OL RED EYES

Some of my readers may still remember the singer Frank Sinatra, whose bright blue eyes earned him the nickname ‘Ol Blue Eyes’. You couldn’t miss his eyes, especially in films, as the cameras would zoom in on them. ‘Ol Red Eyes’ I am featuring is quite the opposite – in fact, it is often difficult to catch its red eyes on camera! Photographing black birds is never easy, making it important to catch at least a spot of light in their eyes. I had more luck recently, however, when this Fork-tailed Drongo obligingly perched on a fig tree branch and sang and sang, and sang!

Not only did its full-throated song catch my attention – so did its red eye gleaming in the sun. I could even see its glowing red eye from underneath when it perched in a different tree.

There is always a Fork-tailed Drongo in our garden – at least one. This is breeding time now – which would account for such delightful arias – and so there have been several of them chasing each other around either amorously or combatatively to get rid of unwanted suitors. I score either way.

AUGUST 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

I am increasingly becoming like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland who said “I’m late, I’m late! … I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” It is always my intention to post my monthly Garden Birds blog entry on the last day of each month yet, here I am well into the next one, looking back at the month past.

The weavers heralded the arrival of spring during the course of August, their bright yellow plumage adding much needed colour to our drab-looking garden. Some Village Weavers (seen at the bird feeder below) have already started constructing their nests in the enormous Natal Fig tree.

Meanwhile the male Cape Weavers are sporting an orange-brown wash over their faces and throats – some more intensely coloured than others.

Early nest-building has extended to the Hadeda Ibises as well, for several of these natural early morning wake-up alarm birds have been seen collecting twigs for nesting materials and taking them to the Erythrina caffra tree in the back garden as well as the Natal Fig in the front.  While I have not yet discovered where the Cape Robin-chat is nesting, it sings from the same perch every day and disappears into the bush behind it. Careful observation will provide clues to the whereabouts of its nest in due course.

The Knysna Turacos and Fork-tailed Drongos are clearly courting their mates at the moment.

Happily for me, the afternoons are filled with melodious calls of the Olive Thrushes and Red-eyed Doves as they call to each other, the latter from the depths of the Natal Fig in the mornings and from the Erythrina caffra during the late afternoons.

An appearance by a Eurasian Hobby sent the birds scattering the other day and silence reigned until it gave up and disappeared. Cheeky Common Starlings are back, elbowing other birds out of the way to get to the food on the feeding tray. Some Cape Wagtails have bobbed about our non-existent lawn looking for food and I have watched a Streakyheaded Seedeater stuff its beak with seeds to take to its young. All-in-all, this has been a good month for watching birds in my garden.

My August bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Eurasian Hobby
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

NOVEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

I wonder if you also found November hurtling through time with gathering momentum. I have at last found a moment to reflect on an interesting month of birding in my garden. Only two newcomers this month: a Hoopoe – the ground is so hard at the moment that I am not surprised they have not featured on our lawn since February! The other is a pair of the very beautiful Paradise Flycatchers that we sometimes glimpse flitting between trees.

Redbilled Woodhoopoes have been regular visitors. Not only do they probe the cracks in the bark of older trees, but I see them using their long curved beaks to probe deep between the aloe leaves. They also occasionally visit the feeding tray to eat apples – and cheese!  Speaking of which, it is interesting to observe how meticulous all the birds are about wiping their beaks clean on the branches after eating, and even after drinking at the ‘nectar pub’.

Cape White-eyes are regular visitors to the nectar feeder. They look left and right between every sip and seldom stay for long at a time, preferring to fly off and return a few minutes later. They too enjoy pecking at the apples I put out.

A really beautiful sight is that of the Sacred Ibises flying in formation over the garden at the end of the day. They fly just high enough for the setting sun to highlight their white wings. I usually count about seventeen of them at flying graciously together after having spent their day at a dam on the edge of town.

