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

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Pororoca

"It's the tail end of the dry season on the Araguari River in the Brazilian Amazon Basin, and the water level is low. The moon is full. Suddenly an ominous roar rolls through the jungle, like the rumble of an oncoming train. A vast wall of water comes hurtling straight up the river. The native Tupi Indians call it poroc-poroc—big roar."
- National Geographic

 Pic credit - Investec.

I was utterly awed and amazed when I saw a programme on TV regarding the Pororoca, which is a tidal bore, with waves up to 4 metres high, that travel as much as 13km inland upstream on the Amazon River and adjacent rivers. 

When the moon is full and the dry season is coming to an end along the banks of the Araguari River, the stillness of the Amazon is shattered by a loud, thunderous roar. The suddenly rising waters of the river rush out towards the Atlantic, forcing the tide to surge hundreds of kilometres up the Amazon River – it’s not just a tidal bore, it’s an opportunity waiting to be seized… 

 Pic credit - Investec.

Feared and revered by the native Tupi, who call this tidal bore Pororoca, meaning "great destructive noise", the tremendous wave can be powerful enough to tear entire trees from the river bank...and captivating enough to tempt surfers from all over the world, to ride its untamed wall. Occurring between February and March only, it's the longest wave on earth. 

The wave has become popular with surfers. Since 1999, an annual championship has been held in São Domingos do Capim (on the adjacent Guamá River). However, surfing the Pororoca is especially dangerous, as the water contains a significant amount of debris from the shores of the river (often entire trees), in addition to dangerous fauna. In 2003 the Brazilian Picuruta Salazar won the event with a record ride of 12.5 km lasting 37 minutes. The longest time captured on tape riding the wave is also by Picuruta, lasting 43 minutes. 

You can see the pororoca in action HERE.
Do youself a favour and click, it's something not to be missed!

 Pic credit - Investec.


Monday, 25 February 2013

Nature is telling us...

With the grass turning yellow and a nip in the morning air, it's plain that we're heading for Autumn already. One of our March/April jobs on the smallholding is to cut the grass and make fire-breaks. We started early this year as Nature is clearly indicating she has plans for an early Winter!

Tappeltjie cleaning under the fences with a panga.
After the contractor has finished the basic job of cutting all the fields, it's time for us to trim under the fences and get closer to walls and other structures. Where the tractor cannot be used it is done by hand with a panga.

I just love watching them work and the smell of the freshly-cut grass is like no other in this world!

Following the tractor around, I also get a chance to 'rescue' small wildlife and flowers, giving the driver strict instructions to 'go around' it. This wildflower was blowing around briskly in the breeze and I had to hold it still to get a shot.


Besides clearing up a possible fire hazard, I'm thrilled by the annual cut as I get to replenish my stock of baled grass for the chicken coop. I really don't use that much so twenty bales lasts me the whole year. The contractor takes the rest of the harvest, which is about 200 bales in total.

By this time of the year, the Fan-tiled Cisticolas (Cisticola juncidis - Landeryklopkloppie in Afrikaans) have finished breeding. They hang their tiny nests in the tall grass by bunching clumps together and building their little cups half-way up the stems. Quite a job to find them in the tall grass and I never actually look for the nests as the Cisticolas are very shy and easily abandon a disturbed nest. I'll miss their constant twittering as they do their dipping flight above the tall grass.

(Pic from Photo.net)

But the shorter grass makes way for other wildlife - the Guinea fowl pass through more often and the Crowned Plovers move in and start choosing nesting sites. It's one of my great joys watching their tiny, long-legged little offspring following the parents around in Winter, taking tit-bits pointed out to them.


Sunday, 24 February 2013

Domino, the Pied Crow

A photograph of Domino on a textured back-ground. 
Location : Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa. 
Camera : Fuji FinePix 2800Zoom 

This is Domino, a Pied Crow (Corvus albus) I was blessed enough to have in my life for a few years. I found him on the ground under a huge Blue gum tree, newly fledged and starving and weak. As it was impossible to return him to his nest, I took him home, prepared a basket with a hot water bottle, gave him a good feeding and waited. It wasn’t long before he was asking for food every hour and within a week he was happily hopping around the house, investigating an exciting new world. 

Crows are renowned for their curiosity, and Domino was no exception. Nothing escaped his watchful eye and his greatest pleasure was ‘stealing’ spoons and anything shiny and then hiding it all over the garden. 

We spent two beautiful years together until, one morning, I found his remains up in the tree in which he slept – he had fallen prey to a Serval (African Wild Cat Caracal serval), one I had been having trouble with for several weeks, catching my chickens at night. My heart was broken, but I am thankful that I have many wonderful memories from our time spent together. 

The Pied Crow is a Southern African bird that belongs to the Corvidae bird family group which includes birds such as Crows, Ravens and is absent only from areas of Somalia and Ethiopia, as well as much of eastern Botswana, the Northern Cape and western Namibia. It has become prolific, as its numbers and range are expanding especially in the Karoo. It often occupies savanna woodland and bushy shrub land, but it is becoming more and more common in farmland, urban and suburban areas.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

i wander through warm thoughts

Every day, mystery and wonder are always there to greet me, one on either side 

The end of summer always makes me nostalgic. Looking forward to Autumn, but also knowing I'm going to miss the warm summer days and the rain. We live in a summer rainfall area and I've never been able to wrap my head around rain in winter. What could be worse than ice cold, WET weather? Only ice cold, wet and snowy weather, I would imagine!

I had this in my garden this summer... another gift. White-browed sparrows visited for the first time in years and then stayed to enjoy the garden.

More visitors to our property - White Storks looking for snacks amongst the tall summer grass. I tried to get closer, but as soon as I started approaching them, they took off.

A surprise in the long grass - Nasturtium seeds probably spread by birds.

A rainbow after an early-morning rain storm.


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

SOCIAL SPIDERS (Stegodyphus)

 Part of the large web of Social spiders in my garden

A couple of years ago I watched with amazement as a rather large spider web, stretched between two plants in my garden, evolved into a HUGE, messy mass of webs that contained hundreds of small, rather crab-looking, grey spiders. 

At first I wasn't sure whether I should allow this or not, that corner of my garden started looking like something out of a horror movie, with entire plants being enveloped by huge nests. But after days of observation, I was entranced by the fact that the nest was filled with dozens of spiders and that they seemed quite happy living in such close proximity with one another. When prey lands in the web, a few spiders rush out, overpower and collectively drag it to a nest chamber where they will be joined by other spiders for the feast. The larger the prey, the larger the number of spiders that assist with its capture and removal. It was awesome to watch!

 Social spiders in my garden capturing prey

Upon further investigation, I discovered that they are Stegodyphus, commonly called social spiders, occurring in Africa and South America with 8 species occurring in South Africa. This genus has the typical Eresidae feature and the colour varies from shades of grey to brown with black markings and yellow infusions. 

Most species are solitary except the social Stegodyphus domicola that occurs in most of southern Africa. 

Stegodyphus could in fact have been called the tennis net spider due to its hackle web that is stretched between two points. The hackled appearance is due to the cribellate (teased) silk used. At one end of the web is a small ball-shaped nest attached to the vegetation, about a meter above the ground. In the Western Cape, these webs are found in the Fynbos while in the Bushveld, the Acacia trees are used. However, fences, poles and other structures are also used. 

A new nest is started by as few as two spiders (usually female) that leave their original nest. As the colony increases, the nest is enlarged by successive generations. The nest includes mostly female and young; the latter living in chambers within the nest, much like a block of flats. 

The nest can be used for many years and can house in excess of 100 or even thousands of spiders. Birds often use the silk to line their nests. 


Saturday, 9 February 2013

Predators of the African night

With their haunting calls and silent flight, owls are among the most elusive and misunderstood of all birds. Legends and fables from across the world describe the owl as a supernatural being, often associated with death, while in other cultures, the owl is revered as being “wise”. But certainly the owl must be one of the most important birds in our ecological system. Without them, the world would be overrun by mice and rats. 

I, for one, rely heavily upon owls to keep the rat population in control and therefore don’t use any poisons at all. Smallholdings always have a rat problem, as there is plenty of food for them and, of course, storage places for food like barns and open store rooms are an open invitation to these rodents.

Africa supports a large number of owl species – between 30 and 40, with new species of forest-dwelling Scops Owls still being described, and some of them are among the most interesting birds on the continent. All serious bird-watchers yearn to catch a glimpse of a Pel’s Fishing Owl, while the Congo Bay Owl may be one of the world’s rarest species. The evocative frog-like call of the common Scops Owl is as characteristic of the savannah night as the whoop of a hyena.

Owls are generally characterized as being birds of prey of the order Strigiformes. On silent wings, Owls catch their food primarily at night. The large eyes that face forward allow this bird to have binocular vision, enabling it to judge distances between objects and maneuver through crowded environments.

The eyes of these birds are immovably fixed in their sockets. In order for the birds to follow moving objects it must turn its head. Because they have long flexible necks, they can turn their heads 260 degrees.

Their flight feathers are serrated at their tips, which has the effect of muffling the flapping sound of their wings during flight.

Few bird of this species hunt prey in full daylight, so their hearing is particularly important. Many have asymmetrical skulls, with the ear openings at different levels. The right ear is positioned high on the head, while the left ear is low. 

There are about 162 different species of owls alive today, 12 of which occur in Southern Africa, inhabiting a huge variety of ecological niches, from rainforests to tundra. Some owls have feathered ear tufts; these are not ears, but are part of the owl’s camouflage.

Owls feed entirely on living animals, with the size of the prey proportional to the size of the bird, from insects to mammals as large as hares. Like most other raptors, these birds have sharp talons for seizing and holding prey.

W&N watercolour - Maree Clarkson

Their hooked beak is designed for tearing meat. Any food that is indigestible to these birds, such as bones, hair, and feathers, are compressed and regurgitated as compact pellets. These pellets can aid in understanding what the birds eat by analyzing the contents within them.

The nesting habits of these birds vary considerably. Some nest in large tree nest or among rocks, others are cavity nesters living in holes in trees. Barn owls can be attracted to man-made bird houses. Since the decline in this birds natural habitat, farmers have begun using bird houses placed on poles or the side of barns and other outbuildings to attract more of these beneficial birds. The reason for wanting to attract these birds is to control rodent populations. This minimizes the need for chemical poisons.

During the nesting season, these birds work tirelessly hunting mice to feed the young, thus helping both the owl and the farmer. All birds of this species lay pure white eggs. These are laid over a period of several days and incubation begins with the laying of the first egg. The first eggs to hatch will have a better chance of survival than the later. Older nestlings will be able to compete for food over the younger and smaller birds in the nest. Nestlings have enormous appetites and can eat their own weight in food in a single night.

Trying to locate owls can be difficult since their movement during daylight is minimal. Their well-camouflaged feathers help them blend in with their habitat.
Some of this info from Wild Bird Watching.com

Either way, I think owls are birds worth the effort to study, watch and conserve.

Barn Owls often make use of my nest boxes, which might be an indiction that their nesting territory is shinking. Artificial nest boxes will also be used by Eagle Owls and Scops Owl. Barn Owls and Spotted Eagle Owls live in close proximity withg humans and therefore seem to accept nest boxes put up in trees or against buildings. 

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is one of our owl friends that saves us from being over-run by rats.

African Scops Owl

The African Scops Owl is a common, sometimes abundant, resident of Savannah woodland in South Africa. Scops Owls feed mostly on insects and spiders and breed in a tree cavity.

The Scops Owl is fully nocturnal and mostly insectivorous. It is a bird of scrub and bush territory, and often uses ground nest sites for breeding. It is a small owl of only about 17cm and lays its 4-6 eggs in a tree cavity from April – June. Incubation about 27 days. Young fledge by about 30 days. Its call is a soft croaking, frog-like “prrrup-prrrup”.

