Wedged into a crack between the bricks, tucked away, half hidden in the shadows – until the sun moves along its arc to highlight a little miracle: lizard eggs.




This is one of several abandoned dwellings in the rural areas of this country: built during a time of hope from materials that were available locally. Each suggests a story of hardship as a family set out to tame a wild area enough to earn a living. Tales of hardship abound in the early diaries and letters of the people who settled in this area as they contended with unfamiliar landscapes, unfamiliar plants, diseases, the drought, wars, pestilence, loneliness, rustling, and the ever-present need for water.

This fairly substantial building consists of a combination of local sandstone and sun-baked clay bricks. Whether the depression in the foreground was a dam once or has been made since, it is hard to tell. Every time we pass this building, I think of the people who once inhabited those rooms; who set about their daily tasks with the grim determination of those who have to be self-sufficient because there is no other way. Why did they leave? Did the burden become too great? Did the youngsters turn their back on this kind of lifestyle to seek their fortunes in the developing towns? For whatever reason, time has taken its toll as the buildings are taken over by grass, trees and prickly pears.


The drought is not broken, a few millimeters of light drizzle cannot do that, but the air smells sweet and delightfully herby, the frog chorus entertained us during the night for the first time in months, and this morning we have been greeted by a magnificent sunrise!


Where have all the flowers gone

Long time passing

Where have all the flowers gone

Long time ago

The delicate flowers of the Opium Poppy barely lasted, their petals torn asunder by hot winds and the stems left bowed and their leaves shrivelled by the heat and lack of rain.

Where have all the flowers gone

Young girls have picked them, every one

There never was a chance to pick them or even to appreciate their beauty for long. The hope is that their seeds, now lying dormant in the dry soil, will germinate and grow in a better time with gentle breezes, bright sunshine and enough moisture to keep them strong.

Words are extracts from the folk song composed by Pete Seeger in 1965.


Happily, despite the drought, our indigenous garden shows pops of colour now and then. The predominant colour that has brightened the garden over the past few weeks is the light blue of the Plumbago.


The biggest surprise though has been the pale pink blossoms showing on our Spekboom for the first time ever, even though this particular plant has been growing in the garden for about seven years or even longer.


So, those of you with ‘bloomless’ Spekboom in your gardens … there is hope after all!


First the good news: after a long saga the pair of Lesser-striped Swallows have at last managed to rear a chick. What’s more, their mud nest has survived and so they may just fit in another before it is time to leave for northern climes.

We have heard and seen a lot of the Southern Boubous this month. They have not only terrorised the Cape Robins and Amethyst Sunbirds by threatening their nests, but have become regular visitors to the feeding tray – usually arriving after the main crowd of birds have left.


The Fork-tailed Drongos are very quick off the mark when it comes to hawking insects in the air and snitching it from the beaks of other birds! This one is perched in the branches of a Cape Chestnut, its beady eyes missing nothing.

One morning, I was astounded when both a Black-eyed Bulbul and a Fork-tailed Drongo gave a short sharp warning call and the host of birds in the garden whooshed up to seek shelter in the foliage of the trees. Dead silence followed. I looked up in time to see a Booted Eagle flying low over the garden before circling round to move further up the hill. This is the first time I have recorded one from the garden.

It is interesting to watch the Black-collared Barbets feeding on the cut apples I put out. They alight on a branch above, then quickly make their way down to the apple – happy to chase away any other bird already feeding on the fruit. Unlike most other birds, which stab at the flesh from the centre of the apples, the barbets bite into them from the side. Their beaks are obviously strong enough to bite through the skin – which makes it easier for other birds to get to what is left of the flesh later.

A young Black-eyed Bulbul (now known as the Dark-capped Bulbul) has also been a regular visitor, gaining confidence with each visit until it too is willing to snap at a weaver or thrush wanting to share fruit at the same time.


It is always a joy to watch a flock of Cape White-eyes working their way through the foliage or splashing in the bird baths.


There have been several Olive Thrushes chasing each other around the garden this month, including a couple of youngsters sporting their spotty feathers.

The Bronze Manikins prefer to eat the seed from this feeder hanging in the Kei Apple tree. They occasionally return to glean fine seed from the ground once the doves have left.

Here a Village Weaver on the left and a Cape Weaver are eyeing each other with suspicion.

This Spectacled Weaver seems to be saying “Hurry up! I’m tired of waiting!”

My January bird list:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Barn Swallow
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Booted Eagle
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-billed Kite
Yellow Weaver

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger image.


One of the most delightful creatures to happen upon in the veld is the Cape Ground Squirrel, (Xerus inauris) a rodent which is endemic to South Africa. Their antics are wonderful to watch. They are predominantly herbivorous, feeding mainly on roots and bulbs excavated with claws and front teeth, although this one  is nibbling on grass seeds.

NOTE: Please click on the photograph if you want a larger image.