IS THAT A GHOST IN MY GARDEN?

Background: From time to time we rescue frogs of various sizes from our salt water swimming pool. I usually scoop them out and tip them into the bird bath on the lawn. From there they generally hop away – I hope feeling well, for we seldom see them nearby after they have spent a while of recovery in the fresh water.

Context: What is left of our lawn is covered with a carpet of dry leaves, mostly shed by the Cape Chestnut tree.

The ghost: I was crunching along these leaves when I spotted something white among them. Bending down, I could see what looked like the lifeless shape of (what I presumed) was a dried out little frog. A desiccated victim of the pool I thought – hence the ‘ghost’ of the title. I moved a leaf to get a better look. The ‘lifeless’ frog opened its eyes and hopped!

I whipped out my phone for I had spotted something else: its tiny red toes.

In two ticks it had hopped away to nestle among the leaves at the base of the Cape Chestnut tree – and then it was gone!

None of my home references showed a dramatic picture of a tiny white frog with red toes. I contacted Chad Keates (see the reference to his blog) to ask if it was a type of Reed Frog. His speedy reply was: Painted reed frog, they go white in the day. For more useful information and a host of excellent photographs, do visit his blog about these frogs at https://nextgenherpetologist.co.za/2018/04/03/painted-reed-frogs-of-southern-africa/

So, it wasn’t a ghost in my garden. Instead it turned out to be a privileged view of a special creature!

Advertisements

MAY GARDEN 2018

The bounty of fruit of the Natal Fig (Ficus natalensis) has been eaten, leaving lean pickings for the Redwinged Starlings and causing the majority of African Green Pigeons to seek fruit elsewhere – although some still return to roost here overnight. Apart from a wide variety of birds, such as Speckled Mousebirds, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Blackcollared Barbets, Cape White-eyes, Blackheaded Orioles, Olive Thrushes, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, and Grey-headed Sparrows, the fruit also attracts a variety of insects and the small insectivorous bats that swoop around the garden as the day ends. The latter often remind me of D.H. Lawrence’s description of bats in the poem of the same name:

Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop…
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,  
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

In the back garden, the Erythrina caffra (Coral tree) is sporting clusters of seedpods split open to reveal their coral-red seeds which, in due course, fall to the ground. These small, shiny seeds marked on the one side with a black spot are also known as lucky beans. Laughing Doves and Forktailed Drongos perch in the high branches to catch the warmth of the early morning sun and again in the late afternoon.

The Black Sunbirds and Greater Double-collared sunbirds as well as Blackcollared Barbets, Blackheaded Orioles, Cape- and Village Weavers as well as Redwinged starlings are regular visitors too.

I have mentioned before that the name Erythrina, originates from the Greek word erythros meaning red and alludes to the bright red flowers and seeds. Caffra is derived from the Arabic word for an unbeliever, and as used in older botanical works generally indicates that the plant was found well to the south of the range of Arab traders, that is, along the [south] eastern seaboard of South Africa. Carl Thunberg, known as the father of South African botany, gave the names in 1770.

In parts of South Africa, both the Erythrina caffra and the Erythrina lysistemon are regarded as a royal tree; much respected and admired in Zulu culture and believed to have magic properties. Specimens have been planted on the graves of many Zulu chiefs. In parts of the Eastern Cape, local inhabitants will not burn the wood of Erythrina caffra for fear of attracting lightning.

The indigenous Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides) has come into full bloom, covering the trees and shrubs with a canopy of bright golden yellow flowers that attract the Barthroated Apalis, Cape White-eyes and a variety of butterflies. These flowers also exude a delightful aromatic scent that adds to the pleasure of being in the garden.

Equally beautiful are the bright orange tubular flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) that are coming into bloom. These attract the nectar-feeding Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared sunbirds, Streaky-headed Seedeaters, Cape Weavers and Village Weavers as well as several butterflies.

Trusses of the beautiful pale blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) flowers are also starting to appear.

The first aloes are coming into bloom too and are visited regularly by the Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Streakyheaded Seedeaters, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Blackheaded Orioles and Cape White-eyes.

FAIRY PARASOL

Some fairy parasols (Coprinus plicatilis) have appeared on our lawn again. Some sources indicate that the scientific name has now changed to (Parasola plicatilis) – that makes sense, for they do look like miniature parasols when the caps first open.

The pleated cap is so thin that it almost appears to be transparent. These mushrooms spring up in the grass after even the lightest rain or even heavy dew, but quickly shrivel to nothing.

MUD WASP NEST

The mud wasp nests I usually find inside or outside our house look like this one on a windowsill:

Sometimes they look like this one on the outside wall of our house:

The picture below shows a wasp nest that had been built between a box on top of a built-in cupboard and the ceiling, which probably accounts for the squat shape. You can see ceiling paint on the top of it:

The back of the nest looks like this – note what is left of a spider in one of the cells:

This nest was probably built by a Mud Dauber Wasp (Sceliphron spirifex) which commonly builds multi-celled mud nests attached to walls or even tree trunks. Each cell is provisioned with a spider that has been paralysed in order to provide food for the emerging larvae.

Here is a not very clear picture of a wasp spotted in the garden taking a spider to its nest.

APRIL 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

What a beautiful month this has been – no rain, sadly, but mostly clear skies with warm days and at night one can feel the winter chill moving in as if to say “Don’t be fooled, I am on my way ha ha!” The aloes coming into bloom are attracting the sunbirds: the Black Sunbird was seeking nectar elsewhere last month and is a welcome returnee, whilst the Olive Sunbird is making its annual fleeting visit.

At least three pairs of Speckled Pigeons have settled under our roof to breed. There are always one or two standing sentinel on the corner.

As the source of figs has dried up, the Redwinged Starlings keep an eye on the fruit I put out now and then. Here a female is making short work of her bite of an apple.

The Blackeyed Bulbuls also arrive soon after they spy the fruit on the feeding table.

I was very surprised to see six Rednecked Spurfowl on a warm day mid-month. Here today and gone tomorrow they were, as was the look-in by a Cape Wagtail. It has been a month for raptors too: the African Harrier-Hawk is a fairly regular visitor and was  joined this month by a Yellowbilled Kite and a Verreaux’s Eagle – all exciting to see.

My April bird list is:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater (Canary)
Verreaux’s Eagle
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite

EARTH DAY 2018

Not only is Earth Day to celebrate what we know we have, to rejoice in the diversity of the natural world, and to resolve to do our best to protect it as best we can, it is also about discovering some of nature’s richness we were unaware of. Take this, for example:

It was attracting flies and so needed a closer look:

A large ‘ice-cream cone’ in shape:

The flies are definitely attracted what could be construed as ‘chocolate sauce’:

Today is the first time I have seen such a fungus growing in my garden. If anyone can identify it I would be very pleased.

Happy Earth Day!

HERALDING AUTUMN

There is no dramatic recolouring of the landscape here. Instead, autumn in our garden is heralded by the subtle fullness of the Natal figs:

These attract African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings by the dozen:

The aloes are swelling in readiness for their winter blooming:

Black-eyed Susan creepers twine around other plants to provide bright colour:

Other splashes of colour come from the plumbago:

Canary creepers and Cape Honeysuckle:

While self-sown butternuts ripen on their vines.

In these years of severe water shortages, I bless the indigenous plants that simply ‘get on with it’ and do their best.