:: I sit and drink tea in the mornings, 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 ::

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Pet wrangler

You care for all creatures, great and small. 
Whether they bark, tweet or even snarl.
Your house is a zoo and your bed a haven, 

because refusing puppy dog eyes is an impossible feat.
You’re most at ease when surrounded by fur, 

because birds of a feather flock together.

You're a pet wrangler! xx


Friday, 22 August 2014

White-faced whistling ducks

Watercolour on Visual 200gsm 

Nonnetjie-eend [Afrikaans] 

White faced ducks (Dendrocygna viduata - also called White-faced Whistling duck) painted from a photograph I took at Sun City in North-West Province (South Africa) some years ago. They vocalize frequently with distinctive high-pitched, multi-syllabic whistles which sound very un-duck-like and their sweet "tweeeeet" belies their belligerent and boisterous nature as they constantly bicker and fight among one another, they're never still for a moment! Just getting a couple of photos was quite a job as they constantly swim and fly to and fro over the pond.

The lovely pond is situated right against the dining room windows of the Cascades Hotel, which offers gorgeous views over the gardens.

Most foraging activity takes place at night, so there is much nocturnal flying; during the day the birds roost near the water, often in flocks of several hundred, and preen themselves and others. They are found in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Northern Namibia, Eastern Botswana and South Africa.

The adult males have the front half of their head and throat white and the rest of their head and neck are black with white patches on the underside of the neck the lower neck and wing shoulders are chestnut; their flanks are barred black on white the rest of the underparts, underside of wings, the rump and tail are black.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

There's a whisper in the garden...

There's a whisper in the garden that spring might be on her way...


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Soar like an Eagle

I'm not in the best of moods today. I've been hurt and betrayed by somebody I deeply care about and my heart is heavy. So while I try and overcome this blow I've been dealt, like this Eagle, I will try and soar above the storm until it has cleared. If anybody else out there is hurting, may you also somehow find comfort in your time of trouble.


Saturday, 2 August 2014

I put a seed into the ground and said, "I'll watch it grow."

I put a seed into the ground And said, "I'll watch it grow." I watered it and cared for it As well as I could know. One day I walked in my back yard, And oh, what did I see! My seed had popped itself right out, Without consulting me! - by Gwendolyn Brooks
I've always been fascinated by sunflowers, partly because they're so huge and have such a sunny disposition and partly because I feed a lot of sunflower seeds to my various birds and chickens. A couple of months ago, last year beginning October 2013, to be exact, I decided to plant a few of my own and scattered some seeds in an empty spot. I watered the area and then waited.
24th October 2013
They popped through the ground within a week, two tiny little plants reaching for the sun. Within another 2 weeks, they were already 30cm (12") tall. But there were only two, of about two dozen seeds I planted and they chose the most inaccessible spot to launch their growth, right next to my Barrel Cactus, so I couldn't even transplant them to a better position. But who am I to decided where is the better position, obviously they think that, right where they are, is perfect!
 12th November 2013
Three weeks later the tallest sunflower was already standing over 5' tall and showing the first signs of budding. I could just manage to look at its crown by bending the plant over slightly to take a pic.
3rd December 2013
7th December 2013 
Another three weeks later, 8th December, and the tallest one was just over 15' and the flower had opened. The second one's flower opened a week later.
16th December 2013, approx. 8 weeks after planting
A couple of weeks before, the flowers would face East in the morning and by late afternoon would be facing almost due West. It really is true that Sunflowers seem to follow the sun! But as the plant matured, the flower eventually stayed facing East, due to the stalk becoming more rigid and to prevent scorching of the flower in the midday and late afternoon sun. 
Just before Christmas, the flowers and most of the leaves started drying up and soon I was able to harvest some seeds for my birds! And to plant more in the garden...
This was taken on the 16th January 2014, and it seemed it was going to take just as long before I could harvest the seeds as it took for the plant to grow! 
So all in all it seems the farmer has to wait 18 weeks before he can harvest his crop and get some money in. No wonder sunflower seeds are so expensive!


Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Starling and the Weaver

Yesterday afternoon, while sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee, I saw a bright glint of blue through some plants. I had my camera with me as I had been taking photographs earlier on. I focused on the flash of blue through the plants and to my delight saw this Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis nitens) and a Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) at one of my bird baths. The Starling seemed to be aware of me, but the Weaver was not perturbed by me or the Starling, hopping into the water and splashing water all over the Starling, who looked like he was also going to hop in, but never got around to it.

The Weaver spent a couple of minutes splashing around before taking off into the trees and settling down to preen himself. The Starling took a couple of drinks of water and also disappeared into the trees, sure that I was spying on him!


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Remember the birds in winter

One of the joys of having a garden, is the amount of wildlife it draws. Birds, lizards, insects, hedgehogs, butterflies, bees, the list is endless.

n winter the wild birds can have a hard time finding enough food. As winter approaches, many birds change some of their eating habits. Birds that usually eat insects may start to eat berries or fruit to supplement their diets. Birds will start to look for reliable sources of food for wintertime survival. Turn your garden into a haven which they will frequently visit for something to eat and drink. Feeding the birds is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby in the midst of chilly winter weather

To attract the greatest number of species in the winter, it is important to have a number of different birdfeeders available, Ideally, winter birdfeeders should be placed in sheltered locations out of the most severe winds. Placing feeders closer to the house will be effective and will help keep the birds visible for indoor bird watching. At the same time, feeders should be placed near protective cover such as hedges or trees to offer birds safety from predators.

