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South Africa wildlife VIII: Safari!

We’ve lived in South Africa for over 4 years, and still hadn’t been on a safari… Until last week, that is!

We planned to go to the Kruger National Park (one of the best places in the world to see wild African wildlife) this year, but my recovery after the knee surgery has taken a lot longer than expected, and I’m not up to being quite that adventurous just yet, so we’ve to start small(er) and work our way up to Kruger. There are smaller private game reserves that are much closer to home. We decided to visit the closest one, Aquila, for a day trip, as it’s just a 2 hour drive from Cape Town into the wilds of the Karoo.

Game reserves are nothing like ‘safari parks’ you may have visited elsewhere in the world, which are just open-plan zoos where you can drive your car through the animals’ enclosures. A game reserve is a wild area protected for conservation, where the animals (‘game’) can live wild and free in their natural environment, but safe from hunters and land development. There are no roads, only tracks, and the game drives are conducted by experienced rangers to keep everyone safe – these are true wild animals, and could be dangerous if not treated with respect.

African Elephants on safari
My favourite photo from the safari: these elephants walked right past our vehicle!

We headed out for our game drive in the 10,000 hectare reserve in an open-sided 4×4 safari vehicle driven by our ranger and guide. The Karoo is a stunning natural environment, and we saw zebra, hippopotamus, wildebeest, buffalo, white rhinoceros, lions, giraffe, springbok, eland, and of course elephants! It was an absolutely amazing experience and quite emotional for me (especially seeing wild rhinos and knowing how prevalent the poaching problem is and that these animals could be killed for their horns, despite everything that’s being done to try to stop the poachers).

Photo Gallery

I’m trying something new with my photos this time – I’ve installed a new photo gallery so you can see much larger versions of my photos. This page should load quickly with thumbnails of all the pictures (below) to give you a taste, so I can include more photos without slowing down the site. If you click any photo, the gallery will open and let you see them all super-sized – much larger than my previous photos (like the elephants above, which you can also see larger, as part of the gallery below).

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Comments (16)

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?

durban3

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:

durban6

And this happy little guy is an African Pied Wagtail:

durban7

A sunbathing skink:

durban8

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

durban9

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):

durban12

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…

durban14

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!

Comments (6)

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… 

chameleon_water3
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!

Comments (12)

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 »’)

Comments (15)

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:

flowers

…the waterbirds were enjoying the sunshine:

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

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

flowers

…and the red bishops looked spectacular as always:

flowers

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…

Comments (17)

burgled (update)

I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who took the time to leave me a message after my last post about the burglary. Reading them has meant a lot to me. These days, so few people comment on blogs, and it feels good to know you’re still out there reading what I write. I really appreciate all your advice and messages of support – thank you.

I still feel sick thinking about how lucky I was to be unharmed – at least physically – and how this could happen again (with far worse consequences) at any time, but here’s a quick update on my situation in case you’ve been worrying about me.

Fixing the Damage

All our belongings that were taken have been replaced. We’ve actually done quite well out of that: everything was insured, and having 2-4 year old laptops and tablets replaced with their current equivalents means nice shiny new models in place of the old slower ones.

But, in a great example of the relaxed pace of ‘Africa time’, I still have no front door! The company our insurance contracted to fit the replacement door and security door finally came to measure for the new door on Friday (9 days after the burglary…), but it’ll probably take another 2 weeks before the new door is made and can be fitted. In the meantime, our old door has been boarded up and screwed into the frame, so don’t worry: this delay isn’t a security problem, it’s just a bit frustrating not having a front door that opens.

Home Security

Thank you for all the advice – I’m definitely not considering buying a gun, but I’d like a dog, if I can figure out if Maui would be happy with that, and if we can find the right dog for our family. I’ve been considering getting a dog for several years, but it’s a big long-term commitment and I’ve never felt 100% sure that I’m ready. Maybe this will be the push I need, so I’ll have the bonus of a barking alarm as an additional burglar deterrent…

I live behind high spiked gates, with bars on all the windows and metal gates over all the doors. I assumed that would keep me safe, but it’s obviously not enough. I’m hoping the replacement doors will be more secure, and we’re also going to see if we can change how the alarm system works so I have more protection against intruders while I’m working from home all day.

