GREATER DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRD

A pair of Greater Double-Collared Sunbirds (Cinnyris afer) can be seen in our garden throughout the year. The males are like little jewels in the trees, particularly when their metallic colours catch the sun and frequently call from a prominent position such as this one.

As you can see, the male has a broad bright red band around its chest. The sun highlights its glossy, metallic green head, throat upper breast and back. All-in-all, it is a beautiful bird.

They are very active birds, often chasing each other around the garden as well as the Amethyst Sunbirds should they be in the vicinity. Greater Double-collared Sunbirds mainly eat nectar, insects and spiders.

Meanwhile, the drab-coloured females work hard at collecting fine grasses and loose feathers with which to line their nests. This is a nest I have featured before that was blown out of a tree.

PERSISTENCE COULDN’T PAY OFF

Persistence describes continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition. An interesting meme I came across the other day reads a river cuts through a rock not because of its power, but its persistence. We are frequently told that willpower/persistence pays off in the end. Sometimes it doesn’t – and there are times when it simply cannot. While a Speckled Pigeon dominates the photographs below – as it dominates Morrigan’s feeder meant for smaller birds – I want you to observe the actions of the Speckled Mousebird in the background.

Here you can see the Speckled Mousebird eyeing the end of the string tied to Morrigan’s bench feeder, which has tilted under the weight of the Speckled Pigeon. A Laughing Dove is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to eat any grains that the larger bird may have left. The Speckled Mousebird is not interested in food, but the tuft of string.

Even though there has been no rain here for months, leaving the surrounding country looking dry and no fresh shoots of leaves on the trees, spring is in the air and breeding must happen willy-nilly. It is nesting time. The only Speckled Mousebird nest I have seen was built high up in the Natal fig tree a few years ago. Mousebirds build an untidy nest from grass and stems and then line it with softer materials – I have watched them break off fronds of new leaves, collect feathers and even bits of paper for this purpose before.  I am not sure if the string was intended for the construction or lining of the nest.

I have to tell you that the tufted end of this string has softened over the years as a result of being pulled and tugged at by weavers especially. Anyway, this mousebird was going to give it a try. It got a strand in its beak and pulled and pulled and pulled.

It was hard work. We all know that persistence is the key to success and this mousebird had plenty to spare. I watched it working at the string for nearly fifteen minutes, tugging it this way and that without success.

I haven’t seen it back at the string, so assume it found more suitable material with which to either build or line its nest.

A FALLEN NEST

We came across this nest lying in the street with no sign of who might have built it or where it had come from. It is beautifully formed: a circular cup woven from a selection of dry grass …

… and what looks like stuffing of some sort.

I wonder where this mystery builder found such an abundant source of man-made fibre.

NESTING CAPE WAGTAILS

Dare I say that spring is in the air? It is for the pair of Cape Wagtails (Motacilla capensis) I watched collecting nesting material from the lawn and taking it to their hiding place in the shrubbery.

This one picked through the lawn to find dry grass, collecting several bits at once before flying off in the direction of its nest. This was repeated over and over during the course of the hour that I watched the wagtails.

Some longer sticks (also dried grass) were required.

Time for a head scratch.

Cape Wagtails are monogamous. Here the couple are taking a breather together.

NOVEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

I wonder if you also found November hurtling through time with gathering momentum. I have at last found a moment to reflect on an interesting month of birding in my garden. Only two newcomers this month: a Hoopoe – the ground is so hard at the moment that I am not surprised they have not featured on our lawn since February! The other is a pair of the very beautiful Paradise Flycatchers that we sometimes glimpse flitting between trees.

Redbilled Woodhoopoes have been regular visitors. Not only do they probe the cracks in the bark of older trees, but I see them using their long curved beaks to probe deep between the aloe leaves. They also occasionally visit the feeding tray to eat apples – and cheese!  Speaking of which, it is interesting to observe how meticulous all the birds are about wiping their beaks clean on the branches after eating, and even after drinking at the ‘nectar pub’.

Cape White-eyes are regular visitors to the nectar feeder. They look left and right between every sip and seldom stay for long at a time, preferring to fly off and return a few minutes later. They too enjoy pecking at the apples I put out.

A really beautiful sight is that of the Sacred Ibises flying in formation over the garden at the end of the day. They fly just high enough for the setting sun to highlight their white wings. I usually count about seventeen of them at flying graciously together after having spent their day at a dam on the edge of town.

I have already featured the nest of the Fork-tailed Drongo, but think it is worth showing it again. The parents are still taking turns to incubate the eggs and have been seen mobbing a Pied Crow more than once.

The fig tree remains a favourite place for the African Green Pigeons to roost – the thick foliage makes them very difficult to see unless they move. For the first time the other day, I observed one feeding another and wonder if this is part of a courting ritual. A pair of Red-winged Starlings are well beyond that stage for they have been filling their beaks with fruit to take off to feed their youngsters. One comes down to fill up on apples, waits for the other to arrive and do the same, then the two fly off together in the direction of their nest.

Nests: the Lesser-striped Swallows have had such a to-do already. Long-time readers will be aware that this pair has built numerous nests under our eaves. Sometimes they have managed to breed successfully, but every summer their mud nest collapses at least once and they have to start from scratch. Last summer they built their best nest yet: solid, beautifully formed and well positioned outside our front door. This nest was usurped by a pair of White-rumped Swifts and they had to build elsewhere. That beautiful nest was still intact on their return and they wasted no time in laying an egg – wonderful, I thought, until I came home to find an egg dashed on the floor and had to duck as the swifts flew above my head. They had grabbed the home for themselves again.

There was nothing for it. Despite the paucity of mud, the intrepid swallows mustered their courage to build a nest from scratch on the site of their original endeavours. It was coming on well – very well.

Then, alas, for reasons I am unable to fathom, the structure came tumbling down and turned to dust. They are now trying to build a nest at a different site they have used before. We need rain badly for all sorts of reasons, but especially to provide good building material for this plucky pair of birds!

My November bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

FINDING A FORK-TAILED DRONGO NEST

How do you find the nest of a Fork-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis)? Close observation and caution are required. Observation, because you will need to watch where the drongos appear from and disappear to, and you will need to listen for the sound of their altercations with other birds. The latter ties in with why you need to exercise caution when looking for the nest of a Fork-tailed Drongo: they are aggressive birds that will defend their nest and young regardless of the shape, size or origin of the perceived intruder – that includes you, the human!

I may have mentioned before that for a couple of breeding seasons in a row, the main path leading towards the administration block of the school I taught at had to be blocked off with danger tape and a sign erected requesting visitors to approach via the library. This is because the drongos, nesting very high up in a jacaranda tree, would dive-bomb unsuspecting visitors innocently walking underneath ‘their’ territory – drawing blood on more than one occasion with their sharp beaks!

Finding the nest of a Fork-tailed Drongo begins with observing their courting behaviour. These birds enjoy a monogamous breeding relationship and so one can be entertained for a while by the wonderful aerobatic displays that involve swooping, diving, and chasing each other – and any interlopers – around the garden, accompanied by a variety of vocal noises. Such activity quietens down once the rivals have been dispensed with and minds focus on close family matters.

I had a fair idea that a pair might be nesting in the Natal Fig – that is where I observed a youngster being fed last summer – but peering up into the branches yielded nothing. The birds would often appear from somewhere in the canopy to hawk insects, to drink from the nectar pub, or to see what was on offer at the feeding tray, and they would disappear in the same direction. It is with good cause that they are frequently described as feisty and fearless birds. My hunch grew stronger when I heard the pair of Fork-tailed Drongos attacking the Knysna Turacos perching in the fig tree … then I saw one of them mobbing a Pied Crow until it was well past the perimeter of several gardens away – its crime had been to fly too low over the fig tree … then late yesterday afternoon both drongos loudly attacked the hapless Hadeda Ibises that have traditionally roosted in the branches of the fig tree for the past two decades at least. Their nest had to be there!

Fork-tailed Drongos build their nests where the branches of a tree form a fork. This provides a steady platform on which they can create their cup-shaped nests out of grass, roots, lichen, tendrils and twigs, all bound together with spider web. As I observed last summer, the eggs appear to be incubated by both parents, both of which certainly take turns feeding their chicks. Armed with this knowledge, I continued to scan the branches to no avail until this morning when I witnessed an altercation between a Fork-tailed Drongo and a Red-eyed Dove – another denizen of the fig tree. After a brief flurry of feathers, all was silent … I looked up once more and was rewarded by the sight of a Drongo sitting on its nest, the tell-tale forked tail hanging over the edge.

Perseverance wins in the end: I have found the Fork-tailed Drongo nest at last – and witnessed the ‘changing of the guard’, as one parent took over from the other!

WONDERFUL WEAVERS

Weavers are amazing birds – you only have to watch the males weaving their intricate nests from grass to know that. We, with all our fingers and thumbs, would be hard-pressed to even try, yet they manage this process – often hanging upside down to get their work done, using their beaks only!

They are gregarious and rather noisy birds. The most common weaver in our garden is the Village Weaver, closely followed by the Cape Weaver. Both are present in fairly large numbers that wax and wane throughout the year, so we can observe them in the full flush of their breeding plumage as well as in their drab winter tweeds. Southern Masked Weavers occasionally drop by and – very infrequently – a Spectacled Weaver pays a visit. Singular, because I have only ever observed one of them at a time.

There is plenty of food in our garden to sustain them throughout the year as the weavers not only eat seeds, but tuck into the fruit I put out, and readily feed off the nectar from the aloes or the Erythrina blossoms as well as visiting our nectar feeder when the natural sources are scarce. I have also observed them eating termite alates.

Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) used to be known as Spotted-backed Weavers as its characteristic feature is … its spotted or mottled back! The cucullatus part of their name refers to their hood or crown. The name Village Weaver probably derives from their habit of nesting near human settlements. The completed nests are kidney- shaped with a large entrance on the underside.

Casual observers often confuse them with the Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) which looks similar in passing, but only superficially.

The Southern Masked Weaver has a dullish red-brown eye and, notably, a mostly plain back with a greenish tinge. The crown of breeding males is bright yellow with a narrow black forehead and black facial mask that forms a point at the throat.

Apart from its mottled black and yellow back, the Village Weaver has a distinctive dark red eye and its black hood extends further down its throat than that of the Southern Masked Weaver.

Cape Weavers (Ploceus capensis) are endemic to South Africa and are easily recognisable by their bright yellow colouring and the orange facial blush of the males during the breeding season. The irises of these birds are very pale. Capensis refers to the bird first being identified in the Cape peninsula.

The Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis) is also yellow, but sports a neat black eye-stripe. I have yet to get a good photograph of one in our garden and am re-using one of the very few I have. Ocularis refers to the eyes. It is interesting to note that these weavers retain their distinctive plumage throughout the year. Unlike the gregariousness of other weavers, the Spectacled Weavers tend to be solitary, forming a permanent pair bond.

Their nest is of a particularly interesting shape. This one, seen in the Addo Elephant National Park, was too far away for a clear photograph but you can get an at least see the long entrance tube.