Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Reflections with an old Pel

Under the looking glass... Pel's me old pal?

A fortnight ago we spent some time in Pafuri (Limpopo Province, South Africa) in the far north of the Kruger National Park famous for its Crooks, clandestine military traffic & its avifauna. We returned there this last weekend on the strength of a single feather we found drifting on the Luvuvhu River (named for the Venda word muvuvhu or River Bushwillow).

On a whimsical leap of faith based wholly on personal experience, a liberal dose of good intent and the desire to add a single species to our 800 Challenge list, we gathered our 'stuff' & paid our dues. Was I sure that the feather was from a Pel's Fishing-Owl? In all honesty, no. That feather drifting 30 feet below could have fallen from a cast of candidates, not least of all an Egyptian Goose, a common resident on my lawn.

Moonlight reflections

If wisdom is an acceptance of our own humanity & perhaps too the realisation that the more we know, the less we know we know, then fortunately we have much to learn for wisdom is as rare as the dodo, a creature lost to irrational excess.

Under a late winter's sky my old pal Pel's had me reflecting; a touch upstream from the mainstream. For all money it's not pretty.

I recently submitted, unwittingly I might add, a checklist to the SABAP2 database inclusive of a single Burchell's Starling for the pentad nearest Punda Maria (KNP), a species hitherto unrecorded in that area.

Embedded in the program is a 'garbage-in, garbage out' safety-catch; a precautionary rider eliminating a likely misidentity & based on emperical knowledge. Where birds have not been previously recorded the database generates a full ORF (Out of Range Form). Simplistically, the ORF is part of the discovery process to establish legitimacy. I confess my initial response was one of indignation. A Burchell's Starling is as obvious as the day is long..!! A wise response to a routine inquiry? Not exactly...

Lark-like Bunting - KNP & also 'out of range'..
By extrapolation, posts on social media sites casting doubt on the veracity of recent sightings, old sightings.. any sightings and the irrational demand for conclusive evidence or in situ declaration of guilt in absentia is a condemnation born of ignorance and is not wise. Dishonest claims are merely echoed shouts when no one cares to listen. It adds nothing of personal value to the dishonest claimant but commensurately diminishes none at all from the community at large.

An unqualified interpretation of intent or agenda is an unsolicited opinion, which should remain unspoken. It's not our place to conjure up assumption.

Innuendo and or suggestive or subliminal accusation is written-trickery & as ephemeral as a Force 12 gale. It's an unpolished game of smoke & mirrors which endures; a shallow necklace of hollow victory.

A defensive response to a grossly immature and or irrational accusation is not wise; so too the condemnation of opinion or an image posted on a Facebook group, considered out of bounds or extralimital of the group's founding parameters. This too is not wise.

The suggestion that the photography of birds has condemned the 'art of bird-watching' whatever that is & from someone who should know better, is not wise. Clothes, they say, do not make the man, nor does his glass or accessory elective.
Bohm's Spinetail - [Pafuri (Aug) KNP]

Keeping a list / not keeping lists of species seen or heard is a personal record of events out in the field, any field. Deriving an artificial hierarchy or sprouting song is an exercise of foolishness. Ship-assisted, wind-aided or carried by flood, hurricane & storm is a self-imposed, introspective limitation on a personal list. To diminish another's recorded list is never wise. What place have we? This disingenuous pecking order makes us peckers, nothing more.

Condescension, casual dismissal, brittle arrogance, envy and self-styled relevance is as foolish as winter rain & a polygamous short-sale to the highest bidder. This too is not wise.

Dickinson's Kestrel - a regional rarity

The Pel's alluded me again but I could have sworn that feather had me close... Reminds me of another shore-based urban Pel's. Strange & surely not? Play the leaves as they fall..

I offer no apology nor do I make inference however inferred, interpreted or insinuated. Attach little relevance to these words. These are my words & this shoe fits me well. The journey lies ahead. Walk on.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Table Mountain's cute but Kruger steals the show!

