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South Africa wildlife IV

This post is part of my occasional series of photoblog posts about the wildlife and nature I see while living in South Africa.

For various reasons, it’s been far too long since I’ve been able to get outside and enjoy nature, but this weekend changed all that – we had beautiful summer-in-winter weekend weather and it was too nice to be inside. I took my camera with me to see what I could see, and ease me back into my wildlife photoblogging. So, there’s no real theme to this post, it’s just ‘what I saw this weekend’ :)

In my garden:

…a white butterfly finally stopped moving for long enough for me to photograph it:

white butterfly

…a giant grasshopper found the perfect lighting to pose for me:

locust

…and I spotted a new (to me) sight with my favourite Garden Acraeas: egg-laying!

garden acraea butterflies laying eggs
The female hangs from the edge of a leaf and raises her abdomen to lay her eggs against the underside of the leaf (see the butterfly on the right). I have no idea why a male (top left) kept flying over the other female’s leaf (bottom left) and interrupting her while she tried to do the same.

At a local nature reserve:

…flower season is most definitely beginning:

flowers

…the waterbirds were enjoying the sunshine:

flowers
Back: white-breasted cormorants; front: red-knobbed coots.

…some kind of shield bug (I’m no bug expert!) sunned itself on a succulent:

flowers

…and the red bishops looked spectacular as always:

flowers

And, by the river:

…these tiny flowers look like normal lawn daisies, except the petals are extra-short:

daisies

…we spotted a Cape weaver starting to weave a new nest between two tree branches:

cape weaver nest

…carefully weaving each blade of grass into the ring he’d already constructed:

cape weaver nest

…3 hours later, the ring of grass had become a ball and a female came to check it out:

cape weaver nest
If she liked his work, she’d line the nest and they’d lay their eggs inside.

…she inspected his handiwork thoroughly, but wasn’t impressed:

cape weaver nest

…maybe he needs to do a little more weaving and he’ll have more luck tomorrow! I’ll have to check back – if a female moves in, we should be able to see her flying into the nest with soft lining materials. If not, he’ll abandon the nest in a couple of days and try his luck with a new one…


A bit of a random return for my wildlife posts, but these little signs of spring make me very happy! I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing them too. Please leave me a comment if so – I do love to hear from you…

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burgled (update)

I just wanted to say thank you to all of you who took the time to leave me a message after my last post about the burglary. Reading them has meant a lot to me. These days, so few people comment on blogs, and it feels good to know you’re still out there reading what I write. I really appreciate all your advice and messages of support – thank you.

I still feel sick thinking about how lucky I was to be unharmed – at least physically – and how this could happen again (with far worse consequences) at any time, but here’s a quick update on my situation in case you’ve been worrying about me.

Fixing the Damage

All our belongings that were taken have been replaced. We’ve actually done quite well out of that: everything was insured, and having 2-4 year old laptops and tablets replaced with their current equivalents means nice shiny new models in place of the old slower ones.

But, in a great example of the relaxed pace of ‘Africa time’, I still have no front door! The company our insurance contracted to fit the replacement door and security door finally came to measure for the new door on Friday (9 days after the burglary…), but it’ll probably take another 2 weeks before the new door is made and can be fitted. In the meantime, our old door has been boarded up and screwed into the frame, so don’t worry: this delay isn’t a security problem, it’s just a bit frustrating not having a front door that opens.

Home Security

Thank you for all the advice – I’m definitely not considering buying a gun, but I’d like a dog, if I can figure out if Maui would be happy with that, and if we can find the right dog for our family. I’ve been considering getting a dog for several years, but it’s a big long-term commitment and I’ve never felt 100% sure that I’m ready. Maybe this will be the push I need, so I’ll have the bonus of a barking alarm as an additional burglar deterrent…

I live behind high spiked gates, with bars on all the windows and metal gates over all the doors. I assumed that would keep me safe, but it’s obviously not enough. I’m hoping the replacement doors will be more secure, and we’re also going to see if we can change how the alarm system works so I have more protection against intruders while I’m working from home all day.

Data Security

One excellent thing has come of all this: I’ve had to seriously address the issue of protecting my data with some sort of offsite backup, so I don’t lose my business files (or personal documents). Several of you suggested cloud storage, but I don’t feel that’s a secure solution for sensitive information. I already use Dropbox for saving ideas and sharing files with other people, but I’m not convinced it’s sufficiently safe for important private data such as my business files, tax records, etc.

