Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Cape Clawless Otter - Caught!

It's not unusual to find a duiker or grysbok in the cage set to catch the Baviaans-West male Leopard. Today we got a first – a Cape Clawless Otter. On a routine check of the cage today, as I was approaching the vicinity of the cage, a Dassie (Rock Hyrax) barked from the cliffs above me. It is very unusual for Dassies to bark at people – barking is normally elicited by Eagles. On one occasion when I had been walking up a valley, Dassies had been barking all the way – and at the end of the valley I flushed an Otter from the stream.

However, I was still some-what surprised to see an otter in the cage. During over a year's worth of camera trap activity, we have not obtained a photo of an otter (despite on one occasion tracks passing in front of a camera!). Otter have also been implicated in the loss of our family of geese over a year ago. So this otter must have a very large territory – I'm unable to comment as little is known about them.

No Cape Clawless Otters have ever had a pedicure

Anyway – since we have no photo of an otter, I decided to go back to the house and assemble the family as camera crew in order to get an 'otter in action' photo. So Chris, Elaine and myself drove back to the cage, positioned the vehicle, Elaine with her pocket cam, and I set up a 400mm camera for Chris – ready to shoot. I then took my own camera and approached the cage, shooting all the way. Generally any animal caught in a cage is panicking by this stage, so my aim is to open the cage door as quickly as possible.

I opened the cage and the otter raced for freedom.

“Did you get the shot!?” I asked the faces from the windows.
“No - I was busy fixing the settings.” said Chris.

<insert here an action photo of an otter that could have been taken had someone not been fiddling with the camera settings>

Still, an exciting event and a rare viewing. I've seen European Otter in Scotland, Spotted-necked Otter in the Okavango, Neotropica Otter and Giant Otter in Peru. One thing that stood out about the Cape Clawless was how when it bounded off the tail flopped crazily up and down as though it was simply pinned on. Most other otters seem a bit more graceful.

As for the Leopards, we have now downloaded the first GPS data of the female that was collared a month ago. She has a territory that is around 20km long and about 10km wide at its widest point. However, I will not be publishing the range map here as distribution of this information has been used by hunters to target individuals. As for the male – we hope he is doing okay as we have not had a photo on the camera traps since January. Until such time as he is caught and the valuable data downloaded from his collar, the cage remains active – much to the annoyance of the other wildlife residents of Blue Hill Escape.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

A new visitor to the bird-bath

There is something special about new visitors – a new dynamic, perspective or tale to tell, even if they are just visiting the bird bath!

Normally, its Cape Weavers, the local House Sparrows, the odd robin-chat or Lesser Double Collared Sunbird, but yesterday a group of 6 Malachite Sunbirds – 3 females and 3 eclipse plumage males – visited the bath for the first time (that I've been around!)

The usual suspects
The new visitors!
The local male Greater Double Collared Sunbird is normally too busy admiring or dancing with himself in the Hilux mirror to bother about personal hygiene.

However, he does like showing off in the Cape Honeysuckle.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A day in Uniondale

Driving down the N9, many people shoot past Uniondale on their way to Knysna and Plet from Jhb. Who would believe that the tiny town of Uniondale has so much to offer? Lets stop in for the day.

Driving into Uniondale over the Kammanassie River, one of the first establishments one comes to on the right hand side of the road is Bon Accord. This B&B has an en-suite gallery / cafe with delicious muffins and coffee. These can be enjoyed while perusing the paintings, sculptures and local confectionay produced by the people of Uniondale. The garden is a show of creativity – plants in watering cans and wheelbarrows. For a more substantial breakfast, try Lyon's Lantern, which forms part of the Information building opposite.

From Bon Accord, wonder further down the main street, past the historical FNB building. Then head up the road towards the church steeple of the town's largest church, a Karoo classic. 

One more block down the road and we can turn left up the road to Avontuur. Just past the town's tiny hospital a dusty, unmarked road leads up a hill to the Boer War fort. Uniondale was a strategic stronghold during the scurmishes between Boer and British, the ghosts of which may still haunt these hill tops. At the very least, the fort offers one of the best views of the town.

By now it must be time for lunch. If one is into hamburgers, then the gourmet hamburger at the Uniondale Lodge is a must. The Uniondale Lodge is a smart venue, dramatically furnished with a range of antiques and sculptures. Alternatively, there is the Little Theatre Cafe. This is hidden away behind a small church, just off the main road. Walking into this cafe is like opening a door into a bejewelled wonder land. The Little Theatre Cafe is owned by they flambouyant Rico Claasen and he just loves bead work. The cafe is awash with colourful chandeliers and an array of wire art-work. A tramezzini and iced coffee is a feast for the stomach that matches the feast for the eyes.

The afternoon can be filled with a quick trip into Anton's toy car collection. Then drive up the Uniondale Poort to observe the colourful quartzites and barking baboons. For more things to do try Zeru Guest house, owned by Paul and Carol. Paul will also give you a few hints on how to navigate the Uniondale golf course. Carol also does historical tours of the town, and will be able to point out where legendary South African author Dalene Mathee spent some time in Uniondale. In addition, Carol can arrange horse-riding outings.

Evening time – time for a meal at the Watermill (Watermeul). Another Uniondale historical building, this was purchased as a derelict old mill by Adele and Robert. 

In the evening, perhaps take a drive to see if you can find the Uniondale Ghost. The story begins nearly 40 years ago, when during the stormy Easter weekend of 1968 a young couple were involved in a car accident some 20 kilometres from town. The woman, with long dark hair and clothed in a dark blouse and long pants, was sleeping on the rear seat when her fiancé lost control of the car in the bad weather. She was killed in the accident. The first recorded sighting of the ghost was during the Easter weekend of 1976. The description of the ghost matched that of the unfortunate woman. Since then many sightings have been reported. According to witnesses sightings are characterised by a female hitchhiker who receives a lift, car doors that open and close seemingly at random, sometimes a shrill laugh, a chilliness in the car and the total disappearance of the ghost.

For something more cheerful, try the Zee Zee Pub on the Poort road.

We hope you enjoy your stay! Please come again!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Elena Rosa Lee

We are proud to announce the birth of our daughter, Elena Rosa Lee. Everyone is healthy and well. We are sure she will add life and energy to Blue Hill Escape.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Spaceship leaves Easter Island Head in Baviaanskloof!

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, strange lights and sounds were heard over the Kouga mountains. The following morning, on a routine patrol, a field ranger found this very large object on a hillside that looks exactly like one of the carved rocks from Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Officials on the island have been alerted to see if any of the ancient archeological artifacts is indeed missing.

The Easter Island Head, a Klipspringer on the left side shows scale

Dr A Lee, a Star Trek and Star Wars fanatic, claims the head was left in the Baviaanskloof by a passing spaceship, which may have picked up the head as a souvenir not realising its weight. It thus had to be jettisoned when the ship had to leave again for outer space. Dr M Lee, an artist and archeologist, is under the impresson the rock was transported to the site by ancient residents of Easter Island in a time-travel ceremony, in order to preserve part of their culture after visions of the demise of their once great civilization. Dr C Lee, a geologist, reckons its just a large rock no-one noticed before. Discussions are ongoing.

Happy April Fools!

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