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Ken Borland

Now for the Springboks to lay the same platform in Mendoza 0

Posted on January 23, 2017 by Ken


The Springboks touched the heights of greatness in the emotional, inspirational atmosphere of the FNB Stadium last weekend; the challenge will be for them to repeat that sort of performance in the hostile, unfamiliar surrounds of Mendoza in the return fixture against Argentina on Saturday night.

The 73-13 victory over the Pumas as the country celebrated the Nelson Mandela Sports and Culture Day was the biggest win ever in the Rugby Championship or the Tri-Nations that preceded it, and the Springboks were rightly lauded for the record nine tries they scored in producing some dazzling attacking play.

But the foundation for that win was laid up front by the massive ball-carrying efforts of Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts, and the set-piece excellence of the tight five.

Given the time and space, and the platform to shine, the backline then showed what they are capable of.

It is little surprise that coach Heyneke Meyer has chosen the same starting XV to take on Argentina this weekend, with the only change to the squad being the promotion of Jano Vermaak to reserve scrumhalf in the absence of Fourie du Preez, who will not be part of any of South Africa’s away games, as per the wishes of his Japanese club, Suntory Sungoliath.

The continuity that Meyer has engendered through his selections has allowed the confidence in the side to grow markedly through seven consecutive wins. It is still early days in the Rugby Championship, but at the moment the two sides on an upward trajectory are the Springboks and their arch-rivals, the All Blacks.

But to ensure that they keep tracking the world’s number one side, the South Africans are going to have to bend their backs and put in another big effort in Mendoza.

A year ago, almost to the day, that hunger was missing as South Africa scraped a fortuitous draw against Argentina at the same venue.

As the actress may well have said to the bishop, “it’s what you put in that counts”, and the Springboks will have to put in an even bigger effort amongst the forwards to soften the Pumas in front of their most passionate supporters.

The Springboks have obviously adjusted better than expected to the requirements of the new scrum laws but the return of the bajada, which seems tailor-made to the new engagement sequence, cannot be far off.

The loss of the injured Patricio Albacete will place the Pumas lineout under even more pressure, following the dominance of Juandre Kruger and Etzebeth last weekend, and the effectiveness of the rolling maul – there seemed to be a total lack of a defensive plan against it from Argentina – means that set-piece should once again provide a great attacking platform for the Springboks.

The improvement shown at the breakdown will be under even more scrutiny this weekend as the Springboks will have to adapt to the vagaries of referee Steve Walsh, who will have a vocal crowd on his back in the most intimate of venues. The hostile atmosphere in the sunken stadium is epitomised by its name – the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas – which literally means Argentina’s Falklands Islands Stadium, a defiant show of the country’s claim on that territory.

If the Springboks do get the same sort of front-foot ball they enjoyed last weekend, then they can be expected to canter to victory once again. The arrival of Willie le Roux and JJ Engelbrecht, and the continued spark shown by Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers, has allowed the Springboks to bury suggestions they are dour and one-dimensional on attack.

And one of the most encouraging features of the opening round win was the crisp, snappy service provided by scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar – Meyer said it was the best game the Ulster-based veteran had produced under his coaching.

Adding Le Roux to the mix at fullback has certainly brought an extra dimension with the Cheetahs star’s vision and ability to put others in space reminiscent of the great Andre Joubert.

The form of Morne Steyn at flyhalf has also been superb in all departments all year.

The only player who didn’t shine last weekend was wing Bjorn Basson, although it’s fair to say the run of play didn’t go his way. The Bulls player will need to make himself more involved, however, if the temptation to move Le Roux to wing and play Pat Lambie at fullback is not to take seed in Meyer’s mind.

Lambie came off the bench last weekend and set up the seventh try with a superb break, epitomising the tremendous impact that the bench had. Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Siya Kolisi, Vermaak, Lambie and Jan Serfontein could all easily distinguish themselves in the starting line-up and the softening-up process the Springboks employ – their subdue and penetrate style – is hugely boosted by having such a powerful bench.

