ANGULATE TORTOISE

I was driving out of town yesterday when an Angulate Tortoise walking next to the road caught my eye.

angulate tortoise

It felt akin to seeing another dog that mimics the look of your own pet in a place where this is impossible. Of course, I am referring to Bryan – the Angulate Tortoise that has made our garden his home for the past couple of years. I saw him the other day, chomping at the weeds on our lawn – he is looking healthy and is clearly growing, so we should measure and weigh him before summer ends.

This one has an undamaged carapace and was walking surprisingly quickly to get out of the sun beating overhead.

angulate tortoise

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TORTOISES AT ADDO

Not to be outdone by the Cape buffalo, leopard tortoises were also out in force during our recent visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. These tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) are often called mountain tortoises from directly translating the Afrikaans name for them, bergskilpad. They grow to be the largest tortoises in South Africa, which makes the mature ones easy to spot in the veld – if they are around.

The first one we saw was in the vicinity of the Lismore Waterhole, seemingly unperturbed by the presence of so many elephants. Although we watched it closely for some time, marvelling at its size, the wise look in its eyes and the good condition of its carapace, it was only once I was studying its image on my computer that I noticed the tick on it!

leopard tortoise

Apparently it is not uncommon to find tortoises in the wild that are infested with ticks in the soft skin of their necks and upper limbs. Notice its well-developed back legs and the pigeon-toed front legs. The row of small nails helps the tortoise to manoeuvre over rocks and to walk at speed. You would be surprised to see how quickly these tortoises can move through the veld!

Another lone tortoise appeared near the road on our way to the Hapoor Waterhole.

leopard tortoise

This is not unusual for they tend to be loners except for during the mating season. That is when the males follow females for some distance and then butt them into submission. We couldn’t help wondering if this is what was happening near Ghwarrie. We watched these two pushing each other for about ten minutes – and they had been at it before we arrived. It could equally have been an example of competitor ramming, especially as these ones were head-to-head.

leopard tortoises

leopard tortoises

leopard tortoises

By the end of our trip we had lost count of the number of leopard tortoises we had seen – some striding ahead purposefully, others munching grass contentedly, and yet others ambling across the road with the confidence of knowing that they have right of way.

We spotted one angulate tortoise and it was not waiting around for any touristy shots. Instead, it was walking as fast as its legs could carry it across the road to where it could hide in the dry grass.

angulate tortoise

AUGUST 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

Spring is in the air – not officially for that only happens on 1st September. Nature does not adhere to those human desires to carve time into clear blocks of expectation. Headline news is that Whiterumped Swifts made their first appearance today – earlier than usual – and that means that the Lesserstriped Swallows cannot be far behind. Klaas’ Cuckoo has also made an early entrance this spring. African Green Pigeons now call regularly from within the thick foliage of the Natal Fig and with the warmer weather comes the melodious sounds of Fierynecked Nightjars. I am very pleased to have seen more of the Redbacked Shrike this month as well as the Spectacled Weaver.

Weavers are becoming more serious about their nest-building. The image below is the start of a Cape Weaver nest in a Pompon tree.

startofcapeweavernest

The Pintailed Whydahs – most of the males have almost divested themselves of their buff winter dress – are becoming more aggressive. I wonder which of the six males I saw bossing each other around this morning will claim our garden as its territory this summer.

Mrs. Greater Doublecollared Sunbird has been collecting feathers for nest lining. They seem to be enjoying the nectar in the brilliant orange flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle, while the Black Sunbirds are seen more frequently in the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina caffra.

Greaterdoublecollaredsunbird

Laughing Doves abound. This pair is perched in a Syringa tree, which is heavy with fruit.

laughingdoves

With so many domestic animals around the suburbs these days, Cattle Egrets are a common sight – they look especially beautiful in flight. A pair of Egyptian Geese have been honking overhead too lately and a pair of Knysna Louries regularly make their way through the trees to drink and bathe in one of our birdbaths. This Forktailed Drongo is perched in the Acacia caffra, which is just beginning to show its spring foliage.

forktaileddrongo

In non-birding news, Bryan – the angulate tortoise – emerged from his winter hideout under a tangle of aloes this morning and has been walking around in search of food.

angulatetortoise

Sammy – the Leopard tortoise – has only got as far as exposing himself to the sun, but has not budged all day. He spent the winter in a mass of Van Staden daisies nest to our swimming pool. Both are looking healthy after their period of torpidity.

leopardtortoise

My August list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Egyptian Goose
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbacked Shrike
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green Woodhoopoe)
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

MEET SAMMY

Sammy, a relatively young Leopard Tortoise, was brought to us after being found on a local junior school campus. He has already had quite a tough life as one can tell from the damage to the skirt of his carapace – doubtless stemming from the curiosity of dogs.

Leopard tortoise

He was brought to our garden on a very chilly afternoon, carefully conveyed in a beer box.

leopard tortoise

The shell pattern is very attractive – both on top and underneath.

leopard tortoise

Once Sammy had undergone the ignominy of being photographed from all angles, he found refuge under the Spekboom growing near the swimming pool.

leopard tortoise

It was a day or so later that we spotted him exploring the tangle of Plumbago before he disappeared for a while. Once the bout of cold weather gave way to warm sunshine, however, Sammy was on the move again and was last seen tucking himself away under the Van Stadens Daisies on the edge of the lawn. This is good news for Leopard Tortoises mostly eat grass – of which we have a variety in the garden. Sammy has the freedom to go wherever he pleases. I wonder when, and if, he will meet Bryan (the Angulate Tortoise) during his wanderings.

DECEMBER GARDEN ROUND-UP

It was shortly before seven this morning when my coffee and bird-watching stint was disturbed by a loud crack followed by a heavy thud: two branches of the Tipuana tree in our neighbours’ garden had split from the main trunk and fallen across their hedge facing the street. No harm done, although it will be an arduous task getting those heavy branches down.
The very old Tipuana tree in the other neighbour’s garden sheds small branches and twigs after every wind. This goes to show that indigenous trees are better for our gardens – even if they do tend to grow more slowly.
I set out to investigate the rest of our garden:
Self-sown gooseberries, bursting with flavour, are ripening wherever plants have taken root. I will need to send M and C round with a small basket soon to see what they can harvest.

gooseberries
Scenecio pterophurus brightens up a corner of the vegetable garden. [John Manning’s Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa has proved to be very useful in identifying some of nature’s bounty that pops up in the garden]. Apart from looking cheerful and pretty, they attract myriad butterflies during the course of their long flowering period.

scenecio
The scarlet Aloe ciliaris has been showing off its blooms for some time now.

aloeciliaris
The yellow Aloe tenuiour grows just around the corner.

aloetenuiour
Blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) is rampant in the garden and needs to be cut back regularly. The first blooms are out and we are looking forward to a beautiful show of them as the month progresses.

plumbago
While the Van Stadens River Daisies (Dimorphotheca ecklonis) are not looking their best at the moment – the centre of this one is being chomped by a caterpillar – these particular plants are very special to me. They are the descendants of the ones my late mother grew on the farm and so remind me of her and of my youth whenever they flower.

vanstadensdaisy
Other flowers that remind me of my mother are the Pompon trees (Dais cotinifolia) as they were always in full bloom when she came for her annual visit over the Christmas period. I have been watching the buds appear as pinpricks and gradually fatten out. This morning I noticed that some are beginning to burst open, so it won’t be very long now before the trees are completely covered with pink blossoms.

burstingpompon
The Cape Chestnut trees also look beautiful when they are in full bloom. Our tree is a late developer, it seems, for the ones in town have been covered with blossoms for several weeks already. Nonetheless, it is just beginning to show what will be on offer.

