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Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover: August 2021 Sitamani Country Diary

Two snowfalls on the Drakensberg during August, and the first time in many years it fell and settled here at Sitamani.

August has been generally mild, although two cold fronts passed over, one between the 12-15 August and then 27-29 August. Sadly I wasn’t here for the second one, so haven’t been able to record the very cold temperatures experienced that burst some water pipes in the early hours of the morning on the 29 August.

Total Rainfall, including the snowfall,  42,5mm

Wednesday 4

This is the best photograph I managed to take of an African Hoopoe foraging on the hillside

Saturday 7

misty morning sensual greeting

damp ash sharp blue-grey metal tang

warm brown coffee aroma

Monday 9

Stunning glow of colour in the predawn sky

Tuesday 10

The juvenile Grey Duiker having a midday snack in the garden

Wednesday 11

silver crescent hangs
suspended beneath a star
in days after glow

Apodolirion buchananii, Natal Crocus

Gazania krebsiana

Hirpicium armeriodes, Mountain Gerbera

Urginea capitata buds

Watsonia sp. leaves emerging

Bright splashes of colour in the greening slopes

Halleria lucida, Tree Fuchsia, fruit amongst the flowers

New season growth of Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum

A bee laden with pollen on a Gazania krebsiana

Flowers on Leucosidea sericea, Ouhout that escaped the fire

Friday 13

light drip and drizzle
filled the rain tanks overnight
blessings of winter chill

Sunday 15

Clouds finally lifted enough to reveal a watery sun and winter snow

This Vlei Rat, Otomys irroratus, has taken up residence in our compost bin, a constant source of food when the surrounding grassland has been burnt off, hopefully she will relocate once the new season growth returns!

Thursday 26

A vibrant sunset

Friday 27

Cyrtanthus tuckii, Green-tipped Fire Lily

New leaves appearing including Gerbera ambigua

Ursinia tenuiloba

Eulophia hians var. inaequalis

Eulophia hian var. hians

Aloe maculata, Common Soap Aloe

Ledebouria ovatifolia

Sunday 29

While I was away Philip awoke to a winter wonderland, these are his photos! Thank you for allowing me to share them Philip.

Photos: Philip Grant

Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover: July 2021 Sitamani Country Diary

Smokey days after the fire

In this July we have experienced fire and ice. Two cold fronts swept through with cold temperatures, but only 0,5mm of rain for the whole month, very dry conditions. On the 12 July looting and arson were widespread in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces of South Africa. Our property was engulfed in flames in the early evening, fortunately our home and outbuildings were saved and the resilience of nature is already being seen in new grass emerging, despite the dry conditions.

The maximum temperature 23 C on 8 July

The minimum temperature -2 C on 23 July

Rainfall 0.5mm

Sunday 4

Glowing mist rolled in during the early evening

Tuesday 6

brown leaves run like
small animals over the grass
before the chill wind

Wednesday 7

a lone golden leaf
tapping a mournful rhythm
releases to fall

In the evening this elegantly beautiful wasp settled near my bedside lamp, a parasitoid wasp, Ichneumondia, Netelia sp. (Tryphoninae)

Sunday 11

A fleeting, magical encounter with this delightful male Common Duiker, just before dawn.

Monday 12

By evening our property was engulfed in fire set by arsonists in the adjacent Mondi pine plantation. Fortunately, with the assistance of local farmers, our home and outbuildings were spared, apart from the outdoor ‘longdrop’ toilet. These are photos Philip took while we were containing the fire.

Tuesday 13

These photographs were taken during the very smokey day following the fire.

A small section on the rocky hillside escaped the flames, one bright Aloe maculata and an opportunistic Common Fiscal surveying the burnt landscape for a snack.

Wednesday 14

There is always light even in the darkest of times,
It shines with hope.
One breath at a time,
One day at a time.

Friday 16

The fire had swept through the indigenous Ouhout, Leucosidea sericea and Buddleja salvifolia shrubbery behind our house.

Monday 19

The glory of a new day unfolding

Ending with a cerise sun setting through the smoke laden atmosphere

Wednesday 21

A beautiful pair of Cape Glossy Starlings foraging in the ashes in the late afternoon

Followed by a spectacular sunset in the west

Thursday 22

bare bones of landscape
exposed by cathartic fire
waits rain revival

Friday 23

Winter Moon in Pink and Cyan, almost full, rising in the east in the evening

Saturday 24

A brilliant sun-kissed full moon setting in the early morning

Monday 26

A mother and juvenile Common Duiker foraged around the house in unburnt areas at sunrise.

Tuesday 27

The Cape Robin-Chat enjoying a few private moments in the verandah bird bath, before the gang of Cape White-Eyes invade the peace!

Wednesday 28

The glory of a winter tree in dawn robes

Tones of sepia soften the landscape

Friday 30

A walk over the hillside revealed new grass appearing, despite the dry conditions, a gradual renewal

Gossamer soft, this Spotted Eagle-Owl feather adorns a burnt grass stalk

Common Duiker droppings amongst the ash

A Fork-Tailed Drongo on the lookout for insect movement below

Bare rocks stripped of the bushy cover

Amazingly some Ouhout, Leucosidea sericea flowers have opened from buds that escaped the heat of the flames

High above the ground Buddleja salvifolia have blossomed

a bulbul preens

on bared branches displaying

his “butter-bottom”

Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover: June 2021 Sitamani Country Diary

The waning moon floats in a purple sky at dawn

At the beginning of June after a very cold damp spell, 49,5mm of rain fell over the 1st and 2nd, the clouds parted briefly to reveal snow clad mountains. After that only 1,5mm of rain was recorded, by the last week in June we were experiencing unseasonably warm conditions, on 29th the minimum temperature was 16C and the maximum temperatures in the low twenties Celcius. Dry and windy.

The maximum temperature 24 C on 30 June

The minimum temperature 1.5 C 7 June

Rainfall 51mm

The Winter Solstice on 21 June heralds the slow swing back to Summer. The landscape settles into a quiet time.

Tuesday 1

Beautiful lilac cloud effects at sunset were the forerunner of rain

Wednesday 2

The clouds parted to reveal a snowy Southern Drakensberg

Friday 4

Dawn light on Hodgson’s Peaks, the snow still thick on the mountain slopes

Sunday 13

A short wander revealed

A multitude of buds on Buddleja salvifolia, later this winter the air will be heavily scented with their perfume

Vibrant yellow leaves in Ouhout, Leucosidea sericea

Dry grasses and winter Watsonia leaves against cool shadows

Branches of Halleria lucida thick with flowers

Many Mole Rat mounds pushed through the lawn

A beautiful white feather

Saturday 19

One of the highlights of June, that I wait for with anticipation is the flowering of

Buddleja dysophylla

They attract many insects

A Bee on Buddleja dysophylla

A Hoverfly on Buddleja dysophylla

A Plant bug on Buddleja dysophylla (apologies for the poor focus)

Flowering Rosemary also attracts insects like this Hoverfly

Tuesday 29

A gloriously vibrant dawn

Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover: May 2021 Sitamani Country Diary

May has been very cool and dry, only 4mm of rain fell during the month. The grasses have dried and leaves of the deciduous trees have almost all fallen.

