Eclectic Cape Town in early December

Helen and I went down to Cape Town in early December to participate in the Nature’s Best Photography (NBP) Africa award ceremony. The quality of the award winning images were excellent and we got to meet some fascinating people at the ceremony. Nature’s Best Photography Africa has an annual exhibition of award winning photographs which are displayed by the Iziko SA Museum. NBP Africa is associated with NBP Global whose annual exhibition has been hosted annually at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for over 20 years.

We stayed at a beautiful hotel, the Cellars Hohenot in Constantia in Cape Town. The Constantia Valley is known as ‘Cape Town’s Vineyard’. The hotel, built in the Cape Dutch style, is surrounded by beautiful gardens and has wonderful views of the east side of Table mountain.

This was the view from our bedroom window onto the hotel’s swimming pool.

The hotel swimming pool area was peaceful and idyllic for not only the guests but the Egyptian geese which had taken up residence in the gardens.

The two remaining Egyptian geese goslings seemed to really enjoy the pool when the patrons were not around.

Some of the hotel rooms were located in an annex detached from the main hotel and were also built in the old Cape Dutch style.

We decided to make a long weekend of our trip to Cape Town after the Nature’s Best Photography Africa awards ceremony. Helen wanted to visit the top of Table Mountain using the cable way but there was load shedding by South Africa’s monopolistic electrical utility. With no electrical power there were no traffic lights so the traffic was chaotic in Cape Town centre making in the cable way inaccessible.

I have been travelling regularly to Cape Town since 1980 and had never been to the World of Birds in Hout Bay. To get away from the traffic, and because Helen and I are both interested in birds, we decided to visit the World of Birds instead of the cable way.

A male Indian or blue peafowl in full gorgeous iridescent blue and green plumage. There are two other peafowl species, the green and Congo peafowl. We only saw the Indian species.


Although the venue was somewhat run down, apparently due to financial difficulties according to the Cape Times, it is still well worth a visit because of the fantastic variety of birds and small mammals it houses.

“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy – it is already too late for that – but in creating a better understanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.” ~ Aldo Leopold

The next image is of a silver pheasant. There are some 51 pheasants species in the world being native to Asia with one exception, the Congo peafowl from Zaire. Most pheasant species live in the forest understory.

Pheasants are characterised by strong sexual dimorphism, with males being highly ornate with bright colours and adornments such as wattles and long tails. Males are usually larger than females and have longer tails.

Swinhoe’s pheasant from Taiwan

A male Golden pheasant, or sometimes called the Chinese pheasant, resplendent in the most glorious plumage. This pheasant is native to forests in the mountainous areas of western China.

The first time I ever saw a Golden Pheasant was in the aviary of my long standing friend Adrian Lombard in Harare Zimbabwe, back in the 1960s.

“Humans seem to have an innate drive to master other creatures.” ~ Paul Greenberg

A pair of rosy-cheeked lovebirds fast asleep. In the wild this species of lovebird is usually found in south western Africa. Plumage is identical in males and females. Lovebirds are known for their sleep position in which they sit side-by-side and turn their faces in towards each other. 

A head shot of a striking Demoiselle Crane, a species which is usually found from the Black Sea to Mongolia and North Eastern China.

Another view from the back of this young Demoiselle crane.

A black crowned crane is only found wild in small populations in eastern Africa, centered in Senegal and Gambia. There is a large population throughout Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, with separate populations in Chad and Cameroon. I never tire of seeing the grey crowned cranes with its exquisite plumage and radiant golden crown, but the black crowned crane has an even more striking plumage.

We came across three secretary birds with the female on a nest
nursing a youngster while the male strode around the cage. It is wonderful to see these raptors in the wild in areas such as Mashatu , Serengeti and Masai Mara. They are highly effective predators eating anything from small birds to snakes and rodents.

An albino male peafowl giving a full display.

A head shot of the marabou stork. These are carrion eaters which hang around a kill to pick up scraps as they cannot tear flesh from a carcass. These storks are also effective fishermen when pools begin to dry up leaving catfish writhing in the mud. Fish eagles are also know to steal prey from marabous.

South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane also known as the Stanley crane and the Paradise crane. This crane stands a little over a metre high and is pale blue-gray in colour with a white crown, a pink bill, and long, dark gray wingtip feathers which trail to the ground. Of the 15 species of crane, the Blue Crane has the most restricted distribution and is only found in South Africa and Namibia.

A juvenile greater flamingo kneeling on the ground. I am not sure what it was doing as its eyes were open.

An adult greater flamingo is the largest of all the flamingo species.
In the wild most of the plumage is pinkish white, and the wing coverts are red and the primary and secondary flight feathers are black. The bill is pink with a restricted black tip, and the legs are entirely pink. The degree of pink in the adults depends on organisms in their feeding grounds.

‘If you truly love nature you will find beauty everywhere.”~ Vincent van Gogh

The black casqued hornbill is found in the forest of west Africa from Angola to the DRC and Liberia. The adult on the right and juvenile on the left with the ginger coloured crown. The juvenile’s casque has still to fully develop.

A silvery cheeked hornbill which lives in evergreen forest in most of Africa. These hornbills prefer the forest habitat because of the abundance of available fruit. The large casque on top of its upper bill acts a a echo chamber to amplify its call in the thick forest vegetation.

