Gnarled trees are one of the most distinctive features of the Capetonian landscape - they are forced into tortured shapes by the winds that buffet this coastline. These two are growing at Cape Point, the nature reserve that lies at the tip of the Cape Peninsula. This reserve is fascinating, not only because of the biodiversity of the Cape Fynbos biome, but also because of the historical interest of its rocky promontory which was both a landmark and a threat to sailors. In 1859 the first lighthouse was built on the rugged cliffs of Cape Point to help maritime navigators avoid shipwrecks.
A Black Crake stalks through a chorus-line of waterlilies. Waterlilies close and open according to the movement of the sun so they are usually closed at sunrise and sunset. Black Crakes, like jacanas and gallinules, have long toes that are specially adapted to balancing on floating plants while they forage for aquatic prey. The Black Crake’s bright yellow beak and red eyes and legs are extremely distinctive and birders are unlikely to confuse them with any other wetland bird.
Less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town, The Coach House at Val du Charron is a luxury 5-Star getaway on a wine and olive estate in the heart of the Bovlei valley near Wellington. Consisting of only three spacious suites, each with its own plunge pool and private patio with built in wood burning fireplace, guests can unwind in their own space overlooking the majestic Winelands and mountains. Dinner and light lunches are available in The Local Grill, the estate's restaurant which has been voted South Africa’s Top Steakhouse of the Year. A complimentary cellar tour and tasting of three quality wines produced on the estate as well as a tour of the olive groves and olive tasting is included in a memorable stay...
(GPS coordinates: -33.624831, 19.047304)
If a brilliant sunset were turned into a bird it might look something like this African Pygmy Kingfisher. This is the smallest of the southern African kingfishers, and it has a thin, squeaky voice that matches its diminutive stature. The tiny droplets of water glinting on this bird’s feathers suggest a recent fishing expedition. The Pygmy Kingfisher’s main prey is frogs, lizards, insects, crustaceans and spiders.
This mischievous-looking critter is also known as a ‘rock rabbit’ or Cape hyrax. The name dassie comes from the Dutch word for a badger – das – because they looked to early settlers like small badgers. Dassies can be as aggressive as badgers on the odd occasion, but they are mostly to be found basking on sunny rocks throughout southern Africa. They are thought to spend up to 95% of their time snoozing.
This photograph shows not only the brilliant scarlet head of this barbet, but also its striking red eye. This barbet’s strong beak is used to delve into trees to make nesting holes and to eat its favourite food: figs. Black-collared Barbets also eat fruit and insects, and often brighten up gardens in the eastern parts of southern Africa, where their distinctive “two-puddley” duet is well-known to bird lovers.
A young female giraffe nibbles on a thorny bush. Giraffes are often seen as animals that are distinctly African, and these days they are, but this wasn’t always the case. Variations on the theme of the giraffe existed all over the world, although their horns differed and were sometimes quite ornate. Fossilised ancestors of the giraffe have of course been found in Africa, but also in many locations in Europe, the Middle East and Eurasia.
A Barn Swallow huddles on a barbed-wire fence in wet weather. There are populations of these swallows all over the world, and they are commonly seen in Southern Africa during the summer months. The Barn Swallow in this photograph doesn’t really look game for an adventure, but this little bird is capable of flying 12 000 kilometres in 34 days to ensure that it enjoys an endless summer.
The hard point at which the horns of an African buffalo fuse together is known as a boss. The size and thickness of the grizzled boss of this rather intimidating bovine indicate that is he definitely male. In the USA the phrase ‘it’s all about the Benjamins’ refers to the fact that Benjamin Franklin’s face graces the $100 bill. In South Africa, it was ‘all about the Buffalos’ since, until recently, the South African R100 note featured the bust of a cantankerous buffalo very similar to this one.
African Stonechats are quite common throughout most of South Africa, except in the north-western areas. They tend to be seen in grassland, scrub or wetland areas rather than in gardens or forests. These stonechats love the sunlight and are often to be seen perched in the open on twigs like this one, or on fences. They are striking little birds and it is always a pleasure to see them chattering and foraging in the veld.
Yes, we are showing you a cockroach. They are actually quite interesting. Apart from their ability to withstand radiation and the murderous hatred of most of the human world, they are ancient creatures with very well-developed sense organs. In this image you can clearly the little spikes on their legs, which are so sensitive to changes in air movement that they can send messages to this bug’s nervous system to warn it of immediate danger.
A Half-collared Kingfisher looking bright and beady-eyed. During breeding season this kingfisher’s lapis lazuli feathers are at the height of their splendour. A breeding pair will tunnel 60cm into a river bank to make their nest and line it with a somewhat gory layer of fish bones. Sixteen days after being laid, their glossy white eggs crack open and some small sticky bundles of incessant hunger will emerge. A month later, after lots of feeding from both mom and dad, the chicks fledge.
I think we can all imagine what bliss a bare branch at a convenient height might represent to an itchy giraffe. If you can’t, this picture says it all. If there isn’t an Oxpecker bird in the area, this is pretty much the only way giraffes can get relief from worrisome parasites. The giraffe’s Latin name Camelopardalis derives from a combination of the names camelus (camel) and pardus (leopard), as it was once thought that giraffes were a mix of these two animals.
Go ahead ... make my day … a Knysna Woodpecker and a tree squirrel face off over branch space. This particularly handsome Knysna Woodpecker is probably hunting for a lunch of ants or wood-boring beetle larvae, or perhaps guarding its nest. The dense, pretty black and white patterns on this bird’s breast distinguish it from the Goldentailed Woodpecker.
Along the South Coast of South Africa lies one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world, home to the Garden Route National Park. A mosaic of ecosystems, it encompasses the world-renowned Tsitsikamma and Wilderness sections, the Knysna Lake section, a variety of mountain catchments, Southern Cape indigenous forest, and some associated Fynbos areas. The Park hosts a variety of accommodation options, activities and places of interest. A jewel in South Africa’s crown, the park is a prime example of the country’s unique fauna and flora and will offer unforgettable views and life-long memories…
(GPS coordinates: -33.927409, 23.547821)
The Okavango Delta after the rainy season. This magnificent floodplain draws an incredible concentration of wildlife and is therefore an exceptional area for game-viewing in the winter months. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. Flying over the Okavango Delta in a light aircraft is a very scenic way to view this water-world, and a number of charter companies offer short flights.