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

 

AUGUST 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

AUGUST 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

What a rewarding month this has been for watching birds in my garden! A flock of Bronze Manikins (Lonchura cucullata) were the first to fly onto my list. I love watching these tiny birds fluttering like leaves from branch to branch; nestling close to each other at the seed tray; dropping so lightly onto the ground; and seeming to move everywhere in groups. I often see them sitting on the edge of the bird bath shortly before sunset, taking turns at dipping their beaks into the water and flying up to perch in either the Pompon tree or Plumbago growing nearby.

I have mentioned before that the Klaas’ Cuckoo is making itself heard calling stridently across the valley. These days we hear the calls from early in the mornings and at intervals throughout the day.

A most welcome visitor to the garden this month is the Malachite Sunbird. I was beginning to wonder if they were going to skip us this season when I caught sight of its magnificently irridescent emerald metallic sheen and long tail flitting among the scarlet flowers of the Erythrina caffra and the orange tubes of the Golden Shower creeper and Cape honeysuckle.

This morning a Knysna Lourie (also known as the Knysna Turaco) flitted silently through the tops of the trees in the front garden, affording me a beautiful view of the sun highlighting its bright red primary feathers as it flew into the fig tree and out of sight.

A Bokmakierie paid a rare visit to the feeding table only to be chased off by one of a pair of Forktailed Drongos that have commandeered this as part of their territory. It is interesting to observe that while the drongos tend not to take food directly from the table, they are adept at stealing food from the beaks of other birds in mid-flight! Many a weaver has flown off with a large titbit to eat elsewhere and has been robbed of its booty in this way.

The Pintailed Whydahs are out in force now. I counted ten of them in the garden yesterday, only three of which were females. The males are changing into their black and white sartorial splendour, the length of their tail feathers seemingly increasing by the day.

My August list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver

JUNE 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

JUNE 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

It was the resident flock of Laughing Doves that ‘flew’ onto my bird list first this month. I find them fascinating to watch and have discovered they are not without wit either.

When the seed I had scattered on the ground had been gobbled up by all and sundry, I once observed a Laughing Dove edge ever closer to the bird feeder frequented by the weavers, Bronze Manikins and canaries. After days of trial and error, a Laughing Dove at last managed to get a grip for long enough to grab a seed or two from the now wildly swinging feeder. Practise makes perfect and within a few days one dove at least could balance on the edge for long enough to get some satisfaction from that source of seeds.

Several weeks later I saw two frenzied flapping Laughing doves clinging onto the feeder to extract as many seeds as they could before losing their balance. This is not a regular occurrence and so they may have been two particularly innovative birds.

It is interesting watching the Laughing Doves having a dust bath and then sitting on the ground with their wings fanned out. Sometimes one will lift a wing so that it sticks up and then lift the other. They frequently sit very close together when doing this.

There is obviously safety in numbers as far as they are concerned. A brief period of cautious waiting usually follows after I have scattered seed on the lawn. I have learned to be patient and watch as the doves first gather in the jacaranda tree on the pavement and then gradually edge closer through the trees to the branches of the acacia tree, which is closest to the food. It takes one dove – either brave enough or very hungry – to flutter down to begin the feast. Then the others descend en masse, initially feeding as closely together as possible before fanning out to find seed on the fringes.

Cattle Egrets were the last on my list this month. Newcomers are the Southern Black Tit, which I only see in our garden at this time of the year and – to my great excitement – a Cape Glossy Starling.

I happened to look out of my study window and there it was in all its shining glory in the Erythrina tree! This is a bird I have always associated with the Kruger National Park especially, although I also enjoy seeing them in the Addo Elephant National Park.

My June list is:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Crowned Plover
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Yellow Canary

An update for those who remain interested in the welfare of Daisy the Tortoise: having disappeared for several days, Daisy seems to have found a new sunny spot near the pool pump house and looks very contented.

Laughing dove side view