Cuckoo Comeuppance

People often rail against cuckoos and use all sorts of pejorative descriptions about them and their ways. Hey! Cuckoos gotta do what cuckoos gotta do. Nature. Survival of the fittest. Evolution. Life. Bird life.

Consider three things: 1. Cuckoos have no alternative. This is the ONLY way they can breed; 2. Cuckoos eat a whole bunch of caterpillars, even the ones with poisonous hairs and barbs. We need cuckoos. 3. Anthropomorphising animals is never a good idea. Cuckoos aren’t little feathered humans deciding ‘What the hell, I’ll drop the kids off at a neighbour’s house and abandon them there.’

So I’m always disappointed when people use descriptions like ‘nasty cheat’, ‘treacherous’, ‘deceitful’, etc when describing cuckoos. Many birds like hawks and eagles who do bring up their own young catch and kill other birds – including baby birds taken from their nests – to feed to their young. It’s all just nature, people!

In fact the ‘arms race’ between cuckoos trying to lay their eggs in their hosts’ nests and the hosts trying to thwart the cuckoos makes for fascinating natural history. And every now and then one might even get to see it happening! I did once and this story of an African Cuckoo coming to a sticky end after trying to enter an Indian Mynah nest reminded me of it.

My encounter was on the last day of a Dusi Canoe Marathon back in the nineteen eighties. I was drifting along on the Umgeni River just upstream of the big N2 bridge across the river, wishing the current would do a bit more to get me to the finish at Blue Lagoon, when I heard a ruckus and saw a bunch of weavers chasing and mobbing a bird. As I got closer I saw it was a Diederik Cuckoo pulling its best aerial dogfighting maneuvres to try and escape the mob. Even flying upside down much of the time so its claws could fend off the pecking. To no avail. They beat her down into the reedbed and then down the reeds onto the water. Then I was past the scene of this neighbourhood vigilante action. So I didn’t see the end and don’t know if the Diederik was actually killed, as the Mynahs in North West Province killed the African Cuckoo. Fascinating!

Diederik being Donnered

Thanks, Africa Geographic (go and see more pics)

Thanks to rockjumperbirding.com for the Diederik and hbw.com for the African cuckoo photos.

Other birds also parasitise nests. And here’s a fascinating talk if you’re really keen. It’s The Royal Society’s premier annual talk. About an hour on youtube.

pejorative – yeah, I also thought it was perjorative

Mfolosi Wilderness Walk

The Umfolosi Wilderness is a special place. Far too small, of course, but its what we have. I’m reading Ian Player’s account of how Magqubu Ntombela taught him about wilderness and Africa and nature. The idea of a wild place where modern man could go to escape the city and re-discover what Africa was like was born and actioned.

My first trail was ca 1990, when I went with Dusi canoeing buddies Doug Retief, Martin & Marlene Loewenstein and Andre Hawarden. We were joined by a young lass on her own, sent by her father, who added greatly to the scenery:

What a beauty! 'Our' 19yr old D___ (Donna?); Martin Lowenstein on right
Martin peers; I grimace; We’re both thinking of the gorgeous Donna next to me!

A good sport, she took our gentle teasing well.

We went in my kombi and some highlights I recall were:

Doug offering “bah-ronies” after lunch one day. We were lying in the shade of a tree after a delicious lunch made by our guides: Thick slices of white bread, buttered and stuffed with generous slices of tomato and onion, salt and black pepper. Washed down with tea freshly brewed over a fire of Thomboti wood. Doug fished around in his rucksack and gave us each a mini Bar One (“bah-ronie”, geddit?). Best tasting chocolate I ever ate, spiced as it was with hunger and exertion.

After the five-night trail we went for a game drive on the way out of the park. Needing a leak after a few bitterly cold brews I left the wheel with the kombi trundling along amiably and walked to the side door of the kombi, ordering Hawarden to take over the driving. Not good at taking orders, he looked at me, waited till I was in mid-stream out of the open sliding door and leant over with his hiking stick and pressed the accelerator. The driverless kombi picked up speed and I watched it start to veer off-road, necessitating a squeezed premature end to my leak and a dive for the wheel. Thanks a lot, Hawarden!

Pleasure,’ he murmured mildly. Hooligan!

————————

Thirty years later Andre Hooligan Hawarden wrote:

“Hey, remember that cool walk we did in the game reserve when you had the tape recorder and we attracted the owl? Then next day we lay on the bank of the Umlofosi river and watched the vultures coming down for a lunch time drink and a snooze? That was a wonderful experience. I’ve never forgotten it.”

Botswana Safari with Larry

Hey, let’s go on a safari!

Great friend Larry Wingert is out from the USA and we hop on a flight to Maun in Botswana. It’s 1985 and we’re bachelors on the loose with time and money!

From Maun we fly into the Delta (Tjou camp) in a Cessna 206. After many beers and wines a resident auntie starts looking enticing at around midnight but the moment passes.

Xaxaba Island 2
I think (dunno why) the camp was on Xaxaba Island

The next morning a pair of tropical boubou fly into the open-air pub under a tree right above where we’re sitting and belt out a startling loud duet. Stunning! That’s a lifer!

After a short mokoro ride it’s back to the plane and a short flip back to Maun where we all squeeze into an old Land Rover, fill up at Riley’s Garage . .

Maun Rileys Garage 1985
Lee Ouzman’s pics of Old Maun – these three from 1985

. . and head off for Moremi, stopping just outside Maun to buy some meat hanging from a thorn tree. Goat? Supper.

Goat meat

We’re a motley crew. We get to know two Aussie ladies, a Kiwi lady, a Pom fella – 6 foot 7 inches of Ralph – and the gorgeous Zimbabwean Angel Breasts (Engelbrecht her actual surname)! Unfortunately, she’s the Long Pom’s girlfriend (*sigh*).

Our long-haired laid-back hippy Saffer – no probly a Zim, see his letter – guide Steve at the wheel is super-cool, a great guide. So off we go, heading north-east, eight people in a Series 2 Landie – “The Tightest-Squeeze-Four-By-Four-By-Far”.

Long Legs in a Landie

Anyone who has driven in a Landie will know there’s lots of room inside – except for your shoulders and your knees. Besides that – roomy. Land Rover’s theory is that three people can fit on the front seat, three on the middle seat and two on those postage stamp seats in back. Right! See that metal bar that your knees keep bumping against? That’s what Land Rover used instead of an airbag.

Savuti Landie backseat.jpg

Landie 3

Unable to endure the cramped space on the middle seat, the lengthy Pom gets out at the very first stop and sits on the spare wheel on the roofrack. I sit with my thigh firmly against Angel Breasts’ thigh (*sigh*).

He stays up there for the rest of the week – whenever we’re driving, he sits on the roofrack! When we stop he has to pick the insects out of his teeth. I’m in seventh heaven. Mine and Angel Breasts’ thighs were made for each other. She was like . . .

Savuti Landie
internet pic – close, though

Birding: Problem Solved!

I’m mad keen on birding but I don’t know how these guys feel about it. What if they get pissed off? What if they only want to stop for large furry creatures? The first time we get stuck in the deep sand, a little white-browed scrub robin comes to the rescue! He hops out onto the road in full view, cocks his tail and charms them. From then on I have six spotters who don’t let anything feathered flit past without exclaiming “What’s that, Pete? What’s that? And that one?”

Scrub robin

True Love

At Khwai River camp a splendid, enchanted evening vision befalls me – my best wild life sighting of the whole trip: I’m walking in the early evening to supper and bump into Angel Breasts outside her bungalow – she’s in her bra n panties in the moonlight. Bachelor dreams. Oops, she says and runs inside. Don’t worry, I’ve averted my eyes, I lie (*sigh*).

At Savuti camp the eles have wrecked the water tank.

Savuti camp2
more recent pic in Savuti camp – not mine

At Nogatsaa camp a truck stops outside the ranger’s hut, a dead buffalo on the back. The ranger’s wife comes to the truck and is given a hindquarter. Meat rations. They also drop the skin there and advise us to carry a torch if we shower at night as lions are sure to come when they smell the skin.

Nogatsaa pan2
more recent pic of Nogatsaa – not mine

Another Lifer!

Later I head for a shower while its still light. A sudden cacophony makes me look out of the broken window: The lady-in-residence is chasing an ele away from her hut by banging her pots & pans together! We travel thousands of k’s to see elephant and she says Footsack Wena! Tsamaya! While looking I spot what I think could be a honeyguide in a tree, so I have to rush back to our puptent wrapped in a towel with one eye on the ele to fetch my binocs. It is a greater honeyguide, and that’s another lifer for me! Moral of the story: Always carry your binocs no matter where you go!

That night the elephants graze quietly right next to the tent, tummies rumbling. Peeping out of the puptent door I look at their tree stump legs, can’t even see up high enough to see their heads. Gentle giants.

Chobe

As we approached the Chobe river the landscape looked like Hiroshima! Elephant damage of the trees was quite unbelievable. That did NOT look like good reserve management! Botswana doesn’t believe in culling, but it sure looked like they should!

The Chobe river, however,  was unbelievable despite the devastation on its banks – especially after the dry country we’d been in. What a river! What wildlife sightings!

On to Zimbabwe, the mighty Zambesi river and Victoria Falls. We stayed at AZambezi Lodge. Here we bid a sad goodbye to our perfect safari companions. Me still deeply in love. Angel Breasts holding the Long Pom’s hand, totally unaware of my devotion (*sigh*).

Compliment

At the end our guide gave me and Larry a letter. We read it on the flight out of Vic Falls.

1985SteveBotswana

==========================

Saffer – Suffefrickin; South African

Zim – a Zimbawean

lifer – first time you’ve seen that bird ever

Footsack Wena! Tsamaya! – Go away! Be off with you! Eff Oh!

pamberi ‘n chimurenga – forward the liberation struggle!

Note: Larry had a camera on the trip, I didn’t, so I have asked him (hello Larry) to scratch around for his colour slides in his attic or his secret wall storage space in Akron Ohio. He will one day. As a dedicated procrastinator he is bent on never putting off till tomorrow what you can put off till the next day. Meantime, thanks to Rob & Jane Wilkinson of wilkinsonsworld.com and others on the interwebses for these borrowed pics!

edit: There’s hope! Larry wrote 16 December 2017:

P.S. I will renew my efforts to locate some photos of our Botswana trip. If you saw the interior of my house, you’d understand the challenge.

—— OK, but if you saw the exterior of his old house you’d fall in love with it:

Larry Home2 Akron Oh.JPG

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