AN UNINVITED GUEST

Jack’s picnic site in the heart of the Addo Elephant National Park is a good place to stop for lunch and enjoy a break from driving. Each picnic site is separated from the next by a thick hedge of Spekboom and other indigenous plants, so one does not have to wait long to get close-up views of a variety of shrub-loving birds. We were able to admire a Bar-throated Apalis – a bird heard all over the park, but which is not easily seen whilst one is driving.

It wasn’t long before a Southern Boubou made an appearance.

A pair of Cape Robin-chats came to investigate the pickings.

We are always pleased to see a Sombre Greenbul (I still think of it is a Bulbul!), which is another bird more easily heard than seen when one drives through the park.

These birds have become accustomed to the regular arrival and departure of humans, for they appeared in quick succession to comb the gravel for anything edible the previous party might have left in their wake. Within minutes of our arrival they had retreated to the dense cover of the surrounding shrubbery as we settled down to enjoy our food and conversation.

Shortly afterwards I became aware of the Cape Robin-chats calling loudly behind me – I recognised the alarm call from the many times I have heard it in our garden. One of the pair spread its tail feathers out widely, while the other ruffled its feathers as if to increase its size.

The Southern Boubou emerged from the undergrowth, making a harsh grating alarm call, while the Bar-throated Apalis danced frantically along the top of the Spekboom hedge, snapping its bill and wings – it too was clearly agitated. Something untoward was happening.

I looked up in time to see a Boomslang launching itself from the shrubbery onto the roof shading our picnic table – far too fast for me to focus my camera! We could see no sign of it on the roof, so we continued our picnic until I looked up again and saw its sinuous length squeezed into the space between the roof and the wooden slats below it.

Some of our party felt it was too close for comfort

We decided then than it was time to pack up and continue our game viewing drive.

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FOUR CAPES

Open any field guide to flowers, mammals or birds in South Africa and you will find many species named Cape … This is probably because the first collections began in the Cape.

Flowers: Cape Agapanthus, Cape Forget-me-not, Cape Speckled Aloe and Cape Snapdragon.

Mammals: Cape Ground Squirrel, Cape Otter, Cape Fox and Cape Hyrax.

Birds: Cape Sugarbird, Cape Spurfowl, Cape Shoveler and Cape Penduline-Tit.

These are names randomly culled from the index of each of field guides on my bookshelf. I am going to focus on four Cape-named birds seen in my garden this morning – although the photographs are older than that.

Cape Robin-Chat

This popular garden bird is perched on the edge of the feeding tray which has been filled with cut up apples. Cape Robin-chats have been resident in our garden for many years. They tend to be cautious when coming out in the open, preferring to emerge once the flurry of other birds have finished feeding. Even then, they usually forage for bits of apple that have fallen to the ground and are frequently chased off by the more aggressive Olive Thrushes or the very cheeky Common Starlings. Much of their time is spent foraging in leaf litter, flicking through plant debris in search of food. The beautifully melodious calls of the Cape Robin-chats are frequently among the first to be heard before dawn and in the late afternoon. One has to be very observant, however, to find the source of the lovely sounds, for the Cape Robin-chats like to perch half hidden among the foliage of trees. Another place to see them is bathing in one of several bird baths in our garden. The nest of the Cape Robin-chat is made from a coarse foundation of dead leaves, moss, grass, bark, and twigs lined with fine hair or rootlets. Once this has been built, the birds take an elaborately circuitous route to and from the nest – I have seen their nests raided by Fork-tailed Drongos and Bucrchell’s Coucals.

Cape Turtle Dove

I have grown up with these delicately coloured birds that occur all over South Africa. Their distinctive calls especially remind me of our family farm and of the bushveld. They tend to be out-manoeuvred by the multitude of Laughing Doves that swoop in to feed on the seed I scatter outside every morning – so this photograph is not from my garden – but they make their presence felt during the quieter parts of the day and their constant calls from the trees in the back garden provide a comforting sense of perpetuity. They can be seen in droves pecking at the crushed figs in the street during the fruiting season and feeding on the nectar of the flowers in the Erythrina trees. They can sometimes be seen drinking from the bird baths in the early mornings or late in the afternoon.

Cape Weaver

It is always interesting to watch the Cape Weavers grow into their bright breeding plumage. The males sport an orange-brown blush on their faces that varies from fairly pale, such as the one in the photograph, to very dark. This Cape Weaver is perched on a branch above the feeding tray, probably waiting its turn – although patience is not a virtue practised by these birds. Cape Weavers are active – they happily biff other birds out of their way either to get at the seeds or to use the nectar feeder! There are a lot of them in the garden and they happily socialise with Village Weavers – also common in our garden. When they are not visible they can still be heard, their calls providing a cheerful backdrop to the spring and summer months. Apart from seeds and fruit, these omnivorous birds can be seen biting holes in the base of Aloe flowers and Erythrina blossoms to reach the nectar.

Cape White-eye

This Cape White-eye is perched on the nectar feeder. It is such a joy hearing flocks of these birds work their way through the foliage in the garden. I feel it is a privilege to see these birds gleaning leaves for tiny insects and often watch them hanging upside down to reach elusive morsels. They come to feed on the fruit I put out and love to bathe in the bird baths. On very hot days during the summer (providing the water restrictions have been lifted) they are prone to approach very closely while I am watering the garden to get wet in the spray. They too are among the early risers, often calling to each other before the sun rises. Their nest is a tiny cup built in the branches of trees – they often nest in the thick tangles of the Tecomaria capensis hedge behind our garage.