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

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MATUTINAL PLEASURES

I wake very early. Even as a young child I developed the habit of lying in bed while the household was still asleep, listening to the matutinal sounds outside. This morning was no exception: Cape White-eyes were the first to warble their way through the shrubbery outside my bedroom window. Oddly enough, the Hadeda Ibises remained silent until well after sunrise. Instead, the infrequent cackling chorus of Red-billed (Green) Wood-hoopoes filled the garden with a joyous anticipation of a beautiful day.

Cape White-eye

A beautiful day it is already, with Lesser-striped Swallows scything through the clear air, Black-eyed Bulbuls greeting the world and Black-headed Orioles calling from a vantage point out of my line of sight. The Fork-tailed Drongos are already diving for insects and the Village and Cape Weavers are chirpily vying for the seed left over in the feeder. A male Pin-tailed Whydah is asserting his territorial boundaries.

Pin-tailed Whydah

It is a pleasure listening to the fluting whistles and frog-like grunts of the African Green Pigeons from deep within the thickening foliage of the Natal Fig tree – already bearing tiny fruits – followed by the rasping sounds announcing the return of the Knysna Louries (Turacos). Laughing Doves are beginning to gather on the telephone cable and are taking up positions on the sunny branches of the Erythrina caffra – doubtless waiting for their ‘breakfast’!

Knysna Lourie

The distant sound of barking dogs alert me to the wakefulness of other people beginning their matutinal strolls, fanning their way through the suburb streets either to work or for healthy exercise. Traffic noise builds up quickly to almost blot out the call of a solitary Cape Robin. A Black (Amethyst) Sunbird flies past my window. Then a car hooter breaks the spell of my early matutinal pleasure – I haven’t even stepped outside yet!

Cape Robin

JUNE 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

JUNE 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

At this time of the year the sun seems to hang low above the horizon and hides behind the Natal Fig for longer than usual in the early mornings. As mentioned before, the front lawn remains in shade for much of the day and there is a discernible chill in the crisp, clear air.

A flock of Laughing Doves weigh down the bare, spindly branches of the acacia tree as if waiting for the ground level of air to warm up before they venture down to pick up the scattered seeds.

The first birds on my list this month, the Redwinged Starlings, do not have that problem. Dark, noisy clouds of them arrive daily to feed on the ripening figs, near the top of the tree shortly after sunrise and explore further down as the day warms up. They also like to take figs across to the Erythrina tree, where they can eat in the sunshine.

redwingedstarling

Olive Thrushes poke around to see what fruit and other morsels are available on the feeding tray, as do the Blackeyed Bulbuls.

olivethrush

It is usually only when a particularly noisy vehicle passes on the road below the garden and frightens the birds that we can fully appreciate what a large flock of African Green Pigeons are camouflaged in the fig tree. They tend to be heard much more often than they are seen.

I was pleased to hear first, and then see, a Cardinal Woodpecker the other day. This morning a small flock of Redbilled Woodhoopoes cackled their way through the garden.

Despite the cold, our winter garden is still cheered by yellow canary creeper blossoms lingering long after the main show of blooms have turned into white puffballs of seed; a variety of aloes are still attracting sunbirds; some blue Plumbago flowers are peeking through the greenery; and the lone Cape Chestnut blossom I mentioned last month continues to adorn the top of the tree.

My June list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Olive Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SKUKUZA

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SKUKUZA

The Skukuza area proved to be a little disappointing after the bounty of game we had become accustomed to during our sojourn at Satara Camp. The vegetation is bushier, so the animals are not as easy to see, on some days the temperature peaked at 40°C, and – as happens periodically – perhaps luck was not always on our side. There is more to enjoy about a trip to a game reserve than spotting wild animals though. We revelled in the picturesque rocky outcrops.

kopje

On one of them we saw a klipspringer surveying its kingdom.

klipspringer

The multi-hued trees and waterholes, such as Transport Dam, are magnificent to behold.

Transport Dam

It was at the bird hide at Lake Panic that I was able to watch a Giant Kingfisher from close quarters.

giant kingfisher

The Water Thick-knees were easier to see there too as they were so close in comparison to my previous sightings along river banks much further away.

Water Thick-knee

It was on a circular trip from Skukuza to Berg-en-Dal and back that we saw ten white rhinos in different locations.

whiterhino

The waterhole at Berg-en-Dal attracted elephants and blue wildebeest while we were there as well as hosting at least one resident crocodile and several terrapins.

elephantsknp

terrapins

Picnic sites such as Tshokwane and Afsaal make good stopping points when embarking on a long drive. Both of these places appeared to have relatively tame bushbuck on the periphery – as well as the inevitable visits by vervet monkeys and baboons. Bearded woodpeckers announced their presence with their tap-tapping on the bark of trees.

bearded woodpecker

Having grown up in the Lowveld, I enjoyed being amongst trees so familiar from my youth: leadwood, appleleaf, jackalberry, and especially the kiaat trees. Their peculiarly shaped pods fascinated me as a child and the sight of them unlocked many fond memories from that time.

kiaat

Helmeted Guineafowl and Blue Waxbills are birds that I grew up with.

helmeted guineafowl

blue waxbill

As I usually struggle to see the African Green Pigeons in the thick foliage of the fig tree in our garden, it was interesting so see them close by and out in the open for a change.

African Green Pigeon

We saw more ground Hornbills in the Skukuza area than had been evident around Satara. The largest group we came across included young ones in various stages of maturity.

groundhornbill

young ground hornbill

Although I have mentioned them before, it was good to see how prolific the Red-billed Oxpeckers were – always clearing their hosts of ticks with no place being too much trouble for them to ‘service’.

redbilled oxpeckers

Zebras are naturally photogenic. This one sports particularly dark stripes.

zebra

Among some of the less common creatures we came across were several mountain tortoises

A leguaan

leguaan

Large fruit bats hanging from the eaves outside the shop in Skukuza

fruit bat

And the pale geckos that feasted on insects attracted to the lights outside the ablution blocks.

gecko

It was at Skukuza that I went on my first night-drive through the Kruger National Park. The spotlights showed up scrub hares, bush babies, a grey duiker and several spotted hyenas. The highlight for most visitors though was seeing three lionesses on a rock dome. They were so sated they could barely move so the multitude of camera flashes worried them not a bit. Having been on the lookout from day one, it was only on our way out of the Park that we eventually spotted a leopard lying in a dry riverbed far below the level of the road. The closely packed vehicles made it impossible to capture it in my viewfinder, so I will cheat by showing one we saw three years ago!

leopard

A morning spent at the camp afforded me the opportunity to observe some of the many birds that flitted through the thick foliage hedging our campsite. These included the rather raucous Purple Turaco and the very attractive Red-capped Robin Chat.

purple turaco

red-capped robin-chat

How can I leave the Kruger National Park without mentioning either that ubiquitous bird, the Yellow-billed Hornbill or the golden orb spiders!

yellow-billed hornbill

spider

Just for the record, here is my bird list for April- May:
Acacia Pied Barbet
African Fish Eagle
African Green Pigeon
African Grey Hornbill
African Hawk Eagle
African Jacana
African Mourning Dove
African Yellow White-eye
Amur Falcon
Arrow-marked Babbler
Barn Swallow
Bataleur
Bearded Scrub Robin
Bearded Woodpecker
Black Crake
Black-backed Puffback
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Heron
Black-headed Oriole
Blacksmith Plover
Black-winged Stilt
Blue Waxbill
Boubou Shrike
Bronze-winged Courser
Brown Snake Eagle
Brown-headed Parrot
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Burchell’s Coucal
Burchell’s Starling
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Turtle Dove
Cattle Egret
Chinspot Batis
Collared Sunbird
Common Moorhen
Common Ringed Plover
Crested Barbet
Crested Francolin
Crowned Plover
Curlew Sandpiper
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
European Bee-eater
Fork-tailed Drongo
Giant Kingfisher
Golden-tailed Woodpecker
Goliath Heron
Great Egret
Great Sparrow
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Green-backed Camaroptera
Green-backed Heron
Grey Heron
Grey Lourie
Grey-billed Hornbill
Grey-headed Sparrow
Ground Hornbill
Groundscraper Thrush
Hadeda Ibis
Hamerkop
Helmeted Guineafowl
Hooded Vulture
Hoopoe
House Sparrow
Kori Bustard
Laughing Dove
Lazy Cisticola
Lilac-breasted Roller
Little Bittern
Lizard Buzzard
Magpie Shrike
Malachite Kingfisher
Marabou Stork
Martial Eagle
Namaqua Dove
Natal Spurfowl
Open-bill Stork
Ostrich
Pearl-breasted Swallow
Peregrine Falcon
Pied Kingfisher
Pied Wagtail
Purple Roller
Purple-crested Turaco
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver
Red-billed Firefinch
Red-billed Hornbill
Red-billed Oxpecker
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-capped Robin Chat
Red-faced Mousebird
Red-winged Starling
Saddle-billed Stork
Scarlet-chested Sunbird
Secretary Bird
Sombre Bulbul
Southern White-crowned Shrike
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Spoonbill
Spotted Eagle Owl
Squacco Heron
Steppe Buzzard
Swainson’s Spurfowl
Terrestrial Brownbul
Three-banded Plover
Water Thick-knee
Whalberg’s Eagle
White-backed Vulture
White-bellied Sunbird
White-browed Robin Chat
White-browed Scrub Robin
White-fronted Bee-eater
White-headed Vulture
White-rumped Swift
Wire-tailed Swallow
Woolly-necked Stork
Yellow-bellied Greenbul
Yellow-billed Hornbill
Yellow-billed Stork
Yellow-breasted Apalis
Yellow-fronted Canary

MARCH 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

MARCH 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

Watching birds in my garden has had to take second place this month in the wake of travels to Boksburg and Cape Town as well as hosting several visitors in between.

With the increase of Laughing Doves (Streptopelia senegalensis) mentioned last month, it is no surprise that they were the first birds to be noted on my list. They are the most regular visitors to our garden throughout the year. Although I have never actually found one of their nests, they certainly enjoy the regular snacks available here!

SONY DSC

We tend to be so familiar with Laughing doves that they are likely to be dismissed as being just that before seeking something ‘more interesting’ to look at. Closer observation of these small long-tailed doves, however, reveals really beautiful creatures. For example, it has taken a while for me to realise that while the adult female is similar in appearance to the male, their plumage is slightly paler and less reddish. The juveniles are much paler and lack the distinctive spots around the neck. It is rather amusing to watch the way the courting males follow the females with head bobbing displays while cooing provocatively. Sometimes they puff themselves up (doubtless looking very fierce to others) and head towards an opponent with head lowered in an attitude of “I mean business!”

laughingdove

These doves walk rapidly across the lawn to find the seed I have scattered – or that has dropped from the feeder while the weavers have been feasting there. I occasionally see them pecking at the apples I put out and recently observed several Laughing Doves eating grains of jasmine rice. Although they mostly forage on the ground, more than one Laughing Dove has mastered the art of launching itself onto the swinging bird feeder (doubtless having watched the weavers doing this with ease) and clinging on for dear life while it manages to extract seeds for a very short while before giving up the balancing act.

On hot dry days these doves scratch in a patch of open ground where they like to sunbathe, spreading their wings out or lifting a wing straight up – one at a time.

sunbathing

I was interested to find that the specific component of the scientific name (senegalensis) refers to Senegal, where the bird originally described was caught for I tend to think of them being South African birds. I see they occur all over Africa.

Now that the fig tree is bearing its first flush of fruit, the African Green Pigeons visit fairly often. They are best seen early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the last rays of the sun highlight the top of the tree. Of course it is easier to photograph them in the bare branches of the Erythrina! Ever increasing flocks of Redwinged Starlings arrive daily to feast on the figs too.

africangreenpigeons

The coucals and cuckoos have gone and there are very few Whiterumped Swifts wheeling about the sky now – and even fewer Lesserstriped Swallows.

Common Starlings make the odd foray into the fig tree and occasionally forage for seeds on the lawn. I generally see them in far greater numbers along the pavements and on the school sports fields that abound in this town. A Fiscal Shrike dominates the back garden, perching either on the telephone cable or the wash line. It seldom ventures into the front garden for some reason – kept at bay by the Forktailed Drongos perhaps? This morning I watched a Forktailed Drongo chasing Rock Pigeons all over the garden – what for?

Both the Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk) and a Yellowbilled Kite have been observed flying low over the garden a few times this month. Not Redwinged Starlings this time, but a flock of Whiterumped Swifts sent the Gymnogene on its way recently.

gymnogene

I felt privileged to have a wonderful view of an Olive Woodpecker only metres away from me very early the other morning. It spent nearly ten minutes investigating the lower sections of the grove of pompon trees and making its way through the aloes.

While I have become accustomed to the harsh sounds of the Black Crows flying overhead or squabbling as they perch near the top of the cyprus tree next door, small flocks of Pied Crows have become more evident this month.

My March list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk)
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Olive Woodpecker
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellow Weaver

JANUARY 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

JANUARY 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

I have made you wait for the result of hours spent staring up at the nest of the Lesser-striped Swallows, camera weighing ever more heavily, hoping for an opportunity to capture one of them peeping out of the nest. Here it is:

lessserstripedswallowinnest

Thanks to the interest some of you have shown in the fate of this pair of swallows ever since their original nest fell down (see THE HOUSE THE SWALLOWS BUILT 2nd December 2014), I have been especially vigilant about checking on their progress.

It appears that Lesser-striped Swallows have a tendency to return to the same nest every year. Certainly we have had a pair nesting in the same place under the eaves for several years already – and feel rather privileged to be hosting them.They are not the only pair in the suburb, for during some late afternoons I have counted sixteen or more of these beautiful birds flying across the garden or wheeling into the air whilst emitting their characteristically high-pitched ‘chip’ and ‘treep, treep’ sounds.

Their flight patterns remind me of the poem D. H. Lawrence wrote called Bat. In it he aptly describes the movement of swallows as “spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.”

The other day I was alarmed to note how much energy this breeding pair expended on repeatedly chasing off an aggressive pair of Fork-tailed Drongos, which are known to eat young birds. I wonder if they actually raid nests and were the cause of the first nest collapsing?

This has been a bumper month for watching birds in my garden. Some Southern Masked-weavers have been spotted among the regular flock of Village Weavers that descend on the garden in search of food. I have never seen them in large numbers.

It is evident that some of the Village Weavers are in the process of moulting: I regularly see a few with a feather sticking out awry and this morning had a wing feather float down to land on my tea tray. Looking at it closely, I see the edges look worn although the rest of the feather looks fine to my eye.

I attended an interesting series of lectures this week and discovered that the Bronze Mannikin has only been noted in our town since 1994 and since then has become so well established that it breeds in this area. African Green Pigeons arrived here in 2005 and can now be seen or heard daily – as I can testify from those who call from their well-camouflaged perches in the fig tree – and have also been known to breed here. Interestingly enough, there has been no sign of a Pin-tailed Whydah so far this year. I have not even heard one in the neighbourhood.

My January list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Black Harrier
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Darter
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Flycatcher
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked-weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

 

A VERY GOOD FRIDAY

A VERY GOOD FRIDAY

The glorious weather on this Good Friday drew me outdoors very early to tackle the vegetable garden. In spite of the vines stretching way beyond the confines of the bed, clambering up the garage steps, and waylaying the unwary walking past at night, the butternut squashes yielded only two for consumption. Both were wonderful specimens and tasted all the more delicious for being home-grown. The exhausted vines had to go, along with all the weeds that had flourished under and between the large butternut leaves.

butternut

Tea in the shade and a stint of bird watching followed that exertion in the heat. Listing twenty one species is not too shabby, considering I didn’t move from the comfort of my garden chair!

There are African Green Pigeons galore in the fig tree already laden with fruit. At first I thought that spotting five or six flitting in and out of the dark green foliage was a lot – until a passing truck made a loud noise that caused a flock of well over thirty of these beautiful birds to take off in fright!

Between them and the Redwinged Starlings that also flock to feast on the figs, I was assured of a melodious background to my musings. These flocks of starlings look so beautiful when they are in flight with the sunshine highlighting their russet wings.

The flocks of pigeons, doves and starlings take off at the slightest provocation. I kept peering into the clear blue sky to see if a raptor was flying overhead – nothing. This happened so often that I stirred to collect my camera in the hope of capturing the flight of so many birds for posterity. Alas, I was far too slow. Imagine this though: I saw a Redwinged Starling and an African Green Pigeon collide during one of their joint mass exoduses! Both birds continued on their respective flight paths afterwards.

It was while I was trying to photograph the birds that I stumbled across Daisy the Tortoise for the first time in weeks. I am so happy that it is still around chomping its way through our garden.Daisy

I gave up trying to photograph the African Green Pigeons in the fig tree: they disappear in a flash. Then I spotted several sunning themselves in the Erythrina caffra in the back garden.SONY DSC

This has been a very good Good Friday.