Posts Tagged With: Birds

XVII: Kruger National Park Part II & Sabie

Sabie, South Africa from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

Giraffe

Giraffe

Ground Squirrel

Ground Squirrel

Brown-Hooded Kingfisher

Brown-Hooded Kingfisher

June 27th 2012:

We got up at 5 a.m. less excited then the previous morning but still managed to get things together and make it to the gate as it opened at 6 a.m.  We seemed to be off to another flying start as we came upon a group of large male elephants having an early morning snack in the trees on the side of the road.  After the initial sighting things dried up as we had a couple hours of nothing but a few impala, and birds here and there.  Around 10 a.m. things finally picked up a little as we found a hippo and a small croc with their noses just above the water.  From there we headed back towards lunch/toilets, and when you have to go to the bathroom you seem to run into everything.  First a herd of elephants about 15-20 strong, with a slightly aggressive male who made us keep our distance, since there were a number of young ones weaving there way in and out between the adults legs.  As we continued back a strange sight we hadn’t encountered yet appeared.  An initial group of 15-20 vultures, and other birds of prey were perched in two trees side by side.  The longer we waited the more the group swelled.  Up until about 50-60 birds, with 3 different species of vultures, and a handful of other birds of prey in the trees and circling above. It was a sight to be seen that was difficult to capture in the car.

Marabou Stork

Marabou Stork

Tree of Vultures

Tree of Vultures

In Flight

In Flight

Landing

Landing

White-Backed Vulture

White-Backed Vulture

After lunch, full, and still a bit tired from the day before, and with no intentions of being even remotely close to being late we perched ourselves at a watering hole and waited for the show to come to us.  It came in the form of a hippo, an elephant, a fish eagle, wooly storks, and a giraffe, which had two tiny hooves of a baby giraffe poking out the back end of her.  We watched and waited intently hoping we would witness a giraffe giving birth.  She stuck around and we watched for about 2 hours of which no progress was made.  The giraffe a relatively young female, didn’t seem to be giving any heed to the body parts hanging out of her.  She kept on grazing and we eventually lost sight of her as she disappeared into the trees.

Pearl-Spotted Owlet

Pearl-Spotted Owlet

Personal Treehouse Hide

Personal Treehouse Hide

South Africa 2012

South Africa 2012

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XVI: Kruger National Park Part I

Kruger National Park, South Africa from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

Stripe-Bellied Sand Snake

Stripe-Bellied Sand Snake

Red-Billed Hornbill

Red-Billed Hornbill

Burchell's Zebra (Photo by Sarah)

Burchell’s Zebra (Photo by Sarah)

June 25th 2012
We headed out from Pigg’s Peak north, to the Jeppe’s Reef border crossingto get back into South Africa. I could not have had an easier border crossing, we simply pulled up, got our books stamped and drive through, no questions asked, no search of the vehicle, just a friendly “hello”, and “safe travels” to bid us farewell. We were finally on our way to Kruger National Park, a place I has stored away in my memory as a child as a seemingly endless Eden filled with every African animal one could imagine. We were unfortunately coinciding with the winter break holiday of South African schools and everything in the park was booked solid. I knew the park was popular, but with it being the size of the country of Wales I had figured there would’ve been at least a few options in one of the many camps scattered throughout the park. Sarah came to the rescue though. Her travel coordinator for her field camp, Nicole, was South African, and her mom had just purchased a place in Marloth Park just outside of Kruger to rent out as a bush lodge. Nicole’s mom gave us a more then generous discount, which we were extremely grateful for, and allowed us to be their very first guests. We got there and lifted our jaws back up into our mouths as we parked our car under the stilts that held up the huge house. Everything was brand new and immaculate, thatched roof, hardwood floors, and beds for atleast sleeping 10 people. To cap it off it was only a short drive to the Southern gates of Kruger. The deck stood out from the house to make a little stilted hide with a bed and a hammock that overlooked the private lion sanctuary of Marloth Park. The first night of our four-night stay we spent curled up in the bed outside listening to the roar of lions out in the distance somewhere in the dark.