I now have an excellent solution (thanks to Aleksandra’s recommendation) – I’ve created my own private, secure, cloud storage on my own web server. It works exactly like Dropbox, so all my files are automatically synced whenever I update them, I have access to all my data from any computer or mobile device. The difference is that my data is all encrypted at my end, so only I have the decryption key, and it’s only stored on my own server, so there’s far less risk of a security breach. And, because my server lives in North America, it’s 100% safe from South African burglars ;)

I know this probably won’t help many of my readers, but in case anyone googling for secure offsite data backup and file synchronization finds this post, I’m using Seafile for my own private cloud storage. A one-sentence review: it’s open source, completely free if you have your own server, and so far I’ve found it very easy to use: my files are auto-syncing from my computer, and I can easily access anything I need using the Android app on my phone and tablet. (I also found a similar solution called OwnCloud, but I haven’t tried it, so that’s not a personal recommendation, just another option you could consider.)

Moving Forward

Well, I’m trying to, at least. I’m still very jumpy, and every noise sounds like an intruder preparing to break in and attack me, but I have a plan for that: if I see anyone on my property, I’ll hit the panic button to set off the alarm, and hopefully scare them off before they get into the house. I feel a bit safer knowing I have some way to protect myself if I see anyone coming.

I’ve also made lots of progress on several of my big long-term projects – trying to take my mind off being scared – although there’s nothing to see yet, as I haven’t been able to do any final quality checks while I’ve been too exhausted to think clearly. But this means there’ll be lots of new PlanetJune stuff coming very soon…

Things are getting better. Thank you for caring. :)

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burgled…

Last week was my 8th blogiversary, but that was the last thing on my mind at the time. I had a horribly traumatic week: I disturbed a burglary in progress at my house, and I’m still very shaken up by the experience. I’ll tell the story here for those who want to know, and then I’ll try not to discuss it again. I’d love to hear messages of support or advice, but I don’t want to answer questions, please – it’s still all too raw, and dwelling on it makes the terror flood back.

I’ve never really felt safe in South Africa, but I assumed that, locked up in my house with security bars on all the windows and doors, and protected by an armed response security group, I was safe to be alone at home all day. Not true: the burglars easily forced my front gate, security gate and front door with just a crowbar, in the middle of the day.

I was photographing birds in my back garden, and when I walked back into the house I found two men in my living room, holding armfuls of my stuff. When they saw me, they ran outside to a waiting car. At the car, they turned back and just looked at me, and time stood still… Then they jumped into the car and sped off before I could even grasp what was happening. They got away with the TV, our laptops, my tablet and a few other bits of tech, and our front door and security gate are now wrecked and useless.

Almost a week later, I still can’t stop replaying it over and over in my mind. They may well have been armed; the police sounded very surprised that I hadn’t been attacked. That moment – where the burglars hesitated and stared at me before deciding to drive off – haunts me: if they’d made the other decision, I’d have been completely defenceless with all the doors between us hanging broken and useless…

(And, on a lesser scale of scariness from my lucky escape, but still a big eye-opener: I realised later that I was also only a minute or two away from losing my entire business! Luckily they hadn’t reached my big PC when I disturbed them, so I still have all my critical PlanetJune data. I feel a bit sick that I’ve lost design notes and reference pics from my tablet, but it could have been far worse. Our insurance will cover replacement tech, we’ve changed all the passwords we can think of, and I’m figuring out an off-site backup strategy so I won’t come this close again to losing everything I’ve worked so hard to build.)

I feel violated and traumatised by this whole experience. I’m trying to get back to a normal routine, but I don’t even have a new front door or security gate yet, I’m not sleeping well, and every sound sends me running around the house checking all the doors. It’s awful to not feel safe in your own home. How do you get over something like this? It just fades with time, I suppose?

So, I’m going to skip my 8th blogiversary roundup. I’m sure I’ve done lots of good stuff over the past year, but that all seems a bit hollow right now. I’m just glad I’m still around to start my 9th year of blogging. Thank you for sticking with me – at a horrible time like this, it’s good to remember I have friends all over the world who do care that I’m still here.

I’ll be back soon with a more cheerful post!

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South Africa wildlife III

This post is part of my occasional series of photoblog posts about the wildlife and nature I see while living in South Africa.

I’m very happy to be able to resume these wildlife posts! One of the hardest parts of the last year was having no free time to enjoy the amazing opportunity I have here to get relatively close to animals you’d normally only see in zoos, if at all, in their natural habitat. But that’s all ended, and now I can experience natural wonders again, and share them with you… As I’m always driving, I don’t usually get to share scenic views with you – it’s hard to take photos with both hands on the wheel! – so I’ve conscripted Dave to take a few landscape shots on his phone en route so you can get a better feel for our future adventures.

After Christmas, we made our annual cherry-picking pilgrimage to Ceres. You just can’t beat sweet, juicy cherries, straight from the tree, and it’s well worth the 5-hour round trip during the short cherry season, not only for the cherries, but it’s also a lovely drive, through farmland…

farmland

…and mountains…

mountains

…and then more farmland. This was our third trip to Ceres, but the wonderful (and frustrating) thing about wildlife is its unpredictability – you rarely see the same animals twice along the same route. In this case it worked in our favour – I saw my first Blue Cranes!

blue crane

The Blue Crane is the national bird of South Africa. It’s large and unmistakable, with its bulbous head, thin neck, and long wing plumes, and I’ve been hoping to see one ever since we moved here. Just look at that strange head shape!

blue crane

The first one we saw was flying, but luckily, I spotted this one in a field from far enough away that I could pull over to the shoulder and stop right next to it to take some photos – perfect!

It always irks me when I see these ‘do not feed the baboons’ signs, because I’ve only seen baboons once or twice in my almost 3 years here, and I’ve never been able to take a decent photo when I have seen them – only shots of rapidly-disappearing baboon backsides (not the ideal angle for a photo…)

feeding of baboons prohibited
Yes, the Afrikaans word for baboons is bobbejane – teehee!

Half an hour or so after seeing these signs, when I’d long given up on actually seeing any baboons on this trip, we scored another wildlife victory – and this one was really special…

baboons
Sorry the photo looks wobbly – it’s due to heat haze

A whole troop of baboons, in the middle of the road! They were completely unconcerned about the passing cars:

baboons

In fact, the big male sat himself down right in the middle of the road for a few minutes – I’m not sure what would have happened if a car had appeared in his lane…

baboons

It wasn’t until I looked at my photos that I noticed that almost all the baboons (except the big male) had babies clinging to their backs or tummies!

baboons

You do have to take care around baboons, hence all those ‘do not feed the baboons’ signs; they can be dangerous, and the males in particular are very large and can get fiercely territorial. The dominant male was very impressive, and got within a few metres of my car – luckily he was feeling laid back and didn’t try to charge us while I had the window down to take these photos!

baboons

What an amazing sight, to see them all out in the open, in the middle of nowhere, like this – don’t you think?

I really hope you’ve enjoyed this wildlife post! Please leave me a comment if so – I do love to hear from you…

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South Africa wildlife II

This post is part of my occasional series of photoblog posts about the wildlife and nature I see while living in South Africa.

Whale photography isn’t easy. Even though whales are huge, they don’t typically come close to shore, and they don’t often reveal more than a small glimpse of their bodies above the water. The best time of year for whale-watching in South Africa is around September-October, when the Southern Right Whales come into False Bay (the large bay to the east of the Cape Peninsula) to calve in the safe, shallow waters. But, even then, and even with a decent zoom lens, your best photos will likely look like this:
southern right whale
Yay – it’s a mummy and baby whale! (Yeah, you’ll have to take my word for that…)

They sometimes leap out of the water, but, by the time you have the camera ready, they’ve gone again. Even if they come ridiculously close, like this, you’ll have an amazing experience, but your photos will just show a dark grey blob in the water:
southern right whale
Is it a whale? A submarine? Driftwood?

You can see my first season’s attempt at whale photos in my previous post, but last year (our second whale season) we got very lucky with some very close-up views of the baby whales.

