Friday/ sunbirds and sugarbirds

I caught several beautiful birds on camera while roaming the gardens during my visit at Kirstenbosch.
The most striking ones were sunbirds and sugarbirds.
Sunbirds (family Nectariniidae) are not hummingbirds ⁠(family Trochilidae) — even though both have sharp, curved bills and iridescent feathers.
Hummingbirds are native to the Americas and are related to swifts.
Sunbirds are native to Africa, Asia and Australia and are related to swallows.

An orange-breasted sunbird (Anthobaphes violacea) on a pin-cushion protea. These birds are found only in fynbos. They love flowers such as tube-shaped heaths, pin cushion proteas, pagodas and cape honeysuckle.
The male southern double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) has a brilliant red band across its chest, and a narrower metallic blue band below its green neck and head.
This is a female Cape sugarbird (Promerops cafer). Males have really long tail feathers. Their diet consists mainly of nectar, but also of small insects.
A male Cape batis (Batis capensis) with its striking eye-mask, white throat and black chest pattern, taking a bath at a water fountain. These are small but stout insect-eating birds.
A Cape white-eye (Zosterops virens) in the cycad garden in Kirstenbosch. They eat insects, soft fleshy flowers, nectar, fruit and small grains.
A Cape bulbul (Pycnonotus capensis, Afr. ‘Kaapse tiptol’). They are active and noisy, and tend to perch at the top of a bush.

Thursday/ koeksister

A koeksister is a traditional Cape Malay confectionery made of fried dough infused in syrup or honey.

I no longer put sugar in my coffee .. but hey, nothing wrong to have a sweet koeksister with it when in South Africa. Koeksisters have a golden crunchy crust and liquid syrup centre, are very sticky and sweet, and taste like honey.

Wednesday/ here’s Kirstenbosch

It is spring in South Africa, and I just had to stop by Kirstenbosch: one of the world’s finest botanical gardens.

All kinds of Namaqualand daisies are in bloom in September and October in Kirstenbosch, on the southeastern slopes of Table Mountain.
These are Livingstone daisies (Cleretum bellidiforme), also called Bokbaaivygie (Afr.), a flowering plant in the family Aizoaceae, native to the Cape Peninsula in South Africa.
I love the soft pinks, whites and yellows of the tassel heath (Erica coccinea). It’s a type of fynbos native to Potberg north of Cape Town.
The bees and the birds do it .. and so do long-horned beetles!
Pincushion protea (genus: Leucospermum), one of some 48 such species with the flowers in variations of oranges, reds and yellows. The plants are evergreen upright or creeping shrubs.
Here’s a red-eyed fly on a common pagoda (Mimetes cucullatus). This is a type of fynbos found on the Cape Peninsula.
The king of all the proteas, the iconic and beautiful King Protea (Protea cynaroides). It has the largest flower head of all the proteas.
This could be a scene from 200 million years ago on the slopes of Table Mountain. Most of these plants are Eastern Cape Giant Cycads (Encephalartos altensteinii). The dinosaur is a model of Aardonyx celestae ‘Earth Claw’, fossils of which were discovered in 2005 in rock in South Africa. Aardonyx was 7 m (21 ft) long and 1.5 m (5 ft) tall at the hips.
Here is the Tree Canopy Walkway, new-ish addition to Kirstenbosch (May 2014) of a curved steel and timber bridge that winds and dips its way through and over the trees of the Arboretum.
Here is the Conservatory by the main entrance to the gardens, with Africa’s southern-most boabab tree specimen.
The Conservatory houses a large collection of Namibian desert plants. This one is a Kobas (Cyphostemma currorii).
The curators have also gone to great lengths to cultivate a number of the weird and wonderful Welwitschia mirabilis desert plant. The enclosures are heated, as is the soil, so as to mimic desert conditions. Some specimens in the Namib desert are estimated to be 1,000 to 1,500 years old.
Heath (genus Erica) type fynbos vegetation. Fynbos (‘fine bush’) is a small belt of natural shrubland or heathland vegetation located in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

Tuesday/ more feathered friends

Here are some more feathered friends, spotted from my apartment’s balcony in the trees nearby.

The rosy-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis), is a species of lovebird native to arid regions in southwestern Africa such as the Namib Desert. They are very social and constant chirpers, and like to congregate in small groups in the wild. The coloration can vary widely among populations, but plumage is identical in males and females.
A little lovebird kerfuffle on the tree branch? ‘Hey! Watch it!’ the middle one seems to say, while the one on the right is looking on.
Here’s the Cape weaver (Ploceus capensis) working on its nest. The nest makes it hard for predators (especially snakes) to get to the eggs or the chicks. Their diet consists mostly of flowers, small fruits and seeds.
The ring-necked dove (Streptopelia capicola) is also known as the Cape turtle dove or half-collared dove. Here’s one with its feather coat all fluffed up to ward off the chilly morning air.
And it seems a little later, that it felt it was OK to go back to ‘ops normal’ with its feather coat.

Monday/ the National Library of South Africa

I spent a little time in the Cape Town branch of the National Library of South Africa today.
I was hunting down some of my favorite childhood books and magazines copies, but it turned out to be harder than I thought it would be.
I had all the information handy, gleaned from their online catalog. The public is not allowed in that section of the library, though – so the librarian had to retrieve the books for me.
Alas, the book I wanted most, could not be found immediately.  They will let me know if they have it.

The neoclassical main building of the National Library of South Africa in Cape Town on Government Ave. Its design by W.H. Kohler is based on the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge. As it happens, the building was opened on this day, Sept. 16, in 1860 .. 159 years ago to the day. [Picture: Wikipedia]
This is the hall inside the National Library’s main building on Government Ave.
Detail of a chandelier in one of the reading rooms, with a beautiful round skylight. (Just getting to the point where someone is going to have to replace those dead light bulbs, right?)
This is the Center for the Book Building at 62 Victoria Street. It was designed by British architects Hawke and McKinley in the Edwardian style, and completed in 1913.
Just around the corner is De Tuynhuys (Garden House), completed in 1790 in the Cape Dutch style. Tuynhuis the Cape Town office of the Presidency of the Republic of South Africa.

Sunday/ Stellenbosch

I was in Stellenbosch today and took a few pictures (of course).
Here is a little bit of the town’s Cape Dutch Period origins and history, from a 2015 post.

The bell was tolling at 5 o’clock while I was taking this picture of the Moederkerk building (‘Mother Church’), of the Dutch Reformed church. It has a Neo-Gothic Tower designed by Carl Otto Hager from Dresden in Germany. The building was completed in 1863.
This is 43 Victoria Street, housing the offices of Student Career Services, and an appropriate address for a Victorian-style building. I could not find the year in which it was built, though.
This building dates back to 1779 (inscribed below the triangular gable), when it was built by building contractor Philip Hartog as his own home. Currently it serves as the offices of the Mother Church nearby.
These steps are on JS Marais Square (Red Square’), leading down to the entrance to the subterranean library of the University of Stellenbosch.
The Old Main Building of the University of Stellenbosch was also designed by architect Carl Otto Hager. The building was completed in 1886.
The campus of the University of Stellenbosch has plenty of Strelitzia (‘Bird of Paradise’) flowers. These are native to South Africa.

Saturday night

We had a nice view of Table Mountain at sunset, from where we were sitting in a restaurant in Plattekloof.

The view at sunset tonight, looking southwest from the corner of Olienhout Ave and Plattekloof Rd. From left to right in the distance: Table Mountain (1 085 m/ 3,560 ft), Lion’s Head (669 m/ 2,150 ft) and Signal Hill (350 m/ 1,150 ft).

Friday/ look! a mousebird

Here is a mousebird that I spotted in a tree across from my  second-floor Airbnb apartment.

Per Wikipedia: Mousebirds are slender greyish or brown birds with soft, hairlike body feathers. They are arboreal (live in trees) and scurry through the leaves like rodents, in search of berries, fruit and buds. This habit, and their legs, gave rise to the group’s English name. They have strong claws and reversible outer toes (pamprodactyl feet). They also have crests and stubby bills.

The mousebirds are Coliiformes (their order). They could be considered ‘living fossils’, as the 6 species existing today are merely the survivors of a lineage that was massively more diverse in the early Paleogene period (up to 23 million yrs ago) and Miocene period (up to 5 million years ago).

The White-backed Mousebird (Colius colius). Check out its long tail-feathers. This species prefers scrubby dry habitats, such as thornveld, fynbos scrub and semi-desert.

Thursday/ here comes Rugby World Cup 2019

There Rugby World Cup 2019 starts in a week on Fri Sept. 20 in Japan. It starts out with four pools (A B C and D) with five teams in each. The top two teams in each will go through to the final rounds.

Ireland is at the top of the world rankings, South Africa is #4, and the United States (yes, there is a team, actually), is a definite underdog at #13.  South Africa will play New Zealand in its first match; the USA will play England.

Do I want some Rugby World Cup cards? asked the lady at the grocery store check-out today. Um -yes, sure, was my response. Confession: I barely know any of the South African rugby players .. looks like the guy in the middle here is Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira (36), though. Some years ago the Seattle Seahawks (American football) had a running back called Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch.

