This autumn, get to know the Bushveld’s trees, go exploring in the mountains of the Cape Peninsula and gain new appreciation for the continent’s birders. These nature books are sure to enrich your time in the wild. By Magriet Kruger
100 Bushveld Trees
I must admit that beyond the baobab and mopane I always thought it would be beyond me to identify trees. But this excellent book, as beautiful as it is accessible, has given me new hope.
Author Megan Emmett Parker has a conservation degree and is an expert field guide and trainer of other guides. For years she was a senior producer on television’s 50|50 programme. But most importantly she is a tree lover. When she describes them she considers the entire tree, not just the characteristics of the bark or leaves, but its presence in the bush, how birds and animals utilise it, and the value it holds for people.
Her book is a guide to the 100 most memorable trees you’re likely to encounter, with a helpful list of quick ID features for each as well as more detailed descriptions and images of what to look for. There’s a visual introduction that unpacks the necessary concepts to give you a handle on tree anatomy and defining features.
So far, so standard for a field guide, you might think. What sets 100 Bushveld Trees apart is Megan’s interesting and insightful text, along with first-class photography by Shem Compion. Other guides might describe the leaf structure of the sausage tree, but would they tell you that the hippos of the Luangwa Valley have developed a passion for the fruit? Or would you find yourself lingering on a picture of Transvaal beech trees because the scene is so captivating?
To leaf through this book is to take a journey among the Bushveld’s most common trees and get to know them better. I can’t wait to return to Kruger to put my knowledge to use.
100 Bushveld Trees by Megan Emmett Parker with photography by Shem Compion. Struik Nature. R300.
Southern Peninsula Classics
The latest guide book by Tony Lourens, editor of SA Mountain, throws a spotlight on the mountain adventures to be had in the area south of Table Mountain’s Constantia Nek. Even though Tony has spent most of his life on Table Mountain’s slopes and buttresses, he wasn’t as well acquainted with the southern parts of the chain. So he decided to set that right. With a posse of friends tagging along, Tony spent almost every weekend and many weekdays for two years hiking and climbing the several routes found on the Cape Peninsula.
The result is a guide to some 90 trails and routes that range from relaxing rambles to more challenging outings that require scrambling or roping up. The book covers an area from Hout Bay to Cape Point, and every trail has a route description, difficulty ranking and duration. Because Tony tested all the routes collected in the book, there are handy pointers such as where to park (for trails that aren’t circular) and variations that can make the outing longer or shorter.
Tony is an engaging mountain guide with wide-ranging knowledge and if you can’t go hiking or climbing with him personally, Southern Peninsula Classics comes a close second. The book features fascinating snippets on the history and rock formations of the area. The maps come courtesy of Peter Slingsby, Mr Map himself, and there are topo photos and eye-catching colour pictures throughout. I’m tempted to take a leaf out of this book and choose a new mountain setting for my weekend cuppa like Tony and his pals did.
Good to know
- Southern Peninsula Classics covers walks, scrambles and moderate rock climbs, as well as some of the popular caves in the Kalk Bay Mountains.
- The routes are clearly graded according to difficulty and exposure. If you’re not comfortable clambering or walking on ledges, best get yourself a capable leader before attempting trails beyond A or A+.
- The variety of scenery and experiences is astonishing, and all on Cape Town’s doorstep.
Southern Peninsula Classics by Tony Lourens. Blue Mountain Publishers. R362.
Birders of Africa
Africa is celebrated for its rich birdlife; in South Africa alone around 850 species may be seen. There are multiple books and field guides on these birds, from colour-coded ID guides aimed at beginners to ones that help more experienced twitchers tell apart LBJs. But what about the people that researched and recorded this knowledge? In Birders of Africa: History of a Network, American historian Nancy J Jacobs turns her attention to the development of African ornithology.
There is no doubt that Africans have a long relationship with birds. Just think of the Yao honey hunters of Mozambique that follow the honeyguide to find beehives. Birds also signalled political power: in southern Africa, it was the chief’s right to wear feathers, and at Great Zimbabwe eight bird carvings were found in an enclosure associated with high status.
The first written records about Africa’s birds came from Europeans: initially colonists interested in whether birds made good eating, and later naturalists looking to describe species and collect specimens. It was thanks to assistance from indigenous people that scientific knowledge could be expanded.
This book tells of the largely forgotten guides, hunters and taxidermists that assisted the ornithologists with their work. They range from the Khoikhoi who helped François Levaillant as he produced his Les oiseaux d’Afrique (The Birds of Africa, 1796-1813) to Saul Sithole, who worked at the Transvaal Museum (today Ditsong National Museum of Natural History) between 1928 and 1990, preparing specimens for display.
Birders of Africa is academic in nature so it might not appeal to all readers, but it brings together vital information on the people that contributed to ornithology on the continent.
Birders of Africa by Nancy J Jacobs. UCT Press. R399.