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Cape Town wildlife VII

This is the seventh post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

This is the harbour at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

cape fur seals

Here you can find shops, restaurants, boat trips… and something else.

cape fur seals

Have you spotted it yet? Let’s try a close-up:

cape fur seals

It’s a big pile of Cape Fur Seals!

When we first saw them, I thought they were sea lions: I’ve known for years that the way to tell seals from sea lions is that sea lions have visible ear flaps whereas seals just have ear holes…. It turns out that’s not quite true, but I had to do some research to find this out.

cape fur seals
Sweet dreams, little seal. Hang on, that’s an ear I spy…

Time for a very quick science lesson! Pinnipeds (“fin-footed” mammals) are split into 3 groups: Odobenidae (walrus), Otariidae (eared seals), and Phocidae (earless seals). The earless seals are what’s known as ‘true’ seals, but the eared seals category includes both sea lions and fur seals.

So what you should really remember is that the lack of ears is the way to tell true seals from sea lions (and fur seals). Not quite as memorable, is it?!

cape fur seals

I think it’s a shame they aren’t called ‘fur sea lions’ instead of ‘fur seals’: these Cape Fur Seals look like furry versions of their sea lion cousins, and nothing like seals! Either way though, they are cuuuuute…

cape fur seals

cape fur seals

cape fur seals

Now there is a bit of a sad side to this story, and it’s the fault of stupid humans. When you look closely at these lovely seals, you start to notice something a bit strange. Many of them have deep cuts on their shoulders:

cape fur seals

These poor seals swim through plastic bands, fishing line, and other litter, and can’t free themselves. As the seal grows, the noose grows tighter and cuts into the seal, and can eventually kill it. I’m sure you don’t drop litter, but if you’re ever tempted to, and think it doesn’t really matter, look at these pictures and know that it does.

cape fur seals

The poor seal above has a pile of litter and fish bones stuck to its noose. And when I zoomed in on the happy pile of seals from the start of this post, look what I found: the tiniest baby already has a noose around its neck! I try to post only happy things here, but I can’t gloss over this – it’s a truly horrific situation.

cape fur seals

Thankfully, the local Aquarium is trying to help: they send divers out under the docks, to sneak up on the seals while they sunbathe and try to cut off the nooses, and have built a seal platform to help them contain injured seals while they break off the nooses with a long hook. But of course the only solution would be for everyone to stop littering in the first place.

Still, to end on a positive note, these fur seals do look happy, from what I can see, even the scarred ones. They live in the wild, and can sunbathe and swim and snooze all day…

cape fur seals

cape fur seals

cape fur seals

It’s not such a bad life!


crocheted sea lion and seal pup patterns by planetjune
In case these pics have inspired you to crochet a seal(ion) of your own, my AquaAmi Sea Lion or Fuzzy Seal patterns might fit the bill 🙂

Comments (4)

Cape Town wildlife VI

This is the sixth post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa. I’ll be back with another crochet post tomorrow!

How could I possibly top last month’s wildlife post? Short of going on a safari, I don’t think it’s going to get much more impressive than penguins and whales and lizards and dassies, all in one day! So I’m narrowing my focus a bit and I’m going to show you something much closer to home (my own back garden, in fact) that’s an absolute miracle of nature.

As you may remember, a few months back, we noticed some weird blobs on the wall of our house, that turned out to be Garden Acraea butterfly cocoons. It turns out that we have a perfect butterfly ecosystem in our garden: we have a Wild Peach (kiggelaria africana) tree (unfortunately no relation to an edible peach) where the butterflies lay their eggs.

The wild peach is the larger, darker tree at the back. The butterfly wall (left of photo) faces the tree.

As winter ended and spring began (I’m in the southern hemisphere, remember), the cycle started up, and I’ve been able to observe the whole fascinating process just by stepping out into my garden!

butterfly eggs
Butterfly eggs

After hatching, the little caterpillars feast on the wild peach leaves (which grow back quickly – don’t worry about the tree). Apparently cuckoos eat the caterpillars, although I’ve yet to spot one on our tree. And when the wild peach fruits ripen (from February) they apparently attract a whole host of different birds, so I’ll report back if we see anything interesting 🙂

Baby caterpillars and munched leaf

When the caterpillars are fully grown, they find a convenient sunny wall to attach themselves to before pupating. They spin a silk mat and grip onto it with proleg hooks called crochets (of course, crochet means hook in French, so that’s not really a huge coincidence, but it still made me smile!)

caterpillar silk mat
You can see the silk mat clearly when the caterpillars form their chrysalises on a window instead of the wall. (This butterfly had just emerged from his chrysalis.)

So here’s the puzzle: how does that butterfly, with those big wings, come from that skinny little chrysalis?

Like this! As the butterflies emerge, the wings are curled and crumpled. They straighten and unfurl, in the slowest of slow motion. Here’s a sequence of photos to demonstrate:

butterfly emerging from cocoon

butterfly emerging from cocoon

butterfly emerging from cocoon

butterfly emerging from cocoon

butterfly emerging from cocoon

butterfly emerging from cocoon

This takes about an hour. At the end of this the wings are really frail and floppy – the slightest breeze makes them flap all over the place and almost pulls the butterfly from the wall! The butterfly rests with all her wings held together so the wind doesn’t catch them and waits for another hour or so while her wings strengthen. Then she abandons the cocoon and climbs slowly up the wall, flapping her wings to test them:

butterfly emerging from cocoon

And then she’s off!

Flying back to the wild peach tree

Nature is pretty amazing, don’t you think?

Whatever else is going on, there’s magic everywhere in the world if you just slow down and look for it. Today I’m sharing mine with you – I hope you enjoyed it!

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Cape Town Wildlife V

This is the fifth post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

In our mission to look for more whales (you may remember we spotted a whale’s tail last month!), we decided to take a day trip to Hermanus, a small coastal town 120km east of Cape Town, and supposedly the best place for land-based whale-watching in the world.

En route, we stopped at Stony Point, which is home to one of the only three land-based penguin colonies in South Africa. It’s a natural colony of wild penguins, but it has been fenced in to protect the penguins from leopard attacks, and there’s a boardwalk so that the clumsy humans don’t stomp on the penguin nests.

Stony Point, South Africa

(I’ll put a jump in here – this is a long post so feel free to skip the rest if you’ve just come for the crafts and don’t like nature!)

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Comments (31)

Cape Town wildlife IV

This is the fourth post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

I’ve seen so much wildlife that it’s hard to keep this to one post per month – I still have photos from months ago that I haven’t had a chance to show you yet! I’ll try to come up with some kind of theme for each post, to help me select which photos to include. My theme this month is giants – and I have a very varied selection that fits into this category! I’ll show them by size…

I’ve been hearing something large that buzzes as loudly as a hummingbird flying around my garden, but I couldn’t figure out what it was until I finally saw one on the ground. This is one big beetle (about an inch long):
garden fruit chafer
It’s a garden fruit chafer (pachnoda sinuata), from the same family as scarabs and dung beetles. Apparently, it’s a pest because it feeds on fruit and flowers. All I know is it gives me a fright when one zooms right past my head!

cape lappet moth caterpillar
This is the caterpillar of the Cape Lappet Moth. Although they are about 4″ long, seeing one by itself like this isn’t too scary – it’s actually quite pretty, with a purple patch on its head and soft coppery hairs on each side. But you’ll commonly see dozens swarming together on a tree trunk, and that’s a far creepier sight…

cape porcupine
The porcupine is the largest rodent in Africa, sometimes reaching over 2 feet long! We saw these Cape Porcupines at World of Birds – although they are common here, they’re also nocturnal, so there’s not much chance of me getting a photo of one in the wild. Just look at those quills!

Imagine going for a walk along the river by your house and seeing this giant coming in to land (there’s a pigeon there too, for scale – it has a 9ft wingspan)…

It is, of course, a Great White Pelican. At 160cm long, it’s as long as I am tall! We watched it waddling around on the river bank, preening, and then swimming around for ages with its big feet visible behind it in the water as it slowly paddled. Then a second one flew down to join it, looking more like a giant pterosaur than a bird in flight. It’s just amazing to see this kind of thing!

rondevlei nature reserve
We visited Rondevlei Nature Reserve, only a short drive from our house and home to around 230 species of birds. We saw over 35 species on our visit, but this vlei (lake) is actually also home to a family of hippos! We spent a while looking for them, but hippos usually stay underwater during the day, and only emerge to graze in the evening.

hippo tracks
We didn’t see any sign of a hippo except these tracks they have trampled (unfortunately, it’s not that obvious from my photo, but the grass in the middle, between the bushes, is the hippo trail). Maybe we’ll catch a glimpse of an actual hippo next time we visit…

At this time of year, Southern Right Whales come close to shore, to breed and give birth. We were just on our way back from Rondevlei, when we saw what was unmistakeably a whale tail, sticking up out of the water. Our first whale! I assumed it would be about the size of a beluga whale; it was only later when I got home that I discovered that this whale is 50ft (15m) long, and the tail alone is around 5m wide – no wonder it was so easy to spot (hence the poor photo quality; we were actually a very long way away). The whale kept its tail pointed up out of the water for ages – this is apparently a known behaviour called ‘sailing’.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my latest wildlife update. Life is certainly very different for me here, and not without its challenges and frustrations, but, as a nature lover, it’s wonderful for me to see all these animals and birds that I imagined I’d only ever see in zoos or on wildlife documentaries, and I’m not taking that for granted!

Comments (15)

Cape Town wildlife III

This is the third post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

It turns out that our new house is just a few minutes’ walk from the Liesbeeck River, which is full of waterbirds. This is where I saw the kingfisher you may remember from a few months back. Look how lovely it is!

liesbeeck river

I think the rest of these pictures will speak for themselves, so I’ll keep my commentary short and sweet. Just remember that it’s the middle of winter here at the moment and, while it’s not sunny like this every day, you can see (above) how beautiful it is here when the sun does come out! Enjoy…

egyptian goose family
A family of Egyptian Geese – these are the common geese that you see everywhere here (makes a change from Canada Geese!) They have distinctive red patches around their eyes and honk very loudly.

blacksmith plovers
Here’s a pair of Blacksmith Plovers (or Lapwings) – I took more photos, but they all involved, ahem, mating… so you get the boring family-safe photo here 🙂

hadeda ibis
I love this photo of a Hadeda Ibis – look at the iridescence on the wing.

african sacred ibis
These are a different type of ibis: the African Sacred Ibis.

hartlaub's gull
We see two common types of gull; this cute little Hartlaub’s Gull, and…

… the much larger Kelp Gulls.

little egret
And two types of egret! Here’s a Little Egret (note the yellow feet)…

cattle egret
…and a Cattle Egret. See the buff-coloured plumes? That’s breeding plumage; the feathers are all white the rest of the year.

african darter
At first I thought this bird was a cormorant, but it’s actually an African Darter drying its wings after swimming (it swims with its entire body underwater).

whitebreasted cormorant
Here’s a real cormorant (a Whitebreasted Cormorant). Now I see them together, they don’t look very similar at all…

And a gratuitously scenic shot to end with: Table Mountain (taken from the riverbank).

I hope you enjoyed this month’s African interlude! Are you bored yet, or shall I keep going with these wildlife posts? I have lots more I can show you, but only if you’re interested…

Comments (19)

postage stamps

Time to draw the winner of my July ‘Review and Win’ contest… and it’s another dinosaur review! This time it’s from Monica B, with her review of my Tyrannosaurus Rex pattern:

amigurumi tyrannosaurus rex by planetjune

This is my favorite dinosaur pattern, simple, quick and Very well made! I have made several of them already, as well as other PlanetJune dinos! June makes her patterns very user friendly. I recommend PlanetJune to family!

Congratulations, Monica – I’ll email you to find out which pattern you’d like as your prize!

* * *

Today I visited the South Africa Post Office for the first time, to mail out my first batch of orders since reopening for shipping. I was totally surprised to be handed a sheet of stamps – the old gummed type – I haven’t seen them for years! And there wasn’t even one of those wet sponge thingys, so I had to actually lick 26 stamps so I could mail out my orders while I was at the post office. Yuck! I’ve had a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the day. The things I do for my customers… 😉

I bought extra stamps so I hopefully won’t have to go through that experience again, and they are so pretty I thought I’d share them with you. They seem to have two stamp ranges going at the moment. The first is called “The Luminous Beauty of South African Beadwork” and it shows beaded handcrafts:

south african stamps

And the second is called “South African Sea and Coastal Birds” and each stamp shows a different sea bird, including the African Penguin:

south african stamps

Crafting and wildlife – it’s like they knew I was coming 😉

Comments (9)

Cape Town wildlife II

This is the second post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

Fair warning: if you hate all insects and reptiles, you might want to close this window and not read the rest of my post.

Although I already have some interesting birds lined up for my next post, I’m going to focus today on cold-blooded creatures I’ve spotted in my new garden. Don’t worry, there are no spiders or snakes in this post, I promise! But I’d like to share a few very cool and unusual creatures with you, if you’re up for it.

Ready to continue?

First up, something very exciting to me: geckos! Of course, I have a crocheted one already, but that’s not the same as this:

left-toed gecko
I think this is a Marbled Leaf-toed Gecko. They are very small; only about 3 or 4 inches long. We have at least 3 of them (and probably more) living at the bottom of our garden. They eat lots of small insects, so I’m very happy to have them around! This one is a bit camouflaged hiding amongst the fallen leaves in the above photo, but it’s the best I’ve been able to get so far – they usually scuttle for cover before I can get into range, so we hear them more than we see them.