I could claim that these photos show a parent and baby, but I have no idea if that’s the case. Still, this is a baby whale tail:
southern right whale
…and this is a definitely a spouting blowhole!
southern right whale

Then we went for lunch, and somehow snagged an upstairs open-air seaview table, so I had a great vantage point when one of the babies started playing, leaping out of the water over and over again! As the photos don’t give the full effect, I’ve also assembled a couple of my photo sequences into looped animations for you, so you can get a better idea of the exciting whale-watching experience:

southern right whale animation
Baby whale animation

southern right whale

southern right whale

It looks a bit like an orca (killer whale) with that black and white colouring, doesn’t it? (Which is topical, as I’m just putting the finishing touches on my orca crochet design – it’s really nice to have some real-life whale experience to inspire me!)

southern right whale animation

The orca resemblance ends with the colouring – the Southern Right Whale is more than twice the size of a killer whale, at an unimaginable 15m/50ft long! In fact, these babies I’ve shown you are already about the size of adult orcas when they are born…

A little Southern Right Whale trivia: this giant of the sea is a baleen whale; it has baleen plates instead of teeth, and feeds by filtering seawater through the plates, trapping thousands of tiny krill inside its mouth.

southern right whale

southern right whale

I don’t know if I’ll ever get better whale photos than these, but I’m looking forward to trying again this year when the next whale season comes around: even if my next photos are terrible, having the opportunity to see whales up close is something to look forward to every year. They’re so unbelievably huge, it’s hard to comprehend it, and seeing these graceful giants in their natural habitat is a real privilege.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this wildlife post! Please do leave me a comment if so – I do love to hear from you…

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South Africa wildlife I

I’ve renamed my nature photoblog series from ‘Cape Town wildlife’ to ‘South Africa wildlife’, to distinguish these new occasional posts from my previous month-by-month year of wildlife posts. It’s been a long time since I last posted nature photos (9 months!), so I have a lot of special things saved up to show you, when I have time to organise and edit my thousands of photos! I’ll ease back into the wildlife blogging with a study of one of my favourite local animals…

I like to play ‘spot the chameleon’ in my garden. It’s like a real-life version of Where’s Wally/Waldo, only with a much better reward: you get to watch the tiny adorably grumpy-faced lizard after you spot him, and, because chameleons don’t dart off in a split second like geckos do, it’s much easier to take good photos.

I have no idea how many Cape Dwarf Chameleons live in, or visit, our garden. My best guess is ‘several’, and I choose to believe that they are all babies of Kermy, the chameleon I used to watch every day last year (and even fed a grasshopper to, on one magical occasion). Look how difficult it is to spot the (full-sized) Kermy:

cape dwarf chameleon

There he is! In dark colour mode:

cape dwarf chameleon

And in bright colour mode, with my hand for scale:

cape dwarf chameleon

Now imagine how much more difficult the chameleon-spotting game is when they are teeny-tiny babies like this:

cape dwarf chameleon

Awww! And it’s not just the size that makes it tricky; they change colour like crazy! Here’s another baby (these are all the same species btw, Cape Dwarf Chameleons):

cape dwarf chameleon

Look at the amazing colours!

cape dwarf chameleon

I was even more excited though, when I saw this completely different type of baby chameleon…

cape dwarf chameleon

(who, incidentally, has a pretty neat way of hiding when he sees you coming…)

cape dwarf chameleon
Where did he go?!

…only to discover the next day that his grey colouring was just skin getting ready to shed and he was a regular green chameleon all along! I could hardly believe it, but I have proof: here he is with just the nose skin left:

cape dwarf chameleon

And then I spotted this very skinny orange baby on the same bush, so I know for sure that there are at least 2 of them:

cape dwarf chameleon

The next day, I managed to catch one of them napping! Awwww….

cape dwarf chameleon

Then I didn’t spot any for a couple of weeks until yesterday, when I found this one – he’s much bigger now, and starting to look more like his daddy, my old friend Kermy :)

cape dwarf chameleon

You can probably tell that I’m pretty smitten with these little guys…

I almost wish I hadn’t already designed my chameleon crochet pattern last year, because I’m just not getting over this fascination, so I settled on the next best thing: I’ve designed a different lizard pattern to indulge in my newfound appreciation for reptiles. (It’s a cute one, and I’ll be revealing it very soon…)

I really hope you’ve enjoyed my chameleon photos – please leave me a comment if so. I promise I’ll try not to leave such a long gap until my next wildlife report :)

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Cape Town wildlife XII

This is the twelfth post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

That’s a whole year of photos, and so I think this is a good point to take a step back and make some changes…

I really enjoy sharing my photos with you, but the monthly deadline has added too much pressure to my overly-busy life, so, after today, I’m changing the format to an occasional series instead of a monthly one. That means I’ll be able to do a post when I have something amazing to show you and have the hours necessary to first choose and edit a handful of photos from the hundreds I’ve taken, and then research and write the accompanying text.

I know this decision will disappoint some people, but writing these posts has become more of a burden than a joy, and continuing like that makes no sense. One post a month doesn’t sound like much, but my business has me working through most of my waking hours at the moment: I need to do less, so I can reclaim my life. With the deadline pressure removed, I’ll be able to write my nature posts when I want to, and they’ll be better for it.

For my final monthly post, I’ve selected the most interesting photos I haven’t had a chance to show you yet, starting with one from today! We checked in on the penguin colony (see my previous photos here) and the first babies are hatching – African Penguins are endangered, so this is wonderful to see:

african penguin and chick
A fluffy African Penguin chick emerges from his burrow (left) into the rain, to be fed by one of his doting parents.

A couple of months ago, I saw, in the distance, a tiny antelope cross the road I was driving along, and noted where it had disappeared into the bushes. I pulled over when I reached that point, and discovered that it was grazing in full view a couple of metres back from the road! We’d have driven right past it if I hadn’t happened to see it and known where to stop and look:

cape grysbok

This adorable mini antelope was easy to identify as a Cape Grysbok (male) – it looks exactly like all the Cape Grysbok photos I’ve seen online, which makes our Christmas mystery antelope even more of a mystery, as it’s clearly not the same species as this cute little guy…

cape grysbok

Okay, now scroll down quickly if you hate giant bugs…

grasshopper
This grasshopper (in my garden) is absolutely enormous – at least 3″ long! Very interesting at a distance, but the time it flew directly at my face was not fun…

Okay, you’re safe, we’re back to cute now:

striped mouse
At first sight, we thought this was a chipmunk, but it’s actually a striped mouse (there aren’t any chipmunks here). Very cute!

We have access to such a variety of wildlife here, all within a couple of hours (or much less) from home. Both of these photos were taken less than half an hour’s drive from our house:

dolphins
Not the greatest photo, but I hope you can just about see an adult (left) and 2 baby dolphins (back, front) in this photo.

zebra
And this is a terrible photo apart from the content: a real wild zebra! We’ve seen them a couple of times before, but only from the road, so this weekend I had my first opportunity to capture one with my camera (from a great distance, hence the photo quality), on the slopes of Table Mountain.

I’ll be aiming to get some better photos of both dolphins and zebras in time. If you’ve been avidly reading these posts, you may remember the sub-standard kingfisher photos I showed you a year ago. A tiny, lightning-fast, nervous bird is not easy to photograph, but, thanks to a bird hide, some patience, and figuring out the manual focus setting on my camera, I was finally able to take some good Malachite Kingfisher photos:

zebra
I think this is my favourite – not the most dignified shot, but I love how the tiny striped feathers on his head are blowing about in the wind!

Putting these posts together has been a lot of work, but also a nice record of our first year in South Africa. I’ll obviously never stop appreciating and photographing wildlife – both for fun and as inspiration for future designs – so I’m sure I’ll have more photos to show you soon as time permits.

June and a wood owl
At a bird sanctuary, I stroked a little wood owl! It was incredibly soft and fluffy.

As a grand finale to this year of nature appreciation, I thought you might like to see this time-lapse video I recorded of a spectacular sunrise over the city of Cape Town. I recorded it exactly one year ago today, but hadn’t found the time to edit it until now. This was taken from the apartment we lived in when we first arrived in South Africa, which, although cold and inconveniently situated miles from the observatory, had a spectacular view out over the city and harbour:

Cape Town (and Maui)
Maui liked the view too

Now we’ve exchanged the commute and the view for our own little house in the suburbs, a garden full of wildlife, and a beautiful river just down the road. It was a good trade, but I’m glad I have this video to remember the city sunrise by, and I hope you’ll enjoy watching it too:

Click through or full-screen it to see the full size version

Thank you for accompanying me through my year of nature photos – please leave me a comment if you’ve enjoyed this series!

