Peggy, grand mother goose

Theunis of Landmeterskop one day found what he thought were three orphaned Egyptian goslings in the veld. He brought them home and placed them with our new batch of runner ducklings. Two of them died within a couple of days, and only one survived and thrived, and also soon showed her true colours. She was indeed a Spur-winged Goose, scientifically known as Plectropterus gambensis!

For almost a year she lived with the other geese and ducks, until about ten days ago when she was reported missing… We have looked everywhere but cannot find her. We can only hope that she is well and on a grown-up adventure and that she will eventually return, as this species is partially migratory, making seasonal movements of several hundred kilometres. They normally breed during or near the end of the wet season in solitary pairs.

This brought to mind the story we once read about Peggy, the famous Spur-winged Goose of Somerset West, as told and photographed by the late Nico Myburgh, renowned bird-photographer and at that stage curator of the Helderberg Nature Reserve and published by Village Life Magazine:

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Peggy, grand mother goose

This is the true story of a courageous Spur-winged Goose who became a legend in her own time, told by Nico Myburgh, who knew her better than anyone else.

It all started in 1971 when a mixed batch of six week old water birds was donated to the Helderberg Nature Reserve by the water bird hatchery at Jonkershoek on condition that subsequent hatchlings would be allowed to fly free. The batch consisted of two Spur-winged Geese, two African Shellduck, and various other species of ducks. All were pinioned birds.
At the reserve they were fed well on duck pellets and other mixtures and grew fat fast. They had all reached maturity when tragedy struck: the female spur-winged was killed and eaten by a lynx. (Unlike the ducks, the spur-winged wandered around in the fields in the buck camp surrounding the duck pond most of the time, so they were always a bit vulnerable.)
Luckily, about a week later a flock of wild spurwings landed in the buck camp. The male was nearby all the time, so he joined up with them. They wandered around there all day and late afternoon when the flock left, one female stayed behind. She kept her distance at first for a few days, but gradually she came nearer. Then about ten days later, after we had been holding our breath for so long, she came down to the dam with the male and started eating pellets. All was well. A marriage was arranged and soon took place. The female was now quite settled in her new domestic life. The duck pond was now called the Spur-winged Pond.
Then tragedy struck again. The male bird was killed by a lynx. The lynx is about the only predator that can cope with a spurwing, which has a 5 cm spur on the edge of its wings which could keep any other predator away. We were sure we would now lose the female as well.
We didn’t see her for about three to four days, but then she came back. For the next thirty-five days she came down from the mountain to have a good feed, then went back up the mountain. At that time we had no idea what this was all about.
Then one morning at about ten-thirty suddenly all became clear. Down the mountain road she came, with eleven day-old goslings following her. Straight down to the dam she went with her whole new family. They headed straight for the feeding trough, where they were soon eating away merrily. Then onto the dam they went swimming, all twelve of them.
What had been happening was “Mother Goose”, as she became known then, had been going up the mountain to a sheltered valley, about 1,5 km away, where she had made a well-hidden nest. She was laying one egg per day, then coming down every day for eleven days until her clutch was complete. For the next thirty-five days, while she was incubating, she came down once a day just for a meal.
The goslings grew fast because food was available all day long. All eleven grew to full size, then they all went off, going their own ways. Mother Goose stayed on for about a month. It was now April. Then one morning she was gone. We were all very sad, as we thought this would be the end of a wonderful story.
Then in early May, there she was back again on the Spurwing Pond. Just a day or two to feed up well and up the mountain she went, to the same sheltered valley.
The whole story now repeated itself. Ten goslings this time. So it went for four years. The pond had now been fenced to protect the goslings from mongoose, etc., so every time she came down we had to lend a hand and lift the babies over the wire fence. This was a dangerous operation, because of the spurs on her wings. She was once the cause of my assistant, who was helping to catch the babies, ending up in hospital with a wound in his behind that required nine stitches!
After four years tragedy struck again. The fourth brood was about four weeks old when Mother Goose caught her leg in the fence and it was broken so badly that it had to be amputated. The local newspaper reporter then christened her Peggy, for peg-leg.
This remarkable bird brought down seven more broods of goslings safely to the pond, hopping on one leg with a little support from the fifteen centimetre stump. She successfully reared eighty-seven goslings in her lifetime of fifteen years.
In her honour the first line of Christmas lights in the main road of Somerset West depicts Peggy with nine goslings. And a Peggy weathervane over the entrance gate at the Helderberg Nature Reserve will serve as a reminder of this special mother goose for many years to come. What a bird!

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Original article posted in Village Life No 14

Join us for our first photography course!

One cannot rely just on luck to capture that special photograph! Good images of animals, birds or even bugs don’t just happen – they require knowledge and skill. Join us for a three-day introductory course to nature photography, presented by accomplished wildlife photographer Stephen Hammer of Cape Town.

