rain

Rain!

There is a great song by Lady Blacksmith Mambazo called Rain, rain, beautiful rain[1] that, as many of their songs, I strongly recommend! But it is only when you have two successive extreme dry seasons such as the ones we have gone through in Zimbabwe that you really understand the song!

I already described the seriousness of the drought at the Kruger National Park[2] and things are equally bad further north, in Zimbabwe and Harare where we are.

When we bought our house in the 90’s, we had a good borehole as well as water from the Harare Municipality. Today, the latter is erratic and, as a consequence, over the years many people have sunk boreholes and now there are thousands. As a result, the underground water table is no longer where it was and, probably the deepest end of our own old borehole is 30 meters above the water level! We have dug for water four more times since the original hole dried early in the XXI Century but we have only managed to extract grey stone dust!

Following our failures with various reputed rhabdomantists, in 2013 we decided to change our water management strategy. We gradually moved from water-thirsty plants to succulents and cacti and we buy water from the many suppliers that bring it to your house. Our swimming pool is now a water reservoir -and toad breeding ground- that we fill with the rainfall from the roof of the house (when it rains!) and take showers standing on a basin to collect and use the grey water for watering a few selected plants!

The availability of water is gradually decreasing and many of our plants and trees are no more and others are just surviving from year to year. We have lost pecans, almonds, mulberries and avocados to mention a few. Luckily, we still have a few fruit trees left although their production is near zero. The indigenous trees are still doing well, despite the clear impact of global warming.

But enough of bad news as the rains have just arrived a few days ago, precisely on 10 November. You remember the date now as rain is becoming really critical!

As usual, just before the rains our children’s leopard tortoise “George” (or Georgina?) made an appearance only to disappear again soon afterwards, as usual. In addition, the chameleons materialized out of nowhere, following their own clock, just before the rains. At this time the number of birds increased dramatically as drinking water was really scarce. Miraculously, as soon as the rains came, many species disappeared and we remained with the resident ones that are here the year round.

Another amazing phenomenon is the “greening” speed of the brown grass in our “lawn”! I can assure you that it becomes green in a few hours after the first rain drops. I often think that it is like watching lyophilized grass being reconstituted in front of one’s eyes!

Together with the greenery some interesting insects appear. Among others, the termites immediately start preparing their chimneys and, although they wait before “exploding”, they do so after a couple of days with when they detect that the ground has reached the adequate humidity for them to dig themselves.

The millipedes[3], known locally as tshongololos[4], are the next to make an appearance after spending the dry spell in chambers dug underground. They appear in all sizes, from 2-3 cm to 10-12 cm and are very fond on fruits and cucumber. They live up to seven years in the wild and they need to moult frequently as their calcified exoskeleton does not expand. They have about 270 legs and they carry some specialized mites[5] that clean their bodies.[6]

Apart from the animal life, the rains also create an explosion of colour as the plants and trees suddenly revive. The show starts with the flowering of the exotic jacarandas that turns Harare purple just before the rains. Soon the time of the flamboyant trees come and, the moment the rains start, the frangipanis become really outrageous not only in terms of colour but also by adding their wonderful scent to the garden.

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If the rains are good, our garden will become so green that it will make you forget the drought until next year when we hope that we will have a “normal” one although these are nowadays the exception!

 

[1] If you wish to hear it, it is at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUH7PM0-cpI

[2] https://bushsnobinafrica.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/hippo-drama/

[3] Subphylum: Myriapoda; Class: Diplopoda.

[4] It means “steam train” in the local language.

[5] Neomegistus julidicola Trägärdh 1906 (Acari, Mesostigmata)

[6] They are extremely interesting creatures and, if interested, you could read more about them here: http://www.earthlife.net/insects/diplopoda.html

Wet butterflies?

Most of the time we have been “rained in” at our farm in Salta with only the occasional sunny spell, reminiscent of our time in Bedele, Ethiopia or worse, the UK! Well not as bad as the latter… The longest sunny spell lasted twelve hours but the normal sun appearances were a couple of hours long!

Butterflies were totally absent during the rainy spells and, as soon as the sunshine appeared, they were out in full force almost magically! Watching this event a few times the question of the title came: where are they when it rains? One theory was that they hatched with the sunshine but it was discarded, as they were too fast to respond! The idea of sheltering themselves against the rain gained strength but where?

As often happens, an answer came out of a spin off from another observation. The rain was so much that our river flooded, stopping us from leaving the farm.

Inspecting the flooded farm.

Inspecting the flooded farm.

While taking stock of the situation under the rain, I could not fail to see a large orange spot in a tree. Closer inspection revealed a large butterfly hanging upside down. On closer inspection I noted that it had aligned its body to the branch above it and it was perfectly protected from the raindrops.

The butterfly perfectly aligned under the thin branch.

The butterfly perfectly aligned under the thin branch.

Unfortunately my camera would refuse to focus on the insect, as there were raindrops and small branches interfering with its electronic “brain”. Unfortunately it moved off before I could take a better shot.

Although you may think that this was a clever ruse from the yellow butterfly, it was really nothing compared with the two shown below that found shelter inside our house!

Safer inside the house and looking out.

Safer inside the house and looking out.

Another clever moth!

Another clever moth!