MOTHER-IN-LAW’S TONGUE

Odd isn’t it … there are so many objections to various perceptions of relationships and gender in today’s society, yet no-one has given a thought to the much maligned – butt of many jokes – general name for the Sanseviera plants: mother-in-law’s tongue!

Let us leave that to the activists and focus on these tough plants that are true survivors of the drought. I think the plants in my garden are Sansevieria hyacinthoides as they look very similar to the plants I have seen growing in the shade of trees in the Addo Elephant National Park, and which are common all over the eastern part of South Africa.

Blooming in the natural thicket at Spekboom Hide in the Addo Elephant National Park

According to http://pza.sanbi.org/sansevieria-hyacinthoides, the genus Sansevieria is named after Pietro Sanseverino (1724-1771), Prince of Bisignano, who grew these plants, among other rare and exotic specimens, in his garden near Naples. Further information found at http://growwild.co.za/trees/sansevieria-hyacinthoides reveals that the discoverer of this plant, Vincenzo Petanga, wanted this plant named after Pietro Antonio Sansevierino, but Carl Thunberg named it after Raimondo di Sangro (1710-1771) an Italian nobleman, inventor, soldier, writer and scientist. The mystery of plant naming continues.

The specific name hyacinthoides means resembling a hyacinth – referring to the large creamy-white flowers with their recurved, thread-like flower segments.

In my garden

What is most striking about these plants are their long, linear leaves, often mottled with light green contrasting horizontal markings. Their flowers do not last for very long. It is nonetheless interesting watching them develop. The following pictures were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park:

Still green and tightly bound

 

Opening up

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AFRICAN GREEN PIGEONS

I first noticed African Green Pigeons (Treron calvus) in our garden in 2004, when a few of them were barely visible in the fig tree. It was only then that I realised that the odd croaks, wails and whinnying calls I had been hearing for a while was theirs.

They mainly eat fruit and so are quite at home in the fig tree – yet, thanks to their cryptically coloured plumage that effectively camouflages them among the leaves, they are notoriously difficult to spot while they clamber around on the branches in the canopy of the tree. While they forage, they often hang upside down or flap their wings to keep their balance. I have never seen one coming down to the ground in my garden, although I have spotted them on bushes almost at ground level in other parts of town – as well as in the Kruger National Park!

When they emerge from the foliage you can truly appreciate their beautiful colouring: the upperparts are greyish green to yellowish green and the thighs are yellow with mauve patches on the top of the wing.

Their bills are whitish with a red cere. Their feet are also a reddish colour. I find their blue eyes to be most striking.

They are gregarious birds and although I seldom see more than a few at a time, if there is a sudden loud noise (such as a large vehicle rumbling past) it is amazing to see well over thirty birds flying away from the tree at once! Their flight is fast and direct as they generally head towards the Erythrina trees at the back of the garden. They can sometimes be seeing sunning themselves there on a chilly winter morning.

CHAMELEONS

This wire sculpture is just about the closest we can get to see a chameleon these days.

To the delight of our children, they were fairly common in our garden when we first arrived. We would see them making their way through the shrubs and dense bushes, and watched in fascination as they changed colour or caught an insect with their incredibly long tongues. Their separately mobile eyes were a marvel to observe too.

I like to think of our garden as being environmentally sound: we use no insecticides or even fertilizers; there is an abundance of indigenous trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers; plenty of natural cover; a ‘wild’ section which is seldom touched; and water is available at a variety of heights. Still, we have not seen a chameleon here for years.

The Eastern Cape Dwarf Chameleons (Bradypodion ventrale) seems to have disappeared, although I am told they are still around – if one knows where to look.

JANUARY 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

While there is nothing physical we can do about the drought, I have entered 2018 with the feeling that this is the year of renewal. There is a hint of it on the political front and even greater evidence in our garden – after some rain fell at last a few days ago! It is amazing how quickly the grass and trees revive after even a little rainfall. There is no more rain in the short-term forecast, so we rejoice with every drop that falls!

From having watched parent birds gathering food in their beaks to deliver to their respective offspring at the beginning of the month, I now see the young birds being fed at or near the feeding station: an insatiable Fork-tailed Drongo chick received titbits even as the last light of the day was fading.

A pair of Fiscal Shrikes have been hard-pressed feeding their youngster emitting cries that in any language would be akin to “More! I want some more!” whilst flapping its wings in the sort of helpless gesture that would melt the hardest of hearts.

The Common Starlings have obviously bred successfully, for I recently counted eleven of their youngsters having running battles with other birds – including their parents – on the feeding tray; the Blackcollared Barbets have brought a youngster across to feed itself from the cut apples; and a few spotty youngsters have been left to fend for themselves by their parental Olive Thrushes.

The floor outside our front door is awash with droppings from the Whiterumped Swifts that usurped the mud nest so beautifully constructed by the Lesserstriped Swallows last season. Since this ‘house grab’ I have despaired of the latter for their new nest, rebuilt on the foundations of a previous one at the side of the house, collapsed early in November. I cannot guess where they have been finding a ready supply of mud but, to my immense joy, they are rebuilding that nest again – beak of mud by beak of mud, truly a sign of renewal!

My January bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Saw-wing
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redfaced Mousebird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite

MIST CATCHER

Many years ago, more than I care to count, one of the young girls I taught gave me a dream catcher that she had made for me. It was a parting gift to protect me from bad dreams – and it would surprise her if she knew I still had it!

I was reminded of this earlier in the week when we woke to a thick mist – in typical fashion, this meant a scorching day ahead – that left tiny droplets of water on leaves for that short while before everything was sucked up by the sun. I saw this mist catcher … capturing the fine moisture in the mist just as dream catchers capture the ethereal dreams.

EVERY BALLOON HAS ITS DAY

Strong winds recently brought a strange looking object bobbing from one of the tall branches of a tree – too high to see properly amid the foliage. A few days later another gusty wind swept it down to catch in the Cape Honeysuckle hedge.

Picture a happy gathering celebrating the imminent arrival of, or the actual arrival of, a baby girl. There were drinks, eats, gifts and decorations galore. The mood was light, happy, anticipatory, joyful … then the wind gusted through the garden sending table cloths flapping, flower arrangements toppling over and scattering paper serviettes across the veranda and onto the lawn. Guests gathered what they could in a flurry of movement and made to move indoors.

A particularly strong gust of wind tugged and played with the bunting and pulled at the balloons bobbing about in clusters. Some popped and hung limply from their strings.  Others were untied to be brought inside. There was one particularly tough one that bounced and strained at the end of its long thread. The wind did its best to tug at the balloon and pulled it this way and that. The balloon flew up and circled down, twisting and turning as it did so. At last someone came to rescue it as it was one of the most beautiful there, a special one that could adorn the crib of the new-born for some time perhaps or cheer up a corner of the lounge as the young couple awaited the arrival of their daughter.

Too late! Before the fingers of the would-be rescuer could grasp the string, the wind tugged it free and the balloon floated ever higher until it blew over the tops of the trees and followed the unseen currents of the sky. It crossed houses and gardens, frightened a few birds as it went, nearly got caught on the power lines and teasingly caught the attention of children way below and far away from the party. It got battered and bashed against trees and bushes and sank ever lower as the wind lost its breath … and eventually landed in our garden!

Balloons lend a festive air to birthday parties and celebrations of every other kind. They were commonly made from rubber and are now also manufactured from latex and foil. Apart from blowing them up by breathing into them – hard work for some – they can also be filled with helium. Every balloon that goes up must come down somewhere.

BEATING THE HEAT

With the temperature rising towards 38°C it was not surprising to find the bird baths in our garden being well attended. During one of the quieter moments I watched a Black-eyed Bulbul first considering and then taking the plunge.

The water looks tempting

Perhaps I’ll go in on this side

Nose dive!

What a splash!

Look at me!

That was good!