👣 In summer I always enjoy an early-evening walk on our smallholding. No need to get in my car to find nature, I have 8.5ha right here to explore, hoping to see the Barn Owl or some Guinea fowl, but always enjoying the Bluegum trees and beautiful grasses and wild flowers along the way.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Mid-summer chores

We've had good rains this summer and the grass has been growing like crazy. We decided to do a preliminary cut now in December as it was long enough for baling. Our smallholding was originally planted many years ago with Smuts finger grass (Digitaria eriantha), a very palatable indigenous, tufted grass, which offers good quality summer grazing from middle November. The advantages of Smuts finger are that it is drought tolerant, adaptable to a wide range of climate and soil types, good palatability, is suitable for hay and foggage, has a long life-span and is a strong self-seeder.

Smutsfinger grass

The limitations are that it has poor water logging tolerance and does not tolerate bad grazing management.

Seeing as we don't do any "farming" activities as such, it has been left to its own devices. Now it is worrying that my fields seem to be getting overtaken by two specific weeds. One with (beautiful) little yellow flowers (above), which I'm still trying to identify and the other is the (beautiful) Pom-pom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum) from the Asteraceae family (below). Also classified as a perennial herb with fluffy pink flower-heads, the stems are green to purplish, up to 1.3m high, dying back annually to a root crown. Leaves are light green, scattered along the length of the stem but clustered at the base to form a rosette, up to 80mm long and 20mm wide, margins are serrated. The flowers are light purple to pink compact flower-heads that are situated terminally and it flowers December-March.

The Pom-pom weed produces fluffy seeds that are wind dispersed and people contribute to spreading the seeds through carrying them in the mud on their vehicle's wheels or by picking and discarding the mature flower-heads and thereby spreading the seeds. It can also regenerate from underground root stalk. I think my weeds appeared when we first had our fields cut by an outside contractor a few years back, probably carrying the weed in on the tractor tyres, because before that the grass showed no sign of weeds.

Pom-pom weed was probably introduced in South Africa as an ornamental plant. The earliest record in the Pretoria National Herbarium is of a specimen collected in Johannesburg in 1962. Currently it is most prominent in Gauteng. The earliest record of its establishment in the wild is from Fountains Valley, Pretoria in the early 1960s and Westville near Durban in 1972. In the 1980's its distribution expanded in the Pretoria area, and it was also recorded from Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal and Wolkberg in Limpopo Province. In the 1990's it spread further to Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape, Rooiberg in Limpopo and Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. From 2000 to 2003 it exploded in Gauteng and in the Free Sate the first record was in Kroonstad. During the same period there was much spread in the Nelspruit, White River and Barberton areas. By 2006 it had spread to the Piet Retief area in south-eastern Mpumalanga and Swaziland.

The environmental and economic impact is that it threatens the survival of grasslands and wetlands throughout South Africa as it can tolerate a wide range of habitats. It transforms the landscape from green to pink in summer.

Eradication of this plant is through Herbicides registered for use on pompom weed and the two physical methods including uprooting and burning of the plant. Seeing as I don't use or tolerate the use of any pesticides on my smallholding and uprooting each and every weed is not gonna happen, I might just have to be satisfied with a pink smallholding in the future!

The tall yellow weed seems to be spreading very fast

My chooks just love it when we cut the grass and they will follow the tractor, snatching up all the insects disturbed by the cutting. When the tractor moves to the bottom of the smallholding, away from the road, all the Egrets and Herons also arrive to join in the snacking.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Storm clouds heralding no good

An ominous sign – storm clouds building up over my garden this past week, but from the west, which never heralds any good. Our rain here in Tarlton (Gauteng, South Africa) comes more or less from the south to south-west (from the Randfontein side) and anything else, especially from the west, normally spells trouble, like hail and heavy lightning.

While I was holding thumbs for rain but not the fury of nature, it didn't help much. Within seconds of the first lightning strike and roll of thunder, the heavens opened up and heavy rain poured down. And within minutes it took a turn for the worst and the hail came. LOTS of it, furiously, pounding the garden mercilessly, leaving destruction in its wake.

I watched helplessly as the storm got worse and worse, pounding the trees, the plants and wreaking havoc. Luckily my chooks were already in their coop as I had suspected some foul play earlier in the morning and had left them inside.

Mr. Brown, a stray rooster, was in the aviary (at the back of the pic), hiding in the shelter provided and the sound of the hail on the tin roof must have been deafening, it certainly was in my house, we couldn't even hear one another talking.

The hailstorm lasted for about 20 minutes, more heavy rain followed and then, suddenly all went quiet. Within seconds the sun was shining, producing the most gorgeous rainbow I have seen for a long time. Isn't nature just wonderful?!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Farm talk - The Crowned Plovers have hatched!

Crowned plovers - Vanellus coronatus

After the big to-do of the Crowned Plover stopping my husband's 5-ton truck from destroying her nest, I kept on checking on their nest, from a distance, and Saturday morning at 8.30am I was rewarded by seeing two of the three eggs hatch, hopefully the third will follow soon. Luckily it was warm and sunny and the parents were keeping a close eye on the proceedings.

Trying to take these pics of them was an ordeal in itself, as I once again was dive-bombed mercilessly and one of them even almost got tangled up in my hair! 

They are so well camouflaged, I almost missed them 

Breeding occurs in the spring months from July to October. The nest is in a shallow depression in the soil with a lining of vegetation and other debris. There are normally 3 eggs, sometimes 2 or 4. Incubation requires 28 to 32 days and is done by both sexes. Immediately after hatching, the young leave the nest while both parents look after them. Egg-laying is timed to precede the rainy season and most incubating is done by the female. The male assists only on hot days, when he either incubates or shades the nest. 

The one on the right is still wet, with some egg shell sticking to its feathers 

Pretending no-one can see it!

 Eyes tightly shut...

Bare-part colours of males brighten in the breeding season. Different types of display flights lure the female to the defended territory. A female accepting the male and territory will follow the male during his display flight. Mates may be retained for life. 

 Still wet from hatching out the egg

Although generally outnumbered by Blacksmith Lapwings, they are the most widespread and locally the most numerous lapwing species in their area of distribution. Their numbers have increased in the latter part of the 20th-century after benefiting from a range of human activities. They live up to 20 years. 

After the photographic session, I left them in peace and 3 o'clock that afternoon I returned to find that the two hatchlings had moved about 3 meters away from the nest, hiding close to a clump of grass.

Their colours are absolutely gorgeous and perfectly suited to their surrounds. They both kept their eyes tightly shut, barely breathing as they tried to blend into the surrounds.

Those typical long legs are already apparent!

The third egg seems to have been abandoned. I returned early evening but couldn't find the babies anywhere. The parents were about 100meters further down the plot and I presumed the babies were there with them. I am totally thrilled to have witnessed this happening and now just hope and pray the next door neighbour's dogs keep away from my property!


Saturday, 1 October 2016

Farm talk - The wrath of a Crowned Plover

... or, the love of a mother....
Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.

Yesterday my husband had to pull the truck out of the workshop to deliver a tractor to a customer and as he got a couple of meters from the workshop gate, he was confronted by a very angry Crowned Plover, standing in front of the approaching truck, wings spread and loudly proclaiming her intent on not moving.

Perplexed, my husband got out of the truck to look what was going on, upon which both parents flew at him in attack mode, swooping and screaming loudly, trying to get him to move. Suspecting that there might be some babies, he called me to see if I could see what all the pa-lava was about.

As soon as I arrived, I was dive-bombed in the same manner and as I carefully walked around slowly, looking out for any babies, the one parent would flap around in the grass, feigning injury and, as I approached, move on a bit, trying to lure me away from the spot. This is a strategy they use, pretending to be injured and easy prey, so getting a predator to follow them away from the nest. So I knew there definitely was something around there.

Both parents kept up this behaviour, alternating between dive-bombing us, flapping in the grass and screaming at the top of their voices.

 and this is what all the raucous was about!

Eventually, taking my cue from where they were at their most frantic, I found the nest - three beautiful speckled eggs so well camouflaged that it took me ten minutes to find it! The eggs were within meters of the truck's front wheels, my husband has stopped just in time! If it wasn't for this brave little bird stopping a 5-ton truck, the nest might have been destroyed.

After taking some photographs and enduring a lot more abuse from them, my husband reversed the truck and did a wide berth around the nest. Now that we know where they are, we avoid that area and hopefully will be able to see the birth of these little wonders.

The Crowned Plover (Vanellus coronatus) occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa it is common in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, northern and south-western South Africa and southern Mozambique. It generally prefers dry, open grassland, sparse woodland, open areas in Karoo scrub and man-made habitats, such as open fields, short pastures, airports, golf courses and roadsides.

They build their nests totally in the open and only after the grass has been cut on our smallholding. No trees, long grass or any other sort of cover for hundreds of meters around them. It always amazes me that they face the elements this way, with no cover whatsoever, but understandably it gives them a wide range of sight to see any predators approaching.

They mainly eats termites (which make up approximately 80-90% of its diet), using the typical foraging technique of plovers, running, stopping then searching for prey on the ground. It often forages in groups, sometimes alongside Black-winged lapwings, moving in a regularly spaced line.


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Fennel weed

Camera : CANON EOS 550D

Taken along the roadside in front of our smallholding (Tarlton, Gauteng, South Africa)

Foeniculum vulgare

This weed is often seen along our roadsides here in South Africa and is also found in gardens, waterways, wetlands, open woodlands, pastures, grasslands and disturbed sites. It is an upright and perennial plant with branching stems and fern-like leaves, usually growing 1.5-2 m tall, but sometimes reaching up to 3 m in height.

