The little escape

13 05 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve visited the Matopos hills south east of Bulawayo. 10 years to be precise. In 2007 the Zimbabwe dollar was in free fall but not yet terminally ill and my brother and his family took delight in parting with large bundles of nearly useless money. This time around we are using US dollars, cost of living is much higher and we now also have bond notes that are a sort of hybrid between the old Zim dollars and US dollars but are in short supply and useless outside the country. The absurdity continues but the countryside and the wildlife is still stunning.

We stayed in the Big Cave Camp on the edge of the Matopos National Park and thoroughly enjoyed the good company and atmosphere. The structures are wonderfully blended into the rocks and the view is great.

Hwange National Park some 4 hrs to the north-west was showing the results of a great rainy season – the bush was lush and all the animals were in great condition. We were exceptionally lucky and saw a lot of game, the highlight being a pack of painted dog (endangered) that had returned from a foraging expedition and must have found an old carcass and stank! One had been injured so we reported it to the research station on the way out and were pleased to note that it has already been treated (see the Painted Dog Conservation page on FB).

Lions had made a kill almost on a side road and stayed for some 36 hours allowing for fantastic viewing VERY close to the vehicle.

The Main Camp lodge we stayed in was clean and functional in true National Parks style. Roads were OK given the amount of rain that had fallen but there were few tourists around as could be seen by the nearly empty roads – this is not the Kruger National Park in South Africa which features bumper to bumper traffic.

The only sour note was the bully-boy behavior of the police at a road block on the way home. They fabricated problems with my old Land Cruiser, got stupidly creative with fines and then gave up after half an hour when they realised we were not going to be intimidated.





A tree of many uses

11 02 2016
new seed

Natal Mahogany – Trichilia emetica

Pleased to see you Mr Roberts he said. Of course he was pleased to see me; the car park only had one car in it and it was theirs. Yes, I was making an order for more advertising banners but it was only a small one but these days you cannot be fussy – it’s money or nothing!

More of interest to me was the tree I’d parked under – a Natal Mahogany or Trichilia emetica to use its botanical name. It was in full fruit and there were a myriad of old seeds on the tarmac, squashed mostly, the evidence of their high oil content smeared around. The oil is valuable and used in cosmetics and is also edible but the seeds are notoriously difficult to germinate, especially when not fresh, so here was a challenge the horticulturist in me could not refuse. They are beautiful indigenous tress of medium size with dark green evergreen foliage and I always know when the one next door is in fruit – there’s a constant stream of hornbills flapping in to feast on the fruit!

scale

Fruit to scale

The seeds really are this intense red as in the photos. I have no idea if the black mark serves a purpose – it is not visible in the seed shell. Despite the literature saying the seeds are edible I am not tempted; one of the myriad of uses in traditional medicine is to make an emetic (it induces vomiting) from the bark!

Looks like an alien?

Looks like an alien?





The bees are back

10 05 2015

Actually the bees have never left. They have been around almost continuously ever since my first post “Rats, bees & barn owls” some 9 years ago. We have pretty much tolerated each other since then but I had to do something when, a couple of months ago, they attacked the gardener and harassed the dogs and I one afternoon. Mike the bee man was called in and after two attempts the swarm in the chimney was killed. Alas it was not long before another swarm was scouting the chimney, attracted by the smell of the defunct hive. They took refuge in a nearby tree whilst making a decision. I called Mike again and he arrived with his bee handler.

The swarm -  medium sized

The swarm – medium sized

 

Swarming bees are not aggressive; they have nothing to protect and that’s important as stinging for them is fatal. The ultimate sacrifice. African bees have a fearsome reputation for defending their hives when they have brood or honey. In extreme cases the whole swarm will go into a stinging frenzy and can kill humans and livestock.

Preparing for action

Preparing for action

Somewhere I have a photo of my father as a young man holding a swarm of bees on a branch and not wearing any protective gear at all. Mike’s bee handler was not taking any chances though I noticed he was not as heavily kitted out as he would have been during the day when working with and established hive (I used to keep bees in a small way.

Smoking the bees to calm them

Smoking the bees to calm them

A few puffs of smoke and the bees were bumped into an open cardboard box and brought down to the ground. Mike and I (we were both unprotected) watched from a respectful distance. The bees buzzed a bit in the box and Mike said they would soon calm down when the queen released her pheromones. No point in wasting good workers! They soon did and the box was picked up and they were on their way.

In the box and ready to go

In the box and ready to go

The next day there was a small cluster of bees on the ground nearby so I collected a catchbox (a small hive prepared with attractive prop0lis) and they duly moved in. A few days later there were MORE bees around the chimney and as I was about to go on holiday thought it would be a good idea to get another two catch boxes to try and attract them away. They day before I left the swarm moved into one of the boxes.

For the moment all is peaceful on the bee front and Mike will come and take the swarms away and put them to work in his commercial bee keeping practice. The next swarming season is in August and I will have to be prepared again.





Orchids, orchids

16 04 2014

The Zimbabwe Orchid Society had their autumn show on the weekend. As usual it was a profusion of colour and fascinating flowers. I was told that a lot of what was on display was not of competition quality but was there for the show. Still, it was quite a show. This is quite a small selection of what was there.





The long view

2 10 2013
Burnt to the horizon and beyond

Burnt to the horizon and beyond

 

It is not often I get a view like this at the beginning of October. Just 2 days prior to this there was so much smoke in the atmosphere that the sun effectively set at 5 p.m. – a good hour before it would have dipped below the horizon if one was visible. The day before THAT the thermometer hit a record 35 degrees C – the hottest September day on record. By this morning it had plunged to 14 degrees, definitely cold for October. So yes, it is great to be cool and clear. But there is a catch.

As far as the eye can see (about 60km in this case) the bush has been burnt. It will continue to burn until the rains arrive, hopefully in mid-November. What this costs the country , and indeed the sub-continent, in lost soil fertility can only be guessed at. If the world has to increase its food production for a burgeoning population we could well do our bit by controlling the bush burning – after all, Africa will be where most of the population growth will occur.

And that black shape in the sky top right, that’s a bit of good news. It’s a bird. Take a photo in this part of the world of the sky and there is invariably a bird in it. But will this abundance always be there if the environmental degradation continues apace?





Grapes of wrath

5 09 2013

“2 million face hunger” the newspaper billboard blared.  It didn’t say where but I assumed it had to be in Zimbabwe. It was certainly nothing new and the newspaper headlines here are notorious for being misleading.

Topping up on supplies in the supermarket a bit further along the road I noticed some grapes. “Produce of Egypt” it said on the side of the box.

gyppo grapesWell things couldn’t be too bad if we can still import Egyptian grapes I thought. So I bought some. They tasted good for “grapes of wrath”. The skins were a bit tough but tasty, yes. I guess the producers were not concerned where their grapes went – just so long as they still have a market.

The hawk moth I found outside the bank. I had no interest in finding out how tasty it was but given the rather contrasting background I wouldn’t be surprised if a more natural predator had a go.

hawk moth





Bee season

13 08 2013

I got in late last night from a successful day’s flying in the Zambezi Valley. 7.5 hours driving 1h40 flying, 1100m height gains but no big distance. That is a successful day for a paraglider pilot, especially one who doesn’t get much opportunity to fly these days.

landed

It’s easy to be a celebrity in the Zambezi Valley (near Muzarabani)

day end

Day’s end – the crowd moves off one by one

 

Richard and Craig offloaded the wings, commented on the bees in the dining room and left. I didn’t bother investigating further; there are often bees swarming in my chimney, especially at this time of year and they get trapped inside the lounge. No big deal, I’d get the vacuum cleaner out in the morning and suck them up.

This morning I walked into the lounge and discovered a swarm of bees had moved in during the day. There’s not a lot I can do at this stage except leave the windows open and hope they move off to a better location. In the meantime I think I’ll go somewhere else while they make up their mind!

Not a pretty sight early in the morning!

Not a pretty sight early in the morning!