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Cape Town wildlife XI

This is the eleventh post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve now been in South Africa for a whole year! Table Mountain, recently voted as one of the 7 new wonders of the world, towers over Cape Town and the entire city is arrayed around its base. When you live somewhere (as opposed to visiting on vacation) you somehow never get around to doing the major tourist attractions, so we’d never been up it. Then we had a visitor, which meant we also got to do lots of sightseeing around the city, including a trip up the mountain. It’s pretty spectacular, and I thought it deserves its own post, so you can enjoy it too…

Table Mountain is named for its 3km long flat top, which means once you get up the mountain, you can walk along the top without having to do any climbing (yay!) There are paths to walk up the mountain, but we opted for the cable car.

table mountain
The cable car is torture if you, like me, hate heights and get motion sickness, as it has big glass windows and rotates as it climbs. It’s worth it though…

table mountain
Hello Cape Town! The mountain you can see here is called Devil’s Peak and I can see the other side of it from my kitchen window :)

The Cape Peninsula has its own ecosystem and a massive amount of biodiversity. The plant life is called fynbos and occurs nowhere else on Earth.

table mountain
Beautiful flowers sprout from cracks in the rocks

table mountain
Naturally-occuring bonsai trees

table mountain
Lovely succulents

And there’s lots of wildlife up here too…

table mountain
Speckled Pigeon

table mountain
Red-winged Starling

table mountain
Black Girdled Lizard

table mountain
Southern Rock Agama

table mountain
My favourite, a dassie! (Click through if you didn’t read about them in my October post.)

table mountain
I included this dassie photo so you can see how sure-footed they are climbing and running among the rocks – those feet really are adapted for mountain climbing.

table mountain
Hummingbirds are native to the Americas. The African equivalents are called sunbirds and they are similar in size and colouring to hummingbirds. This is a female (hence the drabness) – I hope I’ll be able to show you some photos of a more colourful male at some point!

table mountain
Although they don’t really hover like hummers, sunbirds do have similarly adapted beaks so they can reach down into the base of flowers for the nectar.

We spent 3 glorious hours walking around on the mountain top, looking at all the different views and unusual plants, watching the wildlife, and taking in the unspoilt atmosphere. We all managed to get very sunburnt despite our sunblock, but it was well worth it – I definitely agree that Table Mountain should be known as a wonder of the world!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s photos – please leave me a comment if you liked them.

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Cape Town wildlife X

This is the tenth post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

Today I’m going to show you a very special type of bird, and one with a crafty connection! Weaver birds are found throughout Africa, and what makes them special is that the males weave an intricate nest to impress the females. Each species of weaver has different colouring and also builds a differently-shaped nest - isn’t that cool? In my area, we can see two types of weaver (Cape and Southern Masked).

This is a male Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis). He’s in breeding plumage, with a reddish cast around his face:
weaver bird

The male weaver picks grasses and begins to weave them together around a hanging tree branch, usually over water:
weaver bird

He continues until he completes a beautifully-woven nest, with the opening at the bottom for security:
weaver bird

If a female is impressed with his nest-building skills, she moves in and lines the nest with softer grasses and feathers:
weaver bird

After a couple of days, the grasses turn brown and, if the nest is still empty, the poor male has to start building another nest to try again. But don’t feel too sorry for him – he’ll build more nests either way, and can have several breeding females in his flock!

These Cape Weaver nests were high in a tree, and not over water, so I could get a shot from below. From this angle, you can see the beautiful shape of the nest, with a short off-centre entrance tunnel:
weaver bird

This is a male Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus):
weaver bird

Their nest shape is different – more pointed at the top and with just a hole at the bottom (no entrance tunnel):
weaver bird

Here’s a fallen nest so you can see the inside and the beautiful craftsmanship!
weaver bird

As the weavers usually like to nest over water, we see them by the river near our house, and near ponds and lakes when we’re out adventuring. But I didn’t realise that weavers eat seed, so, when I put up a seed feeder at Christmas (in the hope of seeing a canary or other type of wild finch), we got a lovely surprise – weavers in our own garden!

