OCTOBER 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

We are delighted to have received 43mm of very light rain during this month – albeit it in dribs and drabs of a few millimetres at a time. This is well below the annual average of 64mm, so we cannot help hoping that November will bring us a lot more rain. Every drop helps though and we have been blessed with a swathe of spring flowers in the veld and the trees in our garden have greened up almost miraculously. Speaking of green, the first bird to make it on my list this month was none other than a Green Woodhoopoe. Although they have been regular visitors, they are far from easy to photograph as they tend to call from within the foliage where they are looking for insects hiding under loose bark or poking their beaks into the dry leaves of the aloes to find food.

The two Common Fiscals continue to entertain us with their antics – both keep a wary eye out for each other before they collect food. Judging from their rapid back and forth movements, I suspect they are both feeding chicks. Their nests are far apart in different directions so they only meet at the feeding station. Bronze Manikins are also always entertaining the way they huddle together on the feeders. Southern Masked Weavers have been plentiful – I am intrigued by how quickly the females especially tuck into the minced meat I put out occasionally. The Cape Weavers have been more interested in the seeds as well as the nectar feeder.

Cape White-eyes are also regular visitors to the nectar feeders.

The Pin-tailed Whydahs have obviously staked their territory elsewhere: we occasionally see a male or two dancing around, but mostly catch sight of the females taking a respite from all the romance to feed quietly on seeds that have fallen to the ground from the hanging feeders.

I suspect the next door cats have made the Cape robin-chats a lot more wary than they used to be, so I was pleased to photograph this one even though the light was not that good.

‘Newcomers’ this month include a few visits from an African Harrier Hawk – the garden becomes absolutely silent when it comes by; a pair of Cape Wagtails have been bobbing around the edge of our swimming pool; Crowned Hornbills paid us a brief visit as they were perhaps passing through town; it is lovely hearing the Diederik Cuckoo and Knysna Turacos calling; a Spectacled Weaver called round for a few days in a row, as did a pair of Forest Canaries. My greatest delight was the arrival of the Lesser-striped Swallows and the White-rumped Swifts.

I regularly hear the calls of Black-collared Barbets and see them in the trees as well as the feeding tray now and then.

My bird list for this month:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Harrier Hawk
African Hoopoe
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo-Shrike
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Diederik Cuckoo
Forest Canary
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Pin-tailed Whydah
Pied Crow
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift

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MY EARLY MORNING DRIVE

I had reason to be on the road shortly after sunrise. Having driven up a hill, I looked back to see the mist-shrouded valley below that hides the town where I live.

Mission accomplished, I headed home stopping this time to watch the rising sun cast long shadows from the avenue of Eucalyptus trees across the road.

A little further on, these horses stood out in the early morning light.

By now the sun was dissipating the mist rising out of the valley to partially obscure these cattle crossing the road on their way to find greener pastures down the hill.

My view of the sun before I turned the last corner before reaching home.

A few minutes later, the mist had cleared completely and I was greeted by this enormous syringa tree in full flower in the street outside my home.

SEPTEMBER 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

Despite having been away for a while, this has proved to be a satisfying month of birdwatching in my garden. At night and during the early hours of most mornings we are serenaded by a Fiery-necked Nightjar. An African Darter has flown over ‘my’ airspace a few times in order to make my list and Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbuls have made cheerful forays to the feeding table. The sounds of cuckoos can be heard – the Piet-my-Vrou (Red-chested Cuckoo) is another clear sign that spring is here to stay.

On that note, while the sun rises ever earlier, the mornings remain fairly chilly and so it is not surprising to find a flock of Bronze Mannikins gathered in the branches of a Dais cotonifolia to warm up for a while before their breakfast:

I feature the Common Fiscals a lot in these posts, largely because they are such characters and are photogenic to boot. Spotty has even brought a chick along to the feeding area to see what the offerings are. The biggest surprise for me though was the sighting of the only female Common Fiscal I have ever seen in our garden. She did not appear to be connected to either Spotty or Meneer and I have not seen her since. Note the chestnut flanks that characterise the females:

As you can see, I have purchased a new feeder – I’m not sure how well this configuration is being received, but the other one requires a thorough cleaning (when we get a reasonable supply of water again!). Here a Southern Masked Weaver is trying it out accompanied by Bronze Mannikins:

A Grey-headed Sparrow is enjoying a solo feeding session:

Also catching the morning sun whilst keeping an eye out for the neighbouring cats are these Laughing Doves:

I mentioned the Hadeda Ibis nest last month. So far there is no sign of either eggshells at the base or chicks on the nest, so the eggs are still being incubated:

My bird list for this month:
African Darter
African Green Pigeon
African Hoopoe
Black-collared Barbet
Black Cuckoo
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fierynecked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
Yellow Weaver

SCENES FROM THE RIETBERG …

… commonly called Mountain Drive above Grahamstown. We first look down on the N2 as it passes through fossil-rich shale cuttings as it bypasses the town on its way to East London in one direction and Port Elizabeth in the other:

A little further on we can look down on the back end of the 1820 Settlers Monument (simply known as The Monument) and its beautiful surrounds with Grahamstown stretching out below:

Now we can zoom into one of the older suburbs:

When we look over the hill on the other side, we can see the Southwell valley stretching out before us – an area of private game reserves, dairy farms, pineapple farms and mixed farming:

These scenes give you another glimpse of where I live.

JUNE 2022 GARDEN BIRDS

Even though the colder winter weather has settled in, there is plenty of fruit on the Natal fig tree in the bottom corner of our garden. A flock of African Green Pigeons seem to have taken up residence there for the time being – only flying out to seek the sun elsewhere during the late afternoons or if startled by loud noises on the street below. In the first photograph of the two below you see how well these fairly large birds blend into the foliage:

Here one of these birds is feasting on a fig:

Enormous flocks of Redwinged Starlings visit this tree daily too, as do doves, Olive Thrushes, Black-collared Barbets, Speckled Mousebirds and weavers. Black-headed Orioles enjoy the figs too and visit the nectar feeder regularly. Although this isn’t a good picture at all – taken with my cell phone from some distance – it illustrates how these birds also enjoy the nectar from aloe flowers:

Laughing Doves congregate in high branches in order to catch the early morning sun. This is one of several perched in the almost bare branches of a pompon tree:

Welcome sounds and sightings this month mark the return of a pair of Cape Wagtails that prance around the edge of our swimming pool and the beautiful bubbling call of a Burchell’s Coucal from deep within the foliage. I have also heard a pair of Bar-throated Apalises nearby. They too are not easy to spot between the leaves, although I caught a glimpse of one in the kitchen hedge whilst I was hanging up the laundry the other day. I see Cape Weavers around more often now, still looking a little tatty in their winter garb:

The other weaver I simply cannot resist showing you more of is the Spectacled Weaver. This one is becoming very bold and visits the bird feeders daily, eating fruit, cheese, fish and seeds during the course of the week:

With aloes, Cape honeysuckle and other winter flowers blooming, there is probably enough nectar to go around – the mixture I put out goes down fairly slowly at the moment – and so it was fun seeing a Cape White-eye sampling my fare:

Fork-tailed Drongos, Pied Crows and a flock of about six Cape Crows have been regular visitors this month too. The Speckled Pigeons appear to have decreased in number – one still roosts on a ledge near our front door and makes an awful mess below. This one is peering down at me from the gutter – which is in desperate need of cleaning!

My bird list for this month:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Crow
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-Chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
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
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver