:: I sit and drink tea in the mornings, paint in the afternoons and come out at dusk to listen as the world tucks itself in for the night :: Please won't you join me? ::

In nature there is a large place for sentiment. Nature is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.

:: Living simply ::

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Lessons from Nature

I look at the sky so blue, sun shining so bright
Spreading heat and happiness with its blinding light
I watch the waves crash in, breaking on the shore
All their anger dispensed on the oceans floor
Long blades of grass swaying in the gentle breeze
Dancing in rhythm with so much ease

Look up at the trees hearing the singing of the birds
Happily chirping singing at ease without words
Sitting here holding my knees to my chest
Watching and hearing nature at it s best
I ponder how Nature could get it so right
When we have let Natures lessons get so out of sight

We hold our anger, let our happiness slip away
Making our survival a struggle each and every day
We have forgotten the little things that mean so much
Like the laughter, the freedom, and someone's loving touch
If only I could make people stop, watch and listen to Natures tale
We could all sit back happily and our world would not be so frail

In each others existence in harmony we could all survive
I'm sure like the sun, wind, tree, and birds our lives we could revive
If only we let nature take its course in each and every one of us each day and night
As I sit and ponder how Nature got it so right ...

and we lost all sight.


Poem from Family Friend Poems

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Southern masked-weaver - Ploceus velatus

This time of the year (winter) it is very difficult to distinguish between who is male and who is female with these abundant Southern Masked Weavers in my garden. In summer the male's bright yellow and black plumage is quite unmistakable, but now only their demeanour can give me a clue as to who's who.

The upright stance of these two birds clearly indicates they are males. Just moments before, another male tried to join the group at the feeding station and after a short scuffle, these two made it quite clear that he is not welcome!

Above is a Black-throated Canary (Crithagra atrogularis) having a hard time finding space on the bird feeder. These sometimes inconspicuous canaries have a wonderful "tweet-sweet" call which always draws me out to the garden to see if I can get a pic, but they are very skittish.

A group discussion about what's available for breakfast!

Now, is that edible or not...?

 A female (I presume!) Southern Masked Weaver inspecting what's on offer.

These weavers occur across southern Africa even in arid areas, extending into Angola, Zambia and Malawi. It generally favours semi-arid scrub, open Savannah, woodland edges, riverine thicket, farmland with scattered trees, alien tree plantations and gardens.

These birds are greatly preyed upon by the Ovambo sparrowhawk, Little sparrowhawk, Peregrine falcon and Lanner falcon. The eggs and chicks are in danger from the Boomslang, Common fiscal shrike, African grey hornbill and Vervet monkeys. Yet these gregarious birds continue to thrive and their conservation status is LC (least concern).

It mainly eats seeds, fruit (yet I've never seen them show any interest in the fruit I put out, maybe they prefer only certain berries), insects and nectar, doing most of its foraging in small flocks, gleaning prey from leaves and branches, taking seeds from the ground and grass stems. They love Cosmos flower seeds and are also partial to seeds of elms. Recorded fruits are from
  • Rhus pyroides (Common currant)
  • Prunus (Satsuma plum)
  • Viscum rotundifolium (mistletoe)
  • Ehretia rigida (Puzzle-bush)
They also eat the flower parts of Prunus (peaches and apricots), Rhigozum trichotomum (Driedoring) and Tagetes erecta (African marigold). They love the nectar from
  • Aloe marlothii (Mountain aloe)
  • Tecoma capensis (Cape honeysuckle)
  • Schotia brachypetala (Weeping boer-bean)
  • Eucalyptus sideroxylon (Red ironbark)
  • Hibiscus rose-sinensis (hibiscus)
They love insects such as Coleoptera (beetles and their larvae), termites, Ephemeroptera (mayflies) and caterpillars (larval stage of Lepidoptera). They are also partial to human food like bread and porridge.

However, distinguishing between the sexes can be made as follows : The adult male in breeding plumage has a black face, throat and beak, red eye, bright yellow head and underparts, and a plain yellowish-green back. The female has a pinkish-brown bill, brown or red-brown eye and is dull greenish-yellow, streaked darker on the upper back. The throat is yellowish, fading to off-white on the belly. The non-breeding male resembles the female but retains the red eye. The juvenile of this species is like the female.

These birds are polygynous, as males may mate with up to about 12 females in a single breeding season, living in colonies with 1-9 males in total, while each female may often rear multiple broods per breeding season. It is much less aggressive in comparison to most other weavers, although it viciously attacks Diederick cuckoos if they enter its territory. 

