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

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Where have all the Guineas gone? .....♪♪♪♫

Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we'll soon be in trouble.
- Roger Tory Peterson

Watercolour on Bockingford 300gsm - Maree©

I used to have dozens of guinea fowl pass through our smallholding here in Tarlton (Gauteng, South Africa), but these days it's like Christmas seeing just a few of them. When we moved to Tarlton in the middle 70's, we were one of a few owners living on the smallholdings and there were large tracts of open land with hundreds of mammals, birds and reptiles that crossed our paths daily. Snakes were rife and regularly had to be removed to a safer place, now we only see a snake a couple of times in the year. I used to have wild hares entering my garden and eating my Marigolds; I haven't seen an hare for about 7 years. The same with hedgehogs, monitors, tortoises and jackal.

The area is now totally built up and our smallholding is now flanked by people on all sides, property fenced and surrounded by high walls - there are few, if any, empty tracts of land any more and I'm just wondering where all the wildlife has managed to find a safe refuge...

Here's wishing everybody a beautiful festive season and many years of joy and inspiration!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

African Joy and Sorrow

Watercolour on Bockingford 300gsm - Maree©

"The triumph of life is the joy experienced thereafter."
- Maree

A couple of years ago, one of my guinea fowl sitting on eggs was killed by a dog, leaving 10 eggs, on the point of hatching, without a mother. I gathered all the eggs and put them in a basket with a hot water bottle, trying to keep them warm to see if any of them would hatch. Two days later still nothing, but on the third day I heard a weak peep-peep from one of the eggs. None of the others showed any sign of life, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and open the one that was peeping. I gently peeled away the shell and lifted out a perfectly formed little guinea fowl, and placed him on the warm towel, drying his little body with a soft cloth until he lifted his little head and stared me straight in the eye.

That was the beginning of a beautiful, long relationship with "Guinea", who spent five years following me everywhere and providing us with endless hours of pleasure with his surprising antics. He even lured a wild guinea fowl female from the wild (they used to pass through our property in large flocks, travelling from one field to another) and together they reared 5 clutches of beautiful little guinea fowl, all of whom stayed on our property for many years.

When Guinea's wife disappeared one day, he was inconsolable, standing on the wall and calling for hours in that haunting 'phe-twee, phe-twee, phe-twee' that is so typical of the South African bush. After that, he would often disappear for a day or two until, one day, he didn't come home at all. I hoped and presumed that he had found another family and was happily roaming the fields surrounding our property.

“This life as you live it now and have lived it, you will have to live again and again, times without number, and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and all the unspeakably small and great in your life must return to you and everything in the same series and sequence -- and in the same way this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and this same way this moment and I myself. The eternal hour glass of existence will be turned again and again -- and you with it, you dust of dust!”
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Guinea and one of his babies

Sunday, 10 October 2010

I wanted to take it home!

"A dead cow or sheep lying in a pasture is recognized as carrion. The same sort of a carcass dressed and hung up in a butcher's stall passes as food."
John Harvey Kellogg

Watercolour done in my Moleskine watercolour sketch-book - 8" x 5" - Maree©

My neighbour's sheep - a while ago some ewes had lambs and it was the first time for MANY, MANY years that I actually held a little lamb in my arms again - oh my word! I'd forgotten how precious that can be! I wanted to take it home...!

The Dorper is a South African breed of domestic sheep developed by crossing Dorset Horn and the Blackhead Persian sheep. The breed was created through the efforts of the South African Department of Agriculture to breed a meat sheep suitable to the more arid regions of the country. It is now farmed in other areas as well, and is the second most common sheep breed in South Africa.

A Dorper flock
Pic from "Wikipedia"

The Dorper adapts well to a variety of climatic and grazing conditions. In its native South Africa it has spread from the arid areas to all parts of the country. It reputably does well in various range and feeding conditions and is also suited to intensive feeding. In Australia, Dorpers are now farmed throughout the arid and tropical areas as well as the high rainfall southern States, thriving even in the extreme cold and wetness of Tasmania. Dorpers can be run as a replacement or with suitable management as a complementary flock to Merinos, particularly as shearing costs continue to rise and wool prices fall.

This Framed print for sale on my RedBubble Site

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Gemsbuck in the Kalahari desert

I know no subject more elevating, more amazing, more ready to the poetical enthusiasm, the philosophical reflection, and the moral sentiment than the works of nature. Where can we meet such variety, such beauty, such magnificence?
- James Thomson

The gemsbok or gemsbuck (Oryx gazella) is a large African antelope, of the Oryx genus. The name is derived from the Dutch name of the male chamois, gemsbok. Although there are some superficial similarities in appearance (especially in the colour of the face area), the chamois and the oryx are not closely related.

