This month the Cape White-eyes were the first on my list as a few of them worked their way through the bushes and waited their turn at the nectar feeder. They are delightful birds to observe and I take pleasure in watching them peck at the cut fruit. Their sweet reedy notes that vary in pitch and volume are often a giveaway that they are nearby. Of course the ubiquitous Laughing Doves are not slow to float down from their lofty perches in either the Erythrina caffra or in the skeletal looking Dais cotinifolia – where they have been catching the early rays of sunlight – not long after the seed feeders have been filled.
It is good to hear the merry chirrup cheeping of the Grey-headed Sparrows. A pair of them are around more regularly now – usually after the doves have had their fill and there is both space and peace for these little birds to enjoy their food. While they have not been very prominent visitors over the past few months, the Fork-tailed Drongos are back to hawk insects in the air and to drink from the ‘pub’. This nectar feeder has had to be filled almost daily this month as there are few other readily available natural sources of nectar around.
One of the natural sources is the Erythrina caffra which is coming into bloom now. This tree hosts a variety of birds such as Cape White-eyes, Laughing Doves, all the weavers, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds and has attracted the return of the feisty Amethyst Sunbirds. The males seem to spend a lot of time chasing each other all over the garden. There are Common Starlings galore as well as our indigenous Red-winged Starlings, all of which feast on either the blooms or the seeds still hanging from the branches, and come down to inspect what I have on offer.
You can see from its yellow beak that the breeding season is already upon us for some birds! A pair of Red-winged Starlings perched in the dry branches of the Cape Honeysuckle when the male decided to fly down for a closer look at the offerings.
There are times when all the bird song comes to an abrupt end and dead silence prevails. This is a sure sign of the presence of a raptor. Recently, I looked up in time to see a large African Harrier Hawk gliding towards the fig tree escorted by a pair of Red-winged Starlings. It had no sooner perched on one of the branches when a variety of birds flew up to pester it by calling loudly and flitting around it. The hawk soon left. Another, smaller, raptor made a rare appearance in our garden. This was a Black-shouldered Kite that flew low over the feeding area before perching on the telephone cable and then disappeared. The general avian chatter resumed straight after.
My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Cape Turtle Dove
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Southern Masked Weaver
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.
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.
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.
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
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Turtle Dove
Greater Double-collared Sunbird