Hyena in the Sunrise

Hyena in the Sunrise

Buffalo and Egret

Buffalo and Egret

Wildebeest

Wildebeest

June 26th 2012
We both hardly slept at least I know I hardly slept, with the anticipation of our first day at Kruger. We were up early around 5:30 a.m. and made some lunch for the day and got to the gate around 6:30 a.m., a half hour after it opened. We were off to a flying start, seeing a hyena not 10 minutes into the drive, followed by a herd of buffalo, three white rhinos; a small herd of elephants, and an all but too brief glimpse of a lion almost all within the first 2-3 hours. The bird life, and small mammals seemed to fill in the gaps; Eagle owls, Lilac Breasted Rollers, Magpies, Coucals, Kingfishers, Warthogs, Impala, Steenbok, Kudu, and much, much more. The mornings are by far the best times to see things. By the mid-afternoon heat your best bet is to find a watering hole and stake out and have some lunch. We ended at a nice spot, a little crowded with people on holiday setting up their afternoon braai areas, but it was a good view of hippos in the water, and waterbucks on the shore.

Lilac-Breasted Roller

Lilac-Breasted Roller

Glossy Starling

Glossy Starling

Steenbok

Steenbok

After lunch we continued along and found a group of about 8-10 giraffes that we kept company with for a while. We continued on, spurred on by another hot tip from a passing motorist about possible lions further up the road. Without hesitating we ventured further on eventually finding a young male lion. He almost perfectly blended in with the scenery with the exception of an ear poking up out of the grass to give him away. He was just lounging on the ground not more then 25 feet from us taking in the setting sun. It was quite surreal and we seemed to be lost in the moment as the lion would occasionally turn his head towards us and look with disinterest.
We had failed to notice the time of day and our distance to the gate. It was 4:50 p.m. and the gate closed at 5:30 p.m. and we were much more than 40 minutes away. The gate policy is quite strict since driving in the dark is quite the hazard for people and animals alike. There is also been an increase of Rhino poaching so unauthorized activity after the gates closed probably looks suspicious. We cruised a little bit over the suggested speed limit hoping there might be a grace period or a sympathetic ranger who would let us through since it was our first day at the park. As the light faded our drive seemed to take forever and we finally made it to the gate at 5:50 p.m. to locked gates and a ranger standing there with a flashlight. I am sure we hadn’t been the first late arrival they had had in their history. The ranger opened the gate for us and gave us the phone number of the head ranger, Neels, to whom I would have to call to explain why I was late and the consequences. After a bit of talking I managed to dissuade him from applying the 1500R fine, and instead getting a very very stern warning. They took our license plate number to be sure it didn’t happen again. I will have to apologize in advance to the next person who rents the car and takes it to Kruger. I used their one freebie. We made the drive back, exhausted; we ate, and passed out so we could be fresh for tomorrow.

Lion (Photo by Sarah)

Lion (Photo by Sarah)

Lion in the Sunset

Lion in the Sunset

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XV: Swaziland

Swaziland from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

June 22nd 2012

We were up early for one last foray down to the short boardwalk trail at sunrise to try and catch a glimpse of the hippos for one last time.  We were once again fortunate enough to find a group of about 10 in the water seemingly just waking as well.  We enjoyed not only their company but also the company of some Vervet Monkeys, and a whole gang or marauding Banded Mongoose.  We left after breakfast from St. Lucia and headed west to Mtubatuba to meet up with the N2 which we would take north to Piet Retief.  After Piet Retief our maps were a bit muddled when it came to the roads leading to Swaziland.  We had a rough direction in mind for getting to the crossing point we wanted, but little else.  Instead of finding the crossing we wanted, we ended up on a gravel road and finding our way to one of the much less frequented crossing point of Bothashoop/Gege.  It consisted of two small derelict buildings with a lady on a small seat manning the boom gates.  The three South African officials seemed surprised to see us, and proceeded to ask a lot of questions more out of boredom and curiosity then a purpose of national security.  We were the only people there and it didn’t seem like they were expecting more any time soon so things went pretty smoothly and quickly.

