MARCH 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been the month for subtle seasonal changes. Whatever the calendar might suggest, nature knows what to do when. So it is that the Pin-tailed Whydah has lost his long tail feathers and the tweed of his winter coat is beginning to shine through his worn out tuxedo; the Cape Weavers no longer carry a deep blush; and the weavers in general are all looking a little tatty. Although the Lesser-striped Swallows departed for northern climes earlier in the month, a few White-rumped Swifts continue to fly low over the garden or can be seen twisting and turning high in the sky against the late afternoon light. Thankfully, the Hadeda Ibises are waking later now that the early mornings remain darker for longer!

A pair of Olive Thrushes either chase each other from the feeding area or appear singly to pick out food from the feeding tray and take it to the ground to eat.

A pair of Southern Boubous have become regular visitors to the feeder, usually only one at a time, and I hear them calling to each other during the day. The beautiful orange Cape Honeysuckle is coming into bloom and already the Southern Masked Weavers are biting the tubular flowers off at the base to get at the nectar.

Now that the Common Fiscals are no longer feeding their fledglings I see them less often. The tame one we call Meneer still alights on the garden table now and then to collect its personal handout. Speckled Pigeons seem to breed throughout the year. There are now a lot of them living in our roof!

These two Laughing Doves seem to have run out of things to say to each other.

A Cardinal Woodpecker announced its presence nearby recently with a typical rat-a-tat sound as it tapped at old wood for insects. It took me a little while to spot it through a tangle of shrubbery, where it was hammering away at the trunk of a long dead plum tree.

Green Woodhoopoes pay fleeting visits to the garden to probe old wood, between dry aloe leaves, and cracks for food. This one is a youngster, still lacking the bright beak and the patterns on its tail. It was exploring a tree in the company of several adults.

My bird list for this month:

Bar-throated Apalis

Black-collared Barbet

Black-eyed Bulbul

Black-headed Oriole

Bronze Mannikin

Cape Crow

Cape Robin-Chat

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Weaver

Cape White-eye

Cardinal Woodpecker

Cattle Egret

Common Fiscal

Common Starling

Fiery-necked Nightjar

Fork-tailed Drongo

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Green Woodhoopoe

Grey-headed Sparrow

Hadeda Ibis

Knysna Turaco

Laughing Dove

Olive Thrush

Pied Crow

Pin-tailed Whydah

Red-eyed Dove

Red-winged Starling

Sacred Ibis

Sombre Bulbul

Southern Boubou

Southern Masked Weaver

Speckled Mousebird

Speckled Pigeon

Streaky-headed Seedeater

Village Weaver

White-rumped Swift

IT KEEPS ON GIVING

The Cape Honeysuckle is a plant that keeps on giving. We look forward to its bright orange blooms every season, usually appearing at a time when the garden is looking rather drab. This blaze of colour is in our back garden, which tends to be neglected during winter.

Seen close-up, you can appreciate why the blossoms would be popular with pollinators such as ants, bees and butterflies.

There is plenty for everyone.

The tubular flowers are a favourite among the sunbirds. Here a Greater Double-collared Sunbird slips his perfectly formed bill in to reach the nectar.

Weavers generally peck holes in the base of the tube, or snip the flower off its base to get the sweetness they desire. This explains why so many flowers end up on the ground even on the finest of days. Once the flowers are over, one might be forgiven for thinking there would be nothing more to offer. This plant keeps on giving though: its seeds are sought after by, amongst others, Streakyheaded Seedeaters.

Recently I have spotted several bees on the leaves. I cannot be sure what sustenance they are finding there, but I see a few of them out almost daily.

A VERY LATE SPRING

Having waited months for rain and watched the dams dry up, the grass shrivel and die, leaves fall off trees to expose bare branches, and to live under relentless blue skies so beautiful it hurt to look up in the intense heat day after day, after day … it rained. Not enough to ease our water situation – our town still has no running water available several days in the week – but enough for nature to take the gap and do what it should have been able to do in the spring. To quote from Keats, we had to ask Where are the songs of Spring? / Ay, where are they? Now, as summer barrels towards autumn, we are experiencing a spring-like growth in the garden. Not only are the trees that were so bare a matter of weeks ago able to cast deep shade, but the Pompon trees (Dais cotinifolia) are sporting tiny flower buds.

Cosmos seeds planted with enthusiasm at the end of winter have blossomed at last.

The Van Staden’s River Daisy (Dimorphotheca ecklonis) is putting out a few blossoms that are attracting insects.

Crossberry (Grewia occidentalis) flowers are out.

So are the Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata).

Soon the garden will be brightened when the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) comes out in full bloom.

Don’t for a moment think my garden is awash with flowers. These are the few, very few, that have made it through a scorching summer. The important thing is that they have survived and are doing their best to ensure the survival of their species.

SPIDER-HUNTING WASP

Three or four spider-hunting wasps (belonging to the family Pompilidae) have been daily tea-time companions for a couple of weeks. They have been difficult to photograph as they hover above or go in and out of the potted plants on the patio. I have at last captured one on a Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and am showing off its brilliant colours as highlighted by the sun in these three photographs:

NOTE: Click on a photograph should you wish to see a larger view.

CAPE HONEYSUCKLE

Looking through my archives, I am reminded of the long flowering period of the indigenous Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) in the Eastern Cape. I have photographs of these beautiful orange tubular flowers stretching from September through to May. There is an abundance of them now, both in gardens and in the veld.

While many gardeners trim these fast-growing plants into attractive hedges, I fight a losing battle against its propensity to spread everywhere. Nonetheless, it is evergreen here and forms a usefully dense screen of glossy green leaves – and I am always grateful for its very attractive flowers.

They are rich in nectar and so attract bees and butterflies as well as a number of nectar-feeding birds. Two I have managed to photograph are the Double-collared Sunbird:

Another is a Cape White-eye:

Despite its unruly, rampant growth, the Cape Honeysuckle is drought resistant and so is a welcome inhabitant in our garden, both in the sun and in areas of semi-shade. It is always a delight to see buds forming as they are the forerunners of a blaze of colour, often when we need it most!

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish a larger view.