Red-billed toucan. There are about 40 different species of toucans. Toucans are found in South and Central America in the canopy layer of the rainforest. They vary in size from about 18 cm inches to a little over 60 cm. They are characterised by their short and thick necks and large, colourful, yet lightweight bills. They feed mainly on fruit and berries in the forest.

A pair of spotted dikkops or thickknee. They are predominantly crepuscular and nocturnal, hence the large eyes. The spotted species can be differentiated from the water thickknee because the latter has lighter colouring and dark horizontal stripes on its shoulder coverts and edges of its primary wing feathers.

Masked lapwing is native to Australia which, like most lapwings, prefer wet, open environments.

Black crowned night-heron, another crepuscular hunter which lives around the world except in cold climates and Australia. The long white plumes at the back of its head are used in courtship displays.

A gorgeous scarlet ibis is native to tropical south America and the Caribbean islands. Its taxonomy classifies it as a unique species but that is in dispute as some scientists want it reclassified as a sub species of the American white ibis.

The southern bald ibis is identified by its glossy black feathers which have a slight blue green sheen. Its head is bald with a red crown.The skin on the neck and head is wrinkled. The bill and legs are a pinkish red. This ibis is found throughout South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland but is uncommon.

Straw-necked ibis is native to Australia, New Guniea and parts of Indonesia. It gets its name from the straw-like feathers on its neck. This feature is not particularly evident in this image.Found around shallow freshwater wetlands and are highly nomadic.

“The cream of enjoyment in this life is always impromptu. The chance walk; the unexpected visit; the unpremeditated journey; the unsought conversation or acquaintance.”~ Fanny fern

The giant wood-rail is found in eastern Paraguay, Uruguay and south Brazil. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Giant Wood-rail lives along marshes and rivers, and can often be seen completely out in the open, walking slowly in the mud. This rail is classified as “least concern” in the IUCN listings.

The black oyster catcher is found along the coast of South Africa and Namibia. The adults have black plumage, red eyes surrounded by a orange-red eye-ring and their beaks vary in colour from orange to red. The female is usually bigger than the male. Their diet consists of mussels, worms and other small crustaceans

“Humans seem to have an innate drive to master other creatures.”~Peter Greenberg

The budgerigar is a long tailed seed eating parrot. All budgerigars originally came from Australia. All the different coloured budgerigars are from the same species. Wild budgerigars have a light green body colour, their mantles (back and wing coverts show a black mantle with yellow stripes

Distinguishing the age of a parakeet is determined by the lines on the forehead. Young parakeets have their foreheads covered with lines, while adults have them smooth. Young parakeets have a completely black eye, while older budgerigars have a white ring with a black dot. Contrary to what we saw in the cages, budgerigars are nomadic and move in flocks.

Golden breasted starling. I first saw this bird in Tsavo West in south Eastern Kenya. In the bush this bird stands out like a jewel.

This juvenile spotted eagle-owl distinctive because it is smaller than a Cape eagle-owl and its eyes are yellow whereas the Cape eagle-owl’s eyes are orange. It also has fine barring on its belly.

There were three juvenile spotted eagle-owls in this cage. All were wide awake in the middle of the day.

An adult African spotted eagle-owl asleep in the low light in its cage. There was a lot of noise from different bird calls so it was probably just resting.

Verreaux eagle has all black plumage with a distinctive white “V” on its back which can be seen easily when it flies. This eagle prefers hilly and mountainous regions where its favourite prey, the rock hyrax, is abundant.

Like all eagles the female is the larger of the pair. It is difficult to see this large magnificent raptor in a cage when its natural state is soaring along ridges catching the updraft along hills and mountains. These raptors usually land up in sanctuaries because they were injured and cannot return to the wild.

“Clearly animals know more than we think and think more than we know.”~Irene Pepperberg

The Cape Gannet breeds in large colonies on islands off the coast of Namibia and South Africa. This bird can be found long distances offshore as far as 160kms from the coast when foraging for food.

Mandarin ducks are native to China and Japan. These small ducks have extravagantly ornate plumage. Like Pygmy geese they frequently perch in trees, while the female invariably chooses a hole or cavity in a tree trunk in which to lay her eggs.

The next three images are of a Nicobar pigeon. There are around 300 species of pigeon and dove in the world. They are among the most colourful and beautiful of all birds.

The Nicobar pigeon ranges from India through Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Palau. The spectacular iridescent plumage, elongated gray neck feathers and pure white tail of the Nicobar pigeon are distinctive.

The Nicobar’s beauty has also become its threat, because this bird is a popular target for illegal poaching. It like so many avian species the Nicobar pigeon faces habitat destruction due to the expanding human population.

Some of the other spectacularly coloured and ornate pigeons are the Victoria crowned pigeon, the green pigeon and orange-breasted green pigeon, the Spinfex pigeon and the rose-crowned fruit dove. There are also the bleeding heart pigeons, the Luzon and Mindanaco to name just a few.

“No matter how few possessions you own or how little money you have, loving wildlife and nature will make you rich beyond measure.” ~ Paul Oxton

Our walk around the World of Birds was a vivid reminder of the diversity and breath-taking colours of the plumage of birds.

“I believe the world is incomprehensibly beautiful. An endless prospect of magic and wonder.”~Ansel Adams

My next post will show images of an interesting day spent in the Cape Point Nature Reserve.

“Through the naturalist’s eyes, a sparrow can be as interesting as a bird of paradise, the behaviour of a mouse as interesting as that of a tiger and a humble lizard as fascinating as a crocodile.”~ Gerald Durrell

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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