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Showing posts from December, 2018

Beetlemania

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It was an invitation too good to miss. Martin Collier, Norfolk’s beetle recorder, had heard about NWT Thorpe Marshes and was keen to visit the reserve to see what he could find. Could I show him around? Writing Christmas cards was postponed and the inevitable family conversations about beetle drives and popular beat combos from Liverpool were put to one side. It was a bright December morning when I joined Martin and recording colleague Steve Lane on the marshes. Beetle records on the reserve to date have been mostly relatively big, bright species on summer flowers. Surely an icy day in December was far from promising?  How wrong that was. The key technique was a fistful of damp marsh vegetation, often from a ditch edge, shaken through a coarse mesh sieve into a white bowl. The volume of invertebrates, once you had your eye in, was remarkable. Most were tiny: beetles of various shapes, almost microscopic harvestmen, pseudoscorpions. I photographed and noted names of bigger species; a lo…

Here comes the elephant (inspired by Namibia)

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Here comes the elephant
For anyone missing the regular Namibia blogs, here's a little poem by Christopher Durdin, aged about 62½, inspired by elephants at waterholes in Namibia, November 2018. I had a little trouble with rhymes, which you might be able to help with (not necessarily out loud).
Here comes the elephant Why did he stop? Now I know why Plop! Plop! Plop!
His name is Tiny I know that sounds silly. If you think his trunk’s long Just look at his tusks.
African people Live in huts. Elephants break in To steal their pizzas.
There goes the elephant He’s done a bunk. He’ll be back soon He forgot his ... suitcase.


Namibia, day 14 ... homeward bound

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Day 14, 24 November – Walvis Bay to Johannesburg and home With our flight at one o’clock there was time for a leisurely breakfast, packing and a final stroll along the strand alongside flamingos and large numbers of chestnut-banded plovers, or to look at common waxbills in local gardens.  Having only one minibus available wasn’t a problem for the group as Walvis Bayairport was such a short distance away. Geoff ferried up those staying at Flamingo Villas first and was soon back at Lagoon Loge for the rest of us. We paused briefly for thousands of lesser flamingos at a former water treatment plant, a dense flock of them in the water behind a single black-necked grebe and many in the air as some people approached.

Walvis BayInternational is very much an airport in the desert. We had an uneventful wait there before walking to the plane for the flight to Johannesburg. In the meantime Geoff and Darrin went back to the garage in Swakopmund: repairs would take time so they returned to Cape Town…

Namibia, day 13 ... Walvis Bay and Namib Desert

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23 November – Walvis Bay and Namib-NaukluftNational Park
Pre-breakfast birdwatching was along the strand again, alongside early morning keep fit enthusiasts. Chestnut-banded plover was a new bird and there was a Caspian tern that many of us had missed yesterday. In the minibuses we went farther along Walvis Bay after breakfast. The large numbers of lesser flamingos in this area was quite a sight. Waders included thousands of avocets mixed with black-winged stilts, little stints alongside hundreds of curlew sandpipers and many chestnut-banded plovers, as well as those mentioned in yesterday’s account. We then drove into the Namib-NaukluftNational Park: after nearly a fortnight in Namibia, in the Namib desert at last. It was hotter than the relative cool of the coast, but much less so than inland. We stopped to look at a range of flowering plants adapted to the harsh conditions, then tucked into the shade of small copse with a convenient picnic tables for the lunch Geoff had bought firs…

Namibia, day 12 ... to coastal Walvis Bay

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22 November – ErongoMountains to Walvis Bay The stone-edged pond and adjacent trees were alive with birds at breakfast time, including at least 22 rosy-faced lovebirds.  The morning was spent travelling south and west towards the coast, with stops for fuel/coffee and to photograph wayside wild flowers near Omaruru: there must have been some rain in that area recently. These kept Sue and me puzzling over IDs (they'll be listed in the holiday report) as we travelled to the next stop, a collection of stalls selling gemstones and curios, former roadside stalls brought under one roof. Purchases were compared as we crossed the Namib Desert, the road part of a corridor of services including a railway line, water pipe and numerous wires, with several turns for the mines that are big business here. We had lunch outside a nice cafĂ© in Swakopmund, a cool sea breeze here quite a contrast with the hot interior. Our first Cape wagtail was easy to see as it walked around: there were more dozens mor…

Namibia, day 11 ... bushcraft and rock art

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21 November – Erongo Mountains After a seven o’clock breakfast, the party split. Gill and John were driven in an open-sided vehicle. The rest of us were on foot led through the bush by guide Immanuel. It was proper bushcraft stuff. Tracks of aardvark and giraffe, and aardvark holes where we were advised not to stand in front of the entrance as they get taken over by all sorts, including warthogs that are prone to dashing out and sending you flying. There were piles of droppings, small to large, of springbok, gemsbok and giraffe, and leopard droppings like dog poo but containing lots of fur. Immanuel extracted an ant-lion larva from one of big patch of larval traps. 

