Eileen Rasmussen and Judy Bell compiled this report of Summer in the Mist.
Could the mizzley overcast skies be carrying less moisture at last? Looking back through my rain records for the past 27 years, the four months from August through to November for this period show an average of 387 mm rain falling in our garden. This year, it is a whopping 710 mm. The previous highest was 2007 with 568 mm. I am told next year from February or so onwards, will be the start of another very dry spell, so we should enjoy it while it lasts. As always where the weather is concerned, time will tell. It certainly has been much cooler than usual and the clicking or chirping frogs, together with the noisy croakers have been quieter as well. Usually the misty quiet is filled with a variety of clicks and chirps from our pond near the front door. There have been a number of “hearings” of the Buff-spotted Flufftail, the notoriously noisy, but shy bird that has the haunting, hooting call usually during misty nights. There has also been an unconfirmed hearing of the Red-chested Flufftail – the call is similar to that of the former, but the Red-chested flufftail’s hoot is less than a second in duration, while the buff-spotted’s hoot lasts for around 3 seconds. Please listen out for this and let us know which one you hear, where and when.
The sun did manage to find its way through the cloud recently and a variety of birds were also able to enjoy the pleasant warm
sunshine. They seemed delighted to be able to splash in the shallow section of our pond, and then sit and preen themselves on overhanging branches. A Brown-hooded Kingfisher dived into the water several times for a wash.
The local monkeys were taking an interest in the area at a resident’s front door and they thought the troop was considering a new way into the house. It turned out they were enjoying the resident snail population. Now that was useful for a change! Our free ranging chickens used to go through periods of being more interested in earth worms – perhaps this is due to the type of food naturally available at certain times. Don’t forget “a fed monkey, is a dead monkey”, so please avoid (intentionally or otherwise) feeding them human food – take care with your rubbish bags left out on the verge, to prevent them from getting them addicted to junk food from that source too. We have seen some wise households waiting to put their bags out on Fridays, which helps to reduce the litter spread around too.
Howard Richardson from World’s View sent in this photograph of a Natal Dwarf Chameleon which was seen in his garden in World’s View. These creatures are deemed to be critically endangered. They are susceptible to being munched by domestic pets, as well as snakes. The biggest threat however, is from the development of their habitat.
The African Paradise-Flycatchers are back – they are internal migrants, having short trips inland during winter, returning with the warmer weather. Early one morning around 3 a.m., one of our external beams was triggered by an African Wood Owl had broken the beam and settled on the gumpole post, waiting to see if anything worthwhile was around. It seems to be a convenient height as it is about 1,2 metres high. Several birds use it during the day and a piece of sheet metal has had to be positioned to keep the beam lens clean! These owls sing as a duet, with the male and female answering each other. Have a look at Roberts Bird book – they show the calls in a graph form, which makes it easy to identify which owl is visiting without having to get out of bed!
The Olive Thrushes have enjoyed breakfasts of flying ants recently and with so much choice, the supply has tended to exceed demand. Our canines also enjoy the ants and snap away happily. They don’t seem to be unhappy about swallowing the wings either – it all seems to go down the hatch.
One evening around 10 p.m., our dogs were barking furiously on the steps leading up to the bank adjacent to our driveway. They were keeping their distance, but their agitation was evident. In the torchlight, a porcupine was spotted. He or she must have come up from the lower garden. Both dogs have learnt from experience not to tangle with these prickly visitors. Soon after we got our younger dog, she made contact with one and has not forgotten her discomfort and pain and now keeps a safe distance. They are now content to alert the whole neighbourhood with their barking but make sure they do not get too close. The quilled creature was guided back towards the natural vegetation. The odd crab has crawled along towards the back door and even a centipede was found.
A group of Swee Waxbills recently enjoyed the seed on our uncut lawn – listen out for their calls after which they are named. Does one keep the grass cut or leave it for the birds to enjoy? Perhaps a compromise is to cut less frequently so that they can enjoy the seed buffet. The grass is certainly is not as rampant as previous years – there has been so little sunshine to encourage growth.
A Long-crested Eagle recently had the close attention of two Fork-tailed Drongos, with much chattering and mock attacks. I always find it amusing to see these little chaps sending bigger birds packing. While out walking recently, a Southern Black Flycatcher was heard singing, also a “pretty georgie” (the Cuckoo), only he or she was actually a Chorister Robin-Chat, when sighted. The Chorister robins are known to be great mimics of other bird calls, so don’t be fooled – try and spot the source of the call to make sure. The cicadas are also miffed with the weather and have not reached their intense pitch of previous summers.
The photo shows a giant leaf of the Streptocarpus polyanthus (?) plant, which is a member of the African Violet family
growing naturally on the rock face, which is enjoying the moist conditions in the forest this season. These plants used to be prevalent in our Mist-belt Forests but seem to have been replaced by ginger which loves the same conditions. If you find them in your garden please let us know and cherish them, as they are special residents of our Valley.
Has anyone recently seen Guinevere, our Crowned Eagle chick? She is now about 15 months old and was ringed some months ago. If you have seen her, would you be kind enough to send me an e-mail please, saying where she was seen, time of day etc. Shaun, the student monitoring her is keen to be kept updated with sightings of her.
Derick Hull asks if anyone else has seen the Red-throated Wryneck in Winterskloof – he has!
Biodiversity Stewardship in Winterskloof:
We are keen to develop a programme to get our natural spaces (forests, grasslands, streams and wetlands) conserved. To do this, we will be working hard to influence potential partners (such as eZemvelo KZN Wildlife, uMngeni & uMgungungdlovu Municipality) to work with us to create a biodiversity stewardship agreement for the undeveloped spaces. We hope to get zero-rating for these, in return for keeping them free of invasive alien plants and barriers to the wildlife. This work needs energy and champions, so if you would like to add your assistance to the team, please let us know. We can only do this if everyone agrees and participates. It will create linked corridors for wildlife and release more good quality water in the Dorpspruit, which is desperately needed to dilute the pollution downstream. Our Valley is the watershed for the Dorpspruit and is thus important for the Msunduzi/Mngeni River system. We will keep you informed of discussions, meetings and any plan we draft for comment.
Does anyone know what these tiny red mushrooms are?