Winter at the Cape Peninsula can be petulant: wild and stormy with the Atlantic sea crashing in with dramatic drift and flow contrasted with the calmest sheerest-whisper-of-wind days. Returning after months away traveling to tropical countries, this for me is the best time of year to be in Cape Town. Though home is in the southern peninsula – away from the city lights where nature shows her untrammeled face. I have written quite a few posts on Olifantsbos Beach, here , here and here. This working beach with it’s natural processes attracts diners to a veritable feast. Seabirds flock here and recently i visited hoping to photograph the African Black Oystercatchers but instead got totally distracted by a gaggle of Egyptian geese in mating mode. Their strut and ‘necking’ stole the show. Then the ostriches showed up, the buck and the baboons …..
A wobble of ostrich.
This Chacma baboon troop is one of the wild troops living within the park. There are only two troops which aren’t habituated to raiding anthropogenic food sources and forage only in natural fynbos and the rock pools for shellfish. The rest of the troops are under threat one way or another, either through being attracted into residential areas or through poor conservation practice. Generally there is an overlap into their home range where human recreational facilities feature vineyards, restaurants, picnic and campsites. If baboons know they are going to get easy rewards and when residents and property owners do not secure garbage bins or adequately baboon-proof their properties / homes, baboon raiding patterns become entrenched as they will return over and over. If they learn to rely on human food it voids their inherent role in the ecosystem and disrupts their social relationships. They can become aggressive and when they have to be euthanised there is much outrage often from the humans who are the cause of the entrenched raiding patterns in the first place. While SANParks recognise the ‘res nullius’ free roaming status of baboons, there is a lack of law enforcement for fining people who feed the animals nor are there enforceable by-laws for securing garbage so ultimately it’s the baboons which suffer the consequences.
“And down flew a blackbird …. and pecked off her nose”. I couldn’t help thinking of the English nursery rhyme as a watched these cheeky Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) working over fallow deer plucking fur for lining their nests. I expected the deer to object – “ouch, get away….” but they seemed completely unfazed and carried on chewing the cud as the birds boldly alighted and then flew off with tufts of fur. Reading up on their behaviour i discovered that they are the smallest of the crow species and are highly opportunistic. Described as ‘colonial cavity nesters’ using tree holes to chimneys, they build an outer form with sticks and line the inner side with wool or hair. No doubt that deer fur will be insulating creating a soft and warm nest. Clever creatures!
Spring has wafted in bringing some relief from the drought as swathes of wild flowers stretch across the veld. There’s an air of triumph about – a flap of wings and the squawking of little hatchlings. A welcome sight in our backyard is a newly fledged Cape wagtail chick. It plopped out of the nest like a little plum pudding and landed with a bump. The parents continue to fuss around encouraging it to fly, following with encouraging tweets.
Initially there was a setback with the first nest when it was abandoned after the local baboon troop came for a visit through the neighbourhood. They’d spent a week constructing a perfect little structure and had just lined it with soft feathers when the furry visitors rudely clambered right up the very jasmine creeper where it was sited and partially dislodged it in their rush to jump over the wall. The birds were so spooked that they took off and disappeared for a while before returning to choose a new site to rebuild. Happily there was a successful outcome and if the pattern of past years is repeated the adult pair may well produce two more batches of chicks this season.
A feeling of elation lingers as the soft rain which has fallen over the last two days, soaks into the parched earth and the raindrops glisten like jewels. The dam levels supplying Cape Town’s needs are still way below par but through this respite we can visibly see the vegetation greening up and the first signs of spring are emerging. Through my dining room window there’s a buzzing scene. Wagtails are in-coming carrying nesting material, while the sugarbirds and sunbirds flit about foraging for nectar. The protea pincushions (Leucospermum) are coming into bloom though i still put out the occasional bottle of sugar water (fructose/sucrose formula) for the sunbirds.
The ‘tweeting’ going on is full of robust conversation; the wagtail pair call constantly with urgency – “Where are you, where? Bring in the next twigs, need fluff, fluff?” While the sugarbirds have the gruff throaty voice of nightclub singers; deep and croaky. They have the least melodious of songs while the dainty sunbirds have ‘chirp’; full of small bird attitude. My guidebook describes their calls as a wheezy single “tsearp” or double “teer-turp”. And with that, a jubilant “hallelujah” from all of us here on the rainy shores of the Cape Peninsula.