Lots of invasive cleaning to be done

Walter Mangold, World of Birds, Hout Bay

September is the time of the year when the entire Hout Bay valley used to be dressed in yellow flowering Port Jackson trees.

It was a magnificent show, but, being highly invasive, everybody supported the eradication project, and we have mostly succeeded.

There is much invasive clearing to be done still, especially along the river, but we must also be realistic and accept that the glory of this paradise of ours consists mainly of exotic vegetation, now part of the colonial heritage.

Just think of the spectacle of flowering gums up to Suikerbossie and in Upper Valley Road at the end of summer.

Newcomers to our valley will never know what it used to be like, and thus not lament the loss of the rustic way of life which, in my memory, goes back more than 40 years.

In spring, Cape canaries used to sing from every tree.

This was a joyful season with rich birdlife, now sadly diminished and even lost.

Black-shouldered kites and fiscal shrikes were regulars in many gardens and along the roads. Crowned plovers nested on every open field. The amazing African hoopoe was a pleasure on the lawns of privileged homes, which still had old trees and buildings with cavities for nesting, and everybody had resident wagtails.

Burchell’s coucals announced the coming of rain with monotonous water-gurgling calls, and at the end of October, the red-chested cuckoo would irritate sleep-deprived people with endless repetitions of ‘piet-my-vrou’.

Giant kingfishers raucously shot up and down the river taking care of crabs and fish and frogs, and nesting in the high banks.

Pied kingfishers hovered over the Princess Road bridge and at the estuary, and the malachite kingfisher jewel showed itself every now and then in the reeds.

Fish on the Rocks used to be the hang-out for the rare rock thrush, and while we still had old buildings and barns, common starlings used to be, indeed, common.

Cape weaver nests dangled over running waters and ponds, and even from the plane trees over Victoria Avenue.

Chubby pied barbets nested in the sisal agava stems in Empire Road and in old hollow trees, but they are all gone, old trees and barbets alike.

Flocks of speckled mousebirds invaded fruit trees, and softly tweeting waxbills stripped the seeding grasses, while parasitic annoying pin-tailed wydahs kept an eye on them, their females smuggling eggs into waxbill host nests, thus avoiding the duties of child rearing themselves.

Rock pigeons used to be a problem on farmland, eventually replaced by ubiquitous laughing and Cape turtle doves.

Even these are mostly gone, probably taken by predating goshawks and sparrow-hawks, which are also the most likely reason why wood owls have become rare as well.

What happened to the beautiful bokmakieries, which are as much Cape heritage as the fynbos?

Sugarbirds, metallic green malachite and other sunbirds have become either rare or are gone, due to the transformed manicured gardens, and mountain fires.

Nobody could miss the pair of white-necked ravens which patrolled the mountain range and sea shore from Chapman’s Peak right through to Camps Bay.

Black eagles nested on the cliffs above Llandudno, and even swooped low over Valley Road to hunt dassies and guinea fowl. Now, no more dassies, no more eagles.

It is only when you have experienced the richness of bird life in the valley, while it was still rural and rustic, that you bemoan what has been lost.

The same has been repeated throughout greater Cape Town.

The sale of farmland, division of properties, housing estates, restoration of old buildings, the creation of instant new gardens and the use of insecticides, as well as mountain fires,
and predators like hawks and, above
all crows, have contributed to the loss of the rich birdlife which our once-so-sleepy village behind Table Mountain paradise-like offered.

It attracted people from far and wide to share in this beautiful dream. Inevitably in the process it lost its original rural character.

Do we still have colourful butterflies in our gardens?