🐾 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, 28 October 2015

Winter is dead

She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head... and whispered to her neighbour, "Winter is dead”.
- A A Milne


Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Daybreak: Make an Important Goal Happen with a Morning Habit

Rainy days in the empty forest.
Smoke rises late as I steam greens
And boil millet to take to the paddies.
Above the foggy waterfields
Fly white egrets
And an oriole sings in
Dense shade of summer trees.
In the mountain I practice silence,
Contemplating morning hibiscus.
I pick hollyhock beneath a pine,
A vegetarian now,
No longer looking for position,
An old man living in the wilds;
Why should seagulls still be wary of me?
- Wang Wei (699-759)  

The sun begins to come up, and the first rays of light begin to shine upon this fresh day.
What do you do with this time?

The most important thing.
If you have a project you want to happen (let’s say you want to write a book), this is the time to form a habit that will make that project happen. A morning writing habit will get the book done. Simply wishing for the book to get written, or saying you’ll do it “someday,” doesn’t make it happen.
If it’s important, you’ll make a morning habit of it:
  • If you want to lose weight, create a morning walking habit. Or morning strength training. Or a healthy breakfast with fruits and veggies.
  • If you want to start a new business, create a morning session where you work on it every morning.
  • If you want to become more mindful during your day, create a morning meditation habit.
  • If you want to work on your relationship with your spouse, have a morning habit of talking about your relationship over coffee.
  • If you want to journal, make it a morning habit.
Why is morning a better time for important habits? Why not afternoons or evenings? Well, I’m biased, because I really love the mornings. I’ve found the time to be quieter, less chaotic, better for reflection and focus.  Nature is at her best early in the morning, showing off her beauty as the sun rises on another perfect day. Some people will work better in the late nights, but I’m usually tired by then. So figure out what time is your magic time — I think for most people that will be mornings, but not all.
There are great habits you can create in the afternoons and evenings too, but I recommend trying a morning habit if you have something important you want to get done.
Make it a habit, and do it first.


Friday, 23 October 2015

I have this dilemma...

I’ve got too many interests.

I love painting and sketching. I love gardening. I love nature. I love succulents. I love my memories. I love chickens. I love books. I’m interested in simple living, I’m interested in the health and well-being of the mind and body and our planet, I like home-made remedies and love deep discussions on religion (or the lack of it) and I love doing various crafts, like making jewellery and every now and then I love a good recipe.

And I’ve got a blog for each one. Seventeen of them to be exact. And a few in Afrikaans. Plus ten that I’ve made private. I love blogging, writing and sharing my interests, and I’m blessed that I do actually have the time, but it’s killing me, trying to keep up with all of them! I feel guilty when I neglect one of them and then will probably end up posting any drivel just so the blog can stay alive.

And you might ask, “Why?! Why so many? Why not just have one blog for all of it?” And I actually do feel a bit silly having so many blogs, even Blogger is getting suspicious, wanting to know whether I’m a Robot when I post a lot! Even though the limit on the number of blogs one can have is 100. I wonder if there is anyone that has reached that limit…?

Well, here’s the thing. I feel that, when I subscribe to a blog, it’s because I’m interested in that particular topic, say for example chickens or art, and if there is all sorts of other random topics included, I probably won’t subscribe. There’s a gardening blog I love, but every now and then (in fact, more often than not!), the lady includes posts on do-it-yourself furniture making and restoration, and I’m not interested in that at all. So eventually I unsubscribed from her blog. And the people that are subscribing to and reading my various blogs are, so I presume, doing it because they’re interested in that particular topic.

So here’s my question - how do you feel about the matter? To do or not to do so many blogs? Should I just have one blog and combine everything in there? Would the regular readers of say, my Nature Journal or my gardening blog, still visit my blog?

I would love to hear what you think!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Jewellery inspired by Nature

Did you know that I make jewellery? It started way back in the 1980's, when I used to do stained glass - panels, lampshades, trinket boxes and anything else that could be made out of glass! As you can imagine, one is left with a lot of off-cut glass pieces and I had boxes and boxes full. Racking my brains as to what to do with all this glass, I picked a few small shards and started experimenting with cutting and soldering them together and it turned out that they made beautiful earrings, pendants and brooches!

 Pink stained glass clip-on  earrings with pink dangling beads

Amber stained glass pendant

Blue glass jewel and copper brooch

It wasn't long before my imagination started taking over and, as always, inspired by nature, I started making insect jewellery, mainly as ornaments, but some I fashioned into brooches. Using my 'Insects of Southern Africa' encyclopaedia pictures as reference, I painstakingly crafted each insect using copper, pewter, glass jewels, beads, silver wire and silver solder. Each Goggo/insect can take 3 or more hours to make.

A lot of research goes into making these little creatures. I use photographs for reference, live study where possible and also Google the necessary information regarding their size, habits, lifestyle, etc. Hand-crafting these little animals has taught me so much about nature and given me a new respect for all Mother Nature's beauty.

 Dung Beetle and matching dung ball earrings

The larvae of some dung beetle species are able to produce feint sounds. Some species are horned and all live on dung. The female, having laid an egg, encases it in a ball of fresh dung, which is then buries and serves as food for the larva.

This little Dung Beetle can be used as a brooch


The Tarantula’s appearance is worse than its bite. Tarantula venom is weaker than that of a honeybee and, though painful, is virtually harmless to humans.

Tarantulas periodically shed their external skeletons in a process called moulting. In the process, they also replace internal organs, such as female genitalia and stomach lining, and even regrow lost appendages. Tarantulas sizes range from as small as a fingernail to as large as a dinner plate when the legs are fully extended. Depending on the species, the body length of tarantulas ranges from 2.5 to 10 centimetres (1 to 4 in), with leg spans of 8–30-centimetre (3–12 in).

The underside of the Tarantula - this one could also be fashioned into a brooch by just soldering on a brooch pin

A Leopard Tortoise hand-crafted with a shell, painted with oil paints, with soldered edge and feet. The head is a yellow glass bead.

Southern Africa is very fortunate to have the largest variety of animals in the world. It is home to more than 800 bird species, 150 mammal species, about 50 snake and lizard species, 11 tortoise species and thousands of invertebrate animals like insects and arachnids.

The Leopard Tortoise (or Mountain tortoise - Geochelone pardalis) inhabits a wide range of habitats, from dry Bushveld to moister coastal plains and is the most widely distributed and also the biggest of the 12 species of land tortoise found in Southern Africa. It is believed to take its name 'mountain' tortoise from its size rather than its habitat. ('Leopard' tortoise' comes from the black and yellow blotched patterns on its high-domed carapace.)

Baboon Spider - here I used 2 green glass jewels, silver solder and silver wire

Ground-dwelling, these hairy spiders are among the world's largest, ranging from 2-6cm (body length). Various species exist in South Africa, all of them living in burrows. They have large fangs which can inflict an unpleasant bite but without serious envenomation.

 Hermit crab - here I used a shell, lots of silver solder and silver wire

The underside of the crab

Hermit crabs are decapod crustaceans of the superfamily Paguroidea. Most species have long, spirally curved abdomens, which are soft, unlike the hard, calcified abdomens seen in related crustaceans. The vulnerable abdomen is protected from predators by a salvaged empty seashell carried by the hermit crab, into which its whole body can retract.

Hermit Crabs are very social animals and can live 10 years or more, changing shells, moulting several times throughout their lives and growing up to six inches in length. Did you know that Hermit crabs are sometimes kept as pets? Hermit Crabs are docile and are easy and economical to care for and their crabby antics, like climbing, digging and shell switching are as entertaining as they are educational!

Blue Emperor Dragonfly (Anax Imperator) - blue glass jewel for the thorax and blue glass bead for the head with silver wire wings and abdomen

The Emperor Dragonfly or Blue Emperor, Anax imperator, is a large species of hawker dragonfly of the family Aeshnidae, averaging 78 millimetres (3.1 in) in length. It is found mainly in Europe and nearby Africa and Asia. They frequently fly high up into the sky in search of prey, which includes butterflies, Four-spotted Chasers and tadpoles; small prey is eaten while flying. They breed in a variety of aquatic habitats from large ponds to dykes, but they require a plentiful supply of vegetation in the water. The females lay the eggs into plants such as pondweed, and always lay alone. The male is highly territorial, and difficult to approach.

Paper Wasp - Arthropoda. Order : Hymenoptera. Family : Vespidae
For the throrax and abdomen I used red glass beads and the rest of the wasp is made with silver wire and 
silver solder. Approx. 5cm (2") long.

Sometimes mistaken for a hornet, the larger Paper Wasp is a social wasp, building tube-like nests of a papery material under any convenient shelter. The smaller Paper Wasp builds much larger colonies that are aggressively protected. Larvae feed on paralysed insects.

Button Spider (Latrodectus) - Black glass jewel for the body and silver wire for the legs

The only potentially deadly spider found in South Africa. The male is small and harmless. The female's body is 10-15mm long, black, often with a red marking above the spinneret at the rear of the abdomen. Will only bite if accidentally pressed against the skin.

Inspired by the Eucalyptus trees on our property, a Blue gum leaf made out of copper covered in silver solder and a patina agent added (I use BlackIt) for a vintage look. The other earring is an Indian Silver bead depicting the seeds of the blue gum trees.

Porcupine quill wound with silver wire and soldered for a secure fit. A short dangling silver chain has a glass Mali bead. Pendant hangs from a silver chain, but some leather thonging can also be used for a more natural look.
No animals were hurt during the manufacture. All the quills I use are collected from the veld after porcupines have shed them.

A stained glass panel I made on commission in the early 80's for a game lodge in the Kalahari. Size 3m x 2m.

Another stained glass panel in 3D I did on commission, size 1m x 1.5m.

An amber Stained glass trinket box. Useful for storing jewellery, pens and pencils, tea bags, you name it!

I also use a lot of items from nature for some of my designs, like beach pebbles, stones, wood, feathers, shells and crystals.

An assortment of Rose Quartz crystal pendents.

If you're so inclined, please feel free to visit my jewellery site, "Afrika Street Jewellery", where you will find some other items I make, like cigarette lighter holders, business card holders and all sorts of other items.

Thanks for looking and hope you have a great day!


Friday, 16 October 2015

Oh wow! My Swallows are back!

Just as I was giving up hope, yesterday, 15th October 2015, I heard the musical call and chuckling of my Swallows as they flew over the house! And I'm dancing with joy! The night before last we had some rain, a bit, but it left the garden with enough to start the Marigolds sprouting, and then,  there were the Swallows! I guess they really are an indication that the rain is on it's way!

It amazes me that these little birds travel all the way from Central Africa (their non-breeding grounds during our winter in Angola, Tanzania and southern Zaire) and I'm wondering whether they travelled through the night and arrived early-morning or stopped over for the night not far away and then left at first dawn, to arrive here at about lunch time. They have been recorded to travel a distance of 3154km’s. I'm also wondering if they are going to be using one of last year's nests or find a new place to build one. Time will tell.

 My swallows viewing the area from my old peach tree - Greater-striped Swallow (Cecropis/Hirundo cucullata)

The greater striped swallow has a call that is a soft twitter and gargle, and one that is well suited to this gentle bird. While most swallows have a quick, darting style of flight, this member of the family has a slower, more sedate flight and I stood for more than 15 minutes watching them glide and swoop over our smallholding.

Research by National Geographic reveals that up to 4.5 billion birds, representing around 185 species, fly from Europe and Asia in the north to southern Africa and back every year. Interestingly, although they follow the same migration routes every year without fail, the route to their summer destination in the south may differ from the trip back home. Birds that migrate to South Africa include the colourful Greater Striped Swallow, Amur Falcon, White-rumped Swift, White Stork, Pygmy Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Kite, Lesser Kestrel, Honey Buzzard, Woodland Kingfisher, Red-chested Cuckoo, and European Bee-eater.

And now I'm waiting for the Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius) to arrive, usually mid- to end-October. This bird is a brood parasite, meaning that it lays its eggs in other bird nests. The host, thinking that the egg is its own, incubates the egg and cares for the chick. On our previous smallholding, I watched as the poor Karoo Thrush reared a nestling twice it's size, struggling to keep up with its voracious appetite.

Red-chested cuckoo juvenile being fed by a Karoo thrush host, Modimolle, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]


Friday, 9 October 2015

NATURE rarer uses yellow

Camera : Canon EOS 550D - ©Maree Clarkson

NATURE rarer uses yellow
Than another hue;
Saves she all of that for sunsets,
Prodigal of blue,

Spending scarlet like a woman,
Yellow she affords
Only scantly and selectly,
Like a lover’s words.


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Where are my swallows...?

It’s already the first week in October and I haven’t seen my Swallows yet. Usually they are here middle-September. Could it be that they’re waiting for the rain or could it be that something has happened to them and they won’t be returning at all? For the past 10 years I’ve been greeting them every September and watching them leave every April. I will be very sad if they do not return as I have built up quite a relationship with them, listening to their twittering on the TV aerial, chatting to them while they're sitting on my bathroom court-yard wall and just generally enjoying their flight over our smallholding.

The Greater-striped Swallow (Cecropis/Hirundo cucullata) - Grootstreepswael in Afrikaans - is endemic to Africa south of the equator, occurring from southern DRC, Angola and Zambia to southern Africa. Here it occurs across much of South Africa excluding the arid north-western Karoo and the extremities of Limpopo Province. It also occupies central Namibia, central and eastern Zimbabwe and small areas of Botswana. It generally prefers open habitats such as grassland, fynbos, karoo, open savanna, suburban areas, cultivated land and farmyards.

