FEBRUARY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The Olive Thrush was the first to make it onto my February bird list. I have featured these lovely birds several times as they are a joy to watch in the garden. As dry as it is, they still manage to find food by turning over the fallen leaves and keeping a beady eye out for anything that moves in what is left of the lawn. They relish the apples I put out too.

February has been a busy month for me, leaving me not nearly enough time to enjoy the avian visitors to the garden. Two very welcome first-time visitors this month have been a White-starred Robin – the first time I have ever seen one in our garden – and a Brown-hooded Kingfisher. I have heard the calls of the latter for several weeks, but this month it was out in the open more than once.

The Speckled Pigeons are flourishing. This couple was eyeing the seeds on the ground below them.

It cannot be an easy time for the birds now as the plants have dried to brittleness in the scorching heat and nothing new is growing thanks to an ongoing lack of rain. I fill the bird baths several times daily and provide a supply of seeds and fruit. The Bronze Manikins eat the seeds either early in the morning or later in the afternoon, once the main rush of feeding birds has gone.

The nectar feeder has to be topped up regularly too in this hot and dry weather. Here a female Amethyst Sunbird pays it a fleeting visit.

Birds must be tougher creatures than they look, for I see and hear them daily. While this month’s list is shorter than I recorded for last month, I feel privileged to still enjoy their company.

My February bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barn Swallow
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Cape Robin
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver
White Starred Robin
White-rumped Swift

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger image.

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BRONZE MANNIKIN

The arrival of flocks of Bronze Mannikins (Spermestes cucullata) always lifts my spirits as they flutter together, some almost stepping on others, to alight on the bird feeder or a branch. They are delightful birds to watch. Males and females look alike, the bronze-green shoulder patches are shown to best advantage when they catch the sunlight.

Their call is a high pitched ‘tsree tsree tsree’, with a sharp ‘krr krr krr’ alarm call. My well treed garden is ideal for them as their preferred habitat is the edges of thickets and the secondary growth in gardens. The availability of water is important to them as they drink often. Out of breeding season, the Bronze Mannikins occur in flocks of up to 30 – it isn’t always easy to count them though as they are constantly on the move.

These tiny birds rapidly fly into cover when they are disturbed. However, it isn’t only the trees that provide shelter for them in my garden and the provision of bird baths that attract them to the garden, but the patches of wild grass that I leave to go to seed in various parts of the garden and, of course the fine seed I put out every day for the seed eating birds.

MAY 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an in-between month for watching birds in the garden. Several days have passed with no need to top of the seed in the feeders; during some mornings or afternoons the garden has been silent – as if all avian life had departed for a different planet. Several aloes have bloomed and faded with nary a visitor … then, just when you think some plague has hit, Redwinged Starlings fly over in large flocks to settle in the branches of the Erythrina caffra; the cheerful sound of weavers spill through the jungle of leaves threaded together by the Canary Creeper and the Golden Shower; and flocks of tiny Bronze Manikins cluster around the feeder or flit through the creepers, constantly ‘chatting’ as they do so. Here is one of them:

African Green Pigeons play hide-and-seek, calling mysteriously either from the Natal Fig or the Erythrina caffra during the late afternoon – perhaps when they come to roost – but provide only fleeting glimpses of themselves. A pair of Knysna Turacos purr and snort softly within their leafy world – they move silently for such large birds – so I felt privileged watching them flitting through the foliage the other day and drink from the stone bird bath situated in the shade. The Black-collared Barbets are also heard more often than they are seen these days, although three of them spent a leisurely time feeding on the apples I had put out this morning.

Black-headed Orioles call from the tree tops almost daily and occasionally come to the nectar feeder:

I simply have to share again a photograph of one of the Crowned Hornbills that graced our garden for a few days before exploring somewhere else:

It is an odd time of the year to be hearing the familiar calls of Klaas’ Cuckoo and a tad disappointing to see so little of the Cape Robins, although they continue to sing quietly from deep within the undergrowth. Waves of Cattle Egrets pass over every evening, having kept the Urban Herd company during the day, as they head for their chosen roosting trees in the centre of town. May is an in-between month of warm days followed by cold; of a warm Berg Wind shaking leaves from trees heralding days of gloomy skies and dampness; it is a month of weak sunshine and dark nights … the birds may come and go, but there are always enough around to provide real pleasure!

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Egyptian Goose
Eurasian Hobby
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver
Yellowbilled Kite

AUGUST 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

AUGUST 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

How different each month is from another – and one month in one year from the same month in another. Birding is not a static occupation at all for the birds do not always follow a predictable pattern of movement.

The Klaas’ Cuckoo, for example, has not yet made its presence heard, while the Black Cuckoo is already telling us in the most mournful drawn out tones that “I am sick” – that is how its call is described in the Roberts Bird Guide. It certainly sounds very melancholy. Last August the Pin-tailed Whydahs were out in force. This month I have seen only one – a male – whose tail feathers are gradually getting longer.

The Bronze Manikins are so pleased that I have managed to source some fine bird seed at last and compete for space on the bird feeder early in the afternoon during the lull between the morning and late afternoon rush by the weavers and the Laughing Doves.

Burchell’s Coucals on the other hand make waking a pleasure. Their cascading bubbling sounds soon compete, however, with the musical notes of the Cape Robin that stations itself near my bedroom window.

It is also lovely hearing the cheerful cackling sounds of the Red-billed Wood-Hoopoes. I watched a pair of them for at least half an hour the other morning as they used their long beaks to probe for insects behind the peeling bark of the older trees, investigated the masses of air plants, and even pecked at the bread spread with fat at the feeding station. I know their name has been changed to Green Wood-Hoopoe and that the illustration in the Roberts Bird Guide clearly indicates a green iridescent sheen. Perhaps this colouring only becomes evident in the sunlight? I could not spot it as the birds flitted about the foliage and in the shade of the trees in the front garden.

The synchronised duets of both the Southern Boubou and the Black-headed Orioles have become more evident in recent weeks. Both have been frequenting the feeding station more often recently – the orioles appearing as a pair more often than not.

I saw six Fork-tailed Drongos in the Erythrina tree yesterday morning, although I regularly only see two of them at a time in the garden. Streakyheaded Canaries are back: feeding on the Cape Honeysuckle blossoms and, occasionally visiting the seed tray.

Forktailed Drongo

My August list is:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green Woodhoopoe)
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver

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!

JANUARY 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

JANUARY 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

I have made you wait for the result of hours spent staring up at the nest of the Lesser-striped Swallows, camera weighing ever more heavily, hoping for an opportunity to capture one of them peeping out of the nest. Here it is:

lessserstripedswallowinnest

Thanks to the interest some of you have shown in the fate of this pair of swallows ever since their original nest fell down (see THE HOUSE THE SWALLOWS BUILT 2nd December 2014), I have been especially vigilant about checking on their progress.

It appears that Lesser-striped Swallows have a tendency to return to the same nest every year. Certainly we have had a pair nesting in the same place under the eaves for several years already – and feel rather privileged to be hosting them.They are not the only pair in the suburb, for during some late afternoons I have counted sixteen or more of these beautiful birds flying across the garden or wheeling into the air whilst emitting their characteristically high-pitched ‘chip’ and ‘treep, treep’ sounds.

Their flight patterns remind me of the poem D. H. Lawrence wrote called Bat. In it he aptly describes the movement of swallows as “spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.”

The other day I was alarmed to note how much energy this breeding pair expended on repeatedly chasing off an aggressive pair of Fork-tailed Drongos, which are known to eat young birds. I wonder if they actually raid nests and were the cause of the first nest collapsing?

This has been a bumper month for watching birds in my garden. Some Southern Masked-weavers have been spotted among the regular flock of Village Weavers that descend on the garden in search of food. I have never seen them in large numbers.

It is evident that some of the Village Weavers are in the process of moulting: I regularly see a few with a feather sticking out awry and this morning had a wing feather float down to land on my tea tray. Looking at it closely, I see the edges look worn although the rest of the feather looks fine to my eye.

I attended an interesting series of lectures this week and discovered that the Bronze Mannikin has only been noted in our town since 1994 and since then has become so well established that it breeds in this area. African Green Pigeons arrived here in 2005 and can now be seen or heard daily – as I can testify from those who call from their well-camouflaged perches in the fig tree – and have also been known to breed here. Interestingly enough, there has been no sign of a Pin-tailed Whydah so far this year. I have not even heard one in the neighbourhood.

My January list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Black Harrier
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Darter
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Flycatcher
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red Bishop
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Southern Masked-weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellowfronted Canary