EARLY BIRDING

EARLY BIRDING

I grew up with an abundance of birds around me; they were simply a happily accepted part of the environment I lived in. Strangely enough though, I didn’t really know much about birds then.

Of course I knew what a Red Bishop was: I loved watching them weaving their nests among the thick stands of bulrushes partly choking the small dam near the bottom of our farm – watching the gregarious nature of these lively birds was preferable to threading earthworms on hooks when my brothers were fishing!

Black-eyed Bulbuls regularly visited the mulberry tree during the fruiting season and pecked at the Catawba grapes as they ripened.

blackeyedbulbuls

There were Cape Turtle Doves aplenty. Even now their calls remind me of our farm. I learned from an early age how to emulate their calls by cupping my hands and blowing gently between my thumbs pressed close together.

In those days most raptors fell into the broad category of ‘eagle’ and weavers of any kind were known simply as … weavers. My main interest as far as the latter was concerned was watching the magic of them weaving their nests at the end of spindly branches overhanging the dams.

Funnily enough, it was the raptors that captured my imagination in the beginning. I found it ever more exciting to be able to identify birds such as a Black-shouldered Kite, a Yellow-billed Kite, and to tell a Steppe Buzzard from a Whalberg Eagle from a Jackal Buzzard. During years of hiking in the Drakensberg, I never lost that sense of wonder whenever a Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture) came into view.

jackalbuzzard

Once I had a bird book of my own, I poured over the illustrations, often to be surprised at how many species of birds, hitherto taken for granted, I recognised. I could now name a Pintailed Whydah and the Longtailed Widow, and I could tell the difference between a House Sparrow and a Cape Sparrow. So many bird books line my shelves now!

It was years after having heard its distinctive calls in the garden of my childhood that I was able to match them with the Boubou Shrike. While I had always recognised the beautiful liquid calls of the Burchell’s Coucal (known locally as the ‘rain bird’), I didn’t actually see one until we were given a wounded fledgling to rear many years later.

bouboushrike

As children we referred to Bronze Manikins as ‘little men with beards’ when they fluttered down to eat mealie meal spilt outside the stone rondavel used to store all sorts of things essential to farm life. Now they give me tremendous joy whenever they appear in my own suburban garden.

Trips to the Kruger national Park, Hluhluwe, Umgeni Nature Reserve, the Okavango Swamps and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with people more knowledgeable about birds than me have broadened my understanding and deepened my appreciation of these fascinating creatures.

Now I garden with birds in mind. We have changed our present garden from one covered with gravel and cacti to a forest so dense in places that pruning remains on the priority list.

The more I watch these residents and regular visitors to this little patch, and the more I learn about them, the more fascinating I find them. I feel satisfied upon identifying nesting sites after close observation; by watching the fledglings becoming independent feeders; I enjoy being able to identify an increasing variety of birds from their calls; and I get very excited by every complete newcomer to my list!

A VERY GOOD FRIDAY

A VERY GOOD FRIDAY

The glorious weather on this Good Friday drew me outdoors very early to tackle the vegetable garden. In spite of the vines stretching way beyond the confines of the bed, clambering up the garage steps, and waylaying the unwary walking past at night, the butternut squashes yielded only two for consumption. Both were wonderful specimens and tasted all the more delicious for being home-grown. The exhausted vines had to go, along with all the weeds that had flourished under and between the large butternut leaves.

butternut

Tea in the shade and a stint of bird watching followed that exertion in the heat. Listing twenty one species is not too shabby, considering I didn’t move from the comfort of my garden chair!

There are African Green Pigeons galore in the fig tree already laden with fruit. At first I thought that spotting five or six flitting in and out of the dark green foliage was a lot – until a passing truck made a loud noise that caused a flock of well over thirty of these beautiful birds to take off in fright!

Between them and the Redwinged Starlings that also flock to feast on the figs, I was assured of a melodious background to my musings. These flocks of starlings look so beautiful when they are in flight with the sunshine highlighting their russet wings.

The flocks of pigeons, doves and starlings take off at the slightest provocation. I kept peering into the clear blue sky to see if a raptor was flying overhead – nothing. This happened so often that I stirred to collect my camera in the hope of capturing the flight of so many birds for posterity. Alas, I was far too slow. Imagine this though: I saw a Redwinged Starling and an African Green Pigeon collide during one of their joint mass exoduses! Both birds continued on their respective flight paths afterwards.

It was while I was trying to photograph the birds that I stumbled across Daisy the Tortoise for the first time in weeks. I am so happy that it is still around chomping its way through our garden.Daisy

I gave up trying to photograph the African Green Pigeons in the fig tree: they disappear in a flash. Then I spotted several sunning themselves in the Erythrina caffra in the back garden.SONY DSC

This has been a very good Good Friday.