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

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Starling and the Weaver

Yesterday afternoon, while sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee, I saw a bright glint of blue through some plants. I had my camera with me as I had been taking photographs earlier on. I focused on the flash of blue through the plants and to my delight saw this Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis nitens) and a Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) at one of my bird baths. The Starling seemed to be aware of me, but the Weaver was not perturbed by me or the Starling, hopping into the water and splashing water all over the Starling, who looked like he was also going to hop in, but never got around to it.

The Weaver spent a couple of minutes splashing around before taking off into the trees and settling down to preen himself. The Starling took a couple of drinks of water and also disappeared into the trees, sure that I was spying on him!


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Remember the birds in winter

One of the joys of having a garden, is the amount of wildlife it draws. Birds, lizards, insects, hedgehogs, butterflies, bees, the list is endless.

n winter the wild birds can have a hard time finding enough food. As winter approaches, many birds change some of their eating habits. Birds that usually eat insects may start to eat berries or fruit to supplement their diets. Birds will start to look for reliable sources of food for wintertime survival. Turn your garden into a haven which they will frequently visit for something to eat and drink. Feeding the birds is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby in the midst of chilly winter weather

To attract the greatest number of species in the winter, it is important to have a number of different birdfeeders available, Ideally, winter birdfeeders should be placed in sheltered locations out of the most severe winds. Placing feeders closer to the house will be effective and will help keep the birds visible for indoor bird watching. At the same time, feeders should be placed near protective cover such as hedges or trees to offer birds safety from predators.

In winter, I put out food and water on a regular basis. In severe weather, I feed twice daily: in the morning and in the early afternoon. During summer I cut down to once daily, in the morning, with a good mix of Black sunflower seeds, pinhead oatmeal, soaked sultanas, raisins and currants, mild grated cheese, mealworms, mixes for insectivorous birds and good seed mixtures. Soft apples and pears cut in half, bananas and grapes are also good. Some people use soaked dog or cat food and tinned pet foods, but these may attract rats, crows and cats. Avoid using peanuts, fat and bread in summer, since these can be harmful if adult birds feed them to their nestlings

Fill a pine cone with peanut butter and then roll it in some bird seed. Tie your pine cone to a tree with a piece of string or wire and soon you will have dozens of new feathered friends flocking into your garden for this lovely snack

A quick, easy and inexpensive way to cater for the fruit eaters is to bend a wire coat hanger into a heart-shape. Add another piece of soft, pliable wire to the top of the hanger onto which to attach the apple, hang in a tree and voila! bob's your uncle! The Black-headed Orioles regularly visit to enjoy the fruit I put out.

This is the scene that greets me most mornings when I go out to fill the feeders and feeding tables. This crowd is a mix of Buntings, Larks, Canaries, Weavers, Laughing Doves and possibly a few Queleas as well.

Laughing Doves waiting on the power lines

Weavers in the peach tree

As soon as I turn my back after filling all the various feeders, everybody swarms down to see what is on offer!

A feeder that can do double duty for seeds or for fresh water

A seed cage keeps waste to the minimum

Birds require high energy (high fat) foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their fat reserves to survive the frosty nights. Use only good quality food and scraps. A suet feeder, like the one above, provides them with a good source of fat and protein.

My Cape Robin enjoying some of the fruit on offer.

Experts disagree about whether backyard bird feeding will significantly help bird populations. But feeding certainly can help individual birds in your neighbourhood.

And don't worry if you must stop feeding briefly—while going on holiday, for example. In all but the most severe weather conditions, wild birds will find other food in your absence, particularly in suburban areas where other bird feeders are just a short flight away. If you live in a rural or isolated area, however, try to arrange to have a neighbour maintain the feeders during winter absences.


Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Ant and the sunflower bud

Camera : Canon EOS 550D 
Taken in my garden – Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa 
See the tiny ant at the bottom of the bud? He is just an extra bonus!

Sunflowers are very attractive to aphids, therefore I normally have a couple of them growing amongst my flowers. And where aphid colonies exist, ants are sure to follow. Just before I took this pic, I noticed the aphids on the underside of the leaves and what amazed me was the fact that each aphid had its own ant!

Ants are attracted to aphids because of a sticky, sweet substance they produce when feeding, called honeydew. Honeydew isn’t the sole food source for ants, but when an aphid colony is in the area, the ants can harvest this nutrient-rich substance continually with less effort than what is required to constantly locate new food sources. Because of this, ants protect aphid colonies ferociously, warding off other pests and parasites. I just leave the aphids, they never seem to do much damage to the sunflowers and at least it keeps them away from my other flowers.

As I do not use any pesticides in my garden whatsoever, I normally eliminate aphids from my flowers with blasts of water from a garden hose. Once dislodged, the pests are unable to re-attach before they die.

I took two of the ants and put them on a wooden pole on my patio so I could get a picture, It was almost impossible to get a picture of them at the bottom of the leaves. These two just sat there, unsure of what was happening and why they were in a strange place. After I took the photograph, I edged them back onto the sheet of paper and placed them back on the leaf, where they immediately started running around trying to get their bearings.

The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an annual plant native to the Americas.


Friday, 11 July 2014

Veldfire aftermath

Shortly after I took the photos of yesterday's veldfire which swept through our smallholding, the wind changed direction and the fire hurtled up the rest of the plot, coming close to the pallisade fencing around the house. Solly's chickens, who were just outside the wall and directly in the path of the flames, all charged through the gate and into my back-yard, looking confused at all the smoke and flames billowing around. This is their first season on the plot and they've never seen a fire before.

Besides being a threat to life and home, these wild fires are devastating to the wildlife. Lizards, Hedgehogs, Tortoises, hares (usually fast enough to escape), ground-nesting birds and other small wildlife are all at risk when these fires race along, driven by strong winds.

But these fires, when they are a natural occurrence and not started by someone carelessly tossing down a cigarette, also benefit nature. Some of our Aloes will not flower until they've been burnt by our winter fires. Another benefit of these fires is all the crispy tit-bits it leaves in its wake. Later that afternoon we had dozens of Egrets, Herons and Plovers snacking on the blackened landscape. Even the Fiscal Shrike was joining in the feast.

 Here a hapless lizard is being devoured by one of the Herons

And down it goes! (See how thick his throat is)

"Now that was nice! What's next on the menu?" The Egret doesn't seem too happy about the Heron getting the best tit-bits

The Egret has also found something!

 The Heron seems to have spied something...

Giving chase...

the chase is on! I could for the life of me not see what he was after. These birds were all quite far from me, about 90 meters, so the pics are not that great.

The Crowned Plovers and Blacksmith Plovers were also out in force, but unfortunately they were too far for me to get a decent picture.

Every April we cut the grass on our smallholding and make fire-breaks to minimise the damage and the grass being short certainly helps, but every year we still have to be vigilant and keep an eye open for these fires, which can come from any direction.


Thursday, 10 July 2014


Camera : Canon EOS 550D
Taken on our smallholding (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa)

Yesterday afternoon half our plot’s grazing was destroyed by a veldfire, driven by a strong, icy cold wind, as it raged across our smallholding. The flames were only 1 or 2 feet high, but seemed to have a life of their own, jumping and billowing to over a meter high at intervals. All the staff were out in force, trying to keep it away from the house and other buildings. Sometimes it’s not the size of the fire that is scary, but the speed at which it can gallop.

Where these start is always a mystery…


Monday, 7 July 2014

The benefits of free range eggs (for the chicken) Sensitive information

My girls supply me with 4 or 5 beautiful free range eggs every day and they are quite happy supplying these. They get to roam the garden, grazing, hunting insects and having lovely sand baths in stead of spending their lives in a 8″ × 12″ wire cage (the size of an A4 sheet of paper). They get to choose when to go to bed and when to lay their eggs, following Mother Nature’s natural daylight cycle in stead of their “daylight” being on a timer and being woken up 2 o’clock in the morning and being forced to lay another egg, giving 1½ eggs a day instead of the normal 1 egg every two days. They lie in the sun, spreading their wings and soaking up the sun’s Vit. D in stead of having Vit. D pumped into them via additions to their food. They exercise regularly by chasing insects (and one another!) in stead of being cramped up in those 8″ × 12″ wire cages with not even room above their heads to stretch their legs. They get to socialise and experience family bonds, something which a battery chicken will never know. My girls are not culled when they get to the end of their egg-laying cycle, but in stead get to live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life.

It is sad what we do to our animals in order that we may eat and survive…

“I am battery hen. I live in a cage so small I cannot stretch my wings. I am forced to stand night and day on a sloping wire mesh floor that painfully cuts into my feet. The cage walls tear my feathers, forming blood blisters that never heal. The air is so full of ammonia that my lungs hurt and my eyes burn and I think I am going blind. As soon as I was born, a man grabbed me and sheared off part of my beak with a hot iron, and my little brothers were thrown into trash bags as useless, alive.

My mind is alert and my body is sensitive and I should have been richly feathered. In nature or even a farmyard I would have had sociable, cleansing dust baths with my flock mates, a need so strong that I perform ‘vacuum’ dust bathing on the wire floor of my cage. Free, I would have ranged my ancestral jungles and fields with my mates, devouring plants, earthworms, and insects from sunrise to dusk. I would have exercised my body and expressed my nature, and I would have given, and received, pleasure as a whole being. I am only a year old, but I am already a ‘spent hen.’

Humans, I wish I were dead, and soon I will be dead. Look for pieces of my wounded flesh wherever chicken pies and soups are sold."

Read more about The Life of one Battery Hen. (Sensitive information - I cried when I read it...)



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