🐾 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, 30 January 2014

The first Guineas on the last day of the year

Camera : Canon EOS 550D Taken in my garden (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa) 31 Dec 2013

Whoot whoot! What a wonderful way to say goodbye to 2013! On the 31st December 2013 and for the first time in 10 years, some Helmeted Guinea fowl (Numida meleagris) visited my garden again! We used to have huge flocks of these delightful birds pass through our smallholding, but for the past ten years their sightings have become less and less as progress takes it toll in the area. I am absolutely thrilled that they honoured me with a visit!

There were only two in the garden while the rest of the flock grazed just outside the fence and they were constantly chattering to one another, keeping in touch.

Upon spotting me with the camera, this one stopped grazing and gave me the beady eye, as if to say, "Now what do you want?" but didn't seem particularly worried about my presence. I tried to move closer to get a better shot, but that sent both of them scurrying along the fence, finally taking flight and joining the rest of the flock on the other side.

I'm really hoping this would not be the last time that they come and visit.


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Juvenile African Mole snake (Pseudaspis cana)

Walking in the garden yesterday morning, I noticed all the chickens gathered in one spot on the lawn, necks outstretched and a general look of alarm and consternation on all their faces. Upon closer inspection, I found this little juvenile African Mole snake (Pseudaspis cana), equally alarmed at being surrounded by such a curious audience.

I didn't have my camera with me, and besides which I feared the chickens might attack and hurt him, so I had to pick him up and go inside to get the camera. I apologise for the pics not being better, but it's rather difficult working a camera with a zoom lens with one hand! After these couple of photos, I carried him to outside the garden wall and released him in the long grass on our smallholding. It's no guarantee he'll be safe there either, the closest trees where he might find some birds' eggs is either our blue gum bush further down the plot or the neighbour's garden.

Before I had chickens, I always used to leave them in the garden where I was sure they would be quite safe until they decided to move on. This little chap is about 30cm long and they reach a length of up to 2m.

The Mole snake can be identified by its uniform brown, grey or black colour (juveniles have zigzag or mottled markings), its preference for burrowing, a round pupil and highly aggressive self-defence display. (Read HERE about Mollie, my resident mole snake). It grows to an average length of 1.4 meters but may reach 2 meters in length. The Mole snake eats rodents (particularly rats, mice and gerbils), moles and birds. Juveniles however are largely restricted to lizards, probably why this juvenile was attracted to my garden, I have a lot of lizards (African striped skink).

Mole snakes give birth to live young), gives birth to between 25 and 50 young (or up to 95 in rare cases) in late summer. They have been known to live for 20 years in captivity.

PS: Never pick up any snakes, even small ones, if you're not 100% sure of what it is!

Molslang [Afrikaans]; Inkwakhwa [Xhosa]; uBhulube, umJungendlu [Zulu]


Friday, 24 January 2014

Craving greenery

 Green is one of my favourite colours - green in nature signifies health and growth, the colour of spring, of renewal and rebirth. For the longest while now I've been craving green, leafy food - green vegetables have always been my favourite above carrots, pumpkin, beetroot and most of the 'red' vegetables (the only thing I DON'T eat is green peppers!), so I'm always on the look-out for tasty ways to prepare the greenery. I love preparing simple and easy meals, nothing too elaborate for me, and I found this steamed green beans recipe at the Woolworths TasteMag site. As it also has broccoli in it, it has turned out to be one of my favourites.

I know that cravings are a way of your body letting you know where to get some vitamin or mineral that it is lacking and leafy green veggies are full of vital nutrients like Beta Carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, B complex, Folic Acid, Iron, and Calcium. Seems like my body is missing a lot of vitamins... Time to make a veggie garden...


Recipe by: Abigail Donnelly
Serves: 6 - 8
Dietary considerations: Low carb
Category: Vegetarian / Easy / Great value / Quick
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes

700 g green beans, trimmed
460 g tender broccoli stems
150 g salted butter
1 bunch sage, leaves picked
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cooking instructions:
Cook the beans and broccoli in salted boiling water for 2 minutes, or until tender. Drain and refresh under running cold water. Set aside. Place the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and stir until melted. Add the sage leaves and gently cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until crispy. Add the beans, broccoli, sea salt and pepper, and toss to heat through.

Arrange on a plate and spoon over the sage butter to serve.



Sunday, 19 January 2014

Shining out of happiness

Early morning, raindrops glistening from the tips of the leaves of my Acacia karroo.

 "There is an eternal love between
 the water drop and the leaf.
When you look at them,
you can see that they
 both shine
 out of happiness."
Mehmet Murat ildan


Saturday, 18 January 2014

New life

Summer is the time of new life - baby chicks and  birds are hatching, my bathroom court-yard garden is full of new baby lizards and virtually every day I witness the birth of something.

Yesterday morning, as I was packing my garden tool basket, I came upon a spent cocoon and it was rather large, almost three inches. I wondered what on earth could have hatched, obviously a moth and I hoped she was still around somewhere. A search revealed her sitting on the edge of the patio step, trying to unfold her shrivelled wings. I quickly picked her up and carried her to the nearest tree, and only afterwards thought that I should have taken a photo of her before picking her up!

Once in the tree she started crawling up and vibrating her wings, making it very difficult to get a photo!

She's not this blurry in real life! Even while sitting still for a moment, her wings were trilling and vibrating, pumping blood through to strengthen them. I've come to the conclusion that she's one of the Hawk moths but have not been able to find a positive identification (there are 7 000 species of moths in South Africa!)

