:: 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, 4 October 2015

Robin babies up-date

The Robin babies as at 9am 4th October 2015

Ever since my Robin's babies hatched a couple of days ago, I've been on tenterhooks, keeping an eye open and listening for trouble. And this morning it seemed like the unthinkable had happened!

I heard both Robins making their alarm call - a sort of gutteral 'chir-chir-chir chir-chir-chir' and immediately I knew there was trouble. I flew outside and there, right next to the Robin's nest on the paving, was the Fiscal Shrike busy killing a baby bird. My heart fairly bounced with fear and I rushed up to her, throwing my arms in the air and screaming at her. I immediately presumed it was the Robin's baby and picked it up, but on closer inspection, I realised it was a Masked Weaver baby (sort of sigh of relief!). There are some Weaver nests just above Robbie's nest and Mrs. Fiscal must have plucked the baby out of it, or else it must've fallen out and she, opportunist that she is, could just have found it. Which is the more likely scenario, because I've been supplying her with enough food for her three fledglings to prevent just this sort of thing happening.

After my initial fright had subsided, I peered into Robbie's nest to make sure his babies were OK and they both responded by opening their mouths wide for me and this time I was ready with the camera!

I think I'll be getting my deck chair and settle in with some coffee and a good book near Robbie's nest ...


Saturday, 3 October 2015

My Robin has babies!

Since I photographed my Robin's eggs (Cape Robin-chat - Cossypha caffra), on the 24th September 2015, I've been keeping track of Mrs. Robin as she sits on the eggs, and early this morning I noticed her carrying titbits of minced meat that I put on the feeding table and small insects to the nest and what do I find? Two TINY little babies! I only managed these two not-so-good shots, I don't want to interfere too much, but as she was away for a couple of moments, I took the chance.I am utterly and totally thrilled because, although they have already reared a few broods in my garden, this is the first time I've caught sight of the tiny babies!

As I moved some of the foliage to get a better view, one of the babies felt movement and opened its mouth wide, expecting some food, but I wasn't quick enough to capture that.

A cropped version of the pic just above

Egg-laying season is from about June-January, peaking around October-November. It 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.


Fiscal Shrike fledglings (Lanius collaris)

After my Fiscal Shrikes reared two babies in July this year, I'm absolutely thrilled that she is rearing three more (late Sept. 2015)! A couple of weeks ago, as I put out minced meat on the feeding table early in the mornings, I watched as the female took pieces to the nest up in one of my Acacias, so I knew there were babies, but three is a surprise! In the picture above, the third baby is just to the left out of the camera’s zoom view. I just could not capture all three of them together, the one, which I think is the eldest of the three, is very independent and always off somewhere else.

Quite unperturbed at my presence, this little one, the third, independent one, was contentedly relaxing after a nice fat grasshopper.

The Fiscal Shrike s also sometimes named jackie hangman or butcher bird due to its habit of impaling its prey on acacia thorns to store the food for later consumption, therefore the Afrikaans name of ‘Fiskaallaksman’. Endemic to Southern Africa, it occurs almost everywhere in South Africa, extending into much of Namibia, Zimbabwe and southern Botswana. It occupies a wide variety of habitats but generally prefers open habitats with scattered trees, such as savanna, open woodland, shrubland and grassland. It is also extremely common in man-made habitats such as gardens, parks, farmland and roadsides.

With a full tummy, this little one is taking a snooze in the Butterfly bush at my wildlife pond

These mini raptors have a hooked beak that enables them to catch small animals and insects. They often impale their meals on thorns which explains the derivation of their name from the Latin word for butcher. They sit upright on the tops of shrubs and other conspicuous perches to spot their prey and also to advertise their presence to competitors. They are endemic to Southern Africa.

Afrikaans : Fiskaallaksman

Ever since the Karoo Thrush evicted Robbie (my Cape Robin-chat) from my house, I've been putting mince for him on one of the feeding tables in the garden. Now Mrs. Fiscal has recognised my whistle for Robbie and comes to join the feast, carrying titbits of minced meat to her little ones. This is a valuable source of protein and fat for them, but in between I've watched her catching nice fat grasshoppers and worms, also valuable roughage for them.

Mrs. Fiscal heading back to the feeding table for another round of snacks

The Fiscal's nest in my Acacia karroo, a rather large and messy arrangement of twigs, leaves and all sorts of other things, but lined with softer grasses in the centre.

The Fiscal Shrike is a monogamous, highly territorial solitary nester. Males defend their territory ferociously against other males, often grabbing their opponent with their claws and then pecking them repeatedly. The female handles most of the nest construction, a process which lasts 2-5 days. It is a thickly walled cup made of twigs, flower heads, bark, grass, leafy herbs and moss, sometimes also including paper, rags, spider web, feathers and cocoons. It is usually placed in the fork of a thorny bush or small tree, building a new nest each breeding season.

Typically 2-3 broods are produced within the breeding season each consisting of a 1-5, usually 3-4 eggs clutch. These are incubated mainly by the female for 12-16 days.

