Our front garden
water lily in the pond
whale watching from home
lockdown impressions
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Lockdown Lonesome Blues and other picture stories. April 2020

We find ourselves coming to the end of a 5 week period of lockdown, we hope! but this time of isolation is for a good cause and it hasn’t been at all bad in many senses.

We have been restricted to our homes, allowed to go out and buy essential food stuffs while with some prior warning of the impending ban on alcohol sales we were able to stock up the drinks cabinet with enough for the initial three week period and a bit more just in case which was indeed the case when the three weeks was extended for another two to five weeks.

Port Elizabeth, Seaview

The stocks are getting low now but not critically so. Right at the very back of the cabinet, Ok it’s only a kitchen cupboard and appropriately right on the ground floor so when you want to get something out you are literally forced to get down on your hands and knees. I wouldn’t say begging for that bottle, but the analogy is as surely there, as is the bottle you spied a little while back, when getting another carton of fruit juice. Only now the fruit juice is gone and that bottle at the back is getting emptier with each passing day.

It’s all good though, we still have a glass of wine each evening, the beers are on their last legs, two left until the scheduled opening of the bottle store on the 1st of May. Ok well it’s supposed to be the 1st of May, but we’ll see how things go.

Right, so a quick update here because the bottle stores are not scheduled to open on the 1st of May. Beginning to psych myself up into sipping a cup of tea or coffee at sunset. I guess life could throw worse choices your way.

The wonderful thing about the timing of this corona induced lockdown is the time of year. This in my mind is simply the best time of the year weather wise, not to hot and not too cold. Neither are the days too short nor too long, just right.

I say this because in the safari business we get up early, 5.15 am is the clarion call before going to bed, the time we set our alarm clocks on the mobile phones. Well, this is a long distant memory at the moment. 

We wake up leisurely as we would say in an itinerary to indicate a lazy day on the road. And leisurely it is too. The only alarm we hear is Boellie our huge (80kg) Boerboel who is just one big Jelly baby, really. But he insists that we wake up at 7 am sharp.

He gets out of bed at the front of the house where he, Jessie the pavements special from the Township, a low slung model who sleeps in her fully furnished condo, on her own, on one side of the front door and Boellie with the new kid on the block Tykie, (Real name Tyke) sleep in the double room on the other side of the door. 

So, around to our bedroom sliding door comes Boellie with his entourage in tow, walks past our sliding door just to make sure we’re still there, makes a few whining sounds to see if he can attract our attention before taking up his position at the double sliding doors on the sea facing side of the house and starts to bark. At 80 kgs that bark comes from deep down inside that huge chest. Two, three quick successive barks that shatter the silence to the extent that you can imagine the mullet being shaken from their torpid state in their rock pools below the house. 

Then silence for a few seconds, then the next staccato like burst and the next until out of sheer embarrassment of waking the neighborhood, I get out of bed to let them in.

That is when the fun really begins. Boellie just has to grab something in his mouth, anything just as long as he has something to fill his face with This is really designed to impress you. It could be a towel or my slip slops, a carpet anything and it is hysterical, crazy until he gets something in his mouth. To alleviate this panic, we put something innocuous in line of sight of the open door in the hope that this will be the first thing that he sees when bounding through the door. But in his panic to fill that maw he often overlooks the obvious.

Then when satisfied with something to show us, he comes gamboling in his whole body wagging. He doesn’t have much of a tail so HE wags, carpets scatter hither and thither, sliding up against the glass doors as he bounds into the bedroom to rouse Angelika who is still trying to hold on to the last semblances of sleep determined to shut out reality for a few more precious seconds as she curls up in bed trying desperately to shut out the calamity surrounding her as the bed is jostled by Boellie like a Ckokka boat on a rough sea. All this time Jessie is barking maniacally at Tykie who is up on his back legs, furry face stretching across the bed, scratching Angelika’s arm trying to coerce her to pick him up and onto the bed. Chaos! But a belated chaos because it isn’t any different at 5.15 in the morning except that at that hour it is still dark.

This is all part of the joy of being on lockdown, there is nowhere to go. No guests to pick up at 7.30 am, no hot water to boil for the coffee, No coffee bag to prepare, no rush to the bathroom and the shower to get ready and no Traffic to get stuck in with the clock winding down as ground zero hour approaches, all part of another day on the road. It is a lovely harmonious awakening bar a few hysterical dogs that I must say calm down once they reconnect with the pack on the inside of their den.

