COMMON FISCAL

Formerly known as a Fiscal Shrike, the Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris) is ubiquitous throughout South Africa and is commonly seen hunting from exposed perches.

It is also common in gardens. This ringed Common Fiscal is investigating the food tray in my garden.

This back view of the Common Fiscal shows the characteristic white ‘V’ on its back.

You can clearly see its hooked beak and the distinctive narrow white outer tail feathers in this side view.

Here you can just make out the chestnut flanks of the female.

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I WANT SOME MORE!

Who can forget that moment in Oliver Twist when Oliver asks the master, “Please sir, I want some more (food)”? That scene sprang to mind as I watched this young Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris) perching on a creeper below my window whilst making the most pitiful noises to encourage its parents to bring on more food.

Mom! I’m HUNGRY!

 

Did you hear me?

A parent provided a morsel that was gulped down too quickly for me to catch.

That was good!

The youngster then took note of me poking my camera out of the window.

Is that a camera?

 

I’ve had enough of this!

I have watched the parents collect food to take to their nest. For several days the two of them fussed around the youngster at the feeding station. Now, I imagine it is being encouraged to become more independent in terms of finding food.

JANUARY 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

While there is nothing physical we can do about the drought, I have entered 2018 with the feeling that this is the year of renewal. There is a hint of it on the political front and even greater evidence in our garden – after some rain fell at last a few days ago! It is amazing how quickly the grass and trees revive after even a little rainfall. There is no more rain in the short-term forecast, so we rejoice with every drop that falls!

From having watched parent birds gathering food in their beaks to deliver to their respective offspring at the beginning of the month, I now see the young birds being fed at or near the feeding station: an insatiable Fork-tailed Drongo chick received titbits even as the last light of the day was fading.

A pair of Fiscal Shrikes have been hard-pressed feeding their youngster emitting cries that in any language would be akin to “More! I want some more!” whilst flapping its wings in the sort of helpless gesture that would melt the hardest of hearts.

The Common Starlings have obviously bred successfully, for I recently counted eleven of their youngsters having running battles with other birds – including their parents – on the feeding tray; the Blackcollared Barbets have brought a youngster across to feed itself from the cut apples; and a few spotty youngsters have been left to fend for themselves by their parental Olive Thrushes.

The floor outside our front door is awash with droppings from the Whiterumped Swifts that usurped the mud nest so beautifully constructed by the Lesserstriped Swallows last season. Since this ‘house grab’ I have despaired of the latter for their new nest, rebuilt on the foundations of a previous one at the side of the house, collapsed early in November. I cannot guess where they have been finding a ready supply of mud but, to my immense joy, they are rebuilding that nest again – beak of mud by beak of mud, truly a sign of renewal!

My January bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Black Saw-wing
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redfaced Mousebird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite

SEPTEMBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

Where did September go? In the way of all busy months it seems to have disappeared in a flash. September is a watershed month: the official start of spring after the equinox; the budding of leaves and flowers – a genuine renewal of life in nature; a sprinkling of spring rain to aid that renewal; the arrival of seasonal birds, such as the Lesser-striped Swallows; courting and nest-building amongst the birds – and the biting chill of the end of winter coupled with a few teasing days of sunshine warm enough to make us revel in 30°C heat, only to be plunged into the cold again.

It is good to hear the cheerful calls of the Bokmakierie and to catch the odd glimpse of Cape Wagtails. It was while I was having tea in the garden (sans camera – of course!) that I observed four Common Waxbills feeding on the fine seed dropped from the feeder above them. As if that wasn’t enough, I looked up to find a single Crowned Hornbill observing me from a nearby tree. It sat in full view for about fifteen minutes before flying off.

A pair of Fiscal Shrikes have been chasing each other around the garden. One of them has been ringed, as you can see in this photograph:

Ringed Fiscal Shrike

I mentioned the arrival of the Whiterumped Swifts last month – there a large numbers of them wheeling through the sky now. For me, the true sign of the arrival of spring with a promise of summer ahead is the Lesserstriped Swallow. I have often recorded their triumphs and disasters as far as nest-building and raising their young is concerned. For the first time, a pair of these swallows left a mud nest intact outside our front door. For the first time then, they have been able to twitter and chirp, happy in the knowledge that no nest-building is required after their long journey south. The two of them have wasted no time in re-lining their nest and are already ensconced in it – doubtless having started their family weeks ahead of previous schedules.

Courting on the lamp directly opposite their nest

My September bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Crowned Hornbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite

BIRDS AND ANIMALS

I have mentioned before how Cattle Egrets are frequently seen in the proximity of the Urban Herd, quick to catch any insects disturbed whilst the cattle are grazing.

We saw several examples of a similar relationship in the Addo Elephant National Park. The first was a pair of Fiscal Shrikes hovering around these Warthogs as they scuffled around in the dry grass for food.

Next up was a pair of Cape Glossy Starlings keeping a close watch for whatever the Zebra may have disturbed while grazing.

A Cattle Egret found several insects to eat next to this Zebra.

This one hitched a ride on the back of a Cape Buffalo!

While this Cape Wagtail had a feast in the company of a Warthog next to the Hapoor Waterhole.

MARCH 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

MARCH 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

Watching birds in my garden has had to take second place this month in the wake of travels to Boksburg and Cape Town as well as hosting several visitors in between.

With the increase of Laughing Doves (Streptopelia senegalensis) mentioned last month, it is no surprise that they were the first birds to be noted on my list. They are the most regular visitors to our garden throughout the year. Although I have never actually found one of their nests, they certainly enjoy the regular snacks available here!

SONY DSC

We tend to be so familiar with Laughing doves that they are likely to be dismissed as being just that before seeking something ‘more interesting’ to look at. Closer observation of these small long-tailed doves, however, reveals really beautiful creatures. For example, it has taken a while for me to realise that while the adult female is similar in appearance to the male, their plumage is slightly paler and less reddish. The juveniles are much paler and lack the distinctive spots around the neck. It is rather amusing to watch the way the courting males follow the females with head bobbing displays while cooing provocatively. Sometimes they puff themselves up (doubtless looking very fierce to others) and head towards an opponent with head lowered in an attitude of “I mean business!”

laughingdove

These doves walk rapidly across the lawn to find the seed I have scattered – or that has dropped from the feeder while the weavers have been feasting there. I occasionally see them pecking at the apples I put out and recently observed several Laughing Doves eating grains of jasmine rice. Although they mostly forage on the ground, more than one Laughing Dove has mastered the art of launching itself onto the swinging bird feeder (doubtless having watched the weavers doing this with ease) and clinging on for dear life while it manages to extract seeds for a very short while before giving up the balancing act.

On hot dry days these doves scratch in a patch of open ground where they like to sunbathe, spreading their wings out or lifting a wing straight up – one at a time.

sunbathing

I was interested to find that the specific component of the scientific name (senegalensis) refers to Senegal, where the bird originally described was caught for I tend to think of them being South African birds. I see they occur all over Africa.

Now that the fig tree is bearing its first flush of fruit, the African Green Pigeons visit fairly often. They are best seen early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the last rays of the sun highlight the top of the tree. Of course it is easier to photograph them in the bare branches of the Erythrina! Ever increasing flocks of Redwinged Starlings arrive daily to feast on the figs too.

africangreenpigeons

The coucals and cuckoos have gone and there are very few Whiterumped Swifts wheeling about the sky now – and even fewer Lesserstriped Swallows.

Common Starlings make the odd foray into the fig tree and occasionally forage for seeds on the lawn. I generally see them in far greater numbers along the pavements and on the school sports fields that abound in this town. A Fiscal Shrike dominates the back garden, perching either on the telephone cable or the wash line. It seldom ventures into the front garden for some reason – kept at bay by the Forktailed Drongos perhaps? This morning I watched a Forktailed Drongo chasing Rock Pigeons all over the garden – what for?

Both the Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk) and a Yellowbilled Kite have been observed flying low over the garden a few times this month. Not Redwinged Starlings this time, but a flock of Whiterumped Swifts sent the Gymnogene on its way recently.

gymnogene

I felt privileged to have a wonderful view of an Olive Woodpecker only metres away from me very early the other morning. It spent nearly ten minutes investigating the lower sections of the grove of pompon trees and making its way through the aloes.

While I have become accustomed to the harsh sounds of the Black Crows flying overhead or squabbling as they perch near the top of the cyprus tree next door, small flocks of Pied Crows have become more evident this month.

My March list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Brownhooded Kingfisher
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk)
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Olive Woodpecker
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowbilled Kite
Yellow Weaver