FOCUS ON RED

It is an icy, grey day during which winter is stamping its feet in a determined fashion to freeze out any idea of spring unfurling in the wings. What better way of beating the winter blues than focusing on red:

Aloe

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Amethyst Sunbird at nectar feeder

Gazania

Crassula perfoliata

Virginia creeper

TWO COLLARED BIRDS

The head, throat and back of the male Greater Double-collared Sunbird are a beautiful metallic green, with a thin blue rump and a wide, bright red breast-band Although ‘collared’ features in its name, the ‘collar’  is not very pronounced. It has a long decurved bill that allows it to get nectar from tubular-shaped or drooping flowers. I am fortunate enough to see these sunbirds throughout most of the year in our garden, however they are particularly prominent during the aloe flowering season.

Another ‘collared’ bird is a more heavily built one. The Black-collared Barbet has bright red face, throat and upper breast, bordered by a broad, black collar which provides an interesting contrast with the yellowish belly. The large, heavy bill is used to great effect in excavating nest holes in trees as well as for ‘digging into’ fruit or eating insects. We see these barbets in our garden throughout the year and they regularly feed on the fruit I put out – as well as tucking into tiny pieces of meat or fish.

IT KEEPS ON GIVING

The Cape Honeysuckle is a plant that keeps on giving. We look forward to its bright orange blooms every season, usually appearing at a time when the garden is looking rather drab. This blaze of colour is in our back garden, which tends to be neglected during winter.

Seen close-up, you can appreciate why the blossoms would be popular with pollinators such as ants, bees and butterflies.

There is plenty for everyone.

The tubular flowers are a favourite among the sunbirds. Here a Greater Double-collared Sunbird slips his perfectly formed bill in to reach the nectar.

Weavers generally peck holes in the base of the tube, or snip the flower off its base to get the sweetness they desire. This explains why so many flowers end up on the ground even on the finest of days. Once the flowers are over, one might be forgiven for thinking there would be nothing more to offer. This plant keeps on giving though: its seeds are sought after by, amongst others, Streakyheaded Seedeaters.

Recently I have spotted several bees on the leaves. I cannot be sure what sustenance they are finding there, but I see a few of them out almost daily.

ALOE SEASON

We are missing out on one of the highlights of the year, the widespread blooming of aloes that brighten the otherwise drab landscape of late autumn and during the winter months. I had a legitimate reason to drive out of town last week for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdown began and noted many aloes blooming along the road towards Port Alfred, their flame-coloured blossoms lifting my spirits enormously. Fortunately, as their flowering season is fairly long I am hoping that the restrictions on our movements will be relaxed further before it ends. In the meanwhile, I am confined to observing the aloes in our garden.

Some have progressed from showing tightly closed cone-like buds like this:

To fully opened blossoms like this one:

The aloes attract birds, such as the Greater Double-collared Sunbird above as well as a variety of insects:

I am interested to see the damage done by ants at the base of some of the tubular flowers:

There haven’t been many bees around yet – perhaps they need the flowers to open a little more. I will be keeping an eye out for them.