🐾 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, 26 February 2014

Praying Mantis in my garden

Camera : Fuji FinePix 2800Zoom 
Taken in my garden, Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa

Over the year the visitors to the garden vary according to the season, the weather, the heat, rain, food, shelter, breeding cycle and probably other conditions we can’t know or measure – we don’t know it all, that’s for sure.

This Praying Mantis (Mantidae Stagomantis) was so well camouflaged that I almost missed her. If it wasn’t for a slight movement of one of her front legs, I would never have seen her. This gardener’s friend is a voracious little predator and feeds on harmful insects like aphids and fruit flies, with the adults graduating to flies, butterflies and crickets. Some species even eat small hummingbirds, frogs, lizards, and mice.

The “leaf” on her back is actually her wing! I photographed her in one of our blue Gum trees (Eucalyptus) on our smallholding in Tarlton, South Africa.

By and large many people regard insects with horror as either pests or revolting creepy-crawly creatures to be avoided or worse still, squashed without mercy. Infamous as they may be, insects play such a vital role in the food chain and the global eco-system of the planet that without them, life as we know it, would cease to exist.

The Praying Mantis (Mantidae Stagomantis – Afrikaans “Hottentotsgod”, (literally meaning the god of the Khoi) is named for its prominent front legs, which are bent and held together at an angle that suggests the position of prayer.

Generally, mantises are good for the garden. They’re part of a solution to a pest problem, but they eat beneficials, too. And if nothing else is available, they’ll eat each other! So if you plan having one as a pet, have separate housing for each praying mantis you intend to keep! ... The praying mantis is the only insect capable of rotating its head by 180 degrees, and this, combined with very keen eyesight, is used to observe both predators and prey. Incredibly the mantis’ powerful vision extends over 50 feet. And as if this wasn’t enough they also have hearing abilities that exceed the upper limit of human hearing.

Organic gardeners who avoid pesticides may encourage mantises as a form of biological pest control. Did you know that tens of thousands of mantis egg cases are sold each year in some garden stores for this purpose! During fall, praying mantis females deposit a sticky egg case on the underside of a leaf or on a twig. If the egg case survives winter, the offspring, called nymphs, emerge in late spring or early summer. The nymphs have voracious appetites and typically cannibalize each other if they don’t have an adequate supply of aphids and other small insects. Egg cases are commercially available for placement in landscaping.

She was following my every move as I moved around the tree to get the best shot. Her little head turned with every movement I made, seemingly staring me right in the eye all the while, yet not making the slightest move in case she might give away her position, perfectly camouflaged amongst the leaves. She chose a good spot, as her wings looked exactly like the leaves of the blue gum tree (Eucalyptus) she was resting in.

 I really am always thrilled when I find a Praying Mantis in my garden – these insects are real characters and are not intimidated easily! When I tried to move the leaves to get a better shot, my finger was summarily grabbed and I got a quick nip for my efforts. That didn’t hurt, but the front legs holding onto my finger certainly would have crushed and fatally injured any insect unlucky enough to venture close. I had quite a time convincing her to let go so I could carry on photographing!

Uittreksel uit Siel van Hottentotsgod
Haar koppie draai al in die rondte opsoek na iets sappigs om die honger pyne te stil. Def is ‘n hottentotsgod wat al ‘n paar winters oorleef het hier in die bos geweste. Sy verlang ook nou al baie na haar mannnetjie wat sy al lank terug opgeëet het. Hy sal mos ook nou al trots gewees het op die kleingoed van so by die hele ses. Met haar voorpoot veeg sy ‘n insek traan uit die oë wat altyd waaksaam moet bly. 



Saturday, 22 February 2014

Now, where are all the ladies?

A male African masked-weaver (Ploceus velatus) looking around to see if there are any takers for a nest (one of many!) he’s just completed.

These lovely colourful little birds are so prolific in our gardens that we sometimes tend to over-look them. I’ve tried to count the Weavers nesting in my garden but, apart from counting the nests, of which there are sixteen, it’s impossible to keep track of these little busy-bodies! They provide me hours of pleasure, watching them building their nests and their constant squabbling and other antics makes me feel like I'm in primary school with dozens of uncontrolled children!

They are prolific breeders, normally two babies to a nest, two or three times in a season, and with a dozen or more nests in my garden, it's inevitable that there is some tragedy. This summer alone I have picked up six babies that have fallen out of the nest. Usually the injuries sustained just from the fall takes its toll and lying exposed to the elements and the heat for an extended period of time before I happen to find them also contributes to the fatalities. Add to that the impossibility of getting them back into the nest, even if I knew which one they fell out of, makes it impossible to really save any of them.

They have to be prolific breeders as they face many dangers. Heavy winds battering the nests, egg-eating snakes and nest-raiders like the Mynahs cuts heavily into the population.

Also known as the Southern Masked Weaver, it occurs across southern Africa, even in arid areas, extending into Angola, Zambia and Malawi. It generally favours semi-arid scrub, open savannah, woodland edges, riverine thicket, farmland with scattered trees, alien tree plantations and especially gardens. It mainly eats seeds, fruit, insects and nectar, doing most of its foraging in small flocks, gleaning prey from leaves and branches, taking seeds from the ground and grass stems.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Cape Robin-chat (Cossypha caffra)

Camera : Canon EOS 550D
Cape Robin-chat in my garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa)
Afrikaans :
Gewone janfrederik

My Robin, who comes into my house for snacks of minced meat, has been getting much tamer. Previously he wouldn’t let me photograph him in the garden, taking to the trees every time he sees me, but yesterday he was actually following me as I walked through the garden with my camera and even seemed to be taunting me!

The Cape Robin is a resident breeder in southern and eastern Africa from Kenya south to Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. It is a common species at forest edges and in scrub, fynbos, karoo, plantations, gardens and parks.

Until their recent name change, robin-chats were known as Robins, in southern African circles at least. But they are not really Robins at all, being closely related to chats and flycatchers.The name ‘robin’ stems from colonial times when, it seems, the British were obsessed with naming any red- or orange-breasted bird in a new country they settled in after their own beloved robin redbreast. In India and Africa the ‘robin’ is actually a chat, in North America it’s a thrush, and Australian and New Zealand ‘robins’ are members of the flycatcher family

They seem to like human company and have been known to nest in the most peculiar sites - one woman reported a Robin nesting in her handbag in her walk-in cupboard and another reports a Robin nesting in a pot plant in their lounge. My Robbie has been investigating my whole house, walking or flying from room to room, and I've been hoping to one day find a nest somewhere in the house!

(You can read HERE all about my Robin taking up residence in my home)

SOMMIGE noem hom dagbreker, ander weer janfrederik en ander Cape robin of Cossypha caffra. Maak egter nie saak wat hy genoem word nie, want hierdie nimlike voël het al in menige tuinier se hart gaan nesskop. 

Met sy wit wenkbroustreep en sy oranje ``borslappie'' is dit 'n gunsteling onder baie mense wat hou van voëls in en om hul huis.

Die naam dagbreker is sekerlik afgelei van die voël se gewoonte om amper eerste te begin sing in die oggend. Lank voordat die son sy kop uitsteek, basuin hierdie voël sy melodieuse frases luidkeels uit. Die sang begin dikwels met die kenmerkende "jan-fre-de-rik"-frase, waarvandaan die vroeë Nederlandse kolonialiste sy naam afgelei het. Die eerste Britse kolonialiste het terstond die voël Cape Robin gedoop omdat hy hulle seer sekerlik laat dink het aan hul eie robin met sy oranje bors.

Hierdie voël is grootliks insekvretend en sal geduldig sit en wag vir 'n besige tuinier om klaar te skoffel sodat hy by die erd- en ander sappige wurms, ongewerweldes en slakke kan uitkom. Hulle sal ook miere, spinnekoppe en plantluise met groot genot verorber en sodoende jou tuin gesond hou. Die voël sal ook vrugte van inheemse en eksotiese struike en bome eet. Daar is egter iets wat sal maak dat die voël 'n gereelde ``bedelaar'' by jou huis raak: 'n Stukkie gerasperde kaas en meelwurms of maalvleis behoort net die regte manier te wees om dié mooi voël tuis te laat voel en as dit nog op spesifieke tye neergesit word op spesifieke plekke, kan dit selfs vinniger gebeur.

Hulle word baie mak en sal sommer in jou huis instap en opvlieg na die kombuistafel om te kyk of daar nie iets is om te aas nie. Dit laat 'n mens tog onwillekeurig dink aan die gesegde van iemand wat "aasvoël" speel - moes dit nie eerder janfrederik gewees het nie? Solank jy net nie katte het wat daar rondloop nie, kan die voël sommer maklik intrek.

Enige tuin kan 'n paartjie huisves en dit slegs deur toe te sien dat daar genoeg digte struike en bome is waarin hulle kan nes maak. Daar word gewoonlik tussen twee en vier eiers per seisoen gelê en tussen 14 en 18 dae later sal die kleingoed begin smeek om kos. Wanneer hul kuikens uitgebroei het, kan hulle ook gekookte rys gevoer word.

Die jong voël is bruinerig, dofgeel-en-swart gespikkel met die kenmerkende oranjerooi stert met 'n swart gedeelte in die middel.

Maak nie saak wat jy hom noem nie, hierdie mooi voël is 'n uitstekende sanger en kan maklik etlike jare in jou tuin woon en ongekende plesier verskaf, aangesien die voëls tot 17 jaar oud kan word.


Sunday, 16 February 2014

A thought for this Sunday

Did you ever see an unhappy horse? Did you ever see bird that had the blues? One reason why birds and horses are not unhappy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses.
Dale Carnegie

A Grey Lourie (Corythaixoides concolor) waiting for the rest of the flock to join him in the Acacia karroo
Camera: Canon EOS 550D

Have you ever seen a bird that didn’t look happy?
I haven’t.

Simply happy to be alive.
To watch the sun rise.
To fly.
Getting on with the business of life.
Never stopping, never whining, never giving up.
Never expecting anything more.

There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.


Friday, 14 February 2014

Masked Weaver's nest-building skills

Camera : Canon EOS 550D
Location : In my garden. Tarlton (Gauteng, South Africa)

Since the beginning of summer I've been watching the Southern Masked Weavers (Ploceus velatus) busy building their nests in my garden and it’s been a hive of activity! There were at least ten of them with nests in various stages of construction, with great squabbling going on in between building sessions. This guy seems to be saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know!” I stand amazed at the symmetry and perfection of their work.

Unfortunately they choose the very top of the trees, so a closer shot was not possible.

Swartkeelgeelvink [Afrikaans]


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

I think I'll leave a window on this side...

Camera :Canon EOS 550D 
Taken in my garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa)

A male African masked-weaver (Ploceus velatus) in the process of building his nest to attract a female. It was thrilling to watch as he flew to and from the nest, carrying weaving material, inspecting and adjusting with every visit. And in between he would hang from the nest, fluttering his wings to attract the attention of the ladies.

The Southern Masked-Weaver or African Masked-Weaver is an inhabitant of sub-Saharan Africa with a short, conical bill. Adult males in breeding plumage have a black face and throat, red eyes, a bright yellow head and underparts, and yellowish-green upper-parts, whereas females (and non-breeding males) are dull greenish yellow, streaked darker on the upper back, and the throat is yellowish, becoming off-white on the belly, with duller irides. It nests in colonies, like other weavers, and the nests, again like those of other weavers, are woven of reeds, palms or grasses. The Southern Masked-Weaver appears to have established itself locally in parts of northern Venezuela.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

I've lost my Chi-Chi!

Day 1

Seven and a half months ago I found Chi-Chi outside, virtually abandoned by her mother and very weak, couldn't keep up with the family. So of course she was brought inside, put in a basket with a hot water bottle and lovingly pampered over the next few weeks.

