Two of the four ibis species occurring in South Africa are commonly seen in and around our town. The Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) is a grey-brown ibis with glossy bronze-green wing coverts. Not surprisingly, its onomatopoeic name is reminiscent of its harsh cries of ha – ha – ha – de – da. This is the sound we generally wake up to early in the mornings and hear again at night as several of these large birds come to roost communally in our Natal Fig tree. Occasionally something disturbs them at night and they rent the still air with their raucous calls until all have assured each other that all is well and they settle down again.

While I generally only observe two or three poking about for food in the garden, large numbers gather on the many school sports fields and open grassy areas in the town to feed on insects, worms and other invertebrates. They have an acute sense of smell which is an aid to finding food as the Hadeda Ibises probe into the soil for food with their bills.

The other ibis we see on a daily basis is the African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus). The black bill of these birds blends in with their naked black head and neck. They have a characteristic white body with black tips to their flight feathers. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the elongate, plume-like black scapulars inspired the Afrikaans name, Skoorsteenveër – chimneysweeper.

A large flock of African Sacred Ibises gather at the edge of a dam just outside of town – many of them roost communally in large trees within the CBD at night – and are frequently seen in the grassy areas as well as feeding on the lush grass under irrigation in the Belmont Valley.

They mainly feed on invertebrates as well as fish, frogs, carrion and refuse – for the latter reason they can be observed on the fringes of the municipal dump too.



The ubiquitous Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash). People either love them or loathe them. I fall into the former category and am delighted to welcome them as residents of our garden. Their distinctive and strident ‘ha-ha-hadeeda’ call can be heard from near and far as they raucously remind all in the valley of their presence. They are particularly vocal at dawn and at dusk, although we sometimes hear a ‘frantic’ call if they are startled during the night.


Several Hadedas regularly roost in the enormous Erythrina caffra trees in the back garden as well as the Natal Fig that dominates the front garden. The latter has been a regular nesting place that has proved to be ideal for raising generations of offspring. The nest consists of a flimsy basket-shaped collection of twigs that is added to every breeding season.


The youngsters reach a point when they start testing their wings by flapping them furiously and, even though we see them walking around the garden not long after that, they continue to ‘beg’ to be fed by the adults. For a while the youngster can be seen in the regular company of one or both adults and later forages for food on its own. They often eat long earthworms that burrow underground – feasting on them after the rain – as well as catching crickets and other insects.


Late every afternoon, Hadeda Ibises congregate on the roof of our house, looking like sentinels perched on either the chimney or on the apex. They flap their wings on arrival, appear to settle down and then – after only a brief rest – fly off to join others still circling the valley, calling loudly as they do so. They eventually settle down to roost for the night.

As Hadeda Ibises are such sociable birds it is easy to imagine them greeting each other from afar in the mornings, deciding where to meet for the day’s foraging, and bidding each other goodnight as the sun sinks below the horizon.



I find it good for my soul to get right away from our home town now and then. The recent need to be in Cape Town provided a good opportunity for this. Ideally we would have liked to stop more often and to savour more of the countryside than we had time for, yet we saw all sorts of interesting things along the way.

There is something special about being on the road as the sun rises, casting long shadows across the veld and seeing the patches of thick mist rising from the low-lying areas as the day warms up. The long journey was enlivened by glimpses of impala grazing in open spaces in the bush highlighted by the sun. We also saw kudu, wildebeest, blesbuck, and zebra early on.

I was struck by the number of Cape Crows sitting on their untidy nests built on the telephone poles that march along sections of the road in the Western Cape as well as an abundance of Jackal Buzzards and Black Harriers. It was a thrill seeing a pair of Blue Cranes on our way down and then several more on our return journey. These are the national bird of South Africa.

blue crane

An increase in the number – and size – of wind farms is noticeable. I wonder how effective they will be in terms of alleviating the current shortage of electricity in the country.

The Cape Town weather was kind to us: warm, clear and dry throughout our four-day stay. Time spent in the small suburban garden revealed Hadeda ibises (not at all concerned about being stalked by a calico cat), Redwinged starlings, Olive thrushes, Laughing doves, Redeyed doves, a Cape robin, Rock pigeons, Cape crows and an abundance of Cape White-eyes.



