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

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

It IS something to own a Pheasant

Through the uncut grass on the elm's hill 
It is something to own a pheasant, 
Or just to be visited at all. 

Across the garden 
now beneath the bird food 
You peck your lordly selfish portion, 
Chest out, head back, all colours blazing. 
Your Lady Hen still follows meekly to the fare 
- Unknown 

My Pheasant sitting on a rock on my patio 

John, from Midmarsh Jottings's wonderful post on the visitors to his garden, in particular the Pheasant, reminded me to post a picture of my Pheasant, which we rescued from somebody trying to sell him for the pot. This is an introduced species into South Africa, probably from the U.K., where it is also a non-native bird that was first introduced by the Normans in the 11th century as a game bird. Here in South Africa they are sold as pets and kept as ornamentals in Aviaries. 

Even though he would wait at the front door for his daily tit-bits and even venture into the lounge, he never really got very tame and would spend most of his day skulking under the shrubs in my garden with his female, who only ever ventured out once the coast was clear and not a soul in sight. They spent many wonderful years with me and unfortunately the male died of something unidentified and the female took wing shortly after that. 

The Congo peafowl is Africa's only true native pheasant, according to the Arkive website. This bird, discovered in 1936, lives only within the Congo rainforest region. 

A pair of Congo Peafowl at Antwerp Zoo Photograph from Wikipedia  
Henry skulking around the garden 

Henry and his female in the garden 

The very elusive female Pheasant 

Henry softly calling to his female to come and check out his chosen spot 

 Henry running for cover as the gardener approaches


Monday, 26 March 2012

You ARE free

“Come along then.” said Jonathan. “Climb with me away from the ground, and we’ll begin.” “You don’t understand. My wing. I can’t move my wing.” “Maynard Gull, you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way. It is the Law of the Great Gull, the Law that Is.” “Are you saying I can fly?” “I say you are free.” 
- From Jonathan Livingstone Seagull 

Seagull - W&N watercolour on X-pressit 300gsm 

I've just read "Jonathan Livingstone Seagull" again for the third time, and every time I discover another lesson... 

  • You are free. 
  • You’re so free, you can choose bondage. 
  • You are so free, that no one can do anything to you. 
  • You are so free, that you are the only one who is causing anything to happen in your experience. 

The seagulls at Durban Harbour or St. Lucia, way up on the North Coast of KwaZulu Natal (South Africa), is a constant source of pleasure for me. I just love feeding them, watching them swoop down to collect tit-bits and squabbling among one another for the best pieces. Their innovativeness knows no bounds and one must actually watch all your possessions very carefully or they'll have your beach bag's contents strewn all over the beach.

 Their favourite junk food seems to be hot chips with tomato sauce - I sometimes buy ten packets to take to the beach with me - and offering that sets off a frenzy like you've never seen! And they're not shy to stare you RIGHT in the eye, something I find utterly fascinating! And they do have expressions - intention, curiosity, weariness, guile, craftiness. And it shows in their eyes when they're relaxed and contented, full to the brim with hot chips.



Saturday, 24 March 2012

Rhinos on my doorstep

The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there's a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants. 
 - David Attenborough 

Sketch in my Moleskine 200gsm A4 Folio Nature sketch-book 

When taking my grand-children to Lanseria Airport, we pass by a game farm just a couple of kilometers from where I live, and these two Rhino were grazing right by the fence, so I stopped and did a quick sketch. They didn't seem bothered by me at all, I was just on the other side of a rather rickety looking game fence, which I'm sure they could demolish with a step or two, should they so wish! And I was thrilled to see that they still have their horns, so many are being removed to thwart poachers in a conservation effort of these magnificent animals... 

Sometimes we're lucky enough to see the Lions close-by the fence, but I've never left my car to try and sketch them! 



Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Replenish your Soul

Watercolour flowers in terracotta pots on a vintage pine table, which I bought many years ago at a second-hand shop - processed in MS PowerPoint. Back-ground texture by Kim Klassen

Imaginary sunshine spills through the window in my potting shed, lighting up some potted plants on my Vintage Pine table. A potting shed is one of the greatest pleasures of life, a place where you can lose yourself, have contact with Mother nature, pushing your hands deep into the soft soil, creating life in a pot. A place where you can talk to the flowers without getting funny looks. The potting shed is the heart of the garden. It's here where the day begins and ends, where plants get their start, where creativity springs forth and seed packets whisper "Spring is just around the corner!" 

Ideally potting sheds are small outbuildings dedicated solely to gardening activities. Yet, you don't really need a separate structure to pot and propagate. All you need is a sheltered bit of functional space where you can comfortably work and wile away the hours. And replenish your soul. 



Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Hedgehog Babies


From birth, the mother feeds her babies with milk. She has four pairs of nipples, which seems more than adequate, even for a large litter. However, the mother herself may be short of food, especially in a spell of dry or cold weather, and so unable to feed her entire family. Approximately one in five of all baby hedgehogs dies before it is old enough to leave the nest. 
Info from "Everything You Want To Know about Hedgehogs - Dilys Breese"
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough that Hedgie and Sethlong had a litter of eight babies, all of which survived! I started handling them from an early age, with the result that they even started coming out of the grass whenever I called, curiously peeking to see if I have any of their favourite snacks, meal worms. And as soon as I put the worms into the bowl, they would run over and hastily crunch them all up, snuffling around the bowl to see if they missed any. When they were a couple of months old, I found a lovely home for them in the huge aviary at the Krugersdorp Game Reserve, where they were well fed and safe from the raging winter fires we experience here every year. 


Friday, 16 March 2012

Practicing cactus

(A warning: If you have any propensity towards cactus love to begin with, moving to the desert will increase it exponentially!)

A long-standing passion - a passion most people find utterly boring and something only a cactus-lover will understand - THE LOVE OF CACTUS. So maybe this post is not for you, but if it is, read on!

It all started in the 1980's, when my (well-meaning) father gave me three Echeverias in a pot. I couldn't turn them down and hurt his feelings, but I had NO interest in those three succulents! When I got home, I hastily stuck them in the ground in some far-away corner in the garden, hoping they would disappear.

Echeveria glauca

A few months later I was working in the garden and decided to do something about that 'little lost corner' of my garden. Upon investigating, to my surprise, the three Echeverias had multiplied and there were dozens of them, all displaying the most gorgeous little pink bell-shaped flowers on long stalks. I was hooked! I mean, forgotten and neglected, NO attention whatsoever, yet they blossomed forth with the most gorgeous gifts. I felt so guilty I almost cried!

Now those spiky flat coins and furry ground knobs make me go nuts. Finding a new specie not in my collection is like striking gold - my stomach churns, my heart starts pounding and I just HAVE to have it!

I can spend hours fiddling with my cacti and succulents, removing seedlings and siblings from the garden and potting them in terracotta pots, I have displays all over the house, on various patios and in my garden shed. You'll find them on window sills, tree stumps, on little tables, in terracotta pots, jam tins, glass jars, buckets, cracked coffee mugs, on wooden palettes, on my desk, next to my computer, in fact, anywhere there is a flat surface! And heaven forbid I come across someone selling them at a market stand, I could buy up all their stock!

'They' say "It takes real guts to love a cactus!", but I have found it the easiest thing in the world!

I need to get some more!


Prickly... (Cactus Echinopsis oxygona) - a Dung Beetle brooch hand-crafted with black glass jewels, silver wire and silver solder, sitting on a little piece of driftwood . bird's nest in Abelone shell (Perlemoen)


and smooth.... (Echeveria elegans)


prickly... (Aloe ciliaris)


and smooth... (Haworthia Cymbiformis)


prickly... (Aloe ferox)


and smooth... (Gasteria)


prickly and smooth... a collection on a wooden palette on my Patio. Rat-tail cactus far left and front right - Old Man's beard behind that, Aloes and Echeverias in metal tub.


mostly smooth... Gasterias, Echeverias and some cacti on a Vintage Pine table in my Flower Room


prickly... My latest acquisition - A cactus in an enamel bowl surrounded by four Haworthias and a tiny succulent peeping through the pebbles


smooth - Echeveria glauca in an old concrete cast


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Survival in the African Bush

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
- Charles Darwin

New-born antelope calf hiding in the grass in the African Bushveld.
W&N watercolour on X-pressit 300gsm


The antelope is one of the many medium-sized mammals holding the African food chain together. Unlike deer that renew their horns annually, the antelope has strong permanent horns, that antelope mainly use to defend their herd or to fight other antelopes.

After mating, female antelopes give birth to a single calf or, more rarely, twins, after a gestation period that can last up to eight months. A mother and her newborn calf are vulnerable to predators, and antelopes have had to evolve different strategies for surviving this period. For most antelope species, the female gives birth in dense cover and leaves the calf while she feeds. The calf comes to its mother when she calls it, and once fed, the calf will hide away again. Once in its hiding place, the calf remains completely still, blending into the surrounding landscape becoming almost invisible. It will run away only if it is on the verge of being discovered.

Did you know that small antelope, such as dik-diks, tend to be monogamous? They live in a forest environment with patchy resources, and a male is unable to monopolize more than one female due to this sparse distribution. Larger forest species often form very small herds of 2–4 females and 1 male.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Autumn's whisper

Each flower is a soul blossoming out to nature.
- Gerard De Nerval


Anais Nin said, "A leaf fluttered in through the window this morning, as if supported by the rays of the sun, a bird settled on the fire escape, joy in the task of coffee, joy accompanied me as I walked." That's how I felt as I walked through my garden this morning. We had beautiful rain last night and everything was sparkling and clean.

Autumn has begun to whisper to all the trees and flowers, reminding them ever so gently with a little nudge here and a word of encouragement there, that time is getting short and that they must hurry with their last blossoms. I've potted some of my Nasturtiums to take them inside so that I can enjoy them a bit longer, keep the feeling of summer a bit closer. It's also time to bring my Bonsai and any other frost-tender plants inside, so I'm enjoying getting the Flower Room ready for their arrival.


Saturday, 10 March 2012

Cereus jamacaru - One-night flower

to blossom
breathe life in
raise your face to the sun
drink the rain
shiver in the mist
revel in the moment.
one day
to be all the beauty
that you are.

Cereus jamacaru (Queen of the Night, Nagblom, One-night Flower)
Classification: Cactaceae

Referred to incorrectly as Cereus peruvianus in South Africa.

This cactus is growing next to our staff quarters and Solly, our Mechanic, was highly upset when I told him I intended chopping it down. He managed to convince me (not that it took too much convincing!) to let it stay, promising that he will keep an eye on it and not let it spread. It has been declared an 'unwanted' alien invader here in South Africa due to its fast-spreading habit and is also spread by birds eating the seeds, so it's inevitable that I will soon be removing it.

The Peruvian Apple Cactus, Cereus repandus, is a large, erect, thorny columnar cactus found in South America as well as the nearby ABC Islands of the Dutch Caribbean. It is also known as Giant Club Cactus, Hedge Cactus, cadushi and kayush. With an often tree-like appearance, the Peruvian Apple Cactus' cylindrical grey-green to blue stems can reach 10 meters (33 ft) in height and 10-20 cm in diameter.

It flowers only once a year, normally in June, and the beautiful white or pink nocturnal flowers, with an intoxicating scent, remain open for only one night.

Ink sketch and colour wash on Bockingford 300gsm

There is actually great confusion over the name of this cactus, as the name Cereus is used for various cacti. The species name, peruvianus, suggests that it is endemic to Peru, but that is a botanical error. This plant is actually endemic to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

Kamera : Kodak EasyShare C195


Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Bug hunting

Pilot Fineliner Black ink sketches with W&N watercolour done in my Moleskine Nature Journal

Hopper: It's a bug-eat-bug world out there, princess. One of those Circle of Life kind of things. Now let me tell you how things are supposed to work: The sun grows the food, the ants pick the food, the grasshoppers eat the food...
Molt: And the birds eat the grasshoppers. Hey, like the one that nearly ate you, you remember? You remem- Oh, you shoulda seen it, okay?
Hopper: Molt!
Molt: This blue jay has him half way down his throat, okay? And Hopper - Hopper's kicking and screaming, okay? And I'm scared, okay, I'm not going anywhere near, okay- Aw, come on! It's a great story.
[Hopper grabs Molt by the antennae]
Molt: Ow! Ow! Ow!
- From "A Bug's Life"

Something I haven't done for a l-o-n-g time is to go bug hunting. There again, haven't needed to, as I haven't had anybody in my "animal hospital' recently that needs feeding bugs! But this morning I decided to specifically go and look for something to sketch. It was quite a job - thanks to my chickens, my garden seems to be devoid of insects! However, I did manage to find quite a selection at my pond, which is in a fenced area and rarely gets visited by the chickens.

One of my most exciting finds, was a Water Beetle or Diving Beetle in the pond. These insects only visit a healthy water system and I was ecstatic to see him. I let him be, because I know better than to try and catch him! - they deliver a VERY painful, stinging bite, which lingers for ages! So I did a quick sketch while he sat quietly next to a rock just under the water surface.

My next exciting find was a little thin-tailed scorpion as I over-turned one of the rocks. These little fellas are fairly harmless and non-venomous, but I definitely wasn't going to risk a sting, so he was also quickly sketched before I coaxed him to a new hiding place.

My third find, besides a grasshopper I managed to catch, was a dead wasp lying on the lawn. Her I could bring inside and sketch at leisure. It was a Mud Dauber, and one of my favourite wasps. I've never found them to sting, not even when caught, and I let them be in the house while they dart in and out collecting mud for wherever they're building their mud nest, usually in a corner up against the ceiling, and every now and then it's removal time when I haven't seen any activity near the nest for some time.


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Kei Apple

This is Dovyalis caffra, the Umkokola, or Kei apple, growing in my garden. It is a small to medium-sized tree, native to southern Africa. Its distribution extends from the Kei River in the south, from which the common name derives, northwards along the eastern side of the continent to Tanzania. The ripe fruits are tasty, reminiscent of a small apple.

It is a usually found in dry types of woodland when it grows to 6m tall. In moister types of open woodland it reaches its greatest size of about 8–9 meters. It is a rather straggly tree, with sharp, 3–6 cm long stem spines in the leaf axils. Buds at the base of the spine produce clusters of alternately arranged simple ovate leaves 3–6 cm long.

The flowers are inconspicuous, solitary or clustered, with no petals. It is dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants, though some female plants are parthenogenetic.

The fruit is an edible, bright yellow or orange globose berry 2.5–4cm diameter, with the skin and flesh of a uniform colour and containing several small seeds. Production is often copious, weighing down the branches during the summer. They are juicy, tasty and acidic. I found a lot of them lying under the trees and, to my surprise, untouched by my tortoise. I would have thought that she would like them, as she has a real feast when my peach tree drops the peaches.

Torti - she's a Mountain Tortoise (or Leopard Tortoise - Geochelone pardalis)


Thursday, 1 March 2012

Rhino horn myth

I believe that there is a special place in hell for people who de-horn Rhinos...

Ink sketch and colour wash on Bockingford 300gsm

All we ever read in the media is statistics of all the Rhino atrocities, and nothing as to what can actually be done to stop this. Education is and always will be the best tool.

With today’s network of communication tools, such as social media, it is now possible for scientific studies to reach a global audience like never before – and we can move closer to busting these persistent myths about rhino horn, which are indeed the root of the rhino crisis. By raising public awareness and educating others about the truth behind rhino horn, we can make a difference.

As part of continued efforts to set the record straight on rhino horn’s so-called curative properties, three scientific studies were re-introduced, confirming that rhino horn has no medicinal value. The studies were conducted by different teams of researchers at separate institutions. In each case, the results were conclusive: There is no scientific evidence to support claims of rhino horn’s usefulness as a medicine.

The studies “found no evidence that rhino horn has any medicinal effect as an antipyretic and would be ineffective in reducing fever, a common usage in much of Asia.” Testing also confirmed that “rhino horn, like fingernails, is made of agglutinated hair” and “has no analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmolytic nor diuretic properties” and “no bactericidal effect could be found against suppuration and intestinal bacteria”,. And medically, "it’s the same as if you were chewing your own nails”.

When there were still at least 15,000 black rhinos on the African continent, WWF and the IUCN commissioned a pharmacological study of rhino horn, hoping that science would trump cultural myths. Tragically, by 1993, ten years after the study was published, Africa’s black rhino population had plummeted to just 2,300.

Conducted by Hoffmann-LaRoche, the research was published in "The Environmentalist"


March gifts

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade."
- Charles Dickens


Echeverias taking in the early-morning sun

A metal Lizard on a rock


A feather resting on an air-plant



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