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

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The dustbin chicks

One of Solly’s hens (one of only 4 left after a mysterious disease killed about 20 of his chickens) hatched out six little chicks, leaving another 11 eggs un-hatched when she left the nest at about 6am. About an hour later, I saw a tiny chick stumbling from the nest, still wet from emerging from the egg. Mommy and her crew of six had already disappeared somewhere into the garden, so once again I had a little chick to tend to.


I brought her inside and kept her warm in a basket of grass with a hot water bottle and a towel throughout the day and that night. Early the next morning I saw Mommy and her babies just outside my studio window and quickly rushed outside with Dottie (she has two little black dots on her head) and put her down in front of Mommy, who immediately clucked encouragingly and little Dottie quickly responded by running towards her and under her warm tummy.

Dottie (top right) with some of the other chicks 

Mommy and all seven babies enjoying the lawn

I kept watch for about an hour until I was satisfied that she was able to keep up with the rest of the clan, feeling relieved that it had all worked out well. Sometimes chicks imprint on me too quickly or the mother refuses to take it back, then it’s a case of looking after a little chick for many weeks before it is ready to join my girls in the garden. Over the past two days they've all grown in leaps and bounds and Mommy is an absolutely perfect mother, calling them to the food I put out and first letting them have their fill before she has anything herself.

Mommy calling the chicks for a tit-bit 

Now, here's the thing. On Tuesday afternoon we disposed of all the other eggs that were left over and threw them in the dustbin in the back yard. This morning, it's now 2 days later, as I passed the dustbin, I heard peeping! Looking inside, I saw that two chicks had hatched. I was gob-smacked! Upon closer inspection of the rest of the eggs, I noticed that one had a hole in it and heard peeping coming from within. I gathered up the two babies and the egg and rushed inside, immediately getting the two chicks onto a towel with a hot water battle. The egg was still peeping, so I carefully removed all the shell and found a perfectly formed little chick struggling to get out. I gently cleaned it and also put in on the hot water bottle with the other two chicks.

The two "dustbin chicks" with the one I took out of the egg warming up on the towel and hot water bottle

The three little "dustbin chicks" getting warmed up 

The chick in the centre (Snoodles) is the one I took out of the egg

I constantly checked the temperature inside the towel to make sure it was not too hot also often stroking the third little chick and talking to it. After about half-an-hour it raised it's little head and opened its eyes! I was thrilled! It also struggled up to stand, stretching its little legs for a second or two before settling down between the other two chicks again.

After about four hours it was dry and quite alert, moving about and taking an interest in its surroundings, snuggling close to the other two.

I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, Mommy will accept the two older little dustbin chicks but the one I took out of the egg still has a long way to go and I doubt that it will be able to keep up with the much older chicks, so it looks like I've got a few weeks ahead of me tending to this little one.

Hens lay eggs over a period of time and sometimes those laid first, hatch first. When she left the nest, some of the other eggs might have been on the point of hatching and I think the dustbin acted like an incubator, it was standing in the morning sun with the lid on and it was quite warm inside. If she had stayed on the eggs just a day later, probably some more would have hatched.

UP-DATE Fri 29th Nov 2013 5.15am

Well, I put the first two dustbin chicks back with their Mommy this morning and she accepted them immediately. Of course they were cold and she immediately called them under her warm feathers. I will keep an eye on them today to make sure they keep up with the rest of the crowd. The third little chick which I took out of the egg is still a bit weak, maybe tomorrow...


Friday, 22 November 2013

Mynah fledglings (sensitive image)

We're in the middle of summer and my mood has changed from one of inspiration to lethargy - we've had temperatures exceeding 30°C (about 86°F) with no rain and I haven't even had the energy to go out into the garden and do some work. Once or twice I did manage to brave the heat and take my camera with me and capture a few pics.

As I wandered around the garden, my two resident Mynahs were following me around, screeching at the top of their voices. I first thought they might be warning me about a snake, but to my delight I discovered that the Mynah's babies have fledged - the parents have been in in and out of their nest over the past couple of days (which is under the canopy of the thatch roof over our entrance and not my ideal place to have them, they've destroyed large patches of the thatch in trying to find the perfect nesting spot) with tit-bits for the youngsters and I've been waiting for the youngsters to come out.

The Mynahs' nest in the thatch roof

Entrance to the Mynahs' nest under the thatch roof over my entrance gate

I found two little Mynah's in the peach tree and, with the parents sitting threateningly right over-head and screeching, I managed to get a couple of shots.

 Fledgling one - he looks like the older of the two

Fledgling two - he's the smaller of the two

They weren't particularly interested in me and just focused on the parents, chirping softly for some food. In their youthful inexperience they are still totally trusting, both even allowed me to pick them up and after a bit of a cuddle, I returned them to their respective spots where they continued to chirp at the parents, which weren't at all pleased with my apparent lack of concern over their screeching.

(The following image might upset sensitive viewers.)

After a while I decided to inspect the nest to try and work out a plan of fixing the thatch and thwarting any more efforts on their part to re-nest there again. To my utter horror I discovered a third baby, impaled on the palisade fencing which surrounds part of my garden. At first I thought that the Fiscal Shrike must have caught it and used the spike as a larder, but I couldn't see any other injuries on the baby - the Fiscal Shrike would have removed the head and would've started feeding already. After some investigation and further thought, I came to the conclusion that it had slipped down the thatch (which is very slippery, I've watched the parents slipping and sliding as they've tried to enter the nest) and impaled itself on the spike. It really is a freaky accident, and one which I wish I could have prevented...