Friday/ Cape Town’s dams: doing fine

As the rainy season draws to a close in Cape Town, South Africa, the six dams in the greater area around it are doing much, much better than they did in 2017 and 2018.
A big rainstorm this July boosted the levels of several dams by more than 5%.

49, 418 megalitres of water is enough for about 430,000 large swimming pools. [Infographic by Climate System Analysis Group at University of Cape Town].
‘Theewaterskloof puffs out its chest’: The Theewaterskloof Dam is the largest of the six in the Cape Town region. It was at only 13% in January 2018. All the parched spots in the picture from that time, are now covered by at least 3 feet of water.  [Source: Die Burger newspaper].

Wednesday/ ‘Christmas roses’ in July

My hydrangea’s flowers are starting to appear. In South Africa we call them krismisrose (‘Christmas roses’) in Afrikaans.

Hydrangea is a genus of 70–75 species of flowering plants native to Asia and the Americas. Most hydrangeas thrive in rich, porous, somewhat moist soils.

Sunday/ Happy Father’s Day!

I am fondly remembering my dad today.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads!

This picture is a still frame from a film reel sequence, shot with an 8mm film camera, circa 1960.  The location is the beach flats at Hermanus in the Western Cape, in South Africa. The magnificent driving machine is a 1959 Ford Fairlane (V8 engine). My dad had just used it for doing several ‘doughnuts’ on the beach.  The ‘TV’ on the licence plate stands for Transvaal (province), Vereeniging (town).

Friday/ the vote count in South Africa

I’m watching the vote count in South Africa, here.

With some 95% of the votes counted, the African National Congress (ANC) of the incumbent President of South Africa, has 57.7% (so towards the high end of expectations, but the worst result for them since 1994), and the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, has 20.7%.  Hopefully this is good enough for President Cyril Ramaphosa to clean house in the ANC (corruption), and to get the economy going.

The DA has carried its stronghold, the Western Cape Province, with 55.5% of the vote (down 4% from 2014), but elsewhere in other provinces, the strident and far-left Economic Freedom Front (EFF) party has made substantial gains.

This results dashboard is at
Picture with no caption posted on the Facebook page of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). Let’s say the caption is ‘Pizza makes the world go round, and gets the results out!’.

Tuesday/ South Africa’s national elections

South Africa has a parliamentary system of government.
On Wednesday May 8, South Africans will elect a new National Assembly, and representatives for each of the 9 provincial legislatures.
The National Assembly consists of 400 members, elected by closed-list proportional representation.
Of these members, 200 are elected from national party lists.
The other 200 are elected from provincial party lists in each of the nine provinces.
The President of South Africa is elected by the National Assembly after the general election (held every 5 years).

What to watch for after Wednesday:
There is little doubt that the African National Congress will remain in power.
They got 62% of the vote in 2014, with their main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, a distant 22%.
For President Cyril Ramaphosa to continue his efforts to root out corruption in his own party, and get the South African economy going again, pundits say the ANC needs to get at least 55% of the vote, though (49% to 60% is projected).
The Democratic Alliance is hoping to hold on to its share of representatives (15% to 23% is projected), but that may be a challenge. They have the populist Freedom Front Plus party on their right that will draw away votes, and in the Western Cape province an ugly spat with the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, had her break away from the DA in 2018 to form her own party, the Good Party.

Cyril Ramaphosa has been President only since 18 December 2017 (his ANC party ousted the corrupt & incompetent Jacob Zuma). Mmusi Maimane has led the DA since 2015, and will almost certainly not win, but hopes to gain ground for the DA in the National Assembly. [Graphic: Bloomberg News]
The ANC has been the ruling party of post-apartheid South Africa since the election of Nelson Mandela in the 1994 election, and its logo boasts the classic African colors of black, green and gold. Have they fulfilled their potential to elevate the life and well-being of left-behind South Africans in these 25 years, though? Short answer: No, they really have NOT. The DA does not have the storied history of the ANC, being branded only in 2000 – but it has its roots in the anti-apartheid Progressive Party which was founded in 1959. In some ways, they face the same challenges as the Democratic Party in the United States. Citizens should unite and feel they belong to one country; it’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’ first. The outcome should be a better life for everyone, and not just for rich and privileged people at the expense of others.  [Graphic: Bloomberg News. Information about the DA from Wikipedia]
The campaign issues of the South African election 2019. For the incumbent party, the ANC, it’s not so much defections to other parties that will hurt them. Their voters will simply stay away and not go and vote. [Graphic: Bloomberg News]
The South African economy has come out of its recession, but that 1.4% growth is not nearly enough. It needs to be 5% or 6% to start to make a dent in the unemployment numbers. [Graphic: Bloomberg Terminal]
Here’s a run-down of what will happen on election day at election locations. 1. Identity document check for voter registration. 2. ID document scanned & paper slip given to voter. 3. Hand paper slip to election official. 4. Election official marks voter’s left thumb with indelible ink. 5. Voter receives a national ballot, and a provincial ballot. 6. Time to VOTE! Yay! Put an X against one of the whopping number of national parties (48!). I suspect the major ones are going to be listed at the top of the ballot. Also vote for a provincial representative on the other ballot. 7. Put your provincial ballot in the provincial box. 8. Put your national ballot in the national box. [Source: Die Burger]

