🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Getting into a Lather


Self-anointing seems to be triggered by smell or taste. The hedgehog twists and turns, stretching out its tongue to lick foam all over its body. My Hedgie used to sit on my chest, licking my skin until he started frothing at the mouth and then smearing it all over his quills. He would also do the same when he came upon a cigarette but in the grass.

This hedgehog has come across a well-worn leather shoe. After sniffing it for some minutes he is stimulated to self-anoint.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009



I had a Black Crow as a pet for 20 years (Coco was 27 when she died after having a stroke) and I absolutely love these endearing and highly intelligent birds.

Something we can all learn from animals - when I used to take food out to feed her (she ate almost anything under the sun, with a staple diet of minced meat), she would eat her fill, but carry on taking food from me after she was satisfied and dig holes and hide it, to be searched for and dug up later when she was hungry again.

She absolutely loved gardening with me, following in my tracks and plucking out seedlings as fast as I could plant them, leaving a trail behind her, to be discovered by me as I returned to water them all. Her favourite was finding bugs as I dug up the garden, especially cutworms.

She had built up quite a vocabulary and to friends' and visitors' delight, they would be greeted at the front gate with a very convincing Queens English "Hello. Come in" followed by bellowing laughter. She provided hours of entertainment and it was a great loss for me when she died.

The Cape Crow or Black Crow (Corvus capensis) is slightly larger (48-50 cm in length) than the Carrion Crow and is completely black with a slight gloss of purple in the feathers. It has proportionately longer legs, wings and tail too and has a much longer, slimmer bill that seems to be designed for probing into the ground for invertebrates. The head feathers have a coppery-purple gloss and the throat feathers are quite long and fluffed out in some calls and displays.

A group of crows is called a "murder," though this term usually appears in poetry or similar literature rather than ordinary usage.

"Coco" my Black Crow - She used to take this stance and make a ka-ka-ka sound, like the horn of a car. It must be a natural sound of theirs, because I've heard crows in the wild doing the same thing.

Cape Crow (Black Crow)

Common Ravens on the grounds of the Tower of London

Crow in flight

Hooded Crow

Daurian Jackdaws

Saturday, 15 August 2009

FARM TALK - Spring Fever, Summer Madness

Spring fever and summer madness happen on a smallholding over-night. The one minute you're still in the grip of ice cold frost and the next minute the first rains have fallen and everything is blossoming and needs to be cut or trimmed, dug over and fertilized and everything hatches or gets born at the same time.

Calves are frolicking in the field and the ducks and geese are busy leading their ducklings and goslings through the garden on a never-ending search for insects and tasty buds (including the newly-planted seedlings in the bed borders!).

The Koi fish are also spawning in the pond and thousands of tadpoles have hatched to the prior songs of their parents, lullabying us to sleep every night - there is no sound like water bubbling over the waterfall and frogs serenading one another at night to put you into a peaceful state of sleep, awaking fresh and raring to go early the next morning.

Dragonflies appear out of nowhere and provided your pond water is healthy and passes their inspection, lay their eggs in the water, and the next generation lives as Naiads (dragonfly nymphs) under the water for the next couple of months until they crawl out of the water onto some tall
plants, shed their nymph bodies and emerge as the spectacular dragonfly, once again claiming their territory as their parents did before them.


--> A mole I caught in the garden was summarily evicted and moved to the other side of the garden wall (I apologise for the poor image quality, but he was very aggressive and just wouldn't stay still to be photographed! And those teeth are enough to scare the pants off anybody!)

--> But now also starts the never-ending fight with the moles, leaving fresh mounds of earth all over your freshly-mowed , immaculate lawn. Our smallholding is totally poison-free, so every home remedy and alternative method for eradicating pests has been tried and tested, from 2L bottles of water lying on the lawn to loud music being pumped down the tunnels to hose pipes filling the tunnels with water (with the assumption that the wet and noisy conditions will be too uncomfortable for them to bear and they will therefore surface on the OTHER side of the wall, out of the garden). Alternatively, one succumbs to the daily mounds of fresh earth, raking them down and all over the lawn as a top soil treatment.

As far as moles are concerned, the Golden Mole is a welcome visitor, as he is carnivorous and eats all the cut worm and other harmful insects, whereas the Rat Mole is the one being chased from pillar to post for his habit of eating the bulbs and roots of everything in his path ... but what a wonderful sight to see a mole surfacing at night, grunting and scratching around under the safe cover of darkness (or so he thought!) until he is swiftly scooped into a bucket (those teeth are lethal!) and released the next morning far away enough to, hopefully, not find his or her way back again (and after much soul-searching and worrying about any possible babies that might be left behind and abandoned, common sense prevailed and hearts were hardened and the thought swept out of our minds in favour of a mole-free garden.)