I have already featured the nest of the Fork-tailed Drongo, but think it is worth showing it again. The parents are still taking turns to incubate the eggs and have been seen mobbing a Pied Crow more than once.

The fig tree remains a favourite place for the African Green Pigeons to roost – the thick foliage makes them very difficult to see unless they move. For the first time the other day, I observed one feeding another and wonder if this is part of a courting ritual. A pair of Red-winged Starlings are well beyond that stage for they have been filling their beaks with fruit to take off to feed their youngsters. One comes down to fill up on apples, waits for the other to arrive and do the same, then the two fly off together in the direction of their nest.

Nests: the Lesser-striped Swallows have had such a to-do already. Long-time readers will be aware that this pair has built numerous nests under our eaves. Sometimes they have managed to breed successfully, but every summer their mud nest collapses at least once and they have to start from scratch. Last summer they built their best nest yet: solid, beautifully formed and well positioned outside our front door. This nest was usurped by a pair of White-rumped Swifts and they had to build elsewhere. That beautiful nest was still intact on their return and they wasted no time in laying an egg – wonderful, I thought, until I came home to find an egg dashed on the floor and had to duck as the swifts flew above my head. They had grabbed the home for themselves again.

There was nothing for it. Despite the paucity of mud, the intrepid swallows mustered their courage to build a nest from scratch on the site of their original endeavours. It was coming on well – very well.

Then, alas, for reasons I am unable to fathom, the structure came tumbling down and turned to dust. They are now trying to build a nest at a different site they have used before. We need rain badly for all sorts of reasons, but especially to provide good building material for this plucky pair of birds!

My November bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Jackal Buzzard
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

FINDING A FORK-TAILED DRONGO NEST

How do you find the nest of a Fork-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis)? Close observation and caution are required. Observation, because you will need to watch where the drongos appear from and disappear to, and you will need to listen for the sound of their altercations with other birds. The latter ties in with why you need to exercise caution when looking for the nest of a Fork-tailed Drongo: they are aggressive birds that will defend their nest and young regardless of the shape, size or origin of the perceived intruder – that includes you, the human!

I may have mentioned before that for a couple of breeding seasons in a row, the main path leading towards the administration block of the school I taught at had to be blocked off with danger tape and a sign erected requesting visitors to approach via the library. This is because the drongos, nesting very high up in a jacaranda tree, would dive-bomb unsuspecting visitors innocently walking underneath ‘their’ territory – drawing blood on more than one occasion with their sharp beaks!

Finding the nest of a Fork-tailed Drongo begins with observing their courting behaviour. These birds enjoy a monogamous breeding relationship and so one can be entertained for a while by the wonderful aerobatic displays that involve swooping, diving, and chasing each other – and any interlopers – around the garden, accompanied by a variety of vocal noises. Such activity quietens down once the rivals have been dispensed with and minds focus on close family matters.

I had a fair idea that a pair might be nesting in the Natal Fig – that is where I observed a youngster being fed last summer – but peering up into the branches yielded nothing. The birds would often appear from somewhere in the canopy to hawk insects, to drink from the nectar pub, or to see what was on offer at the feeding tray, and they would disappear in the same direction. It is with good cause that they are frequently described as feisty and fearless birds. My hunch grew stronger when I heard the pair of Fork-tailed Drongos attacking the Knysna Turacos perching in the fig tree … then I saw one of them mobbing a Pied Crow until it was well past the perimeter of several gardens away – its crime had been to fly too low over the fig tree … then late yesterday afternoon both drongos loudly attacked the hapless Hadeda Ibises that have traditionally roosted in the branches of the fig tree for the past two decades at least. Their nest had to be there!

Fork-tailed Drongos build their nests where the branches of a tree form a fork. This provides a steady platform on which they can create their cup-shaped nests out of grass, roots, lichen, tendrils and twigs, all bound together with spider web. As I observed last summer, the eggs appear to be incubated by both parents, both of which certainly take turns feeding their chicks. Armed with this knowledge, I continued to scan the branches to no avail until this morning when I witnessed an altercation between a Fork-tailed Drongo and a Red-eyed Dove – another denizen of the fig tree. After a brief flurry of feathers, all was silent … I looked up once more and was rewarded by the sight of a Drongo sitting on its nest, the tell-tale forked tail hanging over the edge.

Perseverance wins in the end: I have found the Fork-tailed Drongo nest at last – and witnessed the ‘changing of the guard’, as one parent took over from the other!

JUNE 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This month has been cold and very windy at times. What remains of the lawn is covered with the dried up leaves from the Cape Chestnut and the many Pompon (Dias cotonifolia) trees. The sun rising later and remaining lower above the horizon for longer has meant that the front garden remains in full shade until well past mid-morning. Generally, this means that the birds seek the highest branches to perch on while the sun warms them up and only come down to inspect the seed I have put out much later. This has caused me to change my routine too: I only provide seed at mid-morning, when I take a break for a cup of tea and also try to find warmth in the weak sunlight.

Here a Village Weaver perches on the hanging feeder:

Although there is no fruit in the garden, there must be something to eat for a flock of at least a hundred Redwinged Starlings wheel about the suburb daily, flying from one garden to the next and filling the air with their mellifluous sounds. A flock of a similar size of Laughing Doves gather in the Erythrina caffra in the back garden almost as soon as the rays of the sun reach its uppermost branches. They gradually work their way towards the front garden, fluttering from one tree to another until one or two finally pluck up the courage to settle down to test the crushed mealie seeds sprinkled on the patches of lawn beaten hard and bare by their myriad feet. I can almost tell the time they will arrive: fifteen to twenty minutes after I have sat down.

A pair of Blackeyed Bulbuls usually arrive mid-morning to investigate what is on offer – cut apples are a favourite. Their cheerful calls from within the yellowing foliage of the Pompon trees are always welcome. With most of the aloes having finished blooming, the nectar feeder has become more popular again, attracting the Amethyst Sunbird, Forktailed Drongos, Cape Weavers, and Blackheaded Orioles among others.

My June bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African harrier Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Barn Swallow
Blackbacked Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Eurasian Hobby
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Southern Black Tit
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

FEBRUARY 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

The delightful news was going to be that the long-suffering pair of Lesserstriped Swallows finally finished rebuilding their mud nest during the first week of February. A bit late in the season for breeding, I thought, however that instinct to procreate must be hard-wired into them. Sadly, the nest fell down only a week later. Such have been their ups and downs that I am unable to tell whether or not they have raised any chicks this summer.

Meanwhile, the Whiterumped Swifts that moved into the snug nest the swallows left intact last year have bred successfully. As they tend to flit into the nest after dark and leave before sunrise, it is only the lack of their mess under the nest that suggests they now have migration on their minds. This picture of a young Whiterumped Swift was taken near Brits last year.

I welcome the sound – and sight – of African Green Pigeons and Redwinged Starlings feasting on the first figs of the season. They are joined by Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White-eyes, Common Starlings and the Knysna Turaco amongst others. The Knysna Turaco regularly flits about the branches of the large Natal fig tree chasing one bird after another, as if to establish its right to be there.

The sound of Redfronted Tinkerbirds fill the air akin to a conference of tinkers beating their pots at different times – they are not at all easy to spot, especially since the trees have responded to the rain this month by ‘bushing out’ their foliage. A single Yellowfronted Canary made a brief appearance a few days ago.

We have also had exceptional views of the local Gymnogene (African Harrier-Hawk) flying very low over the garden for several days in a row. On one occasion a plucky pair of Forktailed Drongos mobbed it. I have already devoted a post to the Spotted Thickknee seen this month – a wonderful sighting that was!

My February bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
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 Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
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
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Spotted Thickknee
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary

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