The Springboks have the ideal chance on Saturday to make up for the dismal showing on the previous trip to Argentina. The confidence is there, the game plan is in place; all that’s needed now is the hunger to quell what will be a fiery Pumas response to the humiliation they suffered at the FNB Stadium.

Mapungubwe National Park 0

Posted on June 16, 2015 by Ken

2015-01-25 18.49.22

Maloutswa Pan in the late afternoon light, as seen from the hide

Mapungubwe National Park is renowned for its hostile rocky terrain and hardy baobabs, but at 6.25pm on January 25, the sun is setting and casting its rays over a tropical wetland, reflecting off the water and illuminating the drowned Fever Trees in a magical light.

Through this idyllic setting, two small waterfowl come cruising towards the Maloutswa Pan Hide, easing their way through the vegetation on the water’s surface.

Soon the distinctive small white faces, chestnut breasts and dark green upperparts of the Pygmy Goose became clear – a Lifer and just as I had imagined seeing the most beautiful and exotic of our ducks, and a rather scarce tropical visitor at that.

The illustrations of them in the bird guides have always enthralled me with their beautiful colours, and in real life the Pygmy Goose is even cuter with their bright yellow beaks, drifting serenely through the water lilies.

Maloutswa Pan is a superb spot for birding and typical birds seen are Giant and Pied kingfishers, Threebanded Plover, African Pied Wagtail, Blackwinged Stilt, Diederik Cuckoo, Swainson’s Francolin, Whitefaced Duck, Redbilled Buffalo Weaver, Greenbacked Heron, Egyptian Goose, Wood Sandpiper, African Jacana, Sacred Ibis and Blacksmith Plover.

Numerous other species come and go and on this occasion, a Lanner Falcon was flying along the pan and Abdim’s Stork also flew past, while African Mourning Dove were in one of the dead trees. A male was approaching a female all bowing and cooing and currowling … only for the female to simply fly off! Ah, the perils of courtship.

A large herd of Elephant were making their daily late-afternoon trek from Maloutswa towards the Limpopo River, while a Greybacked Camaroptera was chirping away in an Umbrella Thorn at the hide. The Hadeda Ibis which had loudly announced my arrival had begun to settle down.

Mapungubwe NP is divided into eastern and western sections and Maloutswa is in the western portion, on the Limpopo River floodplain. There is another interesting body of water in the eastern section, a little dam close to the park’s main entrance, and there, along with a Common Sandpiper, was a Common Moorhen.

At first I thought it was a family of Common Moorhen because there were smaller ones with it … Closer inspection, however, revealed a mostly yellow bill, rather than red, and I had a second Lifer, the Lesser Moorhen! Again, it was a fantastic sighting, with the Common Moorhen alongside for comparison.

The brilliant waterbirding in this otherwise dry, hostile environment doesn’t stop there. Between the western and eastern portions of the park lie the Den Staat Wetlands, situated on a private farm but apparently now open to people staying in the park.

The large retention dams with varying levels of water are packed with birds and my late afternoon visit provided African Spoonbill, Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper, African Darter and Fulvous Duck on the water, while the rank vegetation around the dams had Yellowcrowned Bishop just chizzling away, Bluecheeked Bee-Eater, a prowling Burchell’s Coucal, Blackshouldered Kite and Steppe Buzzard.

My visit to Mapungubwe coincided with the place going to seed. But in a good way as the grass had grown to over a metre high in some places, higher than the 4×4’s bonnet and laden with seed.

It soon became apparent that there were quails in there but, as they would fly out for one or two seconds and then disappear into the grass again, identifying them was a near-impossible task. Even in short grass, I would mark the spot where one landed, walk there and find nothing! My best guess, based on the white spots on dark brown I saw when I had a brief glance, was Harlequin Quail.

The frustration of the quails notwithstanding, driving through the Acacia woodland with its lush understorey was extremely rewarding. Wattled Starling were busy and conspicuous, as a Kori Bustard marched sternly through the veld. Less obvious were the Lesser Masked Weaver unobtrusively working its way through the canopy of trees and a Eurasian Golden Oriole silently moving through the same area.

