FRIENDLY FISCAL

The Common Fiscal gets a bad rap from many gardeners and tend to be ignored by the average person who sees one in passing. A pair of Common Fiscals were our first visitors once we had settled in at the Mountain Zebra National Park. We had no sooner put together a picnic lunch when the first one perched on a twig above us. While it observed our fare, it was joined by another. Without being bothersome, both were quick to pick up anything that messed on the table – such as a crumb of cheese. Both arrived, one after the other, at every outside meal we enjoyed. The way they behaved gave the clear impression of them being a pair.

Two Common Fiscals visit our garden. The ringed one has been observed here for several years and  has often featured in my blog. I have been aware of an un-ringed visitor for a year or two, but haven’t taken much notice of either of them until the restrictions of the pandemic encouraged me to observe our avian visitors more closely. The ringed one tends to fly straight in, grab what is edible, and fly off – especially now as there appear to be youngsters to be fed. While it isn’t unduly aggressive, it is ‘business-like’ and expects to have its way on the feeding table. Both fiscals are adept at varying their route back to their respective nests.

I say ‘respective nests’ without having seen either. This is because they do not give the impression of being a pair: the ringed one has been seen dive-bombing the un-ringed one off the feeding tray, and they have had some loud slanging matches in the branches – ending with both flying off in different directions.

The un-ringed Common Fiscal is less aggressive. It perches on a high branch and observes the birds feeding below and waits for an opportune moment to pick up what it needs. I call it the Friendly Fiscal for, over the past few months, it has becoming bolder in its approach: perching just above where we are having tea and even dropping down for a titbit. Ever bolder, it began perching on the edge of a flower pot right next to my chair while I breakfasted outdoors.

On more than one occasion it has perched on the edge of my plate (on a stool next to me) to peck at whatever was there. Once, it inspected a plate of lunch left on a chair while my husband went indoors to collect his hat.

It now often sits on the edge of the table with an expectant look in its eye.

On a particularly chilly morning this Friendly Fiscal perched on the end of my shoe and looked up at me. I had no titbit to offer it, so it began tugging at my sock as if to say “What about me?” I collected a tiny piece of meat which it took gently from my hand. It now often takes food from my hand!

Yesterday – our first beautifully warm day for a while – I was having tea in the garden when the Friendly Fiscal perched on my toe!

As you can tell, I am becoming very fond of this fiscal – Common or not!

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

JULY 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

The traditional calendar notwithstanding – nor the fluctuations in temperature between very cold and fairly summery – the birds seem to know a thing or two about when to court, when to breed, and when spring is on its way. The Olive Thrushes, usually quick to see what is on offer, have been more furtive of late. Instead of eating their fill, drinking or bathing afterwards and then perching on a nearby branch until they are ready for the next round, two of them arrive one after the other – disappearing in different directions – to gobble what they can and then carry off bits of food to their nest. I think one is located in our bottom ‘wild’ garden but am disinclined to disturb them. The other day an Olive Thrush took a dislike to a Speckled Pigeon right across the garden for no apparent reason.

Laughing Doves court throughout the year. I counted twenty-six of them the other day – and have yet to come across a single nest!

The yellow beaks of the Common Starlings are an indication that they are also in breeding mode.

There are two Common Fiscals that arrive separately every day – distinguishable only because one has been ringed.

A female Greater Double-collared Sunbird has spent about four days gathering tiny fragments of lichen, small feathers, and even soft grass seeds with which to line her nest – which is possibly in the hedge between us and our neighbours – while Mr Sunbird drinks his fill at the nectar feeder and makes loud territorial noises from on high in the Erythrina tree in the back garden.

The Streakyheaded Seedeaters always arrive as a pair.

Most of the Village Weavers and Southern Masked Weavers are looking a little worse for wear at the moment as they are growing into their breeding plumage.

One Cape Weaver has already built a nest in the side garden, while others arrive with strips of reed leaves in their beaks only to drop them when they tuck into the seeds for a meal.

Here you can see the difference in the shape of the beak of a Blackcollared Barbet and a Black-eyed Bulbul as they feed on cut apples.

Speckled Mousebirds perch patiently in the shrubbery for an opportunity to come down to eat the fruit.

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Blackshouldered Kite
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Crowned Hornbill
Crowned Plover
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Spectacled Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Yellowfronted Canary

VISITORS TO THE BIRD FEEDERS

I move my bird feeders around from time to time, mainly to protect whatever is trying to grow underneath them. This Cape Weaver is eating seeds on the bench-like feeder my granddaughter made for me. You will notice that he is losing his bright breeding plumage in readiness for the winter months.

This rather surprised looking Streaky-headed Seed-eater is sharing the ‘house’ feeder with a Village Weaver.

I used to place this fruit feeder in the fork of a tree, where this Common Fiscal is feasting on cut apples. I have since moved it to a rock elsewhere in the garden.

A Cape Robin-chat is doing the same.

Apart from providing the bird visitors to my garden with seeds and fruit, I also have a nectar feeder. Here a Spectacled Weaver is paying it a visit.

KEEPING COOL

Birds possess a remarkable talent for regulating their body temperature. We have all seen them heading for a bird bath or garden spray to cool off in the water, but they also employ other means of beating the heat.

I have noticed an absence of birds during the hottest parts of the day – so, for example, if I put out seed once the sun is well up and the temperature is already high, few if any birds come to investigate it until the temperature begins to drop in the late afternoon. We have been experiencing temperatures in the high thirty degrees Celsius for most of summer. As birds do not sweat, some open their bills and flutter their throat membrane (called gular fluttering) to allow moisture to evaporate out of the mouth. Here you can see a Common Fiscal panting in this manner even while it is seeking shade in the dense undergrowth. This bird is ringed, making me suspect that it is the same Common Fiscal that I have been photographing in my garden over the past three years at least.

The other interesting aspect to observe is that this bird looks ‘thinner’ than usual. This is because it is holding its feathers more closely to its body – another means of keeping cool. Compare it with this one taken on a cooler day.

I am pleased to report that we have enjoyed a short period of light rain, which has cooled the temperature significantly. Instead of seeing the Common Fiscal hiding in the shade with its beak agape like this

I should see it looking for food like this: