Saturday, 15 June 2002

Sunset finale

After my last day on duty at the lookout, we returned to base early and went for a farewell meal at a restaurant, where I discovered that South Africa is not the best place to eat pizza! Back at base I caught on camera this lovely sunset over Saldanha Bay.

Friday, 14 June 2002

No farewell from the whales

A last day out on the boat, and - guess what? - no whales!

Thursday, 13 June 2002

How the spring got into springbok

The land surrounding the lookout is owned by the military but is also a nature reserve where the volunteers can walk whilst off-duty (as long as no target-practice is taking place!). At lunchtime today I went for a walk and encountered a herd of springbok. As this animal took fright, it demonstrated perfectly how the species got its common name!

Wednesday, 12 June 2002

A dolphin 'welcome home'

There were no whales to be seen from the boat today but, as we came back towards the harbour, we were suddenly joined by a small group of hyperactive Heaviside's dolphins. They rode in the bow wave of the RIB for a while then disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.

Tuesday, 11 June 2002

Encounter with an egg thief

It was a quiet day at the lookout today, but I went for a walk around the base in the evening and encountered this yellow mongoose, searching for ground-nesting birds whose eggs it could steal.

Monday, 10 June 2002

Whales at last! (2)

We also took photographs of the animals' heads, as the patterns of callosities are as individual as human fingerprints and can be used to build a photo-ID catalogue.

Whales at last! (1)

Back out on the boat today and - at last - whales! A pair of southern right whales were spotted from shore and we were directed onto them over the radio. We managed to get close enough for one of the research team to fire a biopsy dart to retrieve a sample of skin and blubber for analysis.

Sunday, 9 June 2002

A prickly encounter

The duty rotas stayed the same regardless of any bad weather interruptions, so today I was back at the lookout. As we drove back to base, we encountered a South African or Cape porcupine. This species is primarily nocturnal and quite elusive, and the individual we saw was obviously not pleased to encounter our vehicle. Before I could take a photograph, it trotted head first into a thorny shrub, leaving us with nothing but a quite well-disguised view of its rear end.

Saturday, 8 June 2002

Fog bound

Today the fog really rolled in, and we couldn't make any observations from shore or take the boat out to sea. Instead we went souvenir shopping!

Friday, 7 June 2002

A scaly companion

Today I was back on lookout duty, and this time my companion was a rock lizard. Like the hyraxes, they also need to bask in the sunshine to get warm after the chilly winter nights.

Thursday, 6 June 2002

Hmm... where are those whales?

Today I was on boat duty again, but it was another quiet day at sea with no sign of any whales. Patience is definitely a virtue on this project.

Wednesday, 5 June 2002

Basking in the sunshine

The temperature inside the concrete lookout stubbornly refused to rise above 'cold' no matter what the outside temperature. So the off-duty time at the lookout gave us the chance to warm up in the sunshine. The resident rock hyraxes were also basking in the sun - their thermoregulation is quite poor, so they need to absorb some heat before they become active. This animal looked much more at home clinging to a ledge on the cliff than the ones I'd seen on Table Mountain.

Tuesday, 4 June 2002

On the boat

Today was my first day on boat duties. It was a quiet day as no whales were spotted from the shore. However, we were joined first by some cute African penguins and then by some hyperactive Cape fur seals (which were too quick to photograph!).

Monday, 3 June 2002

At the lookout

Today was my first day as part of the lookout team. Our base was a World War II concrete lookout shelter on a clifftop 70 metres (230 feet) above the sea. The clifftop was part of a hill called Baviannsberg, which means baboon mount (although there are no baboons there now). Our job was to spot whales from the clifftop, track them, and radio their position to the boat team. Scanning the sea for whales is quite strenuous on the eyes, so the lookout team was further split in two with each group spending two hours on watch followed by two hours off. The views from the lookout were great.

Sunday, 2 June 2002

Rendez-vous with the team

This morning I 'rendez-voused' with the other volunteers and one of the research team. We drove a couple of hours north to the research site at Saldanha Bay. Our base for the next two weeks was to be some old military accommodation on top of a 112 metre (360 feet) hill called Malgaskop (gannet hill). In the afternoon, we were introduced to the work of the project, and in the evening we went down to the harbour to 'meet' our boat - a 6 metre (20 feet) RIB called Balaena. The research team and Earthwatch volunteers would be split into two groups which would alternate between on-shore lookout and at-sea boat duties.

Saturday, 1 June 2002

A familiar face

This afternoon I went for a walk in the Botanical Gardens near my hotel, and encountered an eastern grey squirrel - introduced to South Africa as well as Britain, and just as bold as the ones back home.

Arrival in Cape Town

I arrived in Cape Town early today on an overnight flight from England. After checking into my hotel, I headed (of course) for Table Mountain. June is mid-winter in South Africa and the weather was foggy, so the views from the plateau were impressive but not picturesque. The mountain is home to Cape rock hyraxes which are habituated to the human visitors. They balance their fat bodies on the edge of the waste bins in the hope that someone will throw away some food. Hyraxes look like rodents but are actually most closely related to elephants and manatees.