AN UNCO-OPERATIVE BIRD

Based on its size, I think this is a young Jackal Buzzard (Buteo rufofuscus). However, as you can see, this particular bird was not being particularly co-operative when I stopped to check. That it was perching against a bright sky didn’t help either! Jackal Buzzards are endemic to South Africa and, as I have recorded several of them in the area over the past few months, I think it is safe to assume this one’s identity. Unfortunately, I was unable to identify the predominantly rufous chest band on this individual.

Juvenile Jackal Buzzards tend to be mostly brown in colour, with rufous on their underside and tail. This one’s tail shows the characteristic rufous colouring.

The yellow legs and feet can be clearly seen.

Readers unfamiliar with this bird may be interested to know that its name comes from the loud yelping calls it makes, which are similar in sound to those of the Black-backed Jackal, pictured below.

Jackal Buzzards hunt from the air and can often be seen perching on fence posts or electricity poles.

Apart from consulting several bird books, I have found these sites useful:

http://bryndekocks.com/blog/the-buzzard-problem-differentiating-steppe-jackal-and-forest-buzzards/

https://www.sa-venues.com/wildlife/birds_jackal_buzzard.htm

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DARK CAPPED BULBUL

Dark-capped Bulbul it might now be, but it will always be a Black-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor) to me – after all, it is really only the colour of the eyes and the eye-rings that distinguishes it from the Red-eyed Bulbul!  Nonetheless, I mostly see them singly or in pairs in the garden, where they often perch on the highest branches. I enjoyed an interesting encounter this week: first there was one Bulbul peeping through the leaves

Then there were two, perched at ease

“Good morning, my dear,” said the first

“The morning is chilly I fear,” replied the second

Then off it flew – leaving only one to look at the view

“What’s going on down there?” He was talking to me.

“This is my best side, be sure to see!”

 

SUNBIRD HEAVEN

At this time of the year, when the bitingly cold weather sets in, aloes become a magnet for sunbirds. Here a Greater Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris afer) shows off his best side before getting down to the business of extracting nectar from this aloe flowerhead.

This pose is the best for showing off his fine livery.

By now, feeling a little camera-shy, he turns his back on us – the glorious metallic sheen shines in the weak sunlight.

MAY 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an in-between month for watching birds in the garden. Several days have passed with no need to top of the seed in the feeders; during some mornings or afternoons the garden has been silent – as if all avian life had departed for a different planet. Several aloes have bloomed and faded with nary a visitor … then, just when you think some plague has hit, Redwinged Starlings fly over in large flocks to settle in the branches of the Erythrina caffra; the cheerful sound of weavers spill through the jungle of leaves threaded together by the Canary Creeper and the Golden Shower; and flocks of tiny Bronze Manikins cluster around the feeder or flit through the creepers, constantly ‘chatting’ as they do so. Here is one of them:

African Green Pigeons play hide-and-seek, calling mysteriously either from the Natal Fig or the Erythrina caffra during the late afternoon – perhaps when they come to roost – but provide only fleeting glimpses of themselves. A pair of Knysna Turacos purr and snort softly within their leafy world – they move silently for such large birds – so I felt privileged watching them flitting through the foliage the other day and drink from the stone bird bath situated in the shade. The Black-collared Barbets are also heard more often than they are seen these days, although three of them spent a leisurely time feeding on the apples I had put out this morning.

Black-headed Orioles call from the tree tops almost daily and occasionally come to the nectar feeder:

I simply have to share again a photograph of one of the Crowned Hornbills that graced our garden for a few days before exploring somewhere else:

It is an odd time of the year to be hearing the familiar calls of Klaas’ Cuckoo and a tad disappointing to see so little of the Cape Robins, although they continue to sing quietly from deep within the undergrowth. Waves of Cattle Egrets pass over every evening, having kept the Urban Herd company during the day, as they head for their chosen roosting trees in the centre of town. May is an in-between month of warm days followed by cold; of a warm Berg Wind shaking leaves from trees heralding days of gloomy skies and dampness; it is a month of weak sunshine and dark nights … the birds may come and go, but there are always enough around to provide real pleasure!