The chicks are fed mainly by the mostly the female in the first week, after which the male gradually takes more responsibility. They stay in the nest for about 14-21 days and can feed for themselves about 3 weeks later. However, they only become independent after a few more weeks, leaving their parents territory at about 4 months old.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

My Robin is nesting!

Since My Cape Robin-chat (Cossypha caffra) moved into my garden a couple of years ago, I've watched him and his wife rear many a brood, but never managed to get a shot of the nest and eggs. Last month (August) I watched as they made their nest in my bathroom court-yard amongst the ferns and managed to get a nice pic of this perfect little home!

But before they could occupy this neat little space, the Karoo Thrush started snooping around, obviously having seen the activity of nest-building, and Robbie and his wife gave up the idea of laying eggs here.

At the moment there's a war raging in my garden. It started when the Karoo thrush decided to evict Robbie from inside my house and claim the space as her own and for months Robbie never came near the house. Luckily he has returned, often spending time in my lounge and dining room and for a moment there I thought they might choose the thatch roof over my plasma TV to make a nest, but that hasn't happened yet. But out in the garden, the minute the Thrush sees the Robbie, the chase is on, and when Robbie spots the Thrush, his tail stands straight up in the air!

Then, over the past two days, I watched as the female Robin kept on going in and out of one of the Restio plants in my garden, so this morning I decided to investigate and see if they were making a new nest.

And 'lo and behold, there was the fruits of their labour, two beautiful spotted eggs! When I approached, Mrs. Robbie hurriedly left the nest, giving me a couple of minutes to get this one photograph and she was back the minute I turned my back. Hopefully the Thrush is not aware of their little hiding place. It's only about 12 inches off the ground and very private and obscured, but it always amazes me the funny places the Robin chooses to nest.

When I looked back, Robbie was sitting close-by, keeping an eye on me and making sure his wife could return in safety. I managed to get in a quick capture.

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. Egg-laying season is from about June-January, peaking around October-November. It 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 attacking snake such as the boomslang (Dispholidus typus) and Cape cobra (Naja nivea) - luckily none of those around here.

So over the next few weeks I'll be keeping a close eye and hope to catch a glimpse of the babies when they leave the nest.


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A Ground Squirrel in my garden!

Ground Squirrel or Cape Ground Squirrel - Xerus inauris
Afrikaans: Waaierstertgrondeekhoring

This is the sight that greeted me this morning as I sat in the bath. I was washing my face and suddenly something caught my eye. Ground was flying through the air and forming a mound just outside a strange hole I had found in my garden a couple of weeks ago.

It turned out that it belonged to a Ground Squirrel, something that I’ve never seen in my garden or even on our smallholding. One morning when hubby was in the bath, he called me to show me something strange walking along the wall around this court-yard garden and lo and behold, there was Mr. Ground Squirrel gently making his way between the over-hanging branches of my Wild Olive.

Image credit
Ground Squirrel in Krugersdorp Game Reserve, just 10kms from us
I’m not sure that I’m thrilled about having Mr. Squirrel in my garden. they are predominantly herbivorous, and feed mainly on roots and bulbs excavated with claws and front teeth.  These hard food items are gnawed in typical rodent fashion with the sharp incisors but they always feed on the juiciest plants available first. They occasionally take termites during summer, of which there are plenty in this part of the garden! As you can see below, my Echeverias have already pleased his taste buds!

A juicy snack right above the entrance to his new home!  

South African ground squirrels are knee-high rodents with fluffy tails and a pale racing stripe down their cinnamon-coloured flanks. At a glance, they’re easily mistaken for meerkats, since they also occur in the Karoo and Kalahari. But unlike meerkats, these little burrowers (which often live alongside meerkats) are mostly vegetarians.
Having no visible ears, they are not as pretty as their cousins, the Tree Squirrels, found mostly in tropical regions like the The Kruger Park and Mozambique.

Image credit  Siyabona
Tree Squirrel or Smith's Bush Squirrel [Paraxerus cepapi]

But look carefully, because it may in fact be a ground squirrel, or a group of them. It’s fairly easy to confuse the two, in part because they have so much in common. They’re roughly the same size, like the same terrain, also sit upright to look around, live in groups and are mad-keen burrowers. In fact, sometimes meerkats and ground squirrels actually live together.
Where they differ physically is that ground squirrels have very fluffy tails compared to meerkats, no visible ears, have pale bellies and unlike meerkats, ground squirrels are largely vegetarian. They eat seeds, soft leaves, flowers, tsamma melons (which are similar to watermelons and grow wild in the Kalahari) and the odd passing termite.
Their fluffy tails aren’t just for decoration. They use them during the heat of the day as parasols. By shading themselves from the sun, they’re able to save 5% on their energy needs.
Another trick they use to dodge the heat is to lie flat on their stomachs in the shade, legs and arms outstretched like a hearth rug, occasionally flicking sand onto their backs. If it’s cold, they simply retire to their burrows.
Compared to the precocious and amusing meerkats, ground squirrels can come across as a little country-bumpkinish. They forage on all fours, regularly sitting back on their haunches holding seeds or leaves in their clawed hands, watching you with shyly confiding eyes. You might also see high-spirited youngsters chasing each other around, leaping high in the air and jinking their fluffed-up tails.


Now the question is, to evict or not to evict? I don't think I'll be evicting Mr. Squirrel, it is SO exciting even just knowing that he has taken up residence right outside my bathroom door. I will, however, be moving my Echeverias to a less-accessible spot!


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

At this new moon, plant a seed

On the day of new moon, the moon rises when the sun rises. It sets when the sun sets. It crosses the sky with the sun during the day.

Once each month, the moon comes all the way around in its orbit so that it is more or less between us and the sun. If the moon always passed directly between the sun and Earth at new moon, a solar eclipse would take place every month. But that doesn’t happen every month. Instead, in most months, the moon passes above or below the sun as seen from our earthly vantage point.

Then a day or two later, the moon reappears, in the west after sunset. Then it’s a slim waxing crescent visible only briefly after sunset – what some call a young moon.


Monday, 14 September 2015

Monday amid the chaos

A found bird's nest in my collection

in the waning shadow of a weekend :: amid the chaos of a new week beginning :: this nest reminds me of wonders to come . for that I am ever thankful


Saturday, 5 September 2015

An Ode to Artemis

I'm not in a good place at the moment. Last Thursday (3rd September 2015) was a bad day for me. I had to have my prize rooster and the love of my girls' life euthanised because he broke his leg during a fight with Peeps, the other rooster in the flock.

Now we all know it's not a good idea to have two roosters together, but I did not know Peeps was a rooster when I rescued him from certain death as a two-day old. He grew up in my studio with Snoodles and when they were both big enough to join the flock, they went outside. Of course Artemis tolerated the youngster, but always letting him understand who's actually King of the roost. And Peeps always obliged, keeping his distance and staying out of harm's way.

Artemis surveying his dominion from his favourite perch, keeping an eye on the girls

But as time progressed and Peeps got bigger and stronger, he wasn't so keen any more to give way and every now and then he would challenge the king, but always ended up retreating to a safe corner.

Artemis has seen it all, been there, done that, sending other rivals packing in great haste. During one such altercation with a previous rooster, Mr. Chook, for whom I had to find a new home because of the constant fighting, Artemis's top part of his beak was broken almost completely off, just hanging by a thread. I glued it back on with some plastic putty and luckily it took and grew back on, the plastic putty dropping off after a few weeks.

Injuries sustained with an earlier altercation with Peeps

Soon he was a good as new and ruling the roost once again with an iron claw.

Artemis was an excellent husband and provider, always finding the best tit-bits and passing them on to one of the girls. Here Hetty came rushing after he found a nice juicy cutworm in the compost heap.

Artemis strutting his stuff on the patio

Artemis surrounded by some of the girls after he called them for a tasty snack he had found

Artemis in full glorious colour after a successful molt

Beauty in motion

Artemis taking one of his few well-deserved breaks after all the girls had settled down for a snooze under the plants

Artemis was also the inspiration for many a sketch I made of him and the girls, who can resist such beauty?

Artemis with his broken leg

After hearing quite a raucous outside one afternoon, the girls cackling and screaming, I went out to see what's happening and everybody was clustered in the centre of the lawn (including Peeps), but Artemis was nowhere to be seen. After a search, I found him under some plants, lying down with his leg at a terrible angle and his comb and neck feathers covered in blood. Obviously there had been a fight, as Peeps was also covered in blood.

I carefully picked Artemis up, hurrying inside with him to assess the damage. After cleaning off all the blood, he seemed perfectly fine, apart from his loosely dangling leg. There was no external damage, but I decided to take him to the vet anyway for an examination. The prognosis was not good and all he could do was give some pain killers and an anti-inflammatory.

For two weeks I kept a close eye on Artemis, despairing at the fact that he could hardly get to the food or water, struggling along, hopping short distances on his one leg and supporting himself with his left wing, tiring quickly and lying down again. During this time, he and the girls were kept in the run with Peeps being banished to a separate coop until Artemis was better.

By last week Thursday, after almost 3 weeks, there was absolutely no improvement and I could feel that he had lost weight. Off to the vet again. It was abvious I had two choices - either have him put down or carry on trying. I contemplated the consequences, both for him and me, if I should go that route of trying, and although my heart was screaming "keep on trying! keep on trying!", I decided that it was not fair to Artemis and that it was better to have him put to sleep. 

I held him in my arms as the vet administered the injection and cried and cried as he flapped his last death throes.

Peeps has now taken over the perch from which to keep an eye on the girls and is trying his best to meet the high standards Artemis set, taking little snacks from me and now calling the girls to come and get it in stead of gobbling it up himself like previously.

And so goes the cycle of life on a smallholding...

A loving moment - Kiep, Artemis's favourite wife, gently preening his wounds after a fight with Mr. Chook


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.



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