After the formalities at the South African post they lifted the boom and we drove a few hundred feet of no mans land to stop at the boom gate for the entrance to Swaziland.  The Swazi officials seemed equally befuddled by our presence, but were nice and eager to help us on our way across the border.  They even gave us directions, which as vague as they seemed when we listened to them they turned out to be very helpful.  He said “Go straight for about 5km and turn left at the big Gum Tree and then go straight again until it looks like you should turn right, and then stay on that road until you hit Mbabane.”  As I followed his directions it became pretty apparent as to just how difficult it is to get lost in a country the size of Swaziland.  If you drive 30 minutes to 1 hours in almost any direction your almost bound to come to a border crossing.  We continued on passing through the capital city Mbabane to Malolotja Nature Reserve about 35-40km northwest of Mbabane.  We camped in the park and fell asleep to the sounds of the prowling nocturnal animals.

Good Morning Swaziland

Good Morning Swaziland

Malolotja Nature Reserve

Malolotja Nature Reserve

June 23rd 2012

We were up early and prepared to hike.  The information I had about the park had been slightly misleading, its not that there weren’t over 200km of fantastic hiking trails, because there was, it was just the fact that only 2-3 trails were accessible in a 2 wheel drive vehicle.  It seems like this would have been an important piece of information.  It didn’t take away from the great landscape though as I am sure I could’ve spent a week backpacking through the park had I known what was in store.  We decided to cut our stay to only 1 full day in the park because of the lack of access and Sarah had been feeling well under the weather and wasn’t too keen on hiking all day.  She decided to tough it out and make the short few km hike to Malolotja Falls.  We drove there with the heat on and left with the A/C on.  The mornings were chilly, but once the clouds cleared the sun hit with full force.  It was quite brutal with the shady spots few and far between.  The trail did provide us with some great views of the mountains as well as a few Elands, Grey Rheboks, and a massive amount of Blesbok.  With one step in front of the other we trudged back to the car.

The two wheel drive roads they did have in the park could easily be classified as 4×4 roads anywhere else and I had to do a good bit of dodging and weaving to save the rental car.  On the drive back to our campsite we came across a bunch of soapstone.  Sarah was quick to spot it, which is one of the benefits of having a geologist with me.  Soapstone is easily carved and when wet it is like slicing butter, so we decided to try our hand at it, and make our own souvenirs.  For dinner we got a nice fire going and with some dried up shrubs and what little sticks we could find and roasted up some impromptu grilled cheese over the coals.

Malolotja Nature Reserve Boulders

Malolotja Nature Reserve Boulders

Young Blesbok

Young Blesbok

June 24th 2012

Sundays seem especially slow in Swaziland.  Most things are pretty deserted on Sundays in South Africa as the vast majorities are in church, but Swaziland seemed even emptier.  We made just a short drive, as you can only make a short drive if you want to remain in Swaziland, to Pigg’s Peak just north of Malolotja Nature Reserve.  We intended on going to Phophoyane falls and nature reserve just north of town but were greeted with an empty office and a locked gate.  The majority of the rest of the town was shut down, but we managed to find a nice guest house just out of town for a very reasonable price.  Malolotja was the last of our camping for the trip and the end of 8 days in a row in a tent.  The nice soft bed felt glorious and having a little yard allowed us the space we needed to air things out, clean them and re-pack for our remaining weeks in South Africa.  Upon further exploration around our little yard I found a couple avocado trees, and passion fruit vines, and with Sarah’s homemade avocado picker, consisting of two trekking poles, and some rope we were able to do some free grocery shopping.

Nonconformist Blesbok

Nonconformist Blesbok

Blesboks

Blesboks

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V: Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

Addo Elephant National Park from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

May 28th: Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

I could hardly sleep with the anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve.  I was up just past 6 a.m., had a quick breakfast and was off.  I ended up arriving at the gates about 10 minutes early as I watched the groggy employees start their Monday morning.  I am sure the last thing they wanted to deal with was a wide-eyed American guy raring to go at 7 a.m.  There were hardly any other cars, which gave me the opportunity to better dictate my pace.  There was a heavy fog that had settled in the low-lying areas, which kept my visibility to a minimum.  This added to the experience, keeping me on the edge of my seat as I took each bend in the road hoping to see something pop out of the bushes.  I was treated to the first sighting of the morning with a small group of Kudu grazing off in the shrubs, and I was hooked!  The Kudu is one impressive ungulate, standing probably 5-6 ft. tall to the shoulder with distinct white stripes.  The males are all the more impressive with their large twisted antlers adding another 2-3 ft. atop their head.  As the morning continued, so too did the animals: Caracal, Ostrich, Zebra, Duiker, Buffalo, Warthog, and more.  By about 10 a.m. I had covered only about a quarter of the small parks roads, and I needed a breather so I could take in all that I had seen already.  It had been quite the introduction.