Rush-hour traffic [Polokwane; Limpopo]
Brave the shake, rattle & roll [cable-way] or, in winter, the long, wet, windy, winding, walk to the top of Cape Town's Table Mountain & touch the bi-polar clouds racing here, then there; confused. Look towards the Atlantic, swivel left and enjoy man's ingenuity & architectural splendour. Space-challenged neighbours pass a cup of tea back & forth across the *payshio railing (*patio / balconette [a very small balcony or viewing deck]).. Rotate a touch to your right and behold Robben Island, the seat of South Africa's political past. A twitch further right - 'The Waterfront'. 90 degrees more & stare into the wind-induced, tear-filled eyes of the seething, red-jacketed multitude, well within your personal space, swiveling in synchronized unison, huddled, sheltered, cowered even - out of the wind... Cute!

Be adventurous; be daring; be bold & take the road less traveled, north; far north! Plant yourself at Kruger's Pafuri & swivel this way, that-way, any way. You decide. Nobody dictates your visual or auditory experience here. It's a smorgasbord of sensory delight. This is no hop-on, hop-off cliche. This is the Kruger National Park & this is Africa.

In the event that I 'fall off the boat' & my life-jacket springs a leak next pelagic off Cape Town's southerly point, let me say this; Pafuri isn't what it used to be, far from it. She's still in care. Early-season floods uprooted the local fauna & turned 'the camp' to mush & kindle.

Notwithstanding the natural calamity, there are very few spots in Kruger more wilderness-like than Wilderness' Pafuri Camp (ie: 'the camp'). Sadly the camp remains closed & more's the pity. Give me a pick & shovel; a two-night stay, once a year, for life & bob's your uncle, up she'll go! [To all my Wilderness friends..]

Crested Guineafowl - more numerous than ever before
By default then we were obliged to stay further afield, further south, at Punda Maria, a second cousin at best. A second cousin, that is, until you've walked the Flycatcher Trail, up the hill and behind the aging infrastructure.

Ignore the sewage pipe & look up. Swifts, spinetails, swallows, saw-wings, bat hawks, hawk-eagles, falcons, kestrels, eagles, buzzards, kites & vultures entertain; some perform the matinee, others the late, late-afternoon show.

Close your mouth & look down. Sunbirds, bulbuls, greenbuls, sparrowhawks, scrub-robins, robin-chats, nicators, flycatchers, hornbills, helmet-shrikes, shrikes, bush-shrikes, batisises, thrushes, starlings & guineafowls support the artists overhead. An after-dinner stroll to the hide which overlooks a natural pan presents buffalo, elephant, lion & leopard up close & personal. Hyena and jackal serenade the night. Enjoy repeat performances the next day & the day after & the day after that & the day after that that &...

Retz's Helmet-shrike [juv] - very cool
Retz's Helmet-shrike [ad] - also very cool
Arnot's Chat - [like me the male has the white-cap]

Since Punda Maria is such a hardship why were we there, again? Two reasons. First & foremost we wanted to revisit the Mahonie Loop or the S99 for the seriously uncool; a gravel track around the bend & back, behind the camp and a must for any aspiring birder. Secondly, we wanted Arnot's Chat & Dickinson's Kestrel for our 800 Challenge & our 700 Challenge respectively. Any birder worth their tuck speaks in tongues & on bended knee whenever the Mahonie Loop is up for discussion. Atypical habitat, high rainfall and a topographical mish-mash account for the very many specials this area has yielded in the past. Pennant-winged Nightjar perform at late-evening leks. Orange-winged Pytilia, Southern Hyliota, Racket-tailed Roller & White-breasted Cuckooshrike are also seasonally regular here & nowhere else.
Dickinson's Kestrel

Since we were out-of-season we concentrated our efforts up the road, rather than round the bend, for Arnot's Chat & the equally localised, if not more impressive, Dickinson's Kestrel.

Arnot's Chat is first heard, then seen. An unobtrusive tssssp breaks the reverie. Another tssssp a few yards left swivels the eyes, left... Tsssssp on the right jerks the attention right back right & seemingly emanates ghost-like from the very depths of the mature Mopani woodland. Drag your eyes away from the canopy, drop down to half-mast & if you've paid your dues, there he or she tsssps. Magical! Wonderful yes but not nearly as sublime as the little, wide-eyed, non-birding boy who after inquiring why we had stopped to look at trees beamed broadly at his Arnold's Chat. A birder born! Come down from your mountain & listen to the silence. Tomorrow is in good hands, thanks to Arnold's Chat.