An encounter with a visitor to our shores

An encounter with a visitor to our shores

Steppe Buzzard sat in an oak treeRecent posts are beginning to suggest to me that I am becoming a bit of a twitcher. Unfortunately, as per previous posts, I am about the World’s worst bird spotter. I see a bird and think, I should find out what that is! So I remember the detail as best I can and look it up in our trusty, much thumbed, edition of the Sasol Bird Guide, only to discover that I have yet again seen a bird that only lives in 1square kilometer of tropical forest the other side of Zimbabwe.

I could be right of course, though I am more inclined to think that I just cannot identify the birds properly. The recent innovation of managing to take photos of the birds should have helped. It hasn’t, it has just removed my excuse of not remembering the details properly.

Not that it matters all that much, I enjoy seeing different birds going about their business, from colourful little sugarbirds to huge big eagles, they are fascinating to watch. The problem for me is that putting them into blog posts opens me up to all sorts of ridicule when I proudly announce the sighting of a lesser spotted dooby, which everyone in South Africa knows is actually a greater spotted loopy.

So from now on I am going to plough blindly on (with my eyes wide opening- if that makes any sense) and revel in my terrible ornithological abilities. You will just have to forgive me if a photograph of a bird does not match the title and description. All I can suggest is that you don’t take my word for it that the photos relate to what I say it does, and if you pilfer my images for your own use (at least ask first!) I cannot be held responsible for any ridicule that is heaped onto you in return.

My latest ornithological encounter was on a walk along the Silvermine River. Having taken advantage of a drop in temperatures I did one of my favourite, low level, hikes. The route leaves my house in Fish Hoek, cuts across the valley floor to Clovelly, takes a cheeky sneak through the golf course and heads up towards the Sunbird Valley nature reserve.

There were a few things skittering and flitting around, not much to get excited about. And then there they were, two huge raptors, lazily circling around on the late afternoon thermals, doing the leisurely slow circles that only large birds of prey can.

You always have to be careful in this area when looking at large birds flying- there are a lot of crows and it is easy to think they are something else. Not in this case though, there was no mistaking a large bird of prey of some kind.

I was also confident of making a good identification (as I always am- see above) as there were a number of easy to identify markings on the birds: white stripes on the wings, size etc. First impressions were that the pair was not eagles, leaving the door open to them being large buzzards of some kind. Eventually they elegantly disappeared into the crags of the higher cliffs and we carried on.

Steppe Buzzard in the Silvermine River Valley- Sunbird ValleyWe weren’t done with the birds, or rather, they weren’t done with us. As we came around into Sunbird valley on of the pair suddenly swooped across our path and landed at the very top of a nearby oak tree, completely side on, almost posing for photographs.

This should have made identifying the birds later so much easier. We new they were buzzards, and you regularly see buzzards on perches around the area (telegraph poles, tree branches etc), but it is all too easy to leave it at that and not look further, making an understanding of what type of buzzard, where they live and what they do.

When we got home the bird book came out and the inevitable debate began. Eventually the decision was made that it was a Steppe Buzzard- not the rarest of birds, but worth seeing none the less.

They are a wide spread bird that favours a lot of habitats, but here is the fun fact- whilst some Steppe Buzzards stay in South Africa throughout the year, most are only summer visitors, having migrated from their summer habitats in eastern Europe through to Asia (hence the Steppe bit, being taken from the Asian steppes of the former USSR southern states and Mongolia). That’s quite a distance to fly, even by Emirates. Presumably the feasting on Duiker and Dassies in the southern African sun is preferable to trying to find lemmings in the snow and frost.

And that is the amazing thing about wildlife- as majestic as it is to look it, the stories behind animals is even more amazing. The complexities of their lives are fascinating, so watch out for these visitors to our shores while they are here, before they embark on their epic journey back to their northern homes.

Responsible Dog Walking In The Cape Point Peninsula

Responsible Dog Walking In The Cape Point Peninsula

There has been a long going correspondence in the local free papers regarding the lack of responsibility among the far south’s dog walkers- usually regarding not picking up the brown smelly stuff. I was particularly mobilized to write this post in response to a letter in Thursday’s paper regarding the introduction of a ‘dog walking club’ on Fish Hoek playing fields. Under the proposal owners would need to pay a fee and register their dogs, with transgressors reported and continued offences resulting in a dogs membership being revoked. Should this really be necessary?

Fish Hoek playing fields has many signs informing dog walkers that all dogs must be on a leash at all times. A further by-law makes it an offense not to pick up after your dog in any public area. This makes especial sense when you consider that people play sport on the fields, imagine sliding in to tackle an opponent and finding more than grass on the ground- not pleasant.

The playing fields are in particular focus for me because this is where I walk my dogs- on a leash, but I am in a minority. I see all manner of dogs on my walks, from small dogs under control to huge attack dogs that seem to do as they wish. On three occassions my dogs have been attacked by other dogs who seem to be walking without owners. This inparticular scares me to death as I on occassion have my two year old daughter with me. What an out of control rottweiller could do to her is anyones guess.

So why do so many dog owners disregard the law and allow their dogs to run free?

Pure and simple laziness as far as I can see! The dogs run around free and the owners trudge around ignoring them. If the dog poops two hundred yards behind them then they don’t need to pick it up. The dog gets the exercise its needs and the owner doesn’t have to do that much. People are becoming so lazy that I am now seeing irresponsible idiots excercising their dogs by letting them out on the dirt road at the back of the park and letting them run behing their bakkies!

