African Black Oystercatcher

African Black Oystercatcher

People who keep bird lists are often called twitchers or they are teased for being obsessive. “What’s important to you, the list or the bird?” I have often been asked. “Neither,” I tell them in my cheeky photographer voice. “I love catching them and taking them home in ways you may never see!”

My rock!

My bird list says I first saw an Oystercatcher on the 1st of January 1994 off Cape Recife in Gqeberha. This might not mean much to anyone else, but to me, my list is a magical record keeper of days of adventure and holidays filled with explorations. My first sight of this dark black bird made me instantly fall in love with her character, attitude, and surprisingly colourful first impression. A flock of Oystercatchers can be a veritable assault on the senses with their bright eyes, striking beaks and the shrillness of their calls to each other from the intense ocean smelling kelp and mussel beds.

African Black Oystercatchers have bright red eyes surrounded by an orange wattle that make them appear huge.

Now I live in Yzerfontein, where I can walk to the beach in five minutes and where on many of the beaches I can be sure to see Oystercatchers on any day of the week. They still thrill me. Late at night I can be lying in bed and hear one calling as she flies past on a mission of her own. “Yes,” I say, “I can hear you. You are a beautiful being.”

Sunset over Yzerfontein coastline.

The Wolf in the Garden

The bee wolf grabs the honey bee behind the neck and curls into her faster than the human eye can see.
As the honey bee drifts into unconsciousness, the bee wolf seemingly gives her a last kiss.
Gripped tightly to the wolf’s abdomen, the bee is flown off to a sandy nest where she will lie in paralysed state surrounded by other hapless prey waiting for the wolf’s eggs to hatch and finally complete the hunting cycle.

Greetings in a Lavender Bush

playing peekaboo with the bees

cracking open the camouflage

whizzing with a hawkmoth

In my garden, the lavender bushes grant great big perpetual bunches of flowers breezed through with gentle soothing scent. They gather together many beings. These photographs were all taken this 2nd of April 2022 with a 100mm macro lens in a single lavender bush. The late afternoon sun provided the colours.

Provisions

English is a language with an extensive vocabulary, and yet many words are used in different contexts to contain a range of meanings.

Provisions (noun): the act of supplying something for use. It could be a donation, or an agreement around services to be rendered.

Provisions (verb): to allocate beings with food, drink, or equipment, especially for a journey.

As cute as squirrels are, humans have not domesticated them as a species. Squirrels will happily share space with us in urban gardens, but with two hands to hold onto a store of nuts foraged from the environment, this Tree Squirrel still knows the freedom of gathering enough to provide a quick and immediate nibble as well as how to keep supplies in reserve for hungrier times.
Dogs, on the other hand, have left behind their wolf ancestry to feed off our human belief that we are the providers, the controllers of the food chain. They have trained us to scavenge on their behalf for the duration of their lives.
Give feral cats an option between snacking on snails and lizards in the bush, or consuming our processed dry chicken cubes and they soon become acclimated to our non-organic ways.
At the other end of the spectrum, many small beings have a much greater knowledge of which plants are providers than humans may ever know. Plant material goes in and out of this caterpillar in his determined drive towards transformation.
Caterpillars process all that plant material into provisions for Redbilled Hornbills and many other species and so do not always manage to reach the next phase of their development.
This Southern Fiscal Juvenile is learning about provisions. Within four months Juveniles are ready to leave their parents’ territory and fend for themselves from the earth’s bounty.
Those caterpillars that do survive become some of the most beautiful flying people. Here one such beauty is pictured with her proboscis deeply inserted into a lavender bush. Life continues after her period of cocooned transformation and nectar is provided to this Painted Lady.
The beings on land are not the only provisions. Fisherman go out to sea in fair hope of feeding their families.
Other beings, such as this cormorant, are also well equipped to make use of fish as a source of energy. We can learn from them how to take what is needed only.
The earth feeds all of us, but unfortunately there is not much of nutritional value left in the things humans leave lying around.
Even nature’s thorny food is far more digestible than the waste humans create.
Some lambs get born in the depth of cold winter rain storms and may be discarded by inexperienced mothers. The farmers try to save as many of these lambs as they can. On this particular farm our discarded single use plastic bottles are given a second chance at usefulness by becoming milk containers to fulfil a life saving role.

All around us every day we are faced with providers and provisions. Do we remember the chain of life that brings us to where we are? Are we happy in what we have? These are some of the questions that may help us to understand the need to be respectful when playing but a small part in millions of years of events.

Mirror, mirror on the wall – Who is the prettiest of them all?

