BIRDS AND ANIMALS

I have mentioned before how Cattle Egrets are frequently seen in the proximity of the Urban Herd, quick to catch any insects disturbed whilst the cattle are grazing.

We saw several examples of a similar relationship in the Addo Elephant National Park. The first was a pair of Fiscal Shrikes hovering around these Warthogs as they scuffled around in the dry grass for food.

Next up was a pair of Cape Glossy Starlings keeping a close watch for whatever the Zebra may have disturbed while grazing.

A Cattle Egret found several insects to eat next to this Zebra.

This one hitched a ride on the back of a Cape Buffalo!

While this Cape Wagtail had a feast in the company of a Warthog next to the Hapoor Waterhole.

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SATARA (2)

KRUGER NATIONAL PARK – SATARA (2)

Birding is an adventure around almost every corner in the Kruger National Park – even though the rain initially put a dampener on this activity. One’s experience starts in the camp on rising: a variety of birds from Redbilled Buffalo Weavers and Crested Barbets to Grey Louries and Great Sparrows – as well as starlings and Arrow-marked Babblers – scratched around in the leaf debris of the trees we were camping next to. From the first morning I was made very aware of the new world of birds that awaited me.

crested barbet

Cape Glossy Starlings abound, attracting one to their presence by their beautiful blue metallic sheen and bright orange eyes. One cheeky bird alighted on the counter of the camp kitchen and stole a slice of sausage from my pan while I was cooking! Burchell’s Starlings are reasonably easy to recognise from their longer tails, while I found the Greater Blue-eared Starlings more difficult to recognise in the field.

capeglossystarling

Spurfowl are abundant too, especially on the road early in the mornings and towards sunset. Swainson’s Spurfowl and Natal Spurfowl seemed to be the most common – several of the latter wandered around Satara Camp too – although we also saw Crested Francolin from time to time.

Natal spurfowl

What a delight to find Brown-headed Parrots feeding on the long pods of the Long-tail Cassia tree right next to our tent!

Brownheaded parrot

It is always interesting to see familiar ‘garden birds’ in a game reserve and there were plenty of Laughing Doves and Cape Turtle Doves around. Although I saw Namaqua Doves once, it is the African Mourning Dove that was dominant in the camp and at the various picnic spots where we stopped. Its melodious call became familiar to us during the week we were in Satara.

African Mourning Dove

Of course the Lilac-breasted Rollers are magnificent looking birds. They are eye-catching, both when sporting their beautiful blue feathers in flight and when perched conspicuously on the top of bushes and old tree stumps. Their presence brightened up any drive.

lilac-breasted roller

The Purple Rollers are beautiful to look at too.

purple roller

What I find interesting is that in our home garden, the Burchell’s Coucals are heard far more often than they are seen, preferring to skulk around in the thick foliage. Here they are commonly seen flying across the short amber grass to perch in low bushes, often right next to the road! These birds have a special place in my heart, for many years ago we raised a fledgling that had fallen out of a nest and broken its leg. In the then Eastern Transvaal, where I grew up, Burchell’s Coucals were commonly referred to as ‘rain birds’ for their calls were a welcome sound during periods of prolonged heat and drought: many people believed this presaged the coming of rain.

Burchell's coucal

A spectacular surprise awaited us in a dip where the S100 road crosses the N’wanetsi River. A mecca of birds were in and near the water: Saddle-billed Storks, Marabou Storks, Spoonbills, Egyptian Geese, Hamerkops, a Pied Kingfisher, Goliath heron, Blacksmith Plovers, a Great Egret, Woolly-necked Storks, Fish Eagles, a Black-headed Heron, Common Ringed Plovers, Common Moorhen, a Little Bittern, Yellow-billed Storks and a Squacco Heron all in one place!

saddlebilled stork

This was a magical place to park for a while in order to watch the mating rituals of the Yellow-billed Storks and the efficiency with which the Pied Kingfisher and the Hamerkops speared their prey.

yellow-billed storks

While this feast for the eyes was going on at water level, another fantastic spectacle was unfolding in the tall riverine trees: a pair of African Hawk Eagles flew about in impressive mating displays while – we presume – a juvenile remained perched in the top of one of the enormous trees lining the river bank.

African Hawk Eagle

It was equally exciting to watch the flight of those magnificent, iconic birds, the African Fish Eagles as they swooped down from their high perches or circled above us. Their call is a distinctive and thrilling one.

African Fish Eagle
The area around Satara afforded us the opportunity to see interesting and beautiful birds such as the Bronze-winged Coursers right next to the road.

Bronzewinged Courser

Another was a Golden-tailed Woodpecker working its way through an old log near a waterhole. Southern White-crowned Shrikes would appear from nowhere – usually in a most difficult spot (such as against the sun) for photographs.

Golden-tailed Woodpecker

 

southern white-crowned shrike

Generally speaking, I have found the photographic field guide, Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan, a useful companion to my trusty and well-thumbed Roberts’ Bird Guide. The Magpie Shrike is a good example of a bird easily identified in flight when the distinctive white patterns in their wings (as illustrated in Roberts’) are clearly visible. Seeing one perched on a branch with the white back showing was puzzling at first – that is where the photographic evidence came up trumps!

Magpie Shrike

There is always something to see in the KNP!

A BOKSBURG GARDEN

A BOKSBURG GARDEN

Having experienced the push, squeeze, swerve and shove of the Gauteng traffic to reach Boksburg, it was a happy surprise to wake up to a chorus of cape turtle doves, grey louries, redeyed doves, and the cheeping of Cape sparrows. I discovered later that a pair of the latter were kept very busy feeding their chick.

Through my half-opened curtains I spotted several speckled mousebirds methodically working their way through a bed of rosemary and red-veined spinach. Then I heard the distinctive call of a crested barbet – a sound that immediately transported me back to the farm garden of my youth, where my mother often referred to these barbets as ‘clown birds’ because of their colouring.

crestedbarbet

The sight of a hoopoe sunning itself on the garden bench quickly drew me outside to find my own spot in the sun and to enjoy what this Boksburg garden had to offer for the rest of my stay. Often there were two hoopoes poking their strong beaks into the kikuyu lawn in search of food.

hoopoe

What a pleasure it is to spend time in this garden which has so much to offer, from a cheekily cheerful frog to a variety of palm trees, shrubs and even a seasoned tree stump. There is a richness on offer in an apparently restricted space which actually carries no restriction.

gardenfrog

treestump

For example, it wasn’t long before I discovered that the closely clipped yesterday-today-and-tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) growing at the edge of the lush, even lawn, hides a rich, fertile compost heap.

compost

While the compost itself adds to the quality of the soil in the garden, it also carries within it a bounty such as this enormous Kentucky Blue pumpkin, the last of the ‘free’ crop.

pumpkin

It has also spawned a riot of juicy cherry tomatoes which have colonised flower pots as well as the tiniest of spaces around the perimeter of the lawn. So prolific have they been that bags of the plump red, sweet fruit already reside in the home freezer for later use in bredies, soups and sauces. Even so, I picked a colander full of them – leaving plenty more for another day – for supper one afternoon and have since happily transplanted some seedlings to my own garden.

cherrytomatoes

Nothing goes to waste: self-sown seedlings of the red-veined spinach have been transplanted into a raised bed and along the edge of the patio. I can attest how delicious these leaves are in salads. Flowers, vegetables and trees, including a pomegranate, vie for space below the clear, bright blue sky, so typical of summer on the Highveld. There is even a self-sown cabbage tree growing from the trunk of a palm tree!

verbena

profusion of pots

pomegranate

cabbagetree

Apart from Sheba, one of the two resident hounds and a cat, it is the birdlife that enhances the tranquillity of this garden in spite of the regular roar of planes taking off from and landing at the nearby OR Tambo Airport.
Each day I delighted in watching the Cape turtle doves either chasing each other around the perimeter of the bird bath or sunning themselves on a patch of open ground.

Sheba

Common mynahs flitted past the bright purple bougainvillea and skeins of sacred ibises flew overhead.

sacredibis

I first ‘met’ a kurrichane thrush while camping in the Okovango Swamps many years ago – and have since become used to the olive thrushes that dart about my garden in the Eastern Cape. In this Boksburg garden I never tired of watching the kurrichane thrushes work over the lawn, their heads thrust to one side or scratching around the edges of the compost heap.

kurrichanethrush

The appearance of redheaded finches reminded me of our happy camping trips to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

redheadedfinch
While the Cape glossy starlings stirred my sense of anticipation for our forthcoming trip to the Kruger National Park.

capeglossystarling

Grey louries regularly visited the garden in the early mornings to feed on apple quarters and returned in the late afternoons.

greylourie

One afternoon I was startled by a black harrier swooping low after a redeyed dove. I cannot tell what happened for the two birds disappeared behind the house in a flash.

redeyeddove

Cape wagtails are a strong link to my own garden, to which I would soon return.

capewagtail

This Boksburg garden is truly a tranquil haven and a blissful place in which to unwind.

Over the course of a week I saw the following birds:

Black harrier
Blackeyed bulbul
Cape glossy starling
Cape sparrow
Cape turtle dove
Cape wagtail
Cape white-eye
Common mynah
Crested barbet
Darter
Egyptian goose
Grey heron
Grey lourie
Hadeda ibis
Hoopoe
Kurrichane thrush
Laughing dove
Pied crow
Redbilled woodhoopoe
Redeyed dove
Redheaded finch
Rock pigeon
Sacred ibis
Southern masked weaver
Speckled mousebird
Whiterumped swift

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