Saturday, November 6, 2010


Last night we received our first good dowsing of rain.

Although the runoff seeped in to flood my kitchen, and the pets took fright at the golf-ball sized ice-chunks crashing on the roof, we're now all celebrating (a doubling of chocolate consumption).
Well, perhaps all isn't strictly accurate, since the composition of my household has undergone a change.
Last night all my resident red toads (eight, it turned out) lined up at the door to be let outside. As they hopped off into the rain to do their froggy thing, I felt I should be waving a handkerchief or something. But as they say, 'Nature abhors a vacuum', and I now have several foam nest frogs calling the place home.

A foam nest frog (Chiromantis xerampelina) enjoying the view from my curtain rail.

After one light shower of rain last week, the bush is already edging its way toward green. Its absolute faith in the coming of rain terrifies me. I guess I spent too long in the Kalahari where all the plants lie doggo until there's been enough rainfall for them to sprout, bloom and set seed all in one hit.

With everything breaking out in leaf and the air scented with flowers, the first summer migrants are starting to wing in. I heard a red-chested cuckoo calling for the first time this morning (cause for nervousness, no doubt, in all hairy caterpillars, thrushes and robin-chats).

Red-chested cuckoo (Cuculus solitaries). Photo by Johann du Preez.

I'm now going to inflict on you photos of some of the flowers that are currently burgeoning (sorry, I can't resist them).

The mopane pomegranate (Rhigozum zambesiacum) pins its sweet-scented flowers on a stark thicket of bare twigs.

The weeping boer-bean (Schotia brachypetala) literally drips nectar, attracting a deafening buzz of insects. Around here, these trees grow almost exclusively on termite mounds, sucking up the moisture generated by these little control freaks (a mound is not a home unless it's humidity-controlled!). Every man and his dog (well maybe not his dog) eats this tree: starlings, monkeys and baboons scoff the flowers, antelope nibble the leaves, and both monkeys and people chomp the carb-rich beans (apparently you roast the pods). Oh, and black rhinos (who've presumably been partying) like to gnaw the bark, which is said to cure heartburn and hangovers.

The red bushwillow (Combretum apiculatum) is a handy plant for practical jokers. The seeds, although consumed by birds, are poisonous to humans, causing prolonged hiccupping.

Natal plane (Ochna natalitia). These lovely perfumed flowers last only a day or so. Then they fall to create drifts of golden petals.

The blood flower or fireball lily (Scadoxus multiflorus) is utterly bizarre. Once a year it sprouts a single flower head (26cm/10" across) comprised of about 200 individual flowers. Laden with alkaloids, the plant snuffs out livestock, and is used to coat poison arrows in Cameroon and Gabon, and as a fishing poison in Guinea and Nigeria.

Another species of plane (Ochna spp.) that I've yet to identify.

The migratory yellow-billed kites (Milvus aegyptius) began to rock up last week. Each morning at dawn, as I drive to the study site, I follow one skimming along the road – kilometre after kilometre - searching for beasties that were flattened in the night.
Photo by Matt MacGillivray.


  1. Charming frog and lovely post. Love the practical joker flower/seeds, and apparently kites are super cool all over. Saw a pair last week working a field, white-tailed kites ( They are SO beautiful and so engaging with those HUGE (red!) eyes and WHITE feathers. And the sweet, high pitched peeeeeeep sound they make. Hope you stay dry. =)

  2. I've been following your blog for a month or so and realized I wasn't sure I'd left a comment yet - I've really been enjoying it! It really makes me long to see Africa for myself eventually.

  3. So good to hear about the rain. The little dwarf pups will have a great start forming their foraging skills and getting chubby cheeks. Hope the burrows are safe from the heavy rain.
    For sure your sweet little frogs will remember their home, even bringing some new friends with them.
    The flowers are stunning beautiful, as much as the yellow-billed kite and the cuckoo.
    Wish you all to have wonderful times ahead!

  4. I am also fairly new to following, another northern Californian charmed by your prose and photos.

  5. Rhigozum, related to Karoo Gold. Looks magnificent, and so unexpected in a harsh dry landscape.

  6. Earlier this year in SA, I saw some very pale frogs that made foam nests. The locals called them Ghost Frogs. Are they the same species as your photo? Great photos and informative writing, as always.

  7. Biobabbler,
    Kites are cool, if a bit scary. Once, when lunching at a popular picnic spot, I had a black kite swoop down and snatch the butter off my knife as I was poised to butter a roll.

    Nice to hear from you. Yes, you must visit Africa; it's a fantastic place. Only you need to be careful you don't fall in love with the place, as I did. Heaven knows what that might lead to...

    Saw the pups for the first time today - all very chubby as predicted! Several of my red toads returned after their night out on the town, so I don't feel so bereft.

    I'm glad you enjoy the blog. Are Californians easily charmed, or are they just charming?

    Elephant's Eye,
    Yes, they're very striking. I'm actually more familiar with the low, prickly Kalahari version: drie doring. It's not quite as spectacular though, having white - rather than gold - flowers.

    I think the frog you saw is the same species, as no other South African frog produces a similar foam nest (meringue-like blobs stuck to branches overhanging water). They hang out in the more northerly parts of the country, mainly in savannah. They also turn white when sitting out in the sun (to reduce heat absorption) which may explain why the locals called them 'ghost' frogs. South Africa does actually have six species of ghost frog, but they're all fairly brightly coloured, live in permanent mountain streams and don't make foam nests.


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