We make a delicious cup of coffee, there I go again with the itinerary talk, we settle down on the front porch. Birds happy with their breakfast of seed and crushed mielies, as we sit in the warming sun as it filters through the Coral tree with the incredible birdlife all around us. Gorgeous sunbirds feast on the brilliant display of Wild dagga and Aloe flowers that are in full bloom at this time of the year.

It is wonderful to be able to sit down and just breath in the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood under lockdown. 

Where we live is not exactly a thriving metropolis but during morning traffic for example there is a steady stream of cars toing and froing on the road below the house, you get sort of used to it. Now there is, maybe, a car in five minutes and you hear it passing.

The quiet is palpable you can feel it and so do does the wildlife of the area.

From our sea facing deck or porch or stoep in South African, a big expanse of wooden decking, we have an incredible view of the ocean and the rocky shoreline, and there is never a dull moment. 

There is always something happening, every day. 

One just has to take the time to sit and observe and this just so happens to be what a lockdown is so perfectly designed to do.

 

Some days are designated Shark days or Dolphin days or Bird days or Baitball days, whale days. You get a sense of what is going to happen. Today sitting on the first big step we saw a shark breaching clear of the water. 

It is not unusual. We see them often and it is always such an exciting thing to spot, THERE, THERE it is just next to the smooth blue line where it meets the rough edge of the water. There it is again, did you see it? Ja, just there hey!! There’s another one just to the left of the last. That’s the conversation on a good day and today was a good day for sharks. There must have been 10 or more breaching clean out of the water. 

Andrew our head guide and guide extraordinaire was out on a Big 7 safari with a group from India the other day and just at the end of the morning, heading back to the harbour, they noticed the water boiling in front of the boat and a shoal of large fish, possibly Kabeljou, were forced to the surface as a Great White shark blasted through the fish breaching right there in front of the boat, eyeball to eyeball. Exhilaration! I imagine this is exactly what is happening out there daily.

So, as I say today was allocated a shark day but that didn’t stop us for having a school of about 100 Bottlenose Dolphins cruise past in the breakers behind the rocks or watch a huge bull Cape Fur seal thrashing a large fish it had caught across the surface of the water. Then as watching the Seal and the accumulating gulls all eager for some fish scraps Angelika points out on the far horizon a massive pod of Common Dolphins spread out across the bay charging down some unknow prey with their own entourage of Cape Gannets hoping to make good on a few fish from the air.

Out at sea we regularly find Dolphins of which there are three main species the most common in the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin, these graceful creatures form great pods and move up and down the inshore coastline living and feeding in the breaker zone and beyond. Then we get to see some of the rare Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins in smaller pods of a few individuals, seemingly shy and loath to show themselves for long on the surface of the water. They are identified by the distinctive hump on the backs upon which the dorsal fin extends. I believe they are a lot more common than we think due, perhaps, to the shy and retiring habits.

Then during mostly, the warmer summer months and in the build up to the Sardine run in April, we get massive pods of the Common Dolphin which are actually not all that common at least from where we are on this coastline. We occasional see these great pods speeding across the bay. They move in tight formation, so much so that they seem to create a bow wave which can, on a calm day be seen at quite a distance out to sea, like it was today. They swim along close to the surface of the water as they herd small fish up against the ocean’s surface where they are able to feed on their collective catch while at the same time making the resource available to the many sea birds including the graceful Cape Gannets.

The Gannets are powerful birds and efficient predators that can dive from great heights to plunge, arrow like into the water. 

At times they will submerge themselves up to depths of 20 meters to seize their fish prey. 

They are quite specialized to be able to do this and have air pockets in the neck area to cushion the impact of their collision with the water as well as having done away with nostrils to breath rather taking in air through their bills as nostrils would allow water under great pressure to enter the lungs, diving into the water at over 100 km’s an hour.

Although it is not quite the right time of the year for the migrating Great whales to be here. We are spoilt during the winter months with the often playful Humpback whales travelling passed this coastline on their migration route to Mozambique and at times further still to Kenya in East Africa after which they return spending far more leisure time with us. There are also the Southern Right whales that sometimes linger along our section of shoreline but from our coastal lookout they are far more reticent and relaxed than the energetic Humpback whales.

Whale watching port elizabeth with alan tours

As I was glassing for bait balls this morning, I had full frame in the middle of the glasses a large whale which surfaced, exhaled and obviously took a huge breath of air which of course we can’t see, and slid back down once again below the waves. I only saw it once, but we could track its progress across the bay by a series of blows indicating that it was really travelling powerfully and fast from the west to the east.

