Creating a safe haven for wildlife during a drought
It has been a tough couple of months with this sheer heat and lack of rain. I, as a nature lover, am thrilled to see that rain has finally started to pour down in the Kruger National Park. However, I was so saddened to see such destruction and death of livestock and other animals in other parts of our country that I thought it would be a great idea to share some tips on how you can assist with providing a safe haven for the animals in your surrounding areas, as well as your own garden or patio.
While walking our new Labrador puppy, Harvey, outside at about 23:30 this past weekend I had the privilege of experiencing something truly amazing. I usually take my headlamp outside and enjoy the nature around me; seeing moths pollinating flowers, ants doing there menial task of collecting grass, scraps and dead insects. I shone my torch in a Celtis australis tree (White Stinkwood) ever hoping to see an owl.
But I was not expecting this… I saw two yellow-green eyes peering back at me. At first I almost jumped out of my skin because in the bush if a nocturnal predator looks at you its eyes are yellow green. I had to convince myself that surely I was not going to be eaten alive by a leopard in my back garden in Parkmore, Sandton. As I plucked up the courage, I walked slowly towards those yellow-green eyes and this nocturnal predator just stared at me without moving. When I got to within 15m I finally realised what this creature was: a small spotted Genet. I could not believe my luck; what a sighting!
I realised why this beautiful animal had made its way into my garden. A couple months back I put an old drip tray onto a log in a quiet section of my garden. On the same log I nailed a few long wire nails into the wood. These nails act as a stake to hold the fruit I put out for the fruit-loving birds. The drip tray acts as a birdbath; I put a medium-sized stone in the center to allow insects to lap up the moisture on the edge or to act as a safety feature if something falls into the water. This Genet had found the water and the fruit, and because there was a lot of insect life and bird life around, was attracted to our garden.
How you can help
As it is so hot and very dry, many birds, insects and mammals are making their way into the urban areas to seek refuge, looking for food and water. Here are some tips to aid the birds, insects and mammals.
For insects such as bees and butterflies that love pollen and nectar I would plant these plants: Felicia amelloides, Buddleja salviifolia/auriculata/saligna, Agapanthus, Chlorophytum saunderisae, Aristea ecklonii, Asystasia gangetica, Barleria, Bulbine and Freylinia are just a few.
If you are unable to plant a few plants to provide the natural food, you can always supplement the insects with some sugar water which will help the bees and butterflies. The correct mixture is two parts sugar and one part water: Two tablespoons sugar and one tablespoon water. If you do a larger batch I would recommend filling a small bowl with marbles and then filling it with this liquid. This just helps bees and butterflies from becoming stranded in the liquid.
Important!: It has been said that brown sugar does not work with a bee’s digestive system. Also try and stay away from using honey as some honey has viruses that could kill that bee or even that colony.
When it comes to birds, I supplement seed and fruit occasionally by adding some peanuts or cheese which the birds go crazy for. As it is so hot the birds are flocking to the birdbath. If you have a big enough garden try put two birdbaths in different areas as some birds are very territorial and restrict the smaller birds from getting to the water. As insects also come to feast on the fruit this helps feed the lizards which in turn also brings the carnivorous bird species.
Swifts and swallows are struggling to build their nests as there is no soft mud available. If you have noticed these birds in your garden, before you empty your bath or sink take a bucket and pour this water onto a section of sand. This may encourage the birds to collect the mud which will aid them in building their nests.
For the birds that rely in nectar you can also buy a bird water station from most nurseries; Bird Life South Africa also sells them. They are excellent for helping sunbirds and white eyes in the heat. I have planted summer and winter flowering aloes and kniphofias to help these birds too.
For the little mammals that may find their way into your garden they will eat the seed and fruit too. Please refrain from putting poisons down to kill mice and rats as this could kill birds such as owls, falcons, eagles and mammals like Genets, and even your own pets.
Remember: When putting out any source of food, you don’t want it to become a problem. Do everything in moderation and think about your neighbours too.
Please let us know if you have any other tips for helping the birds, insects, mammals and reptiles. We would love to hear what you have to say.
Who is Nicholas Spargo?
Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants, has been in the landscape trade for 12 years as well as being a lecturer at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre for the past year. He was awarded a Gold for a design at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre Design Show in 2008, is an Invasive Species Consultant and is affiliated with the South African Green Industries Council.
Landscaping and education are very close to his hear