Even though our smallholding hasn't been ploughed over for many years now (we just cut the existing grass), I did find a few on the property and man, I must tell you, trying to pull it out is impossible! It had to be dug out (luckily there were only three) and it had a huge root system - maybe due to it being cut down to ground level every time we cut our grass. Close-up the plant is very attractive, but as an overall picture, it looks a bit messy.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a significant and widespread environmental weed. This species can form very dense infestations that crowd out other vegetation. It is able to out-compete small native shrubs and ground-cover plants and is likely to reduce the amount of useful habitat available to native animals. It is of most concern along waterways and in wetlands, but can also affect remnant native vegetation in farming areas. However, it is palatable to livestock and is generally not seen as a major problem in farming areas.

This species originated in southern Europe, the Azores, the Madeira Islands, the Canary Islands, northern Africa (i.e. Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) and western Asia.


Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Tarlton landscape

Acrylic painting on Giverny 240gsm acrylic paper - 12" x 9" unframed - done on location in Tarlton (Gauteng, South Africa)

Not far from us, a friend has a dam on his smallholding. When we visited, it gave me a chance to try my hand at some Acrylics, no sketching beforehand.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Saturday thought - Dancing fire angels

Veldfire in Tarlton

Fire in
her eyes
and ice
in her words;
the dancing fire angel
what you get.

Friday, 9 September 2016

My Plekkie, my omgewing - Tarlton

Ek woon al 41 jaar in Tarlton, Gauteng, aan die grens van die Noord-Wes Provinsie in Suid Afrika, op 'n 8,5ha kleinhoewe op die R24 tussen Krugersdorp en Magaliesburg, waar die natuur meeste van my sketse inspireer.


Uitsig vanaf die tuin na die voordeur deur die Halleria lucida (Boom Fushcia) 

Voordeur vanaf onder die Karees 

DIE OMGEWING TARLTON is geleë half-pad tussen Krugersdorp en Magaliesburg, grensende aan die 'Cradle of Humankind' (Wieg van die Mensdom) wat 'n 'World Heritage Site' verklaar is deur UNESCO in 1999, en is 50km Noord-Wes geleë vanaf Johannesburg in Suid-Afrika se Gauteng-provinsie.

Die gebied beslaan 474 vierkante-myl en bevat 'n komplekse reeks grotte, insluitende Sterkfontein-grotte, waar die 2.3-miljoen jaar oue fossiel Australopithecus africanus ("Mrs. Ples") gevind was in 1947 deur Dr. Robert Broom en John Robinson. 

Die ondergrondse meer diep in die Sterkfontein-grotte, en wat die oorsprong van die Magaliesrivier is wat 15km verder by 'n oog in Maloney's Eye (sowat 5km vanaf Magaliesburg) uit die grond uitborrel.

Om en by 5km van ons af, is Maropeng, met 2500m² se uitstallings van fossiele en klip-gereedskap miljoene jaar oud, met 'n ondergrondse bootrit deur gange van soliede ys en voorstellings van vulkane en Antarktieka, restaurant, koffie-winkel en curio winkel. Maropeng bedoel "om terug te keer na die plek van oorsprong" in Setswana.

Maropeng van agter gesien 

 Maropeng ingang

Bootrit deur ondergrondse ys-tonnels

Een van die gange in Maropeng 

Nog een van die gange - Evolusie van die Mens

Omtrent 10km vanaf ons geleë is die 1400-hektaar Krugersdorp Wildtuin, met Wit Renosters, Buffels, Kameelperde, Seekoeie, Swart Wildebeest, Zebras en vele bokspesies, insluitende die raar Sable Antelope, Tsessebe, Elande, Waterbokke, Koedoes, Oryx, Rooi Hartebeeste, Blesbokke, Springbokke en Impala, met 'n spesiale 100ha afgekampte Leeu area in die middel van die wildtuin (waar die eienaar, Dirk Brink, so twee jaar gelede deur 'n trop leeus aangeval en verskeur is). Die wildtuin spog met die uitstekende Ngonyama Restaurant en offer ook ware Afrika verblyf.

Ingang na die Krugersdorp Wildtuin

'n Dam in die wildtuin waar ek al menigmaal skilpaaie of ander diertjies en voëls vrylaat.

Skuins oorkant ons plot is die welbekende Tarlton International Raceway, waar 'dragsters' die kwart-myl rekords verbreek en dorstiglik brandstof en buitebande verbrand!

Ons is ook omring deur vele volstruis-plase, vee-, groente- en blomplase, verskeie besighede, B & B's en bloekombome, wat aangeplant is vanuit Australia vir die gebruik van houtpale en -stutte in die vele myne in die omgewing.

Rustenburg is 'n uur se bestuur vanaf ons, Hartebeespoort Dam is so 40-minute ver en die 'Magalies Meander' strek vanaf Tarlton, deur Magaliesburg en deur Hekpoort, Vlakdrif, Maanhaarrand, Skeerpoort en tot by Hartebeeshoek, naby Broederstroom.

'n Pragtige gedeelte van Gauteng om woonagtig te wees!

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