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Open Features, Open Features: For The Birds

...birds of every description, most of which seem to live in our garden which, in October, is ablaze with brilliant red bottle-brush trees...

Jacqueline Dowling is keeping a friendly eye on neighbours of the feathered variety.

I have eleven plus weeks of enforced idleness in progress at the moment. How to fill the time? No shopping, no library visits, no gadding about...perhaps I'll get down to some serious writing, or read again our dusty volumes of Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevski or simply open my eyes and count the blessings of our immediate environment. Or dig deep into what remains of the better part of my soul and revisit Andrew Marvell. His lines 'Two paradises 'twere in one, To live in Paradise alone...' pretty well says it all about our part of Africa.

We live in Hermanus, along the southern cape coast of South Africa, on the lowest slopes of a mountain range, in a quiet and leafy area. On one side is the Atlantic, on the other side of the plateau the Hemel en Aarde valley: a place of vines, olives, cork oaks, wineries, fruit farms and spectacular views sweeping down to the sea. Our side is less verdant , and home to a baboon troop, the cape leopard, tortoises (which have right of way), klipspringers, (tiny antelope) larger antelope, honey badgers, meerkats and all that goes therewith. And birds of every description, most of which seem to live in our garden which, in October, is ablaze with brilliant red bottle-brush trees, full of birds. Next will come the waterberries and with them the long tailed sugar birds. House sparrows nest in the winter jasmine on one of the verandah pillars, in a hurriedly refurbished nest recently vacated by a pair of doves. In the creeper on the driveway wall, a wagtail pair are using the same nest for the fifth year, and pop in regularly for cheese and crumbs. A weaver has started four nests in the white stinkwood next door, all of which have been rejected by his mate, and a tatty feather duster adorns the spikes on the garage pillar to discourage two amorous and messy pigeons who find spikes the perfect place to plight their troth, and other things.

Sunbirds, crimson and malachite, swoop between bottlebrush, honeysuckle and jasmine, their long beaks probing deep into the nectar while a francolin appears on the lawn with her four chicks. Not long ago she was eating crushed corn from my hand and has made a fairly good job of scratching good soil out of tubs and pots. The robins, weavers, canaries and thrushes have discovered the seed tin in the hall and, since the door is usually open, the mat's beginning to resemble the entrance to a chicken run I tell myself it'll scrub up. No problem.

These small birds also spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen, cleaning up crumbs and pecking at the bread bin.

It's quiet here. The main sound is that of birdsong, harsh hadedah ibis alarms at dawn, squabbling guinea fowl on twice daily patrol, chattering weavers, egyptian geese and in the silence of night, the lonely squeal of kiewits and woolly voiced wood owls.

This evening a flock of flamingos fly across the sunset to Bot River lagoon, buzzards swoop in the evening light and five pied crows shatter the evening with their gutteral cries. Down at the rocks are oyster catchers terns and gulls...but that's another story!

On balance, perhaps idleness isn't that bad after all.

jacqueline dowling 2013


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