Africa, Birds & Birding, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Pigeon Valley, Durban

Pigeon Valley is a Natural Heritage Park in Durban, South Africa. It is a magnificent example of a small urban reserve with very high levels of biodiversity. It was established to provide protection for the vanishing coastal climax forest. About 11ha in extent, it overlooks Durban Bay. Its south-facing slope is covered in canopy forest, while the north-facing slope has thorny thickets. An adjoining reservoir provides a tiny rectangular patch of coastal grassland. It is a special place and is well worth a visit. see wikipedia.

Plants

– natal elm – Celtis mildbraedii

There are over 110 species of trees occurring in Pigeon Valley, almost all of which are locally indigenous, including the rare Natal Elm, and the Natal Forest Loquat. Large stands of Buckweed (Isoglossa woodii) grow in forest glades.

Animals

– red duiker –
– Buff-spotted Flufftail –

The park is home to red duiker, blue duiker, large-spotted genet, a troop of banded mongoose, slender and water mongooses, vervet monkeys and the local mamba No.5 Dendroaspis polylepis subsp. hemsonii.

– large-spotted genet –

Beautiful forest birds found here include:

– Green Twinspots –
– Spotted Ground Thrushes –
– Black Sparrowhawks –

Rarer sightings include European Nightjar, Knysna Warbler, Lemon Dove, Mountain Wagtail, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Common Scimitarbill, Palm-nut Vulture and Knysna Turaco. The current bird list for Pigeon Valley stands at 161 species. Summer migrants can include Black Cuckoo, Red-chested Cuckoo and Red-backed Shrike – find the full list at wikipedia

– Clouded Mother of Pearl – whattaphoto! –

Community

Friends of Pigeon Valley, led by tireless stalwart and asp whisperer Crispin, ensure that the park is largely free of unwanted plant species – in fact, way better than most people’s gardens! They (that’s Crispin) also liaise with the municipal managers of the reserve to address relevant issues, and guide a monthly walk open to the public at 07h30 on the second Saturday of each month. For some spectacular photos find Friends of Pigeon Valley on facebook.

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Pics by Crispin Hemson, Sheryl Halstead and Roger Hogg; and when my point-and-shoot grows up it’s going to take pictures like these . .

Meantime I point at and shoot things that will stand still for me:

– Pigeon Valley collage –

It’s a lovely place for a picnic. But you must watch out who you picnic with. There sometimes be weirdos and champagne-guzzlers. And people who adulterate champagne with fruit juice.

– occasionally there’s a slight vagrant problem – and some shebeen’ing –
– Natal Forest Locquat – Oxyanthus pyriformishand-fertilised

We really should try and preserve more areas in a natural state. Don’t you think?

– pigeon valley in red and burman bush – that’s all we’ve preserved –
Africa, Aitch, Birds & Birding, Home, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Gardening for Birds n Frogs n Butterflies n Goggas

Aitch learnt the joy of indigenous plants on the Bluff in 1985 when at Wentworth hospital. Ian Whitton, friend and cardio-thoracic surgeon, indigenous gardener and nurseryman extraordinaire, pig-farmer, protea grower, pigeon-fancier, erythrina expert and all-round good friend took her under his wing. She also learnt from indigenous guru, horticultural landscaper, author, visionary and gardener Geoff Nichols; She collected seeds and swopped them for plants for and from Enver Buckus at Silverglen nursery; She worked for noted colonist, author, canoeist, British apologist, acrylic painter and historian Geoffrey Caruth Esq at his Geoff’s Jungle Indigenous Nursery; She joined BotSoc (now the Biodiversity Society) and got very involved, especially in the annual big plant sale, working with Sandra, Wally Menne, Jean Senogles, Dave Henry, Diane Higginson, etc; She spent fifteen years “botanising” (as they called it) with Barry Porter on his and Lyn’s Hella Hella game farm. We went there at every opportunity. It became our second home. They would roam the farm spotting and photographing plants and flowers, occasionally digging up one for culture with Porter’s Patented Plant Pincher**, a handy device Barry had welded together to make extracting small plants easy and non-destructive. Barry taught us to use Eugene Moll’s tree-ID book using leaves to ID the trees of Natal.

Our first property was 7 River Drive Westville, already mostly indigenous thanks to Mike and Yvonne Lello. On the banks of the Mkombaan River, it was paradise unfenced. We rooted out invasives and aliens and planted the right stuff as directed by Geoff Nichols. On his first visit he told me sternly, pointing ‘over there’, to “Get rid of that inkberry”. You know how Geoff is. Right. Sir! A month later on his next site inspection he said “You haven’t got rid of that inkberry!” Oops! True. So I undertook to do it that week.

A few days later I set to with my bow saw, sawing off all the branches and then cutting down the 100mm trunk just above the ground, Then I garlon’d that and composted the bits n pieces. Phew! Done! Finally!

A month later Geoff was back. “Who the hell cut down the tassleberry?!” he bellowed. “And you STILL haven’t got rid of the inkberry!” I never lived that one down. We planted five tassleberries to make up for it. They have male and female trees, so that was best anyway. I am pleased – relieved – to report they did well over the next fifteen years!

Aitch didn’t mind a bit of attention, so when our garden was chosen to be on display for Durban Open Gardens she blossom’d n preened and was in her element! She LOVED showing people around the garden and re-assuring them that it was quite safe* even if it did look a bit wild. In fact she would keep the entrance and pathway to the front door and pool very tame, civilised and trimmed so as not to scare people and put them off wild gardening. The hidden parts of the garden could go wild and host the 112 species of birds we recorded in the garden over the fifteen years we lived there. For 32 of those species we saw nests or fledglings.

7 River Drive garages from Burnside (Heather & Gordon Taylor's place)
7 River Drive garages from Burnside (Heather & Gordon Taylor’s place)

We put in a bird bath outside our bedroom window and plumbed it with a fine hose and left it running with a fine little spray of water which ran constantly for fifteen years. I could control the fine trickle from a specially fitted high tap from inside the bedroom. The birds loved it. Me too. The tap is visible against the far wall on the left; the birdbath is hidden behind Jess.

river-dr-jess-junge-gym-tap-for-birdbath.jpg

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10 Elston Creatures.jpg

*In fifteen years we saw one Natal Black Snake, one Brown Water Snake, a few Herald Snakes, a resident House Snake, regular Spotted Bush Snakes, tiny Thread Snakes, a couple of Night Adders, and that was all. None of them really dangerous.

**Barry also made us a bird feeder, which he called Barry’s Bizarre Balancing Bird Bistro. More about Barry and Lyn here.

One year we decided to make a large pond by damming a little stream that flowed though our garden into the Mkombaan. It came to be called (by Aitch) “Koos’ Folly”. In my defence, Nichols was involved in the planning. We built a substantial dam wall next to the Voacanga on the bank, covered in bidim felt and strong and long-lasting, creating a deep pond about 8m X 4m in size. Which the first flood filled up to the brim with silt. One shot. Pond now a shallow little mudflat with most of the flow passing under it underground. I learnt: Don’t mess with watercourses.

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Some murdering had to happen. There was a mango tree in the grasslands and a fiddlewood behind the house. I bow-saw’d and de-barked and felled. Then I garlon’d. That would sort them out. Well, only years later did I finally get rid of the last shoots that kept sprouting. I developed a genuine respect for their kanniedood properties! A massive syringa on the banks of the Mkombaan I just ring-barked and garlon’d. No cutting. Two years later it crashed down across the river, bank-to-bank, forming a bridge you could walk across.

10 Elston Garden

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kanniedood – hard to kill