17 February, 2016

Karoo violets and birds, to Matjiesfontein

- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

(In November 2010 we went to the Karoo National Park to see the lions and their new Lunch)

Karoo violets have such a wonderful intense colour. From our flower book I didn’t realise quite how tiny this plant is. That is the toe of my boot for scale. Aptosimum indivisum in the Scrophulariaceae (with our Diascia, Freylinia, Halleria, Linaria and Nemesia– and your Antirrhinum, Digitalis and Penstemon). Like most Karoo plants will also flower after rain. Pollinated by tiny pollen wasps. Could be used between paving slabs in a hot dry climate. Info from PlantZAfrica

Karoo violets

You can see the dry stony slopes of a Karoo Koppie and the lush green of Acacia karoo thorn trees along the riverbed. We walked to the museum. Plants, animals, rocks and fossils and landscape (my first love), and human history from prehistoric to living memory. The cottages have a verandah, deeply shaded and opening across to this view. Do NOT feed the birds, but they ask, so nicely, so they got flaked oats.

View from the cottages

We are not twitchers or birders. As I sort the better pictures I try to work out who they are. Starting with the obvious and familiar. The ostrich. No they don’t ‘bury their heads in the sand’, ostriches are digging for water.


A whitebacked mousebird. New to me! Mousebirds have a crest, and a long tail. In our Porterville garden we had redfaced mousebirds.

Whitebacked mousebird

At first we thought this was a Nother mousebird. Same shape and colour, long tail? But no crest. Wait, it looks like a dove, with a long tail and a formal black waistcoat. Namaqua dove.

Namaqua dove

Remember Douglas the dikkop sleeping in Eden? This is what he would look like when he woke up again. A spotted dikkop, with very large eyes, ringed with buff and black making them even larger! We hear these birds at home, calling on moonlit nights. A haunting noise.


A female Cape weaver feeds her great brute of a hungry baby.

Feeding the weaver baby

We usually see red bishops over there, where you can make out two tones of red feathers. But with his (previous) camera, he could reveal the details of the colours ON the feathers.

Red bishop, look at the colour ON the feathers

A red ringed eye. Very dark brown head and back, cream below. Heavy dark beak. Claire convinced me this is an African redeyed bulbul.

African redeyed bulbul

When we drive across the Karoo, we usually stop for lunch and a stroll in Matjiesfontein. A Victorian village which now seems to be in the middle of nowhere, it is on the railway line from Jo’burg to Cape Town.

Matjiesfontein station

Founded in 1884 by James Douglas Logan. Heading for Australia, he was shipwrecked at the Cape. From railway porter to thriving entrepreneur. Olive Schreiner – Story of an African Farm – lived here for 5 years. The village was restored in 1970 and is a National Monument. Info from Matjiesfontein

Matjiesfontein. We happened on a day
when there was a rally of vintage cars

Rudyard Kipling
"The Native Born" 1894

To the home of the floods and the thunder,
To her pale dry healing blue -
To the lift of the great Cape combers,
And the smell of the baked Karoo
To the growl of the sluicing stamp-head -
To the reef and the water-gold,
To the last and the largest Empire,
To the map that is half unrolled!

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  1. I always love seeing the birds. What colour some of them have!

  2. Very brave of the White Backed mousebird to land on that thorny tree.

  3. It was a good thing you drew attention to the size of the Karoo violets, I would have imagined them larger than they are. The colourful birds are such fun to see.

    1. I'd been admiring them in the flower guide ... then I almost stepped on them!

  4. Hello Diana! Thank you for sharing these lovely birds photos.
    I miss seeing weavers a lot. When I was a little girl living in Africa they used to come in our garden. I loved seeing them walking, flying around or chirping.
    They weren't the only birds enjoying spending time there, there were lots of sparrows as well.
    It might have to do with the fact our dog had been trained by my mother not to harm birds and to let them feed and drink in her dishes. Belle, that was the name of my dog, would wait patiently till those little guests had finish eating before enjoying what was left of her meal. But don't worry she had lots to eat.
    Sorry for the long comment!

    1. Glad to bring back happy childhood memories for you to share.

  5. Great photos, Diana. The ostrich is one elegant bird.

  6. Thanks for a great post, oh what memories it brings for me. I'm going to get out my book The Story of an African Farm.
    The Karoo is such an interesting place, I loved the landscape there.

  7. your posts pull interest in so many directions - had to search out YouTube for what the Spotted Thick-Knee sounded like to get a flavour of your garden wildlife besides the plants and all the thought that is going in to the various environs
    p.s. the Kipling quote is one I did not know well - another reference to chase!

    1. the dikkop has the same sort of haunting call in the night as an owl hooting.

  8. What a fun post! I really enjoyed the photos of the Weaver feeding her baby. Beautiful Violets, too!

  9. Hello Diana, I wrote a bird post this time, too. Great minds, etc. Your birds are rather different of course. Except for the dove -- our mourning doves are similar. Love that cute dikkop. P. x

  10. My that is a lovely tiny violet....mine are similar in size and beauty...so welcome here in spring.

  11. I feel as if I have just been on holiday! I had no idea that ostriches are digging for water and I have never heard of a Dikkop. Karoo violets look delightful - I particularly like the intense blue and the glaucous foliage. What an enjoyable post!

    1. Karoo violets would look good in a pot - if I can find them in a nursery.

  12. Such characterful birds, I love the dikkop in particular. A pot of those violets would brighten any area.