Peter's Stories #2 - birding from my stoep.
When I moved into Herfsakker Retirement Village seven years ago my family imagined I would be ‘traditional’ and sit on my stoep (porch) drinking coffee. That is what is supposed to happen, I believe, to people in their latter years when they are no longer working. Not so in my case though as birding has long been both my profession and my hobby. I spent a lot of time atlasing and travelling around Mpumalanga seeking birds in places I had never ever visited before, and I loved it. Then came the registration of the Turning Kruger Green project and that was the best three years of my life I feel. However that is now behind me and I do find I am slowing down in my old age.
This is where my stoep comes into play...
Not that I spend my days sitting with a mug of coffee in my hands and gazing into space, but I do enjoy it at sunrise with coffee and often again when the sun is going down. Not with coffee at this time though, but enjoying a glass of wine. My motivation is not to contemplate the past to while away the time, but to enjoy nature while relaxing at these times.
Before I continue in this vein let me explain my stoep to give the full picture. It is small but private and is just three paces by three in size, closed on two sides but open to the east and north. My bird feeding station is close by and this is where I have planted a garden, mainly indigenous. There is a busy road on the eastern side but I have planted a hedge of Cape Honeysuckle Tecomaria capensis, and have an Aloe garden in front of it. Over the road there is a vegetated wetland which includes the Bergvlam Stream and school sports fields on the far side.
The dawn chorus begins when I am sipping my hot mug of coffee and this is an exciting time. I strain my ears to hear all the participants and I love it. First is the whistling flute, softly at the start but increasing in tempo to a loud crescendo of a White-browed Robin-Chat. Next is the loud but tuneful notes of a Kurrichane Thrush, closely followed from the stream opposite by my favourite little LBJ, Red-faced Cisticola. It may be small but it has a distinctive loud song ending in a crescendo – surely it must be all voice-box. From a tree bordering my neighbours garden a Red-eyed Dove is questioning with authority, “who did pooo on the roof?” and the reply comes from dozens of chuckling Laughing Doves perched on the next door roof, waiting for me to fill their breakfast tray with chicken food. Then there is a duet of Black-collared Barbets telling us who they are, “black-collar,black-collar”. It is not long before the loud cawing notes of a Purple-crested Turaco joins in on the dawn chorus and from the stream reed bed I can hear the soft warbling notes of an African Yellow Warbler and the loud piping of a Tawny-flanked Prinia. The rapid “pleet-pleet-pleet-pleet...” of a Bar-throated Apalis also joins in on the chorus, followed by its cousin, the Yellow-breasted Apalis with a repetitive “klunk-klunk-klunk ....”. Not to be let down a small flock of raucous Hadeda Ibis loudly fly over and from the wetland Natal Spurfowl join in with their own raucous cackling. My coffee tastes better and better as I absorb the variety whilst sitting on my stoep.
Meanwhile a cheeky Dark-capped Bulbul cheerfully utters a variety of disjointed notes as it descends to its breakfast of fresh Paw-Paw at the feeding station. An Acacia tree on the pavement has a number of Village Weavers, silhouetted by the rising sun behind them. Some Thick-billed Weavers join the crowd and then they all descend to the feeding station, noisily squabbling whilst gobbling the seed set out for them. A couple of Southern Grey-headed Sparrows tuck in too and a flock of tiny Bronze Mannikins await their turn to sneak in for a quick snack. Cape White-eyes join the Bulbuls at the Paw-Paw, only to be chased off by a flock of dominant and greedy Speckled Mousebirds, who consume the fruit rapidly. When my Aloes or Honeysuckle are in flower there are hyper-active and vocal White-bellied Sunbirds feeding on nectar, often joined by Amethyst Sunbirds. Other nectar feeders on occasions are Spectacled and Golden Weavers, both vocal to attract my attention. Then high overhead on most mornings my attention is drawn to an African Goshawk, uttering its repetitive “clic-clic-clic...” call. It is almost out of sight it is so high but the call gives it away.
There are lots more besides the birds I have mentioned but I must tell you about my Lizards. They are only active once the sun warms up my stoep and I often have my lunch in their presence. In a corner of my stoep I have a box of meal worms inherited from Jo Onderstal. Three Striped Skinks, sometimes four, are usually at my feet nagging for meal worms and one gets onto my foot and takes worms from my hand when I hold them out for it. On occasions they are joined by a female Tree Agama but she usually prefers the paved area next to the stoep where she catches ants. Little Cape Dwarf Geckos live on the rough brick wall and they too dart in for a quick meal, but they can only consume baby worms. In the evenings nocturnal Tropical House Geckos are also present, catching insects around the electric light.
So now you can understand why my stoep is a favourite part of my cottage. I just love the activity and the exposure to nature and perhaps that is why retired folk sit on their stoeps, not because they are bored and have nothing else to do...