Even in the age of digital photography, the basics still matter! Stephen will take you through the factors that affect your exposure – ISO, lens aperture and shutter speed – and then move on to learning your camera’s controls and practical application of these principles. Landmeterskop offers ample opportunities to try out your new-found knowledge, with birds, landscapes, fynbos and more.
Imagine learning great new stuff while relaxing and having fun on a peaceful farm! This weekend promises to be a rewarding experience!
Dates: 15h00 on Friday, 21 August to Sunday afternoon, 23 August.
Cost: R1 850 per person, includes accommodation, all meals and course material (bring your own drinks)
Accommodation: Shared in The Homestead.
To book, e-mail Valerie val@landmeterskop.co.za to book. Don’t delay – only the first 12 people can be accommodated!
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Belly the pig gave birth to eight little piggies!

There was great excitement today on Landmeterskop Farm when the widow Potts, Belly the pig, gave birth to eight little piggies! One died and is now with his late father, Mr Potts, somewhere over the rainbow bridge in piggy heaven. Two are a bit weak and are being hand-fed, but the rest are all doing fine. They are cuteness personified!


Video: Oops Ma, don’t sit on us! https://www.facebook.com/valerie.steenkamp.9/videos/936372263075355/
Video: Proud Mama and piggies! https://www.facebook.com/valerie.steenkamp.9/videos/936371546408760/

Landmeterskop’s Bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis)

At last we managed to get some photos of one of the pairs of Bat-eared Foxes with their four cubs. Initially we only spotted the four cubs, but they were later “herded” by mom and dad who led them in a fast run to safety from the prying human eyes! Although their Afrikaans names are Bakoorjakkals or Draaijakkals, they are not jackals. They actually belong to the canine family – the same as dogs. Draaijakkals describes how it runs as it twists and dodges and can turn quickly on its own track.

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The name Bat-eared Fox originates from their large bat-like ears, which enhances their hearing but also serves to dissipate body heat. This species is small and jackal-like in appearance, with slender black legs and a black, pointed muzzle. A light-coloured or white band runs across the forehead to the base of the ears. The coat is silver-gray, and longish with a grizzled appearance. The tail is long and bushy, black on top and near the tip.

Their total body length varies between 75 and 90 cm; their height at shoulder is 35 cm and their weight ranges between 3 and 5 kg.

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The jaws are not very strong and the teeth are small and weak, but they have lots of teeth (46 to 50) – more than any other mammal – with between 4 and 8 extra molars for grinding. Mastication (chewing) is very fast and prey is well chewed. A step-like protrusion, the subangular lobe, on the lower jaw anchors the large digastric muscle. This causes a quick chopping jaw action with very little side-to-side movement which allows them to chew 5 times per second! That makes them a perfect termite-mashing machine!

These foxes are widespread in western and central areas of the southern African subregion. It prefer areas of short grass or bare ground in open grassland or scattered shrubland.

They are active mainly at night (nocturnal) but are seen during the early morning or evening, normally avoiding the heat of the day by sheltering in thick shrub, tall grass areas or burrows. Our photos were taken over midday while they were out enjoying the winter sun after the rain and cold, playing and foraging in the newly sprouted wheat fields. These foxes are active diggers and will excavate their own burrows, but often modifies those dug by another species. Although normally silent, they communicate with soft contact calls, whines and chirps and a loud bark when alarmed.

Bat-eared Foxes locate their prey primarily by hearing. While foraging they stop periodically with head cocked and ears pointing to the ground, listening for the sounds of grubs and termites below the surface. Then they leap forward and dig shallow holes with their forepaws. The claws on the forefeet are long and ideal for digging in even the hardest soil. An insect-eater, they are the only carnivore to have largely given up eating mammalian prey. They cannot tackle big prey.

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A large part of their diet consists of termites and dung beetles; other prey include insects, millipedes and centipedes, scorpions, spiders, fruits, eggs, snakes, lizards, frogs, occasional small mammals, birds and soft tubers and roots.

Pairs mate for life (monogamous), and family groups consist of parents and their offspring. Different family groups may mix together when feeding. The gestation period is about 50 days; litters of two to five cubs are born in underground dens from October to January, dispersing in June or July.

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Predators occasionally include large raptors and caracal and they succumb to diseases such as rabies and distemper. Their resemblance to jackal leads to conflict with stock farmers who falsely accused of them of killing livestock and regard them as vermin. They also become victims of traps set for problem animals and large numbers are killed on the roads. Currently the species is not regarded as threatened but there is the future threat of loss of suitable habitat due to human activities, building, farming, etc.

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The Percy Lister story

As it had always been Gill and Ken Lister’s (actually Dad Ken’s), wish to own a domesticated teacup pig, they in January 2014 purchased “Percy the Pig”. He was only two months old and a real little squealer, measuring less than a ruler in length. They fed him on Pronutro and yoghurt. He was a real cute little boy. They loved him dearly and he quickly became part of the Lister Clan of six cats, two dogs, four chickens and a parrot.

