water

Death at the water

Perhaps the most salient feature of the Kgalagadi are the humongous number of birds visiting the different water points throughout the area. At the various camps in the Mabuasehube area the situation repeated itself. Flocks of birds would come to drink constantly to the various water points.

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The scramble for water! Picture by Frank Rijnders.

The bird parade included from the largest of the vultures, the Lappet-faced (Nubian) to the small violet-eared waxbills, true living jewels .

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Lappet-faced vultures at a water hole.

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Violet-eared waxbills. Picture by Frank Rijnders.

Apart from photography, this situation offered a great opportunity for the various predators to get an easy meal. We saw several potential bird predators at the water holes, from snakes to jackals but the most interesting were the birds of prey.

These came in all sizes: various eagles (Tawny, Bateleur), Pale chanting and Gabar Goshawks, Red-necked Falcons and Greater Kestrels to name what we saw during this trip.

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A magnificent Bateleur eagle and picture by Frank Rijnders.

The methodology of the feathered hunters was similar at the various places. The raptors would perch nearby and every so often swoop down on their potential prey. It seemed a rather easy procedure in view of the numbers. That was also the impression I had when last year I watched the Tawny eagles dove-catching that I described in https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/easy-pickings/. My belief was further strengthened by a lightening speed attack by a Red-necked falcon that caught one of the sparrow weavers from under our noses and took us completely by surprise!

At Monamodi we had time[1] to observe a Gabar Goshawk (slightly larger than a dove) attempting to catch its lunch. We noted the raptor after observing that every few minutes the drinking doves would get startled and the flock would literally “explode” in different directions only to return a couple of minutes later.

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The scared doves take off.

After a few of these scares, we noted that a Gabar goshawk was perched next to the water and that the scares coincided with its lunges at the drinking birds!

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We were somehow doubtful that the goshawk would be after the doves as they seemed too large for it However, it seemed that way until we realized that there were a few smaller birds drinking together with the doves. We observed several failed attacks and I even managed to register the “goshawk among the pigeons”! However, a painstakingly checking all pictures and video, I failed to register the bird actually catching anything. The pictures below show the goshawk during one of its swoops that, after going through the mass of flying birds, end up by it landing back at the starting point.

So, either catching lunch for the Gabar goshawk is is not as easy as it seemed or I was not good registering what was happening! The latter is probably nearer to the truth as I am sure the bird would not be there otherwise as I am sure that, unlike for me, time is important for it!

 

[1] In Africa it is said that  “When God made mankind, He gave the white people the watch, but he gave the black people the time!” Luckily, I have both now!

The nasoni of Rome [1]

Rome is packed with attractions, some of them world famous and others less so but not less interesting. We have all heard about or visited some of its famous fountains such as the Trevi fountain, Turtle Fountain at Piazza Mattei, Fountain of the Frogs at Piazza Mincio, the big fountain on the Janiculum Hill and the Fountain of the Four Rivers at Piazza Navona to name some of the better known.

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The fountain of the four rivers, Piazza Navona.

While the above have great cultural and ornamental value there are other water fountains that, although not great looking, serve the purpose of delivering free ice-cold water to the city inhabitants and visitors. These are the small drinking fountains that are found all over Rome supplying water non-stop.

There are 2,500 drinking fountains scattered all over the city, and almost 300 of them are inside the city walls. Although there are a few exceptions, they mainly follow a standardized model known by the locals as nasone/a because of the drinking spout on its side.

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Technical drawing of a drinking fountain. Scheda Tecnica del Nasone Fontanella di Roma. Released into the public domain by its authors via Wikimedia Commons.

These simple but clever contraptions allow the water to run continuously through their “noses” but blocking the end of the spout sends water in an arch that is ideal for drinking as well as for surprising the unaware visitor with a summer splash!

The 100 kg and 100 cm high nasoni are in place from 1874. They are made of cast iron and marked with the ubiquitous S.P.Q.R. that, in Latin, means Senatus Populus Que Romanus (the Senate and the People of Rome), the official city “logo” that also appears in many public buildings.

Most drinking fountains are found near the outdoor markets and plant and flower vendors and it is very common to see their water overflowing buckets and other containers placed under their water stream. The purity of the water is assured by the Azienda Comunale Energia e Ambiente (ACEA) [2] through over 250,000 tests a year [3].

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Picture of nasona by User: Lalupa (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

A novelty for us during this visit to Rome was the discovery of the “nasoni maps” put together by various organizations such as the ACEA itself that presents the public with a map of the nasoni in the historical centre of the city and beyond. [4]

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A “special” nasone with a bottom plate that enables pets to drink!

The constant flow of almost ice-cold drinking water the year round in Rome through the nasoni (and even the non-drinking water from the fountains) has always been a mystery for me. Writing this post I learnt that the water comes from the Peschiera reservoir through a 130 km aqueduct that runs deep underground. Although the underground element would be important for the coldness of the water, there should be something else keeping it so cool. I did not find a clear answer until our friend Donatella told me that the water is always moving and therefore it has no time to warm up. I believe that she hit the nail on the head and solved the mystery to my satisfaction!