From what I saw I don’t believe that it was a Humpback whale or a Bryde’s but more along the lines of a Sei whale, or may I mention the name down here a Blue whale, it appeared to be huge and travelling fast and didn’t have the distinctive dorsal fin of a Humpback, a feature that give the Humpback its name or the sharper outline of the Bryde’s whale’s fin, a somewhat smaller species and I guess we’ll never know what it was but it was travelling with a mission in mind.

So while all of the above is very relevant to where we are and the great joy of living in lockdown on this amazing coastline, I would like ultimately to convey to those who enjoy reading this prattle, what it has been like living here during the Corona virus induced lockdown.

Stuck at home doesn’t have to be a bad thing in fact it is far from that and it has given us a lot of time to catch up with so many aspects of the business that we’ve been allowing to fall behind. Angelika has been pounding the keyboard non-stop it would seem, upgrading the website and keeping contact with guests and other folks. It has also been an incredibly fine time to get the cameras out and to try and document some of the wildlife that lives here with us on a daily basis, a lot of it that we don’t even have the time nor inclination to find and observe never mind capture their limitless form and colour.

It is also a time to observe their wonderfully bright and beautiful way of life.

We often allow the butterflies to sail passed us, noting that there are butterflies around much as if to recognize that they are there but how often do we have the opportunity to capture one of these jewels in a photograph and inspect the designs that they have evolved into over millions of years doing the same thing year in and year out.

 They are so incredibly beautiful but to see this we have to stop them in their flight path and see, look at them properly. The birds are always around and make no mistake we encourage them to come over and stay for as long as they want to.

Every morning I take out a measure, an old plastic water bottle and distribute the mixture of seed around the garden. Not in some plastic feeder where all they have to do is reach down and pick their seed but we make them work a little harder for it by spreading it around the garden in a fairly orderly way, so there is a routine. A little here, a little more behind this bush and a little more there. They still have to find the seed in amongst the grass and shrubs and they love it and we have quite a list to prove it.

We jam old logs into the branches of trees and shrubs to provide insects and carpenter bees with homes. Insects lay their eggs in the dry wood; these hatch out to form fat grubs that the Barbets and Woodpeckers are so fond of. The logs slowly rot and breakdown, providing nutrients that are absorbed back into the soil for the shrubs and trees that have supported them. We provide bat houses and insect hotels

We have also gone to great care to garden not only with birds in mind but also with the other creatures. We’ve built a frog pond and stocked it with a few indigenous species of freshwater fish, and still hoping to permanently attract the frogs but I think the fish have sorted that concept out, at least for the time being.

There is a family of Vlei rats that have dug themselves into the garden on the embankment above the pond. To call them rats might be correct nomenclature, but it is unfair as they are the cutest little bundles of fur. Slowly but surely, they take you into their confidence and together with the prolific birds we have in the mornings out they come their busy little noses checking out to see if the coast is clear before tucking in to breakfast. The dogs as with the birds accept them, even Tyke a breed that is an avid hunter just watches them with mild curiosity.

There are the mongoose (plural) that visit us regularly. The small grey mongoose really makes itself at home and lazes out on the deck railing, full stretch sunning themselves, sometimes up to four of them can be seen. Clambering over the tables and chairs, drinking from the bird bath or checking out what is on the compost heap in the bottom corner of the garden next to the vegetable patch.

Then there is the nocturnal vagabond, the Water Mongoose, we know they are there because of the tracks left in the freshly turned soil of the veggie patch but they are nocturnal, and we haven’t seen one yet, but they too visits us

Colourful Dragonflies, whizz around the pond and the garden catching prey on the wing and settling on the sticks and reeds around the pond, occasionally getting caught inside, at the glass doors providing Tykie with some amusement.

The fresh water has also been an attraction for some fresh water crabs that live down in the coastal freshwater pools below us, we see them in the pond calmly eating away at the vegetation and at other times we’ve witnessed them digging themselves into burrows in the soil embankment. 

We see them go into the embankment but never have we seen them come out. Mystery! 

The frogs especially the Toads have come and gone, and we have at least one mother of a toad living permanently in the Garden so big and full of herself is she that even Boellie gives her a wide berth.

So, let’s see what the young whipper snapper of a Wire-haired Terrier, Tyke will do when he first sees her in the spring.

And so slowly but surely D-day approaches. The time we move into level 4 lockdown which brings us a step closer to normality or what was normality. I am not sure if the old will be the new normality but a measure of freedom to travel will return and with it the ability to top up at the local Tops.

Take it easy!!

Words by Alan, images by Alan & Angelika