The latter flitted in and out of the trees throughout each day. On one particularly hot and dry afternoon, they delighted in the spray from the sprinkler turned on to water the lawn. It was a joy watching the white-eyes fly through the jets of water and perch on the branches of a fig tree while having a communal shower!


The return journey was equally interesting. A highlight was seeing a sizeable flock of White Storks. Nearer home we spotted eland, springbuck and, lastly, a group of giraffe so close to the road that C asked me to stop so that she could “see how giraffe eat”.

How satisfying it is to walk round the side of the house to the front door on our arrival at the end of a long journey and to see that the pompon trees have burst into bloom during our absence!


The other joy is that the Lesserstriped swallows have completed their replacement nest.

complete nest

A full day later came the satisfaction of making a salad using lettuce, spinach, carrots and green peppers from our own garden. It is a relief that the purple basil seeds that germinated a few days before our departure are still looking sturdy. A garden bonus (I hope we will see the fruits of this) are gemsquashes spreading out their tendrils from the compost heap.

It is wonderful living in our nook of the Eastern Cape!



September has been an exciting month in the garden: leaves sprouting on hitherto bare branches; the lawn greening up after the spring rains; beautiful clivias brightening shady areas; and such a welcome variety of birds!

A pair of Forktailed Drongos started the month off with their antics around the feeding area. Apart from chasing each other around the garden, at least one of them seems to have taken a dislike to the Bokmakierie: the latter is chased as soon as the Drongo catches sight of it. The drongos make frequent use of the nectar feeder and perch on either the acacia or pompon tree nearby to hawk insects in the air. I mentioned last month that these fine acrobatic flyers are adept at stealing food from weavers while they are in flight.

Forktailed drongo

The Common Waxbill is a complete newcomer to my garden, for I have not recorded a sighting of one before. They remind me of happy trips to the Addo Elephant National Park, where they are frequently seen in large flocks.

Welcome returnees are the Hoopoe and the very beautiful Paradise Flycatcher.

I have learned to look skyward whenever the birds flee to the shelter of trees en masse and, this month, was rewarded with the sighting of a Gymnogene flying overhead. A pair of them have been resident in this town for years, so it is good to see them still around.


Looking up also rewarded me with the welcome return of the Whiterumped Swifts and Lesserstriped Swallows. A pair of the latter are already toiling at rebuilding their mud nest under the eaves above the kitchen. They do this every year – it looks like painstaking work – only to have it fall down as the breeding season draws to a close.

In other nesting news, a pair of Olive Thrushes have built their nest high up in the fig tree and can regularly be spotted taking titbits of fruit and insects to the nest via a circuitous route that has become familiar to me over time.

oliive thrush nest

A pair of Greater Doublecollared Sunbirds have been nesting in the ironwood, painstakingly collecting leaves and feathers with which to line it. Sadly, the strong winds we experienced last week caused the nest to come adrift from its moorings and I found it lying at the foot of the tree. This has nonetheless provided an interesting opportunity to see how it was constructed.

Greater Doublecollared sunbird nest

As we have come to expect, two pairs of Hadeda Ibises have taken up residence in the fig tree and Erythrina tree respectively, laboriously bringing in new twigs to strengthen the existing structures that are several years old already.

The month ended on a glorious note with the return of the euphonious calls of the Burchell’s Coucals early in the mornings. It is many years since we raised one as a chick that had fallen from its nest – a story on its own. I thus have a close affinity for these lovely birds that tend to be heard more often than they are seen.

My September list is:
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo Shrike
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift


History is not my cup of tea, you might say. Yet, we didn’t just arrive in the 21st century: the world was populated long before we came, events happened globally, nationally, and within our own families that have shaped who we are and what we do; how we feel about politics, global environmental issues, and the management of our local municipalities.

Let me take you on a journey to an open space of great beauty and tranquillity I didn’t know existed in a city I have visited fairly regularly over the past twenty six years. It is a place where gnarled old indigenous trees, bent by the prevailing wind and subtropical plants typical of the Eastern Cape coast vie for attention with the aliens so beloved of public landscapers of long ago: exotic palm trees, Scottish pines and rubber trees!

