SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRD

I was watching a pair of Greater Double-collared Sunbirds feeding on the aloes blooming next to our swimming pool this morning when the thought struck me how often people get mixed up between a Cape Turtle Dove and a Red-eyed Dove – the ring around the neck being a superficial identification, until one looks more closely and sees just how different these birds really are. The same applies to the Greater Double-collared Sunbird and the Southern Double-collared Sunbird (formerly known as the Lesser Double-collared Sunbird) – the double band on their chests being a superficial identification, until one looks more closely …

To be fair, while the doves mentioned above are regularly seen in the same area and can even occur in the same flock of doves feeding on the ground, we rarely see these two sunbird species in the same place to make an easy comparison. Both have beaks well adapted for collecting nectar from tubular flowers – clearly illustrated by this Southern Double-collared Sunbird:

The Southern Double-collared Sunbird has a shorter and more slender beak than the Greater Double-collared Sunbird – an aspect that is not always easily discernible in the field.

Both species of sunbird have an attractive green iridescence on their head back and wings. The males sport a double band of blue and red on their breasts – and this is where the most visible difference comes in. The bands are much narrower on the Southern Double-collared Sunbird, particularly the more noticeable red band:

For comparison, here is a Greater Double-collared Sunbird – a year-round resident in our garden.

The photographs of its lesser cousin were all taken in Cape Town.

MAY 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

May has been a quiet birding month in our garden. The tall trees block out the rising sun and leave the lawn in shade until nearly lunch time now. The regular flock of Laughing Doves gather in the top of the Erythrina caffra and the Cape Chestnut, catching the warming rays of the sun; only coming down to feed on the seed I have put out once the day has warmed up somewhat – that seems counter-intuitive to me, but they must have their reason for doing so.

Village Weavers, now in their non-breeding plumage, tend to only visit the garden in the afternoons – appearing to be more interested in what the flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle have to offer than the seeds still lying un-pecked at on the lawn. Perhaps they have found a sunnier source of food elsewhere to satisfy their morning hunger.

The aloes are in bloom though – and what a wonderful show they make.

They regularly attract the attention of Black Sunbirds and the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds. A Malachite Sunbird also pays them a fleeting visit now and then. Shown below is a Greater Double-collared Sunbird feeding on a Cape Honeysuckle flower this morning:

Some African Green Pigeons make us aware of their presence in the fig tree now and then, even though there is nothing to eat there at this time of the year. I have always been rather puzzled where these birds move to once the fig tree is bare. I happened to be on the campus of a school at the bottom of the hill late yesterday afternoon when I counted over twenty African Green Pigeons coming to roost in the oak trees growing there!

What has been exciting is the regular appearance of at least one Knysna Lourie – sometimes two – that moves effortlessly through our treed garden. We have become used to some of its variety of calls that alert us to its presence and I watched in awe this morning as it dropped down to drink copiously from the bird bath situated below my study window.

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Crowned Plover
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver

T IS FOR TECOMA CAPENSIS

Commonly known as Cape Honeysuckle and formerly named Tecomaria capensis, this plant was recommended to us by a nursery as an ornamental screen for our garden in a newly established suburb in Pietermaritzburg. Years later, we purchased some plants at considerable expense at a nursery in Lichtenburg for our fledging garden in Mafikeng – and nurtured it. Imagine our surprise to find it indigenous to this part of the Eastern Cape, where we now live.

It grows rampantly in our garden: wherever a bit of its stem touches the ground it forms new roots and another shoot of vigorous growth clambers through the trees or weaves it way through the undergrowth. Over years it forms a hard woody stem that is difficult to cut. I prune it abundantly, yet never stem the tide. This makes it sound like a monster. It is far from that.

The flowers of the Tecoma capensis provide bright colouring during the change of season from warm to cold (we do not have clearly defined seasons here) and attract a variety of birds such as the Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Cape white-eyes, Black-eyed Bulbuls, and Bar-throated Apalis. The tubular flowers also attract bees and butterflies.

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

APRIL 2015 GARDEN BIRDS

I will shortly be on the road again and so am posting my list of garden birds early this month. The only ‘new’ bird on my list is a Knysna Lourie, which flew across our garden into the fig tree – now boasting its early flush of fruit. The late afternoon sun caught the beautiful colours of its outspread wings. What a privilege it is to have them visit now and then!

Birdwatching has been good this month, despite the rain and unexpectedly cold weather. Even though they have been far too quick for me to photograph, it is the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds that have attracted my attention as they titter around the garden and regularly visit the ‘pub’ or call from the top of the ironwood tree. The metallic green sheen of the male is particularly beautiful when caught in the sunlight.

