APRIL 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

Not only is this post woefully late, but this is probably the shortest bird list for a long time – mainly because I was away from our garden for half of the month! Once again, photographs have been sourced from my archives.

A pair of Southern Boubous creep out from the thicket behind the bird feeders once they have established that the coast is clear. The first port of call is the birdbath on a stand before one or other ventures down to inspect the feeding tray. Laughing Doves still congregate in the trees or on the telephone cable, but are a lot more wary about fluttering down to feed on the ground. Perhaps they too wish to make certain there are no cats around before they do. It is very pleasing to hear the happy chirps from the weavers after their absence. Southern Masked Weavers were the first to return and now Village Weavers are making a come-back.

Several Speckled Pigeons keep watch on proceedings from the roof – one roosts on our bathroom window every night!

Olive Thrushes still call from within the trees and shrubs, yet have become shyer about coming out in the open since the neighbouring cats appeared. By contrast, it is lovely to both see and hear Red-winged Starlings in ever-increasing numbers as the figs begin to ripen on the Natal fig tree. It is always a pleasure to see a Black-headed Oriole.

Several Black-eyed Bulbuls chatter merrily in the foliage before tucking into the fruit put out for them.

There is plenty of natural fruit and seeds around to attract Cape White-eyes as well as the Speckled Mousebirds that are such fun to observe.

I will round off April’s round-up of garden birds with the real stalwarts, the Bronze Manikins, that arrive daily to flit about the feeder – always shifting up to make room for yet another one to join them there.

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Common Fiscal
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

YELLOW-BILLED DUCK

Yellow-billed Ducks (Anas undulata) occur all over South Africa and are commonly seen in freshwater dams and rivers as well as estuaries, lagoons and flooded fields. Although they tend to feed late in the afternoon and at night, they also dabble in the shallows for aquatic plants and insects during the day. This one is about to leave Ghwarrie Dam in the Addo Elephant National Park early one morning:

It waddled up the bank to find a sunny spot in which to settle down for a while. While you can barely make out the iridescent blue strip in its wing, its yellow bill is unmistakable and shows up well in this early morning light:

The males and females look alike. We once saw a small flock of them in a dam at the Great Fish River Reserve:

A recent visit to The World of Birds in Hout Bay provided an opportunity to observe one of them from close up. I love the warm brown of its eyes:

Notice its scaled feathers:

From such close quarters it is easy to see that its bright yellow bill has a black patch and black edging on the upper mandible.

AN EARLY MORNING

Long before the first light shows behind the hills, the nightjars have fallen silent to make way for the morning sounds to begin. It pleases me to listen to the gradual awakening of the birds as they each add a gentle layer to the growing dawn chorus. Cape white-eyes chatter excitedly; African green pigeons chuckle quietly; while a Cape robin-chat defends its territory with low grunts.

While the sky is still a blank canvas of brightening soft grey suffused with pink, the Hadeda ibises begin fidgeting in the fig tree. The rustling sound of their feathers works its way through the branches until one ibis calls out reluctantly … a faraway reply can be heard giving the signal for the raucous calls to break the morning peace – along with the first vehicles passing by. A vivid smudge of orange intensifies above the horizon followed by fingers of light glowing low through the trees. The hadedas fan out across the valley, calling loud greetings as they go. Close by a Red-eyed dove persistently tells me it’s the ‘better get started’ time and a crow calls gruffly from a treetop. It is in the high branches and on the telephone cable where the Laughing doves meet to catch the warming rays of the rising sun.

As it rises higher, the sun highlights the yellow blossoms of the canary creeper.

Another day has begun.

A PERCHING JACKAL BUZZARD

While Jackal Buzzards (Buteo rufufuscus) cover an extremely large range throughout South Africa, around here we have seen several in the open grasslands and in agricultural areas not far from town. I more often than not see one a perched on a fence post in the distance only for it to fly off as I approach. This one obligingly posed on a branch for a minute or two:

This gives us a good view of its strong talons and beak used to tear through the skin and muscles of its prey – in this case it is eating a Scrub Hare:

These impressive-looking birds are sturdy, with the adults measuring 44 to 60 cm in length and weighing up to almost 2Kg. I always feel privileged to come across one of them for I feel that they rank among the most beautiful of our raptors.

The ‘jackal’ part of their name relates to the sound they make, which is similar to the call of the Black-backed jackal.

LOOKING OUT FOR TROUBLE

Regular readers will know that the avian visitors to our garden have had to become more wary about visiting the feeders because of attacks by the neighbouring cats. I was enjoying my breakfast outside this morning as a small flock of Bronze Manikins settled around the hanging feeder whilst others were pecking at the seed that had fallen to the ground; a Bar-throated Apalis announced its presence in the thick tangle of Cape Honeysuckle; and an Olive Thrush approached me for little bits of cheese … it all felt so ‘normal’ for a change: Speckled Mousebirds flew between bushes and even the Laughing Doves were beginning to come down from their high perches.

Then there was a sudden flurry of activity as the manikins flew off in a cloud of tiny feathers, the doves retreated to the tall Erythrina, and the mousebirds crossed to the other side of the garden in haste. I could see white paws and thick grey fur behind a daisy bush and shouted loudly. The cat retreated, but it was too late: the peaceful feeding was over for it takes a long time for the birds to settle after such an intrusion. Here a Southern Grey-headed Sparrow keeps a close watch from a safe distance.

Gardens are all the poorer for the lack of birds and so I keep trying to create a safe haven for them. Birds lie very close to my heart.