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South Africa wildlife VII: Durban

Last weekend, I took the opportunity to travel with Dave, as he had an astronomy conference in Durban, on the other side of the country. South Africa is so huge that it takes 2 hours to fly from coast to coast, from Cape Town to Durban. We stayed at Umhlanga Rocks, a resort village just north of the city of Durban.

durban_from_cape_town

Cape Town is on the cold Atlantic Ocean, and Durban is on the warm Indian Ocean, so the climate is quite different. We’re in the middle of winter at the moment, and it can get pretty cold in Cape Town, but this is Durban’s weather:

durban1

Not a horrible place to come for a winter weekend break! And waking up to this gorgeous sunrise over the ocean was quite nice too…

durban2

While Dave was working, I walked along the promenade by the beach and hunted for wildlife. It’s amazing what you can find, when you really look. What’s that on the roof of that hotel?

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It’s a monkey!

durban4

Vervet monkeys are common in Durban. We saw some from the car as we were leaving the airport, but I couldn’t stop on the highway to take photos, so I was secretly hoping I’d be able to spot one when I had my camera ready. I got lucky with this thoughtful-looking windswept monkey – doesn’t his fur look soft?

durban5

I also spotted lots of birds that I recognised as being related to ones I know from Cape Town, but different regional varieties. I had to look them all up when I got home, like this stunning Spectacled Weaver:

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And this happy little guy is an African Pied Wagtail:

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A sunbathing skink:

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A handsome Dark-Capped Bulbul (the Cape Bulbuls I see in my garden have white rings around their eyes):

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And Common Mynas, which I didn’t expect to see in South Africa!

durban10

I was amazed to spot this wild bee hive half-hidden beneath the leaves of an aloe:

durban11

And very happy to see my first Speckled Mousebird (it’s hard to see in the photo, but its long tail feathers extend right down to the bottom left of the picture):

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But possibly best of all was when I spotted a pod of dolphins, swimming together in the sea!

durban13

Although my photos don’t really capture the magic, it was just beautiful to watch as they came up to the surface and dipped under again as they swam…

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It was a lovely, if very short, getaway. My knee held up to a lot of walking, and didn’t hurt at all provided I stayed on flat, paved surfaces. So I’m definitely not up to hiking just yet, but I think I’m ready to cautiously resume my quest for wildlife. :)

And I’m also consciously working to improve my wildlife photography skills – I don’t know if you can tell that from these photos, but I’m trying! I’ll only ever be an enthusiastic amateur in this area, and there’s a lot of luck involved in wildlife photography, but I’m happy that I managed to capture almost everything I saw last weekend in a fairly pleasing portrait. I think I’ll keep improving with more practice and trying to be more aware of lighting, surroundings, etc.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little window into some of the wildlife on the east coast of South Africa!

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South Africa wildlife VI: the magic of water

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to sit comfortably at my computer and edit wildlife photos, so I’m easing back into things with an update of some of the everyday (but still special!) wildlife in my own garden here in Cape Town.

Today I’d like to show you the power of water for attracting and photographing wildlife. Giving garden birds a supply of fresh water for drinking and bathing is obviously very important during the hot dry summer months, but keeping the bird bath full year-round helps attract a wide variety of birds to my garden:

birdbath_mixed
The local meeting place: laughing doves, a common starling and a Cape sparrow enjoying a drink and a bathe together.

birdbath_olivethrush
Photo op! Olive thrushes, like most birds (except doves) have to raise their heads to swallow water, so it’s the perfect moment to snap a photo.

birdbath_hadeda
And sometimes things get slightly ridiculous – this hadeda ibis is a) not a garden bird and b) far too large to bathe in my birdbath… but he didn’t care!

I also have a nectar (sugar water) feeder to attract sunbirds – the African equivalent of hummingbirds, and just as pretty.

nectar_sunbird
The female southern double-collared sunbird has brown plumage, but she’s still tiny, fast, and gorgeous!

nectar_sunbird2
The male looks very similar to a male hummingbird, in stunning jewel tones.

But it’s not just sunbirds who appreciate the nectar (and fight over it)…

nectar_weaver
Cape weaver enjoying a sweet treat.

nectar_sunbird_whiteeye
Male sunbird (left) and Cape white-eye (right) having a shouting contest.

nectar_weavers
Southern masked weaver has a drink while Cape bulbul demands his turn.

And water doesn’t just attract birds to the garden – by happy accident, I discovered a few weeks ago that if you put a wet branch or leaf in front of a Cape Dwarf Chameleon, it’ll lick the water off it:

chameleon_water1
Lick!

So now, every time I find a chameleon, I offer him a drop of water on a leaf…

chameleon_water2
Ooh, a wet leaf… 

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Slurp!

