AUGUST 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an interesting month for watching birds in our garden, beginning with the unmistakable sound of Red-necked Spurfowl under my bedroom window early in the morning. I counted six – not regular visitors, yet I am pleased to see how far they have ventured into the garden. One even hopped up onto the raised bird bath for a drink.

The Black-eyed Bulbuls (Dark-capped these days!) are courting – I watched a pair canoodling on the branches, looking very lovey-dovey – in numbers. This morning I counted eight of them in the feeding area. Several Speckled Mousebirds can also be seen cosying up to each other. The two Common Fiscals (one ringed and the other not) are clearly rivals and dart in and out trying to avoid each other. When they do meet they set up a loud haranguing match and have even attacked each other! I have observed a fiscal spreading out its tail feathers when confronted by a Black-collared Barbet at the feeding tray – determined to stand its ground. The barbets nearly always arrive as a pair. Another regular pair of visitors is the Streakyheaded Seedeater.

I put out both fine and coarse seed daily as well as filling up the nectar feeder. Other fare usually includes fruit, finely chopped pieces of meat, cat crumbles, or fat smeared on biscuits or thin slices of bread. This month I decided to take careful note of who ate what:

Dark-capped Bulbuls have enjoyed fat, cheese and fruit.

Both Common Fiscals seem to eat anything that is not fruit and are particularly partial to meat. This one, however, snitched part of my breakfast!

While the Red-winged Starlings are partial to fruit, they also eat cheese. This female is about to tuck into the pears.

Speckled Mousebirds prefer fruit and are prepared to wait their turn for it.

I usually associate weavers with eating the grain. These Cape Weavers, however, are tucking into a piece of fish. They also eat cat food, cheese, and fat.

The pair of Cape Robin-chats usually wait in the wings for the main rush to be over before they feed. I have seen them eating fat, as well as tiny portions of meat. This one has been eating cat food.

Common Starlings seem to eat anything. They tuck into fruit, cheese, fat, bread and cat food with relish.

I associate Cape White-eyes with fruit, nectar, and aphids. Yesterday though a few of them made off with tiny cubes of cheese.

My August bird list is:
African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul (Black-cap)
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Longbilled Crombec
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Spectacled Weaver
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Yellowfronted Canary

INQUISITIVE CAPE ROBIN-CHAT

South African readers will attest to the inquisitive nature of the Cape Robin-chat. They are shy birds – yet, with time, endear themselves to their garden hosts by adopting a confiding demeanour. This relationship is enhanced if food becomes a part of it. The Cape Robin-chat vies with the Olive Thrush to be first to inspect the offerings on the feeding tray – both get chased by the Common Fiscal, only to return in a flash once the latter has flown off. Cape Robin-chats love cheese and finely chopped meat. I have written before of one which made itself very at home in our house when we still had a cat. It would inspect nearly every room in the house, making sure to help itself to cat food in the kitchen, and would even peck at any crumbs left on the dining room table. We would sometimes be treated to a song while it perched on the door of the lounge while we were having tea!

With the demise of our cat came the absence of the Cape Robin-chat. I missed its visits, although not having to clean up behind it! Recently I began to be concerned that we might have nocturnal visitors in the form of mice for I found tiny droppings on the windowsill in the lounge. Then I found the odd squishy visiting card on the back of the couch, on the table cloth on the dining table, and on a shelf in the kitchen … a familiar image came to mind. Caught in the act: I looked up from my knitting to see this little creature perched on a bookcase.

It was quite at home and clearly knew its way around. What a happy sighting! They are always on the lookout for food, often just peeping out of the shrubbery.

Everything is carefully scrutinised.

Even an apple will do.

Robin-chats are very wary of potential dangers and can be gone in a flash. There are times though, such as this, when one comes almost within touching distance of me in the garden.

Such encounters leave me with a warm feeling inside.

JUNE 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

Living through this lengthy, socially restrictive lock down brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic would be most unpleasant if it were not for the birds that visit our garden. They provide a pleasant rhythm to each day: Red-eyed Doves call out ‘better get started’ on these dark, cold mornings; the Hadeda Ibises provide a shrill wake-up call about half an hour before sunrise; and the Speckled Pigeons scuffle around in the ceiling, ready to chase any other birds off Morrigan’s feeder – in this case a Cape Weaver – as soon as the seed is put out.

Laughing Doves hug the tree tops to warm up in the morning sun.

Red-winged Starlings swoop over the suburb in ever larger flocks, while Black-eyed Bulbuls keep their sharp eyes open for the fruit on offer.

Olive Thrushes emerge from the shrubbery at the first sign of something tasty to eat – usually fruit, but this one took a fancy to peanut butter on toast!

Cape White-eyes queue at the nectar feeder.

They are occasionally chased off by the much larger Black-headed Oriole.

A Bar-throated Apalis regularly makes its shrill calls during the day as it pokes about looking for insects in the foliage; Greater Double-collared Sunbirds chase each other across the garden in between drinking their fill from the nectar feeder or visiting the aloes; and the Common Fiscal swoops down to see what food is available during quieter moments of the day. Another bird that prefers to inspect the offerings ‘in private’ is the Cape Robin-chat.

My June bird list is:

Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
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
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Southern Black Tit
Spectacled Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

VISITORS TO THE BIRD FEEDERS

I move my bird feeders around from time to time, mainly to protect whatever is trying to grow underneath them. This Cape Weaver is eating seeds on the bench-like feeder my granddaughter made for me. You will notice that he is losing his bright breeding plumage in readiness for the winter months.

This rather surprised looking Streaky-headed Seed-eater is sharing the ‘house’ feeder with a Village Weaver.

I used to place this fruit feeder in the fork of a tree, where this Common Fiscal is feasting on cut apples. I have since moved it to a rock elsewhere in the garden.

A Cape Robin-chat is doing the same.

Apart from providing the bird visitors to my garden with seeds and fruit, I also have a nectar feeder. Here a Spectacled Weaver is paying it a visit.

A CLOSER LOOK AT A CAPE ROBIN-CHAT

Cape Robin-chats (Cossypha caffra) are widespread throughout southern Africa and have adapted very well to human habitation, which helps them to become a familiar sight in many gardens. They are among my favourite garden birds and I am mindful that although Cape Robin-chats are predominantly ground foragers, they prefer to have shrubs or bushes nearby should they need to beat a hasty retreat from a perceived danger. There is plenty of cover for them in my garden!

Even though they are quintessential members of the dawn chorus, I haven’t seen a lot of them lately for I suspect they are currently keeping out of the way of a cat that has moved into the neighbourhood. I nonetheless still see them either very early in the morning or at dusk. In the absence of being able to visit other places of interest, I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at one of them. Its short white eyebrow (speculum), rufous chest and grey are easy points of identification. Looking at the photograph below, I am struck by its conspicuous nostril.

Their outer tail feathers are orange, with a faded brown streak which is more easily seen when in flight. The flight pattern of Cape Robin-chats is jerky and you might notice that they flick their wings and tail when airborne. I have pointed out in other posts that they have a striking black band across the face that resembles a highwayman’s mask. Their black bill is short and straight, with a slightly down-curved upper mandible, and their eyes are a lovely, warm brown.

Chris Mann has penned this rather lovely poem about a Cape Robin-chat:

Cape Robin

Before the dawn’s faint grey had flushed the bush

  and gleamed its hooks and fruits, before the dusk

had snuffed them out and brought its dangers near

  the robins pegged their boundaries out in song.

 

We heard them call and sing from perch to perch

  and wondered why our house, so blunt and stiff,

without a worm or midge to dart upon,

  should stand within the radius of their care.

 

That we should share the same small patch of earth,

  yet stay familiar strangers, that they should hear

our coaxing human talk, yet fly from us,

  is as our different pasts and roles ordained.

 

This listening to another creature’s speech,

  our kind or theirs, this care for privacies

that nest inside another’s weave of language

  ensures our beings blend, our distance keeps us near.