The dawn chorus and other visitors

2015-08-03 11:57

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MOST mornings, especially in summer, I wake up before the sun rises. I relish the cool, quiet darkness of the house as I watch the sky lighten through my open window.

Silently, I wait for the little choir master to sing the first notes of the dawn chorus, his melodic whistles signalling to the rest of his singers that it’s time to raise their voices to the sky. As the chorus swells with each additional chirp, twitter and whistle, I imagine the shy little Robin sitting somewhere hidden in the foliage as he adds to his musical repertoire.

My signal to get out of bed is the drowning out of this melodic chorus by the jarring cacophony of caws from the hadedas. I wonder if perhaps they once auditioned for this choir of birds, but rejected due to their lack of musical talent, they now do their best, out of spite, to ensure that no one gets to start their early morning with the gentle sounds of the dawn chorus. I have a love-hate relationship with hadedas. While I find them somewhat comical as they dig their long beaks into the lawn and almost always inexplicably emerge with a tasty morsel, I often wonder why it is necessary for them to make so much noise, all the time. As a sleep-deprived young mother, the hadedas’ early morning caws from a nearby tree would send me rushing outside where I had a small pile of pebbles strategically placed near the back door. Swearing under my breath, I would lob these pebbles into the tree in a bid to encourage my noisy neighbours to go and wake up someone else’s baby. Of course, all this resulted in was more raucous shouting as they left their tree en masse to perch on the roof of the house, accompanied by angry wailing from my daughter’s bedroom. My large dog of indeterminate breed has a hate-hate relationship with them. Despite elaborate displays of stalking as he tiptoes across the lawn, he’s yet to catch one. As he’s about to close his jaws on their tail feathers, they gently lift off and fly into the nearest tree, mocking him with their jeering laughter, while he bristles with indignation. To add to his misery, sometimes the Egyptian geese will leave their lofty perches in the sky and take a swim in our pool, lovingly honking at each other as they ignore the canine resident who’s confusion is all to evident in his wrinkled brow.

We live in one of the city’s older suburbs, surrounded by mature trees, plantations and indigenous forests. The very best part of where we live is that our property is flanked by two streams, bringing with them an assortment of wildlife. One of our most common visitors are bushpigs, the presence of which we are alerted to by the hysterical barking of aforementioned dog and the not-so-subtle journey they make through the undergrowth. Recently, in the early hours of the morning, we were rudely awakened by crashing and snuffling in our back courtyard, which is separated from our neighbour’s property by a low wall. There calmly flattening my flower bed was a very large pig, which was as unfazed by our surprised scrutiny as he was by the presence of two very alarmed rabbits whose home he had unceremoniously invaded. Once he had finished what he had come to do, he lithely jumped over the wall and disappeared.

Sometimes living harmoniously side by side with urban wildlife takes a little patience and tolerance. Cultivating a vegetable patch does more to feed the monkeys and duiker than my family. When there are no vegetables on offer, the monkeys regularly raid the bread bin and fruit bowl or help themselves to the seed on the bird table, and the Giant Kingfisher and Hammerkop have decimated the buffet that is the fish pond.

Every so often, porcupines will wander into our garden, attracted by my favourite flower, arum lilies, which they devour, roots and all. It’s a toss-up — while I love to have porcupines in my garden, I really wish they would leave my arums alone, porcupine delicacy notwithstanding. Dog of indeterminate breed has had a number of run-ins with our spikey visitors and has always ended in second place. While the porcupine waddled off rattling its quills angrily, we have been left yanking the barbed black and white darts out of our whimpering dog’s face and front legs with a pair of pliers, dabbing at the blood-spurting holes with disinfectant. While there have been no detrimental side effects to date, our idiot of a dog has yet to learn his lesson.

Seeing as we can’t share the countryside with wild animals for fear of being attacked by our own species, peaceful interaction with other species within our city’s boundaries is the next best thing

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