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Story of Hedgie


Hedgie, the African Hedgehog, came into my life in July 2000, at a time when I felt I couldn’t handle any more responsibilities, (I was already looking after 2 Mountain tortoises and 2 fledgling Laughing Doves, plus 2 baby Guinea fowl) and all I wanted to do was find a safe home for him as quickly as possible, but after the first hour of getting to know him, I’d lost my heart completely!

Hedgie was brought to me after being rescued from some dogs rolling him around the field, presumably quite puzzled at the prickly ball which seemed quite alive, yet yielding not one inch to any prompting or buffeting of any kind.

What attracted him to Bridgette’s garden was the garden light left on at night and under which he could snuffle around for any insects also attracted to the light. And after finding him two or three times in the morning being harassed by the dogs, Bridgette decided it was time for a change of venue for the prickly character who would not even let her catch a glimpse of anything inside the bunch of prickles.

She arrived with him one Sunday afternoon, not sure whether he was still alive or not, as he had not unrolled for quite some time. Cupping him gently in my hands, I took him to the ‘holding pen’, which was a fenced area normally housing the two baby Mountain tortoises that were currently in hibernation inside the house, snug in a box, emerging from time to time for a drink of water and a quick snack before returning to their selective corners. We left Hedgie in peace for a couple of hours and after Bridgette had left, I fetched Hedgie to make sure that he was indeed all right.

After a couple of minutes of gentle coaxing, I was rewarded with a little black nose and black hairy face (juvenile, the hairs later turn white) peering out cautiously, taking in the scene for any possible danger, flipping back into his protective covering at the slightest move. It was not long before he seemed to decide that there did not seem to be any danger and he gently uncurled into his full length, with a soft, warm tummy resting in the palm of my hand. My movements had to be gentle and slow, as he was startled very easily.

After making sure that he was in quite good health, I offered him some bread and milk (for lack of having anything else to possibly give him at such short notice, as it was in the middle of winter and insects were decidedly in short supply). He lapped at the milk quite thirstily at first and after a while ate quite a bit of the bread. He then acted quite strangely, scrambling madly in my hand and I quickly took him back to the holding pen and put him down gently. He seemed quite agitated, running around for a while and then the reason was obvious – nature had called!

Then came the task of making him a shelter in the one corner of the pond area, filled with dried grass and formed into a hollow in the one corner of the shelter. I gently put him to bed, leaving some more bread and milk and fresh water and decided to check on him later.

Hedgie's home

After dark, I went to fetch Hedgie and saw him investigating his new home, trotting the perimeters in an ever-widening circle, starting in the middle and walking the same route over and over, extending the range every couple of laps, until he had satisfied himself of where the boundaries were. Picking him up carefully (I still got pricked because he rolled into a ball, trapping my fingers inside his soft tummy!), we went into the house, where he spent some time curled up in my lap until he couldn’t resist the temptation anymore and started opening up, peering out slant-eyed, as if I wouldn’t be able to see him if his eyes were closed!

We established quite a cozy relationship, with him uncurling at the sound of my voice and peeping out to see the reason for this disturbance and if he’s not willing to be disturbed right at that moment, he does little hops combined with grunting and huffing noises, letting me know in no uncertain terms that this is not the right time for any play.

Hedgie weighing in at 450g, can go as high as 750g

His diet has progressed to canned dog food (his favorite), still the milk and bread occasionally, and any insects I collected from under rocks and bark, him delighting mostly in the large wood lice, which he virtually grabs out of my hand and devours in a flash. I also started breeding meal worms, which turned out to be his total favourite.

Come summer, and when the threat of veld fires is over, I will try and find a suitable place to release him, and I will surely miss him lying on my lap or crawling up my chest, licking any bare skin he comes across and then, to my utter horror, trying to anoint himself on my smell, prickles scraping bare skin and little claws scratching until I’m forced to return him to my lap or the floor. One thing I know for sure, it will be a great emptiness in my life once he goes.

PS : I never did release Hedgie, and he went on to spend 8 beautiful years with me, and sadly passed away in 2008, from some bowel obstruction that the vet was unable to treat. But I have been left richer for having him in my life and the memories will last forever.


Thursday, 7 November 2013

November inspiration

Wishing you a healthy November, 
a productive November, 
a disciplined November,
 an organized November, 
a lucky November 
and a blessed November.


Friday, 1 November 2013

Hairy wonders

As I was watering the garden this morning, I discovered a whole clump of caterpillars at the base of my Acacia karroo tree. These are the larvae of the Lappet Moth and I am lucky enough to have them hatch in my garden every October.

Their appearance also coincides with the return in mid-October of the Red-chested Cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius – Piet-my-Vrou) as they make out a large part of this Cuckoo’s diet.

Eutricha capensis, the Cape lappet moth, is a species of moth in the family Lasiocampidae primarily found in South Africa. During the larval stage, cape lappets feed on a wide variety of African plants and can often be found aggregating in gardens. The caterpillars are brightly coloured and conspicuously hairy, while the bulky adult moths are mostly brown and much less striking in appearance.

I also found another clump at the base of one of the White Karee's (Rhus viminalis) and I think they have chosen their spot well, for I doubt that the Red-chested Cuckoo will go onto the ground in my garden.

If you look close enough, you will see some water droplets on them. Luckily I saw them just in time before wetting them completely with the hosepipe! Be careful of touching these deceptively soft-looking beauties, the hairs stick to whatever they come into contact with and and can cause an irritating, itchy rash.

The adult moths are large and stocky, with an average wingspan of about 70 mm (2.8 in). Both hind wings and fore wings are reddish brown. The fore wings are flecked with yellow and bear three wavy white stripes. Females are typically paler in colour and larger than males.

I will be keeping a close eye on them over the next few days and hopefully I can capture the adults emerging.

 A typical example of one of the Lappet moths
Image from iSpot



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