IT KEEPS ON GIVING

The Cape Honeysuckle is a plant that keeps on giving. We look forward to its bright orange blooms every season, usually appearing at a time when the garden is looking rather drab. This blaze of colour is in our back garden, which tends to be neglected during winter.

Seen close-up, you can appreciate why the blossoms would be popular with pollinators such as ants, bees and butterflies.

There is plenty for everyone.

The tubular flowers are a favourite among the sunbirds. Here a Greater Double-collared Sunbird slips his perfectly formed bill in to reach the nectar.

Weavers generally peck holes in the base of the tube, or snip the flower off its base to get the sweetness they desire. This explains why so many flowers end up on the ground even on the finest of days. Once the flowers are over, one might be forgiven for thinking there would be nothing more to offer. This plant keeps on giving though: its seeds are sought after by, amongst others, Streakyheaded Seedeaters.

Recently I have spotted several bees on the leaves. I cannot be sure what sustenance they are finding there, but I see a few of them out almost daily.

ALOE SEASON

We are missing out on one of the highlights of the year, the widespread blooming of aloes that brighten the otherwise drab landscape of late autumn and during the winter months. I had a legitimate reason to drive out of town last week for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdown began and noted many aloes blooming along the road towards Port Alfred, their flame-coloured blossoms lifting my spirits enormously. Fortunately, as their flowering season is fairly long I am hoping that the restrictions on our movements will be relaxed further before it ends. In the meanwhile, I am confined to observing the aloes in our garden.

Some have progressed from showing tightly closed cone-like buds like this:

To fully opened blossoms like this one:

The aloes attract birds, such as the Greater Double-collared Sunbird above as well as a variety of insects:

I am interested to see the damage done by ants at the base of some of the tubular flowers:

There haven’t been many bees around yet – perhaps they need the flowers to open a little more. I will be keeping an eye out for them.

APRIL 2020 GARDEN BIRDS

This is the first time I have ever been confined to my garden for a whole month. I have found the act of sitting outside to watch the avian visitors come and go has been tinged with a sense of loss – not only our loss of the freedom to explore other places, but the loss so many people all over the world are experiencing in terms of family, lifestyles, earning power and the ability to travel. We all feel it in one way or another. Bird watching is a contemplative activity and so, perhaps without even meaning to, I have curtailed the time spent doing so. Then again, perhaps I think too much about our current situation and should simply live each day as it comes … this pandemic has to draw to a close sometime!

Meanwhile, Laughing Doves continue to gather along the telephone wire or perch in the tree tops in expectation of the arrival of seed. This one has come down to a low branch to investigate the fine bird seed dropped from the feeder.

In keeping with looking back on happier times, I have decided to compare this month’s garden bird list with that of a year ago. There clearly isn’t enough fruit around to attract the African Green Pigeons, although with minute figs forming on the Natal Fig they are bound to return next month. Year-round visitors are the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds and here a female is visiting the nectar feeder.

Her mate is visiting a Cape Honeysuckle for his share of naturally produced nectar.

Having sat in a different part of the garden for a change, I was able to spend several minutes watching a Black-backed Puffback working its way through the top of the trees – far too high for me to even attempt a photograph of it between gaps in the thick foliage. It was in this same wooded place that I have had the privilege of meeting a Cape Batis a few times. Cape Crows seem to be on the increase here: several fly across almost daily and sometimes perch in one of the tall trees – they weren’t around last April. Nor were Cape Weavers, the Common Fiscal, the Emerald Spotted Wood Dove or Green Woodhoopoes. The latter have cackled all around the garden during the course of this month.

Olive Thrushes are quick to investigate any interesting looking food sources. This one took a bite out of an apple before I had hardly turned my back.

The Lesser-striped Swallows had already left by this time last year, yet the pair this year are still regularly visiting their nest under the eaves, leaving me wondering if they have a last brood to feed before they set off. The Pin-tailed Whydah has been a sporadic visitor so far this year and was even prepared to rustle between some pruned branches the other day to get at seed dropped from the bird feeder. A Red-fronted Tinker bird and Sombre Bulbuls have been heard more than seen, while a Southern Red Bishop made a rare visit to the feeders last week – a quick in-out foray. A pair of Yellow-fronted Canaries and Spectacled Weavers make up the birds seen this year that are not on last April’s list. I am pleased to say that I recorded nine more birds in my garden than I did in April last year.

This Black-eyed Bulbul was also quick off the mark to sample the freshly cut apple.

My April bird list is:

African Darter
African Paradise Flycatcher
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-backed Puffback
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Crow
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Emerald Spotted Wood Dove
Fiery-necked Nightjar
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
Pied Crow
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Red Bishop
Spectacled Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

A TIME TO DRINK

At this time the summer temperatures can rise to over 40°C, making everyone thirsty. It is no different in the wild, where this threesome of elephants were the forerunners of a larger herd making their way across the dusty veld to drink at Rooidam in the Addo Elephant National Park. The elephant on the right has earlier submerged itself in either this or another waterhole nearby – as the darker ‘tide mark’ on its body shows. The darkened trunks also indicate that all three have already tasted the water at least and the dark ‘socks’ on the left elephant indicates how shallow the water is on the edge.

A warthog is taking advantage of the lull in animal traffic to enjoy a quiet drink of water from the waterhole at Woodlands. The water is so calm that it might even be admiring its reflection in the water while it quenches it thirst. All the waterholes in the Addo Elephant National Park are supplied by boreholes. That might be a covered pump next to the warthog. You can clearly see the concrete base of this waterhole and elephant dung in the background.

Sometimes it is not water one needs, but mother’s milk. Certainly that is what this zebra foal wanted in the middle of the day. Note how fluffy its hair is and the loving gesture of the mother placing her chin on its rump – the closest she can come to what we would call a hug, perhaps.

Birds require sustenance too and this Greater Double-collared Sunbird settled down to a good drink of nectar at Jack’s Picnic Place, quite unperturbed at being photographed in action. It visited each flower in turn before moving on to the next cluster.

 

GREATER DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRD

A pair of Greater Double-Collared Sunbirds (Cinnyris afer) can be seen in our garden throughout the year. The males are like little jewels in the trees, particularly when their metallic colours catch the sun and frequently call from a prominent position such as this one.

As you can see, the male has a broad bright red band around its chest. The sun highlights its glossy, metallic green head, throat upper breast and back. All-in-all, it is a beautiful bird.

They are very active birds, often chasing each other around the garden as well as the Amethyst Sunbirds should they be in the vicinity. Greater Double-collared Sunbirds mainly eat nectar, insects and spiders.

Meanwhile, the drab-coloured females work hard at collecting fine grasses and loose feathers with which to line their nests. This is a nest I have featured before that was blown out of a tree.