MASTER BUILDER

Watch a Cape Weaver at work:

Almost done

Showing off his handiwork – or should that be beakwork!

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AUGUST 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

August has been a wonderful month for watching birds in our garden. As the season gradually turns towards spring, the birds have responded by donning their breeding plumage and getting down to the serious business of courting. These are Cape Weavers sporting their breeding plumage.

A Blackbacked Puffback made a fleeting visit last week and, having bemoaned the absence of Malachite Sunbirds last month, I have seen several of them feeding on the Erythrina caffra – much too high up for a decent photograph of them though. I was fortunate to be sitting outdoors when a Cardinal Woodpecker visited a nearby tree and remained there for some minutes before finding one further on that was more likely to have food tucked under the loose bark. It is said that one swallow doesn’t make summer – nothing has been said about swifts, although I was taken aback to see a pair of Whiterumped Swifts flying overhead. I thought I must be mistaken, but they have appeared on more than one occasion since then. The joy of keeping records is that I could look up my bird list for last August and see that the swifts indeed arrived ahead of the much-awaited Lesser-striped Swallows – they will be the harbingers of summer.

The Black (Cape) Crow is not an easy subject to photograph – either absorbing all the light to become a dark blob or reflecting so much light that its features are lost. This time I have nabbed one in reasonable light, so include it here.

At this time of the year we get a regular mix of Cape Weavers and Village Weavers, with a handful of Southern Masked Weavers thrown in. One has to observe them very carefully to distinguish between the latter two. Every now and then a Spectacled Weaver joins the fray at the feeding tray or visits the ‘pub’.  With the drought still plaguing us, the bird baths are very popular. Here are some Cape White-eyes enjoying a bathe.

My August bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Blackbacked Puffback
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Brimstone Canary
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

JULY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

What an enjoyable month for watching garden birds! The on-going drought means that the food I put out is appreciated by the locals – they have been through a lot of fruit and seed this month! The latest addition to the feeding table are seed cakes which Ceridwen from next door and a friend made for me over the weekend. These have been devoured by the Fiscal Shrikes, Blackcollared Barbets, Boubous, Blackheaded Orioles – and even the Laughing Doves.

Fiscal Shrike

Morrigan’s feeder is a popular haunt in the early mornings and even has queues of birds either waiting their turn or preparing to muscle in on the fine seed I put there.

Laughing Doves

No Lanner Falcon this month, but I had a wonderful view of a Black Harrier being mobbed by a pair of Pied Crows all the way across the garden until they disappeared into the bright sun already lowering in the sky. I have often noticed a Black Harrier perched on telephone wires on the hill above our house over the past few weeks.

Other welcome newcomers to this month’s list include a Hoopoe, a couple of Spectacled Weavers and Pintailed Whydahs. The latter are still in their winter tweeds, although a few are beginning to show a paler breast – the beginnings of their summer sartorial splendour of black and white tuxedo.

Pintailed Whydah with Laughing Doves in the background

The Cape Weavers are showing their breeding blush of colour around their faces – some are almost a deep russet. With winter nearing its end (according to the calendar, if not the current temperature) Village Weavers are also coming out in their breeding colours.

Cape Weaver on the left with a Village Weaver on the right

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Darter
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whitenecked Raven

SPEKBOOM

Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) grows primarily in the dry areas of the Eastern Cape.

Recent research has shown Spekboom to be an excellent ‘carbon sponge’ with the ability to sequestrate (absorb) free carbon from the atmosphere which is used to make plant tissue. It does so particularly efficiently, which means that a stand of Spekboom has the ability to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than an equal amount of deciduous forest. Spekboom is unique in that it stores solar energy to photosynthesise at night. This makes it ten times more effective per hectare at carbon fixing than a tropical rain forest. Each hectare of Spekboom can capture 4,2 tons of carbon every year.

Note the thicket of Spekboom behind this Cape buffalo.

You can see the shape of the leaves of the Spekboom in this picture of a Cape Weaver.

Because of its ability to capture carbon, Spekboom is being replanted in degraded thicket areas in the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, the Addo Elephant National Park, and in the Great Fish Nature Reserve. These projects not only help to restore natural ecosystems, but as they are labour-intensive, they provide a source of income for rural communities and thereby help to alleviate poverty. The picture below illustrates an area of the Great Fish River Nature Reserve where cuttings of Spekboom have been planted.

Here you can see how other cuttings have bushed out over time.

Small star-shaped pink flowers are borne en masse from late winter to spring, usually after the first rains. They are a rich source of nectar for many insects, which in turn attract insectivorous birds.

This dragonfly is resting on a sprig of Spekboom.

Here a Cape Sparrow perches on Spekboom.

The ubiquitous dense stands of succulent Spekboom form an important part of the diet of the elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park. Their top-down browsing habits apparently help the plants to spread and thrive by promoting the natural umbrella-shaped canopy. Spekboom regenerates quickly, ensuring a regular food supply. Note the baby elephant feeding on Spekboom in the picture below.

AUGUST 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

Spring is in the air – not officially for that only happens on 1st September. Nature does not adhere to those human desires to carve time into clear blocks of expectation. Headline news is that Whiterumped Swifts made their first appearance today – earlier than usual – and that means that the Lesserstriped Swallows cannot be far behind. Klaas’ Cuckoo has also made an early entrance this spring. African Green Pigeons now call regularly from within the thick foliage of the Natal Fig and with the warmer weather comes the melodious sounds of Fierynecked Nightjars. I am very pleased to have seen more of the Redbacked Shrike this month as well as the Spectacled Weaver.

Weavers are becoming more serious about their nest-building. The image below is the start of a Cape Weaver nest in a Pompon tree.

startofcapeweavernest

The Pintailed Whydahs – most of the males have almost divested themselves of their buff winter dress – are becoming more aggressive. I wonder which of the six males I saw bossing each other around this morning will claim our garden as its territory this summer.

Mrs. Greater Doublecollared Sunbird has been collecting feathers for nest lining. They seem to be enjoying the nectar in the brilliant orange flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle, while the Black Sunbirds are seen more frequently in the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina caffra.

Greaterdoublecollaredsunbird

Laughing Doves abound. This pair is perched in a Syringa tree, which is heavy with fruit.

laughingdoves

With so many domestic animals around the suburbs these days, Cattle Egrets are a common sight – they look especially beautiful in flight. A pair of Egyptian Geese have been honking overhead too lately and a pair of Knysna Louries regularly make their way through the trees to drink and bathe in one of our birdbaths. This Forktailed Drongo is perched in the Acacia caffra, which is just beginning to show its spring foliage.

forktaileddrongo

In non-birding news, Bryan – the angulate tortoise – emerged from his winter hideout under a tangle of aloes this morning and has been walking around in search of food.

angulatetortoise

Sammy – the Leopard tortoise – has only got as far as exposing himself to the sun, but has not budged all day. He spent the winter in a mass of Van Staden daisies nest to our swimming pool. Both are looking healthy after their period of torpidity.

leopardtortoise

My August list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
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
Egyptian Goose
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbacked Shrike
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green Woodhoopoe)
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

ADDO SPRING

While the rest of the country is in the grip of drought, this part of the Eastern Cape is at least able to enjoy the verdant pleasures of spring thanks to an abundance of rain. The Addo Elephant National Park is awash with spring beauty: swathes of yellow flowers merging into grammaceous fields of lush green edged with the darker hues of indigenous bush. All this sweetly-scented loveliness is a far cry from the dry-mantled complexion of winter.

Addoinspring

Beautiful flowers are evident all over the Park, from patches of mixed colours to the bright yellow carpets of gazanias or senecio flowers.

mixedflowers

gazanias

Zebra and kudu were in abundance in the northern section of the Park, although we only spotted a few kudu in the southern part.

zebra

kudu

The ever-curious suricates, large eland, shiny blesbuck, the ubiquitous warthogs and the ever-beautiful elephants made driving through the Park a pleasure. We even managed to spot a lioness and two cubs late in the afternoon. Birds are actively concerned about future progeny at this time of the year: a pair of Egyptian Geese guarded their goslings on Ghwarrie Dam, Cape Weavers were building their nests in acacia trees growing in the Woodlands area, and a Bokmakierie was spotted collecting caterpillars to feed its young.

capeweavernest

bokmakierie

We counted fifteen tortoises throughout the day and dodged many dung beetles scurrying across the road.

dungbeetle

My bird list is:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Blackshouldered Kite
Blacksmith Plover
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Sparrow
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cattle Egret
Egyptian Goose
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greyheaded Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Hoopoe
Jackal Buzzard
Karoo Robin
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Moorhen
Olive Thrush
Orangethroated Longclaw
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pearlbreasted Swallow
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Rufousnaped lark
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird