GLADIOLUS DALENII

Newly greened grass stretched either side of the road I was travelling along – a glorious sight after such a long period of shades of brown. When my attention was drawn to a small splash of red – I had to stop for a closer look.

The long bracts of hooded-shaped flowers and the fan of sword-shaped leaves immediately identified it as one of our indigenous Gladiolus species. As I neared it, I was assailed by the memory of swathes of these plants growing in a patch of garden on the farm where I grew up. My mother used to collect bulbs from around the farm to plant in the garden – for which there was never enough water – and over the years these multiplied to provide a glorious show of flowers. This is the Gladiolus dalenii, also known as the Parrot Gladiolus or – a name I am unfamiliar with – the Natal Lily.

Although this was the only specimen I could see in the area, this plant generally thrives in grasslands throughout the eastern parts of South Africa.

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WHAT FLOWER IS THIS?

What does this flower look like to you? I have seen examples of it elsewhere too far away to photograph so ‘nabbed’ this one recently – certain that I would at last find out its identity. I have looked through my collection of volumes on indigenous flowers to no avail; I have scanned Google Images to no avail – yet this is such a familiar looking flower!

Granted, this specimen was growing next to the road near a place where I have seen garden rubbish dumped before. Evening primroses are not indigenous to South Africa – and I doubt if I have ever knowingly seen one – but are the only flowers I can find so far that match the size, shape and general look of this plant.

Put your sleuthing hats on and help to satisfy my curiosity. If you know what it is, please let me know.

PORTRAIT OF A CAPE ROBIN-CHAT

It is inevitable that at this time of the year British robins appear on blogs and feature on Christmas cards – I saw a few packs of the latter in the supermarket this morning. As lovely as these birds are, I think it is an opportune moment to show off the Cape Robin-chats that grace many Eastern Cape gardens at this time of the year. This one obligingly posed for me over the weekend.

The Cape Robin-chat (Cossypha caffra) prefers to forage in the proximity of cover, and  is not often seen out in the open – unless it is flitting from one position in the garden to another – although they can become fairly confiding after a while. I frequently see one, or a pair, picking up tit-bits at the base of the tree where the feeding tray is and love to observe them following a devious route (from their perspective) to their nest well hidden low down in the shrubbery.  Here it is looking for a tasty treat on the ground.

As you can see, its orange breast and grey belly are offset by white eyebrows. The black band across its face resembles a mask when you look at it face-on. There are a number of fairly prominent positions from where these birds sing very melodiously – which they do from very early in the morning.

Note the curious look in its eye and the subtle beauty of the orange hue of the tail feathers – the latter seen to better advantage in the first picture.

WHIMSICAL MOMENTS (1): A CUP OF CAPPUCCINO

WHIMSICAL MOMENTS (1): A CUP OF CAPPUCCINO

Sally looked up from her dressing table and counted twenty-five Laughing Doves perched on the thick telephone cable than ran more or less above the boundary between her garden cottage and the house next door. It was only half past six and already the sun highlighted the red cotoneaster berries weighing down the branches growing above the clipped hedge on her neighbour’s side. Her landlord didn’t believe in close-cropped hedges or lawn edges. Mr. Greyling didn’t believe in clearing gutters of leaves either – the Olive Thrushes scratched some of the accumulated debris overboard every now and then instead.

The doves disappeared in a flutter only to be replaced by a Black-collared Barbet, a Fork-tailed Drongo and a Village Weaver – all perched equidistant from each other. Sally listened to the deep-throated cooing of the Rock Pigeons on the roof of the main house and the cheeky calls of the Black-eyed Bulbuls feasting on the neighbour’s figs. She wondered briefly if the Sleets ever managed to salvage enough intact figs after the visitations from Red-winged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds and Cape White-eyes.

She usually enjoyed the lush wildness of the Greyling’s garden and was particularly fond of watching the birds from the patch of lawn outside her ramshackle cottage. She felt impatient this morning though as she twisted her hair into a pony tail, checked her camera bag and slipped in her notebook and binoculars. Sally checked her watch for the umpteenth time: there was still an hour before Karin would be ready!

“I’ll buy the snacks and drinks for our picnic lunch now to save time.” Sally laughed at herself for talking aloud. “What a twit!” She admonished herself as she locked the door and pressed the remote to open the gate. If only Karin was an early riser too! Then they could have left for the Addo Elephant National Park at six. Still, at least she had agreed to come and Sally knew it would be much more fun to have company there for the day.

She frowned at the construction work which blocked off swathes of parking bays outside the supermarket. This meant she had to park some distance from the entrance. She looked at the almost completed shop on the opposite side. Rumours had abounded for weeks and she wondered which franchise would be moving into the new premises.

Her frown was short-lived as she could not suppress the happiness that welled up from within. Sally had a four-day break ahead of her and intended to enjoy every minute of not having to think about preparing lessons, marking, pupils, parents, or even her colleagues. She would not have her days punctuated by the shrill ring of an electric bell either! Almost skipping across the cobbled car park, Sally smiled at the three workmen, dressed in heavy boots and blue overalls, walking towards the incomplete shop behind her. Two wore yellow hard hats; the third carried a red one in his hand. All had their eyes focused on the building.

“Good morning!” Sally greeted them impulsively. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

“Be lovely if you could bring us a cup of coffee lass,” Red Hat grinned as they passed each other. The other two ignored her.

Sally stowed her shopping bags in the boot of her car. There were still fifteen minutes before she could pick Karin up. She looked at the shop being built, a smile playing around her lips. “Why not?” She looked down at the House Sparrows pecking at a mess of crumbs near her rear tyre. “I’ll give him a surprise!”

Armed with a take-away cappuccino, Sally boldly entered the construction site. Workmen swarmed all over it: on the roof, and across the floor; some were drilling holes in the walls and several were fitting what looked like ventilation piping at the rear. All wore hard hats in either yellow or white. Where was Red Hat? For the first time Sally’s bubble of happiness halted in mid-stream to a slow ‘gloop, gloop’ that barely ticked over. She clutched the warm cardboard cup tightly and, for a moment, thought of backing away and drinking it herself.

“This is a hard hat area, ‘mam. You will need to get out of here.”

Sally turned at the sound of the voice: a warm voice, a younger voice than that of the stockily built Red Hat. She looked into the curious eyes of a dark-haired young man wearing jeans, a golf-shirt emblazoned with ‘Harrowsmith Designs’ and a blue dust coat. “I’m sorry,” her tongue eventually moved. “I’ve brought coffee for the chap with a red hard hat.”

“A red hard hat? We only wear yellow and white ones here.”

“Corporate colours?” Sally’s face flushed under the scrutiny of that quizzical look. “Well, technically he wasn’t wearing it when I saw him. He was carrying it.”

“A short, stocky man with a greying beard?”

“Sounds like him.” It was half past seven; time to go. “Look, I must go. You have the coffee if you like.” She made to thrust the cup into his hands, acutely aware that her own was now shaking.

“Hold on a minute.” Gorgeous Eyes touched her fingers lightly.” Leon!” He called across to a man opening a large cardboard box. “Ask Trevor to come and collect his coffee please.”

“I really must be off.” Sally smiled awkwardly at the young man next to her. Why could she never meet such a person at work? “This was all a joke really. I don’t know the man from Adam. He isn’t expecting me to bring him coffee, but I had time on my hands and –“

“Blimey girl! You actually brought me a cup of coffee! Now there’s a special one Eric!” Red Hat/Trevor bowed slightly and let out a raucous laugh. “Better get her out of here, son.” He winked at them both.

Gorgeous Eyes touched her lightly on her back as he led the way through conduits and wiring lying on the floor. They walked together towards her car. “I’m Eric Miller,” he said casually. “You’ve made his day – and mine.”

“Who is he?” Sally halted, keys in hand.

“My Dad.”

“And why your lucky day?” She looked at him in anticipation. Those bubbles of happiness were beginning to pick up a new rhythm. He handed her a business card and a pen. “Your number please,” he smiled. “I’d like to see you again. As you can imagine, we don’t get to meet many attractive women in our industry.”

“I never had you down as someone who’d be late! You didn’t even answer your phone!” Karin snapped on her seat belt, her face like thunder. “You said half past seven! You said we’d stop at the shop on our way out and now look at the time!”

“All done and we’re ready to go!” Sally drew away slowly and nosed past two Black Crows pecking at something in the street. “Sorry about the delay, Karin. Blame it on a cup of cappuccino. Let’s enjoy the rest of the day!” She could barely hear herself speak above the roar of frothing happiness in her ears.

“What are you so happy about?” Karin looked at her friend sharply.

“Grab a muffin from the packet behind my seat and open our coffees – they’re on the floor.”

“You darling woman!” Sally knew that would mollify her friend and forestall any further awkward questions. For now they had a day in the national park to look forward to and tonight … dinner for two at The Hatless Hare!

PRETTY IN PINK

We are enjoying a wonderful display of pink blooms on the Dais cotinifolia (Pom-pon) trees dotted about our front garden. There was only one mature tree in our garden when we arrived 29 years ago – the rest are self-seeded and are doing well, growing as they do on the margin of our ‘forest’.

Linnaeus founded the genus Dais in 1764. Dais means a torch in Greek, and the genus got its name from the resemblance of the stalk and bracts holding the flowers to a torch about to be lit – a very apt description I think.

The national tree number for the Dais cotinifolia is 521. They are wonderfully low maintenance as they are indigenous to the area. These trees are fast-growing and fairly drought-resistant – I water them only when they look particularly stressed, which is not often.

NOVEMBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

What a bumper month this has been for seeing birds in our garden! The Black Cuckoo could be heard long before it was seen; I have only had glimpses of the Paradise Flycatchers – which is not surprising as our garden consists of a tangle of trees and bush. Despite their name, Common Waxbill, these birds are not common in our garden and so their presence for several days running came as a pleasant surprise. Redbilled Woodhoopoes also paid us a flying visit, although I hear them calling around the neighbourhood far more often than I see them. The solitary Red Bishop that visits every now and then remains a mystery – where does it come from and why doesn’t it invite any of its mates to the bounty of food available in the garden?

A pair of Grey-headed Sparrows come to inspect the feeding tray either very early in the morning – before the mass of assorted doves and weavers arrive – or to see what is left once the initial feeding frenzy is over. I recognise their ‘chirrups’ among the leaves well before they appear.

There must be a lot of fruit around elsewhere for the Redwinged Starlings are not as prolific as they have been. Here a female has knocked an apple off the feeding tray to peck at on the ground.

My November bird list is:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Black Cuckoo Shrike
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
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
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red Bishop
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary (Seedeater)
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow Weaver

SIGNS OF SUMMER

Daily temperatures fluctuate up and down, with more ups than downs; we have been blessed with some rain at last; there are birds aplenty in the garden … all signs that summer is moving into its seasonal space:

The promise of a feast of plums

 

The Pompon trees are coming into bloom

 

Nasturtiums brighten the dullest of places

 

As does the odd Californian poppy

 

Bold marigolds make a show

 

Swimming time

 

And we need to keep an eye out for Puffadders