Today felt warm even before the sunrise began colouring the horizon shortly before five o’clock. The air has felt thick and unmoving all day. At first the sky was a brilliant blue that gave way to a steely grey before lunch … then there were raindrops! Fat drops of rain that made large wet patches on the hot cement outside the kitchen door – not even 30 seconds of joy before the rain disappeared and the sky became an uncompromising white with hardly a breath of wind to lift the leaves of the trees. At least the drought-stricken nasturtiums growing in pots near our front steps provide some bright colour.
So do the red poppies (Papaver rhoeas) in the bed near our swimming pool. This is the first time I have successfully grown them from seed, so I feel very proud of them.
In the back garden are mostly the seed heads only of the unexpected opium poppies (Papaver somniferm) which miraculously appeared after a six year absence.
More colour is provided by the yellow blooms of what used to be called Aloe tenuoir but is now known as Aloiampelos tenuior – commonly called a fence aloe, or climbing aloes, among other names. These are growing in a very dry spot below the window of our lounge.
The early spring rains (perhaps more accurately described as sprinkles) have provided the impetus for a plethora of wild flowers to bloom and greened the wild grasses – a condition known here as the ‘green drought’ – even though our dams remain dry. To give you an idea of the severity of this drought, look at my front lawn.
Then, to end on a cheery note, here is a photograph of the very patient Hadeda Ibis still diligently sitting on her nest. More news on that score when I see either broken eggshells on the ground or catch sight of a chick or two.
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 Green Pigeon
Black-eyed (Dark-capped) Bulbul
Cape Turtle Dove
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
Southern Masked Weaver
We are woken at least half an hour before sunrise every morning by the loud greetings of the Hadeda Ibises that roost in the fig tree overnight. Their droppings are splattered on the ground underneath their perches and I frequently find their feathers dropped all over the garden. Less easy to see are their footprints:
Although we have occasionally seen Vervet Monkeys feeding on the figs, they are not yet common in our town. We are more likely to see them along our roads and in national parks:
Of course one does not only have to rely on the spoor / footprints to indicate the passing of animals and birds. These droppings are a clear indication of a Chacma Baboon:
Moving to the coastline, it is easy to see where a seagull has been walking along the beach:
It is good to keep a close eye on the ground when walking to see what else has passed along the way before you.
Hadeda Ibises (Bostrychia hagedash) have appeared several times on this blog. Despite their considerable size, they tend to be overlooked and taken for granted. This might be because we have the dubious pleasure of hearing their waking calls before sunrise every day. They were originally birds of forests and wetlands, and their loud calls indicate an ongoing need to keep in touch with each other. Their distinctive and strident ‘ha-ha-hadeda’ calls can be heard from near and far as they raucously remind all in the valley of their presence – usually about half an hour before sunrise and again when they fly in to roost at the end of each day.
These rather elegant birds are fascinating to observe. They have very sensitive beaks and use the sense of touch rather than hearing or smell to find their food, such as earthworms, slugs, snails, crickets or other insects. I also enjoy watching Hadeda Ibises collecting sticks to build their unwieldly-looking nests: the male usually begins by presenting the female with a large stick. It is the oddest thing to see them flying in with sticks longer than they are in their beaks. Some nests are re-used the following year, with more sticks added to it.
While I only see between one and four Hadeda Ibises walking around our garden at any one time, I have seen up to thirty of them together either on school sports fields or in the veld. It is also good to see them on the edge of a dam.
The trees in our garden are now so tall and thick with foliage that it isn’t always easy to find the nests of birds, even if you know they are there – somewhere. A pair of Cape Robin-chats had me fascinated for days on end as they flew back and forth with food in their beaks … I never could find their actual nest deep in the shrubbery, although their offspring later made an appearance. Two Common Fiscals have plied the food trails to their respective nests for weeks (I think both have actually nested beyond our garden perimeter) and one brought its youngster to the feeding tray a few times before leaving it to fend for itself.
I located the messy nest of an Olive Thrush in a tangle of branches near the wash line, but not in a position to photograph – my neighbour couldn’t get a good photographic view of it either, although we both enjoyed watching the activity around it.This is one taken some years ago:
Black-collared Barbets have brought their offspring to feed on cut apples …
Much more prominent is the mud nest the pair of Lesser-striped Swallows build under the eaves every year:
The rain came at just the right time for them and they set to work straight away. The sturdy nest they built outside our front door one year has been taken over by White-rumped Swifts. Life is filled with trials for these swallows for this lovely nest, already lined with soft materials, fell down one night and shattered. Days of sad twittering followed until the pair again returned to Plan B and built a nest under the eaves around the shadier side of our house – where they have resorted to building in previous years – and this one has stayed put.
Also easy to see was the flurry of activity among the weavers as they set about constructing nests at the end of branches of a tree in our back garden:
Despite the chattering and hard work going on here, within days these nests had been abandoned and the birds had looked elsewhere to create their happy colony.
A very-hard-to-miss nest, which I have featured before, is the one in which a pair of Hadeda Ibises have successfully reared two chicks:
Both chicks are in the nest here – only their dark tails are showing.