Gemsbok are light brownish-grey to tan in colour, with lighter patches to the bottom rear of the rump. Their tails are long and black in colour. A dark brown stripe extends from the chin down the bottom edge of the neck through the join of the shoulder and leg along the lower flank of each side to the brown section of the rear leg. They have muscular necks and shoulders and their legs have white 'socks' with a black patch on the front of both the front legs and both genders have long straight horns.

This is a watercolour painting I did as I imagined them trudging through the desert on their way to find water.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Mai, the Mynah

This is Mai after her bath, a young Mynah I was very privileged to have in my life for almost 6 months. Here she enjoys a bit of sun before following me back to my studio.

I found her on the pavement in town, where she had probably fallen out of the nest, and she was just a little bundle of quills, no feathers yet, and after looking around if I could see the nest and not finding it, I took her home with me.

The intelligence and loving spirit of these amazing birds is beyond description - she was not caged 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.

(The Common Myna or Indian Myna (Acridotheres tristis) also sometimes spelled Mynah, is a member of the starling family. It is a species of bird native to Asia with its initial home range spanning from Iran, Pakistan, India and Kazakhstan to Malaysia and China. An omnivorous open woodland bird with a strong territorial instinct, the Myna has adapted extremely well to urban environments.

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.)

Camera : FujiFinepix 2800Zoom Digital - normal settings


Mai taking off to dry off after sharing my bath with me.

Mai, roosting on my PC speaker, enjoying some music

The beauty of an adult Mynah
Pic from Wikipedia

Adult Mynah

Monday, 12 July 2010

Hummingbird Migration

This was sent to me by e-mail and I thought it so beautiful and decided to share it!

"Abigail Alfano of Pine, Louisiana lives in a Hummingbird fly zone. As they migrated, about 20 of them were in her garden. She took the little red dish, filled it with sugar water and this is the result.

She has been studying them daily and then one morning put the cup from the feeder (with water in it) into her hand. After they got used to her standing by the feeder they eventually came over to her hand.

She says they are as light as a feather. Abagail says if she had known her husband was taking pictures she would have put on makeup!

It NEVER fails to amaze me how trusting these little birds are!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Life at my pond

"Little froglet in the water,
don’tcha think you really aughta
save that croaking for tonight
when you’re safely outta sight?

Though I love your creaky chorus
pulsing through the springtime forest,
how I hope a hovering hawk
will not end your earnest grok!

Soon, I hope, a loving mate will
come to join you. I can’t wait till
all your fertile eggs are spread,
safely in their waterbed."
- Irene Brady, Nature Works

Well, Winter is in full swing here in South Africa now, and the songs of the frogs have been quietened by the chill and the frost. But I know they're still there, some buried deep under-ground, ready to fill the night with song once again as they sense the first Spring rains. I can virtually set my clock by their song, knowing that Spring and rain is in the air as soon as I hear their chorus.

In the meantime, life carries on at the pond. This water scorpion was sunning itself on the rocks on the end of the pond, and soon after he returned to the water, I was lucky enough to see him dragging an insect under-water for a quick feast.

These fascinating insects are commonly called water scorpions for their superficial resemblance to a scorpion, which is due to the raptorial forelegs and the presence of a long slender process at the posterior end of the abdomen, simulating a tail, which is actually a breathing tube - the tip of the tube is thrust above the surface of the water and air is conducted to the tracheae at the apex of the abdomen

They feed primarily on invertebrates, but occasionally take small fish or tadpoles.

The water scorpion emerging from the pond

The Water scorpion dragging an insect into his 'lair' under-water

The dragonflies are also still around, and I managed to get a shot of this fella sunning himself on the rocks.

A scarlet Dragonfly resting on a rock at the pond

A very welcome visitor to my garden is Molly, the Mole snake. She manages very nicely to keep the rat population at bay (they come for all the corn and sunflower seeds which I put out for the ducks and chickens) and, at 1.7m, she makes a formidable sight when upset. Mole snakes are completely harmless and non-venomous, but are fairly aggressive when threatened, even rearing up slightly, ready to strike if necessary. Here she surfaced from her hiding place one morning to see what all the raucous was about - we were busy cleaning out the pond and the workers were making quite a racket, chatting and clanging buckets as they emptied the water.

Molly, my resident Mole Snake, taking a peek at all the activity when we were cleaning out the pond.
(Click to enlarge for a better view of Molly)

Another welcome visitor to my garden is the Brown House Snake, also non-venomous and totally harmless and very soft-natured, trying to do a quick get-away when discovered, and also a great deterrent to rodents.

A not-so-welcome visitor is the Rinkhals (Spitting Cobra), who's venom is neurotoxic and partially cytotoxic. It is one of a group of cobras that has developed the ability to spit venom as a defense mechanism. It generally aims its venom at the face and if the venom enters the eyes, it causes great pain. Their average length is 90 - 110cm.

