Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) grows primarily in the dry areas of the Eastern Cape.

Recent research has shown Spekboom to be an excellent ‘carbon sponge’ with the ability to sequestrate (absorb) free carbon from the atmosphere which is used to make plant tissue. It does so particularly efficiently, which means that a stand of Spekboom has the ability to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equal amount of deciduous forest. Spekboom is unique in that it stores solar energy to photosynthesise at night. This makes it ten times more effective per hectare at carbon fixing than a tropical rain forest. Each hectare of Spekboom can capture 4,2 tons of carbon every year.

Note the thicket of Spekboom behind this Cape buffalo.

You can see the shape of the leaves of the Spekboom in this picture of a Cape Weaver.

Because of its ability to capture carbon, Spekboom is being replanted in degraded thicket areas in the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, the Addo Elephant National Park, and in the Great Fish Nature Reserve. These projects not only help to restore natural ecosystems, but as they are labour-intensive, they provide a source of income for rural communities and thereby help to alleviate poverty. The picture below illustrates an area of the Great Fish River Nature Reserve where cuttings of Spekboom have been planted.

Here you can see how other cuttings have bushed out over time.

Small star-shaped pink flowers are borne en masse from late winter to spring, usually after the first rains. They are a rich source of nectar for many insects, which in turn attract insectivorous birds.

This dragonfly is resting on a sprig of Spekboom.

Here a Cape Sparrow perches on Spekboom.

The ubiquitous dense stands of succulent Spekboom form an important part of the diet of the elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park. Their top-down browsing habits apparently help the plants to spread and thrive by promoting the natural umbrella-shaped canopy. Spekboom regenerates quickly, ensuring a regular food supply. Note the baby elephant feeding on Spekboom in the picture below.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


My August list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
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


While the rest of the country is in the grip of drought, this part of the Eastern Cape is at least able to enjoy the verdant pleasures of spring thanks to an abundance of rain. The Addo Elephant National Park is awash with spring beauty: swathes of yellow flowers merging into grammaceous fields of lush green edged with the darker hues of indigenous bush. All this sweetly-scented loveliness is a far cry from the dry-mantled complexion of winter.


Beautiful flowers are evident all over the Park, from patches of mixed colours to the bright yellow carpets of gazanias or senecio flowers.



Zebra and kudu were in abundance in the northern section of the Park, although we only spotted a few kudu in the southern part.



The ever-curious suricates, large eland, shiny blesbuck, the ubiquitous warthogs and the ever-beautiful elephants made driving through the Park a pleasure. We even managed to spot a lioness and two cubs late in the afternoon. Birds are actively concerned about future progeny at this time of the year: a pair of Egyptian Geese guarded their goslings on Ghwarrie Dam, Cape Weavers were building their nests in acacia trees growing in the Woodlands area, and a Bokmakierie was spotted collecting caterpillars to feed its young.



We counted fifteen tortoises throughout the day and dodged many dung beetles scurrying across the road.


My bird list is:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Blackshouldered Kite
Blacksmith Plover
Boubou Shrike
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Sparrow
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cattle Egret
Egyptian Goose
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greyheaded Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Jackal Buzzard
Karoo Robin
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Orangethroated Longclaw
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pearlbreasted Swallow
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Rufousnaped lark
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird


The weavers are filled with spring energy at the moment. Many are tearing long strips off the leaves of the Giant Reeds that wave on the edge of our garden and have started looping them around the dangling twigs of the now almost bare Natal Fig. Their noisy chirrups reverberate around the garden for most of the day and they are quick to chase each other from tree to tree or to heartily defend their right to any food that is available. Here a Cape Weaver and a Village Weaver square up to each other while the bystander gets on with eating:


The Streaky-headed Canaries still seem to prefer foraging for food in the back garden, so I was pleased to observe one sharing the ‘seed house’:


A sharp-eyed Cape Weaver was among the first to inspect the seeds I scattered on the lawn early this morning:




While we remain in the grip of cold, grey weather, Nature is already gearing up for the season of Spring in the garden. New acacia leaves are emerging from their winter sheaths on hitherto dead-looking branches.


Peach blossoms are looking beautiful now – even the ancient plum tree is showing a few brave white flowers – and the crossberry is covered with blossoms.



The wild ginger bush and the pelargoniums are blooming.

ginger bush


So are the white daisy bushes and jasmine – the latter fills the garden with a sweet scent, particularly in the late afternoons and early morning.



Best of all, the cheerful weavers are back en masse. Some are already bearing strips of leaves or grass to practise their knotting skills prior to serious nest-weaving. The Cape Weavers are looking particularly beautiful wearing their deep breeding blush.




I was comfortable sitting in the shade of the forested part of the garden. The Cape– and Village Weavers were pecking away at the seed I had scattered earlier and would, now and then, latch onto a large (for them) piece of bread and fly up to a nearby branch to consume it at leisure.

My pot of Earl Grey tea was nearing its end when I turned my attention to the Forktailed Drongo up to its usual antics of stealing titbits from the beaks of other birds. It was good to hear the Sombre Bulbuls calling nearby; the Laughing Doves were combing the lawn for seeds and I idly watched Bryan the tortoise amble along, munching as he went. It was an idyllic scene.

The unusually persistent calls of the Cape Robin had barely registered in my languid state until the calls seemed to become louder and more agitated. I realised they came from the thick foliage near the pool, but was too comfortable to investigate – until I noticed the weavers, the Olive Thrush and the Forktailed Drongos swiftly fly towards the sound.

As I approached the pool, I noticed a flurry of feathers as the afore-mentioned birds flew in an out of the leaf cover, all flapping their wings and making a loud noise. I looked up at the leaf canopy from underneath in time to see a large Boomslang winding itself sinuously through the branches. As it looped across towards another tree, the slack, thick cable of its body was repeatedly attacked by robins, weavers, a Black-collared Barbet and even a Speckled Mousebird.

The snake moved swiftly and gracefully, winding in and out of the branches with ease towards a shallow nest balancing precariously in a fork of cotoneaster branches. Neither the mobbing of the birds nor the cacophony of their protests seemed of concern.

I turned away to call P to witness what was happening. My attention was diverted for seconds only … the Boomslang disappeared! As you can imagine, I checked the draping stems of canary creeper very carefully before moving an inch. The agitated birds began to disperse and soon all was quiet. The soporific air of a hot afternoon reasserted itself.

Cape White-eyes resumed their search for insects, the weavers returned to the seed tray, the Laughing Doves tramped across the lawn, and the Cape Robin – which had alerted me to this drama – flew off towards the direction of the fig tree.