WEEK 52 | life in the sweet-thorn
Life in the sweet-thorn | 20 square metres
All you really need is one indigenous tree. Preferably a thorn tree. The Acacia karoo we planted 4 ½ years ago has the added advantage of being local – occurring naturally in the river beds around Windhoek.
It’s 05h50, a week before Christmas and the sky’s just beginning to lighten. The birds are awake of course and already on their way here. Some live nearby – just around the corner a flock of red-headed finches roosts each night. Others, like the European bee-eaters have travelled far but don’t stop over in our garden. Gardens in the neighbourhood have been ‘cleaned’ of vegetation (I have never understood what is ‘dirty’ about life-giving vegetation, but it’s something of a national obsession here), so the tree and its 20 square metre spread offer a life-line for the small creatures that visit.
First to arrive are tiny pale blue and brown fluff-balls, the blue waxbills followed by their cousins the common waxbills, and the odd red-billed quelea (above). Nothing common about them at all, their beautiful red beaks and rumps flash through the tree. Usually just a handful, today they have brought the whole gang along – easily 20 or more. Perhaps it’s family visiting for the holidays?
Our sweet-thorn or soetdoring is a riot of yellow fluffy flowers right now and already reaches beyond the top of our second-storey roof. Its strong, wind-proof, spreading crown provides a landing pad for the visitors and now just after six am, the orange and black clowns arrive, some still changing into their summer costumes. I always thought a red bishop was... well red, you know? Intense, juicy-orange feathers and a strange harsh swizzling sound announce these early feeders
Yes, we unashamedly admit to feeding the birds, helping them through our desperate winters until the rains fall and soothe over the landscape. With so much natural vegetation destroyed around us (for no reason at all, other than to keep idle folk busy) there is simply nothing for them to eat. A small fountain helps keep the birds alive (and clean). This tiny rock pool uses little water and the birds queue up to splash about.
Suddenly a high pitched squeal sends everyone scattering and a male shaft-tailed whydah arrives (below). He’s smaller than most of the others but insists on eating alone. He delights in chasing away the resident southern masked weaver, Geeljan.
Geeljan ( below) has been building next door at a frenetic pace since July and must be exhausted, but he never falters and is probably on his 4th or 5th batch of babies for the year by now.
While all this is going on and we savour our first coffee of the day, a line of birds emerges out of the northern sky flying directly towards us. The pink light of dawn catches their wings and as they approach the pinkness intensifies by the second. Flamingoes! About 50 of them... Suddenly they veer off to the east and disappear as quickly as they came. While we are still marvelling at these creatures that have probably flown through the night from Walvis Bay, en route to breed in a (hopefully) wetter Botswana, a distinct twittering reaches our ears.
European bee-eaters visiting from the northern hemisphere are doing their daily trip across town. Some of these gorgeous birds roost in a friend’s garden on the southern side of town and make the journey each morning before sunrise to their feeding grounds on the northern side of Windhoek. Tonight they’ll be back again as the sun is setting.
At about 7am the red-headed finches descend in a huge flock and proceed to take over the food bowl, forcing the doves to wait their turn. And so the jostling goes on all day long.
By mid morning the heat brings out the wasps, bees and beetles that come to feed on and pollinate the tree.
This thorn tree has brought wild life back to our neck of the woods and also brought home to us how important it is to provide habitat for these creatures. Unabated construction and destruction in Windhoek is reducing their natural spaces at an alarming rate and it’s up to each of us to plant indigenous, water-wise plants to help out. Just this one tree has brought nature to us in a concrete jungle and I would like to encourage you all to plant just one locally indigenous tree to kick off 2016.
All plants in our garden are locally occurring indigenous species and were bought at the National Botanical Research Institute’s nursery in Orban steet.
Female southern masked weaver