"Rinkhals" - watercolour on Moleskine 200gsm watercolour paper - Maree©

Nothing is ever killed or harmed in my garden, I don't even use insecticides (aphids on the roses are normally sprayed with a mean mixture of dishwashing liquid and tobacco, which seems to do the job, although I do make sure there are no lady bugs in the vicinity first). So, upon encountering this visitor, I normally don my glasses, race for a bucket and my snake hook and the unwelcome offender is duly captured, put in the bucket and then taken to an isolated dam some kilometers from us where he'll be safe against the threat of humans.

Roll on Spring, you make your own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Wagtail - A Wader?

"All things bright and beautiful
All Creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord made them all
Each little flower that opens
Each little bird that sings
He made their glowing colours
He made their tiny wings."

Wagtail {Motacilla capensis} - watercolour in Moleskine Folio 200gsm - 12" x 8.5" - Maree©

Gewone kwikkie [Afrikaans]; Umcelu, Umvemve, Umventshana (generic terms for wagtail - [Xhosa]; umVemve (generic term for wagtail - [Zulu]; Kamukombo (generic term for wagtails - [Kwangali]; Motjoli (generic term for wagtails - [South Sotho]; Moletašaka [North Sotho]; Mandzedzerekundze, Matsherhani, N'wapesupesu [Tsonga]; Mokgôrônyane [Tswana]; Kaapse kwikstaart [Dutch]; Bergeronnette du Cap [French]; Kapstelze [German]; Alvéola do Cabo [Portuguese]

Just outside my studio window, our resident Wagtail has been acting like a water bird - wading the soaking lawns, pulling out the insects and having a feast! She stayed, not minding the rain at all, except for the hardest down-pours, during which she disappeared for a while, but was back as soon as it cleared up a bit.

We've been having enormous amounts of rain, the garden is loving it as much as the Wagtail! They've built their nest in an Olive tree inside my bathroom court yard and it amazes me that it is very low and within reaching distance. Very trusting little creatures!

The Wagtail occupies Uganda, eastern DRC and Kenya, but the bulk of its population extends from southern DRC through Zambia and Angola to southern Africa. Here it is especially common across South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, while more scarce in Namibia, northern and south-eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique. It can occur almost anywhere that has open ground adjacent to water, also favouring the rocky coastline, farms, villages, cultivated land, parks, gardens and urban centres.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Verreaux’s (Black) Eagles family expands

Have you ever felt the thrill and absolute awe of watching a black eagle catching thermals – one minute savouring the currents on its 2.3 meter wingspan, the next minute with wings folded arrow like it plummets downwards - lost momentarily in swirling cloud – it appears again resolute and intent as it nears the earth – you wonder if it will be able to stop before it hits the ground - and to your amazement its large wings stretch out and it hurtles back up into the sky! It is a totally breathtaking sight, as the eagle climbs higher and higher - until it is not visible with the naked eye - and all of this in just a few minutes.

This is the world of the ‘Black Eagles of Roodekrans.’ Weighing up to 4.8 kg this is one of Africa’s largest and most spectacular eagles. - These are certainly the masters of the sky!

The Verreaux’s (Black) Eagles have laid two eggs following the preparations for the nesting season that started at the end of February 2010. During the nesting season both male and female refurbish their nest with sticks and leafy sprays.

The eagles laid their 1st egg on 9th April 2010 and the second one on 12th April.
Both Eagles take turns in incubating the eggs – one will stay on the nest while the other goes hunting. The eggs are expected to hatch after 45 days incubation. Two fluffy white eaglets will emerge from the eggs four days apart. Black eagles are birds of prey that hunt other animals for their food.

These birds can be viewed at the Botanical Garden (Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Malcolm Road, Poortview, Roodepoort, Gauteng, South Africa) in their natural world as they hover above the property or can be viewed through a webcam connected to a TV set at the Visitor Centre at the entrance to the Botanical Garden.

Visit www.blackeagles.co.za for more info and a map on how to get there.

GPS - X: 27°50`42`` Y:-26°5`15``

Come and browse art in the stunning outdoor setting of the Botanical Garden.
10% of sales go to the Botanical Society's Garden Development Fund.

Forthcoming dates -
Selected Sundays :
9th 23rd & 30th May and
20th & 27th June 2010

Monday, 26 April 2010

Peeps, the Hummingbird baby

This is a stunning video of Peeps, the baby Hummingbird being fed by its mother out of Peter Tommerup's hand in Saratoga CA.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Thorn Trees of Africa

Thorn tree - watercolour on Ashrad 300gsm - 11" x 7.5" - Maree
Umbrella Thorn
{Acacia tortilis}

There are few more striking symbols of Africa than a thorn tree - its gnarled branches, graceful form, jagged thorns and abundant blooms, in many ways reflecting the paradoxes of the continent.

This Umbrella Thorn (Acacia tortilis) stands in one corner of my garden and offers a safe haven for many birds who seek a safe place to nest.

