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Nature bites


The main farm house is a three story affair perched on a forested slope over looking the Wilderness National park and Swartvlei, a large coastal lake. For office work, I have set up my computer on the third floor, so instead of a screen saver, I can gaze out at the pastures, river and fynbos shrouded dunes. Yesterday Amanda decided that she would work from home, a pleasant distraction welcomed any time. The reality is that we both stare at a computer screen and hardly communicate. But it is nice to have her around.

It was about 10h00 when I heard her call, loud, a hint of desperation, but unclear as she was on the ground floor. Thinking it was time for a cuppa tea, I slowly headed down the stairs. Her second call was more desperate with the word ‘snake’ slithering into the sentence. I speeded up to find her staring out the window while trying to keep Bandit sitting. On the window sill outside was a Boomslang, a dark lithe snake with a bright green belly. It was not sunning itself, but rather attempting to find an open window or a surface on the wall that it could climb up. A Boomslang is a tree snake, the name the commonly used Afrikaans word which is direct translation for ‘Tree Snake’.

They feed by raiding nests in the trees that they climb with great agility. Anyway, with us both watching, Bandit starting to bark and a distressed Bar Throated Apalis alarm calling in a nearby shrub, the Boomslang decided to retreat to the cover of the shrubs. By the time we got outside to get a closer look, a Cape robin had joined in the alarm calling. By this time Judy, my mum, had joined us but other than an odd leaf shivering, we could not see the snake. While Amanda and Judy were discussing how to prevent it’s return to the house, I expressed a wish that it climb up to the roof and empty out the starting nest in the eaves.

When the first wave of settlers headed off from Europe around 1820, among the many concerns they had about survival in the savage Africa that was to be their new home, the lack of familiar nature was a primary concern. To address this issue a few species that would serve as a living memory of the mother land were transported south and released. One of these critters was the rather bland European Starling, now a absolute pest in South Africa. As a twitcher from the UK noted, there had to be a more appealing bird to export to Africa. As luck would have it, every summer a few of them attempt to nest in the roof of the main house. Normally the procedure it to disturb nest building and then to remove each clutch of eggs. This year, due to other activities, we did not manage to get the eggs in time and non of us where keen to remove the little pink hatchlings from the nest. It was with this in mind that my wishes extended to feed the snake – a double benefit, a happy snake and peace in the roof.

Well, it was not 3 hours later my attention was drawn tot a noise in the roof (I was back on the computer). The last time I had heard this noise was a vivid memory. It was 3 weeks ago and I was working again while Bandit slept on the floor close by. Suddenly there was a scratching in the rood, a splat on the floor and Bandit levitated about 2 feet into the air. A snake had defecated through a gap in the ceiling which narrowly missed me and landed next to Bandit. While we attempting to slow our hart beats down, the snake then moved off with the very same sound I had just heard. The bird in the nest had also heard it. I was in a moral dilemma – do I safe the nestling and suffer the next month of noise and lice while starving the snake (or forcing it to go and eat some indigenous rare nestlings) or do I let the snake feed and resolve our roof problem. With a desire to keep the natural landscape pure, I opted for the latter, though Amanda did not speak to me for a few hours, calling me callous.

This was not our only nest loss. The troop of Vervet Monkeys arrived on Wednesday as usual and raided a nest of a Paradise Flycatcher down at the river. This was definitely more difficult to watch and upsetting when our attempts to chase the monkeys away failed. The birds name is appropriate, and being a summer migrant, it was sad that the nest should fail after so much effort by the parents.

Closer to home, we have been protecting a nest with three eggs belonging to a Cape White Eye. A delicate cup woven from lichens and spider webs, tucked under a leaf it was abandoned on Thursday with one egg remaining. We can only speculate about the cause, but an attack by a Common Fiscal had happened on Wednesday and Thursday.

It is in moments like this that tinkering around the garden soothes the upsets of nature. The tomatoe plants have formed their first flowers which look like they will erupt into bloom in a weeks time. I was excited to see that my chilly seedlings have germinated and the second leaves are pushing through. After the rain the spinach has almost doubled.

On the flower side the daisies are forming buds so we will have a splash of yellow for Christmas Day. More importantly was Trish’s compliment that the garden was looking good, assuring me that my concern about a blooming disaster was unfounded.

In the cycle of nature, there are losses which are balanced by gains. It only requires that you choose a balanced viewpoint.

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Nature is surely a funny thing but there for a purpose I think.I enjoyed your blog and found it good reading thanks.

11 Dec, 2009


~ I enjoyed it too but wouldn't fancy having to make your decisions~ideally it would be lovely to try to intervene to save the indigenous wildlife but the explosion of starlings is also down to intervention as is our grey squirrel problem~
if only they could have foreseen what would happen!

11 Dec, 2009


Lovely reading there. Starlings sure are a pest, also here in Oz. We do not have them in the West, but the Eastern States have plenty. Wonder why they never cross the desert. Perhaps they can't fly ( joke ).
I had plenty of boomslangen in Darwin, they look just like yours and the creatures are really harmless.
If you like snake stories, please read one of my earlier blogs, as we've had them on the veranda eating mice under the eaves and in the swimming pool and even under our bed in Darwin, but that one could have been a lost treesnake. These snakes are just part of nature and belong. It's us who are the intruders. I am not scared of them at all, but am very weary for the dog's sake. There are venomous ones right here and you just don't go walking barefeet through high grass. Just one of those rules.
Now one of the pests the first settlers brought when sailing round the Cape was Cape's spinach, or, as we call it Doublegees. I also wrote a story on that one. I just had to mention it when I read you are a capegardener. So you are having summertime now too....

11 Dec, 2009


Thank you for this blog,very interesting.I appreciate your dilemma,and as sad as the outcome is,it is part of the survival of the fittest.,and to intervene isn't always the right decision.I would have probably reacted the same as your wife,Amanda,as I hate to see anything killed.I still hide behind a cushion and put my hands over my ears,when watching something like this on a wildlife programme,even though I know it has to be done.!

11 Dec, 2009


I'm the same as Bloomer a very difficult decision

11 Dec, 2009


Fascinating blog I enjoyed reading it.

11 Dec, 2009

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