BEAUTIFUL BLACK-COLLARED BARBET

I realise I featured them only last month, nonetheless I think it is worth looking at them again for they are beautiful birds with a fairly comical character. Over the years my monthly bird lists indicate that at least one pair of Black-collared Barbets (Lybius torquatus) regularly visits our garden – they have certainly brought their offspring here to feed too. Although Lybius apparently refers to this bird having been mentioned by Aristotle (how can anyone be sure of that?) the Greek philosopher was likely referring to a woodpecker. Look at this one’s strong beak – with its characteristic notch, its red forehead and face, along with the smart black collar that tops its pale yellow bottom. Its eyes look warm and interesting too – kind eyes.

They are quite at home in our garden that has plenty of foliage cover as well as older trees filled with holes useful for nesting in. You can tell by the slight tilt of this bird’s head that it is on the alert and is fully aware of its surroundings.

Black-collared Barbets make a bee-line for any fruit I put out and seem to be particularly partial to apples.

It has been blisteringly hot here of late. As birds cannot sweat, they keep cool by splashing in a bird bath, sticking to the shade during the hottest part of the day, or resorting to gular fluttering. That is what this Black-collared Barbet is doing: opening its mouth and fluttering its neck muscles to promote heat loss.

 

OCTOBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

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
Bokmakierie
Boubou
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

NUPTIAL FLIGHTS

The conditions were perfect yesterday for the air after lunch was warm and humid; not a leaf moved it was so still. My attention was drawn to a slight ‘rubbing’ noise akin to stockings rubbing together or a coarse polishing cloth being used around the corner from where I was sitting. When I looked up the air was filled with winged ants.

These flying ants, known as alates, emerged from at least three places quite close to each other – hundreds of them. I watched as several of them poked their heads through the gaps at a time, shook their delicate wings and flew off. Onward and upward seemed to be the clarion call.

The ground around the openings was crawling with tiny white termites, newly emerged alates and discarded wings. Careful observation occasionally revealed two ants (these would have been males and females) flying joined together in their nuptial flight. Although they emerge at the same time, the queens release pheromones to attract males before mating and usually mates with several males if they can.

I wasn’t the only one watching for even the Laughing Doves and the Speckled Pigeons were ready for a feast:

Red-winged Starlings swooped down to catch as many ants in one go as they could:

Black-collared Barbets preferred to catch the flying ants on the wing as they flew passed them perched on the higher branches:

We have a number of lizards and geckos all over the garden. The two on the wall closest to the origin of this feast scuttled back and forth catching unsuspecting flying ants on the trot until their bellies were fully extended.

At a higher level, they were being caught by Fork-tailed Drongos and White-rumped Swifts. It is thus easy to understand that appearing in such large numbers at once provides the flying ants with a degree of protection from potential predators.

RED BIRDS

A number of South African birds have ‘red’ in their name, although this appellation does not necessarily refer to bright red feathers such as those of the Scarlet-chested Sunbird, this one seen in the Kruger National Park:

Or the Black-collared Barbet, as seen in my garden:

Instead, these birds have red in their name because it is a defining feature of their appearance. Among them are the African Red-eyed Bulbul, which has reddish eye-rings and is a common resident in the drier northwest region of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. This one was photographed in the Augrabies Falls National Park:

The Red-knobbed Coot, this one photographed in Cape Town, not only has two distinctive red knobs – which turn bright red during the breeding season – on its head but red eyes too. They are common resident water birds in South Africa and, interestingly, do not have webbed feet!

Delightful birds to watch are the Red-headed Finches. While they tend to live in the dry savannah areas, I photographed this one in Boksburg:

Hornbills are comical birds and the Kruger National Park hosts several varieties, among which is the Red-billed Hornbill. Although it is one of the smaller hornbills, the Red-billed Hornbill is one of the characteristic birds in the park:

While there are many more birds with ‘red’ in their name, such as the Red-eyed Dove, Red-necked Spurfowl, and the Red-winged Starling, I leave you with a particularly interesting bird, the Red-billed Oxpecker – also photographed in the Kruger National Park. This one is feasting on ticks on an impala:

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

OCTOBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

October has been a bumper month for watching birds in our garden, including two visitors not seen for some time: the Bokmakierie and a Southern Red Bishop.  The arrival of the Redchested Cuckoo and the Lesserstriped Swallows serve as confirmation that winter is definitely behind us.

Two male Pintailed Whydahs have made regular forays into the garden and spend a lot of time chasing each other around and both behave aggressively towards other birds eating seeds on the ground.

At least one of them has learned how to sit on Morrigan’s feeder to eat seeds from there! The photograph below shows that this one’s full breeding plumage is not yet present – note the blotches of brown on its back and wings.

Hadeda Ibises have been collecting sticks for their flimsy nests – the strong winds experienced this month have left plenty of such nesting material on the ground for them. Female Village Weavers regularly collect feathers to line their nests.  I watched a pair of Blackcollared Barbets mating the other day.

We found the nest of a Greater Doublecollared Sunbird dangling from the end of a twig in the Natal Fig.

Some Olive Thrushes have already bred successfully and are seen feeding their youngsters.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Harrier (Gymnogene)
Black Saw-wing
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green)
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Black Tit
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

MAY GARDEN 2018

The bounty of fruit of the Natal Fig (Ficus natalensis) has been eaten, leaving lean pickings for the Redwinged Starlings and causing the majority of African Green Pigeons to seek fruit elsewhere – although some still return to roost here overnight. Apart from a wide variety of birds, such as Speckled Mousebirds, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Blackcollared Barbets, Cape White-eyes, Blackheaded Orioles, Olive Thrushes, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, and Grey-headed Sparrows, the fruit also attracts a variety of insects and the small insectivorous bats that swoop around the garden as the day ends. The latter often remind me of D.H. Lawrence’s description of bats in the poem of the same name:

Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop…
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,  
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

In the back garden, the Erythrina caffra (Coral tree) is sporting clusters of seedpods split open to reveal their coral-red seeds which, in due course, fall to the ground. These small, shiny seeds marked on the one side with a black spot are also known as lucky beans. Laughing Doves and Forktailed Drongos perch in the high branches to catch the warmth of the early morning sun and again in the late afternoon.

The Black Sunbirds and Greater Double-collared sunbirds as well as Blackcollared Barbets, Blackheaded Orioles, Cape- and Village Weavers as well as Redwinged starlings are regular visitors too.

I have mentioned before that the name Erythrina, originates from the Greek word erythros meaning red and alludes to the bright red flowers and seeds. Caffra is derived from the Arabic word for an unbeliever, and as used in older botanical works generally indicates that the plant was found well to the south of the range of Arab traders, that is, along the [south] eastern seaboard of South Africa. Carl Thunberg, known as the father of South African botany, gave the names in 1770.

In parts of South Africa, both the Erythrina caffra and the Erythrina lysistemon are regarded as a royal tree; much respected and admired in Zulu culture and believed to have magic properties. Specimens have been planted on the graves of many Zulu chiefs. In parts of the Eastern Cape, local inhabitants will not burn the wood of Erythrina caffra for fear of attracting lightning.

The indigenous Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides) has come into full bloom, covering the trees and shrubs with a canopy of bright golden yellow flowers that attract the Barthroated Apalis, Cape White-eyes and a variety of butterflies. These flowers also exude a delightful aromatic scent that adds to the pleasure of being in the garden.

Equally beautiful are the bright orange tubular flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) that are coming into bloom. These attract the nectar-feeding Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared sunbirds, Streaky-headed Seedeaters, Cape Weavers and Village Weavers as well as several butterflies.

Trusses of the beautiful pale blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) flowers are also starting to appear.

The first aloes are coming into bloom too and are visited regularly by the Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Streakyheaded Seedeaters, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Blackheaded Orioles and Cape White-eyes.

BLACK-COLLARED BARBET

It is such a pleasure when the loud synchronised duets of Black-collared Barbets (Lybius torquatus) float through the trees and an even greater one when these birds are visible in the garden. At the moment we regularly see up to four of them coming to the feeding station, working their way through the blossoms of the Erythrina caffra for nectar, or perched in the fig tree.

The Black-collared Barbet is common in South Africa and mainly eat fruit – the wild figs appear to be a favourite, although they are not averse to the apples I put out. These barbets also eat insects and nectar.