SEPTEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

SEPTEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

September has been an exciting month in the garden: leaves sprouting on hitherto bare branches; the lawn greening up after the spring rains; beautiful clivias brightening shady areas; and such a welcome variety of birds!

A pair of Forktailed Drongos started the month off with their antics around the feeding area. Apart from chasing each other around the garden, at least one of them seems to have taken a dislike to the Bokmakierie: the latter is chased as soon as the Drongo catches sight of it. The drongos make frequent use of the nectar feeder and perch on either the acacia or pompon tree nearby to hawk insects in the air. I mentioned last month that these fine acrobatic flyers are adept at stealing food from weavers while they are in flight.

Forktailed drongo

The Common Waxbill is a complete newcomer to my garden, for I have not recorded a sighting of one before. They remind me of happy trips to the Addo Elephant National Park, where they are frequently seen in large flocks.

Welcome returnees are the Hoopoe and the very beautiful Paradise Flycatcher.

I have learned to look skyward whenever the birds flee to the shelter of trees en masse and, this month, was rewarded with the sighting of a Gymnogene flying overhead. A pair of them have been resident in this town for years, so it is good to see them still around.

gymnogene

Looking up also rewarded me with the welcome return of the Whiterumped Swifts and Lesserstriped Swallows. A pair of the latter are already toiling at rebuilding their mud nest under the eaves above the kitchen. They do this every year – it looks like painstaking work – only to have it fall down as the breeding season draws to a close.

In other nesting news, a pair of Olive Thrushes have built their nest high up in the fig tree and can regularly be spotted taking titbits of fruit and insects to the nest via a circuitous route that has become familiar to me over time.

oliive thrush nest

A pair of Greater Doublecollared Sunbirds have been nesting in the ironwood, painstakingly collecting leaves and feathers with which to line it. Sadly, the strong winds we experienced last week caused the nest to come adrift from its moorings and I found it lying at the foot of the tree. This has nonetheless provided an interesting opportunity to see how it was constructed.

Greater Doublecollared sunbird nest

As we have come to expect, two pairs of Hadeda Ibises have taken up residence in the fig tree and Erythrina tree respectively, laboriously bringing in new twigs to strengthen the existing structures that are several years old already.

The month ended on a glorious note with the return of the euphonious calls of the Burchell’s Coucals early in the mornings. It is many years since we raised one as a chick that had fallen from its nest – a story on its own. I thus have a close affinity for these lovely birds that tend to be heard more often than they are seen.

My September list is:
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo Shrike
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

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AUGUST 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

AUGUST 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

What a rewarding month this has been for watching birds in my garden! A flock of Bronze Manikins (Lonchura cucullata) were the first to fly onto my list. I love watching these tiny birds fluttering like leaves from branch to branch; nestling close to each other at the seed tray; dropping so lightly onto the ground; and seeming to move everywhere in groups. I often see them sitting on the edge of the bird bath shortly before sunset, taking turns at dipping their beaks into the water and flying up to perch in either the Pompon tree or Plumbago growing nearby.

I have mentioned before that the Klaas’ Cuckoo is making itself heard calling stridently across the valley. These days we hear the calls from early in the mornings and at intervals throughout the day.

A most welcome visitor to the garden this month is the Malachite Sunbird. I was beginning to wonder if they were going to skip us this season when I caught sight of its magnificently irridescent emerald metallic sheen and long tail flitting among the scarlet flowers of the Erythrina caffra and the orange tubes of the Golden Shower creeper and Cape honeysuckle.

This morning a Knysna Lourie (also known as the Knysna Turaco) flitted silently through the tops of the trees in the front garden, affording me a beautiful view of the sun highlighting its bright red primary feathers as it flew into the fig tree and out of sight.

A Bokmakierie paid a rare visit to the feeding table only to be chased off by one of a pair of Forktailed Drongos that have commandeered this as part of their territory. It is interesting to observe that while the drongos tend not to take food directly from the table, they are adept at stealing food from the beaks of other birds in mid-flight! Many a weaver has flown off with a large titbit to eat elsewhere and has been robbed of its booty in this way.

The Pintailed Whydahs are out in force now. I counted ten of them in the garden yesterday, only three of which were females. The males are changing into their black and white sartorial splendour, the length of their tail feathers seemingly increasing by the day.