There are raised ponds filled with blue water lilies; rolling grassy banks; ha-has; a stone bridge crossing a moat to an island complete with bandstand; benches placed at intervals so that one can rest while one’s eyes take in the vista of immaculately mown lawns, cobbled pathways and wide stone steps leading to another level. A well maintained playground attracts laughing children, the paths are wheelchair friendly, and there is shade aplenty – very welcome in the 40degree C heat of the day I was there.

Welcome to Victoria Park situated in the lower end of Walmer, near the airport – probably named after Queen Victoria. As I waited for the Algoa Bay Highland Gathering to begin, I observed white-rumped swifts flying overhead against the bright blue sky devoid of clouds; a skein of twenty five Egyptian geese honked over the park in a classic V-formation, competing with the bagpipers warming up for the solo competitions held during the morning.

Unperturbed by the sound of bagpipes and drums, a flock of speckled mousebirds flitted among the palm trees and a fiscal shrike regularly swooped down from its high perch to catch insects on the grass. Common starlings picked up crumbs near the food stalls while black-collared barbets sang their duets. Black-headed orioles called relentlessly against the backdrop of bagpipes, drums and the music emanating from the tent where the Scottish and Irish dancing competitions were taking place. The red-eyed doves seemed bemused by the activities on the ground, which included a medieval fayre.

By the time the band competitions had begun after lunch, first with the march, strathspey and reel followed by the medley, the large flock of Hadeda ibises that had taken to the sky could be seen and not heard – fancy a mute flock of Hadedas!

It was to loud applause that the crowd listened to pipe bands from Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth competing for top honours. Among several tartans on display were the Mackenzie, Gordon, and Graham of Montrose. The day ended with a massed band performance of all the bands playing as one marching to well known tunes such as Scotland the Brave and Flower of Scotland.

The crowd was enthralled and young children danced or marched on the fringes of the circle as the clouds gathered and the temperature began to drop at last.

An interesting discovery: band members wearing waistcoats with the last button undone signifies that they are not married. A highland gathering in Africa? There’s a history to that…



Love them or loathe them, the Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) has made itself at home in suburban area over much of the country. One cannot ignore their strident calls – particularly in the early mornings!

It often seems to me that upon waking, these sociable birds have conversations with others roosting elsewhere: “Anyone up yet?’ or “Where shall we meet today?” It sounds as if responses to these queries come in from near and far across the valley until some sort of consensus is reached and then we hear them flying off noisily, still calling out to others doing the same.

While several of these birds occasionally roost in the fig tree and the Erythrina caffra at night, there are two pairs who have regularly nested in these trees for many years. Each breeding season we watch the Hadedas bring in seemingly impossibly long or awkwardly shaped sticks to add to their untidy nests that are re-used.

Although several eggs and chicks have fallen out of these ungainly and flimsy looking structures, both pairs of Hadedas appear to have become more adept at parenting with time and usually successfully raise one or two chicks each. We are able to watch both nests with ease and enjoy monitoring the hatching process.

Once the chicks have left the nest to explore the garden, they still spend some time ‘test-flapping’ their wings and continue to ‘beg’ to be fed by the adults until they are old enough to be independent.

By the way, Daisy the tortoise was spotted yesterday and the Speckled Mousebird family must have flown the nest in the fig tree as it is not longer being visited.

I feel privileged to see Hadedas probing for worms and insects on the lawn or poking about in the flower beds with their scythe-like beaks. They might look drab to some, but are so beautiful when the sunlight catches their iridescent wing feathers!

They usually appear singly or in pairs in the garden yet occur in much larger groups in open spaces such as sports fields – especially after being watered – and on municipal lawns.

Apart from raucously reminding all in the valley of their presence in the early mornings and before settling at night, the cheerfully strident call of Hadedas can be heard at odd times throughout the day.

They seem to enjoy perching on roof tops and glide from there in the late afternoons to join others already perching in the fig tree. There they flap their wings noisily and appear to settle down for a few minutes, only to fly off to join others still circling the suburb, calling out as they do so. This ritual takes place at the end of every day before they return to at last settle for the night.