SEPTEMBER 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

Despite having been away for a while, this has proved to be a satisfying month of birdwatching in my garden. At night and during the early hours of most mornings we are serenaded by a Fiery-necked Nightjar. An African Darter has flown over ‘my’ airspace a few times in order to make my list and Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbuls have made cheerful forays to the feeding table. The sounds of cuckoos can be heard – the Piet-my-Vrou (Red-chested Cuckoo) is another clear sign that spring is here to stay.

On that note, while the sun rises ever earlier, the mornings remain fairly chilly and so it is not surprising to find a flock of Bronze Mannikins gathered in the branches of a Dais cotonifolia to warm up for a while before their breakfast:

I feature the Common Fiscals a lot in these posts, largely because they are such characters and are photogenic to boot. Spotty has even brought a chick along to the feeding area to see what the offerings are. The biggest surprise for me though was the sighting of the only female Common Fiscal I have ever seen in our garden. She did not appear to be connected to either Spotty or Meneer and I have not seen her since. Note the chestnut flanks that characterise the females:

As you can see, I have purchased a new feeder – I’m not sure how well this configuration is being received, but the other one requires a thorough cleaning (when we get a reasonable supply of water again!). Here a Southern Masked Weaver is trying it out accompanied by Bronze Mannikins:

A Grey-headed Sparrow is enjoying a solo feeding session:

Also catching the morning sun whilst keeping an eye out for the neighbouring cats are these Laughing Doves:

I mentioned the Hadeda Ibis nest last month. So far there is no sign of either eggshells at the base or chicks on the nest, so the eggs are still being incubated:

My bird list for this month:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
Yellow Weaver

A BIRD FEEDER IN HOUT BAY

It is fun watching birds in someone else’s garden and what better way to do so than keeping an eye on the local bird feeder. Among the first visitors to arrive in this Hout Bay garden was a Southern Boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus), a familiar visitor in my own garden. There it tends to seek out anything meaty or fruity, so I was surprised to see this one tucking into the seeds:

Another familiar bird arrived, a Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra). These are beloved garden birds that eat fruit, insects and scraps of any kind. This one was combing the lawn for dried meal worms – something I have never provided for the birds in my garden:

Yet another familiar bird arrived with a loud fluttering of its wings – one of a pair of Speckled Pigeons (Columba guinea). These birds are ubiquitous over the whole country, so their presence was no surprise:

Ah, not only birds visited this bird feeder. The mystery of why the cut apples disappear so quickly was solved with the sighting of this Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in the act. These are not indigenous, having been imported by Cecil John Rhodes during the 19th century:

Mmm … there was another non-avian contender for the fallen seed below the feeder. Such a regular visitor in fact that it has made a getaway tunnel among the plants growing next to the fence. This is a Four-striped Grass Mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio):

Try as I might, I ended having to photograph these delightful visitors through the window. What an absolute delight it was to watch small groups of Swee Waxbills (Coccopygia melanotis) fluttering down from the branches to cluster around the feeder. They never seemed to be still and would fly off at a moment’s notice leaving their high-pitched ‘swee-swee’ contact call in their wake:

Now, a bonus picture that brought great joy to the pre-schooler who had made this elaborate feeder – unidentified visitors (taken through a window with a cell phone) investigating the seed therein at last!

Proof indeed that this carnival-like contraption was also attractive to birds.

SIX BIRDS FROM BONTEBOK NATIONAL PARK

The Spur-Winged Goose (Plectropterus gambensis) is the largest waterfowl occurring in Africa and is named after the spurs on its wings. I spotted many of them flying across the wheat and canola fields as we drove through the Western Cape, but it was on the bank of the Breede River in the Bontebok National Park that I saw this pair of Spur-winged Geese from fairly close-up.

These birds forage in wetlands and moist grasslands, eating grasses, roots and other plant matter. As you can see, they are mainly black, with a white face with a warty red bill, and large white wing patches. Their legs are flesh-coloured.

Driving through the park, one cannot help seeing the rather dark, grey-brown Karoo Scrub-robins (Cercotrichas coryphoeus) perched atop the dry fynbos. I was fortunate to spot this one with a spider in its beak.

A happy surprise awaited me at the reception buildings: the White-throated Swallows (Hirundo albigularis) have arrived – one cannot ask for a surer sign that the season has turned! They are intra-African migrants that breed in South Africa and over-winter in countries such as Zimbabwe and Angola.

These swallows sport a small rufous patch on the forehead and a dark blue breast band which forms a white throat patch.

Sparrows are very common – and thus largely overlooked – birds. We host a pair of Southern Grey-headed Sparrows in our garden and frequently see House Sparrows in the car-park of our local shopping mall. It was thus refreshing to observe a pair of Cape Sparrows (Passer melanurus) in the Bontebok National Park. The males and females look very different: the female has a pale grey head with a diffuse pale crescent. These sparrows usually feed on the ground as they eat seeds, fruit and occasionally insects. This female is eating a tiny flower.

The males have a brighter, more distinctive livery with a distinctive white ‘C’ shape on the side of their heads.

Although these are not the only birds seen in the park, I cannot resist leaving you with a bird that regular readers will be very familiar with from my monthly garden bird reports: the Cape Robin-chat (Cossypha caffra). Why bother with it then, you might ask. The main reason is because these birds, which sport a distinctive white eyebrow and a rufous chest, are undeniably pretty and it was good to see them in a habitat other than my garden.

THE VERY BEAUTIFUL KNYSNA TURACO

One of the many positive aspects of spending time at Ebb and Flow is the opportunity to hear the rasping korr-korr-korr calls of Knysna Turacos in the thick forest lining the Touws River. These very beautiful birds abound in this region and it won’t take long for a pair of them to fly across the open lawns of the rest camp either to perch in one of the nearby trees or to disappear into the forest canopy.

This one perched in a Cape Fig (Ficus sur) and appears to be perusing its options – while I admired its striking features.

It did not seem to mind me pointing my camera in its direction – although its mate chose to hide among some higher branches.

The figs were definitely on the menu.

Once the Knysna Turaco had eaten its fill, it wiped its beak carefully on the branch.

It was a most satisfactory meal.

How can one resist the opportunity to photograph such a handsome bird! It certainly was a real thrill to have such a close view of this one for they can be rather elusive.

STOPOVER AT EBB AND FLOW

We so enjoyed our rather serene  stopover after Easter at the Ebb-and-Flow Rest Camp which forms a part of the Wilderness Section of the Garden Route National Park that we broke our journey here again.

Our rondavel was situated in tranquil surroundings next to the Touws River among many beautifully shady trees.

While we had been entertained by a flock of goslings during our earlier visit, this time we were kept company by a pair of Egyptian Geese that were quite at home on the lush lawns.

Later in the afternoon, a small flock of Helmeted Guineafowl picked their way across the grass. They are obviously used to having human visitors around and were not at all perturbed by our presence.

We wondered about the litter lying around – very unusual for a national park – and assumed monkeys had been responsible for tearing open the garbage bags that had been put out for collection. How wrong we were! A pair of White-necked Ravens could be seen pecking and pulling at the plastic bags – one even using its foot for extra leverage – in order to tear them open and inspect the contents. They were engaged in this messy activity for a while until one of the Egyptian Geese bore down on them and chased them away!

Another bird we were privileged to see and hear a lot of was the very beautiful Knysna Turaco. It, however, deserves a post on its own.

So does our walk through the forest.