I think it is only fair to warn you that if, at any point in this post, you laugh, you are an evil person. Your heart is as hard and as black as coal, and you are destined for a fiery afterlife. I’ll see you there.
I’ve been reading a lovely old book about the mysteries of the ancient world. It’s filled with pictures of jungle-hidden ruins and glaring stone statues. It has been filling me with regret. We don’t really know how to throw together a decent ceremony anymore. We don’t sacrifice virgins on top of huge stepped pyramids or dance naked in the firelight in massive stone circles. We’re a bit dull.
Except for Bill. Bill is at least trying. You go, Bill!
I haven’t posted in a while. I could give you a thousand spurious reasons for this, but the truth is that I’ve been avoiding it because I need to do a post about birds. I’m not a birder. But if I’m trying to cover the entire ecosystem of the Lowveld, I will have to deal with the birds at some stage, because there happen to be quite a few of them.
I have managed a couple of bird posts, and now it’s time for another one. But I’m not really sure what to call these birds. Lurkers maybe. Skulkers. They are sometimes referred to as game birds, since there is a particular sort of person out there that prefers shooting them with shotguns to a nice, quiet round of Scrabble.
I can never remember… Is it pheasants or peasants that we’re after?
The Lowveld is not exactly a wet place. It is, in fact, rather dry. It is criss-crossed by a network of dry, sandy riverbeds that flow maybe four or five times a year, after heavy rain, to be swallowed up by the sand again after a few days in the driving heat of the sun.
If you’ve been following this blog, you will know that I occasionally write about the ecosystem of the Lowveld. These last few weeks, I’ve been writing about owls. Lots of them. I like owls. But I must confess to being just about over writing about owls.
I’ve never seen a Bushpig. I have loved wildlife for as long as I can remember, and wherever I go, I keep an eye open for things that creep and crawl and growl and bustle about in the undergrowth. I’ve seen quite a lot over the years, and in terms of mammals, I can page through a South African mammal guide and tick off most of the list, not counting rats and mice and bats, because life is too short.
A Bushpig. I think. It might be a Pangolin.
There are a couple of ticks missing. I’ve never seen a Serval, or a Pangolin. But that’s OK. Hardly anyone has. They’re pretty rare. But I’ve never seen that Bushpig, either. And they are not rare at all. Better yet, they tend to cling on in areas where most other big mammals have been wiped out. They are pests for farmers, and lurk around in thickets along hiking trails and wilderness areas. Continue reading →
I’ve been threatening to carry on writing about owls for a while, and now that I’ve arranged a place for them to sit, today is the day I do so. As I have said, the Lowveld supports ten different species of owl. We’ve dealt with one of them, in a bit of a hurry. Today, we deal with another three.
When most people think of owls, they tend to picture the sorts of birds that flapped around in the Harry Potter movies; large, powerful birds that would have no problem carrying obscure magical packages around. These are not those sorts of owls. These are small owls. Tiny owls.
I had promised to do a post on the owls of the Lowveld. I’m not going to. I’m going to do a few. And today, I’m going to do a very short one indeed. I’ve been called away on an emergency. I have to go the bush for a night. There I will be forced to spend an afternoon driving around looking at elephants and rhinos while sipping an ice-cold beer before being forced to endure yet another African sunset, while the meat sizzles over the fire and I force down a glass of chilled white wine.
I woke up this morning in the mood to write about Lowveld owls. Actually, to tell the truth, I woke up this morning in the mood to not be awake. The cold has finally moved in, and I would like to take to my bed and stay there ‘til spring.
But life goes on, so Lowveld owls it is. Or rather owls it isn’t. Most places have one or two species of owls. The Lowveld has about seven. That involves quite a lot of research, and cannot be whipped off on a whim. And besides, there’s something in the way that must be dealt with first. The not-owls.
At a glance, the night belongs to the bats. There are tens of millions of them, flitting unseen through the dark. They are hugely successful; about 20 per cent of all mammal species are bats. But bats have their limitations. There are some things evolution hasn’t had time to do to their basic design yet. They have left some room, out there in the cold and the dark, for those other denizens of the air; the birds.
And now you are thinking of owls. But there are other birds out there in the dark. Certainly there are down in the Lowveld. So let’s get those out of the way before we tackle the owls.
The Bat Hawk.
It may look intense, but it’s the worlds laziest bird.
Something really cool happened the other night. Mrs 23thorns and I were sitting outside having a glass of wine on the stoep (patio). The stoep has a roof over it, and we had the lights on, but the garden was almost in darkness. All of a sudden, two enormous, tawny wings spread out on either side of her head, framing her like some sort of Celtic nature goddess with glasses on.
One of my fondest childhood memories is watching my younger cousin get attacked by a chicken. We were visiting his parent’s holiday house when we fell foul of the local rooster, a feathery behemoth with crazy eyes and spurs the size of a man’s thumb. The moment he saw us, he came steaming across the lawn, flapping and squawking like a banshee. We fled inside, breathless and laughing with terror. And that should have been the end of it. Continue reading →