BULBULS

Bulbuls are among the more cheerful birds that visit our garden: they are lively, loud, and quite cheeky in their antics. I grew up with the Black-eyed Bulbuls (now known as Dark-capped Bulbuls) for they are common in the eastern regions of South Africa.

They are often seen either in pairs or small parties that make short work of any fruit on offer. These birds also eat insects, flower petals and nectar – often visiting the nectar feeder in the garden.

It is the bright orange eye-ring of the African Red-eyed Bulbul that makes it look so attractive. They are more common in the drier western and central parts of the country. This one was photographed at the Augrabies National Park.

I am always happy to see the cheerful Cape Bulbuls with their conspicuous white eye-rings. They inhabit the Karoo and can also be seen in the Addo Elephant National Park.

Then there is another favourite bird which is heard in our garden more often than seen. It used to be called a Sombre Bulbul, but now goes by the moniker of Sombre Greenbul. They are difficult to see because their dull olive green and grey colouring helps them to blend into the thick bush that they favour.

It is in the Kruger National Park that I have made the acquaintance of another bulbul that has had to change its name: the Terrestrial Bulbul is now a Terrestrial Brownbul!

JUNE 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

It is usually a toss-up between the Olive Thrushes or the Laughing Doves which will be the first to arrive at the replenished feeders each morning. Close on their heels come the Southern-masked Weavers – still the most dominant weaver in our garden by far. The male Cape Weavers are already looking ready for the breeding season, with some showing more deeply coloured faces than others:

I never tire of seeing the rather shy Spectacled Weaver that darts out of the shrubbery when the coast is clear and is quick to disappear in a flash:

Black-headed Orioles call from high in the tree tops and have only occasionally swooped down to refresh themselves at the nectar feeder. The Speckled Pigeons have had a bit of a shock this month as we have at last got the boards under the eaves repaired. With a bit of luck they will now seek someone else’s roof in which to raise their next families – they had become too much to deal with in terms of the mess they make and their propensity to chase each other around the ceiling at night. I might have mentioned before that one of them (the same one?) has taken to eating the fish or tiny bits of chicken I put out on occasion – it even chases other birds away until it has eaten its fill. That sounds a little macabre, so here is an ever-cheerful Black-eyed (dark-capped) Bulbul to lift the mood:

Several Common Starlings are coming to visit at a time now, their beaks have turned yellow within the last few weeks, so I imagine they too are thinking about the breeding season ahead. Also in a courting mood has been a pair of Knysna Turacos that have been following each other through the trees and occasionally showing me their beautiful red wings when they fly across the garden. The other morning one of them came to drink at the bird bath not very far from where I was sitting – I felt very privileged to be so close to one. The photograph below is a cheat not from this month, but we all need to see beautiful creatures from time to time and I would love to share this one:

The Bronze Mannikins give me great cause for delight with their daily visits:

Lastly, the Red-winged Starlings continue to fly around the suburb in large flocks. I think whatever fruit they had managed to find in the fig tree is over for now they gather in the Erythrina caffra, where they nibble at the remaining few flowers and at the seedpods. Up to six of them at a time fly down to investigate the apples I have placed in the feeding area – and tend to make short work of them! This is a female:

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

PLEASE FEED ME

Even though the name of the Black-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor) has changed to Dark-capped Bulbul, I still tend to call it the former – old habits die hard! What is far more important is that these cheerful, delightful birds bring with them a liveliness that is difficult to ignore. Their presence in the garden waxes and wanes according to the seasons; sometimes there are only a pair or two while at other times whole families are being fed at once.

While they breed almost throughout the year, peaking during the summer months, it is more common here for these bulbuls to breed between September and April. This explains why I had a grand view of chicks being fed this morning while I was enjoying tea in the garden. While both parents are known to feed the growing chicks, only one adult was present during this domestic interlude.

At first I thought it was feeding only one chick – and that chick looked quite capable of pecking at the cut apples and feeding itself. That is until the parent alighted next to it. Then it fluffed out its feathers and quivered its wings whilst opening its beak in a most appealing way. Please feed me it indicated very clearly.

A sibling joined the fray so that the parent was hard-pressed stuffing its beak with apple to feed one chick (while the other fed itself) and then turned its attention to the other chick. It must have been handy to have the apples on hand for, apart from fruit, these bulbuls also eat flower petals, nectar and glean insects from leaves. Stuffing apple into the gaping mouths of your youngsters must be a lot easier – and quicker!

OCTOBER 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

Although I have not been able to photograph one, I am delighted to hear the Red-chested Cuckoo once more. It is commonly known as the Piet-my-vrou here, as that is what its call sounds like – a strident command early in the morning, occasionally in the afternoon and even sometimes in the evening. Both the Klaas’ Cuckoo and Diederik Cuckoo entertain us with their distinctive calls during the day. Of course the Hadeda Ibises continue to wake us early and call to each other across town before they settle down for the night.

There seems to be an explosion of the Dark-capped Bulbul population of late. They queue up to drink from the nectar feeder, biff each other out of the way to eat apples and oranges, and several pairs sit very close together on the branches in true lovey-dovey style.

I am used to the Laughing Doves rising in a whoosh whenever a particularly noisy vehicle passes by, the neighbour might slam a door, or a lawnmower starts up in a nearby garden. There are times though when all the birds disappear in a quiet flash – a sure sign of a predator on the prowl. This month began with a flying visit from an African Harrier Hawk and ended with a low-flying Yellow-billed Kite, both of which saw the garden birds head for the closest cover.

Mundane tasks, such as hanging up the laundry, can have its interesting moments too. The light and distance were of little help to me, yet I could hear the persistent tap-tap-tapping coming from nearby that I dropped what I was doing to scan the trees … and there it was: a Cardinal Woodpecker chipping away at a dead branch of the Erythrina tree that towers over the back garden.

A well turned out visitor is the male Pin-tailed Whydah. He visits fairly often, although I have only seen one female in our garden this month.

While this is the best I could do from a distance with only my cell phone at hand, here is proof that a small flock of Cape Glossy Starlings paid our garden a visit.

I have often said that birdwatching in our garden is balm for my soul. October has been no different.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk
African Hoopoe
Amethyst Sunbird
Black-collared Barbet
Black-headed Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Dark-capped Bulbul
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redchested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

A CLOSER LOOK AT DARK-CAPPED BULBULS

Dark-capped Bulbuls often feature in this blog thanks to their frequent visits to our garden, where they splash in the bird baths and make the most of the food on offer. They are bold and gregarious birds. This one appears to be enjoying the spring sunshine.

They sometimes eat the tiny blocks of cheese I put out (with the Cape Robin-chat in mind), are very fond of any fruit and make frequent visits to the nectar feeder.

The Dark-capped Bulbuls are also enjoying the nectar and flowers on the Erythrina caffra which is blooming now. I have also observed them eating spiders and caterpillars. I am intrigued by the way they often spread their wings as well as their tail feathers when they arrive to eat – whether there are other birds present or not.