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.

OCTOBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

Despite the heat and the drought – or perhaps because of it – October has been a marvellous month for watching birds in my garden. A number of birds have been seeking out the nectar feeder. These include weavers, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos as well as Cape White-eyes. The latter queue in the surrounding branches to take turns.

Sunbirds are regular visitors too, one of which is the very beautiful Greater Double-collared Sunbird. A pair of them have been flitting around the branches of the fig tree, where I suspect they may have a nest although I have not been able to see it.

I have mentioned before that this garden seems to host one pair of Streaky-headed Seedeaters that have become regular visitors to the seed feeders, although I have observed one of them pecking at an apple too. If one arrives first, it will call to the other to join it. By the end of the month they had brought their youngster along, so now there are three.

Olive Thrushes feature regularly on this blog for they are such fun to observe. They tend to be cautious about approaching the feeding table and one is often chased off by another before it even gets a chance to sample the fruit. Then it will either fly away or scurry off into the undergrowth only to reappear as soon as it thinks the coast is clear.

Spring (not that either the weather or the environment feels or looks like spring at the moment) heralds the arrival of cuckoos. Klaas’ Cuckoo has been around for a while, but we now hear the Red-chested Cuckoo and the Diederik Cuckoo as well. I was delighted to see the Lesser-striped Swallows arrive at last – later than usual – and am even more delighted that a pair of them are attempting to build their mud nest under the eaves outside our bathroom, although where they find the mud remains a mystery. The most exciting ‘new’ bird on my list this month is a first-timer ever: a Red-throated Wryneck. You will have to forgive the quality of the photograph as it is cropped from a telephoto shot taken from underneath the enormous Tipuana tree it was perched on. It has been around for about a week.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Black-backed Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Bush Shrike
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

SUNBIRD HEAVEN

At this time of the year, when the bitingly cold weather sets in, aloes become a magnet for sunbirds. Here a Greater Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris afer) shows off his best side before getting down to the business of extracting nectar from this aloe flowerhead.

This pose is the best for showing off his fine livery.

By now, feeling a little camera-shy, he turns his back on us – the glorious metallic sheen shines in the weak sunlight.

MAY GARDEN 2018

The bounty of fruit of the Natal Fig (Ficus natalensis) has been eaten, leaving lean pickings for the Redwinged Starlings and causing the majority of African Green Pigeons to seek fruit elsewhere – although some still return to roost here overnight. Apart from a wide variety of birds, such as Speckled Mousebirds, Blackeyed Bulbuls, Blackcollared Barbets, Cape White-eyes, Blackheaded Orioles, Olive Thrushes, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, and Grey-headed Sparrows, the fruit also attracts a variety of insects and the small insectivorous bats that swoop around the garden as the day ends. The latter often remind me of D.H. Lawrence’s description of bats in the poem of the same name:

Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop…
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,  
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

In the back garden, the Erythrina caffra (Coral tree) is sporting clusters of seedpods split open to reveal their coral-red seeds which, in due course, fall to the ground. These small, shiny seeds marked on the one side with a black spot are also known as lucky beans. Laughing Doves and Forktailed Drongos perch in the high branches to catch the warmth of the early morning sun and again in the late afternoon.

The Black Sunbirds and Greater Double-collared sunbirds as well as Blackcollared Barbets, Blackheaded Orioles, Cape- and Village Weavers as well as Redwinged starlings are regular visitors too.

I have mentioned before that the name Erythrina, originates from the Greek word erythros meaning red and alludes to the bright red flowers and seeds. Caffra is derived from the Arabic word for an unbeliever, and as used in older botanical works generally indicates that the plant was found well to the south of the range of Arab traders, that is, along the [south] eastern seaboard of South Africa. Carl Thunberg, known as the father of South African botany, gave the names in 1770.

In parts of South Africa, both the Erythrina caffra and the Erythrina lysistemon are regarded as a royal tree; much respected and admired in Zulu culture and believed to have magic properties. Specimens have been planted on the graves of many Zulu chiefs. In parts of the Eastern Cape, local inhabitants will not burn the wood of Erythrina caffra for fear of attracting lightning.

The indigenous Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides) has come into full bloom, covering the trees and shrubs with a canopy of bright golden yellow flowers that attract the Barthroated Apalis, Cape White-eyes and a variety of butterflies. These flowers also exude a delightful aromatic scent that adds to the pleasure of being in the garden.

Equally beautiful are the bright orange tubular flowers of the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) that are coming into bloom. These attract the nectar-feeding Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared sunbirds, Streaky-headed Seedeaters, Cape Weavers and Village Weavers as well as several butterflies.

Trusses of the beautiful pale blue Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) flowers are also starting to appear.

The first aloes are coming into bloom too and are visited regularly by the Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Streakyheaded Seedeaters, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Blackheaded Orioles and Cape White-eyes.

DECEMBER 2017 GARDEN BIRDS

This has been an excellent month for watching birds in our garden. However, in between entertaining friends and family, celebrating Christmas, and sneaking in a visit to the Addo Elephant National Park before the year ended, there have not been many photographic opportunities, and so you may have seen some of these pictures before.

Village Weavers have continued to entertain us with their cheerful chattering, bright yellow plumage and their constant bickering at the feeding stations. Despite several nests having been crafted all over the garden, few have actually been used for breeding.

Laughing Doves are regulars too: they queue up on the telephone cable in the mornings, waiting for me to scatter seed on the lawn. They gradually move from the cable to the trees, coming ever closer until they alight cautiously. The flock (for there are many of them now) rise in an audible ‘whoosh’ at the slightest movement or sound that triggers their alarm system, only to return moments later.

Cape White-eyes are among the first garden birds to stir before first light. They are making a meal of the ripening plums at the moment! These are figs in the picture below – I haven’t one of them gorging on the plums to show you.

The Greater Double-collared Sunbird has been making ‘guest appearances’ this month as there is plenty of other food about. I always enjoy the metallic sheen of its feathers.

After a brief absence, it feels good to have the Barthroated Apalis back.

My December bird list is:

African Darter
African Green Pigeon
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow (Cape)
Black Cuckoo
Black Sunbird (Amethyst)
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Lourie (Turaco)
Laughing Dove
Lesserstriped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Redchested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Speckled Mousebird
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Canary (Seedeater)
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

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.