Friday, January 29, 2010

On A Summer's Breeze

Have you thought about kites lately; those joyous things that sail on the breeze on a warm summer’s day? We have, several times.

This week is a week of warm, strong breezes with clouds rushing by overhead. And at Blauberg Beach, the kite surfers are out in force. I counted 26 kites sailing on the breeze. It was an amazing sight, especially considering how frigid the Atlantic Ocean water is. The kites are attached to a harness which is attached to the surfer’s body. The surfing board is just that. The surfers use the wind to surf across the waves parallel to beach, then toward the beach and back out again, and amazingly rarely do they seem to fall off their boards.

On the beach, yellow and red flags flap in the breeze cautioning swimmers. Because the water is so cold, people wear wet suits to get in the water. People in wet suits look like seals, and the great white sharks have been sighted often lately. Several swimmer and boaters have died. But when there are strong winds, the board and kite surfers come out in full force, traveling the huge waves, throwing caution to the winds.

Blauberg Beach is across Table Bay from Cape Town, in the area of the Reitvlei wetlands and Milnerton Beach. When strong breezes blow and storm clouds roll, the freighters that anchor in Table Bay waiting to get into Cape Town’s port have to be careful. Even now there is a freighter stuck in the shallows on Blauberg Beach. It was grounded in a storm last August. It contains coal and the local gossip says that at some point all of the coal will be off-loaded and then the freighter will be taken apart by hand, or should I say torch, piece by piece. The work hasn’t started yet. You can see from the picture of the grounded freighter and rocks just how treacherous the area is, and yet the kite surfers dodge the rocks and each other’s lines with no problems.

The mountain in the background across Table Bay is Lion’s Head, a famous Cape Town landmark.

This week we also experienced a day of strong, steady breezes, the best kind of day for the huge kites that fly from the grassy areas along the Sea Point boardwalk in the area of Three Anchor Bay, which is on the Cape Town side of Table Bay. (Can you guess why the name?)

There is a red and white lighthouse there that mournfully sighs when the bay is foggy, warning ships coming into Table Bay of danger. There is also a kite vendor who advertises his wares by flying large kites in the air. He can get an amazing amount of kites on one string. He puts them up in the air, and then attaches the string to a weighted rock, and the kites stay up there. We have often wondered how he does it. What child, or grandparent, for that matter could resist trying even one when he can get so many in the air at one time?

And like children everywhere, this boy had to use his cell phone to take a picture of the biggest kite of all. Wonder what his picture looked like.

Do you think it looked like mine?

PS, we loved walking under the dragon. It was awesome!

And the face was especially amazing!!!!!…..

Love from Cape Town,
Betsy and Floyd

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Wetlands

Over the years we have sent you many pictures of the beach at Milnerton. It is my favorite because it is on the ocean across Table Bay and you get a great view of Cape Town and Table Mountain behind it from there. It is also my favorite because all the huge ocean liners park in the bay waiting to get into port to load or unload. They look huge when they are at eye level and I love sitting a Maestro’s restaurant counting and recounting them as they come and go.

Last week we were finishing lunch after a beach walk when Floyd asked, “What do you want to do now?” “I want to see if we can find the entrance to the huge wet lands that is just down the road.” And, off we went. It took us an hour but we finally found it.

The Rietvlei Wetland Reserve is a freshwater wetland located on the floodplain of the Diep River before it drains into Milnerton lagoon, and then into the ocean at Table Bay. It is sandwiched between the residential areas of Milnerton and Table View. The extensive 560 hector wetland area includes a wide diversity of habitats including a freshwater lake that provides a permanent fresh water source, reedbeds, and a tidal lagoon. This true riverine habitat is seasonally home to 102 species of waterbirds, 70 of which are regularly present.

Since this is a favorite place for bird watchers censuses are taken regularly. A recent official census recorded a total species count of 184. Birders also counted over 10,000 birds during the water bird census. Regular visitors include pelicans, flamingos, coots, ducks, herons, cormorants, darters, grebes and ibis. In the summer, huge flocks of migrant waders arrive including sandpipers, plovers, swallows and swifts.

We got out of the car to walk the long winding path into the wetlands – there are two hides far apart so we choose one of them, the one closest to a large flock of birds. I only had my small camera since we hadn’t expected to go looking for wildlife.

A pamphlet said that one could find small mammals such as Steenbok, the Cape Clawless Otter, Mongoose, mice and moles in the area. We didn’t see any on our hike. We did see waterbirds; great flocks of pelicans, flamingos, ibis and heron, only a few of which we could capture with my small camera.

I did particularly like watching the pelicans as they rode the currents overhead.

When leaving the area we spoke to Wally, the nature reserve ranger on duty at the gate. He said there was another spectacular wetland, tucked into the middle of Century City, an area of dense residential housing and the huge Canal Walk mall and casino complex. The developers had built this immense retail complex on top of a wetland, and an impact study was done forced them to rehabilitate part of the area as the original island was a nesting site. They call the wetland Intaka Island.

