Since 2004, Bushwillow Estate on the shores of Vaalkop Dam, in North West Province, has been my home away from home. I pride myself on my 300+ bird list for the area, and I have had countless fun days exploring, studying birds, searching for nests, recording bird calls, sketching, climbing trees, herping and just generally whiling time away in the bush. What a privilege to have a little getaway in this corner of Africa!
However, even after all these years I still feel like I’m a visitor – while we might get out there once or twice a month at most, there is a myriad other residents in and around the house, who are there permanently. Moreau’s Tropical House Geckos stake their territories on the walls, a White-throated Monitor hangs around the garbage bins, and a Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake has claimed his favourite tree. Under the deck is prime real estate – shared by a python, a family of warthogs, a rowdy crowd of Dwarf Mongooses and sometimes porcupines (which have a particular craving for plastic pipes). Bird-wise, any hollow or crevice in the house structure is sought after by White-throated Robin-Chats, which always choose some crafty little hideaway for their nests. Cape Wagtails nest in a potted plant, and we occasionally arrive to find a Barn Owl or Spotted Eagle Owl peering down at us from the roof beams. And that’s not even mentioning an endless variety of insects and arachnids.
We have a large outside umbrella over the splash pool. When we’re around we keep the fabric part slotted into the metal stand – when you open it in the mornings, a cascade of Cape Serotine Bats often tumbles out. When we leave, we remove and store the fabric part, leaving a nice hollow pipe. This spring, a pair of Yellow-throated Petronias decided that this metal pipe would be the perfect location to raise a family. We noticed the birds entering the pipe, usually carrying a feather, for several days. After some time we decided to have a closer look – while you couldn’t see much in the pipe, you certainly could smell something! A “rotten egg” smell of note wafted from the mouth of the metal pipe, and we came to the conclusion that something was definitely not right. Around that time the birds also seemed to abandon their nest site.