Umbrella Thorn Acacia {Acacia tortilis}
The Umbrella Thorn Acacia grows in Africa. There are over 700 species of the Acacia in Africa. Umbrella Thorn Acacia is one of the most recognizable trees of the African savanna. It grows in sand dunes and rocky grounds of Africa's grasslands. Acacias grow in areas with annual rainfall as low as 4cm. This tree can survive in 50°C temperatures during the day, and freezing temperatures at nights. The savanna that the Acacias live in is hot and dry in the respective summer of the Southern Hemisphere although at night the temperature can go below -18°C. During the winter months the savanna gets a lot of rain. The Umbrella Thorn grows up to 20 meters high and has a spreading, flat-tapped crown that gives it its name.

The structure of umbrella thorn trees preserves soil moisture by having a high proportion above-ground woody mass and low amount of foliage and the utmost top tips are a favourite grazing spot for Giraffes.

(Info from Wikipedia)

Friday, 9 April 2010

Seagulls in Randfontein

“To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is,” he said, ”you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived…”
- From Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

Seagulls in Randfontein - a quick watercolour study in my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook 8" x 5.5"

Not far from us, about 22km, lies the gold mining town of Randfontein, about 45 km west of Johannesburg, South Africa. With the Witwatersrand gold rush in full swing in 1889, mining financier J.B. Robinson bought the farm Randfontein and floated the Randfontein Estates Gold Mining Company. The town was established in 1890 to serve the new mine and was administered by Krugersdorp until it became a municipality in 1929.

We visited Randfontein yesterday, and what amazes me about this town is the fact that you can find flocks of Seagulls there, 600km from the coast! I've tried to track the history of how these birds could have landed up there, but to no avail - I have now contacted the Publicity Association in Randfontein with a query, so hopefully the mystery will be solved soon!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Dinner is served!


Many of us who put out food for hedgehogs would like to know more about our night-time visitors and how the food affects their lives. How far do they come to feed? How much do they eat? How important is this extra food supply? And are we discouraging them from their natural diet? The answers to some of the most commonly-asked questions are based on a survey of "garden hedgehogs" carried out by a team f biologists.

Hedgehogs don't necessarily live in the garden where they are fed. They may live nearby, or some distance away; some hedgehogs may come half a kilometer to the food bowl.

They certainly don't move their nests to get nearer to the regular food supply. It's not proven that, when they set out on a night's foraging, that they head straight for the food bowl and sometimes might not pitch up at all.

Hedgehogs are not "faithful" to one food bowl. They are likely to visit several gardens, and don't behave as if they "own" the feeding site; they don't squabble with one another when they meet there either.

the hedgehogs' appetites vary. In the survey, the most food eaten at one visit was 94g, more than one-tenth of the hedgehog's body weight. The most eaten in the course of an evening was 157g, but the average was 7g for every minute they spent at the bowl.

People are sometimes concerned that putting out artificial food will discourage hedgehogs from eating enough natural food. And how much is "enough" natural food? One thing is certain - even though hedgehogs may welcome the food we provide, they still seek out natural food even after a hearty meal at the bowl!

And what happens when the regular food supply is interrupted - when we go on holiday, for example? The hedgehogs don't seem to mind - they continue to forage for natural food in the area, as they have done all along!

Info from "Everything You Want To Know about Hedgehogs - Dilys Breese"


Friday, 2 April 2010

Uninformed and Totally Irrational

My heart and soul cringe when I hear how uninformed people can behave, becoming totally irrational and losing all perspective. Following on an article written by Heather Valance in her blog Personal Thoughts, "Our irrational fear of living things", it reminded me of an article I read on the website of Scorpions of South Africa, which illustrates exactly what our environment has to contend with, despite the fact that everybody is shouting "Green!" and "Global Warming!" and thought I'd post it as enlightenment to the wonderful insect world we have been blessed with.

"Deadly Spiders" at Eagle Canyon

"I had an e-mail from concerned someone who lived at Eagle Canyon, a Golf Estate in Gauteng. After receiving a hoax e-mail regarding Violin Spiders, the Estate Manager decided that to protect all the children on the estate, all spiders should be killed on sight. I was also told that there were Violin Spiders everywhere in people’s houses. Cool! I said, please collect some and bring them along to the talk.

Feelings obviously ran deep as I received a phone call instructing me not to say any good things about spiders. As you can imagine... I was not impressed. This kind of behaviour really disturbed me so I offered to give the facts about venomous spiders and scorpions.

I gave a presentation that I give to Pretoria University for their Diploma on Tropical diseases. It’s a post doctoral course and therefore my data and presentation has to be top notch, referenced and based on medical facts. I had modified it for the target audience but it contained the same facts, spider bite pictures and reference to hoax emails.

Digital projector and laptop under my arms I entered the Club House determined to present the facts, and answer any questions that they may have. The talk was well attended but I could see that it was going to be an uphill battle. The majority of the audience were so negative and misinformed. Claims of spider bite victims slipping into comas, descriptions of massive tissue damage and even numerous unnamed medical Doctors who were grateful that I was going to warn the public of the dangers these spiders cause were kicked around with idle contempt. Initially I was told that “there are Violin Spiders everywhere inside houses”, something I serious doubt in Gauteng. Someone did bring a single dreaded Violin Spider to the presentation but it was in fact a harmless Wolf Spider. So much for Violin Spiders running around everywhere.

During the presentation I gave the facts. What was interesting was the lack of understanding and appreciation from the educated audience. Most of us want to live with Nature and even pay a premium for it. The Golf Estate was no exception. However, when nature comes too close some get upset and react in an irrational way. “Kill it” is the reaction but hang on... We as humans built out homes on their homes. We have destroyed their natural habitat and provided attractants such as lights at night, water and favourable habitats. It’s no wonder that many creatures seek refuge near human habitation.

Something that that I always find to strange is that we shop at Woolworths because their food is pesticide and additive free. We pay a premium for organic vegetables and meat because of the risks associated with preservative, colour enhancing and growth stimulating chemicals that so many foods contain today. However, we are perfectly happy to spray our homes top to bottom with insecticides in order to kill insects that we encouraged to move in, in the first place. These insecticides are safe in small doses but how many of us actually adhere to the recommendations on the back of the can? These recommendations are there to make the product safe to use. Spray more than you should do and you are exposing you and your family to harmful levels of toxic chemicals.

Another issue I want to touch on in this article is the idea of unused land is waste land. Open, unused land is not wasteland. It’s not a piece of land that should be manicured, tidied up or made visually beautiful. It’s a piece of naturally occurring land that provides much needed micro habitats to a myriad of creatures and plants. It’s not a waste of space. They are islands within the urban environment where nature can thrive and seek shelter from humanity. Don’t hack and slash the grass, remove rocks to build a rockery, introducing Large Mouth Bass to natural waterways spells death for indigenous fish and amphibian populations.

Of all the preconceived ideas that had prompted me to give the presentation, not a single one was rational and factual. As I wrapped up my presentation, I felt I had added my bit of good in the world. The facts had been presented, questions answered, hoaxes expound, opinions changed. I hoped that the little good that I had done would spread to others at the Golf Estate and even further. The spiders would not be seen as deadly creatures to be persecuted on site. A little more thought would be taken, and a little more tolerance and respect would be given to Mother Nature."

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Black Eagle Project Feb. 2010

This is the February 2010 Newsletter which I receive from the Black Eagle Project and I thought I would post it here,as an up-date on how the Black Eagles are doing in the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort, Gauteng, South Africa.

Whats Happening at Roodekrans



The Black Eagles of Roodekrans have started to re-furbish their nest for the next breeding season. Large sticks and branches are being brought to the nest with Emoyeni carefully placing them where she would like them to go – this is woman’s work and Thulani is chased from the nest – his job is to supply the furnishings.

The eagles are looking so well – their feathers are really glossy and it certainly looks like they have eaten well. The juvenile left the territory mid December 2009 and has not been seen again. Lets hope it survives all the perils out there in the wild and becomes a healthy adult.

The good news is The Black Eagle Project played an intrinsic part in the prevention of a large housing development in Proteadal Ext 1. This area falls within the vital Paardekraal Ridge hunting territory of the black eagles, which is necessary for their continued survival in this area. The Gauteng Department of Environment passed a negative Record of Decision for the continuance of this development mainly because the site is located on an untransformed ridge, which is considered to be part of a wildlife corridor important to connecting biodiversity in the area

The Black Eagle Project would like to get the cam running again this year, unfortunately it is going to cost in the region of R32 000.00. We have so many queries as to why live from nest’ is not on the Internet; well, the reason is we just have not got the funds to be able to convert to digital. Africam has put together a proposal on the project at hand and this can be emailed to you should you be interested in sponsoring this project. We would include your business logo or name on our web page and at the TV monitor at the Visitor’s Centre at the entrance to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. National and international supporters would then be able to watch the eagles on the nest during their breeding season – February to October.

We have still not had a ruling on the case against Sugarbush Estate, which was heard in court in November 2009. Who says the wheels of justice turn slowly! We also need funds urgently to continue with this case, as we are responsible for paying any disbursements and court costs. We have a very good chance of winning this case but need financial support from the public.

This year we would like to attach a patagial tag in conjunction with a ring to the juvenile. Blood will be taken to sex the bird and to store DNA at the blood bank for further research. For us to be able to do this we need approximately R10 000.00, this will be used to pay the researchers from Pretoria/ Wits Universities, who do the job and to purchase the tag. By doing the tagging it will be easier to identify the bird out in the field – from the sightings we are able to understand the flight patterns and it lets us know where these young eagles go after leaving the natal area.

