13 December, 2013

The policeman and the prima donna

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity in Porterville, near Cape Town in South Africa

We have no manicured lawn. We've learnt to adjust to a hotter summer, but still in the Western Cape’s familiar mediterranean climate. They say build it and they will come – and indeed they have!

The Story of Elephant’s Eye

Chapter 7
Gardening for biodiversity

We live in a small country town, our garden behind a wall. We have a few diamond panels at the base of the wall – for frogs and snakes and lizards and striped mice. Our wildlife is birds and smalls.

Rosyfaced lovebird dining out at Spirulino's

Most exciting was the endangered Black Stork for which we named the little island in Ungardening Pond. Porterville lies in a dip which was once a vlei, and I wonder how many generations back the frogs remember coming here. These summer nights towards Christmas the frog and cricket oompah band is in fine form.

One of our frogs

The pond has taught us that a dragonfly is not just a dragonfly. There are dragons and damsels. Slender or sturdy. Black, blue, red, green, orange.

Dragonfly, carpenter bee
woolly bear and death's head hawkmoth caterpillars

The spaanse riet, reed bed with its weaver bird nests is one reason why we are here. Our mixed flock of weavers and sparrows and red bishops acquired what my German SIL calls the policeman. A pintailed whydah. Sadly the very first one terrorised the flock, who crashed into the windows fleeing from the Red Baron as he came screaming out of the sky, beak dripping blood. That first whydah also swore too close to Chocolat, and the Ungardener asked sadly – that’s not OUR Lil Cuss is it? Without his tail and attitude the bird is barely the size of my thumb. But his cuckoo strategy was successful and each year there are 2 or 3 whydahs fighting over who rules Elephant’s Eye. But at the end of a long hot day, he peacefully eats dinner with the flock.

Masked weavers and their nest

Cape weaver eating wild oats

Latest excitement is the prima donna who has joined the flock. Lil Cuss is polite, and they are all wary. Little green parrot sort of bird, with a stubby blue tail and a bright pink face – which is all you see when he sits not squawking in a tree. He is a rosyfaced lovebird, found wild in Namibia and the Northern Cape. Common near-endemic in dry woodland, semi-desert and mountains – says SASOL Birds of Southern Africa.

The policeman and the prima donna
Pintailed whydah and rosyfaced lovebird

In good years the malachite kingfisher comes visiting. We have a pair of wagtails who work their way around the edge of the pond. When a dark shadow passes over the garden, it is the heron.

Hoopoe, malachite kingfisher
Waxbills, malachite sunbird

Heron standing on our telephone pole

We leave a thick layer of mulch – first for the plants to keep the roots cool and slowly add compost to our heavy clay soil. The bonus is that thrushes and robins can fossick around for bugs, and  tabakrolletjie snakes hunt snails. European starlings and rosy-cheeked mousebirds raid the fig trees. Sunbirds revel in long trumpets of nectar - aloes, Tecoma, Melianthus, pineapple sage.

Harvester termites at work
who are in turn eaten by the birds

Crab or flower spider
Perfect colour match
Now, what about that shadow?!

Beetles and spiderswasps and butterflies. Always another strange creature to plow thru my books or iSpot for an ID.

Chapter 6 was Sun kissed at Paradise and Roses
The final Chapter is 8  Travelling from Porterville

Pictures by Diana and Jurg Studer

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  1. Greetings Diana! So lovely as always to get your photos (and your socially conscious Google+ posts...). I recall a visit to Linyanti camp in Botswana (a photography trip) where we thought we were going to see the "five" big game animals that everybody goes to see. For us, what was even more special, or at least AS special were the magnificent birds. It was life-changing. So thank you for these photos. Susie

    1. there's also a small five

  2. Diana your prose is almost like poetry. If I half shut my eyes I am there with you, away from the grey of the uk .

  3. What a precious haven for wildlife you've created. The variety of visitors is wonderful.

  4. Love the lovebird! S. African birds are downright exotic compared to what we have here.

  5. The policeman and the prima donna, what a beautiful picture! I envy you for the beautiful and colourful birds you have there, just flying around in the wild.

  6. These are great photos, Diana! It's so fun to see what grows in and who visits your garden. Both the birds and the blooming plants are fascinating!

  7. Poor Lil Cuss! He has been through a lot! But nevertheless he seems to have found a good home, even if he has to share it with a policeman and a prima donna! You have created a wonderful retreat for the wildlife. Thanks for giving us a peek into your world.

  8. Diana I really love seeing your beautiful birds...so extoic nd interesting...and a prima donna among the group.


Photographs and Copyright

Photographs are from Diana Studer or Jurg Studer.
My Canon PowerShot A490

If I use your images or information, it will be clearly acknowledged with either a link to the website, or details of the book. If you use my images or words, I expect you to acknowledge them in turn.

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