South Africa Travel Diary - p 4 Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters (89041 bytes)

29 August 2006
It's still winter in the Kalahari.  Most days warm up into the 70s F., but nights can dip down to just above freezing.  This morning we enjoyed watching a pair of charming Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, who perch on low limbs and fly out to nab insects in the air, flycatcher-style.  Bee-eaters are found throughout tropical Africa and Asia, and they don't seem to like cold weather.  With the temperature only about 40 F., these two fluffed out their feathers and then snuggled together to keep warm.









Meerkat (86609 bytes)We'd just about given up hope, but this afternoon finally came across a small group of about 10 meerkats in the Auob riverbed.  Oblivious to our parked car, they dug in the sand at a furious pace, looking for buried larvae or maybe a nice scorpion.   According to the TV show Meerkat Manor, this late dry season is a difficult time for meerkats, so they must work hard to find a meal.
    But then one of the scouts gave a warning whistle, and as one they all dashed back to the den, tails held erect.   After a while about 4 emerged and stood watching the source of their anxiety, a black-backed jackal that had come down the slope nearby.
    Charlotte absolutely loves these little critters, but for me there are two related species, yellow mongoose and slender mongoose, that are more colorful than the meerkat.  The latter two do not live in large social groups, and of course don't have their own TV show like the meerkats.







31 August 2006Flowery-hillside-2.jpg (116860 bytes)
We left Kgalagadi two days ago.  After another night in Upington, we drove south through Pufadder and to Springbok.  As we approached the latter city we began to see wildflowers, masses of them, along the roadside and in open areas.  We're now in the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of the great botanical wonders of the world.  The climate here is Mediterranean, with rainy winters, following which the flowers bloom in profusion before the hot dry summer.






Gazania-rigida (93000 bytes)Not surprisingly, composites such as the gorgeous Gazania rigida are everywhere.  But it is bulbous plants such as the irises (Iridaceae) that have run amok here and evolved into literally thousands of species.  And of course succulents, mostly in the family Aizoaceae, hardly known in temperate zones, are abundant as well.
    There was good rainfall this winter, and the locals say this is the best year in a decade for wildflowers.  The hotels and B&Bs are packed with people from all over the world who've come to see the wildflower show.  Their median age is about 70, give or take a few years.  Maybe more.





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