I was far from done for the day though.  I still hadn’t seen any elephants, the namesake of the park.  Fortunately I did not have to wait long, about an hour later I came upon a watering hole where they all seemed to be at.  There were about 15-20 elephants all congregating around a small dirty pool of water.  It was very surreal at first approaching the elephants in my car.  They are so massive they often look out of place in the landscape; everything around them is dwarfed in comparison.  As I inched my way closer the secure feeling of being in a car disappeared as the adult elephants were easily twice the size of my vehicle.  The herd was made up of elephants of all sizes, with the smallest ones often getting lost in the tangle of legs they weaved through.  I sat parked for a while enjoying the chaotic watering hole scene.  Elephants jostled for position and warthogs with their little ones scurried around looking for any opening they could duck into before having to dodge a swinging trunk shooing them away.  After everyone had their fill the group split in two, with half heading south into the thicker vegetation, and the other half crossing the very path in front of me, feet from my car.  I at first sat clenching the steering wheel, foot on the clutch, ready to make a speedy exit lest one of the elephants decided my car would make a perfect toy.  A couple passed so close I would look out the front window and only see legs and a hanging belly.  I was soon at ease, as they seemed to fall into perfect formation. They proceeded in front of me, heading north, into a thicket for a feast of foliage.  I was left quite stunned, unsure of what I should do, wondering if perhaps the whole scene in front of me had really just occurred.  I double checked with my camera to verify, and then decided to plunge into new territory I had yet to explore.

The rest of the drive I passed more of the animals I had seen in the morning along with black-backed jackal, mongoose, red hartebeest, and a countless number of birds.  Each time I passed an animal I was captivated by their presence, and with some of the looks I got in return it is quite possible the feeling was mutual.  The ostrich is one animal that could make the hardest man smile.  Its presence and everything is does seems unnatural and awkward but it’s a joy to watch.  I spent 9 hours in the park and left satisfied, exhausted, and my battery drained on my camera.  I retired to my room for a shower, and a dinner of bread, cheese, green olives, apples, oranges, and granola while preparing for my journey north to Craddock, home of Mountain Zebra National Park.

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III: Lesotho: Part II

Hiking to Maletsunyane Falls in Semonkong, Lesotho from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

Early morning ice on the Maletsunyane River

Early morning ice on the Maletsunyane River

Maletsunyane River

Maletsunyane River

May 20th:  Semonkong, Lesotho

The day began with an absolute chill; I awoke from my first night camping before sunrise because it was too cold to sleep.  My 15°F sleeping was doing its job, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I stayed warm.  I lay there for a couple hours waiting for the sun to show its face as I contemplated my day ahead of me.  Frost and ice covered everything when I did manage to drag myself out of my tent.  I had a quick breakfast of a frozen banana, some frozen cheese, and a tall bottle of ice water, compliments of the previous nights weather.  I was set on seeing Maletsunyane Falls that day, which was my main reason for coming to Semonkong.  Hiking would warm my bones, so I set out early on the slightly longer, more scenic route.  The owners simply told me all I had to do was follow the river I was camped along, until I couldn’t follow anymore.  I left on the northwesterly bank of the river so I could bask in the morning sun, and I quickly warmed up.  The winter is the dry season in southern Africa, which made following the river easier because more of the bank was exposed so I could stay near the river instead of traversing cliff bands.  The downside of the dry season also meant the waterfall on its way to its low point for the year.  The views were exceptional and got better with every bend of the river, with ibises, ducks, rock pigeons, and a mélange of other birds always one step ahead of me.  It is one of the few places I have seen “wild” pigeons.  It seemed a bit odd at first seeing groups of them perched on rocks jetting out from the cliffs with bullet speed, instead of seeing them adorning statues and waddling around in the city parks.   The rivers also boast some top-notch fly-fishing with the clean clear waters.  I also suspect it is home to some nice swimming holes in the summer as well.

