Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

So it is Christmas.....

To quote John Lennon "So this is Christmas, And what have you done, Another year over..."  It really feels like Christmas has creeped up on me and shouted "WHA!!!"  Last year I was in the Christmas spirit from late November already, but this year the working year seemed to have been so busy towards the end that it was halfway through December before I really started to hum Christmas songs. "Tra la la la laaaa, la la la la...."  Merry Christmas to you all.  I hope you have a very blessed day.

The picture is of the Christmas tree on the Boardwalk lake in Port Elizabeth

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Knysna forest roads

The are two ways of exploring the indigenous forests around Knysna, by car and on foot. 

Several forest roads take one all over the forests surrounding Knysna from down by the Knysna River up to Gouna, across to Millwood and over the Prince Alfred Pass.  The road in the picture is called Kom se Pad.

The best way to really connect with the forest is by going on one of the many hiking trails criss crossing throughout the forest. This is the only way to get close to nature and smell the forest. The Terblanche Trail is just one of them.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Flightless Dung Beetle

One of the smallest but best known inhabitants of the Addo Elephant National Park is the Flightless Dung Beetle (Circellium bacchus).  The Flightless Dung Beetle is endemic to the Addo Elephant Park and surrounds and very unique in the fact that they can't fly and hence the name. 

This fact also makes the beetle a vulnerable species as they only use elephant and buffalo dung to feed off and lay their eggs in and at the time when these animals were being shot out it meant that the poor beetle couldn't just take to the sky and find another place with those big animals.

Even though they are restricted in where they occure, they are quite commen within their range throughout the park. Visitors to the park are asked though to be very careful when driving through the park and not to drive over dung on the road and kill the beetles in the process.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Donkeys in pajamas must be one of the animals that visitors to game reserves love seeing most.  The Burchell's Zebra is the most common zebra that you will find in the game reserves of the Eastern Cape.  They are identifiable by the fact that the stripes go all the way underneath their stomachs and by the brownish phantom stripes visible on their wide white stripes.

The endangered Cape Mountain Zebra are found only on a few game reserves in the province.  They have wide black stripes with much thinner white inter spaces than the Burchell Zebra.  The stripes also don't go all the way under their stomachs.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blue Crane

The Blue Crane is South Africa's national bird and its always a pleasure to see them in the wild.  They normally live in pairs and nest in grasslands which means that many end up occupying agricultural areas.  You often see them driving along the N2 through the Overberg where they feed on seed and insects on the fields.  Unfortunately due to poisons used by farmers on their fields a lot of these birds are killed and due to this the species are classified as vulnerable.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hyobanche sanguina

I get very excited when I find something new and hiking along the Guinea Fowl Trail in Port Elizabeth the other day was one of those exciting days.  I saw Hyobanche Sanguina, commonly known as Cat's Paw, for the first time.  Cat's Paw is a parasitic plant which grows on the roots of shrubs.  The clustered red flower reaches about 150 mm in height and it's soft furriness along with the protruding white anthers forming the characteristic cat's nails gives it it's name.  They are normally found in sandy soil and the underground stems may reach up to 2m before producing flowers.  

This is my 1000th post in The Firefly Photo Files.  I can hardly believe that I have actually done a 1000 posts.  At times I've had lots to post and then there seem to be short dry patches where I haven't been out somewhere for a while and don't have anything to share.  I want to thank everybody who visits on a regular basis and to those who pop in a comment every now I then I just want to say that I really appreciate it.  Here's to the next 1000 posts.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Camp Figtree

Imagine a colonial style luxury lodge up in the mountains with magnificent views, no television or other distractions and top class service.  No, this is no cliche advert because this place really exist.  Camp Figtree is situated up in the Zuurberg Mountain just over an hour outside Port Elizabeth and within a stone's throw from the Addo Elephant National Park.

I've known about the lodge for a while now but haven't had an opportunity to visit it until a couple of week ago.  What a magnificent surprise it had in store for me up in the mountain.  The views across the surrounding mountains are breathtaking doesn't matter whether you're sitting on your private balcony, on the deck or even inside the pool.  My favorite spot during my stay was on the verandah outside the lounge paging through a nature magazine while taking in my environment. 

The rooms are huge and very comfortable with big four poster beds and insect netting that gets closed up when the beds are folded down in the evenings.  Returning to the room after dinner (which consisted of Kudu steak by the way) it was nice and cosy thanks to the gas heater blazing away in the corner.  My only concern though is that there aren't aircon's in the rooms so they may just get a bit hot in summer. 

If the bathrooms had lockers in them you could probably use them as change rooms for sports teams.  I can't remember when last I had seen so much space in a bathroom plus there is the fact that the toilet still is separate from the bathroom as well.  In addition to this there is a changing room so if they really wanted to they could have split the space and made two bedrooms.  But they didn't and they are the better for it.