In winter, I put out food and water on a regular basis. In severe weather, I feed twice daily: in the morning and in the early afternoon. During summer I cut down to once daily, in the morning, with a good mix of Black sunflower seeds, pinhead oatmeal, soaked sultanas, raisins and currants, mild grated cheese, mealworms, mixes for insectivorous birds and good seed mixtures. Soft apples and pears cut in half, bananas and grapes are also good. Some people use soaked dog or cat food and tinned pet foods, but these may attract rats, crows and cats. Avoid using peanuts, fat and bread in summer, since these can be harmful if adult birds feed them to their nestlings

Fill a pine cone with peanut butter and then roll it in some bird seed. Tie your pine cone to a tree with a piece of string or wire and soon you will have dozens of new feathered friends flocking into your garden for this lovely snack

A quick, easy and inexpensive way to cater for the fruit eaters is to bend a wire coat hanger into a heart-shape. Add another piece of soft, pliable wire to the top of the hanger onto which to attach the apple, hang in a tree and voila! bob's your uncle! The Black-headed Orioles regularly visit to enjoy the fruit I put out.

This is the scene that greets me most mornings when I go out to fill the feeders and feeding tables. This crowd is a mix of Buntings, Larks, Canaries, Weavers, Laughing Doves and possibly a few Queleas as well.

Laughing Doves waiting on the power lines

Weavers in the peach tree

As soon as I turn my back after filling all the various feeders, everybody swarms down to see what is on offer!

A feeder that can do double duty for seeds or for fresh water

A seed cage keeps waste to the minimum

Birds require high energy (high fat) foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their fat reserves to survive the frosty nights. Use only good quality food and scraps. A suet feeder, like the one above, provides them with a good source of fat and protein.

My Cape Robin enjoying some of the fruit on offer.

Experts disagree about whether backyard bird feeding will significantly help bird populations. But feeding certainly can help individual birds in your neighbourhood.

And don't worry if you must stop feeding briefly—while going on holiday, for example. In all but the most severe weather conditions, wild birds will find other food in your absence, particularly in suburban areas where other bird feeders are just a short flight away. If you live in a rural or isolated area, however, try to arrange to have a neighbour maintain the feeders during winter absences.


Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Ant and the sunflower bud

Camera : Canon EOS 550D 
Taken in my garden – Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa 
See the tiny ant at the bottom of the bud? He is just an extra bonus!

Sunflowers are very attractive to aphids, therefore I normally have a couple of them growing amongst my flowers. And where aphid colonies exist, ants are sure to follow. Just before I took this pic, I noticed the aphids on the underside of the leaves and what amazed me was the fact that each aphid had its own ant!

Ants are attracted to aphids because of a sticky, sweet substance they produce when feeding, called honeydew. Honeydew isn’t the sole food source for ants, but when an aphid colony is in the area, the ants can harvest this nutrient-rich substance continually with less effort than what is required to constantly locate new food sources. Because of this, ants protect aphid colonies ferociously, warding off other pests and parasites. I just leave the aphids, they never seem to do much damage to the sunflowers and at least it keeps them away from my other flowers.

As I do not use any pesticides in my garden whatsoever, I normally eliminate aphids from my flowers with blasts of water from a garden hose. Once dislodged, the pests are unable to re-attach before they die.

I took two of the ants and put them on a wooden pole on my patio so I could get a picture, It was almost impossible to get a picture of them at the bottom of the leaves. These two just sat there, unsure of what was happening and why they were in a strange place. After I took the photograph, I edged them back onto the sheet of paper and placed them back on the leaf, where they immediately started running around trying to get their bearings.

The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant native to the Americas.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Veldfire aftermath

Shortly after I took the photos of yesterday's veldfire which swept through our smallholding, the wind changed direction and the fire hurtled up the rest of the plot, coming close to the pallisade fencing around the house. Solly's chickens, who were just outside the wall and directly in the path of the flames, all charged through the gate and into my back-yard, looking confused at all the smoke and flames billowing around. This is their first season on the plot and they've never seen a fire before.

Besides being a threat to life and home, these wild fires are devastating to the wildlife. Lizards, Hedgehogs, Tortoises, hares (usually fast enough to escape), ground-nesting birds and other small wildlife are all at risk when these fires race along, driven by strong winds.

But these fires, when they are a natural occurrence and not started by someone carelessly tossing down a cigarette, also benefit nature. Some of our Aloes will not flower until they've been burnt by our winter fires. Another benefit of these fires is all the crispy tit-bits it leaves in its wake. Later that afternoon we had dozens of Egrets, Herons and Plovers snacking on the blackened landscape. Even the Fiscal Shrike was joining in the feast.

 Here a hapless lizard is being devoured by one of the Herons

And down it goes! (See how thick his throat is)

"Now that was nice! What's next on the menu?" The Egret doesn't seem too happy about the Heron getting the best tit-bits

The Egret has also found something!

 The Heron seems to have spied something...

Giving chase...

the chase is on! I could for the life of me not see what he was after. These birds were all quite far from me, about 90 meters, so the pics are not that great.

The Crowned Plovers and Blacksmith Plovers were also out in force, but unfortunately they were too far for me to get a decent picture.

Every April we cut the grass on our smallholding and make fire-breaks to minimise the damage and the grass being short certainly helps, but every year we still have to be vigilant and keep an eye open for these fires, which can come from any direction.



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