Among the indigenous trees in bloom at the moment is the Vachellia karroo (I will always think of it as Acacia karroo!), commonly called Sweet thorn, which grows almost everywhere in South Africa as well as in the rest of Africa. It is interesting to note that the common name is derived from the edible gum which is exuded from wounds in the bark, rather than from the fragrance of the flowers.

Its growth varies in size and habit depending on the climate. Those growing around where I live in the Eastern Cape tend to be fairly small and compact, while some of the ones growing along dry water courses in the Mountain Zebra National Park are tall trees. I have noticed several Vachellia karroo trees in this park hosting a type of hemi-parasite known as Agelanthus sp. on their branches.

The trees are fast growing and drought-resistant, with branching usually occurring close to the ground. They have a distinctive round crown and are covered with tiny golden yellow puff-ball / pompon type flower heads during the summer, which are delightfully sweet-scented.

The bark can be rough and fissured, while the long, straight white thorns formed in pairs are characteristic of these trees. Funnily enough, it is these thorns that I miss whenever I have been out of the country for a while.

Pods produced after flowering are initially green, but turn a rusty to dark brown colour when mature.  They vary in shape from almost straight to sickle-shaped. Animals eat the leaves, pods and flowers. The latter produce large quantities of nectar and pollen which attracts a variety of insects. The presence of these trees in the veld is an indicator of sweet veld – prized for good grazing and fertile soils.

Birds build their nests in these trees too. This rather untidy one belongs to a White-browed Sparrow-weaver.




We woke to thick mist casting a white mantle over the garden – not surprising, for last night we enjoyed the rare treat of rolls of thunder and flashes of lightning that turned the sky purple. Such joy it is then to find almost 20mm rain in the gauge – an amount worthy of photographing!

The excessive heat along with the lack of water has put paid to most flowers in the garden. I was thus surprised to see these poppies providing a brave show of colour.

They are among the few successes I have had with growing plants from seeds so far. The marigolds all shrivelled and died once they had put out their first proper leaves – the rain came too late for them, but I shall try again. Meanwhile, the Pompon trees – many of which are self-seeded – have put on a magnificent show this summer, filling our garden with pink delight. They have passed their peak now, yet there are still patches of new blossoms to enjoy.

The other great delight was the later than usual return of the Lesser-striped Swallows. They have deliberated long and hard about the best site for their mud nest. The rains have come at the right time for them and they have made good progress this week at the site of the original nests that have been built here for the past twenty-odd years. They need to complete the cup and then build the tunnel.

I had to negotiate the damp garden path with care in order to photograph the carpet of yellow Tipuana flowers from the tree in our neighbour’s garden. They became very slippery when wet!

While I was walking around our delightfully damp garden, I heard the clopping of hooves of a small group of the Urban Herd walking along the road next to our front fence.

You might just make out some of the lilac Jacaranda tree blossoms that are strewn across the road.


There are no handy hints here. However, as a change from our usual mode of camping, we spent a few days after Christmas in one of the delightful Forest Cabins in the Addo Elephant National Park. Each of these log cabins is tucked between hedges of Spekboom and other indigenous plants to ensure one’s privacy.

This is a typical path leading to one of these cabins.

You might wonder what these pictures have to do with the title of this piece. While each of these cabins is equipped with a pleasant braai area, they also have a fridge, kettle, toaster and a microwave. There is also a camp kitchen containing two-plate stoves and the sinks for washing up. I am probably not the only visitor not to look up when I enter the communal kitchen to either cook or clean the dishes. That is, until I kept seeing this pair of Lesser-striped swallows preening themselves nearby throughout the day.

What a wonderful opportunity to photograph them from so close, I thought as I passed by them yet again. They didn’t seem to mind the attention.

It was late on the second afternoon of our stay that I spotted one of them flying out of the communal kitchen. Curious, I at last looked up to see this sturdy, well-constructed mud nest against the ceiling of the kitchen.

Safety in the kitchen indeed. Here their nest is safe from the elements; it is high enough not to be disturbed by any human visitors; and has probably been used year after year.


Every year a pair of Lesser-striped Swallows return to build their mud nest under the eaves of our house. They build their nest in exactly the same place, although the direction of the tunnel opening may change slightly with every construction. This summer there had been enough rain for them to start their nest soon after their arrival.

The pair of swallows perch on the telephone cable, resting between their labour of collecting balls of mud, cleaning their beaks, or possibly discussing their building plans.

The nest gradually takes shape. The different colour of the mud reveals the variety of sources these birds use for their building material.

Both birds bring mud in their beaks. Here they are shaping the bowl of the nest together.

They appear to masticate the mud in their beaks before adding the ball to the row.

The gap finally nears closure.

After this has been achieved, a tunnel opening is formed to complete the outer structure of the nest. Then follows the process of lining it with soft materials before the eggs can be laid.

You would think that their summer labour is over and that these birds can now settle down to breeding and raising their family. They are fortunate some years and I hoped this would be one of them. I watched nest lining being brought in … not many days later the entire nest crashed to the ground! For days the birds either perched on the telephone cable or on the bathroom window. Finally, they decided to move to plan B – as they occasionally do – and painstakingly built a new nest around the shady side of our house.

This one remained intact for them to raise at least one chick … then it too dashed to the ground.


The trees in our garden are now so tall and thick with foliage that it isn’t always easy to find the nests of birds, even if you know they are there – somewhere. A pair of Cape Robin-chats had me fascinated for days on end as they flew back and forth with food in their beaks … I never could find their actual nest deep in the shrubbery, although their offspring later made an appearance. Two Common Fiscals have plied the food trails to their respective nests for weeks (I think both have actually nested beyond our garden perimeter) and one brought its youngster to the feeding tray a few times before leaving it to fend for itself.

I located the messy nest of an Olive Thrush in a tangle of branches near the wash line, but not in a position to photograph – my neighbour couldn’t get a good photographic view of it either, although we both enjoyed watching the activity around it.This is one taken some years ago:

Black-collared Barbets have brought their offspring to feed on cut apples …

Much more prominent is the mud nest the pair of Lesser-striped Swallows build under the eaves every year:

The rain came at just the right time for them and they set to work straight away. The sturdy nest they built outside our front door one year has been taken over by White-rumped Swifts. Life is filled with trials for these swallows for this lovely nest, already lined with soft materials, fell down one night and shattered. Days of sad twittering followed until the pair again returned to Plan B and built a nest under the eaves around the shadier side of our house – where they have resorted to building in previous years – and this one has stayed put.

Also easy to see was the flurry of activity among the weavers as they set about constructing nests at the end of  branches of a tree in our back garden:

Despite the chattering and hard work going on here, within days these nests had been abandoned and the birds had looked elsewhere to create their happy colony.

A very-hard-to-miss nest, which I have featured before, is the one in which a pair of Hadeda Ibises have successfully reared two chicks:

Both chicks are in the nest here – only their dark tails are showing.