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That’s Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa and the center of the world for gold mining. Exploring nature reserves just outside the city, we learned that what was once a vast veldt, has become a shady forest filled with imported tree species. In this regard it is not so different from the area where I live in Southern Idaho. The fine trees are the saving grace of an area with unspectacular architecture and trash laden roadways. (I confess, I did not see downtown Jo’burg. Perhaps that is where notable architecture resides.)


Typical SA road with trash, burned strip to control weeds, and ever present coal smog.


As we spent the day searching the still-winter-yellow reserves looking for endemic South African birds, I began to understand that a group of birders traveling together are on a mission to not only see every bird imaginable, but also to contribute to a collective bird list. I was about as useful in this endeavor as pockets on a hummingbird. But my companions were patient and highly skilled at directing my eye to the one branch in a thousand upon which a delightful little White-bellied Sunbird or a regal African Hoopoe perched.

(My iPhone skills were not up to capturing birds. I’m borrowing the work of masters – Sunbird on the left (Wikimedia) African Hoopoe – Per Holman, photo credit)

We spent a lot of time exploring the vast and varied highveld grassland found in Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve. Near the village of Heidelberg (yes, that’s the name given by its German founder) the reserve is home to over 200 bird species as well as a generous number of mammals.  

In addition to seeing a lot of birds, we had glimpses of many kinds of antelope:  steenbok, red hartebeest, black wildebeest, blesbok, springbok and eland. We also saw Burchell’s zebra, baboons, yellow mongoose, rock agama lizards, and meerkats.

Though I traveled about 24 hours, not counting layovers, to get to this part of the world, I felt as if I had merely stepped out the door. It was early spring in SA, the grass was as yellow as the fall grass I left behind in Idaho. The landscape is also reminiscent of high desert country found in much of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.


An old farm settlement now part of the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve.


I was starteld to find this quotation by Native American Chief so far from home.


Smart, low maintenance and hardy campgrounds. The only difficulty is in keeping baboons out of the trash. They’re more clever than black bears in Yellowstone.


A group Braai (Barbeque) facility in the campground

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By the way, it’s not horse poop. It’s zebra!