Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Please don't hold me for long

(Postman butterfly - taken at Butterflies for Africa, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa)

...But if you ever hold me, please do not hold me for long... let me go where I belong... I will leave a beautiful silken touch of colour... not on your fingers, but on your soul
- Aarti Kurana

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

African Bee (Apis mellifera Scutellata)

African Honey Bee driinking water at my wildlife pond

We have two colonies of bees living on our smallholding and during summer my wildlife pond is a great attraction for them. Water is very important to a hive. Bees rarely store water, but bring it in as needed, so it is vital to provide fresh water to them continuously. They also use water to control the humidity of the colony, not just the temperature. Besides my pond, I have various containers around the garden for them. They’re a bit of a nightmare to photograph, don’t sit still for very long and even crawled up my phone a couple of times when I got too close! They are actually fearless little creatures, with no fear for their own safety, everything is done with the colony in mind.



South Africa is home to two sub-species or races of honeybees which are indigenous to the country: Apis mellifera Scutellata (or “African bee”) and Apis mellifera Capensis (or “Cape bee”). The Cape bee is generally confined to the western and southern Cape regions particularly referred to as the Fynbos region running in an imaginary line between Vredendal on the western Atlantic coastline across to Willowvale on the eastern Indian Ocean coastline. The African bee covers the region to the north of this area although there is hybrid zone overlapping the two regions where A.m. capensis and A.m. scutellata hybridize.


A couple of bees sipping water from the safety of a log placed in the pond

The African bee is an aggressive bee with a hardy strain and capable of producing large crops of honey. It has more of a yellow striped abdomen compared to A.m. capensis. Only the queens are fertile; worker bees are infertile when the queen is present. (Not to be confused with the Africanized honeybee (AHB) found across south, central, and north America).

The Cape bee tends to be a more docile bee (although can also become aggressive when provoked), distinguished from the African bee by a darker abdomen and are sometimes referred to as “black bees”. It has a unique characteristic in that the worker bees (females) have the ability to produce both male and female offspring and thus able to re-queen a colony which has become queenless.
—Info from SABIO (South African Bee Industry Organisation)


Easy ways to give Honey Bees water
  1. Frisbee With Rocks - Put a frisbee full of clean rocks (find them in your yard) underneath a faucet outside, turn the faucet on so it drips once per minute. Over the day it will fill up and provide fresh water for the bees.
  2. Glass Pebbles - Most art stores have those bags of glass pebbles you can buy. Buy 1-2 bags of these pebbles and put them in a large (6 or more inches) but shallow container. Fill this with fresh water daily and place it near your garden or outside in a natural area of your yard. Bonus if you put some water-loving plants like cattails, water loving ferns, etc
  3. Birdbath - Take over the bird bath and decorate with twigs, rocks, pebbles, and wine corks. Add some green ferns or moss to add a bit of colour.
Bees use water for
  1. Cooling - In the heat of summer it is used for evaporative cooling. Similar to human-designed air conditions, the bees spread a thin film of water atop sealed brood (baby bee cells) or on the rims of cells containing larvae and eggs. The workers inside the hive then fan vigorously, setting up air flow which evaporated the water and cools the interior of the hive.
  2. Humidity - Worker bees use water to control the humidity of the colony, not just the temperature. 
  3. Utilise Stored Food - Bees need water to dilute stored honey that has crystallized (become too high in glucose) or in the case where a beekeeper feeds them dried sugar crystals, they need water to dissolve the sugar. Without water, they can't access these food sources.
  4. Larvae Food - Another type of bee in the hive is the nurse bee, who feeds the developing larvae. They consume large amounts of pollen, nectar, and water so that their hypopharyngeal glands can produce the jelly that is used to feed the larvae. A larvae diet can consist of water up to 80 percent the first day of larval growth and about 55 percent on the sixth day.
  5. Digestion - They need it in the digestion and metabolization of their food, as do most organisms.
(This info from Seedles)


For the past few months, the pond has been leaking badly, losing half its water in just a couple of days. So I stopped filling it every day and left it until it reached a level where the water wasn't dropping any more. You can see the line (brown area) just below the water where the leaking stopped. I then applied a few coats of eco-friendly pond sealer, waited a couple of days to let it dry and then re-filled the pond. It's not leaking much now, but I still have not totally stopped the leaking!  I still have to have a small amount of water flowing into the pond daily to keep it filled. At this point I'm giving up and waiting to see if it gets any worse. The leaking I mean. If it does, I have two options - empty the pond COMPLETELY and gunite it like a swimming pool or - close it up! That would be a disaster for all the water-loving birds I have in my garden as well as all the insects and other little reptiles living in the area.


The water lilies don't seem to have suffered any adverse effects from being exposed to the sun for a few days, and started flowering as soon as the pond was full again. The water looks lovely and crystal clear against the black back-drop of the sealer and it has enticed me a couple of times to take a plunge. Swimming with all the frogs and naiads (dragonfly larvae) is really exciting!


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Thursday, 27 October 2016

My artwork available as an App for iPhone and iPad

Do you ever wish you had MORE icons/emojis on your iPhone or iPad to use when messaging? Sick and tired of all the same old icons on your phone?

Well, finally, a dream come true! Some of my artwork is now available as an App of stickers for iPhone and iPad, to use with iMessage, available on the Apple iStore, developed by Donovan Crewe from Ballito, South Africa. Both my Apps have already been featured in the iStore, with one being considered for PROMOTION.

App for iPhone or iPad - Maree Clarkson Fine Art - Birds
All these images are also available as stickers from my RedBubble store. Individual slices of personality, totally unique and 400% awesome! Turn a boring laptop / notebook / otherwise plain surface into your own personal game farm with a selection of animal stickers. Finally you can have lions, giraffe, buffalo and wild dogs all hanging out together being bros!
If you take time to notice throughout your day, you will find that stickers are used for a tremendous number of reasons. Almost everywhere you look you’ll see stickers employed to decorate, advertise or communicate important information. Anyone trying to promote a business or organization should understand the usefulness of stickers in achieving their goals. Those who enjoy crafting and decorating will also love using stickers to brighten up and enhance any project, be it a photo album, a diary or journal or storage boxes, even Christmas gifts!
Stickers and labels will never go out of fashion -  When you want longevity but you haven’t got a blockbuster budget, stickers are the perfect vehicle to make sure your message really sticks around!  So if you're looking for that special sticker for a gift or to convey a special message, please feel free to visit my portfolio, where you will find a wide range to suit all tastes.
(Crow sketch done from "Midmarsh Jottings" beautiful photograph) 

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Sunday, 23 October 2016

Can you spot the fungus?


These are Bracket Fungi even though they looked like mushrooms when starting out, almost indistinguishable from the rocks, but they are rock hard and sturdy, like most Brackets.

Like all fungi, bracket fungus likes a damp environment and tree bracket fungi attack the hardwood interior, and therefore, the structural integrity of the tree and are the cause of white or brown rot. 
 

Luckily these appeared in a damp spot next to my garden path amongst some rocks and were not near any of my trees. Make sure the bases of trees don’t stand in water. As soon as the infection is noted, removal of the bracket fungus shelves will at least prevent the spore release that may infect other trees. The good news is that these fungi attack the old and the weak and often occur after a tree is damaged by man or nature and play an integral part in the decomposition of wood.

Standard English Name(s): bracket fungus, shelf fungus, tree fungus, conk

Scientific Name(s): various species of Fomes, Fomitopsis, Ganoderma, etc.
 
 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Feathers appear when angels are near


Clearfeathersappear
A Dandelion flower and a feather in my garden, Tarlton (Gauteng, South Africa)

The internet is full of “when you find a feather, what does it mean?” I read up on some of these and the overall conclusion is that, when you find a feather, it is a sign that you are going to get a message soon. Or that some thing or another is going to happen to you. And if the feather is white, it is a message from an angel. A black one means that the guardian of your soul is near.

Now I (maybe) understand that city folk might look upon finding a feather as some sort of a sign, but for us country folk, feathers are a big part of everyday life, especially if you happen to have (13) chickens, and lots of garden birds, like I do. My yard is covered in feathers, especially during moulting season. White ones, orange ones, grey ones, black ones, yellow ones and mottled ones – virtually every colour of the rainbow, even blue and purple.

Don’t get me wrong, I am totally enchanted by every feather I see, some more beautiful than others, but I regard them as part of one of nature’s wonders, like falling leaves and baby chicks and tiny flowers.
One woman wrote that she found a feather “around odd places where birds don’t fly around” and was wondering what the message could be. Has she ever considered that the wind might be playing a part in this? Or is my garden just filled with messages from angels?


Friday, 23 September 2016

In a garden one is making memories

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Probably most of us have been in a garden on a particular day and time and felt a rush of well-being – of joy, being recharged, uplifted, a sense of healing, being in tune with the infinite. Gardens can clear away the fog of the noisy, fast, techno world, and the mindless focus on the clutter of trivia. Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.


Gardening is an instrument of grace. In a garden one is not growing rare plants and trees… one is making memories… Gardening is one thing, maybe even the only thing, that brings people from all over this world, together. Gardening teaches us compassion – just walk past the ‘nearly’ dead tree every day, pat it on the bark and whisper, “just hold on for one more year”. It really does still serve a purpose – little raptors like the Fiscal Shrike loves the vantage point the dead branches give her and many birds will bask in the early morning warmth of the sun on a cold winter’s morning in the very top branches.
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Consider what you bring to the partnership and what the rest of nature brings. Gardening as a partner with the rest of nature means we have to let go of control to allow the garden to do its magic. When we allow ourselves to see the garden more in its own terms, to reach beyond ourselves to the garden, then we become more one with it, and no longer standing outside and above. A soul garden is one where the forces of nature are more powerfully evident than our own power. This is honoured and expressed through plants that regenerate, and are thereby not as dependent on humans for their existence. These are often labelled as weeds. There is a dance between the power of the weed and us. Allowing weeds to grow in your garden is not just a new fashion, which calls for a wild patch alongside tame ones; wildness is necessary within a garden, it’s a connection between nature and ourselves.

My own private forest where wildlife abounds.

A wildlife haven for insects, birds and small mammals
 
 Sitting in the shade here, watching insects and birds, is a real joy!

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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Building a wildlife pond

Having water in a garden is one of the most soothing aspects of owning a garden. The sound of a fountain or water gushing gently over a waterfall is one of the most calming sounds to the senses.
Water in the garden is a great attraction for birds, insects and other wildlife. I can't think of anything better than the sound of frogs croaking me to sleep at night! .
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Placing the pond .
 
1.   Place the pond near a tree or fairly dense shrub where the birds can seek refuge. If you will be planting some shrubs or a tree, try and choose something evergreen, as falling leaves and seeds can play havoc with a pond.
2.   Position it so that you can relax and watch the comings and goings of the wildlife
3.   Check in which direction the water would naturally flow and place the pond accordingly so that it looks as natural as possible.
4.   Check for tree roots or other underground obstacles such as water pipes and electricity cables before using a pick.
5.   If you have children make sure you will be able to secure the pond.
6.   To attract wildlife place the pond in a quiet corner of the garden.
7.   Make sure the pond has at least some strong direct sunlight.
8.   Small ponds and water features need some form of circulation and filtration. You would therefore need an electrical point for your system. 
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Digging the pond
Mark out your pond – this can be done with flour or a hosepipe.
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Remember the bare hole looks a lot bigger than when the pond is finished so add about 25% to the size of the hole
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Make sure that about one third of the edge is very shallow and gently slopes in towards the middle of pond.  This is vitally important as it is the area the birds and insects will use and feel safe. They will not use a pond with steeply sloping sides as they will not feel safe.
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If you are creating a little waterfall (recommended as this helps aerate the water) make a ledge, I built mine up by about 1m, which will be covered by the liner or cement and onto which you can place the base rocks of the waterfall.
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If you are using a plastic liner, place a thin layer (about 5cm) of river sand on the bottom of the pond, the ledges and edges.  This gives you a little leeway to seat the rock properly.
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You could use a plastic liner like Firestone Pondgard EPDM Liner. Not only is it flexible and easy to lay and fold but is also 100% safe for aquatic life. Remember to measure the hole accurately and allow ample liner to go over the edges. If you buy only just enough liner to cover the hole, even the slightest movement could cause leaking over the edge.
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Take particular note of the waterfall or “pot” area as these are the areas where the liner may move or the cement might get worn out as the water cascades over the rocks. The water could leak behind the liner or under the rocks placed in the cement. This is very difficult to see and would mean breaking down the whole waterfall to fix it.
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I, however, opted to cement out my pond and when that was completely dry, we sealed it with a pond cement sealer, which you can see here as black in colour. I also planted a thatch umbrella for a seating area from which to survey the surrounds.
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While cementing out the pond, we also cemented in big rocks around the edge and in strategic places in the shallow parts. After about a week the sealer was dry and we could fill the pond.
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On the shallow edges, place gravel to a level that some of the stones actually go over the edge and stick out of the water a little. This will make it easy for insects and other small wildlife to use the water.
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If you wish to have a clean healthy pond, it is important both to keep the water moving and to possibly have a bio-filter. This need not be an expensive exercise although I do recommend that you buy the best quality pump you can afford.
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Because my pond is fairly large, I bought a ,75kW swimming pool pump to circulate the water over the waterfall and through a pipe to the fountain. The inlet or suction pipe, right at the bottom and deepest end of the pond, was built in before cementing out the pond, coming out on top of the ground where the pump was to be situated. On the outlet side I have a pipe, slightly under-ground, leading to over the waterfall, with a T-piece taking some of the water to a pipe into the pond for the fountain.    

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The grass soon started growing in the dug over area and within a couple of weeks the water lilies started flowering.
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It's also wise to install a pipe from a nearby tap for filling the pond. Before I installed mine (which can be seen on the left at the back of the pond) I was using a hosepipe, which can take absolute hours!
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A couple of ducks and geese enjoying their new home.
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Some Egyptian Geese soon discovered the pond!
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 Housing for the ducks
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Winter at the pond - Next on the list was planting shrubs and trees in the pond area. I chose some indigenous Acacias and Celtis africana.
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  Some new shrubs at the back of the pond (Butterfly bush, Buddleia salvifolia - a bit messy for this area...)
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 Within 2 or 3 seasons, the trees were becoming really well-established.
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The Water scorpion snacking on an insect in the pond 

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The grass has grown well and the shrubs are also coming along nicely. I'm thrilled that frogs have found their way into the pond area, as have dragonflies, water beetles, pond skaters and even a few harmless snakes, like the Mole Snake and Brown House Snake. They are indeed welcome as rats can be quite a problem with chicken and duck food around. I can honestly say that I will never, ever again be without water in my garden, not matter where I might find myself! 
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 I started my pond in 2004 and this is what it looks like now 10 years later.  
 A Wild Olive in the corner and the Butterfly bushes behind the pond. In the foreground are some Kniphofias (Red Hot Pokers) that just love water and benefit from the pond's over-flow. 


Frogs and insects benefits from some plants on the edge of the pond and a log for safety.  


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