DECEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

What an interesting month this has been for observing birds in our garden! The Lesser-striped Swallows are making yet another valiant attempt at rebuilding their mud nest. Here we are, past mid-summer, and they have still not managed to complete a nest nor raise a family. Finding suitable mud in these drought conditions must be difficult – I suspect they collect it from the edges of the rapidly drying-up dam over the road.

Despite several Village Weavers in varying states of maturity populating the garden, a number of them have recently been hard at work weaving their nests very high up in the Natal Fig.

A pair of Hadeda Ibises are also nesting in the fig tree.

The prolonged drought has resulted in a dearth of nectar-bearing flowers, making our nectar feeder so popular that I have been filling it twice a day for most of this month. It is visited regularly by Fork-tailed Drongos, Village Weavers, Cape Weavers, Black-eyed Bulbuls, Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Black-headed Orioles as well as a Spectacled Weaver.

A pair of Red-winged Starlings began the month stuffing their beaks with apple flesh to take to their chick and, before long, were bringing their youngster to the feeding table to feed it there. It is now able to feed itself.

Life is not easy for birds: an alarm call from a Cape Robin had me interrupting our lunch to see what the problem was. I approached the bushes outside the dining room very cautiously as I was met with a flurry of birds including a fierce-looking Bar-throated Apalis, an agitated Paradise Flycatcher, a Thick-billed Weaver and several weavers. I only managed to photograph the alarmed robin before seeing a Boomslang weaving its way sinuously among the branches just above my head – time to beat a retreat!

On a different occasion the alarm call of a Cape Robin, combined with the frantic chirruping of other birds, drew me outdoors towards the thick, tangled hedge of Cape Honeysuckle. Mindful of snakes, I approached it very cautiously until I became aware of a distinctive clicking sound, kluk-kluk, which convinced me of the likelihood of finding either a Grey-headed Bush Shrike or a Burchell’s Coucal raiding a nest. It was neither. The vegetation as well as the hurried movements of Village Weavers, a Bar-throated Apalis and a particularly agitated-looking female Greater Double-collared Sunbird made photography nigh impossible. It was several minutes before I was able to ‘capture’ the nest-raider. This time it was a Southern Boubou.

What greater pleasure could there be, just as the year is drawing to a close, to have not one Hoopoe visit our garden, but four!

My December bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

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SPYING ON THE NEIGHBOURS

I did not really want to disturb my neighbours. Each night I would close the curtains without even glancing in their direction.

My inquisitiveness was compelling and difficult to resist. After all, I had watched them move in and seen their soft furnishings.

It was those eyes: sometimes staring up at me; sometimes with feigned indifference as I peered through the smeared glass to see if someone was at home.

There usually was.

I took to sitting in the garden, surreptitiously monitoring their movements.

I even watched them raising a family.

Then one day the Cape Robins abandoned their nest.

[Last summer a pair of Cape Robins nested in a lavender bush outside our french doors and I was able to observe them through the glass].

MATUTINAL PLEASURES

I wake very early. Even as a young child I developed the habit of lying in bed while the household was still asleep, listening to the matutinal sounds outside. This morning was no exception: Cape White-eyes were the first to warble their way through the shrubbery outside my bedroom window. Oddly enough, the Hadeda Ibises remained silent until well after sunrise. Instead, the infrequent cackling chorus of Red-billed (Green) Wood-hoopoes filled the garden with a joyous anticipation of a beautiful day.

Cape White-eye

A beautiful day it is already, with Lesser-striped Swallows scything through the clear air, Black-eyed Bulbuls greeting the world and Black-headed Orioles calling from a vantage point out of my line of sight. The Fork-tailed Drongos are already diving for insects and the Village and Cape Weavers are chirpily vying for the seed left over in the feeder. A male Pin-tailed Whydah is asserting his territorial boundaries.

Pin-tailed Whydah

It is a pleasure listening to the fluting whistles and frog-like grunts of the African Green Pigeons from deep within the thickening foliage of the Natal Fig tree – already bearing tiny fruits – followed by the rasping sounds announcing the return of the Knysna Louries (Turacos). Laughing Doves are beginning to gather on the telephone cable and are taking up positions on the sunny branches of the Erythrina caffra – doubtless waiting for their ‘breakfast’!

Knysna Lourie

The distant sound of barking dogs alert me to the wakefulness of other people beginning their matutinal strolls, fanning their way through the suburb streets either to work or for healthy exercise. Traffic noise builds up quickly to almost blot out the call of a solitary Cape Robin. A Black (Amethyst) Sunbird flies past my window. Then a car hooter breaks the spell of my early matutinal pleasure – I haven’t even stepped outside yet!

