Karoo violets and birds, to Matjiesfontein
By Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
Karoo violets have such a wonderful intense colour. From our flower book I didn’t realise quite how tiny this plant is. That is the toe of my boot for scale. Aptosimum indivisum in the Scrophulariaceae (with our Diascia, Freylinia, Halleria, Linaria and Nemesia– and your Antirrhinum, Digitalis and Penstemon). Like most Karoo plants will also flower after rain. Pollinated by tiny pollen wasps. Could be used between paving slabs in a hot dry climate. Info from PlantZAfrica
You can see the dry stony slopes of a Karoo Koppie and the lush green of Acacia karoo thorn trees along the riverbed. We walked to the museum. Plants, animals, rocks and fossils and landscape (my first love), and human history from prehistoric to living memory. The cottages have a verandah, deeply shaded and opening across to this view. Do NOT feed the birds, but they ask, so nicely, so they got flaked oats.
We are not twitchers or birders. As I sort the better pictures I try to work out who they are. Starting with the obvious and familiar. The ostrich. No they don’t ‘bury their heads in the sand’, ostriches are digging for water.
A whitebacked mousebird. New to me! Mousebirds have a crest, and a long tail. In our Porterville garden we had redfaced mousebirds.
At first we thought this was a Nother mousebird. Same shape and colour, long tail? But no crest. Wait, it looks like a dove, with a long tail and a formal black waistcoat. Namaqua dove.
Remember Douglas the dikkop sleeping in Eden? This is what he would look like when he woke up again. A spotted dikkop, with very large eyes, ringed with buff and black making them even larger! We hear these birds at home, calling on moonlit nights. A haunting noise.
A female Cape weaver feeds her great brute of a hungry baby.
We usually see red bishops over there, where you can make out two tones of red feathers. But with his (previous) camera, he could reveal the details of the colours ON the feathers.
A red ringed eye. Very dark brown head and back, cream below. Heavy dark beak. Claire convinced me this is an African redeyed bulbul.
When we drive across the Karoo, we usually stop for lunch and a stroll in Matjiesfontein. A Victorian village which now seems to be in the middle of nowhere, it is on the railway line from Jo’burg to Cape Town.
Founded in 1884 by James Douglas Logan. Heading for Australia, he was shipwrecked at the Cape. From railway porter to thriving entrepreneur. Olive Schreiner – Story of an African Farm – lived here for 5 years. The village was restored in 1970 and is a National Monument. Info from Matjiesfontein
"The Native Born" 1894
To the home of the floods and the thunder,
To her pale dry healing blue -
To the lift of the great Cape combers,
And the smell of the baked Karoo
To the growl of the sluicing stamp-head -
To the reef and the water-gold,
To the last and the largest Empire,
To the map that is half unrolled!
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