Sunday, 26 May 2013

Rock Art in the Kammanassie

The Kammanassie holds many secrets. One of these must be some of the best rock art shelters I have ever had the privilege of seeing. While the Cederberg is often touted as having the highest density of rock art in South Africa, if not the world, this may well only be due to the exploration of that very accessible area, only a few hours from Cape Town. A same line of thought using bird atlas data would show highest species richness around Johannesburg, Cape Town and other urban centres in the country – because of the effort concentrated around these points, not necessarily due to real species richness. 
Further afield, things are poorly documented, and in the eastern sections of the Klein Karoo where the ancient African landsurface overlays the ancient rocks of an old Gondwanaland sea, caves are common, and nearly all these caves have some form of paintings in them. Renee Rust in her book “Water, Stone & Legend – Rock Art of the Klein Karoo” has gone some way to documenting some of these sites together with her interpretation of the images that can be commonly found.
On a field trip last week to explore options for excursions for the forthcoming Geoheritage Conference (, we explored what must be one of the best rock art sites in the country – Leeublad. This is a cave on private property, and landowner permission is needed for access. Our guide was Dick Carr of Rolbaken guest house, who hosted Renee on her field trips. To get there, a 4x4 and an hour walk over steep terrain are involved, and it’s worth it. 
The panel of paintings is over 12 meters long, with paintings upon paintings. Paintings from the area which have been dated range from between 200 – 2000 years. Many of the images are subject to interpretation, and for some images 12 modern people could offer 12 different answers, but the truth is we will never really know the significance and meaning for the original artists of the delicate and colourful images that adorn these walls. The following is a small selection of what can be seen here.

Renee believes that much was painted during trances, when people would reach out to their ancestors in the spirit world through the rock face. Some ‘half’ images may be images where the other half is actually inside the rock for instance. Many images are of human/animal figures – anthropomorphs. The most famous of these locally are the ‘mermaids’ of Eseljacht, another famous site not far from Leeublad. They are more likely to be images of people transforming into swallows, or vice versa. 

Introduced as a leopard, this cat-like figure may also be a lion

That thin white line is a snake – and with the criss cross markings, most likely a puffadder.

Hunt scenes are also commonly depicted.

For me, this was a geography textbook image of a waterfall. For Dick, its a pair of antlers, and for Anja, someone’s legs. Hand prints are commonly seen at many sites (see right of the image), and have been interpreted as the artist touching the wall to contact the spirits on the other side.

Friday, 10 May 2013

African Firefinch – a first for Blue Hill

It was my first ringing session for the month with new volunteer Gerardo Ceron (from Argentina). Not only did we catch a nice batch of Cape Siskin, but the real highlight was a totally unexpected surprise in the form of this beautiful male African Firefinch (also known as the Blue-billed Firefinch).

This species is relatively common in the eastern parts of southern Africa, and has been reported sporadically from slightly further west, around George. However, the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project wrote off sightings from this part of the world as confusion resulting from the Red-billed Firefinch. But these species are quite easily distinguished in the field... courtesy of the very obvious difference in bill color in the males.

It is interesting to note on the atlas maps from SABAP2 the species occurs very infrequently along the southern African escarpment – the Nuweveldberge, e.g. from Graaf Reinett to Beaufot West. I think the clue is the in use of habitat – for instance, it is conspecific with Jameson's Firefinch further north, but occupies a different habitat – montane thicket and grasslands. I think this explains the species presence on Blue Hill Nature Reserve – with the veld now 1 year old, there is a lot of grass, especially in the mountain valleys.

South African distribution of African Firefinch (SABAP2 map)

A closer look at the W Cape E cape interface. Our new record is from the pine tree below "Sustersdal Private Nature Reserve" (which does not exist). Note the records stretching west in a line to Beaufort West. I suspect a similar line exists between George and this sighting, but the area is covered little by atlasing efforts.
Either way, we are gracious to this individual for its visit, especially to the nets (as it may well have been overlooked otherwise).

The African Firefinch is the exclusive host of the Black Widowfinch (Dusky Indigobird), so we are hoping for one these to rock up next!

Monday, 6 May 2013

Some Addo birds

These are a couple of shots of some birds from Addo Elephant National Park

Valentines day for this pair of Speckled Mousebird

Kudu Egret

breakfast time for this Black-headed Oriole courtesy of some messy picnicers

Non breeding Cape Weaver

My bet would be a non-breeding Southern Masked Weaver
Bokmakierie - one of the most distinctive calls of the South African bushveld

African Hoopoe

Red-necked Francolin

Cape Glossy Starling - one of the regions most striking birds

Southern Boubou are abundant in Addo - and very tame around picnic sites
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