It was the poet John Donne who first told us that no man is an island, implying that we cannot live entirely without contact with other people i.e. we do not thrive in isolation. Simon & Garfunkel sing the refrain, I am a rock / I am an island, claiming to be self-sufficient – for the time being anyway. To isolate ourselves is neither possible nor a good idea claims the philosopher, Karl Popper (1902-1994). According to him, we are social creatures to the inmost of our being.
True: so are many other animals in their own way, which is possibly why we enjoy scenes such as the ones below as they reflect the empathy we have for others and connect with our desire to be regarded as being ‘special’ to someone.
Elephants in Addo Elephant National Park
Zebra in Addo Elephant National Park
Yellow-billed Storks in Kruger National Park
Giraffe in Kruger National Park
Springbuck in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The poor Spotted Dikkop (Burhinus capensis) having been re-named the Spotted Thick-knee – what an undignified name that is for a bird, and all because of the bulging tibio-tarsal joint midway up its legs! ‘Thick-knee’ indeed! Then, Trevor Carnaby in his wonderful book entitled Beat about the bush: birds, informs us that that is not the knee anyway, but the bird’s ankle! He also maintains that the new name is “far better than the old name of dikkop, an Afrikaans name literally translated as ‘thick-head’” – referring to the dorso-ventrally flattened head that bulges to the sides. I beg to differ: no-one has ever suggested that dikkops are stupid in any way – in fact their amazing ability to stand stock still and to blend into their surroundings is anything but stupid! The renaming of birds does not always make sense to many of us, who remain more comfortable with the old nomenclature.
We do need to move with the times though and so I will share with you the only reasonable picture I have of the Spotted Thick-knee that recently paid us a visit during the gloomy crepuscular time of the day, once the sun was well set and the last of the light was beginning to lose the battle against the creeping dark.
Note the large eyes that are suited to their nocturnal activities as well as the cryptic colouring of its plumage. This is the first time I have seen one so close to home, although they occur all over the Eastern Cape and elsewhere in the country.
Who can forget that moment in Oliver Twist when Oliver asks the master, “Please sir, I want some more (food)”? That scene sprang to mind as I watched this young Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris) perching on a creeper below my window whilst making the most pitiful noises to encourage its parents to bring on more food.
Mom! I’m HUNGRY!
Did you hear me?
A parent provided a morsel that was gulped down too quickly for me to catch.
That was good!
The youngster then took note of me poking my camera out of the window.
Is that a camera?
I’ve had enough of this!
I have watched the parents collect food to take to their nest. For several days the two of them fussed around the youngster at the feeding station. Now, I imagine it is being encouraged to become more independent in terms of finding food.
I first noticed African Green Pigeons (Treron calvus) in our garden in 2004, when a few of them were barely visible in the fig tree. It was only then that I realised that the odd croaks, wails and whinnying calls I had been hearing for a while was theirs.
They mainly eat fruit and so are quite at home in the fig tree – yet, thanks to their cryptically coloured plumage that effectively camouflages them among the leaves, they are notoriously difficult to spot while they clamber around on the branches in the canopy of the tree. While they forage, they often hang upside down or flap their wings to keep their balance. I have never seen one coming down to the ground in my garden, although I have spotted them on bushes almost at ground level in other parts of town – as well as in the Kruger National Park!
When they emerge from the foliage you can truly appreciate their beautiful colouring: the upperparts are greyish green to yellowish green and the thighs are yellow with mauve patches on the top of the wing.
Their bills are whitish with a red cere. Their feet are also a reddish colour. I find their blue eyes to be most striking.
They are gregarious birds and although I seldom see more than a few at a time, if there is a sudden loud noise (such as a large vehicle rumbling past) it is amazing to see well over thirty birds flying away from the tree at once! Their flight is fast and direct as they generally head towards the Erythrina trees at the back of the garden. They can sometimes be seeing sunning themselves there on a chilly winter morning.
While there is nothing physical we can do about the drought, I have entered 2018 with the feeling that this is the year of renewal. There is a hint of it on the political front and even greater evidence in our garden – after some rain fell at last a few days ago! It is amazing how quickly the grass and trees revive after even a little rainfall. There is no more rain in the short-term forecast, so we rejoice with every drop that falls!
From having watched parent birds gathering food in their beaks to deliver to their respective offspring at the beginning of the month, I now see the young birds being fed at or near the feeding station: an insatiable Fork-tailed Drongo chick received titbits even as the last light of the day was fading.
A pair of Fiscal Shrikes have been hard-pressed feeding their youngster emitting cries that in any language would be akin to “More! I want some more!” whilst flapping its wings in the sort of helpless gesture that would melt the hardest of hearts.
The Common Starlings have obviously bred successfully, for I recently counted eleven of their youngsters having running battles with other birds – including their parents – on the feeding tray; the Blackcollared Barbets have brought a youngster across to feed itself from the cut apples; and a few spotty youngsters have been left to fend for themselves by their parental Olive Thrushes.
The floor outside our front door is awash with droppings from the Whiterumped Swifts that usurped the mud nest so beautifully constructed by the Lesserstriped Swallows last season. Since this ‘house grab’ I have despaired of the latter for their new nest, rebuilt on the foundations of a previous one at the side of the house, collapsed early in November. I cannot guess where they have been finding a ready supply of mud but, to my immense joy, they are rebuilding that nest again – beak of mud by beak of mud, truly a sign of renewal!
My January bird list is:
African Green Pigeon
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
I did not really want to disturb my neighbours. Each night I would close the curtains without even glancing in their direction.
My inquisitiveness was compelling and difficult to resist. After all, I had watched them move in and seen their soft furnishings.
It was those eyes: sometimes staring up at me; sometimes with feigned indifference as I peered through the smeared glass to see if someone was at home.
There usually was.
I took to sitting in the garden, surreptitiously monitoring their movements.
I even watched them raising a family.
Then one day the Cape Robins abandoned their nest.
[Last summer a pair of Cape Robins nested in a lavender bush outside our french doors and I was able to observe them through the glass].
With the temperature rising towards 38°C it was not surprising to find the bird baths in our garden being well attended. During one of the quieter moments I watched a Black-eyed Bulbul first considering and then taking the plunge.
The water looks tempting
Perhaps I’ll go in on this side
What a splash!
Look at me!
That was good!