Male Cape weaver:
weaver bird

I thought this was a pair of Southern Masked Weavers, but, looking closely, I see the female is actually a Cape Weaver. (The females look quite similar, but the Cape has a longer, pointier beak and the Masked has a whiter tummy and red eyes):
weaver bird

And, best of all, fledged babies in our garden! I’m reasonably sure these are a pair of baby Southern Masked Weavers:
weaver bird

(By the way, I’ve just discovered that the tree with the wicked-looking thorns the babies are sitting on here is a Bougainvillea. I’ll have to remember to take a photo when it’s in full bloom – it’s stunning!)

Aren’t the weavers amazing? It was hard narrowing down my pics to just these few – weavers are so interesting, I seem to have taken a couple of hundred photos of them, but I think these selections have captured the essence of weaver-ness for you :)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s photos – I know I’ve enjoyed sharing them with you! Please leave me a comment if you liked them.

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Cape Town wildlife IX

This is the ninth post in my monthly series on the fascinating nature I encounter here in South Africa.

This post should be subtitled What I Did On My Holidays: over the Christmas holiday, we decided to have a stay-cation and explore the area around Cape Town with a few day trips. There’s really no point in paying to go away when we have beautiful weather and such a variety of wonders yet to experience within an hour or two of home! Here are some edited highlights of the wildlife we saw, with a few scenic shots for context…

First, we paid a visit to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Nestled against the side of Table Mountain, it is vast and spectacular (and impossible to capture in one photo):
kirstenbosch

Although we saw lizards and a mongoose, they were too fast for my camera. But I did manage to snap this pic of a strange large bee in flight. It looked like a bumblebee, except the colour markings were all wrong – you can see it’s all black with just one wide yellow band:
kirstenbosch

On Christmas Eve, we went to Rondevlei Nature Reserve. We’ve been here before, but this time we managed to spot some different wildlife, although the hippos still eluded us! These Three-banded Plovers were constantly flying overhead, calling, and diving at us – presumably trying to distract us so we wouldn’t find their nests:
rondevlei

And I saw my first ever wild antelope! Our best attempt at identification is that it’s a Grysbok, but we’re not quite sure – it doesn’t look much like the Grysbok photos on Google. It was cute anyway, and quite small (about the size of a large dog):
rondevlei

After Christmas, we followed the Cape Peninsula all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-westerly tip of Africa. This area is part of the Table Mountain National Park. It was a beautiful day:
cape point

We picnicked by those lichen-covered rocks, under the watchful gaze of lots of sunbathing Black Girdled Lizards, like this one:
cape point

We stopped briefly at a beautiful white-sand beach:
cape point

And we were floored by this sight – wild ostriches!
cape point

There were a whole family of them, casually crossing the road and pecking through the succulents along the sand dunes by the ocean. Don’t miss the baby ostrich in this picture, visible between Daddy’s legs:
cape point

And here’s how unconcerned these completely wild birds were at our presence: this is a juvenile ostrich stopping to drink from a puddle at the edge of the road, barely a metre away from our car (you can see the edge of the car in this photo):
cape point

We didn’t think we’d see anything to rival that and were taking a scenic drive along a completely deserted road in the park before heading home, when I had to brake for this:
cape point

Yes, that’s a tortoise crossing the road, right in front of our car! We stopped the car to take a better look – here’s a close-up (it’s an Angulate Tortoise):
cape point

We stopped for several more tortoises along the same road. This one looks from its shell like a different species, but I haven’t been able to identify it (yet):
cape point

And, as if that wasn’t enough excitement, we squeezed in one more 2011 adventure: cherry picking in the fruit region near Ceres. To get there, we had to cross a vast mountain range. On the way there, we took the 4.4km tunnel under the mountains (a bit scary) and on the way back we took the longer, more scenic route across the mountain pass. The mountains are huge and imposing up close, but don’t look like such a big deal from a long way away:
ceres

Cherries galore at Klondyke Cherry Farm! Hundreds of trees, laden with thousands of sweet and juicy cherries, with more varieties than I knew existed. My favourites were the sweet black cherries, but these bright red ones were more photogenic:
ceres

So that was our Christmas break – nothing like any Christmas I’ve ever experienced, but I think you’ll agree it was pretty amazing! And the crazy thing is that we’re nowhere near exhausting the local sights we can see with a day trip, let alone if we ventured further afield. We still haven’t even been up Table Mountain yet – you can expect a wildlife report from there some time this year :)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s photos! Please leave me a comment if you did.

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    June Gilbank
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