THREE BIRDS ON A WIRE

We usually associate birds with trees, twigs, leaves, flowers and even on the ground. Instead, here are three very different birds photographed perching on wires:

A Fiscal Flycatcher:

A Lesser-striped Swallow:

A Steppe Buzzard:

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WHITE-CROWNED LAPWING

The White-crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps) is a fascinating bird to watch. The pendulous yellow wattles are a characteristic feature and the pale eyes seem to regard one with an expression of disinterest.

BRONZE MANNIKIN

The arrival of flocks of Bronze Mannikins (Spermestes cucullata) always lifts my spirits as they flutter together, some almost stepping on others, to alight on the bird feeder or a branch. They are delightful birds to watch. Males and females look alike, the bronze-green shoulder patches are shown to best advantage when they catch the sunlight.

Their call is a high pitched ‘tsree tsree tsree’, with a sharp ‘krr krr krr’ alarm call. My well treed garden is ideal for them as their preferred habitat is the edges of thickets and the secondary growth in gardens. The availability of water is important to them as they drink often. Out of breeding season, the Bronze Mannikins occur in flocks of up to 30 – it isn’t always easy to count them though as they are constantly on the move.

These tiny birds rapidly fly into cover when they are disturbed. However, it isn’t only the trees that provide shelter for them in my garden and the provision of bird baths that attract them to the garden, but the patches of wild grass that I leave to go to seed in various parts of the garden and, of course the fine seed I put out every day for the seed eating birds.

A FEW BIRDS IN PASSING

One cannot do any serious bird watching while in the company of those for whom animals are the most interesting. Here then is a sample of the birds I saw in passing whilst in the Mountain Zebra National Park. This Streaky-headed Seedeater (Crithagra gularis) was perched in a tree outside the communal kitchen in the rest camp. There were many of them all over the park:

Apart from seeds, they eat fruit, flowers, buds, nectar and insects. A similar diet is followed by the White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali). The rest camp is awash with these birds and their untidy grass nests are evident everywhere in the park:

Having heard its melodious calls for two mornings in a row without seeing one, I felt privileged when this Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra) posed for me on a low branch outside the administration building. These birds eat insects, fruit and small vertebrates.

It is less easy to identify birds while driving. Could this be a Sabota Lark (Calendulauda sabota) posing on a termite mound?

There is no mistaking the Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris). These iconic birds grace any landscape as flocks of them pick their way through the veld looking for bulbs, roots, seeds and invertebrates.

This Ant-eating Chat (Myrmecocichla formicivora) was easy to identify too.

Given how little water there is at the moment, it was a bonus coming across a Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) looking for insects, worms, tadpoles, or even small fish at the edge of a dam.

Lastly, this Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus) showed no interest in posing for a photograph – he clearly had better things to do!

NOTE: Please click on a photograph if you wish to view a larger image.

ROCKY LANDSCAPE

There are no soft, rolling green hills here, instead this part of the Karoo is noted for its rocky landscape.

A White-browed Sparrow Weaver blends into the stony environment as it looks for seeds to eat.

These tiny grains of sand have been used to build an entrance to an ant nest.

Enormous smooth boulders swell out from some of the hills.

As barren as this might seem, a Cussonia has found a foothold between the cracks of the rock.

Survival is everything here. On the valley floor a tree has a tenuous hold.

For, as you can see, the rocky substrata is friable.

IT IS DRY

… and very hot! The sun sucks the moisture from the ground and desiccates the grass. It beats down on the rocks, creating shimmers of heat waves above them. The bees and flies seek whatever water they can find.

Bees and flies seeking water.

There have been recent newspaper reports on the plight of vultures in South Africa suffering from dehydration in this drought – everything needs water to survive. A tiny leak in a pipe becomes a welcome source of hydration for Pied Starlings.

Pied Starling

Even though we are at the height of summer, there is little in the way of green grass to be seen.

Black Wildebeest

In places one can only wonder how the animals find enough food to sustain them.

Springbuck

Beautiful vistas of the Karoo show how yellow the grass is – what will be left for winter grazing if the rains do not come?

Mountain Zebra National Park

We have spent a few glorious days camping in the Mountain Zebra National Park. It is a peaceful wonderland with an abundance of interesting birds, animals and insects to see.

Cape Mountain Zebra

The swimming pool at the rest camp is a ‘life-saver’ though after a game drive during which the temperature has soared to 38°C.

NOTE: Click on the photographs for a larger view.