GETTING TO GRIPS WITH FOOD

One needs to get a firm grip on one’s food if you are not going to miss it – or fall off your perch. You can tell birds were not consulted when this feeder was designed. I need to get a good grip here by holding onto the grid as there isn’t much space for two feet.

Village Weaver

Landing can be rather awkward – even if you are a tad more elegantly proportioned. At least we can be more comfortably seated for snacking once that has been accomplished.

Bronze Mannikins

This is an elegant way to perch.

Village Weaver

Actually eating is not always comfortable though.

Southern Masked Weaver

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

MORNING MEETING

“We need to discuss the dry state of our world”, said the Speckled Mousebird while perching on a sturdy twig of the plum tree that had finally succumbed to one drought too many. Its mates cuddled together and watched the proceedings from on high as the Olive Thrush flew up to perch next to him – keeping a beady eye out for any sign of food below. “Fruit would be good,” it said mournfully, “or even a beetle or two. I haven’t seen a worm for weeks.” The Mousebird made a dry rattling noise in the back of its throat and fluffed out its tail feathers. “There are no buds, no flowers and very few insects – not a berry to be seen.”

“Always complaining, whining and moaning,” mumbled the one Bronze Manikin to the other, its beak filled with seeds. “That’s the problem when you want gourmet meals with so-called variety!” “Eat up,” its companion said,”I can hear the weavers coming!”

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.

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