Snakes are treated with similar love and attention, being caught and released in a far-away, safe environment or, in the case of a Mole snake or Brown House snake, being left to their own devices, as rats can be a big problem on smallholdings with all the food being served up for ducks, geese, chickens, etc.

And so summer, and the life-cycle of a smallholding, starts once again!


Friday, 14 August 2009

Secretary Birds

'Secretary Bird' watercolour on Bockingford 300gsm - Maree©

The Secretary Bird has traditionally been admired in Africa for its striking appearance and ability to deal with pests and snakes. As such it has often not been molested, although this is changing as traditional observances have declined.

The Secretary Bird is the national emblem of Sudan as well as a prominent feature on the Coat of arms of South Africa.

The Secretary Bird is largely terrestrial, hunting its prey on foot, and other than the caracara (such as Polyborus plancus), is the only bird of prey to do so habitually. Adults hunt in pairs and sometimes as loose familial flocks, stalking through the habitat with long strides. Prey consists of insects, small mammals, lizards, snakes, young birds, bird eggs, and sometimes dead animals killed in brush fires. Larger herbivores are not hunted, although there are some reports of Secretary Birds killing young gazelles.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Terror of Poachers

Silver-backed Jackal pup

I was lucky enough to rescue one of these little animals caught in a trap set on the bottom strand of a barbed wire fence. I was driving along a country road in our area and saw a peculiar movement in the grass and stopped. To my dismay, I saw a little Fox trying to free itself from a string and piece of wire around it's neck, strangling himself as he kept struggling.

As I approached carefully, he stopped struggling and took on a threatening stance, baring his teeth and growling at me trying to look very fierce through his fear, but I could see he was still only a puppy. I tried to cover him with my jacket, but he fled the length of the string to the other side of the fence.

Slowly I pulled him back through the fence and quickly grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and hastily covered him with my jacket. I managed to break the string by scuffing it on the barbed wire and undid the wire around his neck, which left a deep cut where it had been biting into his skin.

I drove home with him clamped between my legs, wrapped in the jacket and he actually lay surprisingly still. I was worried that he had died of shock or something, but once I got home and released him in one of our kennels, I saw that he was very much alive indeed. Before removing the jacket covering him, I cleaned and treated his wound, put down fresh water and closed the gate, leaving him alone for a while to recover. A while later I took him some porridge and milk, which he devoured ravenously once I had left, watching him from a distance.

Later that afternoon I fetched him from the kennel, took him inside and sat with him on the couch. His curiosity soon overcame his fear and before long he was sniffing me and everything else he saw.

This little fellow spent a couple of weeks with us, entertaining us with his antics of attacking my sheepskin slippers, pouncing on them and trying to tear them apart. Then one morning, as I went out to feed him, he was gone. He'd climbed over the 6' diamond mesh fence and although I searched our smallholding for a while, it was obvious that he was gone.

I knew I'd miss him, but wished him well and just hoped he would manage to evade the traps set by poachers and live a long, healthy life. These little animals are hunted for their beautiful pelts, as well as various body parts, which the locals use as 'muti' (medicine).

Silver-backed Jackal

The jackal, a medium-sized carnivore with doglike features and a bushy tail, is widely distributed in Africa. The three species of jackal in Africa are the golden or common jackal, the side striped jackal and the black-backed or silver-backed jackal.

The golden jackal is somewhat shorter and stockier, and the black-backed is the most slender and upstanding, with noticeably larger ears. Mainly, they differ in color and choice of habitat.

The silver-backed or black-backed jackal is usually the most frequently seen as it is more diurnal than the other two. When they live close to settled areas, however, black-backed jackals often confine most of their activities to night-time.

Diet: Opportunistic omnivores, Jackals cooperatively hunt small or young antelopes such as dikdiks or Thomson's gazelles or even domestic sheep. They also eat snakes and other reptiles, insects, ground-dwelling birds, fruits, berries and grass.

Socialisation: Live singly or in pairs, and are sometimes in small packs. They are among the few mammalian species in which the male and female mate for life. Mated pairs are territorial. They mark and defend the boundaries of their territory.

Silver-backed (black-backed) Jackal

Silver-backed Jackal pups

Tuesday, 11 August 2009



During the summer, hedgehogs spend he day sleeping in a light, flimsy nest constructed from grass and leaves. They will have a number such nests, and often sleep in the same one for some time before returning to a nest they have used previously.

Hedgehogs are sometimes found asleep outside their nest or even active in daylight, particularly during the autumn or spring when there is less food available at night.

A nest may be slept in at different times by several hedgehogs; they don't seem to mind who originally built it. In the way, the various occupants pick up fleas and other parasites left behind by previous visitors. But it is very unusual to find two fully grown wild hedgehogs sharing the same nest.

When the weather is warm, a hedgehog may not bother to build a nest at all, but will simply lie up under a pile of leaves or a grassy tussock.


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