The maximum temperature 22 C on a few days

The minimum temperature 5 C 31 May

Rainfall 4mm only 5% of the precipitation in April

Saturday 1

For a brief time the clouds lifted to reveal a snowy Drakensberg

A gravid female mantis watched me with beady yellow eyes

The male Greater Double-collared Sunbird was busy feeding in the Bottle-brush

Purple-blue Bulwer Mountain under a winter sky

Moss

Old Man’s Beard

In the evening the Common Duiker grazed near the house

Wednesday 5

A  Lunate Ladybird, Cheilomenes lunata, Larvae scurried across the verandah step

Saturday 8

Changing colours of a stunning sunrise

Fresh droppings of the Common Duiker left evidence of a visit

Thursday 13

A dried Agapanthus seedhead cracked open to reveal seeds

Friday 14

‘Here comes the sun little darling….’  Through Ouhout, Leucosidea sericea leaves

Saturday 29

Soft winter sunset

Sunday 30

Common Duiker sunning themselves down near the orchard

Moon on the wane

Ornamental remains of Berkheya setifera flower heads

Aloe maculata leaves tinged pink by frost

Aloe maculata buds

A Drakensberg Prinia on the skyline

Otholobium polysictum

Plectranthus calycina seedhead

Senecio harveianus one of the few bright colours on the hillside

Spiderweb still covered in dew

Spent leaves of Vernonia natalensis create silver sculptures

Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover: April 2021 Sitamani Country Diary

April has been much drier than the last few months, only 37mm of precipitation by the 28 April. Then the first cold winter weather and rain started on the 29 April. It seemed as if overnight we had changed seasons.

I haven’t been able to wander the hillside as often as I would have liked, but we have had some stunning weather effects and iconic Autumn flowers.

The maximum temperature 27C 14 April

The minimum temperature 6,5C 30 April

Rainfall 73,3mm

Thursday 1

No April Fool, but this gem, a Baboon spider, probably Theraphosidae, Harpactira species

Monday 5

Responding to the small amount of moisture these Earth Stars, Astraeus species appeared in leaf litter

Wednesday 7

The morning view from my window looking west

Thursday 8

Glorious cloud effects in the late afternoon

Monday 12

Another stunning sunset

Wednesday 14

Then a completely different, soft mood

Monday 19

Looking down on the path I spotted caterpillar droppings beneath a Tree Fuchsia, Halleria lucida
Looking up amongst the leaves I spotted a Wahlberg’s Emperor Moth caterpillar, Imbrasia wahlbergi, then many more
Sadly this one has been parasitized by a wasp, the cocoons clearly evident on the wasted caterpillar

Three juvenile Southern Rock Agamas soaked up the warmth from the wooden slats

Thursday 22

A brief walk revealed some delightful sightings

A Fork-tailed Drongo on the chimney

Lobelia erinus

For me the glowing orange stands of Leonotis leonurus are the flagship of Autumn in the KZN Midlands. Vibrant colour splashed amongst the golden grasses and turning leaves, a joyful burst of sunlight before winter hibernation.

Sutera floribunda

Plectranthus calycina

Helichrysum cooperi

Berkheya rhapontica

Friday 23

Autumn colour landscape

A dainty Turreted awl snail, Euconyma turriformis, the first time I’ve seen a living one!

Tuesday 27

A partial Sunbow in cirrus clouds

Later a vibrant sunset

Friday 30

Wind during the night dislodged a Southern Double-collared Sunbird nest. The carefully smoothed inside, felt-like, hours of patient cobweb gathering to create the cosy interior.

Monkeys and Common Grey Duiker are relishing the acorns from the Pin Oak trees. Black-backed Jackal call almost every evening and twice I’ve heard Spotted Eagle-Owls hooting at dawn.

Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover: March 2021 Sitamani Country Diary

This March I’m dedicating this diary to my Dad, Dennis Reginald Field, 1927 11 13 to 2021 03 28. It is a picture diary, if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be living here and enjoying the myriad of delights the natural world offer daily. Dad loved nature and this dolerite ridge in particular. Thank you Dad, may your spirit fly free!

The maximum temperature 28C

The minimum temperature 9,5C

Rainfall 111,5mm

Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover: February 2021 Sitamani Country Diary

February was a very mild month, often in the past few years it has been hot and dry. The first three weeks were relatively drier and warmer, on Sunday 21 the hottest day of the month was recorded, 27C, several mornings dipped to 10C. On Wednesday 24 storms raged and we had 73mm of rain overnight, and another 20mm on Thursday 25, bringing the total rainfall to 162,5mm for February.

