THE COY WATER BUCK

This water buck jumped over a fence from the road into a game farm. It stood still for several minutes observing us watching it. As you can tell, it was rather coy about showing itself in full until the end.

The morning was overcast and still fairly misty. Some of the blurring is because of the fence that is in the way.

Look at his beautiful horns.

He steadfastly remained a little hidden by the bush in front.

He moved away at last, although now the fence blurs in the foreground. Nonetheless, what a wonderful sighting!

GLADIOLUS MORTONIUS II

Three years have passed since I first saw the beautiful pink blooms of the Gladiolus mortonius or Small Salmon Gladiolus among the grass growing next to the verge in the industrial part of town. Even though this flower is endemic to the Eastern Cape, I have sought it in vain since then – until my eye was caught by something bright pink on Sunday!

I simply had to stop to feast my eyes on these beautiful funnel-shaped flowers a little way off the dirt road I was driving along.

The sword-shaped leaves were nestled in the grass. I did not see any other of these plants nearby.

I like the darker stripes on the petals – possibly to guide pollinators – and I think there may be a praying mantid in this one. The pictures were all taken on my cell phone and so are not clear enough to zoom in on, unfortunately. I didn’t notice it at the time or I would have taken a specific photo of it.

SOME SCENIC VIEWS

These are some of the views I enjoy while driving along the Highlands road in the Lothians area not far from town:

It is along this road that we sometimes see a variety of wild animals as well as cattle, horses and sheep. It is a tranquil place to be: the area is filled with birdsong, butterflies, insects and spider webs. It is a place to forget about COVID-19 and to relish living in this beautiful country.

EUROPEAN ROLLER

Bear with me: you are going to see the same bird four times in this post mainly because I only saw this one, but because this is the first time I have sighted this bird in the Eastern Cape – previously it has only appeared on my list of birds seen in the Kruger National Park – so of course I feel excited about it! As its name suggests, the European Roller (Coracias garrulous) is a migrant to this country. They start arriving in South Africa from about October and ready themselves for the long journey back to Europe, where they breed, once the cooler temperatures set in from March – another reason why I feel so fortunate having spotted this particular one.

Apart from some of the perils they must face during their annual trek from Europe to South Africa and back, there has been concern about the decline in their numbers because of threats to their northern breeding grounds. These include the loss of suitable breeding habitat thanks to agricultural practices, including the widespread use of pesticides. As these birds eat insects such as butterflies, bees, beetles, wasps, locusts and ants, the pesticides used to ‘protect’ crops will obviously also reduce the availability of their food [how we under-estimate the value of insects!]. At one stage they were regarded as being Near-threatened, but in 2008 the IUCN and Birdlife International down-listed them to Least Concern.

The European Roller is not as colourful as the other rollers we see here, yet its appearance is a pretty combination of subtle variations of blue and tan. In South Africa they are usually seen in grasslands and open woodland, typically perched on an exposed branch or a fence from which they can swoop down to hawk their prey. This one was sitting on a fence post and, once it seemed to have caught something, it flew to the next post and then back to the first one.

The light was not particularly good on this late overcast afternoon and so I could not immediately identify what bird I was seeing until I had downloaded the photographs, lightened them a little and compared them with the photographs in my 2009 copy of Complete Photographic Field Guide Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan. Other pictures and useful information can be accessed at these two sites:

https://dewetswild.com/2018/11/26/european-roller/

https://www.birdlife.org.za/what-we-do/landscape-conservation/what-we-do/flagship-species/european-roller/

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