FOUR HUNGRY BIRDS

The birds in our garden are regularly supplied with seeds and fruit, although there are a number of berries on indigenous trees at this time of the year as well as succulent flowers on the Erythrina caffra tree especially. Weavers and other smaller birds are provided with fine grass seeds in the hanging feeders and coarse seeds, such as crushed maize and millet are scattered on the ground for doves and pigeons. Well, that is the way it is supposed to work. Here is one of many Cape Weavers making the most of the abundance of Erythrina caffra flowers.

Amethyst sunbirds, Speckled Mousebirds, Common Starlings, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos, Laughing Doves, African Green Pigeons, Black-eyed Bulbuls and a variety of other birds visit these blossoms during the day. Laughing Doves, Red-eyed Doves and the Speckled Pigeons also gather below the hanging feeders to eat the seeds that fall to the ground. These Laughing Doves have decided to get to the source:

Not to be outdone, a Speckled Pigeon has usurped Morrigan’s feeder for a good meal:

There are a lot of berries and seeds around for the Speckled Mousebirds to feed on, but here they have homed in on an orange I put out on the feeding tray:

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AUGUST 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

I am increasingly becoming like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland who said “I’m late, I’m late! … I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” It is always my intention to post my monthly Garden Birds blog entry on the last day of each month yet, here I am well into the next one, looking back at the month past.

The weavers heralded the arrival of spring during the course of August, their bright yellow plumage adding much needed colour to our drab-looking garden. Some Village Weavers (seen at the bird feeder below) have already started constructing their nests in the enormous Natal Fig tree.

Meanwhile the male Cape Weavers are sporting an orange-brown wash over their faces and throats – some more intensely coloured than others.

Early nest-building has extended to the Hadeda Ibises as well, for several of these natural early morning wake-up alarm birds have been seen collecting twigs for nesting materials and taking them to the Erythrina caffra tree in the back garden as well as the Natal Fig in the front.  While I have not yet discovered where the Cape Robin-chat is nesting, it sings from the same perch every day and disappears into the bush behind it. Careful observation will provide clues to the whereabouts of its nest in due course.

The Knysna Turacos and Fork-tailed Drongos are clearly courting their mates at the moment.

Happily for me, the afternoons are filled with melodious calls of the Olive Thrushes and Red-eyed Doves as they call to each other, the latter from the depths of the Natal Fig in the mornings and from the Erythrina caffra during the late afternoons.

An appearance by a Eurasian Hobby sent the birds scattering the other day and silence reigned until it gave up and disappeared. Cheeky Common Starlings are back, elbowing other birds out of the way to get to the food on the feeding tray. Some Cape Wagtails have bobbed about our non-existent lawn looking for food and I have watched a Streakyheaded Seedeater stuff its beak with seeds to take to its young. All-in-all, this has been a good month for watching birds in my garden.

My August bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Eurasian Hobby
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

CHANGING SEASONS

As the cycle of life continues, the seasons gradually bring change with them. We can already see the end of winter and an early start to spring in our garden. These range from dry seed pods, to the bright blooms of the Erythrina caffra, to a peach tree that is hastening from blossoming to sprouting leaves – as if there is no time to waste.

Some birds have already hatched their first batch of young, while others, such as this Cape Weaver, are sporting snazzy new courting colours.

NOTE: Click on a photograph should you wish to see a larger version.

A HOT SUMMER AFTERNOON

The temperature has reached 36°C, turning the outside air into a furnace. The brick paving shaded by the house radiates heat, while the bricks still in the sun are too hot to walk on barefoot.

What is left of the lawn grass crunches underfoot.

It hasn’t rained for months and the sky obstinately remains a beautiful clear blue.

Not a leaf stirs, only the heat waves bouncing off the walls and the brick paving. The Hadeda Ibises sitting on their nest in the Natal Fig tree keep making ‘bib-bib’ sounds.

A Cape Weaver drinks deeply from the nectar feeder, arriving and leaving silently as if there is no energy left to make a sound.

A hot breeze sets a few leaves in motion and then dies abruptly. Hark! There is a wisp of cloud creating patterns in the sky!

It dissipates while I watch. A young Common Fiscal seeks food on the hard-baked ground then flies into the shrubbery, its quest unsuccessful.

Nothing stays in the direct sunlight for long.

WONDERFUL WEAVERS

Weavers are amazing birds – you only have to watch the males weaving their intricate nests from grass to know that. We, with all our fingers and thumbs, would be hard-pressed to even try, yet they manage this process – often hanging upside down to get their work done, using their beaks only!

They are gregarious and rather noisy birds. The most common weaver in our garden is the Village Weaver, closely followed by the Cape Weaver. Both are present in fairly large numbers that wax and wane throughout the year, so we can observe them in the full flush of their breeding plumage as well as in their drab winter tweeds. Southern Masked Weavers occasionally drop by and – very infrequently – a Spectacled Weaver pays a visit. Singular, because I have only ever observed one of them at a time.

There is plenty of food in our garden to sustain them throughout the year as the weavers not only eat seeds, but tuck into the fruit I put out, and readily feed off the nectar from the aloes or the Erythrina blossoms as well as visiting our nectar feeder when the natural sources are scarce. I have also observed them eating termite alates.

Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) used to be known as Spotted-backed Weavers as its characteristic feature is … its spotted or mottled back! The cucullatus part of their name refers to their hood or crown. The name Village Weaver probably derives from their habit of nesting near human settlements. The completed nests are kidney- shaped with a large entrance on the underside.

Casual observers often confuse them with the Southern Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) which looks similar in passing, but only superficially.

The Southern Masked Weaver has a dullish red-brown eye and, notably, a mostly plain back with a greenish tinge. The crown of breeding males is bright yellow with a narrow black forehead and black facial mask that forms a point at the throat.

Apart from its mottled black and yellow back, the Village Weaver has a distinctive dark red eye and its black hood extends further down its throat than that of the Southern Masked Weaver.

Cape Weavers (Ploceus capensis) are endemic to South Africa and are easily recognisable by their bright yellow colouring and the orange facial blush of the males during the breeding season. The irises of these birds are very pale. Capensis refers to the bird first being identified in the Cape peninsula.

The Spectacled Weaver (Ploceus ocularis) is also yellow, but sports a neat black eye-stripe. I have yet to get a good photograph of one in our garden and am re-using one of the very few I have. Ocularis refers to the eyes. It is interesting to note that these weavers retain their distinctive plumage throughout the year. Unlike the gregariousness of other weavers, the Spectacled Weavers tend to be solitary, forming a permanent pair bond.

Their nest is of a particularly interesting shape. This one, seen in the Addo Elephant National Park, was too far away for a clear photograph but you can get an at least see the long entrance tube.

ADDO DAWN

The mournful calls of Emerald Spotted Wood Doves wafted across the Spekboom from around four in the morning. By first light several birds had begun methodically combing the camping area for bits of food that may have been dropped during suppers the night before. Among them were:

A Southern Boubou looking quizzically at the camera before resuming its search between the gravel stones.

An adult Olive Thrush that seized upon a baby tomato at the base of the Spekboom hedge, crushed it in its beak, and then fed it to the spotted juvenile following it around.

This Laughing Dove looks as if it has just woken up!

A more alert Redeyed Dove stretching to pick up a tiny seed lodged between the gravel.

This brightly coloured Cape Weaver flew down to see what may be hiding behind the leaves.

As did a sharp-eyed Southern Masked Weaver. You can tell the sun had risen by then!

While a curious Cape Bulbul watched the proceedings from on high.

Of course there were many more, but we had poured a warm drink and gone off to explore …

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.