🐾 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, 31 October 2012

Joy accompanied me that morning

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. 
 ~ Anais Nin 

It was a beautiful but cold winter’s morning in my garden. The grass was white with frost and as I went outside to open the hen house and let the chickens out, the early morning sun on the leaves of my Acacia karroo tree caught my attention. Such a lovely contrast to Winter's cold! 

Camera: Canon EOS 550D 
Location : My garden, Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa. 


Tuesday, 30 October 2012

A Hedgehog in your home

Caring for baby or under-weight Hedgehogs 

 Initially the food should be offered in a dropper or a plastic syringe. Each young hedgehog will need to be fed every few hours.

If you find a baby hedgehog on a summer evening, it is probably perfectly all right and is best left alone. But a hedgehog found wandering around during the day is likely to be ill or, if it's very small, might be a youngster trying to feed and fatten up before the onset of winter. It's unlikely to survive without human help, so you should take it to a vet or try to look after it yourself. 

If you find a nest of baby hedgehogs that are still blind and the mother is nowhere to be found, there is little chance that they will live, but it's obviously worth a try. I never advocate taking wild animals out of their environment so please make absolutely sure that the mother is not around by waiting until dusk to she if she might return. If she's not back by then, it's unlikely that she is anywhere nearby or might have been killed and only then may you try and rear the babies yourself. 

If they are old enough to have brown spines, it's more hopeful, but young hedgehogs are very vulnerable until they are at least 6-8 weeks old. 

The mother's milk is obviously the ideal food: it contains immune proteins which protect the babies against a variety of infections, and nothing can adequately take its place. But a variety of liquid foods may help to keep the youngsters going - give them Complan baby food, sheep's or goat's milk (not cow's milk, which is indigestible to baby hedgehogs.) 

Initially the food should be offered in a dropper or a plastic syringe. Each young hedgehog will need to be fed every few hours.

 When they're old enough they can be fed from a bowl

When they reach three weeks old and weigh about 100g, the babies should be offered a wider variety of food. Crumbled biscuits moistened with milk, bread soaked in gravy and scrambled eggs are all suitable. they can gradually move on to puppy food; two or three tablespoonfuls twice a day should be enough. As they get older - and hungrier! - this can be mixed with table scraps or tinned dog food, which my hedgies absolutely loved! 

But caring for young hedgehogs isn't just a matter of food. Hedgehogs are not well insulated and when their temperature drops , digestion becomes slower, movements slow down and gradually they become colder and less active until they die. Warmth will help to reverse this fatal tendency, but not a sharply-focused heat source such as a lamp. the best idea is a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel and frequently refilled to keep the temperature constant. 

Depending on how many hedgehogs there are, a cage or box about a square meter in area, floored with earth, newspaper or an old carpet, will provide temporary quarters. Remember that the bedding will be need to be changed DAILY. And also be aware that hedgehogs are very good at digging AND climbing! Unless the box has smooth sides, it's a good idea to edge it with something along the top. 

If your young hedgehogs prosper, you can release them into the wild when it reaches the necessary weight, I'd say about 450g, the weight they must reach before it's safe for them to hibernate, otherwise wait until spring before releasing them. 
Most of the info and pics from "Everything You Want To Know about Hedgehogs - Dilys Breese"

It takes dedication and commitment to look after hedgehogs taken out of the wild, so be sure you're up to the task before considering it. 


Saturday, 27 October 2012

Saturday pleasures

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” 
― E.B. White 

Fresh bread with home-made Apricot jam for breakfast

Hanging a bottle filled with fresh water and Nasturtiums from a tree

Watching a garden ornament gently spinning in the breeze

A nest discovered in the back yard

A basket of Pecan nuts brought over by a friend

My favourite sugar bowl

Wooden ducks on my kitchen table

Late-afternoon visitors to my garden

Snuggling up in my favourite armchair, reading a friend's poetry book while sipping a glass of red

What were your pleasures this Saturday?


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Rural love affair

People take different roads seeking fulfilment and happiness. Just because they're not on your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost.
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr. 

For thirty seven years I've been having a rural love affair. I grew up in various towns and cities across South Africa, and when my husband and I got married in our late-twenties, we couldn't wait to own our own little piece of rural bliss, somewhere in the country, far from the madding crowd. 

We bought our first smallholding in 1975, starting from scratch on a virgin piece of land covered in lush indigenous grasses and lots of blue gum trees. For twenty seven years we fenced, planted, tended animals, built our house, stables, a cottage and other farm buildings, always busy with some project or another.

And after all this time, I still have not tired of travelling the quiet country roads, spotting wildlife and farm animals en route or stopping to pick some Cosmos or wild flowers for a vase.

Driving up one of the gravel roads in and around our area always fills me with expectation - what will I find over the horison? Neat, green fields? A little stream? Or some antelope crossing the road? I can't remember how many times I've been blessed with some wonderful find, a Hedgehog sprinting for the cover of grass, a Duiker quickly leading it's fawn back to the safety of the trees, a Kestrel sitting on a fence post devouring its prey.

And going for a walk takes on a whole different meaning. Walks are filled with all sorts of exciting things - unknown plants that need to be identified, bird song and insects, ground-hog families scurrying about their business, the odd snake hurrying to get out of your way - an artist or photographer's heaven!

But country living is not ALL bliss and joy and certainly has its fair share of draw-backs, like the wildfires we suffer every winter, an essential part of our ecology but still with devastating effects on wildlife and properties. A country property always seems to need more maintenance than suburban properties - fire-breaks that have to be cut, fences that need mending, boreholes that either dry up or need a new pump and all the animals that need tending. 

But its a way of life that, once it gets into your blood, you won't exchange for any other way of living!


Saturday, 20 October 2012

My sedges (Cyperaceae)

 Sedges growing amongst the paving in my garden

I have these beautiful, what I thought was grasses, springing up all over in my bathroom court-yard, but upon trying to identify them, found out that they are sedges. Grasses are characterised by 'nodes' along the stem - or jointed stems - as opposed to 'sedges' which have stems with no joints and which belong to another family. 

As in grasses, the basic unit of the inflorescence in sedges is the spikelet. Within the family there is enormous variation in spikelet and inflorescence structure. The spikelet consists of one to several, tiny, male, female or bisexual flowers, each borne in the axil of a boat-shaped glume (tiny bract) which is coloured in shades of green or brown, red, occasionally white or bright yellow. Mostly petals are absent, but when present, they are concealed within the glume and consist of bristles or scale-like structures. 

The family comprises about 104 genera and more than 5 000 species world-wide, although estimates of numbers vary greatly due to differing taxonomic concepts of individual researchers and because modern sedge floras are available for only a few countries. The largest genus is Carex with about 2 000 species world-wide, followed by Cyperus with about 550 species. Sedges occur primarily in the tropics and subtropics, but may be locally dominant in some areas like the subarctic regions (tundra). 

In rather arid southern Africa there are roughly 40 genera and 400 species. They are found throughout the region, in particular habitats. Some species e.g. in the genus Tetraria are endemic (occur nowhere else in the world) to the winter rainfall region of the Western Cape, South Africa. 

In southern Africa sedges are found mainly in wetlands (some are entirely aquatic) and along watercourses, but also occur in moist grasslands and along forest margins. Some genera (e.g. Tetraria) are common constituents of fynbos vegetation, which generally occurs on impoverished sandstone soils, whereas several species of other genera are pioneers on coastal dune sands. 

It is not surprising that adaptations to particular habitats are many. Many species are deciduous, and survive the unfavourable season as rhizomes, corms or tubers. Several species grow in semi-arid areas, and are able to survive periods of drought due to succulent, water-storing leaf sheaths. In arid areas many species have overcome the problem of temporary moisture (such as in pans) by becoming annuals, completing their life cycles in a month or two. Species occurring in fire-regulated grasslands often have protectively thickened and hardened or fibrous leaf sheaths. 

Sedges are generally wind pollinated, although some of the brightly coloured species are thought to be insect-pollinated. On several occasions I have observed thrips (tiny insects) in the flowers of Fuirena species, absolutely covered in pollen. It is almost certain that, as well as feeding on the pollen, they are also vectors. After disintegration of the spikelet the fruits are mostly dispersed by wind and water, and can also be carried long distances in mud on the feet of migrating birds. Some fruits have corky flotation tissue or further adaptations for water dispersal, some have elaiosomes (an oil-rich appendage on the seed) for ant dispersal, and others are equipped with tiny hooks and bristles for dispersal in the fur and feathers of mammals and birds. 

Economic and cultural value
The chief importance of sedges lies in their forming a major natural constituent of wetlands and riverside vegetation, where their densely tangled rhizomes contribute to erosion control and water purification. The consequences once they are eradicated are unfortunately all too easily observed. While on the natural theme, the dense sedge beds that form in swampy regions provide food and shelter for birds, animals and other aquatic life-thus attracting ecotourism. In grasslands, terrestrial game birds (e.g. francolin) feed almost exclusively on the small corms of some Cyperus species. 
Info from PlantzAfrica 


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

African Striped Skink

You've got to get out and pray to the sky to appreciate the sunshine! 
:: African striped skink - Trachylepsis striata  ::

I have a couple of Lizards living in my bathroom court-yard garden and I often find them sunning themselves on the walls or the rocks and tree stumps. These cold-blooded reptiles eat insects such as ants, beetles, larvae and flies, so the ones we get around the house or game lodges are actually very welcome! They also often enter my bathroom, decorating my walls just the way I like it! 

Two wooden lizards decorating my bathroom walls, and invitation for the garden variety to come and visit!

Being cold-blooded means that they don’t have a control mechanism keeping their body temperature constant irrespective of their surroundings. They need the sun to warm their blood and provide them with energy to move and will remain mostly inactive on cold days and may hibernate in winter. There are no poisonous Lizards in southern Africa and South Africa is home to more than 200 lizard species, making it the richest country for lizard diversity in continental Africa. 

A sunny position on the wall is greatly prized.

The African striped skink gives birth to live young, but other reptiles lay eggs. The lifespan of lizards is between 1 – 3 years. 

This little lady (I think!) looks decidedly pregnant!

My bathroom as seen from the court-yard

 Getting together almost certainly means confrontation! Shortly after I took this photo, the top lizard jumped onto the bottom lizard, sending him (her) scurrying back into the ferns.

 All four my resident lizards catching up on on some early-morning sunbathing. They are actually also keeping an eye on the hosepipe on the ground, where I'm watering the plants, and as soon as I remove they hosepipe they will all be down for a drink. I do have several water bowls in the garden for them and the birds, but they seem to revel in the running water, preferring to drink directly from the ground.

The sun rising over the bathroom court-yard wall.

The court-yard provides lots of cover and a safe haven for them and is also warm enough so that I caught glimpses of them throughout winter.


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday pleasures

“A Sunday well-spent brings a week of content.”


I was sitting in the garden this morning, having my first cup of coffee, enjoying the sounds around me and watching a Sparrow replenishing last year's nest - he was piling fresh leaves and grass on top of the previous lot and I thought I even saw him doing a few little jumps, as if flattening it in place. "How industrious", I thought, "and even clever, using last year's platform!"

There was even a Weaver close-by, starting on a new nest, which the ladies will shortly be inspecting and, if one finds it to her liking, she'll move straight in, decorating it with feathers and other soft material.

As I was sipping my coffee, relaxed and lost in thought, I heard voices on the other side of the garden wall. I got up and dragged my little ladder closer to the wall and peered over. There was Solly's wife busy doing the dishes just outside their house's door and just a few houses away, Chrissie was busy sweeping her front yard and her daughter was busy hanging up the washing.

After I'd settled back in my chair, picking up my cup of coffee, the above quote came to mind, "A Sunday well spent, brings a week of content", and I thought, "Ne'er a truer word spoken!" I was spending my Sunday exactly the way I wanted, relaxing and enjoying nature, which will hopefully set the mood for the rest of my week!


Friday, 12 October 2012

The Way of the Crow

"If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows." 
-Rev. Henry Ward Beecher mid 1800's 

Coco on a rock in my garden - watercolour on Visual 200gsm - Maree©

There is little wonder that crows are very often the subjects of legends, folktales, and storytelling traditions around the world, all of which is very deep-seated and arising from myth and folklore thousands of years old. Anyone that has ever spent time with a crow will know how absurd these myths are and that Crows are no more 'evil' or 'dark' as depicted in these legends than a canary in a cage. 

 I make those remarks in light of the life I shared with Coco, a Black Crow (Corvus capensis), over a span of twenty years. She was keen of sight and hearing, and her other senses were no less acute. As was her sense of humour! She loved to mimic men laughing, producing the exact deep resonance of the male voice. She would also have a conversation with herself, changing voices as she went along, which she reproduced from the garden staff talking to one another. 

Another favourite of hers was hooting like a car, getting everyone in the household to go outside to see who has arrived. She would also call someone by their name at the top of her voice, also getting that person rushing outside to see who was calling, then uttering a long, low laugh, as if enjoying the havoc she's causing. 

She loved to play tag, pretending to peck your foot, getting you to chase her around the garden. And of course, one 'myth' that is absolutely true, is a Crow's love for shiny stuff. No tea tray was safe unattended outside, as all the spoons would disappear and any jewellery lying around the house was at great risk! 

