MEET SAMMY

Sammy, a relatively young Leopard Tortoise, was brought to us after being found on a local junior school campus. He has already had quite a tough life as one can tell from the damage to the skirt of his carapace – doubtless stemming from the curiosity of dogs.

Leopard tortoise

He was brought to our garden on a very chilly afternoon, carefully conveyed in a beer box.

leopard tortoise

The shell pattern is very attractive – both on top and underneath.

leopard tortoise

Once Sammy had undergone the ignominy of being photographed from all angles, he found refuge under the Spekboom growing near the swimming pool.

leopard tortoise

It was a day or so later that we spotted him exploring the tangle of Plumbago before he disappeared for a while. Once the bout of cold weather gave way to warm sunshine, however, Sammy was on the move again and was last seen tucking himself away under the Van Stadens Daisies on the edge of the lawn. This is good news for Leopard Tortoises mostly eat grass – of which we have a variety in the garden. Sammy has the freedom to go wherever he pleases. I wonder when, and if, he will meet Bryan (the Angulate Tortoise) during his wanderings.

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HA HA HADEDA

HA HA HADEDA

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.

THE MEAL THAT GOT AWAY

THE MEAL THAT GOT AWAY

Meet Daisy. Not a friendly jersey cow, but an Angulate Tortoise (Chersina angulata). C christened it that as soon as she saw it.

Daisy crossed paths with us a couple of weeks ago when, while P was out walking, a passerby asked if he could borrow a knife.

Who carries a knife when out walking with the intention of enjoying the fresh air and exercise? A walking stick perhaps to ward off the odd over-zealous dog, but not a knife!

The chap indicated a small tortoise clasped in his hand and said he wished to remove the body from its shell in order to eat it. Feeling horrified at the thought, P gave him some cash instead and released Daisy in our sprawling garden.

We have discovered that it covers a wide area in the course of a day and can make a quick get away when it wants to. I can attest that it retreats for cover when the sun gets hot for I found it difficult to keep Daisy in the field of my lens while photographing it. This is one tortoise that could give the average hare a run for its money!

Angulate Tortoises eat grasses and succulents so Daisy has plenty to choose from in the garden and is welcome to chomp its way through the masses of Tradescantia (Wandering Jew) growing all over.

I was interested to read in Bill Branch’s Field Guide to the Snakes and other Reptiles of southern Africa that Angulate Tortoises drink water through their noses! These tortoises typically have a single gular shield below the head – I had to look that one up too: it means a chin shield.

SONY DSC

Daisy has the run of the garden and appears to be content for now. Last year a large Leopard Tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) took up residence in our garden for a couple of weeks, disappearing as mysteriously as it had arrived. We’ll have to see how long Daisy stays for.