FEBRUARY 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

There are a few mysteries about the avian visitors to our garden that have had me puzzled this month. Among them are: why are the apples I have put out been pecked at only a few times and then left to shrivel? I have tried two different kinds (both have been tasty and juicy for me); why am I seeing ever fewer Village Weavers – are the Southern Masked Weavers finally taking over this territory? Where have the Speckled Mousebirds gone? I hear both Olive Thrushes and Cape Robin-chats in the shrubbery and yet see very little of them in the feeding area. Common Starlings pop in only every now and then; and the Black-headed Orioles very seldom visit the nectar feeder … Drought cannot be the only answer, for I provide fresh water daily; the seed is replenished daily and I regularly replenish any other food I happen to put out.

Such questions continue to mull over in my mind as I settle to watch birds every morning and as often as I can during the afternoon. February is a time of change: our weather remains very hot albeit with increasingly cooler days between; leaves on the deciduous trees are yellowing, turning brown and float to the ground in the slightest breeze; thin layers of cloud arrive – some even tower up enticingly high on the horizon to catch the pinkish light of the setting sun, yet hardly any rain worth mentioning has fallen. The Common Fiscals and Southern Masked Weavers are still feeding their impatient young; the Lesser-striped Swallows have mostly disappeared and the White-rumped Swifts will be off before long.

The Cape White-eyes continue to provide joy as they visit the nectar feeder often and work their way through the shrubbery.

I had a magnificent view of an African Harrier-Hawk flying low over our garden for two days in a row. On the first occasion I was alerted to its presence by the birds I was watching disappearing in a whoosh of feathers and dust as they sought shelter in the surrounding trees and shrubs. The following day I watched as a pair of Red winged Starlings escorted it out of ‘their’ airspace.

A pair of Hadeda Ibises regularly forage through the leaf litter in the garden – very quietly for such large birds until something gives them a fright and they soar away with loud ‘ha-ha-hadeda’ sounds.

Having had another eye operation this month has made using binoculars impossible, nor can I use my usual spectacles with any confidence yet, so my identification of this as a Forest Canary may be way off and I am happy for it to be placed into its correct ‘box’:

My bird list for February contains both the regulars as well as some new arrivals:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Forest Canary
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Long-billed Crombec
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Pigeon
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

DRAWN TO WATER

As we are experiencing the heat of summer, it seems fitting to draw attention to the attraction of water for birds and animals. I start in my garden then travel through my archives to a wonderful time spent – oh so long ago – in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

An Olive Thrush chooses a quiet moment to step into the shallow bird bath tucked into a shady section of the garden, where there is plenty of cover nearby to duck into should the need arise. It glances around whilst standing stock-still, as if it is assessing what dangers might be lurking around before it takes a few sips of water then splashes itself liberally in the bird bath.

Five Cape White-eyes gather for a communal drink and bathe at a different bird bath in a sunnier spot – still with plenty of cover to dive into if necessary.

This Speckled Pigeon casts a wary eye upwards before settling into the same bird bath for a drink.

Further afield, a lioness slakes her thirst at a water trough in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

So does a Gemsbok, accompanied by a trio of Cape Turtle Doves.

Lastly, a Yellow Mongoose ignores a swarm of thirsty bees to drink at a bird bath set underneath a communal tap in one of the rest camps in the Kgalagadi.

DRAWN TO THE PUB

Apart from the blossoms of the Erythrina caffra trees, there is little in the way of natural sources of nectar for birds at the moment. This is why the ‘pub’ in our garden has become increasingly attractive and needs to be refilled every day – if not twice in the day. A few of the recent visitors are:

A pair of Cape White-eyes visit the pub several times a day. One usually waits on a branch nearby for its turn. They are small enough birds for a pair to perch and drink at the same time, which is delightful to see. On other occasions a small flock of them descend on the area, with much chatter has they dart in for a drink when they can.

Cape Weavers have little in the way of manners. They swoop in to drink whenever they feel the need – which is often. The blush on this bird shows the breeding season has arrived.

