… the part of the Eastern Cape where I live. Grahamstown is surrounded by farms, game reserves, hunting areas, and is close to the coast. We are not going to reach the sea on this virtual trip, but will stick closer to home. The first scene then is of an abandoned windmill. These wonderful wind-driven pumps were iconic structures of farming communities all over South Africa. Most have now been replaced by solar pumps and the old stalwarts have been left to rust … clanking uselessly in the wind.

Grass fires spell danger and destruction to anything and everyone who lives in their wake. Many fires are fanned by strong winds and recently our town was smothered in thick smoke coming from a bushfire on the side of the surrounding hills. In this view across the valley, you can see the brownish layers of smoke from grass fires somewhere in the region.

Now many of you are familiar with my tales of the Urban Herd: cattle that are left to wander around the suburbs to feed on the unmown grass verges, unkempt public parks – and to drink water from ditches and potholes. These two almost look as if they wish to pay the homeowner a visit!

The number of donkeys seen in town as well as in the suburbs has also increased over the years. These two are typical of many of them: finding grazing wherever they can in the suburbs:

From time to time some may be collected by their owners and in-spanned to pull a donkey cart. The latter are frequently used for collecting firewood, or wood from the wattle forests that are growing on the fringes of the town for building houses. In this case, these youngsters may have delivered something or are simply going on a ‘joy-ride’ through the suburbs at the end of the day:

We have become so used to seeing these domestic animals both in town and in the suburbs as well as along the road that skirts through what is euphemistically called the industrial area on the edge of town – there are no factories here – that we tend not to worry about them anymore. Yesterday evening a cow stood in the middle of a busy street while she suckled her calf: vehicles simply slowed down and moved past them without a fuss. A boon for the bird-watcher in me is that the presence of cattle in the area means that I occasionally see Red-billed Oxpeckers feasting on the ticks they carry:



Look up ‘Crow’s Nest’ on Google and there is a host of accommodation or eating establishments listed bearing that name. The ‘crow’s nest’ I had in mind is a structure on the highest part of the main mast of a sailing ship used as a lookout point. Naturally, with sailing ships fading from memory and stories about them hardly making a wave, this is not surprising.  Until radar was developed, this high position ensured the best view for lookouts to spot approaching shipping hazards – it is the view which many of the above-mentioned establishments have that may have a loose connection with the names chosen by their original owners. This nest commands a 360° view of its surroundings.

Apart from nesting in trees, Pied Crows (Corvus albus) have adapted to nesting in a variety of tall structures, such as telephone poles and windmills – which this one has chosen.

Their sturdy bowl-like stick nests may also include wire and string and are lined with soft materials found in the area.

The nests are re-used. This is what the nest looked like two years ago:

The first stanza of the poem, The Crow’s Nest by Alexander Thomas, while focusing on the nautical meaning, seems to aptly describe this Pied Crow’s nest in the Eastern Cape of South Africa:

Sailing in time,

In the hidden depths of space,

Compressed in the unconscious,

Sailing to uncharted seas,

Floating in dreamscapes,

Warm currents,

Waves of joy,

A caressing glow,

Timeless faces in a timeless place,

Solitary notes of forgotten shores …


The old:

Sadly, the ubiquitous farm windmills are now are rare sight – especially working ones. These patient workhorses have drawn water in out-of-the-way places for decades, filling reservoirs that provide the thirst-quenching liquid for cattle, sheep, and goats – as well as filling the tanks that see to the needs of those living on farms.

The new:

Now the countryside is dotted about with what are called ‘wind farms’ that use the wind to generate electricity. That sounds so good – the trouble is that they appear to make no difference to the price of electricity. Then, the less said about our national electricity provider the better.