A COMMUNITY PULLS TOGETHER

A strong Berg wind has blown today, shaking trees, creating eddies of dry leaves on the ground – and fanning a veld fire, funnelling the thick smoke down into the valley to smother our town.

The smoke grew thicker as the wind strengthened and the fire spread across the hills, threatening the hospital, a retirement centre and other buildings. A local school evacuated their scholars when the fire came too close.

It does not take long for a fire to eat its way through tinder dry grass and drought-stricken vegetation when there is a strong wind to egg it on. In no time at all the flames crossed the disused railway line and the smoke billowed upward.

The extent of the fire and the smoke attracted dozens of onlookers – we haven’t experienced such a veld fire so close at hand for a season or so.

Even though all the municipal fire trucks had been fully deployed they couldn’t fill the gaps. This is where the community pulled together. The university bowser came to assist.

Other assistance came from schools, the army base, a neighbouring municipality and even a nearby game reserve.

So much water has been used to fight a blaze when there is already so little to spare.

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OCTOBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

Spring has definitely sprung once the cuckoos come to town. Klaas’ Cuckoo was an early arrival and has now been joined by both the Diederik Cuckoo and the Redchested Cuckoo – aptly known as the Piet-my-vrou here, for that is exactly what its call sounds like!

The Olive Thrushes have been productive, filling the garden with their spotted offspring that quickly progress from being fed in their nests to being fed on the ground to foraging for food on their own. One such youngster had the temerity to challenge a Cape Weaver at the feeding tray by opening its beak wide and pushing its head forwards in what probably looked like a menacing manner. In response the Cape Weaver fluffed up its feathers (probably to increase its apparent size) and took a step forward, causing the young upstart to back down.

Olive Thrush

A Blackcollared Barbet swooped to the ground to swipe a chunk of apple being pecked at by another young Olive Thrush. The latter watched helplessly from the side as its tasty meal was gobbled up. Once the coast was clear, it moved in to wrestle with the apple skin that had been left behind. The Fork-tailed Drongos are adept at this type of stealing.

Forktailed Drongo

The ringed Fiscal Shrike I have introduced to you before has been a regular visitor to the feeding table, gobbling up food before flying off with tit-bits in its beak in the direction of its nest, which is somewhere in the back garden. During the course of this month it has advanced to carrying food to a youngster squeaking from a tangle of branches a little distance from the feeding table.

I heard a cacophony outside my bedroom window on the last morning of the month. Looking down on the tree canopy below, I could hear the distress calls of a Cape Robin and saw an Olive Thrush darting in and out of the leaves, along with a Fork-tailed Drongo and a couple of Village Weavers. When the birds club together like this there must be trouble brewing. I went out to investigate and saw a very long snake – probably a Boomslang – weaving its way through the canopy. It was far too quick for me to photograph, so I watched it being pursued by the avian air force until it slithered into the hedge.

Birds lead a tough life. Our resident Lesser-striped Swallows have had a torrid time too, having to defend their nest against a bevy of White-rumped Swifts intent on usurping their nest to breed their own offspring. So far the swallows are winning.

Lesserstriped Swallow

My October bird list is:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Brimstone Canary
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 Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red Bishop
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

MY GRANNY’S ALBUM:4

Two more images from my Grandmother’s album.

This is dated 2.6.1903.

Do you remember the Mother Goose rhyme, There was an Old Woman who lived in a Shoe?

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread;
And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
The next picture brings it to mind – note the wonderful detail.

SPITTLE BUGS

Mysterious damp patches on our dry garden path led me to look upwards to find the cause: water – no; sap – none that I could see; and then at last, having been dripped on, I spotted the culprits – several spittle-like masses of white foam on the twigs of the tree overhanging the path. As children we used to find these on grass and leaves and knew it by the name ‘cuckoo-spit’.

The bubbles were far too high up for a closer look – hooray for a camera!

spittle bug

The spittle, or viscous liquid, is excreted by the spittle bug nymph (family Cercopidae) as it feeds on plant juices, forming a protective foamy ‘home’ for the bug. They cannot survive in dry, sunshine conditions, so the foam keeps the nymphs cool for as long as they are feeding. As you can see from these images, more than one nymph can be found huddling together within the spittle mass.

spittle bug

spittle bug

The adults are known as froghoppers and they leave the foamy shelter only when they are ready to cast their skin for the last time.