A Booted Eagle came flying out of the woodland, with its distinctive chevron on a dark rump, while Redbilled Helmetshrike, European Cuckoo, Melba Finch, Southern Pied Babbler and Purple Roller were also delightful sightings. A Rattling Cisticola was high up on top of one of the Acacias.

The more open country also held some large flocks of Redbilled Quelea, such a common bird but the breeding males are still so beautiful with their bright pink facial wash and black mask. White Stork and Tawny Eagle were soaring overhead and Whitecrowned Shrike, Common Scimitarbill, Namaqua Dove and Longtailed Starling were also present.

Longtailed Starling

Longtailed Starling

As the sun was setting, a pair of African Hawk Eagle were sitting on a fence (used to keep Elephant out of a regenerating area of woodland), with one descending into the grass next to a big herd of Impala. Ground Hornbill were nearby too.

The Mapungubwe campsite is in the western section and one of the best I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. Mazhou is situated in the dense riverine forest of the Limpopo floodplain and birding is excellent, while various animals also pass through at close quarters.

A pair of Woodland Kingfisher were nesting in a tree at my particular site, with a pair of Crested Barbet in the same tree, in a hole higher up. But they were flying to and from an adjacent tree, so perhaps they had two nests in close proximity, or maybe their trips to the other tree were to divert attention away from their nest?

The delightful White Helmetshrike were visitors to my campsite, one of them struggling to swallow a large caterpillar, while a female Whitebellied Sunbird easily dispatched a spider it caught high in the canopy. A Bearded Woodpecker was also chattering away and easily seen from my chair as was a European Marsh Warbler on my final morning.

When night had just fallen, a Barred Owl flew into a tree above my ‘lounge'; then I heard a ‘chit chit chit’ and the adorable Lesser Bushbaby passed through, leaping acrobatically from tree-to-tree.

From camp it is a short drive to the Limpopo River banks and its huge riverine trees, with Grey Hornbill, Yellowbellied Bulbul and Speckled Mousebird all enjoying the fruiting figs. A Yellowbilled Stork and Bateleur were soaring overhead, while a Nile Monitor pretended to be a log on the side of the road.

Soon the distinctive calls of the African Fish Eagle were heard from overhead, the archetypal riverine raptor also soaring as the temperature reached 36°, the sort of heat that encouraged a Steenbok to go lie under a bush.

For real heat, however, exploring the eastern section, hot, dry and rugged Baobab country with jagged sandstone buttresses, will get you sweating.

Klipspringer, standing motionless like statues, adorn the weathered rocks, while it was so hot (39°) that a Giraffe was lying down under a Baobab chewing on his lunch with his buddy the Blue Wildebeest. It was a very peaceful scene until a biting fly seemingly jabbed the Wildebeest, leading to a typically comical reaction as the Gnu went tearing off in the direction of Zimbabwe.

The Giraffe and the Wildebeest were a slightly odd couple, but there were more regular pairs around like the Black Eagles soaring over a koppie and, at a pan deep in the Mopane in the Kanniedood area, Redheaded Finch amongst a host of queleas. Redbilled Teal were on the water and the surrounding area also held Longtailed Paradise Whydah, Cut-Throat Finch, European Roller and Pale Chanting Goshawk.

Other interesting birds on the “dry” side of Mapungubwe are Monotonous, Sabota and Flappet Larks and Black Kite.

The eastern portion of Mapungubwe also has frontage on to the Limpopo River, with a brilliant treetop boardwalk providing Meyer’s Parrot, given away by its screeching calls before it flew into a tree cavity, meaning it was probably nesting given the time of day. A Marabou Stork was also circling overhead, while beautiful bushveld birds such as the Broadbilled Roller, Brubru, Plumcoloured Starling and Goliath Heron are also present.

Other birds seen in the rich gallery forest were Jacobin Cuckoo, Tropical Boubou and Steelblue Widowfinch.

STAKE-OUT ... An Amur Falcon on the lookout for prey next to a citrus farm.

STAKE-OUT … An Amur Falcon on the lookout for prey next to a citrus farm.

