OCTOBER 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been another action-filled birding month in my garden. While the flocks of Red-winged Starlings has decreased, there are still a number around that are finding fruit somewhere else in the neighbourhood. A pair of them sometimes sit on the open window of my bedroom in the mornings or peek at me in my upstairs study from the guttering outside.

It is cuckoo time! The Red-chested Cuckoo (known here as the Piet-my-vrou) arrived on the 2nd October and since then can be heard calling from as early as two or three in the morning until late at night. They parasitize the Cape Robin – more of that later. I spotted a pair of Black Cuckoos threading their way through the kitchen hedge very early the other morning. They are seldom seen, although their mournful whistle wafts through the mornings and afternoons as if their hearts would break. They tend to pick on the Southern Boubou to bring up their chicks.

Much more cheerful calls come from Klaas’ Cuckoo and the Diederick Cuckoos. Weavers are quite likely to find themselves hosting a chick from the latter.

What a delight to find a Cape Robin has built a nest inside a clump of lavender bushes right next to the steps that lead out to the swimming pool. I have been unable to prune the drooping Buddleja salviifolia after its bumper flowering period as this provides a thick shelter against rain and wind for the nest tucked below it.

Nest of Cape Robin

I watched the robins for some time as they collected nesting material, such as snippets of dead grass left over from mowing, dried leaves from the Erythrina trees, and lichen pulled from the various trees in the garden.

Cape Robin

About five or six days later, I peered through the lavender to see that three eggs had been laid and can just see the top of a robin’s head tucked in when I close the door at night. Since then I have caught a glimpse one chick – I do not wish to disturb them so have generally left them alone aside from a cursory peek in the mornings and evenings.

The aggressive behaviour of the robins has been interesting to observe. They have vigorously chased away Streakyheaded Canaries, weavers and Blackeyed Bulbuls that have ventured too close to the nest. I even saw one chasing after a Laughing Dove.

A Grey-headed Bush Shrike appeared on the branches above my head the other day while I was weeding and watering in the back garden. I kept a fascinated eye on it as it approached ever closer to me – it really is a strikingly coloured bird – then, as I moved from a spot, it would swoop down to catch something that had been disturbed by my activities and immediately fly up to the branches to eat whatever it was.

I had a similar experience with a pair of Fork-tailed Drongos, only they were much bolder: I was weeding the strawberry patch under the watchful eyes of these birds perched on a cable not far away. As I did so, I unearthed or disturbed a couple of spiders and some bright green caterpillars. Before long, both birds would whoosh right past me to catch these hapless creatures. They are very quick off the mark! I again watched one stealing food from the beak of a Cape Weaver while in flight.

Cape Weaver

It is always a pleasure to see a pair of Paradise Flycatchers in the garden. To my chagrin, they flit and dart about so quickly that I have not been able to catch them on camera. I haven’t managed to photograph the exquisitely beautiful Knysna Louries either, although I am pleased that a pair of them are seen about more often. Both have appeared several times to eat apples or to drink from the bird bath on the lawn and they are heard almost daily calling from within the foliage of tall trees in the neighbourhood.

Common Starlings are generally seen foraging in the garden singly or in very small groups. Their quick movements on the ground as they probe the lawn or flit up to the feeding tray somehow give them a ‘shifty’ look; they generally stay long enough only for a bit or two before flying off. This month I watched one collecting nesting material in the garden for the first time. I have since seen one collecting food and flying off to a neighbouring property, where it is presumably nesting.

My October list is:

African Green Pigeon
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 Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederick Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie (Turaco)
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green Woodhoopoe)
Redchested Cuckoo (Piet-my-vrou)
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary (Seedeater)
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow Weaver

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AUGUST 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

AUGUST 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

How different each month is from another – and one month in one year from the same month in another. Birding is not a static occupation at all for the birds do not always follow a predictable pattern of movement.

The Klaas’ Cuckoo, for example, has not yet made its presence heard, while the Black Cuckoo is already telling us in the most mournful drawn out tones that “I am sick” – that is how its call is described in the Roberts Bird Guide. It certainly sounds very melancholy. Last August the Pin-tailed Whydahs were out in force. This month I have seen only one – a male – whose tail feathers are gradually getting longer.

The Bronze Manikins are so pleased that I have managed to source some fine bird seed at last and compete for space on the bird feeder early in the afternoon during the lull between the morning and late afternoon rush by the weavers and the Laughing Doves.

Burchell’s Coucals on the other hand make waking a pleasure. Their cascading bubbling sounds soon compete, however, with the musical notes of the Cape Robin that stations itself near my bedroom window.

It is also lovely hearing the cheerful cackling sounds of the Red-billed Wood-Hoopoes. I watched a pair of them for at least half an hour the other morning as they used their long beaks to probe for insects behind the peeling bark of the older trees, investigated the masses of air plants, and even pecked at the bread spread with fat at the feeding station. I know their name has been changed to Green Wood-Hoopoe and that the illustration in the Roberts Bird Guide clearly indicates a green iridescent sheen. Perhaps this colouring only becomes evident in the sunlight? I could not spot it as the birds flitted about the foliage and in the shade of the trees in the front garden.

The synchronised duets of both the Southern Boubou and the Black-headed Orioles have become more evident in recent weeks. Both have been frequenting the feeding station more often recently – the orioles appearing as a pair more often than not.

I saw six Fork-tailed Drongos in the Erythrina tree yesterday morning, although I regularly only see two of them at a time in the garden. Streakyheaded Canaries are back: feeding on the Cape Honeysuckle blossoms and, occasionally visiting the seed tray.

Forktailed Drongo

My August list is:

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 Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green Woodhoopoe)
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver

SUNNY SUNDAY

SUNNY SUNDAY

Today has been a perfect sunny day – most welcome after two fierce thunderstorms over the past three days! While listening to the usual cacophony of birds in the garden, my attention was drawn to a scuffling sound outside the front gate that had the neighbouring hound barking furiously.

cows

This small herd of unattended cows have recently become regular visitors to our suburb over weekends. Given that the municipality tends to be lax about mowing the verges, perhaps we should be grateful for this injection of rural living.

A beautiful morning such as this seemed perfect for sitting in the shade, a pot of Yorkshire tea at my elbow, my notebook at hand and, for a change, my camera at the ready.

Apart from the usual flock of Laughing Doves fluttering down to peck at seeds or to sun themselves on a sandy bank by spreading out their wings, I found it interesting to watch a Black-collared Barbet from close quarters as it made its way down the branches of the tree to reach the feeding station.

blackcollaredbarbet

Note how large and sturdy its beak is!

It is fascinating watching the Village Weavers as they court each other, fight with each other, feed their young – and one even trying to build its nest on the bottom of the bird feeder! This one is in the throes of fanning its wings as part of its display behaviour.

villageweaver

A Cape Robin hopped about in the undergrowth – too dark for the camera – nearby; a Boubou Shrike treated me to a song from a branch just above me; a Paradise Flycatcher flitted enticingly from one bush to another – always too quick to be caught on camera; a flock of Speckled Mousebirds flew into the White Stinkwood tree and disappeared amongst the foliage; and Redwinged Starlings showed off their russet wingtips against the bright blue sky as they went in search of tasty morsels.

Best of all, I at last managed to capture a Lesser-striped Swallow peeping out of its nest. More of that later …

DECEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

DECEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

What a joy to start this month with the sound of cackling laughter in the garden as a small group of Red-billed Wood-hoopoes (now called Green Wood-hoopoes) picked their way through the trees looking for insects and grubs. Their cheerful sounds and fleeting visits are always welcome.

The arrival of an African Goshawk had the other birds scurrying for cover. They have had to do the same whenever a Black Harrier skimmed the top of the trees for several days in a row. It is incredible how quickly the sense of danger is communicated from one bird to another.

I am used to flocks of doves and weavers rising with a ‘whoosh’ of feathers at an unusually loud noise from passing vehicles, the arrival of the neighbouring hound, or the footsteps of an unexpected visitor. One or two braver laughing Doves often remain on the lawn and look around as if wondering what all the fuss is about before they resume pecking at the seed scattered between the blades of grass. Not when an obvious predator is about though. Then all the birds disappear in a flash and even the youngsters, which moments before had been quivering their feathers and cheeping loudly for food, are silent until some sort of all clear is given.

The other day we were amused to watch a pair of Fork-tailed Drongos chasing away a Black Crow, which cawed loudly in protest. They didn’t give up until the crow had flown some distance away. I wonder if it had got to close to their nest. I haven’t located one, but regularly see the pair of them in the fig tree.

The Sacred Ibises and Cattle Egrets have been sighted more regularly this month, usually late in the afternoon when the sun highlights their wings as they fly over.