Data Security

One excellent thing has come of all this: I’ve had to seriously address the issue of protecting my data with some sort of offsite backup, so I don’t lose my business files (or personal documents). Several of you suggested cloud storage, but I don’t feel that’s a secure solution for sensitive information. I already use Dropbox for saving ideas and sharing files with other people, but I’m not convinced it’s sufficiently safe for important private data such as my business files, tax records, etc.

I now have an excellent solution (thanks to Aleksandra’s recommendation) – I’ve created my own private, secure, cloud storage on my own web server. It works exactly like Dropbox, so all my files are automatically synced whenever I update them, I have access to all my data from any computer or mobile device. The difference is that my data is all encrypted at my end, so only I have the decryption key, and it’s only stored on my own server, so there’s far less risk of a security breach. And, because my server lives in North America, it’s 100% safe from South African burglars 😉

I know this probably won’t help many of my readers, but in case anyone googling for secure offsite data backup and file synchronization finds this post, I’m using Seafile for my own private cloud storage. A one-sentence review: it’s open source, completely free if you have your own server, and so far I’ve found it very easy to use: my files are auto-syncing from my computer, and I can easily access anything I need using the Android app on my phone and tablet. (I also found a similar solution called OwnCloud, but I haven’t tried it, so that’s not a personal recommendation, just another option you could consider.)

Moving Forward

Well, I’m trying to, at least. I’m still very jumpy, and every noise sounds like an intruder preparing to break in and attack me, but I have a plan for that: if I see anyone on my property, I’ll hit the panic button to set off the alarm, and hopefully scare them off before they get into the house. I feel a bit safer knowing I have some way to protect myself if I see anyone coming.

I’ve also made lots of progress on several of my big long-term projects – trying to take my mind off being scared – although there’s nothing to see yet, as I haven’t been able to do any final quality checks while I’ve been too exhausted to think clearly. But this means there’ll be lots of new PlanetJune stuff coming very soon…

Things are getting better. Thank you for caring. 🙂

Comments (15)

burgled…

Last week was my 8th blogiversary, but that was the last thing on my mind at the time. I had a horribly traumatic week: I disturbed a burglary in progress at my house, and I’m still very shaken up by the experience. I’ll tell the story here for those who want to know, and then I’ll try not to discuss it again. I’d love to hear messages of support or advice, but I don’t want to answer questions, please – it’s still all too raw, and dwelling on it makes the terror flood back.

I’ve never really felt safe in South Africa, but I assumed that, locked up in my house with security bars on all the windows and doors, and protected by an armed response security group, I was safe to be alone at home all day. Not true: the burglars easily forced my front gate, security gate and front door with just a crowbar, in the middle of the day.

I was photographing birds in my back garden, and when I walked back into the house I found two men in my living room, holding armfuls of my stuff. When they saw me, they ran outside to a waiting car. At the car, they turned back and just looked at me, and time stood still… Then they jumped into the car and sped off before I could even grasp what was happening. They got away with the TV, our laptops, my tablet and a few other bits of tech, and our front door and security gate are now wrecked and useless.

Almost a week later, I still can’t stop replaying it over and over in my mind. They may well have been armed; the police sounded very surprised that I hadn’t been attacked. That moment – where the burglars hesitated and stared at me before deciding to drive off – haunts me: if they’d made the other decision, I’d have been completely defenceless with all the doors between us hanging broken and useless…

(And, on a lesser scale of scariness from my lucky escape, but still a big eye-opener: I realised later that I was also only a minute or two away from losing my entire business! Luckily they hadn’t reached my big PC when I disturbed them, so I still have all my critical PlanetJune data. I feel a bit sick that I’ve lost design notes and reference pics from my tablet, but it could have been far worse. Our insurance will cover replacement tech, we’ve changed all the passwords we can think of, and I’m figuring out an off-site backup strategy so I won’t come this close again to losing everything I’ve worked so hard to build.)

I feel violated and traumatised by this whole experience. I’m trying to get back to a normal routine, but I don’t even have a new front door or security gate yet, I’m not sleeping well, and every sound sends me running around the house checking all the doors. It’s awful to not feel safe in your own home. How do you get over something like this? It just fades with time, I suppose?

So, I’m going to skip my 8th blogiversary roundup. I’m sure I’ve done lots of good stuff over the past year, but that all seems a bit hollow right now. I’m just glad I’m still around to start my 9th year of blogging. Thank you for sticking with me – at a horrible time like this, it’s good to remember I have friends all over the world who do care that I’m still here.

I’ll be back soon with a more cheerful post!

Comments (50)

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