It is an intra-African breeding migrant, arriving from its central African non-breeding grounds around July-August in the Limpopo Province, Western and Eastern Cape. It reaches Swaziland, Botswana, and Gauteng during September-October, eventually leaving the region around April-May.

Last year's nest in the pumphouse

The greater striped swallow builds a bowl-shaped mud nest with a tubular entrance on the underside of a suitable structure. The nest has a soft lining, and is often reused in later years. The nest may be built in a cave or under a rock overhang or fallen tree. This species has benefited from its willingness to use buildings, bridges, culverts and similar man-made structures. Given the choice, it will select a high nest site.

 Nest-building process

One of the swallows adding some mud to the construction

A previous year's completed nest

They are monogamous, solitary nesters and one breeding pair usually produces 2-3 broods per breeding season. My Swallows have managed to raise at least one pair of babies each season for the past 10 years, taking the babies with them when they leave in April. And last year the parents returned with two extra travellers, their fully-grown youngsters, I presumed.

One of last year's fledglings patiently waiting to be fed

Thankfully this species is not threatened, in fact, its numbers have increased due to the abundance of man-made nest sites, but I will be extremely sad if my Swallows don’t ever return again….


Monday, 5 October 2015

The Robin babies are gone...

05:30 Empty nest of my Cape Robin-chat (Cossypha caffra)

The inevitable has happened - The Robin's babies are gone...

Early this morning I heard the Robins chattering and rushed out, but obviously I was too late. The Fiscal Shrikes were close-by and the nest was empty.

Now I know why Robins go inside houses to find nesting places. They are safe from all their predators like the Fiscal Shrike, the Karoo Thrush, Mynahs and a couple of others. I think the Robin is one of the few species that is NOT threatened by Man, and the Robin knows it. I mean, what can be more wonderful than a Robin nesting in your lounge or bedroom? We feel honoured and blessed should such an incident happen.

After the Karoo Thrush scared the Robin out of my house, I'm going to make an effort to coax and lure my Robbie to come inside again and find a safe place to nest.

And, of course, the Fiscal Shrike is no longer a welcome visitor in my garden. Neither is the Karoo Thrush or the Mynahs. But there is not much I can do about it. Nature is Nature and the rule is that the strongest and fittest survive.


Sunday, 4 October 2015

Robin babies up-date

The Robin babies as at 9am 4th October 2015

Ever since my Robin's babies hatched a couple of days ago, I've been on tenterhooks, keeping an eye open and listening for trouble. And this morning it seemed like the unthinkable had happened!

I heard both Robins making their alarm call - a sort of gutteral 'chir-chir-chir chir-chir-chir' and immediately I knew there was trouble. I flew outside and there, right next to the Robin's nest on the paving, was the Fiscal Shrike busy killing a baby bird. My heart fairly bounced with fear and I rushed up to her, throwing my arms in the air and screaming at her. I immediately presumed it was the Robin's baby and picked it up, but on closer inspection, I realised it was a Masked Weaver baby (sort of sigh of relief!). There are some Weaver nests just above Robbie's nest and Mrs. Fiscal must have plucked the baby out of it, or else it must've fallen out and she, opportunist that she is, could just have found it. Which is the more likely scenario, because I've been supplying her with enough food for her three fledglings to prevent just this sort of thing happening.

After my initial fright had subsided, I peered into Robbie's nest to make sure his babies were OK and they both responded by opening their mouths wide for me and this time I was ready with the camera!

I think I'll be getting my deck chair and settle in with some coffee and a good book near Robbie's nest ...


Saturday, 3 October 2015

My Robin has babies!

Since I photographed my Robin's eggs (Cape Robin-chat - Cossypha caffra), on the 24th September 2015, I've been keeping track of Mrs. Robin as she sits on the eggs, and early this morning I noticed her carrying titbits of minced meat that I put on the feeding table and small insects to the nest and what do I find? Two TINY little babies! I only managed these two not-so-good shots, I don't want to interfere too much, but as she was away for a couple of moments, I took the chance.I am utterly and totally thrilled because, although they have already reared a few broods in my garden, this is the first time I've caught sight of the tiny babies!

As I moved some of the foliage to get a better view, one of the babies felt movement and opened its mouth wide, expecting some food, but I wasn't quick enough to capture that.

A cropped version of the pic just above

Egg-laying season is from about June-January, peaking around October-November. It lays 2-3 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 14-19 days. The female broods the chicks throughout the night and intermittently through the day, for the first 5-11 days of their lives. They are fed by both parents, eventually leaving the nest at about 14-18 days old, remaining dependent on their parents for about 5-7 weeks more.



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