It’s a sunny morning at the beginning of April, and I’m sitting on the deck, looking out at an idyllic scene: a little stream, bordered with bushes, flowers, rushes, marsh grasses, birds flitting in and out of the water,taking tiny sips before flying off again, birds splashing, fluttering, bathing. The water runs downhill, murmuring as it flows over the stones. To me, the sound of softly running water is one of the most relaxing sounds in the world. Where am I? I’m in Kwa Zulu Natal, sitting in my daughter Helen’s garden, enjoying the morning, the birds, the little stream.
And now, if I tell you that this is a fake stream running down the hill in her garden, you’ll probably think :”Huh? What? Why?” Look at the pic below and see if you can spot the fakery? Bet you can’t!
It looks real, doesn’t it? The plants, the water and the birds are as real as real can be. But the river bed, ending in a pond further down the slope, was cleverly constructed by the landscaper, and – believe it or not – the rocks are fake! But to the eye they look like perfectly ordinary rocky rocks – amazing what can be manufactured nowadays. The river bed is edged with rocks in varying sizes which form the banks, the water follows the slope of the ground downwards, culminating in a reed fringed pond. Initially, the pond was stocked with fish, but this proved to be an abortive venture – the hammerkops and herons descended and made short work of those fish. So that was the end of the fish. Sometimes you just have to concede defeat.
On the far bank of the little stream are Marsh grasses, and down at the pond, taller Papyrus wave their spiky heads. All the plants are indigenous – for instance the lanky yellow flowers, another plant with long stems ending in bushy flower heads bursting with pinky lavender flowers. There’s one alien plant, a clump of red zinnias, which ‘just volunteered’, the way plants do in a garden. At the top of the stream the thick vegetation gives a grotto effect, and hides the water inlet pipe. Somewhere down by the pond is a pipe leading to the pump that sends the water back uphill again.
In the foreground there’s a Leopard Tree, so called because of its spotted bark.The tree trunk is wreathed in canary creeper, the bright canary yellow flowers contrasting against the mottled trunk.
If you get tired of listening to the river (and I never do) there are plenty of birds to watch. The Hadedahs parading and pecking on the lawn, for once silent, being fully engaged in their food-hunt.
Fat doves are bullying hordes of LBJs (you know:Little Brown Jobs) on the grass, under the bird-feeder which hangs from the lowest tree branches of the pigeonwood tree. The birds are pecking at fallen seeds which have spilled from the tray above, amidst all the fluttering and squabbling over the seeds.
Grey crested mousebirds flash the orange undersides of their tails as they perch on the mimosa tree branches, they’re eating insects hiding in the foliage.
I’ve seen smart Bulbuls with their black faces topped by black caps and backs, with their contrasting pale bodies under the black top feathers.
If I’m lucky I’ll see the Ground Thrush with his bright brown-orange chests, always hop-hop-hopping. They’re such hoppity birds you wonder when they ever find time to stop and peck up something to eat.
The water attracts the Wagtails, eternally chirruping, and eternally jerking their little grey tails upwards. They remind me of warthogs, who always stick their short tails up at 90 degrees before trotting off.
I’m still hoping to see the Robin with his orange chest and white brow stripe. Helen says they do come to the water, but not that often.
I can recommend a combo of river and bird-watching as a balm for tired souls, and if you’re exhausted and out of sorts, go and find the nearest river and spend some time sitting close by, doing absolutely nothing. Let me know how your river visit turns out.
(Thanks to Helen Buckle for the pics)