Our first winter rain

At last a day of rain for Cape Town. Autumn has been late, and winter may be far behind, but our gardens are thirsty and we have not sufficiently recovered from the stress of an anticipated Day Zero a few years ago to randomly turn on municipal water taps to keep our plants alive. At least, not me. With a well only 8 feet deep and a water table currently just visible, there is no remedy from that source, and the wellpoint which goes only a little deeper is drawn on by the neighbour who has a deeper pipe and accesses the water freely. The phase of the moon has a bearing on the water table, and with new moon only a few days past, it has been at its lowest.

I watch the weather forecasts in great anticipation, sometimes disappointed as the amount of rain diminishes day by day, then suddenly the forecast goes back to a decent amount. Today, all is going according to plan and we should reach our 14mm, which will give the garden a boost and green shoots will once again appear on summer-dried branches.

The birds continue to come to the feeder in all weathers, but their finery is dampened and dulled by drizzle, taking on a coppery sheen rather than the iridescent green of the male malachite. A Black Sparrowhawk has landed in the gum tree, hunched and looking a little unhappy that the pigeons are in hiding – will watch him for a while and see if the hunt improves.

Two young male Cape Sugarbirds are flouncing around the feeder, flicking their lengthening tail feathers in exuberance. They must be the offspring of the two who spent summer here.

The actual distance from the magic tree to the feeder, with Black Sparrowhawk eyeing the Cape Sugarbird with disinterest

Still no sign of any pigeons – they usually perch on the roof but are now very aware of the Black Sparrowhawk and its beady eye on the tree nearby.

Even the Southern Double-collared Sunbirds are a bit scarce, not here in their usual twittering numbers. The males outnumber the females about 7 to 1, and I can foresee a lot of competition in the breeding season with epaulettes flashing from every twig if some more females don’t turn up!

A pair of Cape Sparrows come to peck on last night’s rice, then head back into the shelter of their favourite milkwood, keeping safe and warm.

The large contingent of Cape Weavers continue to chase away all comers, with a special aversion to the Amethyst Sunbirds who are so difficult to photograph – not only is the light always behind them, but they are very skittish and not happy to pose for the camera. In the meantime, the Weavers drink all the water and demolish the suet ball almost as quickly as the even more unwelcome Red-wing Starlings who can eat one in 20 minutes.

The Black Sparrowhawk has flown away after a 2-hour stay, blown away by a gust of icy wind from the south west, which heralds the next phase of the rainy day – dropping temperatures, autumn leaves swirling and thoughts of hot chocolate and tennis on the TV.

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