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.

WHITE-BROWED SPARROW-WEAVER II

Visitors to the Mountain Zebra National Park are unlikely to come away without having become familiar with the White-browed Sparrow-Weavers (Plocepasser mahali) that are the iconic birds of the rest camp. The combination of blackish, brown, and white on their plumage is distinctive – as are their cheerful calls variously described as cheeoop-preoo-chop or the harsher call of chik-chik. The morning chorus of these birds is well worth waking up to! Note the clear white stripe above its eye. Although males and females look very similar, the black bill of this one tells us it is a male.

The bill of the female is horn-coloured.

Their intricate, yet seemingly untidy, nests – which look like bundles of grass tucked into the edge of the trees – abound in the park and are easy to recognise. Both the male and female build their nest, which has two entrances – one of which is closed off during the breeding season. These nests are used throughout the year.