My August list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver

BLACK SWAN

BLACK SWAN

A dark theme threaded its way through my bird watching this morning, which started with a dashing looking Blackheaded Oriole swooping after another – clearly spring is in the air – chasing it all over the garden before halting to fill up from the free nectar in the ‘pub’.

That tranquil moment lasted only until the Forktailed Drongo dive-bombed the oriole to get its share of the energy drink on this chilly day. Later, this black bundle of aggression chased away both a Laughing Dove and a Village Weaver that happened to beperched nearby.

Blackeyed Bulbuls chirped cheekily at this activity then slid down the branches to investigate what was on offer at the feeding station. As they did so, a large and raucous flock of Redwinged Starlings flew past casting shadows over the dessicated lawn and dappling the swimming pool.

A pair of Blackcollared Barbets called out to each other from the top of the Erythrina then chased each other into the fig tree to continue their courting sounds whilst being well hidden by the foliage – their sense of the onset of spring is much stronger than mine!  Even some of the weavers are beginning to loop blades of grass over thin branches as if trying to remember how to start building a nest.

The striking colour of black in birds was weaving its way through my mind when I commented on the shining beauty of the Black (Amethyst) Sunbird taking advantage of the lull to get its share of the ‘pub’ before investigating the bright orange flowers of the Leonatis leonuris I had pruned earlier.

“What is a black swan?” B asked over tea. That’s easy, I thought until he qualified the question with “I don’t mean the bird.” That stumped me – I am not at all familiar with the term.

It turns out to refer to a completely unexpected event that would have been very difficult to predict. The term was popularised by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2007.  Such an event not only comes as a surprise, but has a major impact – such as those aeroplanes flying into the twin towers of the World Trade Center; an event now referred to simply as 9/11.

 

 

 

 

JUNE 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

JUNE 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

It was the resident flock of Laughing Doves that ‘flew’ onto my bird list first this month. I find them fascinating to watch and have discovered they are not without wit either.

When the seed I had scattered on the ground had been gobbled up by all and sundry, I once observed a Laughing Dove edge ever closer to the bird feeder frequented by the weavers, Bronze Manikins and canaries. After days of trial and error, a Laughing Dove at last managed to get a grip for long enough to grab a seed or two from the now wildly swinging feeder. Practise makes perfect and within a few days one dove at least could balance on the edge for long enough to get some satisfaction from that source of seeds.

Several weeks later I saw two frenzied flapping Laughing doves clinging onto the feeder to extract as many seeds as they could before losing their balance. This is not a regular occurrence and so they may have been two particularly innovative birds.

It is interesting watching the Laughing Doves having a dust bath and then sitting on the ground with their wings fanned out. Sometimes one will lift a wing so that it sticks up and then lift the other. They frequently sit very close together when doing this.

There is obviously safety in numbers as far as they are concerned. A brief period of cautious waiting usually follows after I have scattered seed on the lawn. I have learned to be patient and watch as the doves first gather in the jacaranda tree on the pavement and then gradually edge closer through the trees to the branches of the acacia tree, which is closest to the food. It takes one dove – either brave enough or very hungry – to flutter down to begin the feast. Then the others descend en masse, initially feeding as closely together as possible before fanning out to find seed on the fringes.

Cattle Egrets were the last on my list this month. Newcomers are the Southern Black Tit, which I only see in our garden at this time of the year and – to my great excitement – a Cape Glossy Starling.

I happened to look out of my study window and there it was in all its shining glory in the Erythrina tree! This is a bird I have always associated with the Kruger National Park especially, although I also enjoy seeing them in the Addo Elephant National Park.

My June list is:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Crowned Plover
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Yellow Canary

An update for those who remain interested in the welfare of Daisy the Tortoise: having disappeared for several days, Daisy seems to have found a new sunny spot near the pool pump house and looks very contented.

Laughing dove side view

KLIP COOKIES

KLIP COOKIES

Two years ago my brother asked me for the recipe my mother used to bake Rock Cakes – known as Klip Cookies in our family in deference to my father’s limited fluency in Afrikaans.

