BULBINE NARCISSIFOLIA

The description of a particular grassland plant being common on overgrazed range-land made me realise I had hit the jackpot in identifying these canary-yellow flowers growing on a neglected triangle of ground – where the once regularly mowed lawn has long since been replaced by wild grass, on the overgrazed patch of lawn below our house, and along neglected pavements in the suburbs.

The Bulbine narcissifolia is also known as the Strap-leaved Bulbine, doubtless after its loosely twisted, strap-like grey-green leaves. As you can tell from the photograph below, flowers are star-shaped with bearded stamens and mature from the bottom of the inflorescence. The open flowers are pollinated by insects.

The stalks reach up to 500mm, making the flowers conspicuous during their summer flowering season. Fortunately, they are drought tolerant and so bring joy during these dry times!

OCTOBER 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

Although I have not been able to photograph one, I am delighted to hear the Red-chested Cuckoo once more. It is commonly known as the Piet-my-vrou here, as that is what its call sounds like – a strident command early in the morning, occasionally in the afternoon and even sometimes in the evening. Both the Klaas’ Cuckoo and Diederik Cuckoo entertain us with their distinctive calls during the day. Of course the Hadeda Ibises continue to wake us early and call to each other across town before they settle down for the night.

There seems to be an explosion of the Dark-capped Bulbul population of late. They queue up to drink from the nectar feeder, biff each other out of the way to eat apples and oranges, and several pairs sit very close together on the branches in true lovey-dovey style.

I am used to the Laughing Doves rising in a whoosh whenever a particularly noisy vehicle passes by, the neighbour might slam a door, or a lawnmower starts up in a nearby garden. There are times though when all the birds disappear in a quiet flash – a sure sign of a predator on the prowl. This month began with a flying visit from an African Harrier Hawk and ended with a low-flying Yellow-billed Kite, both of which saw the garden birds head for the closest cover.

Mundane tasks, such as hanging up the laundry, can have its interesting moments too. The light and distance were of little help to me, yet I could hear the persistent tap-tap-tapping coming from nearby that I dropped what I was doing to scan the trees … and there it was: a Cardinal Woodpecker chipping away at a dead branch of the Erythrina tree that towers over the back garden.

A well turned out visitor is the male Pin-tailed Whydah. He visits fairly often, although I have only seen one female in our garden this month.

While this is the best I could do from a distance with only my cell phone at hand, here is proof that a small flock of Cape Glossy Starlings paid our garden a visit.

I have often said that birdwatching in our garden is balm for my soul. October has been no different.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk
African Hoopoe
Amethyst Sunbird
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Dark-capped Bulbul
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redchested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

TRAVELLING LOCAL

The COVID-19 pandemic has clipped our wings in ways we would never have imagined a year ago. Initially there was the anxiety of repatriating South Africans abroad who needed to come home as well as the hundreds of people trapped here who had to return to their homes and places of work abroad. Then we were stuck: at first confined to our homes; gradually being allowed out to exercise; being restricted within provincial borders; and now we can – still with caution – enjoy what South Africa has to offer.

With so many overseas trips cancelled – and still not possible – ‘travelling local’ has taken on a new lease of life. There is a lot of ground to cover in this beautiful country! Friends and neighbours are taking advantage of setting off to explore hitherto unvisited areas or hiving off to the familiar delights of iconic places such as the Kruger National Park.

While confined to home during the initial lockdown phase, I got to know my garden very well indeed – as well as the creatures that share it with us. Nonetheless, I would gaze through our front gate with a degree of longing, yet only ventured as far as our local supermarket on my weekly grocery shopping expeditions.

Expeditions they have been too: rising in the pitch dark to enter the shop when it opened at half past six in order to avoid the lengthy queues that gathered outside after sunrise. I still go early even though the queues have somehow dissipated, and now can enjoy the fresh air and the birdsong at the start of the day. I am home by seven in the morning and the rest of the day stretches ahead, with the worst task already behind me.

‘Freedom’ first came in the form of being allowed to exercise close to home. We have got to know our local streets very well. How’s that for ‘travelling local’?

I clearly recall our first day visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. What a rigmarole it was to get in as we had to book the visit beforehand and show proof of our residence in the Eastern Cape. Then, as now, one had to fill in various forms and have one’s temperature taken – and of course wear a mask. Even though the shop, restaurant and the picnic area were closed, this didn’t detract from the sheer joy of leaving the confines of our town and being in the wild once more.

I have visited the area a few times since then, but the Mountain Zebra National Park was ‘calling’ too – especially once overnight accommodation was allowed. For the first time ever, we eschewed camping to stay in a chalet.

Another favourite place that has simply had to be savoured once more is the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Spending four days there was restorative for my soul.

We have not yet left our home province, but the rest of South Africa is beckoning …

WAAINEK WIND FARM

The turbines making up the Waainek (meaning ‘windy corner’) wind farm along the Highlands road on the outskirts of Grahamstown dominate the skyline – much to the initial chagrin of residents in the area. One can get used to most things and so, over the years, they are regarded as part of the landscape.

The wind farm consists of 8 Vestas V112 – 3.075 MW turbines. These have a hub height of 84 m and a rotor diameter of 112 m.

Seen from close up each turbine is enormous!

This turbine looms ahead of an avenue of Eucalyptus trees on the Highlands road.

As they are all placed on top of the ridge, the turbines command a magnificent view.

Despite the many negative views that abound, there is a certain elegance about the turbines.

MIST BUT NO RAIN

Several of my overseas readers have complained about the amount of rain they have experienced during the summer, while in the Eastern Cape of South Africa we are desperate for soaking rain to replenish our dams and to rejuvenate the natural vegetation. Within that context, imagine this tantalising scene: mist hugging the high ground and obscuring the trees.

I stopped along the Highlands road, running between Grahamstown and Alicedale, simply to breathe in this moist air, to feel the light touch of mist droplets on my skin – and to photograph this Eucalyptus tree towering above the road.

Further on, another tree loomed into focus as I drew nearer.

The mist was already breaking up and drifting away as I neared the end of the dirt road.

All this mist – and no rain!