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

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).

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Nature's simple pleasures

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; 
 solitude will not be solitude, 
poverty will not be poverty, 
 nor weakness weakness.” 
~Henry David Thoreau 

And beauty will become apparent in all things.

Sprinkle simple pleasures throughout your day. Knowing what your simple pleasures are, and putting a few of them in each day, can go a long way to making life more enjoyable.

One of my pleasures is gardening. Gardening allows me to enjoy the simple pleasures of Nature, who never complicates things. Plants either grow or they don't. And my one simple rule is never to complicate gardening by planting something that does not naturally occur in this area, no matter how beautiful.

Another simple pleasure is taking a walk on our smallholding. Just walking for the sake of walking and not with a destination in mind. No camera, no sketch-book, no iPod disturbing the peace. Just walking. And watching the crew busy with their daily activities.

There's always something interesting to see, and I stop, and look. Laughing Doves in a tree. A lost sunflower. Take it in. Listen to the birds singing, the wind rustling in the trees, the insects buzzing around the wild flowers and grasses. What an honour.

There are more simple pleasures in my day. Reading, listening to music, washing dishes, doing laundry, watering pot plants, enjoying a cup of coffee, preparing a salad. But one thing at a time. Multitasking detracts from fully enjoying each of these activities. Actually hearing the music, the feeling of your hands in the hot, soapy water, feeling the fabric as you fold the laundry and actually tasting the coffee as you drink it. Enjoy doing each task on its own and you will discover the simple joy of living.

Taking a walk down our smallholding towards the blue gum bush at the bottom of our property.



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