So much fun! (And much easier than trying to catch grasshoppers to feed to them…)

I had another happy discovery this weekend. I’m trying to make a wildlife area at the bottom of the garden, but my new indigenous plants need some extra water to help them get settled in, so I turned on the sprinkler and sat outside for a while….

wildlife enjoying water in my garden
Just sprinkling the garden…

Almost immediately, over a dozen Cape White-Eyes flew in and started hopping from branch to branch under the spray of the sprinkler, fluffing up their feathers, preening, shaking, and enjoying a good shower:

whiteeyes_sprinkler
Fluffy white-eyes!

Luckily I have a good zoom on my new camera, as white-eyes are tiny and these were down at the very bottom of the garden, but I managed to get a little video for you to enjoy:

For the best experience, play the video at Full 1080p HD quality and fullscreen it.

Aren’t they sweet?

I hope you enjoyed another glimpse into my local wildlife – I’ll have more to share with you once I’ve had a chance to go through the past few months of photos. :)

And if you’d like to encourage more wildlife into your own garden, I suggest adding a bird bath, a pond, or a water feature – it really works!

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South Africa wildlife V: baby Chameleons!

I had a truly magical wildlife experience last week, and I just had to share it with you. Every day, I check the bushes in my garden for Cape Dwarf Chameleons – they’ve been absent for the past year, but made up for it when they finally returned last week, as I got to spend a day with 6 teeny tiny newborn baby chameleons who were each barely an inch long (excluding tail)!

If you’re short on time, here’s a collage of my baby chameleon photos:

baby chameleons

And scroll to the end of this post if you’d like to see my baby chameleon video. But, if you have the time, let me share some bigger photos and more details with you first:

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

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Borneo Wildlife

I thought you’d like to see some of the animals I saw on my trip to Malaysian Borneo last month! As this is a craft (and wildlife) blog, I’m keeping this post to just my wildlife photos, but, if you’re interested in knowing more about my trip, I’ve written it up separately as a travel journal with lots more pics: A Bornean Adventure.

We were privileged to get to watch these two rescued orphan orangutan babies in training. Once they’re old enough and have learned how to survive in the wild, they’ll be released back into the forest. (I’ve written more about the orangutan rescue and rehabilitation in my travel journal.)

orangutan1 orangutan2 orangutan3orangutan4

But, although this would have been enough, we saw far more than just orangutans…

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

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South Africa wildlife IV

This post is part of my occasional series of photoblog posts about the wildlife and nature I see while living in South Africa.

For various reasons, it’s been far too long since I’ve been able to get outside and enjoy nature, but this weekend changed all that – we had beautiful summer-in-winter weekend weather and it was too nice to be inside. I took my camera with me to see what I could see, and ease me back into my wildlife photoblogging. So, there’s no real theme to this post, it’s just ‘what I saw this weekend’ :)

In my garden:

…a white butterfly finally stopped moving for long enough for me to photograph it:

white butterfly

…a giant grasshopper found the perfect lighting to pose for me:

locust

…and I spotted a new (to me) sight with my favourite Garden Acraeas: egg-laying!

garden acraea butterflies laying eggs
The female hangs from the edge of a leaf and raises her abdomen to lay her eggs against the underside of the leaf (see the butterfly on the right). I have no idea why a male (top left) kept flying over the other female’s leaf (bottom left) and interrupting her while she tried to do the same.

At a local nature reserve:

…flower season is most definitely beginning:

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…the waterbirds were enjoying the sunshine:

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Back: white-breasted cormorants; front: red-knobbed coots.

…some kind of shield bug (I’m no bug expert!) sunned itself on a succulent:

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…and the red bishops looked spectacular as always:

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And, by the river:

…these tiny flowers look like normal lawn daisies, except the petals are extra-short:

daisies

…we spotted a Cape weaver starting to weave a new nest between two tree branches:

cape weaver nest

…carefully weaving each blade of grass into the ring he’d already constructed:

cape weaver nest

…3 hours later, the ring of grass had become a ball and a female came to check it out:

cape weaver nest
If she liked his work, she’d line the nest and they’d lay their eggs inside.

…she inspected his handiwork thoroughly, but wasn’t impressed:

cape weaver nest

…maybe he needs to do a little more weaving and he’ll have more luck tomorrow! I’ll have to check back – if a female moves in, we should be able to see her flying into the nest with soft lining materials. If not, he’ll abandon the nest in a couple of days and try his luck with a new one…


A bit of a random return for my wildlife posts, but these little signs of spring make me very happy! I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing them too. Please leave me a comment if so – I do love to hear from you…

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    June Gilbank

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