Giant Eagle Owl – ElizabethKendall

The modern West generally associates owls with wisdom. This link goes back at least as far as Ancient Greece, where Athens, noted for art and scholarship, and Athena, Athens’ patron goddess and the goddess of wisdom, had the owl as a symbol.

The Giant Eagle Owl is the largest owl in the world. As the biggest of all the Owls the Eagle owl is easily recognised by its huge size and wingspan. They are light grey in colour, finely bared blackish above and below but no heavy blotching. The face is pale, boldly outlined in black, eyes look black at a distance and they have distinctive pink eyelids, which makes them very identifiable. Very similar to a huge Long Eared owl. The Eagle Owl is a pale sand colour underneath with streaks of dark Brown or grey. Greyish head with a large powerful beak and large orange or yellow eyes and two ear tufts extending from over the eyes. They have huge powerful feet and talons.

Tyto alba – Barn Owl. - Elizabeth Kendall

These pale, nearly worldwide, birds are closely associated with man through their traditional use in the Old World of barn lofts and church steeples as nesting sites.

Barn owls (Tyto alba) roost and nest in old barns, ruins and neglected buildings as well as in trees and sometimes cliffs. They have a long breeding season starting in early Spring and may rear two broods.

Barn Owl hunting - Maree Clarkson©

The size of each clutch can vary from as few as three to as many as eleven but is usually between four and seven, depending on the supply of food available. The male will feed the female while she is incubating the eggs, a period of about five weeks.

The young owls are born covered in white down and twelve days later develop a creamy coat which will eventually be shed to develop the characteristic golden upper coat mottled with grey and the white under feathers of the adult. The young owls are ready to fly at eight to ten weeks old.

Although widely known beforehand, it was in 1769 when the Barn Owl was first officially described by Giovanni Scopoli, an Italian naturalist. The species name “alba” also refers to the colour white. Other names for the Barn Owl have included Monkey-faced Owl, Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Death Owl, Hissing Owl, Hobgoblin or Hobby Owl, Golden Owl, Silver Owl, White Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Scritch Owl, Screech Owl, Straw Owl, Barnyard Owl and Delicate Owl.

They occur throughout most of Britain and Europe and across many parts of Asia, Africa, and in much of North America. In South America they are found in areas of suitable grassland, as well as on oceanic islands such as the Galapagos. They were introduced to Hawaii in 1958. 

For more information on owls and some lovely photographs, please visit my Saturday Chat which I do once a month in a group on Redbubble. 

 A Marsh Owl on a fence-post on our property - Maree Clarkson©

I’m lucky enough to have three owl-species either residing or visiting our smallholding here in South Africa – the Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus), the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) and the very shy Marsh Owl (Asio capensis). 

My greatest joy is hearing the ‘Whoo-whoooo’ of the Eagle Owl on my roof in the middle of the night or the ‘Screeeeeech’ of the Barn Owl just before dawn. And, rarely, the rasping whistle of the Marsh Owl. It is actually easier spotting him in the day where he roosts on a, sometimes fairly low, branch in our blue gum bush or on a fence post. At night his stealth and silence makes him virtually impossible to discover. I doubt if he is a resident on my property, as they nest on the ground in a shallow, unlined scrape amongst vegetation and, besides the tall blue gums, the property is mainly grassland. 

The Marsh Owl, Asio capensis, is a species of owl which is a mainly resident breeder in Africa and Madagascar. The call is a frog-like “kaar”, said to resemble the noise made by slowly bending and breaking a branch or rasping whistle “shrss” The conservation status is LC (Least Concern). 


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Hello February!

The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.
- William C. Bryant

I have this tiny little blue flower creeper climbing up my pallisade on the outside of my garden and although I know it is a TOTALLY obnoxious weed, I can't get it over my heart to pull it out. And I know I'm going to suffer later on when it's taken over the whole pallisade!

But February is the time when the garden starts slowing down and at this point in time any colour is welcome. I can see by the shadows that some parts of the garden is getting less and less sun and, hopefully this Autumn, I will get around to planting some winter annuals.

But for the time being I will just enjoy whatever is still growing...



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