An extraordinary sighting in Tokai Park

Runners dash down Beach Road in Mouille Point during the Gun Run. Picture: Shawn Benjamin

I encountered a most unusual fellow in the Tokai Park the other day.

It flew under the pines in a flurry of black and grey feathers and settled on the ground nearby.

From its ruff, thought it was an owl but its size and col-
ouring suggested it might be a pigeon on steroids. Then it turned its head and I saw the distinctive vulturine appearance of a Gymnogene.

I’d never heard of this African harrier-hawk until recently when an anagram of its name appeared in a crossword and stumped me. After reading the answer, I looked up this omnivorous bird of prey in Roberts Birds of South Africa to learn what a Gymnogene was doing in Tokai when its range is from the south-west Cape eastwards to Natal and north to the Zambezi and beyond to Sennar on the west and Ethiopia on the east.

It’s a curious bird. Sometimes it walks over the veld but is more often seen clinging to the trunks of trees, flapping wildly and falling about as it searches in cracks and holes for lizards. An unusual feature is that it possesses double-jointed knees which enable it to climb up to reach otherwise inaccessible holes and cracks to snack on the fledglings of house sparrows, barbets, weavers and baby grey squirrels. It’s a great robber of birds’ nests yet also enjoys eating the fruit of the oil palm.

The fact that I could see this extraordinary bird on an ordinary dog walk gave me another reason to be grateful to the court interdict in September which stopped the felling of the pines. Who knows what will happen after the interdict is reviewed next month. That’s why some of us are planning to meet in the park on Saturday November 5 to celebrate Guy Fawkes night with glow-sticks and LED lights to enjoy what could be our last friendly gathering under the pines.

On your marks, get set…

Sunday October 16 was a perfect day for about 20 000 competitors taking part in the annual Gun Run along the Atlantic Seaboard. But for some of us it was the No-Gun Run.

Whereas the 21km race was started at 6.30am with the firing by the Cape Field Artillery of the noisy 15lb battlefield gun, those in Block D didn’t even have a little bang to start the 10km at 7.15am. If any gun was used, we didn’t hear it.

When the Gun Run was first introduced, it finished with the firing of the Noon Gun from Signal Hill. On one famous occasion, it appeared to have gone off too early, catching out some disappointed competitors who 
had sweated it out in the mid-day heat to finish before the cut off time.

Faced with complaints, the race organisers approached the South African Astronomical Observatory in Obs from where the Noon Gun is fired electronically with the accuracy that comes from an atomic clock.

Back came the response. No, there was nothing wrong with their equipment. Perhaps the mistake lay with an incorrect starting time? Which organisation had provided that? The post office! So that ex- plained that.
Eventually the Gun Run became a morning event, finishing for all distances at 10am which it did Sunday with another noisy blast from the battlefield gun firing at the Green Point rugby fields.

Going back in time

I was invited by Marianne and Max Lengner for “coffee, cheese cake and clocks” before they leave their gracious double-storey home in Tokai where they have lived for 19 years. They are scaling down. Though leaving their home is not easy, they see it as a new beginning, keeping only the most treasured items and getting rid of a lot of “stuff”.

In their new home there will still be a place for a workshop for Max’s to keep repairing and rebuilding clocks.
Among the handsome time- keepers he showed me was a harvest clock, so called because a few minutes after it strikes the hour, it strikes again. This is to alert 
harvesters who may have missed the first chimes that it is either 
time to stop for lunch or go 
home.

Marianne told me some church clocks do the same thing and they cited one in Mahe, the capital of the beautiful Seychelles, known to many South Africans who’ve bought property on Eden 
Island.

It can’t be the famous silver-coloured Victorian clock tower in the town centre which is a replica 
of that standing at the junction 
of central London’s Victoria 
Street and Vauxhall Bridge Road. Erected in 1903 as a memorial to Queen Victoria it has never chimed. When it was unload-
ed over the side of the ship a 
crucial part was dropped into the sea and nobody since then 
has been able to make the bell work.

However the timepiece at the nearby Roman Catholic chimes twice. Some say the first time is to wake people to come to mass. The second time to tell them to hurry up.

Where is the opera?

A reader wrote to tell me of his big disappointment that Ster Kinekor in the Blue Route was not planning to show the Met Opera films this season. He felt this 
would upset opera fans living in the southern part of the penin-
sula.
“Last season there was just one showing of each opera on a Sun-
day at 2.30pm – perfect timing as even if it were a long opera the audience could be home before dark. “Attendances have been good. So that can’t be their reason.” Could it be that opera fans don’t buy buckets of profitable popcorn?

Disappointment

A cop pulled a guy over for weaving across two lanes of traffic. 
He walked over to the driver and asked sternly: “You drinkin’?”

The driver said, “Well that depends – You buyin’?”

fionachisholm@iafrica.com