We have a little deck leading off our open-plan work area, and this is a great place to sit and watch birds moving through the trees in our back garden. It also provides a good vantage point to look into the adjoining nature reserve where Red Duiker often tiptoe along our fence line. On some evenings we set a table and eat out on the deck, and if we are lucky then the voices of owls and nightjars will not be obliterated by the anxious howling of the neighbour’s hounds.
Earlier this month, we were enjoying a meal on the deck when a pair of African Wood-Owls began calling in a large White Stinkwood tree. This is truly one of the most evocative sounds – a melodic duet with the male hooting ‘who, who . . . . who are you’ and the female responding with a drawn-out ‘whooooooo’ in her higher-pitched voice.
To our great delight, one of the owls landed on the lower branch of a pale-barked Lavender Tree and peered down at us. I illuminated the unexpected dinner guest with a small beam aimed just below its perch. In the meantime, the lantern on the table had lit up the wall behind us and lured a Tropical House Gecko out for a feast of moths. Silently, and this time to our astonishment, the owl launched itself from the branch, flew directly at the table, swooped over our heads, and deftly snatched the gecko off the wall. The nocturnal lizard gave out an audible screech as it was carried off into the night.
Turaco Wood, Nelspruit, South Africa, March 2012.