After around six months it became apparent that Percy was not a teacup pig. The breeder told them that fully grown, he should be the size of a Jack Russell Terrier. After further investigation, it came out that he is actually classified as a mini pig, so his eventual size would be more than double that of a teacup pig.

So they had no choice but to move Percy outside and he lived in their backyard with the other animals. In the mornings and evenings he joined his human family in the house for a few hours, and the rest of the day he spent outside. He became a real mischievous boy when indoors. He would chew the wooden floors and 6-year-old Chrissy’s dolls! Eventually he became a little too destructive to be allowed indoors.

On reaching puberty, this young piggy was all ready and set for action! With no other female his size or kind around, to everyone’s chagrin, the pug, Bella, became the object of his amorous displays! A serious decision had to to be made, and when Percy became a little short-tempered too, castration became inevitable.

After a year and a few months, his human parents knew that it was not fair on him to be kept in the backyard alone and isolated from the close human contact he was used to during weekdays. The family agreed that it would be best for Percy if he could find a new home with companions somewhere on a farm where the owners would love him and take good care of him.

Theunis and Valerie of Landmeterskop farm near Stanford came to the rescue in offering Percy a forever home with their other pigs. On Saturday, 20 June 2015, Ken, Gill and Chrissy brought Percy to his new home and family, a real “piggy heaven” where he had his own house prepared for him with fresh straw and food. And after meeting the rest of the pig-family, the chickens, the alpacas – Angelo, Lily and Roweno – he was happy to start roaming and inspecting the lush green field… And although they had to say goodbye to Percy for now, the Listers left with peace in their hearts, knowing that this is not farewell, as they were invited to come visit Percy as often as they can.

Percy and family arriving on Landmeterskop:

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And while her dad took Percy to his new home, Chrissy and mom had time to feed the lambs:

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Dad Ken and Valerie of Landmeterskop helping Percy out of the bakkie:

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The pregnant widow, Mrs Potts, was the first one to come and say, “Hi!” to Percy… A little bit grumpy herself, after the untimely demise of her husband, Mr Potts, due to his aggression towards humans, she soon let the young man know that he should keep a safe distance for the time being!

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Then it was time to meet Mr Kolbroek who at first was lying, fast asleep, in the reeds in a furrow. But, oh my! When he caught sniff of the young Percy he couldn’t get up quickly enough to greet the stranger! No-one has ever seen Mr Kolbroek move his big, fat body as fast as he did on Saturday trying to get to Percy!

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While Percy were introduced to the rest of the pigs, Chrissy had time to feed the alpacas. Here she is with Lily.

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Then Percy was shown his new “house” with fresh straw bed, his own beloved blanket which he had long ago “privatised” from where it was drying on the line, and some food in his trough! His family left him, happy and content in the good care of the Landmeterskop team. And with an open invitation to come visit Percy as often as they can, his human family also left with peace in their hearts, knowing that they had done the right thing…
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Mr Potts and Mrs Belly join the Landmeterskop family!

Recently, Mr Potts and Mrs Belly, two pot-bellied pigs, joined our animal family on Landmeterskop. Although their very distant ancestors came from China, these two were born on a smallholding near Teslaarsdal, Caledon. In honour of their arrival, the pigsties on our farm had been restored! As pigs, and especially pot-bellied pigs, are very affectionate animals that love companionship and body closeness, and are often kept as pets. They can weigh anything from 43 to 136 kg, and can live up to thirty years. This pair had no trouble settling in with our other pigs, the Kolbroeks, and the alpacas, goats, chickens and human visitors. They are indeed very happy and thriving!

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Night Sky over Landmeterskop by Stephen Hammer

I was really looking forward to being able to photograph the night sky and Milky Way as the farm is an ideal venue to do this. Unfortunately, the weatherman didn’t play the game and we arrived at the farm in heavy overcast conditions and this made for very challenging photography light. After much digging through the archives in my head, I eventually came up with a game plan to show you guys what I was seeing… shoot the stars through the clouds!! Now that is not a photograph you often get to see.

These pics were all taken in and around the yard around the Duck Pond Room.

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This series shows the start and prep for a photograph of the Milky Way over the cottages. First pic is to get my framing right, the second shows the start of the Milky Way, and the last pic is the Milky Way “waking up”. I always think of this as God sprinkling his blessings on the farmers’ fields. This “tower” of stars is truly impressive. After the last photograph I was well and truly frozen (my own fault as I did not bring the proper clothing) and went off and had my supper

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These photographs were taken just before sunrise on Sunday morning @ ± 06h15. I was busy getting ready to go out and look for the Bat Eared Foxes, when I glanced out the window and saw this beautiful “Dragon of Stars”. I knew I only had a few minutes to get these photographs before there was too much light and I would not be able to photograph this.

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All these photos were taken by Stephen Hammer, Cape Town based wildlife photographer, and are copyrighted. We are very excited that Steve has agreed to do a series of photography courses in future here on Landmeterskop. We shall post the details of these soon!

For more of Steve’s work, visit his website: http://stephenhammer.co.za