The 16 million cubic metres of water that flow into the nasoni‘s drains and other fountains everyday are -apparently- recycled for watering gardens, cleaning factories and other non-drinking purposes so it does not go to waste. However, it is an immense volume of water! So, trying to get an idea of the amount that has gone through Rome’s drinking fountains since their establishment in 1874 I did a quick and dirty calculation:

143 years x 2500 nasoni x 16,000,000 litres/day x 365 days = 2,087,800,000,000,000

or two quadrillion, eighty-seven trillion, eight hundred billion litres or 2,088 cubic km of water yielded. Frankly, the result did not tell me much as the volume was impossible for me to grasp! So, as usual in these cases, I looked for a comparison and found that such an amount of water would have almost fill up lake Victoria with its 2,700 cubic km! I am not sure that this assessment is any use to anyone but at least it lays my mind to rest until I start working on the next post!

 

 

[1] A man with a big nose. Nasone/nasona are the masculine/feminine nouns and nasoni the plural.

[2] Municipal company for Energy and Environment

[3] https://www.acea.it/

[4] https://www.acea.it/it# or http://www.colosseo.org/nasoni/inasonidiroma.asp

 

 

Rain!

There is a great song by Lady Blacksmith Mambazo called Rain, rain, beautiful rain[1] that, as many of their songs, I strongly recommend! But it is only when you have two successive extreme dry seasons such as the ones we have gone through in Zimbabwe that you really understand the song!

I already described the seriousness of the drought at the Kruger National Park[2] and things are equally bad further north, in Zimbabwe and Harare where we are.

When we bought our house in the 90’s, we had a good borehole as well as water from the Harare Municipality. Today, the latter is erratic and, as a consequence, over the years many people have sunk boreholes and now there are thousands. As a result, the underground water table is no longer where it was and, probably the deepest end of our own old borehole is 30 meters above the water level! We have dug for water four more times since the original hole dried early in the XXI Century but we have only managed to extract grey stone dust!

Following our failures with various reputed rhabdomantists, in 2013 we decided to change our water management strategy. We gradually moved from water-thirsty plants to succulents and cacti and we buy water from the many suppliers that bring it to your house. Our swimming pool is now a water reservoir -and toad breeding ground- that we fill with the rainfall from the roof of the house (when it rains!) and take showers standing on a basin to collect and use the grey water for watering a few selected plants!

The availability of water is gradually decreasing and many of our plants and trees are no more and others are just surviving from year to year. We have lost pecans, almonds, mulberries and avocados to mention a few. Luckily, we still have a few fruit trees left although their production is near zero. The indigenous trees are still doing well, despite the clear impact of global warming.

But enough of bad news as the rains have just arrived a few days ago, precisely on 10 November. You remember the date now as rain is becoming really critical!

As usual, just before the rains our children’s leopard tortoise “George” (or Georgina?) made an appearance only to disappear again soon afterwards, as usual. In addition, the chameleons materialized out of nowhere, following their own clock, just before the rains. At this time the number of birds increased dramatically as drinking water was really scarce. Miraculously, as soon as the rains came, many species disappeared and we remained with the resident ones that are here the year round.

Another amazing phenomenon is the “greening” speed of the brown grass in our “lawn”! I can assure you that it becomes green in a few hours after the first rain drops. I often think that it is like watching lyophilized grass being reconstituted in front of one’s eyes!

Together with the greenery some interesting insects appear. Among others, the termites immediately start preparing their chimneys and, although they wait before “exploding”, they do so after a couple of days with when they detect that the ground has reached the adequate humidity for them to dig themselves.

The millipedes[3], known locally as tshongololos[4], are the next to make an appearance after spending the dry spell in chambers dug underground. They appear in all sizes, from 2-3 cm to 10-12 cm and are very fond on fruits and cucumber. They live up to seven years in the wild and they need to moult frequently as their calcified exoskeleton does not expand. They have about 270 legs and they carry some specialized mites[5] that clean their bodies.[6]

Apart from the animal life, the rains also create an explosion of colour as the plants and trees suddenly revive. The show starts with the flowering of the exotic jacarandas that turns Harare purple just before the rains. Soon the time of the flamboyant trees come and, the moment the rains start, the frangipanis become really outrageous not only in terms of colour but also by adding their wonderful scent to the garden.

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If the rains are good, our garden will become so green that it will make you forget the drought until next year when we hope that we will have a “normal” one although these are nowadays the exception!

 

[1] If you wish to hear it, it is at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUH7PM0-cpI

[2] https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/hippo-drama/

[3] Subphylum: Myriapoda; Class: Diplopoda.

[4] It means “steam train” in the local language.

[5] Neomegistus julidicola Trägärdh 1906 (Acari, Mesostigmata)

[6] They are extremely interesting creatures and, if interested, you could read more about them here: http://www.earthlife.net/insects/diplopoda.html

Harare wet Christmas

Although overcast and rather cold for Harare at this time of the year (19°C), I am sitting outside writing this short note that briefly interrupts my series of reports on Gonarezhou and Kruger.

I am pleased to be in the open-air so that I can hear the water filling the ex swimming pool (now our water reservoir). The Municipality water started flowing this morning! This may not impress you in other parts of the world used to the water  just “being there” but I can assure you that here it feels like Christmas!

So, after having long showers we are now busy filling all possible water deposits!

The last time we had public water was July 2013 and it lasted for 24 hours! We hope this time it will last longer and, who knows, it may be a sign of better things to come!