The request brought with it a rush of memories: the mouth-watering aroma of baking filling every corner of my childhood home; my father’s open appreciation of his favourite teatime treat; and of a particular square tin filled to the brim with these tasty fruit-studded cookies.

I recall the tin had a brown background which made the picture of golden shower blossoms decorating the lid stand out most attractively. My mother would line the tin with waxed paper before adding the cooled cookies. To my childish hands there was gastronomic magic within the tin that felt heavy on its first outing, keeping the cookies fresh until the last crumb was eaten.

When we first moved into our current home, a golden shower creeper clambering up the giant Erythrina trees in the back garden happily reminded me of growing up in the then Eastern Transvaal. Now its tendrils poke through the aloes growing next to the pool and it vies with the canary creeper in forming a dense canopy over the ancient plum tree that gave up fruiting years ago. The first buds are already forming and soon we will be treated to cascades of the orange tubular flowers that will brighten up the winter garden while attracting sunbirds, white-eyes, weavers and canaries as well as bees.

Seeing the buds reminded me of the afore-mentioned tin and the Klip Cookies it so often contained. My mouth watered as I paged through my first collection of recipes hand written in a tattered lined hard covered A4 book. Several of the pages have come adrift over the years and the book is now held together with brown parcel tape. Some pages are spattered with egg or butter splodges and now unidentifiable flecks of ingredients, while others bear scorched circles from hot pots or something of that ilk being placed on them. The best recipes look well-used – no pristine pages for them!

The recipe: Cream 250 grams butter with 1 cup sugar. Add 2 well-beaten eggs. Sift together 2 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, a pinch of salt and half a teaspoon grated nutmeg then add to egg mixture, stirring well. Add I cup seeded raisins and stir until evenly mixed. Drop teaspoonful’s of dough onto greased baking sheets and bake at 200°C for 10 minutes until golden brown.

I baked a batch and scraped the bowl with a teaspoon before placing it in the sink. Raw dough … yum! Warning: these cookies do not have a long shelf-life unless baked in secret while no-one else is at home. Do not be surprised if they start being eaten before they are ready to leave the cooling rack. Perhaps that is why my mother baked double batches and kept the lid of the tin firmly closed between tea times.

klip cookies

HA HA HADEDA

HA HA HADEDA

Love them or loathe them, the Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) has made itself at home in suburban area over much of the country. One cannot ignore their strident calls – particularly in the early mornings!

It often seems to me that upon waking, these sociable birds have conversations with others roosting elsewhere: “Anyone up yet?’ or “Where shall we meet today?” It sounds as if responses to these queries come in from near and far across the valley until some sort of consensus is reached and then we hear them flying off noisily, still calling out to others doing the same.

While several of these birds occasionally roost in the fig tree and the Erythrina caffra at night, there are two pairs who have regularly nested in these trees for many years. Each breeding season we watch the Hadedas bring in seemingly impossibly long or awkwardly shaped sticks to add to their untidy nests that are re-used.

Although several eggs and chicks have fallen out of these ungainly and flimsy looking structures, both pairs of Hadedas appear to have become more adept at parenting with time and usually successfully raise one or two chicks each. We are able to watch both nests with ease and enjoy monitoring the hatching process.

Once the chicks have left the nest to explore the garden, they still spend some time ‘test-flapping’ their wings and continue to ‘beg’ to be fed by the adults until they are old enough to be independent.

By the way, Daisy the tortoise was spotted yesterday and the Speckled Mousebird family must have flown the nest in the fig tree as it is not longer being visited.

I feel privileged to see Hadedas probing for worms and insects on the lawn or poking about in the flower beds with their scythe-like beaks. They might look drab to some, but are so beautiful when the sunlight catches their iridescent wing feathers!

They usually appear singly or in pairs in the garden yet occur in much larger groups in open spaces such as sports fields – especially after being watered – and on municipal lawns.

Apart from raucously reminding all in the valley of their presence in the early mornings and before settling at night, the cheerfully strident call of Hadedas can be heard at odd times throughout the day.

They seem to enjoy perching on roof tops and glide from there in the late afternoons to join others already perching in the fig tree. There they flap their wings noisily and appear to settle down for a few minutes, only to fly off to join others still circling the suburb, calling out as they do so. This ritual takes place at the end of every day before they return to at last settle for the night.