No sooner had I been lamenting the fact it wasn’t 90°F out and that I was missing out on some good river swimming when I found myself in the water anyway.  I was not just dipping my toes in either.  I was from head to toes soaking wet in the frozen river.  I was climbing up a small cliff band when the camera took a slight knock, which so happened to be on the button that locks the lens cap.  I could only stand and watch the lens cap tumble down the rocks into the river.  The only upside was that it happened where the current was slow so the lens cap was not swept away, and I could see it laying there on the bottom.  The only reason the water wasn’t flowing was because of its depth.  The lens cap was at least two to three feet under the water, which meant I was going to get wet if I wanted it back.  I made up my mind and quickly stripped down to my skivvies and long sleeve base layer figuring it would be about thigh deep, waist deep at the most.  I left my skivvies on since they could use the wash, so a little dip in the cold water would do them well.  I carefully made my way down to the water and felt the familiar chill of the morning air still in the icy water.  I inched my way along until I had two to three more steps before I was in reaching distance of the lens cap.  I knew the next step was the most important because I would be stepping down onto the slick rock on the bed of the river.  Little did I know just how slippery it was.  It was as if it was coated in oil, and my footing gave way instantly.  Knee deep went to thigh deep and thigh deep simultaneously became chest deep.  The whole sweeping movement that put me in the water also swept up the lens cap and conveniently placed it in the deep water I was now standing in.  The good news being I was now in the deepest part of the pool, so things couldn’t get any worse.  I tried, but with no success, to pick it up with my toes, a skill I can usually pride myself on.  It was too cold and I couldn’t feel my toes gripping anything.  It was too late to turn back now as I was already wet, and I decided my best bet was to dive under.  I took a deep breath and plunged down into the freezing water.  My downward force lifted the cap off the river bottom and I felt it knock against my hand as I went down.  I blindly flailed around, grasping at bits of empty water hoping to feel the cap again.  To my surprise and good fortune by my second or third swat I held the cap in my hand, and quickly surfaced.  I was glad I got it on my first try and eagerly got out of the water to dry off.  After wringing out my clothes and taking a break to warm myself in the sun I was back off.

Interesting pinecones

Interesting pinecones

Basotho Sheep

Basotho Sheep

Basotho house in Semonkong

Basotho house in Semonkong

I reached the top on Maletsunyane Falls, a huge single drop waterfall plunging 192m (630ft) into one of the most impressive gorges I have ever seen.  This was the perfect backdrop for my well-deserved lunch after my 2-hour excursion through the morning.  After lunch I began my next portion of the hike.  I headed to the point opposite the falls so I could see the full drop.  This hike took me through many herds of sheep, goats, donkeys, and horses.  Apart from the main road coming into Semonkong, there are very few other roads.  The main mode of transport is the horse, or your own two feet.  It was a quick hike, about 30 mins, past the sheep-shearing shed, and onto the cliffs that overlooked the falls.  There I met Moeretsi Nyareli from Teyateyaneng and his co-workers who worked for the Lesotho government.  They were going to be in Semonkong for the next month working on adding to the sewage system there, installing toilets, pipes, etc. and they were taking in the sights as I was.  I sat and absorbed the scenery as long as I could before making my way back via the trail that passed over the mountain.  It was about an hour walk along the main road, which consisted to two eroded dirt tracks.

Walking along this main drag allowed me to practice some of the Sesotho I picked up.  I made sure to greet the few and far between people I ran into with the proper greeting.  I have noticed travelling in general that people tend to have a much friendlier attitude towards you if you speak to them in their language, or at least make an attempt to.  My vocab was still very limited but it covered most passing interactions.

Useful Sesotho:

Dumela/lumela- Hello

O pela jwang- How are you living? (how are you?)

Pela hantle- I am living fine (I’m fine)

Tsamaya hantle- Goodbye

Khotso- Peace

Ha dio- I do not have any

Ha ke tsebe- I don’t kow

That night I met a group of older English speaking South Africans at the lodge with whom I hung out with after I ate my dinner.  They were an odd combination about 10 people.  3 of them doctors, 2 SAS veterans (basically the special forces), and the other 5 an eclectic mix.  The two SAS veterans were older guys in the late sixties, early seventies, who spent most of the night recounting war stories from countless conflicts they had been involved with throughout Africa.  From the Rhodesian wars, to Somalia, and Zimbabwe, they had seen it all, and by their stories, lucky to still be alive.  One of the doctors, Dr. Andres Dupressis, could trace his ancestry in South Africa back to the arrival of the French Huguenots who fled France in the 1600’s to escape religious persecution.  He also happened to be from East London, which is were I was planning on passing through in a few days time, and he kindly offered me a place to stay.  After we exchanged information I made my way back to the frozen tent I called my home.  The night was not as bad as the first because I had prepared myself better this time.  It didn’t however affect the frost that pilled up on the tent.  The temperature dropped again to about 15°F and I put my gear to the test.

