BIRDS OF BOPHUTHATSWANA

Before you ask “Where is that?”, Bophuthatswana was one of the so-called ‘homelands’ within South Africa that was declared a self-governing state in June 1972. Five years later, on 6th December 1977, it was granted independence by the South African government, although this was only recognised by South Africa and the other independent state known as the Transkei. We lived in the capital city, Mmabatho, for eight years – from the time it was a motley collection of houses plonked on the open veld with no streets to speak of until it had grown into a recognisable city with all the amenities one might expect. The country was reincorporated into South Africa on 27th April 1994 and is now part of what is known as the North West Province.

Politics aside, there were a number of interesting birds commonly found in that part of the country, of which this commemorative cover shows five. The stamps were designed by the artist Dick Findlay, who was well-known for his ornithological paintings. He also designed South African postage stamps and coins.

The birds depicted here are, from left to right, the Pied Babbler – small flocks of these dove-sized birds make a harsh babbling sound while they hunt for insects.

Carmine Bee-eaters are beautiful summer migrants that gather in large flocks at their roosting places at dusk. They too feed on insects.

The Shaft-tailed Whydah is a seed-eater that does not build its own nest. The female lays her eggs in the nests of other birds, such as the Violet-eared Waxbill (which is shown on the left-hand side of the commemorative cover).

Meyer’s Parrots are commonly found in small groups in the dry thornveld near a water source. Their diet consists of fruit, berries and seeds.

 

SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRD

I was watching a pair of Greater Double-collared Sunbirds feeding on the aloes blooming next to our swimming pool this morning when the thought struck me how often people get mixed up between a Cape Turtle Dove and a Red-eyed Dove – the ring around the neck being a superficial identification, until one looks more closely and sees just how different these birds really are. The same applies to the Greater Double-collared Sunbird and the Southern Double-collared Sunbird (formerly known as the Lesser Double-collared Sunbird) – the double band on their chests being a superficial identification, until one looks more closely …

To be fair, while the doves mentioned above are regularly seen in the same area and can even occur in the same flock of doves feeding on the ground, we rarely see these two sunbird species in the same place to make an easy comparison. Both have beaks well adapted for collecting nectar from tubular flowers – clearly illustrated by this Southern Double-collared Sunbird:

The Southern Double-collared Sunbird has a shorter and more slender beak than the Greater Double-collared Sunbird – an aspect that is not always easily discernible in the field.

Both species of sunbird have an attractive green iridescence on their head back and wings. The males sport a double band of blue and red on their breasts – and this is where the most visible difference comes in. The bands are much narrower on the Southern Double-collared Sunbird, particularly the more noticeable red band:

For comparison, here is a Greater Double-collared Sunbird – a year-round resident in our garden.

The photographs of its lesser cousin were all taken in Cape Town.

MY GRANNY’S ALBUM: 2

Here are three more pages from my Grandmother’s autograph album. These entries date from 1903 to 1905. It is amazing to think this was done by hand – such a labour of love, patience and good penmanship:

These cats have each got such a character. The headline of the lefthand newspaper reads: FRESH RATS Just imported 1/3 per lb. Cheap. Take your chance. The middle newspaper reads: FOR SALE Tinned mice, locusts, rats etc. All arranged in latest style. The righthand newspaper reads: Music allsorts … A Rat Hunt to be held at Ratfield on Cat Monday. Wonderfully intricate detail!

 

This is a fun entry too:

SPECKLED MOUSEBIRDS

Mousebirds get their name from their soft fluffy greyish or brownish feathers that look more like fur than feathers, and from their mouse-like habits when they scurry through bushes in search of food. Although we occasionally get Red-faced Mousebirds visiting when there is a lot of fruit available, Speckled Mousebirds (Colius striatus) are resident in our garden throughout the year.

I find them difficult to photograph in the garden for they usually forage in the middle to upper tree canopy. This means that they tend to be hidden in the trees above my head. The tables were turned this morning though as I spotted them from my upstairs window!

Let us take a closer look at them:

Note the short crest, which gives the bird a rather jaunty appearance. In this portrait you can also clearly see the strong, decurved (curved downwards) bill with the distinctive blackish upper mandible and the white lower one.

Look at the fine barring of the mantle and breast of this bird.

This Speckled Mousebird stayed out of the foliage long enough to show off its long tail. The Colius part of their name is a reference to their long, slender tails resembling a sheath or scabbard.

BIRDING IN THE GREAT FISH RIVER NATURE RESERVE

The dry winter is not the best time to observe birds in the Great Fish River Nature Reserve – certainly not from within the confines of one’s vehicle over very rough roads which jolt one from side to side, along with having to be extra vigilant about avoiding being scratched by the Vachellia thorns on the branches that protrude well into the road in places. Birding is often an adventure waiting to happen.

This is the reed-lined entrance to the Kentucky Bird Hide overlooking the Khwalamanzi Dam.

Given the prolonged drought in the Eastern Cape, we should not have been surprised to be greeted by this:

In February 2015 the dam looked like this.

Then we saw a flock of Yellow-billed Ducks.

And a pair of Egyptian Geese were nesting on a mound in front of the bird hide.

At least there was a small herd of kudu to see this time!

A careful scrutiny of the surrounds and much patience revealed a Brown-hooded Kingfisher waiting to catch – who can tell what?

I later spotted another one at the picnic site adjacent to the Great Fish River.

On our way out, I saw a Cape Wagtail posing on a fence.

My bird list for this visit is as follows:

Bar-throated Apalis
Black-eyed Bulbul
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Wagtail
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood-dove
Fiscal Shrike
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Wagtail
Speckled Mousebird

SPEKBOOM

Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) grows primarily in the dry areas of the Eastern Cape.

Recent research has shown Spekboom to be an excellent ‘carbon sponge’ with the ability to sequestrate (absorb) free carbon from the atmosphere which is used to make plant tissue. It does so particularly efficiently, which means that a stand of Spekboom has the ability to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equal amount of deciduous forest. Spekboom is unique in that it stores solar energy to photosynthesise at night. This makes it ten times more effective per hectare at carbon fixing than a tropical rain forest. Each hectare of Spekboom can capture 4,2 tons of carbon every year.

Note the thicket of Spekboom behind this Cape buffalo.

You can see the shape of the leaves of the Spekboom in this picture of a Cape Weaver.

Because of its ability to capture carbon, Spekboom is being replanted in degraded thicket areas in the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, the Addo Elephant National Park, and in the Great Fish Nature Reserve. These projects not only help to restore natural ecosystems, but as they are labour-intensive, they provide a source of income for rural communities and thereby help to alleviate poverty. The picture below illustrates an area of the Great Fish River Nature Reserve where cuttings of Spekboom have been planted.

Here you can see how other cuttings have bushed out over time.

Small star-shaped pink flowers are borne en masse from late winter to spring, usually after the first rains. They are a rich source of nectar for many insects, which in turn attract insectivorous birds.

This dragonfly is resting on a sprig of Spekboom.

Here a Cape Sparrow perches on Spekboom.

The ubiquitous dense stands of succulent Spekboom form an important part of the diet of the elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park. Their top-down browsing habits apparently help the plants to spread and thrive by promoting the natural umbrella-shaped canopy. Spekboom regenerates quickly, ensuring a regular food supply. Note the baby elephant feeding on Spekboom in the picture below.