SYRINGAS II

In August this year I posted this photograph of the large syringa (Melia azedarach)) growing on the verge of the street behind our home. Then it had lost many of is glossy green leaves and was covered in clusters of golden berries.

This is what the tree looked like last month, covered in delicately scented lilac-coloured flowers.

This particular tree was already large when we moved here over three decades ago, so I turned to a younger, shorter tree to photograph the blossoms.

Here is an even closer view:

Lastly, the blossoms with a glimpse of golden berries in the background.

This very pretty – and during summer a shady – tree is an alien invasive that is propagated mainly by seed. Mousebirds are particularly fond of eating the fruit, which is also carried along by water in drains, canals and rivers. The uncontrolled spread of these trees can cause them to invade – and even replace – natural vegetation in some parts of the country. Given that the fruit remains on the trees for a long time, it is thought that the presence of syringa trees can even change the feeding dynamics of frugivorous birds as they become an easy source of food.

 

MISSING THE DIVERSITY OF POSTAGE STAMPS

I used to be an avid stamp collector – never serious enough to warrant being called a philatelist – from a young age. The range of subjects depicted not only on South African stamps, but the excitement of finding stamps from other parts of the world thrilled me in the days of no internet, no television – and no cell phones! As Christmas approached the pile of mail my father brought home increased in size and interest: Christmas cards were posted from so many places that piqued my interest enough to enjoy receiving a stamp album, hinges, as well as a magnifying glass as gifts. I would happily spend time carefully soaking stamps from envelopes, waiting for them to dry, and then sorting them. Like most beginners, I began by sorting stamps into countries – doubtless guided by the printed albums of the time.

Then I realised my real interest lay in themes. I sorted my growing collection into categories and gradually became aware of narrowing my interest to mainly environmental themes. Along with this came a desire to develop a set of themed stamps into a narrative, which the stamps would illustrate. I found some of these the other day which included the development of agriculture, how elephants have been used by humans, and the clan totems of the Tswana people as depicted on the stamps of the then Bophuthatswana. During the period we lived in that ‘independent’ homeland, I discovered a particular richness in the stamps of the various homelands that pitted the map of South Africa.

There used to be a rich diversity of topics featured on the stamps that adorned even the most mundane postal items. Look at the corner of this envelope franked in Port Alfred, a seaside town not far from where we live. We still regularly received mail in 2017 – alas hardly ever any more.

There is a mixture of two series of stamps on this envelope: of the eight stamps used, five come from a series launched in September 2010 that featured the Richtersveld conservation landscape. This area, in the north-west of the country, is the eighth World Heritage site in South Africa. The Richtersveld was returned to the Nama people under the land restitution programme and is maintained as a conservation area. The stamps were designed by Jolindi Ferreira, who was a student at The Open Window School of Visual Communication, in Pretoria, at the time. The ones here depict a Grey Rhebok, a Namaqua Sandgrouse and a Namaqua Chameleon.

The other three stamps, designed by Sacha Lipka, are of beadwork artefacts held in the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town. The show a Zulu neckpiece of lion’s claws, a beadwork angel, and a beadwork cell phone.

With so little in the way of actual mail finding its way around the country, I have probably not purchased postage stamps for the past three years at least. Looking at these ones makes me realise how much we miss!

Note: Click on the photograph for a larger view.

OCTOBER 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

Although I have not been able to photograph one, I am delighted to hear the Red-chested Cuckoo once more. It is commonly known as the Piet-my-vrou here, as that is what its call sounds like – a strident command early in the morning, occasionally in the afternoon and even sometimes in the evening. Both the Klaas’ Cuckoo and Diederik Cuckoo entertain us with their distinctive calls during the day. Of course the Hadeda Ibises continue to wake us early and call to each other across town before they settle down for the night.

There seems to be an explosion of the Dark-capped Bulbul population of late. They queue up to drink from the nectar feeder, biff each other out of the way to eat apples and oranges, and several pairs sit very close together on the branches in true lovey-dovey style.

I am used to the Laughing Doves rising in a whoosh whenever a particularly noisy vehicle passes by, the neighbour might slam a door, or a lawnmower starts up in a nearby garden. There are times though when all the birds disappear in a quiet flash – a sure sign of a predator on the prowl. This month began with a flying visit from an African Harrier Hawk and ended with a low-flying Yellow-billed Kite, both of which saw the garden birds head for the closest cover.

Mundane tasks, such as hanging up the laundry, can have its interesting moments too. The light and distance were of little help to me, yet I could hear the persistent tap-tap-tapping coming from nearby that I dropped what I was doing to scan the trees … and there it was: a Cardinal Woodpecker chipping away at a dead branch of the Erythrina tree that towers over the back garden.

A well turned out visitor is the male Pin-tailed Whydah. He visits fairly often, although I have only seen one female in our garden this month.

While this is the best I could do from a distance with only my cell phone at hand, here is proof that a small flock of Cape Glossy Starlings paid our garden a visit.

I have often said that birdwatching in our garden is balm for my soul. October has been no different.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk
African Hoopoe
Amethyst Sunbird
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Dark-capped Bulbul
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redchested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

MEET NELSON

Once upon a time we enjoyed Springbok Radio in this country – the demise of which has caused great sadness among those of us who grew up with its offerings. In about 1971 we probably all sang along with the South African folk singers Des and Dawn Lindberg whenever the radio played their song about a little boy who rescued an oil soaked seagull from the sea.

… And the seagull’s name was Nelson

Nelson who came from the sea

And the seagull’s name was Nelson

Nelson the seagull free…

It was thus natural to temporarily name our seagull visitor Nelson [Nelson who came from the sea]. Our introduction to Nelson came about when he came into the chalet at Tsitsikamma to snatch a large square of quiche from the coffee table near the open door – this is Nelson polishing off the last of the crumbs.

Little did we realise that Nelson was to become a daily visitor – always on the lookout for a bite to eat. He was so quick that I learned to hide my early morning rusk under my sunhat whilst enjoying the view of the waves crashing over the rocks.

Nelson is a Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus) – also called the Southern Black-backed Gull – of which there was an abundance. Its bill is bright yellow with a red spot near the tip. Note too, the orange eye-ring.

We became familiar with Nelson’s feet planted firmly on the narrow ledge of the deck.

Before leaving the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, we came across this gull sitting on its nest.

… And the seagull’s name was Nelson …

HEY THAT’S MY BREAKFAST!

The un-ringed Common Fiscal is very forthcoming about getting fed. Sometimes it hovers just above me while I fill up the seed feeders, clearly indicating that he deserves something much better than grain. Of course he gets his way: I usually return with tiny blocks of cheese or slithers of meat. As you can tell from the photograph below, he is quick to show his disapproval of the fare I provide.

The raisins and nibbed almonds in the little white dish were clearly NOT to his taste. He decided to take a closer look at my bowl of muesli – just in case it contained better offerings.

Today he sat on my hand several times to take thin slices of thin wors. I cannot adequately describe the thrill of this wild creature perching on me.