NOVEMBER 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

November is a month that seems to have sped by. I have been on the road more than usual and we have had inconvenient time slots for power outages – all of which have contributed to the late posting of my monthly overview of the birds visiting our garden. The third of November heralded the blooming of the first Pompon tree flowers and now our garden is brightened with the trees covered in beautiful pink blossoms.

November is also the start of having pesky mosquitoes around and is the time from which I can expect ants, spiders and beetles to land on me from the shady branches I sit under whilst watching birds! The first bird to draw my attention was a Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul displaying the avian version of panting in the heat – called gular fluttering.

We have experienced temperatures of up to 36°C, so there has been need for all of us to pant a little! Red-eyed Doves are more sensible and generally remain within the shade of the trees and have seldom been seen in the open during the hottest parts of the day. The heat has meant that Cape White-eyes have been visiting the nectar feeder regularly – they have also been enjoying the apples and pears. The Bronze Manikins continue to delight as they fill the feeders with their little bodies.

While the Laughing Doves generally gather in the nearby trees for at least twenty minutes before coming down to feed, there are always a few of them that prefer to filch seed from the feeder rather than joining the masses on the ground. I found the antics of this one particularly amusing.

Southern Masked Weavers have been kept busy feeding their chicks. I enjoy watching them stuff their beaks with fruit to feed their chicks perched nearby. At one point this month the Cape Weavers appeared to be the dominant weaver in the garden. They have now been usurped by Village Weavers.

The Common Fiscals have also been taking food away for their chicks. Meneer still seems to prefer the titbits I offer in my hand rather than helping himself from the dish. While on the subject of feeding, it has been interesting to note that the Black-headed Orioles have shown a definite preference for meat over fruit, which makes me think they too might be feeding chicks hidden somewhere in the dense foliage.

To round off, the Hadeda Ibis chick has made the successful progress from being nest-bound to walking around the garden in the company of one or both parents.

My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo-Shrike
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pin-tailed Whydah
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

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BEAUTIFUL BRONZE MANNIKINS

Among the most delightful of the avian visitors to our garden are the Bronze Mannikins (Spermestes cucullata), which are among smallest birds in South Africa. I think they are truly delightful little birds and often regard them as feathered bundles of happiness.

Males and females look alike: they have grey bills and blackish heads with white underparts and brown barring on their sides. The metallic green patch of feathers on their shoulders stands out in the sunlight. By contrast, the immature birds are pale brown above with buff head and underpart plumage.

Having observed them in our garden for several years now, I get the impression that they are very cheerful and busy little birds – even though I have seen males being fairly aggressive towards one another, especially during the breeding season. They flutter about like falling leaves and make what I regard as cheerful calls. This one is taking time out from feeding to do some personal grooming.

Bronze Mannikins are dependent on water and regularly visit one of several bird baths situated in our garden. Although I usually see them in fairly large flocks, they tend to be very skittish and flick their wings and tail when anxious or alarmed. They take flight as a group to the nearest shelter and return to feeding very cautiously once they feel it is safe to do so.

These birds are voracious eaters: the level in my feeder goes down noticeably whenever they come to visit! Bronze Mannikins mainly eat grass seeds supplemented with insects. In my garden they appear to be equally happy to use the hanging bird feeders or to forage on the ground. I usually leave a patch of wild grass to go to seed in my back garden during the autumn and winter: it is wonderful watching these tiny birds bending the grass stems as they feed on the seeds.

I was interested to read the other day that these birds fall prey to both the Fork-tailed Drongos and the Common Fiscals – as well as cats, of course. It took weeks for them to approach the feeders with confidence after our neighbouring cats began coming into the garden.

OCTOBER SESTET

My untidy, overgrown garden is akin to a poem – a poem that changes with the seasons and the light. On this hot afternoon I walked across the unmown grass to admire this clambering rose that has wound its way through a tangle of undergrowth from the terrace below to grace the top of the Dais cotinifolia trees. From that lofty spot it almost glows in the late afternoon light and the white flowers remain luminous until there is no longer a vestige of light left in the sky. It rains white petals throughout the day.

I turn to admire the patch of flowers that I nurture as best I can with little water at my disposal. They provide cheer on sight.

While engaged in this admiration, my attention is drawn to the bird feeder being visited by Bronze Manikins.

I turn to see how the nasturtiums are doing in their pots and am greeted by these happy colours.

Next to them are the pink flowers from a broken off twig that I once picked up in the veld.

Now, covered with tiny praying mantids and an assortment of minute insects that have leapt off the unmown grass, I retrace my steps to enjoy the much cooler interior of my home when I spy a bird hopping about the branches. It obligingly steps into the sunlight to reveal itself as a female Pintailed Whydah.

I said my garden is a poem – more accurately it may be the kind of sonnet that draws attention to this and that aspect of it. If that is so, regard these pictures as the sestet that rounds off the exploration of a garden filled with life.

SEPTEMBER 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

Despite having been away for a while, this has proved to be a satisfying month of birdwatching in my garden. At night and during the early hours of most mornings we are serenaded by a Fiery-necked Nightjar. An African Darter has flown over ‘my’ airspace a few times in order to make my list and Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbuls have made cheerful forays to the feeding table. The sounds of cuckoos can be heard – the Piet-my-Vrou (Red-chested Cuckoo) is another clear sign that spring is here to stay.

On that note, while the sun rises ever earlier, the mornings remain fairly chilly and so it is not surprising to find a flock of Bronze Mannikins gathered in the branches of a Dais cotonifolia to warm up for a while before their breakfast:

I feature the Common Fiscals a lot in these posts, largely because they are such characters and are photogenic to boot. Spotty has even brought a chick along to the feeding area to see what the offerings are. The biggest surprise for me though was the sighting of the only female Common Fiscal I have ever seen in our garden. She did not appear to be connected to either Spotty or Meneer and I have not seen her since. Note the chestnut flanks that characterise the females:

As you can see, I have purchased a new feeder – I’m not sure how well this configuration is being received, but the other one requires a thorough cleaning (when we get a reasonable supply of water again!). Here a Southern Masked Weaver is trying it out accompanied by Bronze Mannikins:

A Grey-headed Sparrow is enjoying a solo feeding session:

Also catching the morning sun whilst keeping an eye out for the neighbouring cats are these Laughing Doves:

I mentioned the Hadeda Ibis nest last month. So far there is no sign of either eggshells at the base or chicks on the nest, so the eggs are still being incubated:

My bird list for this month:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
Yellow Weaver

APRIL 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

Not only is this post woefully late, but this is probably the shortest bird list for a long time – mainly because I was away from our garden for half of the month! Once again, photographs have been sourced from my archives.

A pair of Southern Boubous creep out from the thicket behind the bird feeders once they have established that the coast is clear. The first port of call is the birdbath on a stand before one or other ventures down to inspect the feeding tray. Laughing Doves still congregate in the trees or on the telephone cable, but are a lot more wary about fluttering down to feed on the ground. Perhaps they too wish to make certain there are no cats around before they do. It is very pleasing to hear the happy chirps from the weavers after their absence. Southern Masked Weavers were the first to return and now Village Weavers are making a come-back.

Several Speckled Pigeons keep watch on proceedings from the roof – one roosts on our bathroom window every night!

Olive Thrushes still call from within the trees and shrubs, yet have become shyer about coming out in the open since the neighbouring cats appeared. By contrast, it is lovely to both see and hear Red-winged Starlings in ever-increasing numbers as the figs begin to ripen on the Natal fig tree. It is always a pleasure to see a Black-headed Oriole.

Several Black-eyed Bulbuls chatter merrily in the foliage before tucking into the fruit put out for them.

There is plenty of natural fruit and seeds around to attract Cape White-eyes as well as the Speckled Mousebirds that are such fun to observe.

I will round off April’s round-up of garden birds with the real stalwarts, the Bronze Manikins, that arrive daily to flit about the feeder – always shifting up to make room for yet another one to join them there.

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Common Fiscal
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift