TO FALL OFF ONE’S PERCH

To fall off one’s perch is a rather irreverent way of saying that someone has died. It is a rather old-fashioned idiom which, believe it or not, is meant to be humorous. Another meaning I came across for it is to fail, or suffer damage to your status or position.

I have mentioned before that during this drought a number of doves especially seem to have died inexplicably not only in our garden, but in neighbouring ones. Someone suggested a cat may be responsible, having punctured the birds with its claws. It is awful to think of birds dying a slow death as a result. There has been no evidence on any of these birds of obvious marks of an attack or of the deaths resulting from them having flown into the windows.

Yesterday morning, we were enjoying a cup of tea in the shade of the trees on the lawn while watching a few Bronze Mannikins enjoying a meal at one of the feeders, when we heard the sound of something falling through the branches of the tree in front of us. I looked up, expecting to see a twig, and was taken aback by the sight of a bundle of what looked like fur. The object dropped with a thud onto the ground – it was a Speckled Mousebird. It landed on its back, its claws twitched briefly and the long tail feathers lifted slightly then fell back. The bird was dead.

It had literally fallen off its perch! We scanned the tree and the sky for any sign of a snake or a raptor – nothing. Again, there is not a mark on the bird to suggest it had been attacked by anything untoward. Intriguingly, there were no other mousebirds in the area – they are most frequently seen in groups. According to https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/bird-life-expectancy-speckled-mousebird the lifespan of a Speckled Mousebird is eight to ten years. Had this bird simply reached the end of its life?

When I went out this morning, thinking to dispose of the dead bird, all signs of it had disappeared! What took it away during the night? I see no feathers or any sign of it having been eaten on the spot. A trail cam would have been useful.

BOTTOMS UP

“Bottoms up!” is a phrase sometimes used as a toast instead of “Cheers!” that friends say to each other before drinking beer, for example. While these Egyptian Geese were not indulging in anything alcoholic, they may well have uttered this phrase to their companions.

As with drinking, this would have encouraged the four of them to dabble together in order to investigate what lay under the shallow water. Their foraging would have included looking for larvae and pupae, plant material, snails and perhaps some fresh water crabs.

There is always one who decides not to ‘play that game’ anymore.

And often someone will be standing on the side-lines hoping to be invited.

CONTEMPLATION

I associate herons with patience – lots of it – and elegance. Look at this Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala) standing at the edge of a waterhole. Ardea = heron, whilst melancephala = black-headed in Greek.

It barely moves for minutes at a time and then one has to be observing very closely to even notice the change in stance. Even its wing beats are slow to watch and it stalks its prey with a sense of deliberate action, as if each step is carefully considered before the next one is made; it makes no ‘wasted’ movements and appears to be languid in nature – until it spots a potential prey for then it seems to ‘freeze’ before striking it powerfully with its dagger-like beak and impaling or seizing it.

It makes a thorough job of preening itself too.

PERSISTENCE COULDN’T PAY OFF

Persistence describes continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. An interesting meme I came across the other day reads a river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence. We are frequently told that willpower/persistence pays off in the end. Sometimes it doesn’t – and there are times when it simply cannot. While a Speckled Pigeon dominates the photographs below – as it dominates Morrigan’s feeder meant for smaller birds – I want you to observe the actions of the Speckled Mousebird in the background.

Here you can see the Speckled Mousebird eyeing the end of the string tied to Morrigan’s bench feeder, which has tilted under the weight of the Speckled Pigeon. A Laughing Dove is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to eat any grains that the larger bird may have left. The Speckled Mousebird is not interested in food, but the tuft of string.

Even though there has been no rain here for months, leaving the surrounding country looking dry and no fresh shoots of leaves on the trees, spring is in the air and breeding must happen willy-nilly. It is nesting time. The only Speckled Mousebird nest I have seen was built high up in the Natal fig tree a few years ago. Mousebirds build an untidy nest from grass and stems and then line it with softer materials – I have watched them break off fronds of new leaves, collect feathers and even bits of paper for this purpose before.  I am not sure if the string was intended for the construction or lining of the nest.

I have to tell you that the tufted end of this string has softened over the years as a result of being pulled and tugged at by weavers especially. Anyway, this mousebird was going to give it a try. It got a strand in its beak and pulled and pulled and pulled.

It was hard work. We all know that persistence is the key to success and this mousebird had plenty to spare. I watched it working at the string for nearly fifteen minutes, tugging it this way and that without success.

I haven’t seen it back at the string, so assume it found more suitable material with which to either build or line its nest.

ELEPHANTS UP CLOSE

You already know we have to be wary of the elephant in the room [an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about] and you may even have been advised to eat the elephant one bite at a time when dealing with a stressful situation or are facing a number of obstacles.

Let us take a much closer than usual look at elephants, starting with the face. This elephant has covered its face with mud, a form of protection against the sun as well as parasites:

Elephants have incredibly long eyelashes – up to 12cm long:

The large surface of their ears can help to keep the elephants cool:

While it is difficult for the average person to imagine an elephant sans tusks, elongated incisors, many elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park do not have them:

Elephants drink water through their trunks:

Their tails are hairy:

African elephants have wrinkled skin:

 

A SPRINGBOK …

… that is no more.

The SADF livery introduced in 1958 was a leaping Springbok inside the outline of the Castle of Good Hope. It has been replaced with a golden African Fish Eagle clutching a laurel wreath in its claws. On it is the motto PER ASPERA AS ASTRA – “Through Adversity to the Stars”.

CHEVAL-DE-FRISE

Who would have thought that events from the 1600s would give rise to a name still used today as part of a defence mechanism?

A cheval-de-frise was originally a movable obstacle covered with spikes attached to a wooden frame that was used to obstruct cavalry. Such objects were apparently first used in the Siege of Groningen that took place in 1672 during the Franco-Dutch war, when that city was besieged by the troops of the Bishop of Münster, Bernhard von Galen, who wished to push deeper into the Netherlands. The Frisians lacked cavalry and so the name is a French reference to these ‘Friesland horses’. The victory is still celebrated as a local holiday in the city of Groningen on 28th August each year.

These days the term cheval-de-frise can also refer to a row of nails, spikes, barbed wire, or broken glass set on top of a wall or fence to deter intruders. This is a typical modern version:

While this version would not fit into the above description, it is also a form of deterrent for ‘intruders’, only in this case these electrified strands have been employed around certain waterholes in the Addo Elephant National Park to prevent the domination of the water by elephants so that other animals can get a fair chance to drink too.

This alpaca, whose job it is to protect sheep, is safely behind another kind of razor wire:

Sometimes spiked railings such as these are used as a deterrent:

These spikes appear to be more decorative than useful:

Here is a serious obstacle to deter intruders!

Sadly, this type of cheval-de-fries is becoming all too common around both businesses and homes: