NOVEMBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The heat and drought continues unabated, yet I have been blessed with another bumper month of bird-watching in our garden. Delightful visitors are the Black-eyed Bulbuls (their new name, Dark-capped Bulbul, doesn’t trip off my tongue yet) that frequent both the nectar feeder and partake of the cut apples, although I have occasionally seen them hawking insects too. Here a pair of them are seeking some respite in the shade.

The Black-headed Oriole is always a welcome visitor to the nectar feeder. It swoops down now and then to feed on apples too.

This Bronze Mannikin is perched on a branch with its beak agape while it waits for a turn at the seed feeder – mostly dominated by Southern Masked Weavers and Streaky-headed Seedeaters. Although they are said to eat fruit and nectar, I have not observed them doing either in our garden.

The Common Fiscal is a regular visitor – quite happy to inspect my breakfast or what we are having to eat with our mid-morning tea – and is often the first to inspect what has been placed on the feeding tray. There are two: one without a ring and this one that has been ringed. Checking through my archived photographs, the latter has been seen in our garden over a couple of years and must be resident near here. Both have been collecting fruit and flying off to what I presume is a nest in a neighbouring garden.

As much as we often malign Common Starlings in this country, they can be amusing to watch. They tend to perch on the telephone wire above the feeding area to assess the availability of food then come down straight, akin to the landing of a helicopter, to guzzle whatever is there as quickly as possible. This one appears to be voicing its dissatisfaction that a pair of Redwinged Starlings beat it to the apple.

I have mentioned before how important it is to provide water for the birds to drink and bathe in during this hot and dry period. This Laughing Dove is making its way to one of the bird baths, with very little water in it – I filled it up after taking this photograph. The bird baths get filled twice, and sometimes even three times a day of late.

There is a saga attached to the Lesser-striped Swallows which I will relate in another post.

The daily sound of the squeaky ‘kweek, kweek, kweek’ notes emanating from the Red-throated Wryneck has been frustrating as this bird has been so difficult to locate! I used the binoculars and managed to get a better photograph of this warbler-like bird from an upstairs window yesterday – see how well it blends into the lichen-covered branches of the Tipuana tree.

I cannot resist showing you this picture of a Red-winged Starling about to tuck into an apple.

The Speckled Mousebirds are going to bag a post of their own soon. Meanwhile, this one is waiting for an opportunity to eat the apples on the tray below. Note how well it too blends into its surroundings.

My November bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow-billed Kite

BEATING THE HEAT

With the temperature rising towards 38°C it was not surprising to find the bird baths in our garden being well attended. During one of the quieter moments I watched a Black-eyed Bulbul first considering and then taking the plunge.

The water looks tempting

Perhaps I’ll go in on this side

Nose dive!

What a splash!

Look at me!

That was good!

BLACK-EYED BULBUL

This is going to spoil my planned introduction – I know they are now known as Dark-capped Bulbuls. However, compare them with both the Red-eyed Bulbul and the Cape Bulbul and you will note the real difference is in their eyes and not the cap they wear! So, Black-eyed Bulbul it will remain.

Eyes are said to be the mirror to our souls and are known to be the source of unspoken communication. The term ‘black eye’ brings to mind fist fights, pain and abuse. Yet, seemingly black eyes are impenetrable and can be seductive. Think of Bess in The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes:

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

It is not surprising that black has been used as a form of eye decoration at least since the days of the Egyptians.

Now the birds: The dark face of the Black-eyed Bulbul absorbs its dark eyes and incorporates that sharp beak. Rather drab looking birds, one might say, except for the bright patch of yellow under the tail.

blackeyedbulbul

Black-eyed bulbuls are cheery, cheeky, opportunistic and loud. They are quick to investigate a new source of food and are not averse to chasing off any other bird – especially Cape White-eyes – wishing to partake of it. The Black-headed Orioles are the only ones they seem to give way for without hesitation. They are not as intimidated by the Black-collared Barbets though and simply hide behind a branch when approached at the feeding tray.

I have watched them hopping on the lawn, head cocked to one side, before homing in on an item of food. Their heads are never still; they always seem to be searching for something or on the lookout for danger.

blackeyedbulbul

They swoop down to bear away crusts of bread to eat on a branch or greedily gobble the bread or grapes, stuffing the food into their beaks as quickly as possible, oblivious to the presence of weavers and other birds around them, so that they can search for another morsel.

They generally tuck into the juicy flesh of an apple or pear with gusto. I have seen them flitting through the bush seeking ripe cross berry fruit or picking off the aphids on the wild sage. During winter they feed on the abundant nectar of the aloes and can often be observed eating the flower petals of the Erythrina trees. They visit the fig tree too. When it is fruiting season, they tend to pick off a fig and fly away with it to consume while perched on the branch of another tree.

blackeyedbulbul

Black-eyed Bulbuls chirrup in between taking a beakful of food. They can mimic the calls of others too and have, on more than one occasion, chased other birds from the feeding tray by sounding an alarm that send the others scurrying while the Black-eyed Bulbuls settle down to feast on whatever is on offer!

There is a pair of Black-eyed Bulbuls that tend to call from the bushes and the treetops during the course of the morning before coming down to the lawn in the late afternoon to forage what other birds might have left: bread crumbs, seeds, or bits of fruit. After eating, they meticulously wipe their beaks on the thin dry stems of the Leonatis leonuris or on the lichen-covered branches of a nearby Pompon tree.

In the past I have observed a pair of bulbuls taking turns to stuff their beaks with apple and flying straight to their nest to feed their chicks. Later, the young bulbuls are drawn to the source of the food where they spread and flutter their wings while opening their gaping mouths and making appealing twitters as the adults feed them as quickly as they can.

I enjoy watching them preening themselves by stretching out each wing in turn to be ‘nibbled’ at. This activity is generally followed by a splash in the bird bath.