Butcher birds: stocking the larder

Don’t know if you’re like me and always root for the underdog?   With the nesting season in full swing, the birds around the garden have adapted to wary vigilance – there are raptors about, and smaller more common birds of the prey, the fiscal shrike.   They too have chicks in the nest and we watch as they stake out an area and then swoop down to catch their prey.  Commonly known as ‘butcher birds’ for their custom of spiking their live prey onto sharp thorns or barbed wire.

We regularly sight the little four-striped field mice and i’ve been lucky to grab photo opportunities when they’re out sunning themselves or at times raiding our kitchen.  There’s no harm done (other than the loss of cotton tassels from the carpet runners used for nesting material) as we shoo them out sometimes with an added bit of encouragement with the use of a broom.

A far cuter species is the dainty Cape pygmy mouse – about half the size of a field mouse but a most engaging and agile creature.    My neighbours have a policy of catch and release when these little fellas pitch up in their kitchen and for some years we’ve been relocating them in a custom designed box to an open patch of vegetation on the other side of our houses.

The smallest of the mice species, the pygmy mouse.

Imagine then, while we were quietly enjoying a beer at sunset, a butcher bird flew in and spiked a mouse on a sharp thorn at the top most reaches of the bougainvillea creeper.  Brutal!  But was it one of the relocated pygmy mice?!  Or was it more likely to be a ‘stripey’?   Darn it’s cruel out there.

A quick look around the neighbourhood

It’s been a while since i last posted and since returning home after some months of travel, it is heartening to be back in the rainy season.  And rain we have, buckets of it.  The dams are filling nicely and it looks promising that the harsh drought conditions are behind us.

My travel adventures begin to dim as i hook up again into the language of the familiar, but i’d love to share some of the experiences once i’ve got the photos sorted.  There are so many aspects when travel unfolds, from the hubbub of major cities to the quiet of the backroads.  Nature delivered some drama too, a bruising from the ‘Beast from the East’ to the unfurling of an exuberant Northern Hemisphere spring.  I had a lucky encounter with a Falconer and a Red kestrel working King’s Cross Railway station; stumbled across the Richmond deer herd in a snow storm, met “Cheddar Man” at the Natural history museum; rambled over hill and dale where meadow flowers bloomed in profusion.  All the while discovering new habitats and learning to read the landscape – from bluebell glades, acidic uplands, limestone pavements, salt marshes and water, water, water!  But most intriguing was seeing how nature finds it’s footing within eco-niches in densely populated urban areas.  Who’d have thought that a visit to Tate Modern would also bring a viewing of peregrine falcons nesting high up in the very same building or of foxes roaming boldly through some of the inner London suburbs?

Settling back again into a Cape routine, the dawn chorus comes rustling in with a guttural cacophony of Egyptian geese, hadedah ibis and raucous gulls.  I watch in delight as furry creatures scurry across the lawn (green and verdant now) – a mongoose scampers by with two pintsized, energetic juveniles, the baboons make quick unannounced visits, and so too, the nocturnal porcupine family with it’s gorgeous, prickly little baby.  Further along the road, the penguin nursery is in full swing attending to the raising of young.   This wild bevy of beauties makes my heart soar – here is a natural world right on the doorstep.  The wagtails and sunbirds are searching for nesting places and down below on the rocks the dassies sun themselves after the rain showers.  A single otter comes often, mud-bathing in the wet black soil.  My next door neighbours describe exciting sightings of two caracals, an adult and a youngster, and the opportunity to observe these secretive wild lynx at close quarters.

All in all it’s good to be back!

 

 

Biodiversity

Being aware that we’re in an era of the “Sixth Extinction” let’s pay tribute to this the 25th annual International Day of Biodiversity.  The Western Cape region is known as a hotspot for biodiversity particularly for it’s fynbos ecosystem.  No better way to describe it’s rich heritage is Cape Nature’s latest biodiversity report in this Vimeo link below.

On the move

Dear Readers,

I’m on the move again and apologies if posts and replying to comments becomes a bit haphazard over the next few weeks.

Leaving Cape Town the scenes from the plane window show a grim picture of the drought stricken and parched land.  In complete contrast are the rich agricultural fields of the South Downs, East Sussex in England where we are based for the next few days.   Hiking on the Wealdway and South Downs trails brings a new vista of awe at every turn!

 

Post Fire Scenes at Cape of Good Hope

Returning home after some weeks away, the first order of the day is catching up on local events and life round the neighbourhood.  These scenes at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, are of the area impacted by a ravaging fire in early March and are so devastatingly familiar.   This is an area where we often cycle and part of the cycle track goes right through the middle of this desolation and we’re gripped both by a sense of loss and awe.  That the fynbos vegetation which forms part of this extraordinary Cape Floral Kingdom, is sustained and flourishes in such nutrient poor soil is remarkable.  Stripped of the green foliage, the revealed soil looks much like beach sand (from quartzite).  Parts look like wastelands, but in some areas green shoots  are already appearing attracting browsers like buck and zebra.  The geophytes, such as the red Candelabra lilies (Brunsvigia orientalis) are flowering profusely and against the burned vegetation look quite stunning.  With climate change affecting local weather patterns, predictions for Cape Town are that total rainfall will decrease by between 10% – 30% over the next 50 years.  Fire frequency and intensity will undoubtedly increase, putting post fire vegetation reseeding under further pressure. We’re hoping this year that the seasonal rainfall over the winter months will break the current drought cycle.