Cape Robin

JANUARY 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

The Cape Robin was the first bird on my list this year. I feel blessed having them nest in our garden for they are such special birds. I frequently hear them before seeing them. Their calls range from what sound like melodious snatches of songs to a clearly distinguishable alarm call. Last night I listened to a robin calling nearby for about twenty minutes well after dark. They also form an important part of the dawn-chorus in our garden.

Cape Robin

Over the years I have observed robins nesting just above eye-level in the air plants draped over a branch of an ironwood tree; almost at ground level in thick vegetation near a bird bath; in the tangled growth of an unkempt hedge; and more recently in the lavender bushes nest to the steps leading to our swimming pool. I have already chronicled the sad demise of their three chicks when they were devoured by a Burchell’s Coucal. Undaunted, the pair relocated to the thicket behind the pool – too far in for me to see, although I noted their to-ing and fro-ing movements with food for their offspring. At least one of their chicks has survived for I have seen it out in the open in the company of a parent over the past two weeks. The spotty juvenile now makes forays around the feeding station on its own in the early mornings and late afternoons.

Lesserstriped Swallows

Very good news is that the Lesser-striped Swallows have made one more valiant attempt at rebuilding their nest under the eaves. It is with great delight that I have observed the cup taking shape, watched it being lined with feathers, and felt a lifting of my heart when the tunnel was completed. I hope this time the nest will hold and that they will raise a family before the end of summer! The nest has developed from this sadly abandoned ruin

Lesserstripedswallownest

To this

Lesserstripedswallownest

And finally, this

Lesserstripedswallownest

Although it only appeared for three days, I was pleased to see a Dusky Indigobird for we last saw them here several years ago. Other new entries on my list include a Black Harrier, a Darter and a pair of Egyptian Geese.

My January list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Darter
Diederik Cuckoo
Dusky Indigobird
Egyptian Goose
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fiscal Flycatcher
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary
Yellow Weaver

NOVEMBER 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

NOVEMBER 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been a busy time for birds in our garden. With some of the courting rituals over and nests built, many birds are now focusing on feeding their fledglings. A pair of Common Starlings brought their two chicks to feed on the lawn, seemingly teaching them to stab at the ground to find their food – and introduced them to the fruit on the feeding tray.

Although a lot of the Village Weavers are involved with feeding their fledglings, chasing each other from the feeding station, and still courting, I recently observed a female collecting feathers from the lawn and cramming them into her beak. Once she could hold no more, she inevitably dropped some, returning a few minutes later to fetch them. It is wonderful the way no resources are wasted in the garden.

Village Weaver feeding chick

The other morning I counted twenty-nine Laughing Doves perched on the telephone cable visible from my study, drying out in the early sunshine after heavy rain the night before. This month it was an Olive Thrush that apparently took a dislike to a Laughing Dove. It wouldn’t allow the poor dove to settle anywhere without chasing it around the garden and over the perimeter of it and back.

A pair of Olive Thrushes nested in the garden next door and, after having carried food across for a while, recently brought their two speckled offspring with them. Their yellow gapes were still clearly visible as they begged to be fed but now these juveniles confidently seek food here on their own.

I continued to enjoy the secretive way in which the pair of Cape Robins collected beetles and caterpillars to feed their young nestled within the lavender bushes and sheltered from the rain by the overhanging branches of the Buddleia salviifolia. They would first fly to a nearby Pom-pom tree, then make it across the lawn to the windowsill of the lounge. There they would walk along it until they were apparently out of sight then hop into the Buddleia before dropping down into their nest – such elaborate precautions to maintain the safety of their family!

We are always pleased to see the Burchell’s Coucal in the garden. Having raised one as a chick many years ago, I am fully aware of their dietary requirements. While I was pruning around the aloes on 7th November, I heard the Cape Robins making an agitated alarm call. Then I noticed several weavers leaving off their feeding to perch on top of the Buddleia – very strange.

Burchell's Coucal

If you have read my entry HARK THE UNUSUAL NOISE from 7th December 2014, you will appreciate why I first thought that a snake may have found its way to the robin’s nest. I thus approached it with caution just in time to see a Burchell’s Coucal emerge from the lavender bushes while swallowing the last of the robin fledglings!

A few minutes later my attention was drawn to the agitated calls and unusual behaviour of a pair of Forktailed Drongos in the back garden. They were dive-bombing (probably the same) Burchell’s Coucal sidling through the thick hedge of Cape Honeysuckle. I imagine it had raided their nest too. Sad, but then it also has to eat.

Much more delightful news is that the pair of Lesser-striped Swallows began to work on their mud nest under the eaves in earnest last week. They finished the tunnel entrance yesterday and I saw one peeping out of the hole early this morning. What a joy.

Lesserstriped Swallow completed nest

My November list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederick Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie (Turaco)
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green Woodhoopoe)
Redchested Cuckoo (Piet-my-vrou)
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary (Seedeater)
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary