THERE’S AN ANT IN MY NECTAR!

The level of the nectar feeder has been going down very slowly of late. While this is not particularly unusual at this time of the year, with the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and the aloes blooming, what has been strange is the behaviour of the few visitors that have alighted on it. The sunbirds are cautious feeders anyway. Now, one might perch, look around, dip into the feeder once only and leave. Even the robust Fork-tailed Drongos barely perch for more than a second or two: very odd behaviour.

Ants are the problem. During this prolonged drought, they have fanned out in search of moisture and discovered a lethal source of liquid gold in the spout of the nectar feeder.

Lethal, because so many of them are drawn right into the bottle, from which there is no escape. They probably get shoved in ever deeper by the sheer mass of ants thronging around the rim or ‘swimming’ in the opening of the feeder.

I now dip a stick into the feeder whenever I go past and when I withdraw it I find the stick crawling with ants. A whole lot of them fell off in a ‘blob’ before I could take this picture.

BLACK-EYED SUSAN

The Black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata) is a vine that occurs naturally from tropical East Africa to eastern South Africa. It grows on forest margins and is attractive to both bees and butterflies. I have a self-sown one growing next to our swimming pool.

These flowers have also featured on South African postage stamps, which are illustrated below:

I have only now noticed – 17 years later – that the Black-eyed Susan is referred to on the stamps as Black eyed Susy (a name I am not familiar with)! These stamps were first issued in 2000 and reissued in 2003 as part of the standard postage series, which continued for a long time afterwards. In the image you can see them featured alongside a giant girdle-tailed lizard (a 5c stamp issued in 2000) and a much older stamp in a series that featured wild animals of South Africa, this one being a blue wildebeest, issued in 1998.

APRIL 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

I have had the feeling all month that the birds in our garden are staging a stay-away – in protest of what, I cannot tell. There hasn’t been that feeling of abundance that usually fills the garden with bird song throughout the day. True, there are no longer tons of wild figs to attract the fructivores – in their place though are other indigenous berries and blossoms. Large flocks of Redwinged Starlings still fly over from time to time, with one or two stopping by for a ‘local’ snack; a pair of Knysna Louries make regular forays through the treetops and I surprised them scuffling around in the bush next to the front path the other morning.

While the plethora of Laughing Doves and the resident Rock Pigeons make a clean sweep of the coarse seed I sprinkle on the lawn every morning, the cut apples remain largely untouched, and I seldom have to fill the ‘seed house’ more than twice a week. Our memories become blurred over time and so I thought it best to compare this month’s bird list with April 2016 – even though I was away for much of the month then. Interestingly enough, the score is about even, with eleven birds seen then not making this year’s list and twelve that I have seen this year that didn’t appear last year.

The swifts and swallows were still around in early April – later than last year; we have not yet heard, let alone seen, a Burchell’s Coucal; and the weavers have made themselves scarce earlier than expected – they are around, but in far fewer numbers.

Farewell to the Lesser-striped Swallows

Particularly interesting visitors have been a Black Harrier and a pair of Rameron Pigeons that came darting in and out of the fig tree for two days in a row before vanishing. It is the first time I have recorded the latter in our garden.

My April bird list is:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Harrier
Black Saw-wing
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Lessser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Rameron Pigeon
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whitenecked Raven
Whiterumped Swift

HAPPY EARTH DAY!

Saturday is Earth Day. Every day should be Earth Day. We should think about what the Earth gives us and how we can give back to the Earth every day.

William Wordsworth warned us that:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Sunflower backlit by the autumn sun

He marvelled at the sheer beauty of nature:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:

Carpenter bee on lavender

Wordsworth also tells us that:

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Aloes coming into bloom

Robert Frost describes the beauty of the changing seasons so well:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Virginia creeper changing colour

Lastly, this grasshopper in my garden has never heard of John Keats, who wrote:

That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
In summer luxury,—he has never done
With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.

For this one is perched on a telephone cable high above the pumpkin patch!

Grasshopper keeping watch

AUTUMN

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
– John Keats

Seeds of the Erythrina caffra

These are not the kind of fruits Keats would have had in mind when he penned his ode To Autumn, but as we do not have well-defined seasons in the Eastern Cape, a definite sign of autumn comes in the form of the dry, rustling leaves of the Erythrina caffra settling on the ground, followed by the black seed pods that burst open to reveal the scarlet seeds – often called lucky beans – within.

 

CAPE GREY MONGOOSE

This was no April Fool’s joke: as I was about to open the French doors leading to the pool area I halted at the sight of a Cape Grey Mongoose (also known as the Small Grey Mongoose) snuffling around at the base of the tree housing the bird feeding tray. I watched in awe as it picked up titbits dropped by the birds while it circled the tree.

There was little chance of it waiting for me to fetch my camera from upstairs, so I opened a window from above as quietly as I could – hence the photographs are not as clear as I would have liked – to get photographic evidence that these creatures are indeed residents of, or visitors to, our garden.

We have seen glimpses of a mongoose from time to time over the past year or two. Once I even caught sight of a mongoose sunning itself on the bricks at the end of the swimming pool. It disappeared into the thicket of aloes so quickly that it was difficult to identify which mongoose it was. A year or two ago, a neighbour reported seeing a mongoose running across the street to scuttle into our property …

From the storey above I could see the mongoose sniff the air cautiously before leaping up into the fork of the tree to remove some bread that had been left there for the birds. At that point the neighbouring Hound came lumbering along to see what he could find below the bird feeders and the mongoose disappeared in a flash!

The Cape Grey Mongoose (Galerella pulverulenta) is a solitary creature and I imagine our garden must be a comfortable site for it as they prefer bushy areas and feed on insects and small rodents – perhaps it is the mongoose presence that is keeping the rat population at bay – fruit and birds. Although the Cape Grey Mongoose is diurnal, it prefers to rest in the shade during the hottest part of the day – which may explain why the birds tend to visit the feeders later in the day.

T IS FOR TECOMA CAPENSIS

Commonly known as Cape Honeysuckle and formerly named Tecomaria capensis, this plant was recommended to us by a nursery as an ornamental screen for our garden in a newly established suburb in Pietermaritzburg. Years later, we purchased some plants at considerable expense at a nursery in Lichtenburg for our fledging garden in Mafikeng – and nurtured it. Imagine our surprise to find it indigenous to this part of the Eastern Cape, where we now live.

It grows rampantly in our garden: wherever a bit of its stem touches the ground it forms new roots and another shoot of vigorous growth clambers through the trees or weaves it way through the undergrowth. Over years it forms a hard woody stem that is difficult to cut. I prune it abundantly, yet never stem the tide. This makes it sound like a monster. It is far from that.

The flowers of the Tecoma capensis provide bright colouring during the change of season from warm to cold (we do not have clearly defined seasons here) and attract a variety of birds such as the Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Cape white-eyes, Black-eyed Bulbuls, and Bar-throated Apalis. The tubular flowers also attract bees and butterflies.