Thursday/ Mandela banknotes

Here is my set of 2018 South African banknotes that I had assembled during my recent visit there. The notes are not new, but they are good enough for my international banknote album.

This is the 7th series of banknotes of the South African Rand, issued on July 18, 2018. They commemorate the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth. Nice African motifs are in the background. Also, by the holographic security strip, each note has small figures of one of South Africa’s big five animals: rhino, elephant, lion, Cape buffalo and leopard.
The back of the notes show a young ‘Madiba’ (his clan name) and key moments in his life: R10 Mandela and his birthplace of Mvezo | R20 Mandela and his home in Soweto | R50 Mandela and the site of his capture near Howick | R100 Mandela and his place of imprisonment at Robben Island | R200 Mandela and his statue at the Union Buildings


Monday/ at Cape Town airport

My stay in Cape Town has come to an end. I went to see my mom one last time, and cleared out of the nice AirBnB apartment that I had rented.

I am taking the red-eye flight up to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, and will go and stay in Rotterdam for a few days, before I fly home to Seattle out of Amsterdam.

Here’s the entrance to the check-in and departure lounges at Cape Town International Airport. The rental car drop-off is close enough so that one can walk to the departure lounge – very nice.
Children’s book with cute animal faces at the book store: ‘The Ugly Five’ (as opposed to the Big Five: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo). The ‘ugly ones’ on the book’s cover are the wildebeest, the hyena, the vulture, the Marabou stork, and the warthog.

Sunday/ Table Mountain, blue

We drove up along the Atlantic coastline to the suburb of Table View today.
Table View is short for ‘Table Mountain View’.
The beach called Bloubergstrand (‘Blue Mountain Beach’) is close by.

Table Mountain is blue (kind of) when viewed from Bloubergstrand. Today there was just a puff of cloud on the mountain. 

Saturday/ the noon gun on Signal Hill

Table Mountain is at the bottom of this map, with Lion’s Head at the left and Signal Hill (elevation 350 m/ 1,150 ft) towards its northwest.

My friend Marlien and I went to see the firing of the noon gun on Signal Hill today. There’s a single-lane strip of tarred road that winds up to the top of the hill.

Here’s the Lion Battery with the two noon guns at the top. A time signal at noon has been fired by one of these guns since 1806. (Two guns so that one can serve as a backup). The two guns used are the oldest guns in daily use in the world.
Protect your ears! We all wore ear plugs. The cannon blast at close range reaches a sound level of 170 dB, the loudest bang many people would experience, ever. The bang is produced by a 1.5 kg/ 3.3 lb bag of gun powder.
The fuse is triggered remotely these days. Most of the on-lookers stood at the back of the cannon a good 50 ft away. The gunner that oversees the firing of the canon, announces ‘One minute’, ‘Thirty seconds’ ’10-9-8 .. 3-2-1′ . A few milliseconds before noon, an electrical signal is sent from the Astronomical Observatory’s atomic clock. The burst of energy zips across a telephone line, and ignites the firing cap on the cannon. At 12 noon sharp the gunpowder explodes with a loud Ka-Boom!

Every day – except Sundays and national holidays – the gun on Signal Hill is fired exactly at noon.

Friday/ Stellenbosch buildings

Here are some of my favorite buildings in Stellenbosch, from my visit there yesterday.

These giant ficus trees are behind the main administration buildings of the University of Stellenbosch.
The Moederkerk (Mother Church) on Drostdy St has a neo-gothic tower designed by Carl Otto Hager from Dresden, Germany. The building was completed in 1863.
Erfurt House, named after the town Erfurt in Germany. Johan Marthinus (Jan) Beyers built the imposing double story residence in 1876 with a wood and cast iron balcony on all sides of the building.
The Old Main Building (‘Ou Hoofgebou’) of the University of Stellenbosch. This building was also designed by Carl Otto Hager. It was completed in 1883 for what was named Stellenbosch College at the time. The flag on the flagpole indicates that the University oF Stellenbosch celebrated its centenary in 2018.
The building for the Bloemhof Girls’ High School on Andringa Street now houses Stellenbosch University Museum. It was built in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style and completed in 1907.