm up and carried on our journey.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Holey Moley

Last week after the floods Chris came around carrying a bucket. He had been to check on the mud by the cottage and on the way back had found something on the driveway. The rain had washed a mole rat out of its underground system. He was a very ferocious guy challenging us with his sharp teeth. Since they live in family groups we released him back into the garden where he promptly burrowed away under a flower pot hopefully to meet up with his family again.




Monday, 6 August 2012

Stuck in the Mud

With all the rain in the last few weeks the roads around Blue Hill are becoming muddy. One by the house leading to the cottage has become a mud pool. The water runs off the hills and has built up behind the cottage. When Chris tried to drive that way he churned it all up. The landcruiser got sucked into the mud. It went in rather deep as you can see from the images which follow.

Eventually the landrover towed it out of the mud pool but it goes to show how much rain fell if a dry patch can become a mud pool.