A LONE EGYPTIAN GOOSE

I am often amused to see photographs of Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca) abroad – especially in the United Kingdom, where they appear to have made themselves quite at home.  I read somewhere that some were brought into Britain in the 17th century as ornamental birds.

In South Africa it is common to see pairs of these birds dominating stretches of water – such as dams or particular stretches of a river – by fiercely guarding their territory against perceived intruders. As Egyptian Geese are predominantly herbivorous, it wasn’t at all surprising to see this one grazing next to a dam. It was, however, surprising to find it on its own with a mate nowhere in sight.

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HERONS

While this Grey Heron was preening itself close enough to the edge of the water to see its fine reflection …

Its cousins, the Black-headed Herons, were stomping about in the veld looking for food. See how this one is striding across some open ground in the hope of finding some terrestrial invertebrates.

Meanwhile, a relative thought a more grassy area might prove to be more useful in terms of finding something to eat.

It certainly has a gleam in its eye!

VACHELLIA KARROO II

Among the indigenous trees in bloom at the moment is the Vachellia karroo (I will always think of it as Acacia karroo!), commonly called Sweet thorn, which grows almost everywhere in South Africa as well as in the rest of Africa. It is interesting to note that the common name is derived from the edible gum which is exuded from wounds in the bark, rather than from the fragrance of the flowers.

Its growth varies in size and habit depending on the climate. Those growing around where I live in the Eastern Cape tend to be fairly small and compact, while some of the ones growing along dry water courses in the Mountain Zebra National Park are tall trees. I have noticed several Vachellia karroo trees in this park hosting a type of hemi-parasite known as Agelanthus sp. on their branches.

The trees are fast growing and drought-resistant, with branching usually occurring close to the ground. They have a distinctive round crown and are covered with tiny golden yellow puff-ball / pompon type flower heads during the summer, which are delightfully sweet-scented.

The bark can be rough and fissured, while the long, straight white thorns formed in pairs are characteristic of these trees. Funnily enough, it is these thorns that I miss whenever I have been out of the country for a while.

Pods produced after flowering are initially green, but turn a rusty to dark brown colour when mature.  They vary in shape from almost straight to sickle-shaped. Animals eat the leaves, pods and flowers. The latter produce large quantities of nectar and pollen which attracts a variety of insects. The presence of these trees in the veld is an indicator of sweet veld – prized for good grazing and fertile soils.

Birds build their nests in these trees too. This rather untidy one belongs to a White-browed Sparrow-weaver.

 

DECEMBER 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

December is a hot month that flies past in the build-up towards Christmas and taming the garden after receiving some welcome rain. Cattle egrets flying low over the trees were the first birds to greet the month – making their way to the various members of the Urban Herd that regularly graze near our home. Speckled Mousebirds also fly across the garden as they search for edible berries here and there – they have ignored the fruit I put out and so I imagine there is plenty of natural food about for them at this time of the year. A pair of Common Starlings have been stuffing their beaks with food to take back to their chicks and – such sad news – the Lesser-striped Swallows had almost finished building their mud nest when it came tumbling down. Here they are ‘discussing’ their future plans.

It is always a pleasure to see the pair of Spectacled Weavers visiting the feeding area.

We usually only see a single pair of Greyheaded Sparrows, but this month they had one youngster with them.

I cannot resist showing you yet another photograph of Meneer, the Common Fiscal, who daily comes to see what titbits I have on the table and eats them from my hand. My youngest granddaughter stepped outside a few days ago, a ginger biscuit in hand, and was taken aback when this same fiscal fluttered in front of her face and cheekily took a bite of her biscuit!

The most exciting sighting – and the luckiest shot ever – this month was seeing a Burchell’s Coucal alight on a branch of the Erythrina tree. I grabbed my camera and focused on it through my study window, clicked and when I looked up it had disappeared as silently as it had arrived! We have been hearing its burbling calls all month.

My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Amethyst Sunbird
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pin-tailed Whydah
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Spotted Thick-knee
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

OBSERVATIONS WHILST INVIGILATING AN EXAMINATION

It was on 2nd November seven years ago that I found myself ensconced in a tiny room adjacent to a school hall. The room was only large enough to hold a single school desk and two chairs. This is where a Grade 11 pupil was in the throes of writing a Life Orientation examination. I had read the question paper to her – her concession required her to have a reader and so I doubled up as her invigilator. I had reread several questions at her request and she had finally reached the last question which required an answer in the form of an essay. This gave me a brief respite in which to observe my surroundings.

Apart from keeping an eye on the time, I was now more or less left to my own devices until the end of the examination. By turning my chair slightly, I could see the 1820 Settler’s Monument brooding above the bush-covered Signal Hill that overlooks the town.

In the late afternoon its sombre brick exterior looked foreboding against the heavy grey sky above it. Bulges of dark clouds moved slowly across the hilly horizon before merging with the steely mass above.

The wind whistled and howled, sounding at times like a banshee and at others like waves curling and crashing in a stormy sea. Raindrops began to fall solidly. The heavy streaks of rain fell at an oblique angle that formed silvery slivers against the moisture-darkened trunks of the oak trees in the foreground.

The lighter branches of a wild olive tree swayed and shook as the wind picked up speed and roared past as if in a rush to move on. Only the deep red clusters of huilboerboon flowers provided colourful relief in the grim, wet, cold landscape I could see from the narrow doorway.

As the wind abated, these flowers were visited by redwinged starlings and green woodhoopoes feeding on their rich source of nourishing nectar. Almost unnoticed, growing as it was at the base of a wild olive tree, a yellow dandelion nodded in the wind.

It seemed to be greeting a damp speckled pigeon strutting passed it along the wet brick pathway where blades of bright green grass, too short to bow to the wind, poked between the cracks.

At last the wind died down to a low hum that barely caressed the leaves of the trees growing outside the examination venue. Patches of blue sky appeared as the grey clouds turned paler before dissipating. The late afternoon sunlight highlighted remnants of the distant towers of cumulus clouds. It briefly turned their tops into a brilliant white, while shadows lower down emphasised still boiling bulges in the clouds.

For a moment the Monument donned a more benign mantle, its walls looked brighter and is west-facing windows winked in the golden sunlight. The grass and bushes on Signal Hill appeared to glow from within as the sun lowered towards the horizon.

The sun had won the battle against the clouds. Its mellowing light enhanced the hues of green, enriched the colour of the crimson flowers and made the tiny dandelion appear larger than it was. Raindrops sparkled on the grass. Hadeda ibises rejoiced raucously as they flew across the valley and a village weaver emerged from its temporary shelter to inspect the huilboerboon flowers.

The examination was over and we were both free to leave.