SLEEPING ON THE JOB

It is hard work being a Laughing Dove: your day consists of preening, constantly searching for food, laughing with friends, courting, chasing away any opposition, keeping a wary eye open for neighbourhood cats as well as Yellow-billed Kites … it all gets a bit much at times.

A bit of shut-eye is needed now and then. I thought at first that this bird might be ill for it remained in this fluffed-up position for some time. Other doves alighted near it and left. This one was sleeping on the job though for it opened its eyes occasionally and then, presumably feeling refreshed, flew across to where some crushed mealies had been scattered on the ground and went about its usual business with gusto.

MORNING MEETING

“We need to discuss the dry state of our world”, said the Speckled Mousebird while perching on a sturdy twig of the plum tree that had finally succumbed to one drought too many. Its mates cuddled together and watched the proceedings from on high as the Olive Thrush flew up to perch next to him – keeping a beady eye out for any sign of food below. “Fruit would be good,” it said mournfully, “or even a beetle or two. I haven’t seen a worm for weeks.” The Mousebird made a dry rattling noise in the back of its throat and fluffed out its tail feathers. “There are no buds, no flowers and very few insects – not a berry to be seen.”

“Always complaining, whining and moaning,” mumbled the one Bronze Manikin to the other, its beak filled with seeds. “That’s the problem when you want gourmet meals with so-called variety!” “Eat up,” its companion said,”I can hear the weavers coming!”

KEEPING AN EYE OPEN

There is little that the resident Common Fiscal misses when it comes to food. No matter what I put out on the feeder tray, it is there within minutes to inspect and taste. The fiscal is not above chasing other birds away either until it has had its fill – and lately it has been taking food away to feed its young. Here it is in a typical stance, keeping an eye open for the next opportunity to grab a bite to eat.

BREAKFAST THRUSH

Well camouflaged against the drab background of drought, this Olive Thrush looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth as it appears to be on the alert for any food source that may be about. His stance is erect and his head is slightly tilted – as innocent as he may appear, be sure that he will strike quickly should his ears catch the slightest strain of anything edible rustling ever so quietly under the loose, dry earth.

While nothing rustled invitingly underfoot, this sharp-eyed Olive Thrush spied my breakfast while I went indoors to collect my hat. He decided that it was definitely worth an inspection.

A taste of marmalade was in order.

It was certainly worth another try.

A take-away snack will do well for me.

PREENING IS NO LAUGHING MATTER

I recently showed an Olive Thrush sunbathing as part of the preening process to keep its feathers in good condition. Exposure to the sun helps to spread the preen oil along the feathers and the heat aids the process of dislodging lice and other parasites, making them easier to get rid of through preening. Here is another Olive Thrush sunbathing, seen from the back and so providing a good view of the fluffed up feathers and the tail feathers spread out to take advantage of the sunshine.

Laughing Doves also take the preening process seriously and frequently sunbathe in groups, spreading their wings wide and sometimes lifting one wing and then the other to let the sun shine under their wings. This one has finished sunbathing and is now carefully preening its feathers to get rid of the offending dust, bits of dirt and parasites. It is methodically nibbling or stroking every feather from its base to its tip.

While preening, birds also align each feather in the optimum position relative to adjacent feathers and body shape. The feathers are moisturised with preening oil during this process and afterwards the birds stretch and fluff up their feathers to ensure they are all in the right place once more after having been gone through so carefully. The serious business of daily preening is definitely no laughing matter, even for a Laughing Dove!

CONTEMPLATION

I associate herons with patience – lots of it – and elegance. Look at this Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala) standing at the edge of a waterhole. Ardea = heron, whilst melancephala = black-headed in Greek.

It barely moves for minutes at a time and then one has to be observing very closely to even notice the change in stance. Even its wing beats are slow to watch and it stalks its prey with a sense of deliberate action, as if each step is carefully considered before the next one is made; it makes no ‘wasted’ movements and appears to be languid in nature – until it spots a potential prey for then it seems to ‘freeze’ before striking it powerfully with its dagger-like beak and impaling or seizing it.

It makes a thorough job of preening itself too.

THREE BIRD BATH VISITORS

Birds need fresh water for drinking and bathing – never more so than during this drought – and so I keep the bird baths in our garden topped up daily. The one featured in the photographs below is an upturned lid from a broken garden light. These three birds visited the bird bath while I was having breakfast. The first is a Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris). It is a regular visitor and, of late, comes to inspect my breakfast or to see what we might be eating with our morning tea.

Directly translated, its Afrikaans name, Fiskaallaksman, means Fiscal Executioner or Butcher-bird. The latter is an appellation which is proving difficult for it to slough off in English and comes about from its habit of sometimes caching large prey on thorn ‘larders’. At one time it was also commonly known as Jackie Hangman for this reason. I also see it referred to as the Southern Fiscal and as a Fiscal Shrike, so take your pick. You can see its heavy hooked bill, typical of shrikes.

The next visitor is a Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra), one of at least two pairs that are nesting in the garden. I enjoy listening to their melodious phrases – often among the first of the dawn chorus – early in the morning and during the latter part of the afternoon. Their alarm calls are both persistent and distinctive and have attracted me to snakes in our garden twice and, more recently, to the presence of a Brown Mongoose.

You might notice a drop of water on its beak as it had just lifted its head when I clicked on the camera. These robins chase each other around the garden from time to time yet are quick to scurry for cover in the undergrowth when alarmed. I think they have become used to me for one or other of them sometimes perches not far away and sings regardless of my presence. Its Afrikaans name  is Gewone Janfrederik – Ordinary Jan Frederik – which relates to rhythmic phrases in the song of the Cape Robin-chat which sounds like ‘Jan Frederik’ if you listen very carefully as the variable short passages of musical notes, always start with low slurred whistle cherooo-weet-weet-weeeet.

The third visitor to this bird bath is a familiar one I have featured before, the Olive Thrush (Turdus olivaceus), as it is a frequent caller, whether it is to drink or to bathe. This time I am showing you a rear view of one, also with a droplet of water on its beak.

The Afrikaans name is Olyf Lyster – I presume Lyster means Thrush (i.e. Olive Thrush) but it doesn’t appear in my dictionary. The richly melodic song of the Olive Thrushes also form part of the dawn chorus. I cannot resist quoting this stanza from the poem Olyf-Lyster by Evelyn van der Merwe, which not only describes the call, but hints at the familiarity the thrushes develop towards people. This stanza refers to the thrush obviously waiting for the speaker to stand on the veranda (with the implication that she will be bringing food for the thrush):

Elke oggend douvoordag

Trap jy doudruppels met jou fyn toontjies plat

En hoor jou skril twieeet – twieeet roep

En sien jou wag dat ek moet verskyn op die stoep

You can read the poem in its entirety at http://www.woes.co.za/bydrae/gedig/olyf-lyster