RED-HEADED FINCH II

My first encounter with Red-headed Finches (Amadina erythrocephala) in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park left me in awe of them – so pretty they are, well the males are particularly attractive with their distinctive red heads! I have since seen them in my brother’s Boksburg garden and marvel at them each time I visit.

A number of these uniformly grey-brown little birds caught our eye whilst we were driving through the Mountain Zebra National Park. Sometimes there seemed to be large flocks of them, but often there were only a couple that settled on branches of bushes near the road. One cannot always hope for ideal conditions and so I photographed this one.

The slightly barred underside with flecks of white attracted my attention yet had me puzzled for a while. One gets out of practice when away from the wild for as long as we have and so, as we drove through the grassland habitat I kept an eye open whenever I saw these sparrow-like birds fly about. At last … a pair settled closely enough for me to make out the red head of the male: Red-headed Finches – of course that is what they were!

I suspect this male is not yet in full breeding plumage – especially if you compare it with the one in the first photograph. Somehow, having identified them, we actually saw more red-heads among the several flocks we passed along our route.

 

SPRING: ERYTHRINA CAFFRA

There are no beautiful bulbs peeping through the ground and, so far, no pastel pinks of peach blossoms or the delicate white of flowers on the plum tree. The prolonged drought has meant that once again the arrival of spring has not been heralded by an array of pretty flowers appearing among the last of the winter grass. These will all have to wait until we finally receive a soaking spring rain. Not all is lost though, for at the end of winter and well into spring we are blessed with the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina caffra.

This is a relatively young tree growing just around the corner from where we live. If one walks to the top of Hill 60 and looks down on the town stretching out below, there are spots of red all over as these trees bloom profusely before putting out their new leaves. We have ancient, giant trees, in our garden that are far too large to fit into a photograph. The best I can do is use the opportunity to show you a closer view of these blossoms that brighten the post-winter landscape.

These flowers are low down on the tree and can easily be seen from our back gate.

I also have a delightful view of the tree in our neighbour’s garden and can observe the birds visiting it every day: Black-eyed blackcaps, Olive thrushes, Black-headed orioles, Common starlings, Red-winged starlings, Cape Weavers, Village weavers, Greater double-collared sunbirds, Amethyst sunbirds, Laughing doves, Red-eyed doves, Speckled pigeons, Fork-tailed drongos … and so many more.

SOUTHERN PALE CHANTING GOSHAWK

Apart from Cape Crows and Pied Crows, among the larger birds one sees in flight are raptors. After a time, one gets to know how to identify them in flight, but it is always a bonus to see one perching close enough to have a good look at. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks (Melierax canorus) are fairly common here and are well worth stopping to observe. They have a habit of alighting on the crown of trees and even insubstantial looking shrubs – all too frequently a little too far to get a good photographs. We can nonetheless clearly see its long red legs and cere from this distance as well as its finely barred belly.

Being near-endemic to southern Africa, the Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk is most likely to be seen in drier areas, where the habitats are open. This one was perched a lot closer, giving us a good view of its strong, hooked bill.

WALKING PAST THE URBAN HERD

We had barely set off for a walk when, only a short distance from our home, we met this cow eating grass on a neighbour’s verge. As with most of these cattle that wander at will through the suburbs, this one looks in good condition. We found her calf lying down in the grass not far away. Apart from grass, they also eat aloes, succulents and browse on the branches of low-hanging trees.

Here is part of the rest of the herd grazing in the park between the street and the main road into town. The park hasn’t been mown for the best part of the year, so one cannot blame the cattle for being attracted to the green pasture – luscious compared to the dried out winter grass covering the rest of the veld.

These members of this Urban Herd had already started wandering up towards the industrial area on the edge of town. This lies at the end of the path and through the green bushes on the horizon. The mowing here has been done by the resident at the end of the road – not the municipality!

Many years ago this grassy area was a well-manicured lawn. No more: this cow is taking advantage of the municipality’s neglect to have a good munch before joining the rest of the herd going up the hill.