Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Matter of Perception

It's SUPPOSED to be a BIRD bath.    Photo: Aron Frankental
Since it’s a new year, I thought a break from the doom and gloom of mankind’s impact on the world might be a nice change before we get back to reality.  I had the chance to enjoy the African bush before Christmas at a place near where Stan also has a bungalow.  Last year Tim wrote a piece about our perception of the beauty around us.  I'm still thinking about it, and it came back to me in the African Bush.  There is only one thing I dislike about my game reserve area: a railway line runs through the middle of it, and a line of huge high tension electricity pylons march along it across the landscape.  This intrusion spoils the atmosphere for me and I’m relieved once I’m far enough away that I can no longer see them, and I can pretend again that the area is completely without the blemish of man’s involvement.
The thing is that this is all a matter of perception.  We divide the natural from the man-made and make value judgements about the aesthetic value of each of them.  The wildlife does nothing of the sort.  Of course, some things are inimical to them and they may or may not realise that (sadly we have a few animals killed by the train each year), but if the objects are not actively dangerous, they just become part of the “natural” environment and are used or simply ignored.
As an example, the brown snake eagle needs a high point from which to spot snakes and other delectable edibles moving about on the ground.  A high tree is good, but often the canopy obscures the view and the highest point may be insufficiently strong or stable.  So here is the perfect answer:
Brown Snake Eagle spotting.                Photo: Inga Page.
And see those masses of dead branches between the cross bars?  Those are the messy communal nests of buffalo weavers.  They don’t rate highly as master builders and they often produce such a mass of material that the whole lot collapses out of a tree.  But with a nice steel platform it’s a different story.
Red Billed Buffalo Weaver.    Photo: Nick Borrow
 If there are no wonderfully high pylons about, a normal electricity pole will have to do.  At least we get a better view of the magnificent bird:
A lower eagle.                            Photo: Marga Erich
 Baboons feel the same way.  The pylons make excellent bedrooms.  Well off the ground, good view all around, and even barbed wire around the base of the poles.  (This is there to keep humans from doing anything stupid like climbing the poles, but it also deters leopards who would have no difficult picking a baboon or two out of a nice comfortable tree.)  
Good place for the night. Photo: Aron Frankental
 Houses can be pretty useful things too.  They make excellent nest sites for birds that like a high exposed place (like the white storks and peregrine falcons). (Although I must admit that these fine architectural structures from Europe are a far cry from electricity pylons!)   

Also for those that need nice rough angles where a mud home can be built.  No complaints from these lesser striped swallows about the environment being spoiled.
Lesser Striped Swallows.           Photo: Aron Frankental

Even school jungle-gyms make excellent perches for birds like these crows...

Well, no, not really.  That’s a still from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and consists of multiple images of a single real bird superimposed on the background.  It looks like the Master of Suspense himself has formed a useful lookout perch here, too.

Happy New Year everyone!

Michael – Thursday.  


  1. Michael, peregrine falcons are thriving in New York City. They were barely surviving on the East Coast of the US. Development was eating up their habitat, and agricultural chemicals contaminated their food supply. They found high places to nest and clean food in Manhattan. They have moved onto the ledges of skyscrapers and high-rises and hunt for pigeons and field mice in Central Park. Shoppers along Fifth Avenue can look up and see them circling overhead.

  2. I really liked that piece, Michael. No puns about electrifying prose or flights of fancy, just wanted to say you created a wonderful sense of place. Thanks.


  3. Dear Annamarie,
    Yes, that was my point. It was just that the free pictures I found came from elsewhere. Of course it begs the question of the damage done to the species in OTHER ways. But it is new year, so let's look on the bright side!.

    Dear Jeff,
    Thanks. One of these days you should come over here for a visit. Best sense of place is to be there as you know!


  4. MIchael, great post. I'm an unabashed city lover and urbanite, with a slight fear of the Great Outdoors (I'm only half joking when I say I'd be more interested in the railway line than the game reserve) so I love it when nature adapts the modern in ways like this. It works both ways. On my street here In London, people have taken to buying nylon covers for their cars to protect from the toxic droppings of the local birds, grown fat and incontinent on city detritus. That or scornful of the way we city dwellers are so reliant on automobiles...