The Sphingidae are a family of moths (Lepidoptera), commonly known as hawk moths, sphinx moths, and hornworms; it includes about 1,450 species. They are moderate to large in size and are distinguished among moths for their rapid, sustained flying ability. Their narrow wings and streamlined abdomens are adaptations for rapid flight.

Some hawk moths, such as the hummingbird hawk moth or the white-lined sphinx, hover in mid-air while they feed on nectar from flowers, so are sometimes mistaken for hummingbirds. This hovering capability has evolved only four times in nectar feeders: in hummingbirds, certain bats, hoverflies, and these sphingids (an example of convergent evolution). Sphingids have been much studied for their flying ability, especially their ability to move rapidly from side to side while hovering, called 'swing-hovering' or 'side-slipping.' This is thought to have evolved to deal with ambush predators that lie in wait in flowers.

And now there's a spin to the tale. As soon as I finished photographing her and had moved away, I noticed my Robin in the tree, hopping from branch to branch, trying to get a good look at what might be the biggest snack of the week! I immediately climbed up the lower branches of the tree, retrieved her and took her to another tree at the other end of the garden, hoping the Robin didn't know what I was doing. Upon my return to the patio, I noticed the Robin still hopping around in the tree, trying to find out what had happened and where that snack has disappeared to all of a sudden! Hopefully he, or any of the other birds, won't find her hidden in the foliage of the other tree.

Just before dusk I checked on her, and she was quietly hanging onto the trunk of the tree, quite well camouflaged, so hopefully she would be safe until night time. All moths are nocturnal and some species fly only for short periods either around dusk or dawn, while other species only appear later in the evening and others around midnight, but such species may occasionally be seen feeding at flowers during the day. A few common species in Africa, such as Cephonodes hylas virescens (the Oriental bee hawk), Leucostrophus hirundo, and Macroglossum trochilus, are diurnal.

Most species of Hawk moths are multivoltine, capable of producing several generations a year if weather conditions permit. When I checked early this morning, she was nowhere to be found and hopefully she survived the dangers of the night. And maybe I'll be seeing a lot more of these moths in the future.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

A Sunday morning reflection

It's a beautiful summer's day, sun shining brightly and all my girls are contentedly scratching in the garden, silently being watched by Artemis, who has quite a time keeping them all together where he can see them. Kiep, for one, was obscured by the Asparagus Fern, much to his consternation.

Let me introduce you to my flock. Artemis is my Bantam Rooster, who takes his job of looking after the girls very seriously. Kiep, who grew up in my studio freshly out of the egg, is Artemis's lady of choice and she makes this quite clear to the rest of the flock, exercising her right as top-of-the-pecking-order hen by choosing the best perch next to Artemis at night, after which the rest of the girls are allowed to settle in and sort themselves out.

Next in line are Hettie, Missy, Snooky, Micky, Snookums and Chi-Chi, my baby. They all have a pecking order amongst themselves, with Hettie taking the lead and little Chi-Chi staying well out of everybody's way.


Snookums - who loves laying her eggs in my Studio

Chi-Chi - the youngest of the flock

I surveyed my garden. Oh my, no colour and lots of empty patches - 12 chickens are wreaking total havoc, and I don't know HOW they are capable of up-rooting and destroying large areas of Hen & Chicks - there's nothing left of the above plant, just a few roots... The Asparagus Fern is one of the few plants they seem to leave alone. And, of course, the bigger shrubs.

One thing my girls love best after chasing insects, is grazing, on the lawn. Which is now just starting to recover from winter and turning green, so the next best thing is anything tender growing in the garden.

 Luckily the hydrangeas also escape their attention and these are now displaying the last of their faded flowers, which I picked this morning, first for the vase and then, later, for drying.

I've been getting plenty of eggs despite the hot weather, 5 or 6 every day from 7 hens, and Kiep is broody and is walking around clucking disgustedly at the lack of eggs in her nest.

Not only is the garden depleted of all flowers, but also all insects! I don't know whether that is good or bad, all I know is I miss seeing praying mantids and ladybugs... Because of the wet conditions, the chooks seem to spend a lot of time on the patio, or maybe they're just patio-lovers or like to be close to me when I sit outside having a cup of coffee!
Artemis stepping out on the patio

And the muddy conditions, after some much needed rain, is taking it's toll on the white hens - all of them are more brown than white. Time to give the girls a bath! But not today, today is just for reflecting...


Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Time flies and Snoodles is growing up

Time flies, but the memories collected along the way can never be replaced. 
- Ashley Tisdale

Well, the festive season is past, the holidays are over and just about everybody is back at work. I personally have not known my Wednesdays from my Sundays over this holiday period and how time has flown! We're already heading towards February! (Well, not quite, but you know what I mean!)

And Snoodles (the dustbin chick straight of the egg) has been growing just as fast. One of these days she will be joining all the other girls in the chicken coup. No more sleeping in a basket in front of my bed - already it's difficult to get her to settle down at night, she is not content with sleeping under a towel anymore, looking for something to roost on - and she's waking up earlier and earlier every day, virtually taking her cue from Artemis when he starts crowing at 4am! Here are a couple of pics showing her progress since Christmas day. 

Snoodles on Christmas day, taking her first sand-bath

Snoodles on the 28th December 2013

Snoodles on the lawn early this morning 7th January 2014

7th January 2014 - listening intently to Artemis crowing

7th January 2014 - at the pond. Very alarmed, she saw Torti, my Leopard tortoise going past

What on earth is that? I'd better get out of here!

Snoodles on the 30th November 2013 - just 5 weeks ago!

They say time flies when you're having fun, so here's to another fun-filled year ahead of us!


Wednesday, 1 January 2014


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