Maletsunyane Falls

Maletsunyane Falls

Maletsunyane Falls & Gorge

Maletsunyane Falls & Gorge

May 21st:

I opted for a slightly shorter hike heading to the small village of Polateng, northeast of Semonkong.  I wanted to get out one more time and enjoy the mountains and also see if I could find the illusive spiral aloe plant that is endemic to the area.  The freezing had taken its toll on the batteries of my cameras. The power in Semonkong only ran intermittently, and I didn’t really have much access to it, so it limited my usage.  The hike up through Polateng was enjoyable, but also painted a harsher reality of life in rural Lesotho.  It is a prime example of the tragedy of the commons.  The land is communally owned by all the people of Lesotho, which provides for equal opportunity for grazing rights as the vast majority of the population grazes animals.  It is also nice for hiking because there are almost no fences in the country and you can walk for days in any direction if you so desired.  The downside of the communally owned land is that no one really takes responsibility for the stewardship of the land, and overgrazing is a huge problem.  With only a little over 1% of the land protected, erosion and desertification takes a huge toll on the fertility of the soil.  It is one of the huge problems facing this tiny nation if things continue the way they are.

Later that day, I again met up with the aforementioned group of people from South Africa.  I had now found out were all part of a hiking club in the Eastern Cape, and had come up to Lesotho for their club’s trip.  I spent the night picking their brains on my plans for hiking in the Drakensberg range later in my trip after I met back up with Sarah.  They in turn delighted me with more tales of their adventures in the cape and throughout Africa.  I also got interesting insight into what South Africa was like under apartheid for white people who were opposed to apartheid.  They in turn had plenty of questions to ask me about the USA, everything from good places to hike and camp, crime, cars, and politics, to the Amish.  At sunset I went with them out to watch the colony of rare mokhotlong, or more commonly known as Bald Ibis, come to roost on the cliff walls not far from my campsite.

I don’t know if they had taken a liking to me or just had sympathy for me out in my tent, but one of the Basotho women who worked for the lodge brought me a blanket for additional warmth that night.  She also surprised me with a hot cup of tea in the morning while I was packing up my frozen tent.  Either way, she made my last night there all that more comfortable.

May 22nd:

The drive from Semonkong back to Maseru was definitely one I was not looking forward to.  It was again an unforgettable ride for all the wrong reasons.  The jam-packed minibus had a driver who seemed to be living out his dreams of a rally car driver, which made for a nauseating morning.  The jaunt through the mountain passes seemed to last forever.  The white-knuckle ride finally came to an end back in Maseru.  I was in one piece, thanking my lucky stars, and rethinking my future mode of transportation.  I have a great deal of sympathy for the Basotho folks who have to deal with this on a regular basis.  Perhaps it is the reason everyone rides horses and walks!  I was once again in the bustling city, and made the long walk across town to the Anglican Church to spend the night again.  Along the way I could see sure signs of the coming election.  People driving by shouting slogans of their chosen candidate, people plastering up election posters, SADC (South African Development Community) vehicles rolling through, and a definite increase in military presence with men in uniform casually strolling down the streets with AK-47’s slung over their shoulder.  The next day I was on my way out.

Donkey in Polateng

Donkey in Polateng

Out for the daily grazing in Polateng

Out for the daily grazing in Polateng

African Red-Eyed Bulbul

African Red-Eyed Bulbul

Mokhotlong, or more commonly known Bald Ibis

Mokhotlong, or more commonly known Bald Ibis

Endemic Spiral Aloe

The Endemic Spiral Aloe of Lesotho

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Gianaclis Caldwell

Cheese, Cheesemaking, and Small Dairy

Around the world with Weston & Dana

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