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Egyptian Goose
Eurasian Hobby
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver
Yellowbilled Kite

WHITE-BROWED SPARROW WEAVER

The White-browed Sparrow Weavers (Plocepasser mahali) were first described by one Andrew Smith after his trip to the interior in 1836. The mahali part of the scientific name comes from the Setswana word for the bird. These are iconic birds of the rest camp in the Mountain Zebra National Park, where some of them have been ringed.

They are always on the lookout for seeds, usually foraging in flocks of four to ten birds. If one bird spots a source of food, the others join it in a flash. I say ‘it’ for males and females look the same, although males are said to be slightly larger than the females. Their plumage does not alter with the seasons.

We watched as they collected several seeds in their beaks at once and observed how easily they crack some of the harder seeds open.

White-browed Sparrow Weavers make untidy nests in the thorn trees that abound in the national park. These are maintained throughout the year and seem to favour the western side of the trees.

These sociable birds adopt a variety of roles during the breeding season. This is when breeding pairs are assisted by their previous offspring, and non-related birds help to defend the breeding territory.

CROWNED HORNBILLS (2)

For the past two days we have had up to six Crowned Hornbills (Tockus alboterminatus) [known in Afrikaans as Gekroonde Neushoringvoël] visiting our garden.

‘Crowned’ is a word which I initially assume has something to do with the head. Look at the picture of a Crowned Lapwing (Vanellus coronatus) and you will see what I mean:

Crowned Hornbills nonetheless have a flattish crest on their heads and sport a large casque on their upper mandible, which you can see clearly in the next picture:

These birds are known to eat insects, frogs, lizards, seeds and fruit. This morning, however, they were finding the flowers of the Erythrina caffra tasty:

Shortly before they flew off, this one had a good scratch:

MAY GARDEN 2018

The bounty of fruit of the Natal Fig (Ficus natalensis) has been eaten, leaving lean pickings for the Redwinged Starlings and causing the majority of African Green Pigeons to seek fruit elsewhere – although some still return to roost here overnight. Apart from a wide variety of birds, such as Speckled Mousebirds, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Blackcollared Barbets, Cape White-eyes, Blackheaded Orioles, Olive Thrushes, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, and Grey-headed Sparrows, the fruit also attracts a variety of insects and the small insectivorous bats that swoop around the garden as the day ends. The latter often remind me of D.H. Lawrence’s description of bats in the poem of the same name:

Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop…
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,  
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

In the back garden, the Erythrina caffra (Coral tree) is sporting clusters of seedpods split open to reveal their coral-red seeds which, in due course, fall to the ground. These small, shiny seeds marked on the one side with a black spot are also known as lucky beans. Laughing Doves and Forktailed Drongos perch in the high branches to catch the warmth of the early morning sun and again in the late afternoon.

The Black Sunbirds and Greater Double-collared sunbirds as well as Blackcollared Barbets, Blackheaded Orioles, Cape- and Village Weavers as well as Redwinged starlings are regular visitors too.

I have mentioned before that the name Erythrina, originates from the Greek word erythros meaning red and alludes to the bright red flowers and seeds. Caffra is derived from the Arabic word for an unbeliever, and as used in older botanical works generally indicates that the plant was found well to the south of the range of Arab traders, that is, along the [south] eastern seaboard of South Africa. Carl Thunberg, known as the father of South African botany, gave the names in 1770.

In parts of South Africa, both the Erythrina caffra and the Erythrina lysistemon are regarded as a royal tree; much respected and admired in Zulu culture and believed to have magic properties. Specimens have been planted on the graves of many Zulu chiefs. In parts of the Eastern Cape, local inhabitants will not burn the wood of Erythrina caffra for fear of attracting lightning.

The indigenous Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides) has come into full bloom, covering the trees and shrubs with a canopy of bright golden yellow flowers that attract the Barthroated Apalis, Cape White-eyes and a variety of butterflies. These flowers also exude a delightful aromatic scent that adds to the pleasure of being in the garden.

Equally beautiful are the bright orange tubular flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) that are coming into bloom. These attract the nectar-feeding Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared sunbirds, Streaky-headed Seedeaters, Cape Weavers and Village Weavers as well as several butterflies.

Trusses of the beautiful pale blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) flowers are also starting to appear.

The first aloes are coming into bloom too and are visited regularly by the Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Streakyheaded Seedeaters, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Blackheaded Orioles and Cape White-eyes.