FEBRUARY 2021 GARDEN

The drought continues. In fact, yesterday morning we woke to not a single drop of water in our taps! So far the rain forecast either comes to nothing or it might yield 5mm – that does little more than settle the dust for a little while. This is the second summer in a row that I have not been able to grow vegetables or much in the way of flowers. Yet, there continues to be some colour and things of interest in our garden. The ever faithful frangipani (also known as Plumeria) is blooming beautifully and exudes the most delightful scent once the sun sets and the garden settles down for the night.

No matter how hot and dry it gets, we can always rely on the Plumbago to provide colour – and such pleasing colour too.

The hibiscus shrubs were already mature when we moved here three decades ago. Their long-lasting blooms too never disappoint.

I am very pleased that the variety of petunias I planted in containers in December continue to provide happy splashes of colour.

Then there are insects, such as this bee foraging on the tiny flowers of a tall weed.

I come across a spider-hunting wasp (Pompilidae) outside the kitchen door.

It is under the lip of an outside windowsill that I see a potential danger lurking in the form of two South African Paper Wasps in the throes of building their intricate nest.

End note: The water supply is trickling back in our pipes.

ANTS ON STEPS

There are few conditions like drought and heat to bring the activity of ants to the fore. We have both in abundance. I happened to sit on the steps outside our kitchen for a few minutes the other day and captured these images with my cell phone. My attention was first drawn to this gap in the wall:

The fine grains of sand spilling out of it is detritus from the mining activities of the ants as they have burrowed deeper into the ground behind the stones that make up the edge of the steps leading up to the top of the terrace. A spider has taken advantage of this gap to catch unsuspecting passersby. Where there is ant activity, there must be ants. I didn’t have far to look:

Here some of them are, walking up and down the leaves of this succulent plant growing right next to the steps. All of them were busy – too busy to stop and look around; to chat to their fellow workers; or simply to take a rest. All were focused on whatever job they had to do. Now among these ants are some construction workers, some of which must have tunnelled holes between the stone risers and built these towers:

I cannot help wondering if these are ‘cooling towers’ such as we see at some of our (dysfunctional) power stations on the Highveld.

JANUARY 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

There were 48 birds on my list for last January and 45 this year. I doubt if there are really fewer birds that could be seen from our garden, rather I wasn’t necessarily there to see them. So much depends on when I am outside, how long I spend outside, where I settle to watch birds, and what the weather is like. Birds are scarce during high temperatures – and we have experienced some days of up to 40°C – and equally so during damp weather – very few of those this month!

Possibly the most exciting bird action for me this month was the unexpected arrival of a Steppe Buzzard that sent a flock of Laughing Doves scattering in all directions. I heard a loud, yet muffled, thump and there it was, only about two meters away from me! It blinked at me for a second or two and then flew off so silently that had I not witnessed its departure I would have wondered what had happened to it. Its hunting foray was unrewarded. This one is not in my garden but was photographed on the edge of town.

A pair of Southern Boubous have become regular visitors to the feeding area this month. They arrive either singly or together, waiting in the shrubbery until the coast is clear before coming out in the open.

Of course it is always a delight when the Bronze Manikins come to visit. They have been breeding very successfully for I have seen a whole flock of youngsters accompany the adults when feeding on seed that has fallen to the ground from the hanging feeders. Weavers too have been feeding grain to their chicks.

The Black-collared Barbets are keeping the doctor away by eating apple every day.

A pair of Black-eyed Bulbuls have been hard-pressed feeding their youngster, which is waiting on a rock – not too patiently – for the next bite of apple. The parents have been gradually enticing their youngster to come ever closer to the source of the apples.

Another bird that has just about been run ragged feeding offspring is the ringed Common Fiscal. Once I realised that it was frantically feeding not one chick but three, I helped out by providing some very finely chopped meat. This chick has a slice of sausage – that escaped the chopping – in its beak. I will show more photographs of these chicks in a later post.

I was fascinated to watch a Speckled Pigeon helping itself to some of the chopped meat – I assumed they only ate grain and occasionally fruit.

My January bird list:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Mannikin
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
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
Pied Crow
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Steppe Buzzard
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-billed Kite

THERE IS COLOUR TOO

Despite the resilience of the indigenous trees and other plants in our garden, I long for splashes of colour. Sadly, there is no spare water to sustain flower beds – or to grow vegetables for that matter. I nonetheless happened upon a neighbour switching on the garden sprayer the other afternoon to water her already lush-looking lawn. “My borehole gives me about an hour’s worth of water daily,” she explained, looking around her beautiful garden. I returned to our garden and the colour that brightens up the area closest to our house. Marigolds are a reliable source of robust colouring, whatever the weather, that do not require a lot of water.

Growing flowers in containers is the best solution during this drought: easy to water, easy to move around, and not expensive to fill.

These containers lift my spirits when I turn the corner.

As do the frangipani flowers that are unfurling this month.