And next… you won’t believe this one…

praying mantis

A Praying Mantis!! Amazing! (She’s on the outside of the window, by the way, or I might be a little less excited and a little more freaked out.) She’s quite small, as mantids go; only about 2 or 3 inches long, and she mostly just sits around on the palm fronds outside our window, like this:

praying mantis

One day we saw her devour, over several hours, a baby gecko almost as long as she is – that was fascinatingly horrifying to see, but we couldn’t stop checking back to see how much of the poor gecko was left. I did take a photo, but you mustn’t look unless you’re sure you want to… Sure? Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you: praying mantis eating.

And finally, when we first moved in, I wondered what these disgusting-looking blobs were up under the eaves of our roof:

garden acraea chrysalises

The answer is quite magical: it turns out we have a butterfly pupation station on one wall of our house! These spiky-looking Garden Acraea (acraea horta) caterpillars (below, left) climb up the wall to the safety of the eaves, where they pupate and develop a patterned chrysalis (below, right) while they undergo their metamorphosis:

garden acraea caterpillar and chrysalis

After a time, they abandon their cocoons and emerge as beautiful butterflies:

garden acraea butterfly

Apparently these Garden Acraea are one of the most common butterflies in Cape Town, but that doesn’t make it any less special for me to be able to watch their transformation in my own garden! In the photo below, you can see that their top wings are transparent and only the lower set have the spotted patterning – cool, huh? On my to do list: find a native butterfly-friendly plant so we can encourage more pretty butterflies to visit.

garden acraea butterfly

I hope this post hasn’t made you too squeamish! I just thought these wild visitors to my garden were too interesting to ignore. I’ll be back to the pretty warm-blooded animals and birds for my next wildlife report, I promise 🙂

Comments (11)

Cape Town wildlife I

I have the amazing opportunity now I live in South Africa to experience a different side of nature; one that most of you will probably only see in wildlife documentaries, if at all. So I hope you’ll forgive me if I occasionally deviate from the crafty nature of my blog to share some photos of the plants, birds and animals I see! As these will probably be inspiration for my future crochet designs, I don’t think it’s totally off-topic, and I hope you’ll enjoy a few glimpses into the nature of South Africa. (Please just skip these posts if they don’t interest you – I promise they won’t take over the blog!)

In this first post, I’ll show you some of our garden birds…

Wild Guineafowl roam freely everywhere – these are part of a group of about a dozen that patrol the grounds of our flats and the surrounding streets. They look a bit like small turkeys and they bob their heads quickly as they walk (as captured by the motion blur in my photo). Their loud call sounds like a squeaky bike wheel, and when several start up, it gets pretty raucous…

cape sugarbird (female)
The Cape Sugarbird feeds on the nectar in protea flowers, as shown here (this type of protea is called a Sugarbush and produces copious nectar which can be used as a natural sweetener). The female (above) is nice-looking, but the male is the real stunner…

cape sugarbird (male)
…his tail feathers are twice as long as his entire body! Very impressive when he’s sitting like this, but it looks like hard work to fly dragging those feathers behind him…

hadeda ibis
There’s nothing in this picture for scale, but ibis are very large! I’ve only seen them in zoos before, so having them as a common garden visitor is pretty amazing – we see them from our window, pulling worms out of the lawn with those long beaks. This type of ibis is called Hadeda (rhymes with la-di-la!) and is named for its loud call of “ha-ha-haadada”. When a group fly over or sit in a tree shouting that in unison, you really know about it!

Larger than the common starling you’re probably familiar with, the Red-Winged Starling looks fairly unexciting, until it takes flight… Do you see that edge of rusty red-brown on its wing? Their entire wings are that colour when in flight, so they look much more interesting as they fly by than they do when they land. I haven’t been able to capture that in a photo though 🙂

I know doves aren’t exactly unusual, but they are so sweet I thought you might like to see one anyway. There are two common types of dove here: the Cape Turtle Dove and the little colourful one pictured here, the Laughing Dove.

I first saw White-Eyes on holiday in Hawaii, so they feel like a very tropical bird to me. Very small and shy, the Cape White-Eyes are very hard to photograph because they don’t stay in plain sight for long. This is the best photo I’ve been able to capture so far, but I’ll keep trying 🙂

There’s so much more amazing wildlife here. I’d love to write more posts like this and share what I see with you, but only if I have an interested audience: I don’t want to bore you! If you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment so I know you’d like to see more…

Comments (45)

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