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.

Advertisements

RAIN-WASHED SUNRISE

The drought is not broken, a few millimeters of light drizzle cannot do that, but the air smells sweet and delightfully herby, the frog chorus entertained us during the night for the first time in months, and this morning we have been greeted by a magnificent sunrise!

WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?

Where have all the flowers gone

Long time passing

Where have all the flowers gone

Long time ago

The delicate flowers of the Opium Poppy barely lasted, their petals torn asunder by hot winds and the stems left bowed and their leaves shrivelled by the heat and lack of rain.

Where have all the flowers gone

Young girls have picked them, every one

There never was a chance to pick them or even to appreciate their beauty for long. The hope is that their seeds, now lying dormant in the dry soil, will germinate and grow in a better time with gentle breezes, bright sunshine and enough moisture to keep them strong.

Words are extracts from the folk song composed by Pete Seeger in 1965.

DRAMA IN THE GARDEN

My mid-morning tea in the garden was interrupted by something odd running across the dry grass: a spider-hunting wasp (belonging to the family Pompilidae)! I rushed indoors to fetch my camera … where had the wasp got to? Then I saw it dragging the spider along the brick edge of the swimming pool.

It was battling against the stiff breeze. Although these solitary wasps paralyse their prey with their powerful venom after capturing it, the movement of the legs of the spider indicated that the process was not yet complete.

It was dragging its prey perilously close to the edge of the pool when a gust of wind blew the spider over the edge. The wasp held on tightly. While this is not a good picture at all, it shows the tenacity of the wasp, which continued to carry its prey along the wall like this for some distance.

Inevitably, the wasp lost its grip and the spider fell into the pool.

The spider seemed to expand and contract its legs experimentally whilst floating on its back while the wasp flew frantically back and forth, trying to hook onto the spider. Mea culpa, I lifted the spider out of the water with the pool net and stood back to watch what would happen next. Within seconds the wasp had the spider in its grasp once more.

As it resumed its journey at considerable speed, the stiff breeze brought them teetering close to the edge of the pool once more.

The wasp tugged and pulled against the breeze – the end of its journey was in sight: the site of its prepared burrow in a crack between the rocks at the end of the pool, where it dragged the spider down in a flash! There the wasp will lay an egg in the abdomen of the spider before exiting the nest and concealing its entrance.

NOTE: Please click on the photographs if you wish to see a larger image.

BLOOMING SPEKBOOM

Drive through the semi-arid sections of the Eastern Cape at this time of the year and, despite the drought, you might be puzzled at first by the pinky-mauve blush of colour to be seen on the bush-covered hillsides. A closer look will reveal the very pretty flowers of the Spekboom (Portulacaria afra).

These tiny star-shaped flowers look particularly beautiful when appearing en masse.

The Spekboom tolerates poor soil and is a drought survivor, making it an ideal garden plant. Although I have had Spekboom growing (from slips) in my garden for some years now, they have yet to blossom. Perhaps it takes the plant a while to ‘settle in’, but I am looking forward to the day when they sprout some pink!

A HOT SUMMER AFTERNOON

The temperature has reached 36°C, turning the outside air into a furnace. The brick paving shaded by the house radiates heat, while the bricks still in the sun are too hot to walk on barefoot.

What is left of the lawn grass crunches underfoot.

It hasn’t rained for months and the sky obstinately remains a beautiful clear blue.

Not a leaf stirs, only the heat waves bouncing off the walls and the brick paving. The Hadeda Ibises sitting on their nest in the Natal Fig tree keep making ‘bib-bib’ sounds.

A Cape Weaver drinks deeply from the nectar feeder, arriving and leaving silently as if there is no energy left to make a sound.

A hot breeze sets a few leaves in motion and then dies abruptly. Hark! There is a wisp of cloud creating patterns in the sky!

It dissipates while I watch. A young Common Fiscal seeks food on the hard-baked ground then flies into the shrubbery, its quest unsuccessful.

Nothing stays in the direct sunlight for long.

DECEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

What an interesting month this has been for observing birds in our garden! The Lesser-striped Swallows are making yet another valiant attempt at rebuilding their mud nest. Here we are, past mid-summer, and they have still not managed to complete a nest nor raise a family. Finding suitable mud in these drought conditions must be difficult – I suspect they collect it from the edges of the rapidly drying-up dam over the road.

Despite several Village Weavers in varying states of maturity populating the garden, a number of them have recently been hard at work weaving their nests very high up in the Natal Fig.

A pair of Hadeda Ibises are also nesting in the fig tree.

The prolonged drought has resulted in a dearth of nectar-bearing flowers, making our nectar feeder so popular that I have been filling it twice a day for most of this month. It is visited regularly by Fork-tailed Drongos, Village Weavers, Cape Weavers, Black-eyed Bulbuls, Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Black-headed Orioles as well as a Spectacled Weaver.

A pair of Red-winged Starlings began the month stuffing their beaks with apple flesh to take to their chick and, before long, were bringing their youngster to the feeding table to feed it there. It is now able to feed itself.

Life is not easy for birds: an alarm call from a Cape Robin had me interrupting our lunch to see what the problem was. I approached the bushes outside the dining room very cautiously as I was met with a flurry of birds including a fierce-looking Bar-throated Apalis, an agitated Paradise Flycatcher, a Thick-billed Weaver and several weavers. I only managed to photograph the alarmed robin before seeing a Boomslang weaving its way sinuously among the branches just above my head – time to beat a retreat!

On a different occasion the alarm call of a Cape Robin, combined with the frantic chirruping of other birds, drew me outdoors towards the thick, tangled hedge of Cape Honeysuckle. Mindful of snakes, I approached it very cautiously until I became aware of a distinctive clicking sound, kluk-kluk, which convinced me of the likelihood of finding either a Grey-headed Bush Shrike or a Burchell’s Coucal raiding a nest. It was neither. The vegetation as well as the hurried movements of Village Weavers, a Bar-throated Apalis and a particularly agitated-looking female Greater Double-collared Sunbird made photography nigh impossible. It was several minutes before I was able to ‘capture’ the nest-raider. This time it was a Southern Boubou.

What greater pleasure could there be, just as the year is drawing to a close, to have not one Hoopoe visit our garden, but four!

My December bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary