Go out by yourself, face the wind, hold up your head and thank the Universe for this world we live in.
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
🐾 Hedgehogs, Chooks, Nature, gardening and other rambles. In summer I always enjoy an early-evening walk on our smallholding. No need to get in my car to find nature, I have 8.5ha right here to explore, always hoping to see the Barn Owl or some Guinea fowl, but always enjoying the Bluegum trees and beautiful grasses and wild flowers along the way.
Hi, I am Maree Clarkson, a watercolour wildlife and conservation artist and Nature-lover living on my little piece of African soil in Tarlton since 1975 (Gauteng, South Africa), in love with life, my chickens, gardening and nature!
2013 was an amazing year, filled with lots of joy and love, lessons learned and also a few sorrows. I am ready for 2014! and here's wishing that your year ahead is filled with LOVE, JOY and INSPIRATION!
Thank you all for visiting and the wonderful chats we've had, hope to see lots more of you in the coming year!
"We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the
earth as its other creatures do." - Barbara Ward, Only One Earth, 1972
"You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children that we have taught our children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth... This we know, the earth does belong to man: man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected..."
- Chief Seattle 1851
It starts with you and me...
Make the Earth your companion. Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do. Let the Sky paint her beauty--she is always watching over you. Learn from the Sea how to face harsh forces. Let the River remind you that everything will pass. Let the Lake instruct you in stillness. Let the Mountain teach you grandeur. Make the Woodland your house of peace. Make the Rainforest your house of hope. Meet the Wetland on twilight ground. Save some small piece of Grassland for a red kite on a windy day. Watch the Icecaps glisten with crystal majesty. Hear the Desert whisper hush to eternity. Let the Town bring you togetherness. Make the Earth your companion. Walk lightly, as other creatures do.
I have never known Glossy Starlings to be shy. Whenever we visit the Kruger National Park, they are as brazen as can be, stealing food out of your plate as you're having lunch on the deck and will readily take food out of your hands. But the Glossy visiting my garden is terribly shy. I've been trying to get pics of him for months, to no avail. As soon as they see me, they head straight for the tree tops.
The other day I was having coffee on my patio, camera at the ready, and finally spotted one of them at a bird bath. I was quite a distance away, but daren't move for fear of him taking flight. So the next best thing was to try and zoom in through the maze of plants and tree trunks. Moving very slowly and scarcely breathing, I managed to get a few distant shots of this gorgeous bird with his metallic sheen and very bright eyes.
As he was testing the water and getting ready for his bath (and I saw that he knew I was there and keeping a close eye on me!) a not-so-shy African masked Weaver landed on the bird bath and I thought, "Oh no! that's going to be the end of this now!
Not phased by the Starling's dirty looks at all, the little fella hopped right in and started splashing away.
The Starling got a good soaking in the process!
Shortly after the Weaver left, so did the Starling, without having his bath. Maybe he had gotten wet enough from the Weaver's splashing, but I got the feeling he wasn't happy with my spying at all!
The Glossy Starling - Lamprotornis intense (family Sturnidae) - is endemic to Africa and occurs from Angola and Zambia to Southern Africa, where it is locally common across much of the region, excluding central Mozambique, the Karoo, Namib Desert and the fynbos biome in the Western Cape. It can occupy a variety of different habitats, especially wooded savannah, forest edges, riverine bush, plantations, parks and gardens.
It eats insects, fruit, nectar and scraps of human food, doing most of its foraging on the ground, running and hopping in search of food items. It often associates with antelope, removing ectoparasites from them as well as catching the insects they disturb.
Interesting Info :
- It is a monogamous, cooperative breeder, meaning that the breeding pair may be assisted by up to 6 helpers, who often remain with them through many breeding seasons.
- It usually nests in tree cavities, either natural or excavated by woodpeckers or barbets, but it may also use a hole in a riverbank, metal pipe or even a post box used daily. It adds coarse material such as twigs into the cavity until the platform is close to the entrance, after which it adds a lining of dry grass, dung and snake skins. It often uses the same nest over multiple breeding seasons, in fact one breeding pair was recorded using the same site for 20 years.
- Egg-laying season is mainly from September-February.
- It lays 2-6 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female.
- The chicks are fed by both parents and helpers, leaving the nest after about 20 days after which they remain with the group for at least week.
Taken in my back-yard (Tarlton Gauteng, South Africa)
After my Greater Striped Swallows (Cecropis cucullata) returned on the 25th September 2013, a bit late, normally they’re here at the beginning of September, they managed to rebuild their nest in the pump house and 3 days ago I found one of their fledglings inside the walled yard surrounding the pump house. This in itself is not a problem as it is quite safe there, I just hoped the parents knew it was there!
But I needn’t have worried. As I was taking photographs, they were circling overhead, twittering warnings and in general looking like they were going to attack me any moment. I sealed off the gate so nothing could get inside and left it in peace. Of course I will be checking on it often and probably put it inside the pumphouse for the night as we’ve been having heavy showers every night for the past week.
The Greater Striped Swallow is a large swallow and breeds in southern Africa, mainly in South Africa, Namibia and southern Zimbabwe. It is migratory wintering further north in Angola, Tanzania and southern Zaire.
The eggs are glossy white with a few brown spots; three eggs is a typical clutch (so I presume there might be one or two more babies somewhere). Incubation is by the female alone for 17–20 days to hatching. Both parents then feed the chicks. Fledging takes another 23–30 days, but the young birds will return to the nest to roost for a few days after the first flight.
This is a bird of dry open country, such as grassland, and has a preference for hills and mountains. It avoids more wooded areas, but is often found around human habitation.
I actually brought him inside for the night as it started raining heavily just before dusk. This is the little fellow sitting on my calculator at 4am as I was awakened by his constant chirping. I put him back outside at dawn and the parents were there in a flash, answering his calls! I didn't bring him in last night and when I checked on him this morning I was greeted with a hungry chirp. It is now the third day and he still can't fly and I'm wondering how long the parents' patience is going to last. He is SO small...
My Nasturtiums have put up the most spectacular show this season and with summer still stretching ahead of us, I'm hoping to get lots of flowers until about April-May. They are an absolute delight to the insects, with sweet nectar accumulating at the base of the flower, luring ants, bees, flies, and even a few wasps. They also flowered right through winter, brightening up the garden just when I needed it most.
Little Snoodles reaching up to take a tit-bit from my fingers
This is Snoodles, the little chick I pulled out of the egg after rescuing it out of the dustbin (read the full story HERE.) She has grown in leaps and bounds over the past six days and is a real little treasure! Over the past week I have tried several times to put her back with Mommy, who is quite keen to take her, clucking and calling, but unfortunately little Dusty has already imprinted on me and would stand there calling until I answered, when she would run her little legs off in the direction of my voice.
Imprinting is "A rapid learning process by which a newborn or very young animal
establishes a behaviour pattern of recognition and attraction to another
animal of its own kind or to a substitute or an object identified as the
parent." When rearing a newborn animal, it is very difficult to avoid imprinting as it takes a lot of effort of not letting it hear your voice or not letting it see your hand, for example, feeding it. In the wild it is therefore always preferable to let nature take its course and not to interfere and pick up fledglings that have left the nest and landed on the floor. Normally the parents are close-by and will feed it until it is able to fly. That is how they grow strong and learn to fly.
I know predators are always a worry, but unfortunately that's how nature is. Once you "save" it (we all have that instinct), releasing it back to nature is always difficult as it has not learnt the necessary survival skills to ensure it makes it in the wild, where it will then probably perish anyway. The other alternative is then spending the rest of its life in a cage, definitely not an ideal situation.
Investigating everything on my desk
Little Snoodles showing great interest in the seeds I offered her
One of Solly’s hens (one of only 4 left after a mysterious disease killed about 20 of his chickens) hatched out six little chicks, leaving another 11 eggs un-hatched when she left the nest at about 6am. About an hour later, I saw a tiny chick stumbling from the nest, still wet from emerging from the egg. Mommy and her crew of six had already disappeared somewhere into the garden, so once again I had a little chick to tend to.
I brought her inside and kept her warm in a basket of grass with a hot water bottle and a towel throughout the day and that night. Early the next morning I saw Mommy and her babies just outside my studio window and quickly rushed outside with Dottie (she has two little black dots on her head) and put her down in front of Mommy, who immediately clucked encouragingly and little Dottie quickly responded by running towards her and under her warm tummy.
Dottie (top right) with some of the other chicks
Mommy and all seven babies enjoying the lawn
I kept watch for about an hour until I was satisfied that she was able to keep up with the rest of the clan, feeling relieved that it had all worked out well. Sometimes chicks imprint on me too quickly or the mother refuses to take it back, then it’s a case of looking after a little chick for many weeks before it is ready to join my girls in the garden. Over the past two days they've all grown in leaps and bounds and Mommy is an absolutely perfect mother, calling them to the food I put out and first letting them have their fill before she has anything herself.
Mommy calling the chicks for a tit-bit
Now, here's the thing. On Tuesday afternoon we disposed of all the other
eggs that were left over and threw them in the dustbin in the back
yard. This morning, it's now 2 days later, as I passed the dustbin, I
heard peeping! Looking inside, I saw that two chicks had hatched. I was
gob-smacked! Upon closer inspection of the rest of the eggs, I noticed
that one had a hole in it and heard peeping coming from within. I
gathered up the two babies and the egg and rushed inside, immediately
getting the two chicks onto a towel with a hot water battle. The egg was
still peeping, so I carefully removed all the shell and found a
perfectly formed little chick struggling to get out. I gently cleaned it
and also put in on the hot water bottle with the other two chicks.
