CAPE WHITE-EYE NEST

I frequently hear the Cape White-eyes long before dawn. Their cheerful calls are surprisingly loud, given their diminutive size when compared with weavers, doves and starlings. They are very sociable birds, often seen in flocks as they glean leaves for tiny insects, such as aphids. This morning I watched a pair of them hanging upside down below the bird bath to reach elusive morsels that were invisible to me.  They regularly visit the feeding station to tuck into the fruit and to drink from the sugar-water feeder.  Cape White-eyes always seem to be ‘on the go’, either feeding or bathing – they love garden sprayers, although we have not been able to use one for years because of the drought.

Cape White-eye

A recent strong wind dislodged a Cape White-eye nest from the thick hedge outside our garage. Their tiny cup-shaped nests are usually well concealed in the foliage anything from 1 to 6 meters above the ground.  I was intrigued for I have never actually spotted them nesting and so was interested in its construction.

Cape White-eye nest

As you can see, it is a small cup made of lichens, dry grass, rootlets, tendrils and other dry plant fibres, bound together with spider webs. I notice two white plastic strips from the bags I get the grain in – snippets of these sometimes get into the coarse seed I sprinkle on the lawn. This nest feels spongy and springy as most of it seems to consist of lichen.

Cape White-eye nest

The nest is built by both sexes and both parents incubate the clutch of two to four eggs for 10 to 14 days.  As both sexes look alike, I have assumed that they both feed the chicks – having seen a pair of them doing so at the feeding station.  This is the underneath of the nest – there is no indication of how the nest is attached to the branches.

Underneath of cape white-eye nest

Footnote: The Red-eyed Dove appears to have abandoned its flimsy nest in the fig tree.

CAPE WHITE-EYES

Seeing the Cape White-eyes flitting about the garden on this chilly overcast morning lifted my spirits for they are such lovely looking birds! This one is perched below the blossom of a Cape Honeysuckle. These bright orange flowers are vying for attention all over the garden.

Cape White-eye

Several years ago I recorded a Cape White-eye that spent about three days reacting to its reflection in the lounge window by chirping and quivering its wings. I noted with interest the way it seemed to puff itself up to deliberately increase its size – each time side-on to its reflection. I usually think of these birds as twittering, almost ‘waxy’ birds happy to be in each other’s company and wonder if this behaviour was a sign of ‘territorial aggression’?

There is plenty of natural food in the garden to sustain these birds throughout the year. I see them foraging in the fig tree, the pompon trees and the Buddleia as well as eating the fruit of the cotoneasters. Now that the aloes are blooming I sometimes see how the Cape White-eyes feed upside down at times to reach the nectar in the succulent-looking aloe spikes. They also tuck into the cut apples I put out and regularly visit the nectar feeder.

Cape White-eye

I have read that their brush-tipped tongues are ideal for eating nectar but, because their beaks are so short, they pierce the base of long narrow flowers, like the aloes and Erythrina blossoms, to get at it.

On hot days it is fun watching as Cape White-eyes flit through the undergrowth, gradually working their way towards the bird bath for a quick splash. They also seem to enjoy the spray from a garden hose and disappear into the bushes afterwards to dry off.

Cape White-eye

Sadly they do fall prey to birds such as the Fiscal Shrike and I recently recorded one being eaten by a Fork-tailed Drongo.

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!

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.