The Lesser-striped Swallows now flit in and out of their recently completed replacement nest. I keep my fingers crossed that the overcast weather we have been experiencing since Christmas is helping the clay globules to dry slowly and firmly so that these birds can successfully raise their young this time around.

Olive Thrushes and Cape Robins have been successful in this department: their respective speckled offspring are evident all over the garden. Cape Weavers and Village Weavers continue to devote a lot of energy to feeding their youngsters. I have also noticed Black-eyed Bulbuls stuffing their beaks before flying off, but have not yet located their nesting site.

Both the Black Sunbirds and the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds visit the ‘pub’ regularly, as do the Fork-tailed Drongos, Cape White-eyes, Black-headed Orioles, Black-eyed Bulbuls and the weavers.

It is lovely hearing the liquid calls of the Burchell’s Coucals again. These ‘rain birds’ transport me back to the farm of my childhood: whenever their calls could be heard during a particularly long dry spell, farmers and their labourers alike would hopefully remark that the rain would surely be coming at last.

This blog started very tentatively a year ago. Thank you to those who read it from time to time, for the encouraging ‘likes’, comments and especially to those who have become ‘followers’. It is gratifying to know that there really is an audience out there!

My December list is:

African Goshawk
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Black Harrier
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

HEADING OUT

HEADING OUT

I find it good for my soul to get right away from our home town now and then. The recent need to be in Cape Town provided a good opportunity for this. Ideally we would have liked to stop more often and to savour more of the countryside than we had time for, yet we saw all sorts of interesting things along the way.

There is something special about being on the road as the sun rises, casting long shadows across the veld and seeing the patches of thick mist rising from the low-lying areas as the day warms up. The long journey was enlivened by glimpses of impala grazing in open spaces in the bush highlighted by the sun. We also saw kudu, wildebeest, blesbuck, and zebra early on.

I was struck by the number of Cape Crows sitting on their untidy nests built on the telephone poles that march along sections of the road in the Western Cape as well as an abundance of Jackal Buzzards and Black Harriers. It was a thrill seeing a pair of Blue Cranes on our way down and then several more on our return journey. These are the national bird of South Africa.

blue crane

An increase in the number – and size – of wind farms is noticeable. I wonder how effective they will be in terms of alleviating the current shortage of electricity in the country.

The Cape Town weather was kind to us: warm, clear and dry throughout our four-day stay. Time spent in the small suburban garden revealed Hadeda ibises (not at all concerned about being stalked by a calico cat), Redwinged starlings, Olive thrushes, Laughing doves, Redeyed doves, a Cape robin, Rock pigeons, Cape crows and an abundance of Cape White-eyes.

hadeda

parsley

The latter flitted in and out of the trees throughout each day. On one particularly hot and dry afternoon, they delighted in the spray from the sprinkler turned on to water the lawn. It was a joy watching the white-eyes fly through the jets of water and perch on the branches of a fig tree while having a communal shower!

showering

The return journey was equally interesting. A highlight was seeing a sizeable flock of White Storks. Nearer home we spotted eland, springbuck and, lastly, a group of giraffe so close to the road that C asked me to stop so that she could “see how giraffe eat”.

How satisfying it is to walk round the side of the house to the front door on our arrival at the end of a long journey and to see that the pompon trees have burst into bloom during our absence!

pompon

The other joy is that the Lesserstriped swallows have completed their replacement nest.

complete nest

A full day later came the satisfaction of making a salad using lettuce, spinach, carrots and green peppers from our own garden. It is a relief that the purple basil seeds that germinated a few days before our departure are still looking sturdy. A garden bonus (I hope we will see the fruits of this) are gemsquashes spreading out their tendrils from the compost heap.

It is wonderful living in our nook of the Eastern Cape!

DECEMBER GARDEN ROUND-UP

It was shortly before seven this morning when my coffee and bird-watching stint was disturbed by a loud crack followed by a heavy thud: two branches of the Tipuana tree in our neighbours’ garden had split from the main trunk and fallen across their hedge facing the street. No harm done, although it will be an arduous task getting those heavy branches down.
The very old Tipuana tree in the other neighbour’s garden sheds small branches and twigs after every wind. This goes to show that indigenous trees are better for our gardens – even if they do tend to grow more slowly.
I set out to investigate the rest of our garden:
Self-sown gooseberries, bursting with flavour, are ripening wherever plants have taken root. I will need to send M and C round with a small basket soon to see what they can harvest.