Species differ, but life itself runs the same developmental progression of youthfulness through to ageing and death within all. Cuteness always favours the young and there seems to be inter-species awareness of this beauty. This provides part of the pulling power to elicit the care from elders that enables life to be resilient.

How freeing would it be for humans to honour, value and find gratitude in all of life’s intricate aspects, rather than to minimise our reverence to the human form?

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

A good place to take close up views of the fingers and toes, fists, feet, and even facial hair, of the plants surrounding us.

Images created with Canon 1D mark iii, L lens zoom 28-135 , and Kenko 36mm Extension tube. Late afternoon, minimal light, ISO 3200.

No ordinary dove

Doves and their etymological cousins, the pigeons, are well known across the majority of the earth’s landmass. People often see them, and seldom give them any thought. The geographical features of the Sahara Desert, Antarctica, and the high Arctic are too stark to allow for the survival of these birds, but elsewhere they are considered abundant.

Even when offered as an example of the potential for extinction, these birds are discussed casually. Let’s look at Passenger pigeons. They are arguably the best known example of Anthropogenic extinction… they were an abundant species. They were eradicated from the surface of the Earth by humans. Quickly. We teach that this tragedy happened because of us, we recognise it as our responsibility, even when using the distancing techniques of language we don’t get much further away than saying they died “due to human activities”.

Here are some examples of abundant doves and pigeons. Decide if they are ordinary, dismissible, easy to live without.

Cape Turtle Dove, Nossob, Kgalagadi
Mourning dove, Kruger NP
Red-eyed dove, JHB
A Laughing Dove flying over Marievale, Gauteng
Laughing Dove, Yzerfontein
An Emerald spotted wood-dove in the Kruger National Park
Common Bronze-winged Pigeon, Melbourne, Australia

Currently at least eleven species of doves and pigeons are endangered world wide. How many can we afford to lose before we know they are no ordinary birds?

This is no ordinary love
No ordinary Love
This is no ordinary love
No ordinary Love

Keep trying for you
Keep crying for you
Keep lying for you
Keep flying and I’m falling

And I’m falling

Song performed by Sade

A live gorge

From Cairns in Queensland, Australia one can ride the Skyrail Cable car right into the rainforest around Karunda. The highlight is Barron falls. A place where it becomes easy to believe that the rivers, forests and waterfalls of the earth have a conscious, breathing, living right to the self determined existence we usually reserve in our thinking for human beings.

Barron Gorge

Sunset at Outeniqua moon

A recent long weekend at the Percheron Stud Farm Outeniqua Moon did wonders to lay to rest the tumultuous time of the Coronavirus. I feel for all who have been working ( or not working ) without as much as a chance to see such incredible beauty.

Shadowfax standing peacefully in his paddock. Currently the main stud stallion for Percheron in South Africa.
A dark Percheron from the USA, aptly named Goliath, is valued for his intense glimmering coat.
Delicate blossoms, a handful of sunbirds and the occasional Knysna Turaco round off a place that still believes in the healing spirit of nature.

walking the shadows into the light

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Recently I walked the rugged coastline of my small town with a friend. I am cautious always when taking people on these walks as there are many loose rocks and deep plunges into a fiercely thrusting sea below if one dares to not take the journey seriously. Looking up briefly I saw our shadows thrown onto the opposing side of the canyon, striding out over the dark part of the wall and stretching without effort into the light. I felt such a surge of joy. There truly is relief in how shadow and light are the shape of each other’s existence.

Black-faced Cuckoo-Shrike

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After a month of traveling, I have come home with a store of photographs.  Finally the mad rush slows down into these quiet representations of what flashed by before.  Being in the moment is an art, but having it prolonged into a meditation is a luxury.  Staring at leisure endows artistic splendour to all who managed to flee.

Beauty combined

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I am about to leave my most beautiful and glorious home to travel far and wide in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the United Arab Emirates. A little voice was whispering in my ear that I may no longer believe I live in the most beautiful place on earth when I return, but then I realised that we all have access to a world in which beauty is unbelievably generous when just added to what we look at, and that such looking does not need to be compared, competed over or judged . We can choose to love the accumulated effect of many places and live in one whole world. I can safely be excited about leaving, and open hearted about returning.

Painted Lady flutters far

 

 

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Thousands of Painted Lady butterflies are moving across our area during this season of heat after the rain. They sit still for a few seconds at a time only and I am grateful for the auto-focus on my camera being fast enough to capture them in such glorious detail. Their eyes show that they keep up a wary scrutiny of the photographer while the proboscis sinks into that inevitable next drop of nectar. The Afrikaans name Sondagsrokkie suggests that they have dressed up in their Sunday best: to be seen by others. A lovely tribute to these wafting bits of colour.