Now, in winter, the nests are all empty and abandoned.

The nest  is built solely by the male, consisting of a kidney-shaped structure with a large entrance on the bottom, made of woven grass, palm leaves or reeds with a ceiling of leaves, such as Acacia and Eucalyptus. If the female accepts the nest she lines the interior with leaves, grass inflorescences and feathers.

Egg-laying season is from July-March, peaking from September-February. She lays 1-6, usually 2-4 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 12-14 days. The chicks are fed by the female only on a diet of soft insect larvae and grasshoppers, leaving the nest after about 16-17 days.

Every summer I stand watching the African Masked Weavers building their nests in my garden and it’s a hive of activity! Usually there are at least ten of them, with great squabbling going on in between building sessions. This guy seems to be saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know!” I stand amazed at the symmetry and perfection of their work.


Thursday, 30 July 2015

Do Not Disturb! - a nesting or hibernating Hedgehog

If you suspect that a Hedgehog has made a nest somewhere in your garden, leave it alone! In the summer it may be a mother and babies; in the winter an animal might be hibernating. Look forward to seeing the hedgehogs again when they emerge.

Sometimes a Hedgehog might be spotted virtually in the open, sleeping on a bed of leaves. Leave it alone, it might just be napping and, if it gets cold enough, it will soon wake to find a warmer spot. Hibernation is not continuous and periodically the hedgehogs wake up and their temperature returns to near normal. They seldom move about, but simply remain alert in the nest.
By mid-winter, most hedgehogs will have started to hibernate. Any late-born youngsters still found wandering about on these cold winter days are unlikely to survive for very long. I never advocate removing any wild creature from nature, but in the case of very young hedgehogs, I will collect them when I find them late in the season and keep them in a fenced area where I can provide shelter for them, sometimes even keeping them in the house until the worst cold is over. The problem with keeping them inside is that they don’t know it’s winter and will spend the time awake, running about!

Hedgehogs often make use of man-made hibernation spots like boxes or any other structures that offer protection, so think about providing a few cosy spots where the hedgies can find a safe place to hibernate or nest.

It is therefore a good idea not to remove leaf litter from your garden in winter (luckily there are lots of trees shedding their leaves in winter!), it provides a warm and safe haven for any little mammals visiting your garden.


Saturday, 18 July 2015

Orb-web Spiderling

The spider's touch, how exquisitely fine!
Feels at each thread, and lives along the line.
~Alexander Pope


I was SO excited this morning - discovered an Orb-web spiderling, just 3cm from the tip of her front legs to the tips of the hind legs, in my garden this morning! - she had just anchored here lines between a Cape Reed Grass spike and the one pillar of the patio when I took the picture and when I returned half an hour later, she had started on her wheel, complete with the typical thick zig-zag lines in the centre.

During the process of making an orb web, the spider will use its own body for measurements.

Many webs span gaps between objects which the spider could not cross by crawling. This is done by letting out a first fine adhesive thread to drift on the faintest breeze across a gap. When it sticks to a suitable surface at the far end, the spider will carefully walk along it and strengthen it with a second thread. This process is repeated until the thread is strong enough to support the rest of the web.

After strengthening the first thread, the spider will continue to make a Y-shaped netting. The first three radials of the web are now constructed. (the "Y"-thread can be seen in the pic below by her hind legs). More radials are added, making sure that the distance between each radial is small enough to cross. This means that the number of radials in a web directly depends on the size of the spider plus the size of the web.

After the radials are complete, the spider will fortify the center of the web with about five circular threads. Then a spiral of non-sticky, widely spaced threads is made for the spider to easily move around its own web during construction, working from the inside out. Then, beginning from the outside in, the spider will methodically replace this spiral with another, more closely spaced one of adhesive threads. It will utilize the initial radiating lines as well as the non-sticky spirals as guide lines. The spaces between each spiral will be directly proportional to the distance from the tip of its back legs to its spinners. This is one way the spider will use its own body as a measuring/spacing device. While the sticky spirals are formed, the non-adhesive spirals are removed as there is no need for them any more.

Many orb-weavers build a new web each day. I have often watched this process. Generally, towards evening, the spider will consume the old web, rest for approximately an hour, then spin a new web in the same general location. Thus, the webs of orb-weavers are generally free of the accumulation of detritus common to other species such as black widow spiders.

Camera: Canon EOS 550D - Location: My bathroom court-yard garden, Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa
(I did post this in 2012, but thought I'd bring it forward)


Friday, 17 July 2015

Tread softly!

If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive. 

Our egos tells us we're the only ones that have any kind of feelings. We're the only ones with a relationship. We're the only ones with family. You know, I think that, if you kill a spider, there is a relationship that you're ruining.

There's a conversation going on outside with the other spiders.

"Did you hear about Chris?.... Killed! Yeah.... SNEAKER! And now Stephanie has nine hundred babies to raise all alone. Well, she's got her legs full I'll tell you that right now. Chris was so kind, wouldn't hurt a fly. It's just been tough for them lately. They just lost their web last week. Those humans think they're so smart. Let them try shooting silk out of their butt and see what they can make!”


Saturday, 4 July 2015

The home-wreckers!

Common mynahs are tame, bold, and noisy birds; usually seen in pairs or small flocks. They build bulky nests in tree cavities, pockets in buildings, in heavy vegetation and in thatch roofing! A pair moved into my garden a couple of years ago and took to nesting in the little thatch roof over my front entrance gate. Despite numerous attempts at evicting them and repairing the roof, they have been very persistent and this is the current state of my little thatch entrance!

The male keeping a beady eye on me after the female entered the nest with a tit-bit for the babies.

A fledgling sitting in my peach tree

Females lay four to five glossy, pale blue eggs. The incubation period is thirteen to eighteen days. Both parents incubate the eggs. The nestlings may leave the nest at around twenty-two days or longer, but may still not be able to fly for another seven days or so. And this happens several times a year! Mynahs are very territorial and every time nestlings have fledged, I've watched the parents lead them away from our property as soon as they could fly, returning empty-handed and the cycle starts all over again. 

The Myna has been introduced in many other parts of the world and its distribution range is on the increase to an extent that, in 2000, the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN) declared it among the World's 100 worst invasive species. The Myna is one of only three birds in this list of invasive species. It is a serious threat to the ecosystems of Australia and South Africa.

However, the intelligence and loving spirit of these amazing birds is beyond description. When I rescued a fledgling a couple of years ago, I called her Mai and she grew up in my studio and had free range of the house and garden, and one of her favourite past-times was her early-morning bath in the bird bath in the garden, after which she would fly into my studio, roosting on top of the computer screen, preening herself until she was all sparkling and shiny.

 Mai on the back of my office chair, watching as I re-pack the chaos she has caused

They are also extremely playful and inquisitive. She would investigate every item in my studio, picking up the gemclip holder, fishing out a few and then hiding them in all sorts of nooks and crannies, often returning to find and play with her treasures. 

Mai sitting on my knee, intently watching as I eat my sandwich, desperately hoping for a tit-bit!

She was extremely fond of people and one day, after approaching somebody in our driveway, she disappeared mysteriously and I'm convinced that she landed on their shoulder and that the person climbed into their car and drove off with her. I was totally devastated, and I just prayed that they did not cage her, as she was a wonderful free spirit.


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Eager for Winter?

The middle of winter here in S.A., and while the rest of the garden is snoozing, the Cape Reed Grass is growing as if it's spring, sending out new shoots and looking absolutely lovely! Until the chickens discover this new delight, that is. As you can see from the old growth, this plant is their favourite to climb on top of. I've had a close look inside, to see if there's anything special that they might be feeding on, worms, grubs, something, but I couldn't find anything. And I got pricked to boot, those little stalks are firm and hard! Maybe they get a good tummy massage... Mmmmm.....

My garden is definitely looking worse for the wear - every bit of greenery (as you can see on the Sword fern on the left) is being utilized by my chooks seeing as the lawn is mostly dead and brown. They're great grazers, chickens, and besides insects and their daily diet of corn, they spend the rest of the day snacking on the tender little shoots on the lawn.

And it’s that time of the year again – winter, dry grass and veld fires. And even though all our fire breaks have been done and the grass is very short, a strong wind fanned the flames to sometimes huge proportions, picking up pieces of the flames and throwing them into the air like dancing angels.

One of our workers seemingly fighting a losing battle trying to stop the fire from spreading on our smallholding. To the right outside the pic are several other workers also trying their best. One of the drawbacks of being on a farm or smallholding is no municipal services like refuse collection or fire brigade services, even though we do pay our fair share of rates and taxes!

 The aftermath - this fire spread from our neighbour’s property (the yellow house) through our property, instantly leaving the landscape charred and little animals fleeing for their life.

As soon as the land cooled off a bit, the Herons, Egrets and Plovers were out in force, snacking on crispy tit-bits

This Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala) is a regular summer visitor to our smallholding and doesn't get particularly perturbed by being photographed. It often feeds in shallow water, spearing fish or frogs with its long, sharp bill. It will also hunt well away from water, taking large insects, small mammals, and birds. It will wait motionless for its prey, or slowly stalk its victim. Both sexes are alike, so I have no idea whether this is a male or a female.

The Karoo Thrush and his/her mate are still hard at work annexing my Robin's territory, finishing the fruit I put out before Robbie even knows it's there.

My pond has sprung a leak, right at the bottom, and at the worst possible time in this freezing weather.

This is how much it has drained so far. Next step is to scoop out the last bit of water (being careful and keeping an eye open for any aquatic wildlife, there are quite a few water scorpions, water beetles and frogs in there), repair the leak, give it a couple of days to dry and then fill it up again, but I'm waiting for a day a bit warmer than 16℃!

“Thy breath be rude," William Shakespeare famously told winter in As You Like It, invoking a common complaint about the season: winter is cold, windy, bleak, awful, a common outlook still persisting today. But I don't agree. Cold, yes, awful, no. I think the trees enjoy the well-earned rest, all the birds in my garden carry on about their daily business as usual and it is invigorating digging and doing chores when the weather is cooler.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Robin is the one

THE ROBIN is the one
That interrupts the morn
With hurried, few, express reports
When March is scarcely on.
The robin is the one
That overflows the noon
With her cherubic quantity,
An April but begun.

The robin is the one
That speechless from her nest
Submits that home and certainty
And sanctity are best.

I am rather sad writing this post - just as my "OC Robin" (obsessive compulsive!) got so very tame that I could actually capture pictures of him in my house, he was attacked in my lounge a couple of weeks ago by the Karoo Thrush, who also took to coming into the house, and Robbie hasn't set foot inside the house since. Luckily he is unscathed by this territorial dispute and even though the Robin is very cheeky and normally does not back off, the much larger Thrush got the upper-hand this time.

Karoo Thrush (Turdus smithi) - mean-looking, right?

Here are some pics of Robbie in my house :

Robbie making himself at home on one of the chairs in the kitchen. the up-lifted tail is a sign that he is aware of me and not at all pleased!

The Cape Robin Chat (Cossypha caffra) is renowned for its strange behaviour. There are many reports of Robins finding strange nesting places inside homes - a potted plant in a lounge, on top of window sills in the house, even a woman's handbag in her closet! It has even been recorded to have placed the nest in a dried flower arrangement in the lounge of the Grahamstown Golf Club! And they are not adverse to following one around the garden and Robbie seems to know some snacks are going to appear - as soon as he sees me with my spade or garden trowel, he gets close, nabbing cutworms and other insects I up-earth. He also loves it when I water the garden with the hose pipe, trudging around in the water like a seasoned water fowl, snapping up floating insects disturbed by the water.

Robbie following me around the garden

The Robin mainly eats insects and other invertebrates, supplemented with fruit and seeds plucked from bushes, trees or the ground. It does a lot of its foraging in leaf litter, flicking through plant debris in search of food and occasionally aerially hawking an insect; it may also glean invertebrates from leaves, branches and rocks. It readily visits bird feeders and will eat most snacks offered to it. My Robbie is extremely fond of minced meat, which he used to come and snack on in my kitchen (before the Thrush incident!). Now I put it on one of the nails on the bird feeder above, but he's very wary to approach it, as the Thrush is also a mince lover! Oh my, I have a real territorial dispute problem in my garden now!

The Cape Robin Chat is monogamous and a highly territorial solitary nester, as the male aggressively defends his territory against other males as well as other species, such as white-eyes, sunbirds and doves. The nest is usually built solely by the female in about 1-14 days, gathering a clump of material together before shuffling its body into it to form a cup. It is usually made out of bark fragments, twigs, dry grass, fern fronds, rootlets, dead leaves, moss and seed pods and lined with finer fibres, such as hair, rootlets and plant inflorescences. It is most commonly placed in a hollow in an earthen bank, cavity in a tree trunk, densely foliaged shrub, dry flood debris along a stream bank, or in pots or boxes overgrown with vegetation.

Egg-laying season is from about June-January, peaking around October-November. She lays 2-3 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 14-19 days. The female broods the chicks throughout the night and intermittently through the day, for the first 5-11 days of their lives. They are fed by both parents, eventually leaving the nest at about 14-18 days old, remaining dependent on their parents for about 5-7 weeks more. During this period the adults are particularly viglant about protecting their young, sometimes even attacking snakes such as the Boomslang (Dispholidus typus) and Cape cobra (Naja nivea).


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