SEPTEMBER 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

Good news should always come first – so far we have enjoyed 19mm of the lightest rain imaginable and there is still dampness in the air; droplets of water on the leaves and flower petals; the mist is hanging low; and I write this against the swishing of tyres on the street below our home. Good news this is indeed for all the plants – and the birds too for the bird baths are filling with fresh rain water on a day that we have no water in our taps. So, they won’t go thirsty!

It was a happy surprise to begin this month’s bird viewing with the arrival of a Cardinal Woodpecker beavering away in the rotting branches of the Tipuana tree that looms over our garden wall. The tree is old, dry and brittle and I shudder to think of the damage it will cause when it finally topples over. Meanwhile, it is visited by other birds such as the Green Wood-hoopoes. A couple of them have made several forays into the garden. These ones have been working their way through the dry Pompon trees at the end of the swimming pool.

I continued to be entertained by the Common Fiscals. Meneer regularly arrives for his private meals while I am enjoying breakfast or tea outdoors. He alights next to the little dish, looks at me and accepts a morsel from my hand. We do this a few times and then I leave him to help himself. Spotty, the ringed one, having noted this private source of food, is becoming ever bolder and occasionally swoops down to take a morsel I have placed on the edge of the table. Not to be outdone, the third one has also cottoned onto this lark. It remains very cautious and perches in the branches above my head for ages before nicking any piece of cheese or meat that might have been dropped by one of the aforementioned fiscals. Quick as a wink it comes – and is gone!

Red-eyed Doves call from early in the morning – as do the Cape Turtle Doves – and sometimes come down to do battle with the army of Laughing Doves that make short work of the maize seeds that fall to the ground from the messy eaters on the feeder above. Another large visitor mingling with this melee is the Speckled Pigeon. Although they can no longer nest in our eaves, they still roost on the window sills at night or stare down at me from the rooftop – or is that really a glare?

I was watching birds recently when all the doves and weavers whooshed away in a flash. There was not a sound to be heard. I looked up in time to see an African Harrier-Hawk seemingly floating in the sky, hardly flapping its wings as it circled against the sun. Among the first birds to return once all sense of danger was over were the Bronze Mannikins. They too seem to float like falling blossoms as they alight either on the ground or take advantage of the empty feeders to peck at the fine seeds.

The Cape Weavers are appearing in greater numbers now – both to eat seeds and to visit the nectar feeder. They are a noisy lot and, when not feeding, can be heard chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen in the thicket nearby. This one is seen in the company of a Streakyheaded Seedeater.

Having featured the Olive Thrush several times in past posts, I think you might find it interesting to see what its messy nest looks like. This is one of two I have identified in the garden: one is next to the front path and the other is close to the wash line.

Over thirty years ago we would only see crows of any kind winging their way across the municipal rubbish dump or swooping across the Burnt Kraal area where there used to be a clay pigeon shooting range. Is it the prolonged drought that has brought them into town? Or perhaps it is the increasing amounts of rubbish lying uncollected on the pavements. A Cape Crow often perches in one of the tall trees in the garden and pontificates loudly about life in general. Here is a Pied Crow doing a regular flyover of the garden.

My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo-Shrike
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Forest Canary
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

MORE INLAND EASTERN CAPE SCENERY

Following our drive out to Post Retief last week, I want to share some of the magnificent scenery of the Eastern Cape – a part of the country that felt so alien to me when we moved here over three decades ago; this is where my maternal ancestors hail from; this is where my heart is; this is home.

Ravages of the drought can be seen in the foreground – the sturdy aloes have all been pollinated well and are bearing full-bodied seeds – a dirt road heading off into the distance, and the Winterberg almost floating on the horizon.

How can one ever tire of scenery like this? It is dry; it is hot; it is a big sky; it is the Eastern Cape.

A closer look at the vegetation that hugs the sheltered slopes – euphorbias and thorn trees making up the Valley Bushveld Thicket.

Much closer to home is the Jamieson Dam that once supplied our town with water. If you look at the base of the hill below the wind turbine on the left, you will see what looks like a flat green lawn. There is not a drop of water in it.

SPRING EQUINOX 2021

Apparently the exact timing of the Spring Equinox in the Southern Hemisphere was at 21:20 on 22nd September. Not willing to experience the changeover in the hours of darkness, we drove inland yesterday to experience some of the signs of spring in the Eastern Cape. What better way to start than with the bright new leaves and scarlet spikes of the indigenous Erythrina lysistemon as seen from the garage where we had our tyres checked.

At Baddaford Farm Stall, not far from Fort Beaufort, where we stopped to check on directions, the bougainvilleas were coming into bloom.

As we passed through the Mpofu (Eland) Nature Reserve in the Amatole district, we couldn’t help admiring the spring leaves of the various Vachellia (Acacia) trees that brighten the otherwise drab-looking grassland.

Near the exit gate of this reserve several peach trees are blooming – a wonderful sight to see in spring.

Despite the dry and dusty conditions, there were bright patches of yellow – as well as individual flowers peeking through the grass – Common Gazania (Gazania krebsiana) growing along the road verges.

I couldn’t resist the delightful aroma from the clusters of violet blooms covering the many wisteria plants in the garden of Waylands Country House in the Katberg.

There are also beautiful stands of lavender.

The white arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) look beautiful in still moist patches everywhere we travelled.

Lastly, here is another bright red flower – which looks like the Indigofera heterophylla in my flower guide – growing in the otherwise barren carpark outside the St John the Evangelist Church in the Winterberg. This church dates back to 1858 and is still used occasionally.

THERE IS GREEN – EVEN IN A DROUGHT

I sometimes look at photographs from bloggers in other parts of the world and marvel at the bright colours and beautiful greenery – which I haven’t been able to reciprocate with even during our summers. So, here are some glimpses of green in this drought-stricken part of the country. First up are the freesia buds growing in a pot so that they could be nurtured:

The flowers are over now, but for a few weeks I could enjoy their pretty white blossoms as well as a few pink ones. One of the hardiest plants I have is this asparagus fern growing next to our front steps. It appears to need very little in the way of water.

We live on the side of a hill overlooking our town. This is a view half way up.

A little further afield is this view of the Rietberg on the opposite side from the view we get of these hills from town.

And lastly, a view of the Lothian area – my regular country drives usually follow the road that runs along the escarpment of this valley.

So, our world is not all brown, dry and dusty. The greens in the veld are hardy and delight the eye. Once the rain comes the wild grasses will green – as will our lawn – and soften the landscape once more.