peepingchestnut
I love the shape of the chestnut tree and couldn’t resist photographing the early morning sunlight shining through its leaves.

chestnutsunlight
A quick walk through the forested area of the garden rewarded me with the different scents of leaves as I brushed past them, the musty smell of the leaf litter underfoot, and glimpses of Cape Robins and Paradise Flycatchers flitting between the trees.

forest
I emerged from the forest to find a Pin-tailed Whydah seeking fine seeds on the lawn.

ptwhydahclose
Many would have been dropped by the Village Weavers tucking into the seed from the feeder suspended from the acacia tree.

villageweaversfeeding
Two Rock (Speckled) Pigeons kept watch from the roof.

roofguards
A young Olive Thrush seemed surprised to see me so close.

youngolivethrush
Bryan the tortoise was caught snoozing.

Bryansnoozing
And both the Lesser-striped Swallows are making good progress with their new nest.

progress
All is well.

MEET BRYAN

MEET BRYAN

Daisy the tortoise is no more.

No, this is not a sorry tale about Daisy meeting a sticky end, instead …

We have so enjoyed watching Daisy moving around the garden since the advent of spring. She now regularly leaves her wintering-over place in the nest of leaves near the pool pump to wander across the lawn while eating grass and nibbling at broad-leaved weeds along the way. She is then in the habit of sunning herself on the bricks for a while before seeking shelter from the sun by hiding under the ivy leaves or crawling under a lavender bush.

Daisy has, happily, survived the winter and is doing well … well, Daisy was doing well …

Until a close inspection of Tortoises Terrapins & Turtles of Africa by Bill Branch revealed that counting scales is not a reliable method of sexing Angulate tortoises – which are endemic to the Eastern Cape, by the way. It is easier and more reliable to turn the tortoise over.

tortoise diagram

We did and have thus discovered that Daisy is actually Bryan.

Welcome to our garden, Bryan!

JUNE 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

JUNE 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

It was the resident flock of Laughing Doves that ‘flew’ onto my bird list first this month. I find them fascinating to watch and have discovered they are not without wit either.

When the seed I had scattered on the ground had been gobbled up by all and sundry, I once observed a Laughing Dove edge ever closer to the bird feeder frequented by the weavers, Bronze Manikins and canaries. After days of trial and error, a Laughing Dove at last managed to get a grip for long enough to grab a seed or two from the now wildly swinging feeder. Practise makes perfect and within a few days one dove at least could balance on the edge for long enough to get some satisfaction from that source of seeds.

Several weeks later I saw two frenzied flapping Laughing doves clinging onto the feeder to extract as many seeds as they could before losing their balance. This is not a regular occurrence and so they may have been two particularly innovative birds.

It is interesting watching the Laughing Doves having a dust bath and then sitting on the ground with their wings fanned out. Sometimes one will lift a wing so that it sticks up and then lift the other. They frequently sit very close together when doing this.

There is obviously safety in numbers as far as they are concerned. A brief period of cautious waiting usually follows after I have scattered seed on the lawn. I have learned to be patient and watch as the doves first gather in the jacaranda tree on the pavement and then gradually edge closer through the trees to the branches of the acacia tree, which is closest to the food. It takes one dove – either brave enough or very hungry – to flutter down to begin the feast. Then the others descend en masse, initially feeding as closely together as possible before fanning out to find seed on the fringes.

Cattle Egrets were the last on my list this month. Newcomers are the Southern Black Tit, which I only see in our garden at this time of the year and – to my great excitement – a Cape Glossy Starling.

I happened to look out of my study window and there it was in all its shining glory in the Erythrina tree! This is a bird I have always associated with the Kruger National Park especially, although I also enjoy seeing them in the Addo Elephant National Park.

My June list is:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Crowned Plover
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Yellow Canary

An update for those who remain interested in the welfare of Daisy the Tortoise: having disappeared for several days, Daisy seems to have found a new sunny spot near the pool pump house and looks very contented.

Laughing dove side view