I appeal to all our supporters please donate and help us keep the eagle safe for everyone to enjoy. They deserve to stay in the area as this is where they belong – they where here long before all the development. We understand that times are tough out there so any amount will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your continued support the eagles really appreciate it.

Yours in conservation

Libby Woodcock

Project Co-ordinator

Banking Details:

First National Bank

Account Number: 62108581043

Branch Code: Randridge Mall 255-955

Swift Code: FIRNZAJJXXX (International Deposits Only)

Account Name: Black Eagle Project Roodekrans Inc

Kindly use your company name or surname as a reference.

If possible email deposit slip to verreaux@mweb.co.za

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Kiepersol (Cabbage Tree)

The Kiepersol in my bathroom court-yard flanked by two bamboo poles

The Highveld Cabbage Tree (Cussonia paniculata subspc. sinuata) is an evergreen tree that grows up to 4m tall. The Common Cabbage tree has long grey stems with smooth bark. Flowers from April to May and fruits from June to September.

This evergreen tree makes a beautiful focal point in a garden as it has an unusual shape, interesting gnarled bark and stunning, large, grey-green leaves. Plants show up especially well in a layout where rocks are used. Gardeners growing indigenous South African plants favour them greatly for their unique appearance. The wood is soft and light and was used for the brake-blocks of wagons. The leaves provide good fodder for stock and the Zulu name refers to this tree as goats' food. The roots are succulent and edible, mashed roots have also been used in the treatment of Malaria.

Afrikaans Name:
Berg Kiepersol

Zulu Name :

Cussonia paniculata_sinuata occurs inland at altitudes up to 2 100 m. It is often found in rocky places from the mountains of the Karoo and Eastern Cape through KwaZulu-Natal and Free State into Gauteng and further north. It grows in crevices filled with natural organic humus and compost. It is commonly found near Johannesburg and Pretoria. It is frost-tolerant and drought resistant.

Uses: Leaves are browsed by Kudu and domestic stock. Baboons eat the young shoots. Ripe fruit is eaten by Bulbuls, Louries, Starlings, Barbets and Mousebirds.

Medicinal Uses: Decoctions are used to treat madness, convulsions, amenorrhoea, heart pains, venereal disease and pains of the uterus.

Leaves of the Cabbage Tree (C. paniculata_paniculata)

Growing Cussonia paniculata
The best method of propagation is by means of seed harvested from fresh ripe fruits. Sow seed as soon as possible as it loses much of its viability within 3 months. However, seed sown in summer months will germinate faster (in about 4 weeks) than seed sown in winter (7 weeks to germination). Make sure seed trays are at least 15 cm in depth to allow the small tubers to form. Do not allow seed to become waterlogged or dry out. Keep seed and seedlings in a semi-shaded area. Seedlings can be transplanted at about 4 months, but be very careful not to damage the fleshy roots when transplanting.

One can grow Cussonia paniculata from a cutting, but this is not advisable because it does not make the proper, fleshy, underground rootstock that it forms when grown from seed.
Growing info from http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantcd/cussoniapan.htm

Cussonia spicata (Natal cabbage tree, 5m) is a shapely tree with the same interesting foliage as the Highveld version. In summer, green flowers are borne that look like 20cm long candles.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Africa's Wonder

"Africa's Wonder - Elephant" - watercolour on Bockingford 300gsm - 12" x 9" - Maree©

Africa's wild animals are a constant source of inspiration and for me elephants symbolise Strength, Solitude, sense of loyalty to the family and Intelligence. Looking into the eye of an elephant, one sees Wisdom beyond our understanding.

I sketched this young elephant on a visit to the Elephant Sanctuary at Hartebeespoort Dam where they provide a “halfway house” for young African elephants in need of a temporary home.

Elephants might be the most well-known and well-loved animal in the line-up of African wildlife. But conservation of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) poses special challenges. While the overall elephant population is half of what it was 40 years ago, some regions of Africa have more elephants than populated areas can support.

African elephants are bigger than Asian Elephants. Males stand 3.6 m (12 ft) tall at the shoulder and weigh 5,400 kg (12,000 lb), while females stand 3 m (9.8 ft) and weigh between 3,600 and 4,600 kg (7,900 and 10,000 lb). However, males can get as big as 6,800 kg (15,000 lb!).

Years ago, over-hunting and the ivory trade were the biggest threats to elephants’ survival. Fortunately, ivory bans, hunting regulations, and protected areas safeguard elephants from these pressures today.

The 21st century brings an entirely different challenge to elephant conservation – land-use. Elephants roam over vast territories – across borders and outside parks and other protected areas. Unfortunately, elephants often range directly through human settlements and crops, causing discord between local farmers and these big mammals.

Successful conservation strategies must allow elephants to range freely in their natural habitats while reducing crop-raiding and other conflicts between elephants and local people and encourage peaceful co-existence.

Some interesting info :
Elephants have four molars; each weighs about 5 kg (11 lb) and measures about 30 cm (12 in) long. As the front pair wears down and drops out in pieces, the back pair shifts forward and two new molars emerge in the back of the mouth. Elephants replace their teeth six times. At about 40 to 60 years of age the elephant no longer has teeth and will likely die of starvation, a common cause of death.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

How do you do your bit?

(Sorry I couldn't find a worse animal abuse pic, couldn't face looking at them! And this chappie looks sort of proud about his lack of feathers!)

I never watch programmes on TV when it's about the suffering of animals, like for example whale hunting or poaching of our wild animals, nor do I read environmental magazines going on about the state the planet is in or articles about animal suffering at the hands of humans, but I came upon an article titled, "I bought her to kill her, so she didn't get a name", and although I knew I was heading for trouble, the title enticed me to click on it and read it - it's about the suffering of one chicken, but also a pointer to the mass suffering of our planet's animals.

My whole heart and soul cringed, even as it is just thinking about it and writing this article, and my body immediately went hot and then cold, leaving me feeling sick in the pit of my stomach.

The thing is, when you take the problems of the world on your shoulders, your body doesn’t feel good. It’s just that simple. The emotion you feel is always about the vibrational variance between where you want to be and where you are. If you're out of balance, there are only two ways to bring yourself into alignment: Either raise your expectation to match your desire—or lower your desire to match your expectation. This discomfort that I felt was nothing more than my own awareness of resistance (if you understand the concept of resistance, it means that, the more you resist something, the more of it you'll get) - and by giving my attention to it, I was joining in the mass consciousness of promoting more of the same.

The more you push against something, the more of the same you are creating. The more you discuss the "current world-wide economic crisis", the larger that truth becomes for you and the masses. Green Peace, with all their activism against whale hunting, are causing more of the same. Sure, they get some results by getting whale hunting banned in some countries (it's a drop in the ocean of resistance), but that still does not stop any illegal activities, and they've got their job cut out for them, ad infinitum. They dream, eat, sleep and live their cause, ensuring a never-ending supply of the same. If they, instead, turned their attention to a feeling of well-being for the whales, and everybody on earth joined in, what a wonderful whale abuse-free world we would have!

How do you feel when you watch the Green Peace programmes or come upon a site about animal cruelty in the chicken industry or the article I mentioned above? Do you also immediately feel ill and carry a feeling of dis-ease around with you for days? Why do you think you feel like that? Is it because you think you're supposed to do something about it?

How do you ever get the truth to be more the way you want it to be? To get the world to stop abusing animals? You’ve just got to start beating the drums of truth the way you want it to be—and when you do, you will immediately feel good. And there are those who might say, “Oh, you’re not facing the facts.” And I say, we should never face any fact that was taking us to a place we don’t want to be.

There are those who believe that the world is getting more and more desperate. I am here to tell you that the world is getting better and better, and better, and that every experience you have causes you to launch rockets of desires, and Source comes in response to those rockets. And the best thing about our birth and death is that the resistant ones die and the allowing ones are born. And with this combination of contrast that keeps us launching new and new desires, it’s no wonder that the Universe is expanding in this marvelous way and that life is getting better, in every day—and in this moment—for everyone who insists on focusing there.

Leave the problems of the world to the individual problem-makers of the world, and all you can do is be the joy-seeker that you are!


Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sassy didn't make it - R.I.P.

Sassy on her last day in the nest

If you've seen the previous posts on Phoebe, the Allen's Hummingbird, rearing her babies in her nest in a rose bush in a garden in Orange County, California, you'll know that I've been posting up-dates about the progress of the little chicks, whom I've been viewing via live cam.

They were born on the 2nd and 4th January respectively, and named Stormy and Sassy. Then on the 25th January, little Stormy died, possibly due to hatching prematurely and being very weak.

I posted on the 19th that Sassy was taken to rehab, but I've just found out that she didn't make it and died yesterday.

R.I.P. Sassy.

"Quick as a humming bird is my love, Dipping into the hearts of flowers-- She darts so eagerly, swiftly, sweetly Dipping into the flowers of my heart."
Author: James Oppenheim

Friday, 19 February 2010

Sassy taken to rehab

Phoebe and Sassy (you can see Sassy's beak peeking out under Phoebe's wing)

If you've seen the previous posts on Phoebe, the Allen's Hummingbird, rearing her babies in her nest in a rose bush in a garden in Orange County, California, you'll know that I've been posting up-dates about the progress of the little chicks, whom I've been viewing via live cam.

They were born on the 2nd and 4th January respectively, and named Stormy and Sassy. Then on the 25th January, little Stormy died, possibly due to hatching prematurely and being very weak.

The screen shot above is of Sassy yesterday morning, at almost two months old but with very poor feather development, at a time when she should have fledged already. Phoebe was also getting restless, knowing that Sassy is well behind in her development. Speculation is that Phoebe has not been able to provide proper nutrition due to the lack of insects.

Yesterday afternoon, the moderators of the live cam decided to step in and whisked Sassy off to a Hummingbird rehab centre, where she will be properly fed and cared for until she is ready to be released into the wild. Phoebe is none the wiser, thinking that Sassy has actually naturally left the nest, and is already preparing her nest for a new family. Isn't nature wonderful? No time wasted on unnecessary and useless pain and worry.

Phoebe's - now empty - nest.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Hemachatus haemachatus - Rinkhals

One of the sketches I did of our blue gum forest in my Moleskine watercolour Sketch-book

In the past couple of weeks I've had to temporarily give up my sojourns into our Blue gum forest at the bottom of our property where I go to sketch and paint, due to all the rain we've had, which has resulted in a larger than normal number of snakes that I encounter while trying to settle in to sketch.

While you're concentrating on a specific tree, it's rather disconcerting hearing the leaves rustle and then seeing a Rinkhals (Spitting Cobra) nonchalantly sailing in your direction. It means either sitting dead still, hoping he's not going to notice you, or it's a mad scramble trying to get out of the way (and then alerting him to your presence), sending easel or sketchbooks and water flying through the air!

In the past 2 weeks I have already rescued and evicted two Rankhalses from my garden (the pleasure of my garden only to be enjoyed by Mollie, my resident Mole Snake or the Brown House Snake - all others like the Rinkhals and the various Adders are summarily evicted!). Chrissie, my gardener, immediately takes a short-cut home when she sees I'm busy catching a snake for safe delivery to a dam nearby us.

Rinkhals - Hemachatus haemachatus

The Rinkhals is a member of the Cobra family and is also a spitting cobra. It is the smallest of the cobras reaching only about 1.2m or about 4 ft in length. It is a venomous elapid species found in parts of southern Africa. It is one of a group of cobras that has developed the ability to spit venom as a defense mechanism. Rinkhals are unique amongst African cobras in being ovoviviparous. They give birth to 20-35 young, but as many as 65 babies have been recorded. The Rinkhals is unique also, compared to cobras, as it has keeled scales.

The spitting range is up to 2,5 m. If venom enters the eye it should be washed out immediately, to prevent damage to the eye. The venom of the Rinkhals is neurotoxic - causing nervous dysfunction - and it can cause death from respiratory paralysis, although this is rare. Anti-venom is an effective antidote against the toxin.

Rinkhals feigning death

If cornered, a Rinkhals will feign death and will roll over on it's back melodramatically, open it's mouth and let the tongue hang out, all this to discourage whoever may be hovering over it - heaven forbid you touch it then! It will either make a sudden getaway or give a nasty bite. I have witnessed this behaviour personally and I must tell you, it's utterly convincing!

Although sometimes seen on cloudy days, it is mainly nocturnal and feeds mostly on small vertebrates, especially toads. It is closely related to cobras, but its scales have a prominent central ridge or keel, and are not smooth.

Rinkhals can be variable in colour but most specimens are olive, brown or black in colour with a creamish, yellowish or white cross bands on the ventral side of the neck. The belly is mostly greyish or dark coloured. Some specimens are brownish or blackish from colour with on the back white, creamy or yellow-orange cross-bands the ventral side is still dark coloured and these individuals still have the white cross bands on the throat. The body is short and strongly build, the Rinkhals cobras scales are keeled which makes him the only African Elapid with keeled scales.

The uniform brown colour resembles the mole snake, which does not, however, rear up and spread a hood. However, it will lift itself slightly off the ground to get a better view, as you can see from my photograph of Mollie below.

Mollie, my resident Mole Snake at the pond while it is being cleaned, wondering what all the ballyhoo is about!

Mollie dropped her skin a couple of weeks ago, 1.7m! which now takes pride of place in front of the TV. Unnecessary to say, Lydia refuses to even dust this area, a job which is now left up to me.

Rinkhals rearing up

This species is only known from Southern Africa. It occurs in isolated populations in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In South Africa is this snake known from the south cape through Swaziland, Orange Free State, Natal, Transkei, Lesotho and Southern Transvaal.

This snake is mostly found in grassland and moist savanna. But will also live in rocky areas and near humans. They are also known to live close to permanent water holes and scrub.

In the wild do Rinkhals mostly eat toads but also small rodents, birds, lizards and even snakes. In captivity can Rinkhals been fed on dead or live rodents which they often take without a problem. Also chicks and eggs are known to be accepted in a captive situation.

The Rinkhals, the Mozambican Spitting Cobra and the black necked spitting cobra, are the only snake species in southern Africa that 'spit' venom. The Rinkhals is the least effective of the three, even although it seems to hurl the poison forwards, the reared part of its body often hitting the ground with an audible thud during the exercise.


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