Nature & Nuture: Birds, Frogs, Bugs & Cousins Bonding in the Renosterveld

Entering Bartholemeu’s Klip guest farm

For this Heritage Day long weekend, we met up with The Husband’s parents, his brother, his brother’s wife and their four kids, about 100km out of Cape Town at Bartholomeus Klip, a guest farm in the Elandsberg. From being an only child, The Princess was suddenly surrounded by her four cousins: Tommy (9), Adam (7) , Jack (5)  and Emma (1).

Our reservation included a game drive into the Renosterveld Reserve. I had contemplated staying behind with The Princess out of fear of the cold but the sun had emerged and I decided that the experience would be fun for her with all her cousins, so we went along. (The Husband was cycling, of course).

Because the Renosterveld is not exactly The Kruger Park, I assumed we’d cruise around in the game drive vehicle for fifteen minutes, stop for coffee and head back to the house. I had forgotten one critical thing, however: my brother-in-law and father-in-law are serious birders. And I mean serious. For example, my brother-in-law has ticked off so many birds on his life list (know as “lifers” in the birding world) that he has now taken to following frogs around with a torch in the dead of the night. This pastime is known as “frogging”, I’m told there are apparently other people out there who share this passion, hence the existence of an official name for the pursuit of frogs.

The Princess’ two oldest cousins, Thomas and Adam are following in their father’s footsteps, having developed a keen interest in birds and frogs. This is perhaps as much nature as it is nurture because ever since Adam has been old enough to walk, he has been a lover and collector of creepy crawlies. Before the game drive, he announced that we may be lucky enough to encounter a “bugalore”. I laughed when he said that and wanted to know if that meant an encounter with bugs galore. But I’ve actually just Googled the term because there’s an excellent chance my seven year old nephew was referring to a rare species of bug or bird that I have never heard of. (Google says not, but it was worth checking).

On board for the game drive we therefore had five very enthusiastic naturalists: the game ranger, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law and my two nephews. And then we had the girls who came for the coffee and the cookies: my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, myself, The Princess and one year Emma, plus her five year old brother, Jack. Emma responded to the thrill of the game drive by promptly falling asleep in her mother’s arms and Jack responded by eating as many fruit nuggets as he possibly could.

The highlight of the drive was the game ranger’s discovery of a teeny, tiny, incy, wincy toad. And when I say teeny tiny, I mean only slightly bigger than a man’s thumbnail.  For someone whose world is not rocked by frogs, the best part was my brother-in-law’s reaction. He was grinning from ear to ear and announced that his “cup was now full”. You’d have sworn we’d just seen a leopard on the kill.

The naturalists on all fours photographing their tiny toad (a speck on the rock)

On the off chance that anyone who reads this blog is dying to know what type of toad it was, the answer is, “we don’t know.” This fact slowly revealed itself in the coming days as my brother-in-law made contact with the Frogging Mothership by which I mean that he telephoned fellow froggers. (Yes, other people who chase frogs around in the night are officially known as “froggers”). The one, slightly more experience frogger, who has been pursuing frogs for slightly longer than my brother-in-law was stumped as to how that particular teeny, tiny frog could be found in the Renosterveld Reserve. (I guess when you’re that size, the idea that you hopped out of your normal territory is basically impossible). The other frogger – whom I gather enjoys a more elevated status in the froggers’ food chain – declared that the most likely explanation was actually quite simple: it was probably the young, baby toad of a fairly common species of toad.

Such is life sometimes, for a frogging novice.

The next day, anyone who couldn’t explain the difference between a frog and a toad, wisely elected to stay home during the game drive. (When I had asked The Mother-in-Law the day before, what the difference was, she looked at me incredulously and replied: “WHO knows?”)

But exciting things were in store for us as it was, Adam, our junior naturalist’s seventh birthday. He’d requested nothing short of the following activities to celebrate his coming of age: a treasure hunt, a disco and a general knowledge quiz. He’d apparently hand-picked the teams for the quiz and I was honoured to discover that I’d been included as a member of his team. The Husband had not enjoyed such favour from the birthday boy and I couldn’t help teasing him as a result. He responded by saying that Adam had chosen me for my looks rather than my brains. (I took that as a compliment.) Then we learned that Adam had selected his team members based on “wanting to win”. I looked smugly at The Husband. And then we learned that Adam had requested that the questions be mostly about nature. The Husband raised an eyebrow at me… Okay, I was definitely going to be the cheerleader.

Still, I was flattered that Adam had thought I could help.

Unfortunately, the birthday boy and his team, including my brother-in-law, lost the quiz. However, my brother-in-law was determined to make his son’s birthday a memorable one. He had been searching for an apparently rare species of frog for some time, known as the Cape Rain Frog, and that night, he returned from his frog hunting victorious, Cape Rain Frog in hand.

When I laid eyes on that frog, I suddenly understood The Frog Prince. There are plenty of ugly animals that the young maiden in the story could have been made to kiss in order to prove that she was not shallow or superficial. But none so ugly as this dude:

A trapped prince or a frigging ugly amphibian?

Finally, a big thanks to the parents in law for a wonderful weekend where The Princess was able to bond with her four cousins. She is no longer used to bathing alone. Climbing in the bath this evening, she looked around expectantly and said “boys? boys?” Fortunately there are several more years before we have to start worrying about that…

1 comment

  1. So funny and so true of your brother in law and their oldest 2! Hope you sent this link of your blog to Mike as very funny to read!

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