The hillsides are still green, though now there is a touch of gold with the seeding grasses. The exotic Silver Birches in the garden have dropped all their leaves and the Pin Oak avenue has red splashes of colour in the leaves.

Evening skies in February are always beautiful, light lingering until about 7pm, long after sunset.

This month I haven’t been able to spend as much time wandering the hillsides, here are some of the highlights.

Tuesday 2

The two Pterygodium magnum orchids reached their full height and flowering, about 1m.

Tucked amongst the flowers a Crab spider, Thomisus species, waited patiently for a meal to arrive.

Wednesday 3

The dawn sky was vibrant between bands of clouds.

Thursday 11

A brighter dawn sky.

A female Forest King Emperor, Charaxes xiphares penningtoni, flew into the house, giving me an opportunity to photograph it.

Wednesday 17

I managed a brief walk before doing some Bramble control work.

Habenaria pseudociliosa

Kniphofia laxiflora

Schizoglossum bidens species

Conostomium natalense

Thursday 25

After two days of rain, water drops sparkled on bared branches in early morning sunlight.

Sunday 28

Field slugs eating a Puff ball fungi

A simply glorious dawn

A few times during the month I have seen two female and one male Common Reedbuck, usually in the orchard. Twice I’ve spotted a Black-backed Jackal moving swiftly into the Mondi pine plantation. A delight is the pair of Cape Wagtails that have taken up residence in the garden.

Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover: February 19-21 2021 Wildflowers in the Southern Maluti-Drakensberg World Heritage Site


A Southern Secrets Hiking and Backpacking Guided Hike
http://www.southernsecrets.co.za

Playing and fossicking amongst flowers has to be one of my very favourite pastimes, combine that with hiking, spending nights in the Drakensberg, excellent company who also relish these spaces and gems, and you end up with memories of an experience to treasure!

We walked up to Tarn Cave from Bushmans Nek, spent time in the Rock Garden of Sehlabathebe and returned via the Bushmans Nek Pass.

This is a list of those flowers I identified over the three days (88). Not all were photographed and these are the ones I remember seeing.

Orchids were in abundance (18):

Brownleea galpinii

Brownleea parviflora

Corycium sp. the flowers were over.

Disa brevicornis

Disa fragrans

Disa versicolor

Disperis cooperi

Disperis tysonii

Habenaria dives

Habenaria laevigata

Habenaria schimperiana

Holothrix thodei

Pterygodium hastatum

Satyrium cristatum

Satyrium longicauda

Satyrium microrrhynchum

Satyrium parviflorum

Schizochilus flexuosus

There were also many other stunning flowers blooming (69):

Alectra basutica

Alepidea natalensis

Aponogeton rannunculiflorus

Aristea woodii

Berkheya possibly onopordifolia

Berkheya rhaphontica

Chlorophytum sp.

Clematis brachiata

Commelina africana

Cotula socialis

Crassula natalensis

Crassula umbraticola

Cratercapsa tarsodes

Cynoglossum austro-africanum

Cyphia tysonii

Delosperma lavisiae

Diascia barberae

Diclis reptans

Dierama argyreum

Drosera natalensis

Erica aestiva

Erica alopecurus

Erica cooperi

Eucomis autumnalis

Eucomis schijfii

Felicia filifolia

Geranium multisectum

Geranium wakkerstroomianum

Gladiolus crassifolius

Gomphostigma virgatum

Helichrysum adenocarpum

Helichrysum heterolasium

Helichrysum rugulosum

Hermannia woodii

Hesperantha baurii

Hesperantha coccinea

Hesperantha tysonii

Huperzia saururus fern

Hypericum aethiopicum subsp. sonderi

Kniphofia laxiflora

Kniphofia triangularis

Limosella inflata

Lindernia conferta

Linum thunbergii

Lobelia erinus

Melasma scabrum inflated fruit

Moraea brevistyla

Moraea inclinata

Moraea trifida

Nidorella undulata

Papaver aculeatum

Polygala hottentotta

Protea dracomontana

Protea roupelliae

Protea subvestita

Scabiosa columbaria

Sebaea natalensis

Sebaea marlothii

Selago flanaganii

Stretocarpus pentherianus

Themeda triandra

Urginea macrocentra seeds

Ursinia alpina

Wahlenbergia krebsii

Wahlenbergia fasciculata

Wahlenbergia huttonii

Xerophyta viscosa

Zaluzianskya microsiphon

Zaluzianskya pulvinata

Bibliography

A Field Guide to Wildflowers KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region: E. Pooley

Mountain Flowers A Field Guide to the Flora of the Drakensberg and Lesotho: E. Pooley

Orchids of South Africa A Field Guide: S. Johnson, B. Bytebier, H. Starker

Ferns of Southern Africa A Comprehensive Guide: N.R. Crouch, R. R. Klopper, J. E. Burrows, S. E. Burrows

Life Wonderings of a Nature Lover: January 2021 Sitamani Country Diary

The first month of 2021 is over, the summer season is at its height. Green, verdant growth with plentiful rainfall. Already a few exotic trees have leaves that are starting to turn colour and some mornings there has been a slight crispness to the air.

We have had over 240mm of rain this month, the coolest morning 8 degrees Celsius on the 2nd and the warmest day 28.5 degrees Celsius on the 22nd Jan.

There have been many insects and the juvenile birds are being fed by their diligent parents. This diligence also means at the slightest hint of danger, including a human with a camera, they quickly take cover, the Cape Robin Chats, Southern Boubous, Fork-tailed Drongos and Speckled Pigeons are amongst them. I suspect the Cape Robin Chat nest is in the hedge that borders on side of the vegetable garden, as this seems to the base for the juvenile, who has ample cover in the rampant growth.

The wide variety of nature on display is really only touched on this month, here is some of what I saw:

Saturday 2


The African Hoopoes are temporarily resident on the peripheries of the garden.


The misty valley provides a perfect foil for Senecio isatideus


Bouquets of Berkheya setifera

Tuesday 5

In the early morning many creatures greeted me outside the kitchen door


Wahlberg’s Emperor Moth, Imbrasia wahlbergi


A Granular Agate Snail, Archachatina granulata


Leopard Goat moth, Azygophleps inclusa


This striking white and black moth


Delicately poised on the edge of the step a field slug


A gorgeously patterned moth

Later I explored the grassy hillside


Eulophia hians var. nutans


Silene burchelii


Eulophia zeyheriana


Moraea brevistyla


Eulophia tenella


Indigofera tristis


Eulophia ovalis var. bainesii


Gladiolus ecklonii


Eulophia ovalis var. ovalis


Stunning cloud effects after the recent rain


Bolbitius vitellinus


Green-banded Swallowtail Papilio nireus lyaeus


A small epiphytic fern growing on a tree amongst lichen

Thursday 7


Simply magical discovery of this delightful little epiphytic orchid, Mystacidium flanaganii, growing on an evergreen oak at the edge of the garden

Saturday 9


I spotted this delightful Net-winged beetle sp., Family Lycidae, from the sitting room window

Monday 11

Hangingfly, Family Bittacidae


Crested Coral Fungus Clavulina cristata


A sunbird flitting amongst the grasses

Tuesday 12

A few of the moths drawn to the kitchen light


Specious Tiger Moth Asota specios


Marbled Emperor moth

Wednesday 13


A glorious dawn sky

Thursday 14

Only the second time in 26 years that I seen this stately orchid growing here


Pterygodium magnum


The first time I seen Corycium nigrescens flowering here

An absolute highlight for January is when


Brunsvigia undulata flower. This year there were at least 20 flowering of the about 50 plants here on Sitamani


Gladiolus sericeovillosus


Blister Beetle Decapotoma sp. feeding on Gladiolus sericeovillosus

Sunday 17


Satyrium longicauda

Monday 18


A beautifully ornate moth, I haven’t found an ID yet

Friday 22


Pterygodium magnum flowers opened

Monday 25

I was so excited, having collected a very special book,


The Field Guide to the AMARYLLIS FAMILY of Southern Africa & Surrounding Territories, Graham Duncan, Barbara Jeppe, Leigh Voigt! Not only is it the time of year when

Brunsvigia undulata are flowering here at home, but two of my photos,


one of the whole plant


and a cover picture for the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt biome, (Mtentu River mouth), are included in the book. I am deeply honoured. The design, stunning illustrations, photos and content combine together to create the most beautiful book, I will treasure it!
 
“THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE AMARYLLIS FAMILY & SURROUNDING TERRITORIES is a sequel to The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa, this field guide is the culmination of 46 years of dedicated perseverance and expertise. Small, sturdy and easy to handle, this is an excellent book for identifying bulbs in their natural habitat. There are over 265 watercolour paintings and 560 photographs, a map for each species and comprehensive text.
 
To order your copy of the Field Guide to the Amaryllis Family you can read more about it on their website, www.galleypress.co.za or order from orders@galleypress.co.za.
For more information, please email leigh@galleypress.co.za.”

Wednesday 27


Predawn rays


Kniphofia buchanani

Thursday 28


Crocosmia aurea

Friday 29


Satyrium cristatum var. longilabiatum


An amazing fungi growing on the stump of a felled tree possibly a Pseudophaelus species

Saturday 30


Finally photos of the juvenile Cape Robin-Chat, who had discovered the joy of the verandah bird bath!

Sunday 31

Over the month I’ve heard Black-backed Jackal calling in the evenings and several times while out doing bramble control work, have startled a very fine male Reedbuck. He is very nervous and vary of humans, probably as poaching has been ongoing for months. The Common Duiker decided my Agapanthus next to the house were tasty treats, ate all but one of the buds….

19 January 2021 Wildflowers on amahaqwa, Bulwer Mountain

On Tuesday, Nikki, her motto – Celebrate the Small Stuff, and I had glorious day doing just that, walking on amahaqwa, Bulwer Mountain, the skies opened to the bluest of blue, only eclipsed by the Agapanthus in full bloom.

This is a mountain ridge that is essentially an extension of the Drakensberg, albeit cut off from the main escarpment. As a result, there are the same rock strata, including getting above the Clarens Sandstone, and many of the flowering plants of the Drakensberg and Little ‘Berg are found here.

These are some of the flowers we saw….

Corycium nigrenscens

Disa versicolor

Disperis oxyglossa

Eulophia zeyheriana

Habenaria lithophila

Neobolusia tysonii

Pterygodium hastatum

Satyrium longicauda

Satyrium parviflorum

Schizochilus angustifolia

Afrotysonia glochidiata, a first for me

Agapanthus campanulatus

Ajuga ophrydis

Albuca setosa

Alepidea natalensis

Argyrolobium harveyanum

Berkheya possibly onopordifolia a first for me

Chaenostoma possibly polelense subsp. polelense another first for me!

Chironia krebsii

Chlorophytum cooperi

Crassula vaginata

Craterocapsa tarsodes

Crocosmia pottsii

Cycnium racemosum

Cyphia elata

Cyphia tysonii

Delosperma lavisiae

Diascia integerrima

Diclis reptans

Eucomis bicolor

Gunnera perpensa

Hebenstretia cooperi

Heliophila rigidiuscula

Hesperantha baurii

Indigofera woodii

Jamesbrittenia breviflora

Kniphopia triangularis

Linum thunbergia

Lotononis eriantha

Lotononis lotononoides

Manulea crassifolia

Myosotis semiamplexicaulis

Peucedanum thodei

Pimpinella caffra

Plectranthus grallatus

Protea roupelliae

Schizoglossum elingue subsp. elingue

Schizoglossum elingue subsp. purpureum

Senecio oxyriifolius

Sutera floribunda

Watsonia confusa

Zaluzianskya microsiphon