gooseberries
Scenecio pterophurus brightens up a corner of the vegetable garden. [John Manning’s Field Guide to Wild Flowers of South Africa has proved to be very useful in identifying some of nature’s bounty that pops up in the garden]. Apart from looking cheerful and pretty, they attract myriad butterflies during the course of their long flowering period.

scenecio
The scarlet Aloe ciliaris has been showing off its blooms for some time now.

aloeciliaris
The yellow Aloe tenuiour grows just around the corner.

aloetenuiour
Blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) is rampant in the garden and needs to be cut back regularly. The first blooms are out and we are looking forward to a beautiful show of them as the month progresses.

plumbago
While the Van Stadens River Daisies (Dimorphotheca ecklonis) are not looking their best at the moment – the centre of this one is being chomped by a caterpillar – these particular plants are very special to me. They are the descendants of the ones my late mother grew on the farm and so remind me of her and of my youth whenever they flower.

vanstadensdaisy
Other flowers that remind me of my mother are the Pompon trees (Dais cotinifolia) as they were always in full bloom when she came for her annual visit over the Christmas period. I have been watching the buds appear as pinpricks and gradually fatten out. This morning I noticed that some are beginning to burst open, so it won’t be very long now before the trees are completely covered with pink blossoms.

burstingpompon
The Cape Chestnut trees also look beautiful when they are in full bloom. Our tree is a late developer, it seems, for the ones in town have been covered with blossoms for several weeks already. Nonetheless, it is just beginning to show what will be on offer.

peepingchestnut
I love the shape of the chestnut tree and couldn’t resist photographing the early morning sunlight shining through its leaves.

chestnutsunlight
A quick walk through the forested area of the garden rewarded me with the different scents of leaves as I brushed past them, the musty smell of the leaf litter underfoot, and glimpses of Cape Robins and Paradise Flycatchers flitting between the trees.

forest
I emerged from the forest to find a Pin-tailed Whydah seeking fine seeds on the lawn.

ptwhydahclose
Many would have been dropped by the Village Weavers tucking into the seed from the feeder suspended from the acacia tree.

villageweaversfeeding
Two Rock (Speckled) Pigeons kept watch from the roof.

roofguards
A young Olive Thrush seemed surprised to see me so close.

youngolivethrush
Bryan the tortoise was caught snoozing.

Bryansnoozing
And both the Lesser-striped Swallows are making good progress with their new nest.

progress
All is well.

HARK THE UNUSUAL NOISE

HARK THE UNUSUAL NOISE

I was comfortable sitting in the shade of the forested part of the garden. The Cape– and Village Weavers were pecking away at the seed I had scattered earlier and would, now and then, latch onto a large (for them) piece of bread and fly up to a nearby branch to consume it at leisure.

My pot of Earl Grey tea was nearing its end when I turned my attention to the Forktailed Drongo up to its usual antics of stealing titbits from the beaks of other birds. It was good to hear the Sombre Bulbuls calling nearby; the Laughing Doves were combing the lawn for seeds and I idly watched Bryan the tortoise amble along, munching as he went. It was an idyllic scene.

The unusually persistent calls of the Cape Robin had barely registered in my languid state until the calls seemed to become louder and more agitated. I realised they came from the thick foliage near the pool, but was too comfortable to investigate – until I noticed the weavers, the Olive Thrush and the Forktailed Drongos swiftly fly towards the sound.

As I approached the pool, I noticed a flurry of feathers as the afore-mentioned birds flew in an out of the leaf cover, all flapping their wings and making a loud noise. I looked up at the leaf canopy from underneath in time to see a large Boomslang winding itself sinuously through the branches. As it looped across towards another tree, the slack, thick cable of its body was repeatedly attacked by robins, weavers, a Black-collared Barbet and even a Speckled Mousebird.

The snake moved swiftly and gracefully, winding in and out of the branches with ease towards a shallow nest balancing precariously in a fork of cotoneaster branches. Neither the mobbing of the birds nor the cacophony of their protests seemed of concern.

I turned away to call P to witness what was happening. My attention was diverted for seconds only … the Boomslang disappeared! As you can imagine, I checked the draping stems of canary creeper very carefully before moving an inch. The agitated birds began to disperse and soon all was quiet. The soporific air of a hot afternoon reasserted itself.

Cape White-eyes resumed their search for insects, the weavers returned to the seed tray, the Laughing Doves tramped across the lawn, and the Cape Robin – which had alerted me to this drama – flew off towards the direction of the fig tree.