Malvina van Breemen – Old Furth Estate
December has seen increasing competition for the puddles remaining in our dams and we have seen numerous Herons, African Spoonbills, Spur-winged Geese, Egyptian Geese, Hamerkops, Teal, Yellow-billed Ducks, African Black Ducks, loads of raptors, disconsolate African Fish-Eagles, Sacred Ibis and even Grey Crowned Cranes visiting the ever-shrinking pools. The dam closest to the house is now completely dry and only has a mud puddle to show for the tiny amounts of rain we have received so far. Most of our little streams are dry and the stream which feeds the house is still just managing to keep going. We are deeply grateful for that! The Furth River is so low it is just threading its way between the rocks. We are also deeply grateful that at least our livestock has grass to graze on thanks to the little bit of rain – unlike areas in the rest of SA where there is just spectacularly nothing. I recently travelled to Joburg and there was a howling dust storm all the way from Harrismith to Joburg. Heaven knows where that part of the Free State went….
Chameleons (Natal Dwarf) thankfully are still bountiful and I am gleefully awaiting the tiny babies who will appear all over the garden. The hot days have delivered numerous little brown grass snakes of varying sizes who have required rescue from our cats.
The Cicadas have been loving the heat and we found one emerging from its casing inside the house in late November, after the sightings had been listed.
Thousands of baby Praying Mantis have been hatching as well.
We had a lovely visit from the Knysna Loeries (or Turaco), who have increased their flock from two to five. What a delight to just catch the flash of their beautiful plumage as they explore the indigenous forest along the stream bed near the house! Various Flycatchers and Sunbirds have been very active in and around the garden and the Paradise Flycatchers are often seen flitting upstream to where the waterfall should be running (but is not) near the house – they must have a nest there again this year.
On returning from a recent road trip to Gauteng, we were welcomed back to the Midlands by the most spectacular sight of thousands of Amur Falcons (previously known as Eastern Red-Footed Kestrels) arriving in Mooi River at sunset, seeking a roost for the night in the big London Plane trees near the Spar. I could not have asked for a better welcome home! Hopefully they will decimate the huge swarms of locusts we have been having in the garden now that they have arrived.
Wishing everyone in our wonderful Valley all the very best for an excellent 2016, hopefully we will get some rain next year!
Wendy de Waal – Honeywood Cottage
HAPPY 2016 EVERYONE!
The junior Crowned Crane and its parents went away for a few days and then they were back without jnr. Did they deliver him/her to its mate? They seem to have made two paddocks their home territory. I see them every day.
The village weavers have been entertaining in their tree right in front of the veranda. Many nests on the ground testify to frustrated hens not being ready to mate. Broken egg-shells tell of success and busy-ness. I’ve noticed the Drongo checking out the possibilities of a meal, as does the resident Fiscal Shrike.
The entrance porch is home now to a pair of house martins (I think). One flew into the cottage to the delight of my old cat who could do nothing but chatter. It was evening so I switched off the inside lights and it soon found its way out.
Never have I seen such a variety of insects as those that invade any lighted room in my cottage!
The insects invite predators so of course I have had to remove frogs from the cottage. At last I remembered to photograph one: the flash in the bucket has given the toad an unusual colour but its patterns show quite clearly. The cross on its back is reminiscent of the cross on a donkey’s back, but I don’t think there’s any linking the toad to that legend!
Dieter Setz – Wakecroft
The first pic is where I was walking with Inhlosane in the back. I have never seen the grass that short before and only very few flowers very low down to the ground before.
This purple flower was almost not visible at all.
This yellow flower I have seen many a times before, but this time very low to the ground and not many about.
Purple flower next to a fern, also not taller than 15cm in height.
Dung Beatle busy rolling his food store for the next generation.
Evening primrose normally well over 1 meter tall, this one 20cm high.
Never seen this before on the side of an eroded path.
This green friend was very happy where he was
Normally these Beatles are also 10x bigger. Must have been the lack of rain this year that stunned all growth up here in the upper dargle.
Nicole Schafer – Woodcroft Farm, Lidgetton
A large Bushbuck ram seen on Woodcroft farm, photographed from a distance
Brunsvigia photographed in the Mbona Private Nature Reserve
And here a little closer…
Charles Crookes – Copperleigh Farm
Common Slug Eater (Thanks Pat McKrill for the identification!)
Andrew Pridgeon – Copperleigh Farm
Black and orange locust
David Crookes – Copperleigh Farm
Black scorpion seen near the MTN tower on the top of the farm
Pat and Sandra Merrick – Albury Farm, Lidgetton
Our 2 wagtail babies hatched on a day of 38 degrees (1st dec) The 2 white throated baby swallows on the front verandah decided it was just too hot and decided to also get out of the nest and sit on top of it
They kept sitting on lampshade for a few days and then across to the ledge a metre away for a few hours where mom kept encouraging them to get out there and fly. Eventually on the 7th December they flew out and sat on gutter where mom and dad fed them for a few hours (they were born 23rd November approx.)
They then joined the parents and flew off into the blue skies – they returned to the mud nest each evening for 2 weeks thereafter and then we went on holiday. They were not here on our return.
I was very excited to watch the growth and feeding of the wagtail young on our verandah.
Both parents so diligent feeding non stop till late evening
Then on the 10th December I went out to see them and they were lying dead beneath their nest. One half eaten and very little left of the other one
I was absolutely devastated. I cannot understand what is happening with this pair of wagtails. First she laid 2 eggs in the jasmine creeper in spring and never sat on them. Then she made a nest in the other creeper and the 2 young just disappeared on the tenth day too. Then they came and built on the verandah in my pot plant and again death – but why and who would eat them? A few days later they decided to start building again on the verandah but this time in my maidenhair fern. That was an absolute no no. Removed the fern. They now have built another nest in the jasmine creeper but so high that I cannot see anything but see the pair of adults flitting in and out.
On the other side of the verandah the female Amethyst Sunbird started feeding her young at the beginning of December. On the 10th dec I saw one sunbird peeking its head out the nest and tweeting loudly for its food.
Poor mama was working overtime because he screamed all day long – then 2 days later suddenly another head appeared behind the front head battling to get the front position, but no room.
No wonder mom was working so hard. Dad arrived now and then to check out the progress of the young. On the 15th dec both babies left the nest at lunch time and sat on the hanging basket for awhile.
Unfortunately I was not here to see this magic emergence but fortunately my husband was, and took a few pics. Thereafter mom fed both of them in the bottlebrush tree and fuschia bushes outside my bedroom. I could not see them but could hear them and saw mom popping in and out. I was just so thrilled to know that at least the swallow and sunbird babes had survived.
There are at least 4 sets of sparrows being fed by mom on the lawn at the moment. Two have 3 each, one has one and the other one has 2, so they too have done well considering this is their 2nd batch this season.
A pair of starlings have been feeding young in the one chimney and rock pigeons feeding in the other chimney.
What was very special this year was seeing one juvenile Red-throated Wryneck emerge from its nest in the hollow pole next to the gate in front of our house.
The female has sat there and called for about 3 seasons now and no young ever seemed to come from this. This juvenile sat on top of the pole for a few days before eventually flying off with mom.
Another first for us was having a pair of black cuckoo calling in the trees around the house. Probably because our trees have grown large (we have been here nearly 8 years)
An olive thrush has been digging up our ground cover in the formal garden looking for grubs and worms and is nesting in one of the standard drassina bushes.
One afternoon, 2 Cape Longclaws were giving vent to their feelings for hours while sitting in the proteas.
I have only seen 2 juvenile Cape Robin-Chats this season.
Have only seen 16 white stork in our lands. Pat saw an oribi running through farm and also a Martial Eagle. Our gardener sadly killed another Red-lipped Herald on the verandah (~perhaps the gardener needs to attend a Snake Talk with Pat McKrill?! – Ash). Our house sitter saw a genet at 7pm walking along the stone wall behind the house.
A pair of Natal Spurfowl walked down our driveway one morning.
Another first for us was the female Buff-streaked Chat nesting under the eaves of the house. Could not see the nest but they kept flying in and out. One precious baby came of this mating.
One morning I heard a commotion out the front and saw dad chasing his son around the rockery – poor little guy was terrified and screeching his head off.
Dad eventually left. Juvenile male buff streaked chat resting on rock after being chased by dad…
Ingrid if you are reading this, I have about 12 photos for you if you are still interested, as you told me last year that there was only 1 picture on the internet of a juvenile and then the one I took last year. Now I have some lovely ones of him which I will post next month or contact me should you need the photos.
I think this may be a juvenile Malachite Sunbird?
Spotted lots of these giant African land snails on the D16 between Corrie Lynn and the river. Saw them around the same time last year too. I was in and out of the car a couple of times moving them so they wouldn’t get squashed by traffic. Must ask the Corrie Lynn school kids to make a ‘Beware of the Snails’ sign 🙂
Barend & Helen Booysen – Crab Apple Cottages
The Carnivorous snail on the right is busy having a dinner of Agate Snail in Kilgobbin Forest…
Carl Bronner – Old Kilgobbin Farm
I was riding with a friend up on our main hayfield last week and we saw two huge black birds with red faces. When we got home and checked in the Roberts’ bird book, we found out that they were ground hornbills! Quite rare in our area. We didn’t get too close as we had dogs with us, and the birds marched along the edge of the field and then disappeared into the forest.
Ashley’s Response: Thanks Carl! That is a rare and a great find. Southern Ground-Hornbills are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ throughout Africa by the IUCN, but within South Africa they have been classified as ‘Endangered’, as their numbers outside of formally protected areas are still declining. If you have a moment and can possibly provide additional info such as exact location and GPS coordinates, please go to the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project website:
Ashley Crookes – Copperleigh Farm
American brambles (declared Invasive Alien Plants) are a terrible curse that we are battling to get rid of on the farm, but after 3 years we are almost winning the battle. The berries are delicious though…I will miss them!
The dandelions are certainly popping up all over the countryside.
Had a plague of beetles arrive the one day, luckily they soon disappeared.
A large green locust came to visit.
And a hairy worm was playing on the lawn.
This beautiful large moth was sitting on the dog’s blanket.
On one occasion I picked up a dead leaf from the hydrangea bush and found this very large yellow spider inside (Hairy Field Spider), I set him down and made my retreat!
One evening the dogs were going mad, so I went outside to find out the cause…
I found a very docile Natal Black Snake which didn’t seem at all worried about all the commotion it was causing. It slowly slithered through the grass, and went down the drain pipe.
This beautiful Painted Reed Frog came into the kitchen one evening so I tried to take it outside. I found out it had really sticky foot pads as I struggled to get it off my hand!
Every evening these black beetles are attracted in their hundreds to the gate security lights
A couple of coiled up Millipedes found under an old tyre.
And a strange bug I found, never seen one before.
The wild Aloes were managing to collect some of the dew drops.
Water running down the road after a big rain! Sadly it was short lived and we still needs lots more to add to the little puddles of dams in the area.
Jenny Fly – Kildaragh Farm
The dry weather continues with just enough drizzle to keep things green. The Pavetta lanceolata, (weeping brides bush )in the garden was looking very pretty but with the intense heat and no rain, it was soon over.
At the beginning of December we noticed a pair of Gurney’s Sugarbirds in the gigantic Jochroma cyaneum ( South American ) known as blue cestrum. One of the few exotics in the garden as the sunbirds, amethyst, malachite and Southern double-collared, love it too.
In the 12 years we have lived on Kildaragh, we have trotted up 128 bird species. Residents, holidaymakers and daytrippers. A motley selection outside the kitchen.
The rye field alongside the garden, has attracted the tiny Zitting Cisticolas, and we constantly hear their loud, high pitched call as they fly dipping over the grass. Recently, in the early of the morning, we have heard the nkonyane’s (bladder beetle) eerie call . Our children used to think that the Martians had landed and were always rather wide eyed at the sound.
Our gardener, while eating her lunch noticed an umhlangane running across the wide lawn to cover, on the other side. It must have been a confused, large , grey mongoose.
A night adder paid us a Christmas visit. Tried to gain entry to house, but I shooed him off.
The Alberta magna gives us a good display of lovely bright flowers each summer.
The little Eucomis humilis
What a busy garden of breeding birds Pat and Sandra have had! Thoroughly enjoyed all submissions – especially Carl’s sighting of the Southern Ground Hornbills. tHank you to everyone.