There are no handy hints here. However, as a change from our usual mode of camping, we spent a few days after Christmas in one of the delightful Forest Cabins in the Addo Elephant National Park. Each of these log cabins is tucked between hedges of Spekboom and other indigenous plants to ensure one’s privacy.
This is a typical path leading to one of these cabins.
You might wonder what these pictures have to do with the title of this piece. While each of these cabins is equipped with a pleasant braai area, they also have a fridge, kettle, toaster and a microwave. There is also a camp kitchen containing two-plate stoves and the sinks for washing up. I am probably not the only visitor not to look up when I enter the communal kitchen to either cook or clean the dishes. That is, until I kept seeing this pair of Lesser-striped swallows preening themselves nearby throughout the day.
What a wonderful opportunity to photograph them from so close, I thought as I passed by them yet again. They didn’t seem to mind the attention.
It was late on the second afternoon of our stay that I spotted one of them flying out of the communal kitchen. Curious, I at last looked up to see this sturdy, well-constructed mud nest against the ceiling of the kitchen.
Safety in the kitchen indeed. Here their nest is safe from the elements; it is high enough not to be disturbed by any human visitors; and has probably been used year after year.
Every year a pair of Lesser-striped Swallows return to build their mud nest under the eaves of our house. They build their nest in exactly the same place, although the direction of the tunnel opening may change slightly with every construction. This summer there had been enough rain for them to start their nest soon after their arrival.
The pair of swallows perch on the telephone cable, resting between their labour of collecting balls of mud, cleaning their beaks, or possibly discussing their building plans.
The nest gradually takes shape. The different colour of the mud reveals the variety of sources these birds use for their building material.
Both birds bring mud in their beaks. Here they are shaping the bowl of the nest together.
They appear to masticate the mud in their beaks before adding the ball to the row.
The gap finally nears closure.
After this has been achieved, a tunnel opening is formed to complete the outer structure of the nest. Then follows the process of lining it with soft materials before the eggs can be laid.
You would think that their summer labour is over and that these birds can now settle down to breeding and raising their family. They are fortunate some years and I hoped this would be one of them. I watched nest lining being brought in … not many days later the entire nest crashed to the ground! For days the birds either perched on the telephone cable or on the bathroom window. Finally, they decided to move to plan B – as they occasionally do – and painstakingly built a new nest around the shady side of our house.
This one remained intact for them to raise at least one chick … then it too dashed to the ground.
The trees in our garden are now so tall and thick with foliage that it isn’t always easy to find the nests of birds, even if you know they are there – somewhere. A pair of Cape Robin-chats had me fascinated for days on end as they flew back and forth with food in their beaks … I never could find their actual nest deep in the shrubbery, although their offspring later made an appearance. Two Common Fiscals have plied the food trails to their respective nests for weeks (I think both have actually nested beyond our garden perimeter) and one brought its youngster to the feeding tray a few times before leaving it to fend for itself.
I located the messy nest of an Olive Thrush in a tangle of branches near the wash line, but not in a position to photograph – my neighbour couldn’t get a good photographic view of it either, although we both enjoyed watching the activity around it.This is one taken some years ago:
Black-collared Barbets have brought their offspring to feed on cut apples …
Much more prominent is the mud nest the pair of Lesser-striped Swallows build under the eaves every year:
The rain came at just the right time for them and they set to work straight away. The sturdy nest they built outside our front door one year has been taken over by White-rumped Swifts. Life is filled with trials for these swallows for this lovely nest, already lined with soft materials, fell down one night and shattered. Days of sad twittering followed until the pair again returned to Plan B and built a nest under the eaves around the shadier side of our house – where they have resorted to building in previous years – and this one has stayed put.
Also easy to see was the flurry of activity among the weavers as they set about constructing nests at the end of branches of a tree in our back garden:
Despite the chattering and hard work going on here, within days these nests had been abandoned and the birds had looked elsewhere to create their happy colony.
A very-hard-to-miss nest, which I have featured before, is the one in which a pair of Hadeda Ibises have successfully reared two chicks:
Both chicks are in the nest here – only their dark tails are showing.
We are woken well before sunrise every morning by the harsh cries of the Hadeda Ibises (Bostrychia hagedash) roosting in both the Natal Fig tree that dominates our front garden and the Erythrina caffra that towers over the back garden. Every year too there is at least one nest built in either of these places. This summer it was the turn of the Erythrina tree and we were able to watch the nest progress from the first few sticks to the final bundle loosely packed in convenient fork in the branches – not far above my wash line. This meant that part of the line remained unusable for the duration of the nesting and hatching period.
For the next few weeks we could watch the Hadeda sitting on her nest to incubate the eggs. Actually, both parents assist during the incubation period; their plumage is similar, making it difficult to tell them apart. Despite the apparently flimsy structure of the nest, it was impossible to see through the grass lining.
It must have been nearly a month before I came across the two eggshells below the nest.
I could thus tell that two chicks had hatched. Would they be successful? Some years we have found a dead chick lying below the nest; mostly though, two and occasionally three chicks have been reared successfully. Time would tell. One day I noticed a chick standing up on the nest – the head of the other keeping a very low profile below it (on the right in the photograph).
The nestlings take roughly a month to forty days to fledge. I kept an eye on them every time I hung out the laundry. At last, both chicks were clearly visible.
Much later it became a common sight to see the mother and her youngsters inspecting the edge of the swimming pool or wandering through the garden.
Despite their reputation of being raucous birds early in the morning and when returning to their roosting spots at the end of the day, Hadedas are surprisingly silent as they pick their way through the garden.
Look up ‘Crow’s Nest’ on Google and there is a host of accommodation or eating establishments listed bearing that name. The ‘crow’s nest’ I had in mind is a structure on the highest part of the main mast of a sailing ship used as a lookout point. Naturally, with sailing ships fading from memory and stories about them hardly making a wave, this is not surprising. Until radar was developed, this high position ensured the best view for lookouts to spot approaching shipping hazards – it is the view which many of the above-mentioned establishments have that may have a loose connection with the names chosen by their original owners. This nest commands a 360° view of its surroundings.
Apart from nesting in trees, Pied Crows (Corvus albus) have adapted to nesting in a variety of tall structures, such as telephone poles and windmills – which this one has chosen.
Their sturdy bowl-like stick nests may also include wire and string and are lined with soft materials found in the area.
The nests are re-used. This is what the nest looked like two years ago:
The first stanza of the poem, The Crow’s Nest by Alexander Thomas, while focusing on the nautical meaning, seems to aptly describe this Pied Crow’s nest in the Eastern Cape of South Africa:
Sailing in time,
In the hidden depths of space,
Compressed in the unconscious,
Sailing to uncharted seas,
Floating in dreamscapes,
Waves of joy,
A caressing glow,
Timeless faces in a timeless place,
Solitary notes of forgotten shores …