SEPTEMBER 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

Good news should always come first – so far we have enjoyed 19mm of the lightest rain imaginable and there is still dampness in the air; droplets of water on the leaves and flower petals; the mist is hanging low; and I write this against the swishing of tyres on the street below our home. Good news this is indeed for all the plants – and the birds too for the bird baths are filling with fresh rain water on a day that we have no water in our taps. So, they won’t go thirsty!

It was a happy surprise to begin this month’s bird viewing with the arrival of a Cardinal Woodpecker beavering away in the rotting branches of the Tipuana tree that looms over our garden wall. The tree is old, dry and brittle and I shudder to think of the damage it will cause when it finally topples over. Meanwhile, it is visited by other birds such as the Green Wood-hoopoes. A couple of them have made several forays into the garden. These ones have been working their way through the dry Pompon trees at the end of the swimming pool.

I continued to be entertained by the Common Fiscals. Meneer regularly arrives for his private meals while I am enjoying breakfast or tea outdoors. He alights next to the little dish, looks at me and accepts a morsel from my hand. We do this a few times and then I leave him to help himself. Spotty, the ringed one, having noted this private source of food, is becoming ever bolder and occasionally swoops down to take a morsel I have placed on the edge of the table. Not to be outdone, the third one has also cottoned onto this lark. It remains very cautious and perches in the branches above my head for ages before nicking any piece of cheese or meat that might have been dropped by one of the aforementioned fiscals. Quick as a wink it comes – and is gone!

Red-eyed Doves call from early in the morning – as do the Cape Turtle Doves – and sometimes come down to do battle with the army of Laughing Doves that make short work of the maize seeds that fall to the ground from the messy eaters on the feeder above. Another large visitor mingling with this melee is the Speckled Pigeon. Although they can no longer nest in our eaves, they still roost on the window sills at night or stare down at me from the rooftop – or is that really a glare?

I was watching birds recently when all the doves and weavers whooshed away in a flash. There was not a sound to be heard. I looked up in time to see an African Harrier-Hawk seemingly floating in the sky, hardly flapping its wings as it circled against the sun. Among the first birds to return once all sense of danger was over were the Bronze Mannikins. They too seem to float like falling blossoms as they alight either on the ground or take advantage of the empty feeders to peck at the fine seeds.

The Cape Weavers are appearing in greater numbers now – both to eat seeds and to visit the nectar feeder. They are a noisy lot and, when not feeding, can be heard chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen in the thicket nearby. This one is seen in the company of a Streakyheaded Seedeater.

Having featured the Olive Thrush several times in past posts, I think you might find it interesting to see what its messy nest looks like. This is one of two I have identified in the garden: one is next to the front path and the other is close to the wash line.

Over thirty years ago we would only see crows of any kind winging their way across the municipal rubbish dump or swooping across the Burnt Kraal area where there used to be a clay pigeon shooting range. Is it the prolonged drought that has brought them into town? Or perhaps it is the increasing amounts of rubbish lying uncollected on the pavements. A Cape Crow often perches in one of the tall trees in the garden and pontificates loudly about life in general. Here is a Pied Crow doing a regular flyover of the garden.

My bird list for this month:
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo-Shrike
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Forest Canary
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

CHARACTERFUL COWS

Over the years the number of cattle making up what I call the Urban Herd has increased; they have split into several herds; sometimes wander off on their own or in smaller groups … one always has to be on the lookout for them. Looking further afield, one place where one wouldn’t usually expect to see a cow is on the beach – like this one in the Transkei:

A more usual place would be on a cattle farm, where this Bonsmara is eating grass whilst staring at me through the fence:

Closer to home, on the industrial road that bypasses the town, are these two calves apparently waiting for attention outside the Stock Theft Unit:

Next to the road leading into town from the industrial road and from the interior is the Bell Cow accompanied by Cattle Egrets. This is the only local cow we have seen here with a bell around its neck – hence its name – and we could often hear her at night. She has not been observed since 2019:

This cow appears to be engaged in conversation with a Cattle Egret whilst lying down in Currie Park – one of several parks in town that are no longer mowed by the municipality, presumably so that there will be grazing for whoever owns the cattle. Perhaps this is what the dispute is about:

Lastly, while driving up George Street, which will take one out of town on the other side, are two cows wandering down – perhaps to make a closer acquaintance with the diverse pleasures of urban hedges and unmown grass verges:

The Urban Herd is alive and well – and expanding rapidly!

JULY 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

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
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Black-shouldered Kite
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver

JUNE 2021 GARDEN BIRDS

It is usually a toss-up between the Olive Thrushes or the Laughing Doves which will be the first to arrive at the replenished feeders each morning. Close on their heels come the Southern-masked Weavers – still the most dominant weaver in our garden by far. The male Cape Weavers are already looking ready for the breeding season, with some showing more deeply coloured faces than others:

I never tire of seeing the rather shy Spectacled Weaver that darts out of the shrubbery when the coast is clear and is quick to disappear in a flash:

Black-headed Orioles call from high in the tree tops and have only occasionally swooped down to refresh themselves at the nectar feeder. The Speckled Pigeons have had a bit of a shock this month as we have at last got the boards under the eaves repaired. With a bit of luck they will now seek someone else’s roof in which to raise their next families – they had become too much to deal with in terms of the mess they make and their propensity to chase each other around the ceiling at night. I might have mentioned before that one of them (the same one?) has taken to eating the fish or tiny bits of chicken I put out on occasion – it even chases other birds away until it has eaten its fill. That sounds a little macabre, so here is an ever-cheerful Black-eyed (dark-capped) Bulbul to lift the mood:

Several Common Starlings are coming to visit at a time now, their beaks have turned yellow within the last few weeks, so I imagine they too are thinking about the breeding season ahead. Also in a courting mood has been a pair of Knysna Turacos that have been following each other through the trees and occasionally showing me their beautiful red wings when they fly across the garden. The other morning one of them came to drink at the bird bath not very far from where I was sitting – I felt very privileged to be so close to one. The photograph below is a cheat not from this month, but we all need to see beautiful creatures from time to time and I would love to share this one:

The Bronze Mannikins give me great cause for delight with their daily visits:

Lastly, the Red-winged Starlings continue to fly around the suburb in large flocks. I think whatever fruit they had managed to find in the fig tree is over for now they gather in the Erythrina caffra, where they nibble at the remaining few flowers and at the seedpods. Up to six of them at a time fly down to investigate the apples I have placed in the feeding area – and tend to make short work of them! This is a female:

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Mannikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver