OCTOBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

Despite the heat and the drought – or perhaps because of it – October has been a marvellous month for watching birds in my garden. A number of birds have been seeking out the nectar feeder. These include weavers, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos as well as Cape White-eyes. The latter queue in the surrounding branches to take turns.

Sunbirds are regular visitors too, one of which is the very beautiful Greater Double-collared Sunbird. A pair of them have been flitting around the branches of the fig tree, where I suspect they may have a nest although I have not been able to see it.

I have mentioned before that this garden seems to host one pair of Streaky-headed Seedeaters that have become regular visitors to the seed feeders, although I have observed one of them pecking at an apple too. If one arrives first, it will call to the other to join it. By the end of the month they had brought their youngster along, so now there are three.

Olive Thrushes feature regularly on this blog for they are such fun to observe. They tend to be cautious about approaching the feeding table and one is often chased off by another before it even gets a chance to sample the fruit. Then it will either fly away or scurry off into the undergrowth only to reappear as soon as it thinks the coast is clear.

Spring (not that either the weather or the environment feels or looks like spring at the moment) heralds the arrival of cuckoos. Klaas’ Cuckoo has been around for a while, but we now hear the Red-chested Cuckoo and the Diederik Cuckoo as well. I was delighted to see the Lesser-striped Swallows arrive at last – later than usual – and am even more delighted that a pair of them are attempting to build their mud nest under the eaves outside our bathroom, although where they find the mud remains a mystery. The most exciting ‘new’ bird on my list this month is a first-timer ever: a Red-throated Wryneck. You will have to forgive the quality of the photograph as it is cropped from a telephoto shot taken from underneath the enormous Tipuana tree it was perched on. It has been around for about a week.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Black-backed Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Bush Shrike
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

JULY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The drought continues.

Laughing Doves never disappoint: they gather in the treetops to bask in the early morning sunshine; scour the ground for fallen seeds or cling onto the hanging feeders to eat the fine grass seed meant for the smaller birds; and fill the garden with their gentle cooing sound throughout the day. Our garden would be poorer without them.

It would probably be poorer without the Speckled Pigeons too, as messy as these home invaders are! The bright yellow Black-headed Orioles are a delight to see and hear every day. They tend to call to each other from the tree tops and swoop down in a flash of yellow to drink from the nectar feeder.

At this time of the year the Redwinged Starlings still fly around in flocks, making the most of the natural fruits and berries available in the neighbourhood.

A Cape Robin-chat regularly serenades me from the shrubbery while I am enjoying a cup of tea in the garden. There are fewer of the other songsters, the Olive Thrushes, about than usual. However, if I look around very carefully indeed, I can usually find one perched quietly in a tree watching me!

A Boubou has taken to helping itself to the offerings on Morrigan’s feeder from time to time.

Meanwhile, Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds have been flitting around the garden making happy noises as if to say that spring is in the air. Black-collared Barbets are also calling to each other, but have been rather shy about appearing in the open this month – as have the ‘resident’ / regular pair of Knysna Turacos. The Fork-tailed Drongos never fail to please with their acrobatics and it is always a pleasure to spot Cape White-eyes.

A small flock of Crowned Hornbills paid a visit this month. They are always most welcome.

My July bird list is:

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

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you would like a larger view.

TWO BIRD BATH VISITORS

The bird baths in our garden are less popular during the cooler weather, although I make sure they are filled with clean water every day. It was during a very quiet period in the garden that these two visitors arrived within minutes of each other. First was a Cape White-eye:

This was followed by a Cape Robin:

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

NOVEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

I wonder if you also found November hurtling through time with gathering momentum. I have at last found a moment to reflect on an interesting month of birding in my garden. Only two newcomers this month: a Hoopoe – the ground is so hard at the moment that I am not surprised they have not featured on our lawn since February! The other is a pair of the very beautiful Paradise Flycatchers that we sometimes glimpse flitting between trees.

Redbilled Woodhoopoes have been regular visitors. Not only do they probe the cracks in the bark of older trees, but I see them using their long curved beaks to probe deep between the aloe leaves. They also occasionally visit the feeding tray to eat apples – and cheese!  Speaking of which, it is interesting to observe how meticulous all the birds are about wiping their beaks clean on the branches after eating, and even after drinking at the ‘nectar pub’.

Cape White-eyes are regular visitors to the nectar feeder. They look left and right between every sip and seldom stay for long at a time, preferring to fly off and return a few minutes later. They too enjoy pecking at the apples I put out.

A really beautiful sight is that of the Sacred Ibises flying in formation over the garden at the end of the day. They fly just high enough for the setting sun to highlight their white wings. I usually count about seventeen of them at flying graciously together after having spent their day at a dam on the edge of town.

I have already featured the nest of the Fork-tailed Drongo, but think it is worth showing it again. The parents are still taking turns to incubate the eggs and have been seen mobbing a Pied Crow more than once.

The fig tree remains a favourite place for the African Green Pigeons to roost – the thick foliage makes them very difficult to see unless they move. For the first time the other day, I observed one feeding another and wonder if this is part of a courting ritual. A pair of Red-winged Starlings are well beyond that stage for they have been filling their beaks with fruit to take off to feed their youngsters. One comes down to fill up on apples, waits for the other to arrive and do the same, then the two fly off together in the direction of their nest.

Nests: the Lesser-striped Swallows have had such a to-do already. Long-time readers will be aware that this pair has built numerous nests under our eaves. Sometimes they have managed to breed successfully, but every summer their mud nest collapses at least once and they have to start from scratch. Last summer they built their best nest yet: solid, beautifully formed and well positioned outside our front door. This nest was usurped by a pair of White-rumped Swifts and they had to build elsewhere. That beautiful nest was still intact on their return and they wasted no time in laying an egg – wonderful, I thought, until I came home to find an egg dashed on the floor and had to duck as the swifts flew above my head. They had grabbed the home for themselves again.

There was nothing for it. Despite the paucity of mud, the intrepid swallows mustered their courage to build a nest from scratch on the site of their original endeavours. It was coming on well – very well.

Then, alas, for reasons I am unable to fathom, the structure came tumbling down and turned to dust. They are now trying to build a nest at a different site they have used before. We need rain badly for all sorts of reasons, but especially to provide good building material for this plucky pair of birds!

My November bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

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.

DECEMBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an excellent month for watching birds in our garden. However, in between entertaining friends and family, celebrating Christmas, and sneaking in a visit to the Addo Elephant National Park before the year ended, there have not been many photographic opportunities, and so you may have seen some of these pictures before.

Village Weavers have continued to entertain us with their cheerful chattering, bright yellow plumage and their constant bickering at the feeding stations. Despite several nests having been crafted all over the garden, few have actually been used for breeding.

Laughing Doves are regulars too: they queue up on the telephone cable in the mornings, waiting for me to scatter seed on the lawn. They gradually move from the cable to the trees, coming ever closer until they alight cautiously. The flock (for there are many of them now) rise in an audible ‘whoosh’ at the slightest movement or sound that triggers their alarm system, only to return moments later.

Cape White-eyes are among the first garden birds to stir before first light. They are making a meal of the ripening plums at the moment! These are figs in the picture below – I haven’t one of them gorging on the plums to show you.

The Greater Double-collared Sunbird has been making ‘guest appearances’ this month as there is plenty of other food about. I always enjoy the metallic sheen of its feathers.

After a brief absence, it feels good to have the Barthroated Apalis back.

My December bird list is:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie (Turaco)
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary (Seedeater)
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

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.