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

WARTHOGS EATING

Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) are ubiquitous in the Eastern Cape. There are sounders of them all over the Addo Elephant National Park that are ignored by many visitors who drive past them, possibly hoping to see ‘more interesting’ or ‘spectacular’ animals further on. Next time you see one close to the road, stop for a moment and watch how the warthog eats. The first thing you might notice is the typical kneeling position they take up when feeding. Callouses on their wrist pads are present from birth and cushion them while the warthogs feed. Their rather strange-looking short neck helps to provide the leverage it requires to dig up tubers or pull up grass.

It is thus worth taking note of the warthog’s rather flat face ending in a rounded snout that encloses the nostrils. This shovel like upper lip is hardened cartilage, which makes it every bit as useful for eating as is the trunk to an elephant.

The prominent warts on the face are a combination of bone and cartilage which helps to protect their faces should they get into a fight. The tusks on their upper and lower jaws are not only used to fight and defend themselves against predators, but for eating. Warthogs can use their tusks and their tough snouts to lift the soil if necessary. This warthog is shovelling the soil with its upper lip.

Eating and breathing go together. Here the warthog is blowing the pile of soil away.

There is more to the common warthog than meets the eye at first glance!

LOOKING FOR ELEPHANTS

Of course you want to see elephants when you visit the Addo Elephant National Park, but do not expect to find them all over. As large as they are, a whole herd of them can ‘disappear’ in the bush so that you cannot see them, even though they may not be far off the road. Looking hopefully at broken off bits of vegetation on a no entry road is no help. No entry means just that.

Natural signs such as this on the road indicate that elephants have at least passed through the area. They often drop leaves or twigs whilst walking.

The signs on this road look promising: twigs and dung.

Ah! We are getting closer … scan the surrounding bush, but there is still no sight of an elephant.

They must be nearby!

Follow the signs and you may get lucky – these elephants were drinking at Rooidam.

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

A WINTER THREAT

The natural vegetation becomes tinder dry during winter – the grass seems to have been dry for months as we received so little rain during the summer. Along with the arid shades that make up the winter palette comes the threat of fires. The hill you see shows Mountain Drive that I have featured in a few blogs recently. Two weeks ago, whilst walking in our neighbourhood, we could see smoke billowing up from behind the hills.

From the colour and smell of the smoke, one could tell it was a grass fire – called veld fires in South Africa. Here it is seen from a slightly different perspective. The large buildings form part of the many student residences at Rhodes University.

The wind was blowing strongly last week when, while walking in a different direction, we came across this scene:

Smoke from another veld fire was billowing down from the direction of the old golf course and the army base, obscuring Cradock Heights and the hospital from view. The air was thick with smoke, which later settled over the centre of town after sunset. Does someone deliberately start these fires? Are they started by accident? We get them every year – some years are worse than others.