Ten years ago I was fortunate to be able to watch a Greater Double-collared Sunbird build its nest at the end of a branch of an Acacia karoo that, at the time, was almost within touching distance of my upstairs study window – before I had a digital camera, alas.

The closed oval nest began with a few twists of grass around the thin branch. This was gradually added to during the week – by grass, lichen and other plant material, bound together with spider webs – until a definite cup shape was apparent below the defined entrance. I watched closely as, over two days, the female brought a variety of soft materials with which to line the inside. At first these were simply dropped inside before she flew off to collect more. Later I saw the female frequently entering the nest, apparently scuffling around, pop her head out now and then, and fly off to repeat the exercise.

My notes of the time reveal that there was no visible activity at all around the nest for three days after which I noted: “On the contrary, the female is obviously incubating the eggs!”

It was some days later that I was attracted by a number of raucous sounding calls and saw the female Greater Double-collared Sunbird, a Black-eyed Bulbul and some Cape White-eyes behaving in an oddly agitated manner. By craning my neck out of the window I could just see a Grey headed Bush Shrike perched perilously close to the nest. As it skulked ever closer, the other birds left the sunbird to emit frantic, high-pitched sounds as she flapped her wings furiously and made darting movements towards the much larger bird. As soon as the shrike moved away, the sunbird flew back to her nest and disappeared. Peace reigned, but not for long for I fear that within a day or two the Shrike successfully raided the nest, which was then abandoned. I have mentioned before that, having watched a different nest being built, it was blown out of the tree during a storm.

greaterd-csunbirdnest

Greater Double-collared Sunbirds feed on nectar. Apart from the artificial ‘nectar’ available in the ‘pub’ other sources of nectar are readily available at the moment in the form of some early blooming aloes, Cape Honeysuckle, hibiscus flowers, Plumbago and, of course, the figs. I also often see these birds hovering in front of the webs under the outside windowsills to extract spiders.

capehoneysuckle

My early April list is:

African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow Weaver

SEPTEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

SEPTEMBER 2014 GARDEN BIRDS

September has been an exciting month in the garden: leaves sprouting on hitherto bare branches; the lawn greening up after the spring rains; beautiful clivias brightening shady areas; and such a welcome variety of birds!

A pair of Forktailed Drongos started the month off with their antics around the feeding area. Apart from chasing each other around the garden, at least one of them seems to have taken a dislike to the Bokmakierie: the latter is chased as soon as the Drongo catches sight of it. The drongos make frequent use of the nectar feeder and perch on either the acacia or pompon tree nearby to hawk insects in the air. I mentioned last month that these fine acrobatic flyers are adept at stealing food from weavers while they are in flight.

Forktailed drongo

The Common Waxbill is a complete newcomer to my garden, for I have not recorded a sighting of one before. They remind me of happy trips to the Addo Elephant National Park, where they are frequently seen in large flocks.

Welcome returnees are the Hoopoe and the very beautiful Paradise Flycatcher.

I have learned to look skyward whenever the birds flee to the shelter of trees en masse and, this month, was rewarded with the sighting of a Gymnogene flying overhead. A pair of them have been resident in this town for years, so it is good to see them still around.

gymnogene

Looking up also rewarded me with the welcome return of the Whiterumped Swifts and Lesserstriped Swallows. A pair of the latter are already toiling at rebuilding their mud nest under the eaves above the kitchen. They do this every year – it looks like painstaking work – only to have it fall down as the breeding season draws to a close.

In other nesting news, a pair of Olive Thrushes have built their nest high up in the fig tree and can regularly be spotted taking titbits of fruit and insects to the nest via a circuitous route that has become familiar to me over time.

oliive thrush nest

A pair of Greater Doublecollared Sunbirds have been nesting in the ironwood, painstakingly collecting leaves and feathers with which to line it. Sadly, the strong winds we experienced last week caused the nest to come adrift from its moorings and I found it lying at the foot of the tree. This has nonetheless provided an interesting opportunity to see how it was constructed.

Greater Doublecollared sunbird nest

As we have come to expect, two pairs of Hadeda Ibises have taken up residence in the fig tree and Erythrina tree respectively, laboriously bringing in new twigs to strengthen the existing structures that are several years old already.

The month ended on a glorious note with the return of the euphonious calls of the Burchell’s Coucals early in the mornings. It is many years since we raised one as a chick that had fallen from its nest – a story on its own. I thus have a close affinity for these lovely birds that tend to be heard more often than they are seen.

My September list is:
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Cuckoo Shrike
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Common Waxbill
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Greyheaded Sparrow
Gymnogene
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redeyed Dove
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift