MAY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

I cannot adequately convey how wonderful it is to hear the sounds of the Cape Turtle Dove in our garden at different times of the day. They used to be regular visitors to the feeders until elbowed out by the sheer number of Laughing Doves and Speckled Pigeons that wolf up the grain within twenty minutes of it being scattered outside. So, I hear the Cape Turtle Doves calling from the Erythrina trees in the back garden and see them pecking for food in the kitchen beds more often than they come to the front to see what the masses have left. Cape Turtle doves remind me of my childhood in the Lowveld and our visits to the Kruger National Park as well as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where this photograph was taken.

My favourite visitors are the Cape Robins that are among the first birds to greet the dawn and which come to peck at the fruit and other titbits when the garden is quiet and most of the other birds have left to seek food elsewhere.

A pair of Greyheaded Sparrows also prefer to visit the feeders after the doves and weavers have left. Some of the weavers are beginning to sport their winter tweeds, yet there are still many males looking as though they are ready to find a mate. A few males have been seen carrying strips of grass to tie onto thin branches – perhaps we need a really cold spell of weather to make them realise that there is still the winter to get through!

Of some concern is that the population of Speckled Pigeons nesting in our roof has increased to the point that they may have to be moved on and we will have to reseal the eaves. They are lovely birds to look at, however the mess they make is awful – our front steps and some of the outside walls are covered with their faeces, which cannot be a healthy situation in the long run.

Redwinged Starlings have been gathering in large flocks over the past few weeks. They fly around in flocks of between fifty and a hundred, sometimes breaking off to fly in different directions and meeting up again. They often settle in the Natal Fig, only to be frightened by loud noises from passing vehicles and a cloud of black rises up noisily to whirl about again: their reddish wings look beautiful against the light.

So do the bright red wings of the Knysna Turaco. How fortunate I was yesterday morning to watch a pair of them flitting around in the trees near to where I was sitting and then to drink from the bird bath situated only a few metres away from me!

A really interesting sight was an African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene) flying low over the garden before perching in the Natal Fig. It wasn’t there long before I saw it take off with a single Fork-tailed Drongo in hot pursuit. The Drongo chased it right across the garden and back before the hawk changed direction to fly further afield. I am impressed with the feistiness of the Drongo!

I have already highlighted my photographs of the Green Wood-hoopoes that visited our garden last weekend, so will end with a photograph of an Amethyst Sunbird that posed for me briefly, albeit in the shade:

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Wood-hoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver

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CAPE TURTLE-DOVE

Cape Turtle-Doves (Streptopelia capicola) occur all over South Africa and their lovely calls bring to mind memories of my early childhood on the gold mine I grew up on, of our farm in the Lowveld, visits to the Kruger National Park and all the places I have lived in since I left home.

They are easily recognisable by the black collar on its neck, although I have never before paid them enough attention to notice the dark stripe leading from the eye to the beak.

Another collared dove in this country is the African Mourning Dove (Streptopelia decipiens) which I have added by way of contrast. This one was photographed in the Kruger National Park.

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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.

A BOKSBURG GARDEN

A BOKSBURG GARDEN

Having experienced the push, squeeze, swerve and shove of the Gauteng traffic to reach Boksburg, it was a happy surprise to wake up to a chorus of cape turtle doves, grey louries, redeyed doves, and the cheeping of Cape sparrows. I discovered later that a pair of the latter were kept very busy feeding their chick.

Through my half-opened curtains I spotted several speckled mousebirds methodically working their way through a bed of rosemary and red-veined spinach. Then I heard the distinctive call of a crested barbet – a sound that immediately transported me back to the farm garden of my youth, where my mother often referred to these barbets as ‘clown birds’ because of their colouring.

crestedbarbet

The sight of a hoopoe sunning itself on the garden bench quickly drew me outside to find my own spot in the sun and to enjoy what this Boksburg garden had to offer for the rest of my stay. Often there were two hoopoes poking their strong beaks into the kikuyu lawn in search of food.

hoopoe

What a pleasure it is to spend time in this garden which has so much to offer, from a cheekily cheerful frog to a variety of palm trees, shrubs and even a seasoned tree stump. There is a richness on offer in an apparently restricted space which actually carries no restriction.

gardenfrog

treestump

For example, it wasn’t long before I discovered that the closely clipped yesterday-today-and-tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora) growing at the edge of the lush, even lawn, hides a rich, fertile compost heap.

compost

While the compost itself adds to the quality of the soil in the garden, it also carries within it a bounty such as this enormous Kentucky Blue pumpkin, the last of the ‘free’ crop.

pumpkin

It has also spawned a riot of juicy cherry tomatoes which have colonised flower pots as well as the tiniest of spaces around the perimeter of the lawn. So prolific have they been that bags of the plump red, sweet fruit already reside in the home freezer for later use in bredies, soups and sauces. Even so, I picked a colander full of them – leaving plenty more for another day – for supper one afternoon and have since happily transplanted some seedlings to my own garden.

cherrytomatoes

Nothing goes to waste: self-sown seedlings of the red-veined spinach have been transplanted into a raised bed and along the edge of the patio. I can attest how delicious these leaves are in salads. Flowers, vegetables and trees, including a pomegranate, vie for space below the clear, bright blue sky, so typical of summer on the Highveld. There is even a self-sown cabbage tree growing from the trunk of a palm tree!

verbena

profusion of pots

pomegranate

cabbagetree

Apart from Sheba, one of the two resident hounds and a cat, it is the birdlife that enhances the tranquillity of this garden in spite of the regular roar of planes taking off from and landing at the nearby OR Tambo Airport.
Each day I delighted in watching the Cape turtle doves either chasing each other around the perimeter of the bird bath or sunning themselves on a patch of open ground.

Sheba

Common mynahs flitted past the bright purple bougainvillea and skeins of sacred ibises flew overhead.

sacredibis

I first ‘met’ a kurrichane thrush while camping in the Okovango Swamps many years ago – and have since become used to the olive thrushes that dart about my garden in the Eastern Cape. In this Boksburg garden I never tired of watching the kurrichane thrushes work over the lawn, their heads thrust to one side or scratching around the edges of the compost heap.

kurrichanethrush

The appearance of redheaded finches reminded me of our happy camping trips to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

redheadedfinch
While the Cape glossy starlings stirred my sense of anticipation for our forthcoming trip to the Kruger National Park.

capeglossystarling

Grey louries regularly visited the garden in the early mornings to feed on apple quarters and returned in the late afternoons.

greylourie

One afternoon I was startled by a black harrier swooping low after a redeyed dove. I cannot tell what happened for the two birds disappeared behind the house in a flash.

redeyeddove

Cape wagtails are a strong link to my own garden, to which I would soon return.

capewagtail

This Boksburg garden is truly a tranquil haven and a blissful place in which to unwind.

Over the course of a week I saw the following birds:

Black harrier
Blackeyed bulbul
Cape glossy starling
Cape sparrow
Cape turtle dove
Cape wagtail
Cape white-eye
Common mynah
Crested barbet
Darter
Egyptian goose
Grey heron
Grey lourie
Hadeda ibis
Hoopoe
Kurrichane thrush
Laughing dove
Pied crow
Redbilled woodhoopoe
Redeyed dove
Redheaded finch
Rock pigeon
Sacred ibis
Southern masked weaver
Speckled mousebird
Whiterumped swift