EARTH DAY IN ADDO

What better place to celebrate Earth Day than to spend time away from a built-up environment: we chose to visit the nearby Addo Elephant National Park. Some visitors had close-up views of lions, spotted hyenas and even a black rhino. We didn’t draw that card, but observed a number of interesting things nonetheless.

It is the rutting season for kudu. Large herds of kudu does accompanied by one or two males appeared in several sections of the park we drove through, especially around Rooidam. Our attention was drawn to a loud hollow-sounding ‘thunking’ noise close to the road: two kudu bulls were sparring; kicking up dust as they locked horns and pushed each other this way and that.

What magnificent horns they sported. This is the victor of that encounter.

The heat drew herds of elephant to the bigger waterholes. We watched a group of four adults and two youngsters approach the small Marion Baree waterhole. They sprayed themselves with water on arrival.

They then moved to the mud hole next door, where the elephants scooped up balls of thick mud to throw over their backs.

By then the water in the concrete-lined dam had settled so a few drank before watching patiently as a youngster claimed the shallow dam for its own fun.

One has to watch out for dung beetles crossing the road at this time of the year.

Zebras with their painted faces did not disappoint.

Several came to quench their thirst at Domkrag.

A large flock of Pied Starlings came to join them.

A Karoo Scrub Robin came to investigate.

An inquisitive Egyptian Goose approached our vehicle at Hapoor.

Several Fork-tailed Drongos kept an eye on us at the Rest Camp water hole.

As did some Cape Glossy Starlings, looking magnificent in the late afternoon sunlight.

My bird list for the day:

Redwinged Starling
Barthroated Apalis
Fiscal Shrike
Speckled Mousebird
Southern Boubou
Common Moorhen
Redbilled Teal
Backsmith Plover
Redknobbed Coot
Spurwing Goose
Karoo Scrub Robin
Pied Crow
Common Ringed Plover
Egyptian Goose
South African Shelduck
Bokmakierie
Black Crow
Cape Sparrow
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Robin
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Korhaan
Helmeted Guineafowl
Crowned Plover
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Cape Wagtail
Grey heron
Forktailed Drongo
Cape Glossy Starling
Laughing Dove

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MATUTINAL PLEASURES

I wake very early. Even as a young child I developed the habit of lying in bed while the household was still asleep, listening to the matutinal sounds outside. This morning was no exception: Cape White-eyes were the first to warble their way through the shrubbery outside my bedroom window. Oddly enough, the Hadeda Ibises remained silent until well after sunrise. Instead, the infrequent cackling chorus of Red-billed (Green) Wood-hoopoes filled the garden with a joyous anticipation of a beautiful day.

Cape White-eye

A beautiful day it is already, with Lesser-striped Swallows scything through the clear air, Black-eyed Bulbuls greeting the world and Black-headed Orioles calling from a vantage point out of my line of sight. The Fork-tailed Drongos are already diving for insects and the Village and Cape Weavers are chirpily vying for the seed left over in the feeder. A male Pin-tailed Whydah is asserting his territorial boundaries.

Pin-tailed Whydah

It is a pleasure listening to the fluting whistles and frog-like grunts of the African Green Pigeons from deep within the thickening foliage of the Natal Fig tree – already bearing tiny fruits – followed by the rasping sounds announcing the return of the Knysna Louries (Turacos). Laughing Doves are beginning to gather on the telephone cable and are taking up positions on the sunny branches of the Erythrina caffra – doubtless waiting for their ‘breakfast’!

Knysna Lourie

The distant sound of barking dogs alert me to the wakefulness of other people beginning their matutinal strolls, fanning their way through the suburb streets either to work or for healthy exercise. Traffic noise builds up quickly to almost blot out the call of a solitary Cape Robin. A Black (Amethyst) Sunbird flies past my window. Then a car hooter breaks the spell of my early matutinal pleasure – I haven’t even stepped outside yet!

Cape Robin

AUGUST 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

Spring is in the air – not officially for that only happens on 1st September. Nature does not adhere to those human desires to carve time into clear blocks of expectation. Headline news is that Whiterumped Swifts made their first appearance today – earlier than usual – and that means that the Lesserstriped Swallows cannot be far behind. Klaas’ Cuckoo has also made an early entrance this spring. African Green Pigeons now call regularly from within the thick foliage of the Natal Fig and with the warmer weather comes the melodious sounds of Fierynecked Nightjars. I am very pleased to have seen more of the Redbacked Shrike this month as well as the Spectacled Weaver.

Weavers are becoming more serious about their nest-building. The image below is the start of a Cape Weaver nest in a Pompon tree.

startofcapeweavernest

The Pintailed Whydahs – most of the males have almost divested themselves of their buff winter dress – are becoming more aggressive. I wonder which of the six males I saw bossing each other around this morning will claim our garden as its territory this summer.

Mrs. Greater Doublecollared Sunbird has been collecting feathers for nest lining. They seem to be enjoying the nectar in the brilliant orange flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle, while the Black Sunbirds are seen more frequently in the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina caffra.

Greaterdoublecollaredsunbird

Laughing Doves abound. This pair is perched in a Syringa tree, which is heavy with fruit.

laughingdoves

With so many domestic animals around the suburbs these days, Cattle Egrets are a common sight – they look especially beautiful in flight. A pair of Egyptian Geese have been honking overhead too lately and a pair of Knysna Louries regularly make their way through the trees to drink and bathe in one of our birdbaths. This Forktailed Drongo is perched in the Acacia caffra, which is just beginning to show its spring foliage.

forktaileddrongo

In non-birding news, Bryan – the angulate tortoise – emerged from his winter hideout under a tangle of aloes this morning and has been walking around in search of food.

angulatetortoise

Sammy – the Leopard tortoise – has only got as far as exposing himself to the sun, but has not budged all day. He spent the winter in a mass of Van Staden daisies nest to our swimming pool. Both are looking healthy after their period of torpidity.

leopardtortoise

My August list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Egyptian Goose
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbacked Shrike
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green Woodhoopoe)
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

FEBRUARY 2016 GARDEN BIRDS

I was away for a good part of February so I blame my absence rather than the weather or the season for my relatively short bird list.

The Boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus) is usually fairly secretive and rather solitary in our garden – except when courting. The synchronised duets of courting pairs are beautiful to listen to. I feel fairly privileged whenever I see one skulking about in the undergrowth and very privileged if it deigns to inspect the offerings on the feeding tray to peck at the fruit. They mainly eat earthworms, insects and snails. According to the Roberts Bird Guide they also eat mice – please Boubou, won’t you gobble up the rat that regards the feeding tray as its private banquet?

Boubou

While on the subject of food: I have mentioned Fork-tailed Drongos diving down to catch hapless caterpillars exposed during my gardening activities, stealing food from weavers on the wing, featured images of them drinking from the nectar feeder, and voiced my suspicion that they may have raided – and broken – the nest of the Lesser-striped Swallows last season. While they mostly appear to be insect eaters, small birds and nectar have also been recorded. It wasn’t until this month that I witnessed a Fork-tailed Drongo eating a bird. This is not a good photograph yet I include it as a record of a Fork-tailed Drongo eating a Cape White-eye.

Fork-tailed Drongo

I also observed a female Greater Double-collared Sunbird collecting feathers with which to line her nest hidden in the back garden.

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

The burdens of the breeding season are not yet over. Here is an Olive Thrush gathering breakfast for its offspring:

Olive Thrush

My February list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Harrier
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Loerie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary

NOVEMBER 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

NOVEMBER 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been a busy time for birds in our garden. With some of the courting rituals over and nests built, many birds are now focusing on feeding their fledglings. A pair of Common Starlings brought their two chicks to feed on the lawn, seemingly teaching them to stab at the ground to find their food – and introduced them to the fruit on the feeding tray.

Although a lot of the Village Weavers are involved with feeding their fledglings, chasing each other from the feeding station, and still courting, I recently observed a female collecting feathers from the lawn and cramming them into her beak. Once she could hold no more, she inevitably dropped some, returning a few minutes later to fetch them. It is wonderful the way no resources are wasted in the garden.

Village Weaver feeding chick

The other morning I counted twenty-nine Laughing Doves perched on the telephone cable visible from my study, drying out in the early sunshine after heavy rain the night before. This month it was an Olive Thrush that apparently took a dislike to a Laughing Dove. It wouldn’t allow the poor dove to settle anywhere without chasing it around the garden and over the perimeter of it and back.

A pair of Olive Thrushes nested in the garden next door and, after having carried food across for a while, recently brought their two speckled offspring with them. Their yellow gapes were still clearly visible as they begged to be fed but now these juveniles confidently seek food here on their own.

I continued to enjoy the secretive way in which the pair of Cape Robins collected beetles and caterpillars to feed their young nestled within the lavender bushes and sheltered from the rain by the overhanging branches of the Buddleia salviifolia. They would first fly to a nearby Pom-pom tree, then make it across the lawn to the windowsill of the lounge. There they would walk along it until they were apparently out of sight then hop into the Buddleia before dropping down into their nest – such elaborate precautions to maintain the safety of their family!

We are always pleased to see the Burchell’s Coucal in the garden. Having raised one as a chick many years ago, I am fully aware of their dietary requirements. While I was pruning around the aloes on 7th November, I heard the Cape Robins making an agitated alarm call. Then I noticed several weavers leaving off their feeding to perch on top of the Buddleia – very strange.

Burchell's Coucal

If you have read my entry HARK THE UNUSUAL NOISE from 7th December 2014, you will appreciate why I first thought that a snake may have found its way to the robin’s nest. I thus approached it with caution just in time to see a Burchell’s Coucal emerge from the lavender bushes while swallowing the last of the robin fledglings!

A few minutes later my attention was drawn to the agitated calls and unusual behaviour of a pair of Forktailed Drongos in the back garden. They were dive-bombing (probably the same) Burchell’s Coucal sidling through the thick hedge of Cape Honeysuckle. I imagine it had raided their nest too. Sad, but then it also has to eat.

Much more delightful news is that the pair of Lesser-striped Swallows began to work on their mud nest under the eaves in earnest last week. They finished the tunnel entrance yesterday and I saw one peeping out of the hole early this morning. What a joy.

Lesserstriped Swallow completed nest

My November list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederick Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie (Turaco)
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green Woodhoopoe)
Redchested Cuckoo (Piet-my-vrou)
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary (Seedeater)
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellowfronted Canary

AUGUST 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

AUGUST 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

How different each month is from another – and one month in one year from the same month in another. Birding is not a static occupation at all for the birds do not always follow a predictable pattern of movement.

The Klaas’ Cuckoo, for example, has not yet made its presence heard, while the Black Cuckoo is already telling us in the most mournful drawn out tones that “I am sick” – that is how its call is described in the Roberts Bird Guide. It certainly sounds very melancholy. Last August the Pin-tailed Whydahs were out in force. This month I have seen only one – a male – whose tail feathers are gradually getting longer.

The Bronze Manikins are so pleased that I have managed to source some fine bird seed at last and compete for space on the bird feeder early in the afternoon during the lull between the morning and late afternoon rush by the weavers and the Laughing Doves.

Burchell’s Coucals on the other hand make waking a pleasure. Their cascading bubbling sounds soon compete, however, with the musical notes of the Cape Robin that stations itself near my bedroom window.

It is also lovely hearing the cheerful cackling sounds of the Red-billed Wood-Hoopoes. I watched a pair of them for at least half an hour the other morning as they used their long beaks to probe for insects behind the peeling bark of the older trees, investigated the masses of air plants, and even pecked at the bread spread with fat at the feeding station. I know their name has been changed to Green Wood-Hoopoe and that the illustration in the Roberts Bird Guide clearly indicates a green iridescent sheen. Perhaps this colouring only becomes evident in the sunlight? I could not spot it as the birds flitted about the foliage and in the shade of the trees in the front garden.

The synchronised duets of both the Southern Boubou and the Black-headed Orioles have become more evident in recent weeks. Both have been frequenting the feeding station more often recently – the orioles appearing as a pair more often than not.

I saw six Fork-tailed Drongos in the Erythrina tree yesterday morning, although I regularly only see two of them at a time in the garden. Streakyheaded Canaries are back: feeding on the Cape Honeysuckle blossoms and, occasionally visiting the seed tray.

Forktailed Drongo

My August list is:

Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redbilled Woodhoopoe (Green Woodhoopoe)
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver

JUNE 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

JUNE 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

At this time of the year the sun seems to hang low above the horizon and hides behind the Natal Fig for longer than usual in the early mornings. As mentioned before, the front lawn remains in shade for much of the day and there is a discernible chill in the crisp, clear air.

A flock of Laughing Doves weigh down the bare, spindly branches of the acacia tree as if waiting for the ground level of air to warm up before they venture down to pick up the scattered seeds.

The first birds on my list this month, the Redwinged Starlings, do not have that problem. Dark, noisy clouds of them arrive daily to feed on the ripening figs, near the top of the tree shortly after sunrise and explore further down as the day warms up. They also like to take figs across to the Erythrina tree, where they can eat in the sunshine.

redwingedstarling

Olive Thrushes poke around to see what fruit and other morsels are available on the feeding tray, as do the Blackeyed Bulbuls.

olivethrush

It is usually only when a particularly noisy vehicle passes on the road below the garden and frightens the birds that we can fully appreciate what a large flock of African Green Pigeons are camouflaged in the fig tree. They tend to be heard much more often than they are seen.

I was pleased to hear first, and then see, a Cardinal Woodpecker the other day. This morning a small flock of Redbilled Woodhoopoes cackled their way through the garden.

Despite the cold, our winter garden is still cheered by yellow canary creeper blossoms lingering long after the main show of blooms have turned into white puffballs of seed; a variety of aloes are still attracting sunbirds; some blue Plumbago flowers are peeking through the greenery; and the lone Cape Chestnut blossom I mentioned last month continues to adorn the top of the tree.

My June list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Crowned Plover
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Olive Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver