JUNE 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

It is usually a toss-up between the Olive Thrushes or the Laughing Doves which will be the first to arrive at the replenished feeders each morning. Close on their heels come the Southern-masked Weavers – still the most dominant weaver in our garden by far. The male Cape Weavers are already looking ready for the breeding season, with some showing more deeply coloured faces than others:

I never tire of seeing the rather shy Spectacled Weaver that darts out of the shrubbery when the coast is clear and is quick to disappear in a flash:

Black-headed Orioles call from high in the tree tops and have only occasionally swooped down to refresh themselves at the nectar feeder. The Speckled Pigeons have had a bit of a shock this month as we have at last got the boards under the eaves repaired. With a bit of luck they will now seek someone else’s roof in which to raise their next families – they had become too much to deal with in terms of the mess they make and their propensity to chase each other around the ceiling at night. I might have mentioned before that one of them (the same one?) has taken to eating the fish or tiny bits of chicken I put out on occasion – it even chases other birds away until it has eaten its fill. That sounds a little macabre, so here is an ever-cheerful Black-eyed (dark-capped) Bulbul to lift the mood:

Several Common Starlings are coming to visit at a time now, their beaks have turned yellow within the last few weeks, so I imagine they too are thinking about the breeding season ahead. Also in a courting mood has been a pair of Knysna Turacos that have been following each other through the trees and occasionally showing me their beautiful red wings when they fly across the garden. The other morning one of them came to drink at the bird bath not very far from where I was sitting – I felt very privileged to be so close to one. The photograph below is a cheat not from this month, but we all need to see beautiful creatures from time to time and I would love to share this one:

The Bronze Mannikins give me great cause for delight with their daily visits:

Lastly, the Red-winged Starlings continue to fly around the suburb in large flocks. I think whatever fruit they had managed to find in the fig tree is over for now they gather in the Erythrina caffra, where they nibble at the remaining few flowers and at the seedpods. Up to six of them at a time fly down to investigate the apples I have placed in the feeding area – and tend to make short work of them! This is a female:

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

A BOUBOU AT THE BIRD BATH

Having been investigating the contents of the feeding tray, this Southern Boubou perched on the edge of the bird bath. Given their propensity for skulking about in the undergrowth, it was a treat to see it so clearly out in the open.

Note the loose feather under its wing. Unfortunately the bird bath wasn’t very full, it being a day when we had no water in our taps, and so it had to bend far down to drink from the water.

It must have been thirsty, for it repeated this action several times. In between drinks it would remain perched on the edge and look around carefully before bending down for another one. Then it flew up to perch on a branch behind the bird bath, where it posed in the sun for a minute or two.

The loose feather is still clearly evident.

MUSCOVY DUCKS

It is decades ago that we were given a pair of Muscovy ducks shortly after we had moved into our first home on the fringes of Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal. I was already familiar with these interesting looking birds from both our family farm yard and those that wandered around our garden at Sheba Gold Mine. Thanks to their warty appearance, they are not everyone’s idea of beauty. The bright red caruncles around their eyes and beak are unique features of Muscovy ducks. Unlike the white appearance of the average farmyard duck we are all familiar with, the feathers of Muscovy ducks are often a mottled mixture of white and grey or black.

They make good pets, not only because of their peaceful temperament, but they are good foragers and are not as noisy as other ducks. Their alarm call sounds like a hissing pant rather than a loud hiss or quacking. Our experience of them was that they tended to be docile, placid and slow moving. In time, our Muscovy ducks were joined by a wild Mallard that helped them to gobble the grain I scattered outside the kitchen every morning. The Mallard increasingly spent part of the day in the garden before flying off. This continued for some weeks before we noticed the Muscovy ducks would sometimes accompany him. Our dilemma was that a move to Gauteng was imminent: what could we do about the ducks? The Mallard solved that problem, for over the course of the weeks leading towards our departure, he regularly flew away with our charges and they increasingly failed to return. By the time we left town neither the Muscovy Ducks nor the Mallard had made an appearance for a long time.

Muscovy ducks have strong claws that enable them to spend time perching in tall trees. We had none of those in our still fledgling garden at the time and noticed them perching on the roof of our house instead. The ones featuring in these photographs seem to enjoy catching the morning sun in this manner on a smallholding close to where we live now. An interesting aspect of Muscovy ducks is that they are not ones to spend a lot of time swimming, because their oil glands are under developed compared to most ducks.

MOBILE MEALS

We are used to seeing Cattle Egrets darting about in the company of cattle, zebras and buffalo so it is always interesting to see other birds making a meal of the ticks that attach themselves to animals as they walk through the grass. The first of these is a pair of sheep hosting a Fork-tailed Drongo and a Red-billed Oxpecker respectively:

I am always excited to spot an oxpecker around these parts.

Redwinged Starlings are common garden visitors and a large flock of them gather daily in the Natal fig. It was a strange sight, however, to turn a corner in town to find these ones astride a cow while they feasted on ticks:

The sun had already set, so the light is not good yet you can see the russet in the outstretched wings of the bird on the right.

There appeared to be a conflict of views being played out while the cow munched away placidly.