Here is an example of the dominance of the weavers: a Cape Weaver dislodges Mrs. Amethyst Sunbird.

Mrs. Amethyst Sunbird managed to return, yet was conscious of a Cape White-eye waiting in the wings for its turn to drink.

Lastly, a very welcome visitor to the ‘pub’ is always the brightly coloured Black-headed Oriole.

AUGUST 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an interesting month for watching birds in our garden, beginning with the unmistakable sound of Red-necked Spurfowl under my bedroom window early in the morning. I counted six – not regular visitors, yet I am pleased to see how far they have ventured into the garden. One even hopped up onto the raised bird bath for a drink.

The Black-eyed Bulbuls (Dark-capped these days!) are courting – I watched a pair canoodling on the branches, looking very lovey-dovey – in numbers. This morning I counted eight of them in the feeding area. Several Speckled Mousebirds can also be seen cosying up to each other. The two Common Fiscals (one ringed and the other not) are clearly rivals and dart in and out trying to avoid each other. When they do meet they set up a loud haranguing match and have even attacked each other! I have observed a fiscal spreading out its tail feathers when confronted by a Black-collared Barbet at the feeding tray – determined to stand its ground. The barbets nearly always arrive as a pair. Another regular pair of visitors is the Streakyheaded Seedeater.

I put out both fine and coarse seed daily as well as filling up the nectar feeder. Other fare usually includes fruit, finely chopped pieces of meat, cat crumbles, or fat smeared on biscuits or thin slices of bread. This month I decided to take careful note of who ate what:

Dark-capped Bulbuls have enjoyed fat, cheese and fruit.

Both Common Fiscals seem to eat anything that is not fruit and are particularly partial to meat. This one, however, snitched part of my breakfast!

While the Red-winged Starlings are partial to fruit, they also eat cheese. This female is about to tuck into the pears.

Speckled Mousebirds prefer fruit and are prepared to wait their turn for it.

I usually associate weavers with eating the grain. These Cape Weavers, however, are tucking into a piece of fish. They also eat cat food, cheese, and fat.

The pair of Cape Robin-chats usually wait in the wings for the main rush to be over before they feed. I have seen them eating fat, as well as tiny portions of meat. This one has been eating cat food.

Common Starlings seem to eat anything. They tuck into fruit, cheese, fat, bread and cat food with relish.

I associate Cape White-eyes with fruit, nectar, and aphids. Yesterday though a few of them made off with tiny cubes of cheese.

My August bird list is:
African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul (Black-cap)
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Longbilled Crombec
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Spectacled Weaver
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Yellowfronted Canary

WAITING FOR THE PUB

You can tell from the varying levels – and the background – that these photographs were not all taken on the same day. Collectively, they tell the story of a few of the many visitors to our nectar feeder – which regular readers will know I frequently refer to as the pub. Apart from the sunbirds – not featured in this tale – by far the largest and showiest avian visitor is the Black-headed Oriole. It is not easily intimidated and so usually does not have to wait politely for its turn.

Waiting to use the pub – or being bounced from it – is a daily occurrence, as the following sequence will show. Firstly we have a pair of Cape White-eyes which often arrive together and take turns to sip the nectar. One might ‘bounce’ the other if it feels it has been waiting for too long, but they mostly swop around fairly quickly and without fuss.

They are small birds and are easily ousted by the larger and more aggressive Cape Weaver.

The latter snaps at anyone else coming for a drink and frequently chases the ‘drinker’ away only to abandon the pub to chase someone else. When it does get to the pub, it has a tendency to hog it.

One bird it will always give way to is the Fork-tailed Drongo, which swoops down with the confidence of taking up his rightful place at the pub. There is no hesitation on its part at all.

Such is the pressure on this ‘nectar’ on some days that the queue gets longer. I have featured these particular Cape Weavers before, however they provide a useful illustration of the traffic build-up that is sometimes experienced.