A SPECIAL GARDEN SIGHTING

Knysna turacos are truly beautiful birds that, despite their size, are not always easy to see. Their beautiful green colouring and white eye make-up helps them to ‘melt’ into the foliage in a jiffy. We hear them often; their hoarse kow-kow-kow calls seem to be at odds with their beauty. Occasionally we catch a glimpse of the red in their wings as they fly across the garden, yet we do not often see them. You can thus appreciate my delight when I looked up from my tea to see this:

A Knysna turaco perched on the trunk of a cabbage tree growing next to our swimming pool. That this image was taken with my cell phone might give you an idea of how close it was to me. Unbelievably, I had not heard it arrive. They are incredibly silent in their movements. Its mate flew in from the fig tree to the left, outside of this scene, across the garden to perch on a branch near the feeders. I almost held my breath as the two of them moved towards the bird bath. Still, with only my cell phone at hand, I was able to observe them drinking:

Here the one seems to be waiting for the other. A few minutes later they drank together. I watched them in total fascination for about fifteen minutes before they disappeared into the undergrowth. This was a very special garden sighting!

A LOOK AT THE SPECTACLED WEAVER

It might be because the Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis) is a shy weaver – so unlike its fellow weavers – that is heard more often than it is seen that I feel so privileged to be in the presence of one. As they are encountered in open woodland – which is where I have seen them in the Addo Elephant National Park – as well as in bushy thickets and forest margins, I think our garden is well suited to their presence. I have seen them more often over the past five years or so.

This one does not look very pleased with its companion!

They also differ from the other weavers by keeping their bright yellow plumage throughout the year – the others lose their brightness and look fairly scruffy during the winter. The males of these birds are particularly handsome with their pale eyes and a black streak through eye to ear coverts – hence their common name of Spectacled Weaver, although I have also read of this black streak being described as a mask.

Is this pub really empty?

Only the male sports the black throat patch or bib.

I say, someone ought to do something about this!

The Spectacled Weaver is largely insectivorous. I have observed them eating caterpillars and spiders. Our garden is alive with geckos, which also form a part of their diet. More often though, I see them when they emerge from the shrubbery to eat fruit and seeds – and to regularly visit the nectar feeder.  They are also among the many birds that enjoy the flowers of the Erythrina trees, the Cape Honeysuckle and the various aloes that grow in our garden.

What’s on the menu today?

SEPTEMBER 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

Good news should always come first – so far we have enjoyed 19mm of the lightest rain imaginable and there is still dampness in the air; droplets of water on the leaves and flower petals; the mist is hanging low; and I write this against the swishing of tyres on the street below our home. Good news this is indeed for all the plants – and the birds too for the bird baths are filling with fresh rain water on a day that we have no water in our taps. So, they won’t go thirsty!

It was a happy surprise to begin this month’s bird viewing with the arrival of a Cardinal Woodpecker beavering away in the rotting branches of the Tipuana tree that looms over our garden wall. The tree is old, dry and brittle and I shudder to think of the damage it will cause when it finally topples over. Meanwhile, it is visited by other birds such as the Green Wood-hoopoes. A couple of them have made several forays into the garden. These ones have been working their way through the dry Pompon trees at the end of the swimming pool.

I continued to be entertained by the Common Fiscals. Meneer regularly arrives for his private meals while I am enjoying breakfast or tea outdoors. He alights next to the little dish, looks at me and accepts a morsel from my hand. We do this a few times and then I leave him to help himself. Spotty, the ringed one, having noted this private source of food, is becoming ever bolder and occasionally swoops down to take a morsel I have placed on the edge of the table. Not to be outdone, the third one has also cottoned onto this lark. It remains very cautious and perches in the branches above my head for ages before nicking any piece of cheese or meat that might have been dropped by one of the aforementioned fiscals. Quick as a wink it comes – and is gone!

Red-eyed Doves call from early in the morning – as do the Cape Turtle Doves – and sometimes come down to do battle with the army of Laughing Doves that make short work of the maize seeds that fall to the ground from the messy eaters on the feeder above. Another large visitor mingling with this melee is the Speckled Pigeon. Although they can no longer nest in our eaves, they still roost on the window sills at night or stare down at me from the rooftop – or is that really a glare?

I was watching birds recently when all the doves and weavers whooshed away in a flash. There was not a sound to be heard. I looked up in time to see an African Harrier-Hawk seemingly floating in the sky, hardly flapping its wings as it circled against the sun. Among the first birds to return once all sense of danger was over were the Bronze Mannikins. They too seem to float like falling blossoms as they alight either on the ground or take advantage of the empty feeders to peck at the fine seeds.

The Cape Weavers are appearing in greater numbers now – both to eat seeds and to visit the nectar feeder. They are a noisy lot and, when not feeding, can be heard chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen in the thicket nearby. This one is seen in the company of a Streakyheaded Seedeater.

Having featured the Olive Thrush several times in past posts, I think you might find it interesting to see what its messy nest looks like. This is one of two I have identified in the garden: one is next to the front path and the other is close to the wash line.

Over thirty years ago we would only see crows of any kind winging their way across the municipal rubbish dump or swooping across the Burnt Kraal area where there used to be a clay pigeon shooting range. Is it the prolonged drought that has brought them into town? Or perhaps it is the increasing amounts of rubbish lying uncollected on the pavements. A Cape Crow often perches in one of the tall trees in the garden and pontificates loudly about life in general. Here is a Pied Crow doing a regular flyover of the garden.

My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo-Shrike
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Forest Canary
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

FOCUS ON THE STREAKY-HEADED SEEDEATER

The Streaky-headed Seedeater is not a bird that calls attention to itself, for its colouring is a dullish brown.

The most striking aspect of its outfit is the clearly marked pale eyebrow.

This is a species that has only come into our garden regularly during the last five or six years. As they are usually found in woodland, thickets and dense scrub, I suspect it is the drought that has attracted them to suburbia on a more regular basis.

Even so, I hear their whistled ‘tsee-weet’ call more frequently than I actually see these birds.

They avoid the main feeding frenzy of the early morning, preferring not to compete with the weavers on the feeders or the doves on the ground. This makes them fairly difficult subjects to photograph, so I have left the best portrait for last.