Dargle resident Jill Hunter writes about the creatures she shares her home with:
In the 5 years I have lived on this hill ending at the bottom in the Mngeni River a few travellers have passed through. One early morning I heard the low “doem doem doem” of the ground hornbill. For a second I thought I was back in the Zimbabwe lowveld. But there on the hillside were two magnificent ground hornbills. Just a fleeting visit as they headed due west.
Very recently a secretary bird strutted his strut just below the frog pond. All year round the Jackal Buzzards are ever gliding past and breed in the gums every year with great success. This year I had the honour of watching a parent feed the juvenile right next to the frog pond. The Long crested eagle has lost the territory to the Jackal buzzards but visits occasionally, and the Gymnogene arrives for a quick survey of the valley. Now to my favourite: the Fish Eagle. I think they know when Sunday comes around as they leave the trout dams and give me the thrill of their famous voice as they soar almost beyond eyesight using the thermals to effortlessly glide around a vast area of sky. One occasionally spots them against a cloud. The other day I decided they are most likely disturbed by weekend fly fisherman on the trout dams to the west of me.
The swallows came back a couple of weeks ago. They swoop and rise around the house and I just love a close fly past as I watch from the bedroom window. For three years a pair or Europeans have without success tried to build on the north verandah. They now visit at night and sleep next to a broken nest, but I am sure they are building nearby.
I put half oranges on spikes in a tree next to the lap-pool and they are enjoyed by the toppies, the starlings, the mouse birds and the black headed oriel. Sitting nearby I get clear sight of their feather variations through the binoculars. I must not forget the fiscal shrike who chases other birds just for the fun of it. They now have a perfectly constructed nest in the very thorny rose bush on the corner of the house.
About mid-winter I heard a bird call that totally baffled me. My rendition of the call and description of colouring baffled my friends as well. Then breakthrough came from a knowledgeable birding friend. It was the call of the Red throated Wryneck. They have come to live in a dead wattle tree about 50 meters from my front door. I was exonerated from total ignorance as they do not occur in Zimbabwe!
I share my house with some older and fairly new visitors. For some years I have had rock pigeons breeding on the verandah but they now only occasionally sit on the railings giving me a close up of their colourful feathers and markings. A pair of red winged starling have built a nest in a very inappropriate place but I haven’t the heart to destroy it and I think they are about to lay. Then there are the pair of proverbial toppies who are ever present flying about their busy day. A robin lives near the Frogpond and last winter he trained me to chop cheese into tiny pieces and place them on the deck railing. Needless to say all of the above mentioned have shouldered in on the treat. Pecking order: starlings, toppies, robin, so I spread it out for all to feed at the same time. The red winged starlings have begun to sit on the roof and stare at me through kitchen window just in case I am not too busy and will put out the cheese.
The common lizards are all around the house and did anyone know that lizards prefer cheese to mince? I always presumed they were carnivores! None of these creatures get anxious if their treat misses a day.
Then there are the field mice who would like to move in permanently, so I have a little mouse cage into which I put cheese and when they are trapped I release them back to their families, of course this is an on-going activity but I cannot bring myself to squash them in a trap. A couple of them are getting rather brave and almost ask for the cheese! Yesterday I was nipped by a little blighter as I was releasing him, ungrateful little thing.
There is also a green water snake who loves the rocks above the lap-pool and on occasions I have had to usher him off the veranda. I have had the puff adder removed by one of those brave snake removers. The red lipped herald has disappeared but the odd puff adder appears in the garden, hopefully their hiss will warn me to move out of their territory before a strike.
The frog pond is a little away from the house and as it fills from the road it is very muddy. It has been visited by yellow billed ducks, white faced whistling ducks, a heron and a Hammerkop. My most beautiful sighting there was a magnificent bush buck ram. A slender mongoose used to visit but I haven’t seen him recently. Duiker and reed buck are the other buck who come to drink.
Then of course there are the frogs. Ones that make the sound of castanets, the squeaky wagon wheel, and both qwark qwark qwarks – the one a higher chord/note than the other. I revel in the cacophony when they decide to give a full blown concert.
Since both my old dogs died, I decided to live with all these creatures who actually do not need feeding at all. No vets bills, no hair in the house, no pet food to buy at vast expense, no poo on the lawn! Just a few bird droppings on the deck!