Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The story of Trunko

Rocky shoreline at Margate on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast

In 1924 residents of Margate, a town on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, were amazed to see a battle in progress between two Killer Whales and a polar bear-like fish. For three hours they watched the battle out at sea. The strange creature eventually washed up on the Margate shore line where it lay decomposing for 10 days. Although no scientists investigated it at the time the animal was measured, and found to be 14 metres in length, and it appeared to have white fur and some sort of trunk which was 1.5 metres in length. This led to the creature being called Trunko. The carcass didn't appear to have a head. Although a photo of the animal had been published as far back as 1925 it was only in 2010 that a logical explanation was proposed by Karl Shuker. He identified Trunko as being a tough sac of blubber from a dead whale, after the rest of the skeleton and skin have separated from it. These are known as globsters. The white furry look of Trunko was actually tissue fibres. The Killer Whales, that it was supposedly battling, were merely tossing their food around.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

If the weather was better today I would have been here

 Just down the road from my house in Durban is Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve. This small reserve has areas of grassland and coastal forest. I will often pop down there to photograph butterflies and other insects. In the middle of the reserve is a small man-made dam which, at times, is alive with birds and insects. There are a few benches on the dam wall and it makes a very peaceful place to sit and spend some time. Regular bird sightings include Thick-billed and Village Weavers, Fork-tailed Drongo, Black Crake, African Darter, African Fish Eagle and Little Bee-eater. You may hear the call of an African Rail. Sometimes a small herd of Burchell's Zebras will queue up on the dam wall waiting for you to move so they can cross it. If you and the Zebras are patient they will eventually get the courage to walk past you, easily within touching distance. The Zebras know that the dam wall is the quickest and easiest way to get from one side of the dam to the other.

Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve

More info here

A cryptic little lizard at Berg-en-Dal

I spent a week at Berg-en-Dal camp, in Kruger National Park, recently. While sitting on the benches overlooking the Matjulu Dam I was on the lookout for smaller creatures along the edge of the camp while everyone else only had eyes for the bigger mammals that visited the dam every now and then. I saw a couple of different lizards that lived on the concrete retaining wall that separates the camp from the dangers of the park beyond.

One of the lizards that caught my attentions was a Peters' Ground Agama (Agama armata). The mottled pattern on this reptile blends in well with the concrete. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to spot this animal on a rock that had patches of moss and algae. The Peters' Ground Agama feeds mainly on ants. They are about 20 cm in length of which 12 cm is made up of the tail.

Peters' Ground Agama

The Fig-tree Moth is a fluffy little fellow

I was looking for insects to photograph around my garden when I came across this interesting little moth. I haven't seen a moth like this that appears to be covered in soft white fur. If you look at it from the front you can't make out a face.

After some research I found out that it was known as a Fig-tree Moth (Naroma varipes). It gets this name because its larvae are often found on fig trees. Apparently this moth can cause skin irritations if you come into contact with it.

Fig-tree Moth

Has Durban ever had a zoo housing an elephant?

The answer is yes! And that 'zoo' still exists although today you are only likely to see things like Meerkat's instead of Elephants. Mitchell Park is a popular picnic spot in Durban. Over the weekends the expansive lawns are filled with families having picnics while their kids (and some adults!) race around after a cricket or soccer ball. The flower gardens are beautiful and are always a sea of colour, no matter when you visit.

For me, though, the small zoo is the main attraction. For a small entrance fee you can wander around the many cages featuring exotic birds and other animals. The highlight are the 'pits' featuring Meerkat's and Dwarf Mongooses. They are fun to watch and offer good photo opportunities.

Back in 1928 the Maharajah of Mysore donated an Indian Elephant to the zoo which had actually started out as an Ostrich farm. The Elephant was named Nellie and would entertain crowds by cracking coconuts with her feet and blowing on a mouth organ.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Wilge River

Recently I was taking a few photographs in the tiny village of Swinburne which lies just south of the N3 between Van Reenen and Harrismith. My attention was drawn to the old bridge over the Wilge River. I had never really paid attention to the Wilge River but, as it turn out, it is quite an important one.

It is one of the methods that water is transferred from the Tugela River Basin, in KwaZulu-Natal, to feed the Vaal River. The Wilge River flows past Swinburne, Harrismith and Frankfort until it finally meets up with the Vaal River.


The bridge over the Wilge River at Swinburne is the second oldest bridge in the Free State
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Thursday, 17 October 2013

Things that keep me awake at night

I suppose the rainy season has started in Durban, although it is pretty cold as well. The frogs in my garden seem to be enjoying the rain and are in full voice. I am not an expert on frogs but I do know the Guttural Toad and the Bush Squeaker. The Guttural Toads are everywhere, even though there are no ponds around. When you walk around outside at night you have to watch you don't stand on them. The Bush Squeaker is more elusive. At any sign of rain, or the garden sprinkler, they start with their high pitched calls. Trying to find them is not so easy. They live amongst the leaf litter on the ground and it is hard to pinpoint where they are calling from. With a bit of perseverance and a torch you can find them. Look for the white throat sac while they are calling. If they stop calling then stand dead still with the light off until they start again.
Guttural Toad


Bush Squeaker