HONEY BEES

Bees are a critical part of our food cycle and with the growing publicity given to the adverse effect of diseases on many of the bee species of the world, more people are beginning to appreciate the important role they play in our gardens and in agriculture as a whole. It has often been stated that while bees are indispensable when it comes to our food security, loss of habitat and the increasing use of pesticides in agriculture are also to blame for the current plight of the honey bees.

Sadly, last year we had to have an enormous beehive removed from our roof as several members of our family are allergic to bee stings and the bees had started behaving aggressively whenever we happened to be in the garden. The apiarist was determined to find the queen bee to put in the boxes of bees which he transported to an area out of town where a large number of aloes and other wild flowers grow. In the process he collected buckets filled with honeycombs.

Bees require a diverse habitat in terms of flowering plants, which is why farmers are generally encouraged to maintain natural vegetation and flowering plants near their crop lands. Gardeners are likewise encouraged to plant a range of flowering plants to attract bees. We have always done so and in winter find that the variety of aloes are particular draw cards. Here is a bee visiting one such aloe:

A close-up view shows the pollen sacs on its legs.

Several hundred beehives were destroyed in the recent devastating fires around the areas of Knysna and at Plettenberg Bay. Not only that, but much of their forage was denuded by the fires, which meant that the surviving bees had no food. It has been heartening to read of efforts to provide new hive stands as well as pollen and nectar substitutes for feeding in the short term. I was interested too to find out that plans are afoot to plant both basil and borage – fairly quick growing plants that produce a lot of pollen and nectar.

JUNE 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

June has been an interesting month for birding in our garden. The ongoing dry weather has meant having to fill the bird baths more than once a day – this is appreciated by the Knysna Louries that come down to drink at around eight each morning, again mid-morning, and occasionally late in the afternoon.

The Black-headed Orioles have been calling loudly from the tree tops and I have seen several Laughing Doves mating whilst perched on the swaying branches of some of the trees in the garden. It tends to be rather chilly in the mornings, making the Hadeda Ibises seemingly as reluctant as we are to rise: the first ones only begin to stir at about twenty to seven and the flock as a whole move out of the fig tree after seven o’clock!

Blackheaded Oriole

It is wonderful to see the return of Cape Wagtails as well as a Brown-hooded Kingfisher. Some Crowned Hornbills and a flock of Red-billed Woodhoopoes have paid the garden a fleeting visit this month – as has a Lanner Falcon. The latter remained perched on a low branch near one of the bird baths for some time, its presence was drawn to my attention by the complete absence of doves of any sort. I heard a loud squawking a while later and caught a glimpse of a pair of Knysna Louries having an altercation with the falcon, which then disappeared into the valley.

Olive Thrushes have become more regular visitors once more.

Olive Thrush

My June bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Lanner Falcon
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Spoonbill
Village Weaver

BLACKEYED BULBUL (2)

I have written about Blackeyed Bulbuls before and am pleased to see and hear these cheerful birds back in our garden after a short absence. They have been re-named Dark-capped Bulbuls (Pycnonotus tricolor) and are easily recognisable by their dark head, dark eye-ring and the yellow vent below their tails. These are conspicuous birds with a lively chattering call sometimes described as klip, klop kollop with enough variations to make one look more closely to be sure that it is indeed a Blackeyed Bulbul one is hearing! I have also heard their call quite accurately described as ‘doctor-quick doctor-quick be-quick be-quick’.

I often see these birds sitting on top of the trees or bushes calling out to one another across the garden. They have probably returned to feed on the plentiful nectar provided by the aloes as well as the berries borne by several trees in our garden. They also eat insects – of which there are many in our garden.

Note: In light of the reference to Cape Bulbuls below, I include a picture of one for comparison.

SONY DSC

MAY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

May has been a quiet birding month in our garden. The tall trees block out the rising sun and leave the lawn in shade until nearly lunch time now. The regular flock of Laughing Doves gather in the top of the Erythrina caffra and the Cape Chestnut, catching the warming rays of the sun; only coming down to feed on the seed I have put out once the day has warmed up somewhat – that seems counter-intuitive to me, but they must have their reason for doing so.

Village Weavers, now in their non-breeding plumage, tend to only visit the garden in the afternoons – appearing to be more interested in what the flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle have to offer than the seeds still lying un-pecked at on the lawn. Perhaps they have found a sunnier source of food elsewhere to satisfy their morning hunger.

The aloes are in bloom though – and what a wonderful show they make.

They regularly attract the attention of Black Sunbirds and the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds. A Malachite Sunbird also pays them a fleeting visit now and then. Shown below is a Greater Double-collared Sunbird feeding on a Cape Honeysuckle flower this morning:

Some African Green Pigeons make us aware of their presence in the fig tree now and then, even though there is nothing to eat there at this time of the year. I have always been rather puzzled where these birds move to once the fig tree is bare. I happened to be on the campus of a school at the bottom of the hill late yesterday afternoon when I counted over twenty African Green Pigeons coming to roost in the oak trees growing there!

What has been exciting is the regular appearance of at least one Knysna Lourie – sometimes two – that moves effortlessly through our treed garden. We have become used to some of its variety of calls that alert us to its presence and I watched in awe this morning as it dropped down to drink copiously from the bird bath situated below my study window.

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Crowned Plover
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver

THERE’S AN ANT IN MY NECTAR!

The level of the nectar feeder has been going down very slowly of late. While this is not particularly unusual at this time of the year, with the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and the aloes blooming, what has been strange is the behaviour of the few visitors that have alighted on it. The sunbirds are cautious feeders anyway. Now, one might perch, look around, dip into the feeder once only and leave. Even the robust Fork-tailed Drongos barely perch for more than a second or two: very odd behaviour.

Ants are the problem. During this prolonged drought, they have fanned out in search of moisture and discovered a lethal source of liquid gold in the spout of the nectar feeder.

Lethal, because so many of them are drawn right into the bottle, from which there is no escape. They probably get shoved in ever deeper by the sheer mass of ants thronging around the rim or ‘swimming’ in the opening of the feeder.

I now dip a stick into the feeder whenever I go past and when I withdraw it I find the stick crawling with ants. A whole lot of them fell off in a ‘blob’ before I could take this picture.