SOUTH AFRICAN DOVES

There are seven different doves that grace the South African landscape. Make it nine if you include the feral populations of Rock Dove that are commonly seen in urban areas, where they feed on scraps and seeds – I find it amusing that the latter is called a Tuinduif (Garden Dove) in Afrikaans, a name which seems to imply that they are at home in our gardens. Actually these doves were introduced during the 1800s and are most likely the descendants of those early homing pigeons.

The European Turtle-Dove is such a rare vagrant that it hardly counts. Apart from them, a number of introduced birds have simply become such an accepted part of our environment that they are now included in our field guides: the Common Starling and Common Mynah spring to mind – even the Common Peacock! While I have been fortunate enough to see all the doves on our local list, I do not have photographs of them all. The African Mourning Dove is a beautiful bird which is limited to the Kruger National Park region in South Africa, although it also occurs in Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Their characteristically mournful call is beautiful to listen to.

I often mention the presence of Laughing Doves for they abound in my garden and are commonly seen all over South Africa. Their name is an apt description of their burbling calls that resonate through the gardens and the veld throughout the day.

They readily eat seeds, small snails, insects as well as termite alates – as I witnessed recently.

Only once have I seen a Lemon Dove in our garden – too far away for a photograph. They are secretive birds and this one appeared only briefly before tucking itself away behind a tangle of shrubbery. Cape Turtle-Doves on the other hand are commonly seen all over South Africa. These ones were photographed in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Their call is strident enough to be heard from some distance. I notice they prefer not to jostle with the other doves in my garden and choose to find seeds away from the crowd as it were.

Namaqua Doves are seen aplenty in that park – it is hard to believe I might not have photographed one – nor can I show you the beautiful Tambourine Dove. Instead, you will see a Red-eyed Dove of which we have at least two pairs nesting in our garden. I hear them calling from the fig tree and notice that they too prefer to look for seeds on the ground once the main rush of feeding is over in the mornings. During the rest of the day I see one or two of them foraging for seeds under the trees in the garden.

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SATARA (2)

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SATARA (2)

Birding is an adventure around almost every corner in the Kruger National Park – even though the rain initially put a dampener on this activity. One’s experience starts in the camp on rising: a variety of birds from Redbilled Buffalo Weavers and Crested Barbets to Grey Louries and Great Sparrows – as well as starlings and Arrow-marked Babblers – scratched around in the leaf debris of the trees we were camping next to. From the first morning I was made very aware of the new world of birds that awaited me.

crested barbet

Cape Glossy Starlings abound, attracting one to their presence by their beautiful blue metallic sheen and bright orange eyes. One cheeky bird alighted on the counter of the camp kitchen and stole a slice of sausage from my pan while I was cooking! Burchell’s Starlings are reasonably easy to recognise from their longer tails, while I found the Greater Blue-eared Starlings more difficult to recognise in the field.

capeglossystarling

Spurfowl are abundant too, especially on the road early in the mornings and towards sunset. Swainson’s Spurfowl and Natal Spurfowl seemed to be the most common – several of the latter wandered around Satara Camp too – although we also saw Crested Francolin from time to time.

Natal spurfowl

What a delight to find Brown-headed Parrots feeding on the long pods of the Long-tail Cassia tree right next to our tent!

Brownheaded parrot

It is always interesting to see familiar ‘garden birds’ in a game reserve and there were plenty of Laughing Doves and Cape Turtle Doves around. Although I saw Namaqua Doves once, it is the African Mourning Dove that was dominant in the camp and at the various picnic spots where we stopped. Its melodious call became familiar to us during the week we were in Satara.

African Mourning Dove

Of course the Lilac-breasted Rollers are magnificent looking birds. They are eye-catching, both when sporting their beautiful blue feathers in flight and when perched conspicuously on the top of bushes and old tree stumps. Their presence brightened up any drive.

lilac-breasted roller

The Purple Rollers are beautiful to look at too.

purple roller

What I find interesting is that in our home garden, the Burchell’s Coucals are heard far more often than they are seen, preferring to skulk around in the thick foliage. Here they are commonly seen flying across the short amber grass to perch in low bushes, often right next to the road! These birds have a special place in my heart, for many years ago we raised a fledgling that had fallen out of a nest and broken its leg. In the then Eastern Transvaal, where I grew up, Burchell’s Coucals were commonly referred to as ‘rain birds’ for their calls were a welcome sound during periods of prolonged heat and drought: many people believed this presaged the coming of rain.

Burchell's coucal

A spectacular surprise awaited us in a dip where the S100 road crosses the N’wanetsi River. A mecca of birds were in and near the water: Saddle-billed Storks, Marabou Storks, Spoonbills, Egyptian Geese, Hamerkops, a Pied Kingfisher, Goliath heron, Blacksmith Plovers, a Great Egret, Woolly-necked Storks, Fish Eagles, a Black-headed Heron, Common Ringed Plovers, Common Moorhen, a Little Bittern, Yellow-billed Storks and a Squacco Heron all in one place!

saddlebilled stork

This was a magical place to park for a while in order to watch the mating rituals of the Yellow-billed Storks and the efficiency with which the Pied Kingfisher and the Hamerkops speared their prey.

yellow-billed storks

While this feast for the eyes was going on at water level, another fantastic spectacle was unfolding in the tall riverine trees: a pair of African Hawk Eagles flew about in impressive mating displays while – we presume – a juvenile remained perched in the top of one of the enormous trees lining the river bank.

African Hawk Eagle

It was equally exciting to watch the flight of those magnificent, iconic birds, the African Fish Eagles as they swooped down from their high perches or circled above us. Their call is a distinctive and thrilling one.

African Fish Eagle
The area around Satara afforded us the opportunity to see interesting and beautiful birds such as the Bronze-winged Coursers right next to the road.

Bronzewinged Courser

Another was a Golden-tailed Woodpecker working its way through an old log near a waterhole. Southern White-crowned Shrikes would appear from nowhere – usually in a most difficult spot (such as against the sun) for photographs.

Golden-tailed Woodpecker

 

southern white-crowned shrike

Generally speaking, I have found the photographic field guide, Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan, a useful companion to my trusty and well-thumbed Roberts’ Bird Guide. The Magpie Shrike is a good example of a bird easily identified in flight when the distinctive white patterns in their wings (as illustrated in Roberts’) are clearly visible. Seeing one perched on a branch with the white back showing was puzzling at first – that is where the photographic evidence came up trumps!

Magpie Shrike

There is always something to see in the KNP!