Chi-Chi at 2 weeks old

Chi-Chi at 5 weeks old

Chi-Chi at 8 weeks and just starting to sport her little hat 

Chi-Chi at 6 months old and getting the nesting urge

Chi-Chi fully independent

After spending six months with me, following me everywhere and often having sojourns outside to the garden and mixing with all the other girls, Chi-Chi has finally left home. She's independent. She's left me. She's fully integrated into the flock now. Her pecking order has been established - she's not right at the bottom of the ladder, that is reserved for ChickyBoo and Micky, but at least she's somewhere in the middle, with the older girls like Kiep, Hettie and Megs still ruling the roost.

She's still very loving and lets met pick her up, carry her around and have some cuddles, but other than that, she's a flock member now. Even laid her second egg in one of the nest boxes in the coop (the one that seems to be favoured by EVERYBODY - they'll stand in queue for hours cackling and fighting about that one nest box and there are nine!), the first egg was laid in the nest I have in my studio (pic above).

And she takes her duty as a flock member very seriously. She dutifully runs up to Artemis when he calls with a tit-bit, stays well out of Meg, Kiep and Hettie's way and also partakes in pecking and chasing ChickyBoo and Micky every chance she gets. It's hard work being a flock member, you have to constantly be aware of what coop politics are taking place currently and keep up with all the latest news. Like the fact that Micky is broody and even though she's the flock's scape-goat, broody time is no time to be messing with someone wanting to sit on eggs.

Micky, the little black hen on the left, keeping an eye on Chi-Chi at supper-time.

I miss having my little Chi-Chi around but I am also extremely happy that her integration into the flock was so effortless and that she's finally no longer an outsider.


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Thankful for the rain - and there's more to come

Image from "Die Beeld" Newspaper

After suffering a drought most of last summer, this January has brought (almost) more rain than we can handle. While the farmers and us gardeners are ecstatic about the rain, some suburban areas in Krugersdorp (Gauteng, South Africa) and other areas have been hard hit with lots of destruction. At the Walter Sisulu Botanical gardens in Roodepoort the normally placid waterfall turned into a raging torrent, washing away bridges and sending the newly fledged young Black Eagle seeking the safety of his nest high up on the cliffs. You can see the video of the waterfall HERE.  

I think it is a symptom of all the development in the catchment area. With all the new housing estates going up in the area, more hard surfaces means less water penetration into the soil and larger, more spectacular flash floods. According to the SA Weather Service, this storm is in a band coming from the north, through Botswana and North West. Water flowing through water courses caused the Monument Dam at Key West Shopping Mall to overflow, spilling millions of litres into a nearby school, which had to be closed, while the water rushed through various parts of the town.

Watch this short video.

For the past three weeks, we've been having afternoon thunderstorms with 30mm on most days, but the whopper was on Saturday night and early Sunday morning, when my rain gauge over-flowed, meaning more than 100mm in just over 18 hours. I didn't write it down, but my estimate is 450mm for the month. My chickens sought the safety of the coop, not venturing out until it had all subsided after lunch-time.

I've always wanted to live either at the beach or the banks of a river, but Mother Nature is so unpredictable these days, I think for the moment I will settle for the high, flat plains of Gauteng.


Saturday, 1 February 2014

Confused Weaver

It seems this Weaver is wondering, “Now why would she not like this one…?”
Camera : Canon EOS 550D
Taken in my garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa)

A male African masked-weaver (Ploceus velatus) fluttering at his nest trying to attract the attention of a female.

The male builds a nest for a female. If the female does not like the nest, it might not be green enough even though it is newly built, he will tear it down and start over. If she does like the nest, she will line it with grass and feathers, and start raising a family. The male will then try to build a new nest for another female.

The Southern Masked-Weaver or African Masked-Weaver is an inhabitant of sub-Saharan Africa with a short, conical bill. Adult males in breeding plumage have a black face and throat, red eyes, a bright yellow head and underparts, and yellowish-green upper-parts, whereas females (and non-breeding males) are dull greenish yellow, streaked darker on the upper back, and the throat is yellowish, becoming off-white on the belly, with duller irides. It nests in colonies, like other weavers, and the nests, again like those of other weavers, are woven of reeds, palms or grasses. The Southern Masked-Weaver appears to have established itself locally in parts of northern Venezuela.



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