Autumn is in full swing and our rains during the summer have not been as plentiful as could be expected. However, recently we were blessed with almost three inches of rain over a period of four days. It is amazing what this does to the world on Rookwood.
|Rookwood in Autumn|
You know autumn is here when you see the thousands of Barn Swallows ‘lining up’ on the telephone lines or fence lines early in the mornings or late in the day. They take to the skies with a chattering sound while feeding, catching as many insects as possible to build up their fat content in preparation for their long migration back to Europe.
|the wings of the alate|
Evidently with these rains, the added bonus
is the number of flying termites (often incorrectly called flying ants) that appear.
|an alate destined for a life underground|
Flying termites are extremely difficult to photograph, but very interesting to observe. The ones not consumed by the birds, end up on the ground and shed their wings. These alates, as that is what they are referred to, are at this stage of their life cycle very high in nutrition levels.This is their nuptial flight and if they make it to the ground become destined to remain underground for the rest of their life.
|Pondoland widow butterfly|
The Pondoland widow (Dira oxylus) butterfly has been active over the past month. In fact, after good summer rains many of the butterflies become quite prominent at Rookwood as they flutter amongst the vegetation feeding on the speciality plants. Butterflies have specific host plants and in some cases restricted to one host, which makes them very susceptible to habitat destruction.
It is during this time of the year that the Orb Web spiders start to spin their webs and one has to duck to avoid breaking their webs as you walk through the veldt.They normally put their ‘nets’ up to catch passing insects like flies, mosquitoes, wasps and even a beetle. These webs have a golden sheen and are extremely strong and have been known to even ‘catch’ birds, although the spiders do not feed on them. The most common one found in the veldt here at Rookwood is the Black-legged Nephilia.
After the rains we take a walk down to the river with the dogs. The water is oozing out of the soil and the river is bubbling like the sea.
|the bubbling river at Rookwood|
|Oz studying the water|
This is the fun time for the dogs as they can catch sticks in the water or in Oz’s case he can chase the bubbles and foam that is being created as the water cascades down the rocks.
|footprint in the mud|
This is also a good time to test my skills with the footprints in the mud.
The Nerina filifolia flowers in April. Sometimes they look like a carpet of pink, but if the summer rains have not been too good, they will not give as good a show.
Most of the vegetation is now in full fruit.The White Stinkwood becomes a popular tree for the African Olive pigeon. The Match flowers (Moquiniella rubra) are flowering and are a valuable food source for the Sunbirds. They are stem parasitic plants. Their bright colouring makes it easy to see from a distance. The powdered bark could be traditionally used for stomach ailments.
Other plants in full seed are the Buffalo Thorn (Ziziphus mucronata), Red currant rhus (Rhus chirindensis), as well as the Raisin bush (Diospyros) and most of the fruit-eating birds like the Barbets and Starlings will be feeding on them. We once had an orphaned calf, called Sylvia, who loved to eat the Raisin bush.
Most of the grasses are now in seed and the seed-eating birds make full use of this. One can identify the Streaky-headed Seed-eater together with some of the canary families as you walk through the veldt. The Red-billed Quelea however, has increased in numbers over the years at Rookwood and flocks of them are seen flying from tree to tree and down to the grass to feed. Hopefully they will never form swarms like they do up north.
We are now passed the equinox and the days are getting shorter and there is a winter chill in the evenings. As I sit on the stoep in the evenings and hear the river rumbling quietly in the distance and listen to the call of the Fiery-necked Nightjar, I realise that winter is not too far off.