Other than the colonial decor there is also a strong presence of Jock of the Bushveld throughout the lodge, not that its anywhere close to the bushveld but because the owners are decedents of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick who wrote the book.  To me one of the stand out aspects of the lodge (and some people may not like it but I loved the idea) is that they don't have electricity and run off a generator.  The generator gets turned off after 10pm and then the lodge is lit by lanterns and candles.  Sitting outside after "lights out" I looked up and thought to myself that I can't remember when last I had seen so many stars.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Close encounters of the ellie kind

I have been visiting Addo Elephant National Park on a regular basis for over 13 years and at one stage went there quite often as a tourist guide.  Over the years I've had some of the most awesome sightings and experiences which is a bit hard to explain to somebody if they weren't there themselves.  About a week or so back I was in the park with an Argentinian journalist and had probably my most adrenalin pumping experience there ever.  We arrived at Hapoor water hole and found two of the park's big bulls just departing.

Driving around the corner the one walked passed in front of us while the bigger one of the two decided to stick around the road.  At one stage he passed so close to the bakkie in the picture that I actually commented that the driver probably aged a couple of years.

Moments later a herd appeared from the bush to our left which took up all our attention.  They crossed the road right behind us and as the last one passed the journalist asked if we could turn around and go back to the waterhole.  As I turned back in my seat to pull away the big bull was standing right in front of the car with his trunk draped over one tusk literally less than a meter from the car's bonnet.  There we were, eye balling the biggest land mammal in the world.  From experience I knew that we shouldn't make a sudden movement by pulling away as it may just cause him to do something that we would regret later, so we sat back in our seats to wait him out.  I did have my feet on the clutch and accelerator with the car in reverse if we had to make a quick retreat.  Unfortunately because of that I don't have any photos of this whole episode.  After a couple of minutes (could have been seconds as far as I know, but my heart was racing too fast to measure time) he just turned around and mozied off.  I have to say that although it may have been a little scary the experience was awesome.  Who needs to use drugs to be on a high if you can have natural experiences like this?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Aliens amongst us

Do you believe in Aliens?  Arnie took on the Predator, Sigourney fought the Alien and then the two of them (the Alien and the Predator) clashed with each other.  But do they really exist?  Looking at the picture above I would say that the answer may just be yes. 

The other day our general assistant at work came running into my office babbling on about this thing she saw outside and that I must take my camera to get a photo of it.  I barely had time to grab my camera before she dragged me outside and showed me the biggest Praying Mantis I have seen in my life.  She stood as tall as my coffee mug and now that I think of it perhaps I should have taken along my mug to put down next to her.

So next time you are out and about wondering if there are such things as aliens, don't just look up into the sky but also down at your feet.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Whale (tail) watching

Whale watching along the South African coast line usually takes place between April and November, so this time of year the whales start heading down south to Antarctic waters again.  You don't have to go on a boat to see the whale though with stunning land based whale watching possible especially around the Cape and in particular the Hermanus area.  Plettenberg Bay is another of the bays that the whales visit and this very interesting bench can be found at one of the lookouts in the town.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bee eater

Bee eaters aren't very common birds around my part of the country, but there is a group of them that live in the river bank on the Sundays River near Colchester east of Port Elizabeth.  I went on the Sundays River Ferry the other day and the captain pointed them out to us as we passed.  Unfortunately it was dark and overcast and the boat was rocking, so the picture isn't very sharp.  But I'm heading back on the ferry next week and hopefully the sun will be shining.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Kragga Kamma Game Park is probably the best place around Port Elizabeth if you only have an hour or two and want to see wild animals.  The park has a separate enclosure where they keep their cheetah which is part of a breeding program.  Unfortunately for me this cheetah was sitting between me and the fence, so unfortunately the fence shows in the background of the picture.  But I still love the pic.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cemetery fencing

Old cemeteries hold a special place in my heart and I really enjoy exploring them where ever I encounter any.  The old Scottish Cemetery in St Georges Park is probably one of the lesser known cemeteries in Port Elizabeth and some of the graves date back to the mid 1800's.  Unfortunately for explorers like me this particular cemetery is locked most of the time, but I struck it lucky the other day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Purple beauty - Plumbago flower

International visitors to South Africa, especially the British, are always amazed at the fact that the Plumbago grows so beautifully in the wild over here while they have to cultivate it with care back home.  This one is growing semi wild but is being kept neat at Camp Figtree in the Zuurberg mountains outside Port Elizabeth. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sour fig in bloom

Sour Fig in full bloom at Kuzuko Lodge in the Eastern Cape.  The Sour Figs grows on coastal and inland slopes from Namaqualand in the Northern Cape through the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape and is often seen as a pioneer in disturbed sites.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Walkie Talkies

In yesterday's post on the corner butcher in the township I mentioned chicken heads and feet.  The heads and feet, referred to as walkie talkies, is a township delicacy and can be bought from the ladies selling chickens.  The chickens are sold live or plucked (as in the picture).  Once the chicken have been slaughtered and plucked by the ladies they are sold very much like you would buy them in the shop with the only difference being that they are freshly slaughtered with the innards still in them and not in a little bag. 

The heads and feet are sold separately and not along with the rest of the chicken and when you want to buy them just ask for walkie talkies.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Your friendly corner township butcher

There is always something new and interesting to see around the next corner for somebody from the suburbs when visiting a township.  This is even more so the case when you have a camera in hand and looking for those unusual photos to post.  Although there are many of these around the townships, I have a particular butcher / take-away that I like to pop by (to look, not to buy from) when I'm visiting the Red Location Museum.  Just down the road from the museum a couple of pots are cooking away in anticipation of the lunch time or going home crowd to come by and purchase a meal.  The contents of the pots range from chicken pieces and chicken heads & feet to cow liver and offal.

As you walk around the corner you will find the butcher shop's "display window".  It seems that the meat (or offal, fat, liver, etc) doesn't get sold by weight, but rather by quantity with the meat being wrapped in newspaper for you to take with you.  We asked the lady if we could look inside...

... and this is what we saw.  The butcher hacking away at a cow's head trying to split it open, I imagine to try and get to the brain.  I know that half a sheep head with the brain in it (called smileys) is a township delicacy, so my guess is that its the same with half a cow's head. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Elephant applying make-up

I often think that a lot of residents of Port Elizabeth doesn't realised what a fantastic game reserve they have in Addo Elephant National Park right on the city's doorstep.  Where else can you go in early in the morning and see an elephant powdering her face before the crowds arrive? Huh?  Jokes aside.  I visited the park again late last week and it's amazing the elephant and other game sightings one can have in the park.  There is really no reason to schlep all the way up to Kruger Park with what we have right on our doorstep.  I'm not saying don't go to Kruger, on the contrary.  But Addo offers residents and visitors to Port Elizabeth a stunning wildlife alternative to the big reserve up north.  

Just applying the last bit of make-up and she is ready for her audience.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Traditional healer ceremony

Life has a tendency to throw little surprises your way every now and then.  I was accompanying a journalist from Argentina around Port Elizabeth for five days and as we were walking along Shark Rock Pier at Hobie Beach I spotted a couple of people next to the pier on the water's edge performing some kind of ceremony.

We approached and respectfully waited for them to finish before we asked them what they were doing.  They were traditional Xhosa healers performing a ceremony whereby they talk to God and their ancestors.  The Xhosa are Christens, but they also believe in their ancestors and that they ancestors watch over them as well.  Even though they go to church on Sundays they also come to the ocean at times to connect with God and the ancestors without the congregation around them.  During the ceremony they also throw beads and coins into the ocean as offerings to their ancestors while asking for their blessings.

The senior traditional healer leading the ceremony was a very friendly lady called Nombolelo.  She was more than willing to explain to us what they were doing as well as to pose for a photograph.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Edible bracket fungus

I just can't seem to walk past a mushroom or bracket fungus (or a great number of other things for that matter) without stopping for a photo.  This was the case again the other day and I am sure will be the case again many times in the future.

From previous research (and nobody has told be otherwise yet) these are edible bracket fungus although I haven't tried eating it myself yet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Roadside pineapples

Farm stalls isn't too rare a sight on South African roads and if you want to buy fresh fruit then these farm stalls are the place to get them from.  Locals selling fresh fruit from the side of the road is a lesser common sight, but often seen in areas where fruit are gown.  The Eastern Cape around the town of Bathurst is ideal for Pineapple growing and I found this roadside pineapple stall just outside of Grahamstown.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rushing waters

A flooded mountain stream rushing under a suspension bridge in the Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

South End Museum Heritage Trail

The area of South End in Port Elizabeth used to be a vibrant multi cultural suburb until it was destroyed by the Apartheid Government when its people were displaced in 1965 following the implementation of the Groups Areas Act.  The South End Museum on the corner of Beach Road and Walmer Boulevard is housed in the old Seamans Institute Building and remembers the people and places of South End.  One of the initiatives that they started was the South End Museum Heritage Trail which links a number of historic sites in the area on a self guided (or guided if you prefer it) walk.

Across the road from the museum stands an old Wild Fig tree which is thought to be over 100 years old.  The tree stands next to the then Chase Street and back in the days the kids used to climb the tree while the older people sat in it's shade.  When the people were removed and the buildings in the area demolished, the fear was that the tree would also be chopped down or pushed over by a bulldozer. Luckily this didn't happen.

As you continue on the trail you pass two mosques that, due to international pressure on the Apartheid government, weren't demolished along with the other buildings in the area.  The one at the bottom of Walmer Boulavard is the Rudolph Street Mosque (Mosque of Righteousness) which was completed in 1894.

 One of the main attractions on the trail is the St Mary's Cemetery.  St Mary's is one of the oldest cemeteries in Port Elizabeth and a number of the graves belong to some of the original British Settlers that arrived in Algoa Bay in 1820.

 Overlooking the St Mary's Cemetery is the ruins of the St Peter's Anglican Church.  St Peter's was completed in 1877 and even though the congregation of the church were been removed to the other side of the city they still came back to worship in the church to the dismay of the Apartheid government. To stop them from doing so it was decided to demolish the church.

Although there are a couple of other sites on the route, the last one that I am posting about is the remains of the old Walmer Road.  Walmer Road used to be the main road running through South End between the city centre and the suburb of Walmer.  In those days the main hotels and businesses of the area were found along this road. Today only a small section of this old road is still visible at the top of Pier Street and is slowly being overgrown by the grass and other vegetation.