At this time of the year, when the bitingly cold weather sets in, aloes become a magnet for sunbirds. Here a Greater Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris afer) shows off his best side before getting down to the business of extracting nectar from this aloe flowerhead.

This pose is the best for showing off his fine livery.

By now, feeling a little camera-shy, he turns his back on us – the glorious metallic sheen shines in the weak sunlight.



This iconic Aloe ferox grows on its own in our front garden. The leaves are broad and dull green, while the dry leaves remain on the lower parts of the stem.

The bright orange-red flowers provide a cheery sight in the winter garden.

As you can see, they open from the bottom up.

They are a magnet for bees.


There is no dramatic recolouring of the landscape here. Instead, autumn in our garden is heralded by the subtle fullness of the Natal figs:

These attract African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings by the dozen:

The aloes are swelling in readiness for their winter blooming:

Black-eyed Susan creepers twine around other plants to provide bright colour:

Other splashes of colour come from the plumbago:

Canary creepers and Cape Honeysuckle:

While self-sown butternuts ripen on their vines.

In these years of severe water shortages, I bless the indigenous plants that simply ‘get on with it’ and do their best.


May has been a quiet birding month in our garden. The tall trees block out the rising sun and leave the lawn in shade until nearly lunch time now. The regular flock of Laughing Doves gather in the top of the Erythrina caffra and the Cape Chestnut, catching the warming rays of the sun; only coming down to feed on the seed I have put out once the day has warmed up somewhat – that seems counter-intuitive to me, but they must have their reason for doing so.

Village Weavers, now in their non-breeding plumage, tend to only visit the garden in the afternoons – appearing to be more interested in what the flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle have to offer than the seeds still lying un-pecked at on the lawn. Perhaps they have found a sunnier source of food elsewhere to satisfy their morning hunger.

The aloes are in bloom though – and what a wonderful show they make.

They regularly attract the attention of Black Sunbirds and the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds. A Malachite Sunbird also pays them a fleeting visit now and then. Shown below is a Greater Double-collared Sunbird feeding on a Cape Honeysuckle flower this morning:

Some African Green Pigeons make us aware of their presence in the fig tree now and then, even though there is nothing to eat there at this time of the year. I have always been rather puzzled where these birds move to once the fig tree is bare. I happened to be on the campus of a school at the bottom of the hill late yesterday afternoon when I counted over twenty African Green Pigeons coming to roost in the oak trees growing there!

What has been exciting is the regular appearance of at least one Knysna Lourie – sometimes two – that moves effortlessly through our treed garden. We have become used to some of its variety of calls that alert us to its presence and I watched in awe this morning as it dropped down to drink copiously from the bird bath situated below my study window.

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Crowned Plover
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver


I often mention the beauty of aloes at this time of the year when their bright flowers stand out in the winter drabness of the veld. This was so evident along the road to Port Alfred on Tuesday. The Aloe arborescens (Krantz Aloe) are looking particularly attractive. We have some growing in the garden.


They grow taller by the year and are particularly lovely when the sun shines on the tubular, reddish flowers.


The Aloe ferox is also coming into bloom.


As are other aloes growing around the swimming pool. At the moment they look like this:


And will look like this within a few weeks:



This Aloe tenuior (also known as a Fence Aloe) is the first of the aloes in my garden to come into full bloom. The name ‘tenuior‘ means ‘very thin’ and refers to their thin rambling stems.

Aloe tenuior

It is an aloe which occurs naturally in the Eastern Cape and forms large clumps topped with masses of delicate yellow or red flowers. The sprawling yellow ones spilling over the rocky terrace have still to bloom, but this one is blooming almost at ground level from a length of stem that broke off the original plant sometime during last summer. I simply stuck it into the ground and hoped for the best.