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.

 

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.

A CLOSER LOOK AT DARK-CAPPED BULBULS

Dark-capped Bulbuls often feature in this blog thanks to their frequent visits to our garden, where they splash in the bird baths and make the most of the food on offer. They are bold and gregarious birds. This one appears to be enjoying the spring sunshine.

They sometimes eat the tiny blocks of cheese I put out (with the Cape Robin-chat in mind), are very fond of any fruit and make frequent visits to the nectar feeder.

The Dark-capped Bulbuls are also enjoying the nectar and flowers on the Erythrina caffra which is blooming now. I have also observed them eating spiders and caterpillars. I am intrigued by the way they often spread their wings as well as their tail feathers when they arrive to eat – whether there are other birds present or not.

SOUTHERN BLACK KORHAAN II

It is always interesting to come across a large bird in the veld. Ostriches are the largest, of course but others, such as the Secretary Bird and Denham’s Bustard, are easily seen striding through the grass. Helmeted Guineafowl occur in fairly large flocks that make them stand out too. One of the more interesting of the large birds, I find, is the Southern Black Korhaan (Afrotis afra). This one is a female, which lacks the characteristically bold black-and-white head and neck.

I consider myself fortunate to have seen it so close to the road as the females tend to be secretive and their cryptic colouring camouflages them well – as these two photographs indicate.

Even when the veld is a little greener, the female can easily ‘disappear’ into the veld.

Here is a male with his striking black-and-white head.

The Southern Black Korhaan is endemic to South Africa, being found in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape. Being a ground feeder, its diet consists of insects, small reptiles and even some plant material.

FRIENDLY FISCAL

The Common Fiscal gets a bad rap from many gardeners and tend to be ignored by the average person who sees one in passing. A pair of Common Fiscals were our first visitors once we had settled in at the Mountain Zebra National Park. We had no sooner put together a picnic lunch when the first one perched on a twig above us. While it observed our fare, it was joined by another. Without being bothersome, both were quick to pick up anything that messed on the table – such as a crumb of cheese. Both arrived, one after the other, at every outside meal we enjoyed. The way they behaved gave the clear impression of them being a pair.

Two Common Fiscals visit our garden. The ringed one has been observed here for several years and  has often featured in my blog. I have been aware of an un-ringed visitor for a year or two, but haven’t taken much notice of either of them until the restrictions of the pandemic encouraged me to observe our avian visitors more closely. The ringed one tends to fly straight in, grab what is edible, and fly off – especially now as there appear to be youngsters to be fed. While it isn’t unduly aggressive, it is ‘business-like’ and expects to have its way on the feeding table. Both fiscals are adept at varying their route back to their respective nests.

I say ‘respective nests’ without having seen either. This is because they do not give the impression of being a pair: the ringed one has been seen dive-bombing the un-ringed one off the feeding tray, and they have had some loud slanging matches in the branches – ending with both flying off in different directions.

The un-ringed Common Fiscal is less aggressive. It perches on a high branch and observes the birds feeding below and waits for an opportune moment to pick up what it needs. I call it the Friendly Fiscal for, over the past few months, it has becoming bolder in its approach: perching just above where we are having tea and even dropping down for a titbit. Ever bolder, it began perching on the edge of a flower pot right next to my chair while I breakfasted outdoors.

On more than one occasion it has perched on the edge of my plate (on a stool next to me) to peck at whatever was there. Once, it inspected a plate of lunch left on a chair while my husband went indoors to collect his hat.

It now often sits on the edge of the table with an expectant look in its eye.

On a particularly chilly morning this Friendly Fiscal perched on the end of my shoe and looked up at me. I had no titbit to offer it, so it began tugging at my sock as if to say “What about me?” I collected a tiny piece of meat which it took gently from my hand. It now often takes food from my hand!

Yesterday – our first beautifully warm day for a while – I was having tea in the garden when the Friendly Fiscal perched on my toe!

As you can tell, I am becoming very fond of this fiscal – Common or not!