They had similar problems to this in the UK. Now they have hoardes of council workers patrolling parks handing out stiff penalties to those who cannot be bothered to follow simple laws- and why not. It seems unlikely however that this will happen here as the authorities have enough problems dealing with ‘real crime’.

Heres the thing to consider though- any transgrettion of a law is a crime and it is not up to us to decide which laws apply to us. If you walk your dog without observing the laws you are a criminal, just the same as someone who breaks into your house or hijacks your car. The sad thing is that law abiding citizens are few and far between so you shouldn’t be suprised that this is a high crime society.

So set an example and abide by a law without needing to be monitored, or punished for none compliance- this isn’t school, we are adults and should behave accordingly. If you feel like you want to have your dog roam a little then get a retractable lead, and if you don’t like walking the dog then don’t get dogs that need walking- or buy a cat, hamster, rat, chinchilla…

Snake Season

Snake Season

During my evening walk with the dogs we came across two snakes in the dunes below Peer’s Cave which is two more than is normally the case. This suggests that snakes are out and about and much more active than usually, which is not unusual in spring and autumn.

The first snake was just at the side of the path, and was discovered by a very suprised labrador who jumped three feet sideways. Black in colour, the snake was not aggressive; was slim and probably over a meter in length (although this was difficult to judge as it was coiled up). It didn’t display a hood and definately not a puff adder of boomslang. Rinkhals are not supposed to be in the area any more so my deduction was that it was a mole snake. These are constrictors who prey on small rodents, and although they have a set of teeth that can give a nasty bite are non venemous.

However, I am not enough of an expert to test the theory, so we left the path to the snake and found an alternative route.

And there is the thing, snakes are very common in the area although sightings quite rare. We are not food to the snake and so any bites will be defensive. The best policy for snakes is treat them all as venemous and stay out of their way. Your main problem is with identifying what snake you are in front of. Cape cobras have a variation of colour from a sandy brown to black, with every combination in between; they can be mono coloured or patterned and so identifying them is very difficult. Mole snakes are harmless but how do you know that it is not a dark coloured cobra?

So the best policy is distance and avoidance. If you spend enough time in the outdoors then you will come across snakes, especially in the early mornings and late evenings, however a few simple precautions can keep you safe:

  • If you plan to go through long grass then make sure you are wearing heavy boots and long trousers, tread carefully and carry a long stick.
  • Don’t step over logs or boulders, step onto them so that you can see where you are about to step. Puff Adders especially like to bask in such places, they also stay very still when disturbed rather than trying to slither away- until you step on them and they try and bite you.
  • Watch your step, whilst we all like to look at the view, birds and plants, it is very easy to not spot a snake at the side of the path.
  • Don’t shove your hands into holes, burrows, cracks in rocks etc without knowing what is in there.
  • If you are out and about at night (remember, you need permission to be on Table Mountain National Park land at night) carry a good torch and really watch your step.
  • Don’t creep about, snakes sense vibration in the ground and know you are coming long before you can see the snake. Most snakes will dissappear at the first suspicion of the approach of a large animal.
  • Keep your dogs under control, a bite from several snake species in the area will kill a dog very quickly. Some dog breeds are naturally cautious, some are bred to attack first and ask questions later probably resulting in the death of the snake and the dog.
  • Do not under any circumstances handle a snake in the wild.

I’m no first aid expert and so am not going to try and give advise about that, just google snakes and you will get any number of pages of advise. One thing to remember is that snakes use a lot of energy to produce venom, which they really require to catch food, they don’t want to waste it on you, because they can’t eat you. A snake is more than likely to give you a warning first in the form of a dry bite. If this is the case then you have been lucky, heed the warning and seek medical advise as soon as possible. You can’t take the risk though, because you might get a nervous snake who will pump as much venom as possible into you.

Remember, whilst snakes are the stuff of a lot of people’s nightmares they are a valuable part of pest control. They eat things that can breed very quickly and be a real problem if not controlled such as rats and mice. Killing snakes means an increase in the populations of these pests. We really need snakes so don’t kill them under any circumstance.

New walking route added, Black Hill to Lewis Gay Dam

New walking route added, Black Hill to Lewis Gay Dam

Fearing that the weather was going to turn for the worst over the weekend I decided to make the most of the beautiful sunshine and take a walk from Black Hill to the Lewis Gay Dam. I also wanted to see what the state of the water level in the dam was, since I had seen stats that said it should be nearly full, but I just didn’t believe that we had had that much rain (see post…our-dry-winter/.)

Anyway, look on the walks page or follow this link

New walking route added to Walks Page

New walking route added to Walks Page

Hello all

Since the weather looked like it was going to close in and rain was likely I decided to make the most of it this morning and take one of my favorite short walks: Peer’s Cave from the Fish Hoek side.

This is one of my favorite short walks in the area and you are more than adequately rewarded for your efforts with fantastic views of the valley. It was especially good to see the weather sweeping in off of the ocean. Unfortunately I couldn’t hang around as the rain was in the offing.

Luckily I just got within sight of home when the much needed rain started coming down.

Don’t be put off this walk by the steep ascent, although I would suggest caution if you have bad knees as the descent could be a problem for you. If you have knee problems then visit the cave from the Silvermine side, it really is one of the most captivating places on the peninsula.

Follow this link for a full report.