SEPTEMBER 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

Good news should always come first – so far we have enjoyed 19mm of the lightest rain imaginable and there is still dampness in the air; droplets of water on the leaves and flower petals; the mist is hanging low; and I write this against the swishing of tyres on the street below our home. Good news this is indeed for all the plants – and the birds too for the bird baths are filling with fresh rain water on a day that we have no water in our taps. So, they won’t go thirsty!

It was a happy surprise to begin this month’s bird viewing with the arrival of a Cardinal Woodpecker beavering away in the rotting branches of the Tipuana tree that looms over our garden wall. The tree is old, dry and brittle and I shudder to think of the damage it will cause when it finally topples over. Meanwhile, it is visited by other birds such as the Green Wood-hoopoes. A couple of them have made several forays into the garden. These ones have been working their way through the dry Pompon trees at the end of the swimming pool.

I continued to be entertained by the Common Fiscals. Meneer regularly arrives for his private meals while I am enjoying breakfast or tea outdoors. He alights next to the little dish, looks at me and accepts a morsel from my hand. We do this a few times and then I leave him to help himself. Spotty, the ringed one, having noted this private source of food, is becoming ever bolder and occasionally swoops down to take a morsel I have placed on the edge of the table. Not to be outdone, the third one has also cottoned onto this lark. It remains very cautious and perches in the branches above my head for ages before nicking any piece of cheese or meat that might have been dropped by one of the aforementioned fiscals. Quick as a wink it comes – and is gone!

Red-eyed Doves call from early in the morning – as do the Cape Turtle Doves – and sometimes come down to do battle with the army of Laughing Doves that make short work of the maize seeds that fall to the ground from the messy eaters on the feeder above. Another large visitor mingling with this melee is the Speckled Pigeon. Although they can no longer nest in our eaves, they still roost on the window sills at night or stare down at me from the rooftop – or is that really a glare?

I was watching birds recently when all the doves and weavers whooshed away in a flash. There was not a sound to be heard. I looked up in time to see an African Harrier-Hawk seemingly floating in the sky, hardly flapping its wings as it circled against the sun. Among the first birds to return once all sense of danger was over were the Bronze Mannikins. They too seem to float like falling blossoms as they alight either on the ground or take advantage of the empty feeders to peck at the fine seeds.

The Cape Weavers are appearing in greater numbers now – both to eat seeds and to visit the nectar feeder. They are a noisy lot and, when not feeding, can be heard chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen in the thicket nearby. This one is seen in the company of a Streakyheaded Seedeater.

Having featured the Olive Thrush several times in past posts, I think you might find it interesting to see what its messy nest looks like. This is one of two I have identified in the garden: one is next to the front path and the other is close to the wash line.

Over thirty years ago we would only see crows of any kind winging their way across the municipal rubbish dump or swooping across the Burnt Kraal area where there used to be a clay pigeon shooting range. Is it the prolonged drought that has brought them into town? Or perhaps it is the increasing amounts of rubbish lying uncollected on the pavements. A Cape Crow often perches in one of the tall trees in the garden and pontificates loudly about life in general. Here is a Pied Crow doing a regular flyover of the garden.

My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo-Shrike
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Forest Canary
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

NOT GOOD ENOUGH

After all the chirruping and flying back and forth to select the right materials … after hours spent fastening the first blades of grass to the twig and intricately weaving … in and out … round and through … this weaver nest was abandoned because …

… it was not good enough.

WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS …

When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall.
And down will come Baby,
Cradle and all …

The dramatic build-up of clouds which may, or may not, bring rain is often accompanied by high, strong wind. The tree tops shake and branches shiver. Leaves, torn from their twigs, fly across the garden to scatter on the ground below. The birds disappear – probably seeking shelter in those same quivering trees that are tossed about helplessly. Some branches of the older trees twist and can even break off, as do many twigs – including the cradles that were woven securely to them. Here is one:

This cup-shaped nest, mostly constructed from grass found in the surrounding area, has been secured by four twigs around the circumference. Whichever bird that built it wanted to make sure that it would hold up to the elements. If there was a softer lining, it may have disappeared in the fall – I found this nest only a day after the wind, by which time the green leaves were already turning brown. The grass is tightly packed and the rim of the nest has been strengthened with sturdier grass or thin twigs which have been threaded into the nest with fine grass. Close observation reveals the effort that must have gone into making this nest – all to no avail.

MEET NELSON

Once upon a time we enjoyed Springbok Radio in this country – the demise of which has caused great sadness among those of us who grew up with its offerings. In about 1971 we probably all sang along with the South African folk singers Des and Dawn Lindberg whenever the radio played their song about a little boy who rescued an oil soaked seagull from the sea.

… And the seagull’s name was Nelson

Nelson who came from the sea

And the seagull’s name was Nelson

Nelson the seagull free…

It was thus natural to temporarily name our seagull visitor Nelson [Nelson who came from the sea]. Our introduction to Nelson came about when he came into the chalet at Tsitsikamma to snatch a large square of quiche from the coffee table near the open door – this is Nelson polishing off the last of the crumbs.

Little did we realise that Nelson was to become a daily visitor – always on the lookout for a bite to eat. He was so quick that I learned to hide my early morning rusk under my sunhat whilst enjoying the view of the waves crashing over the rocks.

Nelson is a Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus) – also called the Southern Black-backed Gull – of which there was an abundance. Its bill is bright yellow with a red spot near the tip. Note too, the orange eye-ring.

We became familiar with Nelson’s feet planted firmly on the narrow ledge of the deck.

Before leaving the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park, we came across this gull sitting on its nest.

… And the seagull’s name was Nelson …

A NEST UNPACKED

This nest blew down from the Erythrina tree during a recent period of strong winds and landed on the verge outside our gate.

It provides an interesting opportunity to see what has gone into its construction. Apart from the expected grass and twigs, I recognise the following items: blue twine, guinea-fowl feathers (a flock of tame guinea-fowl live in a garden not far from our home), narrow strips of plastic, balls of upholstery stuffing, bark, tiny roots, and feathers from unidentified birds. Other items might have blown away in the wind.

I suspect this might be the nest of a Greater Double-collared Sunbird.