A valuable lesson we could all learn from a crow is that they never "stuff" themselves with food. She would only eat until she was satisfied and then take the rest and hide it all over the garden, ready to be picked up at a later stage. 

 It is this kind of sensitivity that makes crows and other corvids legendary birds. 

Coco passed away at the age of 27 after a stroke and I can honestly say no other animal enriched my life like she did. 


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

My mind is at ease in Africa

I wanted to say something about the beautiful country I live in, but I guess I can't say it any better than the words below ... 

Driving down the road under the southern light 
Looking back to see where we've come from 
As we watched the sun go down 
Rain it fell like diamonds from Kimberley mines 

On the road to Jo'burg with the dying light 
Farewell Durban City of Natal 
Stopped a while to stretch my thoughts 
As we crossed the borderline and into Transvaal 

I saw the sun go down 
 Under the southern skies 
Over and over 
I'll always remember those beautiful African nights 

In the old V W, we'd count the miles 
We travelled with a friend whose name was Farr 
The stories that he told us talked of faces times and places 
 Sang and played his guitar 

Driving down the road we hear the morning rise 
Leaving all the past so far behind 
The sound man played the Eagles as we listen 
 'Take it easy' Echoes on through our lives 

I saw the sun go down 
Under the southern skies 
Over and over I'll 
always remember, I still hear them call 
No matter how far those beautiful African nights 
- Unknown 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Angel wing

Angel wing 
you inspire 
You faded away... 

A few years ago I was heavily into Begonias and a favourite was the "Angel Wing", a beautiful plant with exquisitely coloured leaves and beautiful pink flowers. I also had a couple of the more usual Begonia cultivars, but seeing as there are more that 1,500 species, I rarely even knew the names of those I bought. (Information from some nurseries regarding the plants they sell is sometimes pitiful, leaving you up to your own devices of trying to identify something.)

Begonia "Angel Wing" (Begonia aconitifolia × B. coccinea) is a hybrid Begonia which resulted from a cross between Begonia aconitifolia and B. coccinea. The hybridization was made by California plant breeder Eva Kenworthy Gray in 1926.

The plant gets its name from the shape and colors of its leaves. Usually, 'Angel Wing' grow upward on one stem. They flower and produce blooms that range in colors from red to white. The leaves grow with a wide range of colors also. The top of the leaf is often a dark green with metallic silver specks. The underside is a deep red.

Often, these plants are used as year-round houseplants. They are fairly easy to grow for a gardener that understands begonias. Since they are native to the tropics, the ideal growing conditions include high humidity, good circulation of the air around the plant, a lot of water, and a lot of light. The more light, the more brilliant the color of the leaves.

Angel Wing Begonias will grow well under shade cloth, lattice or in early morning/late afternoon sun. They will burn if grown in direct mid-day sun. The flowers are edible, with a sweet tart taste. 

Sadly I gave my Begonias away when we moved and maybe, just maybe (because they take a LOT of care!) I might consider getting another one.


Friday, 5 October 2012

Early morning walk

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. 
- John Muir 

An early-morning walk on our smallholding is something I enjoy immensely and even though the landscape sometimes seems very ordinary, hidden amongst the grasses is the most beautiful delights, from lovely tiny, almost unnoticeable little flowers like the one above, scarcely 5mm in diameter, to insects, Dandelions, Sunflowers, stones, twigs and even the odd ground bird's nest.


I had a keychain once, with  long rubbery tendrils, which looked just like this wild flower I found hiding amongst the grass. At first glance it was just another weed, but through the camera lens set on Macro, it's true beauty was revealed.

This little Dandelion flower amazes as it goes through its metamorphosis from bud to floret to seedhead, dispersing in the wind like tiny little parachutes.



A newly-born sunflower struggling its way through the tall grass, soon to become Queen of the field, standing taller than the rest, showing all those around her which way the sun will be rising tomorrow morning.


A perfectly camouflaged praying mantis waits patiently for some unsuspecting insect to come past. She almost escaped my eye she is so perfectly at one with the blue gum leaves.

A cluster of Ladybirds on an old piece of wood made me wonder whey they would be sitting there...?

A small yellow surprise basking in the sun...

And, of course, no outing is complete without the odd spider! Not a very good photograph, but I wasn't going to interfere in there to see what else might emerge!

Hope your early-morning walks also delivery some lovely delights and surprises!



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