A HOT SUMMER AFTERNOON

The temperature has reached 36°C, turning the outside air into a furnace. The brick paving shaded by the house radiates heat, while the bricks still in the sun are too hot to walk on barefoot.

What is left of the lawn grass crunches underfoot.

It hasn’t rained for months and the sky obstinately remains a beautiful clear blue.

Not a leaf stirs, only the heat waves bouncing off the walls and the brick paving. The Hadeda Ibises sitting on their nest in the Natal Fig tree keep making ‘bib-bib’ sounds.

A Cape Weaver drinks deeply from the nectar feeder, arriving and leaving silently as if there is no energy left to make a sound.

A hot breeze sets a few leaves in motion and then dies abruptly. Hark! There is a wisp of cloud creating patterns in the sky!

It dissipates while I watch. A young Common Fiscal seeks food on the hard-baked ground then flies into the shrubbery, its quest unsuccessful.

Nothing stays in the direct sunlight for long.

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DECEMBER 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

What an interesting month this has been for observing birds in our garden! The Lesser-striped Swallows are making yet another valiant attempt at rebuilding their mud nest. Here we are, past mid-summer, and they have still not managed to complete a nest nor raise a family. Finding suitable mud in these drought conditions must be difficult – I suspect they collect it from the edges of the rapidly drying-up dam over the road.

Despite several Village Weavers in varying states of maturity populating the garden, a number of them have recently been hard at work weaving their nests very high up in the Natal Fig.

A pair of Hadeda Ibises are also nesting in the fig tree.

The prolonged drought has resulted in a dearth of nectar-bearing flowers, making our nectar feeder so popular that I have been filling it twice a day for most of this month. It is visited regularly by Fork-tailed Drongos, Village Weavers, Cape Weavers, Black-eyed Bulbuls, Amethyst Sunbirds, Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Black-headed Orioles as well as a Spectacled Weaver.

A pair of Red-winged Starlings began the month stuffing their beaks with apple flesh to take to their chick and, before long, were bringing their youngster to the feeding table to feed it there. It is now able to feed itself.

Life is not easy for birds: an alarm call from a Cape Robin had me interrupting our lunch to see what the problem was. I approached the bushes outside the dining room very cautiously as I was met with a flurry of birds including a fierce-looking Bar-throated Apalis, an agitated Paradise Flycatcher, a Thick-billed Weaver and several weavers. I only managed to photograph the alarmed robin before seeing a Boomslang weaving its way sinuously among the branches just above my head – time to beat a retreat!

On a different occasion the alarm call of a Cape Robin, combined with the frantic chirruping of other birds, drew me outdoors towards the thick, tangled hedge of Cape Honeysuckle. Mindful of snakes, I approached it very cautiously until I became aware of a distinctive clicking sound, kluk-kluk, which convinced me of the likelihood of finding either a Grey-headed Bush Shrike or a Burchell’s Coucal raiding a nest. It was neither. The vegetation as well as the hurried movements of Village Weavers, a Bar-throated Apalis and a particularly agitated-looking female Greater Double-collared Sunbird made photography nigh impossible. It was several minutes before I was able to ‘capture’ the nest-raider. This time it was a Southern Boubou.

What greater pleasure could there be, just as the year is drawing to a close, to have not one Hoopoe visit our garden, but four!

My December bird list:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black Crow
Black Saw-wing
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-billed Woodhoopoe
Red-chested Cuckoo
Red-eyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-winged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Southern Boubou
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift
Yellow-fronted Canary

AUGUST 2018 GARDEN BIRDS

This is a late entry for August, which has been a busy month for the birds as well as for me! The birds have an earlier sense of the approaching spring than humans do and waste no time in making the most of what the change of season heralds. Cape Weavers have, for example, been building their nests in the back garden, making loud announcements while doing so. Several nests have been left incomplete and the birds move from one site to another – looking for the best place. It is all about location, location, location. Not to be outdone, the male Village Weavers spend a lot of time attracting attention by flapping their wings in between eating.

An abundance of Laughing Doves make short work of the seed I scatter on the lawn every morning, efficiently aided by Speckled Doves and a few Red-eyed Doves. The Hadeda Ibises wake earlier by the day, as if not a moment is to be wasted.

The Fork-tailed Drongo has been up to its regular trick of sounding an alarm call that sends all the birds rushing for cover, leaving feathers fluttering to the ground in their haste, only to use that moment to pick over the tit-bits in peace. A pair of them have been courting this month, making an interesting variety of calls while doing so. They have occasionally been joined by a third, which leads to interesting bouts of chasing each other vigorously around the garden until one gives up and flies off, leaving the other two in peace – for a while. The Black-eyed Bulbuls are equally cheeky as far as giving other birds a fright so that they can home in on the fruit.

A Boubou usually waits until all is quiet before inspecting what is on offer on the feeding tray, while the Olive Thrushes – often the first to arrive – regularly return during the day to glean what has been dropped once the main rush of birds have left to scour the neighbourhood for other sources of food. A pair of Black-collared Barbets have been calling each other from the treetops and occasionally flit down to the feeding tray in silence. Eating is a serious business for them and they have particularly enjoyed the offerings of fresh fruit.

With little in the way of nectar-bearing flowers blooming, the nectar feeder has required refilling on a daily basis. Regular visitors include Black-eyed Bulbuls, Black-headed Orioles, Cape Weavers, Village Weavers, Fork-tailed Drongos and Amethyst Sunbirds.

My August bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird (Black)
Barthroated Apalis
Black Crow
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Common Shrike (Fiscal)
Common Starling
Fierynecked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon (Rock)
Spectacled Weaver
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver

TWO IBISES

Two of the four ibis species occurring in South Africa are commonly seen in and around our town. The Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) is a grey-brown ibis with glossy bronze-green wing coverts. Not surprisingly, its onomatopoeic name is reminiscent of its harsh cries of ha – ha – ha – de – da. This is the sound we generally wake up to early in the mornings and hear again at night as several of these large birds come to roost communally in our Natal Fig tree. Occasionally something disturbs them at night and they rent the still air with their raucous calls until all have assured each other that all is well and they settle down again.

While I generally only observe two or three poking about for food in the garden, large numbers gather on the many school sports fields and open grassy areas in the town to feed on insects, worms and other invertebrates. They have an acute sense of smell which is an aid to finding food as the Hadeda Ibises probe into the soil for food with their bills.

The other ibis we see on a daily basis is the African Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus). The black bill of these birds blends in with their naked black head and neck. They have a characteristic white body with black tips to their flight feathers. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the elongate, plume-like black scapulars inspired the Afrikaans name, Skoorsteenveër – chimneysweeper.

A large flock of African Sacred Ibises gather at the edge of a dam just outside of town – many of them roost communally in large trees within the CBD at night – and are frequently seen in the grassy areas as well as feeding on the lush grass under irrigation in the Belmont Valley.

They mainly feed on invertebrates as well as fish, frogs, carrion and refuse – for the latter reason they can be observed on the fringes of the municipal dump too.

HADEDA IBIS

The ubiquitous Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash). People either love them or loathe them. I fall into the former category and am delighted to welcome them as residents of our garden. Their distinctive and strident ‘ha-ha-hadeeda’ call can be heard from near and far as they raucously remind all in the valley of their presence. They are particularly vocal at dawn and at dusk, although we sometimes hear a ‘frantic’ call if they are startled during the night.

Hadedacolours

Several Hadedas regularly roost in the enormous Erythrina caffra trees in the back garden as well as the Natal Fig that dominates the front garden. The latter has been a regular nesting place that has proved to be ideal for raising generations of offspring. The nest consists of a flimsy basket-shaped collection of twigs that is added to every breeding season.

Hadedaperching

The youngsters reach a point when they start testing their wings by flapping them furiously and, even though we see them walking around the garden not long after that, they continue to ‘beg’ to be fed by the adults. For a while the youngster can be seen in the regular company of one or both adults and later forages for food on its own. They often eat long earthworms that burrow underground – feasting on them after the rain – as well as catching crickets and other insects.

Hadedasonlawn

Late every afternoon, Hadeda Ibises congregate on the roof of our house, looking like sentinels perched on either the chimney or on the apex. They flap their wings on arrival, appear to settle down and then – after only a brief rest – fly off to join others still circling the valley, calling loudly as they do so. They eventually settle down to roost for the night.

As Hadeda Ibises are such sociable birds it is easy to imagine them greeting each other from afar in the mornings, deciding where to meet for the day’s foraging, and bidding each other goodnight as the sun sinks below the horizon.

HEADING OUT

HEADING OUT

I find it good for my soul to get right away from our home town now and then. The recent need to be in Cape Town provided a good opportunity for this. Ideally we would have liked to stop more often and to savour more of the countryside than we had time for, yet we saw all sorts of interesting things along the way.

There is something special about being on the road as the sun rises, casting long shadows across the veld and seeing the patches of thick mist rising from the low-lying areas as the day warms up. The long journey was enlivened by glimpses of impala grazing in open spaces in the bush highlighted by the sun. We also saw kudu, wildebeest, blesbuck, and zebra early on.

I was struck by the number of Cape Crows sitting on their untidy nests built on the telephone poles that march along sections of the road in the Western Cape as well as an abundance of Jackal Buzzards and Black Harriers. It was a thrill seeing a pair of Blue Cranes on our way down and then several more on our return journey. These are the national bird of South Africa.

blue crane

An increase in the number – and size – of wind farms is noticeable. I wonder how effective they will be in terms of alleviating the current shortage of electricity in the country.

The Cape Town weather was kind to us: warm, clear and dry throughout our four-day stay. Time spent in the small suburban garden revealed Hadeda ibises (not at all concerned about being stalked by a calico cat), Redwinged starlings, Olive thrushes, Laughing doves, Redeyed doves, a Cape robin, Rock pigeons, Cape crows and an abundance of Cape White-eyes.

hadeda

parsley

The latter flitted in and out of the trees throughout each day. On one particularly hot and dry afternoon, they delighted in the spray from the sprinkler turned on to water the lawn. It was a joy watching the white-eyes fly through the jets of water and perch on the branches of a fig tree while having a communal shower!

showering

The return journey was equally interesting. A highlight was seeing a sizeable flock of White Storks. Nearer home we spotted eland, springbuck and, lastly, a group of giraffe so close to the road that C asked me to stop so that she could “see how giraffe eat”.

How satisfying it is to walk round the side of the house to the front door on our arrival at the end of a long journey and to see that the pompon trees have burst into bloom during our absence!

pompon

The other joy is that the Lesserstriped swallows have completed their replacement nest.

complete nest

A full day later came the satisfaction of making a salad using lettuce, spinach, carrots and green peppers from our own garden. It is a relief that the purple basil seeds that germinated a few days before our departure are still looking sturdy. A garden bonus (I hope we will see the fruits of this) are gemsquashes spreading out their tendrils from the compost heap.

It is wonderful living in our nook of the Eastern Cape!

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