Mother Nature’s Ball, accompanied by an Orchestra

This delightful story on Wildlife Gardening was written by Paula Davey of Fort Nottingham (Lion’s Bush Conservancy)

As the early morning light seeps delicately across the skyline, the first tentative practice notes of the “orchestra” strike up, welcoming the start of the day, and Mother Nature’s Ball.

The gentle twittering of the White-Eyes and Forest Canaries are jarred by the trumpeting of the Hadedahs, quickly soothed by the soft cooing of the Red-Eyed Doves and the Cape Turtle Doves. The Black- Headed Oriole adds its liquid gurgle, highlighted by the shrill call of the Southern Bou-Bou Shrike, not forgetting the contribution from the Cape Robin Chat, the Olive Woodpecker, the Grey Headed Sparrow, the Paradise Flycatcher, Brown Hooded Kingfisher, the Star-lings, the Feral Pigeon, the Sunbirds and a host of others. And so the music picks up pace, reaching a crescendo to celebrate the Ball. The butterflies appear, as if guests adorned in their kaleidoscope of colours. They flit and hover, pirouette and dive, whirl and lift, or just slowly waft by.

And what of the Venue? Well, that is for us humans to provide in our gardens. Careful planning and planting of the indigenous species of your area, incorpo-rating diversity, will provide the perfect venue for birds, butterflies, insects and small creatures, with us as spectators.

In our indigenous gardens we can paint a canvas of colour in spring and summer. Even in winter, the vibrant oranges and yellows of the Aloes will brighten any drab winter landscape! The powder blue flowers of the Plumbago Auriculata (Cape Leadwort) are a never- ending attraction for the charming little Blues butterflies. Companion planted with Tecomeria Capensis(Cape Honeysuckle), it makes a very attractive display of colour. The sunbirds visit regularly for the nectar, followed by the Weavers, Bulbuls and little White-eyes.

The soft mauves and pinks of the Scabiosa Africana(Pincushion) not only provide endless pleasure for us as garden-ers, but are a vital source of nectar for the Acrea butterflies. The charming and hardy Dwarf Polygala is a must for all indigenous gardens, especially here in the Midlands. Much to the dismay of my gardener, a swarm of Paper Wasps had settled in amongst the thick foliage of the Polygala. Before long, however, they were spotted by a Black Headed Oriole that proceeded to feast on the wasps over the next few days! The exquisite Syncolostemon Densiflorus (Pink Plume) with its deep pink trumpet shaped flowers is frequently visited by the sunbirds. The queen for all nectar feeders is the Aloe family. Plant summer and winter flowering varieties and you will be guaranteed year round colour and a happy bird population.

Don’t forget the grasses for the little seedeaters. The Setaria species is prized by Mannekins, Weavers and Canaries. The Oplismenus hirtellus is the preferred choice for our local Firefinches. The fluffy flower heads provide a soft downy bedding layer for the nests.

Of paramount importance are the insects. Insects are an essential food component for young bird growth and development. Amazingly, ants are top of the list! Ants are in fact the staple insect food for the Cape Robin Chat. The White eyes and Bar- Throated Apalis can always be found foraging up and down the stems and under the leaves for ants and aphids. Caterpillars are prized delicacies for our feathered friends. Remember that those caterpillars that survive the food frenzy become our beautiful moths and butterflies. Termites in our lawns? Learn to live with them. If you’ve planted to attract butterflies, you will in turn attract birds, which will in turn eat the termites.

Woodpeckers and Barbets are constantly prying through the bark of trees such as the Halleria Lucida (Tree Fuschia)and the Celtis Africana (White Stink-wood), picking out the termites. The Halleria of course, offers quite a platter, with its flames of red succulent flowers, as well as the fruit. The Kiggelaria Africana (Wild Peach) is host to the caterpillar of the Acraea Horta butterfly. It will decimate the leaves, but do not despair – it will quickly recover. The fruit is highly prized by all fruit eaters.

Do not forget the spiders, slugs and snails. All of these are eaten by many bird species, with the spider web providing the strengthening fibre of the sunbirds nests.

So, in planting a garden, remember Mother Nature’s Ball accompanied by the Orchestra. In order to ensure its resounding success, remember the importance of diversity of plant species. Take special care not to disturb the balance by using chemicals and poisons. Nature creates its own Harmony.

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