There were many dead giant millipedes, not a popular prey item as they contain strychnine. Ant trails led to holes surrounded by drying seeds, waiting to be taken underground. There were also the wiggly surface tunnels of harvest termites, which explained what the aardwolf seen on the Etosha night drive must have fed on in a…

Namibia, day 10 ... Etosha to Erongo Mountains

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20 November – Etosha to ErongoMountains
The only new bird on the pre-breakfast walk was a willow warbler; it was more a chance to remind ourselves of what a superb place Okaukuejo is for its wealth of birds, let alone the mammals beyond the perimeter fence. Cheryl photographed a pied crow eating a mouse; white-crowned and red-breasted shrikes were as tame as ever here. At the waterhole, watched over by one large elephant, the mammals came and went: zebras in a procession going out, a line of kudus coming in. Namaqua sandgrouse burbled as they flew around and a single cattle egret fed on the pool’s edge along with the usual wood sandpiper and a bunch of Cape turtle doves. It was mostly a day of travel, though punctuated with various breaks. The first of these was just off the tarmac road south out of EtoshaNational Park at Ombika waterhole, though it was more of a sunken spring, the water out of sight. Here four ostriches stood surrounded by impalas, zebras, gemsboks and springboks, an…

Namibia, day 9 ... martial eagle

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Day 9, 19 November – EtoshaNational Park (Okaukuejo, day 3)

There was no pre-breakfast programme on account of last night’s outing, so at 8:30 we drove roughly westwards. Shortly after the common fiscal (shrike) we arrived at an area of scrub with trees laden with sociable weaver nests. Two Kalahari scrub robins cocked tails as they fed on the ground and there was a spotted thick-knee tucked under a bush. 
We turned left at a sign for Galton Gate (which pleased Jeremy of the same name), soon finding a magnificent martial eagle standing on a prey item. It soon became apparent that the prey was a ground squirrel, which the eagle ripped apart and ate. Beyond there were two-banded coursers and in Darrin’s bus we later stopped by a closer courser by the road’s edge.



The route took us through mopane scrub sprinkled with the distinctive shape of moringa trees, like an upturned root vegetable, reminiscent of a baobab. The first flush of oval leaves was just appearing. Farther on we studied a Sta…

Namibia, day 8 ... a sea of springboks

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18 November – Etosha National Park (Okaukuejo, day 2) Guineafowl swarmed into the Okaukuejo waterhole first thing; it was like looking at a free range Norfolk turkey farm. An elephant shrew appeared – not the first sighting behind the perimeter wall – and it watched as a crimson-breasted shrike dealt with a large moth. The camp’s fuel station forecourt was alive with birds, perhaps picking up insects attracted to lights left on overnight. Purple roller, Cape glossy starling, a single ruff, crowned lapwing, red-headed buffalo weaver, white-browed sparrow-weaver, laughing dove, white-crowned shrike: easy birdwatching.
Our drive took us north to the huge expanse of the Etosha saltpan. Geoff’s bus paused for at least 23 banded mongooses scampering along and a perched lanner. Darrin’s contingent saw a laughing dove land among seven red-necked falcons. The outcome was, well, that it wasn’t laughing.
The low, dry vegetation faded into the huge expanse of the saltpan, which appeared to stretch …

Namibia, day 7 ... lions and waterholes

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Day 7, 17 November – EtoshaNational Park (Okaukuejo, day 1) A simple pre-breakfast event: meet at the waterhole and stroll through the camp to breakfast (John and Gill joining us at the restaurant). Geoff picked up – literally – three sociable weavers bound together by string. Happily Darrin had his penknife and they were freed to join the throng. Their huge nests were all inside the camp, perhaps as there is plenty of grass for nest building, unlike the grazed land outside.




Our first stop on the morning’s drive on Etosha’s dirt roads was to see two male lions in the shade under a small tree. One of the lions, perhaps brothers, had a collar for radio tracking. In that tree was one then three greater kestrels, complete with white eye-ring (not eye as the book said), on or near a nest.

Another drive, another waterhole, the next with a small and obviously artificial pond nearest to where we’d parked our vehicles. Zebras squabbled, biting and kicking, both outside and inside the pond. 
Grey-b…

BBC Wildlife and plastic wrapping

Honeyguide has stopped advertising in BBC Wildlife until the magazine stops arriving in plastic wraps.
I still have the July 2018 BBC Wildlife in which it says: “Immediate Media Co (publisher of BBC Wildlife) is exploring non-plastic wrapping options for subscriber copies by looking at alternatives.” At first that seems positive … but then the same message has been in every magazine since, up to and including December 2018.
Every Honeyguider knows about the challenge to reduce the volume of single-use plastic. The BBC knows about it too. It was the BBC’s Blue Planet that gave momentum to tackling this issue. The excellent BBC programme Drowning in Plastic programme with Liz Bonnin this autumn added further weight to the campaign.
Immediate Media also publishes the RSPB’s Nature’s Home magazine. The RSPB, National Trust and Butterfly Conservation publications all come in compostable wraps. Easy to recycle paper envelopes are the other non-plastic option, used for the Honeyguide brochure, …