It is essential to provide a ready supply of water if one wishes to attract birds to one’s garden. Bird baths do not have to be ornate or expensive – our most popular one in fact is the upturned top of an old garden lamp!
A Laughing Dove and a Redwinged Starling contemplating a drink.
This pedestal bird bath is a favourite place for bathing and here we can peep at an Olive Thrush doing just that:
Shall I dive in?
This feels good.
What big splashes I make!
Clean all over.
Pied Starlings (Spreo bicolor) are endemic to South Africa and occur all over the country. They can often be seen on the edge of our town and yet not in the suburbs, probably because they prefer open grasslands and shrub lands to the more confined environments of suburban gardens.
Apart from its conspicuous white vent and under-tail coverts, one of the most striking aspects of Pied Starlings are the pale whitish irises of the adult birds, the immature ones have a dark brown iris. The yellow base to the lower mandible is also diagnostic.
They mostly forage on the ground and eat a variety of insects, as well as seeds, nectar and fruit. What I enjoy about watching these birds is the confident manner in which they stride around on the ground while looking for food.
Note the expression on this one’s face!
It is such a pleasure when the loud synchronised duets of Black-collared Barbets (Lybius torquatus) float through the trees and an even greater one when these birds are visible in the garden. At the moment we regularly see up to four of them coming to the feeding station, working their way through the blossoms of the Erythrina caffra for nectar, or perched in the fig tree.
The Black-collared Barbet is common in South Africa and mainly eat fruit – the wild figs appear to be a favourite, although they are not averse to the apples I put out. These barbets also eat insects and nectar.
Watch a Cape Weaver at work:
Showing off his handiwork – or should that be beakwork!
August has been a wonderful month for watching birds in our garden. As the season gradually turns towards spring, the birds have responded by donning their breeding plumage and getting down to the serious business of courting. These are Cape Weavers sporting their breeding plumage.
A Blackbacked Puffback made a fleeting visit last week and, having bemoaned the absence of Malachite Sunbirds last month, I have seen several of them feeding on the Erythrina caffra – much too high up for a decent photograph of them though. I was fortunate to be sitting outdoors when a Cardinal Woodpecker visited a nearby tree and remained there for some minutes before finding one further on that was more likely to have food tucked under the loose bark. It is said that one swallow doesn’t make summer – nothing has been said about swifts, although I was taken aback to see a pair of Whiterumped Swifts flying overhead. I thought I must be mistaken, but they have appeared on more than one occasion since then. The joy of keeping records is that I could look up my bird list for last August and see that the swifts indeed arrived ahead of the much-awaited Lesser-striped Swallows – they will be the harbingers of summer.
The Black (Cape) Crow is not an easy subject to photograph – either absorbing all the light to become a dark blob or reflecting so much light that its features are lost. This time I have nabbed one in reasonable light, so include it here.
At this time of the year we get a regular mix of Cape Weavers and Village Weavers, with a handful of Southern Masked Weavers thrown in. One has to observe them very carefully to distinguish between the latter two. Every now and then a Spectacled Weaver joins the fray at the feeding tray or visits the ‘pub’. With the drought still plaguing us, the bird baths are very popular. Here are some Cape White-eyes enjoying a bathe.
My August bird list is:
African Green Pigeon
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Southern Masked Weaver
The Crowned Hornbills have come to town, as they regularly do at this time of the year. I have been seeing them flying above the streets and spotted them several times in my garden – never settling long enough for me to get a good photograph of one. My luck was in yesterday afternoon when I saw a few perched in a tree next to the road – of course they were silhouetted by the setting sun!
Not a bad picture, I thought, a pity they are in the shade. It is amazing how often we ‘see’ what we think / expect to see. There was something fleetingly wrong about those profiles against the sun … the ‘casque’ seemed to be too large … my luck changed when I happened to turn around to see one perched in a tree behind me! It paused for a moment before joining its mates. I had to be off too.
It was only when looking at my photographs on the computer that I realised that my hunch had been correct. Yes, Crowned Hornbills have come to town, as they regularly do at this time of the year; yes, these were hornbills – of a different kind. Never having seen Trumpeter Hornbills in this neck of the woods before, my eyes did not take in the difference at first – and they are so different! Here then is what I really saw: a Trumpeter Hornbill (Bycanistes bucinator).
Apart from the characteristic ‘casque’, the Trumpeter Hornbill has pink skin surrounding the eyes. Other distinguishing features – which, admittedly I could not see on those first silhouettes – are the white belly and the black back. “Locally common residents” (Roberts Bird Guide) they may be, but this sighting is a first for me here.
There seem to be more than one pair of Red-eyed Doves (Streptopelia semitorquata) visiting our garden of late. Do not be fooled by the green grass in the image below – it was taken during a period of lush growth last year – at the moment you wouldn’t recognise our lawn as such for it is so bare!
I have already reported on the flimsy nest one built in the lower branches of the fig tree, but omitted to show you the eggshell we found beneath another Red-eyed Dove’s nest much later in the breeding season.
All the birds in our garden are gearing up for spring despite the ongoing chilly weather. One weaver has almost finished building its nest at the end of a thin branch overhanging our swimming pool! I shall keep a close eye out for another Red-eyed Dove nest during the coming breeding season.