SOUTHERN BOUBOU

They skulk around the undergrowth and occasionally appear at the feeding tray once the other birds have gone; I often hear their lovely boo-boo duet and may see one or other of the pair perched higher up in one of the trees; I seldom manage to photograph them in my garden though and so these photographs have been taken in the Addo Elephant National Park. The bird in question is the Southern Boubou (Laniarius ferrugineas).

Here one has emerged from the thick bush at the picnic site at Addo to filch a piece of ham that has fallen from the table. The rich buff wash on its belly suggests that this is a male. The meaty meal fits in with its natural diet of invertebrates, reptiles, nestling birds, small mice and even fruit – I occasionally see one pecking at the apples I put out on the feeding tray.

This one, on the other hand, is probably a female.

Although one might mistake it for a Common Fiscal from the back – because of the white bars on the wings – it does not have the same hooked bill, which is clearly visible in this photograph.

The bill and the markings of the Southern Boubou are very clear in this photograph.

Here is another view of the female.

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AFRICAN SACRED IBIS

The African Sacred Ibis (Threskioruis aethiopicus) are depicted in Egyptian murals – evidence of their role in religious life there, where they represented Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, knowledge and writing.

These predominantly white ibises are common all over South Africa and are easily identified by their heavy decurved black bill, used to look for food in mud and shallow water or grass and soil, as well as the black edge to their flight feathers. They also sport a conspicuously naked black head and neck.

The head and neck of juveniles are covered in a fine, black down and they do not gain their full adult plumage until they are about three years old. The one pictured below is probably still a juvenile, given the remnants of whitish feathers still visible on its head and neck.

Here it is again, looking for morsels in a car park.

Flocks of these birds gather near a dam just outside of town and some still fly into town during the late afternoon to roost somewhere in the CBD. Several ‘roosting trees’ have been removed by irate residents over the past few years, yet the birds still find sanctuary in others for the night. Note the dirty yellow flanks of this breeding adult.

Interesting further reading:

Complete Photographic Field Guide: Birds by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan.

https://janetthomas.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-role-of-the-sacred-ibis-in-ancient-egypt/

https://www.arkive.org/african-sacred-ibis/threskiornis-aethiopicus/

STAMPS: WATERFOWL

The homeland of Venda in the north east of South Africa close to the Zimbabwe border was granted independence in 1979. It also bordered the Kruger National Park and its capital was Thohoyandou. All the homelands were re-incorporated into South Africa in 1994. Of interest to us is that the area is home to several species of aquatic birds and this first day cover from 1987 features two ducks, two geese and a teal.

The first of these is what used to be known as the Knob-billed Duck but is now known simply as the Comb Duck (Sarkidiornis melanatos). These large ducks have a speckled head with contrasting blue-black and white plumage. Only the males sport a rounded knob on the bill, which grows larger during the breeding season. I have only seen them in the Kruger National Park, where they are a common resident. They can also be seen perching in trees and are known to breed in the same tree trunk in successive seasons.

The next is the rather elegant looking White-faced Duck (Dendrocygna viduata) – appropriately known as Nonnetjie-eend in Afrikaans, for it can fleetingly be compared with a nun’s habit. These dark brown ducks have a white face and throat and finely barred flanks. The neck of the female is tinged with russet. Thanks to their distinctive three-note whistling call, they used to be called White-faced Whistling Ducks. Flocks of these ducks occur in open water and they nest on the ground in thick vegetation near water. I have occasionally seen them in the Addo Elephant National Park, but mostly in the Kruger National Park.

The Spur-winged Goose (Plectropterus gambensis) is one of the largest waterfowl, with the males weighing up to 10Kg. While it is a predominantly black bird, its bill, face and long legs are a pinky-red. It nests in dense grass, or in a shallow scrape in the ground. They prefer moist habitats such as dams, vleis, pans and large rivers, although fly some distance to feeding grounds.

The Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) has a distinctive chestnut patch on the chest (giving rise to its Afrikaans name, Kolgaans – akin to a target) and a broad chestnut rim around the eyes. They are common residents all over South Africa, frequently claiming small pools or dams for their own use and aggressively chase away others during the breeding season especially.

The commemorative cover features the Red-billed Teal (Anas erythrorhyncha), which is readily identified by its dark cap, pale cheeks and definitive red bill. These common residents are seen around dams and waterholes all over South Africa. They usually occur in either pairs or flocks, rather than as single birds. They nest in dense vegetation close to water. It is interesting to note that the males depart before the young can fly.

Reference: Complete Photographic Guide: Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan.

My dearth of waterfowl photographs shows a gap that simply must be filled!

SEPTEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

September is a month of renewal: warmer weather – even some light rain – and the hours of daylight stretch at both ends of the day. This means the dawn chorus comes ever earlier – beautiful to listen to and such fun to distinguish the different bird calls. It has been a period of welcoming some birds back from their winter quarters as well as being able to watch the courtship, nest-building – and even finding a few eggshells lying on the ground.

Raptors have made their presence felt. A Black Harrier has swooped low over the garden several times, sending birds of all sizes scattering for shelter in the trees.

Both a Jackal Buzzard and a Yellowbilled Kite have had a nose-in too. I haven’t seen any evidence in the garden of their forays being successful – perhaps all the trees work in the favour of the smaller birds!

I am delighted to see a pair of Cape Wagtails bobbing about the lawn and inspecting the pool for insects once more. Whiterumped Swifts scythe through the air – a sure sign that summer is on its way.

Joining Klaas’ Cuckoo are the lovely sounds of the Diederik Cuckoo and the Bokmakierie. There have also been fleeting visits by Southern Black Tits, Yellowfronted Canaries and a Thickbilled Weaver.

Small flocks of Redbilled Woodhoopoes have swept through the garden from time to time, scouring nooks and crannies for things to eat. I recently saw some pulling what looked like grubs from under the bark of an ageing Tipuana tree and catching spiders in the cracks of a brick wall.

My September bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Harrier (Gymnogene)
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Egyptian Goose
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green)
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Tit
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

BROWN-HOODED KINGFISHER

The Brown-hooded Kingfisher is a woodland species that is also common in wooded urban areas. For a number of years one was more or less resident in our garden, perching in the branches of a tree close to the swimming pool. It would be so still that we often only noticed its presence when the sun highlighted its pale blue patches. For some reason we have not seen one here for some time, nonetheless, Brown-hooded Kingfishers (Bruinkopvisvanger) are commonly seen throughout sub-equatorial Africa.

The scientific name, Halcyon albiventris, is interesting for Halcyon is the Greek name of a mythical bird that was said to calm the seas and albiventris refers to the white underparts of the bird. It has a brown crown, which is darker in adult females than males, a red bill, and the male has a black back while that of the female and juveniles is brown. Note the brown colouring of the juvenile below.

We have noticed the Brown-hooded Kingfisher can often be seen perching patiently on a branch in the shade, from where it will swoop down on its prey. This one is overlooking a dry dam – clearly fishing is not on its mind! They follow a varied diet consisting of insects, spiders, small reptiles, amphibians, and rodents.

Despite their colouring, Brown-hooded Kingfishers are not all that conspicuous. I almost passed this one perched in an acacia tree above my head while I was walking through a wooded area.

AUGUST 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This is a late entry for August, which has been a busy month for the birds as well as for me! The birds have an earlier sense of the approaching spring than humans do and waste no time in making the most of what the change of season heralds. Cape Weavers have, for example, been building their nests in the back garden, making loud announcements while doing so. Several nests have been left incomplete and the birds move from one site to another – looking for the best place. It is all about location, location, location. Not to be outdone, the male Village Weavers spend a lot of time attracting attention by flapping their wings in between eating.

An abundance of Laughing Doves make short work of the seed I scatter on the lawn every morning, efficiently aided by Speckled Doves and a few Red-eyed Doves. The Hadeda Ibises wake earlier by the day, as if not a moment is to be wasted.

The Fork-tailed Drongo has been up to its regular trick of sounding an alarm call that sends all the birds rushing for cover, leaving feathers fluttering to the ground in their haste, only to use that moment to pick over the tit-bits in peace. A pair of them have been courting this month, making an interesting variety of calls while doing so. They have occasionally been joined by a third, which leads to interesting bouts of chasing each other vigorously around the garden until one gives up and flies off, leaving the other two in peace – for a while. The Black-eyed Bulbuls are equally cheeky as far as giving other birds a fright so that they can home in on the fruit.

A Boubou usually waits until all is quiet before inspecting what is on offer on the feeding tray, while the Olive Thrushes – often the first to arrive – regularly return during the day to glean what has been dropped once the main rush of birds have left to scour the neighbourhood for other sources of food. A pair of Black-collared Barbets have been calling each other from the treetops and occasionally flit down to the feeding tray in silence. Eating is a serious business for them and they have particularly enjoyed the offerings of fresh fruit.

With little in the way of nectar-bearing flowers blooming, the nectar feeder has required refilling on a daily basis. Regular visitors include Black-eyed Bulbuls, Black-headed Orioles, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Fork-tailed Drongos and Amethyst Sunbirds.

My August bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
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
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver