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.

FEBRUARY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

It is not surprising that Laughing Doves have been the dominant birds in our garden this month: their numbers have increased over the years and they are always among the first to feed on the coarse maize seed I scatter on the lawn in the mornings. It takes about twenty minutes from the time of doing so until first one or two come down, soon to be followed by the rest of the gang that have flown ever closer to the source of the food – from the telephone cable in the back garden, to the Cape Chestnut, to the Wild Plum (perching ever lower down) until over thirty of them make short work of the maize. A few adventurous ones perch on Morrigan’s feeder to get the fine seed and some manage to hang onto the seed house for long enough to get some of the seed there.

Laughing Doves

Nesting time is far from over: the Lesser-striped Swallows completed their mud nest outside our front door – with the result we tend to use either the kitchen door or the side door to give them some peace. The White-rumped Swifts do not have any compunction about trying to usurp this nest for their own progeny and so the swallows have had to devote a lot of energy towards defending their home territory.

Careful observation of a pair of Olive Thrushes finally revealed their nesting site right next to the garden path!

Olive Thrush nest

Weavers have also continued building nests around the garden.

Weaver nest

I thought I would compare this month’s bird list with that of February last year. Seven species have not been seen, while thirteen others have come to the garden that were not seen last year.

My February list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Cuckoo
Black Cuckooshrike
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Black Saw-wing
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Brimstone Canary
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellow Weaver

HERBS IN MY GARDEN: PARSLEY

Parsley is notoriously difficult to grow from seed: I find that it either fails to germinate or else comes up in a thick forest. Sometimes it seeds itself in the oddest of places, making me go to all the nooks and crannies of the garden when I need some. I generally find it a lot easier to start off with seedlings purchased from our local nursery. I mostly grow the curly variety, although I once enjoyed a bumper crop of flat-leaf (also known as Italian) parsley that mysteriously appeared in our garden in the months after the house next door was built!

parsley

I use parsley almost on a daily basis and so make sure I have a ready supply of it. My only encounter with parsley as a medicinal plant was when I was a university student. The nursing sister in charge of the sanatorium brewed me a large mug of parsley tea to ease the pain of a kidney infection. When she picked a large bunch of parsley for me to brew some more in my room later on, she told me that parsley is both a tonic and an immune booster. It is well-known, I think, that chewing a sprig of parsley can help to neutralise the smell of garlic on one’s breath.

IT HAS RAINED

It has rained – at last!

rainguage

You can see how the water ran across the garden, gathering fallen leaves and sticks in its wake:

debris

The sun is shining this morning – and see what has emerged:

mushrooms