Shorter days and cooler nights bring changes as the daytime temperatures vary between hot and mild. With the dryer air the sunshine has a golden clarity enhancing the colourful winter flowers and mellow berries, and brightening the visiting birds and insects in the garden.
I am always surprised to notice that few gardens in our neighbourhood host the cheerful wild dagga (Leonotis leonurus) that flowers in autumn and early winter and attracts colourful sunbirds that come to visit the nectar-laden flowers. Clusters of flowers are spaced out along long stems and they bloom successively, which increases its flowering time that lasts for several months.
Added to the cheerful orange colour, beautiful form and long flowering period, the leaves and flowers have an interesting herby smell when crushed. The common name, wild dagga, derives from the fact that dried leaves and flowers can be used as a kind of tobacco and may provide a mild euphoric effect when smoked. In the book People’s Plants by Ben-Erik van Wyk and Nigel Gericke (Briza, 2007) it is reported that the smoke is acrid and so it is best smoked through a water-pipe. In addition to being used as a tobacco, the plant has also been used traditionally in a variety of medicines.
It is not just sunbirds attracted to the wild dagga flowers. I spotted this grasshopper sunning itself on a cluster of budding flowers. I have noticed grasshoppers nibbling on the leaves of wild dagga plants from time to time.
In addition to flowers, leaves and seeds, the plants in the garden also provide food for birds and other creatures in the form of berries, which are highly valued.
Several species of birds and also vervet monkeys feed on the fruits of the tassel-berry tree (Antidesma venosum). The popularity of the fruit, as can be seen in the above photo, is evident from the bare stems showing that many of the fruits have been picked from what was previously a dense cluster of tassels bearing fruits. For more about this lovely tree see this previous post.
The fruits of the cross-berry (Grewia occidentalis) are also sought after, particular by vervet monkeys who spend time in the small trees carefully selecting and picking berries to their taste. The cross-berry is a host plant for processionary caterpillars, which I have written about here.
Also fruiting during the months of winter is the Solanum giganteum sporting vivid scarlet berries. I have not ever seen monkeys eating these berries but the berries do seem to be favoured mostly by dark-capped and sombre bulbuls and Cape white-eyes.
A bronze mannikin took time off from searching for seeds to pose on a branch next to a forest-pink hibiscus flower while I lurked behind a nearby shrub in the hope of snapping this photo without frightening off the wary bird.
And here is a close-up of a flower of the forest pink hibiscus bedecked with droplets after a recent shower of rain. The plants are still producing a few flowers as the season progresses into winter.
Not really pink but definitely of a rosy hue, this hybrid Barberton daisy is also glistening with rain drops on a recent morning. The rains are fading as we enter our dry season, but an approaching cold front will bring to our region brief showers and much colder temperatures this weekend.
This morning, after seeing a brownhooded kingfisher diving down from a tree branch to catch an insect on the ground I went inside to fetch my camera. As I waited outside to see if I could spot the kingfisher once again, from my vantage point on our back deck I saw this Cape robin chat come down to the garden pond to take a bath.
While I was keeping an eye on the robin-chat the brownhooded kingfisher reappeared to perch on a branch to watch out for insects. Before long the kingfisher had success when it swooped down onto the lawn to scoop up an insect that it swallowed in one gulp. For more on the ambush-hunting technique of brownhooded kingfishers see here.
A few weeks ago, in the morning light I noticed this unidentified spider waiting in its web for prey. Unsurprisingly, a recurring theme in this post is turning out to be food and seeking food.
This rather handsome caterpillar was looking around from a wilted waterlily leaf perhaps for more food. The water lily plant is currently kept in isolation in a large tub of water as it turned out to be carrying string algae, which of course we didn’t want in the pond. Several caterpillars turned up to eat the lily leaves but had to move off once the leaves ran out. The lily has since sprouted a fresh crop of leaves. As I have not identified the caterpillar I don’t know if it will become a butterfly or a moth.
Of course all animals take breaks from the perpetual quest for food. Vervet monkeys often take time off in our garden or on our roofs to rest, to play or to indulge in mutual grooming sessions. In the above photo, the mother of the youngster is taking time to groom another adult monkey who is lifting his leg in a rather awkward pose.
While admiring the deep blue flowers of a forest plectranthus in the garden I noticed a pair of mating bugs.
A long-tongued fly spent a long time warming up its wings in rather weak morning sunshine before taking off to find food.
For some reason I have found it difficult to get a decent photo of the pouch-shaped pale yellow flowers of the pambati tree (Anastrabe integerrima). The pouch of the flowers opens and closes when gently pinched between finger and thumb, much like snapdragon flowers do. This attractive plant is endemic to South Africa and occurs naturally in coastal forest, forest margins and along streams in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
And to return to the theme of food and foraging, here is a large wasp taking nectar from a flower on a perennial basil plant in our herb garden. The role that many species of wasps play as pollinators is often overlooked.
Well, after several weeks away with naturebackin exploring other parts of the country (i.e. posting about the different biomes), I hope you enjoyed revisiting the garden in early winter. Below is a snapshot of a kurrichane thrush stretching its wings and tail as it preened in the shade of a shrub one morning.
Posted by Carol