Despite the heat and the drought – or perhaps because of it – October has been a marvellous month for watching birds in my garden. A number of birds have been seeking out the nectar feeder. These include weavers, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos as well as Cape White-eyes. The latter queue in the surrounding branches to take turns.

Sunbirds are regular visitors too, one of which is the very beautiful Greater Double-collared Sunbird. A pair of them have been flitting around the branches of the fig tree, where I suspect they may have a nest although I have not been able to see it.

I have mentioned before that this garden seems to host one pair of Streaky-headed Seedeaters that have become regular visitors to the seed feeders, although I have observed one of them pecking at an apple too. If one arrives first, it will call to the other to join it. By the end of the month they had brought their youngster along, so now there are three.

Olive Thrushes feature regularly on this blog for they are such fun to observe. They tend to be cautious about approaching the feeding table and one is often chased off by another before it even gets a chance to sample the fruit. Then it will either fly away or scurry off into the undergrowth only to reappear as soon as it thinks the coast is clear.

Spring (not that either the weather or the environment feels or looks like spring at the moment) heralds the arrival of cuckoos. Klaas’ Cuckoo has been around for a while, but we now hear the Red-chested Cuckoo and the Diederik Cuckoo as well. I was delighted to see the Lesser-striped Swallows arrive at last – later than usual – and am even more delighted that a pair of them are attempting to build their mud nest under the eaves outside our bathroom, although where they find the mud remains a mystery. The most exciting ‘new’ bird on my list this month is a first-timer ever: a Red-throated Wryneck. You will have to forgive the quality of the photograph as it is cropped from a telephoto shot taken from underneath the enormous Tipuana tree it was perched on. It has been around for about a week.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Black-backed Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Bush Shrike
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Whiterumped Swift


Weavers commonly feed on grass seeds on the ground in the wild or are seen clinging to stalks of grass to nibble on the seed heads. As part of their adaptation to suburban life, however, they have learned to spy out differently packaged sources of food – such as the seeds in the hanging feeder. Their conical beaks enable them to easily extract the seeds from the narrow opening – although they are such messy eaters that a lot of seeds fall to the ground, where they are eaten by Laughing Doves, Red-eyed Doves, Speckled Pigeons, and Pin-tailed Whydahs. I have observed that no more than three weavers can eat from this particular feeder at one time, and preferably only two. This is because it appears that they do not like to share their space, in the sense of seeing another weaver eating next to them. A lot of scrapping and arguments frequently take place – causing even more seed to fall!

A Village Weaver and a Cape Weaver feed opposite each other.


The Village Weaver constantly looks round whilst feeding – checking on possible foes or competition?


A Village Weaver holding on precariously – he is probably used to this position from nest-building.



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.


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.


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.


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!



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.


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.