WORLD WILDLIFE DAY 2021

It is becoming increasingly important to be aware of, and to celebrate, the diversity of species of flora and fauna that inhabit our world. Expanding human populations with the consequent need for land, homes, factories and warehouses are making large inroads into sensitive habitats that support our diverse wildlife – in whatever form. I offer these photographs in celebration of World Wildlife Day:

The Erythrina humeana or Dwarf Lucky Bean tree occurs along the coastal belt and the midlands of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Mpumalanga into Mozambique. There is one growing on a pavement in one of the suburbs where I live.

Blue Cranes are South Africa’s national bird and prefer open grasslands, where they forage for food while walking. Their numbers have been decreasing in the Eastern Cape and so I was delighted to come across these birds not far from town.

Cabbage trees occur in the bushveld, along forest margins, in mixed deciduous woodlands and among rocky outcrops. This one is growing in my garden.

While the Leopard Tortoise – the largest tortoise in South Africa – is not considered a threatened species, predators of the juveniles include rock monitors, storks, crows and small carnivores. Veld fires and passing traffic are also a danger to them.

Black-collared Barbets occur widely across Africa and are always welcome visitors to our garden.

It is difficult to choose between the many flowers, birds, butterflies, reptiles, trees, grasses and so on that occur here and so I will leave you with this magnificent pair of Kudu walking through the bushveld.

JANUARY 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

I often feel as if the garden birds make a special effort to show themselves at the start of a new year: 48 different species recorded this month! There are probably others that pay the garden a visit that I do not see. As with so much in nature, it is a case of being in the right place at the right time. So it is that although I have recorded two more bird species than I did last January, a significant number were not on that list – and several from there are not on this one.

The bright sun and high temperatures were not conducive to sitting patiently outside with camera in hand, so most of the photographs in this post come from my archives. Two exciting visitors for me have been an African Firefinch – I have not recorded one here for at least twenty years – which perched tantalisingly on a branch above me one morning and hasn’t made an appearance since. The other is a pair of Common Waxbills, which have stuck around for the past three weeks. They are delightful birds that I have often seen on the other side of town. Three interesting ‘fly-overs’ are a Black-headed Heron, Sacred Ibises and an Egyptian Goose.

Black-collared Barbets are regular visitors and it didn’t take them long to realise that I had moved all the bird feeders to the other side of the garden. This was partly so that I could enjoy a better cover of shade now that the daily temperatures have increased so much and partly to flummox a band of rats that were feasting on the fallen seed.

Although I regularly put fruit out for the birds, the pair of Knysna Turacos seldom partake of it. Rather, they more frequently come down from their treetop wanderings to drink or bathe in one of the bird baths that I keep filled with fresh water.

Olive Thrushes are such delightful visitors that I cannot resist posting yet another photograph of one.

When I first noted the Streaky-headed Seedeaters they seemed to be confined to the back garden, only venturing to the front garden once the main gathering of birds had completed their initial feasting for the day. Now they are among the first to occupy the feeders once I have filled them in the morning, and they are often among the latest feeders at the end of the day. This one was not photographed in my garden.

My January bird list:

African Firefinch
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Heron
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Diederik Cuckoo
Egyptian Goose
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Thick-billed Weaver
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow Weaver

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.