WAITING FOR THE PUB

You can tell from the varying levels – and the background – that these photographs were not all taken on the same day. Collectively, they tell the story of a few of the many visitors to our nectar feeder – which regular readers will know I frequently refer to as the pub. Apart from the sunbirds – not featured in this tale – by far the largest and showiest avian visitor is the Black-headed Oriole. It is not easily intimidated and so usually does not have to wait politely for its turn.

Waiting to use the pub – or being bounced from it – is a daily occurrence, as the following sequence will show. Firstly we have a pair of Cape White-eyes which often arrive together and take turns to sip the nectar. One might ‘bounce’ the other if it feels it has been waiting for too long, but they mostly swop around fairly quickly and without fuss.

They are small birds and are easily ousted by the larger and more aggressive Cape Weaver.

The latter snaps at anyone else coming for a drink and frequently chases the ‘drinker’ away only to abandon the pub to chase someone else. When it does get to the pub, it has a tendency to hog it.

One bird it will always give way to is the Fork-tailed Drongo, which swoops down with the confidence of taking up his rightful place at the pub. There is no hesitation on its part at all.

Such is the pressure on this ‘nectar’ on some days that the queue gets longer. I have featured these particular Cape Weavers before, however they provide a useful illustration of the traffic build-up that is sometimes experienced.

WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE

While the quotation Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive! (Sir Walter Scott) uses the imagery of a spider’s web, it often springs to mind when I walk past this enormous Natal fig (Ficus natalensis) growing next to the road around the corner from where we live. Look at the intricacy of the large trunk and the air roots that have become so entwined over the years – much as that ‘small white lie’ might grow and twist until one can become completely ensnared by it.

No, this isn’t a moral tale – merely an analogy. We too have a magnificent Natal fig in our garden, the base of which is somewhat hidden by a number of clivia plants.

It was big thirty years ago and now has a very wide drooping canopy of shade, with branches that stretch right over the street!

While the figs are not edible to humans, they attract a wide variety birds which relish them.

The broad branches provide adequate roosting spots for several Hadeda Ibises that come in to land during the late afternoon and generally start waking up the neighbourhood about half an hour before sunrise every morning. Here two of them are perched on a branch.

Other birds commonly seen in this tree are Red-eyed Doves, Red-winged Starlings, Speckled Mousebirds, Cape White-eyes, Black-collared Barbets, and Olive Thrushes.

We are always delighted when a flock of African Green Pigeons settle in to devour the fruit.

We have seen Olive Thrushes and Speckled Mousebirds nesting in the tree, as well as Fork-tailed Drongos. Here a parent has just brought food to its youngster.

A thick layer of mulch has gathered underneath the tree, so thick that one can sink into it. One has to step through it with care – this puff adder emerged from it into our neighbour’s garden three years ago.

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