WINTER GARDEN

This is not a flowery time of the year – drought and chilly weather have made sure of that – so what is there of interest to see in my garden at the moment? My nine-year-old granddaughter took me on a tour.

We saw tiny weeds pushing their way through cracks in the bricks surrounding our swimming pool.

A ‘rumpled’ feather of a Laughing Dove on what passes for the lawn.

A newly unfurled leaf on the Delicious Monster.

Another feather among the dried leaves that crunch under foot.

Knobs on the trunk of the Erythrina caffra.

An interesting looking lemon.

Pegs on the wash line.

Which goes to show that there is always something interesting to see if we are willing to look!

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JULY 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

Welcome visitors passing through the garden this month have included a Southern Boubou calling loudly below my bedroom window; Crowned Plovers flying raucously overhead; a few Southern Masked Weavers; and a pair of Common Waxbills. None have stayed for long. I was particularly pleased when a Cape Wagtail entertained me over tea while it worked its way across the pipes in the pool: up and down it would go until the water became too deep, then it would fly back to the edge and start all over again – picking at tiny insects from either the water or on the pipe. This is a photograph taken with my phone from some distance away – for the record!

While we may still be feeling the chill of winter, the birds have already sensed and are preparing for the spring that is still a way off: a pair of Black-headed Orioles call to each other from tree tops across the garden, swooping down now and then to sip at the nectar feeder.

Many Village Weavers are sloughing off their winter tweeds and sprouting their bright yellow breeding plumage, while they fill the shrubbery with their cheerfully lolling swizzling songs or chase each other off the bird feeder.

A pair of Fork-tailed Drongos as well as a pair of Olive Thrushes have been chasing their prospective partners all over the garden for days. An Olive Thrush has been collecting nesting material lately.

Nesting is also on the mind of a Cape Weaver that has been carrying strips of grass towards an as yet undiscovered location in the back garden. For the birds then, spring is definitely in the air!

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Crowned Plover
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

SONGBIRDS OF VENDA

Venda, which used to be an independent homeland, forms part of the Limpopo Province, close to the border with Zimbabwe. In 1985 this series of stamps was issued to highlight some of the songbirds that occur there. They are of special interest to me as two of them occur in my Eastern Cape Garden – much further south – while two others are similar to what occurs here.

Let us look at them on this first day cover from left to right:

The Heuglin’s Robin (Cossypha heuglini ), now known as the White-browed Robin-Chat, is restricted to the more tropical regions of southern Africa, preferring forests and dense bush, especially near water. They often mimic the alarm calls of other birds. It is the Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra) that occurs in my garden. It too prefers thickets and forest margins and is an accomplished mimic of other bird calls.

The Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus) is also a common visitor to my garden, where it mainly eats fruit as well as insects. A pair will sing in a synchronised duet whilst facing each other and bobbing their heads up and down.

The melodious notes of the Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus larvatus) can usually be heard long before this striking yellow bird swoops down from the tree tops to eat fruit or drink from the nectar feeder. They are mostly seen in the upper branches of trees and tall bushes.

We do not get the Kurrichane Thrush (Turdus libonyana) here. It prefers woodland regions in the northern parts of South Africa. It makes tuneful whistling notes and is also a mimic. Instead, we host the Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus) which enjoys the many trees and bushes grown here. It makes a variety of flute-like notes which are very pleasant to listen to.

AUTUMNAL TREAT

Fewer Cape Gooseberry bushes than usual have appeared in our garden this year – probably as a result of the long drought – and they seem to be producing fewer berries. Nonetheless, I have been eyeing the ripening fruits with anticipation, realising that I would need to take a share before the birds make off with the rest. My harvest was a modest cup and a half picked in the fading light of day.

Hulled, the bounty looked so beautiful that I had to resist eating them raw.

I had other plans for them though – made on the spur of the moment or I may have picked more and waited to add to my collection over a couple of days. I added sugar and water.

They bubbled away on the stove … and bubbled … while I stirred and wondered whether or not I had added too much water.

Eventually they all reduced to this:

Even though the resulting jam doesn’t even fill a jar, it is very tasty – and all the more so for it comes from the garden. A lovely autumnal treat.

CRASSULA OVATA

The densely-leaved robust succulent shrubs, Crassula ovata, thrive in the sunnier spots of our garden and provide a good screen around part of our swimming pool. Their stout, gnarled stems soon give the impression that mature plants are very old. The flowers in this picture are past their prime and have turned brown.

Note the smaller, self-seeded plants growing at the base, which illustrate how well these plants propagate from broken off branches, or even leaves, stuck into the ground. The ball-shaped clusters of star-shaped flowers look attractive both from a distance and from close up.

They attract a variety of insects such as bees, wasps, flies, beetles and butterflies.

The flowers develop into small capsules, each holding many tiny seeds, which are dispersed by the wind. Bryan, the angulate tortoise that has found a home in our garden, sometimes munches on the lower leaves, which are edged with red, as these plants grow in full sun – ones in more shady areas do not.

For newer readers, here is a picture of Bryan, the angulate tortoise which has been living in our garden for some years now.

SONY DSC

ALOE FEROX

This iconic Aloe ferox grows on its own in our front garden. The leaves are broad and dull green, while the dry leaves remain on the lower parts of the stem.

The bright orange-red flowers provide a cheery sight in the winter garden.

As you can see, they open from the bottom up.

They are a magnet for bees.