The two "dustbin chicks" with the one I took out of the egg warming up on the towel and hot water bottle
The three little "dustbin chicks" getting warmed up
The chick in the centre (Snoodles) is the one I took out of the egg
I constantly checked the temperature inside the towel to make sure it was not too hot also often stroking the third little chick and talking to it. After about half-an-hour it raised it's little head and opened its eyes! I was thrilled! It also struggled up to stand, stretching its little legs for a second or two before settling down between the other two chicks again.
After about four hours it was dry and quite alert, moving about and taking an interest in its surroundings, snuggling close to the other two.
I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, Mommy will accept the two older little dustbin chicks but the one I took out of the egg still has a long way to go and I doubt that it will be able to keep up with the much older chicks, so it looks like I've got a few weeks ahead of me tending to this little one.
Hens lay eggs over a period of
time and sometimes those laid first, hatch first. When she left the
nest, some of the other eggs might have been on the point of hatching
and I think the dustbin acted like an incubator, it was standing in the
morning sun with the lid on and it was quite warm inside. If she had
stayed on the eggs just a day later, probably some more would have
UP-DATE Fri 29th Nov 2013 5.15am
Well, I put the first two dustbin chicks back with their Mommy this morning and she accepted them immediately. Of course they were cold and she immediately called them under her warm feathers. I will keep an eye on them today to make sure they keep up with the rest of the crowd. The third little chick which I took out of the egg is still a bit weak, maybe tomorrow...
We're in the middle of summer and my mood has changed from one of inspiration to lethargy - we've had temperatures exceeding 30°C (about 86°F) with no rain and I haven't even had the energy to go out into the garden and do some work. Once or twice I did manage to brave the heat and take my camera with me and capture a few pics.
As I wandered around the garden, my two resident Mynahs were following me around, screeching at the top of their voices. I first thought they might be warning me about a snake, but to my delight I discovered that the Mynah's babies have fledged - the parents have been in in and out of their nest over the past couple of days (which is under the canopy of the thatch roof over our entrance and not my ideal place to have them, they've destroyed large patches of the thatch in trying to find the perfect nesting spot) with tit-bits for the youngsters and I've been waiting for the youngsters to come out.
The Mynahs' nest in the thatch roof
Entrance to the Mynahs' nest under the thatch roof over my entrance gate
I found two little Mynah's in the peach tree and, with the parents sitting threateningly right over-head and screeching, I managed to get a couple of shots.
Fledgling one - he looks like the older of the two
Fledgling two - he's the smaller of the two
They weren't particularly interested in me and just focused on the parents, chirping softly for some food. In their youthful inexperience they are still totally trusting, both even allowed me to pick them up and after a bit of a cuddle, I returned them to their respective spots where they continued to chirp at the parents, which weren't at all pleased with my apparent lack of concern over their screeching.
(The following image might upset sensitive viewers.)
After a while I decided to inspect the nest to try and work out a plan of fixing the thatch and thwarting any more efforts on their part to re-nest there again. To my utter horror I discovered a third baby, impaled on the palisade fencing which surrounds part of my garden. At first I thought that the Fiscal Shrike must have caught it and used the spike as a larder, but I couldn't see any other injuries on the baby - the Fiscal Shrike would have removed the head and would've started feeding already. After some investigation and further thought, I came to the conclusion that it had slipped down the thatch (which is very slippery, I've watched the parents slipping and sliding as they've tried to enter the nest) and impaled itself on the spike. It really is a freaky accident, and one which I wish I could have prevented...
Hedgie, the African Hedgehog, came into my life in July 2000, at a time when I felt I couldn’t handle any more responsibilities, (I was already looking after 2 Mountain tortoises and 2 fledgling Laughing Doves, plus 2 baby Guinea fowl) and all I wanted to do was find a safe home for him as quickly as possible, but after the first hour of getting to know him, I’d lost my heart completely!
Hedgie was brought to me after being rescued from some dogs rolling him around the field, presumably quite puzzled at the prickly ball which seemed quite alive, yet yielding not one inch to any prompting or buffeting of any kind.
What attracted him to Bridgette’s garden was the garden light left on at night and under which he could snuffle around for any insects also attracted to the light. And after finding him two or three times in the morning being harassed by the dogs, Bridgette decided it was time for a change of venue for the prickly character who would not even let her catch a glimpse of anything inside the bunch of prickles.
She arrived with him one Sunday afternoon, not sure whether he was still alive or not, as he had not unrolled for quite some time. Cupping him gently in my hands, I took him to the ‘holding pen’, which was a fenced area normally housing the two baby Mountain tortoises that were currently in hibernation inside the house, snug in a box, emerging from time to time for a drink of water and a quick snack before returning to their selective corners. We left Hedgie in peace for a couple of hours and after Bridgette had left, I fetched Hedgie to make sure that he was indeed all right.
After a couple of minutes of gentle coaxing, I was rewarded with a little black nose and black hairy face (juvenile, the hairs later turn white) peering out cautiously, taking in the scene for any possible danger, flipping back into his protective covering at the slightest move. It was not long before he seemed to decide that there did not seem to be any danger and he gently uncurled into his full length, with a soft, warm tummy resting in the palm of my hand. My movements had to be gentle and slow, as he was startled very easily.
After making sure that he was in quite good health, I offered him some bread and milk (for lack of having anything else to possibly give him at such short notice, as it was in the middle of winter and insects were decidedly in short supply). He lapped at the milk quite thirstily at first and after a while ate quite a bit of the bread. He then acted quite strangely, scrambling madly in my hand and I quickly took him back to the holding pen and put him down gently. He seemed quite agitated, running around for a while and then the reason was obvious – nature had called!
Then came the task of making him a shelter in the one corner of the pond area, filled with dried grass and formed into a hollow in the one corner of the shelter. I gently put him to bed, leaving some more bread and milk and fresh water and decided to check on him later.
After dark, I went to fetch Hedgie and saw him investigating his new home, trotting the perimeters in an ever-widening circle, starting in the middle and walking the same route over and over, extending the range every couple of laps, until he had satisfied himself of where the boundaries were. Picking him up carefully (I still got pricked because he rolled into a ball, trapping my fingers inside his soft tummy!), we went into the house, where he spent some time curled up in my lap until he couldn’t resist the temptation anymore and started opening up, peering out slant-eyed, as if I wouldn’t be able to see him if his eyes were closed!
We established quite a cozy relationship, with him uncurling at the sound of my voice and peeping out to see the reason for this disturbance and if he’s not willing to be disturbed right at that moment, he does little hops combined with grunting and huffing noises, letting me know in no uncertain terms that this is not the right time for any play.
Hedgie weighing in at 450g, can go as high as 750g
His diet has progressed to canned dog food (his favorite), still the milk and bread occasionally, and any insects I collected from under rocks and bark, him delighting mostly in the large wood lice, which he virtually grabs out of my hand and devours in a flash. I also started breeding meal worms, which turned out to be his total favourite.
Come summer, and when the threat of veld fires is over, I will try and find a suitable place to release him, and I will surely miss him lying on my lap or crawling up my chest, licking any bare skin he comes across and then, to my utter horror, trying to anoint himself on my smell, prickles scraping bare skin and little claws scratching until I’m forced to return him to my lap or the floor. One thing I know for sure, it will be a great emptiness in my life once he goes.
PS : I never did release Hedgie, and he went on to spend 8 beautiful years with me, and sadly passed away in 2008, from some bowel obstruction that the vet was unable to treat. But I have been left richer for having him in my life and the memories will last forever.
As I was watering the garden this morning, I discovered a whole clump of caterpillars at the base of my Acacia karroo tree. These are the larvae of the Lappet Moth and I am lucky enough to have them hatch in my garden
Their appearance also coincides with the return in
mid-October of the Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius –
Piet-my-Vrou) as they make out a large part of this Cuckoo’s diet.
Eutricha capensis, the Cape lappet moth, is a species of moth in the family Lasiocampidae primarily found in South Africa. During the larval stage, cape lappets feed on a wide variety of African plants and can often be found aggregating in gardens. The caterpillars
are brightly coloured and conspicuously hairy, while the bulky adult
moths are mostly brown and much less striking in appearance.
I also found another clump at the base of one of the White Karee's (Rhus viminalis) and I think they have chosen their spot well, for I doubt that the Red-chested Cuckoo will go onto the ground in my garden.
If you look close enough, you will see some water
droplets on them. Luckily I saw them just in time before wetting them
completely with the hosepipe! Be careful of touching these deceptively soft-looking
beauties, the hairs stick to whatever they come into contact with and
and can cause an irritating, itchy rash.
The adult moths are large and stocky, with an average wingspan of about 70 mm
(2.8 in). Both hind wings and fore wings are reddish brown. The fore
wings are flecked with yellow and bear three wavy white stripes. Females
are typically paler in colour and larger than males.
I will be keeping a close eye on them over the next few days and hopefully I can capture the adults emerging.