A BIRD FEEDER IN HOUT BAY

It is fun watching birds in someone else’s garden and what better way to do so than keeping an eye on the local bird feeder. Among the first visitors to arrive in this Hout Bay garden was a Southern Boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus), a familiar visitor in my own garden. There it tends to seek out anything meaty or fruity, so I was surprised to see this one tucking into the seeds:

Another familiar bird arrived, a Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra). These are beloved garden birds that eat fruit, insects and scraps of any kind. This one was combing the lawn for dried meal worms – something I have never provided for the birds in my garden:

Yet another familiar bird arrived with a loud fluttering of its wings – one of a pair of Speckled Pigeons (Columba guinea). These birds are ubiquitous over the whole country, so their presence was no surprise:

Ah, not only birds visited this bird feeder. The mystery of why the cut apples disappear so quickly was solved with the sighting of this Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in the act. These are not indigenous, having been imported by Cecil John Rhodes during the 19th century:

Mmm … there was another non-avian contender for the fallen seed below the feeder. Such a regular visitor in fact that it has made a getaway tunnel among the plants growing next to the fence. This is a Four-striped Grass Mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio):

Try as I might, I ended having to photograph these delightful visitors through the window. What an absolute delight it was to watch small groups of Swee Waxbills (Coccopygia melanotis) fluttering down from the branches to cluster around the feeder. They never seemed to be still and would fly off at a moment’s notice leaving their high-pitched ‘swee-swee’ contact call in their wake:

Now, a bonus picture that brought great joy to the pre-schooler who had made this elaborate feeder – unidentified visitors (taken through a window with a cell phone) investigating the seed therein at last!

Proof indeed that this carnival-like contraption was also attractive to birds.

SIX BIRDS FROM BONTEBOK NATIONAL PARK

The Spur-Winged Goose (Plectropterus gambensis) is the largest waterfowl occurring in Africa and is named after the spurs on its wings. I spotted many of them flying across the wheat and canola fields as we drove through the Western Cape, but it was on the bank of the Breede River in the Bontebok National Park that I saw this pair of Spur-winged Geese from fairly close-up.

These birds forage in wetlands and moist grasslands, eating grasses, roots and other plant matter. As you can see, they are mainly black, with a white face with a warty red bill, and large white wing patches. Their legs are flesh-coloured.

Driving through the park, one cannot help seeing the rather dark, grey-brown Karoo Scrub-robins (Cercotrichas coryphoeus) perched atop the dry fynbos. I was fortunate to spot this one with a spider in its beak.

A happy surprise awaited me at the reception buildings: the White-throated Swallows (Hirundo albigularis) have arrived – one cannot ask for a surer sign that the season has turned! They are intra-African migrants that breed in South Africa and over-winter in countries such as Zimbabwe and Angola.

These swallows sport a small rufous patch on the forehead and a dark blue breast band which forms a white throat patch.

Sparrows are very common – and thus largely overlooked – birds. We host a pair of Southern Grey-headed Sparrows in our garden and frequently see House Sparrows in the car-park of our local shopping mall. It was thus refreshing to observe a pair of Cape Sparrows (Passer melanurus) in the Bontebok National Park. The males and females look very different: the female has a pale grey head with a diffuse pale crescent. These sparrows usually feed on the ground as they eat seeds, fruit and occasionally insects. This female is eating a tiny flower.

The males have a brighter, more distinctive livery with a distinctive white ‘C’ shape on the side of their heads.

Although these are not the only birds seen in the park, I cannot resist leaving you with a bird that regular readers will be very familiar with from my monthly garden bird reports: the Cape Robin-chat (Cossypha caffra). Why bother with it then, you might ask. The main reason is because these birds, which sport a distinctive white eyebrow and a rufous chest, are undeniably pretty and it was good to see them in a habitat other than my garden.

AUGUST 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

After having spotted an African Hoopoe high up in the Erythrina caffra last month, I was very pleased to see one looking for insects on our back lawn – easily visible through our kitchen window. A pair of Streaky-headed Seedeaters are regular visitors throughout the day – either perched on the seed feeder or eating the seeds that have fallen to the ground. The Hadeda Ibis nest is now complete and, I suspect, eggs are in the process of being incubated.

Both Common Fiscals – Meneer and Spotty – are being kept very busy collecting food to feed their chicks. They do not like each other and frequently clash in the feeding area. Meneer sometimes approaches me as soon as I open the door to put food out and takes food from my hand. Spotty has always been a lot more cautious, yet even this one has seen on which side the bread is buttered and now happily approaches the dish of finely cut up meat or fish on the table even while I am enjoying my tea. Not only that … this wily creature has noticed me sitting in the sun in the back garden too and perches on the wash line whilst flapping its wings gently enough: I need food … the message gets through well enough and I put out a few titbits which are removed in a flash.

Only four Red-necked Spurfowl regularly visit the garden now: a hen with three chicks. They too are becoming more used to our presence and now boldly walk past us to eat the seed that has fallen under the feeders. I have taken to scattering some crushed maize on the brick surround of the pool and they are happy enough to peck at it even though I am sitting a short distance from them. The Bronze Manikins are a joy to watch as they perch closely together on a high branch to catch the last of the sun on chilly afternoons.

The Cape Robin-chats have paired up and are probably having to feed chicks too, for I see each of them taking regular turns to collect what they can from the feeding tray before they disappear into the shrubbery.

Given that the weather is warming up, there appears to be a greater call on the nectar feeder. The Cape White-eyes visit it several times a day:

While the Black-headed Oriole only comes occasionally. This picture was taken from my bedroom window.

Weavers like the nectar feeder too. This Cape Weaver is waiting in the queue.

Lastly, for this month, is a visit from an Olive Thrush perched on the edge of the bird bath.

My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Barthroated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
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
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

MAY GARDEN BIRDS 2022

I have enjoyed a much more pleasing month of bird watching in our garden: there has been more time to sit in the garden; the number of avian visitors has increased; and I have been able to take some reasonable photographs, so there has been no need to delve into my archives again.

One cannot miss the Red-winged Starlings for hundreds of them have been visiting the Natal fig and fill the garden with their cheerful chirps, tweets and whistles. Should they be startled, the air is filled with the rustle of their russet wings, which glow in the bright sunshine as they take off, circle around only to return to feasting on the figs. Here a pair of them are perched on the roof of our house. The one on the right has a fig in its beak.

Both Common Starlings and Cape Glossy Starlings have made brief visits this month; Knysna Turacos are back making their grunting sounds in the bushes; and it is cheering to have weavers here in full force (variety, that is, not numbers). Among them are the Cape Weavers – no longer looking as smart as they do in summer, and the Spectacled Weaver.

The Cape Robin-chat remains very wary of the neighbouring cats and so I feel privileged every time I see one.

Of course I am always pleased to see the ringed Common Fiscal, although I am saddened that the neighbouring cats have made him a lot more wary too.

Other welcome visitors this month have been Green Woodhoopoes, Cattle Egrets, Streaky-headed Seedeaters, as well as Sacred Ibises flying over ‘my’ air space. Back on the ground, a pair of Olive Thrushes have pleased me enormously by visiting the feeding table and the bird bath.

Lastly, I love the visits from a Brown-hooded Kingfisher to our back garden, where it perches either on the telephone wire or – more often – on the wash line. It sits absolutely still for ages before swooping down to catch one of the many small grass hoppers that abound in that area and then returns to its solitary post.

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Brown-headed Kingfisher
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

AN EARLY MORNING

Long before the first light shows behind the hills, the nightjars have fallen silent to make way for the morning sounds to begin. It pleases me to listen to the gradual awakening of the birds as they each add a gentle layer to the growing dawn chorus. Cape white-eyes chatter excitedly; African green pigeons chuckle quietly; while a Cape robin-chat defends its territory with low grunts.

While the sky is still a blank canvas of brightening soft grey suffused with pink, the Hadeda ibises begin fidgeting in the fig tree. The rustling sound of their feathers works its way through the branches until one ibis calls out reluctantly … a faraway reply can be heard giving the signal for the raucous calls to break the morning peace – along with the first vehicles passing by. A vivid smudge of orange intensifies above the horizon followed by fingers of light glowing low through the trees. The hadedas fan out across the valley, calling loud greetings as they go. Close by a Red-eyed dove persistently tells me it’s the ‘better get started’ time and a crow calls gruffly from a treetop. It is in the high branches and on the telephone cable where the Laughing doves meet to catch the warming rays of the rising sun.

As it rises higher, the sun highlights the yellow blossoms of the canary creeper.

Another day has begun.