Intaka Island is a small, 16 hectare multipurpose nature area, home to 120 species of birds, many of them nesting there. It is surrounded by a canal that acts as a barrier between the residents and the wetlands and as a water transport canal for the local residents. It is also part of a water recycling system and treatment facility. That said, it is very well done.

There were several special areas. From atop “Bird Mountain” you could see cormorants drying in the sun. They are sitting on the log structure in the middle of the picture. One very large chick had its entire head in its mother’s mouth, trying to get her to regurgitate dinner.

Across the lake are two hides. From there you can watch the ibis and heron nesting.

The man-made heron nesting site has won numerous human awards since it was installed in 2007, and the birds like it too. Interestingly, the site is built on large, open drums sunk into the wetlands. These drums collect guano which is then pumped out and used for fertilizer.

The structure is filled with branches and sunk. Eventually all the leaves fall off and the result is a rookery.

It looks like this.

The heron and ibis love it!

From a hide somewhere in the Cape Town wetlands,

Love to all,

Betsy and Floyd

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cricket - a newbie's view

What is cricket? In the US, as children we learn that “crickets” are insects that walk on the ground and hop when you try to catch them. In other parts of the world if you ask, “What is cricket”, cricket is a team sport, a bat and ball game. It is a game in which the batter protects the wicket. It is also the national sport of England.

In an effort to expand our horizons, Floyd and I attended our first cricket match yesterday in Cape Town’s Newlands Stadium and we were privileged to see one of those special sporting events, almost as special as Mickey Mantle hitting his 300th home run, or a horse winning the Kentucky Derby.

It was a scorching day in Newlands Stadium, the 3rd day of the match-up between England and South Africa (the Protea). At game time the temperature was already in the mid-80’s as we and our much more-knowledgeable South African friends took our seats. They had prepared us ahead of time by explaining terms.

Some important ones are “wicket” (three sticks sticking up out of the ground in a row with another stick balanced on top, or an out), “overs” (the bowler (pitcher) changes and the offensive player standing in front of the opposite wicket becomes the active batsman – this happens every 6 balls), “bowler” (a person who on a bounce tries to hit the wicket behind the batter and make the batter out) and “batsman” (the person at bat who tries to hit the ball before it hits the wicket). Points are scored (from 1 to 6) based on where the ball is hit or how many “runs” a batter makes.

There are 9 ways to wicket, i.e., get a batter out. The most common ones are catching a hit ball on the fly, having the ball bounce into the wicket, or LBW, “leg before wicket”, which means the ball bounced by the bowler hits the player’s leg and would have hit the wicket – kind of an interference thing. The bowler usually bounces the ball at the player’s legs.

On this particular day the last three players on England’s team had to take their turn at bat, based on the results at the end of the previous day. England’s opening score was 241-7, 241 points with 7 men out of 10 wicketing (being out). The bowling team needs to get 10 out of the 11 players on a team to wicket to change sides or, after two innings (rounds), to finish a game.

South Africa had previously bowled and their team score was 291. By the time they were done, England had scored a total of 273-10, 18 less points than the South Africa team who had previously bowled, so SA was in the lead and about to extend it. The sides changed.

After scoring, the first South African player Ashwell Prince was out on a LBW (see, we learned a little something.) Prince’s partner for the stand, Hashim Alma, continued to play. The SA team captain, Graeme Smith, joined him. Records were broken. Together the partnership of Alma and Smith broke by 58 runs the record of 172 runs in a stand (one at bat) set in 1972 by Eddie Barlow and Tony Pithey. Alma and Smiths’ new total was 230. Or as the online press at puts it, “Smith and Amla (95 off 165 balls, 14 fours) raked in the runs in 54 overs together, a rollicking run-rate of more than four to the over as they tormented a tiring England attack.” By himself, Alma got 95 runs before being forced out.

Graeme Smith continued to score with a new partner. At the end of the day he had scored over 150 runs, and will continue to bat tomorrow when the test enters the fourth day. At the end of the day, says IOL online, “Smith advanced his score by 97 runs from 65 to 162 in the 34-over final session yesterday - scoring at a shade under three to the over on his own!” In more than 19 tests where Smith has gotten over 100 runs, SA has won.

Will Graeme Smith add to his run streak in the 4th test since he is still the batsman? Will the SA Protea continue to score runs at a run rate of four plus to an over? Will they be able to get 400 runs quickly before 10 players “wicket”? Will SA then be able to get all the men on England’s side to “wicket” before they score and beat them? If they don’t get all ten batters to “wicket”, the match ends in a draw, even if one team is leading. These are the issues SA cricket fans will be wrestling with during the 4th day.

Multiple times Floyd and I have watched cricket on television and found it hard to understand. I never understood that it was a game in which the batter defended the wicket. It was much more interesting in person. How else would you know that the teams take a lunch break for 45 minutes at 12:30 pm, the stands empty and the spectators come down onto the field and examine the wickets and the playing field? How else would you know that a break is taken for 20 minutes at tea time? And too, how else would you understand that it is the interaction between the batter, the bowler and ball, and the ever moving fielders that make this game interesting.

We will go again.

Love from us and our friends watching the test - Alan with flag, Floyd, Rae, Roy, Lionel and Vincent.