Even the farm roads around Mapungubwe are great for birding with Chestnutbacked Sparrowlark, Whitebrowed Sparrow Weaver, Amur Falcon and African Cuckoo on the dirt road through the agricultural lands and Pearlbreasted Swallow in amongst the European Swallows and Carmine Bee-Eaters all over the telephone wires. Blackchested Snake Eagle also often uses these perches.


Sightings list

Laughing Dove

Whitecrowned Shrike

Natal Francolin

Longtailed Starling

Woodland Kingfisher

Redbilled Hornbill

Redbilled Hornbill

Redbilled Hornbill

Vervet Monkey

Crested Barbet

Redeyed Dove

Tree Squirrel

Whitebacked Vulture

Spotted Flycatcher

Forktailed Drongo

Tawny Eagle

Redbilled Quelea

Whitefronted Bee-Eater

Blue Waxbill

Redbacked Shrike

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Common Scimitarbill

Namaqua Dove

Blue Wildebeest



Plains Zebra

Redbilled Oxpecker


Lilacbreasted Roller

Emeraldspotted Wood Dove

White Helmetshrike


Whitebellied Sunbird

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Turtle Dove

Bearded Woodpecker

European Swallow

Carmine Bee-Eater

Boulenger’s Garter Snake

Chacma Baboon

Southern Masked Weaver

Redbilled Helmetshrike

Crowned Plover


Cattle Egret

Rattling Cisticola

Greybacked Camaroptera

Hadeda Ibis

Whitefaced Duck

African Mourning Dove

Redbilled Buffalo Weaver

Greenbacked Heron

Egyptian Goose

Wood Sandpiper

African Jacana

Nile Crocodile

Abdim’s Stork

Sacred Ibis

Blacksmith Plover

African Hawk Eagle

Ground Hornbill

Barred Owl

Jameson’s Firefinch

Whitebrowed Scrub Robin

Jacobin Cuckoo

Grey Hornbill

Yellowbellied Bulbul

Speckled Mousebird

Tropical Boubou

Blackeyed Bulbul

Cardinal Woodpecker

Steelblue Widowfinch

Blackbacked Puffback

Whitewinged Widow

Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill

Yellowbilled Stork

Nile Monitor


Grey Heron

Redbilled Woodhoopoe



African Fish Eagle

Wattled Starling


Kori Bustard

Slender Mongoose

Longbilled Crombec

Lesser Masked Weaver

Eurasian Golden Oriole

Banded Mongoose

Harlequin Quail

White Stork

Booted Eagle

European Cuckoo

Melba Finch

Purple Roller

Fantailed Cisticola

Lanner Falcon

Giant Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

Threebanded Plover

African Pied Wagtail

Blackwinged Stilt

Diederik Cuckoo

Pygmy Goose

Swainson’s Francolin

Lesser Bushbaby

Whitebrowed Sparrow Weaver

Chestnutbacked Sparrowlark

Amur Falcon

Pearlbreasted Swallow

African Cuckoo

Yellowthroated Sparrow

Monotonous Lark

Sabota Lark

Marsh Terrapin


Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting

Rock Dassie

Tawnyflanked Prinia

Broadbilled Roller

Meyer’s Parrot

Southern Black Flycatcher


Plumcoloured Starling

Wiretailed Swallow

Goliath Heron

Marabou Stork

Redwinged Starling

Flappet Lark


Black Eagle

Black Kite


Redheaded Finch

Redbilled Teal

Longtailed Paradise Whydah

Cut-Throat Finch

European Roller

Goldenbreasted Bunting

Pale Chanting Goshawk

Helmeted Guineafowl

Common Moorhen

Lesser Moorhen

Common Sandpiper

Grey Lourie

Blackchested Snake Eagle

African Spoonbill


Marsh Sandpiper

African Darter

Fulvous Duck

Yellowcrowned Bishop

Bluecheeked Bee-Eater

Burchell’s Coucal

Blackshouldered Kite

Steppe Buzzard

Southern Pied Babbler

European Marsh Warbler


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