When is a goose-like bird not a goose? When it is a South African Shelduck (Tadorna cana), which looks remarkably like a goose at first glance – particularly when in flight where they could easily be confused with Egyptian Geese. The ‘shel’ of shelduck originates from the Middle-English sheld meaning ‘pied’ – a reference to their plumage. Tadorna is the French word for ‘shelduck’ while cana refers to the greyness of the head. It is the males who sport the grey head and females the white. Both sexes have chestnut bodies marked with black, white and green.

They are fairly commonly found at inland dams and rivers. These ones were photographed at the Hapoor waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park. They eat algae and crustaceans in the water and can also be seen in farmlands where grain crops are grown.

These birds form long-term pair-bond and tend to gather in large flocks to moult after breeding.

South African Shelduck




As we start peering towards the end of winter, it is appropriate to introduce the slender, rather graceful member of the Erythrina family in South Africa: the Erythrina humeana, commonly known  as the Dwarf Coral Tree. This specimen in Kew Gardens still retains the former name for it: Dwarf Kafferboom, a name now considered offensive in this country. I am nonetheless interested that they have used the Afrikaans spelling instead of the English form, Kaffirboom. Well, ‘boom’ is Afrikaans anyway (meaning ‘tree’), so why not.

This attractive plant grows from the Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga into Swaziland and Mozambique. They flower in summer, bearing leaves at the same time – unlike Erythrina caffra and Erythrina lysistemon, for example. The latter two flower from winter to early spring, when the trees tend to be leafless. The beautiful scarlet flowers are long-lasting as they usually appear from about September to April. The specimen below grows on a pavement in a nearby suburb of our town.



I usually scatter crushed mealies on the ground for the doves and pigeons to eat and fill this hanging feeder with the finer seeds for the smaller birds to feed on. Thus was the order for many months. The Laughing Doves became dissatisfied with this arrangement. Having tasted the smaller seeds that are inevitably dropped by the weavers – really messy eaters – as well as the Streaky-headed Seedeaters, they wanted more. They wanted to get to the source of this tasty food. Several tried and failed to get a perch on this hanging feeder. Where there’s a will there is a way, however and their persistence paid off in the end.

This Laughing Dove launched itself off a nearby branch and, after missing its footing more than once, got a grip and began pecking away. As it tips the feeder this way and that more fine seed falls out, to the delight of the other doves below. Later in the day there were actually three Laughing Doves on the feeder – not for long at a time though. I think the third one is one too many and gets bumped off its perch! The willpower or determination of these doves to achieve their goal, no matter how difficult it is, has proved to be a good example of this proverb that has been in use since the 1600s.


When we describe someone as being the bee’s knees we are paying them a compliment because this phrase means of ‘excellent quality’. Some sources point to the origin relating to the pollen collected by bees as they flit from flower to flower – and we all know the end result will be honey, which is good.

So, someone who is admired for having certain qualities or for having achieved something significant may be referred to as the bee’s knees. This is the meaning that has been in use since the 1920s.

Funnily enough, when the bee’s knees was first recorded in the late 18th century, it meant ‘something very small and insignificant’. Well, bees may be small but we have all been made aware of how very significant they are in our lives!

NOTE: Click on a photograph of you wish to see a larger view.


Serendipity: an unplanned, fortunate discovery.

Serendipitous: occurring or discovered by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

This is what happened today: two friends and I were admiring the flowers blooming in a nearby indigenous garden. Among them were a variety of pelargoniums in different colours and sporting different patterns on the petals as well as their leaves. We briefly discussed the very early cultivation of these flowers and how they have been developed and domesticated over the centuries to make them such a popular summer bloom all over Europe and in parts of the United States – most originating from our humble indigenous stock. I didn’t have my camera with me so will show you two examples from a previous post.

Once home, I settled down to read the blogs I follow – this is where serendipity comes in to play – and the first to appear was one I look forward to reading each week. This time the topic was none other than pelargoniums! It was as if Carol had been pre-empting our morning discussion. It is a wonderful article which I urge you to read if you are interested in these flowers:

Soon after, I received this photograph from a friend of her dear departed dog, Dusty, who enjoyed picking a flower now and then.

Now, if that was not serendipitous enough, a belated birthday present arrived for me:

What a happy, pelargonium-filled day it has been!


Why would the South African National Parks name an ablution block next to the coast Oordeelsdag?

This is an Afrikaans word meaning: Judgement Day or Doomsday.

At first it was an ‘ordeal’ to visit this particular ablution block which, although very clean, stank to high heaven. The odour was so dreadful that most campers avoided it by walking to the block at the far end of the camp site. A day or two later the source of the smell was revealed: the rotting carcass of a seal that had become wedged between the rocks! Once that was removed, the whole camping area was cleansed of the discernible sewage smell and this particular ablution block became well used by those camping close by.

It still doesn’t explain the peculiar name.

Do you have any ideas to share?