Exploratory walk

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The sisters are now four months old. When the door was finally left open they egged one another on to explore the garden.

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Jessica crept around obstacles

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carefully watched by the deeply concerned poodle.

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Grace found her feet on the pathways

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and knew how to run from the Mongoose.

Most importantly, the pathway to the inner sanctum of a safe home is clearly established. This is what will help to let them have further walks in the near future.

Low Light Garden Abstracts

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The very low light after sunset, with flowers brightly washed by the rain,  allowed me to move the camera beyond the confines of easily identifiable objects.  It created the shades and colours of these abstracts. I love how the strange hues of dusk highlight colour combinations not seen in daylight.

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The lesser photographed poodle

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As pets go, our standard poodle, Baillie, features in photographs far less often than the other beloveds. This is not because she lacks character, but because her particularly even coat and dark eyes make it very hard to take a photograph that enables one to make out head or tail of where she starts and ends in pictures, and I end up discarding the shots. Recently though I was listening to an Internet masterclass with Annie Liebowitch extolloing the virtues of flat light while taking portraits and decided to experiment yet again.  The result? The first set of amazing portraits that I have taken of this dog in thirteen years. Thank you Annie. We can now share the light and love in her eyes, the softness and intelligence, and even if she is ageing now her joy is ever present. I am so glad to have so much left to learn.

Every litter has a runt

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Every litter has the tiny one, and sometimes these are the ones who make up in character what they were not given in ability. Now nine weeks old Jessie is still not able to climb the stairs, but she is a loud and rambunctious presence in the house. In her world, things matter. She may not be the bravest or the biggest, but she sure is the strongest.

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All vets beware.  Do not be fooled by the petite beauty spot on Jessie’s nose.  Each foot has its own set of lethal weapons. 

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Being the dark sister comes naturally.

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Thou shalt submit.

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“So who is that gorgeous kitten in the window?”

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Jokes aside, Jessie is fully on her way to becoming a loving companion to all who live with her. She is a very fine young woman, and even has a tiny beauty spot on her toe to match the one on her nose.

Portraits of Peaches

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“Peaches” is a dilute tricoloured calico kitten who loves to sleep upside down.  She and her sister arrived on a lucky Friday the 13th and according to legend her colouring is about to bring great fortune to our household.

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Peaches pays attention to small details.

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She was the first kitten to climb the full staircase.

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She is brave but gentle and trouble makes her worried.

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Best of all, Peaches loves playtime.

The intrepid explorer

She is an intrepid explorer and we are looking forward to sharing her bright future. 

 

A lamb called Elmer James

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Elmer James was picked up by animal lovers Ian and Lesley while he was out walking alone along the streets outside Caledon. He had clearly wondered off from his flock and was in distress and the couple answered to his need for care.  Many bottles of milk later and he became this  feisty learner grazer who will eat as much as he can of whatever he can find and bond with whomever carries the bottle of milk. Clearly survival is as innovative as jazz music can be!

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So what’s for supper?

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Finding abundant food and nectar in a drought stricken area seems to be one of life’s meaningful moments for this Cape Weaver; what to eat becomes a choice clearly thought about and not entered into too hastily.

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The weaver’s choice is shared by the Cape Sugarbird. Both species are aggressively territorial and battles can ensue over who owns the flowering plant.

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Typically the Southern Double Collared Sunbird slips in quietly every five minutes or so to check whether there is a lull in the aggressive feeding of the larger birds. If there is a gap he will grab it and flit in for a drop and be away within seconds. This bird sticks to a particular route and follows the same sequence in visiting various plants all day long.

Money in the beak

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This Juvenile Common Fiscal was one of three siblings being fed by a parental couple.  The juveniles open their beaks wide to display the inner yellow cavity leading to the empty stomach, shake their wings to get critical attention, and if persistent enough, a parent will give up the most recent catch.  This youngster made off with his loot, and then proceeded to play with his food before eating it; possibly to show off to the siblings?

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My goshawk 

Juv_Pale_Chanting_GoshawkI started reading “H is for Hawk” today and it reminded me of the day this juvenile pale chanting Goshawk landed next to us in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It was close enough for the car to be reflected in its eye – and it shows up in the photograph I took. These days the photo hangs in the home of a friend in McGregor. I originally had it printed for an exhibition in Hilton. A well travelled Goshawk one may think, but it’s the engagement I remember. The knowledge that I too was causing curiosity in a mind as acutely aware as my own. Bird brain? I think not. Balance. Beauty. Benign. Blessed. I am the one left with the bounty of the encounter.  Be for birds.