“Weaving Your Way into your Lady’s Heart”

Many of you will have been glued to your TV sets in recent weeks, following the latest David Attenborough series, “One Life”, produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. Each year we marvel at the quality of the camera work produced by the team and the intimate way in which they open up the natural world for us all to appreciate in a way in which has never been done before. The standard produced by the team as a whole sets the bench mark for wildlife film making the world over and, as a result of their work, people the world over have come to explore Africa, fallen in love with our landscape and grown to appreciate deeply our flora and fauna; all without leaving the comfort of their armchairs. The BBC team are frequent visitors to the Hoedspruit area, and have even been known to do location work on the Blue Canyon Conservancy. Indeed, last year I was treated to an “inside view” of how they produce these nature epics, when the BBC came to town looking for a likely location for the filming of the “weaver nest building sequence” that was featured in Episode 2 of the series. After having failed to locate a suitable nesting site during the previous week, I received a call to discuss a possible location that the film crew might use as they were down to their last week of scheduled filming. A location on the edge of the Blue Canyon Conservancy seemed the logical choice as I was able to show the team some nesting Southern Masked Weavers hard at work on the construction phase of their nests. The rest is history, and the extreme slow motion film footage, have you not seen it as yet, is unmissable!! DSC_3261 One of the great joys of my early morning summer forays around Nyumbani, is stopping for coffee at one of my favourite dams. Generally, most rangers have been working since way before dawn, and when I kick back and sip on my coffee my friends and family in the city are just hitting the snooze buttons on their alarm clocks!! Here, before the heat of the day has taken a hold, I have time to think, soak up a bit of the peace and quiet that Nyumbani has to offer, and generally nearly always find myself doing a bit of birdwatching. But on an early summer morning, peace and quiet is a rare commodity in the weaver colonies at the water’s edge. It’s the time of the year for breeding and attracting a mate, and for the strikingly colourful weaver the only way in which to secure the “prize” female is to demonstrate your house building skills. There’s no substitute for poor DIY skills here at the dam, you’ll just end up with nothing more than a lonely life with no son and heir!! DSC_3897 The male of each species use their intricate nest weaving skills to secure his lady of choice. Whilst each species has a design unique to themselves, in essence each of them share an incredible capacity to weave the most intricate of structures. When their new home is completed, the male then hangs upside down at the entrance flapping his wings excitedly trying to attract his female to inspect his handiwork. Females fly by surveying the best options available to them on the “property market”. A quick inspection confirms all her criteria have been met. Those that fail the test, have their nest destroyed and knocked from the tree. Watching their hard work floating away across the dam must be somewhat heartbreaking. The male that she deems to have the best home building skills is the one which she will select. The strength and firmness of the nest is the key criteria as this will ensure the safety of her clutch of eggs and the ensuing offspring. The final “furnishings” to the nest will be supplied by the female who will line the nest with soft materials before laying her eggs. An interesting study was commissioned to determine whether nest building is a skill that these birds learn, or whether it is an innate skill they have from birth. Guess what?? Hand reared birds were able to build a fully functioning nest from the outset without mentoring from older birds. It showed also that over time the birds refined their technique to build a more sturdy structure but it’s incredible that chicks are born with the nest building skill imprinted in their DNA!! I’m glad that when I completed my home on the Blue Canyon Conservancy that my wife concurred that it was a nice structure and didn’t proceed to pull it down!! Nevertheless, all Nyumbani homeowners should be aware that sign off for all prospective homes on the reserve is the absolute preserve of the of the lady of the household!!

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